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Recent Match Report – Hampshire vs Nottinghamshire, County Championship Division One, 2nd Innings

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Hampshire 310 and 3 for 1 lead Nottinghamshire 239 (Mullaney 102, Barker 3-46) by 74 runs

Steven Mullaney first learned about cricket in Golborne, a town which now lies in the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan. The place is no sort of Orwellian wasteland but neither is it Ambridge. And it certainly has next door to nowt in common with the pastoral glory of Newclose. Yet as we watched Nottinghamshire’s captain fight like fury to keep his team in this match it was possible to discern the toughness which still characterises the league cricket he once played. Mullaney’s century here was, among its other qualities, a monument to simple defiance and it should be recalled fondly by all those who saw it.

But let us be crystal on two points: firstly, the resolution Mullaney displayed is not some exclusively Northern characteristic; and secondly, Nottinghamshire’s skipper long ago transferred his absolute allegiance from Old Trafford to Trent Bridge. It is in the East Midlands that he has won all the honours the domestic game has to offer and his loyalty to the place is very deep. So much is clear every time he strides to the wicket and it was plain again when he walked out with Nottinghamshire on 61 for 3 in reply to Hampshire’s 310.

Things became much worse before they got even slightly better. Having beaten Ben Slater outside the off stump and induced a mistimed pull from Chris Nash, Kyle Abbott nipped one back to bowl Joe Clarke for 23. Then Jake Libby was leg before to Keith Barker to leave Nottinghamshire on 72 for 5. And all these ructions, we thought, on almost the first summer’s day of the season.

For there was a Blyton-blue sky and so there had to be hampers. The hospitality was corporate and it was familial. The white Burgundy was chilled this afternoon and the beer needed only gravity to get it from barrel to tankard. Most in the crowd cheered happily either side of lunch as Abbott and Barker put Nottinghamshire in the toils. But then they watched in grudging admiration and near-perfect joy as Mullaney and Tom Moores, scrappers both, set about rebuilding the innings. Men under panamas and women in print dresses agreed that fast bowling looked warm work.

Warm but also productive. Having battled away for 101 minutes to stifle his attacking instincts and accumulate 34 out of a 79-run stand with Mullaney, Moores almost waved his bat at a ball from Fidel Edwards and gossamered a catch to a diving Tom Alsop down the leg side. Luke Fletcher and Stuart Broad followed him back to the pavilion in short order and the visitors took tea on 159 for 8 with Mullaney 43 not out. People wondered how much batting Hampshire might have to do before stumps. As things turned out, by the time Mullaney had near single-handedly reduced the deficit to 71 runs Joe Weatherley and Oli Soames needed to survive six overs, something they failed to do, Weatherley falling leg before to Fletcher when only eight balls remained. We are set for two more fine days on the abudant Island.

During the afternoon, though, spectators who craved warmth had sat in the generous sun; many bared their legs and some were badly advised to do so. Those who sought the shade lounged under the scoreboard on the Medina side of the ground and ate their ice-creams in peace as Mullaney continued his innings. One well-spoken chap licking his cornet was even watched by his envious pooch. On the opposite side of the ground Jack Russell sold sketches and prints.

He, perhaps above all spectators at Newclose, would have admired Mullaney’s refusal to yield in the evening session. Nottinghamshire’s warrior-leader reached his fifty off 113 balls but the deficit was then still over a hundred. So he buckled down again and shepherded Matt Carter through a superb stand of 80 for the ninth wicket. Carter played a fine supporting role as Mullaney took just 52 balls over the second fifty runs of the hundred he reached with a pulled six off Mason Crane.

This was Mullaney’s fourth century against Hampshire and it was nothing like a perfect demonstration of batsmanship. He was dropped three times, most noticeably on 25 when Weatherley put down a two-handed slip chance off Abbott. But faultless 30s matter little when set beside the effort Nottinghamshire’s skipper summoned at Newclose. When he reached three figures he raised his arms to the pavilion as if to reinforce the message that he requires similar effort from everybody in any team he leads. When he top-edged a return catch to Ian Holland, spectators stood to him and many were wearing Hampshire badges. He had played an innings worthy of the day and worthy of the place in which it was played. But they will read about Mullaney’s hundred in places far beyond the Isle of Wight this evening; and they will smile at their warm memories.



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Live Report – India v Pakistan

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ESPNcricinfo’s live updates and analysis on India v Pakistan



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Maxwell’s bowling helps Australia make their balancing act work

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Australia are finding a way. As the group stage of the World Cup nears its halfway mark the defending champions are at the top of the table. They face Bangladesh next and if they win it will take them to 10 points, which could already be enough for a semi-final spot before the tougher challenges of New Zealand and England.

The match against Sri Lanka, won by 87 runs after they quelled an early onslaught by the openers, ended a run of four matches in ten intense days for Australia as they dodged the rain which dogged the last week of the tournament. None of the wins have been perfect, even the ultimately comfortable margin of the latest success coming with further questions about the middle order. Still, they are digging deep into their resources having been forced to rejig the side in the absence of Marcus Stoinis.

The century for Aaron Finch and four-wicket haul for Mitchell Starc took the headlines on Saturday, but the all-round performance of Glenn Maxwell was a crucial part of ensuring the holes that remain in the Australia side did not prove pivotal. His 46 off 25 balls meant that while the final total was probably 20 runs light of where it could have been, momentum was not totally lost at the death.

WATCH on Hotstar (India only) – Maxwell’s rapid 46

Then, perhaps more importantly given the questions of balance, he was able to bowl his ten overs for 46 runs despite Sri Lanka having a terrific platform to build on. That might say more about the issues in Sri Lanka’s batting, but the use of Maxwell’s bowling – which he had the opportunity to use extensively during his time with Lancashire earlier in the season – has been one of the significant developments in Australia’s one-day side over the last few months.

Until March he had not bowled his full 10 overs in an ODI since 2015 – the year he was played as Australia’s lone spinner for the majority of their successful World Cup campaign – with Steven Smith preferring Travis Head’s offspin in the last couple of years of his captaincy. Now he has sent down his quota four times in his last 14 matches, three times going for less than fifty. In this match, he bowled 15 dot balls to Dimuth Karunaratne who could only strike at 71 against him and of the batsmen to face more than one delivery from him, only Kusal Mendis could take him for a run-a-ball. There was no need for Finch or Smith to take their net bowling into the middle.

“I think Smithy obviously rated Heady’s bowling a little bit more, and that’s fine. That happens. That’s an on-the-day decision. I think [Maxwell] has done really well when he’s had the opportunity,” Finch said. “He was a big part of us reining it in today. Two lefties, he had a nice breeze to bowl with, to across, which allowed him to drift the ball quite a bit which made it – made it, he could shut down one side of the ground a bit easier.”

With a decision being made on Stoinis before the next match – and Mitchell Marsh waiting in the wings – Australia’s XI for the Bangladesh game will be interesting given they will have a seam-bowling allrounder to again pick from if needed. The last two matches have seen them go with four quicks, leaving Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon on the sidelines.

The attack continues to lean very heavily on Starc and Pat Cummins – currently the top two wicket-takers in the tournament – and the next few days is a chance for them to catch their breath with Australia’s final four group matches spread over the last two weeks of qualifying. There may even be the chance for some rotation if things continue to go to plan ahead of the semi-finals, but Starc does not want to be part of that.

“We spoke about that before this fixture and wanted to give as much as we could to get the result then have a little bit more relaxed back end to the tournament where we can perhaps have a few more training days or if we need some days we can factor that in as well,” he said. “Ultimately is not up to me but it’s a World Cup and you have to pick your best XI depending on the conditions and opposition but I definitely won’t be putting up my hand up to rest.”

WATCH on Hotstar (India only) – Maxwell’s rapid 46

Having been Player of the Tournament in 2015, Starc is again proving a World Cup trump card with a five-wicket and four-wicket haul already under his belt. “For me I just try to keep my white-ball game very simple,” he said. “I don’t have all these variations. I’m pretty clear on what I want to do whether it’s new ball, old ball or through the middle.

“What I’ve added is able to play different roles against different teams or in different conditions. I might go for more runs but I’m there to make a breakthrough in short, sharp spells. That’s something that has stayed consistent in my one-day cricket. Whether my game suits that, I don’t know. Test cricket is still the pinnacle but the fact I’ve kept my game plan pretty simple in white-ball cricket has kept me in good stead through World Cups and when times haven’t gone so well.”

Top of the table with the leading wicket-taker and leading run-scorer is a handy position to be in. Have Australia convinced they can be champions again? Perhaps not, but while they keep winning that doesn’t really matter.



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Afghanistan’s World Cup of self-inflicted chaos

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Don’t do this, Afghanistan. There is another way.

There are alternatives to letting chaos overwhelm you. There are brighter timelines, waiting to be seized, in which dysfunction does not define your World Cup. Your opponents, South Africa, might be battling demons from their past. Elsewhere, the likes of Sri Lanka are groaning under the weight of their galactic-scale ineptitude – their manager having recently complained to the ICC about pitches, the team bus, hotels, training facilities, and probably about the photo on his official accreditaiton making him look chubby when all the other managers look sharp and handsome. But there is no reason to follow these established sides down the moronic paths they have picked out for themselves. You can be better. You should at least try.

In this World Cup so far, though, perhaps you have been the most defective outfit, saved only from more intensive media scrutiny by low expectations. Twice in two matches now, oppositions have shellacked Afghanistan with the ball, then punched the lights out with the bat. A trend has developed – a hopeful opening stand ended by a shot of breathtaking daftness, followed by a middle order that falls over like rows of library shelves crashing into each other, before the lower order looks as if it is rolling up its sleeves and readying itself for a fight, before promptly turning heel and fleeing the moment they see the size of the other guy.

WATCH on Hotstar (India only) – Full highlights

But there can be a universe in which Hazratullah Zazai does not spot a bouncer from the uber-quick Kagiso Rabada, and hole out attempting to clear the one deep fielder on the leg side, at deep square leg. The success percentage of that shot is so poor, it is possibly lower than the number of teams the ICC is planning to admit to their next World Cup. There can be a future match, in which wickets three, four, five, six and seven don’t fall in the space of eight runs, multiple batsmen basically tripping over each other in their race back to the pavilion. Only Rashid Khan, with his 35 off 25, gave the innings some semblance of professionalism.

Then there is the selection. Maybe folks who make these decisions feel that normal rules don’t apply to Afghanistan. It’s not hard to see why they might. This team has risen to compete at a 10-team World Cup when 20 years ago, there was really no such thing as Afghan cricket. This is plainly astonishing. That Afghanistan are the only nation at the tournament not to have either borne or applied the yoke of the British empire also makes them exceptional.

But not so exceptional, that, you know, basic logic does not apply. You inexplicably drop your tournament top-scorer – a batsman who hit Afghanistan’s only half-century against Australia, and made the team’s best score in another game – and you should expect to weaken your top order. Najibullah Zadran‘s replacement in this match was Asghar Afghan, the jilted captain (its own little controversy). Instead of a batsman who has twice given substance to Afghanistan’s innings this tournament, you had one who hit his fifth ball back to bowler Imran Tahir.

Captain Gulbadin Naib’s justification was that Asghar was the senior player, and that he commanded a place in the top order the moment he became fit again. Okay, but Afghanistan had failed to make 200 in two matches on the trot. When you have a buffet of misfiring batsmen to choose from, why drop the guy in form? What next from the shooting-yourself-in-the-foot playbook? Batsmen have to hold the bat with their teeth? Bowlers have to do “the worm” to the bowling crease instead of running up? Fielders have to fill their pants with rocks to weigh themselves down?

These are not serious suggestions, by the way, Afghanistan. You don’t have to do any of this.

On the field, Afghanistan engaged in yet more shambolism. Asghar failed to account for the spin on a ball coming to him at third man, toppled over like grain silo when he tried to correct his course, and ended up not getting a hand on the ball, which dribbled mockingly past him to the boundary. Rahmat Shah misjudged the trajectory of a ball at midwicket, ran in for a catch that he might not have made with five-metre long hands, and ended up letting the ball skid over the rope. There were more misfields, overthrows, on-field gesticulating, and a general air of despair over the performance.

After four matches, Afghanistan are now the only team without a victory. Some of this was expected, but their meekness over the last two games was not. In addition to the losses, there has also been a controversy over Mohammad Shahzad’s exit from the World Cup, and rumours that administrative interference is contributing to all this on-field bungling. Their campaign is teetering, but it doesn’t have to be this way. They don’t have to fall spectacularly to pieces on cricket’s biggest stage, like Sri Lanka in 1999, or India and Pakistan in 2007, or England in 2015, 2007, 2003, 1999 and so on.

The established cricket world tends toward farce. The bigger nations are either sacking coaches with every new moon, having their boards strung up in the courts for serious breaches, alienating vast swathes of their own populations by embracing elitism, facing serious credibility problems in the aftermath of cheating scandals, or fighting constantly with their own players. Afghanistan don’t have to follow suit. But right now it seems like they are.



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