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England prepare to pit hope against bullish expectation



It’s a been a fair few years now since Australia’s formidable Test record at Lord’s has been factored into the Ashes build-up – consecutive thumpings in 2009 and 2013 rather punctured their proud boast of not having lost at the ground since 1934. But on their last visit here in 2015, they atoned for those setbacks with a brutal 405-run victory – with a certain Steven Smith leading the line with 215 from 346 balls.

And now they are back at their favourite home from home, with Smith exuding an invincibility on English soil not seen since Graeme Smith’s extraordinary awakening in the summer of 2003, and England – for all the hype and expectation surrounding Jofra Archer – looking as vulnerable in a home Ashes campaign as they have been in a generation.

It’s not simply that England are 1-0 down in the series – that’s nothing new for this set of players, as Root was happy to point out on the eve of the contest. They’ve been behind on home soil three times in the last six years, and recovered on each occasion, to beat India in 2014, and draw with Pakistan twice in 2016 and 2018.

But this time, the concern is the gulf between hope and expectation that appears to be opening up between the two teams, for that Root was setting out to be bullish on the eve of the contest.

“We’re in English conditions, we really back ourselves to come back strong after last week,” Root said, after it had been pointed out that England have now lost six of their last seven Tests against Australia dating back to 2015, with only a bore-draw in Melbourne for respite. “I’m expecting a big response from the boys. We’ve proven that we do that, time and time again, when we’ve been defeated, especially at home. Last week will have hurt everyone and everyone will be absolutely desperate to go and win this week. And I expect nothing less.”

That’s a lot of expectation to shoehorn into one answer. But does Root really expect England to perform better than they did in the crunch moments at Edgbaston, or he is merely hoping that they will? Does he expect their misfiring middle-order to find renewed resolve with the series in the balance, or is he simply hoping that that is the case?

Or, to flip the sentiment on its head: Do England really expect Archer – and to a lesser extent, Jack Leach – to add a sting to their attack that Smith in particular so expertly drew in the first Test? Of course they don’t … though they fervently hope that they might. “He’s got a good bouncer and bowls at a good pace consistently, so I’m sure he’ll cause problems on most surfaces,” said Root of Archer. “Hopefully, he can exploit this one.”

ALSO READ: ‘More ready than I’ve ever been’ – Archer primed for Test debut

Instead, it is Australia who really expects … and that has tended to be a deadly mindset when these two sides have clashed in the past. Whereas England tend to be a danger to themselves whenever they try to be frontrunners in a series, getting on top and staying on top is far more in tune with the Australian psyche, especially one that has been rebooted by a brains trust including both Justin Langer and Steve Waugh.

In fact, Australia’s plans are falling so serenely into place that, in resting James Pattinson while tantalising both Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood with the carrot of a Lord’s comeback, the management have been able to cast one eye towards next week’s third Test at Headingley, even while ensuring their chosen 12 keep their thoughts firmly fixed in the present.

“It’s always nice from a captaincy and a leadership point of view when you’ve got two senior players who are world-class left out and they cop it on the chin, run drinks, and train their backsides off in the lunch hours and tea breaks,” said Australia’s captain, Tim Paine. “It sets a really good example for the rest of our team.”

ALSO READ: Pattinson rested, Hazlewood likely to play Lord’s Test

It’s certainly not a policy that guarantees success, but as a mitigation against failure, it seems light-years removed from England’s current suck-it-and-see approach – one which, in the penultimate month of this most exhausting of summers, seems now to be relying more on a Pakistani-style quest for Haal than any actual long-term planning.

And who’s to say, just like Pakistan on any given day – or like Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad on the final day of the Ireland Test last month – a combination of rich talent and faint desperation won’t propel this set of players to extraordinary and series-turning heights. There’s certainly little doubt that, pound for pound and irrespective of fatigue and motivation, a team containing world-class individuals such as Root, Archer, Ben Stokes and Jason Roy ought to be a match for any opponent.

But, just as Australia couldn’t be any more at home at Lord’s – moseying around the pavilion as if to the manor born, and with their kids performing cartwheels on the square as they saunter back from the nets – so it is England who most resemble a put-upon touring team.

One Test down out of five, and among their fast-bowling stocks, already Mark Wood, Olly Stone and James Anderson are sidelined, with only the latter a realistic chance of being fit before the end of the series. And while Joe Root’s promotion to No. 3 has applied a band-aid to their longstanding top-order flimsiness, the recent absence of Championship cricket makes the sourcing of battle-ready replacements as problematic as it would have been had the series been taking place Down Under.

“A big responsibility comes on the players, making sure that they look after themselves and keep themselves as fit as possible,” said Root. “Throughout the rest of this campaign, there are certain things which you can’t control and sometimes you get thrown a bad hand and you have to deal with it. And we’ve certainly responded well to that in the past when that’s happened. And we’ve got to make sure that we do exactly the same this time. We’ve got some very talented players and bowlers that are fully capable of taking 20 wickets this week.”

And yet, to riff on a recurring theme of the past month, England have already scaled their Everest for this summer, and in such glorious fashion too, on this very ground. Australia, by contrast, over-achieved in reaching the World Cup semi-finals, but only now are they really beginning to hit their stride. They’ve not won the Ashes in England for 18 years and counting, but much like England in the white-ball campaign just gone, they know they’ll rarely get a better chance to drive home their advantage.

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Ishant Sharma injures ankle in Ranji Trophy game



An lbw appeal during a Ranji Trophy match could end up having an impact on India’s tour of New Zealand. Ishant Sharma will be hopeful the MRI scan he takes on Monday evening will not reveal a fracture or a tear, after he twisted his ankle and hobbled off the field during Delhi’s match against Vidarbha at Feroz Shah Kotla. ESPNcricinfo understands he was in considerable pain and his ankle was swollen.

Ishant is all but out of the last two days of the match. An ankle injury is serious because it leaves an athlete almost immobile during rehabilitation. However, there is cause for optimism in that Ishant’s first match on the tour of New Zealand – the three-day warm-up game before the first Test – starts on February 14, which gives him nearly three weeks to recover. The first Test begins on February 21. It is estimated that such an injury – should there be no tear or break – takes about two weeks to heal.

Ishant suffered the injury on the second afternoon, during his third over of the second innings, after Delhi had fallen behind Vidarbha by 16 runs. It appeared that he twisted his ankle as he turned around to appeal. He was attended to by the Delhi support staff before limping off the park on his own steam, which could be a positive sign. Ishant is scheduled to fly to New Zealand in the first week of February. The fourth seamer in the squad for New Zealand will be Ishant’s opposite number in this match, Umesh Yadav, who took two wickets to help bowl Delhi out for 163.

This was going to be Ishant’s last match before he went to New Zealand, with India’s team management monitoring workloads closely. Losing him in this match, though, leaves Delhi with little hope of an outright win on a pitch that is slowing down.

Four short of the feat of 100 Tests – only one India fast bowler has managed that – Ishant has enjoyed a late revival over the last three years. He credits it to a recent change in his bowling by which he has been able to pitch the ball fuller without losing any pace. His combination with Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami has turned India into a feared fast-bowling unit even in away conditions.

“Having a bunch of fast bowlers like this, who can just bowl out any opposition anywhere, is a brilliant thing to have in Indian cricket,” India’s captain Virat Kohli recently said. “[It’s] something that we haven’t quite relied on in the past, but I think them taking the attention away from the spinners in India is a huge statement, so I think that’s what makes us feel that when we travel now, we have it in us to win a series, and not just one-odd Test match here and there. So I think it’s been hard work, persistence, learning the game, thinking about the game that’s got them to where they are and they deserve it fully.”

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Sana Mir left out of Pakistan squad for Women’s T20 World Cup



Sana Mir, the vastly experienced former captain of the Pakistan women’s team, has been left out of the 15-player squad for the upcoming T20 World Cup.

Bismah Maroof will lead the side, which has three changes from the side that lost a T20I series 3-0 against England in Kuala Lumpur in December last year: batsmen Nahida Khan and Ayesha Zafar, and offspiner Rameen Shamim have been dropped, and in their place batsmen Muneeba Ali and Ayesha Naseem, and medium-pacer Aiman Anwar have been brought in.

Mir, 34, wasn’t a part of that series but played in the 3-0 win over Bangladesh at home in Lahore in November, picking up five wickets with a best of 3 for 49 in the second fixture. Overall, she has turned out in 106 T20Is over the years – the same as Maroof, making them the most experienced Pakistani players in the format – as well as 120 ODIs, the most among Pakistan women players.

“Though Sana Mir doesn’t feature in the 15-player line-up, I believe we still have the desired experience in the squad,” Urooj Mumtaz, the chair of the national women’s selection committee, said in a statement. “Sana has been a phenomenal servant of Pakistan cricket while being an inspiration to many girls out there. Unfortunately, her recent performances in the T20 format were not on her side.”

Captain Maroof said she had wanted Mir in the side, and hoped the veteran would continue to be a part of the set-up going forward. “It was a tough decision to leave out Sana Mir,” Maroof said. “I wanted to have her in the squad over which I, along with the selection committee, had deep deliberations. We had to decide between her and the emerging players who had been impressing on all the stages.

“I respect and support the decision of the major group and hope she will continue to serve Pakistan women’s cricket in future with the same passion and energy.”

On the make-up of the side, especially the inclusion of the teenaged Zafar and Aroob Shah, Mumtaz said, “Though the players who have been left out will be disappointed and heart-broken, this, however, should act as a motivation for them to comeback more strongly. On the other side of the coin, the selection of 15-year-old Ayesha and 16-year-old Aroob Shah should be a motivation and message for all the budding youngsters.

“Furthermore, the selectors have also valued our domestic competition, while also taking into consideration the players who have been regularly part of the side since the Bangladesh series. The team has been selected keeping in mind the current form and performances along with the conditions in Australia and, at the same moment, we have come up with the right balance of youth and experience which will complement each other in the mega event.”

The Women’s T20 World Cup, to be played in Australia, will start on February 21, with Pakistan playing their first game on February 26, against West Indies in Canberra.

As part of the preparation for the event, Pakistan will leave for Australia on January 31 and play three warm-up matches against West Indies in early February. Prior to that, the PCB confirmed, there will be an eight-day camp from January 23 to 30 at the Hanif Mohammad High Performance Centre in Karachi.

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Moises Henriques’ 31-ball 72 ends Melbourne Stars’ unbeaten run | Cricket





Moises Henriques smashes eight sixes on way to 72

Sydney Sixers 4 for 143 (Henriques 72, Vince 41) beat Melbourne Stars 5 for 125 (Stoinis 62) by 21 runs on DLS method

Melbourne Stars are beatable after all – they just need to give their opponents a generous helping of assistance to do so. The Stars rested two of their leading pace bowlers Nathan Coulter-Nile and Jackson Coleman from the BBL match at the SCG, and then their captain Glenn Maxwell withheld himself from the contest until the Sydney Sixers were defending a required rate of more than 14 an over.

The result, which ended the Stars’ winning streak at eight games, also served to strengthen the Sixers’ hold on a place in the tournament finals. They were driven to victory in large part by a percussive innings from the home side’s captain Moises Henriques, who hammered no fewer than eight sixes while adding 114 in 50 balls with the ever-elegant James Vince.

Moises Henriques hit a 31-ball 72 © Getty Images

Ben Dwarshuis, Tom Curran and Nathan Lyon then played their part with the ball, although it was a halting innings from the out of sorts Nic Maddinson that played a large part in ensuring the Stars would depart Sydney without their ninth win on a row.

Sixers halted by lightning

Overcast and sultry conditions at the SCG made for a somewhat tacky surface to begin with as the Stars bowled first. Dan Worrall’s opening spell brought some useful sideways movement, though when he pitched up, he slipped obligingly into Daniel Hughes’ hitting zone. It was lightning that first caused a suspension in play, before rain followed as the skies opened up from the west of Sydney – storms that had seen Melbourne and also Canberra drenched in hail stones over the past 24 hours.

When the sky cleared, the Sixers were left with 10.5 overs left for 14 in total, with the presence of all 10 wickets in hand offering the possibility of some score enhancement from Duckworth Lewis Stern. Hughes and Josh Philippe were unable to resettle, and fell in the space of the same Sandeep Lamichhane over, bringing Henriques to the middle to join Vince with nine overs remaining.

Henriques the hammer

It was “80s night” at the SCG, an intriguing concept for a format of the game that had its origins in the early 2000s. Henriques, though, was to provide the perfect homage with an innings of bludgeoning power that recalled Ian Botham on an afternoon out for Somerset, or perhaps Lance Cairns and his shoulderless bat against Australia at the MCG. His first target was Lamichhane, taking the 11th over of the innings for 24 runs with the help of a couple other clean hits from Vince. Henriques added to the moment by batting without any headgear.

The replacement pace bowlers Jonathan Merlo and Lance Morris were then taken to task, as 15 and then 26 came from overs 12 and 13. Henriques raced to 72 from 30 balls, with the promise of more in the last. But Worrall returned with another excellent over, slightly reducing the Sixers’ tally by conceding just four and ending Henriques’ stay. Vince’s slipstream 41 had been little less impressive, though both batsmen benefitted from the greasy ball skidding nicely onto the bat.

More to follow

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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