Newspaper article International New York Times

New Year Calendar Features a Wealth of Challenging Tests for Elite Nations

Newspaper article International New York Times

New Year Calendar Features a Wealth of Challenging Tests for Elite Nations

Article excerpt

Leading cricketers will be focused on India and the world's greatest rotisserie auction to kick off 2014, with major events scheduled on and off the field.

Leading cricketers will be focused on India and the world's greatest rotisserie auction -- one with real players -- to kick off 2014, with major events scheduled on and off the field.

The 2013 Indian Premier League auction, which will be held on Feb. 12, is the big one that happens only every three years, determining how much the giants of the game will earn from cricket's most lucrative competition between now and 2015. Some will become rich overnight, others will suffer a blow to both earnings and egos.

South Africa and Australia's best players will be prominently involved, but most of their players will have to push what is going on in India to the back of their minds as they begin the first of three five-day test matches at Centurion, located between Pretoria and Johannesburg, on the same day.

That series will match the hosts and the world's No.1 ranked team with a resurgent Australian team fresh from its Ashes slaughter of England. Always a challenging matchup for South Africa, it just got a bit tougher with the retirement from test cricket of its all- rounder, Jacques Kallis.

Kallis's departure was not wholly unexpected. He is 38 and his form had slumped. Nor is his quite the retirement of 2013, as it would have been for just about any year that did not also see the departure of India's peerless batting hero, Sachin Tendulkar.

But a great all-rounder -- and there have been few greater, and none more productive, than Kallis in the 137-year history of international cricket -- is an incomparable asset.

"To replace a cricketer like him, you need two guys," wrote Shaun Pollock, the former captain of South Africa, on the ESPN Cricinfo website, "You talk about a true all-rounder as being a guy who can hold his place as a batsman alone or as a bowler alone. Jacques can do that."

South Africa will still bat deep and field the most dangerous pace trio in world cricket.

Dale Steyn's response to being bumped from No.1 in the world rankings, after four years on top, by teammate Vernon Philander last week, was to take six Indian wickets in the current test match against India in Durban. But striking the right balance between batting and bowling specialists, always the great challenge facing selectors, is that much tougher without Kallis.

Australia faces its own imponderables. Magnificent at home against England, with Mitchell Johnson stamping himself as the comeback player of 2013, its recent road record has been lousy. Resurgence against England was accomplished by a team of veterans. Opening batsman Chris Rogers and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin are both 36. Johnson and fellow spearhead Ryan Harris are 32 and 34 respectively, old for pace bowlers. …

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