His weak impact as a leader and batsman featured prominently in franchise’s 2020 season review, ESPNcricinfo understands
Rajasthan Royals are likely to release their captain and premier batsman Steven Smith ahead of the 2021 IPL auction. The Royals will take a final call shortly, before submitting the final list of retained players, the deadline for which the IPL has told franchises is January 20.
ESPNcricinfo understands one of the key reasons behind considering releasing Smith is his middling form in the 2020 IPL, where the Royals finished last in the eight-team league. Smith’s weak impact as a leader and batsman featured prominently in the 2020 season review conducted by the franchise. Smith played all the 14 league matches, scoring 311 runs at a strike rate of 131, including three half-centuries.
It is understood the franchise management was keen for the Royals to be more consistent in contention for the playoffs. Having won the IPL in the inaugural season in 2008, the Royals made the playoffs in 2013, 2015 and then in 2018. Smith’s lack of impact remained a talking point throughout IPL 2020 as he changed his batting position more than once: he started as an opener before moving to the middle-order.
Ahead of the 2018 auction, Smith was the only player to be retained by the Royals, for INR 12.5 crore (about USD 1.953 million then). In 2018 the Royals started afresh returning from a two-year suspension and appointed Smith as the captain. However, Smith stepped down from the position in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa ahead of the IPL.
But in 2019, after a faltering start to the IPL campaign, the franchise handed the captaincy back to Smith saying it was looking for a “fresh approach” while sacking Ajinkya Rahane, who had lead the franchise to the playoffs in 2018.
The Royals would need to appoint a new captain in case Smith is released. One clear frontrunner within the existing squad is Indian batsman-wicketkeeper Sanju Samson, one of the impact players for the franchise in IPL 2020. On Monday, Samson led Kerala in their first match of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
Samson, who was recently part of white-ball leg of the Australian tour, was bought by the Royals in the 2018 auction for INR 8 crore (about USD 1.25 million then). The key reason for Samson getting picked for the Australian tour was his success in the IPL where he was the Royals’ highest run-scorer, making 375 runs at a strike rate of nearly 159, with three fifties. Samson was also part of the Royals leadership group comprising Smith, head coach Andrew McDonald, Jos Buttler, and Ben Stokes.
It is understood that despite both Buttler and Stokes having more weightage in terms of experience and impact, the franchise is not keen on the English pair taking charge as a captain, keeping their availability through the upcoming IPL season in mind. In the past, England players have arrived later or left early to and from the IPL, which usually clashes with the beginning of the English summer.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo
ECB accused of ignoring Rooney Rule in elite coaching appointment
The ECB has been accused of “failing to adopt their own policies” on inclusion and diversity after they made a high-profile coaching appointment without advertising the role.
But while the vacancies for a spin bowling, seam bowling and batting coach (subsequently filled by Jeetan Patel, Jon Lewis and Marcus Trescothick respectively) were all advertised, the pathway role was not.
This would appear to go against the ECB’s own announcement, in July 2020, that they were “recommending the adoption of the Rooney Rule for all coaching roles across the game”. Named in recognition of Dan Rooney, a former chair of the NFL’s diversity committee, the Rule demands that a non-white candidate be interviewed for every senior coaching role.
It was introduced in the US to tackle the issue of exclusion and had been publically adopted by the ECB in the aftermath of the growing appreciation of the game’s struggle to achieve appropriate levels of diversity across playing, coaching and administrative positions.
But with the pathway role filled without a specific interview process, there was no opportunity to interview candidates of any ethnicity before the appointment. And that, some claim, amounts to a failure by the ECB to implement their own inclusivity and diversity agenda.
“It is quite unbelievable that the ECB are failing to adopt their own policies,” Ismail Dawood, the former umpire who is currently pursuing a discrimination claim against the board, told ESPNcricinfo. “Richard Dawson is an excellent coach. With his holistic approach, he has done a fantastic job in developing a successful team of cricketers and men. I’m sure he will be a great success with the Young Lions team.
“The ECB, on the other hand, seem to be a law unto themselves, implementing knee-jerk policies but not following them through eight months later. Cronyism and institutional racism, both historical and active, have been highlighted over the past 12 months, with many in the game speaking out.”
While accepting that the specific role was not advertised, the ECB insist the recruitment process was thorough and fair. A spokesperson told ESPNcricinfo that the vacancy only came about after Lewis, the previous pathway coach, was given the role of elite seam bowling coach. With many other candidates having been interviewed – and around 30 percent of the candidates short-listed for interview having been non-white – the ECB felt they had explored the talent pool available to them and were well placed to make the appointment.
They also point out that the interview panels were diverse both in terms of gender and ethnicity (the process was headed by the ECB Performance Director, Mo Bobat, who is a British Asian from a state-school background), and that one of the coaches appointed was non-white.
While the ECB would not confirm that Dawson was interviewed for the spin bowling position, it seems safe to assume he was and that he made a strong impression. Having narrowly missed out to Patel for the spin job, it seems the ECB felt he was the perfect man to replace Lewis.
Criticism of the ECB on the issue is not limited to issues around diversity and inclusion. Toby Radford, batting coach of West Indies when they defeated England in 2019, also makes the point that, by not advertising the specific role, the ECB limited the field of candidates. In particular, he argues that interviewing for specialised roles and then appointing a more general coach makes little sense.
“I am disappointed that the ECB has appointed an important national coaching role without advertising or interviewing specifically for it,” Radford told ESPNcricinfo.
“I am sure that many high quality international coaches with substantial experience and knowledge would have jumped at the chance to go for this job if they had known that it existed.”
Other coaches with views similar to Radford or Dawood shared their views with ESPNcricinfo but were reluctant to do so on the record in case it jeopardised future employment opportunities. One of them, a former first-class player with a Level 4 coaching qualification, dismissed the ECB’s statements on inclusion and diversity as “nothing but fluff and politically correct statements”.
“These actions seem reminiscent of the similar systematic failings by the ECB in adopting any of the recommendations of the 1998 race review they commissioned,” Dawood added, referring to a previous review into inclusion issues which he claims was not actioned.
Meanwhile the ECB have confirmed that Jonathan Trott, who has been the batting consultant with the England Test team in India during the Test series, will stay on to fill in for Trescothick who was due to join the tour ahead of the limited-overs games. Trescothick has recently suffered a family bereavement.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
PSL 2021 – PCB mulls playing entire PSL in Karachi after recent Covid-19 cases
The Lahore Qalandars have objected to the idea of not playing the second leg of matches in Lahore
The Covid-19 outbreak in Karachi within the biosecure bubble during the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has prompted the PCB to look at contingencies. The league management is believed to be considering the option of playing the remainder of the tournament in Karachi instead of moving for the final leg to Lahore as scheduled, from March 10. The discussions are only in very preliminary stages – “food for thought” as one official said – but the Lahore Qalandars have already objected to the idea, insisting that fans in Lahore cannot be deprived of the matches and moving from one bubble to another won’t increase the risk.
The PSL was meant to be played at four venues this year but due to the ongoing pandemic, the PCB decided to hold all 34 matches in Karachi and Lahore. The first leg of 20 matches is being played at the National Stadium in Karachi until March 7 and the following 10 league games and four playoff matches are scheduled for Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. Chartered flights were meant to be used for travel between the two cities.
However, three overseas players – Fawad Ahmed, Tom Banton (who revealed his positive test publicly on Wednesday) and another Islamabad United player – and one support staff member with the Karachi Kings (Kamran Khan) testing positive for Covid-19 have led to concerns. The PCB spoke with all six franchises on Tuesday to remind them of the standard protocols required to maintain the biosecure bubbles.
As well as the positive cases, there were breaches of the bubble reported earlier that involved Peshawar Zalmi’s Wahab Riaz and Daren Sammy meeting their franchise owner, who was not part of the bubble. There are believed to be other breaches as well, though the PCB insists that the “bubble isn’t weak and there is no loophole”.
The PCB is committed to making sure the league is completed successfully and safely with the final scheduled for March 22, but it is now mulling the best way of doing that. The board internally agreed that the schedule will not be tinkered with as long as a team has up to five affected players, since all teams have 18-member squads. But they are also working on a back-up plan ahead of the next round of PCR tests set for Thursday, which is considered the most crucial one after the recent outbreak.
All the franchise players and officials in the bubbles were initially being tested on a weekly basis but on Monday the PCB decided to carry out the PCR tests once every four days.
“It (keeping the entire event in Karachi) will give a wrong message by not continuing with the original plan,” a Qalandars spokesman told ESPNcricinfo. “There was a lapse in the management either at a hotel or elsewhere but the risk involved is the same everywhere. It’s about the management not about the venue so if the cases are positive in Karachi then you can’t deprive the Lahore crowd of cricket they have been waiting for. It’s in fact an opportunity for the PCB to show their ability to carry out their operation without panicking.
“Lahore has been a great host in the past and had successfully completed the South Africa series without any glitch. So we don’t support any such plan which eventually gives out a message that we cannot control the situation. We are still going to travel through buses like every day here (in Karachi) as usual for the games and the only difference will be the one time traveling from Karachi to Lahore – that is on the chartered plane – which is fully sanitised. So it’s beyond understanding how this is going to mitigate the risk and how you will be Covid-protected.”
All players and officials – as well as families traveling with some of them – are part of a biosecure bubble in one hotel in Karachi. Each franchise nominated its own list of officials apart from the players to be part of the bubble, and everyone had to go through a three-day isolation period and return two negative tests before entering that bubble.
Two other franchises in the league questioned how exactly playing all the games in Karachi is going to reduce the risk as the teams are to move from one bubble to another, although one of them is open to a change of venue “if required”.
The Karachi Kings owner Salman Iqbal supported the idea of staying back in Karachi. “I think we should keep the boys in the bubble and not make them travel. Flights, airports, new hotel, new procedures…I believe the players also don’t feel comfortable leaving the bio-bubble. It is very important for Pakistan cricket and one wrong move could jeopardise the whole PSL and lead to loss of revenue. So I believe we should stay put.”
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent
PSL 2021 – PCB offers Covid-19 vaccine to all participants
“The vaccine doses will be administered on Thursday and will be offered to all those inside the bio-secure bubble”
The PCB has offered doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to all participants of PSL 2021. The decision comes as a boost after the recent cases in the PSL which saw three overseas players and a support staff member test positive, which has even made the PCB think about hosting the entire tournament in Karachi. Originally, Karachi and Lahore were scheduled to host this season of the PSL. The decision to offer the vaccine was made in line with the PCB’s duty of care policy and to “ensure all participants of the league remain safe and healthy during the event.”
The PCB is the first cricket board to offer vaccine to its players.
“The vaccine doses will be administered on Thursday and will be offered to all those inside the bio-secure bubble,” a PCB release said. “However, it will solely be the players and officials’ decision if they want to get the vaccine shots.”
The release further said the PCB has been in discussions with the federal and provincial government officials, “highlighting the national cricket teams’ international engagements and commitments as well as the significance, reputation, integrity and credibility” of the PSL.
“The PCB takes health, safety and well-being of its players and officials very seriously,” board chief executive Wasim Khan said. “In line with our duty of care policy, we have acquired a small allocation of SARS-Coronavirus Vaccine, which will be offered to all those inside the bio-secure environment created for the HBL Pakistan Super League 6.
“The players and officials will be under no obligation to have the vaccine. The vaccinations will be administered on Thursday morning by qualified health workers, strictly in line with government protocols.
“While we live in these challenging times, the vaccine has been sourced to provide an added level of protection and comfort for players and all personnel inside the bubble. We will continue to operate responsibly in our duty to those involved in the tournament.”
Legspinner Fawad Ahmed was the first player to test positive for Covid-19 in the ongoing PSL, followed by Tom Banton and another Islamabad United player, and a support staff member of the Karachi Kings, Kamran Khan. This has forced the PCB to look at back-up plans if more positive cases come up, as the board has decided to carry out PCR tests once in four days instead of the original plan of weekly tests. The next round of tests is set for Thursday, which is considered the most crucial one after the recent outbreak.
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