With the T20 World Cup less than a year away, Sri Lanka believe this month’s tour of Australia – where the World Cup will be held – will prove the ideal testing ground for their crop of youngsters to prove themselves in conditions Down Under.
“I’m happy [that such a young team] managed to beat the number one team [Pakistan] in the world,” T20I captain Lasith Malinga said at Friday’s media briefing in Colombo. “It’s important to show Sri Lanka’s depth of talent. But the conditions and wickets [in Australia] will likely be different.
“If we perform well in those conditions, then it will bode well for our preparations for the World Cup. And if you perform well on this tour, there will be a good chance of those players making it to the World Cup as well.”
That said, Sri Lanka will also be touring India for a T20I series before the World Cup, where conditions will be markedly different from those expected in Australia. For Malinga, while identifying form players is important, equally as important is identifying a set of players capable of making the right decisions under pressure.
“In T20 cricket it’s important to understand that decisions need to be taken quickly on the field, more so than in 50-over cricket or Test cricket,” Malinga said. “You can win a match solely on one decision that a player makes. Because of that, just as important as talent is a player’s decision-making in matches, the way a player thinks in the middle of a game. So we’re looking for intelligent players capable of winning a game.
“We need around 11-12 players of this calibre in our squad, and that way we can always have about six to seven at the very least in a game, players capable of winning matches in key moments.”
From the new faces that were included in the squad that toured Pakistan, the selectors have retained the two standout performers in Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Oshada Fernando. Making their way back into the squad, meanwhile, have been Malinga, Kusal Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Janith Perera.
For interim head coach Rumesh Ratnayake, the hope is that the returning players will make a winning combination even stronger.
“Australia is a huge challenge, regardless of the level you play them at that,” Ratnayake said. “In cricket, they have been among the best in all formats for the past 20 years. And the four players coming into the squad will certainly strengthen us. It’s a stronger team. And we’re very confident that we can challenge Australia.”
In terms of selecting the final playing XI, Chief Selector Ashantha De Mel admitted that it would be a challenge considering that some of the returning players hadn’t played cricket in quite some time. Eventually, he said, form would be the deciding factor.
“I think winning is important but what we’re looking at more is form,” de Mel said. “In Pakistan some of the players showed that they were in good form, so when we go to Australia it’s a challenge for us [the selectors] also. We’ll have to discuss with the captain and see.
“Then we’ll also have to see what the form is of the new players that are coming in, because they haven’t played cricket for a month, we’ll also have to take that into account when we’re selecting the final XI.”
Sri Lanka play Australia in three T20Is with the first game taking place in Adelaide on October 27.
Pink ball will bring fast bowlers into the game – Virat Kohli
India are “very excited” about playing a pink-ball Test, their captain Virat Kohli has said ahead of the two-match series against Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh are the only Test teams other than newly-promoted Ireland and Afghanistan who haven’t yet played a day-night Test. They will both experience the format for the first time when they play the second Test in Kolkata.
“It’s quite exciting,” Kohli said. “I think it’s a new way to bring excitement to Test cricket. We are all very excited about that. The pink ball I played yesterday, I felt it swings a lot more as compared to the red ball because there’s extra lacquer on the ball which doesn’t go away too fast. And the seam holds upright quite a bit.
“I think if the pitch has extra help for the bowlers then the bowlers will be in the game, especially fast bowlers, throughout the course of the Test match. I don’t quite know how the old ball behaves with the dew and the lacquer going off. It will be interesting to see how much the old ball does. With the pink ball, with the pitch having enough, the life in it will be a very important factor.”
The first day-night Test, between Australia and New Zealand, took place in December 2015. India have been the No. 1 ranked Test team for the majority of the period since then, but they have been generally reluctant to play with the pink ball.
A brief domestic trial was met with lukewarm responses from the players, and on their tour of Australia last year, India declined to play a day-night Test in Adelaide. New BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, however, was keen on staging a day-night Test in Kolkata, and he met Kohli and found him to be on the same page.
“Kohli is agreeable to it,” Ganguly said last month. “I see a lot of reports in newspapers that he is not, but that is not true. The game needs to go forward and that is the way forward. People should finish work and come to watch champions play. I don’t know when that will happen, but it will.”
At the moment, India sit on top of the World Test Championship with wins in all the five games they’ve played, and are strong favourites to win the first Test in Indore. By the time the day-night game comes along in Kolkata, they could have further consolidated their position on the table.
In many ways, including the fact that Bangladesh are without two star players, it seems like the ideal time for an experiment that Kohli expects to be challenging. Some batsmen trained with the pink ball at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru ahead of the series, but for most part, the players will have to try and sneak in pink-ball practice sessions whenever they can. They did this on Tuesday, alternating between red and pink.
“I hadn’t played with the pink ball before,” Kohli said. “I was given an opportunity to try and I wanted to, so that was my mindset behind playing with the pink ball. I think everyone else did it as well. You require extra concentration to pick the pink ball suddenly when you’re playing with the red ball. It [the alternating] was to work on the reflexes a little bit as well. Because when you play with the red ball in the net and you arrive at the pink ball, it gets very difficult to pick it up, which can be the case in the game as well. It sort of gives you the match scenario and how it might be difficult to pick it early on. To get into that zone was the reason behind it.”
Kohli did emphasize, however, that despite the limited opportunities available to prepare for the day-night Test, the focus is still very much on the first Test in Indore.
“In Test cricket I don’t think you can afford to take focus away at all, not even one session, not even one over,” he said. “With the red ball you need to be absolutely precise in your focus, every game that you play, every ball that you play, every situation that you are in. Our prime focus is tomorrow’s Test match. When the pink-ball Test match arrives, as I said we will be quite excited about it.”
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With the remainder of England’s plans falling into place, it seems the only decision left for the team management to make is who should operate at first change and bat at No. 8 in the Test team.
It was hard to pick between the pair on Wednesday. There was little movement – off the pitch or in the air – for any of England’s bowlers on the second day of this game with two young New Zealand batsmen, Finn Allen and Jakob Bhula, taking advantage of a pitch that flattened out in weather much warmer than the previous day.
Not for the first time in recent years, England’s attack struggled to gain much movement from a sluggish surface and the Kookaburra ball. And with every indication that the pitch in the first Test may be very similar, England will be looking to Woakes or Curran to provide control with the older ball. Woakes, not entirely encouragingly, later reported that the Kookaburra ball was “softer after 40 overs than a Dukes gets after 80.”
There was, though, one reminder of the value of the variation that the left-arm of Curran offers. While the delivery that bowled Bhula did not appear to deviate in the air or off the pitch, the batsman did seem to misread the angle and, as a consequence, played down the wrong line. If Woakes plays, England will field an attack of four right-arm seamers.
Woakes is a bit quicker, however, and hopes his ability to bowl the wobble seam delivery provides an edge that he has lacked on previous overseas tours. He certainly used the skill to decent effect in the English summer and felt that it was the one ball that offered some threat here.
His overseas record is not in his favour. Woakes averages 23.45 with the ball – and, most pertinently, the Dukes ball – in his 19 Tests in England and 61.77 in his 12 Tests away from home when using the Kookaburra or SG ball. Curran averages 20.94 in his seven Tests at home and 105.50 in his four Tests away. Whichever way you look at it, Jimmy Anderson can probably expect, if fit, to return to the side for the Test series in South Africa.
Both Curran and Woakes may benefit from the presence of England’s bowling consultant on this tour, Darren Gough. He was one of the few England seamers to have managed to swing – both conventionally and reverse – the Kookaburra and will have told both men his success was derived, in part, from his preparedness to pitch the ball full in search of swing. Yes, it cost him the odd boundary. But it also ensured he continued to threaten.
Curran probably bowled fuller of the pair here and was rewarded with that wicket. But he was also thumped for a six back over his head by the impressive Allen. It may also be that Woakes, who played in four of the Ashes Tests compared to one for Curran, is considered the man in possession. Had Saqib Mahmood been considered fit, Curran would not have played here.
There’s little doubt over England’s opening pair. While Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer were clearly easing into the tour, they claimed three of the four wickets England managed. Broad, forced to wait until second change here, struck with his third delivery. Continuing the policy which brought him such success in the England summer, he bowled a fuller length and was rewarded when Jack Boyle misread one which took his off stump. Ken McClure was beaten for pace by a full delivery from Archer that struck him on the foot. Archer later picked up the wicket of Leo Carter, too, feathering a catch down the leg side. Neither spinner enjoyed any assistance from the surface, though Jack Leach was the more consistent of the two.
In between times, Allen and Bhula, who not so long ago were representing New Zealand U19, added 117 in 29 overs for the third wicket. Both looked high-class prospects but while was the one able to retire after reaching his century from 129 balls, it was Bhula, who spent six months on the MCC’s Young Cricketers scheme, who impressed with the way he dealt with the new ball. Both may have a future at the highest level.
All this suggests that England will have to take whatever chances come their way in the Test series. Here they put down a couple, with Allen dropped before he had scored – Stokes, at second slip, realised an edge off Archer would not carry to first slip and attempted a tough chance diving across Joe Root – before Pope, at backward square-leg, was unable to cling on to a tough chance when Bhula, on 58, pulled a long-hop from Matt Parkinson.
Earlier England extended their innings by 21 overs into the second day in order to provide time at the crease for more of their batsmen. With Root selflessly retiring on his overnight score, Pope and Jos Buttler settled in comfortably. While Pope, a little too expansive during his first stint in the Test team, left with some discipline outside the off stump, he lost patience against the left-arm spin and sliced a catch to cover. Buttler was fortunate to survive a similar error – Sandeep Patel making a fearful hash of the chance – off Theo van Woerkom‘s first ball of the day.
Stokes had no such issues. He smashed four fours and a slog-swept six in his 20-ball stay, showing no signs of the blow to the hand he sustained the previous day.
But it was a disappointing day for Mahmood. Struck down with a migraine, he was forced to stay in the hotel all day. With little prospect of breaking into the Test team, he may well have missed his only opportunity to play with a red ball on this tour.
There was better news for Joe Denly. Having suffered an ankle injury during the T20I series, he had been a doubt for this part of the tour. But he fielded through most of the day and will return to the team for the next game. If, as expected, he suffers no relapse, he is certain to play in the first Test. Jonny Bairstow, who has remained with the squad as backup, will consequently be sent home.
The England squad have a rest day on Thursday ahead of a three-day, first-class match against a New Zealand XI here from Friday. As things stand, England will probably field their Test XI in that match.
WBBL round-up: Perry, Burns star for Sydney Sixers
Ellyse Perry was in the runs again as her unbeaten 70 anchored the Sydney Sixers to a 39-run victory against the Hobart Hurricanes in Launceston. The Sixers only used four batters as Perry and Alyssa Healy (39) – who launched into Nicola Carey’s first over which cost 26 – added 72 for the first wicket before Ash Gardner (28) joined in a 51-run stand for the second followed by Erin Burns‘ cameo of 26 off 16 balls to help round off a total of 2 for 172. Carey came back well from the early onslaught, bowling Healy and conceding 26 off her next three overs – which included the final ball of the innings being hit for six by Perry, her fourth of the innings. The chase proved well out of reach for the Hurricanes as they slid from 3 for 92 to 133 all out. Marizanne Kapp did early damage with wickets in her first two overs and Burns wrapped up the match with 3 for 5.
The Perth Scorchers produced an impressive display with the ball as they defended 116 against the Sydney Thunder at the WACA to lift themselves towards the top of the table. Ireland seamer Kim Garth took 3 for 21 as all the Scorchers bowlers got among the wickets. The Thunder were two down without a run on the board as Nat Sciver and Taneale Peschel struck in their opening overs and the slide continued. Pakistan allrounder Nida Dar did her best to keep the Thunder alive with 43 off 39 balls but was the last batter out in the final over having run out of partners. She was comfortably the top scoring the contest, with Sciver and Heather Graham both making 27 for the Scorchers, after a juggle to the batting order saw Georgia Redmayne fall for a duck having been promoted to open in place of Meg Lanning who struck the only six of the match in her 25 off 29 balls.
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