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‘Andre Russell now is our Chris Gayle, our Brian Lara’ – Dwayne Bravo

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Andre Russell is one of the most valuable players in T20 cricket, and now his West Indies team-mate Dwayne Bravo has likened the Jamaican to “our Chris Gayle, our Brian Lara” in T20Is. Bravo’s praise came in the wake of Russell’s impactful return during the two-match T20I series in Sri Lanka, which was also the first series he played for West Indies since being ruled out of the 2019 World Cup due to an injury.

West Indies won the series 2-0 with Russell playing a big hand, scoring 35 off 14 balls in the first T20I and 40 off 14 in the second. The latter was, in particular, a whirlwind knock as Russell packed six sixes to add to the four he hit in the first match, enough to fetch the Player-of-the-Series award.

“He’s the best in the world,” Bravo, who was part of the West Indies side, said in praise of Russell in a chat with Trinidad-based radio station I955 FM on Friday. “It’s the same I used to say of Chris Gayle when Chris Gayle was in his prime – we are happy to have him representing us, we didn’t have to come up and bowl against him in an international match. It’s the same with Andre Russell. Andre Russell now is our Chris Gayle, is our Brian Lara, in the T20 format. He is the superstar.”

The Sri Lanka T20I series was Bravo’s second in the West Indies dressing room after he came out of retirement this January for the home T20I series against Ireland. That series was Bravo’s first international assignment after 2016, the last time he had played for West Indies.

ALSO READ: Who is the MVP across all T20 leagues over the last 12 months?

Despite being the defending T20 World Cup champions, West Indies have been inconsistent in a format where most of their players have become household names. Last November they lost 2-1 to Afghanistan the T20I series played in India. Another 2-1 defeat followed immediately in the T20I series against India. In January this year, they bounced back in the final game of the three-match T20I series against Ireland to level the series 1-1 with one game washed out. Then they started the Sri Lanka tour losing the ODI series 3-0 before winning the T20I series.

According to Bravo, the team management, led by captain Kieron Pollard and head coach Phil Simmons, had acknowledged that there was a lot of work to be done with West Indies preparing to defend their title in the T20 World Cup, scheduled for October-November in Australia this year. Bravo said the team had set itself the bigger goal of making West Indies once again the “dominant” team in world cricket.

“Prior to that [T20I series in Sri Lanka], we weren’t really consistent as a team over the years in T20 cricket,” Bravo said. “With the 3-0 loss in the ODI series, we T20 guys had a chat among ourselves along with the management and made a pledge that we want to start back winning series. We said we wanted to be back being the most dominant team in the T20 format.

“We have produced some of the best players in the world and when we are together in the same team, we have to stamp our authority, and to get the cricketing world to respect West Indies cricket again and especially West Indies’ T20 team. We said, ‘All hands on deck, let’s start with this Sri Lanka series and make sure we send the message.’ Yeah, that’s what we did.”

Bravo said the depth of talent in the West Indies T20 set-up could be gauged from the fact that he, despite being the most experienced player in the squad, had to bat at a position he had never batted at previously. “When the coach wrote the batting line-up, I was down to bat at number nine. I said to the guys, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever been in a T20 team and I’m down to bat at number nine.’

“Putting all egos aside, I’m happy with that because at the end of the day, I accept the fact guys like Rovman Powell and Fabian Allen and [Shimron] Hetmyer, the talent and the ability they have to hit the ball, I’m just happy to be like that – father-figure, mentor, guide, to allow these young boys to go out there and showcase their talent to the world. All of us are on the same page, no egos in the dressing room, one common goal to just win cricket games and dominate.”



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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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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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