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Will retire at my discretion, says Mashrafe, but speculation rolls on

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The Mashrafe Mortaza Retirement Speculation Circus™ has rolled into its 13th month. The end of his side Dhaka Platoon’s BPL campaign on Monday became the latest occasion on which to pitch the uncomfortably large tent. The press conference, which at times veered into terse and tense exchanges, ended with Mashrafe clearly stating that he has “no interest” in receiving a prepared send-off from Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB). A response, no doubt, to board president Nazmul Hassan saying that they had offered Mashrafe a massive send-off party, “the likes of which has never happened and never will”.

In the Circus™, this is seen at a level higher than his proclamation on Friday, where he questioned his own selection in the ODI side based on his 2019 World Cup performance. But Monday’s statements were edgier, as he shot back at every question that either contained the word “retirement” or hinted at it.

His appearance in the BPL’s eliminator match itself had piqued speculation. Mashrafe played with 14 stitches on his left hand. He batted and bowled without showing any discomfort, and then took a one-handed catch to dismiss Chris Gayle. His wife and kids were seen in the Shere Bangla National Stadium’s grandstand too. Surely that was it?

In the face of several questions, Mashrafe was firm in his stance to keep playing as long as he is enjoying the game, and not retiring just because the BCB president has said that they would throw a big party as a send-off.

“Till yesterday, I was a centrally contracted cricketer with the cricket board but not anymore,” Mashrafe said. “I always believe the BCB is the cricketers’ guardian. I never took pride in going against them. I thank the BCB for considering me to give me a proper send-off, but I don’t have much interest in it.

“I have always said that a cricketer’s entire career isn’t only about playing for the national team. I think I have the freedom to play as long as I want. I think we have had bigger cricketers who couldn’t retire from the field. Habibul Bashar, who always made runs in crisis situation, didn’t get to retire while still playing. I think only Sujon bhai [Khaled Mahmud] did it, but otherwise it is a rare case. I even have thought of it at times, but it is not really necessary.”

The difficulty in avoiding this speculation is the absence of ODIs in Bangladesh’s schedule since last July. If there had been a regular staple of ODI series during the home season, even Mashrafe may have had some clarity. Instead, the speculation has raged on.

On Friday after Dhaka’s defeat to Khulna Tigers, Mashrafe had said that he wouldn’t expect to be picked in the ODI squad based on his World Cup performance.

“As far as I am concerned, I shouldn’t be selected based on my one wicket in eight games at the World Cup. If I am selected, I will give my best. But how can I say I will play for the national team after taking one wicket in eight games? Someone else in my place would have been axed much earlier,” he said.

Mashrafe said that he got a lifeline when the selectors picked him for the ODI series against Sri Lanka last July, but since then he is unaware of the selectors’ thinking process as they have not been in contact.

“I was picked for the Sri Lanka series, which would have been an opportunity for me to get back in form. But there hasn’t been any playing opportunities. I don’t know what the selectors are thinking. I haven’t spoken to them. But if they decide to give me a chance, I will certainly welcome it. The board shall decide whether I should be the captain too,” he said.

In an ideal world, Mashrafe should have been left alone long ago, at least after the last match in the World Cup, where he didn’t announce his retirement even though he was largely expected to. He made himself available for the Sri Lanka series that followed, but missed it due to injury. It is now January 2020, and he has gone through a full season of the BPL, just like he has over the last seven seasons. Clearly there is fire in the belly.

The Circus™, however, rolls on. Next, perhaps, the large tent will be pitched at the selection panel’s meeting for the three-match ODI series against Zimbabwe in February or March. Nobody is paying attention to his repeated assertions that he wants to retire at his own discretion, not that of anyone else – whether he is questioned long and hard, or tempted with a big party.



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Temba Bavuma ruled out of first Australia T20I with hamstring strain

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Temba Bavuma has been ruled out of South Africa’s T20 series opener against Australia this Friday with a hamstring strain.

Bavuma sustained the injury while fielding against England at SuperSport Park on Sunday and will requite seven to 10 days rest. He will remain with the South African squad with a view to playing as early as this Sunday, in Port Elizabeth.

ALSO READ: South Africa pick du Plessis for Australia T20s, Rabada returns

Bavuma’s diagnosis means that South Africa will go into the match one of the aspects of their game that worked best against England – their opening pair. Bavuma shared stands of 92, 48 and 84 with Quinton de Kock and started South Africa’s innings with intent.

With no replacement named in the squad, it is unclear who will join de Kock at the top of the order. Jon-Jon Smutshas some experience in the role, having opened in his first eight T20I innings, while Faf du Plessis has spent the last two IPL seasons at the top of the Chennai Super Kings order. Rassie van der Dussen, Heinrich Klaasen and the uncapped Pite van Biljon are alternative options.

Du Plessis, who stepped down from the captaincy on Monday, makes a return to the squad along with Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje after being rested from the England white-ball matches as South Africa look to continue experimenting with combinations ahead of the T20 World Cup later this year.

AB de Villiers, who is set to make a comeback at the event, is not involved in these matches but could play for South Africa after the IPL.



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Ajaz Patel’s return signals an overhaul in New Zealand’s spin plans

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The big news in the New Zealand Test squad, apart from the post-injury comeback for Trent Boult, was the return to the arena for 31-year-old left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel in place of Mitchell Santner. It’s a good change, as far as former batting coach Craig McMillan is concerned, because Patel “can pick up four or five wickets in a Test match”. As for Patel, he is just excited at the prospect of facing off against “some of the best in the world”.

“Mitchell Santner, over a period of time, has done a holding role for New Zealand. And that’s down quite often to the conditions in New Zealand that aren’t really conducive to have the ball turning much. It’s the seamers who do all the damage and take most of the wickets,” McMillan, who finished up with the team after the 2019 50-over World Cup, told Radio Sport.

Gary Stead, the New Zealand head coach, had welcomed Patel’s inclusion when the squad was announced, saying, “It’s a slight change in role we’re looking in terms of that position being one where we can take wickets and focus hard on that.”

McMillan liked what he heard from Stead: “It’s good to hear, because Ajaz Patel is better than being just a holding spinner. He’s got over 230 first-class wickets [235 in 62 matches], so he knows how to bowl in New Zealand. So I hope they use him in an attacking role. They need to have a spinner who can pick up four or five wickets in a Test match. And Ajaz Patel is certainly a guy who could do that. So I thought it was encouraging to hear, and it will be interesting to see how they use him, because that’s one of the keys, when you have spinners in your side, it’s the time to use them and how to use them.

“I feel my game’s pretty adaptable. So I’m going to just see what the conditions are and what the scenario and situation is and try to play to that”

Ajaz Patel

“I hope they give him the opportunity to continue bowling how he does at the domestic level at the international level, because I think he can do a really good job, pick up wickets and be really useful in that New Zealand Test side.”

Patel has played only seven Test matches since his debut in 2018, five of them in Asian conditions and only two in New Zealand, where the stress has been on pace with Santner trying to keep things tight without really being much of an attacking option. In the last 12 months, Santner has played one Test in Sri Lanka, two at home against England, and two in Australia, and picked up only five wickets in those games at an average of 96.80. The other spinners in the mix have been Todd Astle, who has since retired from red-ball cricket, and Will Somerville, who both played the New Year’s Test in Sydney on the back of an illness crisis in the squad.

Back in the scheme of things now, Patel is looking forward to going up against Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and the rest of the mighty India batting line-up.

“It’s a fantastic challenge. I suppose as a spinner, testing yourself against some of the best players in the world, it’s a great challenge and it’s something that you should, really, enjoy and cherish,” he said. “At the end of the day, I suppose, at some point in my career, I want to be known as the best in the world. So to be able to challenge some of the best in the world, it’s a great opportunity and a challenge, something that I look forward to.”

Whether he gets that chance or not depends on the Basin Reserve pitch. If it’s green, as McMillan pointed out, “perhaps playing a fourth seamer, which means Kyle Jamieson might get a run”.

Patel understands that. “I suppose it depends on the surface and the scenarios of the game,” he said of the role he expects to play. “Either way, I am going to try and contribute in any way that I can, whether it be with the ball, with the bat, in the field. If it requires me to try and take wickets, then I’m going to try to do that, if it requires me to try and restrict runs, then I’ll try and do that. I feel my game’s pretty adaptable. So I’m going to just see what the conditions are and what the scenario and situation is and try to play to that.

“The Basin could be quite interesting, I suppose. It depends on what kind of day it is and what kind of week you get. If you get a nice, sunny week, the wicket dries up pretty quickly. Although if there’s a bit of overcast conditions, that can be a bit different as well. And obviously you have the wind factor. There’s a lot of things you’ve got to think about at the Basin, but once again, it’s kind of adapting your game to whatever presents itself, and that’s probably one of the great things about Test cricket. You get different challenges thrown at you and you have to learn to adapt.”

What could have gone against Santner, apart from just his own moderate returns, was the fact that even as he picked up just one wicket in two Tests on the December 2019 tour of Australia, Nathan Lyon topped the wicket-takers’ chart with 20 wickets in three Tests, all of which Australia won.

Did that show up Santner, as well as New Zealand’s use with their frontline spinner? “I think it did in many ways,” McMillan agreed. “[Santner’s numbers] sort of stands out in itself, because his core role in the side is to pick up wickets as a spinner, not as a batsman. And he was getting picked in the side to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And New Zealand, with the bowling line-up they’ve got, need a spinner who can contribute four or five wickets a Test match, which just takes some pressure off the likes of [Tim] Southee, [Neil] Wagner and Boult.”



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Dimitri Mascarenhas signs two-year deal with Middlesex as T20 bowling coach

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Dimitri Mascarenhas has signed a two-year deal to stay on as Middlesex’s specialist T20 bowling coach.

Mascarenhas, whose arrival at the county last summer coincided with an upturn in results in short-form cricket, has held several coaching roles since his retirement from the game in 2014, including stints with New Zealand, Otago, Melbourne Renegades and Otago.

He will also be an assistant coach to Shane Warne in the Hundred next season, staying at Lord’s alongside Eoin Morgan following the Blast to work with London Spirit.

“Dimi’s laid back, calm persona is a great asset and his coaching style reflects this trait,” said Stuart Law, Middlesex’s director of cricket.

“He has simple methods that resonate well with the boys and allows the players to grow, while guiding them through. We’re really looking forward to working with Dimi again during the T20 Blast campaign this season.”

Middlesex reached the knock-out stages of the Blast for only the second time since winning the competition in 2008 last season, with their five-man bowling attack coming to the fore.

Mujeeb Ur Rahman has signed to return as an overseas player, while the Cricketer magazine has reported that Law hopes to sign an allrounder alongside him, with Mitchell Marsh one possible target. AB de Villiers is unlikely to return, with the Blast directly following the IPL season and workload management a concern ahead of a potential international comeback in time for the T20 World Cup.

“I loved my time last year and felt we made some progress on the bowling front and as a team,” said Mascarenhas. “The opportunity to work with Stu Law and Nic Pothas, two international-level coaches, is extremely exciting and brilliant for my development.

“The squad is very similar to last season and I’m sure we can make a huge play for the finals again. I can’t wait to join up with the squad and continue what we started last year.”



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