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Mark Boucher excited ‘to see the guys grow a bit’ in white-ball cricket

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Mark Boucher has called South Africa’s win over Australia in the ODI series in March the “light at the end of the tunnel” after a difficult first season in charge of the men’s national side. Boucher took over in December and oversaw South Africa lose a Test and T20 series to England, draw a rain-affected ODI series, lose a T20 rubber to Australia and finally win the ODI series 3-nil, which gave Boucher hope that South Africa are progressing, albeit mostly in shorter formats.

With back-to-back T20 World Cups in the next two years and the 2023 fifty-over tournament marking the end of Boucher’s contract period, that’s no bad thing and is so far allowing for the talent pool to deepen.

“The exciting thing was in white-ball cricket, to see the guys grow a bit. We gave quite a lot of opportunities to youngsters and they started to gel as a team and not allow one particular guy to carry them through,” Boucher said. “Our performance against Australia was the light at the end of the tunnel but it’s not that it’s the finished product.”

To get there, Boucher wants to continue up-skilling his players and is hopeful he will still be able to make use of the expertise of batting consultant Jacques Kallis and spin-bowling consultant Paul Harris, whose short stints with the national side have come to an end. The duo were brought in on a temporary basis for the 2019-20 summer to supplement the coaching staff made up of Boucher, assistant Enoch Nkwe, bowling coach Charl Langeveldt and fielding coach Justin Ontong.”I’m not too sure what will happen with Jacques Kallis and Paul Harris, but hopefully can sort something out contractually because we would be stupid not to make use of their experience,” Boucher said.

ALSO READ: Cricket South Africa to advertise for selection convener, national coaches

Expanding the support staff would likely be dependent on Cricket South Africa’s budget, which will be squeezed following the departure of Standard Bank as a sponsor at the end of this month. The organisation has indicated they are in talks with a new corporate backer but remain cautious about their financial position, as is the case with many entities worldwide.

CSA have been slightly less affected than most, with the shutdown coinciding with the end of the summer. As a result, they will not suffer losses from postponed tours and may even save some money if their scheduled visit to West Indies for the A side and both the men’s and women’s national teams, scheduled between June and August do not go ahead.

Despite those uncertainties, the rest of South African cricket has been largely unaffected by the current situation, having lost only two ODIs in India and the women’s home series against Australia so far. “I don’t think it has really disrupted our plans. We were always going to be having a break at this time,” Boucher said. “The plan was to give the guys some off time, to travel a bit, spend some time with the families, they are certainly spending some time with the families now but not traveling and there’s time to get rid of a few niggles their bodies have picked up.”

But it’s not all rest and relaxation. South Africa’s players will all go through fitness tests as when the country’s lockdown ends – at the moment this is due to happen on April 16 – and will be expected to have maintained their conditioning. “We have put in some programs with regards to keeping fit and strong around your household,” Boucher said. “We are putting new fitness clauses in contracts so you need to be fit.”



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Women’s World Cup postponed over players’ inability to prepare, says CEO Andrea Nelson

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The postponement of the 2021 Women’s World Cup to 2022 came down to concerns around readiness of the players, and not safety in New Zealand, the event’s CEO Andrea Nelson has said. As ESPNcricinfo had reported on Friday, Nelson said that given three participating teams are still to be identified and several sides “can’t train” yet, postponement was the best option.

The qualifier for the tournament was supposed to be held in July, but was postponed due to the pandemic. So, for now, England, Australia, South Africa, India and hosts New Zealand are confirmed participants, with three more spots open in the eight-team tournament.

“It came down to the ability of the teams to qualify,” Nelson told NZME. “We’ve done a lot of contingency planning around this event, to give it the best possible chance of proceeding successfully – ultimately the decision to delay it comes down to cricket. No qualifying tournaments have been able to be held yet, so in order to qualify and then compete in the event in 2021 – it was too risky.

“We’ve got teams that can’t train, they can’t assemble – in the case of a country like the West Indies they can’t leave their islands to bring the team together – and that’s just not a feasible way to ask a team to prepare for their pinnacle event.”

New Zealand has been one of the least affected countries worldwide by Covid-19. As of Sunday morning, there were only 23 active cases in the country, according to their Ministry of Health’s official numbers, and these were all at the borders – that is, people testing positive when they fly in from elsewhere, and going straight into quarantine. In mid-June, New Zealand had even welcomed back fans into a packed stadium for a Super Rugby Aotearoa game in Dunedin.

ALSO READ: Why the women’s World Cup was postponed by 12 months

High-profile women players England captain Heather Knight and Australia wicketkeeper-batter Alyssa Healy have raised concerns over the postponement. Nelson, though, said pushing the tournament would allow players to be at their best for it.

“Having the tournament in 2022 gives the best possible chance for teams around the world to train, prepare, and come and compete in their pinnacle event,” she said. “We have absolutely no doubt we’ll be able to pick up those plans and deliver an amazing event a year later.”

The qualifier was originally slated to be held in Sri Lanka in July this year, and has also been pushed back by a year. Sri Lanka is likely to remain the host, with its team competing for one of the three remaining spots in the main event.



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Ben Stokes to miss rest of England-Pakistan series for family matter

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Ben Stokes will miss the rest of England’s Test series against Pakistan after withdrawing from the squad for family reasons. He is set to travel to New Zealand, where his parents live, next week and will not be available for the two behind-closed-doors Tests in Southampton.

Stokes’ father Ged was hospitalised in days before the Boxing Day Test against South Africa during England’s winter tour, and has since been recuperating back home in New Zealand.

England’s Test vice-captain, Stokes has played a central role in the summer so far. He led the team in Joe Root’s absence for the opening Test against West Indies, scored a century and a fifty in the second, and has chipped in with 11 wickets despite more recently playing as a specialist batsmen.

ALSO READ: Dobell: England are lucky to have Woakes

“The England and Wales Cricket Board, along with the Stokes family, requests that all media respects the family’s privacy at this time,” an ECB statement said.

His absence will likely add to England’s selection headaches for the rest of the series. In order to compensate for the loss of his bowling, after he experienced a sore quad during the second West Indies Test, England have fielded a five-man bowling attack in the last two games, with Stokes batting at No. 4.

Although he scored 0 and 9 in the first Test against Pakistan, he again demonstrated his all-round value by coming on to bowl in the second innings and picking up 2 for 11, as England came back from conceding a 107-run deficit to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

Zak Crawley is the likeliest candidate to come into the top order, potentially returning at No. 3 and allowing Root to drop back down a place. The return to form of both Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes, whose 139-run partnership was pivotal in securing victory against Pakistan, may also help compensate for Stokes’ absence, with the allrounder understood to have told his team-mates of his decision after the conclusion of the Test on Saturday.

Buttler, whose form with bat and gloves had been under scrutiny, was also playing despite a health scare for his father, who went into hospital on Friday but was well enough to return home on Saturday.

The second Test against Pakistan begins at the Ageas Bowl on Thursday. England will have played six Tests in seven weeks, all under strict bio-security protocols as part of the ECB’s efforts to combat the effect of Covid-19, with only a short break in between the two series.



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Heather Knight ‘pretty gutted’ at 2021 Women’s World Cup postponement

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England captain Heather Knight has admitted she feels “pretty gutted” about the ICC’s decision to postpone the Women’s World Cup from 2021 to 2022, and raised fears that boards will use it as “an excuse… to put women’s cricket on the back burner”.

The ICC made the decision on Friday, citing the need to maintain the “integrity of the tournament” by ensuring that all teams had sufficient preparation.

“We have taken the decision to move the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup to give players from every competing nation, the best opportunity to be ready for the world’s biggest stage and there is still a global qualifier to complete to decide the final three teams,” Manu Sawhney, the ICC’s chief executive, said.

“Moving the event by 12 months gives all competing teams the chance to play a sufficient level of cricket ahead of both the qualification event and leading into a Cricket World Cup so the integrity of the tournament is maintained.”

ALSO READ: Why the Women’s World Cup was postponed

But Knight expressed her fears that boards would not give sufficient attention to women’s cricket without a world tournament to prepare for.

Alyssa Healy, the Australia wicketkeeper, also expressed her frustration at the decision, which she labelled “remarkable” in response to a tweet from journalist Scott Bailey comparing the number of Covid-19 cases in New Zealand and India.

Knight’s England team were back in training this week ahead of their series against South Africa, which is due to start at the end of this month. It will be the first women’s international cricket to be played since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.





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