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Misbah-ul-Haq to lead training camp in coaching-staff vacuum



Misbah-ul-Haq is set to lead a 17-day training camp for 20 Pakistan cricketers starting next week. The pre-season camp, according to a PCB media release, has been organised with a view to an upcoming year in which most of Pakistan’s international commitments will be in the five-day format, with one eye on the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, which begins on September 12. Fourteen of the 20 Pakistan cricketers called up are centrally contracted players. Two days of fitness testing will be followed by by the conditioning camp, which runs from August 22 to September 7.

Misbah, whom the PCB release has termed the “camp commandant”, will “craft the training programme and overlook of the camp until the recruitment process has concluded. During the pre-season camp, the players will undergo fielding drills and net sessions, along with fitness and other cricketing activities.

“The camp has been set up to prepare the players for a competitive and challenging domestic and international cricket season, which is expected to begin with the prestigious Quaid-e-Azam Trophy from 12 September.”

It is not clear whether much can be read into the PCB giving Misbah the responsibility in the absence of a coaching set-up. When the PCB decided not to renew the contracts of head coach Mickey Arthur and his entire coaching staff, there was some media speculation that Misbah could be given the top job, though it is worth noting he has yet to complete the coaching badges or acquire the necessary experience the PCB is looking for in the next head coach.

It is more likely, perhaps, that Misbah’s reputation for high levels of fitness well into his 40s as a Test cricketer have resulted in the PCB hand-picking him as an ideal candidate for the job. In 2016, when Misbah was the Pakistan captain, the side underwent a rigorous training regime with the Pakistan military at an academy in Abbottabad before a tour of England. When Misbah scored a century in the first Test following that course, he famously dropped to his hands and knees and reeled off ten push-ups on the Lord’s turf, in tribute to the people who had put Pakistan through such a gruelling schedule, and as proof of his physical prowess.

Azhar Ali will join the camp after concluding his stint with Somerset, while Mohammad Amir, Imad Wasim, Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman have been exempted to allow them to complete their time with their respective counties in England.

Zakir Khan, Director of International Cricket at the PCB, said: “This conditioning camp is of great significance. The players will undergo strenuous training sessions to prepare for a demanding season, which will see Pakistan spend 30 of their 42 cricket-playing days in Test cricket.

“Misbah-ul-Haq, who has been Pakistan’s most successful captain, understands the arduous demands of the format in this day and age. With the advent of the World Test Championship, the PCB wants Pakistan to turn up with their best red-ball game when they face Sri Lanka in the two-match Test series at home.”

Players called up

Centrally contracted: Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Usman Shinwari, Wahab Riaz, Yasir Shah.

Non-centrally contracted: Asif Ali, Bilal Asif, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mir Hamza, Rahat Ali and Zafar Gohar.

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Women’s World Cup postponed over players’ inability to prepare, says CEO Andrea Nelson



The postponement of the 2021 Women’s World Cup to 2022 came down to concerns around readiness of the players, and not safety in New Zealand, the event’s CEO Andrea Nelson has said. As ESPNcricinfo had reported on Friday, Nelson said that given three participating teams are still to be identified and several sides “can’t train” yet, postponement was the best option.

The qualifier for the tournament was supposed to be held in July, but was postponed due to the pandemic. So, for now, England, Australia, South Africa, India and hosts New Zealand are confirmed participants, with three more spots open in the eight-team tournament.

“It came down to the ability of the teams to qualify,” Nelson told NZME. “We’ve done a lot of contingency planning around this event, to give it the best possible chance of proceeding successfully – ultimately the decision to delay it comes down to cricket. No qualifying tournaments have been able to be held yet, so in order to qualify and then compete in the event in 2021 – it was too risky.

“We’ve got teams that can’t train, they can’t assemble – in the case of a country like the West Indies they can’t leave their islands to bring the team together – and that’s just not a feasible way to ask a team to prepare for their pinnacle event.”

New Zealand has been one of the least affected countries worldwide by Covid-19. As of Sunday morning, there were only 23 active cases in the country, according to their Ministry of Health’s official numbers, and these were all at the borders – that is, people testing positive when they fly in from elsewhere, and going straight into quarantine. In mid-June, New Zealand had even welcomed back fans into a packed stadium for a Super Rugby Aotearoa game in Dunedin.

ALSO READ: Why the women’s World Cup was postponed by 12 months

High-profile women players England captain Heather Knight and Australia wicketkeeper-batter Alyssa Healy have raised concerns over the postponement. Nelson, though, said pushing the tournament would allow players to be at their best for it.

“Having the tournament in 2022 gives the best possible chance for teams around the world to train, prepare, and come and compete in their pinnacle event,” she said. “We have absolutely no doubt we’ll be able to pick up those plans and deliver an amazing event a year later.”

The qualifier was originally slated to be held in Sri Lanka in July this year, and has also been pushed back by a year. Sri Lanka is likely to remain the host, with its team competing for one of the three remaining spots in the main event.

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Ben Stokes to miss rest of England-Pakistan series for family matter



Ben Stokes will miss the rest of England’s Test series against Pakistan after withdrawing from the squad for family reasons. He is set to travel to New Zealand, where his parents live, next week and will not be available for the two behind-closed-doors Tests in Southampton.

Stokes’ father Ged was hospitalised in days before the Boxing Day Test against South Africa during England’s winter tour, and has since been recuperating back home in New Zealand.

England’s Test vice-captain, Stokes has played a central role in the summer so far. He led the team in Joe Root’s absence for the opening Test against West Indies, scored a century and a fifty in the second, and has chipped in with 11 wickets despite more recently playing as a specialist batsmen.

ALSO READ: Dobell: England are lucky to have Woakes

“The England and Wales Cricket Board, along with the Stokes family, requests that all media respects the family’s privacy at this time,” an ECB statement said.

His absence will likely add to England’s selection headaches for the rest of the series. In order to compensate for the loss of his bowling, after he experienced a sore quad during the second West Indies Test, England have fielded a five-man bowling attack in the last two games, with Stokes batting at No. 4.

Although he scored 0 and 9 in the first Test against Pakistan, he again demonstrated his all-round value by coming on to bowl in the second innings and picking up 2 for 11, as England came back from conceding a 107-run deficit to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

Zak Crawley is the likeliest candidate to come into the top order, potentially returning at No. 3 and allowing Root to drop back down a place. The return to form of both Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes, whose 139-run partnership was pivotal in securing victory against Pakistan, may also help compensate for Stokes’ absence, with the allrounder understood to have told his team-mates of his decision after the conclusion of the Test on Saturday.

Buttler, whose form with bat and gloves had been under scrutiny, was also playing despite a health scare for his father, who went into hospital on Friday but was well enough to return home on Saturday.

The second Test against Pakistan begins at the Ageas Bowl on Thursday. England will have played six Tests in seven weeks, all under strict bio-security protocols as part of the ECB’s efforts to combat the effect of Covid-19, with only a short break in between the two series.

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Heather Knight ‘pretty gutted’ at 2021 Women’s World Cup postponement



England captain Heather Knight has admitted she feels “pretty gutted” about the ICC’s decision to postpone the Women’s World Cup from 2021 to 2022, and raised fears that boards will use it as “an excuse… to put women’s cricket on the back burner”.

The ICC made the decision on Friday, citing the need to maintain the “integrity of the tournament” by ensuring that all teams had sufficient preparation.

“We have taken the decision to move the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup to give players from every competing nation, the best opportunity to be ready for the world’s biggest stage and there is still a global qualifier to complete to decide the final three teams,” Manu Sawhney, the ICC’s chief executive, said.

“Moving the event by 12 months gives all competing teams the chance to play a sufficient level of cricket ahead of both the qualification event and leading into a Cricket World Cup so the integrity of the tournament is maintained.”

ALSO READ: Why the Women’s World Cup was postponed

But Knight expressed her fears that boards would not give sufficient attention to women’s cricket without a world tournament to prepare for.

Alyssa Healy, the Australia wicketkeeper, also expressed her frustration at the decision, which she labelled “remarkable” in response to a tweet from journalist Scott Bailey comparing the number of Covid-19 cases in New Zealand and India.

Knight’s England team were back in training this week ahead of their series against South Africa, which is due to start at the end of this month. It will be the first women’s international cricket to be played since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

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