Essex 168 for 5 (Lawrence 59*, Bopara 45) beat Sussex 159 for 9 (Wiese 66, Amir 4-29) by nine runs
Sussex supporters packed into the tight confines of Hove on another sell-out T20 night had relished news of the Ashes exploits of Jofra Archer, but for once they had to make do with vicarious pleasures as they watched their side’s hold at the top of South Group weakened by a nine-run defeat against Essex.
The South Group is now as congested as, well, most of the south, with Essex, who began the night in eighth place, still retaining hopes of a late rush into the top four. Only Glamorgan and Surrey can be discounted.
Essex’s 168 for 5 represented a challenging target for a side that bases its success around a powerful bowling attack, but David Wiese‘s 66 from 36 balls – with Laurie Evans his most productive sidekick – took them within 39 with 28 balls remaining when he was sixth out, sweeping at Simon Harmer.
Wiese, one of T20s most experienced campaigners, has entered his Tarantino villain phase with vigorous beard, long hair and determined chew. His free-flowing straight six off Aaron Beard, backed up by two boundaries from misfields, had just taken 17 off Beard’s last over, but he was unable to rescue the game.
Essex have the worst T20 record in the country in recent seasons (Sussex have the best), but they dug in well here, despite some shoddy fielding. All their bowlers played a part from Cameron Delport, who had bowled only three overs of medium-paced mix-ups all season but who slipped in two overs without much damage, and the diminutive Australian leggie Adam Zampa, complete with perfectly matching yellow headband, who had Will Beer caught at extra cover at the start of his last over with 23 needed off 18.
But it was Mohammad Amir, whose return of 4 for 29 stood out for Essex: another fine over, the 19th, included the dismissal of Chris Jordan, a flat-bat to Ravi Bopara at deep midwicket when the game was still there for the winning.
Sussex’s openers, Phil Salt and Luke Wright, were also picked off during Amir’s first two overs. Salt is a batting roulette wheel, capable of extravagant success and failure, and he toe-ended to mid-on. Wright could not control a pull at a ball he might have cut and spliced to mid-off.
Alex Carey has claims to be Australia’s best batsman-keeper, but can’t get in the side even though they are picking two of them: he fell to Beard as Bopara fell backwards at cover to take a catch that he claimed more confidently than he caught.
Poor old Harry Finch is having a season to forget. He has made a pair in his last two Championship matches, divided by a prolonged spell in the 2nd XI. His first T20 outing of the summer with Delray Rawlins absent with Bermuda brought another duck, first ball, as he was lbw trying to reverse-sweep Harmer.
Essex’s general lack of success is hard to understand, especially now that Delport adds a rough-hewn power to the top of their order. They were looking sacrificial at 84 for 4 in the 12th over, but a stand of 82 in eight overs between Dan Lawrence and Bopara ensured a score to be reckoned with.
Sussex are not just managing without Archer. Tymal Mills is expected to miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture and legspinner Rashid Khan has moved on, but their ambition has been seen in the short-term acquisition of the Australian Jason Behrendorff, who took five wickets against England in a World Cup group game in June, for their last four group matches.
Behrendorff did not take a wicket but made his mark instead with the run out of Adam Wheater and a straightforward catch at long-off when Tom Westley, after making 34 from 25 balls, tried to get after the legspin of Beer. Beer is not quite the regular he was but his record in 107 T20s is a strong one and he followed up an impressive return of 3 for 22 against Surrey with 2 for 19.
Lawrence and Bopara broke Sussex’s grip, however, with a stand of 82 in eight overs. Lawrence does not possess prodigious strength and his attempts at innovation did not always come off – especially against the wiles of Reece Topley – but his unbeaten 59 from 43 dominated Essex’s innings, helped for four sixes, more or less straight, against Wiese and Danny Briggs.
Even more energising was Bopara’s 45 from 24 balls. One six over the off side against Topley had him grinning with the umpire Alex Wharf about the audacity of a shot that he would have found wondrous enough at his peak. It took a magnificent tumbling catch at long-off by Jordan to silence him with two balls remaining.
Jos Buttler will continue in opening role ahead of T20 World Cup, confirms Eoin Morgan
Eoin Morgan has insisted that he would have continued to view Jos Buttler as a top-order batsman in T20 cricket even if he had failed for a third time in the series in the final T20I at Durban, describing him as one of England’s “greatest-ever white-ball cricketers” and comparing him to AB de Villiers.
Buttler’s batting position has been a constant point for discussion throughout the series. Since Rajasthan Royals promoted him to the top of the order in May 2018, he has opened in 31 out of 32 T20 innings, including each of his last eight games for England.
While few doubt the fact he is a destructive player opening the batting – he has averaged 44.58 with a strike rate of 154.66 in the role since being moved up in the IPL – there is a school of thought that suggests England’s wealth of top-order options but dearth of finishers means that he would be best used as a floating middle-order batsman.
But Morgan has insisted throughout this series that Buttler is used best as a top-order player, saying that he did not view his 29-ball 57 at Durban as vindication. “If he’d failed today, he still would have been considered in the top three,” he said.
“He’s a very fine player. He’s got unbelievable ability to take any bowling line-up apart, and to have somebody in your side like that is great. I don’t think he played that well today, but he got a score on the board, and set a really good platform for us to try and chase a score down along with Jonny [Bairstow].
“[Jos is] one of our greatest-ever white-ball cricketers,” Morgan told Sky Sports. “I realise why people talk about him so much, but not in a negative way. I think he has as much talent as someone like AB de Villiers.
“It took AB de Villiers a long time and a lot of games to actually get going in a South African shirt. We need to back guys that have that sort of talent, and Jos Buttler’s been around a long time now, and we know when he delivers, we win games of cricket.”
“At times you can be the victims of your own mentality, so we said we’re not going to leave anything in the tank at the halfway stage, and we didn’t”
Morgan admitted that the plan to use Buttler at the top of the order could change between now and the T20 World Cup, which starts in October, but maintained that the top three’s ability to break the back of a run chase and to lay a platform on which the middle order can build was crucial.
“I think the priority at the moment is to get the top three [Buttler, Jason Roy and Bairstow] as many balls under their belt as they can,” he said. “They’re the most destructive players that we have. If that changes between now and the World Cup, and we feel the need to fill a gap somewhere, then we might change it, but for the moment it’s an extremely destructive batting line-up to play against.
“The advantage that we have now is we have guys going away, playing Pakistan [Super] League, IPL, they’ll come back and play in the Blast, then play in the Hundred. So there’s a lot of T20 fixtures, [of a] high-quality standard, that we do look at – guys in pressure moments, how they deliver.
“We encourage our guys, particularly our senior guys, or guys who are trying to get into our squad or final XI, when they go to tournament like that – they need to go and try and be MVP, leading run-scorer, take the most wickets, stand out, be the man. So when they come into international cricket, it’s not a surprise.”
Morgan accepted that England had “not played our best cricket” throughout the series, and suggested that they were “rusty” in the first T20I at East London, but said that he was always confident that his side could chase down an imposing target of 223 in the final game.
“[It was] an absolutely belting wicket with really short boundaries – a real bowler’s graveyard, so to speak,” he said. “Our bowlers kept it within something chaseable, and at the halfway stage we talked about 2016, when we chased down 230 against South Africa in the second game of the World Cup. At times you can be the victims of your own mentality, so we said we’re not going to leave anything in the tank at the halfway stage, and we didn’t.”
Despite a troublesome back leading to suggestions he might step down as England’s white-ball captain after the 50-over World Cup win last summer, Morgan has been in imperious form since that triumph. In his last eight T20I innings, he has hit 328 runs off 179 balls, averaging 54.66 with a strike rate of 183.24, and matched his own record for the fastest half-century by an England batsman at Centurion with a 21-ball effort.
“Not bad,” was Morgan’s own assessment of his form. “I’ve not been working on a great deal of stuff,” he said, “mainly just keeping my head clear, and being precise about what I’m trying to do, trying to work with the guy at the other end the whole time [and trying to] marshal the troops a little bit.”
As a captain, Morgan has continued to work closely with England’s white-ball analyst, Nathan Leamon – “trying to make little fine adjustments” – and explained that his regular use of Moeen Ali in the Powerplay was an attempt to target Quinton de Kock’s relative weakness against offspin.
“There’s a gambling element as well, a bit of risk/reward. We’ve seen that throughout the series, trying to get Quinton and Temba [Bavuma] out. It’s not easy at all, but continuing to bowl Moeen while Temba’s taking it easy at one end and Quinny’s taking him on, the odds are in our favour whether he gets hit or not. My gambling does come into it a little bit.”
If AB de Villiers is ready and willing, he will be at the T20 World Cup – Mark Boucher
The one person South African coach Mark Boucher is sure of ahead of this year’s T20 World Cup did not even play in the series against England, which ended on Sunday. South Africa lost 1-2 and head straight into another rubber against Australia on Friday, where they could sport a very different squad that could even include AB de Villiers, who Boucher indicated is a shoe-in for the tournament later this year.
“He’s a discussion in the media and in the public but he is no discussion for me. I have had chats with him and we will probably know pretty soon what’s going to happen with him,” Boucher said. “Like I said from day one when I took over, if we are going to a World Cup, I would like to have our best players there.
“If AB is in good form and he is raring to go and he makes himself available for the time we have asked him to be available; if he is the best man for the job, then he must go. It’s not about egos or anything like that, it’s about sending your best team to the World Cup to try and win that competition.”
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De Villiers retired from all international cricket in May 2018 but attempted to make a comeback for the 2019 50-over World Cup, which was blocked by national selectors. At the time, it was explained that the refusal to let de Villiers back was because he had snubbed a request to play in two ODIs leading up to the tournament. This time, de Villiers will be part of South Africa’s build-up, although it is not clear how many matches he will be required to play.
South Africa have a two-month break after the Australia series, which includes three T20Is and three ODIs and will be followed by a white-ball tour of Sri Lanka and a visit to West Indies that includes five T20s. Early indications were that de Villiers would return to the national side after the IPL but with Australia bringing a full-strength squad, de Villiers may be convinced to come back earlier so South Africa can settle on combinations.
That will give South Africa further options to consider as they look to refine their playing group for the T20 World Cup, after Boucher conceded that he still has vacant spots in this team. “A couple of questions have been answered – maybe in a positive way, maybe one or two in a negative way but least the questions have been answered and we are getting an idea of which positions are filled,” he said.
Although Boucher did not reveal exactly which places had been claimed, a quick glance at the series suggests the openers have sealed their spots. Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma, who has just five T20 caps to his name, got South Africa off to three strong starts with stands of 92, 48 and 84 and finished as the first and second top-scorers for their team.
Though South Africa had some middle-order challenges, Boucher was “very happy with the batting,” as a whole. That suggests Rassie van der Dussen, Jon-Jon Smuts, David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen, who only played the final match, have all done enough to remain in contention for the T20 World Cup.
The performance of the attack was less satisfying for Boucher, with South Africa failing to defend 222 at SuperSport Park. “The bowling has, at times, been very good. We’ve got wicket-taking ability but as a unit we are not hitting our straps enough and there are a couple too many soft options. If we can clean that act up then I think we are going in the right direction,” Boucher said.
In particular, he wants to work on bowlers’ skills, especially the yorker but stressed that it is difficult to focus on that in between matches because of the tight travel schedule. “We did speak about trying to nail more yorkers but it’s difficult to train those sort of things because we play, we travel, we play, we travel,” he said. “I don’t think the skill is where it should be and that’s something we need to work on. We are looking at a camp that we can put together so that we can work on particular things with our bowlers and our batters.”
While Lungi Ngidi, who defended seven runs off the last over in East London, is unlikely to have been the focus of Boucher’s comments, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Beuran Hendricks and even Dale Steyn will want to take notes so they know what’s expected of them as South Africa head into their next assignment. Rabada and Sisanda Magala, who has spent the series working on his fitness, are the other options South Africa will consider.
Overall, Boucher has assessed his first full series as national head coach as “tough,” but no different to what he thought it would be when he took the job in mid-December.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Boucher said. “I don’t want to get emotional about the whole thing. You’ve got to try and be practical and look at where we are as a team and understand that there is a lot of hard work to do.
“With regards to our Test cricket, we are a long way off the mark so we need to work nice and hard there, especially on our batting. In one-day cricket, we are a very young side and I was pretty happy with the way that went. We are in a stage now, I don’t like to call it rebuilding, but we are looking at opportunities for guys to stand up and take responsibility for a position that they could own for a long period of time. If there is a chance to give guys opportunity, then I think we must.”
Despite a number of debuts – South Africa handed out five in the Tests and three in ODIs – the team has not won a series since March last year, which speaks to the dire straits they find themselves in. But for Boucher, this time seems to present possibilities for new heroes, and maybe for a veteran like de Villiers, to come back.
Srinivas Salver replaces Usman Shuja as USA Cricket board’s male player representative
Former USA batsman Srinivas Salver has replaced former national team-mate Usman Shuja as male player representative in the lone change in the USA Cricket board after results of the recent election were announced on Saturday night. Atlanta league administrator Venu Pisike won re-election in the other place up for grabs, securing a three-year term as an individual director on the board.
Shuja’s loss is a stunning reversal from 2018 when he ran unopposed to win a unanimous vote for an initial one-year term. On this occasion, Salver, 35, won the vote by almost a 3 to 1 margin, claiming 34 votes from current or former players compared to Shuja’s tally of 12. Nine players abstained from voting after having registered. Another 43 players who would have been eligible to vote in the election simply refused to renew their USA Cricket membership in order to be eligible to vote.
According to multiple sources, Salver was the preferred candidate among the majority of the current USA squad. Having last represented USA in 2018, Salver has built and maintained strong relationships with most of the current and recent players who have represented USA. Shuja, 41, played his last match for USA in 2014 and could not maintain enough support beyond the previous generation of players.
Shuja had been the head of the influential cricket committee when the USA Cricket board was formed in 2018. But in the middle of 2019, he was replaced in that role by Atul Rai. It was around this time that Pubudu Dassanayake resigned as USA head coach and was replaced initially by Kiran More, with strong backing from Rai, before More’s assistant coach James Pamment took over from More in an interim capacity.
Pisike’s re-election was expected thanks to a sizeable portion of the registered membership hailing from his Atlanta power-base. Of the 725 registered voters, 203 were tied to either the Atlanta Cricket League or the Atlanta Georgia Cricket Conference. That support went a long way to him claiming a total of 369 votes compared to just 31 votes to Texas candidate Ather Naqi. A total of 325 eligible voters abstained from voting.
The voting numbers are a drastic drop-off from the inaugural USA Cricket board elections in August 2018. Approximately 5500 members were eligible to vote for the previous election, but USA Cricket experienced an 87% drop in membership renewals ahead of this election. In 2018. USA Cricket had asked for a $35 annual membership fee before ultimately deciding to wave the fee ahead of the registration deadline to be able to vote in 2018.
USA Cricket then lowered the fee to $10 for renewal by July 31, 2019. After extending the renewal deadline until the end of August, the governing body still could not convince members to join or renew in the same numbers as 2018 and instead experienced an 87% drop in membership.
The USA board is expected to hold an annual general meeting in New York on February 21. There was no AGM held in 2019 after board elections were delayed six months, from August all the way until February 2020.
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