Subject to government approval, South Africa’s national and franchise cricketers could be back in training from next week, and may be involved in an exhibition event at the end of the month. The country moved to Level 3 of the five-stage lockdown today, which allows non-contact professional sports training and matches to take place, after consultation and approval from the sports ministry.
That means national sporting bodies are required to present the ministry with their return-to-train and return-to-play protocols which should include details around social distancing. Cricket South Africa (CSA) hope to submit their plans this week, with a view to resuming training next week.
In its first stage, the return-to-training plan will see franchise cricketers training at their home grounds, in accordance with set guidelines. That includes a prohibition on the use of saliva on the ball as well as regulations around the use of changing rooms – which will not be allowed – and the number of players and support staff who will train at the same time.
At a later stage, CSA will look into whether it is possible to obtain permits to allow for players to travel across provincial borders for camps and eventually matches. Currently, South Africans cannot move between provinces for any reason other than a funeral or the transportation of children between parents or to schools and even those trips require a permit. Inter-provincial travel will be allowed at Level 2 of the lockdown, but there is no indication of when that will be.
However, CSA still hope to be able to put on some live action at the end of June. An insider told ESPNcricinfo that the plan is to put on “something which we have not seen before,” which rules out a T20 festival or any other kind of franchise competition. CSA intend to reveal more in the next few weeks.
South Africa are not in a rush to return to training or playing as they enter the winter period. Their next assignment is a two-Test and five-match T20 series in West Indies in July-August, which is set to be postponed with West Indies due to be in England until the end of July. CSA and Cricket West Indies remain in talks about when to schedule the series and are considering all options, including playing it in South Africa later in the year.
South Africa are also due to host India for three T20s at the end of August and are looking at creating a bio-secure bubble for the series, which will take place behind closed doors. That series is particularly important for CSA finances, as it will help bolster their bank balance, amid forecasted losses of R645 million (approx. US $36.9 million) over the next four years. With South Africa’s Covid-19 cases expected to peak around July, it is possible the India series will have to take place later in the summer but CSA are confident it can happen before the end of the financial year in February 2021.
Joe Denly facing final curtain as England prepare to bounce back again
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.”
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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.”
Jason Holder on Jermaine Blackwood: ‘I know when he crosses the line he’ll give it his all’
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.
“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.”
Amy Satterthwaite ‘disappointed’ to lose New Zealand captaincy
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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