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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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Joe Denly facing final curtain as England prepare to bounce back again

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Joe Denly looks set to pay the price for England’s four-wicket defeat in the first Test against West Indies, but Jos Buttler can expect to be given “the best chance to succeed” despite his own flat-lining Test form, as the head coach Chris Silverwood prepares to lift his squad ahead of Thursday’s second match at Emirates Old Trafford.

With England’s captain Joe Root set to slot back into the side at No. 4 following the birth of his second child, the obvious fall-guy is Denly, 34, who once again failed to capitalise on a pair of solid starts with scores of 18 and 29 at the Ageas Bowl.

After 15 Tests in a row dating back to England’s tour of the Caribbean in early 2019, those latest innings epitomise a flatlining career in which Denly’s average has now slipped back below 30. Moreover they contrast increasingly starkly with the efforts of Denly’s Kent team-mate Zak Crawley – 12 years his junior – whose second-innings 76 at the Ageas Bowl completed the fifth consecutive match in which he has posted a Test-best score.

“That’s what we are looking for,” Silverwood said. “If we can create an environment where these guys can learn and continually improve then we will end up with some very good cricketers on our hands.

“Zak is improving constantly. He certainly showed maturity and the innings he played was very good. We have some young players in that side that seem to have good heads on their shoulders, and he’s one of them. We’d have all loved to have seen him go on and get up to three figures but what we did was very good and helped us get into the position that we did.”

After debuting at No. 6 in New Zealand and playing as an opener in South Africa, Crawley’s selection at No. 4 was a sign that he had been the likelier player to make way for Root’s return in that position in Manchester.

However, when pressed on Denly’s continued presence in the side, Silverwood struggled to give his player much solace, and confirmed that his place would come under discussion when he and Root sit down with Ed Smith, the national selector, this afternoon to finalise England’s squad for the second Test.

“We’re all desperate to see Joe do really well,” he said. “We can see he’s trying hard, he’s training hard. He’s a great bloke hence why we all went to see him do well, but obviously he’s under pressure a little bit, yeah.”

POLITE ENQUIRIES: Does Ed Smith wear Jos Buttler pyjamas

Another player who might expect to feel the pinch is Buttler, England’s vice-captain in Root’s absence, whose scores of 35 and 9 at the Ageas Bowl continued a fallow run of form in which he has scored a solitary half-century in his last 21 Test innings, going back to the tour of the Caribbean.

With Ben Foakes now confirmed as the Test squad’s wicketkeeping understudy following Jonny Bairstow’s selection in the white-ball squad to face Ireland at the end of the month, Buttler would appear to be running out of opportunities to translate his world-beating one-day form into the Test arena, where he averages 31.46 with one hundred in 42 appearances.

Silverwood, however, indicated that the selectors’ patience had not yet run out, and despite the hugely worthy claims of Foakes – who made a hundred on his debut in Sri Lanka and averages 41.50 in five Tests – he backed England’s incumbent to live up to his indisputable talent.

“I’m not going to go down that road yet of putting Jos under pressure, because I don’t think it’s going to help him,” he said. “So, first and foremost, we want to give Jos the best opportunity to succeed. But you’re right, we have got a very, very good gloveman in Ben Foakes out there, which we’re lucky to have.

“[Jos] looked brilliant coming into this game, in practice and everything. He looked very good in the first innings. He just needs to go and make those big scores now, doesn’t he? Which he knows as well.

“From our point of view it’s just making sure that he feels confident in the environment he’s in. We’ll give him the best chance to succeed really. The rest of it is, he has a good day out, gets some runs, hopefully the rest will be history – he’ll go on from there.”

England are at least in familiar territory going into the second Test, having lost the opening match of a series for the eighth time in ten campaigns, dating back to the Ashes tour in 2017-18. Most recently in South Africa they bounced back from a heavy defeat in the first Test at Centurion to win the series 3-1, and Silverwood was hopeful that the same spirit would come to the fore now.

“It is something that’s been spoken about, and it’s something that we keep managing to do,” he said. “We have to address and it look at how we get out of the blocks a little bit quicker.

“We had a good chat in the dressing room afterwards – as you always do, you sit down and you look at areas where you missed opportunities here, you’ve built well there.

“I tend to try and find the positives in everything. And South Africa was used as an example of how well we can bounce back. But what I don’t know want to do is take any credit away from the West Indies because I thought they played very, very well.”

Another key issue for England will be the management of their bowling resources, with Stuart Broad champing at the bit to get involved after being controversially omitted from the opening Test, a decision that ended his run of 51 consecutive home appearances.

Broad voiced his displeasure at that decision in a mid-Test interview, but Silverwood echoed Ben Stokes’ post-match sentiments and welcomed his determination to continue fighting for his place.

“I think Stuart handled himself very well during that interview, to be honest,” Silverwood said. “What I did love about it, and subsequently the conversations I’ve had with him, is that passion. That drive is still there and to see that in someone who’s done as much in the game as he has, I find very exciting to be honest. And Stuart still has a big role to play within this team. I’ve made that very clear to him.”

With six Tests to be played in the space of seven weeks, attrition among England’s fast-bowling ranks is inevitable, but Silverwood was optimistic of a clean bill of health in the build-up to Old Trafford.

“We have one or two stiff bodies this morning as you can imagine,” he said. “I’ve been to see the guys already. But they all seem to have come through well. We will know more after training tomorrow. We will put them through their paces and see where we are at. Nothing is a given in this team as we’ve seen and people will be playing for their spots. Everything will be considered.”



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Jason Holder on Jermaine Blackwood: ‘I know when he crosses the line he’ll give it his all’

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Jermaine Blackwood played the innings of the match to set up West Indies’ win in the first Test against England, but he might not have been in the side had Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer not opted out of the tour.

West Indies captain Jason Holder admitted he was “not sure” if Blackwood would have been picked, with the Jamaican having not started a Test since 2017. But he said the batsman, whose 95 took West Indies most of the way towards their 200-run target at the Ageas Bowl, was the “kind of guy you want to step on to a field with”, and praised his team-oriented approach.

Blackwood has an excellent record against England, averaging 55.00 from seven Tests, and was selected for the touring party after leading the way in West Indies’ domestic first-class competition. However, his path to a recall was smoothed by the absence of Bravo and Hetmyer, who joined Keemo Paul in declining to travel to the UK over concerns about Covid-19.

ALSO READ: Gollapudi: Blackwood writes history in his own way

“Not sure, he had an outstanding first-class competition,” Holder said of Blackwood’s case to play. “I’m not going to get into selection but his case was pretty strong to get back into the team, he scored a double-hundred this year in a first-class game. Unfortunately for me I haven’t been able to see him bat but his numbers speak for themselves. He’s no slouch with the bat at this level either in comparison to our players that we’ve got, he’s averaging above 30 and he’s done well for us. I just hope he can kick on and make a few more hundreds.”

Five more runs would have given Blackwood only his second Test century (his first came against England in 2015), but he said after the game that personal milestones were a secondary concern and he was just aiming to implement a plan to spend more time at the crease than previously.

“I wasn’t thinking about the hundred at no point in time, I was just looking to get the score going and to get the team across the line,” he told Sky Sports.

“Once I can go out there and I bat time, bat over 200 balls an innings, even 180, for sure I think I will score runs. I think all the hard work is paying off so far, so once I can go out there and just be my natural self and then just mix it with a bit of patience. I think that will certainly boost me for the next game and right through my career.”

Asked about Blackwood’s desire to put the team first, Holder said he was the sort of player who wants to “carry everybody on his shoulders”.

“Jermaine Blackwood, man. If I had 12 Jermaine Blackwoods, those are the kind of guys you want to step on to a cricket field with. These are team guys, through thick and thin. I’ve played lots of cricket with and lots of cricket against [him], we played all our youth cricket together and played a youth World Cup together, so I know the player.

“That’s why when things happen like how they did in the first innings, yeah you’re disappointed, but you can’t put a player like that into his shell. So it’s more about trying to manage him and help him try to understand the different passages of play, where he can be a little bit more collective, where he needs to settle and hang in for a bit before going on the attack again. He is an attacking player, but it’s giving him that confidence and support.

“He’s a humble team man, I know when he crosses the line he’ll give it his all. I’m not surprised by the comment he made because he is a team man. Sometimes he feels as though he can carry everybody on his shoulders. He’s that confident of a player.”

Blackwood eventually fell driving to mid-off, in much the same manner as he had done in the first innings, when he managed just 12 off 22 balls. Holder was reluctant to curb the attacking style of his No. 6, but urged him to “give yourself a good chance” second time around.

“After his first-innings dismissal I said nothing to it. He knew what he had done. And he knew that he’s a better player than what he did in the first innings, so there was no need to talk to him. I thought he was a very crucial guy for us in this run chase. Him and probably John Campbell – these guys when they get going score relatively quickly, and can really swing the tide for us, when they form partnerships, but obviously we lost John [retired hurt] up front.

“I just said to Jermaine, give yourself a chance. Give yourself a good chance – see a few balls and then play your game. If you see a ball in your arc and you feel you can put the ball away, put it away, because that’s the way he plays. I don’t like to get into players’ heads and congesting their brains with too much information. They’re all responsible enough, they all know themselves well enough. We’re all just here to help one another. Lots of these guys in the dressing room help me in significant ways.

“I don’t need to speak to Jermaine seeing how he got out in the first innings. He knew what he had done wrong – for him it’s just to go and give himself a chance and play the game he knows.”



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Amy Satterthwaite ‘disappointed’ to lose New Zealand captaincy

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Amy Satterthwaite has expressed disappointment at losing the New Zealand captaincy to Sophie Devine on her return from maternity leave. Satterthwaite took a break from cricket last August as she prepared to have her first child with her wife and team-mate Lea Tahuhu. In her absence, Devine led New Zealand at the T20 World Cup in Australia on a temporary basis, before being named permanent captain last week..

“It was obviously disappointing not to retain the captaincy,” Satterthwaite said. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to do it last year, It’s always a real a honour to lead your country.”

However, Satterthwaite, who is now vice-captain having led New Zealand in 19 internationals, said that she had turned her attention towards returning to international cricket, and as a senior player, offered her full support to her successor Devine.

“But I’ve got a different focus now in terms of getting back to being able to play cricket at the international level,” Satterthwaite said. “I’m really excited about the challenge that lies ahead. Looking forward as well to supporting Sophie (Devine), and I’ve always, I guess, been in and around the leadership group over the last few years, even when Suzie (Bates) was involved. So I think it doesn’t change in terms of offering that leadership, in that sense.”

With Satterthwaite, Devine, and former captain Bates, New Zealand feel they are in good hands.

“Yeah, absolutely, the three wise women, as we probably call ourselves,” Sattherthwaite said. “We’ve been around for a wee while now, and got a lot of experience. That’s sort of the beauty of the group we’ve got. People that we can lean on. I guess between the three of us, we’ve probably got different strengths that we can offer towards the group from a leadership point of view, that’s always a real asset, I think.”

Satterthwaite added that was she “loving the challenge” of motherhood despite “those sleepless nights”, and was slowly beginning to strike a balance between her new responsibilities and training.

“Loving it [motherhood]. It’s a big challenge, isn’t it?” Satterthwaite said. “But it’s been a lot of fun. Makes it worthwhile, those sleepless nights. That’s what brings a different challenge in trying to train as well. Starting to slowly learn the balance in trying to make that work.”

Satterthwaite returned to training as both the women’s and men’s squads assembled for a four-day camp at New Zealand Cricket’s High Performance Centre in Lincoln for the first time since cricket came to a standstill in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic in March. While admitting that the conditions at this time of the year posed a unique challenge, Satterthwaite said that she was slowly getting back into the groove.

“It’s nice to be back. Good to be back around the girls. The banter’s always good fun,” she said. “To get back to hitting balls, and feeling like I hadn’t left to a certain extent, but it’s always different to be back on grass too, it’s a different challenge.

“Yeah, it’s been going pretty well. I think I sort of took my time to ease back into it, and not rush it too much, and I guess let the body adjust back. Adjustments been going pretty well so far, thankfully. I was a bit nervous, to be honest, to be hitting balls for the first time, but somewhere deep within there was that sort of muscle memory of being able to do it, and thankfully it’s been going alright, and dusting off the cobwebs.”

Satterthwaite conceded that New Zealand had a few back-breaking months ahead of the 50-over world cup at home early next year, but saw it as a massive opportunity for this group of players.

“Doesn’t get much bigger than having a world cup at home, does it? We’re really looking forward to that, and we’ve got a lot of hard work to do between now and then, and hopefully going ahead. But we’re really excited about what that opportunity offers us as a group.”



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