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Rishabh Pant ‘under observation’ for concussion



Rishabh Pant has been diagnosed with concussion, resulting in his not being able to take the field for the second half of the first ODI against Australia in Mumbai. The 22-year old wicketkeeper was struck on the head by a bouncer from Mitchell Starc in the 44th over, a ricochet off the top edge which also resulted in his wicket.

“Rishabh Pant has got a concussion after being hit on his helmet while batting,” a BCCI statement said. “KL Rahul is keeping wickets in his absence. Pant is under observation at the moment.”

Pant did not need any immediate treatment on the field after he was hit, and he was able to walk off it on his own steam as well, but it soon became clear that he was indisposed. He did not join India’s training in the break between innings and it was Rahul who was seen practicing his glovework as the Australian openers walked out. Confirmation of the injury arrived when the BCCI put out a statement some time during the first two overs of the chase.

Pant had played a good hand, scoring 28 off 33 balls as India tried to recover from a middle-order malfunction. India had been 134 for 1 in the 28th over but were dragged down to 164 for 5 as Australia’s fast bowlers adapted well to a slow pitch at the Wankhede Stadium.

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Far from an endangered breed: Dom Bess stands up for his trade



At the start of the third day’s play, there was an intriguing chat on commentary between Matt Prior and Kevin Pietersen – yes, TalkSPORT has bought the pair together; they’ll be pairing Ian Botham and Ian Chappell next – over the future of conventional off-spinners in Test cricket.

The conclusion, to paraphrase only a little, was they are an endangered breed. But, unlike the rhinoceros, Pietersen didn’t seem especially concerned with their preservation. Again, to paraphrase only a little, both he and Prior felt that, in the modern game, any off-spinner without some mystery or at least the ability to challenge both edges of the bat was likely to struggle.

But here, for the second Test in succession, Dom Bess supplied the case for the defence. Having admirably performed a holding role in Cape Town, he showed he could also perform a more attacking role here. Taking advantage of a dry surface, he showed the conventional skills – most of all control, but also subtle changes of angle and pace – still had a place in the modern game. Already he has become the first England spinner since Derek Underwood, in 1975, to claim the first five wickets in a Test innings and the third-youngest England spinner (after Pat Pocock and Underwood) to claim a five-for in Test history. If the rain relents, there is a good chance there will be more to come.

ALSO READ: Bess five-for spurs England before de Kock defiance

It’s true, Bess does not possess the eye-catching skills of Rashid Khan, Sunil Narine or Saqlain Mushtaq. He cannot turn the ball both ways. There is no doosra. Analysts will not be glued to their screens working out how makes the ball fizz and dip and, the cynics have suggested, he could only take wickets on the helpful surfaces of Taunton where, until today, six of his eight five-wicket hauls in first-class cricket had come. Only a few months ago, he was unable to get into the Somerset team and went on loan to Yorkshire.

But what he can do, at this stage of his career, is maintain his line and length. He has conceded only seven boundaries – and an average of 1.64 runs per over – in his 31 overs to date. As a result, he has kept the batsmen under pressure. And what he can do, at this stage of his career, is apply a series of small variations to lure batsmen into errors and take advantage of helpful surfaces.

The wicket of Faf du Plessis provided a fine example of this. The South Africa captain had just driven him for a couple of fours. Bess responded by dropping his arm a little lower, gaining just a little drift away from the batsman to draw him into a forward prod, only to turn the ball sharply off the pitch and take the inside edge. Ollie Pope, who looks terrific at short-leg, did the rest. Any off-spinner would have been happy with that.

There were other moments which showcased those subtle skills. By changing the seam position – including bowling with a scrambled seam – he manages to gain variation from some balls skidding on and others gripping and turning. Dean Elgar, who was probably the one man in the top five to play Mark Wood with any confidence, was defeated by just such a delivery: coming forward to one he expected to turn, he was slightly late as the ball skidded through a little quicker, taking his inside edge before ballooning off his pad to short-leg. Again, that’s fine bowling.

The ECB deserve some credit for Bess’ development. At the end of the season, they and Somerset agreed he should be given an extended break to clear his head after a sometimes frustrating few months. As he has previously said, he “lost a lot of confidence within my game” after “falling off the [England] radar a bit” after his brief spell in the England side in 2018.

Having allowed him that time, they identified the ideal coaches or mentors he could learn from – they were after spinners who relied on subtle variations rather than extravagant natural ability – and invited him on a spin bowling camp in Mumbai. Those coaches were Rangana Herath, the Sri Lanka left-arm spinner, and Richard Dawson, who played seven Tests for England as an off-spinner in the early years of this century.

These were wise choices. Herath, in particular, enjoyed an outstanding career as a traditional spinner. And somewhere along the way, Bess has learned that by concentrating on building pressure and by embracing those little variations, he gives himself the best chance of success. In these two Tests, he has looked a better bowler than he did when the Championship season finished in September. He also credited Jeetan Patel, who is with England as a spin bowling consultant, for his advice in helping him gain more bounce and pace.

“That ball to Faf was something I’d been working on with Herath,” Bass said. “I started around the wicket and he came at me quite a lot, so I tried to change the angle. I dropped my arm a little and it bit off the surface. It’s really nice to work on something and see it work.

“Then with Elgar – who I played with at Somerset – I wanted to make sure I was always challenging him. I looked to go a little under the ball and luckily it kicked on a bit. Some spun and some didn’t and Ollie Pope held a great catch.

“I’ll cherish this for a long time because I’ve worked very hard for days like this. Technically I’m getting a lot stronger through repetition. There’s still a lot of work to do but hopefully there’s a lot more to come.”

But before giving the ECB too much praise for their wisdom, it should be acknowledged that Bess was not in the original tour party. And as time goes on the selection of Matt Parkinson, who played four Championship games for Lancashire in 2019, looks ever more odd. It must have been painful to see an injury replacement – called up for the ill Jack Leach – who had not enjoyed the benefit of any warm-up games come into the side ahead of him, but, suffice to say, at this stage of his career, Parkinson looks far better suited to the white-ball game.

“I’m gutted for Leachy, he’s had such a tough time these last six weeks,” Bess said. “I know he’ll be happy for me. He’ll be working really hard to get back for the Sri Lanka tour. I’d love to play together. That would be a really nice touch if we could take wickets together for England as well as Somerset.”

Equally, the ECB might do well to reflect on the apparent crackdown on the surfaces at Taunton. It is surely no coincidence that England’s two first-choice spin bowling options have been developed on turning pitches – just as they were in Northampton, not so long ago – which provide scope for lots of bowling. Yes, there is a distinction to be made between acceptably turning surfaces and ones which offer variable bounce and excessive assistance. But it is also no coincidence that Bess responded to this relatively helpful surface in a calm and constructive manner; something which had not always been the case with Moeen Ali, for example, who sometimes looked more comfortable when expectations were lower. Not for the first time, the thought occurred that Somerset deserve credit not censure for their spin-friendly pitches

Bess had a couple of other factors in his favour here. The first, as was the case in Cape Town, is that this South Africa side is, generally, oddly passive against spin. Other sides – better sides – will surely look to hit Bess off his length. The other factor is that he was bowling when his side had 499 runs on the board. That makes a huge difference in terms of the fields set, the mentality of the batsmen and the time the fielding captain can stick with plans. It won’t always be this straightforward.

But everything suggests Bess has the character to cope with adversity. He has shrugged off being unable to get into his own county team, after all, and being called into this tour party without a competitive game since the end of the English season. He made a half-century on Test debut and followed it with 49 as nightwatchman in his second Test. And he’s still just 22. Suddenly Moeen’s exile does not seem quite as urgent an issue.

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Anrich Nortje embraces ‘proper Dutchman’ nickname after showing rearguard grit



What are the characteristics of a “proper Dutchman”, the term of endearment South Africa’s bowling coach Charl Langevedlt used to describe Anrich Nortje?

“It’s a sense of trying to go out there and fight, and come hard and be aggressive, with a lot of heart,” Nortje explained, happy to hear that the nickname that has been attached to him for a “quite a long time” was on air for the first time on day one.

Langeveldt was describing Nortje’s back-bending efforts in the field but the man himself would like to apply the terms to all aspects of his game. “It’s something I try and pride myself on. When conditions get tough, when it’s 40 degrees, I try and be the guy to run and come hard,” Nortje said. “I try and make things happen with the ball in hand – not really with the bat but if I get an opportunity, if I have to take a few blows I am willing to do that.”

ALSO READ: Cricket is a finite game and du Plessis’ finish is in sight

For the second time in the series, Nortje’s rearguard as nightwatchman has put South Africa’s top-order to shame. At SuperSport Park, he spent two hours and seven minutes in the middle and faced 89 balls for an accomplished 40, which included a match-winning partnership of 91 with Rassie van der Dussen. At St George’s, Nortje batted for three hours and 11 minutes and faced 136 balls, more than South Africa’s top three combined, to score only 18 runs. When he was dismissed, he sunk to his haunches in disappointment, knowing how close he was to putting in a double shift on overnight watch.

“It’s trying to stay there for as long as possible. It’s not really about scoring runs for me, it’s about facing a few balls, as many as possible,” Nortje said.

Nortje faced more balls from Dom Bess than any other South African batsmen in this innings so far – 59 – and four fewer than Dean Elgar did against Mark Wood – 19. He saw Bess outfoxing the top five as they looked to take the English spinner on more than they did at Newlands. Nortje was not privy to the strategy but saw South Africa’s eagerness backfire on them.

“I’m not too sure how they (the top order) want to play it. I am not in the batting meeting, I can tell you that,” he said. “So I’m not too sure what they want to do but maybe one or two things could have gone differently, whether it’s taking him out the attack or just playing him positively and better, I don’t know.”

What Nortje does know is that it’s not helpful to weigh his efforts up against the specialists’ because their job descriptions are so different. “There’s a little bit of a bigger battle between them and the bowler rather than me. Even if I get a half-volley sometimes, I still block it,” Nortje said. ” For them, it’s about playing naturally as well in stages. You can’t really compare.”

Instead, what Nortje is interested in is measuring is his performance against Wood’s, the fastest bowler in the opposite camp. “I saw they had a comparison on the big screen and I was more interested in that when I was batting than anything else,” he said, although evasive action was also on his mind. Wood targeted Nortje’s rib-cage and later, his head, giving Nortje first-hand experience of what it must be like facing himself. “I haven’t really had to deal with that before in my career. It gives me a bit of confidence that I can do it. But it’s not the nicest thing, I am not going to lie,” he said.

Asked if the experience of facing Wood has made Nortje more sympathetic to batsmen who have to front up to him, he had a one-word answer: “No.”

That’s the answer a “proper Dutchman,” would give, that embodies the attitude South Africa have to adopt if they are to give themselves a chance of going to the Wanderers all-square. They are 92-runs away from avoiding the following-on and even if they get there, there are still two days left, some of which could be lost to rain. South Africa will be under the pump for most of that time but Nortje is up for it.

“We are positive we can save the game,” he said. “If we have to fight and we have to do what we have to do then we do that. We are not going to be worried about if there is weather around. We are going to come out here and focus on the next two days, fighting. Whatever we have to do to draw this Test match we are going to be up for that. We believe that.”

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Recent Match Report – South Africa vs England, ICC World Test Championship, 3rd Test



South Africa 208 for 6 (de Kock 63*, Philander 27*) trail England 499 for 9 dec by 291 runs

Dom Bess became the latest of England’s young bloods to leave his mark on South Africa but the old foe of bad weather, coupled with some much-needed defiance from the home batsmen (plus a few dropped catches), prevented the tourists from maximising their advantage on day three in Port Elizabeth.

With Bess producing his most impressive display in an England shirt to secure a maiden Test five-for, the threat of the follow-on loomed large for South Africa. But they were able to recover from a position of 109 for 5 thanks to Quinton de Kock‘s third half-century of the series, as well as 136 balls of dogged resistance from the nightwatchman, Anrich Nortje.

De Kock was unbeaten on 63 at the close, having put on partnerships of 45 with Nortje and an unbroken 54 with Vernon Philander. He might have been dismissed three times by spin but on each occasion Ben Stokes was unable to hold on to sharp chances at slip – and with another 26 overs lost due to rain, England’s prospects of capturing a series lead before the teams move on to Johannesburg looked to have taken a hit.

South Africa’s captain, Faf du Plessis, pronounced before the third Test that his team had made “huge steps in the right direction” against England, following a run of five consecutive defeats. While du Plessis could not extricate himself from his own run of bad form, falling to Bess for the second time in as many innings, the bloody-minded efforts of de Kock and, in particular, Nortje, gave his side something to rally around.

Although there was no doubting England were on top, they seemed likely to find themselves in a battle against time, the elements and an unforgiving pitch – with de Kock’s rearguard blocking their path to enforcing the follow-on, and 92 runs still needed for South Africa to take the decision out of Joe Root’s hands.

The morning session could scarcely have gone better for England, with Bess striking three more times to claim each of the five South African wickets to have fallen, before a delay of more than three hours began to impinge on hopes of a positive result in this match. When play was able to resume in mid-afternoon, de Kock succeeded in seeing off the fiery Mark Wood as he and Nortje combined to frustrate England further.

South Africa’s wicketkeeper produced a number of fine strokes during a counterattacking innings, although at times he lived on the edge. Root might have removed him twice, on 30 and 56, with Stokes the culprit on both occasions. Another chance came late in the day, when de Kock was cramped by Joe Denly’s legspin and top-edged a cut low to Stokes’ right – but again England’s most-reliable catcher could not hold on.

Stokes did have a more familiar impact with the ball, although the fact England waited until the 61st over to turn to his bowling raised questions about what might been after the allrounder proceeded to dismiss Nortje with his 10th delivery.

Nortje had already benefited from lapses in the field, Root putting down a simple chance that would have given Bess his five-for. Having already demonstrated his ability with the bat in South Africa’s victory in Centurion, Nortje dug in manfully in the face of Wood’s 150kph/93mph hostility – a half-chance to Ollie Pope at short leg the closest Wood came to getting his man. By the time Stokes drew an edge to slip, Nortje had played by far his longest first-class innings and kept England at bay for more than three hours.

Such fighting spirit seemed to be lacking as South Africa set about their attempts to build a convincing first-innings reply. Resuming on 60 for 2, after Bess had struck twice on the second evening, they lost Dean Elgar in the fourth over of the day, smartly taken by the diving Pope at silly point as the ball ricocheted off bat and pad.

Du Plessis seemed intent on taking the attack to England’s rookie offspinner, a 22-year-old playing in just his fourth Test, twice leaving his ground to stroke fours through mid-off. But Bess changed his line of attack to over the wicket, found some drift and grip and another inside edge plopped safely into the hands of Pope, at short leg this time.

South Africa had been left in a mess against Bess, whose fourth wicket ensured career-best figures. He was not to be denied a fifth – becoming the youngest England spinner to take a Test five-for since Pat Pocock in 1968 – as Rassie van der Dussen dragged the ball into his stumps to give the unexpected tourist and unexpected starring role. But the rain and de Kock meant the day was not simply about Bess.

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