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SCG’s ‘keeper returns for youth homeless sleepout

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It would be difficult to find any individual who spent more time training, playing or celebrating at the SCG than Phil Emery. Across nearly 200 first-class and one day games for New South Wales between 1987 and 1999, many of them as captain, Emery became almost as synonymous with the grand old ground as the Members and Ladies stands that still give it among the most distinctive silhouettes in world cricket.

Next week, however, Emery will find a new way of experiencing the SCG, by sleeping rough on its outfield as part of the Sport Stars Sleepout for the Chappell Foundation, an event held in an effort to raise money for the cause of youth homelessness in Australia. For Emery, the average figure of about 30,000 homeless Australians under the age of 25 on any given night is maddening.

The onset of Covid-19 this year has capped the number of SCG sleepers for the third edition of the event at 32, but provides still more impetus to raise money for the cause. Emery, who over the past 20 years has built a business career in the insurance industry while also serving as chairman of the “Baggy Blues” New South Wales past players association, said he had been floored by the numbers when asked to take part by the foundation’s patron Greg Chappell.

Emery will join the likes of Mitchell Starc, Alyssa Healy, Lisa Sthalekar, Steve O’Keefe, Russel Arnold, Stuart MacGill, Alex Blackwell and Daniel Hughes among cricketers taking part on Monday night. Donations, pledged to an individual sleeper, can be made here.

“People never believe it, seeing the numbers it’s ridiculous. Hopefully we raise lots of money, increase awareness about the issue and we can do some good with it,” he said. “From sending out a message about it at 4 o’clock yesterday, I think at 6 o’clock I had A$2,200 in the space of two hours, of just people generously giving stuff straight away. Extremely generous, it’s great.”

While the unchanging elements of the SCG have been a big part of its charm, Emery reflected on some of the hidden elements of the ground that he and other state teammates became well familiar with over the course of a career that featured three Sheffield Shield wins in 1990, 1993 and 1994 – the last two as captain.

“It was funny, when you were playing it was like your second home,” he said. “There’s a bar now underneath the members bar, but it used to be like an underpass with a road that ran through it. We used to park in there in what would be the middle of the bar now. You were out there from pre-season in July, August, even just for fielding, and we used to train on the ground, so you’d spend an enormous amount of time on the field.

“I first went onto the field when I was 11, and that was when the Sheridan Stand was there and the Brewongle and all the old concourse, the big hill, and the Paddington hill and all those things. Playing through the era when they took the hill away, I remember doing an interview with Tracey Holmes and I was facing the members stand on the ground, and she said ‘so what’s it going to be like playing without the hill’ and I went ‘what have they done’, and I turned around and there were bulldozers on it. I wasn’t paying that much attention back then!”

As the son of the former Wallabies international Neville, Emery experienced the old precinct before the advent of the Sydney Football Stadium – currently being rebuilt – and redevelopment of the adjoining showgrounds into a studio complex.

“Going back now, it’s still got the same feel to it with the Ladies Stand and the Members Stand, around the back, the nets are the same,” Emery said. “But when I was first there we had the No. 2 ground and I played a NSW Colts game there. You used to be able to walk through a little hole in the fence at the top and go through to the sports ground. I played a rugby grand final, my first year out of school in third grade on the sports ground. You had the showground oval, the SCG Nos 1 and 2 and the sports ground all in a row.

“But it’s still a fabulous place, it’s just got an aura about it, it’s a big ground but it’s not the MCG. If you put the wicket in the middle its a biggish ground, but it’s intimate if that makes sense. The visitors’ dressing room has still got the split room between professionals out the back and the gentlemen out the front. That’s still there. The home dressing room’s changed a bit since I first went in it, there’s some mod cons in there, but the layout hasn’t changed really, and you wouldn’t change that for the world.

“Fabulous feel in the old room, even the little windows and banister out the front where you sit outside. You’re not in a dungeon, you get natural light into the place. You can actually stand in the change room and watch the game – not the best view but the best place to be. You can walk out through the bar and then out to bat if you want. That sort of thing – it’s connected to the building, you’re not hidden away, and that’s part of its charm.”



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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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