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Ishant Sharma reveals secret to his red-hot form

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A renewed approach to life has helped Ishant Sharma grow as a bowler, he said after taking a five-wicket haul in India’s first day-night Test. It was his first five-for in India since his first home match in 2007 against Pakistan.

Ishant has more or less become a permanent member of this Indian team over the last two years, and is central to the pace attack that has progressively improved as India firmly established themselves in the No. 1 spot in Tests. This permanence and the recent bursts of improvement have not been enough to make Ishant consistently challenge for a limited-overs spot. But 12 years and 96 Tests later, he is not wasting time feeling sorry for himself.

“In some sense [it hurts], yes. But I’m at a stage of my life where I’ve stopped worrying about these kind of things. I’m 31 now, I can’t keep worrying now about which format my name has been picked for.” Ishant said at the press conference in Kolkata. “Whether I play for India, whether I play Ranji Trophy – I just want to be playing at this point. It’s a simple thing. If you desire to keep playing, you’ll do well. Cricket’s given us everything. If we keep cribbing about small things like these, we will never improve.”

Just before Sri Lanka’s tour of India almost exactly two years ago, Ishant had taken 212 wickets at 36.93 in 77 Tests. Since the start of that series, he has taken 76 wickets in 19 games. His career average has gone up by a dramatic four runs per wicket and is presently at 32.94. That is precisely the average at which Zaheer Khan finished his career. If he plays in four more Tests, Ishant will be first frontline fast bowler since Kapil Dev to go past 100 Tests for India. These are all feats that were improbable some five years ago. What changed?

“I think I’m enjoying my cricket now,” Ishant said. “Earlier I used to put pressure on myself about performing – that I need to take wickets, that I’m only beating the batsman…a lot of things used to run on my mind. Now I don’t think too much about those things, just how to take wickets. Obviously I’m experienced so I can assess conditions and adjust my lengths quickly, that makes it easy.”

Ishant Sharma interview on The Cricket Monthly: ‘If I don’t take wickets even in one innings, I think my career for India is over’

Another feat Ishant achieved on Friday was that he bowled India’s first delivery in a day-night Test. Bowling with the pink ball, he said, was not the same.

“It was very different. In the start you must have seen that when we bowled a normal length, it wasn’t swinging that much. After that we realised what lengths we need to be hitting in order to get some more help. So the three of us [fast bowlers] communicated about hitting the right length,” Ishant said.

Regardless of that rustiness, India managed to be consistent enough to have Bangladesh six down by lunch. The fall of those wickets began with Ishant trapping Imrul Kayes lbw. And it came with a ball he only started developing during the second day in the previous Test.

“You must have seen that normally I used to swing it away from the left-hander,” Ishant said, talking of his new incoming delivery. “So I needed to add a variation. Your game only improves when you bring variety to it, and build confidence to bowl those in the match. So I was trying to bowl more of that in practice. In this match, the first wicket that I got – Imrul Kayes lbw – I got him with that ball. The two bowled wickets I got were also that ball. The ball lands and stays straight, it doesn’t go away from the batsman.”

On the flip side of this contest, Bangladesh have struggled to show any resistance, in any innings, against this Indian attack. While neither of the pitches have particularly difficult to bat on, Bangladesh’s top-order has crumbled in the face of relentless pressure. At the same time, their bowlers haven’t come as close to troubling India. But even as they face a grueling period, head coach Russell Domingo was optimistic, citing Ishant’s steep rise as a potential inspiration for his own bowlers.

“I don’t want to keep comparing the two sides but if you think of the number of Tests their pacers have played, and compare that with Ebadat’s fourth Test match, we have a very inexperienced bowling line-up.,” he said.

“Look at the way Ishant started, and the way his career is now. It takes a bit of time for these young fast bowlers to find the length and the discipline it takes to bowl to guys like Rohit, Virat or Pujara. It is a steep learning curve at the moment.”



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IPL franchises begin quarantining and testing for Covid-19

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A day after a few of the IPL owners had a meeting internally to discuss the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) draft sent by the tournament’s governing council, it appears that the teams have begun activating their own protocols prior to departure to the UAE for IPL 2020.

Mumbai Indians have started quarantining their Indian players in a hotel, with regular Covid-19 tests scheduled. Players who complete their quarantine will then be allowed to train at their facility in Navi Mumbai.

Rajasthan Royals too plan to conduct Covid-19 tests for their players and support staff over the next two weeks, prior to their departure to Dubai. Another franchise has asked their Indian players to home quarantine – as a precaution – while simultaneously initiating Covid-19 tests.

“Outdoor training is out of question still, we’re being cautious and since everything is still very uncertain with regards to SOPs, we’re awaiting a final confirmation,” a franchise source said. “We have put forward our concerns with the IPL governing council, hopefully everything will be clear this weekend so that we can start planning.”

Currently the IPL has laid out a stringent week-long quarantine process, along with four Covid-19 tests for players and support staff, before they can start training in the UAE. ESPNcricinfo understands that a number of franchises have sought a reduction in this quarantine period upon entering the biosecure bubble in the UAE.

While the IPL schedule hasn’t been announced yet, Sunrisers Hyderabad, for example, could potentially lose David Warner and Jonny Bairstow for the first two matches if they are to undergo the mandatory seven-day quarantine.

Both players would likely be arriving in the UAE from the United Kingdom following the conclusion of the T20I series between England and Australia on September 15, four days prior to the start of the IPL season.

Meanwhile, the IPL has also put in place stringent measures for ad shoots and promotional activities involving players. Players are required to have a 10-day gap between their shoots and their departure to the UAE.

The shoots can only be scheduled at ballrooms of a five-star hotel, in order to maintain social distancing norms, with a strict cap of five crew members allowed at the location of the shoot with Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to prevent any physical contact.

The franchises are expected to meet the IPL governing council on Friday through video conference, while awaiting the finalised SOPs, which has delayed the departure of a number of teams.

Chennai Super Kings, for example, were looking at arriving in the UAE in the second week of August. That move stands cancelled because of the absence of a formal SOP. However, they have sent out a note to their Indian players to start arriving in Chennai once the IPL circulates the SOP.

Meanwhile, Kolkata Knight Riders are looking at having Abu Dhabi as their base from August 21 or 22, with the overseas contingent of Brendon McCullum, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell joining the team from the Caribbean after their CPL commitments end by September 10.

Kings XI Punjab too are looking at assembling their Indian squad together, before flying out to the UAE.



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Covid-19: PCB offers financial support to 25 unemployed Pakistan women cricketers

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To fight with the economic challenges thrown up by the Covid-19 pandemic, the PCB has announced a three-month financial support package for 25 unemployed national women cricketers. Under this scheme, the players who meet the eligibility criteria such as featuring in the 2019-20 domestic season, and are presently without a contract for the 2020-21 season as well as a day job or business, will receive a monthly stipend of PKR 25,000 (approx US$150) each from August to October.

In June, the PCB had announced a list of women’s contracted players, which included nine centrally contracted cricketers and as many emerging contracted players. These are 12-month contracts, which commenced on July 1. The latest PCB decision takes the count of women cricketers receiving PCB support to 43.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a halt to all women cricketing activities worldwide. This has adversely affected our women cricketers, some of whom are the sole breadwinners of their families,” Urooj Mumtaz Khan, the head of the PCB women’s wing, said in a statement issued by the board.

“As the women’s game is making steady progress, it was imperative that the PCB came up with this scheme to not only protect and support our players but to also make them understand and realise that the PCB values them and will look after them in difficult times.

“Forty-eight players featured in the 2019-20 national domestic season out of which 25 became eligible to benefit from the scheme. The remaining players are either contracted by the PCB or employed elsewhere.”

In May, the PCB had offered one-time support to 161 stakeholders through an identical scheme, including former men’s first-class cricketers, match officials, scorers and curators.



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Anjum Chopra wants BCCI to be ‘more specific in communication about women’s cricket’

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Anjum Chopra, the former India women’s captain and current television commentator, believes that the BCCI has a plan for women’s cricket but wants the board to communicate its ideas more clearly.

Speaking to PTI, Chopra said: “It’s not that the BCCI is not thinking about women’s cricket. I only think they need to be more specific in communication about women’s cricket.

“I firmly believe that they must be thinking about women’s cricket but the communication all this while has been very specific to men’s cricket.”

The BCCI has received criticism of withdrawing the women from a tour of England in September, owing to logistical issues arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Then there is the question of the Women’s T20 Challenge clashing with the WBBL.

Chopra said missing out on the England tour is “not nice” but Indian players’ participation in the T20 Challenge will still be useful preparation for next year’s ODI World Cup.

“It is heartening to see women’s cricket making headlines,” Chopra said. “They should have been a part of that England tour and it did not feel nice initially but the women’s IPL [T20 Challenge], irrespective of the format, will be helpful for World Cup preparations. Any form of cricket is good preparation.

“Missing out on a tournament is not nice, but logistically there may have been issues. And you can’t send an under-prepared team.

“If you see it in isolation, we may have missed out on an opportunity to play in England. The more the girls play the better it is, before playing a tournament of the stature of World Cup. [But] the assurance from the president [Sourav Ganguly] is a very good thing.”

ALSO READ: The issues facing India women’s cricket in the face of Covid-19

Chopra welcomed the decision to hold the women’s event in the UAE alongside the IPL, which will run from September 19 to November 10. The women’s T20 Challenge will coincide with the knockouts of the men’s league.

“I am definitely happy, it’s always nice to be part of any cricket anywhere across the world,” Chopra said. “They should have been nearing the final stages of the preparation for the World Cup by now, but because of the pandemic things did not go as planned.”



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