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Jack Leach to return home from South Africa to aid recovery from illness

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Jack Leach is to fly home from England’s tour of South Africa after failing to recover from illness. Leach, who arrived in the country as England’s first-choice spinner, has not been able to bowl a competitive delivery on the tour after being taken ill ahead of the first warm-up match in Benoni in mid-December.

Leach was also taken ill in New Zealand in November. Originally described as a bout of gastroenteritis, it now transpires the episode deteriorated to the extent that he was suffering from sepsis. He was hospitalised for several days in Hamilton and has not bowled a ball in anger since the Mount Maunganui Test, which ended on November 25. He will leave South Africa on Thursday.

Leach’s situation is complicated by his long history of Crohn’s disease, which requires him to take immune suppressant medication. The England management are keen not to push him too hard in his recovery phase and risk any long-term health implications. While Leach currently appears healthy, and has been able to play a full-part in the last couple of training sessions, his fitness levels have not recovered to the extent where he could be considered for Test selection.

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The England management remain hopeful that Leach will be available for England’s Test tour of Sri Lanka – the first Test starts in Galle on March 19, the first tour game on March 7 – but he must be considered a doubt at this stage.

“It has been an unfortunate time for Jack with illness and since the Test series in New Zealand six weeks ago, he hasn’t been able to get 100% fit,” England head coach Chris Silverwood said. “This has hampered his preparation in South Africa and despite his best endeavours he is not in a position to make himself available for selection for the final two Test matches.

“He is a great lad to have around the squad and his infectious personality and popularity will be missed. However, his focus has to be getting himself better and receiving the optimum levels of recovery and treatment, which is best served back in England without any distractions.

“I have no doubt that he will return to full fitness in the medium-term and hopefully he will recover in time for our tour of Sri Lanka in March.”

Leach is the third member of the tour party to return home. Rory Burns left as the second Test started after sustaining ankle ligament damage, before James Anderson suffered a fractured rib in the Cape Town Test. At least 11 members of the playing squad – and around half-a-dozen of the non-playing tour party – have also suffered from a sickness bug that decimated the team during the first Test and resulted in Ben Stokes referring to this, only partly in jest, as “the cursed tour”.

England are unlikely to call for further back-up for Leach. They still have two specialist spinners in the squad – Dom Bess and Matt Parkinson – and there is a possibility neither will play in the final Test in Johannesburg. Bess, Leach’s deputy at Somerset, performed a good holding role in Cape Town.

Looking ahead to Sri Lanka, though, this episode may further incentivise the England management to repair the relationship with Moeen Ali. Moeen, who is currently taking an extended break from Test cricket, has previously intimated that he was minded to “see out” his PSL contract, which would exclude him from the Sri Lanka tour, but there is little doubt the England management will try to coax him back to the Test team.

He is understood to maintain a good relationship with both Silverwood and England captain Joe Root, and has been invited to take part in some mentoring an England Lions training camp at Loughborough this week.

Moeen and Leach were the equal highest wicket-takers when England won in Sri Lanka little more than a year ago but, at this stage, there seems a possibility that neither they nor Adil Rashid, who was the third member of the spin attack, will return.



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Hill takes four as England make short work of Nigeria | Cricket

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George Hill had a good day with the ball © Getty Images


England allrounder George Hill, playing his first game of the Under-19 World Cup, finished with figures of 4 for 12 to help England bowl Nigeria out for 58 in 27.5 overs in the final Group D game at Kimberley. England, for whom this was their first win of the tournament, won by eight wickets with opener Sam Young finishing the game off with a six, as England racing to 64 for 2 in just 11 overs.

Nigeria had opted to bat first, but the England seamers reduced them to 19 for 3 early. A 23-run fourth-wicket then took Nigeria past the forties, but then offspinner Hamidullah Qadri, who also took four wickets, and medium-pacer Hill bowled them out soon after. Nigeria captain Sylvester Okpe top-scored with 16.

Young was brisk in England’s pursuit of 59, crunching five fours and two sixes in his 33-ball 39, while Hil, who batted at No.4, was not out on 7 when the winning runs were hit. Both teams will move to the Plate League stage of the tournament, having failed to come in the top two of their group. West Indies topped the group, with Australia finishing second.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo


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Hitting ‘thousands’ of balls helps Josh Philippe find form for BBL finals

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Josh Philippe has followed the lead of his idol Steven Smith and is reaping the rewards for hitting “thousands” of balls over the last few weeks, as he battled a mid-tournament dip in form which he has turned around with the Sydney Sixers preparing for the Big Bash finals

The Sixers’ route may yet be tougher if the Adelaide Strikers take second place, and the double chance at qualifying for the final, but they are comfortably in the mix. Three wins on the bounce to finish the group stage has been an impressive way to overcome a stretch where they suffered at the hands of Marcus Stoinis’ 147* and were on the wrong end of some rain.

Philippe has made half-centuries in the last two of those outings against the Brisbane Heat and the Melbourne Renegades which came after a run of five matches where he managed 8, 6, 7, 1 and 10 following his unbeaten 83 against the Strikers in Coffs Harbour. He is the Sixers’ highest run-scorer from the regular season with 401 runs at 36.45, and a strike-rate of 126.10.

“To be honest I’ve hit thousands and thousands of balls, I’ve hit so many balls in the last few weeks. The thing with T20 cricket is when you miss out a few times it feels like it all happens so quickly,” Philippe told ESPNcricinfo. “We’ve had so many games close together, just the last few weeks where I didn’t get too many it felt like it all happened at once and I just kept backing myself, hitting a lot of balls, and hoping it would work out which it kind of did, which is nice.

“In the last couple of games I’ve just taken a few more balls to get myself in then starting to go, but sometimes you are chasing massive scores and don’t have time to do that. It’s all about reading the game, reading the situation, and the more you play the better you get at that.”

Hitting masses of deliveries at training is something associated with Smith, and the pair have had the chance to bat together for the first time in their careers in the last two games. Smith was instrumental in getting Philippe to sign for the Sixers in 2018 and is never shy of saying how far he believes the younger man can go.

“Geez, he was striking some balls very cleanly again,” Smith said after his unbeaten 66 completed the chase against the Renegades. “I’ve said it so much that kid has got some serious talent and he showed that again today. He just let me get into my innings before I could start getting a bit more expansive. That really helped.”

When asked about direct comparisons, Smith joked before lauding his striking: “He’s got a tiny head like me, so the boys give him a bit of stick about that. He’s got a pretty unique swing, the way he hits so clean, that six he hit to the on side early on against [Dan Christian] was an amazing shot, the way he check-drove it and gained so much power just shows the talent he’s got. He’ll enjoy playing in those pressure situations, he’ll learn. He’s so young, he’s got so much time on his hands.”

What is it like to hear Smith so often praise your game? “It’s amazing, really nice to hear so sorts of things. He’s a massive idol of mine and I look up to him,” Philippe said. “I’d love to one day get half as many runs as he’s got at the next level. It’s really cool to have that, and fingers crossed, I can keep making runs.”

And if someone had told Philippe a few years ago that he would be batting alongside Smith he wouldn’t have believed them. “I would have said ‘you’re dreaming’ but it’s pretty amazing. I’m stoked to be here and be in a really cool set-up with the Sixers. It’s such a bonus that we get Smith, [Josh] Hazlewood and [Nathan] Lyon back playing and it’s really cool to mix with those guys.”

As Philippe noted, the Sixers have their Australia players back and there remains some hope that Sean Abbott may yet be able to return from the side injury that ruled him out of the ODI squad to tour India. That would be a boost because the one issue the Sixers have to ponder is how to fill to the hole left by their leading wicket-taker Tom Curran, who departs for England duty now the regular season has finished, having claimed 22 wickets capped off with 3 for 27 against the Renegades.

“[He has] some great skills, he has been magnificent with the ball and under pressure with the bat,” Smith said. “Watching on TV that game that got to the Super Over [against Sydney Thunder] that was one of the best knocks I’ve seen at this Big Bash. He’ll be a big loss. He’s done his job as an overseas player, helped get us to the finals, now it’s our job to get it done for him.”



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AB de Villiers' magic keeps Brisbane Heat alive

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The Melbourne Stars have been uncatchable at the top of the points table for a while, but they have now lost three matches in a row



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