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Mark Wood is in no doubt that he has done nothing wrong. His problem is that the England side as a whole seems to be doing almost everything right.

A common theme on England’s white-ball tour of South Africa – and for some time now – has been how difficult a team it is to break into.

Sam Billings spoke about it before the T20Is began and has so far warmed the bench, Moeen Ali hasn’t been able to get a game in South Africa and even Dawid Malan, the world’s leading T20I batsman and chief architect of England’s 3-0 series sweep, wasn’t taking his place for granted beforehand and fair enough as he’s not even in the ODI squad.

ALSO READ: Malan reaches 915 points, the highest ever for batsmen in T20I rankings

Wood, in the same position as Billings and Moeen as part of both white-ball squads but yet to feature, can only hope the departure of Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes and Sam Curran – who are flying home to rest during the three-match ODI series which starts on Friday – will present opportunities.

“I had a conversation with Morgy [Eoin Morgan] before the first [T20I] just saying it was a tough call but we’re going to go with the team that they went with, and was nothing that I’ve done wrong,” Wood said via Zoom from Cape Town on Wednesday.

“He thought I was preparing well and things, it was just that was the gut feeling that he had and that was the team we went with. That’s international sport, isn’t it? I feel I did all right in the Australia Twenty20s but we just won three-nil here so it proved to be a good call.”

Wood was overlooked for the T20s against South Africa despite taking three wickets in the second warm-up match. He took a wicket in each of three T20Is against Australia in September and 3 for 54 as England lost the first ODI to the same opponents.

But in South Africa in February, after being named player of the match with a nine-wicket display in the Test series decider at Johannesburg, Wood’s four wickets in the T20Is came at a cost of almost two runs a ball.

“I think it’s just hard in general to get in this team,” Wood said. “You’ve got to take your chance if you get it.

“I don’t think I did a lot wrong in the Twenty20s against Australia, I think I did okay, quite well. But last time we were in South Africa I got smacked here so I don’t know if that was the reason maybe I wasn’t picked.”

Asked if it helped to show he was unhappy when missing out on selection, Wood, as ever, preferred to be the affable team man rather than complain bitterly.

“A little bit but I still hold the core values of being a good team bloke and the team always comes first and you always want your mates to do well,” he said.

“There is a competitive edge to it where you don’t want to miss out and you of course want to be the guy that’s out there but Morgy has a very open and honest dressing room… and if there was ever a problem or if I wanted to know the reason why I was left out or how I could get better or how I could stay in the team then he would give us that that answer.

“It’s not about banging on his door or trying to kick it down or anything. It’s just saying, ‘look, can we have a quick chat’.

“I don’t think I need to make a point to the coach or the captain, I think it’s more the fact that I’ve been training well, I’ve been trying to keep myself running in case I was needed and now there’s an opportunity there that I could potentially play so it’s not trying too hard or trying to prove a point, I think, it’s just stick to the stuff I’ve done well recently.”

Wood admitted that while he would relish the opportunity to play the one-dayers in South Africa, he would miss the chance to bowl alongside Archer as they did during England’s triumphant World Cup campaign.

“He helps me, brings the best out of me, and he helps me get wickets because we have that combination where we both bowl quick but we’re very different types of bowlers,” Wood said. “I’ve been playing a new role in the 50-over side. When I first started out I opened the bowling, now I bowl first-change. So, it is always great to play with Jof, and I do feel like he does help me, and I hope I help him.

“I’m not that frustrated because I understand. We’re always being told by [head coach] Chris Silverwood we’re going to be rotated and rested and and things like that, so I think when it comes to the crunch, hopefully we’re in and around each other, like the World Cup. But at the minute I do understand that he’s been here, there and everywhere and needs a little break now.”



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Eng vs SL 2021 – Jos Buttler ruled out of Sri Lanka white-ball series with calf injury

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Dawid Malan added to ODI squad after MRI scans reveal small calf tear

Jos Buttler has been ruled out of the rest of England’s white-ball series with Sri Lanka. Buttler sustained a calf tear in Wednesday’s first T20I and will now return home to commence his rehabilitation.

Buttler, England’s vice-captain and wicketkeeper, scored an unbeaten 68 opening the batting in the first T20I. According to the ECB, he “felt tightness and discomfort” at the end of the game and was sent for an MRI scan on Thursday morning, which revealed a small tear. He sat out the second T20I, which England won by five wickets.

England had already suggested they may use the Sri Lanka T20Is to experiment, with Jonny Bairstow moving up to open in Buttler’s absence – although he made a three-ball duck as England initially struggled in their chase of 112. Liam Livingstone, whose unbeaten 29 helped secure victory, regularly opens in T20 cricket and could also deputise.



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ENG vs SL 2nd T20I – Mickey Arthur on England and Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka’s head coach said he wants the batsmen to be more proactive against a world-class England attack

Mickey Arthur has urged his Sri Lanka side to stay patient after they slipped to a second defeat in as many nights in Cardiff, leaving them on a run of 11 defeats in their last 12 completed T20Is dating back to October 2019.
Opting to bat first in both games after winning the toss, Sri Lanka posted scores of 129 and 111, and while they came much closer to defending their total on Thursday night than in Wednesday’s eight-wicket pasting, they always looked a long way short of a par score, failing to hit a boundary in the powerplay for the first time in their T20I history. Arthur, Sri Lanka’s head coach, stressed at the start of the tour that he wanted to add a level of consistency to selection following a turbulent period of chopping and changing, and that it would be important to “nail down the guys’ roles” in this series.
Dasun Shanaka, with scores of 50 and 8 from No. 7, is their leading run-scorer in the series, with Danushka Gunathilaka and Avishka Fernando – backed as opening options for the long term – both struggling to make an impact at the top of the order. Their lack of attacking intent with the bat came under scrutiny on Thursday, but while Arthur suggested that they could be “more proactive” in future, he said that there had been limited opportunities to score against a “world-class” England side on a slow, two-paced pitch being used for the second night in a row.



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England vs Sri Lanka T20Is – Liam Livingstone makes virtue of versatility in pitch for England World Cup role | Cricket

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Liam Livingstone has enhanced his World Cup claims with two important displays © Getty Images


Teams can take a squad of 33 players to cover 15 starting positions in rugby’s next World Cup, and 23 for 11 spots in football’s, but cricket diverges from the norm. England will take a 15-man squad to the T20 World Cup this winter – albeit with the possibility of a couple of reserves as a Covid precaution – and as a result, the ability of back-up players to cover a range of roles is crucial.

With that in mind, Liam Livingstone has done his chances of inclusion no harm at all in the first two games of their T20I series against Sri Lanka in Cardiff. An innings of 29 not out off 26 balls and four tight overs of liquorice-all-sort spin that have cost 19 runs do not demand retention in themselves, but have demonstrated the flexibility that Livingstone would add to a touring party as a utility player.

“It’s something that I pride myself on, being as versatile as I can,” he said after the second T20I, in which he won the match award after steering England home from No. 6. “It’s something that’s rolled into my bowling as well, trying to bowl both legspin and offspin to give people different options [and] it’s the same with my batting, trying to make myself a player who can bat all the way from No. 1 to No. 8.”

While he has made a reputation for himself as a power-hitter who deals in sixes – in last year’s Big Bash, he scored a higher percentages of his runs in sixes (39.4%) than anyone else in the top 25 run-scorers – Livingstone’s innings on Thursday night demonstrated his willingness to adapt, with a single ramped six standing out alongside a series of clips and pushes into gaps to suit the situation and build a partnership with Sam Billings. Four years on from a pair of frenetic innings in his first two T20Is, he looked a different player.

Importantly, given England’s logjam of top-three options, it also demonstrated an ability to bat in the middle order. Twenty-five of Livingstone’s last 26 innings in domestic T20 cricket for Lancashire and Perth Scorchers have come as an opener, with Jos Buttler even moving down to No. 4 in order to accommodate him at the top in this year’s T20 Blast, but there is little chance of him batting there in an England shirt.

While he will have limited opportunity to do so before the start of the World Cup, Livingstone should consider shuffling down the order for one of his clubs if he can – potentially for Birmingham Phoenix in the Hundred – in order to gain more experience in the role, though batting in the middle order for Peshawar Zalmi and Cape Town Blitz two winters ago meant he had something to lean back on.

“I batted at No. 4 and 5 in the PSL and in the South African T20 [MSL],” he said. “I guess that’s the reason I go away and play in these competitions: trying to get experience of batting in different roles, which has obviously helped me coming into an England side, batting in a position I’m not really used to.”

But it is with the ball that Livingstone is particularly multi-talented, as he has demonstrated in this series. He generally bowls legbreaks to right-handers and offbreaks to left-handers, and while not a prodigious turner of the ball, he gets enough spin both ways to keep batters guessing and forcing them to watch him carefully out of the hand.

“It’s certainly advantageous isn’t it?” Buttler said after Wednesday night’s game. “It’s a fantastic skill to have, to be able to bowl offspin and legspin to international standard. We will potentially see that come into the game more and more. He’s an exciting package, a great guy to have in your squad and your XI.”

Livingstone is not the finished article with the ball. Two of the three most expensive overs of his T20 career have come at crunch moments, confirming Lancashire’s exits in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the last two Blast seasons when Ravi Bopara and Dan Christian took him down, but he insisted that those experiences have been beneficial in the long run.

“[My bowling] has always been well-regarded at Lancashire,” he said. “I’ve obviously had a couple of tough moments with it over the last couple of years, but they are the moments that have made me a better bowler. It’s something I’ve worked hard on for this sort of opportunity, to push my way into a team as someone that can offer something in all three facets of the game.”

As an excellent outfielder too, Livingstone’s case for inclusion in the World Cup squad is strong: even if he is unlikely to start once Ben Stokes returns from injury, the fact he offers some overs as a second – or even third – spinner, can cover a number of batting roles and is a good option to come on as a substitute fielder mean that he has quickly become England’s Mr Versatile.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98


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