South African domestic cricket will face a slightly shorter 2020-21 season with a reduction of fixtures for the franchise competition as Cricket South Africa seeks to cut costs following a tough 12 months. The organisation is forecasting losses of millions of Rands after sponsor withdrawal, an inability to sell two editions’ worth of broadcast rights for the Mzansi Super League (MSL) and loss-making incoming tours in the 2018-19 summer and the pinch is being felt in the local game, which depends on CSA finances to operate.
The two-tier system, of six franchise teams and 15 provincial affiliates, will remain in place with fewer matches and discussions on a possible restructure ahead of the 2021-22 season are ongoing while flagship T20 competition, the MSL is likely to continue, but may also see a curtailed fixture list.
CSA, while still under suspended CEO Thabang Moroe, had initially planned to eliminate the franchise set-up for the 2020-21 season and create a domestic system of 12 teams. The South African Cricketers’ Association (SACA) challenged that motion in court, claiming they were not consulted about the changes and that around 70 players would lose their jobs.
The matter dragged on for several months during which time Moroe was temporarily succeeded by Dr Jacques Faul, who was able to re-engage SACA. On agreement that the domestic structure would be retained for the coming summer, SCA withdrew legal action against CSA and the two parties remain in discussions about the best way to structure domestic cricket.
For the 2020-21 season, the status quo largely remains. The six franchise will play a four-day first-class and fifty-over competition while the provincial teams will play three-day cricket, which will also be classified as first-class for all teams apart from Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and a fifty-over one-day competition.
However, instead of each franchise playing 10 first-class and 10 fifty-over matches per season (home and away games against each of the other five teams) as was the case in previous seasons, they will be divided into two groups of three and will play seven matches each. This will include home and away matches against each of the teams in their own group, for a total of four matches, and only one match against the three teams in the other group.
Both competitions will be decided by a playoff match between the top two teams in each group to decide the title. Previously, the first-class competition trophy was awarded to the team at the top of the points’ table after all 10 rounds of competition, or eight in the case of this season, with the final two rounds suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The reduction of fixtures will enable CSA to save money on transport and accommodation costs, which is particularly important in the case of the first-class competition that has been without a sponsor for two seasons.
The provincial teams remain divided into two groups of eight and seven teams and will play a single round of fixtures. They will also feature in a new 40-over knockout competition which will include the 15 provinces and the South African under-19 side. While there is no T20 competition at the provincial level, CSA will introduce a Super Club T20 competition which will be contested by the top six university teams and three teams from the community cup.
South Africa’s domestic season is expected to start in September and squad and fixture lists are currently being planned. Although all cricket in the country was put on hold for 60 days last week as a response to Covid-19, CSA is hopeful that play will be possible when the summer starts, in about six months’ time. There have already been some significant player signings with Cobras’ quick Thando Ntini moving upcountry to the Titans and white-ball international Lutho Sipamla leaving the Warriors for the Lions. Final squads are expected to be released by the end of the month.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Shan Masood ready to turn the tables in England
Despite England’s loss to West Indies in Southampton, Pakistan opener Shan Masood remains wary of England’s fast-bowling depth ahead of his side’s three-Test series next month. He thinks James Anderson, in particular, will continue to be a big threat.
“Jimmy Anderson is a world-class bowler,” Masood said during a video conference. “By achievements, he’s perhaps the No. 1 fast bowler in the world right now. He carries a threat, of course, and several other England bowlers carry a threat. England’s resource depth is very good. They had few very good bowlers sitting on the bench [during the opening Test], particularly pacers.”
Masood has good reason to be respectful of Anderson. The Pakistan opener has struggled against no other bowler quite as much; in the three Tests that Anderson and Masood have both played, the 37-year-old Englishman has dismissed him in all six innings. His last England tour was particularly unhappy, with Masood managing just 71 runs in four innings; Anderson nicked him off in all four innings.
But that was long ago. Back then, Masood was something of a journeyman in international cricket, drifting into the side from time to time without ever being able to quite nail down a place. Now, he’s among the first names on the team sheet, and as far as personal career fortunes go, few will have enjoyed as dramatic a turnaround as the 30-year old in the past 18 months.
Destined, seemingly, to be a back-up opener on the tour of South Africa in 2018-19, Masood was called up for the Boxing Day Test after a late injury to Haris Sohail. Until then, he had played in just 12 of the 45 Tests Pakistan took part in since his debut, and those 12 came across five different stints. He averaged just 23.54 in that time.
That was the Masood that Anderson had tormented over the years. The Masood of today who walks – no, struts – out to open for Pakistan has averaged a smidge under 45 since that Boxing Day Test, and hasn’t missed any of the eight Test Pakistan have played in that period. Masood has put the past very much where it belongs, and it was a point he didn’t shy away from making.
“You learn from the past and the mistakes you made then, but you also learn not to become fixated on the past,” he said. “You should also know when to move on. Things have changed from 2016. The mistakes we’ve made before we have to learn from, but we have to react to the needs of today. Nothing is constant, and I want to live in the present.
“We have had a fantastic opportunity to prepare. We spent 14 days in Worcester and are going to spend another three weeks in Derby. There’s no need to put myself under extra pressure to say I need to prove this thing or the other. Practice is going well and I understand my game. The outcome isn’t controllable, but I can put in my best effort and keep my attitude positive.
“But while coming here early has allowed us to acclimatise, there is no substitute for match time. In that sense, England have an advantage. But the basics don’t change; we have to figure out how to get 20 wickets, and how to score 300-400 runs in an innings. So our primary focus has to be on our preparations. We have a few advantages too, in that we can analyse their performances and work on their weaknesses. These things balance each other out.”
He lavished praise on interim batting coach Younis Khan, who has joined the side in England, calling him the greatest Test batsman in Pakistan history, and said everyone, including the bowlers, were eager to learn off him.
It shouldn’t, perhaps, be surprising that Younis’ arrival brings back fond personal memories for Masood. Despite a frustrating first few years with the national side where he couldn’t quite nail his place down, one of his cricketing highlights took place while Younis was at the other end. It was 2015, and a series-deciding Test against Sri Lanka, with Pakistan requiring an improbable 377 for victory against the hosts. But having lost two wickets early, Masood would stick around with the current batting coach, striking up a 242-run partnership en route to scoring 125 as Pakistan stormed to a stunning win with seven wickets to spare.
“Younis’s stature is inarguable and his arrival makes a huge difference,” Masood said. “He’s Pakistan’s greatest Test batsman and all batsmen in the side are eager to interact with him and draw on his experiences. The way the guys were playing in Worcester, be it in the nets or the scenario matches, he worked with everyone.
“He even works hard with our bowlers on their batting because in Test cricket, the runs they provide from the lower order are crucial too. Fifty or 60 runs added there could turn the tide of a Test match. We’re having two sessions a day, morning and evening. There’s been a hugely positive impact and we’re looking forward to learning more from him.”
He did caution against slipping into thinking England weren’t quite as strong as was believed before the first Test against West Indies. “We shouldn’t undermine England,” he warned. “This was the same top four that went to South Africa and won a series there. They’re playing at home and they’ll have experience of playing there regardless of whether or not they’ve played international cricket.
“But we have our own strengths, too. If you’re talking about our spinners, we have a world-class spinner in Yasir Shah. Alongside him, we have an allrounder and an able backup in Shadab Khan. So we have more than enough resources if the situation comes down to needing a spinner to lead.”
Dom Bess feeling ‘really dangerous’ and keen to spin series England’s way
He may have gone wicketless during the fourth innings as England fell to a bruising defeat in the first Test, but Dom Bess isn’t the sort of cricketer whose confidence is easily dented. England’s offspinner, still only five matches into his Test career, has declared that he is feeling “really dangerous” and said he was keen to get back into the thick of it when the teams resume their behind-closed-doors contest at Emirates Old Trafford this week.
Bess is used to playing with a burden of expectation of his shoulders, having developed at Somerset where the Taunton surfaces are often tailored to suit himself and Jack Leach, the other spinner in England’s 21-man party. Ben Stokes, standing in as captain during the first Test, had partly based his decision at the toss on the theory the Ageas Bowl pitch would take spin in the fourth innings, but while Bess was unable to make a decisive contribution he seems in no way cowed by the experience.
In fact, had a tight review for lbw against Roston Chase gone his way – it came back as umpire’s call despite Hawk-Eye suggesting the ball would have hit the top of middle stump – West Indies would have been 31 for 4 and the eventual outcome of the game might well have been different.
“Personally I was really happy with how it came out, it’s just the opportunities that went missing in that last innings,” Bess said via video conference from Manchester. “It would have been nice to have that lbw shout, it could have potentially got us on a roll to have them four down. It’s coming out really nicely and if I get picked, hopefully we’ll get a big score and I can spin a couple out.
“I know I went wicketless [in the second innings], but like I said it could have turned… And actually, the thing I’m focused on is how well it’s coming out at the moment, I do feel really dangerous and that’s a great place to be. I think as a spinner, some will go your way some days, some won’t. That’s cricket. I don’t look too much into that. I want to contribute with bat, ball and in the field, and when opportunities come I just want to make sure I take them.”
Old Trafford has traditionally been viewed as a ground on which spinners can thrive, largely due to the extra bounce. Recently that advantage has been less pronounced, with spin in first-class games averaging 37.95 over the last five years – higher than at all of England’s Test grounds bar Cardiff and The Oval – which might suggest Bess, who has never previously played in Manchester, will asked to fulfil more of a holding role.
Even so, he will not be fazed if asked to try and win the game in the fourth innings again (a cause that would be helped by England’s batsmen putting up a few more runs), comparing the scenario to that of quick bowlers being presented with seaming conditions.
“I’m used to bowling on spinning wickets,” he said. “People talk about this pressure of it being on me, the last day… I’ve spoken a lot with Leachy about it, this pressure that people put on us. I actually flip it around, it’s a great opportunity – it’s like saying to a seamer, it’s a green one today, are you worried about getting them out? Course you’re not, you’re excited because it’s probably in your favour a little bit more. And that’s how I look at it, certainly the last couple of days and hopefully when it spins, it’s my time to shine and stand up.”
As for his own form, the encouraging signs are simple: bounce and spin. “I feel like I am attacking both edges of the bat. My consistency and accuracy within where I am landing it is dangerous. That comes through training, getting that feel, that rhythm. I’m very big on my rhythm, getting into it. It’s just a feeling, I guess and that’s certainly what I think I have got at the moment.”
The Southampton Test was Bess’s first at home since his debut in 2018, having come back from a period in the wilderness to dislodge Leach, his county team-mate, as No. 1 spinner. Bess, who is out of contract with Somerset at the end of the summer, may have to move in order to secure more regular cricket but suggested that as far as he was concerned there was no rivalry with England.
“I am playing at the moment but I am not taking it for granted. I know Leachy is behind me and I know how much he is working. I’ve had to fight for my spot for a long time I guess, always being behind. Potentially it’s a little bit different at the moment, the feeling. But it’s about making sure that I focus on what I can control. I know it’s a big cliché but it is as simple as that. I’ve got to make sure I am doing what I can do, day in and day out. There is no rivalry with it. We are helping each other to be as best we can for the England side. That’s a great place to be.”
Bess’s other noteworthy role in Southampton was to contribute to the ball-shining process. “Being a very sweaty man out on the field, I took a little bit of responsibility,” he said. Sky’s cameras even picked him up collecting sweat from his back – England might need such a combination of inspiration and perspiration if they are to level the series this week.
West Indies must consign Ageas Bowl win to ‘history’ – Phil Simmons
Phil Simmons, West Indies’ coach, has challenged his players to consign the events of the first Test at the Ageas Bowl to “history”, as they look to guard against complacency and close out their first overseas series win against a leading Test nation in more than a quarter of a century.
Speaking after his team’s return to Emirates Old Trafford ahead of Thursday’s Test, Simmons praised the resolve of his players in Sunday’s four-wicket win in Southampton – in particular Jermaine Blackwood for his decisive 95 on the final day of the contest, and Shannon Gabriel, whose haul of nine wickets across the two innings demonstrated his return to full fitness following ankle surgery.
The result means that West Indies have now won four of last six Tests against England – dating back to their famous run-chase at Headingley in 2017, and encompassing their 2-1 series win in the Caribbean in early 2019. However, they have not won a series in England since 1988, and Simmons acknowledged that it would be their duty to start from scratch in the coming days.
“For me it was a great win because I think that it signified a lot of hard work being done by the players over the last four or five weeks,” he said. “But you don’t come to England and just win a Test match. It was a top-class Test match, with good cricket played by both teams, and even coming down to the last hour, it could have gone either way.
“To come out on top. It’s been great for us, and it was important because you don’t want to have to chase England in England. So the chasing is from their point of view now. But you guard against complacency by just trying to do the same things you did before the first Test. Right now that Test match is history. We’ve got to be thinking about what we do from Thursday to Monday.”
West Indies successfully backed up their first-Test victory in Barbados last year with an equally impressive win in Antigua, but the challenge of replicating that form in an overseas campaign is rather harder.
Leaving aside their tours of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, they have only taken the lead in the first Test of an away series on three occasions since 1995. In that year’s tour of England, they were pegged back to a 2-2 draw after a crushing win at Headingley, and were then overturned 3-1 on their next visit to England in 2000, and 2-1 in South Africa in 2007-08.
However, the circumstances of the current England tour are different in a number of key respects – firstly, the absence of a home crowd, which England arguably noticed during a flat day in the field in West Indies’ first innings, but perhaps more significantly, the extended preparation period, which may have been forced on the tourists by the Covid-19 outbreak, but which Simmons said harked back to his own playing days in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I think that has been the biggest influence on the performance,” he said. “I think the fact that we’ve been here for that period of time, we’ve had quality bowling in the nets because we’ve had nearly 11 seamers here, you can’t put a price on that.
“I think that’s something that we have to look at. I don’t like to go back into my [playing] days, but we would come to England and play something like three or four proper warm-up games before the first Test, and we would also have three-day or four-day games in between the Test matches. So I think that period of training goes a long way to how we performed in that first Test.”
One of the key beneficiaries of the lead-up time was Gabriel, who had not originally been named in West Indies’ first-choice 14, but was added to the squad after proving his fitness in both the nets and the intra-squad contests at Old Trafford. His hostility in both England innings echoed his crucial contributions to the win in the Caribbean last year, and Simmons took particular pleasure in his two-wicket burst on the pivotal fourth evening of the match.
“The hardest time for bowlers, after bowling from the morning, is that last session,” Simmons said. “To see him and Alzarri [Joseph] come up trumps in that session is so pleasing to us. With him coming back from that ankle surgery and working as hard he has worked since we’ve been here, it was a joy to see him successful in that period.”
Blackwood also proved his mettle, and not for the first time against England, against whom he now averages 55.00 in seven Tests. He withstood intense pressure on the final day – both from the scoreboard, which read 27 for 3 with John Campbell retired hurt, and from England’s fielders, with Ben Stokes in his ear from the outset as they attempted to goad him into a rush of blood.
“I think he must be commended because he has worked very hard on trying to get that temperament right for each part of his innings,” Simmons said. “As we saw in the first innings, it was still there a bit, but in the second he controlled it a lot better. And that helped him to bring home the game for us.”
Blackwood himself conceded that England’s words were “nothing bad, just cricket” and Simmons accepted that it was all part and parcel of the Test match battle.
“It’s what I would have done too,” he said. “Try to get him irrational, but I think he held his own. He looked at the situation and played it as well as he could have. So that shows that his mindset is improving, and that’s all you can ask for.”
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