With a new world order evolving for the first time in over a decade, it will be a most intriguing collection of series to look forward to this year.
With South Africa finishing 2008 as the best performed nation, India keen to prove their power by performing away from home, and of course, the Ashes—there will be plenty for the most discerning of fans.
But, with such series occurring, we will also see Test cricket holding its own against the shorter upstart versions of the game – which is accentuated in 2009 with the ICC World 20/20 tournament in England, culminating with the final at Lords on June 21st.
England in West Indies, January to April 2009
A puzzling time will begin for English supporters. After being buoyed watching the old enemy appear weak with consecutive series losses to India and South Africa, England now appear down and out with their own internal disaster.
It now appears the Kevin Pietersen was asked to resign as England captain, and it has been confirmed that Andrew Strauss will captain the side. Michael Vaughan has not been included in the squad to the Caribbean, which features Steve Harmison, Ian Bell and Monty Panesar—all of whom had poor tours to India. Graeme Swann and new prospect Adil Rashid will contest with Panesar for a spinning berth.
Meanwhile the home team will look to Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul who proved in New Zealand how they are both world class and crucial to the West Indies setup. Fidel Edwards is the most solid option in a now bemusing cupboard bare of fast bowling quality, but Lionel Baker could be a threat with continued development.
First match: England V St Kitts at Basseterre – Jan 25-27
First Test: England V West Indies at Kingston – Feb 4-8
Zimbabwe in Kenya, January 2009
The Kenyans, desperately in need of top level competition to develop, will host Zimbabwe for a five match ODI series, who will travel there after finishing their tour of Bangladesh
Sri Lanka in Pakistan, January to February
Two top tier test nations in need of a lot more Test cricket will contest after Sri Lanka’s president Mahinda Rajapakse cleared the tour despite violence in the region. The final tour itinerary is still being debated, but will likely feature two tests, three ODI and a 20/20 match.
Sri Lanka are in solid form, with Tillakaratne Dilshan plundering runs in Bangladesh, and captain Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara are both in outstanding form and firmly entrenched in the top 10 batsmen of the world. Ajantha Mendis appears to be the heir apparent to the great Muttiah Muralitheran—and both will wreck havoc, although Sri Lanka’s pace options are not great.
Mohammed Asif continues his rapid fall, after being found guilty of opium possession in the middle east—while Shoaib Akhtar maintains his remarkable rise after being awarded a Category A contract for 2009. Shoaib Malik will continue his role as Pakistan’s captain.
Australia in South Africa, February to April 2009
Further excitement waits as South Africa will look to cement what they feel is their right as the world’s premier playing nation. Certainly at home they will be even more formidable, but coach Mickey Arthur will be cautioning against too much optimism. Graeme Smith will likely miss the first matches.
Meanwhile, Australia will arrive, buoyed by their third test win and slowly improving form of their new faces, led by Peter Siddle. Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson will arrive in potent form and will look to push for momentum for the all important Ashes.
Fatigue will be a factor for both teams, after exhaustive recent schedules.
First match: South Africa A V Australia at Potchefstroom – Jan 20-22
First Test: South Africa V Australia, Johannesburg – Jan 26-Feb 2
India in New Zealand, March to April 2009
An important series for both team, as New Zealand try to claw their way off the bottom of the rankings list, while India will look to consolidate their position in the world pecking order by overcoming their great bete noire—the ability to win away.
Martin Guptill, after scoring the second highest score on debut in history could be a new tyro for the New Zealand batting ranks, while young talent Jesse Ryder, Tim McIntosh, and Daniel Flynn are solid batsmen, but will be outclassed in a hit out against the almost legendary Indian batting order that will likely feature at least two of the fab four.
Daniel Vettori will anchor the NZ bowling attack, with Iain O’Brien and Jeetan Patel the most likely support, but on spin friendly pitches, the best players of spin in the world in the Indians will like their chances. Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh will appreciate the conditions in New Zealand, and despite tough talking from the home team, the might of India should be too much.
First match: New Zealand V India, 20/20 at Wellington – Mar 6
First Test: New Zealand V India at Hamilton – Mar 26-30
The Ashes series will be previewed at a later date...