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Australia’s strict Covid-19 restrictions raise prospect of senior players’ withdrawals

Dom Bess, the Yorkshire and England offspinner, has said that the prospect of being selected for his maiden Ashes tour this winter is something he “would never, ever turn down”, amid concerns that a number of England’s senior players may be reluctant to commit to the tour due to Australia’s strict Covid-19 restrictions.

England’s Test players are expected to seek clarity this week over the Ashes arrangements, with the series due to begin in Brisbane on December 8 before concluding six weeks later in Perth on January 18. With England’s multi-format players likely to head straight to Australia from the T20 World Cup in the UAE, the final of which takes place on November 14, it means that those players with young families, such as Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, are likely to undergo several months of separation.

Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, wrote in his Telegraph column on Wednesday that in the event families were unable to join the touring party, Cricket Australia “either have to delay the Ashes by a year or the series will go ahead and be a farce with an under-strength England side”.

However, Bess – who turned 24 last week, and who admitted earlier this season that he had begun to “hate cricket” after enduring a tough tour of India last winter – insisted that, at this early stage of his career, with no family commitments to distract him from his cricket ambitions, he wouldn’t hesitate to travel if selected.

“It gives me goosebumps talking about it,” Bess said. “It is the pinnacle. Just watching the 2005 Ashes and then being at school and staying up all night to watch the 2010-11 when Cooky [Alastair Cook] scored hundred after hundred. That is pinnacle of the career – everyone thinks about it.

“It is a tough ask,” he added. “Obviously I don’t know what will be happening about Australia and their regulations – but I think if your name was on the ticket and you were going to an Ashes series as a 24 year old, a young lad, you would never ever turn that down.

“I think it would be very tough leaving family and supporters at home, but it is an Ashes series away from home – something you dream of, playing against Australia in Australia and looking to win there. Certainly you wouldn’t turn that down. I don’t think anyone who dreams of doing that would be able to turn that down.”

Bess has been named in England’s 17-player squad for the first two Tests against India, at Trent Bridge and Lord’s next month, and while Jack Leach is likely to be England’s first-choice spinner at this stage of the series, he is feeling upbeat about making a return to the Test bubble, with the return of crowds likely to make a big difference to the team environment, compared to the behind-closed-doors experience in 2020.

“It is so good to have fans back in the ground,” he said. “You look at these Hundred games, it’s been amazing. But with bubbles, it was very taxing by the end of it. At the start of last summer we went to Southampton, up to Manchester, back to Southampton … we didn’t see anyone, no one in the crowd, empty stadiums, then we had a bit of a break, then straight to Sri Lanka, then India.

“Obviously, I am only one of the Test specialists, but you look at the one-day and T20 guys, and you can understand why people get burnt out and mentally fatigued, and how much it has an impact on your actual game.

“That was something I had to learn to try and deal with during India,” he added. “I was mentally tired and physically tired by the end of it, because you’d play or not play, go back to your room, do nothing, then next day get the bus to the ground, do your work, go back to the hotel … day in, day out.



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Match Preview – Sri Lanka vs South Africa, South Africa in Sri Lanka 2021, 1st T20I

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After toppling the visitors with spin in ODIs, Shanaka’s men will look for more of the same in friendly conditions

Big picture

A T20 World Cup is around the corner. For Sri Lanka, it begins with the qualifiers, which kick off approximately six weeks from now. For South Africa, who go straight through to the main draw, the World Cup starts about a week later. Either way, this is the lead-in – the phase in which teams look to tighten up their combinations, get key players into form, and battle-test their match-ups and strategies. South Africa’s eight T20I wins to their seven losses this year suggests they are closer figuring out a good game plan than Sri Lanka, who have lost six and won only three (two of those wins were against a severely depleted second-string India side).

South Africa are not only fresh from a series win against Ireland (whom Sri Lanka will face in the qualifiers), but had even defeated West Indies in the Caribbean in June and July. In Aiden Markram and David Miller, they have batters that have scored heavily in the format in 2021; in Tabraiz Shamsi they have a wristspinner who has claimed 24 wickets at an economy rate of 5.32. No other bowler has more wickets than Shamsi in T20Is in 2021.

Sri Lanka will feel they have some momentum after their ODI victory, but their T20I ranking of ninth is deserved – this is the format in which they have struggled most over the past few years. They will hope that the confidence gained from two consecutive series victories in a row (the first being that T20I series win over a depleted India), and familiarity with the conditions – which again are expected to be spin-friendly – can help elevate them to South Africa’s level.

Form guide

(completed matches, most recent first)

Sri Lanka WWLLL

South Africa WWWWL

In the spotlight

Do Sri Lanka have a new Ajantha Mendis on their hands? On Tuesday, Maheesh Theekshana unveiled his well-disguised carrom ball and his googly at the international level, claiming four wickets – a record for a Sri Lanka spinner on ODI debut. Those figures, however, came on a deck that offered substantial turn. Can he be as effective on less spin-friendly surfaces? And now that South Africa have had a chance to analyse footage, how much of his mystery will Theekshana retain?
In 14 bowling innings this year, only once has Tabraiz Shamsi gone wicketless. Of those innings, only in one – when Babar Azam hit full tilt in Centurion – did Shamsi go at more than eight an over. These are not just good statistics, they are performances that have elevated Shamsi to the top of the T20 rankings, one place above Wanindu Hasaranga from the opposition. Having already taken eight wickets in the ODIs, the T20s look set to see more Shamsi magic. There will be no bowler Sri Lanka will spend more prep time working out how to defuse.

Pitch and conditions

Expect another turning track. With showers frequently rolling through Colombo, rain interruptions are on the card too.

Team news

Kusal Perera is likely to return to the Sri Lanka XI, after regaining match fitness following his bout of Covid. Kamindu Mendis will probably stat at No. 3, given his excellent T20 domestic form recently. Sri Lanka may think about bringing in offspinning allrounder Ramesh Mendis to bolster the lower middle order, too.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Avishka Fernando, 2 Kusal Perera (wk), 3 Kamindu Mendis, 4 Dhananjaya de Silva, 5 Charith Asalanka, 6 Dasun Shanaka (capt.), 7 Wanindu Hasaranga, 8 Ramesh Mendis, 9 Chamika Karunaratne, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Maheesh Theekshana

David Miller has recovered from a hamstring strain and is available. Lungi Ngidi, though, won’t be, as he has flown straight to the IPL. Keshav Maharaj will captain the side.

South Africa (possible): 1 Janneman Malan, 2 Reeza Hendricks, 3 Aiden Markram, 4 David Miller, 5 Rassie van der Dussen, 6 Heinrich Klaasen (wk), 7 Wiaan Mulder, 8 George Linde, 9 Keshav Maharaj (capt.), 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi

Stats and trivia

  • South Africa have won seven, and lost five of their T20 internationals against Sri Lanka.
  • Sri Lanka’s two T20I wins over India came after a five-match losing streak. Their previous win, over West Indies, had come after an eight-match losing streak.
  • In 12 bowling innings since the start of 2020, Wanindu Hasaranga’s economy rate is 5.8. He has taken 21 wickets in that time.
  • Quotes

    “Performance is everything, so we want to come here and win the series, to go to the World Cup with a log of confidence. What we’ve gone through in the last couple of months have been huge stepping stones for our T20 team. Beating West Indies – a lot of people thought we were underdogs. We won 3-2. A lot of confidence has been taken from that.”
    David Miller on South Africa’s form

    Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf



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    T20 World Cup 2021 – Rashid Khan steps down as captain protesting against Afghanistan’s T20 World Cup squad selection

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    “The selection committee and ACB has not obtained my consent for the team”

    Less than half an hour after Afghanistan announced their squad for the upcoming T20 World Cup, Rashid Khan stepped down as captain, saying “the selection committee and ACB has not obtained my consent for the team which has been announced by ACB media”. It is understood that the team will now be led by allrounder Mohammad Nabi.

    Rashid had been named captain in the squad put out by the ACB’s official Twitter handle, but said he was stepping down, effective immediately through his own tweet, posted 22 minutes after the ACB’s.



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    Eng vs Ind, 5th Test, 2021

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    The fate of the fifth Test was in balance after India’s assistant physio Yogesh Parmar tested Covid-19 positive

    The Manchester Test is back on. Its fate was in balance after India’s assistant physio Yogesh Parmar tested Covid-19 positive on Wednesday evening. But the BCCI, after discussions with the Indian team management and the ECB as well, has now made it clear that the final Test of the Pataudi series will go ahead as scheduled. This was the most likely outcome as soon as the entire Indian squad were found to be negative for the virus, although they did have to deal with a day’s worth of uncertainty.

    Beyond the Manchester Test, the BCCI had also been concerned that Parmar testing positive could have a cascading effect on the second half the IPL, which starts in the UAE from September 19. On September 15, a bulk of the India and England players are scheduled to board charter flights to Dubai to join their respective IPL franchises.

    The BCCI does not want the IPL to be impacted as it is scheduled to host the men’s 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE and Oman two days after the IPL ends, on October 15.

    On Thursday morning the BCCI’s top brass conducted a virtual meeting with the Indian team management including captain Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri to figure a way forward. It is understood that the Indian players had been concerned about the threat of Covid-19 but they left the final decision with the BCCI.

    Through Thursday the BCCI engaged in discussions with the ECB on the way forward in case were more cases were to break out in the Indian camp. The BCCI also put out the option of cancelling the final Test, but the ECB is understood to have made it clear that it would interpret any refusal to play as forfeiture. The BCCI was keen to avoid such a scenario as not only would it see England square the series, but it could expose them to claims of lost revenue from broadcasters and the venue. The lost revenue could be up to £30 million (INR 306 crore).

    The World Test Championship playing conditions, though, state that a Covid-19 outbreak within a team is an acceptable reason for a Test to be abandoned. With the WTC table now based on the percentage of points available, a four-Test series instead of five would not have impacted any side’s final tally. In case the final Test had not been played, India would pocket 26 WTC points while England will have 14 out of the 48 that was available.

    Parmar was found to be Covid-positive on Wednesday evening after he reported having symptoms at the end of a training session. He is the fourth member of the Indian contingent to test positive in the last week. On September 4, after the third day of the Oval Test, India head coach Ravi Shastri returned a positive test and the BCCI medical team identified Bharat Arun, R Sridhar and head physiotherapist Nitin Patel as the immediate contacts for Shastri.

    The next morning Shastri along with Arun and Sridhar returned positive RT-PCR tests, thus sending them into ten-day quarantine. Patel, meanwhile, returned a negative test but remained in his room in London. He then travelled separately by road to Manchester where he is understood to be staying on a separate floor from the rest of the Indian squad at the team hotel.

    At the moment, little is known about Parmar’s immediate contacts. He has been treating several key Indian players for niggles, including Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. These players have been mingling among the wider group.

    According to the UK government’s Covid-19 guidelines, any person who receives a positive PCR test for Covid-19 is obliged to self-isolate for ten days. However, those identified as close contacts don’t need to isolate themselves if they test negative and it has been more than 14 days since their second jab.

    The ECB has relaxed its protocols around biosecure bubbles with its chief executive officer Tom Harrison declaring that “cricket must learn to live with Covid” and accept some “risks” while maintaining basic social distancing and medical guidelines That has allowed the Indians to travel on trains across England between the Tests and step out of team hotels and go for walks as well as sit at outdoor cafes. On the eve of the Oval Test, Shastri organised an event for his book launch that was attended by members of the public along with the Indian squad.

    Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo. George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo



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