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‘I had a lot of luck,’ admits David Warner on return to form

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David Warner would have been happy to get out nicking any one of the multiple deliveries Stuart Broad sent fizzing past his outside edge on a difficult day for batting at Headingley, but admitted Australia now had a significant challenge ahead of them to defend 179 in conditions and weather that are expected to improve in Leeds over the next two days.

Having entered the third Ashes Test without a double-figure score in four innings, Warner resolved to defend his off stump and also take opportunities to score whenever they arrived, finding a better balance between defence and attack than he had previously managed in the series.

During a stand of 110 in 23 overs with the highly impressive Marnus Labuschagne, Warner and Australia could see the potential for a first-innings total that would have set up the whole match, only to lose 8 for 43 to Jofra Archer’s brilliance and so leave the Test well and truly open to England.

“My theory has always been the same when I come to England,” Warner said. “The first two wickets didn’t have as much dampness in them or weren’t going to seam as much and for me it’s about taking out that lbw equation but then not trying to get out nicked off from a good length ball and knowing where your off stump is there. You want them to come into your pads when you bat outside off and you can get the cheeky one inside midwicket, that’s the thought process behind it.

“Travis Head’s dismissal is the perfect dismissal that you don’t want to do as a left-hander. I don’t want to have the bat come down at an angle and exposing my off stump, so for me it was about going across a little bit, getting my bat in front of my pad, and that’s outside the line there. That’s my thinking, it always has been. It’s been challenging but coming into it mentally I felt like I was in form. I’ve had three balls where I probably couldn’t have done anything with them.

“The first one [at Edgbaston] was just a lazy one I missed on my legs. But I’ve always felt like I’ve been in form and worked my backside off in the nets as well. Then today was about trying to negate that good ball and not get out to it. I had a lot of luck, I played and missed quite a lot but I kept my bat nice and tight. That’s what I wanted to do and I was happy to get out if a good ball was going to get me out. I was very pleased with the way I adjusted. I moved across a little bit more so my bat was covering that off stump, allowed me to leave a little bit more.”

A pre-match round of golf with Ricky Ponting, who had been an assistant coach with Australia during the World Cup and has now returned as a commentator, was also useful for sorting through the many thoughts in Warner’s mind. “Going out on the golf course with Ricky was great, always good to have my mate around and just let your hair down,” he said. “He was all about making sure I’m still backing my game plan, looking to get forward and looking to hit the ball, and I know when I’m looking to hit the ball my defence takes care of itself and I’m compact. That was fortunate enough today that it came off, but obviously you get another good ball there but can’t do anything about it.

“Our top order, we all got good balls. We always knew that partnership with me and Marnus, that’s how cricket goes, you’re going to lose one straight away, if not the next five overs, but if you get through that, as a new batter, it can get a lot easier. Early back in their second spells there, it’s challenging. That’s the beauty of this game. It’s hard to start, especially when you have two world-class bowlers coming on who are hitting their line and length impeccably.

“You are always nice and sharp when you have a lot of movement out there, you have to commit to the front foot or the back foot, you can’t get caught on the crease. I look back on the [World Cup] game against Pakistan and I got some runs there, it was green, and the ball was swinging and nipping around, and same thing, I just held my line and I pounced on anything that was wide or short. Today, you weren’t going to get that from Broady or Jofra. They bowled unbelievable. It’s always challenging, but as a batsman you have to stay in a positive mindset. A play and miss is a good shot.”

Having watched Labuschagne up close and been on the receiving end of his ever-active cricket brain, providing plenty of advice about how to survive in the middle, Warner had little hesitation dubbing him a long-term Test batsman for the future – albeit with a caveat over his batting position. “Definitely, [but] not at four, Steve Smith’s there,” Warner said. “He’s just taken the bull by its horns, he’s got that opportunity and he’s working his backside off to reinstate himself into the Test arena and he is doing himself every favour by hanging in and batting the way he is, so obviously it wasn’t ideal that Steve couldn’t play but [Labuschagne] got another opportunity to come out and play. He’s a fantastic player and he has got a lot to offer and we have seen it first hand there.

“I though he was outstanding today, his discipline was outstanding, him coming over here and playing that stint of county cricket, scoring some runs and knowing where his off stump is … We talked our way through our innings out there, we rebounded a lot of positive comments and he kept telling me about being disciplined and making sure I’m holding my shape which was great getting reassurance from a youngster.”

The partnership between Warner and Labuschagne stood out boldly amid the rush of wickets either side of it, underlining that there will be opportunities for Australia to take wickets provided they maintain their discipline.

“For us it was about pushing the field,” Warner said, “we always spoke about running between wickets and we pushed the field as much as we could. That can break up some tension when they’re bowling well, just little things we were ticking over in our minds, we were running hard, we were leaving well, but make sure we are being ultra positive and that’s probably why we got that period.

“We’ve got to come out tomorrow and hit the right lines and lengths, I think the weather is quite hot, it could dry the wicket out a lot. It’s a fast-scoring outfield so we have to hit the right line and length and try to shut the scoreboard down. It’s about discipline, they had the right phase today, they had the conditions in their favour but they put the ball in the right spot all the time so that’s the challenge.”

Throughout his post-play press conference, Warner was being harangued by the chants of England fans who could see him speaking from outside the ground – typifying the abuse he has faced throughout the tour. “They are allowed to do want they want,” he said. “They pay to come in and watch cricket and are allowed to carry on if they want.

“If they carry on too much they get evicted. For us we just worry about what we have to do. It’s hard enough trying to hit a swinging and seaming ball than worry about what the crowd are doing. They just come here to have fun, enjoy a good game of cricket and try and add some extra pressure on us. Some of us thrive on it like me, some of us don’t even listen to it.”



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Not v Wor: First semi-final match-ups

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Nottinghamshire go into Finals Day’s first semi-final as favourites with the bookmakers, but have struggled in recent games against Worcestershire. Player-on-player match-ups and tactical phases are a crucial part of modern T20’s vocabulary: here are the battles to watch out for…

How do Notts solve a problem like Moeen?

It may seem unlikely to those used to seeing him struggle against Nathan Lyon with a red ball and white clothing, but Moeen Ali is an excellent player of spin in T20 cricket, and his five Blast innings this season have brought him 312 runs with a strike-rate of 175.28. Clearly, he is the key man for Worcestershire on Saturday.

Moeen has strong match-ups against two Nottinghamshire bowlers in particular, scoring 45 runs off the 23 balls he has faced from Samit Patel in the Blast, and 32 off 13 against Dan Christian.

The pace-off option offered by Steven Mullaney may prove a good one for Notts – he has gone at under a run a ball against Moeen in the Blast – though after he missed the group stage due to injury, picking Mullaney would be a big call.

In the past three years, few teams have risked offspin against Moeen early on, but he has only scored 22 off 23 balls against it in the powerplay, so Notts should persevere with their tactic of using Matt Carter in the first six overs.

At the death, Moeen’s scoring rate is 14.52 runs per over since the start of 2017 – if he takes the game deep, Notts are in serious trouble.

Bowl left-armers to Whiteley

Ross Whiteley is yet to find his best form in the competition, but still has a strike-rate of 151.96. He destroys right-arm pace at the death, but struggles comparatively against fellow southpaws.

His scoring rate against left-arm spin in the middle overs is a conservative 7.30 runs per over, and against left-arm seamers at the death he is out every 7.9 balls he faces. It might make sense, then, to use Patel against him when he first comes in, before turning to Harry Gurney (though more on that below) and Luke Wood at the death.

Whiteley also takes the best part of ten balls to get set. His strike-rate five balls into his innings is just 82.55, but after a few sighters he can fly through the gears; Christian should start with an attacking field rather than letting him knock a single off his first few balls as is his wont.

Hatching a Hales plan

If Moeen is Worcestershire’s undisputed star, then Notts will expect similar heroics from Alex Hales, who has an immense wealth of experience playing worldwide.

The good news for Moeen is that there is a clear chink in Hales’ armoury with regards his relatively poor record against left-arm spin in the Blast: in the past three years, he has faced 24 balls from left-arm spinners in the middle overs, scoring 29 runs for three dismissals. The bad news is that Worcestershire have no such bowler in their squad.

And that issue does not extend to all balls turning away from the bat: in the last three Blast seasons he scored at 11.14 runs per over against legspin in the middle overs, so Moeen should not be tempted to use Brett D’Oliveira unless he has a cunning masterplan.

The best player-on-player match-up available to Worcestershire against Hales is either Wayne Parnell, whose 17 balls against him in Blast cricket have yielded only 19 runs, and one wicket, or indeed Moeen himself. Moeen has bowled 22 balls at Hales in all T20, giving up 21 runs and dismissing him twice; though one of those came only thanks to a physics-defying AB de Villiers catch in the 2018 IPL.

Adapting to Gurney’s threat

Gurney is the most important bowler at the death for Nottinghamshire, and Worcestershire would be well advised to try to manufacture a match-up that works against him for the last five overs.

Since the start of 2017, Gurney’s figures at the end of an innings are brilliant, but there is a reasonable split between his efforts against right-handers (economy rate 8.62) and left-handers (10.50) in that phase.

It would be worth making sure that Parnell, Moeen, or Hamish Rutherford manufacture the strike in a right-hand/left-hand partnership at the death when Gurney is bowling, while the difference in his records adds a further layer of importance to how Notts deal with Whiteley’s threat.

Whiteley’s record against Gurney is very good, and he is the best death hitter out of Worcestershire’s lefties; he is the man most likely to take him down.



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Waqar looks to reignite chemistry with Misbah

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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

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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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