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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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Josh Hazlewood limps off early in New Zealand innings

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Josh Hazlewood appears unlikely to be able to bowl again in the Perth Test after suffering a left hamstring strain two balls into his second over of New Zealand’s first innings.

He aborted his run-up and looked distraught as he slowly made his way to the dressing room. It was confirmed he would be having scans in the evening. In all likelihood his Test was over and Australia will have to push for victory with just two frontline quicks in Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins.

However, they gave themselves a headstart in that aim by having New Zealand 5 for 109 at the close after Starc claimed three wickets in his second spell, including the key scalp of Kane Williamson thanks to a brilliant catch at slip by Steven Smith, after he had removed Tom Latham in the opening over of the innings.

“It’s never nice seeing anyone go down, especially one of your best mates,” Starc said. “Not sure how the scans have come back, hopefully there’s some positivity out of that. It makes it tough, a bowler down, it certainly was for the Kiwis with Ferguson. The plus side is we have them five-for tonight and hopefully for Josh it’s not too bad. If it is going to keep him out then hopefully it’s not too big a break to get the hammy right.

Australia have played the same side in the first three Tests of the season. They enforced the follow-on against Pakistan in Adelaide, which meant a heavy workload for the quicks, but there was a week between the end of that Test and the start in Perth. Hazlewood returned to the Test side for the second match of the Ashes in August after having suffered a stress fracture of the back in January.

His injury in Perth came amid a dramatic start to New Zealand’s innings, as they lost both openers inside two overs. Latham was rushed by Starc and got a leading edge back to the bowler, and then the out-of-form Jeet Raval played around a beautiful inswinger from Hazlewood to leave them two down with just one run on the board.

Williamson and Ross Taylor managed to lead a recovery but Starc’s return in the closing stages of the day changed the complex of the match as he found Williamson’s edge, had Henry Nicholls caught down the leg side and bowled nightwatchman Neil Wagner first ball.

It continued an impressive season for Starc who is once again a lock in the Test team having only played once in the Ashes. He has so far claimed 20 wickets and feels he now has better control in Test cricket than at any time in his career following the early-season work he did with New South Wales bowling coach Andre Adams to make a small adjustment to his delivery stride.

“I think it probably is [my best control],” he said. “I think those little technical changes I made at the start of the summer have been a big part of that. I’m finding less can go wrong when I’m more compact and having that ball on my back hip.

“There was a big conscious effort to be more economical as a group through the Ashes so taking a little bit out of that, but also the technical changes have helped me not sacrifice any pace but be more consistent. It probably helps play a part in the group for the other guys as well, whereas in the past I’ve perhaps leaked runs at certain stages and the other guys have had to work a little harder. Nice to still be able to bowl but keep the runs at a controlled rate.”

With Australia likely to have a depleted attack for the rest of this Test, those qualities will be needed even more.



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Mark Boucher set to be named South Africa’s interim coach

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Mark Boucher, the former South Africa wicketkeeper and current Titans coach, will be unveiled as South Africa’s interim coach by acting director of cricket Graeme Smith on Saturday. ESPNcricinfo has learnt that interim team director Enoch Nkwe will stay on and work with Boucher; a source said the pair is “keen to work together”.

The Boucher news comes two days after Smith was named director of cricket for three months. A key part of Smith’s job was to appoint coaching staff for the men’s national team as it prepares to take on England at the turn of the year. There was doubt over whether Nkwe, who was appointed in August, would stay on under Smith, but that question seems to be cleared up for now.

It is also likely that former South Africa allrounder Jacques Kallis will be named batting coach in the near future.

The involvement of former South Africa internationals will extend to the A side, where Ashwell Prince has accepted a role. Prince is also understood to be on a selection panel that will include Boucher, captain Faf du Plessis and former convenor of selectors Linda Zondi, who has been approached to work as an independent selector. This means CSA will not appoint a full-time convener just yet, as they had planned to do in the aftermath of the 2019 World Cup, when the tenure of Zondi and his panel came to an end. It is not yet known when the new panel will announce the squad to face England in a series that starts in under two weeks.

Boucher was appointed Titans coach in August 2016 and is in his fourth season in charge there. In that time, the franchise has won one first-class trophy, two one-day cups and two T20 tournaments. They have also had Aiden Markram, Lungi Ngidi, Heinrich Klaasen and Tabraiz Shamsi go on to gain international caps in that time.

Boucher, a veteran of 147 Tests, 295 ODIs and 25 T20Is before an eye injury ended his career, will take over at a time of strife for South Africa on and off the field. South Africa have lost five Test matches in a row following a forgettable performance at the 2019 World Cup, CSA’s CEO stands suspended over allegations of misconduct, and the board is under mounting pressure to revamp itself. The board has already seen four resignations – of three independent directors and one provincial president – and is set for more. Matters could come to a head on Monday, when an urgent sitting of the CSA board and Members’ Council, which consists of the 14 provincial presidents, will take place ahead of the Mzansi Super League final in Paarl.



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Buttler, Stokes and Archer back for South Africa T20Is, no room for Root

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England have named four uncapped players in their ODI squad to face South Africa, while recalling the likes of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer for the T20I series to follow. Moeen Ali and Jason Roy return in both white-ball formats after being rested for the New Zealand tour, but there was no room in the T20I squad for Joe Root.

Tom Banton, Pat Brown, Saqib Mahmood and Matt Parkinson have all been picked in 50-over cricket for the first time – though only Brown and Parkinson retained their T20I spots. Of the group that beat New Zealand 3-2 last month, Sam Billings, James Vince and Lewis Gregory also miss out.

The three-match ODI series, starting on February 4 at Cape Town, will be England’s first involvement in the format since lifting the World Cup in July. Eoin Morgan remains as captain, with Dawid Malan winning a recall after his excellent T20I form and Chris Jordan and Sam Curran also included, having last won ODI caps in 2016 and 2018 respectively.

The squad contains eight members of the World Cup-winning group. Mark Wood is also rested, alongside Buttler, Stokes and Archer; Liam Dawson has once again been overtaken by Joe Denly as the spinning allrounder; and England appear to have moved on from Vince and Liam Plunkett.

The four new faces were all involved, to varying degrees of success, in New Zealand. Banton scored 56 runs in three innings, at a strike rate of 164.70, Parkinson claimed a four-wicket haul in his second game, while Brown and Mahmood picked up three wickets each. In List A cricket, Banton scored two hundreds as Somerset won the 2019 Royal London Cup; Lancashire’s Mahmood was the competition’s leading wicket-taker with 28 at 18.50.

England will also play three T20Is in South Africa and they have prioritised the shortest format ahead of next year’s T20 World Cup. The absence of Root suggests his chances of involvement are receding, with England well-stocked for top-order batting options.

“These two squads were selected with an eye on the T20 World Cup in Australia in 2020,” England’s national selector, Ed Smith, said. “In the T20s, a number of players who were rested for the successful 3-2 victory in New Zealand return to the squad: Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Jason Roy.

“We want to expand the pool of players who can perform successfully for England, while also helping the team to peak for major tournaments.”

England ODI squad: Eoin Morgan (capt), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Tom Banton, Pat Brown, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Joe Denly, Chris Jordan, Saqib Mahmood, Dawid Malan, Matthew Parkinson, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Chris Woakes

England T20I squad: Eoin Morgan (capt), Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jonathan Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Pat Brown, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Joe Denly, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Matt Parkinson, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Mark Wood



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