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Afghanistan Cricket Board sacks its CEO for ‘unsatisfactory performance’ and ‘misbehaviour’

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The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) has abruptly sacked its chief executive officer Lutfullah Stanikzai on Monday, two years before his contract expires. In a letter written to Stanikzai, which ESPNcricinfo has seen, ACB chairman Farhan Yusefzai said Stanikzai’s contract was being terminated for “mismanagement”, “unsatisfactory performance,” and “misbehavior with managers.” The board also made the announcement through a release on Monday.

“This is to inform you that this letter serves as confirmation that your employment contract in the capacity of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Afghanistan Cricket Board is terminated effectively. Your last employment date with ACB is July 29, 2020,” the letter said.

“The reason(s) of your contract termination is as below:

The ACB release also stated Stanikzai had been sacked due to “ignorance in his responsibilities,” and he had been “warned verbally and in writing in the past.” The board said it would advertise for the vacancy soon.

Stanikzai said he was surprised by the development and first found out about it from social media and not by any communication from the board. He said he had spoken to Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, the state minister for parliamentary affairs, who sits on the ACB Board and even he was not aware.

“I spoke to a [ACB] board member and was told that they are not aware” Stanikzai told ESPNcricinfo. “According to ACB constitution, the CEO is appointed by the Board and any decision concerning the CEO should be done by the Board.”

Stanikzai, who had served previously as a media manager, was hired as the CEO on a three-year contract in July last year immediately after Afghanistan’s dismal performance at the 2019 World Cup where they finished last in the 10-team tournament without a single win.

Stanikzai had replaced Asadullah Khan, who had been charged with breaching the ACB constitution and policies on various decisions. Khan’s tenure as acting chief executive was short lived months after the ACB sacked its chairman Atif Mashal and Shafiqullah Stanikzai early in 2019.

The hand of the Afghanistan government in the ACB politics is not lost upon the ICC. ESPNcricinfo understands the ICC last year alerted the ACB that it was concerned by the inconsistency in the leadership in the Afghanistan board. That message was delivered by Imran Khawaja, then ICC’s deputy chairman, who was recently appointed as interim chair of the global cricket body.

It is understood that Khawaja raised three issues with the ACB last September: concerns about its leadership, the money that the ACB receives from the ICC be strictly utilised for development of cricket in the country and, thirdly, the ACB should strengthen its internal audit.

Afghanistan were granted Full Membership in 2017, which entitled them to a distribution cost from the ICC for participating in global tournaments. As per the new finance model, they would get around US$ 40 million for the 2016-23 commercial rights cycle for projected ICC revenues of $2.7 billion. However, with the ICC’s projected revenues coming down, those costs have been adjusted to close to $4.8 million per year.

In January this year the ACB received about $2.4 million as part of the ICC’s distribution money. However, the ACB has been reeling financially after one of its major team sponsors pulled out in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Consequently the ACB cut salaries of its entire coaching staff since May.



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Jos Buttler desperately needs to convert his start after lacklustre keeping effort

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Whatever Jos Buttler achieves in the remainder of his playing career, his place in the folklore of English cricket is secure.

Already established as perhaps the best white-ball batsman his country has ever produced, he kept his nerve under considerable pressure to complete the run out that secured victory in the World Cup final. There may have been better moments in the English cricket, but it’s not especially easy to remember them.

His subsequent decision to auction the shirt he was wearing when he completed the run-out underlined the impression he is, very much, one of the good guys. The proceeds were donated to help the NHS.

So, you can understand why the England management want him around. He is a selfless presence, a calm voice, a talented player and, potentially, a destructive batsman.

ALSO READ: Buttler still ‘vital’ insists Root as pressure mounts

But there are serious questions to ask about him as a Test cricketer. Now playing his 45th Test, he has one century to his name and averages 31.63.

While that might not sound too bad, it needs to be seen in the context of the 17 Tests – including the current one – he has played since the start of 2019. In those, he has averaged 24.46 with four half-centuries. Two of those came in a dead rubber in St Lucia; one other came when the Ashes had been conceded at The Oval. His 67 against West Indies a couple of weeks ago was his first half-century in eight Tests. He desperately needs – and England desperately need him – to convert his start in England’s first innings into a substantial contribution.

Whether he does or not, there must be doubts over his continuing role as keeper. He missed three chances during Pakistan’s first innings of the series. And if two of the chances were relatively demanding, the third was as regulation as can be expected. He also fluffed a run-out chance when his throw to the bowlers’ end looped comically wide.

“Dom Bess is failing to gain the support he should be able to expect from his keeper. He finished with 1 for 74; he deserved considerably better”

They were costly errors. The first two – a dropped catch and a missed stumping – reprieved Shan Masood when he had 45. He eventually made 156.

To be fair to Buttler, his keeping has been generally sound since he reclaimed the gloves at the end of last year. He didn’t drop any chances in the four Tests he played in South Africa or the one he played in New Zealand.

But he did drop one in Southampton and it was costly. Jermaine Blackwood, on 20, gloved a chance down the leg side but Buttler was unable to cling on. Blackwood went on to make 95 that ensured a West Indies victory.

Was it a tough chance? Well, keepers whose footwork is better tend to make chances appear easier. It wasn’t easy, but this is Test cricket and a generation ago, when keepers were picked primarily for their ability to catch rather than their ability to make runs, it would have been considered regulation.

Spare a thought for Dom Bess, too. As if it wasn’t hard enough trying to pursue as a career as an international spinner when you are 22 years old and far from certain of a place in your county side, Bess is also failing to gain the support he should be able to expect from his keeper. All three of the chances Buttler missed were off his bowling. He finished with 1 for 74; he deserved considerably better.

The worry for England is they are scheduled to play seven Tests in Asia – two in Sri Lanka and five in either India or the UAE – this winter. That means they require a keeper who is proficient standing up to the spinners. On this evidence, they do not have one in Buttler. He’s yet to complete a stumping in his Test career.

It’s not as if England are struggling for alternatives, either. In Ben Foakes, England have an excellent keeper who has already shown in his brief international career that he has the talent and temperament to contribute more with the bat. He made a century on Test debut and claimed the player-of-the-match award in his only ODI. Within a day of keeping at Test level, he had completed more stumpings than Buttler.

None of this should be a surprise, really. Going into this match, Buttler had played 109 first-class games and averaged 32.06. That is not a small sample size. He wasn’t first-choice keeper at Somerset and there’s considerable doubt whether he would be at Lancashire. It is unrealistic and probably unreasonable to expect him to go up a level and perform better.

ALSO READ: Stubborn Smith staking reputation on Buttler’s Test career

But he is Ed Smith’s signature selection. For when Buttler was recalled in May 2018, Smith made it very clear that it was on his personal insistence. There certainly wasn’t much statistical evidence to support it: Buttler hadn’t played a first-class match in eight months and hadn’t made a first-class century in the best part of four years.

It worked for a while. In the next 10 Tests, Buttler averaged 44.70, registered his maiden century and added six half-centuries. It may be relevant that he kept wicket in only one of those games. In a low-scoring series in Sri Lanka, he was particularly influential.

But the start of 2019 is a long time ago. Buttler has benefitted from more patience and more chances than most. Whatever he contributes off the pitch, he has not contributed the runs required or the dismissals expected on it. Yet Smith and co. appear reluctant – some would say stubbornly reluctant – to accept their hunch was wrong.

The other concern for England is that, at some stage, Buttler’s red-ball disappointments might seep into his white-ball cricket. In the shorter formats he is such an irrepressible, confident figure and he’s so integral to England’s hopes of becoming the first men’s team to hold both T20 and 50-over World Cups simultaneously. Here, though, he looked weary, disappointed, and bereft of confidence.

At some stage, the England management might need to cut him free in Test cricket so as not to spoil him as a limited-overs player. He is, without doubt, a brilliant international cricketer. It’s just there’s increasing evidence to suggest he’s not a brilliant Test cricketer.



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Simon Taufel, Sachin Tendulkar, and a pair of lbw decisions

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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.”

ALSO READ: Steve Bucknor: My ‘mistake’ in 2008 Sydney Test ‘might have cost India the game’

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.

ALSO READ: Daryl Harper ‘extremely proud’ of controversial Sachin Tendulkar lbw decision

“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!'”



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ICC Board set to discuss fate of next three World tournaments

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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.



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