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

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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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Ben Stokes to miss rest of England-Pakistan series for family matter

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Ben Stokes will miss the rest of England’s Test series against Pakistan after withdrawing from the squad for family reasons. He is set to travel to New Zealand, where his parents live, next week and will not be available for the two behind-closed-doors Tests in Southampton.

Stokes’ father Ged was hospitalised in days before the Boxing Day Test against South Africa during England’s winter tour, and has since been recuperating back home in New Zealand.

England’s Test vice-captain, Stokes has played a central role in the summer so far. He led the team in Joe Root’s absence for the opening Test against West Indies, scored a century and a fifty in the second, and has chipped in with 11 wickets despite more recently playing as a specialist batsmen.

ALSO READ: Dobell: England are lucky to have Woakes

“The England and Wales Cricket Board, along with the Stokes family, requests that all media respects the family’s privacy at this time,” an ECB statement said.

His absence will likely add to England’s selection headaches for the rest of the series. In order to compensate for the loss of his bowling, after he experienced a sore quad during the second West Indies Test, England have fielded a five-man bowling attack in the last two games, with Stokes batting at No. 4.

Although he scored 0 and 9 in the first Test against Pakistan, he again demonstrated his all-round value by coming on to bowl in the second innings and picking up 2 for 11, as England came back from conceding a 107-run deficit to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

Zak Crawley is the likeliest candidate to come into the top order, potentially returning at No. 3 and allowing Root to drop back down a place. The return to form of both Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes, whose 139-run partnership was pivotal in securing victory against Pakistan, may also help compensate for Stokes’ absence, with the allrounder understood to have told his team-mates of his decision after the conclusion of the Test on Saturday.

Buttler, whose form with bat and gloves had been under scrutiny, was also playing despite a health scare for his father, who went into hospital on Friday but was well enough to return home on Saturday.

The second Test against Pakistan begins at the Ageas Bowl on Thursday. England will have played six Tests in seven weeks, all under strict bio-security protocols as part of the ECB’s efforts to combat the effect of Covid-19, with only a short break in between the two series.



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Heather Knight ‘pretty gutted’ at 2021 Women’s World Cup postponement

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England captain Heather Knight has admitted she feels “pretty gutted” about the ICC’s decision to postpone the Women’s World Cup from 2021 to 2022, and raised fears that boards will use it as “an excuse… to put women’s cricket on the back burner”.

The ICC made the decision on Friday, citing the need to maintain the “integrity of the tournament” by ensuring that all teams had sufficient preparation.

“We have taken the decision to move the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup to give players from every competing nation, the best opportunity to be ready for the world’s biggest stage and there is still a global qualifier to complete to decide the final three teams,” Manu Sawhney, the ICC’s chief executive, said.

“Moving the event by 12 months gives all competing teams the chance to play a sufficient level of cricket ahead of both the qualification event and leading into a Cricket World Cup so the integrity of the tournament is maintained.”

ALSO READ: Why the Women’s World Cup was postponed

But Knight expressed her fears that boards would not give sufficient attention to women’s cricket without a world tournament to prepare for.

Alyssa Healy, the Australia wicketkeeper, also expressed her frustration at the decision, which she labelled “remarkable” in response to a tweet from journalist Scott Bailey comparing the number of Covid-19 cases in New Zealand and India.

Knight’s England team were back in training this week ahead of their series against South Africa, which is due to start at the end of this month. It will be the first women’s international cricket to be played since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.





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Recent Match Report – Worcestershire vs Glamorgan Central Group 2020

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Worcestershire 309 for 3 (Libby 142*, D’Oliveira 123*) v Glamorgan

Jake Libby scored a hundred on his home debut for Worcestershire as he and fellow centurion Brett D’Oliveira dominated proceedings after an initial three-wicket burst by Glamorgan paceman Michael Hogan in the Bob Willis Trophy encounter at Blackfinch New Road.

The pair came together at 70 for 3 shortly before lunch and Libby, signed during the close season from Nottinghamshire on a three-year contract, completed the sixth first-class ton of his career from 205 balls with 11 boundaries. He ended unbeaten on 142 from 261 deliveries with one six and 14 fours.

D’Oliveira went to his century from 183 balls with 14 fours and the stand was worth an unbroken 239 in 64 overs – a new record for Worcestershire’s fourth wicket in matches against Glamorgan. He finished on 123 from 206 balls with one six and 15 boundaries as Worcestershire closed on 309 for 3 from 91 overs.

Libby followed on from his 77 in his first appearance for his new county in the eight-wicket success against Gloucestershire at Bristol. He had indicated a willingness to open when he signed for Worcestershire and fill the berth alongside Daryl Mitchell which has often been problematic in recent years.

Libby was Nottinghamshire’s leading run-scorer in the County Championship in 2018 but a flux of signings restricted his red ball opportunities last summer at Trent Bridge and he ended his six-year association with the club. Worcestershire are hoping the best years of the 27-year-old lie ahead in the same way as they have recruited Gareth Roderick for next season from Gloucestershire.

Libby had one slice of good fortune when dropped on 43 at second slip by Charlie Hemphrey off Timm van der Gugten but otherwise batted with great authority and received a standing ovation from his team-mates when he reached three figures.

D’Oliveira also played a sparkling knock which maintained his fine start to the truncated campaign after his unbeaten 91 versus Gloucestershire. He had struck 14 fours before he reached his hundred with a square drive for two off Hogan which then resulted in four overthrows. The 28-year-old was also grateful to Hemphrey for a spilled chance at slip when on 67 as he went to cut spinner Kieran Bull.

Hogan had been the star performer during the morning session when two spells produced combined figures of 9-3-15-3. But he was unable to add to his tally during the afternoon or evening session to leave him still one short of 600 first-class wickets in his career.

The 39-year-old had dismissed Daryl Mitchell and Tom Fell in his opening spell and returned to account for Jack Haynes shortly before lunch.

Worcestershire brought back Dillon Pennington for rested paceman Josh Tongue while Glamorgan recalled Tom Cullen and van der Gugten at the expense of Marchant de Lange and the injured Ruaidhri Smith (hamstring injury).

Hogan dismissed Mitchell for a duck with the fourth delivery of the day after he flicked at a delivery down the leg side and keeper Chris Cooke held onto a fine catch away to his left.

New batsman Fell had a left off when Cooke failed to hold onto a difficult chance from another testing Hogan delivery – but it did not prove to be a costly miss. On eight, he nicked another ball from Hogan and this time Cooke made no mistake with a sharp low catch.

Libby and Jack Haynes attempted to rebuild the innings and experienced few alarms in adding 48 in 16 overs. But then Hogan’s return accounted for Haynes (21) when the England Under-19 batsman went for an ambitious hook and holed out to Dan Douthwaite on the backward square leg boundary.

D’Oliveira and Libby batted with plenty of fluency after joining forces. A straight drive for four off van Gugten completed a half century for Libby from 94 balls with seven boundaries. D’Oliveira cut Douthwaite for four to bring up his half century from 78 balls and also the 100 partnership in the 34th over.

The fourth-wicket pair both hit two boundaries apiece in successive overs from spinner Bull and accelerated in the final session as the milestones of a personal and team nature were clocked up.



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