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Moeen Ali ‘by no means certain’ to tour Sri Lanka – Ed Smith

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It is “by no means certain” that Moeen Ali will be available for England’s tour of Sri Lanka, according to Ed Smith.

Smith, the national selector, admitted there was “no time frame” for Moeen’s return to Test cricket after he was, once again, absent from England’s squad for the tour of South Africa.

Moeen asked for a break from Test cricket at the end of the 2019 English summer and, despite conversations with Smith, fellow selector James Taylor and England captain Joe Root in recent days, remains unavailable by his own choice. His absence does not extend to white ball cricket and it would be a surprise if he did not return to the England party for the limited-overs part of the South Africa tour.

Also read: Bairstow, Anderson, Wood return to England Test squad

“He asked to take a break from Test cricket at the back end of last summer and that is what has happened,” Smith said. “At this stage we don’t know when he will return to being available for Test cricket but it’s our hope that he does. We all know that Moeen is a talented and valued cricketer for England. But we don’t know if and when that might happen.”

Hopes that Moeen could return for the Sri Lanka tour, where he played a key role in England’s 3-0 victory a year ago, in March were not boosted by his inclusion in the PSL draft. The competition takes place at the same time as the tour. But while Smith admitted there were no guarantees Moeen would return for that tour, he felt it was possible.

“I don’t think it’s ruled out and it’s also by no means certain he will be available,” Smith said. “At the moment there’s no time frame. But what I did discuss with Moeen – what we all discussed with him – was our aspiration that he’s available to play Test cricket for England. He’s a valued England cricketer. From my point of view and a selection view, the sooner he was available the better and that would include Sri Lanka.

“He did say that there are more Test runs and more Test wickets in him and that was very encouraging. It’s disappointing when a player of Moeen’s ability and track record is unavailable for selection. In an ideal world, we’d like Moeen to be available.”

While Moeen lost his place in the England side during the Ashes – and the Test part of his central contract at the end of the season – his potential value as a Test cricketer may have been reappraised a little in his absence. Not only does his non-availability leave England with the prospect of a diplodocus-length tail – Jack Leach, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer seem most likely to feature from No. 8 to No. 11 in South Africa – but his relative potency with the ball has been missed. After 60 Tests (and 181 wickets), he has a better strike-rate (60.6) than hugely respected spinners of the past such as Jim Laker (62.3), Derek Underwood (73.6) and Hedley Verity (77.5). Leach, after 10 Tests, has a strike-rate of 60.9.

Although Moeen was nowhere near his best with the bat – he averaged 10 in five Tests in 2019 – in his most recent Tests, England remain hopeful that a return to his best will give them greater penetration with the ball and an easier balance in the team. England claimed only 21 wickets in the two Tests in New Zealand and went into the second Test without a front-line spinner for the first time since 2013.

Smith also defended the selection of Ollie Pope as England reserve keeper for the New Zealand tour, but declined to clarify who had been selected as reserve keeper in South Africa with Jonny Bairstow recalled to the squad.

“That would be a question for the captain and coach to answer,” Smith replied when asked who would keep should Jos Buttler suffer another back spasm on the morning of a Test in South Africa. “They’ve got pretty good options.

“We were very clear when we discussed the tour party to New Zealand that we were going to take a 15-man party for a very short time. We had discussed the possibility of a last minute injury to Jos and we were comfortable with Pope keeping wicket. He has kept a great deal in his life. I’ve seen him keep a lot, James Taylor has seen him keep a lot and not only for the Lions but for Surrey.

“In the last 10 years that’s the only last minute injury to a keeper. Jonny got injured in a different format in Sri Lanka, which brought about a change when Ben Foakes came in. But for it to happen at the 11th hour is very unlikely. But it was discussed and we were comfortable with Pope coming into the side if a last minute injury happened to Jos. We knew he was a very capable keeper.”

“Bairstow has been picked as someone who could add value to an England Test team. He’s a talented batsman who has scored a hundred at No. 3 as well as hundreds lower down the order. And he’s kept wicket in many games for England so he covers both of those possibilities.

“Since the moment he was selected as a batsman for England – he was the first of his generation to be selected, in 2012 – he has a non-Test first-class average of 57. He wants to get back into the team and he knows when he’s playing well he has a number of routes.”



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Virat Kohli stresses on intensity and clarity in New Zealand

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India will focus on starting their T20I series against New Zealand, which will kick off the month-long, all-format tour of the country, with “intensity”, Virat Kohli said on the eve of their departure to Auckland.

In the short ODI series at home against Australia, India batted first with mixed results in the first two matches, before sealing the third one in a chase. One way or other, Kohli said, India wanted to go into the New Zealand series with clarity and purpose.

“We want to bat well when we bat first and in case we’re defending a low total, we should be able to do that as well,” Kohli said. “[…] Clarity of mind is really crucial because we’re playing in conditions that are not ours, so we have to take even more intensity into that series to put the home team under pressure, set that sort of template from game one and build from there.

“We can’t afford to ease into the series after two games, because then it keeps getting tougher and tougher, so we’ll look to make a mark in the first game that we play, play expressive cricket and be sure of what we want to do.”

ALSO READ: ‘The last six or eight months have been a revelation’ – Kohli

India lost their first ODI against Australia by ten wickets before coming back to win the series 2-1. Kohli said that during the huddle ahead of the final ODI against Australia in Bengaluru on Sunday, the team discussed going to New Zealand on a happy note, and beating a team like Australia was vital ahead of a tough tour.

“It’s important. We spoke of that at the huddle, that this is the last game we’re playing in the series and if we win, you go on a tour on a happy note,” Kohli said. “If you lose, it can go under the radar, you can brush it aside as ‘oh it’s just one loss’, but when you win and win under pressure – the last two games were tough wins – it boosts your confidence which we’re carrying forward, so looking forward to the New Zealand tour.”

India last toured New Zealand almost exactly a year ago and began with a 4-1 win in the ODI series, but New Zealand won the T20I series that followed. That tour came in the lead up to last year’s ODI World Cup, and the number of matches in each format are reverse this year, with the T20 World Cup scheduled for later in the year.

“[On the last tour] we were very positive in how we played, very sure of what we wanted to do,” Kohli said. “The thing about playing away is if you’re able to put the home team under pressure, you can enjoy your cricket. You have to win at home, there’s that sort of feeling. So if you bring out your A game, you can really put them under pressure.

“That’s what we did last year, squeezed them in the middle overs, picked up wickets, and the spinners were outstanding. Looking forward to take that same intensity into the series. We’ve played really well in 2020, want to continue that.”



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Recent Match Report – Zimbabwe vs Sri Lanka 1st Test 2020

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Sri Lanka 42 for 1 (Oshada 21, Karunaratne 12*, Tiripano 1-5) trail Zimbabwe 358 (Ervine 85, Kasuza 63, Masvaure 55, Embuldeniya 5-114) by 316 runs

Lasith Embuldeniya completed a second five-wicket haul in Test cricket, and Sri Lanka’s attack finally made headway, but Zimbabwe still ended day two in a position of strength in Harare, thanks in part to a late Sri Lankan wicket.

Nine batsmen fell on Monday in total, in comparison to the two on the stolid first day. The pitch was beginning to show hints of deterioration and life. Where there had been virtually no spin on Sunday, there was at least modest grip today for Embuldeniya to exploit. After Zimbabwe had been bowled out for 358 early in the second session, Donald Tiripano then delivered the ball of the match so far, getting a length ball to jag dramatically back at opener Oshada Fernando, to breach his defences and send middle stump cartwheeling. It seems likely that ball had struck a widening crack.

Still 316 runs ahead, and with Sri Lanka one down now, Zimbabwe can still dream of a healthy first-innings lead overnight. Tiripano was chief among those pushing their cause forward on day two, first hitting 44 not out from No. 8, and joining debutant Victor Nyauchi to put up a 30-run last-wicket stand to further defy a Sri Lanka side that had been made to field for 139 overs (it would be 148 by the time the innings was done). His dismissal of Fernando, which he produced in his first over of the match, then buoyed Zimbabwe just before stumps, and will have worried the Sri Lanka batsmen looking on. Sikandar Raza also made a confident 41 through the course of the afternoon, and was the only Zimbabwe batsman to strike at better than 50.

It was Embuldeniya, though, who did most to bring what was a sleepy Test to life on Monday. In the morning session, he artfully lured Sean Williams to push at a floated, wide delivery, and took his outside edge, which was snaffled by the wicketkeeper. He then took three wickets in the afternoon session to complete his haul (he had also dismissed Prince Masvaure on day one), first having Regis Chakabva caught by a tumbling Angelo Mathews at mid-on, then spinning one past the advancing Raza, before turning a ball between the bat and pad of Kyle Jarvis to clatter off stump. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given he is the lead spinner, Embuldeniya bowled 42 overs in the innings, which comprised more than 28% of the overs delivered by Sri Lanka. His five wickets cost 114 runs.

Full report to follow…



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Liam Livingstone, Josh Inglis smash fifties in Perth Scorchers' victory

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Chasing a modest 154, the belligerent openers flayed the Thunder attack in an opening stand of 136



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