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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

Cautious optimism within Cricket Australia on game’s resumption

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International cricket of some kind in the next Australian summer is probable, the domestic Big Bash League and WBBL are highly likely and even the men’s T20 World Cup remains a chance of happening.

These are among the views that may be drawn from a report issued to Cricket Australia and the state associations by CA’s chief medical officer Dr John Orchard last week. While the report is believed to be cautious in its wording and stresses the possibility of backward steps should the coronavirus spike again in Australia, games of non-contact sport such as cricket may well be able to be played again as soon as the second half of Australia’s winter months. This would be in line with reports that the AFL is preparing to resume its competition around August.

If current measures to “flatten the curve” of cases in Australia maintain their course, government restrictions should be eased in time for cricket to be able to resume for the next home summer, meaning the major doubts around the fallout from coronavirus will surround international travel bans and how badly the pandemic has hit different countries.

All cricket nations are watching closely to see how the virus evolves in India, with Virat Kohli’s side due to play their next Test series in Australia in December and January. A cancellation would likely cost CA somewhere in the region of A$300 million in lost revenue.

ALSO READ: Australia stars prepared for pay cuts, says Tim Paine

Domestic cricket, namely the W/BBL, Sheffield Shield, One-Day Cup and Women’s National Cricket League, could resume more or less as regularly scheduled at the outset of the Australian season. The international outlook is cloudier, although tours of Australia may be able to go ahead as planned provided the visiting teams are able to undergo two-week quarantine periods either before or after touching down.

This scenario makes the T20 World Cup, currently set down for October and November, a complicated but not impossible task. CA and the ICC will need to make a call on this event much sooner than other bilateral fixtures, possibly as early as June. Further uncertainty surrounds the point at which elite sport in general and cricket in particular will again be able to be played in front of large crowds. It is possible that the entire season will need to be played in empty stadiums, something the organisers of January’s Australian Open tennis are also reportedly considering in their plans.

Beyond that, tours by Afghanistan – for their inaugural Test against Australia – and India are simpler affairs in so far as only featuring the need for one squad of players and staff to arrive in Australia before travelling domestically within the nation’s borders. CA’s chief executive Kevin Roberts has not spoken publicly about coronavirus and CA’s response since March 16, but a spokesman confirmed the provision of regular updates on the state of play within the organisation.

“Cricket Australia – like all sporting bodies – is devising various frameworks for a return to training/play in anticipation of the government lifting COVID-19 restrictions in future,” he said. “No one is certain when return to training/play in Australia will be possible at this stage and many scenarios are being considered. Cricket Australia will continue to seek advice from medical experts and relevant government agencies to ensure the health and safety of our community, players, coaches, staff and volunteers.”

Broadcasters have continued to plan for a full suite of international and domestic cricket next summer, and are believed to have a strong preference for India’s tour in particular to take place during the summer months. There will be added complications for both Seven and Fox Sports in terms of looming clashes between cricket and the currently delayed football seasons.

Other cricket that may be able to be played includes the currently postponed matches between Australia and New Zealand, which were called off after one of three ODIs had been played at a spectator-free SCG. A subsequent T20 series to be played in New Zealand may also be slotted in once cricket is cleared to resume.

The scenarios outlined by Orchard are understood to paint a cautiously optimistic picture for cricket in Australia, certainly relative to those currently being dealt with by the winter football codes and also by the ECB, where the entire season remains in doubt. This year’s IPL is in similarly uncertain territory, both for its start date and the chances of overseas players being able to participate.

In terms of CA’s balance sheet, which at the time of last year’s annual report featured A$26 million in cash reserves plus another A$90 million in investments, the likelihood is that the game will remain well and truly in the black, keeping in mind also that the governing body’s revenue is comfortably above projections. Even so, CA has reportedly sought a line of credit to the tune of A$200 million from the banks as insurance for the pandemic taking a bigger chunk out of next season, while also drawing up scenarios for the losses of 25%, 50% or 100% of projected revenue.

Despite the largely hopeful tidings contained in Orchard’s report, there is the possibility that CA will still seek to tighten purse strings in terms of distributions to the state associations and also payments to players over the next 12 months, to shore up the game’s cash reserves in case the next “rainy day” does not arrive so obligingly at the tail end of a summer.



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Cricket

£1 million domestic prize money reallocated to support player wages

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The Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) has agreed to reallocate £1 million of domestic prize money towards player contracts for 2020, after reaching an agreement with the ECB and the 18 first-class counties in response to the COVID-19 outbreak that has already delayed the start of the county season.

Following discussions that were concluded on Wednesday, the three parties have also agreed on an initial two-month salary reduction for county players, in line with the 20 percent pay cuts already accepted by non-playing staff, with players also agreeing to being furloughed, if requested.

The measures follow a donation of £500,000 by England men’s contracted players, through the Team England Player Partnership, to the ECB and selected good causes. England’s women’s players also volunteered a salary reduction in line with their coaches and support staff.

“I am pleased we have reached a collective agreement between the PCA, ECB and the 18 first-class counties and I thank all parties for the collaborative spirit of these discussions particularly at this most challenging of times,” said Daryl Mitchell, the PCA chairman.

ALSO READ: How the counties are reacting to Coronavirus

“The understanding from our players and the willingness to help has been particularly heartening. Like many industries, cricket recognises the challenges it currently faces; the players have been alert to the need for them to play their part.”

The County Championship had been due to get underway this weekend, with the first round of fixtures slated for Easter Sunday, April 12. However, the season has already been postponed to May 28, with a further delay anticipated as the UK continues to implement social distancing measures to combat the spread of the virus.

“The Coronavirus pandemic will continue to put financial pressure on the game and this initial two-month agreement will support the game for the period of April and May,” Mitchell added.

“We were due to start the County Championship season on Sunday and sadly for us all that will not be the case. As a group of players, we will do everything we can to ensure that when cricket does return the sport is in a position to thrive.

“This prolonged period of isolation is challenging and the PCA remains committed to helping all our members through these times with our world-class welfare provisions.”



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India series uncertain but ECB ring-fences £20m investment into women’s game

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England women’s home series against India is in doubt due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the ECB remains hopeful that it will be possible for the tour to be completed at some stage this summer.

India are due to play two T20Is and four ODIs in England, with the first game of the tour scheduled for June 25, but with the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the UK continuing to rise at speed and some form of social distancing measures likely still to be in place, it appears unlikely that the series will be played as planned.

All professional cricket in the UK has been postponed until May 28 at the earliest, though there is a growing acceptance that the date will be pushed back. Contingency planning for games scheduled from June onwards is ongoing, but for now, the ECB remains hopeful that fixtures after that date can be fulfilled in some form as possible.

The tour is due to finish on July 9, and England’s next engagement is against South Africa on September 1, while India have no confirmed fixtures after that series. As a result, it may well be possible to find a window for the fixtures in July or August as necessary, particularly if the inaugural season of the Hundred is shortened or pushed back to 2021.

Meanwhile, the ECB has ring-fenced the £20m it has pledged to invest in women’s and girls’ cricket over the next two years as part of its 2019 action plan, allaying fears that investment might be cut due to the financial impact of the pandemic.

ALSO READ: ECB announce funding boost to transform women’s cricket

A major part of that plan involved the creation of eight semi-professional regional development centres, with a 50-over competition between the new teams due to start in late August.

But the crisis has delayed the process of launching those centres, as the ECB re-evaluates the details of the new domestic structure’s first full season. It remains unclear when and if it will be possible to stage games this summer, and as such various different scenarios are being modelled.

The initial financial commitment of £20million over two years leaves some room for flexibility – it seems likely that most of that investment will take place in 2021 – but the intention to honour that pledge is a boost for the women’s game at a time of uncertainty.

“The ECB remains committed to the transforming women’s and girls’ cricket action plan, despite the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic,” an ECB spokesperson said.

“In light of the current health crisis we need to re-evaluate the logistics of the first year of the new elite domestic structure, both on the field and off the field – including player and staff recruitment, and fixture dates.

“We are currently collaborating closely with our regional hosts and modelling a range of alternative scenarios, including a later start to the season and a reduced season. Although it is not yet on the agenda, a postponement of the first year of elite domestic structure fixtures is also a scenario that may need to come under consideration.

“The board’s initial two-year investment into this long-term plan remains unaffected and close discussions with our regional hosts will continue as the situation becomes clearer.”

Last week, the England women’s squad announced that they have taken a pay cut for the next three months, in line with their coaches and support staff.



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