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.
“We have a clear advantage against this team, because they’ve got a few new players,” Karunaratne said. “From the last series they played against us, Stokes is not in their squad and Jennings is not in the team. And Stokes is the guy who balanced their team. The players in the current squad don’t have much experience in these conditions.
“That said, we shouldn’t take it easy. They’ve prepared well, and I’ve seen how well they’ve prepared. They’ve also been playing cricket and they were the first ones to start playing Tests again after Covid hit. Their fitness levels are still up there. We only started again against South Africa, and because of the injury concerns, we’ve lost players.”
Despite the overall confidence, Karunaratne was still wary of the threat England’s spin attack posed. Left-arm spinner Jack Leach, England’s best bowler from the 2018 series will play again. He took 18 wickets at 21.38 on that trip. Offspinner Dom Bess, who has 19 wickets from 15 bowling innings so far, will also be in the XI.
“I think their spinners are just as dangeorous this time. Leach is there, and he’s the man who did a lot of of work in the last series here. It’s unfortunate that Moeen Ali, who did a good job, can’t play the series. Dom Bess has done a good job for England as well, so we never underestimate their bowlers. We always knew what they are capable of in their bowling lineup.
“But we know what the conditions are, so we have a few plans against them. They’d played a practice game here before the last series, and we have that footage and everything. We are trying to play our normal, fearless game. We learned a lot of things in the past series, and we’re not going to make those mistakes again.”
Sri Lanka’s batsmen, though, are playing a Test at home for the first time in 16 months, and have returned from South Africa only eight days ago, having played on fast, bouncy pitches there. Karunaratne does not think readjusting to home conditions will be too big a challenge, even if rain has hampered what little preparation time they had in the approach to this Test.
“Playing in Sri Lanka is difficult anyway, but we’ve all been playing in Sri Lanka since we started cricket, and I don’t think the fact that we’ve been abroad for a month will make it too difficult to come back to these conditions. Yes, we haven’t played for a while, but there was a domestic tournament last year as well as the LPL. We can’t give the excuse that we were playing in different conditions and found it hard to switch. These are our conditions.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf
Haseeb Hameed named Nottinghamshire captain for Royal London Cup
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.
“It’s an honour to be handed the responsibility of being vice-captain and I’m also really looking forward to the challenge of leading a talented young team into the Royal London Cup,” Hameed said.
“I love playing under Mull [Mullaney] and – whether it be by scoring runs with the bat, keeping the lads going during tough periods in the field or being involved tactically – I’ll be doing everything I can to contribute to the team in red-ball cricket.
“As captain in the 50-over game, we have a proud record in white-ball competitions as a club and that’s something we’ll be determined to continue.”
Peter Moores, the club’s head coach, said: “Hass became a popular member of the group very quickly. He has an infectious enthusiasm for the game, has raised the bar with his fitness and the intensity of his practice and he’s thrown himself into life as a Notts player.
“We informed the lads the other day about the decision to make him vice-captain, and the positive, supportive way they reacted was great to see. He’ll grow as a result of this experience and we believe he’s a player with an exciting future, both as a leader and with the bat.”
Dan Christian, the Australian allrounder, has captained Notts in the T20 Blast since 2016, leading them to the title in 2017 and 2020. His availability for 2021 is in doubt after he was bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL auction, with the competition’s latter stages set to overlap with the start of the Blast season. The club are yet to confirm any overseas signings for this season.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98
County cricket – Major schedule changes unlikely as counties digest government roadmap
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.
There are a few exceptions. ESPNcricinfo understands that a handful of games which might be expected to sell heavily and disproportionately impact the finances of the host county could still be rearranged so they are played after all social-distancing measures are lifted. Among those games are the Middlesex vs Surrey fixture, scheduled for Lord’s on June 10, and Durham vs Yorkshire, scheduled to be played at Chester-le-Street on June 11.
It is likely those matches will be swapped with T20 fixtures deemed less likely to attract full-house crowds currently scheduled to be played later in the tournament. Tickets for the majority of fixtures in the Blast were put on sale by counties on Monday.
While Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, originally said social distancing measures would be from June 21 at the earliest, there are some hopes the government may accelerate the end of lockdown. With the number of Covid-19 cases falling steadily at present and the number of those vaccinated rising sharply, there are those around the counties hopeful full houses may return in time for the entire Blast schedule. Wales’ roadmap out of lockdown – which will affect Glamorgan’s preparations for the season – is yet to be announced.
One alteration to the Championship schedule has been confirmed, with Surrey shifting their home fixture against Gloucestershire, which starts on May 27, from Guildford to The Oval in anticipation of being able to accommodate a limited number of members. Counties have begun to unveil their pre-season schedules, with fixtures starting from the end of March.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
Afg vs Zim 1st Test
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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