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David Warner sent back to the drawing board

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Seldom on a single day can it have been possible to see the two leading batsmen of their team more far apart in terms of their command. Steven Smith‘s lowest score of a remarkable series was also his most impudent and domineering, making a wearing pitch and desperate England bowlers look like a computer game in beginner and/or practice mode.

The flip side, though, was the seemingly inevitable departure of David Warner for his third duck in a row and his sixth dismissal out of eight by Stuart Broad in this Ashes contest.

By this stage, both Warner and Broad looked very used to their roles. When Broad skidded his sixth ball through a backtracking Warner and into his pads in front of middle and leg, he ran towards the slips in celebration without even bothering to appeal to the umpire Marais Erasmus. When Warner walked down the wicket in the direction of his partner Marcus Harris, who motioned the possibility of a referral, he simply offered the rebuke “that’s salmon” trout, aka out.

Batsmen sinking to such depths in series past have taken varying approaches to their plight. In 1989 Graham Gooch, his feet and mind muddled by Terry Alderman, asked to be dropped late in the series and had his request granted. In later years his answering machine message is said to have been “I’m out, probably lbw Alderman”. Daryll Cullinan, having been rendered useless by Shane Warne and his flipper across several series, sought the help of a sports psychologist, only to have Warne greet him with, “what colour was the couch, Daryll?”

Whatever the approach Warner chooses to take, it is beyond all doubt that his chosen method for this Ashes series has proven faulty. With the exception of a single innings on the first day at Headingley, where he admirably played the line of the ball as it zipped repeatedly away from him, Warner has been left looking indecisive, defensive and above all vulnerable to the new ball. It is not a sensation many of the opposing bowlers and captains to face Warner in Test matches have ever felt before.

Old Trafford, in fact, was Warner’s first pair in Tests, three ducks in a row in all after the second innings at Leeds. That statistic underlines how superbly consistent he has been for Australia, as does another: as of this moment his career Test batting average stands at 46.01 – the lowest it has been since early 2014. Back then, Warner was in the midst of the best year of his Test career, being the dominant Australian performer in series in South Africa and the UAE, underlining his aggressive versatility in a range of conditions.

In England, Warner has never performed at his very best, to this day being unable to make a Test century here, but on both the 2013 and 2015 Ashes tours he looked to be on an upwards trajectory as a batsman. There were times in both series when he felt only a strong half an hour away from soaring to a match-shaping hundred. Four years later, older, wiser and refreshed by an enforced 12 months out of the game, he seemed intent on sanding down his usual English method to a point of perfection.

As he put it in Leeds: “My theory has always been the same when I come to England … 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. So it’s about creating … 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.”

At the same time, Warner had worked on his tempo, trying to calm himself down and ensure he was not forever batting in a state something near to rage against his opponents. To achieve this he had taken measures including the use of headphones when batting in the nets, listening to chill out music by the likes of Lewis Capaldi, and generally trying to take on a more pacific air around the Australian team.

Unfortunately for Warner, he has come up against parallel evolution from a genuinely great bowler in Broad, who had enjoyed some success against him in four previous Ashes encounters, but nothing to suggest he would b quite as dominant as this. The cornerstone of Broad’s attack has been to attack both stumps and edge from around the wicket, causing Warner to be worried on both sides of his bat with a range of consequent dismissals.

Nothing has underlined the muddle quite like the fact that Warner has twice been dismissed edging balls he was never fully committed to playing and ultimately tried to leave. It’s the sort of indecision that Alderman used to provoke in a host of English batsmen while taking 83 Test wickets across two tours here in 1981 and 1989. But it is more or less unheard of for Warner, who has generally taken the approach of playing shots and asking questions later.

There are, of course, mitigating factors for Warner. Collectively there have been few Test series more dicey for opening batsmen than this one, with the decision to use the older vintage specification of the Dukes ball aiding new ball bowlers on both sides. Equally, the struggles of those around him have also hurt: so often Warner has eased pressure on his partners by getting the scoreboard moving early. This time, when he perhaps needed some help in the other direction, it has not been forthcoming from Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris or Usman Khawaja.

That being said, Australia’s selectors have been left with a lot of questions about their top order for the future. While Smith has been magnificent and Marnus Labuschagne has emerged, there is very little certainty to be found elsewhere, even from someone as good as Warner has been. Quality over an extended period should be recognised, and Warner has this very much in his favour. At the same time, Khawaja’s dropping for Manchester provided a reminder that no-one is indispensable, as the coach Justin Langer continues his search for a deeper well of prolific Australian batsmen to choose from.

Ironically, a source of potential inspiration for Warner was provided by the fortunes of Mitchell Starc on day four. Initially left out of this series and then struggling in his first spells, Starc showed how he had learned and adapted to English requirements, while not losing the impact that has made him so striking an option for Australia down the years. In the long session after tea on day three during which he did not bowl a single ball, Starc had time to ponder how he had bowled in his first spells of the series.

Undoubtedly he had not targeted the stumps enough, dropping too short and also offering width. But with Ben Stokes and Johnny Bairstow fairly well entrenched on the fourth morning, he was granted the chance to make amends with the brand new ball. At Headingley the second new ball had been struck about firmly by the same two England batsmen, but here Starc was able to bend it to his will. Smartly mixing up scrambled seam deliveries – devised to move off the pitch – with straighter seam offerings searching for swing, he was soon discomforting both batsmen.

Stokes nicked one centimetres over his stumps, and Bairstow was little more comfortable. A couple of deliveries shaped to swing back without going the whole way, but eventually Starc got one exactly right, swerving neatly through Bairstow’s expansive drive. It was his biggest swinging delivery of the match so far, and had a sequel soon after when Stokes went back and could not cover a ball with bounce and just enough seam away, resulting in a third catch of the innings for Steven Smith a second slip.

In this spell, Starc demonstrated not only his strike power, but also an evolving ability to ask different questions in English climes: exactly what the selectors had wanted from him when they left him out of the first three Tests. It was a spell that had a huge bearing on Australia’s commanding position by the end of the day, but also provided something in the way of an example for Warner to look towards. For him, the only way is up.



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Alleged bookie Sanjeev Chawla extradited from United Kingdom

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Sanjeev Chawla, an alleged bookie, was extradited from the UK on Thursday. He is one of the primary accused in the 2000 match-fixing scandal that involved former South African captain Hansie Cronje.

Chawla’s extradition was sought by the Delhi police, who had filed a chargesheet in 2013, naming him along with five others including the late Cronje, for conspiracy to cheat, a criminal offence under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code.

Apart from Chawla and Cronje, the other accused were: Rajesh Kalra, Krishan Kumar and Sunil Dara, all based in India along. Only one, Manmohan Khattar, is believed to be living overseas. In the chargesheet, the Delhi police said Chawla and the other five accused were charged with IPC 420 (cheating) and 120B (criminal conspiracy). The chargesheet cited 65 witnesses and ran over 2500 pages, but the operative portion were only 80 pages.

The Delhi police had sought Chawla’s extradition because of his alleged involvement in the match-fixing controversy which eventually implicated Cronje, who confessed during the King Commission inquiry to accepting money from bookies to fix matches during South Africa’s ODI series in India in 2000.

Chawla’s extradition was approved by the UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid in February last year under the India-UK Extradition Treaty 1992. On June 14, 2016, Chawla was arrested in the UK after the Indian government sought his extradition in February that year but was let out on bail. In January 2019, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, which had blocked the extradition in 2017 on human interest grounds, eventually asked Javid’s office to take the final decision.

In January this year, Chawla contested the extradition on humanitarian grounds in the Royal Courts of Justice, London, but lost the appeal. In a last-ditch attempt, Chawla then approached the European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg (France), to block the extradition. In his appeal, Chawla cited his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the UK is a signatory. On February 6, they rejected his plea.

On Thursday, Chawla landed in Delhi accompanied by the team of the Delhi police’s crime branch. He will be housed in Delhi’s Tihar jail ahead of his trial. Chawla’s acquisition is a major shot in the arm for the cops and has re-opened the investigation that shook cricket at the turn of the millennium. Cronje’s links to the bookies were unearthed by an investigating officer Ishwar Singh, who was probing an unrelated extortion case in early 2000.

Upon further investigations, the Delhi Police found that Cronje had persuaded some of his team-mates to agree to underperform in an ODI in 2000 during the India tour. Subsequently, batsman Herschelle Gibbs and bowler Henry Williams were banned for six months each and fined by South African authorities for their part in the scandal.



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Harmanpreet, Rodrigues must ‘pull up their socks’ ahead of T20 World Cup – Diana Edulji

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Former India women’s captain Diana Edulji believes T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur and top-order batter Jemimah Rodrigues must “pull up their socks” heading into the T20 World Cup, which begins on February 21 with hosts Australia taking on India.

Edulji’s views came close on the heels of an India collapse of 7 for 29 in the tri-nation series final against Australia in Melbourne that cost them what looked like a likely victory, given the visitors needed only 41 runs off 35 balls with seven wickets in hand. The dismissal of half-centurion Smriti Mandhana in the 15th over exposed the infirmity of the middle order yet again.

“They are so lazy that they never try for a second. These are the things that make all the difference. It is a single or a boundary, there is nothing in between.”

Diana Edulji on India’s running between the wickets

Edulji, whose 33-month tenure as a member of the Supreme-Court appointed Committee of Administrators involved a controversy around Mithali Raj’s omission in the 2018 T20 World Cup semi-final, even floated the idea of a change of captaincy to enable Harmanpreet to play her “natural game”.

“Both Harmanpreet and Jemimah need to pull up their socks,” Edulji, who played 20 Tests and 36 ODIs for India, told PTI. “Maybe Harman should give up captaincy and play her natural game. Something seems to be troubling her. But who else takes over then. If Smriti is handed captaincy, it might affect her batting too.”

Even though Mandhana topped the run-charts in the tri-series with a tally of 216, the rest of the line-up spluttered for form, fluency and consistency – the middle order in particular – resulting in a league-stage defeat against England and Australia each, and then the chastening collapse in the final.

ALSO READ: Harmanpreet ‘not afraid to give chances to newcomers’

“They are so lazy that they never try for a second,” Edulji said. “These are the things that make all the difference. It is a single or a boundary, there is nothing in between.”

“There is something wrong with this team. This is a team which can win every game and it does win from an unlikely situation but the next game it is losing from a comfortable position like it did today. They are simply not consistent enough.

“They have all the facilities at their disposal now, at par with men, and yet they have not been able to play consistent cricket and win ICC trophies. If they play like the way they are playing, they will make the semi-finals again [at the T20 World Cup], but I don’t see them winning the trophy.”

Pooled alongside defending champions Australia, New Zealand, and Bangladesh, India have picked only three pacers in a largely spin-heavy bowling contingent for the T20 World Cup. The efficacy of that strategy was on view in the tri-series, where the spin attack pulled India back in the game on multiple occasions, left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad even going on to top the wicket-charts. Edulji, however, had a different take on India’s reliance on spinners.

“It just shows there are no quality pacers in domestic cricket,” Edulji said. “You only have [swing bowler] Shikha Pandey of some calibre. What is being done to produce pacers? We are bound to play with a spin-heavy attack if there are no pacers around. We are not concentrating on junior cricket enough. How come Australia have pacers who can bowl at 120 kmph and we don’t?”



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Shubman Gill wary of Neil Wagner’s short-ball threat

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Shubman Gill believes that India’s success in New Zealand will depend on how well they negotiate the short ball, especially considering it is the weapon of choice for one of their best bowlers – Neil Wagner.

New Zealand endured a tough time on their tour of Australia late last year but Wagner emerged as one of the significant positives from the 3-0 thrashing. The short ball remained his ultimate weapon and it even accounted for Steven Smith four times. In the home Test series against England that preceded that tour, Wagner laboured on surfaces that had nothing to offer him, bowing long spells full of short balls to help New Zealand get back in the game.

“I think their bowling attack has been taking a lot of wickets with the short ball, especially Wagner,” Gill said on the eve of the Indians’ practice match in Hamilton. “If you see the last series they played against Australia, when nothing was happening in the wicket, they were really relying on the short ball. I think as a team, as a batsman, if we could take that out of the picture and not give wickets to the short ball, it will be really helpful for us.”

Gill warmed up with scores of 83, 204* and 136 with India A in New Zealand earlier this month, and from his recent experience, he picked out the one challenge that awaits batsmen in those conditions.

“I think the wickets here are really good to bat on, especially when we played the days game in Christchurch, the wickets were really good to bat on,” Gill said. “The only challenge that we were facing was the bounce. The bounce was really good and it was really consistent. Keeping the wind factor in mind, it was not that easy to consistently pull and hook the ball.”

With those scores, Gill has made a strong case for selection as an opener with Mayank Agarwal in the Test series. It’s currently a toss-up between him and Prithvi Shaw, who has also had a recent run of good form.

“Obviously, our [his and Shaw’s] careers started at the same time but there is no fight [for the spot] as such. Both of us have done well in our positions. It’s up to the team management, who they will play. Whoever gets the chance will try to make the most of the opportunity and not let it go waste.”

It was in New Zealand last year that Gill made his India debut. As he gears up in hope to showcase his skills in whites for India, he also explained how fitness has been central to his development, especially while playing in the longer format.

“I don’t know about control over the mind but if you are fitter, you are confident that I can play a longer innings, I won’t be that tired,” Gill said. “If I am playing in a test match, I can back myself to play 300 balls, 350 balls and after that, when you go out to field, I won’t be that tired. My legs won’t be that tired. Those are the challenges.

“I think I have grown as a player, I have grown in confidence and in other aspects of my game. I think I have learnt a lot of things over the last few years. On my fitness, fielding, not just on my batting.”



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