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With tourists missing several players from 2018 whitewash, skipper senses ‘clear advantage’ for home side

England rested Ben Stokes for this series, left Keaton Jennings out, and have lost Moeen Ali to Covid-19. Although Dimuth Karunaratne sympathises with Moeen in particular, he’s pretty sure all this confers an advantage to his team.

Although Karunaratne did not mention them by name, England have also left Ben Foakes out of the first Test, and have not brought Adil Rashid on tour. All five of these players had made a substantial impact during England’s 3-0 whitewash over Sri Lanka in 2018. Stokes had played both key innings, and bowled incisive spells; Jennings had hit a second-innings hundred in Galle, and taken outstanding close-in catches; Moeen had taken 18 wickets; Foakes had top-scored in the series in addition to having kept wicket extraordinarily well; and Rashid had turned the Colombo Test with his legspin.

The England side set to take the field on Thursday, however, has several players on their first Sri Lanka tour.



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Haseeb Hameed named Nottinghamshire captain for Royal London Cup

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New vice-captain will lead side while Steven Mullaney plays for Trent Rockets in the Hundred

Haseeb Hameed will captain Nottinghamshire in the Royal London One-Day Cup this summer, after being named the club’s vice-captain.

Hameed, 24, joined Nottinghamshire from Lancashire ahead of the 2020 season, after three lean years at Old Trafford which followed his breakthrough as a Test opener on their tour to India in 2016-17.

He has been limited to five first-team appearances so far on account of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on the English season last year, but made three half-centuries in the Bob Willis Trophy and averaged 38.85.

The Royal London Cup will be played at the same time as the Hundred this summer, meaning Nottinghamshire will be without at least nine first-team players, the most of any county alongside Surrey. Among them is Steven Mullaney, the club captain, which means that Hameed will be given the opportunity to lead a young side in his absence.

Several other counties will also be without their usual club captains during the Royal London Cup, including Glamorgan (Chris Cooke), Hampshire (James Vince), Kent (Sam Billings), Leicestershire (Colin Ackermann), Northamptonshire (Josh Cobb), Somerset (Tom Abell) and Surrey (Rory Burns).

While Hameed’s slow-scoring style earned him the moniker ‘Baby Boycott’ early in his career, he has a solid recent in 50-over cricket, averaging 34.75 across three Royal London Cup campaigns for Lancashire, albeit at a strike rate of 78.08.



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County cricket – Major schedule changes unlikely as counties digest government roadmap

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A handful of high-profile fixtures could be moved to help maximise ticket revenues

Any changes to the domestic schedule in the 2021 English season are likely to be limited to a handful of high-value games, after the government revealed a roadmap out of lockdown last week.

While the government’s roadmap does present some challenges for a county game desperate to maximise ticket revenues, various meetings between the counties and the ECB have concluded as much will be lost as is gained by widespread fixture changes.

The T20 Blast starts on June 9, nearly two weeks ahead of the government’s anticipated date for the lifting of social-distancing measures on June 21. As a result, games played in that window will have attendances limited to a maximum 50% of ground capacity.

But while some counties hoped they might be able to swap the rounds of County Championship cricket scheduled for the weeks starting July 4 or July 11, they have now accepted this would not be practical. Several of the Championship games due to be played over that period are at ‘festival’ grounds such as Scarborough, Cheltenham and Chesterfield, with the counties involved confident of good attendances.

There would also be issues with TV schedules – Sky Sports have plans to show T20 games in the period before the lifting of social-distancing measures – and ground availability, with the Ageas Bowl likely to host the World Test Championship final from June 18. Plans to play the entire group stage of the Blast in the period after social distancing has been lifted were also abandoned as impractical as there were only 29 days available in which to play the tournament. As a result, it has been decided the published fixture list will not be changed.



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Afg vs Zim 1st Test

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Afghanistan strike twice on the second morning, but they have now fallen over 100 runs behind

Lunch Zimbabwe 237 for 8 (Williams 97*, Chakabva 44, Muzarabani 8*) lead Afghanistan 131 (Zazai 37, Muzarabani 4-48) by 106 runs

Zimbabwe took their lead past 100 runs on a productive second morning in Abu Dhabi. The advantage has been built by captain Sean Williams, who is a hit away from his third Test century – and second as skipper. His 75-run seventh-wicket stand with Regis Chakabva dominated the first session on the day, and could prove to be the difference between the two sides in the end analysis.

Afghanistan had success at the start and end of the session, and their spinners asked questions of Zimbabwe’s batsmen, but did not tie them down as much as they would have liked to. Zimbabwe scored 104 runs in the session in 28 overs, with Chakabva leading their proactive approach.

He found himself at the crease in the second over of the day after Ibrahim Zadran had Ryan Burl lbw, without the batsman having added to his overnight 8. Zadran’s over ended with back-to-back boundaries as Chakabva pulled a short ball and then inside-edged one past the wicketkeeper. Zadran only bowled one more over and Chakabva took a third boundary off it, before Afghanistan went to spin from both ends and then welcomed back Yamin Ahmadzai, who left the field late on the first day with what appeared to be an ankle injury.

By that point, Chakabva had also hit the only six of the innings so far, lofting Amir Hamza over long-on, and had scored 24 runs off the first 34 balls he had faced. Williams had been watchful throughout, before he had the opportunity to drive Ahmadzai through extra cover to start showing his intent. After demonstrating his back-foot play yesterday, Williams transitioned to shot-making off the front foot on the second morning, showing an ability to adapt and keep the runs coming. Ahmadzai thought he had Williams caught behind on 70, and though there seemed to be a sound, umpire Ahmed Shah Pakteen was unmoved.

The Williams-Chakabva partnership reached 50 when Chakabva hit Zahir Khan for two successive fours. The two of them looked comfortable at the crease and were navigating spin fairly well. But with less than 15 minutes to lunch, Khan drew Chakabva forward in an attempt to defend a ball that took the inside-edge on to the pad and to Abdul Malik at short leg.

With only the tail to come, and Williams 14 away from a hundred, he pulled Khan through midwicket to enter the 90s but, three balls later, saw Donald Tiripano depart in similar fashion to Chakabva. He also lunged at a ball he could not get to the pitch of and inside-edged to short leg. Williams was on 92 when he was joined by Blessing Muzarabani, who took the lead over 100 with a heave over square leg. Williams went to lunch on 97.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent



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