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England cricket and Covid-19 – County staff face return to furlough from October



Staff at several first-class counties are expected to be put back on furlough at the end of this week.

ESPNcricinfo understands that several of those counties not involved in the knock-out stages of the T20 Blast will put a proportion of their staff – including players – back on furlough in October. This could include the Essex and Somerset teams which have been contesting the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s in recent days.

The government’s furlough scheme was set up to counter the financial challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It has seen the government take responsibility for paying employees, allowing businesses to survive without laying off staff. The scheme ends at the end of October.

All but Lancashire and Surrey put their players on furlough at the start of the summer when it became apparent that the season would be delayed. While some counties topped up the government’s furlough amount – which was originally capped at around £2500 a month – others did not. Current legislation means the government will be expected to pay 70 percent of employees’ monthly salary up to a maximum of £2,187, with the employer required to top up another 10 percent.

Other county employees, including groundstaff and administration teams, are also expected to be put back on furlough at several clubs.

Teams involved in the knock-out stages of the T20 Blast will have to wait to make a claim. The quarter-finals are due to be played on October 1 with Finals Day on October 3.

It is understood the players at counties due to be furloughed have not yet been notified of the intention.

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Babar Azam – Can’t afford to take anything for granted against Zimbabwe



Babar Azam vowed not to overcomplicate things as ODI captain, saying he would try to apply the same mindset which fetched him positive results in T20s. Pakistan start as firm favourites against Zimbabwe, and Azam said they would test their bench strength during the series, but at the same time, he asked his players not to take the opponents lightly.

This is Azam’s first ODI series as captain despite being given the role over a year ago. Pakistan have not played an ODI since a three-match series against Sri Lanka in October 2019, and in that time, he has led his side in eight T20Is, with three wins and as many losses. His form as a batsman shows no sign of waning, but Azam is yet to truly stamp his mark as a captain.

“I have learned a lot in the last year and it is a continuous process,” Azam said on the eve of the first ODI. “It didn’t affect my batting much because with the bat I only focus on what I am doing in the middle. But as a captain, there are a lot of things going on my mind so I try to cover every aspect as captain while enjoying the game. The ODI cricket is played with a different mindset but whatever made me successful in T20 cricket, I’ll try and replicate that to get good results.”

Zimbabwe’s 20-man squad has a mix of youth and experience. While new faces like Faraz Akram, Wesley Madhevere and Milton Shumba are part of the side, there are also seven players who visited Pakistan in 2015. Pakistan, meanwhile, are playing with a full-strength squad and go into the series as firm favourites, having won each of their last six ODIs against Zimbabwe.

“This time around the competition will be good; they have brought in experienced players and you will see different cricket,” Azam said. “We will try to dominate and play according to our strengths and try and get a clean sweep. You can’t take them lightly and we will try to play with a combination of seniors and juniors and give chances to players like Khushdil [Shah], Usman Qadir and Zafar Gohar. We will try to shuffle during the whole series and test our bench strength.

“Whatever the team you are up against you can’t afford to take it easy,” he said. “We plan to have the same level of focus and planning. We have to give Zimbabwe respect and play at our full potential. I have given the same message to the boys in the dressing room not to be relaxed and play your natural game.”

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Kings XI Punjab vs Rajasthan Royals, IPL 2020, Fantasy Pick, team predictions



Kings XI Punjab vs Rajasthan Royals, Abu Dhabi

Pro tip:
It’s hard to look past KL Rahul but take a chance on Sanju Samson as he shown promise in the last couple of games.

Our XI: KL Rahul (capt), Jos Buttler(wk), Nicholas Pooran, Sanju Samson (vc), Chris Gayle, Ben Stokes, Chris Jordan, Jofra Archer, Ravi Bishnoi, Mohammed Shami, Shreyas Gopal
Substitutes: Steven Smith, Mayank Agarwal, Rahul Tewatia, Glenn Maxwell

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. There is no official update on Mayank Agarwal’s availability yet.

Captain: KL Rahul
It’s hard to look beyond Rahul, the Orange Cap holder by a distance. Rahul has scored 50 or more six times in 12 innings this season. He has gone three innings without a fifty, but we are backing him to come good in this game. He scored 69 in Kings XI’s previous game against the Royals. Since 2018, Rahul has four fifties in five innings against the Royals and the most runs against them (304) as well.

Vice-captain: Sanju Samson
Samson has shown great promise in the last couple of games. He had an extremely rough patch after scoring fifties in the first couple of games but it seems like he is back in form now. He scored an unbeaten 54 to take the Royals through in their last game and the last time these two teams met, Samson scored a blistering 42-ball 85.

Hot Picks
Jofra Archer: Royals’ best bowler by a mile. He has picked up 17 wickets with an economy rate of 6.71 and a strike rate of 16.8. In his last five games, Archer has picked up six wickets in the powerplay at a strike rate of 10.00, suggesting he gets a powerplay wicket in virtually every game. He invariably comes back to bowl at the death too, when there are more wickets up for grabs.

Mohammed Shami: Shami has been bowling as well as he ever has. He has picked up 10 wickets in his last 5 games while conceding 8.6 runs an over. For someone who opens the bowling and bowls at the death, that is a fantastic economy rate. In the powerplay, Shami has picked up seven wickets this season while going at only 7.37 an over.

Chris Gayle: Gayle has had a tremendous impact since his comeback. He has scored 177 runs in his five innings so far at a strike rate of 138.28. He has scored two fifties along with a couple of cameos as well. Given he might not face much of Jofra Archer as he is batting at No. 3, we could be in for a big performance with two legspinners and some inexperienced quicks in the Royals attack.

ALSO SEE: Kings XI Punjab vs Rajasthan Royals match home

Differential Picks
Ravi Bishnoi: Bishnoi is the second-highest wicket taker for Punjab this season with 12 wickets and an excellent economy rate of 7.2. He has been clever with his lines and lengths and varied his pace well. His tight overs in the middle phase have given Punjab control: in the middle overs (7-16), Bishnoi has picked up 11 wickets while maintaining an economy rate of 6.92.

Shreyas Gopal: Gopal has been very in the last few games. He has bowled in the powerplay as well as the middle overs and has had success in both phases. In Abu Dhabi, Gopal has picked up six wickets in four games at a strike rate of 16.50 in addition to an economy rate of 6.18. Two-thirds of his wickets have come at this venue this season.

Alternate Scenarios

  • An alternate vice-captain option is Jos Buttler. He has a very good record against Kings XI though most of his runs have come at the top of the order – 229 runs in five innings since 2018 at an average of 45.80 and a strike rate of 139.63.

  • Given Ben Stokes is not bowling much, Rahul Tewatia is an option to replace him. Before the century against Mumbai, Stokes had scored only 110 runs in five innings.

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Match Preview – Kings XI Punjab vs Rajasthan Royals, Indian Premier League 2020 2020, 50th Match



Big picture

When the Kings XI Punjab met the Rajasthan Royals the first time this season a little over a month back, we witnessed one of the games of the tournament, but Steven Smith and his men go into Friday’s return fixture in Abu Dhabi knowing nothing less than a win will keep their campaign alive. Their confidence should be high after a magnificent chase against the Mumbai Indians, riding on the back of a Ben Stokes century. However, unlike their last meeting, they run into a red-hot side this time that has brought up five wins on the bounce after beating the Kolkata Knight Riders earlier this week.

While Stokes’ century and Sanju Samson’s return to form were huge positives for the Royals in their last game, what will worry Smith most is their bowling. Already over-dependent on Jofra Archer, the Royals have the worst economy (12.40) at the death among all teams in this tournament.

Getting their act together with the ball will be crucial against the Kings XI, for whom Chris Gayle‘s inclusion has provided the middle order some stability. That apart, the Kings XI also enjoy the cushion provided by KL Rahul and Nicholas Pooran on either side of Gayle. The Kings XI line-up has missed Mayank Agarwal through injury in the last couple of matches, and his return might see him slot in to open alongside Rahul, in which case Mandeep Singh could drop down the order and replace Deepak Hooda. Their bowling has had a settled look in recent games, with Mohammed Shami leading the attack, allowing legspinners M Ashwin and Ravi Bishnoi to come on when the opposition batsmen are already under a fair amount of pressure.

Previous meeting

Agarwal (106) and Rahul (69) shared a 183-run opening stand to power the Kings XI to an imposing 223 for 2, but the Royals’ reply was spearheaded by Smith, who smashed 50 off 27 balls as an opener to get some momentum going. Samson made a jaw-dropping 85 from 42, clobbering seven sixes and four fours, but his wicket in the 17th over appeared to put the Kings XI ahead. That’s when Rahul Tewatia, who had limped to 5 off 13, took the attack to Sheldon Cottrell to complete one of the great comebacks in an individual innings, helping the Royals nail the highest successful IPL chase.

Likely XIs

Kings XI Punjab: 1 Mayank Agarwal, 2 KL Rahul (capt, wk), 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Nicholas Pooran, 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Mandeep Singh/ Deepak Hooda, 7 Chris Jordan, 8 M Ashwin, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Ravi Bishnoi, 11 Arshdeep Singh

Rajasthan Royals: 1 Ben Stokes, 2 Robin Uthappa, 3 Sanju Samson, 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 Jos Buttler (wk), 6 Riyan Parag, 7 Rahul Tewatia, 8 Shreyas Gopal, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Ankit Rajpoot/ Varun Aaron/ Jaydev Unadkat, 11 Kartik Tyagi

Strategy punts

  • Rahul is closing in on 600 runs for the season but has scores of 15, 27 and 28 in the last three matches. However, the Royals have been a friendly opposition to him: he averages 57.33 against them and his last five matches have produced innings of 84, 95, 4, 52 and 69, the last one coming earlier this season in Sharjah. If batsmen around him can take their chances early, he could consider dropping the anchor and looking to cash in on the death overs.

  • Smith will need to figure out the best way to employ Archer. Rahul has a good record against Archer, having struck at 170 and never been dismissed in four previous match-ups. But Gayle averages just 17.50 against him and Maxwell 6.50, with both having been dismissed twice by Archer. With the legspin of Shreyas Gopal and Tewatia critical components of the middle overs, Smith might not want to have the left-handers Gayle and Pooran face a majority of those. Spreading Archer’s overs through the middle and the death might sound counterintuitive given how good he has been in the powerplay, but it could help throttle the Kings XI innings at the backend, especially if the Royals are to chase.

Stats that matter

  • This match will pit the two most prolific six-hitters – after 48 games this season – against each other. Samson (23) and Pooran (22) have smashed the most sixes so far, with Rahul (20) not too far behind either.

  • With 17 wickets, this is already Archer’s best IPL season as a bowler. His average of 19.23 and economy of 6.86 are also his best in three seasons.

  • Gopal needs three scalps to bring up 50 IPL wickets.

  • Pooran needs two sixes to bring up 200 sixes in T20 cricket.

  • Gayle requires seven maximums to bring up 1000 T20 sixes.

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