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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.

ALSO READ: NZ director of public health slams Pakistan Covid protocol breaches

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.

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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.

The above points system was revealed by Geoff Allardice, the ICC’s acting chief executive officer, during a media chat organised by the ICC on Monday. As a consequence of several series in the first cycle of the WTC being postponed due to the pandemic, the ICC altered the points system last November, deciding to rank teams based on the percentage of points won from the series they contested.

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Eng vs NZ 2021 – ‘Players have got to show desperation and earn the right to stay in the side’



Graham Thorpe, England’s assistant coach, has called on his team’s young batters to prove their “desperation” to stay in the Test team, after New Zealand’s eight-wicket win at Edgbaston on Sunday completed their first series victory in this country since 1999, and England’s first loss on home soil in seven years.

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.

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England vs India women’s Test 2021 – Harmanpreet Kaur: ‘We may not have much practice, but mentally we’re prepared’ | Cricket





‘Because of the struggles of past Indian women’s cricketers, we have this opportunity’ – Harmanpreet Kaur

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

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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