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Dale Steyn’s long, long record-watch

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It took Dale Steyn 10 years and 225 days – and 80 Test matches – to take 400 Test wickets. He was the third-fastest in the world to get there in match terms.

It has been three years since, and Steyn’s career has been punctuated with injuries. He has played only six Tests and added 19 wickets to his tally. He needs three scalps more to overtake Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker. It’s been a long wait and this is what it has looked like:

July 2015
Dale Steyn takes his 400th wicket in Bangladesh when he dismisses Tamim Iqbal on the opening morning of the second Test. Though Steyn takes two more wickets, there is no play possible on the remaining four days.

Wicket tally: 402

November 2015
Steyn goes wicket-less for only the second time in his career as India are bowled out for 201 in their first innings in Mohali. He is unable to take the field in the second innings after sustaining a groin injury, which rules him out of the rest of the series.

Wicket tally: 402

December 2015
A fit-again Steyn storms back at Kingsmead, dismisses Alastair Cook and Alex Hales inside the first seven overs and finishes England’s innings with 4 for 70. But in the second innings, with South Africa well behind the game, he manages just 3.5 overs before leaving the field with a shoulder problem that sidelines him for eight months.

Wicket tally: 406

August 2016
At the same ground he last appeared, Steyn takes two wickets against New Zealand in Durban in a low-key match where a wet outfield forces a draw under sunny skies. In the second match, Steyn shows shades of his best with eight wickets at Supersport Park to begin South Africa’s resurgence from No.7 on the rankings.

Wicket tally: 416

November 2016
A fired-up Steyn talks about cutting off the head of the snake as South Africa attempt a third successive series win in Australia. His warning is to Steven Smith and David Warner but he only ends up dismissing one of them, Warner, in Perth, just as things were getting away from South Africa. Steyn is so pumped up that he cranks up his pace and then goes down, clutching his right shoulder. The injury proves to be a rare break, the corricoid bone has snapped. Steyn has surgery, a pin inserted into his shoulder and spends 13 months in recovery, during which time he attempts several comebacks and tears a bicep and pec muscle.

Wicket tally: 417

January 2018
Against all odds and much retirement speculation, Steyn returns for a marquee series against India. He takes a wicket in his third over and bowls 17.3 in the first innings. Then he lands awkwardly in a foothold and a muscle in his heel separates from the bone. He spends another six months on the sidelines.

Wicket tally: 419

June 2018
Steyn signs for Hampshire in a bid to make an international return. In his first match, a fifty-over fixture, he concedes 80 runs in 10 overs. But he soon finds his rhythm and takes 5 for 66 in a County Championship game against Yorkshire and declares himself ready to try and break Pollock’s record, in Sri Lanka.



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Cricket

Sri Lanka cricketer arrested for possession of heroin, remanded for fourteen days

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A Sri Lanka cricketer has been arrested for the possession of heroin and remanded for 14 days by a local magistrate in Pannala, northeast of the city of Negombo.

The cricketer has not appeared for Sri Lanka in the last two years and has not been in the frame for selection recently. He is, however, an active cricketer and was playing in Sri Lanka’s domestic competitions before the Covid-19 curfews came into effect.

The player had been in possession of a little over two grams of heroin when arrested on Saturday, Sri Lanka Police’s media division confirmed to ESPNcricinfo. He was then produced before a magistrate on Sunday, and is currently in remand, awaiting a High Court appearance. He is not understood to be among the players required to begin training in June with the national squad.

Sri Lanka Cricket CEO Ashley de Silva said the board had been made aware of the arrest on Monday morning, but had not made any decisions on the player’s future. The board is expected to discuss the issue at their next meeting, on Wednesday.



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Shannon Gabriel: ‘I’m just taking my body back into it easy’

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Even as Cricket West Indies continues to figure out whether the three-Test series in England – in a bio-secure environment – can take place or not, few people are more eager for a bit of on-field action than Shannon Gabriel. The 32-year-old quick underwent a surgery on his right knee in November last year, and has just completed a six-month rehabilitation programme, and is now hoping to get on that flight to England.

“It’s a good feeling always to represent West Indies. It’s good to be back out on the park,” he told i955FM. “The plan is right now to try to make it to the tour to England – hopefully that comes off. I’m just trying my best to stay positive and I hope everything goes well.

“It has been a long journey since November when I did the surgery on my ankle. Everything is going well, it has been a long process in terms of getting back to running and bowling and stuff like that.”

Gabriel’s last international appearance was in September 2019, against India, in a two-Test series in which he picked up just four wickets at an average of 56.90. Then his short county stint with Gloucestershire was unimpressive too, as he picked up two wickets in three innings. This was around the time the right knee started troubling him.

Now, having eased himself back in slowly, Gabriel hopes to be fully ready by July, when the tour is slated to happen. As things stand, the West Indies players are scheduled to leave the Caribbean in the first week of June for a preparatory camp.

“I am trying my best to be as fit as possible so I’m really working hard in terms of my fitness and managing my weight, trying not to get too heavy to put too much strain on my ankle,” Gabriel said of his fitness sessions. “So I know once I put in the hard work everything will be ok in the end. I just want to stay positive.

“There has been no high-intensity work, I’m just taking my body back into it easy, taking it one day at a time and not trying to push too hard but it’s still long while before the first Test in England and by that time I’m sure I’ll be fit and ready.”

The process of becoming match ready has also involved reworking his action and run-up to ease pressure on his ankles. “My run-up has probably just tweaked a bit, in terms of my running technique and stuff like that, but I don’t think there are many changes,” he explained. “Obviously that ankle was getting most of the pressure and obviously I don’t want that type of injury to happen again, so I’m trying my best to stay fit so I can stay on the park [longer].”

With the ICC having introduced guidelines with regards to shining the ball and several other physical-distancing measures, Gabriel also expects things to be “mentally taxing” when they return to cricket in the post-Covid-19 era.

“It’s going to take a lot. It’s going to be mentally taxing on the brain but you have to stay positive. Keep your mind fresh,” he said. “I know they [England] are going to be coming at us all guns [blazing] at us, but I know the guys

“Plus plenty of the guys haven’t been playing any cricket, so it is going to take us a while to get back there. On the positive side, you’re still getting the opportunity to play cricket and represent your country so that in itself should be enough motivation.”



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Sophie Ecclestone: ‘I want to be one of the best that’s ever played women’s cricket’

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She may be the youngest woman to take 50 T20I wickets, but Sophie Ecclestone holds loftier ambitions.

Having just celebrated her 21st birthday – in socially distant fashion, of course – left-arm spinner Ecclestone has enjoyed spending time since the Covid-19 enforced lockdown working on a different aspect of her game, which she hopes will help her achieve her goals.

Largely confined to a general fitness regime as opposed to batting and bowling, however, she does look forward to the time when England Women can return to cricket training, as their male counterparts began to do last week, and playing for her country again.

ALSO READ: England Women could return to training within weeks

Ecclestone jumped to the top of the ICC’s T20 bowling ranks with her eight wickets at the World Cup earlier this year in Australia, where her average of 6.12 and economy rate of 3.23 were particularly eye catching. In taking 3 for 7 off 3.1 overs during England’s final group game against West Indies, she claimed her 50th international wicket in the format.

“I didn’t really realise until one of the girls told me before the game,” Ecclestone told ESPNcricinfo. “It was a big achievement for me … the batters will go after you in T20 cricket and I think if you can get them out and win the battle then you’ve done really well as a spinner.”

Ecclestone showed just how much she thrives on the battle with a nerveless display in bowling the Super Over as England defeated Australia in a T20 match in Canberra in February, in the lead-up to the World Cup, restricting Alyssa Healy and Ashleigh Gardner to just eight runs before Heather Knight and Danni Wyatt took their side over the line with the bat.

Last year, Ecclestone became the first player to retain the Professional Cricketers’ Association’s Women’s Player of the Summer award, having topped England’s wicket-taking charts in both the white-ball series against West Indies, and in the Ashes. In 2018, she won the award after taking 20 wickets across six ODI and five T20 appearances for England.

Asked to name her greatest ambition in cricket, having achieved so much since making her international debut at the age of just 17 in a T20 against Pakistan in Bristol, Ecclestone’s response makes it sound easy.

“Just to become one of the best players that’s ever played women’s cricket really, and be one of the best spinners and be remembered by that,” she said.

Keeping fit during lockdown has been helped by the energy required to look after her new 10-month-old puppy, Rex. But Ecclestone has also been in contact with Lisa Keightley, the England Women’s head coach, conducting reviews and setting goals, which include the aim of improving her batting.

With England Women still hopeful of hosting India, who postponed their June-July tour when the coronavirus pandemic hit, and South Africa, who remain scheduled to visit in September, Ecclestone and her team-mates will be looking to test themselves ahead of their planned ODI World Cup defence, due to start in New Zealand in February.

As a tailender, Ecclestone averages 9.60 with the bat in T20Is with a strike rate of 104.34 and has an ODI average of 6.90 with a strike rate of 64.95. While spin has been her first love since bowling in an under-11s game, she saw no reason why, at her age, she couldn’t develop into more of an allrounder or, at the very least, force her way up the order a little.

“It would be really nice to know that I can bat as well as bowl and give seomething else to the team, not just my bowling,” “Ecclestone said.

“I definitely feel the England team are going in the right direction. As the years go by everyone’s getting fitter and stronger and everyone’s trying to improve different aspects of their game, so hopefully we can go to the World Cup in New Zealand and win it again. I hope we can get some international cricket in at the end of the summer.”



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