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Madness of Test cricket sets up compelling finish to Lord’s drama

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Test cricket is a shambles, and it is utterly compelling.

There is no way on earth that a match that has lost five sessions to rain and hadn’t even reached the third innings until tea on the fourth day should be hurtling towards a position in which a positive result is now more likely than a draw.

But we’ve known all along that the sport moves to an alternative rhythm these days, and as a pulsating Saturday at Lord’s concluded with England’s most potent duo, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, overcoming their team’s anxieties to keep their powder dry for a final push, it was clear that the pace of the format is now more thrash metal than the Green Sleeves of old.

“This is why we love Test cricket so much,” said Justin Langer, Australia’s head coach, at the close. “Who would have thought it? We’re playing at Lord’s, we’ve lost a couple of days to rain, and it’s absolutely game on tomorrow.”

ALSO READ: ‘I can’t get on the honour board unless I’m batting’

Where’s your money now? Until Jofra Archer‘s extraordinary exploits, you’d have assumed that any fourth-innings target would have favoured the Aussies, simply because in Steven Smith they possess a batsman who can operate in a different dimension to his peers.

But now, all of a sudden, the parameters have shifted. Nobody in their right minds will expect England to still be batting by the end of this contest, which means Australia – with a battered and bruised Smith liable to be physically fit, if not quite in his pre-Archer mental zone – could be left with a tough dilemma in the denouement.

More early success from their battery of quicks, and better luck (particularly with lbws) from the ever-probing Nathan Lyon, and they could give themselves a couple of sessions in which to close out an Ashes-crushing 2-0 lead. But if England’s middle order find anything resembling their gung-ho former selves (let’s face it, dying wondering is hardly going to be their chosen tactic…) the door could yet be ajar to sneak an improbable series-squaring win.

“We probably went searching a little bit after getting off to a great start today,” said Langer. “It’s a tough wicket to bat on, which I don’t mind, and it’s going to be a great day’s Test cricket tomorrow. I guess the only issue is that there’s only one day left in it, so there’s lots of scenarios that can play out here. But it’s game on, I reckon.”

Either way, it promises to be one of the most absorbing final days of Ashes cricket since the 2005 Ashes – that year’s second Test also came down to a faintly memorable Sunday shoot-out – and then as now, there’s an 18-year itch that is asking to be scratched, for incredibly it’s been that long since Australia last won the Ashes on English soil, and no Ashes team since Don Bradman’s in 1936-37 has ever come back from being 2-0 down.

“When I envisaged Test and Ashes cricket as a child, this is what I envisaged it being like today,” said Chris Woakes, who finished the job that Archer had started by pinning Smith lbw for 92 shortly after the brave resumption of his innings.

“An intense game of Ashes cricket is quite draining but it’s been an amazing game to be part of, and it’s pretty much in the balance now. Of course I think we can win the game, but I think all three results are still possible to be honest.”

But one thing is for sure. Australia’s pack of quicks responded to Archer’s usurping of their mantle with a furious, if subtly different, mode of attack, and reconfirmed the fact that they’ve still got the weapons to defend their hitherto dominant position.

Pat Cummins was supreme from the outset – just as he had been with the bat in the midst of the Archer onslaught – skilfully exposing everything we already knew about England’s batting frailties to ensure that another fretful innings panned out in a near-identical fashion to the first: two early wickets in Jason Roy and the hapless Joe Root, two half-formed repair jobs from Joe Denly and Rory Burns, and two more against-type survival grinds from Stokes and Buttler, albeit with their places in the order rightfully switched this time round.

The fact that the damage was not more absolute by the close came down to a combination of Australia’s fallibility in the field, with David Warner dropping two clear-cut chances, and their ongoing failure to gauge Lyon’s angle into the left-handers, with Burns and Stokes both surviving leg-stump lbw appeals that would have been overturned on review.

“We missed a few in the first Test as well,” said Langer. “Obviously the whole world’s aware whenever it happens, so it’s frustrating, there’s no doubt about that. It can change the game, it can change a session, it can change a Test match, it can change a series, so we need to get better at it.”

It promises, too, to be a vital day for Root’s Test captaincy. A statistic doing the rounds before the match noted that, among men to have led England in 30 or more Tests, Root has the second-highest win percentage behind Mike Brearley. Unfortunately, he also has the second-lowest lose percentage behind David Gower – which is a testament to the ominous fact that his teams have managed just two draws out of 30.

And another stat that cannot be ignored is his flatlining career average. Never mind the subplot about his promotion to No.3, Root’s returns have been nosediving since the end of the 2017-18 Ashes, to the extent that he is now averaging 32.82 from his last 18 Tests, having not strayed from a 50-plus average in the preceding four-year period.

On a day when Smith required the fast-bowling spell of the series to remind onlookers of his mortality, the stark reality of Root’s first Test golden duck confirmed how far from those Fab Four standards he is now straying. Like Alastair Cook before him, he needs his team to rally round and ensure that the series doesn’t end before he can make a telling impact.

Langer, however, believes his team is ready and waiting to take their chances on the final day, for he’s under no illusion that plenty will be flying around.

“There’s always going to be tension in Test cricket, and with tension comes mistakes. I’m sure there’ll be six more opportunities tomorrow, and if that does happen, and we’ve got a chance to have a run-chase, we’ll stay nice and calm, on a very fast outfield, with great value for your shots. And it’s hopefully going to be a great run-chase if we can take those six wickets.”



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Ishant Sharma injures ankle in Ranji Trophy game

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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

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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

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Play

01:45


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


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