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Mitchell Santner becomes New Zealand’s T20I trump card

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The ultra-short boundaries at Eden Park, known as the postage stamp, are mean to the bowlers. They can be even meaner when rain cuts a 20-over series decider into 11 overs. After England’s bowlers suffer at the hands of Martin Guptill and Colin Munro, Eoin Morgan launches the visitors’ chase with a hat-trick of boundaries. Sam Curran then goes one better, clubbing Scott Kuggeleijn for four boundaries in a row. Jonny Bairstow, too, joins the carnage as England rack up 52 in just three overs. Bairstow has now nicked off for 47, but England are fairly well-placed at 100 for 4 in seven overs.

Captain Tim Southee turns to Mitchell Santner in search of a wicket. The left-arm spinner delivers a double blow, but then the match goes into another Super Over and we all know how that unfolds. However, Santner’s strikes and composure under pressure showed why he’s New Zealand’s MVP heading into the T20 World Cup across the Tasman Sea next year. Once he saw Sam Curran advance down the track, he speared a back-of-a-length slider well past the tramline and had the batsman stumped off an off-side wide for 24 off 11 balls. Wicketkeeper Tim Seifert, who was mic’d up, suggested that Santner probably knew that the batsman was coming at him.

Santner then made a rare error, looping a non-turning half-volley, which Lewis Gregory muscled over long-on for six. But he wasn’t flustered and bravely floated the next one up at 85kph, and got it to turn away, daring Gregory to manufacture pace for himself. Gregory swung hard, but Santner’s clever change-up defeated him as he could only scoop it as far as extra-cover. He conceded only singles off the next four balls to finish an excellent 11-run over. Earlier, in his first over, the fourth of the chase, Santner had given away only nine runs. In daunting defence against a power-packed line-up on flat track, Santner came away with the two most economical overs. What might have been had Santner been handed another over?

While Santner doesn’t quite demand the attention that Sunil Narine or wristspinners do these days, there’s no denying his class and control. It was on bright display during the 50-over World Cup in the UK earlier this year and also during this T20I series against England. Santner ended the series as the top wicket-taker with 11 wickets at an economy rate of 7.83 and strike rate of 9.8. Ish Sodhi and Adil Rashid, the purveyors of the more glamorous variety of spin – wristspin – managed only three wickets each while proving more expensive. Sodhi went at 11.73 an over while Rashid fared somewhat better, conceding at 9.54.

Meanwhile, left-arm seamer Sam Curran, who had the benefit of bowling as many overs as Santner did (18), picked up six wickets at an economy rate of 8.50. It’s no secret these days that Santner bowls one over in the powerplay and then works his way through the middle overs. Yet, batsmen haven’t been able to line him up as he hits the hard length in the early exchanges and then, when the batsman is desperately searching for the big hits, Santner slows up his pace. He also thrives by shifting his lines wide of off, challenging the batsmen to fetch the ball and then slog it. More than 80% of Santner’s success this series is down to hanging the ball up outside off or even wider. According to ESPNcricinfo’s ball-by-ball data, he has bowled 62 balls around that line, grabbing nine wickets and conceding 81 runs.

Santner’s wiles, in particular, were key to New Zealand pinning England down at the Westpac Stadium in the second T20I. Chris Jordan had shellacked Sodhi for four successive sixes and then cracked Lockie Ferguson over mid-off for four, threatening a late jailbreak. England were needing 49 off 30 balls when Southee tossed the ball over to his main man Santner. After his first ball was sent over extra-cover for four, Santner responded strongly by having Jordan holing out with a nifty drop in pace. Game over for England.

“Chris Jordan was hitting it pretty well there at the end,” Santner said at the post-match press conference. “When you bowl slow as a spinner, I guess you’ve quite a fine margin – you can be swept square or pulled square. You try to hit a couple in the [block]hole and mix it up. You try not to be too predictable and it was nice to get that wicket and go from there.”

Speaking to Radio Sport, Santner said that the wickets of big-hitters like Morgan and Jordan gave him extra pleasure. “They’re one of the best T20 sides at the moment and the way they like to play T20 cricket is to come pretty hard and that’s what they do whether you’re taking wickets or not. It’s one of things that even if you get a wicket, you’ve got to be on top of your game because the English can come hard and put you under pressure. And the best way to stall momentum is to take wickets throughout.”

All told, Santner has bagged 20 T20I wickets in 2019 – the most among bowlers from Full Member nations in the shortest format. This time last year, Santner was recovering from a knee surgery, wondering if he could prove his fitness in time for the World Cup. He, ultimately, made it to the UK and almost helped New Zealand win the tournament. Then, he almost helped New Zealand win the T20I series against England. If he keeps up his form, Santner could prove more effective on the larger grounds in Australia by this time next year and could (actually) help New Zealand win a World Cup.



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Bhuvneshwar, Kuldeep back in India squad for T20Is, ODIs against West Indies

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Seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar and left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav have returned to India’s squads for the three T20Is and three ODIs at home against West Indies. Virat Kohli, who had been rested for the T20I leg of the Bangladesh series, also returned to lead both the limited-overs sides.

Mohammed Shami, who last played a T20I in 2017, also made a comeback while Khaleel Ahmed and Shardul Thakur, who were both part of the squad for the T20I series against Bangladesh were left out. Krunal Pandya also missed the cut, with Ravindra Jadeja slotting back in as a like-for-like replacement.

Bhuvneshwar was undergoing rehab at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru in the past few months although neither the BCCI nor the selectors had spoken about a possible injury. It is understood that Bhuvneshwar had some muscle issue, but he has now recovered from it and even trained with India’s Test squad in Indore on the eve of the first Test against Bangladesh. Bhuvneshwar then proved his fitness in the ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament, returning figures of 0 for 13 and 1 for 23 for Uttar Pradesh.

Kuldeep, who had played alongside Bhuvneshwar for UP in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, will reunite with fellow wristspinner Yuzvendra Chahal. Fingerspin-bowling allrounder Washington Sundar retained his place in the T20I squad while seam-bowling allrounder Shivam Dube was picked in both the limited-overs squads.

T20I squad: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wk), Shivam Dube, Washington Sundar, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Deepak Chahar, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar

ODI squad: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wk), Shivam Dube, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Deepak Chahar, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar

More to follow…



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Jemimah Rodrigues rises to No. 4 in T20I batting rankings; three Indian bowlers in top five

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Jemimah Rodrigues has broken into the top five of the T20I batting rankings, moving up from seventh to fourth after compiling 96 runs during India’s five-nil mauling of West Indies. Her most significant contribution came in the final match, in which she struck a half-century.

Following the result, India and West Indies swapped places, with India climbing to fourth after gaining eight points and West Indies dropping to fifth place, after losing ten points. To cap India’s dominance in the rankings, left-arm spinner Radha Yadav climbed from fifth to second after picking seven wickets in the series, just second behind offspinner Deepti Sharma, who took eight wickets to hold on to her fourth place. With legspinner Poonam Yadav ranked five, India are well represented.

Fifteen-year old opener Shafali Verma, too, climbed in the rankings, leapfrogging from 87 to 30 after finishing the series as the highest run-getter with a tally of 157, which included two fifties.

Meanwhile, Pakistan batter Javeria Khan broke into the top 20 in T20Is after amassing 111 runs in the 3-0 thrashing of Bangladesh at home. But Bangladesh themselves had something to cheer about as fast bowler Jahanara Alam, who took nine wickets in the series, climbed 22 spots to 15th.



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Labour pledge to restore Cricket World Cup to free-to-air television

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The Cricket World Cup would be restored to the UK’s list of “crown jewel” sporting events in the event of Labour winning next month’s general election, according to a pledge in the party’s manifesto.

The 107-page document, unveiled at an event in Birmingham on Thursday, includes a section focussing on the importance of sport in helping to build communities and keeping people healthy, adding that it needs to be made “accessible and run in the interests of those who participate in it and love it”.

“Sport enriches our lives, binds communities together and helps us all to stay healthy,” the document read. “We will add the ICC Cricket World Cup to the list of crown jewel sporting events that are broadcast free-to-air.”

The pledge follows on from a recent appearance by senior ECB figures before the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Select Committee, at which the issue of free-to-air access was a central line of enquiry.

Unlike the football and rugby World Cups, the Cricket World Cup is the only one of the UK’s “big three” sporting showpieces that isn’t shown on free-to-air television.

The last free-to-air World Cup was shown on the BBC in 1999, while no international cricket has been broadcast on terrestrial TV in the UK since Channel 4 had the rights to the Ashes in 2005.

A one-off exception was made this summer when the ECB and Sky reached an agreement to allow Channel 4 to share the feed for England’s thrilling World Cup final victory over New Zealand, a decision which helped contribute to peak viewing figures of 8 million across all platforms, 4.5 million of them terrestrially.

That figure, however, still paled compared to the 12.8 million who tuned into ITV earlier this month to watch England’s men play South Africa in the final of the Rugby World Cup, while England Women’s football World Cup campaign in the summer peaked at 11.7 million for their semi-final defeat against USA.

In advance of its DCMS appearance, the ECB released figures which demonstrated the uplifting effect of England’s World Cup win, showing that 3.15 million fans attended cricket events in 2019, an 18 percent rise on the previous record.

Next summer, cricket will see a partial return to terrestrial television, with the launch of the ECB’s new city-based competition, The Hundred, which will be broadcast on Sky and the BBC as part of the latest £1.1 billion rights deal that extends from 2020-2024.

The next Cricket World Cup will take place in India in February and March 2023.



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