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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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Waqar looks to reignite chemistry with Misbah



When Waqar Younis twice served as the Pakistan head coach in the past – 2010 to 2011 and 2014 to 2016 – Misbah-ul-Haq was the Test captain on both occasions. Three-and-a-half years since his last stint with the team, Waqar has returned to the support staff set-up as the bowling coach and Misbah is now the head coach.

Waqar will, as a result, work under Misbah after the PCB overhauled the support staff that was led by Mickey Arthur until the World Cup. Waqar and Misbah have shared a cordial relationship and the former fast bowler brings with him loads of coaching experience. This will be his fifth term in the Pakistan support staff, having served twice as the head coach, as the bowling coach in 2006-07, and the bowling and fielding coach briefly in 2009-10.

His two stints as head coach had not ended on a good note earlier as he resigned both times before the end of his tenure. In 2011 he stepped down amid differences with then limited-overs captain Shahid Afridi and in 2016 he quit after a dispute with the PCB’s management following that year’s T20 World Cup.

Will working under Misbah be a “demotion” of sorts for Waqar? He doesn’t think so.

“As far as thinking like it’s a demotion, it’s only a myth that you go up or down,” Waqar said. “Our goal is how to make Pakistan a better team. For me the exciting thing is to try and help some of the promising youngsters who are in the pipeline, and some more who will come in the near future too.

“You come directly under a head coach as it’s his domain and you work according to his mindset. The others are helping hands like the fielding coach and bowling coach. We will try to help Misbah as much as possible and move forward.

“In three years lots of things have changed,” Waqar said when asked what made him come back. “The format has changed in domestic cricket, new people have come, there are new coaches, new thinking has come. I am not here to make controversies, I will try to make the Pakistan bowling attack a good one.”

Waqar clarified that he wasn’t “mentally ready” to apply for the post of head coach again and he knew that Misbah was the main contender for the job. Waqar applied for the bowling coach position and he was the main candidate after another shortlisted applicant, Mohammad Akram, withdrew at the last minute.

“I decided that I wasn’t mentally ready to get back into the set-up [as head coach] so I applied for bowling coach,” Waqar said. “I think I have a very good chemistry with Misbah, I’ve got a very good understanding with him and it will help in the future. The PCB has given Misbah an opportunity and it’s our responsibility to support and back him because he’s a very honest man and passionate about the game.

“My role is very simple and well-defined. I had done both the roles as a head coach and a bowling coach so I have an idea. The best thing is that I know about Misbah’s mindset because whatever coaching I had done was with Misbah as the captain.”

Their first assignment together will be two limited-overs series against Sri Lanka starting September 27 in Karachi with three ODIs followed by as many T20Is in Lahore next month. Currently, Waqar and Misbah are holding a training camp at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore where Waqar is working with young fast bowlers.

“The emphasis of the camp is on training and fitness, we are always focusing on fitness with our bowlers,” Waqar said. “We have bowlers in the pipeline like Mohammad Hasnain and Nasim Shah and in the next few months they will come on the scene.

“The best thing is Sri Lanka is coming, it’s a plus for Pakistan, and other teams should also come. Our short-term goal is that we should win matches early on and build the confidence.”

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‘Disappointed is an understatement’ – Liam Plunkett hits out at white-ball contract snub



Liam Plunkett has said that “disappointment is an understatement” after he was surprisingly overlooked in England’s list of centrally contracted white-ball players for 2019-20.

Plunkett played a key role in England’s maiden World Cup triumph this summer, including three wickets in their victory in the final against New Zealand at Lord’s, and has claimed a total of 96 ODI wickets at 28.01 in the four years since the last World Cup in 2015, more than any other England white-ball seamer.

However, at the age of 34, Plunkett has been considered by the ECB management to be past his prime as they begin to gear their white-ball squads towards next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia and ultimately the defence of their 50-over title in India in 2023, by which stage he will be 38.

Explaining the decision at Lord’s on Friday, Ashley Giles, England’s director of men’s cricket, praised Plunkett’s contribution as a “fantastic servant” to the white-ball team, but pointed out that his pace had dipped in recent seasons and that a team with an eye to the future had a duty to prioritise a new generation of bowlers – not least Tom Curran, who was a non-playing member of England’s World Cup squad, and the Lancashire paceman, Saqib Mahmood, who is expected to be named in England’s T20 squad next week, for their five-match tour of New Zealand.

“Plunkett has been … one of Eoin [Morgan]’s go-to men,” Giles said. “But moving into a new cycle of four years, before the 50-over World Cup and two T20 World Cups, he probably didn’t fit those future needs for the next 12-24 months, which is tough.

“He’s one of the most physical men we have in our line-ups. He’s incredibly fit and strong, but in terms of the numbers, I guess his paces have been down a little bit for some time.

“His best came in that role in the World Cup, and the World Cup final. He should be really proud of that achievement, and what they did as a team, but everything moves on for all of us.”

Writing in his Independent column after the World Cup win, Plunkett conceded he had “definitely” played in his last 50-over World Cup, but had vowed to “stick around in the game for a little longer”.

He took to Twitter on Friday afternoon to express his disappointment at the decision, although he later clarified: “I am really happy for all the boys who got contracted. I am not having a pop at anyone just disappointed I didn’t get one.”

Giles added: “We’re not saying that the door’s closed, but just in terms of the core of that team, which is where those contracts are offered, he probably just misses out. It’s difficult to be the person who puts that pen through the name, but that’s cricket.”

Another player on whom the door is not closed is Alex Hales, despite being stripped of his white-ball contract in the wake of the positive tests for recreational drug use that led to his sacking from the World Cup squad.

Hales has a prominent opportunity to make his case for an England recall on T20 Finals Day at Edgbaston on Saturday, where Nottinghamshire take on the defending champions Worcestershire in the first semi-final.

Joe Clarke and Tom Kohler-Cadmore, who were stood down from England Lions duty following inappropriate off-field behaviour, were also given a clean slate as Giles cited the recent example of Ben Stokes to show that players who make career-threatening errors of judgement can earn themselves second chances.

“The door isn’t closed on Alex, or certainly those other guys,” he said. “They’ve served whatever time they had to serve. It will come down to performance, and there is always an element of culture and team cohesion.”

In the short term at least, Hales might find his path back to the England squad blocked by the captain, Eoin Morgan, who was scathing in his assessment of Hales’ character when explaining the reasoning behind his World Cup axing.

“Eoin talked about that element of trust, and has there been enough time to make up for that?” said Giles. “Maybe, maybe not … that’ll come down to Eoin and the selectors, but the door is still open. He’s a fantastic T20 player and, you know, a mistake shouldn’t haunt you for life. As we’ve seen very good other example this year.”

After a period of reflection in the wake of the World Cup win, Morgan recently confirmed that he was ready to carry on as England captain, a development that delighted Giles, especially given that the concurrent departure of the coach Trevor Bayliss would have left the white-ball squad rudderless in the interim.

“We met about a month after the World Cup final, and he wanted some time to consider his future, which is just the way Morgs operates,” Giles said. “He’s very sensible, very logical. And thankfully, he rang me a couple of weeks after that, and said, I’m absolutely fully committed to going forward. And I’m looking forward to it, refreshed.

“That first month was probably a bit of a haze for him anyway,” he added. “But he’s probably dried out a bit and come around, and I’m delighted. He is a fantastic leader of men in that dressing room. And with us losing Trev, it’s important we maintain some consistency and that leadership going forward.”

Morgan’s role in moulding the England team post-2015 has been well documented. But Giles believes that, even if he is unable to take the side all the way to the 2023 World Cup (by which stage he will be 36), the groundwork already laid is such that Jos Buttler (or AN Other candidate) would be well placed to take over at shorter notice.

“To give Jos that responsibility now, I think, is a lot for him, given he’s playing across all three formats. But is he a future leader? Quite possibly. And given where the white-ball team is, perhaps we can manage that transition better.

“But just because we’re world champions, we can’t just keep doing the same stuff. When the new coach comes in, his relationship with the captains is going to be important. And we will need different things in both environments, because the white-ball environment is probably more mature in how they play their cricket than the Test environment. But both are really exciting opportunities.”

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Billy Godleman’s Derbyshire may well relish the chance to tweak a few noses on Finals Day



Edgbaston on the third Friday afternoon in September.

A few moments ago Dan Christian was chatting about Nottinghamshire’s second appearance in three years at the Vitality Blast T20 Finals Day. Christian has played for Australia, Barbados Tridents, Brisbane Heat, Deccan Chargers, Delhi Daredevils, Hobart Hurricanes, Melbourne Renegades, Multan Sultans, Rising Pune Supergiant, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Trinbago Knight Riders.

In a few minutes’ time Moeen Ali will be explaining what it might mean were Worcestershire to retain the trophy on Saturday. Moeen has played for Royal Challengers Bangalore and was in England’s World Cup winning squad.

At the moment, though, Billy Godleman is talking about the same occasion. Godleman plays for Derbyshire.

Derbyshire have never been to Finals Day.

And yet you sense this is simply part of the motivation Godleman enjoys: a chance to tweak a few noses. His eyes are bright with enthusiasm as he talks about it all.

“I see it as an opportunity,” he said. “We have no pressure or expectation on us. At the start of the competition no one expected us to get to the quarter-finals let alone a semi-final. So we are happy to go fly under the radar and turn up and play some good cricket on the day.”

Godleman makes a good point. Derbyshire needed to win their last three matches in the North Group to qualify for the last eight. They did so. They travelled to Bristol for the quarter-final in which they were expected to lose to Gloucestershire. They won. And tomorrow they will take on Essex in the second semi-final at Edgbaston.

One gets the impression that Godleman cannot wait to get stuck in. But he is by no means the only member of Derbyshire’s squad bristling at such a prospect. The Finals Day freshmen have been coached to excellent effect this year by Dominic Cork, another cricketer who relished taking the world’s expectations and depositing them in the nearest incinerator.

“Corky played for the club for the majority of his career,” said Godleman. “He knows what it is to be a Derbyshire player: the underdog who has the opportunity to ruffle a few feathers among the bigger counties. That is something we relish.

“He’s brought lots of energy and for me as captain he has been incredibly insightful,” he continued. “I’ve been very fortunate to know Corky for a number of years now and he’s one of the finest cricket brains that you could wish to meet. For me to have access to his cricket nous on a one-to-one basis as coach-captain has been very beneficial. Corky is very much about us going out and playing our best cricket with freedom. His view is that cricketers play their best when they have that freedom and that’s what we have tried to create in this campaign.”

Plainly it has worked so far and it will be fascinating to see how Derbyshire’s players react when presented with a full-house at Edgbaston and the pressures of the biggest occasion most of them have encountered.

“We like to think we have a method and we are just really excited to have the opportunity to play a semi-final and maybe a final as well,” said Godleman. “There’s a range of emotions and everyone’s different. There is a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of excitement, a lot of nerves and a lot of apprehension but what I’ve sensed from the group is that the overriding emotion is the excitement of the opportunity to play in Finals Day.”

And should Derbyshire younger players need even more experienced advice tomorrow afternoon, the squad also includes Ravi Rampaul, whom Godleman rates as one of the best bowlers in the tournament, and Darren Stevens, 43-year-old Kent loanee, who this week scored 237 and took seven wickets in that side’s 433-run thrashing of Yorkshire.

“Stevo’s on fire,” said Godleman. “Every time he goes out there he gets either a five-fer or a double hundred. He’s another really good cricket man. He hasn’t played as much as we expected or he expected but that’s not to disregard what he’s brought off the field and the way he shares his experience with the guys. That’s been a massive boost for us.”

So we are all set up for another Finals Day. Everyone is wondering whether Worcestershire can win back-to-back trophies; or whether Nottinghamshire can rescue their season; or whether Essex can win the first of what may be two pots in a week. Of course Derbyshire can’t do it. No chance.

“Please keep taking like that,” Billy Godleman might reply.

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