Two weeks ago, all 54 members – players and support staff – of the Pakistan squad tested negative for Covid-19 and were cleared to fly out to New Zealand. There were supposed to be 55 travellers, but Fakhar Zaman had symptoms similar to Covid-19, and was thus left behind; he would return a negative test the following day. The rest of the squad departed, apparently, with no cases of Covid-19 among them.
However, after testing upon arrival the following day, the New Zealand health ministry found half-a-dozen players had tested positive, and four players who had what was called historic infections. With this many of the travel contingent found to be carrying Covid-19 at some point since arriving in New Zealand, questions arise about whether the PCB’s procedures and processes before the squad departed were rigorous enough.
The same processes weren’t in place, before the New Zealand tour, as there had been before the England tour earlier in the year. Ahead of that tour, the PCB carried out two tests, including an antibody test. To comply with their stated policy for the England tour, players had to test negative twice before being cleared for travel. They were together in a hotel for seven days. For the New Zealand tour, the PCB carried out just one test, keeping players in the hotel pre-departure for only two days.
The entire squad of 35 players and 20 coaching staff and officials assembled in a Lahore hotel on the afternoon of November 20. They were tested for Covid-19 the next day and all returned negative tests. The team then departed for Dubai on a connecting flight to Auckland via Kuala Lumpur. A chartered plane then took the squad to Christchurch to begin what should have been a 14-day quarantine period.
Before flying out, the players had been part of a hectic home season in which many of them would have played in the National T20 Cup, the Quaid-e-Azam trophy in Karachi (first and second XI), the white-ball series against Zimbabwe in Rawalpindi and four PSL matches in Karachi. Though the PCB had created bio-secure bubbles for players during these matches, there were breaches, leading to a PCB reprimand for certain players during the National T20 Cup.
Earlier this week, left-arm spinner Raza Hasan was sent home from the Quaid-e-Azam trophy and banned for the rest of the season for a serious Covid-19 breach, which involved him leaving the bio-secure premises without prior clearance.
This has coincided with a time when Covid-19 has seen an alarming spike in Pakistan over the past two months. After a first peak died down in July, bringing official cases down to as low as under 500 a day in August, cases and deaths from the virus began to creep up again in October. Pakistan averages over 3,000 cases a day over the past fortnight, with the state acknowledging further precautions needed to be taken. Notably, however, a second lockdown has not been imposed, and while regional lockdowns are officially in place, enforcement remains feeble.
Between the second and third round of games in the QeA Trophy, nine Sindh players, including captain Sarfraz Ahmed, experienced flu-like symptoms. But because their results came back negative, they all remained in the bubble and only fast bowler Mir Hamza returned home after being declared unwell. Balochistan’s wicketkeeper-batsman Bismillah Khan had tested positive for Covid-19 during the second round match against Southern Punjab in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy, but hadn’t been tested until the fourth day, after which he was substituted on the field by Adnan Akmal – who himself would test positive a round later and is presently in quarantine in Lahore.
Six members of the Multan Sultans squad have either tested positive post the PSL, or are currently the part of the Pakistan squad who are being investigated for a historic Covid-19 infection, meaning an infection that is no longer contagious. Sohail Tanvir, part of the franchise, played the PSL, but then tested positive on arrival in Sri Lanka for the Lanka Premier League. Zaman, who was pulled out a day before the departure for New Zealand, tested negative but his Lahore Qalandars team-mate Dilbar Hussain tested positive after landing in Australia to play in the BBL. Hussain had tested negative before leaving Pakistan, and is now in quarantine in Perth. And before playing the PSL, Shaheen Afridi underwent various tests which threw up what are believed to be inconclusive results. He was ultimately cleared to play after two negative tests, but it is understood he is one of the four players in New Zealand who are being investigated for historic infection.
The historic infection cases, in particular, throw up questions about testing in Pakistan. The four players repeatedly returned negative results during the many tests conducted over the course of the domestic season. All four were also part of the squad to England which means that they are now throwing up historic signs of an infection, despite having tested negative repeatedly since June.
The PCB is confident they did what was required of them before the departure for New Zealand. It is worth noting the PCB do not carry out the testing themselves, but outsource it to certified laboratories. And it is not as if the PCB has not tested enough: across the domestic season so far, they have conducted nearly 3000 tests.
“During the nine tournaments/series to date, as many as 2,830 Covid-19 tests have been conducted on players, players support personnel and match officials as the PCB has strictly followed and implemented its strict protocols, which were designed in-house, and have been put together for the health and safety of all participants,” the board said in a statement.
WTC 2021-23 – Geoff Allardice
The ICC’s acting CEO has said teams will continue to be ranked based on percentage of points contested
The shift to a ranking based on the percentage of points contested, which came about thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, will extend into the second (2021-23) edition of the World Test Championship, with one caveat. Instead of 120 points being available over each series, independent of the length of the series, every Test match will now carry an equal number of points. At the end of the WTC cycle, teams will be ranked based on the percentage of points accrued over all the matches they have played.
That shift allowed New Zealand, which was behind India, Australia and England in the points tally at the time, to leapfrog those teams and become the first team to make the inaugural WTC final after consecutive home series wins over West Indies and Pakistan. India’s historic 2-1 win in Australia, followed by a 3-1 victory at home against England, allowed them to book the second finalist’s slot and eventually finish on top of the WTC table.
Four days before the WTC final, Allardice said the ICC had decided to stick to the percentage-of-points-won methodology as it provided twin benefits. “We are going to stick with the percentage-of-points-won method to rank teams,” Allardice said. “When we looked at the first 12 months of the competition you had teams on a number of points, but it was all relative to how many series they had played. So one of the ways to compare teams on an ongoing basis is what proportion of the points that have been available in the matches they played have been actually won. And that percentage served us well in the second half of the Championship.
“The other thing is if we are using the percentage of points won we can put a standardised number of points per Test match. So it doesn’t matter if it is a two-Test series or a five-Test series, the same number of points will be available for each match that’s played, but every team would be judged on the percentage of those points it wins, not on total.”
The alteration in the points system was originally devised and recommended by the ICC Cricket Committee, which is headed by former India captain Anil Kumble. However, not everyone was impressed by the ICC’s move. Ahead of the four-Test Border-Gavaskar Trophy last year, India captain Virat Kohli said the amended points system was “confusing”. India had played four out of their six scheduled series in the WTC cycle at that point and were leading the table with 360 points. However, Australia, who had earned 296 points from three series, toppled India after the revision, with 82.22 percentage points (296 out of 360) compared to the latter’s 75 (360 out of 480).
Allardice understood the critics’ view, but said the ICC had had no option but to change the system. “The principle that we had when we created the competition was that every match in a series that was played as part of the Test Championship should count. The point system was also to try and reflect that a two-match series is worth the same as a five-match series. That was trying to make sure that everyone was playing for the same number of points in total, everyone was playing for the same number points home and away.
“One of things that happened during this cycle is that it became evident that not everyone was going to complete their six series as a result of some of the postponements due to Covid. So we left the final in the spot in the calendar where it was originally scheduled. But because we are going to have teams playing uneven number of series we needed to tweak to the points system to try and make it as fair as possible and to make sure it reflected the matches that they did play rather than too heavily influenced by they didn’t play.
“As it turned out it was a fair system. New Zealand didn’t play one series as a result of the Covid disruption las year, but they’ve still been able to qualify for the final through the strength of their performances in other series. So we prefer not to have changed the points system in the middle of a tournament but due to the circumstances of Covid and the need to ensure that the best two teams got to the final we thought it was necessary that it was approved at the end of last year.”
Allardice also said the suggestion of India coach Ravi Shastri to have a best-of-three final to determine the winner of the second edition of the WTC – was a good one but not “realistic”, due to the lack of a free window for such an event in the cricket calendar.
“In a perfect world a three-Test series would be a great way to decide the World Test Championship,” Allardice said. “But the reality (of) the international cricket schedule is we are just not going to have [a situation where] blocking out a month or so for all the teams in the tournament for the final is realistic. That’s why one-match final was decided upon. Why it is quite exciting is because it brings something new. Here were are – we’ve got a one-off Test match to decide the best team in the world over this two-year cycle.”
Draw “certainly a valid result”
Allardice was asked whether it was fair on the two finalists in case the match were to end in a draw due to rain interruptions. Announcing the WTC prize money on Monday, the ICC said both teams would share the Test mace, and the pot of USD 2.4 million, in case of a draw.
“One of the idiosyncrasies of Test cricket is that the draw is a result,” Allardice said. “One of things while talking about the structure of the competition was to we didn’t want to start the final with one team having to win and one team having to draw, so both teams start on Friday even. They have five playing days to get a result. We have set aside a reserve day so that if time is lost during those five days it can be further made up on the reserve day. It isn’t a six-day Test match.
“And if after those five days the result is a draw, then the view was that the fitting result is that the Championship is shared. Whether we like it or not a draw is certainly a valid result in Test cricket.”
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo
Eng vs NZ 2021 – ‘Players have got to show desperation and earn the right to stay in the side’
Thorpe, who was a part of the England team that slumped to the bottom of the unofficial world rankings with their 2-1 series loss in 1999, said that he hoped this defeat would spur a similar quest for higher standards among the class of 2021, after he himself played a central role in the Nasser Hussain-led team that went on to win four series in a row in 2000-01, including their first against West Indies in 32 years.
But, Thorpe warned, while today’s selectors were far more tolerant of short-term failure than they were at the start of his own career in 1993, the management would need to see evidence of greater mental application than was the case in the past two Test matches. That was particularly the case in the second innings at Edgbaston, where England slumped to 76 for 6 and ultimately 122 all out.
“We have some younger players in our team who are still developing and we’re wanting them to improve,” Thorpe said. “But sometimes the intensity and the spotlight of Test cricket, when you’re up against a good team like New Zealand, just highlights how much of a challenge our players found their decision-making and the execution of shots.
“Whatever technique you have, the basics are still the same,” he added. “You have to get in, you have to be positive in your defence, leave the ball well outside off stump and play straight. These are the things that have applied to batting in Test match cricket for as long as it has been going.
“So it is a mental skill to be able to train the brain to do these things, and if anything we’ve been lacking consistency in that area.”
“If you look at the techniques of all our batters from Sibley to Burns, to [Ollie] Pope to Lawrence, you can go down our batting order and to me it comes down to decision-making,” Thorpe said. “They have all scored runs at Test level and so it is about doing it more consistently and that is a mental thing really.
“It is about coping with the anxiousness when you first go out there and once you get in, and things become easier, it is about being hungry to score runs and to stay out there to accumulate. You can do that in a number of ways, rotating the strike, putting overs into the bowlers and making them work hard, and then we have the players who can take advantage.
“We have the talent, but you have to mentally push yourself on further as well and that is the area where we have fallen down in this series.”
The wider concern for England, who face India in five Tests from August before heading to Australia for the Ashes in December and January, is that the batters who failed against New Zealand were, broadly speaking, among England’s first-choice picks.
“He’s young, both in terms of age and his Test career,” Thorpe said. “He’s played 14 matches and he’s starting to get an understanding of what Test match batting is all about.
“He’ll be very frustrated. It is important for him to keep learning about what it takes to keep himself at the crease. That is the thing he will be most disappointed about in this series, but he has got to reflect and learn from what has happened. If he goes away and keeps working at his game I’m sure he will be successful, but you do have to learn from these moments so that when you come back you are better for it.
“As coaches that is what we are looking at. Do you have the game, the mental fortitude to improve and learn and push yourself forward when you have a bump in the road?”
The itinerary for the rest of the English summer does not offer much opportunity for the incumbents to groove their games on the county circuit, or for rivals to challenge for their berths ahead of the Trent Bridge Test on August 4, with two rounds of the Championship in early July giving way to the opening matches of the Hundred later that month.
As a consequence, Thorpe indicated that England would not be making wholesale changes against New Zealand, but warned that pressure for places was part and parcel of the job.
“These players have to show a desperation to stay in the side,” he said. “They’ve got to earn the right to stay in the side.
“And they will be fully aware of that, because we’ve got some players who will come back into that team and there are others on the outside putting pressure on so there is competition for places, which is a healthy thing for a team.
“That competition should drive the individual on so, when they get in, they smell that opportunity to perform and go and do it. Of course, that goes with the territory of playing at the highest level. You do have to keep producing. Your right-hand column is very important, it is what keeps you in the team.
“It is for us to keep observing the players to see whether they have the temperament to apply their techniques to score runs,” he added.
“Technique is hugely important and that is what keeps you scoring runs, but it is your decision-making that keeps you out in the middle whatever technique you have.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
England vs India women’s Test 2021 – Harmanpreet Kaur: ‘We may not have much practice, but mentally we’re prepared’ | Cricket
Harmanpreet Kaur believes that a lack of adequate game time in the longest format in the lead-up to India Women’s return to Test cricket after nearly seven years can be offset in some measure by cultivating a positive outlook and heeding advice received from Ajinkya Rahane.
“I’ve played only two red-ball matches [in international cricket]. As a batting group when we have a discussion… this time we got a chance to speak to Rahane as well,” Kaur, the India Test vice-captain, said of her “easy and friendly talk” with her male counterpart in Southampton, where both the Indian teams served a hard quarantine upon arriving in the UK on June 3. “He shared his knowledge with us as to how to approach batting in the longest format and how one should divide their innings into parts.
“We may not have much practice under our belt [going into the Test], but mentally [we are prepared]. We’ve discussed a lot of things so we prepare ourselves well for the match. Even in the nets, we’ve tried to be in a good frame of mind because when you are happy, other than thinking too much about your batting, you tend to play well.”
The women’s team arrived in Bristol on Monday for the one-off Test against hosts England that begins on Wednesday. The opening fixture of a seven-match multi-format assignment, the Test marks India’s first outing in the format since the one-off Test at home against South Africa in November 2014. On the domestic circuit, the last multi-day women’s competition – the Senior Women’s Inter-Zonal Three-Day Game – was held in March-April 2018, in Thiruvananthapuram.
Kaur admitted that inadequate preparedness heading into the tour wasn’t ideal, but welcomed the revival of Test cricket for her team.
“Whatever time we’ve got [since coming out of quarantine], we’ve tried to simulate match scenarios as much as possible and tried to keep ourselves in the best frame of mind,” Kaur said. “We didn’t get much time to prepare, or any practice games. Individually, it’s imperative to adapt to the situation.
“We’ve never tried tinkering too much with Shafali because she is a natural player, and if you try talking too much technique or game planning with her, she can get disturbed because she is only 17″
Harmanpreet Kaur is all for letting Shafali Verma develop her own way
“The surfaces are different to what we get in India. We’ve practised against the swinging ball in the nets. We have a further two days – today and tomorrow – to prepare ourselves better for the match, so I hope we’ll be able to do that well.
“It’s a totally different scenario [to playing with the white ball]. I know we didn’t even get any domestic games with the red ball. In the upcoming season and years we’ll get more red-ball cricket also, which is a very good sign for us.”
As with Tests in the Women’s Ashes, the Bristol Test will feature the use of the Kookaburra red ball (the Dukes ball is usually used in England), with England captain Heather Knight saying last week that “we’re going to be using a Kookaburra in this match because that’s what we’re going to be using in the Ashes and it’s no secret this Test match is a huge part of our preparation going into that Ashes series and that Ashes Test match away from home.”
Kaur said that in the practice sessions India have had so far, the Kookaburra didn’t pose much challenge.
“Dealing with a Kookaburra didn’t feel too different because the ball size and weight is roughly the same [as the white ball we use in limited-overs cricket]. The last time we played [a Test], we felt the red ball was a bit heavier than the white variant, which makes you rely on your timing more. But the Kookaburra white and red ball feels the same; just the colour is different. We felt good playing with it because when you’re in whites and you play with the red ball, it’s a totally different feeling.”
When asked about the likelihood of 17-year-old big-hitter Shafali Verma making her debut on Wednesday, Kaur stressed that it was important for the senior players and the team management to refrain from talking shop too much with the young batter.
“We’ve never tried tinkering too much with Shafali because she is a natural player, and if you try talking too much technique or game planning with her, she can get disturbed because she is only 17 years old,” Kaur said. “To burden her with too many thoughts isn’t the right thing.
“All of us try to create a good environment for her to be able to feel less pressured and be able to enjoy her cricket well. She was looking great in the nets, and I hope if she gets a chance to play she’ll do better.”
As regards Jhulan Goswami, the senior-most bowler in the Indian attack, Kaur was hopeful that the 38-year-old pacer would replicate in this Test the consistency and success that’s been a hallmark of her nearly two-decade-long international career.
“She is someone who always takes the lead whenever we’re on the field,” Kaur said. “She’s always [been] special for us because her quota [of overs] is [important]. She will always give us breakthroughs whenever we need. Not only her but all the bowlers are very important because in Test matches you need breakthroughs, and I think she will be fantastic in this match also.”
The tour of England is also returning head coach Ramesh Powar‘s first assignment since replacing WV Raman in the role last month. Kaur, who is also India’s T20I captain, said her interactions with Powar on the ongoing tour had been no different to those during his first stint in the position which ended with the 2018 T20 World Cup, following a high-profile controversy involving himself, ODI captain Mithali Raj, Kaur, T20I vice-captain Smriti Mandhana, and several members of the now-defunct Committee of Administrators that was overseeing the BCCI.
“My interactions with him have been the same [as before]. He is someone who’s involved in the game all the time and expects the same of the players. Whenever you speak to him, you feel like you’re in a match. He asks you to imagine yourself in a match situation and figure out how you would react to it.
“I get a lot of information speaking to him because he, too, has played a lot of cricket, including T20 cricket. So the experience is the same. Whatever we had done in 2018, we are repeating those things now as well.”
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha
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