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Recent Match Report – Victoria vs New South Wales, Sheffield Shield, 13th Match



New South Wales 294 (Abbott 54, Nevill 50, Larkin 50, and 0 for 129 (Larkin 68*) drew with Victoria 7 for 307 dec (Pucovski, Maddinson 59, Handscomb 54, O’Keefe 5-80)

Victoria and New South Wales played out a sedate final day at the MCG before the teams shook hands on a draw.

Daniel Hughes and Nick Larkin put on an unbroken opening stand of 129 with no chance of a result being forced. New South Wales started marginally behind, but once they avoided losing any early wickets the action fizzled out.

The draw consolidates New South Wales’ position at the top of the table after they started the season with four consecutive wins although the gap to second has been narrowed after Queensland’s two-day victory over Tasmania.

There is one more round of Sheffield Shield matches before the BBL break.

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Maharaj and Rabada, South Africa’s saint and sinner endure a day of thankless jobs



It’s a thankless job. Keshav Maharaj‘s sixth career five-for came as a result of him bowling more overs than a South African has delivered in a home Test in 55 years and was also the most expensive by a South African bowler, ever.

It’s a thankless job. The second ban of Kagiso Rabada‘s career came as a result of a reaction that embodied the passion South Africa needed more of on a lifeless Port Elizabeth pitch. Now they will have to do without him, and all that he brings, for the series decider next week.

It’s a thankless job. Between them, Maharaj and Rabada, the saint and the sinner, did the hard work and showed the heart that should have set South Africa up for a strong second day at St George’s Park. But things fell apart as England posted the highest first-innings score by a visiting team at this venue since readmission, and laid down a challenge that South Africa’s batsmen have not shown themselves to be up to meeting in the last year.

Maharaj, in particular, needs the batsmen to do well. That’s what Paul Harris told ESPNcricinfo in the lead-up to this Test, when he explained that big runs will give Maharaj permission to be more aggressive.

Until then, he has to do the donkey work which, in this series, has meant holding an end almost all day. He sent down 30 overs on the trot from the Duck Pond End on day one, had two tough chances dropped, two reviews go against him and several close shaves for only one wicket. On day two, he served up a further 26 overs, but at least added four more scalps to his tally. The standout feature of Maharaj’s effort was his consistency. He bowled more deliveries on the stumps than in any other Test innings he has taken part in, which speaks to his discipline, even though that’s a trait that rarely makes headlines. Drama does, and that’s where Rabada comes in.

Rabada’s dismissal of Joe Root gave South Africa a short-lived advantage post-tea on the first day, and sent a loud and long-awaited message that his desire was still there. Too loud. Rabada’s scream, which spewed out within spitting distance of the departing Root, could have been directed at the England captain but might have been aimed at the pitch, which had given him nothing all day. Either way, it constituted a breach of the ICC’s code of conduct, and whether or not everyone agrees with the decision, Rabada should have known better.

This was the fourth time in 24 months, and the sixth time in 36 months, that he has been found guilty of effectively the same offence. The four most recent transgressions (send-offs to Niroshan DIckwella, David Warner and Root, and a shoulder brush with Steve Smith) are why Rabada will miss the Johannesburg Test and there seems to be no explanation for why he would have risked that.

He knows the rules. He even knows the consequences because he was banned in 2017 when he told Ben Stokes to “f*** off”, at the culmination of a previous series of demerit points. That Rabada was less than a month away from the expiration of the Dickwella demerit point only makes his actions more reckless. He even knows that. Rabada has previously acknowledged that his “outbursts of emotion” may “let the team down.” And how.

ALSO READ: Rabada banned for Johannesburg Test after demerit point

South Africa do not have the luxury of losing players. They have already had two, Lungi Ngidi and Aiden Markram, ruled out of the series with injury; one, Temba Bavuma, dropped after recovering from a niggle and another, Vernon Philander, operating as a passenger in this attack. Philander only bowled 11 overs on day one and five on day two after it became obvious the slow pitch didn’t suit him, which only increased the burden on both Rabada and Maharaj.

Rabada had to make something happen, and his frustration with that difficulty showed in the celebration. Maharaj almost made something happen for an entire day, and his frustrations manifested in a lack of rewards initially and then a leaking of runs at the end. Ben Stokes was merciless against them both, bringing up his fifty off Rabada and 4,000 Test runs off Maharaj. Mark Wood made a mockery of them both, earning a reprieve off a no-ball before smashing Maharaj for successive sixes to grind South Africa down.

It’s thankless job. Maharaj who toiled for the best part of two days and conceded his runs at less than three an over, had his figures stretched out of shape by a late assault. Rabada, who knows he will not be able to have a say on the decider, denied himself the opportunity to make a final statement on this innings by completely unravelling, first when he was fielding at long-on and failed to see the chance Sam Curran offered and then with a four-over spell that cost 27 runs as England approached 500. That they didn’t quite get there doesn’t exactly constitute a job well done. It’s a thankless job.

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Maiden ton puts England gem Ollie Pope in exclusive company



Around the time he reached his half-century, a landmark achieved with successive cuts for four, Ollie Pope took his Test batting average above 40 for the first time.

No young player comes with guarantees. Pope is probably no more talented than Graeme Hick or Mark Ramprakash and they probably didn’t, by the ridiculously harsh standards we set for these things, fulfil their potential as Test batsmen. But, as Pope celebrated his fifty, it was hard not to wonder if his average would ever dip below the mark again. It may well go significantly higher.

Pope looks, by some distance, the best specialist batsman to come into this side since Joe Root in late 2012. He has a wide range of strokes, he seems to have plenty of time for the ball, and has the appetite to bat for long periods. He also has, now, a compact technique and an ability to leave well outside off stump, giving him a game which shows no obvious weaknesses. This first Test century will surely be the first of many.

ALSO READ: Superlative Stokes approaches batting fulfillment

It is worth listing those men who have scored Test centuries for England at a younger age than Pope’s 22 years and 15 days. They are: Denis Compton, Jack Hearne, Len Hutton, Alastair Cook, David Gower, Peter May and Colin Cowdrey. There are only seven names there and six (Hearne is the one to miss out) can probably safely be described as among the greats of English cricket. Already, Pope is in exclusive company.

He is used to that, of course. After 30 first-class matches, he averaged more than any England player in history. He made his Test debut, aged just 20, after only 15 first-class game and is now England’s youngest maiden centurion since Cook in 2006. “That’s a nice little stat,” Pope said with a bashful smile afterwards. “He was a great player.”

His first captain at Surrey, Gareth Batty, had never heard of him until he turned up to training one day. Pope was 17 or 18 at the time and had only just signed for the professional staff from the prolific Surrey academy. But he was taking apart Surrey’s first-choice T20 attack and the club captain’s attention was seized.

“Jade Dernbach was reversing it sharply and Stuart Meaker was overstepping and bowling fast,” Batty recalled. “And Ollie was smashing it and scooping it everywhere. Straight away I thought, ‘Hello, what have we got here?’ He was obviously special.”

“He has to be in every side we have,” was the gist of Dernbach’s comments to Batty once the session finished. And he pretty much was, Surrey being Surrey. Until he was promoted into the England system, Pope was on the brink of a leadership role at the club, too, aged 20 and talked of as the captain after Rory Burns. “He’s definitely leadership material,” Batty said.

Surrey deserve some credit for this success. The last four maiden Test centurions for England – Pope, Dom Sibley, Burns and Ben Foakes – all came through the Surrey pathway to one extent or another. While Foakes developed at Essex, the other three, including Sibley (who had moved on to Warwickshire by the time he represented England) all came through Surrey’s academy where Neil Stewart, brother of Alec, and Gareth Townsend, the coaches, are clearly doing a terrific job for club and country. Sam Curran progressed along the same path.

But it speaks volumes for Pope’s character that it was from a setback that his game took its most pertinent improvement. At the start of the 2019 season, having been dropped by England, he suffered a dislocated shoulder which kept him out of the game for three-and-a-half months. Many young men, some of whom might well have played for England in recent times, could have taken the opportunity to get away from the game. To take a holiday. To chase girls, drink too much and enjoy the high life.

Not Pope. Instead, he sat down with Vikram Solanki, assistant coach at Surrey, and worked out a way he could use the time constructively. And, reflecting on his first brush with international cricket, when a certain looseness outside off stump was exploited by better bowlers than he routinely encountered in county cricket, they worked out that he should change his guard so he was further across the stumps. That way, he could judge which balls to leave with greater certainty of where is off stump was.

“I sat down with Vikram, and we decided the way I was getting out most was pushing at those fifth-stump balls that I should probably be leaving,” Pope said.

“So we decided that I should move across slightly in my crease. From a technical point of view that was the main thing: allowing me to line up off stump so I could leave the ball well and actually defend close to my front pad. I’ve still got that strength of cutting and off my legs as well.”

The period also reinforced to him how much he wanted to succeed in the game. He had experienced a first taste of the international game – two Tests against India in the English summer of 2018 – and he desperately wanted more. So he resolved to put away those airy drives and render himself a far tougher batsman to dismiss.

“From a mental point of view, I go back to those three-and-a-half months,” he says now. “It gave me a real hunger to come back. It made me that bit hungrier, I think.”

As he showed in the latter stages of his innings, though, he still has all the shots. To see him reverse-pull Kagiso Rabada, or ramp Anrich Nortje was to see a special talent just starting to blossom. He may play within himself most of the time, but he clearly has the ability to go up a gear when required. There’s no reason at all he shouldn’t thrive in England’s white-ball teams in due course, as well. They have a bit of a gem here.

But limited-overs cricket can wait. As can a move up the order in Test cricket. It was a mistake to put him at No. 4 on debut and it was a mistake to hand him the gloves, albeit in an emergency, in New Zealand. He needs the sort of management Hick and Ramprakash lacked. With confidence to add to his talent, he can serve England for a decade and more.

“A lot of people chat and say ‘he can do this, he can do that’ but you’re the one who has to go and do it,” he said. “So knowing I have it ticked off is nice going forward. It makes you feel more at home in the side. It makes you more confident in yourself and your ability.”

There are other architects in this success. For a start, Pope owes a drink to Ben Stokes who persuaded him to call for a review in the nick of time when he was given out leg before on 74. “I thought I’d be walking back to the changing rooms,” Pope said. “Stokesey told me to review with two seconds left, but I thought we were clutching at straws. It was a great feeling to see the replays.”

England’s top-order batsmen, Sibley and Zak Crawley in particular, contributed, too. As Pope put it, “the opening partnership set it all up. The amount of balls they faced meant they took the shine off the ball and we were able to capitalise.” This is a team game, after all, and it reflects well on Pope that, in his moment of triumph, he remembered the people who had helped him along the way.

There are some caveats to all this. The Port Elizabeth pitch is unusually slow and Vernon Philander is clearly a man coming to the end of his international career. There were moments in the field when he looked as if he were performing a passable impression of Oliver Hardy. Australia will, no doubt, test him with the short ball – though Rabada and Nortje are hardly slow – and tours of Asia will, no doubt, test his ability to play spin. There will, of course, be some rainy days on his journey. But of all the players in this emerging Test side, perhaps only Jofra Archer has as bright a future.

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‘Indian cricket has lost a real champion’ – Sunil Gavaskar



In a heartfelt tribute to Bapu Nadkarni, who died on Friday aged 86, Sunil Gavaskar has hailed the former India allrounder’s attitude and cricketing acumen. Gavaskar was in Rajkot, as part of the commentators’ panel for the India-Australia ODI, when he heard the news of Nadkarni’s death.

“He came as assistant manager for quite a number of our tours,” Gavaskar said. “He was very encouraging. His favourite term from where we all learnt from was ‘chhodo mat (hang in there)’. He was gritty despite playing in the days when gloves and thigh pads were not very good, not much protective equipment as you would get hit, but still hang in there as he believed in chhodo mat. You are playing for India. That thing we learnt from him.

“Every time he was on a tour he was very very helpful in terms of strategy. At lunch time or tea time, he would say ‘try this’, if you were a fielding captain. He would tell, ‘bring this bowler, or ask this bowler to bowl around the wicket.’ He was fantastic. Indian cricket has lost a real champion.”

Gavaskar also recalled Nadkarni’s role in getting Sandeep Patil to bat in India’s second innings in Sydney in 1981, after he had retired hurt following a blow to the head from a Len Pascoe bouncer in the first innings. Patil went on to score 174 in the next Test match in Adelaide.

“He [Nadkarni] was the one who kept urging Sandeep that ‘it doesn’t matter, you are here and you should go out and bat again.’ Bapuji was the assistant manager on the tour. It was only because of him that Sandeep went on to score that 174 in the next Test match because Bapuji was constantly there with him.”

Milind Rege, the former Mumbai captain, said Nadkarni was a true allrounder.

“Bapu Nadkarni was a great allrounder of Indian cricket and definitely a pillar of Mumbai cricket,” Rege said. “He didn’t get the accolades he deserved. He was one of the lead spinners and then would bat at No. 5 for Mumbai.”

Rege reckoned that Nadkarni’s figures of 32-27-5-0 in his famous spell against England in Chennai would never be eclipsed. “Records are meant to be broken, but 21 overs and 5 balls without giving a run will never ever beaten by anybody.”

Rege would call Nadkarni ‘Bapu saheb‘, as a mark of respect. Rege, along with his friend and teammate Gavaskar, learned a valuable lesson from Nadkarni, a characteristic Mumbai cricket is often associated with. “The khadoos thing that applies to Mumbai cricket, he would be right at the top. He was not a stylish player at all. With that stance he had, he managed to score important runs including the 283 not out against Delhi in the 1960-61 Ranji Trophy semifinals. He just would not give anything away, he was that khadoos.”

Off the field, Nadkarni was a soft-spoken man, known to be particular about details. “Bapu saheb was a lovely person,” Rege said. “The gentleman cricketer. Sunil and I played with Bapu saheb when we were 17. He was among the Mumbai greats who nurtured us. He had a great sense of humour. And he could take a joke on himself and laugh it away.”

Chandu Borde, one of India’s leading lights in the 1960s, presented an example of Nadkarni supporting him at what he called a “crucial” time in his career. “It was one of the early Tests of my career,” Borde said. “I do not recollect exactly which one, but it was in Calcutta. I got a telegram from Pune (Borde’s home). It was to inform me that my relative Dayanand, who had played a big role in my cricket during my young days, had passed away in an accident.

“Bapu hid the telegram under the pillow while I was batting. Later when I read the telegram I confronted Bapu: “What is this Bapu? Why did you this?” Bapu calmly told me he did not want me to be distracted. It was a crucial match for me. Till then my performances were not exciting or big. This was a crucial innings for me and Bapu did not want me to be disturbed.”

Nadkarni, Borde said, always put the team first. “He was, what we in Marathi say an ajat shatru, one who had only friends and no enemies. Bapu was a very good team man, always appreciating his teammates’ performances.”

According to Borde, Nadkarni’s upbringing and his family’s interest in sports was a major factor in his open personality. Borde recounted that Nadkarni was good at more than one sport, having played badminton at a high level. As for his cricket: “He was a very useful man to the team, a great contributor, stayed long at the wicket, was a good close-in fielder, and was a very accurate left-arm spinner.”

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