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Dane Piedt ends South Africa career to chase American dream

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Dane Piedt, the nine-times capped South African Test offspinner, still harbours hopes of playing at a 50-over World Cup, albeit not for the country of his birth.

Piedt will move to the USA in the next few months to be part of the new Minor League T20 tournament, which is due to launch this summer, ending his career at home.

And he intends to meet qualifying criteria to play for the USA national team and hopes to be part of their campaign to appear at the ICC’s flagship event.

“The USA were given ODI status last year so it’s not completely out of the question,” Piedt told ESPNcricinfo, from his home in Kenilworth in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, on the first day of a three-week nationwide lockdown aimed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

It may be far from the ideal occasion to sign an employment contract that will take Piedt thousands of kilometres away but for him the timing was right. “I just signed the deal this morning but no-one really knows when I will be able to travel. It was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up, financially and for lifestyle reasons, but it was still a tough decision to make.”

In opting to move abroad, Piedt has not only taken himself out of contention for national selection but he has also ended a decade-long association with the Cobras franchise, where he has played throughout his career and is entering the complete unknown. He has never travelled to the USA and doesn’t even know where he will be based in the long term. “I’m a massive basketball fan, so that helps,” Piedt said. “I will have a choice of four cities – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Seattle – to live in but the rest will be a surprise.”

Piedt has been taking tips from former Warriors seamer Rusty Theron, who helped him secure the deal. Theron has been living in the USA for several years, studied teaching in Miami and made his ODI debut for the country last year. “He has given me some information, especially about the cricket scene there. It’s a decent set-up and I know they have some good cricketers like Xavier Marshall and a few Australians and Indians who played in national Under-19 teams and then moved.”

ALSO READ: New York, Chicago, Boston, LA among 22 targeted launch cities for USA T20 competition

Marshall played seven Tests, 24 ODIs and six T20s for West Indies and he along with Theron is the only other former international in the American squad. All that means that Piedt has a realistic chance of pushing for a place in the American national side, something that he can no longer say with regards to South Africa. Despite leading the wickets chart in first-class cricket last summer and finishing in the top 10 in the two seasons before that, Piedt has lost ground to other spinners and sees himself quite far back in the queue.

“Shammo [Tabraiz Shamsi] has really made a mark in white-ball cricket and Keshav [Maharaj] has done exceptionally well for the Test side, he has done exactly what the team needs,” Piedt said. “And if you look at the schedule, South Africa are not due to tour the subcontinent again soon and that’s the only place where I might get a game.”

That is exactly what happened when Piedt was recalled to the South African side to tour India last September, more than three years after being dropped. Like most of the squad that were blanked 3-0, he had a tough time but returned home to captain the South Africa A side against England and was hopeful of still being in contention for the national side. “Enoch [Nkwe] was the coach at the time and he gave me a call and said I was still in the plans,” Piedt said.

Without an Mzansi Super League (MSL) deal, that was the last sliver of hope for Piedt to cling to until it became clear everything was changing. In the last two weeks of 2019, South African cricket was overhauled and it became apparent to Piedt his ship had sailed. Unlike the last time he considered walking away – three years ago when he flirted with the idea of a Kolpak contract – this time he waited for an opportunity to come to him. When it did, the Cobras management were the first people he told.

“I did it the proper way. I gave the coach [Ashwell Prince] a call and explained it to him and he was very understanding. I explained that this is an opportunity to further my cricketing career,” Piedt said. “It’s something different, a new challenge. I have always been someone who goes against the grain.”

Piedt has identified Zubayr Hamza, who led the Cobras in the domestic one-day cup this season and finished as the tournament’s top scorer, and Kyle Verreynne, who made his ODI debut for South Africa against Australia last month, as potential successors for the franchise captaincy. “I’d really like to see the younger guys step up,” he said. And although he will not be around to mentor them, he knows there are some veterans who will. “Someone like Rory Kleinveldt who retired this season, I know will still be involved in cricket here in the Cape when we start up again.”

Though the sport was about to head into its off-season in South Africa, the season was clipped right at the end, with the playoffs of the one-day cup and the last two rounds of the first-class competition canceled, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. No teams are training at the moment, leaving professional sportspeople to do “home gym,” as Piedt put until at least April 16, when the lockdown is scheduled to end.

Piedt, like millions of other South Africans, is confined to home but his period of isolation did not start too badly. He celebrated 11 months since his wedding with his wife Misha today and is taking the opportunity to enjoy some “quality time,” with her after a busy summer.

“I had a lot of commitments this season because I was also working as a commentator so I was away a lot, so now we can have some bonding time,” he said. “We’ve bought five board games and my wife beat me at Scrabble yesterday. Today, we are playing a game called Sequence and my wife thinks I will win at this one because it’s all about luck. And we are trying some new recipes, same as everyone else.”

But there’s a cruel twist in all of this. Piedt used to have a dog called Corona, a Husky, named after the beer, who was taken from him two years ago after suffering a stroke. “When I heard the name of the virus, I thought maybe she was paying me back for all the walks I didn’t take her on,” he said. “It’s sad but it’s life. You never know where it will take you next. Like a cricketer’s life. You just never know.”





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Sri Lanka’s Shehan Madushanka suspended for alleged possession of heroin

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Sri Lankan fast bowler Shehan Madushanka has been suspended from all forms of cricket with immediate effect for alleged possession of illegal drugs, SLC announced after he was arrested and later put in remand custody.

Madushanka was allegedly in possession of a little over two grams of heroin when arrested on Saturday, Sri Lanka Police’s media division had confirmed to ESPNcricinfo. According to an SLC statement, the decision to suspend will stand until the board conducts a full inquiry of the matter.

The 25-year-old Madushanka has played one ODI and two T20Is, all between January and February 2018, and has not been in the frame for national selection after that. He has, however, been active as a cricketer and was playing in Sri Lanka’s domestic competitions before the Covid-19 lockdown came into effect.

More to follow…



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Queensland opposed to Cricket Australia cuts despite job losses

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Queensland’s chairman Chris Simpson has confirmed the state association remains allied with New South Wales and the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) in questioning Cricket Australia’s chosen remedy for the financial effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, as all three organisations continue to push the governing body for more information.

While Queensland Cricket announced on Monday that it would be cutting 32 staff from its books in anticipation of a 25% funding cut from CA, Simpson said this move was necessary largely because his state was in a far weaker position than NSW, the other dissenter. Queensland’s most recent annual report listed reserves of A$7.6 million among total assets worth A$18.3 million, far less than NSW or Victoria, to name two states, can call upon.

At the same time, Simpson outlined that, as reported by ESPNcricinfo, Queensland’s board was trying to ensure that its agreement would see any reduction in distribution for 2020-21 revised back upwards if the summer produced a more favourable financial result than CA is currently forecasting.

ALSO READ: Players’ association casts doubt on Cricket Australia’s financial warnings

“We have not signed the agreement,” Simpson told News Corp. “We are trying to learn how long their proposed cuts run for. It is a bit ambiguous how they have presented it. We want clarity on the term and we also want to make sure 25% is the ceiling.

“We also want to make sure that should things be better than what they are modelling – and every day we are getting more positive about the prospect of serious cricket content this season – we don’t want to lock into something that is to the detriment of the states.”

Simpson’s words are similar to those conveyed by the NSW chairman John Knox and his chief executive Lee Germon to staff and stakeholders earlier this month. “As a result of the Cricket Australia proposal, some states have already reduced their commitment to community cricket, potentially impacting the long-term future of the game,” they said in an email. “We believe that any decision to reduce the agreed state distributions should be delayed until there is a better understanding of whether international cricket will be played next season.”

The ACA has contacted states and indicated a willingness to preserve community staffing and programs via financial assistance from the “grassroots fund” carved out of MoU cash and overseen by both the ACA and CA. The fund has dished out almost A$4.5 million in funding for equipment and facilities since 2017, and is expected to have about A$3 million available this year. CA is due to give its latest indicative forecast of Australian Cricket Revenue – from which the players’ fixed percentage of revenue is derived – by Friday.

Queensland’s cuts have included a major downsizing of the Brisbane Heat’s operation and the exit of the long-serving selector, coach and manager Justin Sternes. They have also seen community cricket programs significantly affected, but Simpson said the state had been left with little option.

“We have been told for a long time how big a deal the Indian tour is, so to hear that optimism brings the depth of the cuts into focus,” Simpson said. “Eighty percent of our funding comes from one source [CA] and they have said they potentially have solvency issues, so it is our duty to act on that information. We disagree with a lot of the information provided but we still had to act. NSW have a very big book and they can ride it out. We can’t.”

The Australia and NSW fast bowler Mitchell Starc, meanwhile, has given his strong support to the state’s own decision to push back against CA. “In terms of NSW they’ve been pretty strong in holding their position and I think from the little updates I’ve read from NSW, it’s a big part of their plan – to be part of growing the game in the state,” he said

“That’s obviously where we have all come from, as international and elite cricketers, we’ve come from the junior clubs to grade clubs all the way to international cricket. Full credit to the NSW board in trying to, at this stage, hang onto all of their staff and their grass roots at the moment.

“Cricket hasn’t lost any games yet in this country, obviously the Bangladesh [tour] has been postponed but there hasn’t been any cricket lost yet. So it’s going to be an interesting few weeks with state contracting then us all returning to training – I guess we’re going to see what staff we’ve got.”



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Rahul Dravid says bio-secure bubbles not a foolproof route to resuming cricket

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Rahul Dravid believes sport across the globe will need a controlled lifting of restrictions if it is to thrive again, and playing in a bio-secure bubble will not always be a viable solution even as governing bodies grapple with the prospect of resuming behind closed doors in the Covid-19 era.

“A lot of these things are going to be dictated by the situation and how it evolves,” Dravid said on a webinar organised by YUVA, a non-profit organisation for underprivileged sportspersons in India. “In case of the bio-bubble, you do all the testing and quarantine and then on day two of the Test match, what if one player, for example, tests positive? What happens then?

“The rules, as they stand now, will see the Public Health Department coming in and putting everyone in quarantine, that ends the Test, that series, even though they may have incurred a lot of expense to create that [secure] environment.

“So we have to work with the health authorities and governments to work out ways in which, if someone tests positive, you don’t cancel the full tournament. If we are talking of the environment of sport, given the rules that exist now, it will be difficult for sport to resume.”

Dravid also felt quarantining players for a set period before and after the event in a crowded cricket calendar may not be entirely practical. He was responding to a question on the possibility of West Indies playing in England in a “bio-secure” environment, with lengthy preparation times.

As things stand, West Indies are prepared to travel to England a month in advance to acclimatise and complete their quarantine before playing a three-Test series. England players, as per reports, may need to be away from their families for up to nine weeks, until the end of the three-Test series against Pakistan in August.

“With the kind of calendar that we have, the kind of travelling involved for the players, it’s virtually going to be impossible to do that.”

Rahul Dravid on long quarantine periods

“A lot of these rules will have to keep changing. It is a bit unrealistic to have things at the level the ECB is talking about for every series [14-day quarantine period before and after every series],” Dravid said. “Obviously, the ECB is very keen to conduct these couple of series because they have had no other cricket and it is right in the middle of the season, and they’re keen to do this so they are potentially creating the bubble and managing it that way.

“It’s going to be unrealistic for everyone to be able to do that all the time. With the kind of calendar that we have, the kind of travelling involved for the players, it’s virtually going to be impossible to do that. We’re hoping things will evolve and we will find a better way.”

Football leagues in Germany and Korea have resumed behind closed doors. There have been talks within the BCCI of the IPL adopting a similar route, too. Dravid felt such a possibility could only benefit richer boards or leagues.

“The Bundesliga, Korean League or specific leagues where players live and train in one city, that can be managed at an elite level where there is money and infrastructure isn’t a problem,” Dravid explained. “As you go down where sports don’t have the kind of money some of these football leagues or other leagues have, it’s going to be difficult to do that. You have to find a balance to this situation. If we want to stick by the rules we’re talking about now, it’s unrealistic to start sport. There has to be easing of certain restrictions, even when people test positive, for sport to fully resume.

Dravid also underlined how crowds were integral to the sporting experience and equated elite sportspeople to “performers” who thrived on the big stage. While he didn’t think player performance would be directly affected by playing behind closed doors, he said athletes wouldn’t have the “stage to perform”.

“Elite sportspeople will adjust at a professional level,” he said. “They will find a way to not let it affect performances to a large extent. They all take pride in their performances, so they will find a way to deal with it. I don’t think there will be a dip in performance because of this but, as a whole, the experience won’t be the same.

“Players are like performers, they like to play in front of big crowds. They’re used to engaging with the fans. That adds an incredible complexity to the game. The interactions between fans and players will be missed, like the experience of playing in front of a packed house in Kolkata or anywhere in the world. As players, you want to perform. There’s a sense of wanting to perform as an artiste or actor or performer, and the players would miss that.”



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