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USA eye historic result in first ever T20I

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On Friday, USA will become the 28th country to play a men’s T20I when they take on UAE at the ICC Academy in Dubai. Coming from a place where T20 has been touted as the only possible gateway to crack the broader domestic sports market, the build-up has been low-key for what on paper is a historic occasion.

But that hasn’t kept USA coach Pubudu Dassanayake and his players from appreciating the significance of the new frontier ahead of them. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo on the eve of USA’s first T20I outing, Dassanayake is hoping the two-match series will provide the opportunity to lay solid groundwork for a successful T20 World Cup Qualifying campaign later in the year as well as a lead-in to their attempt at securing ODI status at WCL Division Two in Namibia next month.

“Of course, it’s the first T20 International USA is playing, so we want to win, so winning is important,” Dassanayake said. “But having said that, at the end of this year there’s a big tournament coming up, the T20 global qualifier and regional qualifiers. So we want to see what is our best combination and best players for that version. We’re going to try a few combinations tomorrow and the day after and see what’s best for us.

“When we are talking about T20 into the 50-overs, we want to improve our death bowling, we want to improve our power-hitting ability. So all of these training tours, today, tomorrow and even the T20 games going into 50-overs, we’ve got to cover a few things for us to shape up in the 50 overs as well.”

USA’s biggest obstacle might have less to do with the opponents on the field and more to do with the effects of jet-lag. The squad had staggered arrivals over the course of the previous day, while Roy Silva missed the team’s lone training session altogether after his flight didn’t come in late Thursday morning.

However, captain Saurabh Netravalkar was upbeat about how the team has acclimatised to the 32-degree desert heat after coming out of the winter. Former New South Wales fast bowler Burt Cockley, who now lives in Kansas, has been working with the USA squad to lay out a strength-and-conditioning program to improve their fitness through the winter leading up to this tour, something Netravalkar says will be a key factor in their ability to hit the ground running.

The biggest addition to the USA squad is the recall of former West Indies Test batsman Xavier Marshall, who debuted for his adopted home in January 2018 but was left out of USA’s last three tournament squads to round out 2018. But he has been given a lifeline to re-enter the squad and is expected to come charging hard at the top of the order after top-scoring in an intra-squad trial match last month during a warm-up tour in Antigua.

“The caliber of the player, you have no second thoughts,” Netravalkar said of Marshall. “He has played Test cricket, and his quality is right up there. But the passion that we saw in him in Antigua, the intensity that he put in his training sessions every day, it’s not just in Antigua.

“The intensity and passion that he’s shown to be in the unit and the efforts in practice and performances of course, we believe in him. We are really looking forward to seeing something special from him.”

While the squad is excited at the opportunity to all become a part of history as the first eleven players to play a T20I for the USA, Netravalkar says he is trying to make sure they are mindful not to get overwhelmed thinking about it instead of the opponent in front of them.

“It’s a great honor and really looking forward to the opportunity,” Netravalkar said. “We flew in just yesterday. It looks like a great atmosphere for cricket, great facilities.

“We are really excited, but we want to take it as just another game where we want to go out there and give it our best. We want to focus on the simple things, our preparation and, hopefully, we put up a special performance for people who are watching.”



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Recent Match Report – Kent vs Surrey, County Championship Division One, 2nd Innings

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Surrey 439 and 11 for 0 lead Kent 294 (Dickson 128, Crawley 63, Batty 3-49) by 156 runs

In deciding on the readiness of young players to compete at the highest level, it is often said “if they’re good enough, they’re old enough”. Seldom though do you hear people opining that “if he’s good enough, he’s young enough”. In the 41-year-old Gareth Batty and the 37-year-old Rikki Clarke, Surrey quite definitely possess two of the more mature players on the circuit; yet they are both very much young enough.

With this match drifting listlessly to what already seemed an inevitable high-scoring draw, Surrey’s gnarled old pros, longer in the tooth than your average walrus, broke the game open with a pair of interventions after tea.

On Monday, it was Darren Stevens assuming the role of Yoda. This time, with Kent cruising comfortably at 227 for 2 on a placid pitch offering nothing to the bowlers since before lunch on day one, it was Batty to whom Rory Burns turned, much as Princess Leia did to Obi Wan Kenobi.

Batty was, it seemed, Surrey’s “last hope”. The pitch was offering little by way of turn, but Batty summoned his most seductive Jedi mind tricks in assuring first Heino Kuhn and then Ollie Robinson the very next delivery that “these are the balls you are looking to edge”. Two arm balls, albeit with a little more bounce than either batsman was expecting, assisted by two very sharp Ben Foakes catches had suddenly thrown this somnolent, soporific match wide open.

Wiaan “agent” Mulder came in to face the hat-trick ball but knew “the truth was out there”, just on a length outside off stump and spoiled the fun with the middle of a stoutly defensive bat.

What Mulder didn’t see coming was the leaping left hand of Will Jacks at gully who dived impossibly far to snatch the ball an inch off the ground to an audible collective gasp from this now thoroughly engaged crowd. Jacks repeated the trick in the first over of a new spell from Clarke to remove Alex Blake, and when Stevens, who had survived two mighty close shouts for lbw off Clarke was finally put out of his misery by umpire Graham Lloyd, Kent had lost five wickets for 33 runs.

All the while, Sean Dickson, who scored 318 the last time Kent played a first-class fixture at Beckenham, was looking on aghast from the other end. Just three hours earlier he and Zak Crawley had been busy compiling an untroubled, and often attractive opening stand of 128.

Crawley really does look the real deal. Against a seam attack of Morne Morkel, Clarke, Sam Curran and the distinctly brisk Conor Mckerr, he appeared to have all the time in the world. Granted, there was little happening off the pitch, and neither did it swing, much to the surprise of the odd luminary in the commentary box, but there are few more testing attacks than Surrey’s and it came as a surprise when he was spectacularly castled by Clarke for 63, pushing out at a ball he should have been defending and losing his middle and off stumps in the process.

Just as Clarke had sprung that first surprise, it was down to Batty to deliver the second when he too removed the middle stump, this time of Daniel Bell-Drummond who was attempting to run the ball down through third man. It was both too close to him and way too full. An ugly drag back ensued. Those Jedi mind tricks again. Frustration, disappointment and unfulfillment again from a player who has promised so much for years, at least since that terrific hundred against the touring Australians in 2015.

The second new ball was taken as soon as it was available. Curran immediately accounted for Dickson, getting him caught strangled down the leg side to end an unspectacular but highly efficient innings from the opener in rather unfortunate circumstances. The last two wickets soon followed, the final one to another quite brilliant catch from Jacks at short leg to give Morkel his only wicket. Surrey’s catching had been exemplary, even spectacular on occasion.

One bad session had produced eight wickets for just 91 runs. What at one time looked like a possible first-innings lead had resulted in a deficit of 145 runs. It is frequently the challenge for promoted sides to maintain intensity across the full duration of a match in this highly competitive top tier. Kent’s squad in large part lack Division One experience. Experience, though, is something Surrey have in abundance, and Batty and Clarke were quite simply the difference. Young enough? You bet.



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Glenn Maxwell keen to control with the ball and finish with the bat

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Australia and the West Indies will play their first World Cup practice match “behind closed doors” on an out ground in Hampshire on Wednesday. The sides were officially scheduled to play two warm-up games before the start of the tournament but an extra hit-out was agreed between the camps when Stuart Law was West Indies’ coach.

Before training on Tuesday, Glenn Maxwell compared the size of the Nursery Ground to Hurstville in Sydney, the venue of many a thumping score in Australia’s domestic one-day competition, and as a result this warm-up will likely provide a serious test of both sides’ containment bowling.

As a part-time offspinner, Maxwell knows he will have his work cut out for him should he bowl to the likes of Chris Gayle and Andre Russell. But, while it is his batting that is most often discussed, he is clear on his objectives with the ball in hand.

“Try not to get hit for six most of the time,” laughed Maxwell. “For me I suppose, a lot of the time that I bowl, I just try to limit the boundary balls. As long as I’m doing that, if they hit some good shots off my bowling I’m not too fazed. If I’m limiting the boundary balls and giving myself the best chance to squeeze a few dot balls, bowl a couple of tight overs, it might create a bit of pressure at the other end.”

Maxwell spent time at Lancashire after Australia’s tours of India and Pakistan, choosing to prepare for the summer in England and giving himself the best chance of making the Ashes squad rather than playing in the IPL. His stint in county cricket included seven List A games and while he performed modestly with the bat – his top score was 35 – he took wickets in all but one match and eight in all.

“I think it’s important for me to just bowl in a partnership with someone. That’s probably the clarity I have in my role and it’s something I did a bit in Dubai [against Pakistan] and India and started to get a few more overs, a bit more consistency… To have that continue into my time at Lancashire where I got plenty of time at the bowling crease, you get that rhythm, you get that feel of the ball coming out consistently. You need that as a part-time bowler, to have that consistency of time at the crease and get a few of the cobwebs out I suppose.”

His bowling may be a handy option but it is Maxwell’s destructive batting that has the real potential to dismantle attacks and the Nursery Ground may be just the first on this tour that struggles to contain his powerful hitting. But in this, too, Maxwell has found clarity on how he fits into the Australian side.

“I suppose my role in the team is to adapt to whatever start we have, whether it be we get off to a flyer or we’ve lost a few early wickets. It’s just to adapt to whatever I get thrown into,” he said. “I just want to have an impact on games in a really positive way and be able to control the back end.

“I have expectations on myself to finish off games and be the guy who’s standing there at the end of the game and making sure that we win the game.”



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England’s team culture is as strong as it’s ever been – Eoin Morgan

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Eoin Morgan says that the process of whittling England’s World Cup squad down to the final 15-man party was “the toughest decision I’ve ever been a part of”, but believes that he personally, and his team as a whole, have never been better equipped to make the big calls, having grown together in the four years since the 2015 campaign.

Speaking at the launch of England’s World Cup kit in East London, Morgan admitted that his team’s final approach to the tournament had not been entirely smooth – with Alex Hales’ expulsion from the squad for a second failed drugs test providing a particularly unwelcome distraction in recent weeks.

However, with England making a seamless readjustment in Hales’ absence to beat Pakistan 4-0 in another record-breaking run of batting form, Morgan feels that the team have come through a significant stress test of their culture. Looking ahead, he backs his players to find further ways to keep winning in the event of any more disruption in the course of the tournament.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been smooth, I’d say we’ve been better equipped at dealing with anything that’s cropped up, certainly as a group,” said Morgan. “For me as a captain, being more experienced, and having been through four years of being captain, our prep and planning has been excellent and the guys have responded to that by performing on a consistent basis, probably more so for last two years than first two.”

Asked if the Hales situation was the sort of crisis that would have derailed past England World Cup campaigns, Morgan admitted: “Yeah, it probably would have. It’s something I’ve never come up against before.”

However, he also explained that the team management had put in place contingency plans for similar incidents, meaning that they had not been caught entirely on the hop when the news of Hales’ indiscretions were made public.

“We hadn’t planned exactly for that, we’d planned for instances when the [team] culture had been tested or individually we’d been tested,” Morgan said. “There’s still loads of things that we’ve planned for that might continue to crop up throughout the World Cup.

“Our values as a team include the words ‘courage’, ‘respect’, and ‘unity’, symbolising the three lions on our cap, and taking that cap forward across all three formats and all squads,” he added.

ALSO READ: Dobell: Focus on fringe players shows how far England have come

“Over a period of time everyone can relate to it on and off the field. For some people it may only be words, but for us as international cricketers, travelling around all the time, the one thing that’s constant right from the beginning of your journey is your cap. It’s a gentle reminder of how much responsibility you have, and the privileged position you are constantly in to make the most of that.”

That shared journey made this week’s decision to cut Joe Denly and, especially, David Willey from England’s final 15 particularly tough to make, but having been given the casting vote in the selectors’ deliberations, Morgan was able to defend the “logic of the decision and the balance of the squad” that resulted in Jofra Archer and Liam Dawson being called up in their places.

“It was the toughest decision I’ve ever been a part of, certainly with this group,” said Morgan. “To leave two guys out, one who has been around for the last four years and been a big part of everything we’ve done on and off the field, and the other is an exceptionally talented cricketer. It’s unfortunate for those who missed out but it was the right call.”

Morgan added that he wasn’t able to feel any great sense of relief at having made the cut, given that the contributions of both players had required “the time and dedication” to do them justice. However, he was able to reiterate to both the point he made at the presentation ceremony in Headingley last week, that the nature of a six-week tournament would almost certainly throw up the possibility of an replacement being called upon.

“We had a conversation last night,” Morgan said, “explaining the fact that there are nine group-stage games and the fact that we have four fast bowlers, and one of them is likely to get injured. It happens.

“And I had the same conversation with Joe. We haven’t had many injuries in the batting department for a long time, so we need to plan for everything, given that they might come into play straightaway, so they need to be prepared for that.”

Asked if England were playing “fearless” cricket in the wake of their 4-0 series win over Pakistan, Morgan actually felt that his team had reined in some of the more overt aggression that had led to a few rare but notable mishaps in recent years.

“I wouldn’t say that we feel fearless, probably two years ago we felt more fearless, because we were quite young in our growth as a team,” he said. “We’ve had two more years’ experience on top of that, and we are better at coping and adapting to scenarios and recognising different situations throughout a game. I wouldn’t say that’s fearless.”

The team’s single biggest disappointment of the past four years, the Champions Trophy semi-final defeat against Pakistan in 2017, was an example of where England had been derailed in the recent past.

“One of the biggest learning things that came out of that was that it probably came a little bit early for us,” he said. “We probably didn’t realise how good we were and how poor we were on slow wickets. Since then, we’ve improved our play at both home and away, and on wickets that don’t necessarily suit our planning.”

Overall, however, Morgan said that he was simply itching to get started. “We are pretty close to our starting XI, barring a couple of pitch minor adjustments,” he said. “If the game was tomorrow, it would be better for us than seven or eight days’ time. Our preparation against Pakistan was as good as anything we could have hoped for. To perform like we did is extremely encouraging.”



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