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‘This is why five-day Test cricket should always be around’

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If, as the curious saying goes, Test cricket has a habit of biting you on the backside if you disrespect it, then the timing of the Newlands cliffhanger could hardly have been more apposite. A mere days after it emerged that the ICC is considering the introduction of mandatory four-day Test cricket, England and South Africa served up a fifth-day finish to savour, to leave their series all square at 1-1 with two to play.

And speaking in the aftermath of an emotional finish – in which England sealed victory with just 8.4 overs left in the final day’s play – both captains Joe Root and Faf du Plessis, as well as the Player of the Match, Ben Stokes, praised the format for its ability to produce such soaring contests, in spite of the numerous threats posed by player workloads, crowded scheduling and finances.

“When you have series in which the first few games are results, it makes things very interesting,” said Stokes during the post-match presentations. “And that’s why five-day cricket should always be around.

“It’s the best format of the game. And with games like these, it makes cricket just unforgettable. And we will remember this for a long time and I’m sure South Africa will remember it for a long time as well. It will go down as one of the greats.”

On the final morning of the match, Cricket South Africa issued a strongly worded rebuttal to a report, in the Daily Mail, stating that the board was not in favour of the move to four-day cricket, and pointed out that they had, in fact, hosted the first official four-day Test match against Zimbabwe in 2017.

However, du Plessis made it clear that he was not keen on any reduction in the status of the sport’s oldest format.

“I am a fan of Test cricket going five days,” he said. “The great draws of the game go five days. I understand there is a lot of money being burnt on day-five cricket because a lot of Test matches are not going five days. But I am still a purist of the game because I have been part of some great draws and today is no different.

ALSO READ: Stokes is a ‘golden nugget’ – Root

“There would definitely not have been a result in four days on this pitch,” he added, after England had declared on the fourth afternoon on 391 for 8. “That’s what makes it special, to have Stokes, shattered and still running in and we are trying to survive. That’s what makes the extra day so special.

“Obviously I’m sad that we are on the losing side, but all I’m asking for from a team-mate today is that we fought and fought really hard. And we did that, and over five days. Unfortunately, there has to be a winner and a loser, and credit for England for having just a little bit more in the tank than we had. It was a great Test match, and in big series like these, you want two teams to bash it out for five days, and the next Test will be very exciting.”

Root, whose young side showed immense character to bounce back from a dispiriting loss in the series opener at Centurion, added his own support to the five-day formula.

“Some people might think there’s a place for [four-day cricket] but you don’t want to miss out on days like today,” he said. “You don’t want to miss out on games like this. This is what makes Test cricket what it is. To go right down to the wire, nearly a full house at Newlands, half of it English support, and what a great finish to a brilliant game of cricket.”



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Adelaide Oval a prime-time venue in BBL No. 10

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All seven of Adelaide Oval’s Big Bash League fixtures will play out in prime-time evening slots in one of the standout features of a fixture that has lengthened the 10th edition of the tournament to 65 days to appease broadcasters while also creating more room to move amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the chief complaints about last summer’s BBL was a proliferation of afternoon matches to squeeze the tournament’s 56 regular season games into a tighter window, with the Adelaide Strikers suffering one of the biggest drop offs in terms of attendances due to getting far more early starts compared to Melbourne and Sydney in particular.

However the schedule for the 2020-21 tournament, subject to changes forced by covid-19, has created room for the vast majority of matches to be played at night, with only eight earlier starts on double header days this time around – of those, only two matches start any earlier than 5pm eastern daylight time. As part of the carve up between broadcast rights holders Fox Sports and Seven, the pay TV network will get exclusive access to 10 evening matches.

“While we know that the challenging, fast-changing coronavirus pandemic could ultimately mean revisions to the schedule, there is nonetheless a lot to like about the way both competitions are shaping up,” the head of the BBL Alistair Dobson said. “It is our sincere hope that the WBBL06 and BBL10 will go some way towards lifting the spirits of, and restoring a sense of normality to, the nation.

“As with all sporting competitions around the world, we must remain vigilant and agile in responding to the COVID-19 situation as it develops and we will continue to work with all relevant federal and state government agencies, biosecurity experts, venues, clubs, players, broadcast partners and our own internal teams to ensure a safe and successful summer. We’ll continue to act in accordance with public health advice and government protocols to ensure the safety of the public, players and support staff.”

Among other changes, the regional component of last season’s fixture has been stripped back considerably after complaints from broadcasters about costs, while the problematic nature of the pre-Christmas period has been underlined by the use of the boutique-sized Junction Oval for a match between the Melbourne Stars and Adelaide Strikers on December 20.

The regular season will begin with Adelaide hosting the Melbourne Renegades at Adelaide Oval on December 3, the evening after the opening day of the scheduled first Test between Australia and India at the Gabba, and conclude with the Brisbane Heat hosting the Strikers at the Gabba on January 26, before the five-match finals series concluding on February 6.



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WBBL to feature three-week Sydney hub amid Covid-19 contingencies

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The WBBL will feature a three-week hub in Sydney and won’t be played in Melbourne until late November as the tournament builds in contingencies to deal with the ongoing challenges posed by Covid-19.

The tournament is scheduled to begin on the weekend of October 17 and 18 at Allan Border Field in Brisbane and in Perth before a weekend of matches in Adelaide and Tasmania ahead of the lengthy stint in Sydney which begins on October 28 and lasts through to November 15. The venues in Sydney will be Blacktown International Sports Park, Hurstville Oval and North Sydney Oval.

Melbourne is then set to host the last period of group matches from November 19-22 ahead of the finals which will be played November 27-29. Melbourne is going through its second Covid-19 lockdown following a spike in cases, with the restrictions currently set to last until at least August 19, while there has also been an increase in cases in New South Wales.

“The League is pleased to have delivered a fixture that includes matches in each club’s home market while also reducing the overall travel burden on clubs,” Alistair Dobson, the head of Big Bash Leagues, said. “By focusing parts of the competition in a central location (Sydney), it also provides optionality should the COVID-19 situation affect the flow of the season and we remain vigilant in all aspects of our planning to provide a safe environment for players and staff.

“As with all sporting competitions around the world, we must remain vigilant and agile in responding to the Covid-19 situation as it develops and we will continue to work with all relevant federal and state government agencies, biosecurity experts, venues, clubs, players, broadcast partners and our own internal teams to ensure a safe and successful summer.”

There will be an increase in televised matches from the tournament, 26 in total, three more than last season with the remaining 33 games available via streaming.

“Our clubs should be commended for their determination and commitment to delivering a full 59-game season for the rebel WBBL06,” Dobson said, “along with the commitment shown to the WBBL from our broadcast partners Seven and Foxtel to bring more of the WBBL action live to TV screens across the country than any of the previous five seasons of the competition.”

The Brisbane Heat will be aiming to make it a hat-trick of titles in the 2020-21 season.



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Shan Masood ready to turn the tables in England

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Despite England’s loss to West Indies in Southampton, Pakistan opener Shan Masood remains wary of England’s fast-bowling depth ahead of his side’s three-Test series next month. He thinks James Anderson, in particular, will continue to be a big threat.

“Jimmy Anderson is a world-class bowler,” Masood said during a video conference. “By achievements, he’s perhaps the No. 1 fast bowler in the world right now. He carries a threat, of course, and several other England bowlers carry a threat. England’s resource depth is very good. They had few very good bowlers sitting on the bench [during the opening Test], particularly pacers.”

Masood has good reason to be respectful of Anderson. The Pakistan opener has struggled against no other bowler quite as much; in the three Tests that Anderson and Masood have both played, the 37-year-old Englishman has dismissed him in all six innings. His last England tour was particularly unhappy, with Masood managing just 71 runs in four innings; Anderson nicked him off in all four innings.

But that was long ago. Back then, Masood was something of a journeyman in international cricket, drifting into the side from time to time without ever being able to quite nail down a place. Now, he’s among the first names on the team sheet, and as far as personal career fortunes go, few will have enjoyed as dramatic a turnaround as the 30-year old in the past 18 months.

Destined, seemingly, to be a back-up opener on the tour of South Africa in 2018-19, Masood was called up for the Boxing Day Test after a late injury to Haris Sohail. Until then, he had played in just 12 of the 45 Tests Pakistan took part in since his debut, and those 12 came across five different stints. He averaged just 23.54 in that time.

That was the Masood that Anderson had tormented over the years. The Masood of today who walks – no, struts – out to open for Pakistan has averaged a smidge under 45 since that Boxing Day Test, and hasn’t missed any of the eight Test Pakistan have played in that period. Masood has put the past very much where it belongs, and it was a point he didn’t shy away from making.

“You learn from the past and the mistakes you made then, but you also learn not to become fixated on the past,” he said. “You should also know when to move on. Things have changed from 2016. The mistakes we’ve made before we have to learn from, but we have to react to the needs of today. Nothing is constant, and I want to live in the present.

“We have had a fantastic opportunity to prepare. We spent 14 days in Worcester and are going to spend another three weeks in Derby. There’s no need to put myself under extra pressure to say I need to prove this thing or the other. Practice is going well and I understand my game. The outcome isn’t controllable, but I can put in my best effort and keep my attitude positive.

“But while coming here early has allowed us to acclimatise, there is no substitute for match time. In that sense, England have an advantage. But the basics don’t change; we have to figure out how to get 20 wickets, and how to score 300-400 runs in an innings. So our primary focus has to be on our preparations. We have a few advantages too, in that we can analyse their performances and work on their weaknesses. These things balance each other out.”

He lavished praise on interim batting coach Younis Khan, who has joined the side in England, calling him the greatest Test batsman in Pakistan history, and said everyone, including the bowlers, were eager to learn off him.

It shouldn’t, perhaps, be surprising that Younis’ arrival brings back fond personal memories for Masood. Despite a frustrating first few years with the national side where he couldn’t quite nail his place down, one of his cricketing highlights took place while Younis was at the other end. It was 2015, and a series-deciding Test against Sri Lanka, with Pakistan requiring an improbable 377 for victory against the hosts. But having lost two wickets early, Masood would stick around with the current batting coach, striking up a 242-run partnership en route to scoring 125 as Pakistan stormed to a stunning win with seven wickets to spare.

“Younis’s stature is inarguable and his arrival makes a huge difference,” Masood said. “He’s Pakistan’s greatest Test batsman and all batsmen in the side are eager to interact with him and draw on his experiences. The way the guys were playing in Worcester, be it in the nets or the scenario matches, he worked with everyone.

“He even works hard with our bowlers on their batting because in Test cricket, the runs they provide from the lower order are crucial too. Fifty or 60 runs added there could turn the tide of a Test match. We’re having two sessions a day, morning and evening. There’s been a hugely positive impact and we’re looking forward to learning more from him.”

He did caution against slipping into thinking England weren’t quite as strong as was believed before the first Test against West Indies. “We shouldn’t undermine England,” he warned. “This was the same top four that went to South Africa and won a series there. They’re playing at home and they’ll have experience of playing there regardless of whether or not they’ve played international cricket.

“But we have our own strengths, too. If you’re talking about our spinners, we have a world-class spinner in Yasir Shah. Alongside him, we have an allrounder and an able backup in Shadab Khan. So we have more than enough resources if the situation comes down to needing a spinner to lead.”



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