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Jack Leach to return home from South Africa to aid recovery from illness

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Jack Leach is to fly home from England’s tour of South Africa after failing to recover from illness. Leach, who arrived in the country as England’s first-choice spinner, has not been able to bowl a competitive delivery on the tour after being taken ill ahead of the first warm-up match in Benoni in mid-December.

Leach was also taken ill in New Zealand in November. Originally described as a bout of gastroenteritis, it now transpires the episode deteriorated to the extent that he was suffering from sepsis. He was hospitalised for several days in Hamilton and has not bowled a ball in anger since the Mount Maunganui Test, which ended on November 25. He will leave South Africa on Thursday.

Leach’s situation is complicated by his long history of Crohn’s disease, which requires him to take immune suppressant medication. The England management are keen not to push him too hard in his recovery phase and risk any long-term health implications. While Leach currently appears healthy, and has been able to play a full-part in the last couple of training sessions, his fitness levels have not recovered to the extent where he could be considered for Test selection.

ALSO READ: Wood trains his way into contention for third Test

The England management remain hopeful that Leach will be available for England’s Test tour of Sri Lanka – the first Test starts in Galle on March 19, the first tour game on March 7 – but he must be considered a doubt at this stage.

“It has been an unfortunate time for Jack with illness and since the Test series in New Zealand six weeks ago, he hasn’t been able to get 100% fit,” England head coach Chris Silverwood said. “This has hampered his preparation in South Africa and despite his best endeavours he is not in a position to make himself available for selection for the final two Test matches.

“He is a great lad to have around the squad and his infectious personality and popularity will be missed. However, his focus has to be getting himself better and receiving the optimum levels of recovery and treatment, which is best served back in England without any distractions.

“I have no doubt that he will return to full fitness in the medium-term and hopefully he will recover in time for our tour of Sri Lanka in March.”

Leach is the third member of the tour party to return home. Rory Burns left as the second Test started after sustaining ankle ligament damage, before James Anderson suffered a fractured rib in the Cape Town Test. At least 11 members of the playing squad – and around half-a-dozen of the non-playing tour party – have also suffered from a sickness bug that decimated the team during the first Test and resulted in Ben Stokes referring to this, only partly in jest, as “the cursed tour”.

England are unlikely to call for further back-up for Leach. They still have two specialist spinners in the squad – Dom Bess and Matt Parkinson – and there is a possibility neither will play in the final Test in Johannesburg. Bess, Leach’s deputy at Somerset, performed a good holding role in Cape Town.

Looking ahead to Sri Lanka, though, this episode may further incentivise the England management to repair the relationship with Moeen Ali. Moeen, who is currently taking an extended break from Test cricket, has previously intimated that he was minded to “see out” his PSL contract, which would exclude him from the Sri Lanka tour, but there is little doubt the England management will try to coax him back to the Test team.

He is understood to maintain a good relationship with both Silverwood and England captain Joe Root, and has been invited to take part in some mentoring an England Lions training camp at Loughborough this week.

Moeen and Leach were the equal highest wicket-takers when England won in Sri Lanka little more than a year ago but, at this stage, there seems a possibility that neither they nor Adil Rashid, who was the third member of the spin attack, will return.



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CSK vs Delhi Capitals, IPL 2020

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Welcome to ESPNcricinfo’s Rolling Report of the seventh IPL 2020 match, between the Chennai Super Kings and the Delhi Capitals. CSK have won and lost a match each, and in their camp are the likes of MS Dhoni, Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Sam Curran, Ravindra Jadeja, Ambati Rayudu, Deepak Chahar, Lungi Ngidi and others. On the other, are Shreyas Iyer, R Ashwin, Shimron Hetmyer, Shikhar Dhawan, Sandeep Lamichhane, Rishabh Pant, Kagiso Rabada, Prithvi Shaw, Marcus Stoinis, Ishant Sharma and others. Can the Capitals stay unbeaten?



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IPL 2020 – MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming weigh in on CSK’s ‘muddled’ start

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It’s not often that the Chennai Super Kings find themselves struggling at the start of an IPL season. This time round, though, they lost key players even before the tournament began, and an injury to Ambati Rayudu has weakened their batting to the extent that they’ve fallen out of contention within the first ten overs in back-to-back chases, the latest against Delhi Capitals on Friday ending in a 44-run defeat.

Their bowling hasn’t quite clicked yet either. Their attack is built for spin-friendly conditions back at the MA Chidambaram Stadium rather than than the pitches they’ve encountered in the UAE at the start of this season, and their spinners – Ravindra Jadeja in particular – have struggled to find their groove.

After their defeat against the Capitals, their captain MS Dhoni and their head coach Stephen Fleming addressed these issues in their respective media interactions.

On the batting

Dhoni: I feel when it comes to the batting department, we are lacking a bit of steam. There is no momentum right from the start, which hurts. If you are already chasing 160-plus, the run-rate keeps mounting and it puts added pressure on the middle-order batsmen. So we need to figure that out. We are one batter heavy to start off with but at the same time, if you are looking to get one more seamer or spinner into the side then the batsmen need to take that added pressure. I feel Rayudu will come back in the next game so that gives us some cushion, or liberty of trying something different.

Fleming: Well, we’re a bit muddled at the moment. We’re missing some key players, and we’re trying to find a balance that allows us to be competitive. We’re looking to develop a personality based on the wickets that we’re facing. Each wicket has been completely different, and our batting line-up is, without Rayudu, [Suresh] Raina etc, we’re trying to find a way or a combination and how to use players, and give players opportunities early on, so we know what we’ve got as the tournament goes on. We’ve learned a massive amount over three days. Today’s performance was on the weak side in terms of intent, but they (the Capitals) also bowled very well.

On the spin bowling

Dhoni: The thing is, if you look at the whole bowling department, they’ve not been very consistent. So it’s not like you can change four bowlers out of five. I think the spinners, yes, they have not come to the party yet.

Fleming: Yeah, it’s an area of concern, because it’s been such a strength for CSK, and you’ve got to think that the style of play that we’ve developed over the last 12 years is heavily based on spin. So what we’re trying to do is find, I guess, a different personality. Spin still plays a part, and what we’ve struggled to do so far [is] we’ve played on three different grounds, so each game has been different conditions. We’re struggling to adjust to find the pace and the style to bowl through the middle, and that, in the last two games in particular, has been an area where we haven’t done so well. So going from a strength to an area of concern; we need to rectify that.

On the team combination

Dhoni: I feel the coming seven days are the best break we could have. We’ll give the guys a bit more match simulation and come back with a clearer picture as to what is the best combination, looking at how everyone is contributing.

Fleming: All bets are on the table at the moment as we try to find a way that we are comfortable with. We are looking forward to playing a number of games here (in Dubai), so we were really interested in how this pitch played, and get conditions right so we can get the right combination. At the moment we’re really searching, both as players and as management, to get the combination right. We’re too batter-heavy if we play the extra batter and too bowler-heavy if we play the extra bowler. We’re struggling a little bit to find our momentum but that will come with a bit of time off and experience from these three games.

On not promoting Sam Curran or Jadeja up the order

Fleming: We’ve used that tactic in the last couple of games, but with Kedar Jadhav and also MS, we’ve almost got too many batting options at the moment, so that’s why I say we were a little bit muddled with what we’re sending out, so we just need to be a little bit clearer with what we’re doing, and perhaps what we’re missing is a bigger contribution at the top. Yeah, it’s a lot of question marks and a lot of soul-searching in particular from the coaching point of view and the strategy point of view, but we’re trying to find combinations where we get the best players in at the right times. To keep shunting the order all over the place is not really our style, but we’ve had a go at it and we’ll review how it’s gone.

On the fast bowling

Dhoni: Overall, if we get more and more consistent with our length, line and pace it will be good when it comes to team selection… It’s not like we have been very consistent with fast bowling. We are bowling good deliveries, but in between, we are giving a boundary opportunity. Maybe on fields like this – you know, bigger fields – it’s best to be consistent with one line and let the batsmen play the big shot rather than trying too many things and giving them an opportunity to score a boundary.



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Recent Match Report – Somerset vs Essex Final 2020

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Essex 271 for 6 (A Cook 172, Westley 51, Gregory 4-58) trail Somerset 301 (Byrom 117, Overton 66, S Cook 5-76) by 30 runs

Alastair Cook produced an innings of the highest class to put Essex on top in the final of the Bob Willis Trophy at Lord’s.

On a surface on which all his team-mates struggled for fluency, Cook made 172 – the 67th century of his first-class career and his 20th score in excess of 150 – to give Essex a good chance of establishing a first-innings lead. Essex’s other batsmen contributed 91 between them.

But with only 36 more runs required to ensure a first-innings lead and barely 15 minutes left to play, Cook poked at one angled into him with the second new ball and edged to Craig Overton at second slip. It leaves the game intriguingly poised going into the fourth morning: Essex require 31 more runs with four wickets in hand to gain a potentially decisive lead.

The playing regulations of this competition state that, in the event of a draw, the winner of the trophy will be decided by the team with the highest first-innings score in the match. Therefore, if Essex are able to make 302, a draw will be enough for them. In this autumnal weather, that will be a concern for Somerset.

It speaks volumes for Cook’s character that he was able to dig deep once more. Many players, returning to the county game after a long international career, struggle to rediscover the motivation that once drove them. But, fuelled by an abiding love for the game and the club he has represented, at one level or another, for more than 20 years, he once again provided the contribution his side required.

“Obviously it [my motivation] is not as it was a few years ago; that’s one of the reasons why I’m not still playing international cricket,” Cook said afterwards. “But it’s a great club and it’s great fun. I enjoy playing with this bunch of lads. A lot of them, I’ve played a lot of cricket with. If Ravi Bopara were still here, we played our first games together aged 12.

“I was scared when I retired from international cricket of walking away totally. Suddenly walking off at The Oval in 2018 – the last time I played – would have been a big hole to fill. And I’ve really enjoyed hanging out in the changing rooms at Essex. And we’re a good side. It makes it better when you win.

“I’ll definitely play next year and then we’ll see how life is.”

While it was a chanceless innings, it was not without some nervous moments. Twice in the opening 10 overs he played and missed; twice more he edged just short of the slip cordon. On 10, he sliced just over gully. Overton, the unfortunate bowler on the majority of occasions, let out a series of bellows of frustration.

From that point on, however, he looked in almost complete command. And, in a sure sign that he was somewhere near his best, there were a series of flowing cover drives that might have pleased a batsman as elegant as Ian Bell. With 13 fours hit in front of square on the off side – most of them through the covers – it was an performance which, for a while, evoked memories of his wonderful Ashes tour of 2010-11.

Perhaps it also tells us something about the relative pace of this pitch and the Somerset attack. As Michael Atherton has often remarked, county cricket is a game played largely below the hip; Test cricket a game played largely above. Had Somerset still had Jamie Overton available to them – he has recently moved to Surrey – he might have proved a point of difference.

It was, to some extent, a sobering day for Somerset. Their seamers had, before this game, taken their wickets at a cost of around 12 apiece this season. Only one side had scored more than 200 against them and the opposition’s average score was 119. They are, without doubt, an admirable attack.

But those figures do reflect some helpful surfaces and brittle batting line-ups. Here, on a higher-quality pitch and against a high-quality batsman, they were made to work substantially harder. It was a reminder, perhaps, that we have to be careful about judging bowlers’ suitability for international cricket by their success in the county game. They certainly bowled with perseverance and discipline but, on this surface, they lacked the menace they have possessed elsewhere.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jack Leach was not at his best. Coming into this game, he had bowled only eight overs in first-class cricket since November and there was little assistance for him in the surface. While steady, there were more release balls – not least the full toss which Cook thumped through the covers to bring up his century – than he would have liked.

Most of all, though, there was Cook. In a season in which ball has dominated bat, he showed the old virtues of a straight bat, a calm mind and the patience to bat all day. It was the highest of his seven centuries at Lord’s and, during the course of the innings, he surpassed Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh’s run tallies in first-class cricket. While long-form cricket remains, players like Cook will always be valuable.

With his captain, Tom Westley, Cook added 170 in 51.2 overs for the second wicket. While Westley struggled for fluency – only 15 of his runs came on the off side and his half-century occupied 128 balls – his highest innings of the campaign proved valuable for his team. At that stage, it seemed Essex may be able to establish a significant first-innings lead.

But when Westley flicked Tom Lammonby to midwicket straight after tea – Somerset had two men positioned for the stroke – Essex stuttered. Dan Lawrence, unsettled by a series of short balls from Gregory, mistimed a pull to midwicket and Paul Walter missed Gregory’s very next ball, as Essex lost three for 11.

But Cook soldiered on. Now partnered by Ryan Ten Doeschate, he added another 56 for the fifth wicket and became the only man to reach 500 runs in the competition this season. Nobody has scored more than his two centuries, either.

In the dying moments of the day, though, the new ball accounted for the pair of them. Cook’s wicket perhaps also owed something to the setting sun which appeared to be shining directly into his eyes as it set behind the pavilion. But he was making no excuses.

“Let’s not blame the light,” he said. “It was quite a good ball and I should have left it. But the sun is coming down and it is very awkward. But it’s the same for both sides.”

“Today was a real test,” Gregory admitted. “The wicket was slow and Alastair showed his class. We couldn’t get him early and he did what he’s been doing for a long time now. He’s been a fantastic player for a long time and he showed today why he’s one of the best.”



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