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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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Vernon Philander blames CSA ‘chaos’ for prompting early retirement

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Vernon Philander has admitted that interference in selection ahead of the 2015 World Cup semi-final, and the recent crises at Cricket South Africa (CSA) both contributed to hastening his retirement, which took place last month. In an extensive interview with Afrikaans weekly Rapport, Philander confirmed he would have considered playing longer but opted to end his international career and sign a Kolpak deal, because “too many things went wrong” in the country’s cricket administration.

“As a player you get to the point where you’ve had enough,” Philander said. “Cricket SA’s previous administration only looked after themselves; the players were the last people they worried about. Too many things went wrong and I had to decide what was the best way forward for me. I am 34 and have a good career behind me, but I would have considered playing longer if it wasn’t for the chaos in our cricket administration.”

Though CSA’s long-running battle with the South African Cricketers’ Association, which centred on the now-scrapped proposed domestic restructure, ended last week, the relationship between players and administrators has been strained for several years. In 2015, trust between players and administrators severely broke down when, on the eve of South Africa’s semi-final against New Zealand, former CEO Haroon Lorgat contacted the national team selectors to remind them of their transformation commitments. Ultimately, that resulted in Kyle Abbott, South Africa’s best bowler at the tournament, being left out and Philander, who had nursed a hamstring injury throughout the competition, included in the starting XI.

Speaking for the first time on the incident, Philander revealed he didn’t think he should have played. “It’s difficult for me to look back on that,” he said. “I blatantly and openly told the coach that the best player must play. He told me, ‘you’re the best man for the day, you play’. But they were clearly not open and honest with me and Kyle. There were things happening behind closed doors.”

South Africa lost the match on the penultimate ball, ending what was considered by many to be their best chance to win a World Cup. Philander only played three more ODIs, later in 2015, and was not considered in the format again. And in early 2017, just as Abbott had nailed down a regular Test spot, he signed a Kolpak deal and ended his international career.

Philander traces those repercussions back to what happened before the semi-final and although he and Abbott remain friends, neither felt the same about CSA since. “When I go to Durban, I have a beer with Kyle. There are no hard feelings between us two. But the point is: Cricket SA must sort out their stuff. What happened was a knock to both of us.”

“I blatantly and openly told the coach that the best player must play. He told me, ‘you’re the best man for the day, you play’. But they were clearly not open and honest with me and Kyle”

Performance-wise, they have both recovered, with Abbott dominating on the county scene – including 17 wickets in one match for Hampshire against Somerset last summer – and Philander finishing as South Africa’s seventh-highest Test wicket-taker, but South Africans may always wonder if there could have been more from both of them.

Philander, in particular, struggled with his fitness towards the latter stages of his career and seems to have grown increasingly disillusioned with the way the team was handled during former coach Ottis Gibson’s tenure, which ran from 2017 to 2019. “The administrators became too involved with the game and the players,” he said. “It was also easier for them to target Ottis because he’s a foreigner. They could tell it him, “Do this, do that.”

The transformation targets, specifically the black African component, has been highlighted in the last two years with former CEO Thabang Moroe understood to have wanted a significant say in team composition. Moroe currently faces allegations of mismanagement and his position is occupied by acting CEO Dr Jacques Faul, under whom large-scale changes have taken place.

Former captain Graeme Smith is acting as director of cricket and is likely to accept the job permanently post a commentary stint at the IPL, Mark Boucher has been appointed head coach until 2023 and “credibility”, in Philander’s words, is returning, but too late for him to reconsider.

ALSO READ: Philander – One of those good things we didn’t appreciate enough when we had him

“Hopefully we will see a turnaround in the administration and on the playing field,” he said. “We must put out heads together and decide which direction we are going in. Hopefully we can make the path for younger players better.”

That suggests Philander is still interested in staying involved in South African cricket in some capacity, something Smith was at pains to say he would welcome. Philander has committed himself to Somerset for the upcoming English summer but with Kolpak deals set to be nullified at the end of the year, he may be available for the South African set-up sooner than expected, if the money is right.

“In successful teams like Australia, England and India, former players are involved but in South Africa, we lost our former players to other countries where they do coaching because the money is much better,” Philander said. “We have to decide what we are willing to pay to keep former players in the country and ensure that our cricket goes forward again.”

Even if Philander is not absorbed into CSA’s systems, he will continue to do work through his foundation which seeks to use sport to provide alternatives to young people in previously disadvantaged areas of the Cape. Philander is from that part of South Africa and said his background of “learning to survive” is behind his drive to make a difference.

“We try to give children other routes away from gangs, drugs and alcohol. I say to myself that I can’t help everyone in the whole world but if I can help one or two, it’s something.”



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PCB mulls logistics as South Africa brace for Pakistan tour

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South Africa’s tour to Pakistan in March will come with logistical challenges for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). South Africa end their tour to India on March 18 and PCB intend to make them stay in Dubai – until the Pakistan Super League (PSL) ends on March 22 – and then fly them directly to Islamabad for a three-match T20 series in Rawalpindi.

Cricket South Africa (CSA), meanwhile, is set to send a security delegation headed by security expert Rory Steyn to Pakistan next month during the PSL, to assess the security arrangements. The reconnaissance, ESPNcricinfo understands, comes because CSA is intent to go through a process of physically checking security before formally approving the tour. It is, understandably, a players association requirement as well.

“The tour of South Africa is very much a waiting game now and by the end of the month we should have a clear position,” Wasim Khan, PCB’s CEO, said. “Their head of security is expected in Pakistan during the initial games of the Pakistan Super League. He has all the security plans for each of the different venues.

“He and the board of South Africa are very comfortable with touring. We have to make it work logistically as South Africa finish the tour of India on 18 March and we don’t finish the PSL till March 22. For them to go back and come again won’t be possible so we will have to see whether we can have them sit in the UAE […] and provide them the support and practice facilities, or we fly them straight in here and provide all that here.”

South Africa last toured Pakistan in 2007 and have since have played Pakistan twice in bilateral series, in 2010 and 2013, in the UAE. The next full tour Pakistan is scheduled to host is next year, in January-February, with two ICC Test championship games alongside five ODI and three T20s. The March T20s are extra fixtures that the PCB has arranged as a part of their ongoing drive to bring as many teams as possible to the country to normalise international cricket again.

Lahore and Karachi have been actively hosting International cricket since 2017 and PCB is gradually exploring more venues in the country to expand the scope. Cricket South Africa’s assessment across all available venues is pending, though PCB suggested Rawalpindi for the fixtures.

“Lahore and Karachi venues have been diluted because we have been playing our entire cricket here and because of that the wickets here are also suffering,” said Khan.

“We now have Rawalpindi as a venue available. For me, it makes sense to go there and play the three matches. I have suggested Rawalpindi as a venue to South Africa and they are comfortable with the suggestion.”



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Shane Getkate in Ireland squad for T20Is against Afghanistan in India

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Fast bowler Mark Adair has been sidelined from Ireland’s tour of India for three T20Is against Afghanistan with an ankle injury. Shane Getkate has been called up as a like-for-like replacement. The Durban-born Getkate has played 14 T20Is so far, picking up eight wickets at an economy rate of 9.22.

ALSO READ: Shane Getkate’s calm fortitude in the face of adversity

Adair’s enforced exit is the only change to the squad that toured the Caribbean in January earlier this year.

“While it is unfortunate Mark Adair will not be travelling, this opens up an opportunity for Shane Getkate, who missed out on the Caribbean tour,” Andrew White, the chairman of selectors, said.

“We are confident that we have selected a well-balanced side, but we will be looking for greater consistency as the year progresses. The last tour gave us an insight into this Irish side’s potential – by beating the World Champions in their own backyard, but there is no doubt the players will be keen to show those performances on a more regular basis.”

Ireland had sprung a surprise on the reigning T20I champions in the T20I series opener in Grenada, but the second match was washed out by rain and West Indies hit back to level the series in the third.

The first of the three T20Is against Afghanistan will be played on March 6. Greater Noida will host all the three games. This will be Andy Balbirnie’s second international tour as captain. He had led both the limited-overs sides in the Caribbean.

Squad: Andrew Balbirnie (capt.), Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Shane Getkate, Josh Little, Barry McCarthy, Kevin O’Brien, Boyd Rankin, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker, Gary Wilson, Craig Young.



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