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Mark Boucher says he has ‘no clue’ whether Faf du Plessis is poised for Test retirement

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Mark Boucher knows as much about Faf du Plessis‘ future as a Test cricketer as we do, which is that du Plessis is under pressure. Asked directly if du Plessis is going to retire next week, Boucher said: “I’ve got no clue. He hasn’t said anything. I don’t think so.”

Du Plessis has not crossed fifty in his last nine innings, he has not even crossed 40. He has had to deal with a major administrative crisis that he admitted weighed him down. It’s little wonder he needed a shoulder rub during his innings at St George’s Park.

In what some are speculating could be his last Test innings, du Plessis faced 123 balls and spent two hours and 24 minutes, which, in other circumstances could be considered confidence-boosting. But when he was dismissed, the possibility of a four-day finish loomed, which is hardly the way a captain wants to take his team to the close of play. Given all the other challenges du Plessis is facing, it’s not unthinkable that it has all become too much, but Boucher hopes it hasn’t.

“It’s easy for me to sit here and say yes I am happy with his state of mind. For me, his state of mind will be a lot better if he gets up there and scores runs,” Boucher said. “We all know that he is under pressure in the media and from a confidence point of view.

“The positive for me is that he actually got out there, he gave himself a chance to have a look at the conditions and he looked like he got some good rhythm in a really tough situation. He got to face over 100 balls so he will sit back in the changeroom, look at the team situation and be disappointed in the performance today and in the Test match but I am sure he will take confidence from the fact that he got to spend time out there and face a few balls in the middle.”

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

Still, South Africa seemed to lack a certain impetus which seemed to suggest there is something bigger brewing. Boucher indicated there are problems behind-the-scenes, although he did not elaborate on what they might be. “There might have been a couple of things that added to the lacklustre performance today. We can’t get too emotional about it. We’ve got to go out there and say we need a lot of hard work in the future and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Boucher said.

Whether that relates to Kagiso Rabada’s suspension or the possibility of du Plessis’ impending exit is unclear. What is, is that the brief honeymoon period South Africa’s new management experienced at SuperSport Park is over and divorce proceedings are already being talked about in terms of the captain.

South Africa are staring down their seventh Test defeat from the last eight they’ve played. Though they would have experienced similar when up against the Australian side of the early 2000s, then there was depth in the system; now the options are severely limited. South Africa only have one available bowler who can send the speedgun above 150kph for the Wanderers Test, Anrich Nortje, their experienced opening batsman, Dean Elgar, is coming off his worst calendar year in 2019 and is trying to hold the fort in an inexperienced top six and their best bowler is a containing spinner, Keshav Maharaj.

Is this the lowest ebb since readmission? Boucher wouldn’t be drawn into that. “That’s a big call. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I have been in teams where we’ve been pretty low. Here, we are still in the series. We are in a bad situation in this particular game but we are not out of the series yet,” he said.

Instead, Boucher has taken it on himself to accept responsibility for the performances so far and to try and fix things as quickly as possible. “It’s easy to point fingers at this and that and our system. For me, there’s no excuses. I need to find a way to get it right in a short period of time,” Boucher said.

“I look at this as a time to self-reflect. I’m looking at myself and saying, ‘how do I take responsibility for the performance of the team and how do I try and mentally and physically upskill these guys to make them better players in a short space of time?'”



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Zimbabwe series will be Mashrafe Mortaza’s last as captain – BCB president

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BCB president Nazmul Hassan has said the upcoming three-match ODI series against Zimbabwe will be Mashrafe Mortaza‘s last assignment as Bangladesh captain. He said that a new captain will be named “within a month” as Bangladesh plan the road ahead for the 2023 World Cup.

Hassan also said that the board will be “lenient” on the 36-year old Mortaza’s fitness levels in the lead-up to the ODI series against Zimbabwe, which begins with the first match in Sylhet on March 1. However, after the home series against Zimbabwe, Mortaza’s place in the squad will depend upon his form and fitness, according to Hassan.

“We have started to stress on beep tests so Mashrafe may not pass the beep tests, so we can drop him if he doesn’t pass it,” he said. “We also have to keep it in mind that Mashrafe’s leadership was vital in the turnaround in Bangladesh cricket. But, the time has come for him to decide how long he wants to play. I think Mashrafe will play the ODI series against Zimbabwe, pending fitness. We will be lenient about his fitness. But very soon, we have to decide on the team and captain for the next World Cup. We don’t have much time. We will take our decision after this ODI series.”

Hassan said that Mortaza had agreed on a retirement match at home during the 2019 World Cup, but the captain later changed his mind. Earlier in January this year, Mortaza had said that he will 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.

Before Bangladesh travel to Pakistan for a solitary ODI on April 3, the BCB is likely to name the new captain.

“Retirement depends on individual players,” Hassan said. “We know that top players retire on their own will. We also wanted to give him a good send-off. He can play if he wants to, but I am more concerned about the captaincy. Once we declare on the captaincy, he can enter the team on his performance.

“When I spoke to him during the World Cup, we discussed that if we can arrange a home ODI, he will retire. After returning, he changed his mind. And then he also said that he doesn’t want a send-off. He never told me. I saw it in the media. We have taken a month or a month and a half to decide our next ODI captain.”

Hassan was also critical of the Test side, saying he wasn’t hopeful of Bangladesh beating Zimbabwe in the one-off Test. After holding a meeting with the Test side on Wednesday, Hassan addressed the media.

“I have been seeing in the media in the last few days that things will be great after beating Zimbabwe. I don’t see it happening,” he said. “I have no hope. I told them, if you take them lightly, it will be a big disaster. Zimbabwe is where Zimbabwe was. We are not where we were. They have recently performed better than us.

“If someone asks me what was Bangladesh’s worst performance at home, I’d say losing to Afghanistan. It was unacceptable. If we lose to Afghanistan, we can lose to Zimbabwe. We need to have a new mindset. Our seniors must take the major responsibilities, and it has to be a team game.”

Hassan slammed the T20I side for losing 2-0 in Pakistan. He also called the Test captain Mominul Haque as “soft” and “shy”, and someone who would need help from senior pros like Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim.

“I told them that it was unacceptable to lose to Pakistan in the T20Is,” he said. “Nobody would say that we played poorly in India, but I told them that I didn’t like their approach and mindset in the Pakistan T20I series. I spoke to them about these things, ones that I had mentioned in the media but I wasn’t finding time to speak to the players. I reinforced that we are almost unbeatable at home, and we must beat at least four or five teams in their home conditions.

“I told them, ‘don’t take Zimbabwe lightly’. We must work in a planned way. Mominul is new, plus he is quite shy. Soft. I told Tamim and Mushfiq must be involved fully to charge up the team.”

In a bizarre twist, Hassan also informed the media that he had ordered the Bangladesh players and management that they would have to inform him of the playing XI, down to the batting line-up, before the game.

“I want to know the game plan on the day before the game, and the playing XI,” he said. “Why? It started from the World Cup and then the Afghanistan series, there is a total change; nothing has happened the way I expected. Those who had never played in the top order were given those roles. It was experimentation. In Pakistan too, what was told to me didn’t happen.

“I have told them that they have to give me the batting sequence and cannot drop a player in one game and then pick him again. I understand that they want to try a few boys. Our coach, who is relatively new, wants to see the fast bowlers. But whatever happens, they have to let me know in advance.”



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USA allrounder Nisarg Patel banned from bowling due to suspect action

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Nisarg Patel, the USA allrounder, has been suspended from bowling in international cricket with immediate effect after an independent assessment found his action to be illegal.

Patel, a left-arm spinner, was reported after his side’s ODI against Oman on February 11 in Kathmandu. He bowled seven overs in the game, returning figures of 0 for 37.

An assessment was then carried out by an expert panel, as per clause 4.7 of the ICC’s illegal bowling regulations, which concluded that Patel’s bowling action was above the permitted 15-degree level. His suspension will remain in place until he undertakes a review of his action by the ICC’s expert panel, or is cleared by an ICC testing centre.

It is possible that Patel will continue to be picked as a batsman alone. While he averages just 20.28 in ODIs, he made a maiden half-century in the game against Oman earlier in the month from only 32 balls, USA’s fastest ODI fifty.



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Dimuth Karunaratne back as captain, Niroshan Dickwella recalled for West Indies ODIs

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As many as ten players opted out of Sri Lanka’s tour of Pakistan last year, the last time they played ODI cricket, and Sri Lanka have included many of them in a strong squad led by Dimuth Karunaratne, who was one of the players to withdraw, for the three-ODI series against West Indies starting Saturday.

The 15-man squad also sees the return of Niroshan Dickwella, who last played an ODI in March 2019 before being dropped for the home games against Bangladesh in July. He also chose not to travel to Pakistan, as did Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Thisara Perera and Angelo Mathews, all now back in the squad.

The seam bowling attack for the series comprises of Nuwan Pradeep, Lahiru Kumara and Isuru Udana, but is without senior bowler Suranga Lakmal, who played in the World Cup last year, but has been omitted from ODIs since. There were no surprises on the spin front: Wanindu Hasaranga, who impressed in Pakistan, and Lakshan Sandakan, are the frontline options. The offspin of De Silva is also there as support. Dasun Shanaka and Mathews are the secondary seam bowling options.

Opener Danushka Gunathilaka, meanwhile, missed out on selection due to injury, with the selectors instead going with Shehan Jayasuriya.

Lahiru Thirimanne had led Sri Lanka in the ODIs in Pakistan, but he was dropped for the upcoming games after scoring 36 and 0 in the two completed games in Karachi, both of which Sri Lanka lost.

Minod Bhanuka, Oshada Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Sadeera Samarawickrama and Angelo Perera were some of the younger players who made the trip to Pakistan but missed out this time, with the return of the high-profile players.

The three ODIs will be played on February 22 and 26 and March 1 in Colombo, Hambantota and Pallekele respectively, before the teams contest two T20Is.

Squad: Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), Avishka Fernando, Kusal Perera, Shehan Jayasuriya, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lakshan Sandakan, Isuru Udana, Nuwan Pradeep, Lahiru Kumara



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