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Chris Silverwood savours “good headaches” as new-look Test team takes shape

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Chris Silverwood, England’s head coach, has praised his young squad for finishing a rollercoaster Test winter on a high, but insisted that the gains made during a come-from-behind series win in South Africa are only the first step in a “two-year project” that culminates with the next tour of Australia in 2021-22.

Victory in Johannesburg capped a dramatic upsurge in form for England’s Test team, which endured a 1-0 series defeat in New Zealand before Christmas before touching rock-bottom in the Boxing Day Test at Centurion, where an illness-ravaged squad were beaten by 107 runs to fall behind in their four-Test series in South Africa.

But from that moment on, and as the Benoni sickness bug was gradually shaken out of their systems, Joe Root’s men found their poise with three wins in a row at Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and the Wanderers, where Mark Wood excelled with nine wickets in a fast and furious player-of-the-match performance.

“It’s been quite a journey since we arrived in South Africa,” Silverwood told Sky Sports. “Obviously to go from the build-up to the first Test, and the result of that first Test, to get to where we are now, is really pleasing.

“[The illness in the squad] was tough but you can’t use it as an excuse,” he added. “The one thing it did do, was it pulled us together as a unit. We had a good chat in the dressing room after the first Test, and you could see the determination on the guys’ faces. So I wasn’t surprised when they came out and played as well as they did, but I’m obviously very proud of them.”

Given that Silverwood had also flown home early from New Zealand due to a family bereavement, he might have been entitled to wonder what he had signed up for, after taking over from Trevor Bayliss at the end of the English season. But, he insisted, the groundwork that England laid on those flat decks in Mount Maunganui and Hamilton were integral to England’s subsequent success.

“We started something in New Zealand, and you can see the blueprint that we said we wanted,” he said. “Big first-innings runs, and we were also learning to take 20 wickets with the Kookaburra ball. So to see it come to fruition – to see some of the youngsters come through and put their hands up, and for the older guys to do the same – is obviously really pleasing.”

The success of England’s core of new players was the clear stand-out feature of the series. Dom Sibley’s century at Cape Town helped turn the series, while his opening partnership with Zak Crawley went from strength to strength; Ollie Pope and Dom Bess played integral roles in the Port Elizabeth win, while Sam Curran chipped in with key runs and wickets throughout.

But Silverwood was particularly pleased with how England’s variety of batting styles helped to ensure regular 400-plus totals.

“To get a batting order that has the ability to get big first-innings runs, you need to create a variation in how they are going to play,” he said. “So you can see the 1, 2, 3 we’ve got [Sibley, Crawley and Joe Denly] go about things in their way, which is completely different to how Rooty, Stokes Pope and Buttler will go about their business.

ALSO READ: Wood’s nine-wicket haul seals England’s 3-1 series win

“I think there’s a nice mix of skills in there, which allows us to have a top seven to build big totals, and equally we’ve seen how the lower order can then be entertaining as well. You saw Woody and Broady here [with an 82-run stand for the tenth wicket]. If you build the platform, anything can happen.”

Wood’s raw pace was England’s big find in the final two Tests. He managed to play back-to-back matches for the first time since 2017, and gave the impression that a new, extended run-up has taken some of the strain out of an action that previously seemed to invite regular injury setbacks.

Silverwood, however, said that England would continue to monitor his fitness on a day-by-day basis, to help ensure that he is able to give his best efforts on the field more regularly. He even hinted that Wood and Jofra Archer, currently labouring with an elbow injury, might be used on a rotational basis in future Test outings.

“We will make to make decisions based on what’s best for him,” said Silverwood of Wood. “We will look at how he trains as well, making sure he’s not wasting all his best deliveries in the nets. Whatever he does, he does it 100 percent. So can we tailor his training to make sure that his best effort goes out on the pitch for us, and equally when he needs to rest, we’ll know we’ve got a backup with Jofra and others to come in.”

“It’s a great headache to have for Rooty as captain and me as head coach,” Silverwood added. “In an ideal situation, we’d like to have two or three fast bowlers kicking around but we don’t have to play them every game. In this Test, Woody comes in and makes an impact, but another day, we can give him a day off because we’ve got Jofra coming in now.”

With England’s next tour of Australia looming in just under two years’ time, Silverwood earmarked Jamie Overton and Olly Stone as the types of 90mph back-up with which England will be looking to augment their squad, and compete with the established names, such as James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes.

“We’ve got these guys to nurture and bring through in a two-year project, for when we get out there [to Australia],” said Silverwood. “But also we’ve got to look after the guys we’ve got.

“As we’ve also seen in this series, your Andersons, your Broads, your Woakes’. I wouldn’t want to dismiss them lightly. Chris has trained so hard all trip. He got his opportunity here and showed once again he’s a class act.”



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Jake Lehmann, Jack Edwards hit tons as England Lions head for draw

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Injury-depleted Lions attack spend full day in field with Lewis Gregory and Richard Gleeson missing



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South Africa pick du Plessis for Australia T20s, Rabada returns

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Faf du Plessis has been included in South Africa’s T20 squad to play against Australia, after stepping down from captaincy on Monday morning. The team will be led by Quinton de Kock and also includes a return for Kagiso Rabada, who was rested for the limited-overs matches against England, and Anrich Nortje. AB de Villiers was not named in the squad despite coach Mark Boucher’s indication that he will be considered for this year’s T20 World Cup

Squad: Quinton de Kock (capt & wk), Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Pite van Biljon, Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phehlukwayo, Jon-Jon Smuts, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Lungi Ngidi, Bjorn Fortuin, Anrich Nortje, Dale Steyn, Heinrich Klaasen

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Alyssa Healy backed to continue with high risk game

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Australia coach Matthew Mott has backed opener Alyssa Healy to continue to play her natural risk-reward game in the T20 World Cup despite a poor run in the recent tri-series against India and England.

Healy registered scores of 9, 1, 0, 1, and 4 in the tri-series. It was the first time in her career she had been dismissed for five consecutive single-figure scores in T20I.

In the previous 18 months Healy had dominated the format scoring a staggering 867 runs in 20 innings, at an average of 54.18 and a strike-rate of 157.63, including in a world record 148 not out against Sri Lanka in her last T20I in 2019.

On the eve of a home World Cup, having been player of the tournament in the West Indies in 2018, Mott said Healy was upbeat and backed her to once again be a dominant force for Australia at the top of the order.

“She knows she plays a game that’s high risk and it’s not going to come off all the time,” Mott said. “She had a golden run there for a while which I think she’s mindful it was probably as good as she could get and the good thing is she hasn’t wasted too much form.

“She’s pretty up and about. She’s not out there struggling at the moment. Every time she’s had one chance when she has made a mistake she’s paid a heavy price. The good thing is the main tournament is coming up, she delivered in the last World Cup in just about every game so with quality players like that you’ve just got to keep backing them in because they can win you matches.”

It was a view echoed by captain Meg Lanning. “She’s been so successful in that over the last few years and gets us off to a really good start,” she said at the captain’s day in Sydney. “I’d be more worried if she was going out and blocking it for three overs because that’s not her natural game. I’m sure she’ll hit a few in the middle and be off and running.”

Mott was also adamant Ash Gardner would remain at No. 3 for the World T20, ahead of Lanning and Ellyse Perry, in order to maximise the powerplay.

“Players like Gardner and Healy aren’t in every team and they can take the game away from the opposition, so you’ve got to continue to back that and have back up policies as well. If you want us to be fearless and all the things we bang on about all the time when you get out a couple of times, you can’t try and reinvent the wheel.

“The beauty that we’ve got is we’ve got a lot of depth and that’s one thing we’ve spoken about in the past. We bat down to probably No. 8, genuine batters who can open in the WBBL, so if someone is not firing and we’ve got four or five match-winners there then you’d hope someone else could step up on that particular day.

“In recent times Beth Mooney has done that well as well. It’s not like the opening partnership hasn’t been a success and there are different times where both will have their day but I think the strategy is something where we’re going to be very keen to stick to.”

Australia have a couple of fitness concerns heading into Friday’s opening match against India at Sydney Showgrounds. Erin Burns is still recovering from a knee injury while Sophie Molineux is overcoming a corked calf. Mott expects both to be available although it is unlikely they will play in Tuesday’s practice match against South Africa in Adelaide. Australia is planning on playing 13 and also practicing a Super Over regardless of the result after losing one against England in Canberra in the tri-series.

“It’s something we discussed with the ICC the other day,” Mott said. “They’d like to see it. I think it’s a great idea. It’s a good initiative. Certainly, we were caught out a little bit with some rule changes in the tri-series so an extra chance to practice it in a game against another opposition we’ll be definitely putting our hands up for it.”



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