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With the bat and in the mind, Steven Smith is ‘happy where things are at’

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Leadership was far away from Steven Smith‘s mind when there was a knock on his hotel room door on Friday evening in Jaipur. It was a member of the Rajasthan Royals team management, and the message was simple – he was the captain of the team. A day later, Smith admitted to being surprised by the update, and said his first act was to have an “honest chat with Ajinkya Rahane“, who he described as the “perfect team man”.

“I think Ajinkya has done a terrific job for the last year-and-a-half. Obviously, he got the boys to the playoffs last year, but the management called me in yesterday and said they wanted me to captain for the rest of the season,” Smith said after steering Royals to a five-wicket win over Mumbai Indians with an unbeaten half-century, his first of the season. “I was a bit surprised by it at the time, but yeah, that’s their decision.

“I wasn’t going for the captaincy or anything like that. The management just called me and told me this was how it’s going to be. So I had a chat with Ajinkya, he’s a terrific guy. He said ‘whatever’s best for the team, I’ll support’. You just have to see the way he came out. It’s never easy being told those kind of things but he came out today and played some nice shots at the start, got us off to a good start. He’s a terrific guy and always does what is the best for the team.”

“I haven’t quite enjoyed hiding in the field, it’s not my sort of way around things. I like being in the midst of the action, around the hotspots, and get involved”

It’s the latest upturn in what has been a rollercoaster few months for Smith, during which an elbow problem – and the after-effects of a surgery on it – have been constants. He has been playing with an elbow guard, both while batting and while fielding, to help curb the flexing of the muscles near the area that was affected. While this has impacted his throwing and forced him to curb certain shots, Smith said the good news was that he was “only two weeks away” from complete recovery.

“I still have to play quite heavily strapped, there’s still a few issues with throwing, but I am getting there slowly,” he said. “I can’t throw full tilt yet, but in a couple of weeks, I should be able to throw at full pace, which is going to be nice. I haven’t quite enjoyed hiding in the field, it’s not my sort of way around things. I like being in the midst of the action, around the hotspots, and get involved.

“The elbow is coming along nicely. Since I’ve been in India, I haven’t felt any pain batting. It’s more about just getting used to the fact that I can’t straighten my arm, which took some time to get around, but I’m feeling good, better with each and every game that I play.”

Before this game, Smith has been unable to put up a really big score, or impact the result of a game in a big way. Smith expressed relief at doing that on Saturday, and sounded happy with where his game was at.

“I feel like I’m getting better and better, the way I’m hitting the ball,” he said. “More importantly, my mind is probably getting better and better, the decisions I’m making. I base my batting around the decisions I make, and I’m clearer in my mind. I’m getting clearer and clearer about the way I play.

“I’m happy where things are at, currently. Hopefully, things can get better for the Royals over the next few games. That’s what I’m thinking about for the moment.”

Smith reserved special praise for Riyan Parag, the third youngest after Prayas Ray Burman and Mujeeb Ur Rahman to feature in the IPL. Smith shared a 70-run stand with the 17-year-old to help Royals recover from a mini-slump and canter to victory. Parag’s audacious shot-making, particularly off Lasith Malinga and Hardik Pandya, had Smith run up to him to exchange high-fives.

The new Royals captain said Parag had taught even the experienced players, including himself, a few lessons. “He’s a terrific young kid,” Smith said. “He works very hard, he’s a fit and strong young kid. The way he batted, even in the first game that he played, he taught a lot of the experienced players a few lessons, including myself. He played with a really cool head, just came out and played with freedom.

“He saw the ball, hit the ball and didn’t worry about anything.”

On Parag’s bowling – full of tricks and variations – Smith said, “He’s also got terrific skills with the ball. He bowled really well against Chennai (Super Kings) and bowled really well here. He only started bowling the stuff that he’s been bowling three weeks ago, before that he was just a genuine offspinner. The kid learns very quickly, sign of a very good player, someone who has a bright future. There’s no doubt about that.”



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Kohli pleased with India’s lower-order fightback

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India’s fightback after being reduced to 39 for 4 was the positive Virat Kohli chose to look back after their emphatic loss to New Zealand in their first warm-up fixture at The Oval. In the absence of Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav, India found a savior in Ravindra Jadeja, who top scored with a 50-ball 54 to haul India to 179.

Jadeja added 62 with Kuldeep Yadav for the eight wicket, allowing India to reach the 40-over mark, a prospect that looked unlikely when Trent Boult ran through the top order. Hardik Pandya’s brisk 30 led a brief revival, only for the innings to stutter again until Jadeja guided the lower order.

“Very good,” Kohli said of the lower-order contributions at the post-match presentation. “I mean, the one thing we spoke about in a tournament like the World Cup is, you could easily have your top order out for not too many, so the lower order has to look forward to that and I think Hardik [Pandya] batted really well. MS [Dhoni] absorbs the pressure really well and [Ravindra] Jadeja got a few runs as well, so I think from that point of view, we got a lot out of this game, which is what we wanted to. The lower order getting some runs that was the biggest positive.”

Kohli assessed the surface wasn’t as bowler-friendly in the second innings, after Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor put on a century stand to deflate India. New Zealand sealed victory with six wickets in hand and nearly 13 overs to spare.

“It’s going to be very different from batting second and we saw that in this [game] in the later half of our innings as well,” he said. “I think we bowled it in the right areas, they were going at about four, four-and-a-half, which I think we would take any day in a tournament where the pitches are going to be good. If we can keep hitting those areas consistently, which I think we did with the new ball and the spinners as well, we’re going to be fine with that bowling attack.”



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Recent Match Report – Hampshire vs Somerset, Royal London One-Day Cup, Final

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Innings break Hampshire 243 for 8 (Northeast 56, Fuller 55*, J Overton 3-48) v Somerset

Royal London Cup holders Hampshire face a task on their hands with the ball if they are to retain the trophy after scrapping their way to 243 for 8. Shorn of three of the mainstays of their campaign by World Cup call-ups, a pair of half-centuries from Sam Northeast and James Fuller was as good as it got after Hampshire had chosen to bat, as Jamie Overton, Josh Davey and Somerset captain Tom Abell shared seven wickets between them.

Hampshire’s batsmen struggled to impose themselves from the outset – perhaps unsurprising when two players of the calibre of James Vince and Aiden Markram, now with England and South Africa respectively, had been removed from the top three – and but for Fuller’s late salvo during a 64-run stand with No. 10 Mason Crane, they might have left Somerset a target below 200.

At around the time Hampshire lost their fourth wicket, Liam Dawson was coming on for his first bowl in England’s World Cup warm-up match at the Ageas Bowl. How Hampshire fans would have preferred to see him walking out to the middle at Lord’s, following a Royal London campaign in which he claimed 18 wickets and averaged 45 with the bat. Instead it was Gareth Berg, with a List A highest score of 75, who came out at No. 6 to join Northeast.

Boundaries were at a premium as Somerset’s bowlers bustled about their business – given the scoring rate, this could almost have been a final from 2001, when Somerset last won a 50-over trophy at Lord’s. Jamie Overton broke a 49-run stand when Berg picked out deep backward square and Hampshire’s hopes of an imposing target seemingly departed with Northeast as he hacked across line, patience exhausted, to be bowled by Abell for 56.

Abell had only delivered one over in the format previously but also hit Kyle Abbott’s stumps in a tidy spell, while Chris Wood fell tamely to Jamie Overton, before Fuller and Crane begged and stole what they could during the last ten overs. A pair of clean-struck blows beyond the ropes from Fuller in the final over – the only sixes of the innings – suggested the pitch had runs left in it at halfway.

Perhaps hoping to follow the template of their victory over Kent last year, Hampshire chose to bat beneath low-slung cloud on a humid morning at Lord’s. While not exactly a green nibbler in September, there was enough in the surface for Somerset’s battery of right-arm medium bowlers to take advantage of.

Anuerin Donald struck a couple of early boundaries before hitting Davey straight to cover and although Tom Alsop and Joe Weatherley resolved to play their way in, it was ultimately to no avail. Alsop was dropped by James Hildreth at slip on 16, but obligingly recreated the chance off Davey’s very next ball and this time the Somerset veteran clung on.

Lewis Gregory strove for similar virtues of line and length when replacing Craig Overton and he found enough movement back in to defeat a loose push and remove Weatherley’s off stump in his second over, with Hampshire an anaemic-looking 50 for 3.

There followed a volley of retaliatory boundaries as Rilee Rossouw – Man of the Match for his 125 here a year ago – and Northeast dashed off 46 in 6.3 overs. Rossouw introduced himself to Gregory with a brusque force through the covers and then a swat over mid-on for four more but, having barrelled to 28 off 17 balls, he fell to the extra pace of Jamie Overton, cramped into edging a back-foot drive on to his stumps.

The onus now rested heavily on Northeast, Hampshire’s stand-in captain, and he packed away the shots to reach an 85-ball half-century. However, Abell was to steal his Lord’s limelight and help leave his team well-placed in pursuit of a first limited-overs title since 2005.



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Mark Wood and Jofra Archer give England more injury scares during Australia warm-up | Cricket

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England’s World Cup hopes may have sustained a serious blow after injury scares to both of their fastest bowlers.

Mark Wood and Jofra Archer, the two men in the England squad who can regularly surpass 90 mph with the ball, were obliged to leave the pitch within minutes of one another in the opening hour of the warm-up match against Australia in Southampton.

First Wood, after one ball of his fourth over, stopped halfway through his run-up and left the pitch having indicated that he may have an issue with his calf. Just two balls later Archer, a surprising choice as substitute fielder for Wood, slid as he attempted to stop a ball on the midwicket boundary and appeared to sustain an injury. He left the pitch moments later.

It meant that Paul Collingwood, one of England’s assistant coaches, was briefly forced into service as a substitute fielder. Collingwood turns 43 tomorrow, and retired as a player at the end of the 2018 season. Joe Root, who was due to miss the game following the death of his grandfather on Thursday, was also pressed into service as a substitute fielder.

England are also without the injured pair of Eoin Morgan, who sustained a fractured finger in training on Friday, and Adil Rashid, who has a long-standing shoulder injury. They also confirmed that Chris Woakes, who is expected to open the bowling in the World Cup, was playing in this match as a specialist batsman and would not bowl as they seek to manage his even more long-standing knee problems.

The England camp are yet to advise on the seriousness of the injuries.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo


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