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Tournament hubs, Afghanistan Test and Boxing Day: where does the Australia summer stand?

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Having hoped that the 2020-21 Australian cricket season would escape the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it now looks likely the summer will be significantly impacted as a second wave hits Melbourne with concerns also hanging over New South Wales leading to extensive border and travel restrictions around the country. A lot remains up in the air with the season less than two months away, but these are some of the key issues that need to be resolved.

State cricket

In some ways, this is the biggest headache for Cricket Australia given the logistical challenges of competitions that are vital to the game’s ecosystem but do not generate revenue. Particularly problematic is how to formulate a Sheffield Shield – the ten-game season and final can’t be cut back without agreement with the Australian Cricketers’ Association as it’s part of the MoU – amid travel and border restrictions.

The hub concept is tougher and much costlier for a first-class competition but a whole range of scenarios remain on the table. A News Corp report said starting the tournament earlier and rushing through a set of matches ahead of the Test summer was one idea, to ensure players had a chance to prepare or push for selection, while at the other end there is the possibility of limited Shield cricket before Christmas with the season then back-filled after the BBL.

The men’s and women’s one-day competitions – the Marsh Cup and WNCL – would appear vulnerable at the moment although players have made it clear they are open to the idea of hubs. The WNCL is especially important this year if the Women’s ODI World Cup goes ahead as played next February and March in New Zealand.

Afghanistan Test

The international fixtures that had been scheduled early in the season have steadily dropped away with series against Zimbabwe and West Indies postponed. The T20Is against India scheduled for mid-October also won’t take place now the T20 World Cup has been moved and the IPL has its window. The next big question for CA is the one-off Test against Afghanistan slated for Perth on November 21 which they remain committed to staging.

However, the time frame created by the IPL and the need for players to quarantine for two weeks on return to Australia is very tight, especially for anyone featuring in the closing stages of the competition, unless those in contention for the Test from both sides leave the UAE early to allow 14 days in Perth ahead of the match. Even if that was possible there would need to be exemptions granted to allow players to train although with hotels very close to the grounds this could be feasible.

WBBL

This will be the first of the marquee competitions to be staged in the season with the tournament due to begin on October 17 but is likely to need some reorganisation. When the fixtures were announced, the competition had already headed towards a hub model with a three-week block of matches in Sydney, and weekend blocks of matches elsewhere, but with New South Wales at a crucial stage of trying to limit their Covid-19 numbers – and significant restrictions around travel into the state – it could be that Queensland or Western Australia become the major centres with Tasmania also putting their hat in the ring to host a hub.

There remains confidence that the overseas players will be able to take up their deals as planned although a potential curveball has been thrown by the BCCI’s announcement of the T20 Challenge in early November which came in for strong criticism from a number of players led by Alyssa Healy.

BBL

There is a little more time up Cricket Australia’s sleeve for the Big Bash, but with the tenth edition to be the longest tournament – running from early December to early February – it could be hugely demanding if Covid-19 restrictions remain. Unlike the WBBL, the initial fixtures featured the full home-and-away model which involves regular travel and, even in the extended tournament, quick turnarounds between matches which would not be possible under the current quarantine requirements imposed by the various states.

The need to hub the competition will have to be considered as well as the flexibility to change mid-tournament if Covid-19 cases spike in a state. If there arises a need to reschedule or move matches in the BBL, it will add another layer of complexity given it runs concurrently with the major part of the men’s international season.

India tour

This remains the crucial part of Australia’s season with A$300 million – the financial health of the game – riding on it taking place. The chances of a traditional Test series across four venues appears to be receding with the Boxing Day Test at the MCG looking under threat. To ease the biosecurity protocols that will be needed – and state-by-state requirements to quarantine – it could be that the matches are staged in fewer locations while there is likely to be consideration given to what size crowds are allowed. Fans have returned to stadiums for winter codes in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales amid various restrictions on capacity.

The Adelaide Oval will have its on-site hotel completed by October and has already been talked of as a training hub while Perth, who missed on hosting India in the initial fixture list, may yet be part of the series. Following the Tests there is a three-match ODI series pencilled in for mid-January which currently has games in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

The India Women’s team is also due to tour in January for three ODIs which are due to act as a lead-in to the ODI World Cup in February.



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Dane Vilas, Cameron Delport face tricky times as UK’s transition period with EU nears conclusion

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South African Dane Vilas and Cameron Delport‘s hopes of continuing to play in county cricket as local players courtesy their ancestry visas have been dealt a terminal blow, after the ECB confirmed that they would not be exempted from the cancellation of Kolpak registrations when the UK’s transition period with the European Union (EU) ends on December 31, 2020.

Alan Fordham, the ECB’s head of first-class cricket operations, sent a letter to the counties, the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) and the relevant boards last week, setting out the changes that would be made to eligibility registrations following the end of the transition period. That included the long-anticipated cancellation of Kolpak registrations and confirmation that EU nationals with settled or pre-settled status in the UK would continue to qualify as local players.

After lobbying from the PCA, the ECB had confirmed this July that counties would be able to field two overseas players rather than one in both the County Championship and the One-Day Cup in order to protect the jobs of players on Kolpak deals.

ALSO READ: ECB clarifies player retention plans for postponed Hundred

Both Vilas and Delport had appealed to the ECB in the hope that their ancestry visas would mean they remained eligible to play as non-overseas players for Lancashire and Essex respectively, and both remained optimistic when contacted by ESPNcricinfo last week.

But Fordham’s letter, published on the ECB’s website, affirmed that the cancellation of Kolpak registrations would “apply regardless of whether such player currently holds, or is able to obtain, an ancestral or family visa giving them the right to work in the UK”.

ESPNcricinfo understands that the changes have been approved by the ECB board and are not pending appeals. It is unclear, however, whether the ruling will face any legal challenge from players affected at this stage.

“Confirmation that EU nationals would only be eligible if they have settled or pre-settled status came as a blow to Dutch cricket as well, seemingly ending the pathway for young players to gain experience at the county level – much like the now first-class-veteran Ryan ten Doeschate – unless they move to the UK on a permanent basis”

Vilas, 35, is expected to stay at Lancashire next season despite the ruling. Since signing for the club in 2017, he has settled in London with his wife Pippa, whose ancestral visa means that he has – and would continue to have – the right to live and work in the UK. Lancashire have previously given him guarantees that he would stay on as an overseas player. That said, he is unlikely to retain his top-bracket contract in the Hundred with the Manchester Originals, competing for one of three overseas spots rather than being one of the better local players available.

For Delport, meanwhile, the ruling could be the first step on his return to the international fold. He has previously held conversations with South Africa’s director of cricket Graeme Smith and head coach Mark Boucher about the possibility of playing for his native country in the 2021 T20 World Cup, and publicly revealed his intentions to represent them while speaking to ESPNcricinfo last month.

In practice, many players on Kolpak registrations – including Simon Harmer, Duanne Olivier and Stiaan van Zyl – will become their respective counties’ overseas player next year, while a handful – like Fidel Edwards and David Wiese – are expected to be released at the end of the season.

Confirmation that EU nationals would only be eligible if they have settled or pre-settled status came as a blow to Dutch cricket as well, seemingly ending the pathway for young players to gain experience at the county level – much like the now first-class-veteran Ryan ten Doeschate – unless they move to the UK on a permanent basis.



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Essex captain Tom Westley issues apology after beer poured on Muslim player

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Essex captain Tom Westley has issued an apology on behalf of his team following an incident at Lord’s which saw alcohol poured over a young Muslim player.

Essex lifted the Bob Willis Trophy on Sunday, triggering scenes of jubilation on the balcony of their dressing room at Lord’s. Amid the photographs of those moments, Feroze Khushi, a 21-year-old batsman who played four games in the group stage of the tournament, is seen grimacing as beer is poured over his head by another young player on the staff. ESPNcricinfo has chosen not to name that player or show photographs which might be deemed incriminating.

ALSO READ: Essex admit ‘work needs to be done’ after player pictured pouring alcohol over Muslim team-mate

While Essex released a statement on Monday admitting the celebrations “did not meet the inclusive values” of the club, they stopped short of offering an apology. Westley, at the end of his first season as captain, has now corrected that and admitted the squad are “disappointed” they let the incident happen and determined to “be more responsible” in future.

“On behalf of myself and the team, we would like to apologise for any offence that was caused during our celebrations at Lord’s on Sunday,” Westley said. “At Essex, we believe we have built a strong dressing-room culture that supports one another both on and off the field.

“As a group, we have come together today and discussed the event and on reflection, we are disappointed that we let this happen.

“Moving forward, the squad will be more responsible and aware of our actions and will continue to learn and develop with the help of the ECB and the PCA.”

The incident occurred at a time of great sensitivity towards such issues in the game across the country. Revelations from the likes of Michael Carberry, Azeem Rafiq, Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent have increased awareness over the struggles of players from BAME communities in the English game and led to an acceptance that the sport has a long way to go in its journey towards full and equal inclusivity.

While most observers, including those from the National Asian Cricket and the National Cricket League, agreed the incident at Lord’s was grounded more in ignorance than malice, it will have done nothing to convince those from Muslim communities that the sport is welcoming towards them.

Essex’s record in such areas is better than most. No county squad contains more players from a BAME background and the speed with which they produced a statement on Monday compared favourably with Yorkshire’s reluctance to comment following Rafiq’s allegations. Westley’s additional comments underline the impression the club are determined to use the incident as a learning experience in their bid to increase their commitment towards inclusivity.



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Rajasthan Royals vs Kolkata Knight Riders, IPL 2020, Fantasy Pick, team predictions

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Kolkata Knight Riders vs Rajasthan Royals, Dubai

Pro Tip: The in-form Steven Smith is a definite choice for captain but do keep an eye out for the Knight Riders middle-order batsmen.

Our XI: Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson, Dinesh Karthik, Shubman Gill, Steve Smith, Nitish Rana, Andre Russell, Tom Curran, Varun Chakravarthy, Jofra Archer, Ankit Rajpoot

Substitutes: Pat Cummins, Eoin Morgan, Rahul Tewatia, Sunil Narine

NOTE: We might not always be able to tip you off about late injury (or other relevant) updates, so please finalise your team after the toss.

Player availability: All players are available for selection.

Captain: Steven Smith
Smith decided to open the batting for the Royals and has scored two consecutive fifties. He will look to play deep into the innings and that only means more points for you. Though he has played both the games in Sharjah, his strike rate this season has been 160.81, which is significantly higher than his IPL career strike rate of 128.95.

Vice-captain: Andre Russell
Russell has been used at the death by the Knight Riders and we know what he can do with the bat, too. Two overs at the death means a higher possibility of getting a wicket as well. The Royals bowlers have been poor in the death in the last two games and Russell will be keen on exploiting their struggle further. He has struck at 246.27 in the death overs in the IPL since 2018.

Hot Picks
Jos Buttler: Buttler fell for a single-digit score against the Kings XI but given his consistency in the format, it might make sense to back him to fire against the Knight Riders. Since 2018, Buttler has opened the innings on 15 occasions and has scored fifties on eight of them in the IPL.

Sanju Samson: Samson has been one of the best batsmen on show in the tournament so far. He has been striking as cleanly as ever, and consistently at that, scoring consecutive fifties for the first time in his IPL career. On slightly bigger grounds, Samson’s ability to run hard could get him more runs. Since 2017, he has scored 41.1% of his runs in singles and twos in the IPL.

Nitish Rana: As in previous editions, he has shown glimpses of excellence this season, too, but has failed to convert his starts so far. Clarity over his role in the batting order could probably be a reason; it looks like he will bat at No. 3 in most games this year.

Differential Picks
Ankit Rajpoot: He started out poorly against the Kings XI openers but came back strongly in the death. Though his economy at the death in the IPL since 2017 has been 10.7, he has a strike rate of 8.6. His recent performance against the Kings XI at the death suggests his economy should go down as well over the forthcoming matches.
Varun Chakravarthy: As if one mystery spinner is not enough in the line-up, the Knight Riders have brought in Varun Chakravarthy, too, who appears to be cast in the same mold as Sunil Narine. Though Chakravarthy has not played a lot of T20 games yet, he could have a huge impact in the game given his variations. Expect him to have a good season.

Alternate Scenarios

  • If Narine continues to open, chances of Russell getting to bat becomes less. So Sanju Samson could be your alternative vice-captain option, given his form.

  • The Knight Riders are likely to go in again with seven bowling options which makes it harder for one bowler to pick a bunch of wickets. If they drop a bowler, pick Sunil Narine for a Knight Riders player.

  • If Dinesh Karthik continues to bat in the top four, he should be your vice-captain. Karthik has scored 232 runs against the Royals since 2018 at a atrike rate of 163.38.



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