Leicestershire’s players are to resume training on Wednesday despite a second lockdown in the city of Leicester.
While most of the UK is slowly beginning to enjoy greater freedom, Leicester’s period in lockdown has been extended by at least two-weeks after a surge of Covid-19 cases in the area. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC the city had seen “10 percent of all positive cases in the country over the past week”.
But despite the fact that Leicestershire’s Grace Road ground is within that lockdown area, the club’s players will come off furlough on Wednesday with a view to being fit to resume playing county cricket on August 1.
“It’s an incredibly challenging situation,” Sean Jarvis, who started his role as the club’s new CEO on June 24, told ESPNcricinfo. “We are clarifying things with both the city and county councils but our understanding right now is we are permitted to train from July 1 and we will be in a position to resume playing on August 1. We’re proceeding as if it’s business as close to normal as we can.”
With a chance that Leicestershire will not be able to use their home ground, the club are currently exploring options elsewhere. The most likely alternative venue is Kibworth Cricket Club, which has previously hosted women’s ODIs, though Oakham and Uppingham will also be considered.
While Jarvis said Leicestershire would be happy to “go with the consensus” when the counties decide on which formats to play in the truncanted season, their own preference is for white-ball cricket.
“In terms of expense and logistics, we would probably prefer a 50-over competition to start the season followed by a T20 Blast,” Jarvis said. “That way we could minimise hotels stays. But if the consensus is we start the season with a first-class competition, we are prepared for that, too.”
Either way, Leicestershire will be keen to welcome spectators to their Grace Road home if T20 cricket resumes, as planned, at the end of August. The club has significant financial issues and would welcome the cash-flow such ticket sales could generate.
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Team Stokes 233 (Crawley 43, Robinson 2-7) lead Team Buttler 287 for 5 dec by 54 runs
England allrounder Sam Curran is awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test after being placed in self-isolation at the Ageas Bowl, casting a shadow over the second day of the intra-squad clash.
On the pitch, the battle for bowling places intensified as Jos Buttler’s team, who declared on their day one score of 287 for 5, dismissed Ben Stokes’ side for 233 at stumps.
Injury has kept the country’s quickest bowlers apart since both played key roles in England’s World Cup victory last year, but midway through the morning session they teamed up for a promising eight-over spell that cost just seven runs and yielded the wicket of opener Dom Sibley for 12.
Archer banked the scalp, caught behind flicking the ball down leg-side, but the pair hunted together to unsettle Sibley with pacey short-pitched bowling. Wood might just as easily have been the one celebrating moments earlier, forcing Sibley to fend awkwardly to Ollie Pope, who squandered the chance at short leg.
Wood returned in the afternoon session to take Jonny Bairstow’s outside edge with the first ball of his second spell and finished with spotless figures of 1 for 14 from 11 overs, while Archer returned 2 for 37 after adding Ben Foakes for 38. He received treatment for sore feet late on, understood to be a result of wearing new bowling boots, and was replaced by Surrey’s Amar Virdi – the 29th player involved in the match.
Sussex seamer Ollie Robinson also offered a reminder of his skills, bowling with precision as he accounted for Moeen Ali and Lewis Gregory in a double-wicket maiden.
Stuart Broad could find himself vulnerable to the growing competition, with the fetching white bandana he wore over his lockdown hair more eye-catching than his figures of 0 for 42.
Moeen’s dismissal, lbw for 5, followed a peripheral role with the ball on Wednesday and his hopes of a first Test appearance in a year appear to be receding. Instead, Dom Bess is well placed to hold his place in the side. He bowled more tightly than either Moeen or Jack Leach managed on Wednesday and took a key wicket when he had Keaton Jennings caught at slip before lunch.
Zak Crawley top-scored with 43, a positive innings strewn with neat drives, before he nicked Chris Woakes – yet another able seamer vying for attention. Stokes made his way to 41, and doled out Bess’ only real punishment when he launched him for six and four in the same over, before he was stumped charging Matt Parkinson.
Dom Bess leads as spinners turn up in force for England warm-up
It is hard to remember an occasion when England have gone into their first Test of the home summer with five different spinners all pitching a case for inclusion in the side, but these are unprecedented times.
England’s spin cadre have worked closely with Richard Dawson in the nets over the past week, and all have had the opportunity to bowl in this week’s intra-squad warm-up match.
Amar Virdi looks the least likely to play at the Ageas Bowl next week, having been parachuted into Team Buttler at the last minute when Sam Curran went down with a suspected diarrhoea and vomiting bug, while Matt Parkinson‘s relative inexperience may count against him, despite him luring Ben Stokes into a false shot on the stroke of tea on Thursday to have him stumped.
That leaves Moeen Ali, Dom Bess and Jack Leach: all three of them fingerspinners, with similar batting returns in recent years despite Moeen’s greater pedigree. All three have strong claims to the role, but it appeared instructive that it took 68 overs for Moeen to be brought into the attack on the first afternoon. When he did come on, newcomer Dan Lawrence found it easy to knock him about, and a 27-ball 5 on the second day did little to further his case.
Seemingly, then, England have a choice next week between Leach and Bess, the Somerset team-mates: the former was first-choice going into the winter before his various illnesses, while the latter took his unlikely opportunity with both hands in South Africa.
In this warm-up match, it has been Bess who has impressed more. Leach went wicketless across 15 first-innings overs while Bess took two in his 20 on Thursday; Leach also conceded 3.8 runs per over compared to Bess’ 3.0, and bowled one maiden compared to Bess’ six.
But the make-up of the West Indies batting line-up poses an interesting conundrum, given that there are 13 right-handers and only two left-handers in their 15-man squad. One of those lefties, Raymon Reifer, looks unlikely to play the first Test, while John Campbell is an opening batsman, whom England will hope to dismiss before the spinners come on.
It may be a simplification to look at fingerspinners only through the lens of whether they turn the ball into or away from a batsman, but raw statistics help illustrate the point. Across the last five English Test summers, offspinners average significantly more bowling to right-handers (37.58) than left (28.38), while the disparity is only slightly smaller among slow left-armers (36.42 to left-handers, 30.87 to right-handers).
What’s more, the players in West Indies’ middle order that a spinner may well be relied upon to dismiss have substantially better records against offspinners than slow left-armers, in particular the engine room of Jason Holder, Shai Hope and Shane Dowrich.
Bess played the issue down in his close-of-play press conference on Thursday evening, saying that he was comfortable bowling to whoever he needed to. He cited Moeen’s five-wicket haul at the Ageas Bowl against India in 2018 as evidence that it would not be a major issue – though with left-armer Curran self-isolating, it seems unlikely that there will be as many footholes created outside the right-handers’ off stump this time around.
“It’s funny, you talk about right-handers and left-handers, but a good offspinner or a good spinner is going to take wickets no matter what,” Bess said. “You’ve got to be threatening on the inside or the outside edge.
“I know a couple of years ago at Hampshire, there were big footholes and Mo took a five-for down here with footholes to the right-handers, and I don’t see any difference. If you’re bowling well, you’ve got footholes there, you’re going to be challenging to a right-hander, let alone a left-hander. West Indies have obviously only got one leftie – I wouldn’t mind a couple more lefties, but I’m very happy bowling at right-handers as well.”
While Joe Denly, Ollie Pope and Lawrence had managed to milk Leach easily enough on the first day, Bess proved effective against right-handers on the second, tieing down Zak Crawley (who scored 9 off 17 balls against him) and Ben Foakes (8 off 32) in particular. In fact, most of the damage to his figures was done by left-handers in the shape of Stokes and his rival Leach, both of whom hit him for a pair of boundaries.
“It was a really good challenge today, bowling against Stokesy,” Bess said. “I thought I genuinely did him on one of them, and he just somehow on the up hit it over extra cover for six. I was just thinking: this is why he’s probably one of the best in the world – [he was] absolutely nowhere near it and he still middled it for six.
“After such a long time off and doing so much this winter on it, I was a little bit nervous coming back into it. So I really wanted to make sure I nailed down those fundamentals and actually put myself in the best situation. But I’m really happy with how it’s coming out at the moment.”
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And regardless who England choose, it demonstrates a level of spin depth that has not been seen for several years that there is even a debate around the spot. “It would be quite an achievement [to be selected],” Bess said, “so with that it brings a lot of responsibility to make sure that actually I’m still bowling the best I can. I want to push for that spot and make it my own. That’s normal, because if you’re in our position, you want to be making that first XI, and we’ve got amazing competition.”
To add one final flavour to the situation, counties have begun to declare their interest in Bess in a development that could end the impasse that has come about at Somerset, where Leach is the first-choice spinner.
But Bess insisted that there was “no spitefulness or anything like that” among the spin group. “We help each other, we’re looking to improve each other,” he said. “It’s really nice to see Mo again and learn off him. We’ve got Parky as well who I’m really close with, Leachy I’m really close with, [and] Virds I’ve been on a lot of tours with. For that whole group, it’s great for us to intertwine with each other, chat about spin, and be back with a group of lads playing cricket.”
West Indies batting form a ‘worry’, admits Estwick
Roddy Estwick, West Indies assistant coach, has admitted he is slightly troubled by the top-order’s form ahead of the Test series against England but insists there is no concern over captain Jason Holder‘s form.
While many have made scores of substance in the two intra-squad matches at Emirates Old Trafford in the last couple of weeks, there was some alarm when their frontline batsmen capitulated to the first-choice bowlers on Wednesday.
A top-five of Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks, Shai Hope and Roston Chase subsided to 9 for 3 and 49 for 5 in their final competitive innings before next week’s first Test at the Ageas Bowl.
“I would have loved to see the batsmen spend a little bit more time in the middle,” Estwick told the PA news agency. “That would be one of the biggest worries, that none of the batsman in the Test squad got a score in this innings.
“In the first game players got scores so it’s not a major concern but I would love to see a couple getting scores in this match. They’ve still got a little bit more time.
“In England you’ve got to get used to leaving the ball, especially early on. The ball’s obviously going to nip around so you’ve got to be able to know where your off stump is, know what to leave and what to play at. We’re obviously going down to a different surface at Southampton, we’ve got to assess that surface as quickly as possible and hit the ground running.”
Holder’s woes with the bat continued on Thursday after his move to open the innings backfired when he was dismissed for 2 off 15 balls, leaving one from Anderson Phillip that nipped back in and clipped his off bail.
That means he has scored just seven runs and faced fewer than 30 deliveries in three innings while he has bowled only five overs across the internal matches after an ankle niggle. Estwick, though, believes Holder, No. 1 in the ICC Test allrounder rankings, will not be undercooked at Southampton.
“Anybody that knows Jason Holder well wouldn’t be worried. He is a strong and tough competitor and he’s mentally very, very strong as well. Jason knows how to prepare for Test match cricket, he’s been the number one allrounder for a number of years so he’ll be ready come July 8, no worries at all.”
Joshua Da Silva was the star performer with the bat for the Holder XI in the drawn four-day contest against a side led by Brathwaite, the 22-year-old following up his unbeaten first-innings century with 56 not out in the second dig as he amassed 189 runs without dismissal.
It will not be enough to be catapulted into the Test squad from the reserves but Estwick has been impressed by the youngster. “He played very well in the game and I’m sure that his time will come,” Estwick said.
Estwick had been leading the side this week as head coach Phil Simmons was self-isolating in his hotel room after recently attending his father-in-law’s funeral. Simmons was back presiding over the warm-ups on Thursday morning after testing negative for coronavirus for a third time, allowing him to link up with the rest of the touring party.
Estwick added: “We’ve missed him, obviously. But he’s back now with us and everything is good to go. It wasn’t a disruption because it happened in the game. You tend to miss more hands on deck in practice but if there’s a game going on, you’ve only got to monitor preparation and the odd person going into the nets.
“But as our leader, we’re happy to have him back and it’s very important that he’s back for us because now we can sit down, plan and prepare. We’ve been here now for three weeks so it’s all about good, solid planning and letting the players execute properly.”
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