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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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Australia women set to further fine-tune their T20I batting order

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Australia women are likely to experiment with their batting order in the T20Is against Sri Lanka later this month as they further fine-tune planning ahead of defending the T20 World Cup title next year.

Having completed a comprehensive 3-0 victory over West Indies in Barbados, they have now won 19 of their last 21 T20Is dating back to March 2018.

They were not given much of a challenge by a depleted West Indies side, securing back-to-back nine-wicket wins following a six-wicket victory to start the series.

Alyssa Healy was the leading run-scorer in the series and is locked in at the top of the order, but coach Matthew Mott said there were still various combinations to be tried ahead of the T20 World Cup which starts at the end of February although did not see them moving much outside this group of players.

Beth Mooney made 4 and 8 in the first two T20s before finishing with an unbeaten 24 while Ellyse Perry came in at No. 3 ahead of captain Meg Lanning to knock off the target in the final outing.

Australia play Sri Lanka in three matches in Sydney, starting at the end of September, and then have a tri-series with England and India ahead of the World Cup.

“Our batting has been really good, thought we got better with each game, Mott said. “Our first chase wasn’t our best but the last two we did it in style. But we’ve still got some tinkering to do, think we’ll tinker a bit in the T20s against Sri Lanka with that batting order and get the right formula leading into the World Cup.

“I think [the squad] will be pretty close to what we’ve got here. The only changes will be in batting orders. We’ve got a strong nucleus of players who we have earmarked to take a lead into the World Cup. Back home there’s a WNCL round which is a good opportunity for the players to put their hand up and show what they can do, but pretty sure we’ll be close to this 14.”

Mott was impressed with the performance of legspinner Georgia Wareham in the final T20I against West Indies as she claimed 3 for 14 and was also pleased with the point-of-difference provided by pace bowler Tayla Vlaeminck even though she was wicketless.

“We are really happy with the way the bowling until is going, there has been some great changes there, even seeing Megan Schutt trying some new things – coming round the wicket to the left-handers – and thought Georgia Wareham bowled incredibly well and spun the ball, so that’s good for her confidence.

“[Tayla’s] bounce is really potent, fires the team up each time she comes in. You can see the batters are getting hurried up so even if she’s not taking wickets she’s changing the way the batters are moving their feet, putting pressure on at the other end.”

The T20I series against Sri Lanka starts on September 29 at North Sydney Oval with all three matches played at that venue before three ODIs take place in Brisbane from October 5.



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Match Preview – Afghanistan vs Zimbabwe, Bangladesh Twenty20 Tri-Series 2019, 5th Match

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Big picture

This game is the first of two dead rubbers in this tri-series, but try telling that to Hamilton Masakadza. This will be his last international match and, having contributed for so long to Zimbabwe cricket, a win over a side that has totally dominated them in T20Is will make for a sweet exit.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, will once again rely on their heavy hitters and their spin attack to stop Zimbabwe, a formula that has worked on each of the eight occasions the teams have met in this format. In this series, Asghar Afghan, Najibullah Zadran and Mohammad Nabi have scored most of the runs but Afghanistan will also hope to see Hazratullah Zazai recover from a batting slump. Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who impressed on his debut earlier in the tri-series, would look to bounce back from the first-ball duck in the second game.

Among their bowlers, Mujeeb Ur Rahman stopped Bangladesh in their tracks with his maiden four-wicket haul in the previous game, also his T20I best. Fareed Ahmad, the left-arm quick, also looked impressive, although medium-pacer Karim Janat hasn’t been among the wickets.

Zimbabwe haven’t had as many impressive individual performances. Richmond Mutumbami did justice to his call-up against Bangladesh on Wednesday with a half-century but his efforts did not have an impact on the result. Ryan Burl, who made a quickfire fifty in the first game against Bangladesh, has struggled for consistency, as has Regis Chakabva. And the side’s senior batsmen, including Masakadza, haven’t scored enough to put pressure on the opposition.

They have some variety in their bowling attack but apart from Kyle Jarvis, the others haven’t quite stepped up. Neville Madziva, Ainsley Ndlovu and Sean Williams will look to do a better job with the ball.

Form guide

Afghanistan WWWWW (Last five completed matches, most recent first)
Zimbabwe LLLWL

In the spotlight

Like his team, Hamilton Masakadza, too, has had a rough time in the tournament, scoring only 62 in three innings so far. In his final match, a big knock from the Zimbabwe captain could well have a big impact on the morale of the side.

With two matches to go before the final, this would be the right time for Hazratullah Zazai to get back among the runs. The opener hasn’t scored a fifty in his last 14 international innings, after his 67 against Ireland in March this year

Team news

Having played their first two matches in the series with an unchanged XI, Afghanistan now have the luxury of two matches to test out their bench strength. Fast bowlers Dawlat Zadran and Naveen-ul-Haq, seaming allrounder Fazal Niazai and wicketkeeper Shafiqullah and left-arm spinner Shahidullah and Sharafuddin Ashraf are their options should they rest a few key players.

Afghanistan (probable): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Rahmanullah Gurbaz, 3 Najeeb Tarakai, 4 Asghar Afghan, 5 Najibullah Zadran, 6 Mohammad Nabi, 7 Gulbadin Naib, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Karim Janat, 10 Fareed Ahmad, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman

Richmond Mutumbami’s fifty should keep him in the side but Zimbabwe might consider recalling quick bowler Tendai Chatara and allrounder Tony Munyonga to bolster the bowling.

Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Brendan Taylor (wk), 2 Hamilton Masakadza (capt), 3 Sean Williams, 4 Regis Chakabva, 5 Tinotenda Mutombodzi, 6 Ryan Burl, 7 Richmond Mutumbami, 8 Neville Madziva, 9 Kyle Jarvis, 10 Ainsley Ndlovu, 11 Chris Mpofu

Pitch and conditions

In the match between Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury pitch offered runs to batsmen, who were ready to take time to assess the situation. There’s chance of a late shower on Friday evening.

Stats and trivia

  • Masakadza will retire having played the most T20Is for Zimbabwe. He has missed only four of Zimbabwe’s 69 T20Is, all in 2015. He is also their highest run-getter in the format, with the most 50-plus scores and the most boundaries.

  • Mohammad Nabi’s unbeaten 84 in Afghanistan’s previous game against Bangladesh is the third-highest score by a No. 6 batsman in all T20Is.



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Recent Match Report – Yorkshire vs Kent, County Championship Division One, 2nd Innings

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Kent 482 for 8 dec (Stevens 237, Billings 138, Olivier 5-108) and 337 for 7 dec (Billings 122*, Robinson 97) beat Yorkshire 269 (Fisher 47*, Milnes 5-87) and 117 (Stevens 5-20) by 433 runs

Darren Stevens claimed a five-wicket haul as Kent put the finishing touches on a record-breaking 433-run victory over Yorkshire at Headingley and kept alive their hopes of finishing third on the County Championship Division One table.

Yorkshire, chasing a target of 551 – a world record had they achieved it – started day four in tatters at 44 for 6, and they were bowled out for 117 shortly before lunch.

It was Kent’s biggest victory in terms of runs in their first-class history and Yorkshire’s heaviest runs defeat. It was also the fourth-heaviest in the history of the County Championship.

Kent claimed a maximum 24 points from their fifth win of the season and moved up to fourth on the table, two points behind third-placd Hampshire. The two sides meet for a final-round clash at Canterbury next week.

Yorkshire’s fourth defeat of the campaign yielded five points and saw them slip from third at the start of the week to fifth. They are 10 points behind Hampshire, having suffered their second successive defeat, and end the season against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. All final-round fixtures start on Monday.

Stevens, with four wickets overnight, claimed his fifth in the second over of the morning when he had Tim Bresnan caught behind. In claiming his 50th Championship wicket of the season. Felllow Kent seamers Matt Milnes and Harry Podmore also reached the 50-wicket mark for the season in Yorkshire’s first innings.

Top-scorer Jonny Tattersall and Matthew Fisher held Kent up by sharing 35 inside 17 overs before Podmore had the latter brilliantly caught behind one-handed diving to his right by Ollie Robinson as Yorkshire fell to 81 for 8. Another spell of defiance came as Tattersall and Duanne Olivier united to put on 35 runs before Daniel Bell-Drummond bowled the latter.

That wicket came as lunch was extended in an attempt to finish the game, and it was when Bell-Drummond had Tattersall caught at second slip for 41 in the next over.

A number of notable records were posted in this match.

Stevens’ 237 on the first day helped him become only the fifth player in history to score a double hundred and take 10 wickets in first-class cricket beyond the age of 43 after Stevens took 10 wickets in last week’s win at Nottinghamshire. W.G. Grace is on that list, as is former Kent allrounder Frank Woolley, who achieved the feat in the 1930s.

Stevens, aged 43 years and 142 days, is the second-oldest player to score 200 and take five wickets in an innings in a first-class match. Grace is the oldest having done it for Gloucestershire in 1895 aged 46 years and 303 days. Here, Stevens finished with 5 for 20 from 18 overs in the second innings and claimed match figures of 7 for 70 from 38.

“I’ve just seen that (stat on W.G. Grace), only because Mitch (Claydon) was taking the mickey saying we look pretty similar,” Stevens said. “I was very tired this morning, and I was praying for that early wicket. Luckily it came. To be fair, I was pretty done in after that spell last night, 13 overs. But the early wicket got me going.

“I can’t really put it into words. If you’d have asked me at the start of the season, I would have said that I’ll have a decent year, but not like this.

“It was a bit frustrating early season with a few catches going down, and it didn’t really happen with the bat. Then, the last part of the summer has been pretty special. A lot of hard work’s gone in, and it’s starting to pay off now.”

Stevens shared 346 with captain Sam Billings in the first innings to help Kent recover from 39 for 5 to 482 for 8 declared, their partnership being the highest for the sixth wicket at Headingley.

Billings hit 138 and 122 not out, becoming the first man to score two hundreds in a Championship game at Headingley and the first Kent player to post two hundreds in the same fixture since Martin van Jaarsveld did it in 2008.



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