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Cricket Victoria assessing early-season plans amid Melbourne lockdown

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Cricket Victoria are starting to consider the various scenarios that could be required to allow their domestic season to start on schedule if the new Covid-19 lockdown of Melbourne means the teams are unable to play at home.

Melbourne and Mitchell Shire – an area north of the city – returned to lockdown at midnight on Wednesday after a spike in Covid numbers which has also led to fresh border restrictions being put in place.

It has created major problems for various winter sporting codes who have rushed to try and keep their seasons going by moving teams to inter-state hubs. While cricket still has some time on its side with the season more than two months away the contingency planning is starting with one potential scenario that Victoria could spend the first chunk of the season on the road.

While there is currently no schedule for the domestic season, last year the men’s summer began in late September with a period of Marsh One-Day Cup matches before the Sheffield Shield in early October with the rest of the one-day competition played alongside.

If the first part of the season followed the same structure as last year it could also include some Women’s National Cricket League matches ahead of the WBBL which, in its first standalone tournament in 2019-2020, took place during October and November. There are two Melbourne-based WBBL teams, the Renegades and the Stars.

“I’m just doing some pre-planning as to how it could look if we were forced to quarantine or get an exemption to be able to quarantine in one of the northern states or across the west,” Shaun Graf, Cricket Victoria’s general manager of cricket told SEN Radio. “If we had to quarantine and these [Marsh Cup] games are later in September we’d be looking to have to get out of here if we were able to early September, hopefully get exemptions across the other states and play away from home. That’s one the scenarios I’m looking at, hence I’m looking at we could be away for anything up to two months.”

Graf does not believe the potential of being in a hub for an extended period of time would present the same challenge for cricketers as it is doing for some other sports. The players are used to travelling for extensive periods, albeit usually spread across a whole season with 35-40 days on the road for the Shield, although the additional bio-security measures would be a challenge.

“We’ve spoken to players, it’s not quite the same as for football codes because we are used to travelling and being on the road a long period of time but everyone needs to know that this may be a scenario if we are to kick the season off,” he said. “We’d have to make sure players stay within the compound of hotels, that’s something we’d need to look at because you haven’t got the freedom to go for a run or have a hit of gold so we’d have to look at those issues that footy has confronted. But generally from a travelling point of view it doesn’t really faze a cricket side as much as the football codes.”

Graf added that while travel is a “fairly major cost” in normal circumstances he would expect Cricket Australia to help with the additional expense of a hub which would entail the need for a larger squad. “If we were in the situation where we had to go into a hub we’d talk to CA and I’d expect there would be some offset,” he said.

For the immediate future, Victoria’s pre-season for both the men’s and women’s squads has not been stopped by the new lockdown with elite sport having an exemption to train with strict bio-security measures in place. Graf revealed up to six Victoria players have been tested for Covid-19 after reporting symptoms but have all come back negative.



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Recent Match Report – Pakistan vs England 1st Test 2020

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Pakistan 139 for 2 (Azam 69*, Masood 46*) v England

Babar Azam and Shan Masood lifted Pakistan on a day punctuated by shifting fortunes on the field and above it as the first match in the three-Test series against England began.

A moment of silence to remember those who have lost their lives in the Covid-19 pandemic before play began under heavy skies put the match in perspective and emphasised the efforts of both countries to stage this contest behind closed doors at Emirates Old Trafford.

Having been in England for a month, preparing in the relative anonymity provided by England’s series against West Indies, Pakistan arrived to their first Test since February as questions swirled over their readiness to face an opposition which has three matches’ worth of competition fitness in them.

By the time rain brought about an early tea and delayed the evening session by nearly three hours, it was batsmen Azam and Masood who looked to be in a groove against a bowling attack that seemed to have turned rusty at lunch.

After his captain, Azhar Ali, won the toss and elected to bat first – opposite number Joe Root said he would have done the same – Pakistan opener Masood withstood a tricky period against Stuart Broad and James Anderson first up, accompanied by Abid Ali in a partnership that was approaching fifty when Jofra Archer entered the attack.

Having rounded off his first over with a couple of steepling bouncers which were evaded well by Abid, Archer struck with the first ball of his second over when he bowled Abid with a beauty through the gate and into off stump, thus ending a patient start by Abid and the partnership on 46.

After a brief rain interruption, Masood settled, guiding Archer through the bare gully region with smart, soft hands for four.

But then Chris Woakes, who had relieved Anderson after five overs, struck with a full delivery that thwacked Azhar Ali on the pad in line and sent him on his way for a six-ball duck, despite his swift call for a review, which only confirmed the lbw decision.

That brought Azam to the crease and he showed his class, somehow escaping a testing first delivery from Woakes that narrowly missed the outside edge and off stump and negotiating the ever-challenging Archer.

But it was against Anderson after lunch that Azam settled into his stride, finding the boundary three times in as many overs to bring his spell to a swift end.

Anderson even became the first bowler to be called for a front-foot no-ball – a rarity for him – by the third umpire in Tests under the new system being trialled during this series when he over-stepped bowling to Azam in the 31st over.

Meanwhile, Masood was enjoying almost as good a time against Broad and, by the time Root turned to Archer and the offspin of Dom Bess, the batsmen were in a decent flow. They put on 78 runs together and, as Azam brought up his half-century off just 70 balls with a punch into the covers off Bess and then passed it with two runs behind square off Archer, the rain hit.

By that stage, Masood had moved to 45 not out, Pakistan had recovered from 43 for 2 to 121 for 2 and the players faced a long stay in the dressing rooms.

Manchester was eventually bathed in bright sunshine but, by the end of mopping-up operations, play resumed under lights with the dim skies back overhead.

Archer, who had bowled one ball before the lengthy stoppage, finished his over with plenty of short stuff, which meant Root was forced to turn back to spin, bringing himself on with Bess.

Masood added just one run, having faced 152 balls – more than any other visiting opener in England since 2016 – for his 46 not out before bad light forced play to be abandoned for the day.

In the course of his innings, Masood had two lives, both from Jos Buttler off the bowling of Bess. On 45, he survived an edge through to the keeper, and he hadn’t added to his score when, after the rain break, he charged at Bess, attempted to hit the ball to the leg side but missed, only to be saved when the ball bounced out of Jos Buttler’s gloves. At the other end, Azam had moved to an unbeaten 69 off 100 balls in a third-wicket stand of 96.



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Vivo pulls out as IPL 2020 title sponsors

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IPL title rights holders Vivo have pulled out of this year’s tournament, ESPNcricinfo understands. The development follows a public outcry over the tournament’s association with Vivo, a Chinese company, following clashes at the India-China border in June.

Neither the BCCI nor Vivo were available for comment on the issue.

In June, the BCCI had said it would “review” the sponsorship deals concerning the IPL, but did not name any brand. “Taking note of the border skirmish that resulted in the martyrdom of our brave jawans, the IPL Governing Council has convened a meeting next week to review IPL’s various sponsorship deals,” BCCI said in a tweet posted on June 19.

According to India Today Vivo would return as IPL’s title sponsor for the 2022 and 2023 editions. It also has reported that the BCCI will issue a tender in the coming days to find a title sponsor for the 2020 IPL season.

Two days ago, the BCCI’s formal announcement – signed by secretary Jay Shah – of the IPL being played in the UAE between September 15 and November 10 mentioned Vivo as the title sponsor.

The decision is not likely to significantly affect the franchises financially. ESPNcricinfo spoke with several franchises, each of whom said that while the IPL was yet to inform them of the development, they were not fussed at the news. It is understood each franchise gets approximately Rs 20 crore per year from the Vivo contract. As far they are concerned, as long as the BCCI can rope in a replacement for Vivo, this development will not have any impact on them.

Vivo had bagged the title sponsorship for two years initially in 2015, and retained the rights signing a five-year contract (2017-22), paying about USD 341 million.



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Wasim Khan calls on England to tour Pakistan before 2022

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Wasim Khan is hoping England will send a T20 team to Pakistan ahead of their next scheduled visit in 2022.

England have not toured Pakistan since 2005-06 due to security concerns. But, before the Covid-19 pandemic, hopes had risen that they would return to the country in two years’ time.

Now, however, with Pakistan having helped England fulfil their international fixtures at significant inconvenience to their own players – they have already been in the country for a month and remain in lockdown – Wasim, the PCB chief executive, is hoping England can return the favour.

“England are due to tour in 2022 and we’d love to have them coming over well before then for a shorter tour,” Wasim told Sky Sports. “It’s something that we’ll speak to the ECB about. But it’s baby steps. There’s a lot of cricket still left to play. But we’re hoping in the near future England will definitely come.”

Wasim subsequently confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that he hoped England could send a T20 side to Pakistan. He accepted that “finding time in the FTP (future tours programme) could be the challenge at this stage” but suggested that a Lions tour, something he was calling for ahead of the dawn of Covid-19, would be “excellent as an alternative”.

ALSO READ: Jason Holder calls for reciprocal tour of Caribbean as West Indies fly home

While the ECB clarified there was no specific on-going discussion on the subject at present, it is not inconceivable the present global situation and the backlog in international fixtures could accelerate the usage of separate squads in red and white ball cricket.

England used something close to an A team for their recently concluded ODI series against Ireland – the final game featured four of the England XI that won the World Cup final – and they could potentially satisfy more requests for tours if they were to do so more often. West Indies have also expressed hopes England will tour in the coming months as they grapple with the financial ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Whether such tours take place or not, England’s schedule is likely to prove hectic in the coming months. A limited-overs tour of South Africa is currently pencilled in for December, while they hope to return to Sri Lanka in January to fulfil the Test tour that was called off in March. They are then expected to play a five-Test series against India which may well take place in the UAE. The IPL runs from September 19 to November 8.



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