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Problem of plenty for Sri Lanka’s selectors as team sets off for Australia

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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.



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Rachel Priest loses New Zealand central contract

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Rachel Priest has been omitted from New Zealand’s central contract list, while keeper-batter Natalie Dodd and seamer Jess Kerr have been awarded their first deals.

Priest, 34, won back her national contract last year after impressing for Western Storm in the Kia Super League and Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash, having been dropped by former head coach Haidee Tiffin after the 2017 World Cup in England, who cited fitness issues for her omission.

ALSO READ: Rachel Priest travels and plays cricket everywhere (but it’s not her choice)

But after a return of 60 runs in four T20 World Cup innings and no half-centuries since her recall, she has not been offered a contract for the 2020-21 season.

Priest’s fellow keeper-batter Bernadine Bezuidenhout has also made way, after being left out of the T20 World Cup squad, with Dodd – who debuted in 2010 and last played international cricket in 2018 – winning her first full deal following a year on a development contract.

Kerr, whose younger sister Amelia has been a New Zealand regular for nearly four years, has also been offered a national contract for the first time on the back of her tournament-record 20 wickets in last season’s Super Smash, which helped Wellington Blaze to the title. She was part of the squad for the T20 World Cup, playing in New Zealand’s opening game against Sri Lanka.

Bob Carter, New Zealand’s head coach, said that Kerr and Dodd’s contracts were “an acknowledgement of hard work and perseverance”.

“I’m happy the majority of our group can remain stable as we look for continual improvement and application from our players,” Carter said. “We have an experienced core of White Ferns and want to ensure our younger, less experienced players have the chance to learn from them over the next 12 months.”

New Zealand contract list, 2020-21: Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine, Natalie Dodd, Lauren Down, Maddy Green, Holly Huddleston, Hayley Jensen, Leigh Kasperek, Amelia Kerr, Jess Kerr, Rosemary Mair, Katey Martin, Katie Perkins, Anna Peterson, Hannah Rowe, Amy Satterthwaite, Lea Tahuhu.



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South Africa cricketers could resume training next week after government nod

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Subject to government approval, South Africa’s national and franchise cricketers could be back in training from next week, and may be involved in an exhibition event at the end of the month. The country moved to Level 3 of the five-stage lockdown today, which allows non-contact professional sports training and matches to take place, after consultation and approval from the sports ministry.

That means national sporting bodies are required to present the ministry with their return-to-train and return-to-play protocols which should include details around social distancing. Cricket South Africa (CSA) hope to submit their plans this week, with a view to resuming training next week.

In its first stage, the return-to-training plan will see franchise cricketers training at their home grounds, in accordance with set guidelines. That includes a prohibition on the use of saliva on the ball as well as regulations around the use of changing rooms – which will not be allowed – and the number of players and support staff who will train at the same time.

ALSO READ: South Africa’s June tour of Sri Lanka postponed

At a later stage, CSA will look into whether it is possible to obtain permits to allow for players to travel across provincial borders for camps and eventually matches. Currently, South Africans cannot move between provinces for any reason other than a funeral or the transportation of children between parents or to schools and even those trips require a permit. Inter-provincial travel will be allowed at Level 2 of the lockdown, but there is no indication of when that will be.

However, CSA still hope to be able to put on some live action at the end of June. An insider told ESPNcricinfo that the plan is to put on “something which we have not seen before,” which rules out a T20 festival or any other kind of franchise competition. CSA intend to reveal more in the next few weeks.

South Africa are not in a rush to return to training or playing as they enter the winter period. Their next assignment is a two-Test and five-match T20 series in West Indies in July-August, which is set to be postponed with West Indies due to be in England until the end of July. CSA and Cricket West Indies remain in talks about when to schedule the series and are considering all options, including playing it in South Africa later in the year.

South Africa are also due to host India for three T20s at the end of August and are looking at creating a bio-secure bubble for the series, which will take place behind closed doors. That series is particularly important for CSA finances, as it will help bolster their bank balance, amid forecasted losses of R645 million (approx. US $36.9 million) over the next four years. With South Africa’s Covid-19 cases expected to peak around July, it is possible the India series will have to take place later in the summer but CSA are confident it can happen before the end of the financial year in February 2021.



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Kagiso Rabada – My wicket celebrations stem from ‘passion’

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Kagiso Rabada believes that his enthusiastic wicket-taking celebrations, which have led him to fall foul of the ICC’s code of conduct several times, stem from “passion”, but he has suggested he is looking for ways to express himself differently. Speaking from lockdown, Rabada indicated he has been using some of his time to consult with mentors after what he called a “disappointing” past summer.

“It’s passion, but everyone has their opinion and they are entitled to their own opinion,” Rabada said. “I have identified things that I needed to identify and I will address them with the people that are closest to me and who I feel should be helping me address it.”

Who those people are, Rabada did not get into, but it’s likely at least one of them is his father Dr Mpho Rabada, who is involved in everything from supporting his son from the sidelines to getting his musical side-hustle. Rabada senior released a single in February, the day before Rabada played what would be his last game for South Africa – a T20I against Australia – before cricket came to a worldwide standstill. A groin strain ruled him out of the subsequent ODI series and South Africa’s aborted series in India, leaving him to reflect on the season as a tough one.

“The past season was a disappointment,” Rabada said. “Even though I see that my stats are okay, I just felt really rusty and a bit out of place.”

The 2019-20 season, in which South Africa lost Test series away to India and at home against England, was Rabada’s leanest to date in the longest format. He played six Tests, and took 21 wickets at 32.85 – it was the first time he had finished a season with an average above 30. He would have played a seventh Test but was suspended from South Africa’s final fixture against England in Johannesburg after picking up a demerit point for screaming in Joe Root’s face after dismissing him in Port Elizabeth. Rabada already had three other points to his name, thus forcing him to spend a Test on the bench.

It was not the first time Rabada had been forced out of a match because of a code-of-conduct breach. In July 2017, he had to miss the second Test against England at Trent Bridge and in March 2018 he was due to sit out both the third and fourth Tests against Australia after a shoulder brush with Steve Smith but CSA hired a top-level advocate to head up Rabada’s appeal.

Rabada’s transgression was downgraded from a Level 2 offence to a Level 1 violation, but he acknowledged he needed to change his behaviour. However, Faf du Plessis, until recently the Test captain, has consistently said South Africa don’t want Rabada to lose his aggression. South Africa’s coaching staff have echoed du Plessis’ thoughts, but voices from abroad, notably the commentator Michael Holding, who shares a close relationship with Rabada, have taken the counter approach and hoped Rabada reins himself in.

Rabada is careful not to read to much into outside opinion. “Everyone will always criticise you in some way. It’s important that you don’t take what people say to heart,” Rabada said. “You will always have a lot of critics. Not everyone will agree with what you do. As long as you are true to yourself you can grow. What other people say about you shouldn’t affect you at all.”

The insular nature of the lockdown period means that Rabada has had more than enough time to shut out the noise, fully recover from his groin niggle, and even branch out into non-cricket-related projects. “I am really glad I can get a rest, not in the way that it has come but I am really enjoying my time,” he said. “It’s allowed me to think about what I really want and makes it easier to set goals.”

Together with this friend Cameron Scott, Rabada has started a podcast called The Viral Wellness, which aims to raise awareness about issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic. The pair have also worked on creating a Healthy at Home handbook, to help people cope with the challenge of being under lockdown. Rabada is also looking at ways to help those who are in need of financial assistance at this time. “A lot of people in the country are economically challenged,” he said.” “South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, so it’s good to lend a helping hand, especially now.”



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