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England v Australia, 3rd ODI, 2020

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Melbourne’s lockdown, in the cause of stemming the Covid-19 pandemic, has taken much away from a previously vibrant city. One thing it has gifted Australian cricket, however, is clarity about the role Glenn Maxwell is playing for the ODI team, a little more than a year after the absence of same contributed to a deeply disappointing World Cup campaign.

It has been demonstrated in devastatingly effective fashion for Australia on the road against the world champions, inflicting England’s first ODI series loss at home since 2015. In games one and three in Manchester, Maxwell produced a pair of counter-attacking innings from No. 7 that left Eoin Morgan’s side without a riposte, and at the same time confirmed that yes, Maxwell does have a highly significant and consistent part to play for Australia over the next four years to the 2023 World Cup in India.

In partnership with Alex Carey, who also shored up his flagging international fortunes since a productive World Cup, Maxwell unleashed a century of power but also presence of mind, demonstrating a level of peace and self-knowledge that had appeared absent from his game for much of the preceding few years. It was the product of careful consideration with limited–overs captain Aaron Finch.

ALSO READ: Bursting of England’s bubble shows how long the road to 2023 will be

Shorn of scheduled series against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and West Indies, plus the postponement of the T20 World Cup, Australia’s Melbourne-based cricketers have had little else to do other than talk a lot between small-scale net sessions in Cricket Victoria’s Junction Oval base. For Maxwell and Finch, that meant hours to discuss exactly how the leader saw the role of his longtime friend and international team-mate.

Shuffled up and down the batting order ad nauseum, dropped and recalled, and also having taken a break for mental health reasons early last season, Maxwell was clearly in need of some simple instruction. As the many conversations rolled on, the desired description emerged – not unlike that traditionally assigned to a wicketkeeper. From No. 7, Maxwell would be able to counterattack when Australia were in a hole, while Finch reserved the right to promote him in the order if those above him were able to set the right launchpad for the final 20 or so overs.

“The really good thing is even in the lockdown period I was training with Finchy and we were able to talk about my role and certain things,” Maxwell said. “I just had so much clarity of what he expected of me in that role.

“I think I was able to take the game on, with the clarity he gave me before the tournament, and was able to ride on that momentum as well. Just knowing I had the backing of him is awesome. He’s been great for this group over here, he’s kept us all together, all 21 of us in the hub here, and he’s done a great job. Whether in the field or with his batters, he’s been outstanding.”

Finch had likewise articulated a specific, consistent role for Maxwell in his comments at the post-series presentation: “Maxi is in the team to do a specific role and that’s be able to take the game away from oppositions when you are having a good day but also be that guy who can counterattack and try and swing momentum. England had all the momentum at 5 for 70-odd and he dragged it back.

“That partnership with Alex was fantastic, I’m really proud of both of them, they deserve a lot of success and a lot of credit. Not just for this win but how hard they’ve been working on their game.

“What makes him [Maxwell] so damaging is he can play all around the ground, I don’t think there are many bowlers who can trouble him when he’s having one of those days but the way he navigated that innings, took it deeper and deeper, of course you have to take your chances chasing seven an over from a long way out and he did that perfectly. They fed off each other having the left-right hand combination, it was pretty special.”

So even amid the wreckage of Australia’s slide to 73 for 5 early in their innings, Maxwell had a clear head about what he was in the team, and in the middle, to do. It is the sort of mind frame in which he can do great things, whether it is for Australia, the Melbourne Stars or a host of domestic T20 teams overseas. Call it freedom, call it license, call it trust – it makes all the difference.

“I was probably thinking we haven’t got much to lose, so I had a bit of freedom to try and take the bowling on and put a bit more pressure on them,” Maxwell said. “I thought if I could make the most of that short boundary as much as I could early on and just back my bat swing, there was a fair bit of a breeze heading that way as well, so I just tried to get it up in the air and was able to get a couple pretty clean early on in the innings and then start to build a partnership with Alex.

“Coming it at 5 for 70, it’s probably hit or bust at that stage. I suppose just having heaps of trust in my own technique and trust in my partner at the other end, myself and Alex have had some good partnerships over the last few years, so really enjoyable to be with him at the other end.

“Then I knew once I started to get into the innings they’d start to bowl a bit differently to me and I might be able to cash in on some loose balls. Everything pretty much went to plan tonight, the way our partnership built was outstanding. I feel like I’ve always batted better for Australia when we’ve been in a bit of trouble, and to be able to get us through that and get us to a position where we could win the game was really pleasing.”

Maxwell had plenty of time and gratitude for Carey, who in eight ODI innings since the World Cup had cobbled 126 runs at 15.75, causing the likes of Adam Gilchrist to start talking up the prospects of the younger Josh Philippe. Carey had at least managed to make a start during the previous game, albeit amid Australia’s unseemly collapse, and brought a little momentum to the middle to build an Australian ODI record partnership for the sixth wicket.

“It ranks pretty highly. I really enjoyed the partnership,” Maxwell said. “Batting with Alex, seeing him get his first ODI hundred is pretty special, knowing how hard he’s worked. To see him get the rewards at the other end was extremely special, and to top off and beat the No. 1 team on their own soil was even more special. They didn’t really give him much to score on to the short boundary, and he had to work a little bit harder for his runs. I just thought the way he got through every challenge he faced, he was able to do it calmly and with great temperament the whole time.”

There will still be some fine-tuning for Maxwell and Australia. The most challenging thing for Finch will be to judge when is the best moment to unleash Maxwell amid an innings that is going well. But it is an easier problem to solve in an atmosphere of trust and confidence about Maxwell’s mindset.

Australia’s players now fly home, either directly or via the IPL, into a home season of many uncertainties, and with Melbourne still locked down. Plenty of certainty, though, was written all over the face of Maxwell, having finally sorted out exactly what he is in the Australian team to do, and do brilliantly.





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India Women ODI captain Mithali Raj says players ‘don’t know for what we’re training’

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India ODI captain Mithali Raj feels that the national team’s players have been grappling with “anxiety” and a lack of “sense of purpose”. This comes even as the players look for any “competitive cricket or any international series, even domestic for that matter” in the Covid-19-affected world

India, runners-up at the T20 World Cup in Australia that ended in March, have not regrouped since, with the BCCI pulling out of the tour of England in July-August and the country’s Covid-19 caseload now second-highest globally.

Besides, although the Indian board had announced that a three-team Women’s T20 Challenge would be held in the UAE between November 1 and 10, ESPNcricinfo understands that the BCCI is still a long way from finalising overseas participants for the competition. The fate of the proposed bilateral series against South Africa and West Indies, too, remains unclear, with the postponement of the 2021 ODI World Cup further shoving India women’s international calendar into uncertainty.

“There’s been this anxiety about what’s the future, what the future tournaments are because right now we don’t know for what we’re training,” Raj told moderator Lisa Sthalekar during an ICC 100% Cricket virtual discussion. “There needs to be a purpose. Before, we used to plan for any international series if it is an away-going [tour], so players would accordingly prepare. And if it’s a home series we prepared accordingly, but now we don’t know why we train.

“So, sometimes we do feel there’s no sense of purpose if we don’t have competitive cricket or any international series, even domestic for that matter.”

Having retired from T20Is in September last year, Raj’s last international appearance came in November during the ODI series against hosts West Indies. She was due to play the knockouts of the Senior Women’s T20 Tournament for her domestic side Railways in late-March but the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to that.

While top-level women’s international cricket will return on Monday – hosts England take on West Indies in the first of five T20Is in Derby – Raj said that resumption of training has thrown up new challenges for the Indians.

“Since we are contracted players, that’s our job, so being in the bio bubble – if that’s what gets us going in terms of the matches, I think as players we are okay with being in the bubble and training and preparing ourselves for the game. Somewhere we need to do a little bit of adjustments to get the matches going.”

“But one positive is that things are slowly improving in terms of access to the facilities; but again, there are a few changes in terms of all the training facilities work on time slots. Like, earlier, we would just walk in and start batting and we would have some good 10-15 net bowlers and we could bat for one to two hours,” she said. “But, now, you have to go in during the time slot you’re given, and maybe the net bowlers are reduced to just two or three of them. So these are the changes as current players we’re accepting. But I think [we’re] having an optimism that at some point we’ll have matches, and that’s why all of us are still into our fitness training trying to keep up to the standards before we were in the lockdown.”

As such, women’s cricket in India has had several issues since the end of the T20 World Cup. The national team has been without a selection committee since the world tournament, the competition also officially marking the end of their long-time manager Trupti Bhattacharya’s tenure. Saba Karim’s departure as the board’s general manager (cricket operations) in July further meant India women are without both an administrative as well as a managerial pointsperson. The tenure of their head coach, WV Raman, who was appointed on a two-year contract in December 2018, is also nearing its close.

While the announcement of the T20 Challenge in August promised game-time for both the centrally contracted players as well as many others, it ruled out at least four top-flight India internationals from the upcoming Women’s Big Bash League in Australia. By extension, the availability of several international stars, especially those from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England, for the T20 Challenge has been rendered close to impossible.

When asked if India’s contracted players had concerns over the seclusion that life in a biosecure bubble brings with it, Raj said that flexibility and looking after the inexperienced crop of players, including Shafali Verma, is the need of the hour.

ALSO READ: Cricket for some, not for all – where does the women’s game stand?

“Since we are contracted players, that’s our job, so being in the biobubble – if that’s what gets us going in terms of the matches – I think as players we are okay with being in the bubble and training and preparing ourselves for the game. Somewhere we need to do a little bit of adjustments to get the matches going,” Raj said. “As far as the mental set-up is concerned, we did have a few sessions with a sports psychologist: talking to the players, as a team [too], we were on calls. Those things do help [because] as seasoned, as senior players we understand how to tune ourselves. But the most important thing in the current situation is the young players or the players who are in the age-groups, who’ve just made their debut. For them it’s even more important to settle their anxieties and anxiousness they develop thinking about their future.

“If you’re a young player, you’d definitely want to know, ‘I just made it into the Indian team; what’s the next opportunity I will get?’ These are questions that the young players usually go through. Not everyone still has access to training facilities… Again, how do you prep such young players? That’s where the support staff and sports psychologist and come into play, to give them a lot of positivity and keep their hopes us [so that] they keep training.”

Raj said while logistical challenges facing the BCCI remain a concern as far as ensuring playing time for its women cricketers go, physical reassembly of the players is paramount to ensuring India Women’s return to action.

“I believe so [that things need to be changing]. We do have regular calls with the BCCI officials to see what we can plan in the future. Then again, a lot of these itineraries depend on the situation in the country. Like, in India, there are still a lot of cases; we are actually on the rise in terms of cases, so it’s very difficult for the board to again get the girls going because all of us come from different parts of the country and there are some amount of risks involved in travelling.

“Getting so many girls to have a camp is something the BCCI is looking into, trying to organise if they can. It may be a series or some sort of a camp in terms of fitness, so that the girls regroup again. It is very important; I understand that’s there’s been a good four or five months’ gap since the T20 World Cup in March and now we’re into September.

“We have been in touch with the support staff and players on calls. But we sort of gel only when we meet. And I’ve seen that the WBBL is happening on time, but with some rules and regulations which is paramount. West Indies are in England for a series. Let’s see how these things get on. Probably that will give us some idea of organising an international series in the coming months for India.”



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IPL 2020 – Sam Curran ‘takes pressure off rushing Dwayne Bravo back’

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Sam Curran‘s “attitude” in pressure moments, his all-round skills, and performance in Chennai Super Kings’ win in the IPL 2020 opener against the Mumbai Indians on Saturday has meant the team doesn’t have to worry about the absence of the injured Dwayne Bravo, coach Stephen Fleming feels. Bravo’s recovery – from a knee injury – is being monitored even as the Super Kings prepare for two matches in the coming week.

“Bravo is progressing; we are working closely to get him up to 100 per cent,” Fleming told the team’s website. “We’ve got three quick games in a row [including the opening fixture], so we’ll look at each game and monitor him each time we train.

“With Sam’s performance, it takes a bit of pressure off rushing Bravo back, but he’s one of the world’s best and to have him in the selection equation is very important to us.”

ALSO READ: ‘Psychological’ – Dhoni on promoting Jadeja and Curran

Curran might not have featured in the playing XI had Bravo been fit – though an additional left-hand batsman is useful in Suresh Raina’s absence – but grabbed his chance when he got it in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. He first returned 1 for 28 from his four overs, Quinton de Kock his victim, and then scored a vital six-ball 18 in the late stages of the Super Kings’ successful chase.

“Losing Dwayne was a big loss and Sam went a long way in filling that,” Fleming said. “The things that impressed us with Sam is his attitude first and foremost, almost the harder it gets the better he gets, his all-round skill component and the fact that the captain was able to trust him straightaway to go in at a crucial time and hit the way he did.

“Also with the ball, to be a part of it straightaway, almost stepping straight off the plane was a sign of his attitude and what he is going to bring to CSK for the next few years.”

Bravo, a long-time member of the Super Kings, became the first to pick up 500 T20 wickets during the CPL recently, but didn’t bowl in the final, which his team the Trinbago Knight Riders won by beating the St Lucia Zouks by eight wickets. Overall, he was in decent form with the ball, picking up nine wickets in ten games at an economy rate of 7.50.



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Match Preview – Rajasthan Royals vs Chennai Super Kings, Indian Premier League 2020 2020, 4th Match

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Big picture

Over the years, Rajasthan Royals have had to force-fit overseas players into their XIs at the back end of the competition because of the unavailability of their first-choice picks. This season, they have to do that from the start.

Jos Buttler has arrived in the UAE with family and is undergoing extended quarantine. This rules him out of Tuesday’s fixture in Sharjah. Ben Stokes is still with family in New Zealand. The Royals therefore have two gaps to plug.

One of those – the opening slot – might be plugged by Yashasvi Jaiswal, the Mumbai teenager with a burgeoning reputation already in domestic cricket, and Robin Uthappa, one of their big buys at the auction.

Who comes in to replace Stokes? It appears as if Tom Curran might be the chosen one. He has had plenty of match time, in the England-Australia limited-overs series. He was a standout performer for the Sydney Sixers in their BBL 2019 victory, finishing the tournament as the third-highest wicket-taker (22 strikes in 14 matches). Then, there’s David Miller, who could make his franchise debut after nine seasons with Kings XI Punjab.

For the Super Kings, given they are playing in Sharjah, traditionally a high-scoring venue with small boundaries, MS Dhoni could look for some bowling insurance by fielding a sixth option. One way of doing this could be by bringing in Shardul Thakur for M Vijay, who had a forgettable opening game. The rest of the batting can then move up a slot, with Sam Curran and Ravindra Jadeja as the floaters to keep-up the left-right combination should they want that.

In the news

  • Ruturaj Gaikwad has rejoined the Super Kings bubble after testing negative for Covid-19. The team management believes he could fill the void left by Suresh Raina’s exit, but he’s only had one full training session yet. So it could be a while before he’s eligible for selection.

  • Steven Smith is fit and ready to go. He has cleared the necessary tests and has even started training with the team after a concussion scare in the UK earlier this month.

Likely XIs

Chennai Super Kings: 1 Shane Watson, 2 M Vijay, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 MS Dhoni (capt, wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Sam Curran, 9 Piyush Chawla, 10 Deepak Chahar, 11 Lungi Ngidi

Rajasthan Royals: 1 Robin Uthappa (wk), 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 3 Sanju Samson, 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 David Miller, 6 Riyan Parag, 7 Shreyas Gopal, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 Jaydev Unadkat, 10 Varun Aaron, 11 Tom Curran

Strategy punt

  • Barring Buttler, none of the other Royals batsmen had a strike rate of over 120 against spin last season. With him not playing the opener, things might have to be shaken up a little. In 2014, when the first 20 matches of the season were held in the UAE, Miller had the third-highest strike rate and the fourth-best average among those making more than 100 runs in that period. For far too long, Miller has been used as a finisher. Can he prove to be the X-factor player up the order?

  • Jofra Archer has the third-best economy among all bowlers to have bowled at least 15 overs at the death. Given that the Royals had the poorest death overs economy of 11.3 last season, it makes sense to use Archer at the back-end. However, it wouldn’t be too bad an option to bring him in the middle, especially to hustle Ambati Rayudu with short balls. Archer has dismissed Shane Rayudu twice and Watson once, with neither being able to score freely against his hit-the-deck bowling.

  • MS Dhoni would do well to bring his spinners on immediately against Smith. Ravindra Jadeja has dismissed him six times in T20s.

Stats that matter

  • Since their return to the IPL in 2018, the Super Kings have won three out of their four outings against the Royals.

  • Since 2018, the team chasing has won 26 T20s out of the 46 played in Sharjah.

  • Pacers have picked up 64% of wickets in T20s here since 2018.

  • Since 2018, the average score here is 161, while the average winning score shoots up to 175



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