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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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Taunton expects as Tom Abell leads Somerset into title crunch fortnight

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Last week was momentous for Somerset’s cricketers. Needing a victory to put the pressure on Essex in what is a two-team arm-wrestle race for the title, they hammered Yorkshire by 298 runs, helped in large measure by two outstanding fifties from their skipper, Tom Abell, who batted ten minutes short of seven hours on a surface which some Test players found too taxing.

But that victory over Yorkshire may be viewed as little more than a staging post on a flight to glory should Somerset win the Championship in ten days’ time. The prospect is the talk of Taunton – and also a subject which many of the county’s supporters are barely able to discuss. Somerset, you see, have been here before.

In 2010 they needed Lancashire to avoid losing three first-innings wickets to Nottinghamshire at Old Trafford. Karl Brown, Mark Chilton and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were duly knocked over in 4.4 overs and the title went to Trent Bridge. “The eternal second” was the headline above Richard Latham’s Somerset copy in the 2011 Wisden. Then in 2016 around a thousand supporters gathered at the County Ground, hoping against all cricketing logic that the game between Yorkshire and Middlesex at Lord’s might end in a draw or a tie. Middlesex won the match – and the title. Perhaps we can now understand why some folk in Glastonbury or Frome will be torn between wanting to find out what is going on in this week’s match at the Rose Bowl and wondering whether a week’s retreat with Trappist monks might be a saner option. No one doubts Essex would be worthy champions; they are not the bad guys in this drama. All the same…

One of the most memorable photographs from that Friday afternoon at the County Ground three years ago shows Somerset’s skipper, Chris Rogers, “Buck” to almost everybody in the game, looking up at the television as the drama unfolds at Lord’s. Rogers had retired from the game the previous evening after making two centuries in the annihilation of Nottinghamshire. Now all he could do was wait. Hardly anyone knew it at the time but Somerset’s then-director of cricket, Matthew Maynard, had chosen Rogers’ successor. He had settled on Abell, a 23-year-old Taunton boy.

It has proved a wise choice. Abell has the respect of his players and the unconditional love of the county’s supporters. His captaincy against Yorkshire last week was assured and suddenly one realised he is now a senior cricketer with perhaps a decade in the professional game ahead of him. But as Abell prepares himself and his team for their vital matches against Hampshire and Essex, it is probably important to recall that two years ago, in his first season at the helm, he was in such poor batting form that he dropped himself from Somerset’s team for another match against Yorkshire, at Scarborough. And even more intriguing to discover that Jason Kerr, Somerset’s current head coach, told Abell he “enjoyed” the skipper’s slump even as he sympathised with his gloom.

“We’re very keen at Somerset to develop people as human beings and I’m a fan of people going through adversity,” said Kerr. “That year was awful to watch for Somerset supporters and for friends and family of Tom but if you go through something like that you are definitely stronger. It’s a determining factor in how you are going to be moving forward.

“I can remember having conversations with Tom at the time when I said: ‘Look, you won’t appreciate this but I’m actually quite enjoying this happening to you.’ You can imagine how he looked at me but I told him he would be a better person and we are all reaping the rewards now. I think we’ll see a consistency of performance which will get him higher recognition.”

“That year was awful to watch for Somerset supporters and for friends and family of Tom but if you go through something like that you are definitely stronger.”

Jason Kerr on Tom Abell’s batting slump

During 2017 Abell viewed any type of higher recognition as a distant second to justifying his place in Somerset’s team and he is now capable of viewing things a little more dispassionately than perhaps he could at the time.

“I guess luck does come into it,” he said. “I dropped myself and that’s something that had to happen. But circumstances dictated I got back in the side because Adam Hose left and vacated a spot at five. But things could have been very different and I look back with a bit of relief that I managed to come back. It was a pretty tough time and as a captain it was difficult to lead from the front when you weren’t worth your place in the side. But I have a great team around me and great team-mates who will always have my back.

“We know there are going to be times when things don’t go as smoothly as you would like. I spoke to Andy Hurry during that period and he said it was possibly the best thing that will ever happen to you in your career. It wasn’t nice but I’ve come out the other side.”

Abell’s emergence from what is becoming a distant gloom has been confirmed in several ways this summer. He has led Somerset to the Royal London One-Day Cup triumph and made a century in the Vitality Blast which revealed a far greater range of shot than he previously possessed. Above all, though, he is a shrewd captain and front-line batsman, who may, just may, lead them to the title So these are heady times as well as momentous ones and you might think it would be useful if Abell had the advice of someone like Rogers to call on. Funny you should ask…

“Buck was fantastic for us,” said Abell. “I had a really good relationship with him and certainly learned a lot from him in the year he was here. He helped me as a batter and I still have the few pages that he wrote and gave to me to help me out as a captain. And that was great because I don’t think you can fully prepare yourself for what to expect and you can’t ask for anything more than to have people like that in your corner. The notes are all about tactics, playing on spinning wickets, making sure you take care of your own game and getting the best out of the team. There were other things – in cricket and outside of cricket.”

Getting outside cricket may well be important in the next fortnight even if Somerset and Essex’s players have little opportunity to take in a film or play a little golf. It scarcely needs too much imagination to visualise what the County Ground will be like if the title comes to Somerset. Already officials are thinking of hiring Portakabins to accommodate the influx of written media keen to report on the shootout beloved of the tabloids. The usual press box is being used by Sky and the Thatcher’s Terrace will be the preserve of TMS. And all this for a game nobody watches…

“We’re trying to avoid thinking too far ahead,” Abell counselled, “We love it and we’re desperate to do something special. You do get a sense of the pride the people of Somerset take in their cricket and we felt that when we won the one-day cup earlier in the year. Taunton is a very special place and we have a special group of supporters. We’re also a tight group and we are desperate to win it for each other.”

It will also be fair to say that Somerset’s players are keen to win the title for Marcus Trescothick, who retires at the end of this season, and for Kerr, a quietly-spoken Boltonian who has made his life in the West Country and has spent most of his career at the County Ground. The coach, himself, of course, having enjoyed Abell’s agony, will share in his ecstasy if the title comes to the West Country for the first time.

“I’m a huge fan of Tom and he has my unconditional support,” he said. “I think he’s an outstanding cricketer and an outstanding leader. I think what we’ve seen emerge more this year is his deep-rooted belief in himself. The guys follow him and I think we’re going to see him go from strength to strength. He took responsibility on a really challenging surface in this game against Yorkshire and batted as if he’d been playing a lot longer than his years suggested. The signs are really good for him.”



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BCCI ACU launches inquiry into alleged approaches in TNPL 2019

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The BCCI’s anti-corruption unit (ACU) is conducting an inquiry into alleged approaches made to several players by suspicious people in the latest edition of the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL), a T20 competition conducted by the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA). The ACU launched an inquiry after the players reported the alleged approaches during the tournament.

According to Ajit Singh, head of the ACU, the approaches were reported by the players promptly during the fourth season of the league, played between July 19 and August 15 between eight teams. “It is an inquiry into who has made an approach,” Singh told ESPNcricinfo. “The players have told us we have received these messages, so it is not an inquiry against the player.”

It is understood that seven to eight players had reported approaches to the ACU.

When asked, Singh said he could not confirm or deny whether any of the players are, or have been, Indian internationals. Saying he did not have an exact number of players who had reported approaches, Singh did confirm that there were at least a handful. “There were messages who is going to bat first in the match, basically seeking (match related) information. We presume it’s coming from those who are interested in betting,” he elaborated.

Singh, a former Director General of Police in Rajasthan, also said that the ACU had received no information against any of the eight team owners, and the teams are not part of the inquiry as of now. As things stand, the ACU is trying to establish the source of the messages the players had received, which involves tracking telephone numbers.

That information can only be accessed by the police, but under the Indian Penal Code, match fixing is not yet a legal offence. Hence, Singh said, there was no deadline as such, but the ACU will look at all possible angles before wrapping up the inquiry.

Incidentally, this was the first time that the ACU provided cover for TNPL, having supervised the anti-corruption measures last year. In the first three seasons, the TNPL had on board Ravi Sawani, former ICC ACU general manager and BCCI ACU head, to look after the anti-corruption cell. This season, the TNPL had four ACU officers available throughout the tournament, with a few more investigators providing them support.

Singh explained that the ACU conducts a mandatory education programme before any tournament and this was followed at the TNPL this time. Players are expected to report any approach made within 24 hours to the ACU, and Singh said that the education programme had helped make players aware of the way corrupt elements seek match-related information, and how they use it. Also, the programmes have helped develop a rapport between players and ACU officers, who they can contact directly if required.

The TNPL was launched in 2016 by TNCA, the home base of former BCCI president and ICC chairman N Srinivasan. The tournament has been promoted by various high-profile present and former cricketers acting as brand ambassadors: MS Dhoni, Shane Watson, Matthew Hayden, Michael Hussey, Brett Lee, and Ambati Rayudu. The best cricketers from the region have also always been a part of the mix. This year, for example, Dinesh Karthik, R Ashwin, Vijay Shankar, M Vijay, Washington Sundar and Abhinav Mukund were all part of the action. Also, the TNPL has been telecast by Star India, the biggest broadcaster in cricket, which owns rights for ICC global tournaments as well Indian cricket rights and the IPL.



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A good team, not a great one yet – Langer

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Australia’s coach Justin Langer wore a rueful look on his face as his players lifted the urn at The Oval, having lost to England by some distance in the final Test and so failed to win the series. Having set out upon a gruelling twin tour of the UK for the World Cup and the Ashes, he witnessed a pair of strong and successful campaigns without either fully satisfying.

With the benefit of a few moments’ reflection, Langer reckoned that while there had been great improvement in the Australian team over his 16 months in charge so far, there would need to be a greater level of ruthlessness if they are to graduate from World Cup semi-finalists and Ashes retainers to consistent series and tournament winners.

“It’s something we’re getting better at, how we back up after a win,” Langer said in reference to how the Edgbaston and Old Trafford victories had been followed by a draw at Lord’s and defeat at The Oval. “That probably comes with the maturity of the group as well. It’s ok to fight back when you are underdogs and it’s one of those Australian things – we love the underdog tag. To fight back from a tough loss is admirable and I said how proud I was with everyone for that.

“But also over the last couple of years we haven’t necessarily performed at our best after a win. Really good teams do that. We didn’t do that too well after the first Test at Lord’s. We didn’t do it after this Test. There have been some Test series over the last couple of years where the team hasn’t been able to. I think that’ll be part of the maturity of our side. If you probably think about it, the way we were in this series, we aren’t a great team yet.

“We are a good team, we are a maturing team. We have got some great players in it. But we’re aspiring to be a great cricket team. You got to work hard and get consistent results to achieve that. That comes from experience and learning how to win. That comes with players individually getting more experienced and the team working together. Those sort of things evolve I think. I think back to the start of my career, in 1993, we had some senior players but we didn’t necessarily win all the time. And that we learnt to do through Steve Waugh’s era. We learnt to be ruthless but we also had seven or eight great players and a number of very good players and a couple of good ones like me. But that takes time to develop and evolve.”

Something that Langer will have to balance coming home from England will be how the Test team will have perhaps three spots settled in the batting line-up for the home summer, but also how to pick David Warner back up after he was thoroughly beaten by Stuart Broad across this series. Warner was not alone as a struggling left-hand batsman at the top of the order, but he is the one player in that group who possesses a career record suggesting that it was a temporary problem rather than a defining one.

“I think, talking frankly, he let Stuart Broad get into his head and he thought way too much about it,” Langer said. “I’ve seen it before, even with the great players, every now and then they have a series – and I’m talking about the all-time great players – they have a series where…I remember Gilly (Adam Gilchrist) with Andrew Flintoff, I remember seeing Steve Waugh sit on the team bus in South Africa and the guy had been a run machine for so long, he got out just before stumps and I, in a sick sort of way, thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen.

“I didn’t think great players had lean runs. I used to have lean runs all the time but even great players have lean runs and I’m sure David – we know he’s a very good player, there’s no question about that – but he had it tough, particularly against Stuart Broad. I used to have it against Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan) and I couldn’t solve the issue and it’s so hard when you try to problem solve and then you’re in the middle of a big series trying to solve the puzzle.

“In this instance I don’t think David solved the puzzle, and he’ll be first to admit that, he’ll probably be very relieved he gets on the Qantas flight in a day’s time and doesn’t have to face Stuart Broad for a while I reckon. But he is certainly, there’s plenty of upside still to his batting. I’ve learned over a long period you never write off champion players, it doesn’t matter what sport, you never write off champion players. They tend to come good, don’t they? So he’s had a tough series, no doubt about that, but he’s also a champion player so usually with champion players they get a bit more time to come good.”

Langer was gratified by the displays of Steven Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, while also appreciating how Matthew Wade had battled his way through the trials of the series to notch a pair of book-ending centuries. “We cut to the chase, I thought our bowling throughout this series was absolutely world-class. I think we talked throughout about the maturity and healthy group of fast bowlers that we were able to have on the park,” he said. “The bowlers were brilliant. Nathan Lyon as well and the way they all stepped up at different times.

“But we didn’t bat well enough. I said this at the start of the series that the team that bats well will win the series. I said it consistently enough and we didn’t bat well enough. That’s the truth. I mean Steve Smith was obviously outstanding. What a pleasure to watch. He’s a brilliant young man but what a pleasure to watch him bat. I thought the development of Marnus was exciting. He worked so hard. He’s a bit in the Steve Smith mould of the players that you love to see do well. He worked so hard.

“The way Matthew Wade scored two centuries in this series, obviously including today. We talked about him knocking so hard to get an opportunity. He did that and then to back up with two Test centuries in an Ashes series showed great fight and great skill. I loved Matthew Wade’s footwork. But we certainly fell short in other areas and we need to work on that.”

In addition to ruthlessness, Langer had a simple goal based on what he had seen in England in 2019 – find a batting line-up that will better capitalise on the current riches in Australia’s bowling stocks. “With this exciting fast bowling group we’ve got, if we start batting well we’ll win a lot of games of cricket,” he said. “We go to Australia to play two pink ball Test matches, against two good sides in Pakistan and New Zealand, two day-night Test matches will be exciting.

“There’s a real challenge for young Australian batters, the ones who want to step up and score lots of runs and work hard on their footwork patterns and techniques and ability to score runs it’s a pretty exciting time. That’s a big challenge.”



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