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Commitment from BCCI, players has kept Test cricket on top in India – Kohli

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A day ahead of India’s first day-night Test, India captain Virat Kohli has acknowledged the growing on-field disparity in Test cricket between boards that can afford to prioritise Tests and those that cannot. India’s first pink-ball Test approaches amid continuing debates about the stature and appeal of Test cricket, and Kohli took the opportunity to point out that the main reason India are the No. 1 Test team is because of the “commitment” shown towards the longest format by BCCI and players.

“You could say that,” Kohli said on Thursday at the Eden Gardens when asked if one half of cricket was getting stronger and the other weaker. “I can’t speak for another team or another board on how they look at Test cricket and how they want to manage it. But from our point of view, and the BCCI point of view, the only discussion we’ve had over the last two-three years is how we can keep Test cricket right up there, and that takes the commitment of the board, firstly. And secondly the total commitment of the players wanting to do everything that’s required to keep the standards of Test cricket high.”

In the current ICC FTP (Future Tours Programme) from 2018-2023 India play 51 Tests and only England (59) play more. By comparison, Australia play 47 Tests, New Zealand 38 and Ireland 13 Tests in that same period.

But a big challenge many boards are facing is to make domestic cricket lucrative for their players. West Indies were among the first to feel the pinch, and have only recently made small strides towards fixing the issue. More recently, Cricket South Africa (CSA) has been on the receiving end of an alarming rate of player exits to pursue Kolpak deals in English county cricket, and has struggled to scale its flagship T20 tournament, the Mzansi Super League, into a premium product. And players in Pakistan have been unhappy with reduced salaries in their domestic system.

Newly-elected BCCI president Sourav Ganguly had said within days of taking office last month that he would prioritise the financial health of first-class cricketers in India, and announced that a contract system would be put in place. Kohli pointed out that this sort of support was vital.

According to Kohli, the BCCI incentivising Test-only players with healthy contracts had played a pivotal role in India’s success in the longest format. “If you look at how exciting as a team we’ve been over the last two-three years it tells you in the way people come and watch us play as well. It is a partnership of the board and the players moving in one direction. If you look at our contracts system as well, a lot of importance has been given to Test cricketers. I think all things have to coincide and I think every cricket nation that has done that are invariably the ones that are playing strong Test cricket.

“Their hearts and minds are totally in sync with keeping Test cricket on top. Everything has to be taken into account. You can’t tell the players you have to be committed to playing Test cricket but contractually we won’t do anything for you. Because we’re professional players, we earn a living as well. As long as Test cricket is displayed or said to be the most important format, everything around that has to happen in the same manner.”

In 2018, the Indian national team’s annual retainers were significantly boosted, and a new top-tier added for players who play in all formats. That category, A+, was worth at least thrice the previous highest retainer price. Valued at INR 7 crore (approx. US$ 1 million), it also meant significant boosts for the grades below. Grade A, at INR 5 crore (approx. US$ 770,000) currently consists of Test specialists Cheteshwar Pujara, R Ashwin, and Ajinkya Rahane, alongwith other multi-format players. The raise also lifted the lowest grade contract, Grade C, to INR 1 crore (approx. US$ 140,000), which is what Wriddhiman Saha and Hanuma Vihari make.

The BCCI took the decision when it was being governed by the Supreme Court appointed Committee of Administrators. The CoA approval came on the back of negotiations with senior players including Kohli, MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and the senior coaching staff including former India head coach Anil Kumble.

In 2017, captains of Australia (Steven Smith then), England (Joe Root), and India (Kohli) made at least US$ 1 million in salaries. But the disparity was abundantly clear in the fact that the fourth-highest paid captain, Faf du Plessis, made about 40% of those figures at worst, with a US$ 440,000 contract. In the same year, Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer stood to earn US$ 86,000.

“Speaking from our team’s point of view, that was our main goal – how can we tell the Test players you guys are the most important,” Kohli said. “Because the other formats are taking care of themselves anyway. You have so many people coming up and playing white-ball cricket but Test specialists are very difficult to find. Only someone who has gone through the grind for five-six years in first-class cricket, and are still continuing to do so, are the ones that eventually make it.

“So yeah, the players need to be taken care of but at the same time the players need to respond in a manner that they’re giving 120 percent every Test match. I think as long as teams are willing to do that, and cricket boards are willing to do that, Test cricket will always be on top.”

On the field itself, the game has looked to innovate, such as with day-night Test cricket. But Kohli is wary – as are Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar – of the fact that pink-ball cricket is but a small step.

“Yes it is great to create a buzz around Test cricket, the first three-four days here [Eden Gardens] are sold out, which is amazing, ” Kohli said. “But I think Rahul bhai mentioned this recently that if we have a Test calendar, where the series and the Tests are fixed, then obviously it’ll bring a lot more system and a lot more sync into people planning their calendars as well.

“It can’t be random, saying you never know when a Test is going to arrive. If you have centres marked and you have Test calendars marked then obviously people will have a better system as to how they are getting to those Tests – people are not going to leave work and come to a Test match if they don’t know what’s going on. They can plan in advance, like you plan for anything in life.”



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Sourav Ganguly to Virat Kohli – ‘I expect you to win in Australia’

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BCCI president Sourav Ganguly expects Virat Kohli‘s side to register their second successive Test series win in Australia when they tour down under later this year. Ganguly stated the upcoming tour would be tougher than the previous outing of 2018-19 but said India also had the batting and bowling to do well there.

“I have said that to Virat also,” Ganguly told India Today in an interview. “I said, ‘because you’re Virat Kohli, your standards are high. When you walk to play, when you walk with your team, I, watching on TV, don’t expect you to just play well against Australia. I expect you to win. So for me, that is what it is. Because you have set the standards. It’s not anybody else. So you have to live up to the standards.'”

On their 2018-19 tour, India had recorded their first Test series win in Australia, winning the four-match series 2-1. Australia were then without two of their batting mainstays Steven Smith and David Warner, who were serving a one-year ban each due to their role in the ball-tampering incident in the Cape Town Test against South Africa in 2018. Ganguly acknowledged this “milestone series” would not be as easy this time.

“It’s going to be a tough series,” he said. “It’s not going to be what it was in 2018 when they went. It’s going to be a strong Australia but our team is as good. We have the batting, we have the bowling.

“Absolutely [hopeful of the team]. We just got to bat better. You know the best teams overseas, they bat well. When we were so successful away from home, in England, in Australia and in Pakistan, we were getting 400, 500 and 600 in Test matches.

India’s last international assignment was in March – a three-match ODI series against South Africa, which was called off in the wake of Covid-19 after a washout in the first game. While some of the players, including Cheteshwar Pujara and Mohammed Shami, have resumed training, one of India’s major concerns will be to ensure an injury-free return of their players, especially the fast bowlers.

“I have been in touch with him (Kohli), telling him, ‘you have got to stay fit.’ You haven’t played cricket for six months, you don’t want your fast bowlers to come back and get injured. They have been training, [but] training and playing cricket is different. You have got to make sure your best bowlers are ready for the tour and fit. Whether it’s Shami, whether it’s [Jasprit] Bumrah, whether it’s Ishant [Sharma], whether it’s [Hardik] Pandya, they have to be at the top of their match fitness when they land in Australia.”

Ganguly further said the BCCI had thought about a roadmap to start training camps in India, but with the rising Covid-19 cases, especially in the big cities, it was “too risky” to do anything soon.

“We have thought about the roadmap. We have the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) in place. The BCCI and the NCA have worked extensively in getting the proper SOPs. That have been circulated to state associations. At the moment, there is no chance of camp because of what is happening, what the situation is in the country. It’s too risky. In Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, it’s just risky. So we will have to wait.

“If at all the IPL happens in October – the Asia Cup has been cancelled – so maybe August-September would be the time where we can pull the players out and get them together for 15 days. We have got things in place but at the same time, the safety of the players is very important because they are long-term assets for India. One series, one IPL is not more important than player safety. But we want it to happen provided everything is in order.”

India’s tour to Australia is scheduled to kick-off in October with three T20Is, followed by four Tests and three ODIs.

“We just hope the number of quarantine days get reduced a bit because you don’t want the players to go all the way that far and sit in hotel rooms for two weeks,” Ganguly said. “It’s very depressing and disappointing. So we are looking at that and December is still a long way.”



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Simmons ‘extremely pleased’ as West Indies quicks seize moment

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West Indies head coach Phil Simmons hailed his bowling attack’s persistence and patience after five late wickets put his team into the driving seat against England.

When Zak Crawley and Ben Stokes combined for a fluent partnership of 98, the bulk of which were made after the tea interval, it had looked as though the game was drifting away from West Indies, who had managed only three wickets in the day. But after Jason Holder removed Stokes for the second time in the match, Alzarri Joseph and Shannon Gabriel took two wickets apiece in quick spells which seemed to vindicate Holder’s emphasis on discipline and patience throughout the match.

“It showed the persistence of the bowlers,” Simmons said. “We’d been fighting all day and Stokes and Zak started to take the bowling apart. But the persistence of Jason [was rewarded] and then Alzarri’s spell was a huge spell too.

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“I’m extremely pleased with the way the bowlers bowled today – both when two batters [Rory Burns and Dom Sibley] batted before lunch and more so when Stokes and Crawley were trying to take it away from us.

“The patience we exhibited has been something that we’ve been asking for for a while, and today it showed up. We bore the fruit of that in the evening session. You can’t really say much more – they stuck to their tasks.”

In particular, the flurry of wickets before the close seemed to reward Holder’s sparing use of his two strike bowlers earlier in the day.

While it would have been tempting to throw Gabriel and Joseph the ball and ask them to target England’s top three with bouncers, Holder instead split the bulk of the workload between the relentless Kemar Roach, himself, and offspinner Roston Chase, choking England’s scoring on a slow pitch.

That meant that Joseph had bowled only 11 of the day’s 80 overs when he returned to bowl with the second new ball still offering movement, and the rewards were immediate: his was the fastest spell of the innings, and accounted for both Crawley – caught and bowled in his follow-through – and Buttler, who was bowled through the gate.

Gabriel, too, was fresh upon his return after only 12 overs in the day, and twice beat Dom Bess in the off-stump channel in the first over of his spell before knocking out his off pole in his second. Four balls later, he got one to lift from a length which Ollie Pope only managed to chop on, leaving England eight wickets down with a slender lead of 165.

Simmons said that there had not been a specific plan to leave some energy in the tank moving into the final hour, but hailed Holder’s management of his bowlers throughout the match so far.

“It’s just how the captain sees it when he’s out there,” Simmons said. “That’s just the way he rotated his bowlers today, and it worked well for us in the end.

“When [Alzarri] is bowling like he bowled this evening here, he’s always going to be a threat to any batting line-up we play against. That’s the thought we are trying to get in his head: that this is the type of spell we want from him and need from him.

“Part of Test cricket is about patience, especially when you have wickets like this to play on, and it’s something that we’ve been working on hard – not getting bored at doing the simple things and the basic things for a while to put people under pressure. I’m glad to see it’s working, and guys are thinking about what we’ve been working on.”

Simmons gave further praise to Gabriel, who has now taken seven wickets in his first first-class appearance since last September following a long ankle lay-off.

“It shows his desire to play for West Indies, coming back from ankle surgery and doing all the hard work he’s done. Even during lockdown in Trinidad, he was finding ways to train to get himself fit for this series. You can only compliment him.

“I’m sure that Jason is happy to have him, Roach is happy to have him as an opening partner, and Alzarri is coming up with them. It’s great to see the combination and how they’re working together. That’s the important thing, how they bowl together and it’s showing and it’s improving.”

As for the fourth innings, Simmons suggested that the benefit of late wickets was that it meant there would be little in the way of scoring pressure on his batsmen.

“We’ve got to get the two wickets, and whatever is put in front of us, we have a day to bat. The confidence from the way we batted and the attitude towards batting in the first innings is going to be a huge plus for us when we bat in the second innings.

“Whether we’re chasing 170 or 190, it’s going to be the same attitude that we need to chase it. I have confidence in that.”



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Recent Match Report – England vs West Indies 1st Test 2020

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England 204 and 284 for 8 (Sibley 50, Crawley 76, Archer 5*, Wood 1*, Gabriel 3-62) lead West Indies 318 by 170 runs

West Indies’ seamers took five wickets in the final 75 minutes of the fourth day to leave an enthralling Test match in the balance at the Ageas Bowl.

England looked to have put themselves into a very strong position as Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley made half-centuries, batting time on a pitch with variable bounce, as thoughts turned to what sort of lead they might want before declaring on the final day.

But after Jason Holder drew an edge to second slip from Ben Stokes, the wickets tumbled: Alzarri Joseph accounted for Crawley and Jos Buttler in the day’s quickest spell before Shannon Gabriel ripped through Dom Bess and Ollie Pope to leave West Indies dreaming of a famous win.

Rory Burns and Dom Sibley had survived a brutal 10-over examination on the third evening but found scoring easier in the morning session, moving through the gears as they added 47 in the first hour of the day. But Holder reacted, bowling dry in tandem with offspinner Roston Chase, and the scoring pressure eventually told as Burns spooned a catch to point off Chase’s first half-tracker of the day.

Sibley in particular dropped anchor. He was occasionally bogged down against Chase, and seemed to be caught in two minds when Holder asked Joseph to target his ribcage, a tactic which proved to be his undoing in his final three innings in South Africa and even in the intra-squad warm-up match. He was handed a life the ball after passing fifty, dragging a back-of-a-length delivery from Gabriel onto his stumps only for the third umpire to decide that he overstepped by a fine margin. But Gabriel had his man two balls later, firing a length ball down the leg side from wide on the crease which Sibley only managed to tickle through to Shane Dowrich.

Denly, backed at No. 3 ahead of Crawley, played the sort of innings that has become his trademark, for better or worse. He struggled early on, playing and missing repeatedly and surviving a shout for a catch off Holder which was shown to have looped up to second slip via his body on review. He grew in fluency as his innings wore on, but his dismissal – chipping an innocuous delivery from Chase to straight midwicket – was nothing if not soft.

Denly’s failings were exposed further by Crawley’s success. Chris Silverwood had hinted in the build-up to this Test that Denly was likely to be included for the second Test when Joe Root returns, telling the BBC: “Joe is in possession at the moment, and I do believe in giving people one too many chances rather than one not enough.”

But it seems implausible that Crawley will lose his place after an innings that oozed class, with a straight drive down the ground off Roach early in his innings one of the shots of the day. While England’s top three relied on flicks, pulls and dabs behind square, Crawley scored the vast majority of his runs in front of the wicket, driving elegantly and using his long levers to hit over the top off Chase.

West Indies looked short of ideas against him and Stokes during their partnership of 98, with Stokes in particular taking a disdainful approach to Gabriel’s new-ball spell as England looked to make the game secure. But again Holder’s emphasis on discipline reaped rewards, as Stokes edged to second slip to fall to his opposite number for the second time in the match before Crawley offered a return catch to Joseph six balls later.

The game turned on its head in a hurry. Joseph, who had been used sparingly earlier in the day rather than being rammed into the ground, bowled with good pace, and burst through Buttler’s loose shot to leave England six wickets down.

While Buttler’s failure to make a telling score will undoubtedly put him under scrutiny – his average since the start of last summer’s Ashes is now just 21.38 – Joseph’s spell was brutal, as he found movement with the ball still relatively new. Tellingly, his celebrations were muted even after his breakthroughs, as if to emphasise that there was still a job to be done.

The benefits of Holder’s captaincy were evident again when Gabriel was unleashed in the final half-hour. He castled Bess, targeting the stumps from wide on the crease, before Pope dragged on with England staring down the barrel, only 165 ahead with two wickets in hand. Mark Wood and Jofra Archer snuck England through to the close with a lead of 170, and will be tasked with spending time in the middle before making more of an impact than they managed in the first innings.



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