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Essex threaten to get busy at the business end of the season

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It is the business end of the season, and Essex are threatening to get busy. The next week or so holds out the promise of being a momentous one for the club. Modestly resourced but tightly run from their endearingly ramshackle Chelmsford HQ, the culmination of the summer brings opportunity on two fronts – a rare chance in the modern county game to enjoy simultaneous first-class and limited-overs success.

It is more than a decade since Sussex last managed to combine winning the Championship with taking home one-day silverware as well, beating Lancashire in the 2006 FP Trophy final. Currently top of Division One, Essex know they are in a scrap to hold off Somerset and claim a second title in three years; but before that denouement in Taunton, Vitality Blast Finals Day and the chance of a maiden T20 trophy.

Such an outcome looked more than a long shot back in August, when they had won just two of their first ten games. Essex were “dead and buried”, says Ryan ten Doeschate, captain of the Championship side and a vastly experienced old lag in T20. Then came three wins and a tie from the last four and something in the universe aligned – not since the Blast had switched to a 14-game season, had a team sneaked through to Finals Day on such meagre rations.

Also read: ‘Young players win you games, but experience wins you titles’ – Gurney

Success had not been signposted by Essex’s recent T20 form, either. Last season brought just two victories and a seventh-place finish in the South Group, while the most recent of four previous Finals Day appearances came in 2013.

Ten Doeschate has been involved in them all, though none was particularly memorable from an Essex perspective. “Is it four?” he asks, furrowing his brow. On each occasion – against Leicestershire in 2006, Kent in 2008, Hampshire in 2010 and Northants six years ago – Essex were beaten in the first semi-final. The joke going around this time is that, with their game against Derbyshire scheduled for 2.30pm on Saturday, this is already the furthest they have been in the competition.

Ten Doeschate handed over the white-ball reins for this season to Simon Harmer, the former South Africa Test offspinner who has played such a vital role in Essex’s Championship push. Harmer has overseen the return to Finals Day contention, with a largely similar squad to previous seasons – aggressive opener Cameron Delport the one significant addition.

It took a while to find the right balance for the team, with Varun Chopra eventually omitted and Tom Westley moving up to open alongside Delport. There have also been new roles for ten Doeschate and his old mucker, fellow Finals Day veteran Ravi Bopara, further down the order. But they seem to have found a formula at the right time.

“What’s most exciting is we’ve turned things around with pretty much the same personnel,” ten Doeschate tells ESPNcricinfo. “The last few years has been a bit of a struggle, Harmy coming in has shaken things up. The fact we haven’t had two overseas for a lot of the games – the way the young guys have stepped into their roles.

“He’s created a belief. He’s gone with the approach, ‘This is what we’ve got, we’ve got to make it work’. I think he’s instilled a lot of confidence, particularly in the young guys. He wants the batters all to be positive, the change we’ve made a) in the batting order and b) personnel, I think that’s made a big difference.”

Essex will have to cope without their overseas players at Edgbaston on Saturday, with Adam Zampa and Mohammad Amir both unavailable (Amir missed almost half of the group stage with visa issues anyway). Netherlands seamer Shane Snater and young left-arm spinner Aron Nijjar have been added to the squad, and aside from ten Doeschate, Bopara and Adam Wheater, who went to Finals Day on more than one occasion with Hampshire, most of those on the bus up to Birmingham will be experiencing the occasion for the first time.

“The fact that most of the guys haven’t been to it is probably a good thing, we’ll go there tomorrow and it won’t play on too many peoples’ minds,” ten Doeschate said. “The experience some of us do have, particularly myself and Rav, we’ve played a lot of games and hopefully we can spread that through the squad and prepare the guys for tomorrow. The fact it’s been a season for turning things around, and we’ve done it against the odds. The position we were in with four games to go, we were dead and buried, virtually no way we could make it. That’s a nice way to go into a final.”

It was ten Doeschate and Bopara who were in the middle together as Essex sealed a quarter-final win over North Group winners Lancashire a fortnight ago. With 344 and 329 T20 appearances respectively, as well as experience in the IPL and beyond, they will hope to provide the big-match savvy as Essex seek that first semi-final success.

“There are very few games at Essex I’ve played without Ravi in the team. So it’s always special to go out to bat with him. We are getting on, so we keep saying ‘One more time, one more time’. But the form he’s been in, and his approach to the game in the last six weeks – we don’t like to single people out, but he’s played a massive part in getting us to this stage of the competition.”

As to whether Essex are overdue a limited-overs title, having last won the FP Trophy in 2008, ten Doeschate points out how difficult it is to combine success across the formats. Essex, of course, won the Championship in 2017, having been promoted the year before, and have set their store by red ball in recent years. Of the three other teams at Finals Day, Nottinghamshire have already been relegated in the Championship, while Worcestershire and Derbyshire are in the bottom four of the second tier.

“There’s not many teams who do well in both formats,” he said. “This year’s a prime example. There’s a lot of merit in saying it’s hard to win both. But it’s great that we have an opportunity to go there and win a cup that’s long overdue.”

With a rare double in prospect, can Essex be the exception that proves the rule? Ten Doeschate smiles and shakes his head. He will be 40 next year and hopes to still be playing for the club he joined in 2003 – whatever happens over the next week won’t change his view.

“To dwell on results isn’t healthy. I think the club can be immensely proud of what the team’s done this year. The change in fortunes in white ball is something to be very proud of – and again the way we’ve competed in red ball. I’m not too focused on where we end up. It’s five days – I’m not going to let five days define whether I think it’s been a good season or not a good season. I think it’s been a great season, and the chance to win two cups is fantastic. Of course we want to give it a crack.”



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ICC threatens to shift 2021 T20 World Cup from India over tax issues

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The ICC has told the BCCI it reserves the right to take away the 2021 men’s T20 World Cup from India, after the BCCI failed to secure a tax exemption for the tournament from the Indian government.

In a flurry of blunt e-mails over the past two months, seen by ESPNcricinfo, the ICC told the BCCI it was to provide an “unconditional confirmation” by May 18 this year that a solution had been found to a longstanding issue in coordination with the Indian government. Instead the BCCI wants the deadline extended at least until June 30, citing the Covid-19 pandemic as reason for invoking the force majeure clause in the agreement. The ICC has rejected the request.

“In light of the BCCI’s notification of force majeure, we would highlight the obligation on the BCCI… of the Host Agreement and that IBC (ICC Business Corporation) is entitled to terminate the agreement with immediate effect at any time from 18 May 2020,” Jonathan Hall, the ICC’s general counsel, wrote to the BCCI on April 29.

“The BCCI has clearly had many years to arrange the tax solution… which is why the agreement asks for it to be provided ….no later than 18 (eighteen) months prior…. and why the BCCI was required to provide it by 31 December 2019. In such circumstances IBC is not prepared to agree to the requested extension to June 30, 2020 or 30 days after the lockdown is lifted whichever is later.

“In the meantime, all of IBC’s rights are reserved in full including the right to challenge whether or not a valid force majeure exists.”

The issue

This is the not first time the ICC and BCCI have sparred over this matter. It has been an ongoing issue since the 2016 T20 World Cup in India, in which the ICC suffered between US$20-30 million losses after the BCCI could not secure a tax exemption. In February 2018 the ICC board first warned the BCCI they could lose out on hosting the 2021 T20 World Cup as well as the ODI World Cup in 2023 because the global cricket body could potentially lose US$100 million if it did not get a tax waiver in India.

In 2016 the issue was resolved when the Indian government eventually asked Star India, the ICC’s broadcaster, to pay 10% of its income from the tournament as tax. The subsequent shortage in revenue given to the ICC by Star was taken out from the revenues the ICC paid the BCCI. Unhappy with that solution, the BCCI raised objections and the matter was sent to the ICC’s Dispute Resolution Committee this March, where it currently remains.

‘This letter constitutes a notice of Force Majeure’

As a result, this time the ICC has been in constant correspondence with the BCCI administration, with the ICC chief executive Manu Sawhney writing to the BCCI president Sourav Ganguly at the end of January before Hall sent another email to board secretary Jay Shah in early April. Hall told Shah that as hosts, the BCCI had an “obligation” to “deliver a ‘tax solution'” where the tax “will be minimised, effectively waived or zero rated” in favour of the ICC.

Hall also reminded the BCCI that at a February 2018 meeting the IBC board had “resolved” that the BCCI would find a solution by December 31, 2019, a deadline the BCCI had “failed” to meet.

The BCCI was then given an extension until April 17 this year, 18 months from the tournament as stipulated in the host agreement. On April 13, after the Covid-19 lockdowns had been imposed, the BCCI told Hall that the deadline could not be met because they couldn’t approach the government as “sports events and permissions and approvals in relation thereto” were not “classified” as “essential services”. The lockdown began in India on March 24 and is set to continue to May 31 at least.

“While BCCI has been making all efforts to get a ‘tax solution’ for the event, in view of the current situation, which is beyond the control of the BCCI, it is not possible for BCCI to obtain requisite permission/consent from the Government of India before April 17, 2020,” the BCCI said. “In light of the above, the BCCI hereby requests IBC to grant an extension of time till June 30, 2020 or 30 days after the lockdown is lifted, whichever is later.

“For the avoidance of doubt, this letter constitutes a notice of Force Majeure under …Host Agreement.”

‘Alleged deadline of 31 December 2019 is of no relevance’

Since then, communication has become more tense. Hall asked the BCCI to provide evidence that it had made efforts towards a tax solution; earlier this month, the BCCI responded to Hall, that in the “spirit of cooperation” it was attaching evidence of its correspondence with the Indian government since 2018 requesting a tax exemption.

Four of the six letters attached were sent in 2018 – on February 27, July 12, August 24 and December 18; Two more were sent in 2019 – on July 3 and August 16. “As these actions will demonstrate, BCCI has been pressing for and continues to press the Government of India for a tax solution,” BCCI said.

The BCCI contested Hall’s claim that it was in breach of the December 31, 2019 deadline. “BCCI denies that it was required to procure a tax solution by this date,” arguing that Hall himself had noted in his previous email that it had to provide a solution by April 17 this year. “Therefore, the alleged deadline of 31 December 2019 is of no relevance.”

The BCCI also disagreed with Hall’s claim that the ICC could challenge the force majeure being invoked. “We disagree the BCCI could have avoided the effect of the FM (force majeure) event. As should be evident from the correspondence enclosed with this email… BCCI has been making efforts to procure a tax solution from the Government over a period of time. These efforts were ongoing at the time when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and have been interrupted by the significant restrictions imposed by the Government of India.”

What happens now?

Despite the ICC’s stance, officials believe it will remain open to discussions with the BCCI. The BCCI remains unperturbed. “The ICC can only do brinkmanship,” a BCCI official said. “The Star contract says the ICC has to deliver two events in India,” the official added, linking a resolution to the forthcoming change of chairmanship at the ICC – Shashank Manohar, the incumbent who has had a spiky relationship with the BCCI, is expected to step down in July.



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Sri Lanka’s Shehan Madushanka suspended for alleged possession of heroin

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Sri Lankan fast bowler Shehan Madushanka has been suspended from all forms of cricket with immediate effect for alleged possession of illegal drugs, SLC announced after he was arrested and later put in remand custody.

Madushanka was allegedly in possession of a little over two grams of heroin when arrested on Saturday, Sri Lanka Police’s media division had confirmed to ESPNcricinfo. According to an SLC statement, the decision to suspend will stand until the board conducts a full inquiry of the matter.

The 25-year-old Madushanka has played one ODI and two T20Is, all between January and February 2018, and has not been in the frame for national selection after that. He has, however, been active as a cricketer and was playing in Sri Lanka’s domestic competitions before the Covid-19 lockdown came into effect.

More to follow…



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Queensland opposed to Cricket Australia cuts despite job losses

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Queensland’s chairman Chris Simpson has confirmed the state association remains allied with New South Wales and the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) in questioning Cricket Australia’s chosen remedy for the financial effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, as all three organisations continue to push the governing body for more information.

While Queensland Cricket announced on Monday that it would be cutting 32 staff from its books in anticipation of a 25% funding cut from CA, Simpson said this move was necessary largely because his state was in a far weaker position than NSW, the other dissenter. Queensland’s most recent annual report listed reserves of A$7.6 million among total assets worth A$18.3 million, far less than NSW or Victoria, to name two states, can call upon.

At the same time, Simpson outlined that, as reported by ESPNcricinfo, Queensland’s board was trying to ensure that its agreement would see any reduction in distribution for 2020-21 revised back upwards if the summer produced a more favourable financial result than CA is currently forecasting.

ALSO READ: Players’ association casts doubt on Cricket Australia’s financial warnings

“We have not signed the agreement,” Simpson told News Corp. “We are trying to learn how long their proposed cuts run for. It is a bit ambiguous how they have presented it. We want clarity on the term and we also want to make sure 25% is the ceiling.

“We also want to make sure that should things be better than what they are modelling – and every day we are getting more positive about the prospect of serious cricket content this season – we don’t want to lock into something that is to the detriment of the states.”

Simpson’s words are similar to those conveyed by the NSW chairman John Knox and his chief executive Lee Germon to staff and stakeholders earlier this month. “As a result of the Cricket Australia proposal, some states have already reduced their commitment to community cricket, potentially impacting the long-term future of the game,” they said in an email. “We believe that any decision to reduce the agreed state distributions should be delayed until there is a better understanding of whether international cricket will be played next season.”

The ACA has contacted states and indicated a willingness to preserve community staffing and programs via financial assistance from the “grassroots fund” carved out of MoU cash and overseen by both the ACA and CA. The fund has dished out almost A$4.5 million in funding for equipment and facilities since 2017, and is expected to have about A$3 million available this year. CA is due to give its latest indicative forecast of Australian Cricket Revenue – from which the players’ fixed percentage of revenue is derived – by Friday.

Queensland’s cuts have included a major downsizing of the Brisbane Heat’s operation and the exit of the long-serving selector, coach and manager Justin Sternes. They have also seen community cricket programs significantly affected, but Simpson said the state had been left with little option.

“We have been told for a long time how big a deal the Indian tour is, so to hear that optimism brings the depth of the cuts into focus,” Simpson said. “Eighty percent of our funding comes from one source [CA] and they have said they potentially have solvency issues, so it is our duty to act on that information. We disagree with a lot of the information provided but we still had to act. NSW have a very big book and they can ride it out. We can’t.”

The Australia and NSW fast bowler Mitchell Starc, meanwhile, has given his strong support to the state’s own decision to push back against CA. “In terms of NSW they’ve been pretty strong in holding their position and I think from the little updates I’ve read from NSW, it’s a big part of their plan – to be part of growing the game in the state,” he said

“That’s obviously where we have all come from, as international and elite cricketers, we’ve come from the junior clubs to grade clubs all the way to international cricket. Full credit to the NSW board in trying to, at this stage, hang onto all of their staff and their grass roots at the moment.

“Cricket hasn’t lost any games yet in this country, obviously the Bangladesh [tour] has been postponed but there hasn’t been any cricket lost yet. So it’s going to be an interesting few weeks with state contracting then us all returning to training – I guess we’re going to see what staff we’ve got.”



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