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.”
Simon Taufel, Sachin Tendulkar, and a pair of lbw decisions
Simon Taufel won the ICC Umpire of the Year award for five years straight – from 2004 to 2008 – but to some India fans, he’ll always remain the umpire who denied Sachin Tendulkar a hundred during the 2007 Trent Bridge Test. Taufel has spoken in detail about that decision on an episode of the 22 Yarns podcast hosted by Gaurav Kapoor, and revealed how a frank chat with Tendulkar the next day helped them forge a relationship based on “mutual respect for each other and our abilities”.
Tendulkar was batting on 91 when he shouldered arms to a nip-baker from Paul Collingwood, and Taufel gave him out. Ball-tracking, however, suggested the ball would have gone on to miss the stumps.
“Well, I’m thinking, shouldered arms, so benefit of the doubt probably to the bowler, and I’ve given Sachin out after a bit of thought,” Taufel said. “Now, of course, Sachin’s not happy with the decision. It’s unusual for him to stand around, and he did stand there for a little bit of time, and then he went. I could see that he wasn’t happy.
“[…] Later on Hawkeye showed that the ball was predicted to miss the off stump by maybe an inch. And I just knew what the response was going to be like from world cricket; so I didn’t open Cricinfo, I didn’t read any newspapers, I knew that I was going to be – not the flavour of the month in the media.
“The following morning I happened to pass by Sachin on my normal morning walk out to the middle […] and I come across Sachin and I said, ‘look, yesterday I got it wrong, you know? I’ve looked at it, I got it wrong.’ He said, ‘look, Simon, I know.’ He said, ‘you’re a good umpire, you don’t often get many wrong, it’s okay, don’t worry about it.’
“And out of that sort of exchange, which wasn’t an apology for the sake of making him feel better or me feel better, it was just an acknowledgment that we were both out there doing our best. This is sport, and I wanted to acknowledge that I knew the fact that he was unhappy, and I was doing my best to make sure that that didn’t happen again. That was really the underlying message.
“[…] I’m a big believer that breakdowns lead to breakthroughs, and I think that was an example where Sachin and I had a moment that wasn’t particularly pleasant, and I wanted him to know that I took my job seriously and I was going to make sure that that didn’t happen again. And I think out of that exchange, that relationship bank account got a massive credit, because I think that breakdown moment did lead to a breakthrough.
“We have an ongoing mutual respect for each other and our abilities, because I’ve got Sachin wrong a number of times, not just on that one occasion. I’ve got the best in the world wrong. And I’ve learned from all those examples, but one thing that will always be with me, apart from those mistakes, is the respect and the trust and the integrity of our relationships as we go forward.”
Speaking of other occasions where he got decisions wrong, Taufel brought up one where Tendulkar was the beneficiary, during the 2005 Delhi Test against Sri Lanka, where he made his 35th Test century to go past Sunil Gavaskar’s then Test-record tally of hundreds.
ESPNcricinfo’s report of the first day’s play says Tendulkar survived “two perilous lbw appeals” before getting to his hundred – one against Dilhara Fernando on 24, the other against Muttiah Muralitharan on 38. Taufel didn’t specify which one he was referring to.
“I was doing a Test match at Feroz Shah Kotla between India and Sri Lanka, and Sachin does get hit on the pads early on in the innings, and I’ve given it not out,” Taufel said. “He goes on to score a hundred, which I think was his record-breaking hundred at that period of time, but no one’s talking about that. No one remembers that, that’s not on YouTube anywhere.
“They’re all talking about Sachin being robbed on 91 [at Trent Bridge], they don’t talk about the not-out where he goes on to score a hundred. Tom Moody, who was the [then] Sri Lankan coach, wasn’t particularly happy with me, because of [that decision].”
On MS Dhoni’s sense of humour
Speaking about the various characters he interacted with during his umpiring career, Taufel picked out MS Dhoni for his sense of humour.
“MS Dhoni, I find him amazing. He’s got one of the best cricket brains I’ve ever come across – [him,] Darren Lehmann and Shane Warne would be the top three cricket brains that I’ve been fortunate to come across. MS Dhoni is so calm – he’s so relaxed – but he’s also got a sense of humour that most people wouldn’t get to see.
“I remember sitting down in a change room at Durban with him. We’d just come off a Test match in Cape Town. Sreesanth had bowled in that previous game, [there were] over rate challenges because Sree takes a long time to bowl his overs, and we’d sat down in these leather chairs in the umpires’ room in Durban.
[Taufel may have mixed up the venues, because the only Test series in which Dhoni captained Sreesanth in South Africa was in 2010-11, where the second Test was in Durban and the third – in which Taufel officiated – was in Cape Town.]
“We’re just having an informal chat, and MS is looking at these black leather chairs in the umpires’ room, and he says, “these chairs are okay, they’re pretty good, and I was thinking, how can I get a couple of these, I wouldn’t mind buying some of these and taking them home.” I’m thinking, I’m trying to have a serious discussion with you about over rates and you’re worried about these leather chairs.
“And I said, ‘MS, you’ve now been done for over rates in Cape Town, and if you’ve got the same problems here in Durban, we’re talking about suspension territory.’ He’s almost rubbed his hands together, and [said], ‘suspension? I wouldn’t mind a game off, because I’m playing a lot of cricket at the moment’, and it just blew me away. I thought, this is something different that I haven’t seen before. But that’s the sense of humour and the relaxed nature of the character and you develop good relationships [with such people].
“Makhaya Ntini, another great one, as a fast bowler. What a character! He scored many centuries as a bowler on difficult pitches, and occasionally he’d come to me and say, ‘Simon, what do you think I should do now? Where should I bowl this one?’ And I said, mate, ‘I’ve got my own challenges, I’m worrying about my own game! Bowl where you want to bowl, and do what you have to do!'”
ICC Board set to discuss fate of next three World tournaments
The fate of the women’s ODI World Cup in 2021 and the choice of venues for the next two men’s T20 World Cups are the two key issues that the ICC’s Board is set to discuss on Friday.
This is the second time the ICC Board is meeting in the past three weeks, having given the nod on July 20 to defer the men’s T20 World Cup, which was originally scheduled for October-November 2020 in Australia.
At that meeting the ICC Board agreed to fresh windows for three men’s events: T20 World Cups in October-November 2021 and October-November 2022, and the ODI World Cup in October-November 2023, pushed back from its original March-April window.
The ICC Board, though, did not announce who would host the next two editions of the T20 World Cup: would it be India in 2021, as per the original schedule, or Australia who were forced to hold back the 2020 event due to the Covid-19 pandemic?
After the July 20 meeting, the ICC said it would take in the “rapidly changing” environment during the pandemic and would take a “considered decision” before determining the hosts for the next two editions of the T20 World Cup.
It is understood that although there is no cut-off point, the ICC is under pressure to not delay the decision on the host venues for two reasons: taking a quick decision would provide clarity to all commercial partners including the host broadcasters who would be planning their budgets for the next calendar year, and it would also allow member boards to plan windows for bilateral cricket.
While Cricket Australia had raised concerns over its inability to host the event this year, its chairman Earl Eddings had written recently to the ICC, proposing that India swap hosting rights with Australia for the 2021 edition. Doing that, Eddings suggested, would financially help all members. If not, Eddings said it would be “detrimental to cricket” in case the “cancellation” of the World Cup in Australia this year was “replaced by award of” the tournament in October-November 2022.
CA has reiterated at ICC meetings that it was halfway through creating the structure for the event, so it would be easier for them to complete the process if they get the rights for the 2021 edition.
The BCCI has not revealed its position. Board president Sourav Ganguly has been attending ICC Board calls since March, and is understood to have empathised with CA during ICC Board meetings. Internally, however, the BCCI is understood to still be keen on retaining its right to host the T20 World Cup in 2021. At least that was the BCCI position at the July 20 meeting.
One key determining factor, an intangible, would be how the host country has dealt with the pandemic. Currently both Australia and India remain seriously affected, with the latter among the top five countries in terms of official number of cases, which as on Thursday was approaching 2 million, with over 40,000 dead.
Doubts linger over Women’s World Cup
The women’s event, comprising eight countries, is currently scheduled between February 6 and March 7 in New Zealand, a country that has kept Covid-19 cases in check. The New Zealand government was also the first to remove restrictions on spectators at sporting events.
Greg Barclay, the New Zealand Cricket chairman, recently said a final decision on whether the Women’s World Cup would go ahead as scheduled was imminent. Qualifiers for the event, however, have not been conducted yet. It is understood that if the World Cup is given the go-ahead, the plan will be to stage the qualifiers in the UAE at the end of November.
Currently New Zealand has kept its borders closed – anyone entering the country would need to undergo a two-week quarantine. It is understood that teams would not be allowed to train if that norm remains in place and would need to isolate in their hotel rooms. Add to that a week-long preparation period which would mean at least 21 days before the event starts. It is understood that the ICC is also concerned about who would bear the costs. The member boards would assume it would be the ICC, since it is a global event.
Since the 2017 World Cup in England, women’s cricket has gradually gained global recognition with the T20 World Cup final in March 2020, between Australia and India, witnessed by a record crowd of 86,000-plus at the MCG. Commercially, though, women’s cricket does not fetch ICC big money.
Either way the ICC Board will be hard pressed to make a decision sooner rather than later. If it postpones the Women’s World Cup, the ICC would go without organising a global event for 18 months until the men’s T20 World Cup in October 2021.
Kyle Abbott misses 2020 season amid travel difficulties
Hampshire have confirmed that Kyle Abbott will not play for the club in 2020, but will return next year as an overseas player.
Abbott, who played 11 Tests for South Africa between 2013 and 2017, has been at home in KwaZulu-Natal throughout lockdown, and with the Covid-19 pandemic restricting international travel and causing visa difficulties, he agreed with the club that he would miss the curtailed county season, which began last week.
Abbott signed for Hampshire on a Kolpak deal in 2017, and agreed a new three-year contract last year. This included a clause that meant he would become an overseas player after the UK’s transition period with the European Union ends on December 31, one of two permitted in all formats next season.
“The window for Kyle’s return to the UK has narrowed significantly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the difficulties with visa delays and quarantine restrictions that have followed subsequently,” Giles White, Hampshire’s director of cricket, said.
“We’ve had excellent dialogue with Kyle throughout this period, and with everything considered, we all felt the best course of action was for him to remain in South Africa in readiness for the 2021 season.”
Abbott is the second Kolpak player to confirm he will not be playing for Hampshire this season, after Fidel Edwards last week. Brad Wheal, the young Scotland seamer, is also unavailable as he is not in the country.
Several counties were without their Kolpak players during the first round of Bob Willis Trophy fixtures. Surrey remain hopeful that it will be possible for Morne Morkel to come over from Australia at some stage this season, but Hashim Amla is unlikely to feature. Yorkshire have confirmed that Duanne Olivier will be available for their second game of the season.
Durham are optimistic about the chances of Farhaan Behardien, who signed a Kolpak deal with the club in January, being available at some stage this season, though his arrival has been held up by visa difficulties.
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