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Graeme Smith resumes director of cricket discussions with Cricket South Africa

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Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith has resumed discussions with Cricket South Africa over the director of cricket role, which he had shown an interest in before withdrawing last month.

Smith was interviewed for the post alongside suspended interim director of cricket Corrie van Zyl and former national selector Hussein Manack, and was understood to be CSA’s preferred candidate. But he then made himself unavailable for consideration, citing a lack of “the necessary confidence” in the board.

Following a report in the Sunday Times , which said Smith had had a change of heart and was on the verge of agreeing to a four-year deal, Smith confirmed he was still in communication with CSA, but acknowledged that he still had his reservations.

“Contrary to media reports I have not been appointed Director of Cricket by CSA. As previously advised I withdrew my application for the role. I am, however, in ongoing discussions with CSA, but I still have real concerns, which I have reiterated to them,” Smith tweeted.

ALSO READ: 2019 – South African cricket’s annus horribilis

ESPNcricinfo understands that Smith has been in conversation with CSA president Chris Nenzani and has conveyed that his main concern was about the CSA’s senior management. But even if Smith does get on board, it is unlikely to be in time to have an effect on preparations for the upcoming home series against England, which starts on Boxing Day.

With just 24 days to go before the first Test, South Africa have neither a confirmed director of cricket nor a selection panel, although interviews for a selection convener have taken place. Patrick Moroney has emerged as the frontrunner for that, but there is no indication on if or when he would be appointed or when a squad would be announced.

In an interview with Afrikaans newspaper Rapport on Sunday, CSA CEO Thabang Moroe said van Zyl and Enoch Nkwe, the interim team director, make up the current selection committee.

Moroe’s statement came four days after CSA spokesperson Thamie Mthembu had told Independent Newspapers that CSA had a “technical team” in place to select the squad; Mthembu, however, did not name anyone but Nkwe. Given that van Zyl remains suspended for alleged dereliction of duty following delayed commercial rights payments to the South African Cricketers Association, Nkwe could have a significant, if not unilateral, say on the make-up of the squad. Most recently, Nkwe took South Africa to India, where they drew the T20I series and were whitewashed in the Tests.

Those Tests are the only red-ball cricket some national players have featured in, which means the squad must be picked on the basis of those results, and the performances in the first four rounds of four-day franchise cricket played in October-November, and the single round of fixtures that will take place on December 19. Some players who picked up injuries in India, such as Keshav Maharaj (shoulder injury) and Dean Elgar (concussion), have made recoveries and are playing in the ongoing Mzansi Super League (MSL), which runs until December 16, ten days before the first Test against England. Others, such as Aiden Markram (wrist fracture), Dwaine Pretorius (hand injury), and promising young quick Gerald Coetzee (hamstring injury), are on the sidelines, which may make selection trickier.

Nkwe is not involved at the MSL this year after coaching the Jozi Stars to the title last summer. His position with the national team remains temporary until a director of cricket, who will name the long-term team management, is appointed. Since Smith withdrew from the race, CSA has dragged its feet on making an appointment. Sources suggested that the delay could run well into 2020, with some suggesting CSA will readvertise for the post and look for options overseas.

All that leaves South African cricket mired in uncertainty ahead of an important few months for all its national teams. The men’s side play England in four Tests, three ODIs and three T20Is, before facing Australia and India in white-ball internationals to prepare for the T20 World Cup in October-November 2020. The women’s team will play in the T20 World Cup in February-March and the Under-19 side will feature in the World Cup, to be played at home, in January-February. Though the coaching staff for the women’s and Under-19 team is in place, the director of cricket was expected to roll out an overall national strategy for all cricket played under CSA’s umbrella and ensure continuity in the structures. That will have to wait.





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West Indies rope in Monty Desai as batting coach

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West Indies have appointed Monty Desai as the batting coach of the senior men’s team on a two-year contract.

Desai, who has held coaching roles with Afghanistan, Nepal, Indian regional teams and IPL teams Rajasthan Royals and Gujarat Lions in a career of over 12 years, most recently worked with batsmen from the UAE and Canada.

“I am very excited to join a team with such a rich history in the world cricket arena, one that I myself grew up admiring,” Desai said in a statement. “I am very much looking forward to being part of a journey where I can help to create a winning work environment, learn and embrace a new culture, and build a ‘happy dressing room’ tradition alongside other excellent leaders.

“I am eager to join forces with head coach Phil Simmons and director of cricket, Jimmy Adams, and our captains, such that I may contribute in every possible way to the success of our team.”

Desai joined head coach Simmons’ set-up, which includes bowling coach Roddy Estwick and fielding coach Rayon Griffith, ahead of the limited-overs series against India, which starts on December 6 in Hyderabad.

“I have worked with Monty before and he is an excellent coach,” Simmons said. “He has proven he has the ability to get players to improve on their talent and also to perform better in matches. He has vast knowledge of the game and it is good he is starting here with us in India. I look forward to seeing him work with our batsmen in all formats as we look to get better in all areas.”



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Eoin Morgan, Heather Knight named London Spirit captains

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England’s 50-over World Cup-winning captains Eoin Morgan and Heather Knight will lead the London Spirit men’s and women’s teams respectively in The Hundred.

The pair are the second set of captains to be announced for the tournament, following Aaron Finch and Lauren Winfield (Northern Superchargers).

Knight, who captained Western Storm to this season’s Kia Super League title, will be reunited with the man who coached them to that success, Trevor Griffin. Lisa Keightley, the former Australia international, had been due to coach Spirit in the competition, but her appointment as England head coach opened up the opportunity for Griffin – who is currently Sydney Thunder’s coach in the WBBL – to take over.

“I’m really looking forward to captaining the London Spirit women’s team in The Hundred next year,” said Knight. “With the new format there’s going to be the chance to have a real tactical input as a captain and I’m excited to work that out and also bring together a new team in a new competition.

“It’s also brilliant that Trevor has been announced as coach, I really enjoyed working with him in the KSL and hopefully we can have more success together.

“Our team is now really beginning to take shape, having also recently signed Deandra Dottin. I’m looking forward to working with her, Trevor and the rest of the squad once they’re confirmed.”

Griffin said it was “an honour” to be appointed head coach.

“I am thrilled to announce Heather as our captain,” he said. “She is a brilliant cricketer and a natural leader with significant experience in captaining sides. I’m really looking forward to being involved with The Hundred and contributing to this next big step in the development of the professional women’s game.”

Morgan, whose captaincy experience includes 44 T20Is leading England and 33 games as Middlesex skipper, said: “I can’t wait to get started as captain of the London Spirit men’s team. It’s going to be a hugely exciting new competition and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.

“The draft went fantastically well for us and we have an outstanding squad with the likes of Mark Wood, Mohammad Nabi and Dan Lawrence in our team.

“As a player and a captain I am always looking for ways to improve and it’s clear from speaking to Shane – who has an amazing cricket brain, about everything from tactics in this new competition to how to get the best from our squad – that this is an exciting opportunity to take cricket forward.”

Shane Warne said he was “over the moon” to have Morgan confirmed as captain. “He has had a truly unforgettable year and we all know that he is an outstanding leader,” said Warne. “I believe he can give our team the edge in The Hundred.”



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Who would be Australia’s second spinner?

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The Australia squad named for the Test series against New Zealand was probably one of the simpler discussions the selectors have had in recent times following back-to-back innings victories over Pakistan. However, there could be some tricky decisions on the horizon, most significantly around who would be the second spinner should one be needed in Sydney and then, certainly, on the tour of Bangladesh next year.

Selection chairman Trevor Hohns left room for an additional player to be added to the 13-man squad against New Zealand if conditions dictate, a definite nod towards a different balance of the side, and confirmed – without naming them – that a handful of spinners around the country will be told to keep themselves ready to support Nathan Lyon.

“We will be putting a couple of spinners on notice to make sure they’re doing extra work in case they’re required,” Hohns said. “I won’t nominate them now, because they haven’t been informed. But we’re going into a Big Bash period, so we’ll want anyone nominated to be doing extra work throughout the Big Bash series.”

Earlier this year, Shane Warne said Australia’s spin options behind Lyon were a “real issue” if he were injured or needed support.

So who are the names heading the back-up list? (Statistics for this Sheffield Shield season, up to December 4)

Jon Holland (8 wickets at 59.25)

When Australia last fielded two frontline spinners, against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, it was Holland who had the second-spinner’s role. He went wicketless in a heavy defeat, but remained in the selectors’ thinking as part of the Australia A squad that toured England ahead of the Ashes. In the end Australia went without a second spinner for that series. This season has so far been hard work for Holland in the Sheffield Shield but, with international experience under his belt, he will likely remain in contention.

Steve O’Keefe (10 wickets at 18.70)

It takes a while, but if you scan down the Sheffield Shield wicket-takers for the season, you will eventually hit O’Keefe who is the leading spinner for New South Wales so far with 10 wickets at an average under 20. However, at 34, and with a few strikes against his name, it feels as though his time has passed even though he probably remains the second-best spinner in the country. If the selectors wanted someone who would not be overawed by the occasion, O’Keefe ticks plenty of boxes.

Ashton Agar (3 wickets at 136)

The bowling numbers certainly don’t scream “pick me” for Agar, who made his Test debut back in 2013 when he struck 98 from No. 11 against England, but there is an all-round package that could make him attractive to the selectors. If Australia fielded a second spinner it would mean a different balance to the side and one option could be to play Agar at No. 7 – leaving out a specialist batsman – and still field three quick bowlers. He has averaged 52.40 with the bat in the Sheffield Shield this season and is also an outstanding fielder.

Mitchell Swepson (10 wickets at 21.20)

There is momentum growing behind Queensland legspinner Swepson after his match-winning return of 7 for 92 against Victoria in Melbourne. At 26, he has had time to learn his game – and has spent time getting advice from Warne – and the onus will now be on Queensland to try and ensure they can find a place for him in the XI regardless of home conditions at the Gabba. Since the start of last season, he is the joint-leading wicket-taker among spinners, along with Holland, in the Shield with 34 wickets at 33.17.

Marnus Labuschagne (4 wickets at 51.00* including Pakistan Tests)

He’s already cemented in the XI and while he can’t yet be classed as more than a good part-timer there is potential for Labuschagne to play a big role with his legspin. He could have had a couple of wickets against Pakistan and, although he delivers some loose stuff, has pretty good control of all his variations. If it continues to develop there is certainly the scope for him to be a legitimate second option with Lyon, especially on home soil.



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