A year is a long time in the world of a T20 freelance cricketer. Twelve months ago, Tymal Mills was gearing up for his first crack at sporting superstardom, after being snapped up by Bangalore Royal Challengers for a whopping GBP1.4 million at the 2017 IPL auction – a true rags-to-riches tale for a player who had feared, due to a degenerative back condition, that he might be forced to retire before he had even reached his prime.
But now, Mills is back to being on the outside looking in where the IPL’s concerned – he was snubbed at this year’s auction after an underwhelming run of form for Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash, and overlooked too in the draft for the Caribbean Premier League (although, as he later clarified on Twitter, a partial clash with his county commitments at Sussex meant he had never fully expected a gig).
But Mills insists he has no complaints about the way in which his life has reverted to the norm, or indeed about the process of the IPL auction itself – which has attracted criticism in some quarters, most notably from the chief executive of New Zealand’s players’ association, Heath Mills, that it is “undignified” and “cruel” to parade players like “cattle”.
“It’s a little bit tough, but don’t put yourself in it if you’re scared of being humiliated or embarrassed,” Mills told ESPNcricinfo. “If you don’t get picked. It’s just the way it is. I’ve felt the good and the bad of the auction, I was obviously the belle of the ball last year and this year I wasn’t involved. That’s okay. We’re all big boys and we have got take the rough with the smooth.
“It’s not like that in any other league because there’s not the money elsewhere that there is in the IPL,” he added. “The only way to spread out that type of money is through the auction system, I think. Obviously with other leagues, it’s capped and there’s less money involved so you can split it – you can do it in a draft and it’s a bit more regimented – but with the money that the IPL generates and the passion and everything that India brings to cricket, it’s just the way it is.”
And Mills certainly has no reason to bite the hand that chose not to feed him this year. After all, it’s not as if the vast sum of money that RCB coughed up for his services last year has gone up in smoke, KLF-style.
“I was very, very fortunate last year,” Mills said. “I invested it well, bought myself a property and all those nice things. I’ve definitely experienced both sides of the coin – obviously things couldn’t have been better last year with the contract I was able to get, and obviously this year I didn’t get one, so it works both ways, but I wasn’t expecting to get one.
“Going into the auction I was in pretty bad form playing in the Big Bash, and how you perform leading up to the auction really determines how well you go or don’t go – last year I had a really good series with England in India; this year bowled pretty poorly. I’m not upset about it or anything, it’s just the way it goes. I’m still very happy with how my life is, still very fortunate, and I’ll be ready to go if guys get injured or get international call-ups.”
In the meantime, Mills’ IPL mantle has been passed to his Sussex team-mate, Jofra Archer, who was picked up by Rajasthan Royals for GBP800,000. And seeing as they were both playing for Hobart when the news from the auction landed, Mills has been on hand to pass on some of the lessons he learned about such a life-changing windfall.
“It’s great for Jofra,” Mills said. “We come from quite similar backgrounds, not overly well off, then you get given all this money and you don’t quite know what to do with it. I saw at first-hand how good he was in the Big Bash, and as I was in the exact same situation 12 months ago, I’ve put him in touch with some people who helped me get stuff in order. I’m sure he’ll be fine as well.”
Mills was speaking at Hove during Sussex’s pre-season media day, having just returned from Lahore where he was one of a contingent of English players who committed to taking part in the knock-out stages of the Pakistan Super League. And despite being eliminated by Peshawar Zalmi in the semi-finals, his haul of 2 for 23 in three overs capped a personally satisfactory campaign, and perhaps more importantly given his medical history, proved his ability to remain fit across back-to-back tournaments.
“I’ve had an up-and-down winter in terms of form and selection, but I have to be very grateful I’m still playing,” he said. “Last year I struggled, I tore my hamstring three times and it was a real problem for me. So to get through back-to-back tournaments, even though I didn’t bowl as well as I would have liked in the first half, that’s a big plus for me, to stand here right now, in good shape and really looking forward to the English season.”
And despite so much talk in the English off-season about the increasing divide between red-ball and white-ball cricket, Mills reiterated he was fully committed to playing for Sussex in this season’s Blast, in spite of putting himself forward for the CPL which clashes with the latter stages of the competition.
“I’m fully committed to Sussex,” he said, “They’ve treated me really well since I moved down here, but it’s just about being smart and having all bases covered.
“The way the CPL draft works, to be a replacement player you have to be in the draft in the first place. So if Sussex weren’t to qualify for the knock-outs, I could then be available for over half of the CPL if there was an injury.”
Overall, Mills believes that the specialist route that he was forced to take through injury, and that the likes of Alex Hales and Adil Rashid have since chosen, will be the exception rather than the rule for county cricket.
“Halesy and Rash have their England white-ball contracts, and they’ve still got contracts with their counties,” he said. “If the worst comes to the worst and they don’t get picked in a single league around the world, they are financially able to live. Whereas a guy here at Sussex who says he won’t play red-ball anymore would be running a big risk.
“So I don’t think it’ll be that big a deal at domestic level, it’s just whether the guys at the international level maybe decide to go down that route.”
Crisis in South Africa – No clarity on task team details after CSA-SASCOC meeting
The details of the task team that will look into Cricket South Africa’s administrative and financial affairs remain a mystery despite CSA meeting with the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) on Monday evening.
The meeting took place four days after SASCOC instructed CSA’s board and executive to stand down after nine months of what SASCOC called “maladministration and malpractice,” which demanded the mother body’s intervention.
SASCOC is a legislatively-created body under which all South African sports federations operate. It wrote to the ICC at the weekend to clarify that its involvement in CSA does not constitute government interference.
SASCOC has stressed that it hopes to work with CSA’s Members’ Council – the body made up of the 14 provincial presidents which holds the highest decision-making authority in CSA – despite the Members’ Council opting out of a meeting with SASCOC last Friday. Instead, CSA held a joint sitting of the Board and Members’ Council at the weekend and met SASCOC on Monday.
CSA called the meeting “a step forward towards a collaborative approach in the interest of good governance and executive operations.” SASCOC was unavailable for comment. Any hope of obtaining further detail was stymied the three representatives from the CSA members’ council were due to address the media on Tuesday but the briefing has been pushed back to Thursday, and is scheduled to be a joint affair with SASCOC.
It is still not clear whether the task team will be finalised by then, even though SASCOC told ESPNcricinfo on Friday that they would announce the members of the task team imminently. The task team is crucial because it could decide who is in charge of cricket in South Africa until such time as SASCOC’s inquiry into CSA is complete. SASCOC had initially budgeted a period of one month to complete its investigations.
In the meanwhile, CSA’s forensic report, which it used to dismiss former CEO Thabang Moroe, has still not been made fully available to the Members’ Council who saw a high-level summary at the weekend. SASCOC and South Africa’s sports ministry have also demanded to see the report in full, and SASCOC have rejected CSA’s invitation to view the report after signing a non-disclosure agreement, believing the report should be made public.
England v Australia 2020, 3rd ODI, Fantasy Pick, team predictions
England v Australia, 3rd ODI, Manchester
Our XI: Jonny Bairstow, David Warner, Jos Buttler, Sam Billings, Marnus Labuschagne, Glenn Maxwell, Chris Woakes, Josh Hazlewood, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Adam Zampa
Substitutes: Steven Smith, Jason Roy, Eoin Morgan, Aaron Finch
NOTE: We might not always be able to tip you off about late injury (or other relevant) updates, so keep an eye on team news at the toss before making your final picks.
Captain: Adam Zampa
It’s moderately risky to select a bowler as a captain in an ODI, just in case he takes no wickets, but Zampa’s form in the ODI series merits it a risk worth taking. He has taken seven wickets in two matches, including a four-for, and he is Australia’s No. 1 attacking option with the ball. His strike rate of 17.1 in the series at an average of 13 makes him an attractive pick. There have been no standout batsman in the series so far, so why not go with the standout bowler?
Vice-captain: Jofra Archer
Two three-wicket hauls in two games, including a Player-of-the-Match performance in the second ODI, makes Archer a very reliable pick when there isn’t a proper, consistent batsman to look at. He’s England’s highest wicket-taker this series, bowls with the new ball and at the death, which are periods where you can fetch plenty of wickets.
David Warner: For a man who averaged 71.89 at the 2019 ODI World Cup held in England, it’s only a matter of time that the Australia opener will come good. He’s got single-digit scores in the first two ODIs, and considering the law of averages, you’d like to have him around when he gets a big one. If he can get past the new-ball spell from Archer, who has dismissed him seven times in ten ODIs, Warner could get lots of runs.
Glenn Maxwell: Maxwell’s aggressive 77 in the first ODI showed why he’s such a good white-ball cricketer. He bats in the middle overs when fewer wickets typically fall. Plus points with his offspin.
Jonny Bairstow: An 84 in the first ODI showed how well Bairstow can adjust to difficult batting conditions. We’re ignoring the duck in the second ODI, and if you have to select just one England opener, he is more reliable than Jason Roy.
Marnus Labuschagne: Bats at No. 4 for Australia, which is perfect to anchor the innings. Labuschagne has averaged 34.50 in the series, and will look to end on a high. His handy wristspin could also come into play if Australia captain Aaron Finch notices turn for his regular spinners.
Sam Billings: The only centurion in the ODI series will be looking to put in another performance that gives him the headlines, especially since he’s always battling for a permanent spot in the XI. His 118 in the first ODI showed how well he plays both pace and spin.
Point to note
Steven Smith was injured and didn’t play the first two ODIs. If he is fit, you should definitely consider him in the XI. For now, we’ve kept in the substitutes.
If the pitch report on ESPNcricinfo’s commentary section on match day suggests it will be a belter, then you can switch out the aggressive captaincy choice of Zampa for a top-order batsman, or get in an extra batsman like Finch or Joe Root instead of a bowler in the XI.
Cricket and Covid-19 – England players cannot be exempt from ECB cuts, says Chris Woakes
Chris Woakes has admitted that the England team cannot be “exempt” from the cost-cutting measures that the ECB have been forced to implement, after extending his sympathies to the 62 board employees who have lost their jobs due to the financial impact of the the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, speaking on the eve of the final international fixture of the summer, Woakes added it was too soon to speculate on how the pandemic would impact on the next round of ECB central contracts, which are up for renewal at the start of October.
Instead, he reiterated just how important it had been that West Indies, Ireland, Pakistan and Australia all agreed to tour to prevent the board’s financial losses from being even worse.
“It’s incredibly sad news, really,” Woakes said, after it was confirmed that the ECB would be reducing its workforce by 20 percent, in a bid to mitigate projected losses of £200 million if Covid continues to disrupt the sport in 2021.
“There’s a lot of people behind the scenes at the ECB who work incredibly hard, important cogs in the wheel,” Woakes added. “In the current climate, these sort of things are bound to happen in cricket, and in all sports around the world.
“Of course it’s a sad time, and it does resonate with the players, but we’re also very fortunate that cricket has gone ahead this summer, [because] that figure of £200 million could have been a lot worse. I suppose that is the only positive outcome, really.
Victory over Australia in the third and final ODI would complete England’s unbeaten record in international series across formats this summer, and defend a perfect record in bilateral ODI series at home that dates back to 2015 and the start of their emergence as a force in white-ball cricket.
But more importantly, the mere fact that the fixture is taking place means that England’s men will have completed their full roster of 18 international fixtures for 2020, an achievement that seemed unthinkable back in April, when the ECB projected worst-case losses of £380 million if the full season had been wiped out.
“The fact that we actually got some cricket on this summer is just a bonus,” Woakes said. “At one point it didn’t look like there’d be a ball bowled, so credit to everyone who made that happen.”
West Indies and Pakistan, in particular, went to extreme lengths to make the Test leg of the summer, happen, with each team spending two months in lockdown to complete series that were worth in excess of £120 million to the ECB’s coffers. Ireland and Australia’s visits have been less extreme, but undeniably valuable in the current climate.
“We thank them greatly, really,” Woakes said. “They took the effort to come across when no-one really knew what cricket was going to look like in a bubble. We’re really thankful because getting cricket on our shores has been really important.”
But the England players themselves have had to play their part in arduous circumstances. Speaking on Monday, Jofra Archer told of the mental toll that life in the England bubble had taken on him, after 87 days in the bio-secure environment, the longest of any of the players. And Woakes agreed that it had been a challenge over and above the usual touring lifestyle.
“There’s been times when it’s been brilliant, particularly when you are performing well and we’re winning. And there’s times when it’s not gone quite so well, and when you have a bad day, it’s hard to get away from. You’re constantly looking at the pitch, which can be tough at times, and you’re obviously away from friends and family, which also makes it hard.
“So there’s definitely periods where you wish you could get away from the game and get back home and see friends and family, but I think we’ve all stuck to the task really well. It’d be nice for us to finish on a high, but I think everyone has done a great job.”
In ordinary circumstances, such over-and-above efforts might qualify England’s players for hardship bonuses, rather than the prospect of pay cuts. But, with the Team England Player Partnership group beginning their negotiations for 2020-21, and with the top multi-format men’s players earning close to £1 million before bonuses, Woakes was realistic about the prospect of further financial sacrifice.
“It is a situation where we have to sit down as players and see what happens with regards to these contracts coming up,” he said. “We’ll know more in the next few weeks. We’ll reassess at that point.
“At this moment of time, it is hard for me to say ‘we’re going to take X cuts, and there are going to be donations here, left right and centre’. Until we’ve seen what happens from above we’ll then get more of a feel for it. I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.”
As Woakes pointed out, the England players have already made a voluntary contribution to the cause, donating a combined sum of £500,000 back in April when the pandemic’s impact was first felt.
“That hasn’t really been discussed since and we haven’t been spoken to by the hierarchy of the ECB,” he added. “In the current climate, with contracts around the corner, you have to expect anything. We have to wait and see. as players, you can’t say we’re exempt from it.”
In the meantime, however, there’s a series to be won on the field against Australia.
“The environment that we’re in certainly has had its tough times,” Woakes said. “But the team has pulled together and played some really good cricket, and that’s obviously the most important thing for us when we’re out there, performing as well as we can. And we’ve certainly done that, which has been brilliant.”
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