Guest Section – Paul Nixon, Doug Wright’s record and Steyn-gun

                                              PAUL NIXON (ENGLAND)

  Paul Nixon is the England wicketkeeper who made his debut aged 36, representing his country for in 19 ODIs in a three-month span. since debuting in January 2007 in post-Ashes ODI series but his ODI career ended with the World Cup a few months later. With the bat, he didn’t do much with high score of 49 @ 21.21 but he never batted above no.7 in the lineup. He also played a single T20 international match scoring 31* against Aussies.

The 41-year old, who retired last year from all forms, was in domestic circuit since 1989 playing 355 first-class and 411 list-games for Leicestershire and then Kent and also featured in 96 t20 games. He crossed 14000 in 4-day format with 21 centuries but managed just 1 in limited-overs. He was handy in t20 games too over 1846 runs scored in 96 games for Leicestershire and his last match was against Ruhuna in CLT20 2011 in India. Despite playing so many years in county cricket, he got his chance too late. He left his imprints in T20 cricket, and is the best reverse-sweep player in the world.

RECORD HOLDER : DOUG WRIGHT (ENGLAND) 

  The right-arm leg-break bowler is the only bowler to claim 7 hat-tricks in first-class career. One of finest leg-spinners before war, he represented England in 34 test matches from 1938 to 1951 bowling in difficult conditions for spin. He claimed 108 wickets in those tests, with 6 5-fers including 7/105 and a solitary 10-wicket haul when he had match figures of 10/175 against South Africa.He played for Kent from 1932-1956 which included 7 hat-tricks in 2056 wickets taken including a 9/47 in one of them. He passed away in 1998 aged 84.

SA V NZ TEST AT CENTURION : STEYN RIPS THROUGH KIWIS, 2007-08

  Dale Steyn ripped through New Zealand with a 10-wicket haul including a 6/49 in the 2nd innings as South Africa won by an innings & 59 runs. New Zealand elected to bat first and were shot out for 188 with Steyn picking up 4/42. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis hitting centuries as hosts build up a 195-run 1st inning lead scoring 383 with Mark Gillespie picking up 5/136 on debut. South Africa never had to bat again as Man-of-the-match & Man-of-the-series Steyn ran havoc give the Proteas a 2-0 series lead after winning opening match also convincingly.

  New Zealand – 188 (C Cumming 48; Steyn 4/42, Nel 2/42) & 136 (S Fleming 54; Steyn 6/49)
South Africa – 383 (J Kallis 131, H Amla 103; Gillespie 5/136, O’Brien 3/78)
Result: SA win by innings and 59 runs; win series 2-0

IN FOCUS – All set for the Battle Royale

   The most awaited Test series of recent times gets underway this Thursday at the Oval. After all, there is much more at stake than just the coveted Basil D’Olivera trophy. This series between the two evenly matched outfits will decide who is the world champion of Test cricket, at least for the current season. South Africa won a historic series the last time they visited England, and four years later, they are still not the top dogs of Test cricket, in spite of being undefeated in away series since 2006.

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  First and foremost, the powers-that-be should be criticised for foregoing the traditional 4 Test series between the two nations, reducing the contest by a Test. Whereas in actuality, a series of this stature totally deserves a 5 Test rubber. However, as much as we would like to think that  3 Tests will not do justice to the high profile series, let us remember that these two teams, the top two in world cricket, are most likely to dish out a memorable showing; the number of Tests notwithstanding.

  England’s near-invincibility at home for a long time now, coupled with South Africa’s outstanding recent away record, make this series all the more looked-forward to. England have won seven consecutive home series since the 2008 loss to South Africa, and they have been near-impossible to beat in testing home conditions. India, who came visiting last season will certainly vouch for that. The upcoming Test series has been billed as the battle between the bowlers, and why not – both have top quality pace attacks, with promising bench strength as well. James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn will be up against Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Plus two entertaining spin bowlers in Greame Swann and the county-hardened Imran Tahir. Now, isn’t that mouthwatering?

  Recent Basil D’Oliveira trophies have been toughly contested. the last series, played in South Africa in 2009-10 ended 1-1, but the two draws were nail-biters, with England escaping defeat on both occasions. Greame Smith’s epic series-clinching 154 at Edgbaston in 2008 is still fresh in memory. Smith is set to become the most capped captain in Test cricket, and he is back to where he really relishes playing — as a young captain in 2003 , he showed the world his leadership and potential, scoring two big double hundreds as the series ended in a thrilling 2-2 deadlock. 

  While on paper, England have a slightly better batting line-up in English conditions, let us not forget that they will up against the deadliest pace trio in the world – the dangerously consistent Steyn, the tall Morkel, and the revelation of last season, the wonderfully accurate Philander, who will certainly relish the conditions on offer. South Africa lost their most trusted warrior, the superbly dedicated Mark Boucher, to a freak eye injury in a tour match; but South Africa are not a team to be mentally dislodged. The flamboyant A.B de Villiers is expected to be behind the stumps, come the Oval Test.

  Another comon aspect of the two sides besides the quality pace attacks, is the number of world class Test batsmen in the teams. If England have Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, skipper Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell; then South Africa have Hashim Amla, Greame Smith and the evergreen Jacques Kallis. Add to that the flair of Kevin Pietersen and de Villiers respectively, and a heady contest is on the cards. Does not matter that three of the England top five have South African origins. 

  Fans around the world will be hoping for a closely-fought, epic series between the two best teams in the world. While a England victory will extend their domination, a South African win will get them to the top of the tree, a position which they have deserved quite often of late, but have never quite done justice to their outstanding resources. Many will say another drawn series will be a fair result. Let us sit back and await the commencement of the Test Championship duel, the Battle Royale of this season. Let the games begin!

VIEWPOINT – Rahul Dravid, the cricketer and beyond

  Ever since I began to follow cricket in 1999, I have admired quite a few batsmen. However, following Rahul Dravid’s retirement in March, I realised that I looked up to Dravid much more than any other player, and not just because he was India’s most dependable batsman. For me, Dravid is much beyond than just a legendary batsman;he is perhaps an institution of his own.

   When Dravid called it a day from Test cricket, he had already established himself as one of the all time greats, and probably the best number three since Don Bradman. But the most absorbing part of his 16 year old career was how he applied his off field attributes onto the cricket field, resulting in astounding success. Watching the ‘Wall’ build, brick by brick was one of the most delightful sights that a Test match could offer. It is said that for Dravid, the preparation for an overseas tour began at least a month in advance, as he methodically made himself battle-ready depending upon the opposition and the conditions. It paid rich dividends, as he ended up being India’s finest performer abroad. By nature, Dravid is a self confessed introvert, and liked to switch off mentally after a strenuous day of Test cricket. Not surprisingly, this nature of his allowed him to withstand all kinds of pressure on the field, and never once did he succumb to it.

   Dravid’s work ethic can be a lesson in management. Dignity and modesty were the hallmarks of his personality. He combined the four H’s – honesty, humility, helpfulness and hard work and this made him a respected gentleman on and off the field, perhaps the last of this breed in today’s slam-bang cricket culture. He was honest about his own form, never did he find excuses for bad performances; on the contrary he was quick to praise those who deserved it, and would also try and continuously improve his game by taking tips from fellow cricketers. His class was proved when he decided to retire because he did not want to block a youngster from coming into the side, and more so because he felt that his time had come after the young Australian pacemen breached his defence time and again in what turned out to be his last series.

Image  Rahul Dravid acknowledges the crowd after carrying his bat for 146 in the 2011 Oval Test. It was his last Test ton (source – theguardian.com)

  Leadership brought about a whole new aspect of Dravid’s personality. It is well known that he was thrust into the job only because there was no alternative following Sourav Ganguly’s controversial sacking in 2005. But then, Dravid had always been a team man and he took the role of captaincy as well, albeit reluctantly. During Dravid’s tenure, not once did he give the impression that he was treating captaincy like a burden. On the contrary, he led India to memorable series wins in the West Indies and England – the former being single-handedly scripted by himself – scoring 81 and 68 on a torrid Kingston wicket as India pipped the hosts by 49 runs in the decider.

  Unfortunately, most people remember his tenure as captain only for the embarrassing ouster from the 2007 World Cup. A few months later, following the win in England, he renounced the captaincy, when few were expecting it.The most successful of careers have their downs, and Dravid faced a battle early in his career to save his one-day place. He answered his critics in the way he knew best, and ended up as the highest run getter in the 1999 World Cup. Later, he also agreed to keep wickets for the team’s, and his own sake. Ganguly had apparently felt hurt at Dravid’s diplomacy during the Chappell controversy, but then Dravid was stuck between the devil and the deep sea. Given Dravid’s nature, he would never have intentionally offended anyone, more so the captain under whom he enjoyed his most fruitful period from 2002 to 2004.

  Just when the daggers were coming out for him again, Dravid, aged 38, produced a classy performance in England in 2011, scoring three hundreds in four Tests. He ended up being the only Indian cricketer to put up a fight as the visitors were thrashed 0-4. The innings of 146 at the Oval where he carried his bat was in my opinion one of his best ever. A few months later, he became the first non-Australian to deliver the prestigious Bradman memorial lecture, and he did so with the same class and dignity with which one associates his batting.

  Matthew Hayden summed it up perfectly when he said, ‘If you want to look at aggression on the field, it is in Rahul Dravid’s eyes’. The look on his face in the slips while anticipating another addition to his record catching tally was indeed a testimony to the amazing powers of concentration that this soft spoken gentleman from Bangalore possessed. Just four months before he retired, I had the privilege of watching the cricketer I admired most at the Wankhede Stadium, as he scored a typically watchful 82 en route to crossing the 13000 run barrier. At that time expectations were high from Dravid to deliver an England-like showing in Australia too. Alas, it did not happen and the Wall eventually began to creak, with India getting another 0-4 shellacking.

  Dravid never indulged in sledging, pointless banter or the nonsense that many of today’s players take pride in. He was the quintessential gentleman of the gentleman’s game – the nice guy who finished first. He kept to himself on the field, and armed with his orthodox technique and powers of determination and commitment, made India proud on numerous occasions. His priceless worth in the team was often underestimated, and perhaps he did not mind.

  But then that was Dravid for you – humble, selfless, committed – a gentleman in the true sense and a role model for thousands, including myself. He will forever be a shining example to follow, not merely because of his statistics, but because of his morality and the way he approached challenges. For Dravid went much beyond than being a cricketer. He was an instituition of his own.