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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

Edgbaston to become COVID-19 testing centre

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Warwickshire have donated their Edgbaston stadium for the use of the NHS in a bid to help in the battle against COVID-19.

The ground – more specifically, the car park – will be used as a drive-through testing centre for NHS staff. Those requiring tests will drive in through the Edgbaston Road entrance and undergo the procedure while remaining in their vehicle. They will then leave via the Pershore Road exit.

Warwickshire also plan to offer NHS staff free entry to a Vitality Blast fixture later in the summer. Details of this offer will be released as and when the schedule for the 2020 season is announced.

The UK has witnessed something of an outpouring of gratitude towards NHS staff in recent weeks. As details of the severity of the crisis have become clear, it has also become apparent that many staff – some of whom are not especially well paid – are working in desperately demanding conditions without adequate protective equipment or access to testing. Sam Curran and Jos Buttler are among the England players who have begun their own fund-raising efforts for NHS related charities.

With little immediate prospect of cricket or any of the events that usually occupy Edgbaston, staff at Warwickshire have been looking for ways in which they could help the community through the pandemic. The offer to host a testing centre was gratefully accepted by the Department of Health and Social Care and will be utilised by staff throughout the West Midlands region.

“With our county cricket programme and conference and events business closed until 29 May, our staff have been exploring various options which enable the club to keep supporting our local community during these difficult times, whether that be through making calls to our elderly members and ex-players, volunteering and by offering Edgbaston Stadium for use in the wider civil contingency effort,” Neil Snowball, the Warwickshire chief executive, said.

“Whilst it is a small part to play in grand scheme of things, we are pleased that our stadium can be utilised to support the fantastic efforts being made by all of our NHS staff in response to the coronavirus crisis.

“We are also very grateful for the support that we have received in delivering this project from Patrizia and Homes England, our development partners.”

The NHS staff COVID-19 testing station will start operating within a few days and will remain at Edgbaston until further notice. While these are not the type of tests anyone expected to see at the ground, they will, at least, ensure Edgbaston continues to play some part in helping the local community.



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Cricket

‘It’s a scary time… no one knows how long this will last’ – Sam Curran

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England allrounder Sam Curran had been expecting to spend April 2 preparing for Chennai Super Kings’ first home game of the 2020 IPL. Instead, like cricketers around the world, he is currently trying to keep his fitness up while remaining housebound in response to the coronavirus crisis, uncertain about when normal sporting commitments will resume.

As things stand, the IPL has only been pushed back to mid-April, with another postponement likely and the BCCI mulling options including a shortened tournament and playing without the involvement of overseas signings. But Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler said last week that they were still training with the T20 league in mind, and Curran added that he was prepared for a “two-week turnaround” if and when the situation improved.

“We’re just trying to keep fit and keep training like we usually do,” he said. “April 15 is the proposed date, but I think India has also gone into lockdown. But each day it changes. CSK have been in touch about trying to do what we can. All the CSK boys around the world, every country is in lockdown, so every cricketer is in the same boat. It would be silly not to keep fit because it might come to a two-week turnaround and we’re all on the park. Fingers crossed it’s soon.”

The situation at home remains equally unpredictable, with ECB chief executive Tom Harrison describing COVID-19 as the “biggest challenge” English cricket has faced in modern times. Harrison suggested that the loss of the entire 2020 season could cost the game more than £300m, and Curran admitted the uncertainty of the situation was “scary” for people in all walks of life.

While discussions about whether England’s centrally contracted players could take a pay cut has dominated the headlines over recent days – Chris Woakes said on Thursday that talks involving the Professional Cricketers’ Association were ongoing – in the meantime, Curran has thrown his weight behind a fundraising operation in support of the NHS.

“It’s a scary time for anyone in any industry,” he said. “We flew out to Sri Lanka a few weeks ago and were back within 12 days. We are glad to be back with our families and loved ones throughout this time. It’s a scary time, thinking about the summer ahead and what the schedule might look like, no one knows, because this pandemic, no one knows how long it will last.

“The lockdown is three weeks at the minute and the county season has been delayed until the end of May, but no one is very positive about when we might bowl that first ball of the summer. As players, we’ve just got to keep ticking over and trying to be as fit as we can be because we all want to be out playing cricket. But there’s a lot more important things in the world going on right now which we should be focused on, putting the NHS and those people that are struggling first and hopefully we can find a way to get through this virus.”

“I’ve got family that have been involved with the NHS, and the whole world knows how good the work they do is, but I think it goes a bit under the radar for us at home”

To help do his bit, Curran has set up a GoFundMe page in aid of HEROES Help Them Help Us, an organisation backed by the British Medical Association, with the aim of supporting hospital staff in a variety of areas, from providing transport and meals, to goggles and masks, and psychological help further down the line.

“I was thinking, sitting at home as the days go by and watching the great work the NHS are doing. I spoke with a few people in the cricketing community, everyone saw what Jos Buttler’s doing with his World Cup shirt. I thought it was a great time for us to come together as a community and contribute some funds, whether a fan, player or staff.

“I’ve got family that have been involved with the NHS, and the whole world knows how good the work they do is, but I think it goes a bit under the radar for us at home. They are the ones going out to work every day in this terrible time that we’re all going through. It’s a great time for us to stick together and support them in any way possible. I thought the smallest thing we can do is set up a fundraiser and try to help them through this.”

The early return from Sri Lanka brought to an abrupt close what had been a successful winter for Curran, as he pushed his case for involvement in the T20 World Cup – whenever it might be played – and found himself an ever-present in the Test XI. Curran described the feeling of winning the Tests in South Africa, playing alongside fellow Surrey academy graduates Ollie Pope and Dom Sibley, as “pretty special”.

“It was an awesome winter,” he said. “I played those five T20s in New Zealand, making my debut. I thought I did pretty well in terms of my performance and it was such a young side, so many debuts and a lot of guys I played age-group cricket with – [Matt] Parkinson, Saqib Mahmood, and my brother as well. So it was pretty special, and to win the series 3-2 with that Super Over at Eden Park. It was pretty cool to play against New Zealand in another Super Over.

“The Tests, we lost the first and then had a draw – the wickets were pretty good, but it was a little bit disappointing. But I think we put it right in South Africa against a pretty strong attack. It was a pretty awesome series, to win that quite convincingly, and to be doing it with all my mates, I think that’s been the biggest take home from the winter. Zak Crawley, Sibbers, Popey, all my mates that I played age-group stuff with. To be walking out together is pretty special.”

And while an enforced break has given Curran the chance to think about weightier matters, the competitive spirit remains strong.

“Whenever cricket starts again there’s going to be some serious energy flying around. There’ll be no excuses about anyone being tired or unfit. In a month, two months’ time, or whenever it is, we will all come back firing. The World Cup’s in the back of my mind, when the cricket season comes you’ve just got to try and put performances in and try to be in that 15.”



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‘If you are too self-centred, you are looking for ways to get out’ – Virat Kohli

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134 runs in five Tests.

Stats that make Indian captain Virat Kohli cringe each time he thinks of the 2014 Test series in England.

On Thursday, in an Instagram chat with former England captain Kevin Pietersen, Kohli said that tour was the lowest point in his career and it had come about because he was “too focused” on “doing well from a personal point” instead of putting the team first.

“The lowest point in my career was the England tour in 2014 where that is one phase where I felt like, you know, when as a batsman you know you are going to get out in the morning when you wake up,” Kohli told Pietersen. “That was the time I felt like that: that there is no chance I am getting runs. And still to get out of bed and just get dressed for the game and to go out there and go through that, knowing that you will fail was something that ate me up. It just demolished me completely. And I promised myself I am never going to allow myself to feel like ever again in life.”

Kohli now wants India’s young cricketers not to commit the same mistake. “And that happened, for all the younger guys listening, because I was too focused on doing well from a personal point of view. I wanted to get runs. I could never think of what does the team want me to do in this situation. I just got too engulfed with England tour – if I perform here, Test cricket, in my mind I’m going to feel established and all that crap on the outside, which is not important at all. It just ate me up. I just kept going into a downward spiral and I just couldn’t get out of it. Horrible.”

Kohli said he was able to pick himself up and become the best all-format batsman in the world because he opened his mind and started focusing on what his team needed more than what he needed.

Later, when Pietersen inquired about whether Kohli’s training routine ahead of a match day, he said it was just a mental thing and once again warned against being “self-centered.”

“With technique also, everything is mental. You have played in a time where you were walking and hitting fast bowlers. Coaches don’t teach you that. So it’s innovation. It’s staying one step ahead of the opponent. If you are thinking about how to win the game for your team, these things come to you.

“If you are too personal in your approach, if you are too self-centered, you are just thinking about yourself, then you are just looking for ways to get out eventually because people are going to find you out. You are not getting out of your comfort zone because you don’t want to fail.”

When and why did Kohli turn vegetarian?

By the time Kohli returned for his next Test series in England, in 2018, he had not only improved his skill levels, he also decided to become a vegetarian. Pietersen, who had seen Kohli enjoy meat when they were team-mates at Royal Challengers Bangalore, was curious to know about the transformation.

“I wasn’t a vegetarian till 2018,” Kohli said. “When we actually came to England, I left eating meat just before the Test series started.”

Kohli went to talk about a medical condition that prompted him to become vegetarian. “In 2018 when we went to South Africa I got a cervical spine issue, while playing a Test match at Centurion…one of the discs in my cervical spine bulged out and it compressed a nerve which was running straight till the little finger of my right hand. So it gave me a tingling sensation, I could barely feel my little finger on the right hand. It was hurting like mad, I could hardly sleep at night. And then I got my tests done.

“My stomach was too acidic, my body was creating too much uric acid, my body was too acidic. What was happening was, even though I was taking calcium, magnesium everything, one tablet was not sufficient for my body to function properly. So my stomach started pulling calcium from my bones, and my bones got weaker. That’s why I got this issue. That’s why I stopped eating meat completely in the middle of the England tour to cut down the uric acid and the acidity in my body.”

The biggest difference that has made, Kohli said, was that it made recovery between matches quicker. “I’ve never felt better in my life, it felt amazing, it’s been two years, and the best decision of my life. I have never felt better waking up. I have never felt better when I have to recover after a game. If you make me play three games a week, which are intense, I am at 120% every game. I can recover within a day after a Test match and go on another Test match.

“It’s so much better than being on meat. Being vegetarian now made me feel, honestly I felt like why didn’t I do it before? I should have done it two-three years earlier, to be honest. It’s completely changed everything – you start feeling better, you start thinking better, your body is lighter, you are more positive, you have energy to do more, so, overall it’s just been an amazing, amazing change.”

Kohli’s most “fun” batting performance

Kohli has played perhaps the greatest innings by an Indian batsman in T20Is – a half-century against Australia in the 2016 World T20. That was right after he played a starring role in that same tournament against Pakistan with politicians, actors, everyone including his idol Sachin Tendulkar watching from the stands. But when asked what was his most “fun innings”, Kohli picked out a lesser known classic.

“It was against Kings XI in the IPL. It was I think, a 13… 14 over game or a 15 over game and I got a hundred in 12 overs. That was one of the days where I felt like Jeez, I’m just connecting everything and I just felt like I couldn’t get out. And I’ve never felt like that before. Just to be able to hit and not have that fear of getting out. It was amazing. So that has been my most fun innings.”



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