The Lions and Dolphins have been crowned champions of South Africa’s first-class and the one-day competition respectively after both events were suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The two franchises each finished at the top of the points’ tables of the respective competition and acting director of cricket, Graeme Smith, recommended the titles be awarded based on log-standings.
His suggestion was endorsed by CSA’s board and member’s council, a body made of the 13 provincial presidents. That means the only franchise competition which ran to conclusion in the 2019/20 summer was the Mzansi Super League (MSL), a twenty-over tournament which was won by the Paarl Rocks.
But, the fate of the MSL remains unclear, after CSA were unable to sell television rights for the first two editions of the tournament and footed the full bill, amounting to approximately R120 million (US$6.8 million) per year. ESPNcricinfo understands that the MSL is unlikely to take place if it continues to be a drain on CSA finances and that talks are ongoing in the current off-season to decide on the next steps.
So too is the search for sponsors after the country’s flagship four-day competition took place without a corporate backer for the second season in succession. Eight out of the 10 rounds of matches were played this season and the Johannesburg-based Lions remain champions of the format, despite losing their head coach Enoch Nkwe to the national side in September 2019.
Nkwe, who now works as South Africa’s assistant coach, was succeeded by Wandile Gwazu at the Lions, who has enjoyed a successful first season. His team won four of their eight matches, double the number of victories of any other franchise, and finished 8.46 points above their neighbours, the Titans.
The one-day cup, which was scheduled to have playoffs last week and the final at the weekend, finished before it reached the crunch stage. The Dolphins were on top with seven out of 10 victories. Their successful campaign also came under a new coach with one-time Test opener Imraan Khan in charge for the first time. They will be awarded 40% of the prize money, sponsored by financial services company Momentum, with the rest split 30-15-15 between the other three teams who would have played in the semi-finals, the Lions, Warriors and Knights.
At provincial level, the first-class three-day competition and provincial one-day cup titles have been awarded jointly to the two teams that finished on top of the respective pools. Easterns (Pool A) and Kwa-Zulu Natal (Pool B) share the three-day cup and Free State (Pool A) and Northern Cape are joint one-day cup winners. Easterns, however, did not actually end the season on top of the table but played one fewer match than their rivals and earned the victory through an average points calculation.
“This is undoubtedly the fairest way to decide the various winners, Smith said. “In the provincial competitions where some teams have played more games than others, we have taken the average number of points per game to decide on final log positions.”
The women’s provincial T20 league was won by Western Province, who finished on top of the “Top 6,” group with seven victories from eight matches. They missed out on the fifty-over competition title by one point, after finishing behind North West, who claimed the cup.
Eoin Morgan says England players are ‘open to helping in whatever way possible’
Eoin Morgan has insisted England players are “open to helping in whatever way possible” as the game struggles to come to terms with the challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Morgan, the captain of England’s limited-overs teams, said he was “open to absolutely everything” that might be required to help the game through a crisis that Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, has warned could cost up to £300m if the entire season is abandoned.
And that help, Morgan said, could include a temporary pay cut. While such a cut has not been forthcoming as yet – Harrison sent an email to the PCA (the players’ union) requesting a voluntary cut on Sunday but revealed on Tuesday that the ECB were no longer seeking such a scenario – Morgan suggested conversations were ongoing.
“I’m extremely willing to help where I know it will make a difference,” Morgan said. “So in the extremely uncertain times where no-one seems to have any answers on the actual impact it will have on international cricket or county cricket, I’m open to absolutely everything.”
“As players we are open to helping in whatever way possible. We want to hopefully make an impact. The difficult thing at the moment is to work out what the best way to help out as players is.
“Is it by social media? Is it to engage in other streams, sit back and let this pass and then hopefully play? They are answers we don’t have and can’t have at the moment.
“However, I think in the coming weeks when things become clearer, we can start putting in a strategy to implement. Getting back on the field seems quite a while away.”
The PCA said in a statement on Wednesday that England’s centrally contracted players, through the Team England Player Partnerships, “will continue to be in regular communication with the ECB”.
“They will be discussing all aspects of the game that the ECB and the players are currently facing and most importantly how the players can best support their employers, the game and the country in the short, medium and long term.”
The ECB also confirmed measures to reduce staff wages, with all employees taking a temporary pay cut for at least two months. It is expected that the umpires and Cricket Liaison Officers (CLOs) employed by the ECB – there are around 30 in total – will be among those who have been furloughed, with their wages topped up by the ECB to ensure they receive 100% of their reduced salary.
Meanwhile, Jos Buttler has taken things into his own hands. His offer to sell the shirt he wore in the World Cup final has, at the time of writing, attracted bids in excess of £65,000 with more than six days of the auction remaining. The money will be donated to the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals charity. Morgan was full of praise for Buttler’s generosity.
“It’s an incredibly kind gesture,” he said. “We’ve seen people donate during the Australian bush fires; we saw Shane Warne auction his Baggy Green cap for a million dollars or something absolutely ridiculous.
“The impact that can have on many lives as opposed to sitting in someone’s drawer as a bit of a trophy… personally it’s something I don’t understand.
“People have come out and said they would never do it. Justin Langer said he could never see a situation where he would do something like that but I find that hard to believe.
“Ultimately, when we find ourselves in such a crisis, things like that have absolutely no relevance to what is going on in the outside world. His shirt will go for a lot of money and it should do. But the gesture itself, to help buy new equipment, is absolutely outstanding.
Morgan also confirmed that even if the T20 World Cup is delayed, he intends to play in it. Morgan had considered retirement after England’s 50-over World Cup win in 2019 and had previously committed himself only until the end of the next T20 World Cup, which is scheduled to start in Australia in October.
“I’m looking to play both the next two T20 World Cups,” he said.
The tournament is scheduled to be played in India in October and November 2021.
Eoin Morgan open to fielding two England teams at once
New father Eoin Morgan wants to do all he can to ensure cricket is played during the English summer, even if it means England’s red and white-ball squads playing international series concurrently.
Morgan, England’s limited-overs captain, said that given the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing uncertainty surrounding its impact, he saw “every option being viable during this extraordinary time”.
“The serious nature of the situation economically and financially for the game is something that we have never come across,” Morgan said. “Certainly from a player’s point of view we want to do as much as we can to try and keep things going.
“If there’s an opportunity to play as much cricket as we can, I’d like to think every player would be behind it. I certainly am. But obviously times are still uncertain at the moment.
“Realistically we can’t think about playing, when our first game will be, or how many we will play until the situation is downgraded from a pandemic. As ridiculous as it sounds that’s how serious it is.”
The ECB has said no professional cricket will be played in England or Wales before May 28 and is working on various scenarios to squeeze the domestic season – including the new Hundred competition – and international tours by West Indies, Australia and Pakistan into a curtailed timeframe beginning in June, July or August. The County Championship was due to begin on April 12, with seven rounds of matches scheduled up to May 27.
As things stand, England are due to play a three-Test series against West Indies in June, T20 and ODI series against Australia in July and three Tests against Pakistan from the end of July thorugh most of August. Changes to that schedule now appear inevitable.
International fixtures, the T20 Blast and the Hundred will be given priority in any revamped season as the most financially important competitions for first-class counties, but there is no guarantee that any cricket will be played during this northern summer. There are also doubts over whether the World T20 Championship will go ahead in Australia in October and November, the next global tournament for Morgan, who led England’s victorious 50-over World Cup campaign last year.
Morgan was also taking a broader world view given that his wife Tara gave birth to their first child, a son called Leo, three weeks ago.
“We have been preoccupied looking after the baby,” Morgan said. “We’ve been dealt a really good hand when it comes to things that are going on at the moment and have been bunkered away for a while, and haven’t been under pressure to go off and play cricket, which has been really nice.”
Misbah-ul-Haq bats for full World Test Championship, equal opportunity for teams
Pakistan head coach Misbah-ul-Haq has called for a “fair and equal” resolution to the World Test Championship when cricket finally resumes even if it means extending the tournament, warning a shortened competition would fail to give a “true picture” of the standings.
With cricket, like nearly all major sports and activities, forced to a grinding halt because of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the key questions is how to bring the inaugural World Test Championship, which is scheduled to run until June 2021, to an agreeable conclusion.
Several series that are part of the Championship have been postponed over the past few weeks, with the scheduling and limited time-frame meaning it is virtually impossible to fulfill all the fixtures before the end date.
“When we finally start moving back to normal life and cricket can resume, every side should get equal opportunities and the tournament shouldn’t be shortened,” Misbah said in a video press conference.
“No matches should be struck off, even if that means prolonging the Championship. Every side should get the chance to play all the games they had scheduled in this cycle.
Otherwise, you won’t get the true picture of what the rankings should have actually been and only some teams play all their games. That will disrupt the balance of the tournament. To me, it doesn’t matter if this goes beyond 2021 if that’s what it will take for everyone to get equal opportunities. That’s not a problem.”
England’s three-match Test series in Sri Lanka and the second Test of Bangladesh’s series in Pakistan are among the most notable World Test Championship fixtures to be postponed, but it remains exceedingly likely most, if not all, cricket over the next few months won’t go ahead.
That means England’s three-match Test series against West Indies and Pakistan are also in jeopardy, as is West Indies’ two-Test series against South Africa.
The seasonal demands of Test cricket mean rescheduling these games before June 2021 is improbable, and if all games in the Championship are to be honoured, extending the tournament would appear to be the only solution. That would mean delaying the start of the second World Test Championship competition, due to start immediately after.
Misbah also spoke about the challenges players faced trying to keep themselves fit while ensuring they stayed home, revealing the coaching staff were monitoring their progress through fitness watches.
“All of our centrally contracted players and those in our wider pool are in complete contact with the coaching staff and the fitness trainer. We send them the training plans that we want them to follow and to keep ourselves in shape to the best of our abilities. We want to ensure when cricket resumes, the physical conditions of our players should be the same as it was before and meets the demands of international cricket.
“We have groups online where we check in with players on how they think they’re doing. We share plans with them on the exercise regimen to follow even if they don’t have access to gym facilities.
“Because we can’t practice on the ground, what we can do is make sure we do our homework properly. That goes both for me and the players. We look at the last couple of series we played there and how England played in the last season at home. We analyse what we can do better so as soon we get the opportunity, we hit the ground running.
He did have a few choice words for Sharjeel Khan, acknowledging he had the ability to be an explosive asset in T20 cricket, but expressed disappointment with his fitness levels.
“He has the strike rate you’ll need at the top of the order at the World T20, especially against pace bowling on Australian pitches. But I think Sharjeel needs to work harder. He’s emerged back onto the scene after such a long time, so the one thing he could have ensured was his fitness, the one thing he could control, was up to the mark.
“If you’re serious about making a comeback, the you should have been in perfect physical shape. If he thinks he can come into the side without having made any changes, then selecting him would be an injustice to the other players. I wasn’t satisfied to see that at all. Now that there’s no cricket, he should be thinking day and night he needs to become super fit.”
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