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Pakistan players free to take part in four T20 leagues a year

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The PCB has confirmed a massive change to their policy, allowing both international and domestically contracted players to take part in a maximum of four T20 leagues a year, including the PSL.

The earlier policy, which was introduced in 2018, had restricted player participation in several leagues, but as ESPNcricinfo reported last month, the PCB decided to put it up for review for the very first time.

Pakistan’s players are already among the lowest-paid professionals in world cricket, and aren’t allowed to take part in the IPL. The old policy had added to the uncertainty, with players often given NOCs for an entire tournament, only to be pulled out by the PCB midway to return home and either join national camps or undergo fitness tests. That sparked frustration and discontent among the leading white-ball cricketers and emboldened them to revolt against PCB’s restrictive participation policy on foreign leagues.

“I think this is a flexible, balanced and comprehensive NOC policy which addresses as many of the likely scenarios that we will face,” Wasim Khan, the PCB chief executive officer said on Friday. “We have given primacy and importance to player workload, international and domestic commitments, but at the same time it was important that players are given the opportunities to make additional earnings and develop their skills around the world.”

The 19 Pakistan national players with central contracts will now go to the International Cricket Operations department to get their NOCs going forward. They will also need permission from the head coach or the team management, who are well placed to assess a player’s workload and international commitments. “As per NOC policies around the world, the Chief Executive of the Board will then be the final approving authority at the final stage of the process,” the PCB’s policy says.

Domestic players will have to go through one extra layer of red tape. They will have to reach out to their provincial associations for the initial consent and approval and only then will their cases be taken up by Cricket Operations department. In addition, the PCB policy says, “domestic players, who don’t feature in red-ball cricket but are white-ball regulars, it is has been made mandatory for them to commit to domestic 50-over and 20-over competitions in order to be eligible for NOCs.”

One major bone of contention between the players and the board about the earlier policy was about how even retired players had to seek an NOC to play in an overseas league. But now the board has decided it will automatically issues NOCs to everyone who has been “retired for 24 months or more, unless there are compelling reasons which the PCB will provide in writing”.

“I am optimistic that moving forward, all the relevant stakeholders will have clarity and a better understanding of the process,” Khan said about the change. “To ensure that we maintain our relationships with cricket boards around the world, once granted, NOC’s will only be revoked if there are any injury concerns, or there are international or domestic playing obligations that need to be fulfilled.”



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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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Mitchell Starc: Saliva ban risks ‘boring’ cricket without balance

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Cricket runs the risk producing “boring” contests, losing followers of the game and reducing the number of young aspirants to bowl fast if a better balance isn’t struck between bat and ball. These are Mitchell Starc‘s views in reaction to the interim ruling offered by the ICC to ban saliva from shining the ball in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.

Having bent his back on a succession of unhelpful pitches in home Test matches over the past few summers, Starc argued similarly to his colleagues Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. He thinks the ICC’s prohibition of saliva, but not sweat, from being used to shine the ball out of health concerns needed to be counterbalanced by another measure.

While the ICC’s cricket committee has suggested more sporting pitches could be a solution currently, Starc was understandably wary about the prospect of administrators and ground staff acquiescing to this instruction, and instead pushed for a temporary allowance for an artificial substance with which to polish the ball. This concept, as reported by ESPNcricinfo, was discussed by the ICC committee before being ruled out on the basis that it took the game too far from its existing laws.

ALSO READ: Social distancing, ‘safe’ ball management among ICC’s dos and don’ts

“I understand that completely and hear what they’re saying in terms of a foreign substance, but whether that can be controlled by the umpires in terms of they have a portion of the wax and you can only use a small amount, I don’t know, but there needs to be a maintaining of the even contest,” Starc said. “I understand what they’re saying with foreign substances and that it’s black and white in terms of that, but it’s an unusual time for the world and if they’re going to remove saliva shining for a portion of time they need to think of something else for that portion of time as well.

“Whether it be the wickets being not as flat or at least considering this shining wax to a degree, there needs to be some thought on that I think. I guess you use both those things [saliva and sweat] to shine the ball. I’ve probably been a bit more on the sweat side, just trying to not get my hands in my mouth too much, but yeah, I agree completely with what Pat commented on last week – that contest with bat and ball, we don’t want to lose that or get further away from that even contest, so there needs to be something in place to either keep that ball swinging.

“They’ve mentioned that it’s only going to be there for a period of time and then once the world gets back to a relatively normal situation then saliva can come back into shining the ball. But if it’s going to be a window of time there, maybe then instruct people to leave more grass on the wickets to have that contest or if they’re going to take away a portion of maintaining the ball, there needs to be that even contest between bat and ball, otherwise people are going to stop watching, and kids aren’t going to want to be bowlers.”

Administrators have long supported the concept of more lively pitches for bowlers, but far too often the practical outcome has been the preparation of surfaces devised to see a Test last for five days, typically producing a very attritional brand of cricket. Starc was clearly casting his mind back to India’s previous tour of Australia in 2018-19, where after two evenly-fought matches on fair pitches in Adelaide and Perth, Virat Kohli’s team ground the Australians into the beige turf of the MCG and SCG to close out the series.

“I think as we saw in Australia the last couple of years, there’s some pretty flat wickets, and if that ball’s going straight, it’s a pretty boring contest,” Starc said. “I think Kookaburra have been developing a shining wax or something of the sort, so whether there’s consideration of that, there needs to be some [thought to] maintaining that even contest. Generally the spinners reckon that the wickets that seam a bit also spin, so maybe if you bring the bowlers back into the game, you’ll tick all the boxes.”



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Bundesliga injuries show need for sensible management of seamers, says Surrey physio

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Fast bowlers need to build up their workloads “as sensibly as possible” in order to help mitigate against increased injury risk as they look to return from a prolonged period of rest, according to Surrey’s lead physiotherapist.

Plans are being drawn up around the world for players to return to training after an enforced break from the game, and Alex Tysoe told ESPNcricinfo that building up progressively will be vital for seamers in order to avoid the “undesirable” injury scenario seen in Germany’s Bundesliga.

A report by sports scientist Joel Mason found that injury rates shot up from 0.27 per game to 0.88 in the first weekend of top-flight football in Germany for two months, with soft-tissue injuries particularly prevalent as teams rushed back to the pitch. Tysoe said that fast bowlers needed to find a sensible balance as they prepare to return to cricket.

ALSO READ: ECB handed discretion over move to stage two training by government

“There’s a lot about elite sport and the Covid situation which is not ideal, and we’re possibly seeing the effects of a sustained lockdown on football” he said. “You’ll have seen in the Bundesliga, there were a reported six soft-tissue injuries in the first eight games, which is an unusually high number for that league and sport.

“Bowling is a lot more difficult to facilitate during this period because players haven’t been able to use their local clubs or outdoor facilities. We know from a research point of view that one of the ways to mitigate the risk of a sharp rise in workload is to try and improve the individual’s relative strength, and then all you can do is be sensible when you get back into things: increase people’s bowling workloads as fast as possible but as sensibly as possible too.”

Tysoe is a co-author of a recent paper published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport which examined bowling loads and injuries for 49 fast bowlers at six different counties, and some of the conclusions drawn are relevant to the ongoing crisis.

The study was primarily methodological, exploring the ability of ‘differential loads’ to predict injury risk compared to the widely-used ‘acute-chronic workload ratio’ method, but also demonstrated that large week-to-week increases in bowling loads and bowling after a long period without are associated with the possibility of heightened injury risks.

“A simple analogy is that if you’re flying a plane, you have to consider the throttle, the level of the nose, and keeping your wings level on the horizon,” Tysoe said. “If you can keep all those within certain ranges, then your plane is much more likely to have a nice smooth journey; if you move the nose up and down, the wings left and right, and you’re messing around with the throttle, it’ll be a bumpy ride. It’s about getting up to cruising height nice and smoothly and staying there.

“It’s similar in the case of fast bowlers: it’s about making sure that they’re not doing too much, too soon, relative to the last 42 days, that on a week-to-week basis they’re not adding to what they’re doing too quickly, and that if they do have a break it’s not for too long. What we want now is to have a nice smooth take-off, to get back to that analogy, where we’re getting bowlers to take off reasonably quickly while doing it as safely as possible.”

Tysoe has been at The Oval in the past week, overseeing Sam Curran and Amar Virdi‘s first few sessions back bowling, and said that things had gone “really smoothly”. Eighteen England bowlers are now back in individual training, with a seven-week run-in between their return and the planned first West Indies Test on July 8.

The ECB’s performance director Mo Bobat has previously said that the schedule for this summer is likely to be “pretty brutal”, and that it may be necessary to rotate fast bowlers in order to reduce injury risks. Seamers have been bowling around six overs each per session and will gradually build up over the coming weeks.

“A lot of work went into drawing up the protocols with the ECB, and then implementing all of the logistics,” Tyose said. “The important thing is that the players are safe, and that they can still have some quality training – otherwise there’s no point doing it. The ECB have been brilliant throughout the process, and we’re looking forward to seeing how things progress.”

ALSO READ: How are cricketers keeping fit in lockdown?

Surrey are one of two counties, along with Lancashire, not to have furloughed players during the lockdown, meaning the squad have been checked in on regularly. The club have run weekly Zoom yoga sessions to help increase the squad’s mobility, and Tysoe is hopeful that if a county season is possible later in the summer, players “are not going to take too long to turn around at all”.

“We’re satisfied that they’re in as good a position as they could be at the moment. When we do get the green light to get back in and know when fixtures are, we’re in a position where we’re comfortable we can get them turned around in a relatively quick period of time.

“For the fast bowlers, they can’t bowl in the nets or outside but we can mimic those movements with medicine balls to make sure soft tissues are used to repeatedly producing those powerful, dynamic movements.

“One of the things we can’t do is influence the bone density of the spine. Pete Alway, who did a PhD with the ECB, did his research on spinal density of fast bowlers, and we now know that there’s nothing that can strengthen the spine for bowling better than bowling itself. You lose spine density pretty quickly when you stop bowling, and predictably it can take you longer to build that up: we need to be mindful of building them back up sensibly.”



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