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Objective is ‘to play like the world’s No. 1 Test team’ in New Zealand – Ravi Shastri



The objective in the two-Test series in New Zealand is to “play like the world’s No. 1 Test team” and collect full points – 120 of them – “to be in contention to play at Lord’s” in the World Test Championship final in 2021, according to India head coach Ravi Shastri.

India are currently on top of the championship table with a full 360 points after beating West Indies 2-0 away and then South Africa and Bangladesh 3-0 and 2-0 at home respectively. Winning two Tests out of the ones in New Zealand, which starts February 21 in Wellington, or the four in Australia later in the year should put India in a good position to make that trip to Lord’s.

“We need 100 points to be in contention to play at Lord’s. Two overseas wins out of six Tests will keep us in good stead. We play six Tests overseas this year (two in NZ and four in Australia). So, that’s one objective,” Shastri was quoted as saying by the Times of India. “The other is to play like the world’s No. 1 Test team – because that’s what this team believes in more than anything else. On the Test front, that’s what we’re looking at.”

India swept the five-T20I series in New Zealand before being blanked 3-0 in the ODIs, and Shastri called the ODIs “relatively irrelevant” in what is a T20 World Cup year, and that the Tests “matter more right now”.

ALSO READ: Hanuma Vihari presents India with left-field choice for opener

As for the Tests, India are without Rohit Sharma with a calf injury, and have Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill as the opening options in New Zealand.

“Both [Shaw and Gill] are supremely exciting talents,” Shastri said. “Regardless of who gets into the XI in Wellington, the fact of the matter is they’re here, part of India’s national squad, and from here on they should know that the sky remains the limit.”

Speaking specifically about Gill, Shastri said, “He’s phenomenally talented. His approach to batting is very clear and he exhibits a very positive mindset. That’s very exciting for a boy who’s just 20 going on 21.”

In their first innings of the only three-day tour game before the first Test, Shaw and Agarwal opened and scored 0 and 1 respectively, while Gill, batting at No. 4, scored a duck too, all of them falling to Scott Kuggeleijn.

“They’re all from the same school, you know. They love facing the new ball, enjoy a challenge,” Shastri said. “Rohit is unfortunately out so that puts Shubman and Prithvi in contention to open with Mayank. That competition is necessary and that’s what makes a bunch of 15 look strong and stable.”

India are also without Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma, who will be undergoing a fitness test in Bengaluru on Saturday to see if he can join the touring party.

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‘We allowed them to bowl well for longer periods’ – Virat Kohli



New Zealand’s fast bowlers are unmatched when it comes to using the short ball as a defensive option, particularly in home conditions. For the best part of India’s second innings at the Basin Reserve, the hosts’ expert use of shorter lengths on a two-paced pitch with spongy bounce turned the contest into one where both teams were playing the waiting game.

It suited New Zealand perfectly, given they had a 183-run first-innings lead. Could India have batted more proactively, and tried to put the bowlers off their plans? Their captain Virat Kohli certainly thinks they could have.

“You have to try and get into a positive frame of mind,” he said, after New Zealand had completed a ten-wicket win inside the first session of day four. “I think in Test cricket in general, you have to be in a clear state of mind. At home also, you can’t really play a lot of shots. You can’t just say that I will smash it from ball one. You have to choose which balls to hit even on turning tracks but you also have to maintain that intent when you are putting the boundary balls away.

“Also, we have to understand and accept that New Zealand bowled really, really well in this Test match in both innings, although in first innings there was a bit more assistance, but in the second innings, that’s been their strength. They set fields accordingly, get into the mind of the batsmen, and make the batsmen do something that they don’t want to.

“I think that’s a very thin line and a very delicate balance of when to attack and when to put bowlers under pressure, which we failed to do in this match, and there is no harm in accepting that. We have done that on many occasions but this was a Test match where we were not able to do it. That has got to do with partly good bowling from New Zealand and partly us not pressing that momentum on to them when required.

“It was perfect for them because they bowled well and we allowed them to bowl well for longer periods rather than doing something about it in a partnership. When Jinx (Ajinkya Rahane) started, the plan was to go positive. If we both add 70 to 80 positively, then the game changes. You have to take chances. Sometimes they don’t come off, but if you try and do that for longer periods they do tend to come off and the situation changes, which we have addressed already and something that we will keep in our mind going forward.”

According to ESPNcricinfo’s data, India’s batsmen scored 126 runs off 301 short and short-of-good-length balls across their two innings in Wellington, at a rate of 2.51 per over. New Zealand went after short and short-of-good-length balls more often, and ended up with 130 runs off 150 such balls, at 5.20 per over. They lost a wicket once every 32.5 balls with this approach, while India lost one every 75.25 balls, but the averages – 32.50 for New Zealand, 31.50 for India – ended up more or less identical.

And because they found runs so hard to come by against the shorter ball, India ended up losing wickets off errors they may not otherwise have made against fuller-length balls.

Much of India’s short bowling was to New Zealand’s lower order, who could afford to go after the bowling with their team already in the lead. When India batted, they were in situations where survival was of utmost importance. And India’s struggle to score against the shorter ball also had a lot to do with the skill of New Zealand’s bowlers in their own conditions, and an unusual pitch.

“We have faced attacks in the past as well, with a lot of variety. We played in South Africa with Morne [Morkel], [Dale] Steyn and [Vernon] Philander all in the side. So we’ve faced those kind of attacks,” Kohli said, when asked about the difficulty of a New Zealand attack containing a left-arm quick (Trent Boult), a right-arm swing bowler (Tim Southee), a 6’8″ fast bowler with steep bounce (Kyle Jamieson) and a medium-paced metronome (Colin de Grandhomme).

“But it was a strange pitch. I was talking to Kane [Williamson] as well. It wasn’t seaming around, wasn’t troubling us with swing. But it was slow, on the drier side. So you were not able to get the shots away. And I think to be honest, lack of pace is something that cost us more than something like being intimidated or being bowled out by an attack.

“It played perfectly into their plans because they feed off bowling on one spot for long periods and having fielders close in, and unless you take them on, that field is not going to change. I think the way they bowled was very accurate and the pace of the pitch also allowed them to keep bowling there because it wasn’t easy to get those shots away.

“To be honest, they did not give us any room, on the front foot or the back foot, so we have to accept that they outplayed us this game and they bowled much better than we did, and put enough pressure on us, understanding the wicket well, which you expect them to do, playing in their conditions. But I think going forward we understand what they would like to do and it’s our job as batsmen to try and disrupt it so that as soon as possible we put enough runs on the board.”

Between now and the second Test in Christchurch, which begins on Saturday, Kohli said India would try and work on ways to put New Zealand’s bowlers under pressure with a more proactive approach.

“I don’t think there is anything technical [the batsmen need to do],” he said. “It’s all about clarity of mind and taking responsibility individually when you walk out to bat. I feel as a batsman you should not wait for a message from outside to execute something in the middle. I think it’s about understanding what you want to do as a batsman, and if that doesn’t come off then you say fine, I did not do it in this innings.

“But if six-seven people can think like that, for sure two-three people will come good. So if we go with a bit of hesitation whether to play our shots or not, rather than just going for shots, then you know, analysing the execution later on, that’s a better balance that we have stuck to in the past, especially playing in away conditions.

“We are very clear with what we want to do as batsmen, that we get off to a start and we keep that momentum, we start leaving well, we start defending well, we start dropping and running well so these are things that are an outcome of a clear head. We will definitely be much more positive.

“There’s no doubt about it, especially in the first innings. We will try and put their bowlers under pressure and try and make them do something different rather than them making us do something different. I think as international cricketers, we are good enough, and that’s why we are here, and we should be able to find that balance and we definitely take this as a challenge to put in a better batting performance next time.”

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Oman’s Yousef Abdulrahim Al Balushi banned for seven years



The ICC has banned Oman player Yousuf Al Balushi from all cricket for seven years after he accepted four charges of breaching the ICC Anti-Corruption Code. The charges relate to attempting to influence team members to engage in corruption during the 2019 T20 World Cup Qualifier, played in the UAE.

Balushi had been suspended last month for the same offence, and has now been formally slapped with the sanction after he “chose to admit the charges and agreed the sanction with the ICC in lieu of an Anti-Corruption Tribunal hearing,” an ICC release said.

While Alex Marshall, the ICC’s general manager for Integrity, called Balushi’s offence “very serious”, he also revealed that the ban could have been “significantly longer” had Balushi not cooperated with the investigation and admitted his guilt.

“This is a very serious offence where a player attempted but failed to get a team mate to engage in corrupt activity in high profile games and this is reflected in the severity of the sentence,” Marshall said in the ICC statement. “Without Mr Balushi’s admission of guilt and full cooperation throughout our investigation, the ban could have been significantly longer. The player has also indicated that he is willing to contribute to future integrity education programmes on our behalf to help younger players learn from his mistakes.”

The ACU had charged Al Balushi for breaching its code on the following four counts:

Article 2.1.1: Being party to an agreement or effort to fix or contrive in any way the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of matches in the ICC World T20 Qualifiers 2019.

Article 2.1.4: Attempting to solicit, induce, entice, persuade, encourage or intentionally facilitate a Participant to breach Article 2.1.

Article 2.4.4: Failing to report the approaches or invitations that you received from three different individuals to be a party to an agreement or effort to fix matches in the ICC World T20 Qualifiers 2019.

Article 2.4.7: Obstructing or delaying an investigation carried out by the ACU in relation to possible Corrupt Conduct under the Code, including by concealing or tampering with information that may be relevant to that investigation and/or that may be evidence of or lead to the discovery of evidence of Corrupt Conduct under the Code.

The ICC’s investigation found that Balushi had been approached in August 2019 by someone he knew from playing in an unsanctioned Arabian Carnival League match in Bahrain. The individual, referred to as Mr X by the ICC, asked Balushi if they could “do some work together”, asking for Balushi’s help to fix matches in the 2019 T20 World Cup Qualifiers.

Subsequently, Mr X introduced Balushi to two other men (Mr Y and Mr Z) who told him he needed to get a particular Oman player on board. The fix would involve this player getting out for less than a pre-agreed amount of runs. To show that the fix was on, the player would have to use an orange or black coloured grip on his bat, and he would then have to act on a signal from Mr Y and Mr Z, who would be in the stands.

Balushi messaged the player and put the offer to him, but the approach was immediately rejected and reported to the ICC’s anti-corruption unit. Balushi learned of the approach being reported, and on being told that the ACU would interview him and also look at his phone messages, he deleted the messages. Balushi did not report the approaches made to him and accepted he had deleted incriminating messages on his phone, which then led to the punishment.

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Recent Match Report – Bangladesh vs Zimbabwe Only Test 2020



Lunch Bangladesh 351 for 3 (Haque 119*, Rahim 99*, Tshuma 1-58) lead Zimbabwe 265 by 86 runs

Bangladesh raced into the lead with a batting masterclass from Mominul Haque and Mushfiqur Rahim on the third morning. Haque raised his ninth Test century, his first as captain, and the first by a Bangladesh batsman in more than a year. Rahim followed close behind him, cruising to 99 not out as their partnership quickly assumed ominous proportions. By the time lunch was called, they had added an unbroken 179 in concert, with 111 coming in the first session at virtually a run a minute, and Bangladesh’s lead had swelled to 86.

Haque had done much of the hard work yesterday afternoon, and this morning his first task was to get himself back into the zone. It didn’t take too long, and after conceding a couple of overs to the bowlers he joined Rahim in launching an assault on left-arm spinner Ainsley Ndlovu, his rasping cover drive the coda to an over that brought 15 runs.

Rahim was soon scoring freely on both sides of the wicket, but he favoured the glide through gully as he found both the pace of Zimbabwe’s bowlers and the benign nature of the pitch very much to his liking. With the third-man boundary left invitingly open, Rahim twice dabbed Ndlovu down to the boundary there early on, and then repeated the dose against Victor Nyauchi to bring up his own fifty and raise the century stand.

At the other end, Haque took his team ahead of Zimbabwe’s first-innings effort with a controlled push through point – with only three wickets down, Bangladesh well and truly had a platform set from which to greatly extend their lead. The visitors took the new ball as soon as it was available, but if anything the hardness of the ball served only to galvanize the set batsmen.

Haque slotted the cleanest of drives through extra cover to raise his ninth Test ton, drawing level with Tamim Iqbal in that regard, and also equalling Craig Ervine’s captain’s knock: this is the first time in Tests that two players have made their first hundreds as Test captains in the same game. The feast of runs continued unabated with a boundary in virtually every over before drinks, and without much let-up in the scoring rate thereafter.

While Haque focused his attentions on scoring in the “V”, Rahim profited further still from the late cut and punished Zimbabwe’s bowlers whenever their line strayed. A powerful sweep off Ndlovu in the final over before lunch took him to 99 not out, but he was content to play out the remaining two deliveries and make everyone wait, knowing there would be plenty of time to gorge himself this afternoon.

More than 20 overs passed without a single maiden in the session, and with Haque and Rahim looking imperious Zimbabwe have been left increasingly bereft of options. The spectre of a mammoth stand this afternoon looms large.

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