Sam Curran says that his objective during England’s Test series against New Zealand this month is to “stop being the one who is vulnerable”, after appearing to have kept his place in the side for Thursday’s first Test at Mount Maunganui ahead of his rival allrounder Chris Woakes.
In a promising start to his Test career, Curran has averaged 30.05 with the bat and 29.00 with the ball in 11 Tests, and was named Man of the Series in his maiden summer against India in 2018 after a series of gutsy displays, particularly in the first Test at Edgbaston, where he set up a tight victory with four first-innings wickets and a vital 63.
However, his twin roles of fourth seamer and No. 8 batsman offer little in the way of job security. Curran has been dropped on four occasions already in his career – including for the first four Tests of this summer’s Ashes – with his obvious aptitude for the cut-and-thrust of Test cricket unable to protect him on the occasions when England have needed to change their team balance.
“There was [frustration],” he admitted, “but the team was in a good place going into the Ashes. I was in all the squads, so that was a confidence booster. At the same time you’d love to be playing, and as the series went on you’re itching to get out on the field.”
But now, with James Anderson still missing from England’s ranks while he recovers from a long-term calf injury, Curran’s ability to swing the new ball, allied to his left-arm line, appears to have tipped the balance for the selectors, as they prepare to field a side containing three other right-arm seamers in Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes, alongside the left-arm spin of Jack Leach.
“I think anyone looking at the balance of the side can see that is pretty obvious,” Curran said of his perceived battle with Woakes for the one remaining place in the side. “I think if I do get the chance, it is about nailing down my spot in the side and stop being the one that is vulnerable.
“That is my responsibility and whoever gets the spot, if it is me, has to take the opportunity by getting runs and taking wickets and contributing to the team. If I do get the nod, hopefully I can go well and contribute with both bat and ball.
“As an allrounder I look up to someone like Stokesy and the way he contributes with the bat up the order and he takes wickets when he bowls and that is what I aspire to do. As long as I’m helping to win games for the team then I’m happy.”
Curran had some limited success during a tough three-day warm-up against New Zealand A in Whangarai ahead of the first Test, claiming three second-innings wickets on a pitch which Archer described as “probably the flattest I’ve played on in my life”, to give England hope of forcing a win before a late-order rally shut up shop for the hosts.
And while he has been in New Zealand for a month already during the T20I series, he said the chance to hone his technique with the red Kookaburra ball had been a useful exercise in spite of the hard yakka, especially given that his lack of pace was exposed in his last overseas Test, against West Indies in Antigua earlier this year.
“Yeah, it was nice to get out there with a red ball in a first-class game with a bit more on it,” Curran said. “It was nice for the bowling group to be put under pressure against some of their good New Zealand batters and I thought they played well.
“I think any bowler who bowls with a Kookaburra is going to say they prefer the Dukes but you’ve got to learn somehow,” he added. “If you look at the scores in New Zealand domestic cricket there are a lot of hundreds scored but you never know, in cloudy conditions the scores could get lower.
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“We can’t predict what the wicket is going to be like next week until we get up to the Mount and we’ll come up with plans. It is a great learning curve for me, but I’ve made some strides in this game and come up with a few different options so I’m pretty confident.
One of those options will be to come round the wicket and create an angle into the many right-handers in New Zealand’s top order.
“It’s not necessarily new to me, I do do it quite a bit in county cricket,” he said, “but probably more overseas where the ball doesn’t swing as much. Trying to get the batsmen to play a lot more coming by round the wicket, it is just about finding different ways.
“It is a new thing for me to bowl with a red ball in New Zealand so I’m still learning, but I thought it came out better than it did in the first warm-up game so I’m feeling pretty confident going into next week.”
Curran will have a number of familiar faces around him in the first Test, including his Surrey captain Rory Burns, now established at the top of the order, as well as his former Surrey academy team-mates Ollie Pope and Dom Sibley, who is set to make his Test debut.
“I joined the Surrey academy at 14 and that is when I played against Cranleigh where Popey was, and Sibbers was at Whitgift,” Curran said, “so I played against them all the way through the academy days until we got into the first team at Surrey.
“It is a nice little friendship we’ve got going and I know Popey and Sibbers’ parents are coming out as well so it will be special to see so many familiar faces.
“I think it makes it a bit easier to be playing with guys you’ve grown up with. International cricket is international cricket but when you’re playing with your mates and you’re standing in the field with guys you’re familiar with, if things are going badly you can kind of laugh it off and stay positive because you’re playing with mates and that’s good fun.”
‘Unplayable’ MCG pitch was a ‘genuine’ risk to players
Both captains agreed that there was a genuine risk that a player could have been seriously injured on the MCG pitch that forced the Sheffield Shield match between Victoria and Western Australia to be abandoned, while Peter Handscomb admitted comments he made last week about needing more life in the surfaces may have influenced the groundsman.
The game was suspended on the first afternoon and then called off on Sunday morning after Western Australia’s batsmen were hit repeatedly around the head and chest with deliveries rearing off a length. The pitch had started soft and divots were created, which led to the alarmingly uneven bounce.
It is less than three weeks until the Boxing Day Test against New Zealand, which will be played on an adjacent surface.
“The game’s been abandoned so it was a pretty genuine risk,” Handscomb said. “The players want to play cricket, that’s why we are here, but player safety is key and that’s where this decision has come from.”
Shaun Marsh and Marcus Stoinis, who sustained painful blows to the ribs, underwent concussion tests after the opening day.
“It was quite dangerous and as the game went on it got worse,” Marsh said. “As the pitch dried out it became unplayable. My players’ safety is at the forefront of my mind. The right decision has been made and lessons will be learnt.”
Following the previous Sheffield Shield match at the ground, against New South Wales, which fizzled out into a draw due to rain over the last two days, Handscomb spoke about the need to bring more life back to the pitches.
“[The] MCG pitch hasn’t deteriorated for ten years,” he said. “So I think we need to start making the game accelerate at the start of it, maybe make it a bit greener like it is in Hobart, where the game accelerates at the start and then becomes a good batting wicket. But that’s up to the groundsman and see how they go.”
Asked whether those comments played a part in influencing what head groundsman Matt Page produced this weekend, he said: “I think it may have helped him. We’ve had a lot draws at the MCG and it’s about finding a wicket that can get a result. Unfortunately, he’s gone a touch too far and I’m sure come Boxing Day he’ll prepare a beautiful cricket wicket.
“Hindsight is a great thing. Unfortunately you can’t change anything that you do. I said stuff, that happens, so be it.”
Both Handscomb and Marsh offered their support to Page, who moved to the MCG after being head groundsman at the WACA. “I know Pagey very well. He’s done some really good things since coming here. He was a great groundsman at the WACA,” Handscomb said. “He has a lot of experience behind him and has a lot of time to prepare a wicket that, I think, will produce a good Boxing Day Test.
“It’s tough and he’s under the microscope at the moment through the media. He’s a great groundsman, has been for a lot of years, has worked in some different conditions and has done some great things out here.”
Marsh added: “He’ll learn from this mistake and I’m sure the wicket for Boxing Day will be good.”
While there will be attempts to reschedule the match, with such a packed season – and this being the last round of matches before the BBL – that is likely to prove difficult. If the game isn’t replayed then, under Cricket Australia rules, each side will get three points. Marsh said Western Australia would “let the dust settle” before assessing their options in that scenario.
Recent Match Report – Adelaide Strikers Women vs Perth Scorchers Women, Women’s Big Bash League, 1st Semi-final
Adelaide Strikers 2 for 130 (Devine 65*, McGrath 36) beat Perth Scorchers 7 for 126 (Redmayne 51, Barsby 31, Schutt 2-14, Devine 2-23) by eight wickets
Sophie Devine marched the Adelaide Strikers all over Perth Scorchers and into Sunday’s WBBL final, and in doing so closed to within 14 runs of surpassing Ellyse Perry’s 777-run tournament aggregate record, on a sweltering day at Brisbane’s Allan Border Field.
The Strikers had taken the initiative from the first few overs after sending the Scorchers in, Devine claiming the pivotal first wicket of Meg Lanning while Megan Schutt played her customary stymieing role at the other end, ultimately conceding just 14 runs from her four overs.
Despite a recovery led by Georgia Redmayne, the Scorchers were held to 7 for 126, a total that was defendable only if Devine could be seen off quickly. Instead, she took control of the innings as she has so often this competition, gliding to a ninth half-century this season at the WBBL. She was aided by Tahlia McGrath and Bridget Patterson to rush the Strikers to their first-ever tournament final. The Scorchers, whose coach Lisa Keightley is set to take over as England coach, did not help themselves by dropping two catches and missing a stumping.
Devine, Schutt get the early break
An early start at Allan Border Field offered the chance for the bowling side to get the most of any movement in the air or off the pitch. Thanks to Devine and Schutt, the Adelaide Strikers were able to do both.
Critically, this reaped them the wicket of Meg Lanning in only the day’s second over. After being corralled by Schutt’s inswing in the opening over, Lanning leant forward to drive at Bates, only to slice an away-swinger into a well-staffed backward-point region, where Alex Price held the catch.
The Strikers’ glee at dismissing the Australian captain was unconfined, but more was to follow as Schutt found a way past Chloe Piparo and Nicole Bolton in consecutive deliveries. A tally of 3 for 26 from the Powerplay meant the Scorchers were starting their innings from an awful long way back, requiring high skill, patience and stamina to rescue things as temperatures ticked towards the high 30s.
Redmayne, Barsby fight back
Initially, the Scorchers had to be principally concerned with the preservation of wickets, and as 10 overs ticked past with only 45 on the scoreboard, Redmayne and Barbsy knew they needed to add acceleration to occupation. The telling moment arrived when Redmayne hoisted the first ball of Sarah Cotye’s third over high beyond the midwicket boundary for her first-ever WBBL six, starting an over that was to cost the Strikers 17 runs and allow the Scorchers to wriggle clear.
In mounting heat, the Strikers’ earlier pristine fielding and bowling began to fray, as wides and byes accrued. Devine returned to end the stand at 88, and Schutt completed an outstanding analysis of 2 for 14 from four, but the Scorchers were able to pile up 81 runs from the final 10 overs of their innings, meaning that the Perth side had given themselves something to bowl at – the average winning score by teams batting first at AB Field being 129.
Devine takes charge…
Desperate for an early wicket to mirror the loss of Lanning, the Scorchers were able to manufacture one when Suzie Bates, who had looked out of sorts, sliced a ball to gully and set off, only to be foiled by a brilliant diving save and throw into the wicketkeeper by Bolton.
But where Lanning’s exit had been followed by two more, Devine was soon able to find her stride in the company of Tahlia McGrath, negotiating the new ball with a combination of vigilance and the occasional rasping shot through the off-side field. Given how dominant she has been all tournament, Devine’s calmness and control were perhaps not surprising, but she benefited from McGrath’s willingness to drive the game forward herself.
That approach came with some risk, and she was to be dropped twice – by Redmayne when McGrath had only four, and again when Bolton turfed a straightforward chance at long-on with the Strikers No. 3 on 19. These chances allowed the Strikers to get to the midway point of their innings needing 68 from the last 10 overs, making a favourable comparison with the back-end of the Scorchers’ innings.
…and sees the Strikers home
When McGrath was out, ending the second-wicket partnership at 79, the Strikers still needed 45 from 38, no sure thing. Bridget Patterson, another strong performer for Adelaide this season, had a few early jitters, notably a stumping chance spurned by Redmayne. But Devine did not for a moment lose her poise, even laughing with the broadcasters about how her swimming ranks rather poorly next to her cricketing skills.
The end duly arrived quickly, as 12, 11 and 16 were piled up from the 16th, 17th and 18th overs. That left Devine with just one more run to get, and her drive down the ground was about as commanding a finish as anyone could want.
‘We should stand up and pay attention’ to mental health – Brian Lara
Mental health has become a major talking point in cricket of late, with more and more prominent players opening up on the subject. Brian Lara, still the holder of the highest individual score in Test and first-class cricket, is among many to welcome the discussions on the subject, calling mental-health issues “real”, and a “part of all sport”, which “is coming to the fore now with a lot more aggression”.
Lara is one of the greats of the game, and his 400 not-out against England in a Test in 2004 and 501 not out in a County Championship game in 1994 remain the top batting efforts in the longer formats of the game. To most outsiders, he was as close to infallible as could be during that period, but Lara, speaking at a charity golf event in Mumbai on Friday, revealed that it was far from smooth sailing for him.
“… From the beginning of my international career in 1989 to about 1995, it was on an upward spiral. I don’t think a lot of people will appreciate (but) from 1995-98, it was on a downward spiral,” he was quoted as saying by PTI. “I felt the pressures of being a double world-record holder, (it) played its part and the West Indies team was on its decline.
“I remember on occasions where I lay in my room feeling the despair. It [mental health issue] is real, it is part of all sport and it is coming to the fore now with a lot more aggression. Players are at least standing up and saying ‘I need to just remove myself, fight myself and come back again’.”
“I believe records are meant to be broken, even David Warner may have a next chance. He is an attacking player, who can put your team in a winning position”
Rachel Trenaman, the Sydney Thunder and New South Wales allrounder, became the latest to ask for time off from the game to focus on her mental health. In just the past few months, England’s Sarah Taylor has retired from the sport at just 30 years of age, and Australians Glenn Maxwell, Will Pucovski and Nic Maddinson all took breaks to address their problems before returning to action.
“… The kind of pressures the players are in now, may be before in the 70s and 80s, you played for the love of the game, you played for your country, you loved Test cricket,” Lara said. “With all franchise cricket going on around in the world, the intensity of the game, sometimes is a burden. Guys are playing for England and not playing county cricket, guys are playing for Australia and not playing Sheffield cricket (and) that just tells you how mentally draining it is.
“[It’s] something that we should stand up and pay attention to.”
Lara’s 400 not-out was under threat just the other day when David Warner hit 335 not-out in just 554 minutes in a Test against Pakistan in Adelaide. There was a lot of time left in the game but with the weather forecast being a bit iffy, Australia decided to declare at that point – Warner had just gone past the 334-run mark of Don Bradman and Mark Taylor – to press for victory. Tim Paine, the Australia captain, has had to answer questions about the declaration since, the argument being that there might have been time for Warner to chase Lara’s record and for Australia to win – victory was achieved well inside four days in the end.
“I felt that David Warner should have been given an opportunity to go for it,” Lara said. “I happened to be in Adelaide and I thought it was kind of destiny being there. We do understand, obviously any team, who have forced themselves to a very good position would want to get (give) the opposition a chance (to bat) the second, evening.
“I believe records are meant to be broken, even David Warner may have a next chance. He is an attacking player, who can put your team in a winning position.”
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