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Graeme Smith resumes director of cricket discussions with Cricket South Africa

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Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith has resumed discussions with Cricket South Africa over the director of cricket role, which he had shown an interest in before withdrawing last month.

Smith was interviewed for the post alongside suspended interim director of cricket Corrie van Zyl and former national selector Hussein Manack, and was understood to be CSA’s preferred candidate. But he then made himself unavailable for consideration, citing a lack of “the necessary confidence” in the board.

Following a report in the Sunday Times , which said Smith had had a change of heart and was on the verge of agreeing to a four-year deal, Smith confirmed he was still in communication with CSA, but acknowledged that he still had his reservations.

“Contrary to media reports I have not been appointed Director of Cricket by CSA. As previously advised I withdrew my application for the role. I am, however, in ongoing discussions with CSA, but I still have real concerns, which I have reiterated to them,” Smith tweeted.

ALSO READ: 2019 – South African cricket’s annus horribilis

ESPNcricinfo understands that Smith has been in conversation with CSA president Chris Nenzani and has conveyed that his main concern was about the CSA’s senior management. But even if Smith does get on board, it is unlikely to be in time to have an effect on preparations for the upcoming home series against England, which starts on Boxing Day.

With just 24 days to go before the first Test, South Africa have neither a confirmed director of cricket nor a selection panel, although interviews for a selection convener have taken place. Patrick Moroney has emerged as the frontrunner for that, but there is no indication on if or when he would be appointed or when a squad would be announced.

In an interview with Afrikaans newspaper Rapport on Sunday, CSA CEO Thabang Moroe said van Zyl and Enoch Nkwe, the interim team director, make up the current selection committee.

Moroe’s statement came four days after CSA spokesperson Thamie Mthembu had told Independent Newspapers that CSA had a “technical team” in place to select the squad; Mthembu, however, did not name anyone but Nkwe. Given that van Zyl remains suspended for alleged dereliction of duty following delayed commercial rights payments to the South African Cricketers Association, Nkwe could have a significant, if not unilateral, say on the make-up of the squad. Most recently, Nkwe took South Africa to India, where they drew the T20I series and were whitewashed in the Tests.

Those Tests are the only red-ball cricket some national players have featured in, which means the squad must be picked on the basis of those results, and the performances in the first four rounds of four-day franchise cricket played in October-November, and the single round of fixtures that will take place on December 19. Some players who picked up injuries in India, such as Keshav Maharaj (shoulder injury) and Dean Elgar (concussion), have made recoveries and are playing in the ongoing Mzansi Super League (MSL), which runs until December 16, ten days before the first Test against England. Others, such as Aiden Markram (wrist fracture), Dwaine Pretorius (hand injury), and promising young quick Gerald Coetzee (hamstring injury), are on the sidelines, which may make selection trickier.

Nkwe is not involved at the MSL this year after coaching the Jozi Stars to the title last summer. His position with the national team remains temporary until a director of cricket, who will name the long-term team management, is appointed. Since Smith withdrew from the race, CSA has dragged its feet on making an appointment. Sources suggested that the delay could run well into 2020, with some suggesting CSA will readvertise for the post and look for options overseas.

All that leaves South African cricket mired in uncertainty ahead of an important few months for all its national teams. The men’s side play England in four Tests, three ODIs and three T20Is, before facing Australia and India in white-ball internationals to prepare for the T20 World Cup in October-November 2020. The women’s team will play in the T20 World Cup in February-March and the Under-19 side will feature in the World Cup, to be played at home, in January-February. Though the coaching staff for the women’s and Under-19 team is in place, the director of cricket was expected to roll out an overall national strategy for all cricket played under CSA’s umbrella and ensure continuity in the structures. That will have to wait.





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Heather Knight ‘pretty gutted’ at 2021 Women’s World Cup postponement

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England captain Heather Knight has admitted she feels “pretty gutted” about the ICC’s decision to postpone the Women’s World Cup from 2021 to 2022, and raised fears that boards will use it as “an excuse… to put women’s cricket on the back burner”.

The ICC made the decision on Friday, citing the need to maintain the “integrity of the tournament” by ensuring that all teams had sufficient preparation.

“We have taken the decision to move the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup to give players from every competing nation, the best opportunity to be ready for the world’s biggest stage and there is still a global qualifier to complete to decide the final three teams,” Manu Sawhney, the ICC’s chief executive, said.

“Moving the event by 12 months gives all competing teams the chance to play a sufficient level of cricket ahead of both the qualification event and leading into a Cricket World Cup so the integrity of the tournament is maintained.”

ALSO READ: Why the Women’s World Cup was postponed

But Knight expressed her fears that boards would not give sufficient attention to women’s cricket without a world tournament to prepare for.

Alyssa Healy, the Australia wicketkeeper, also expressed her frustration at the decision, which she labelled “remarkable” in response to a tweet from journalist Scott Bailey comparing the number of Covid-19 cases in New Zealand and India.

Knight’s England team were back in training this week ahead of their series against South Africa, which is due to start at the end of this month. It will be the first women’s international cricket to be played since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.





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Recent Match Report – Worcestershire vs Glamorgan Central Group 2020

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Worcestershire 309 for 3 (Libby 142*, D’Oliveira 123*) v Glamorgan

Jake Libby scored a hundred on his home debut for Worcestershire as he and fellow centurion Brett D’Oliveira dominated proceedings after an initial three-wicket burst by Glamorgan paceman Michael Hogan in the Bob Willis Trophy encounter at Blackfinch New Road.

The pair came together at 70 for 3 shortly before lunch and Libby, signed during the close season from Nottinghamshire on a three-year contract, completed the sixth first-class ton of his career from 205 balls with 11 boundaries. He ended unbeaten on 142 from 261 deliveries with one six and 14 fours.

D’Oliveira went to his century from 183 balls with 14 fours and the stand was worth an unbroken 239 in 64 overs – a new record for Worcestershire’s fourth wicket in matches against Glamorgan. He finished on 123 from 206 balls with one six and 15 boundaries as Worcestershire closed on 309 for 3 from 91 overs.

Libby followed on from his 77 in his first appearance for his new county in the eight-wicket success against Gloucestershire at Bristol. He had indicated a willingness to open when he signed for Worcestershire and fill the berth alongside Daryl Mitchell which has often been problematic in recent years.

Libby was Nottinghamshire’s leading run-scorer in the County Championship in 2018 but a flux of signings restricted his red ball opportunities last summer at Trent Bridge and he ended his six-year association with the club. Worcestershire are hoping the best years of the 27-year-old lie ahead in the same way as they have recruited Gareth Roderick for next season from Gloucestershire.

Libby had one slice of good fortune when dropped on 43 at second slip by Charlie Hemphrey off Timm van der Gugten but otherwise batted with great authority and received a standing ovation from his team-mates when he reached three figures.

D’Oliveira also played a sparkling knock which maintained his fine start to the truncated campaign after his unbeaten 91 versus Gloucestershire. He had struck 14 fours before he reached his hundred with a square drive for two off Hogan which then resulted in four overthrows. The 28-year-old was also grateful to Hemphrey for a spilled chance at slip when on 67 as he went to cut spinner Kieran Bull.

Hogan had been the star performer during the morning session when two spells produced combined figures of 9-3-15-3. But he was unable to add to his tally during the afternoon or evening session to leave him still one short of 600 first-class wickets in his career.

The 39-year-old had dismissed Daryl Mitchell and Tom Fell in his opening spell and returned to account for Jack Haynes shortly before lunch.

Worcestershire brought back Dillon Pennington for rested paceman Josh Tongue while Glamorgan recalled Tom Cullen and van der Gugten at the expense of Marchant de Lange and the injured Ruaidhri Smith (hamstring injury).

Hogan dismissed Mitchell for a duck with the fourth delivery of the day after he flicked at a delivery down the leg side and keeper Chris Cooke held onto a fine catch away to his left.

New batsman Fell had a left off when Cooke failed to hold onto a difficult chance from another testing Hogan delivery – but it did not prove to be a costly miss. On eight, he nicked another ball from Hogan and this time Cooke made no mistake with a sharp low catch.

Libby and Jack Haynes attempted to rebuild the innings and experienced few alarms in adding 48 in 16 overs. But then Hogan’s return accounted for Haynes (21) when the England Under-19 batsman went for an ambitious hook and holed out to Dan Douthwaite on the backward square leg boundary.

D’Oliveira and Libby batted with plenty of fluency after joining forces. A straight drive for four off van Gugten completed a half century for Libby from 94 balls with seven boundaries. D’Oliveira cut Douthwaite for four to bring up his half century from 78 balls and also the 100 partnership in the 34th over.

The fourth-wicket pair both hit two boundaries apiece in successive overs from spinner Bull and accelerated in the final session as the milestones of a personal and team nature were clocked up.



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India’s domestic 2020-21 season: Only Ranji Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali for men?

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The BCCI is mulling a truncated domestic season in 2020-21, featuring only the first-class Ranji Trophy and the T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy for men, apart from the IPL. The tentative plan, seen by ESPNcricinfo, is yet to be ratified, but it would mean no 50-overs competitions – neither Vijay Hazare Trophy nor Deodhar Trophy – in a season that will run from November 19 to March 10. There is also no place for the first-class Duleep Trophy or Irani Cup in the proposal.

Senior women’s cricket will feature both the One Day League and the T20 League, albeit with fewer games than the 2019-20 season, and is scheduled between November 1 and April 12. Challenger Trophies across all categories – men and women, senior and junior – find no place in the proposal.

This news follows on from a board official telling ESPNcricinfo last week that a “priority list” of tournaments was being made with the Ranji Trophy on top.

As per the proposed plan, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy will be held first, starting ten days after the IPL, from November 19, ending on December 7. The Ranji Trophy is then scheduled to begin from December 13 and will go on till March 10, just before the scheduled 2021 IPL.

Like in the past, the order of tournaments means that players could effectively be using the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament to impress the IPL franchises ahead of an auction, which in this case is scheduled to be held in December 2020 or January 2021.

A zonal system was originally being thought about for the Ranji Trophy, with one city from each zone hosting teams across four or five venues, but that format isn’t to be found in the proposal. There will be five groups. The top 24 teams of last season will be split into groups A, B, and C, with the top two from each qualifying automatically to the quarter-finals. Among the third-placed teams, the team with the highest “quotient” will also go through. The eighth quarter-final spot will be decided after a playoff between the winners of Group D, which will have up to eight teams, and Group E, which consists of the six teams from the north-east.

The bottom teams from groups A, B, and C will be relegated to Group D, with the top three teams from Group D going the other way. The bottom placed team from Group D will go down to Group E, and the winner from Group E will compete in Group D next season. Teams in each group will play on four grounds across two nearby cities and each team will travel “at least once, at most thrice” between venues.

In the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the women’s T20 league, 38 teams will be divided into six groups and each group’s matches will be held on two grounds in one city.

A total of 2036 games, across various age groups in the men’s and women’s categories, were played during the 2019-20 season. In normal circumstances, the season would have started in July-August and run till around March. That number will fall to 1183 next season based on this new proposal, which is still contingent on how the pandemic situation plays out in India.



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