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‘I can’t get on the honour board unless I’m batting’



Australia’s coach Justin Langer has revealed how Steven Smith came to be batting again in the Lord’s Test, less than an hour after he had retired hurt with a sickening blow to the back of the neck from a scorching bouncer delivered by Jofra Archer, protesting that he needed to be given the chance to make a century at the home of cricket.

On 80 when he was hit by Archer and left prostrate on the ground, Smith took time to regather himself and was initially withdrawn by the team doctor Richard Saw for precautionary concussion testing. There was widespread surprise when Smith re-emerged at the fall of Peter Siddle’s wicket, and what followed was a skittish innings ended when he shouldered arms to a straight ball from Chris Woakes. But Langer insisted that Smith had passed all the tests required and also headed off multiple reassurances from the coach and others that he was okay to bat.

ALSO READ: Steven Smith blow brings cricket to a standstill

“Because he was hit in the neck and not in the helmet or in the head maybe that had a bit of an impact, it was like getting a soft tissue injury,” Langer said. “He got hit on the arm as well and then hit on the neck. But as soon as he got up in the medical room, it was like ‘nah I’m going okay’, then he had the concussion testing and the doctor came through and said ‘he’s passed all that and he’s pretty good’. By the time he walked back in the dressing room he just couldn’t wait to get back out there again.

“I was saying ‘mate are you sure you’re okay’, these are like my sons right, so you’re never going to put them in harm’s way, even though you’re always in harm’s way with Test cricket. But he’s going ‘mate, I’ve got to get out there, I can’t get on the honour board unless I’m out batting’. That’s what he says, that’s what he thinks. He was determined. All he was worried about was that he wasn’t going to be able to play his forward defence because it was hurting with his top hand grip.

“We can look into it, but honestly he wouldn’t have gone out there unless we thought [he was okay]. We asked him over and over. I asked him privately, I asked him behind closed doors two or three times, I asked him in front of the group, he just goes ‘all good, all good coach, I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go’. What else do you do? The medicos cleared him, he wanted to get out there, we were looking after him, and he said ‘honestly I’m ready to go, my arm’s a bit sore’. That’s why he went out there.”

The Australian team was visibly shaken by the episode, with its parallels to the death of Phillip Hughes when hit in a similar part of the neck at the SCG in November 2014. “You never like seeing your players get hit like that, no doubt about that,” Langer said. “It was obviously some pretty rough memories of a blow like that, so there’s no fun in it.”

With that in mind, Langer reckoned that Smith would have to rethink his reluctance to wear a stem guard on the back of his helmet, of the kind widely introduced in the wake of Hughes’ death. The blow he suffered from Archer at Lord’s may well have been softened or at least partly deflected by the extra protection, which is optional rather than mandatory under the game’s regulations.

“Very good question,” Langer said when asked whether he thought the guards should be mandatory. “I didn’t realise, it might be my error but I didn’t realise they weren’t mandatory until today. I think Steve wrote in his book he just doesn’t like or feel comfortable [with a stem guard]. He’s got all these idiosyncrasies everyone’s talking about – he doesn’t like having shoelaces he can see, doesn’t like his shoes being dirty, so it’s the same, it just doesn’t feel right.

“I’m sure after today it’ll get talked about again, I know they came in after the tragedy of Hughesy. So I’m sure it’ll get talked about, and he might rethink it now after seeing what happened today, but you’d have to ask him that. At the moment the players have a choice, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they become mandatory in the future.”

As for how the blow and Archer’s brutish spell might influence Smith and the remainder of the series, Langer admitted that it had to have some effect on the former captain’s mentality, but was equally adamant that Smith would find a way to deliver his own riposte later in the series. Smith was cleared of any fracture for the earlier blow to the arm, and will undergo subsequent concussion testing before play on the final day.

“I can only go from experience. When you get hit, it’s always in the back of your mind, no doubt. Any batsman who tells you it’s not is a liar,” Langer said. “But he is also the sort of person who will do everything from now until the next time he bats, whether mentally or visualising or practising, to be right. He loves batting, we saw that masterclass the other day – no one is going to stop him batting, so he’ll practice it, work it out, and hopefully he’ll get back into it.”

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Cheteshwar Pujara signs for Gloucestershire for six County Championship games | Cricket



Pujara walks off to applause © Getty Images

Cheteshwar Pujara, the Indian top-order batsman, will play six County Championship fixtures for Gloucestershire this season after signing a short-term deal with the club.

Gloucestershire, who will be playing in Division One for the first time since 2005 after winning promotion last season, will be Pujara’s fourth county, following spells at Derbyshire (2014), Yorkshire (2015 and 2018) and Nottinghamshire (2017).

Pujara is one of only two Test specialists in the contracted list of 27 Indian players not to feature in the IPL, making him available for the start of the English season.

His first game will be the season opener against Yorkshire at Headingley on April 12, and he will leave immediately before the T20 Blast starts at the end of May. Qais Ahmad, the Afghanistan legspinner, will play the final six Championship games as well as the whole of the Blast, while the club does not currently have an overseas player for the mid-season games against Somerset and Hampshire.

ALSO READ: Pujara joins elite list with 50th first-class ton

Pujara will be the club’s first Indian player since Javagal Srinath in 1995, who took 87 Championship wickets at 19.09 apiece after being recommended to the county by Courtney Walsh.

“I am really excited to get the opportunity to represent Gloucestershire this season,” Pujara said. “The club has a rich cricketing history, and this is a great opportunity to be a part of it and contribute to its success.

“I am grateful to the club for giving me this opportunity and cannot wait to get to Bristol to meet my teammates and score some runs. I have really enjoyed the experience of coming over to the UK and playing county cricket over the last few years and I am looking forward to building on that whilst continuing to improve my game.”

Pujara’s record in County Championship cricket is surprisingly underwhelming. He averages 29.93 across 36 innings in the competition, including a six-game spell with Yorkshire in 2018 in which he failed to make a single half-century.

Richard Dawson, Gloucestershire head coach, said: “Cheteshwar is a player with great temperament who will add international experience to the squad. He is undoubtedly one of the best batsmen in world cricket and we are very fortunate to have him in our squad for the start of the County Championship campaign.

“Adding Pujara to a strong batting line-up gives me great confidence ahead of our opening County Championship matches.”

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Periodic breaks the best way to deal with ‘rigorous’ schedule – Virat Kohli



He has a “rigorous three years” lined up, and Virat Kohli feels taking periodic breaks during the hectic schedule has helped him continue to play all formats of the game, at the international level and the IPL, regularly.

Kohli is one of the busiest cricketers in the international circuit and has often stressed on workload management of the India players, especially the ones playing across formats. The India captain, who was last rested for the Bangladesh T20Is in November 2019 following the World Cup and the series against West Indies and South Africa, also highlighted the added pressure of “being captain”.

“I think it’s been eight or nine years that I have been playing almost 300 days a year with the travelling and practice sessions,” Kohli said ahead of the first Test against New Zealand. “And the intensity is right up there all the time. So it does take a toll on you. I am not saying it’s not something the players are not thinking about. We do choose to take a lot more breaks individually even though the schedule might not allow you to. You are going to see a lot of that in the future from many players. Not just myself, especially from the guys who are playing all three formats. It’s not that easy.

ALSO READ: Mayank Agarwal drives on after making technical adjustments

“Then being captain and having intensity in practice sessions and discussing the game, so it does take a toll on you. So periodic breaks for me seems to work pretty okay. At a time when the body doesn’t respond as well, maybe when I am 34-35, you might have a different conversation at that stage. But, for the next two-three years, I have no issues at all. I can keep going on with the same intensity and I also understand that the team wants a lot of my contribution so that we can ease into another transition phase that we faced some five-six years ago. So the mindset is on the larger picture, and from that point, I am preparing myself for a rigorous three years from now.”

Following back-to-back home series against South Africa, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Australia, India arrived in New Zealand for a different challenge of having to play away against a strong opposition, in all three formats. The side’s approach and attitude hasn’t changed, according to Kohli.

“They are intense and very, very fit guys, and they can keep going all day and test your patience, really skilled with what they do as both bowlers and batsmen and obviously brilliant fielders as well. So they don’t give you a lot within the game to sort of bank on or pounce on”

“It [the approach] is not different at all,” he said. “It’s international cricket. Every team needs to be treated in the same manner. Basically, what we do is focus on our strengths. It doesn’t matter how much patience the opposition has.

“I think in New Zealand it’s all about cricket discipline and what the team brings on to the field. They are intense and very, very fit guys, and they can keep going all day and test your patience, really skilled with what they do as both bowlers and batsmen and obviously brilliant fielders as well. So they don’t give you a lot within the game to sort of bank on or pounce on. You need to be wary of the chances that come on the way, and be focussed enough to capitalise on those. So I think it takes a lot more concentration on the field rather than dealing with things off the field in New Zealand.”

India’s opening pair will be a new one, with Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal likely to step out at the top after Shubman Gill, the third option, finished with two low scores. It is expected to be a challenge, especially against the new ball, but Kohli doesn’t want anyone to be under unnecessary pressure.

“Look, these guys [Shaw and Agarwal] have no baggage,” Kohli said. “These guys are not desperate to perform here in any manner or they don’t have any nerves in wanting to do well overseas because they haven’t done well in the past or something like that. I think with a clear head, as Mayank played in Australia, hopefully Prithvi can do the same in New Zealand and Mayank can carry forward that as well.

“A bunch of new guys, they play with a lot of fearlessness and something that can motivate the whole team and give us the starts that we want and not be intimidated by the opposition in any manner.”

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Matt Henry to join New Zealand Test squad as cover for Neil Wagner



Fast bowler Matt Henry has been called up to the New Zealand Test squad as cover for Neil Wagner, who is awaiting the birth of his child. New Zealand Cricket tweeted that Henry will arrive in Wellington on Wednesday evening for the Test starting on Friday.

Henry will join Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Wagner and Kyle Jamieson among the pace options for New Zealand. Even though Lockie Ferguson had returned to the domestic Ford Trophy, coach Gary Stead had said recently that his “loads aren’t anywhere near for us to be able to consider him for four-day [Test] cricket.” Henry, too, has been playing the Ford Trophy but Stead had said picking Jamieson over Henry in the initial squad was a “tough call”.

ALSO READ: Lockie Ferguson not rushing return from calf injury

While Jamieson will be in line for a Test debut after impressing in the recent ODIs, Henry has played 12 Tests, including the Sydney game against Australia last month in which he finished with 1 for 94 and 1 for 54 in New Zealand’s 279-run loss before being dropped.

Overall, Henry has taken 30 Test wickets in his 12 games with an average exceeding 50. He has played two Tests against India – both in India in 2016 – but it was in the World Cup semi-final last year that he troubled them with his 3 for 37 to set up New Zealand’s win.

The hosts will be eager to pose problems for India again, this time because the two Tests count for the World Test Championship, where New Zealand are currently placed sixth with only one win from six games. India, meanwhile, are on top with seven wins from as many games.

Test squad: Kane Williamson (capt.) Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling, Matt Henry

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