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‘Double the points for away wins’ – Virat Kohli’s tip for World Test Championship

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Left to him, Virat Kohli would give teams extra points for away wins in the World Test Championship. On the eve of India’s second Test against South Africa in Pune, Kohli said that the arrival of the championship had encouraged teams to play positive cricket, and given them the incentive to go for wins when they might have earlier settled for draws. But he did hope there would be one change in the points system, perhaps when the next edition of the championship rolls around.

“The importance of every game has become that much more,” Kohli said in a press conference. “In situations that, in a three-match series, you probably would have played out a draw, teams are going to go for wins and get those extra points, so I think it’s great for Test cricket. The matches are going to be that much more exciting, is what we feel, and we can already experience that.

“We have to be absolutely professional in every session that we play, so yeah, I think it’s much more demanding on the players now, which is a good thing because it will keep the standard of Test cricket high. Yeah, these are the only things we have experienced so far and noticed in terms of changes.

ALSO READ: The mystery of the Pune pitch

“If you’d have asked me to make the points table, I would give double the points for an away Test win. That is something that I would have definitely liked to see. Maybe after the first edition.”

Visiting teams in India would certainly appreciate that extra incentive. India have been an incredibly difficult team to beat in their own backyard during Kohli’s time as captain, India winning 16 of their 22 Tests and losing just one. For all that, though, Kohli said conditions in India are often difficult to negotiate even for his team.

“Look, it’s not easy for us as a home side as well,” Kohli said. “When conditions are challenging, when the ball’s spinning, we’ve also found it difficult in the past. But we’re a team that looks for answers, not excuses, so maybe that’s the reason we keep improving, and we’ve been able to win so many Test matches.

“Come on, give the guy a break now. He’s done well, let him enjoy his batting at the top of the order, let him just have fun, like he does in white-ball cricket, and stop focusing on what’s Rohit going to do in Tests”

“We don’t take anything for granted for sure, we can very well be losing four-five wickets a session, so we know that well, as a team. We work pretty hard on our game also, even though we play in our own conditions and we’ve grown up playing in these conditions. So I think the mindset is key for us, and that’s to win every game that we play and not focus on what the conditions are on display, we look to find answers rather than excuses.”

Over the first three days of the first Test in Visakhapatnam, South Africa pushed India hard to find these answers, particularly with their aggressive batting approach against spin, which helped them claw back from 39 for 3 to finish just 71 short of India’s first-innings total of 502.

Kohli wasn’t surprised by the fight South Africa put up.

“How they played in the first innings was very good,” he said. “You have to be positive when the wicket’s nice and easy to bat on, you have to try and get as many runs as possible, and that’s exactly what they did.

“I would say the first three, maybe even four days of the game, the wicket was hardly doing anything. After three-and-a-half days, it started to turn a little bit, and then on day five we really got into our own. We expected that. We expected teams to come out and try and be positive against us, and we held our own. We held our own in the second innings, and put up 400 runs for them to gun down again.

“Look, we are going to be put under pressure, even though we’re playing at home. Its about how we come back into the game and then put double the pressure on the opposition again and then tell them, let’s see if that can be executed again. So that’s basically what Test cricket is. You have to come back in the second innings and do the job again, it doesn’t end in one innings, but the approach was quite expected.”

On the final day, India’s match-winner was Mohammed Shami, who came into his own on a wearing fifth-day pitch to run through South Africa in their second innings. What sets Shami apart, according to Kohli, is how much help he can coax out of even the flattest surfaces.

“I think on the pitches that we play, I haven’t seen anyone get so much seam movement apart from him,” Kohli said. “Yes, internationally, many bowlers do, but I think on flat pitches he has the ability to pick you wickets in situations that feel absolutely dead. And that’s why he’s such an important bowler for us, that’s why we’ve wanted to manage his workload very precisely – all the fast bowlers.

“But he’s someone who can change the complexion of the game totally when you don’t see it coming. That’s the kind of skill he possesses, and now he’s taking the responsibility. We don’t need to push Shami anymore. We don’t need to tell him, come on, you’ve got to get up and bowl this spell for us. He wants the ball. He understands the situation. When he’s given the ball, especially in the second innings when situations are difficult, he comes in and does the job every time.

“It’s great. People are taking responsibility in different situations in the game, which is amazing to see and his skill is obviously there for everyone to see, it’s not a surprise anymore to all of us that he gets the ball to do that much more than others in conditions that don’t really offer you much. He’s blessed with that skill naturally, but it’s the mindset that’s changed now. According to me he’s in the best space right now.”

India’s other hero in Visakhapatnam was Rohit Sharma, who scored centuries in both innings while opening the batting for the first time in Test cricket. That performance, Kohli felt, should end the debate over Rohit’s place in the team.

“It’s overflowing. It’s not been filled,” Kohli said, when asked if the opening slots were taken for the foreseeable future. “Come on, give the guy a break now. He’s done well, let him enjoy his batting at the top of the order, let him just have fun, like he does in white-ball cricket, and stop focusing on what’s Rohit going to do in Tests.

“He’s in a great space, he’s playing really well, and he looked relaxed in the first game, which is great to see, all the experience he’s accumulated over the years came to the fore, so he’s feeling absolutely at home at the top of the order, and for us as a team it’s a huge bonus, because if you saw the second innings, the way he’s able to take the tempo of the game forward, that allows the bowlers an extra hour and a half or two hours to bowl the opposition out.

“So look, if a guy like him at the top of the order plays the way he did in the last game, we’re going to be in situations to go for victories in most of the Test matches. We’re all very happy for him, and I think it’s time to just move ahead from [debating about] his spot at the top of the order and just let him enjoy his batting.”

The Pune pitch had a fair grass cover on the eve of the Test match, and a certain amount of early moisture is expected too, given the volume of rain the city has experienced over the past week or so. Despite this, Kohli seemed to suggest that India would probably stick with an attack containing two seamers and two spinners, and not play the extra fast bowler.

“Well, I think more or less our team is settled,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to play that big a factor because when the pitch is damp it turns as well, so it’s not like only seamers are predominantly going to be effective on this pitch, all five days. Everyone will have to play their roles.

“Unless you have a pitch which has total grass coverage, only then you think of changes in combination for the match. Because you do know that it’s going to dry out at some stage, and you can’t go predominantly one-sided in your attack and then not have the balance. “We are pretty balanced in our team composition, and if any changes need to be made looking at how the pitch might behave on the first three days, then we’ll do so, but we don’t see any major things to think about, looking at the pitch.”



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Sri Lanka cricketer arrested for possession of heroin, remanded for fourteen days

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A Sri Lanka cricketer has been arrested for the possession of heroin and remanded for 14 days by a local magistrate in Pannala, northeast of the city of Negombo.

The cricketer has not appeared for Sri Lanka in the last two years and has not been in the frame for selection recently. He is, however, an active cricketer and was playing in Sri Lanka’s domestic competitions before the Covid-19 curfews came into effect.

The player had been in possession of a little over two grams of heroin when arrested on Saturday, Sri Lanka Police’s media division confirmed to ESPNcricinfo. He was then produced before a magistrate on Sunday, and is currently in remand, awaiting a High Court appearance. He is not understood to be among the players required to begin training in June with the national squad.

Sri Lanka Cricket CEO Ashley de Silva said the board had been made aware of the arrest on Monday morning, but had not made any decisions on the player’s future. The board is expected to discuss the issue at their next meeting, on Wednesday.



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Shannon Gabriel: ‘I’m just taking my body back into it easy’

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Even as Cricket West Indies continues to figure out whether the three-Test series in England – in a bio-secure environment – can take place or not, few people are more eager for a bit of on-field action than Shannon Gabriel. The 32-year-old quick underwent a surgery on his right knee in November last year, and has just completed a six-month rehabilitation programme, and is now hoping to get on that flight to England.

“It’s a good feeling always to represent West Indies. It’s good to be back out on the park,” he told i955FM. “The plan is right now to try to make it to the tour to England – hopefully that comes off. I’m just trying my best to stay positive and I hope everything goes well.

“It has been a long journey since November when I did the surgery on my ankle. Everything is going well, it has been a long process in terms of getting back to running and bowling and stuff like that.”

Gabriel’s last international appearance was in September 2019, against India, in a two-Test series in which he picked up just four wickets at an average of 56.90. Then his short county stint with Gloucestershire was unimpressive too, as he picked up two wickets in three innings. This was around the time the right knee started troubling him.

Now, having eased himself back in slowly, Gabriel hopes to be fully ready by July, when the tour is slated to happen. As things stand, the West Indies players are scheduled to leave the Caribbean in the first week of June for a preparatory camp.

“I am trying my best to be as fit as possible so I’m really working hard in terms of my fitness and managing my weight, trying not to get too heavy to put too much strain on my ankle,” Gabriel said of his fitness sessions. “So I know once I put in the hard work everything will be ok in the end. I just want to stay positive.

“There has been no high-intensity work, I’m just taking my body back into it easy, taking it one day at a time and not trying to push too hard but it’s still long while before the first Test in England and by that time I’m sure I’ll be fit and ready.”

The process of becoming match ready has also involved reworking his action and run-up to ease pressure on his ankles. “My run-up has probably just tweaked a bit, in terms of my running technique and stuff like that, but I don’t think there are many changes,” he explained. “Obviously that ankle was getting most of the pressure and obviously I don’t want that type of injury to happen again, so I’m trying my best to stay fit so I can stay on the park [longer].”

With the ICC having introduced guidelines with regards to shining the ball and several other physical-distancing measures, Gabriel also expects things to be “mentally taxing” when they return to cricket in the post-Covid-19 era.

“It’s going to take a lot. It’s going to be mentally taxing on the brain but you have to stay positive. Keep your mind fresh,” he said. “I know they [England] are going to be coming at us all guns [blazing] at us, but I know the guys

“Plus plenty of the guys haven’t been playing any cricket, so it is going to take us a while to get back there. On the positive side, you’re still getting the opportunity to play cricket and represent your country so that in itself should be enough motivation.”



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Sophie Ecclestone: ‘I want to be one of the best that’s ever played women’s cricket’

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She may be the youngest woman to take 50 T20I wickets, but Sophie Ecclestone holds loftier ambitions.

Having just celebrated her 21st birthday – in socially distant fashion, of course – left-arm spinner Ecclestone has enjoyed spending time since the Covid-19 enforced lockdown working on a different aspect of her game, which she hopes will help her achieve her goals.

Largely confined to a general fitness regime as opposed to batting and bowling, however, she does look forward to the time when England Women can return to cricket training, as their male counterparts began to do last week, and playing for her country again.

ALSO READ: England Women could return to training within weeks

Ecclestone jumped to the top of the ICC’s T20 bowling ranks with her eight wickets at the World Cup earlier this year in Australia, where her average of 6.12 and economy rate of 3.23 were particularly eye catching. In taking 3 for 7 off 3.1 overs during England’s final group game against West Indies, she claimed her 50th international wicket in the format.

“I didn’t really realise until one of the girls told me before the game,” Ecclestone told ESPNcricinfo. “It was a big achievement for me … the batters will go after you in T20 cricket and I think if you can get them out and win the battle then you’ve done really well as a spinner.”

Ecclestone showed just how much she thrives on the battle with a nerveless display in bowling the Super Over as England defeated Australia in a T20 match in Canberra in February, in the lead-up to the World Cup, restricting Alyssa Healy and Ashleigh Gardner to just eight runs before Heather Knight and Danni Wyatt took their side over the line with the bat.

Last year, Ecclestone became the first player to retain the Professional Cricketers’ Association’s Women’s Player of the Summer award, having topped England’s wicket-taking charts in both the white-ball series against West Indies, and in the Ashes. In 2018, she won the award after taking 20 wickets across six ODI and five T20 appearances for England.

Asked to name her greatest ambition in cricket, having achieved so much since making her international debut at the age of just 17 in a T20 against Pakistan in Bristol, Ecclestone’s response makes it sound easy.

“Just to become one of the best players that’s ever played women’s cricket really, and be one of the best spinners and be remembered by that,” she said.

Keeping fit during lockdown has been helped by the energy required to look after her new 10-month-old puppy, Rex. But Ecclestone has also been in contact with Lisa Keightley, the England Women’s head coach, conducting reviews and setting goals, which include the aim of improving her batting.

With England Women still hopeful of hosting India, who postponed their June-July tour when the coronavirus pandemic hit, and South Africa, who remain scheduled to visit in September, Ecclestone and her team-mates will be looking to test themselves ahead of their planned ODI World Cup defence, due to start in New Zealand in February.

As a tailender, Ecclestone averages 9.60 with the bat in T20Is with a strike rate of 104.34 and has an ODI average of 6.90 with a strike rate of 64.95. While spin has been her first love since bowling in an under-11s game, she saw no reason why, at her age, she couldn’t develop into more of an allrounder or, at the very least, force her way up the order a little.

“It would be really nice to know that I can bat as well as bowl and give seomething else to the team, not just my bowling,” “Ecclestone said.

“I definitely feel the England team are going in the right direction. As the years go by everyone’s getting fitter and stronger and everyone’s trying to improve different aspects of their game, so hopefully we can go to the World Cup in New Zealand and win it again. I hope we can get some international cricket in at the end of the summer.”



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