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‘Nice to see things falling into place’ – Joe Root encouraged by Test team’s progress

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Joe Root believes England have found a template that can help them win the 2021-22 Ashes in Australia. While delighted by the 3-1 victory over South Africa, Root was also encouraged that his team had found a method that could serve them well in future challenges.

In particular, England’s captain was thrilled by the prospect of taking two fast bowlers to Australia and the progress his side had made in adopting to a new approach to Test cricket. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood both claimed five-wicket hauls during the series to help the England attack bowl South Africa out twice in all four Tests – something they have historically struggled to do with the Kookaburra ball – while England’s batsmen, embracing a more cautious approach, posted totals of 400 or more in successive innings for the first time since March 2013. They also recorded three individual centuries, while South Africa’s batsmen didn’t make any.

“We’ve got a great template to work around and it’s nice to see it falling into place,” Root said. “We put things in place this winter about the way we want to play. It has taken time and it will continue to take time for us to stay consistent and adapt to different conditions but we are learning quickly.

“It would have made a big difference to have Jofra and Woody in Australia last time, I do believe that. It’s something you feel that you need in those conditions.

“One of our big learnings as a team is that we have taken 20 wickets in every game. That is something we have struggled with in the past when abroad with a Kookaburra ball.

“There’s still a huge amount of Test cricket to be played before the Ashes. But this does give us confidence and it also gives us knowledge about how to perform on wickets that might be similar.”

Most of all, though, Root was proud of how his side reacted to the adversity they experienced in the opening weeks of the tour and the manner in which young players had come into the side and “taken their chance”. England lost four players who could reasonably be described as first choice – James Anderson, Jack Leach, Rory Burns and Archer – to illness and injury for most of the tour, while their performance in the first Test was hindered by the sickness bug that swept through the camp. But Dom Sibley and Ollie Pope scored maiden Test centuries, while Dom Bess claimed a maiden five-wicket haul. All three are aged 24 or younger.

“It has been a huge effort by the players, the support staff and the management,” Root said. “We have had to dig deep collectively. It would have been very easy for us to go off the rails after that first game but we stuck tight together. Even losing Burnsy and Jimmy we made sure it was not going to change how we went about things and it gave opportunities for young guys to take their chance.

“I’m really pleased not only that the young guys have stood up on this tour, but that the senior players have created an environment that allows that to happen. Young guys are coming into a very good environment and succeeding. The senior players are providing that environment and delivering as well. I am really proud of everyone.

“The last afternoon in Cape Town was probably the turning point of the series. For us to finish off that game was fabulous. We caught very well and we took our opportunities with time running out through just sheer hard work and determination. I think that gave us a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence.

“A big part of our three teams is our three pillars: courage, respect and unity. We have shown those in abundance throughout this trip and it has made a massive difference to our performances on the field.”

Despite his joy, Root accepted England had a long way to go before they could considered themselves the finished article.

“We’ve done extremely well in the last three games but in the last three years we’ve not been consistent enough,” Root said. “We’re very open about that.

“We go to Sri Lanka next and then we have three big games at home against West Indies. So it’s a great opportunity to string a number of good performances together. We’ve got to keep looking to get better and keep developing.”



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Recent Match Report – New Zealand vs India, ICC World Test Championship, 1st Test

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New Zealand opt to bowl v India

On a drizzly, windy Wellington morning, New Zealand got off to a good start to the two-Test series by winning the toss and asking India to bat first. They were missing their enforcer Neil Wagner away on paternity leave, who was replaced by the tall right-arm fast bowler Kyle Jamieson. Having named their XII on the eve of the match, New Zealand made the call to go in with a more orthodox combination, which meant Ajaz Patel made it and not medium-pace allrounder Daryl Mitchell.

India were more orthodox too than their edgy experimental selves on away tours. They went in with six specialist batsmen, the more accomplished spinner, and most importantly Ishant Sharma, who made a near-miraculous return to full fitness after tearing an ankle ligament in December. Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal were the chosen openers, and Hanuma Vihari the No. 6 batsman. Rishabh pant got the nod ahead of Wriddhiman Saha for his batting prowess. R Ashwin pipped Ravindra Jadeja, presumably because he can use the breeze better.

New Zealand 1 Tom Latham, 2 Tom Blundell, 3 Kane Williamson (capt.), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Ajaz Patel, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Kyle Jamieson, 11 Trent Boult

India 1 Mayank Agarwal, 2 Prithvi Shaw, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt.), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Hanuma Vihari, 7 Rishabh Pant (wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Jasprit Bumrah



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Match Preview South Africa vs Australia, 1st T20I 2020

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Big picture

The last time these two teams met in this setting, things got a little rough. Even before Newlands, sandpaper and the inquisition that followed, there had been boorish behaviour on the field, boorish behaviour off it, a skirmish in a stairwell and Faf du Plessis intervening dressed only in a towel. In fact, that last one was family-friendly by the standards of Australia’s 2017-18 tour of South Africa, the ripples of which were still observable during the most recent northern summer, when Steven Smith and David Warner made their comebacks in England.

Almost two years on, in the wake of various bans, reviews, leadership changes, coaching appointments and many, many discussions about “culture”, Australia return to the scene of their DIY crimes. Well, not quite to Cape Town, yet, but back to the same Johannesburg hotel, as Smith noted earlier this week, where so much crisis management took place between the third and fourth Tests – and from where Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft set off for home, amid tears, recriminations and the sense of Australian cricket rapidly imploding.

And yet, ahead of three T20Is and three ODIs, it is the tourists who will walk into the Wanderers with a lighter tread. Smith and Justin Langer have spoken enthusiastically about being back in South Africa, having dealt with brickbats aplenty in England, while Aaron Finch leads a team that are unbeaten in T20Is stretching back to 2018, and reached a World Cup semi-final in between times. The Ashes remain in Australian hands, Smith and Warner have resumed their phenomenal run-scoring feats and their only defeats of the “home” summer came while away in India last month.

Contrast that with South Africa’s 2019-20 season. Following the administrative turmoil that saw Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and several other former greats co-opted to the team’s management, South Africa managed just one win in each of the three formats against England, losing Test and T20I series, and drawing the ODIs. Subsequently, du Plessis has stepped down from the captaincy, and planning for this year’s T20 World Cup seems to hinge on whether AB de Villiers can be talked into a comeback. Throw in long-standing issues around finance and transformation, and it’s hard not to become pessimistic.

That said, contests with Australia rarely fail to bring out South Africa’s best. They will be buoyed by the return of Kagiso Rabada, who last played during the Port Elizabeth Test in January, and du Plessis has sidelined any lingering resentment about his treatment to bring his considerable experience as a T20 batsman. The T20Is against England were closely contested, featuring positive performances from Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen, Heinrich Klassen and Lungi Ngidi, while Dale Steyn will hope to find his groove ahead of a final World Cup tilt. If South Africa are underdogs, they still know how to bite.

And, starting at the Bullring, they will be roared on over the next 11 days by partisan crowds eager to see nothing more than Australia upended once again. T20Is can often seem lacking in context – but in a World Cup year, and beneath the long shadow of Cape Town 2018, this could be a series to savour.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

South Africa LLWWL
Australia WWWWW

In the spotlight

He has often been the man to step into the breach for South Africa, and du Plessis will not be letting his country down now, despite relinquishing the captaincy (or was he pushed?) seven months out from the T20 World Cup. He is vastly experienced in the shortest format, and should provide a shoulder for de Kock to lean on as he juggles leadership and keeping wicket, as well as adding class and nous with the bat. A miserable Test series against England saw du Plessis record a top-score of 36 in eight innings, but he has enjoyed T20 success this season, guiding unfancied Paarl Rocks to the Mzansi Super League title.

There’s no doubting who the camera operators will be focusing on when Smith and Warner step back on to a South African playing field for the first time since Newlands. Both, however, seem ready to deal with the scrutiny. Smith enjoyed another stellar Ashes, ticked along at a fraction below his usual standards during the summer, and comes into this series off the back of an ODI hundred plus a walk-on role in Sydney Sixers’ Big Bash triumph. Warner, meanwhile, put his torment at the hands of Stuart Broad behind him to ravenously rack up 1219 runs at 135.44, which included a maiden T20I hundred and his Test best of 335 not out. The Wanderers crowd will be hard pushed to throw either off his stride.

Team news

Bavuma will miss this match after picking up a hamstring strain against England, putting a pause on his prolific opening partnership with de Kock – as well as hurting South Africa’s chances of hitting their transformation target. Du Plessis, without the burden of captaincy, will slot straight back in, which could mean Jon-Jon Smuts assuming a more familiar role as opener, while Rabada is in line to lead the attack alongside veteran campaigner Steyn. Anrich Nortje could also be involved, after sitting out both limited-overs series against England.

South Africa (possible): 1 Quinton de Kock (capt, wk), 2 Jon-Jon Smuts, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Heinrich Klaasen, 6 David Miller, 7 Andile Phehlukwayo, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Tabraiz Shamsi, 11 Lungi Ngidi/Anrich Nortje

Glenn Maxwell’s comeback on this tour was derailed by elbow surgery, which leaves Australia a little light on middle-order options – his replacement in the squad is D’Arcy Short, who usually opens but like Maxwell can also provide a spin option. Warner and Finch seem locked in to start the innings, having been so successful during the home summer, so that leaves two from Short, Matthew Wade (whose last T20I was in 2016) and Mitchell Marsh (last T20I 2018) to fill out an otherwise settled line-up, with two frontline spinners and the pace of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc.

Australia (possible): 1 David Warner, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Steven Smith, 4 Matt Wade/D’Arcy Short, 5 Mitchell Marsh, 6 Alex Carey (wk), 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Kane Richardson

Pitch and conditions

The pitch at the Wanderers for the pink ODI earlier this month was a little on the slow side, with some unexpected assistance for England’s two spinners, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. That said, short boundaries and thin Highveld air usually combine for entertaining (read: batsman-friendly) encounters. The game is sold out, but the possibility of thundershowers could lead to interruptions.

Stats and trivia

  • South Africa have only won three, and lost seven, of their last ten completed T20Is against Australia.

  • Their last such meeting in Johannesburg saw Australia successfully chase 205 – although South Africa have won the other three encounters at the Wanderers.

  • Australia have not lost more than three wickets in a completed T20I innings since February 2019, when they made 127 for 7 in Vizag at the start of their winning run.

Quotes

“It’s great to have him back. He is excited, he still understands he has a big role to play for us. He is still seen as a leader amongst all of us. He is one of the senior-most members in the team and he brings a lot of experience and can help guide the younger players in the team. His knowledge will help us going forward.”
Quinton de Kock on having his predecessor as captain, du Plessis, in the ranks

“Coming off the summer, I feel good and the boys feel good. The team knows their roles. It’s very well defined. [Previously], the order was out and players didn’t really know what their role was but at the moment it’s very clear. Every person knows what their role is.”
David Warner on Australia’s T20 improvement



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Recent Match Report – Islamabad United vs Quetta Gladiators, Pakistan Super League, 1st Match

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Quetta Gladiators won the toss and chose to bowl v Islamabad United

Defending champions Quetta Gladiators decided to put Islamabad United in on a surface that appears to favour big runs.

Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed announced Jason Roy, Shane Watson, Ben Cutting and Fawad Ahmed were their four overseas players.

New Islamabad skipper Shadab Khan said the two-time champions would aim to put a target in excess of 180 on the board, promising to keep things simple and keep giving young players a chance. They will line up with Colin Munro, Luke Ronchi Dawid Malan, and Colin Ingram as their overseas players.

Quetta Gladiators: Jason Roy, Ahmed Shehzad, Shane Watson, Abdul Nasir, Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt &wk), Mohammad Nawaz, Ben Cutting, Azam Khan, Sohail Khan, Mohammad Hasnain, Fawad Ahmed

Islamabad United: Colin Munro, Luke Ronchi (wk) Hussain Talat, Asif Ali, Dawid Malan, Colin Ingram, Faheem Ashraf, Akif Javed, Shadab Khan, Amad Butt, Muhammad Musa



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