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Stuart Poynter calls time on Ireland as he commits to Durham

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Stuart Poynter has effectively called time on his international career with Ireland after committing to Durham in a new two-year deal.

Poynter, Durham’s wicketkeeper and captain during this season’s Vitality Blast campaign, was forced to choose between club and country following a change to the ECB’s eligibility rules in September, in the wake of Ireland’s promotion to a Full Test Nation in 2017.

Prior to that change, all Ireland players – along with other passport-holders from EU member countries – had been permitted to play as homegrown players in county cricket. Now they have to register as overseas players, which Poynter has chosen to do.

Born in Hammersmith, London, Poynter has previously spoken out about his disappointment at the change of ruling, telling The Telegraph “it is a strange scenario when you are born British and have entitlement to work as a local in your own country.”

Poynter’s decision was perhaps made easier by the disappointment he suffered earlier this year when he was dropped by Ireland following a run of poor form. He made 15 runs in four ODI innings in their series against Afghanistan in Dehradun and followed that with scores of 0 and 1 in the one-off Test that followed against the same opponents.

He was omitted in favour of Gary Wilson for the subsequent tri-series against West Indies and Bangladesh on home soil, and Wilson – who left Derbyshire last year to play full time in Ireland’s domestic competition – then kept his place for their maiden Test against England at Lord’s in July.

Poynter’s decision comes a month after his Ireland team-mate, Paul Stirling, chose the alternative route, and ended his 10-year association with Middlesex to further his international aspirations.

Stirling’s Middlesex team-mate, Tim Murtagh, is the other county-based Ireland player who has yet to confirm his decision. At the age of 38, Murtagh is nearing the end of his career either way, but remains a formidable performer, as shown by his haul of 5 for 13 on the first morning of the Lord’s Test, when England were bowled out for 85.

With a highest score of 36 in 21 ODI appearances, Poynter never quite showed his best form in his Ireland career, although he did enjoy one notable moment in a T20 against the Netherlands in February, when he struck a last-ball six to seal a one-wicket win.

However, at the age of 28, he could also have anticipated plenty more opportunities in international cricket, given that Wilson turns 34 in the new year, and that Ireland’s long-term keeper, Niall O’Brien, retired last year.

The announcement of his two-year deal with Durham comes as the club offered the same extension to two other players: Liam Trevaskis, who has cemented his status as the club’s first-choice spinner across formats, and Jack Burnham, who served a year-long suspension for recreational drug use in 2018, but recorded four Championship half-centuries on his return to the team this summer.



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Match Preview – India vs South Africa, ICC World Test Championship 2019, 2nd Test

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Big Picture

It’s not easy to beat India in India. But what the Visakhapatnam Test showed was, it’s not easy to avoid defeat against India in India either. South Africa made a substantial 431 in their first innings, after losing the toss. Their first innings stretched to the fourth day. And they still lost by 203 runs.

Playing India in India has never been easy, but in an era when India have possibly the most rounded bowling attack they’ve ever had, it takes an exceptional performance, a la Steven Smith and Steve O’Keefe in 2017 in Pune, to overcome exceptional odds. That defeat in February 2017 remains the only loss for India at home since the start of 2013, across 30 Tests. Twenty-four of those have resulted in wins.

Virat Kohli’s Test side have not won every session of all their home Tests – indeed sometimes they have looked behind the match for a couple of days like they did in Bangalore 2017 right after the Pune Test – but they’ve found a way resist a collapse, stall a partnership, or pinch a breakthrough when needed. And visiting teams haven’t been able to put together sufficiently dominant passages of play to snatch a victory.

This is the first Test in Pune since that Australian win, though that will have little practical value for South Africa. To repeat what Australia did, the South Africans will have to figure out the bowling attack that gives them the best chance of 20 wickets, while drawing on their first-innings showing in Visakhapatnam to put in not just one but two solid batting performances.

South Africa will feel like their captain’s luck at the toss too is due a change. Faf du Plessis has lost eight consecutive tosses in the subcontinent, and when he called wrong again last week, his wry smile was more eloquent than words could be.

Form guide

India WWWDW (last five Tests, most recent first)
South Africa LLLWW

In the spotlight

There’s never a time when Virat Kohli is not under the spotlight but he’s had a minor bump in his accumulation of batting Test wealth since the Boxing Day 2018. He’s averaged 36.50 and gone five Tests without a century – two in Australia, two in the West Indies and the first Test against South Africa – which is a fairly rare occurrence. The last time it happened was in 2015, and encompassed South Africa’s last tour of India, where the pitches made run-scoring very challenging. He broke out of that by hitting his first Test double century, against West Indies in North Sound.

When Keshav Maharaj burst on the scene for South Africa, it seemed like the team would finally have a rounded bowling attack with a world-class spinner to complement what has been almost an assembly line of skilful pacers. Maharaj has taken wickets and kept the runs down in supposedly spin-unfriendly countries, but wasn’t consistently threatening in Visakhapatnam, where South Africa might have looked to him to be the lead bowler. He has come back from a performance like this in the past, memorably taking 9 for 129 against Sri Lanka after going wicket-less in the first Test of that series. For South Africa to compete on a more equal footing with India, he needs to rediscover himself again.

Team news

India brought back Rohit Sharma and R Ashwin for the first Test, and both performed spectacularly, giving Kohli and the team management the luxury of a settled XI after the very first game. The Indian captain indicated that they were unlikely to tinker with a winning combination.

India (probable XI): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Hanuma Vihari, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Ravindra Jadeja, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Mohammed Shami

South Africa might consider beefing up their pace bowling by bringing in Lungi Ngidi, or even going with the express Anrich Nortje, in place of Dane Piedt. While Piedt showed great heart with the bat, his bowling posed no problem for the Indian batsmen, and he struggled for consistency too. With a nice green cover on the surface, an extra fast bowler might come in handy for first half of the match.

South Africa (probable XI): 1 Aiden Markram, 2 Dean Elgar, 3 Theunis de Bruyn, 4 Temba Bavuma, 5 Faf du Plessis (capt), 6 Quinton de Kock (wk), 7 Senuran Muthusamy, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Lungi Ngidi

Pitch and conditions

There’s a decent covering of grass on the pitch, though it’s not expected to be a seam-friendly surface on all five days. Kohli felt that the grass wasn’t enough to indicate that “only seamers are predominantly going to be effective on this pitch, all five days”.

The weather has typically been hot in the daytime with rain in the evenings, though the rain doesn’t appear to leave the outfield any worse for wear the next morning.

Stats and trivia

  • Dean Elgar has more runs (299) and more wickets (6) in India than any of the other South African players on tour.

  • Mohammed Shami’s bowing average (23.57) and strike-rate (46.0) in India are the best by an Indian fast bowler at home ever. (Minimum 10 wickets)

Quotes

“You do know that it’s going to dry out at some stage, and you can’t go predominantly one-sided in your attack and then not have the balance. We are pretty balanced in our team composition, and if any changes need to be made looking at how the pitch might behave on the first three days, then we’ll do so, but we don’t see any major things to think about, looking at the pitch.” – Virat Kohli indicates the danger of going all-pace in India

“The difference with us from 2015, where you try and survive in Indian spinning conditions and with that sometimes you can become too defensive and you allow the opposition to be on top of you the whole time, now it needs to be a good combination of positive play, an element of taking risks at some stages of the game to try and counter that pressure from the bowling” – South Africa will focus on changing their approach to playing spin bowling, says Faf du Plessis.



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T20 Finals Day sells out in a fortnight as Edgbaston builds on feelgood factor

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The feelgood factor generated by a remarkable summer of cricket in 2019 has spilled over into 2020 … but perhaps not in the manner that the ECB might have envisaged, after Edgbaston confirmed that it had already sold out for next September’s Vitality Blast Finals Day.

According to a press release from Edgbaston, demand for next year’s competition has never been higher in its 17-year history, with the initial allocation of tickets for Finals Day, on September 5, selling out ahead of the planned general sale period, and just two weeks after Essex beat Worcestershire in the 2019 final.

It comes also as the ECB begins to ramp up preparations for its new city-based competition, The Hundred. Last week they confirmed the names of all eight teams, with Edgbaston set to host Birmingham Phoenix, while the draft for The Hundred will take place on October 20, live from the Sky Sports studios in Isleworth.

To judge by the take-up of tickets in the Blast, existing English cricket fans appear to be voting with their feet – according to a recent poll in The Cricketer magazine, 84 percent of respondents were “opposed” to the tournament, with just 6.5 percent in support. However, the ECB understandably felt that such interest could only reflect well on the health of the sport, and insisted that it would be “investing more than ever” into next year’s staging of the Blast.

“The record-breaking sell-out for next year’s Vitality Blast Finals Day is exciting news and further illustrates the opportunity for cricket to build on a memorable summer in which attendances at international domestic matches broke the three-million mark for the first time,” said an ECB spokesman.

“The Blast saw average attendances increase by 15 percent this year and the ECB is committed to investing more than ever into the tournament next season to help continue its growth while dovetailing with our other men’s and women’s fixtures to entertain core cricket fans and attract new fans to our game.”

Neil Snowball, Edgbaston’s chief executive, said that the “trusted format” of Finals Day made it a particular hit with regular cricket fans, but also felt that there was room for both the Blast and The Hundred to thrive alongside one another in future seasons.

“We’ve worked really hard with the ECB and its tournament partners over the last few years to make Vitality Blast Finals Day an unrivalled experience that can appeal to all supporters of county cricket, young and old,” said Snowball.

“The trusted format of three games in a day and the increased programme of entertainment and activations make it a unique event in the global cricket calendar and one that the cricket fans clearly love and we are seeing a high proportion of ticket purchasers returning year after year.

“The launch of The Hundred along with another packed international schedule will make 2020 another very important summer of cricket in England and Wales and today’s news of a Finals Day sell out is great for the game and highlights how the Vitality Blast can continue to thrive alongside this exciting, new tournament.”

As in previous years, tickets were assigned to cricket supporters from across the country through a public ballot, and Edgbaston has held back an agreed allocation for members and supporters of the four teams that reach next year’s semi-finals. A further tranche of general admission tickets will also be released next summer when the position of the pitch and sightscreen restrictions have been confirmed.

Edgbaston, which hosted the first Ashes Test in 2019 as well as five World Cup matches, including England’s semi-final victory over Australia, has another Test against West Indies in 2020, as well as an ODI against Ireland in September.

“We may be in the early part of the off-season but the appetite for cricket following the golden summer of 2019 certainly isn’t slowing down,” said Snowball.

“We’re approaching capacity for the Friday and Saturday of England’s Test with West Indies and overall demand for this match is significantly stronger when compared with our last fixture between the two sides in 2017.

“Hosting Ireland for the first time in an ODI will also be a great occasion as we welcome back Eoin Morgan and England’s ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup winners to Edgbaston for the first time since their incredible success last season.”



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Recent Match Report – Pakistan vs Sri Lanka 3rd T20I 2019

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Sri Lanka have made a whopping five changes to the XI that won them the first two T20Is in Lahore, as they bat first for the third time in the series, after winning the toss.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Sadeera Samarawickrama, batsmen Oshada Fernando and Angelo Perera, allrounder Lahiru Madushanka, and fast bowler Lahiru Kumara have all been brought into the XI, as Nuwan Pradeep, Isuru Udana, Shehan Jayasuriya, Avishka Fernando and Minod Bhanuka make way.

Pakistan, meanwhile, have dropped both Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad, with both batsmen having failed in the first two matches. They have been replaced by Haris Sohail and Iftkhar Ahmed. Young fast bowler Mohammad Hasnain has also been left out in favour of Usman Shinwari, who was menacing in the ODI series. Dew may form later in the evening, but it has not had a major effect on the game so far this series. There is no rain forecast.

Pakistan: 1 Fakhar Zaman, 2 Babar Azam, 3 Haris Sohail, 4 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt.) (wk), 5 Iftikhar Ahmed, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Mohammad Amir, 11 Usman Shinwari

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Sadeera Samarawickrama (wk), 3 Bhanuka Rajapaksa, 4 Oshada Fernando, 5 Angelo Perera, 6 Dasun Shanaka (capt.), 7 Lahiru Madushanka, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Lakshan Sandakan, 10 Kasun Rajitha, 11 Lahiru Kumara



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