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Bowlers may leave South Africa wondering, as hosts seek to make something from nothing

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If you want to guess how much goes on in Port Elizabeth, use today’s play as your most revealing clue. With 224 runs scored and four wickets taken, you will conclude that not that much happened and you would not be wrong, on the field and off it.

This is the sleepiest of the four venues for this series, a place where life seems simpler. There’s one go-to beachfront strip, one hipster neighbourhood and one team in the premier soccer league. Likewise, there’s one thing to expect from the St George’s Park pitch: it will be slow.

That means fielding teams need to think innovatively, especially if they have to make first use of the surface in trying conditions, as was the case today. It was the hottest day of the week, with barely a breath of wind, even though the bowling-friendly easterly was forecast, and South Africa decided an extra bowler was necessary.

Dane Paterson, who bowls in the high-130s, became the 109th player to be capped post-readmission and replaced Dwaine Pretorius, whose speeds are in the low-130s. On the face of it, it does not seem like a bad idea. Extra pace, albeit at the expense of an allrounder, could have its uses but not when used the way South Africa did today.

Paterson shared the new ball with Vernon Philander, despite the presence of out and out quicks, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje. South Africa’s bowling coach Charl Langeveldt explained the decision as part of a strategy to ensure England’s openers were not allowed to leave too much. “On this surface, we needed to make the new ball count and the captain and management decided we would go with Paterson because he bowls a fuller length and makes the batsmen play more,” Langeveldt said.

England left 10 balls in the first eight overs, so perhaps South Africa achieved their aim but Zak Crawley admitted the decision not to use Rabada upfront surprised him. That statement should tell South Africa everything they need to know about the dangers of taking the pressure off the opposition in the opening exchanges, which should be as attritional as possible.

It also puts the spotlight on Philander and won’t be amiss to go as far as to question his inclusion in the XI, considering his contribution, or lack thereof, and the conditions. Philander delivered an opening spell of four overs, in which Quinton de Kock was standing up to him, a mid-morning session of four overs and then did not bowl again until the second new ball. He was the least-used seam bowler on the day, delivering only 11 overs, but Langeveldt said team management were not expecting any more from the soon-to-be-retired seamer. “The surface doesn’t suit Vern that much. It’s quite slow so off the wicket batsmen can adjust. Vern is great with the new ball, but we decided to use him sparingly,” Langeveldt said.

Would South Africa have got more from Pretorius, in terms of overs or impact? It’s tough to say, especially because Faf du Plessis has previously explained the expectation on Pretorius is to contribute 10-15 overs a day and keep it tight and Langeveldt called Philander and Pretorius “basically two of the same”. So South Africa chose one of them, and may spend the rest of this Test wondering if it was the wrong one.

The outcome of all that is that Keshav Maharaj had to put in overtime and bowled 30 overs in succession, from before lunch until before the second new ball, and two overs to close the day. Not only did Maharaj keep England quiet and allow the quicks to rotate from the Park Dive End, but he also created several chances and made the breakthrough that changed the meandering mood of the day into something more meaty. De Kock was the man who spotted that a wicket was on offer when Maharaj struck Joe Denly on the pad, just before he inside-edged the ball. De Kock was the lone voice to appeal and asked for a review; replays showed that the ball was hitting middle and off-stump.

That brought Ben Stokes to the crease, to resume a cat-and-mouse game with Maharaj that was evenly poised after the first two Tests. Maharaj dismissed Stokes in the second innings at SuperSport Park and Stokes took Maharaj on at Newlands. Here, they danced again.

Maharaj hit Stokes on the back pad and du Plessis reviewed but Stokes survived on umpire’s call on the impact just outside the line and responded with a sweep through midwicket for four. In the next over Maharaj again had a review off Stokes, for a delivery that spun past the inside edge and off the pad, for what looked like a slip catch. Replays showed that there was no bat and no chance of an lbw with impact outside the line. Stokes responded with a cut for four. In the next over, Maharaj kept Stokes on the back foot and set him up for the nudge to short-leg, but the chance fell just short of Pieter Malan. Still, it showed that some parts of the South African attack are working to a plan, specifically the leg-side plan that dismissed Dom Sibley.

Du Plessis set 6-3 fields to Sibley, who showed South Africa his willingness to play the ball in the air on the onside. He did it several times in the morning session and one too many in the afternoon, when he steered a back-of-a-length Rabada ball to Dean Elgar at backward square leg.

Rabada enjoyed that wicket but not as much as his next one, the England captain Joe Root. Post-tea, after Maharaj’s crucial intervention with the wicket of Denly, Rabada beat Root for pace and pegged back his off-stump. He sent Root off by screaming at the stumps, a celebration reminiscent of his performance here two years ago against Australia. Then, Rabada went full tilt against Steve Smith, with a shoulder charge that almost earned him a suspension. Then was also the last time Rabada took a five-for and the last time he seemed to get properly riled up.

Since then, Rabada has looked everything from lethargic to overworked and though he remains South Africa’s most feared bowler, he has not always enjoyed the returns that come with his reputation. Even though Rabada was South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in 2019, it was his Rabada’s leanest full calendar year as a Test cricketer and led to questions about whether he was bowled too much, too soon, and was maybe becoming a little jaded by it all. His reaction to dismissing Root said otherwise. “KG is always looking for a scrap. It gets him fired up,” Langeveldt said.

On a pitch like this, that’s what South Africa need: an inspired spell from someone who can make something out of nothing. That doesn’t often happen in Port Elizabeth, but the next four days could be different.



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Marnus Stoinis still wants all-round role for Australia

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Marcus Stoinis believes he can still break into Australia’s T20 World Cup team as an allrounder despite being recast as a non-bowling opening batsman for the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League, a role in which he is all but assured of finishing as the tournament’s top scorer this season.

In a telling departure from the positions he has occupied for Australia, Stoinis has been used at the top of the order by the Stars, where he gets the advantage of extra time to start his innings, while also not bowling at all.

The result has been a tally of 607 runs from 14 regular season games at an average of 60.70 and a strike rate of 134.29, underlining the wisdom of placing Stoinis at the top, even though he is unlikely to contend for a similar spot for Australia where Aaron Finch and David Warner are locked in as openers.

ALSO READ: Melbourne Stars dealt finals blow with Sandeep Lamichhane unavailable

Asked whether he could command an allrounder’s place in the national T20 squad despite the change in role for the Stars, Stoinis noted that the likes of Jon Wells had been adept at the middle order job, but argued he still had the IPL with the Delhi Capitals in which to show his allround abilities.

“I do understand that definitely they’re very different and you’ve had guys like Jon Wells – how well’s he done – I mean, he’s been a good player for a long time, I’ve known him from Western Australia. So I’m really happy for him,” Stoinis said. “But then also, for me I’m not too worried because I’ve batted everywhere my whole career.

“I’ll go to the IPL in two months and most likely I’ll be batting five or six. So to me, I see it as I’m adaptable, I’m trying to do everything I can in the game and if the selectors see it as ‘you’re an opening batsman’ or whatever, that’s up to them.

“You’ve got to be careful with what you feel you deserve and I think I’ve probably been guilty of having expectations that you think other people should reward you for certain things. So I’m very aware, I’m just enjoying what I’m doing. I understand that the national selectors wanted me to go back to domestic cricket, or Big Bash cricket and dominate, so hopefully I’ve sent that message.”

Numerous opening batsman have occupied the other spot opposite Stoinis for the Stars, and the club still looks to be trying to find their best combination despite qualifying at the top of the table and earning a home final against the Sydney Sixers at the MCG on Friday night.

“We’ve been adaptable and that’s what happens in this competition – whether it’s Australian selection or injuries, that sort of stuff,” Stoinis said. “But the main thing I’m after, I just want the person at the non-striker’s end to feel no pressure and just have fun and we’re there to express ourselves, we’re playing at the MCG, we’ve got great opportunities.

“I was talking to Seb [Gotch] before the last game and I was messaging him asking him if there’s anything he needs from me and he said ‘no, just clap at the other end when I hit a boundary’.”

As for the Stars’ trailing off in performance after securing top spot – they lost their last three games, including a heavy defeat to the lowly Brisbane Heat in the final fixture – Stoinis said the club had enjoyed the chance to end the treadmill of matches and refocus for the finals. A team outing to the Australian Open tennis on Sunday had afforded the chance to let off some steam.

“I’ve heard a few people say maybe we got complacent and that sort of stuff but also there’s been a few opportunities to, with injury and that sort of stuff, to give people a chance and we’re trying to find this opening partnership as well,” Stoinis said. “We’ve had an overseas player left, so there’s moving parts. I don’t think it was complacency, it’s more just the fact you’ve got to be adaptable and we’re heading now to the pointy end and we’ve got pretty much our full team available.

“I think there’s still some positives. Petey Handscomb’s played well the last couple of games, we’ve had a few injuries, Hilton Cartwright’s been really good for us but then he’s got a crack in his finger…it’s just going to give opportunities to other people.

“I guess in big games you either get a bit nervous and you try and stay away from failure or you go for it and you look for success – so that’s what we’ll be looking for. I’ll be charging towards success, hopefully.”

One key addition for the Stars will be the return of the Pakistan paceman Haris Rauf from international duty, which will provide something of a counterbalance to the loss off Sandeep Lamichhane’s artful wrist spin.

“We’ve been bowling about 18 overs of spin a game, so we’ll still hopefully have enough spinners to cover all those sort of bases,” Stoinis said. “We’ve had Hinchy [Clint Hinchliffe] who’s come into his own and done really well for us, we’ve obviously got Zamps [Adam Zampa] coming back, Maxy’s been bowling unbelievably well and then the Mad dog, [Nic Maddinson] has been chipping in with a few wickets and some catches. So I think we’ve got a lot of spin covered and now we’ve got big Raufy to come back in and maybe I’ll bowl an over.”



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Todd Astle ends first-class career to focus on limited overs

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New Zealand legspinner Todd Astle has quit first-class cricket to focus on the limited-overs formats.

Astle, 33, played five Tests over a seven-year period, the most recent of them against Australia at the SCG earlier this month. However, he has started to find the demands of preparing for the red-ball formats a challenge while balancing his family and business life.

“Playing Test cricket was always the dream and I’m so honoured to have represented my country and province in the longest form of the game,” Astle said. “Red-ball cricket is the pinnacle, but also requires a huge amount of time and effort. As I’ve got to the back end of my career I’ve found it harder to maintain the level of commitment required to be fully invested in this version of the game.

“I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to achieve with Canterbury and the Blackcaps. To have the opportunity to play a Test against Australia at the SCG was an experience I’ll always cherish. I’m excited to now focus all my energy into the white-ball formats, as well as give more time to my young family and new business.”

In first-class cricket overall, he played 119 matches scoring 4345 runs at 25.86 and taking 334 wickets at 32.17 having started his career as an opening batsman for Canterbury. He also finishes as Canterbury’s highest first-class wicket-taker with 303.

New Zealand selector Gavin Larsen said: “Todd’s been an absolute stalwart for Canterbury in the Plunket Shield and his first-class record speaks for itself. To prepare and play four-day cricket at such a level for the best part of 15 seasons is a credit to him and his perseverance.

“His ability to turn the ball both ways and build pressure always made him a threat with the red-ball in hand. We appreciate this would have been a tough call for Todd and we absolutely support his proactive decision. He wants to get the most out of himself at this stage of his career and spend more time with his family, and those are admirable reasons.”

Astle would have been in the frame for the two Tests against India next month but the selectors will now have to consider whether they recall Mitchell Santner, who missed the SCG Test due to illness but may have been dropped, retain Will Somerville or bring back left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel if they want a frontline spin option.



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‘Totally incorrect’ – Wasim Khan denies deal with Bangladesh over hosting Asia Cup

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It is “totally incorrect” that the PCB had brought Bangladesh to Pakistan by promising them hosting rights for the Asia Cup later this year, board CEO Wasim Khan has said, adding that it’s for the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) to figure out what would happen if India refuse to travel for the tournament.

The PCB had earned the Asia Cup hosting rights for the first time in over a decade for the 2020 edition, but at the time of the allotment of the tournament in 2018, it wasn’t clear whether it would take place in Pakistan or in the UAE. Now, after successfully hosting a number of international series and Pakistan Super League matches – the entire tournament is scheduled to be played at home this year – on their soil, the PCB wants to organise the Asia Cup in Pakistan in September this year too.

But there could be a question mark over India’s participation then – the 2018 edition was supposed to be held in India but was moved to the UAE to ensure Pakistan’s participation in it.

“When we are supposed to go to India for the 2021 ICC T20 World Cup, we also might face a reverse situation because of the safety and uncertainty on players’ visas”

Wasim Khan

“This is totally incorrect and we haven’t spoken with Bangladesh about the Asia Cup at all,” Khan told reporters in Lahore when asked if the PCB had used the Asia Cup as a bargaining chip for Bangladesh to travel to Pakistan.

The BCB was initially apprehensive about travelling to Pakistan but, after lengthy negotiations, agreed to play a series of three T20Is, an ODI and two Tests in three parts. “This is ACC tournament and the hosting rights were allotted to us by them, and we can’t change it,” Khan said. “It’s in our mind and it’s our wish to host the Asia Cup in Pakistan.”

When asked about India’s participation in the Asia Cup later this year, keeping in mind the strained political relationship between the two countries, Khan suggested that the ACC would take the final call and that Pakistan would try to work out a plan including holding the tournament across two venues.

“Maybe two venues for these circumstances,” Khan said. “When we are supposed to go to India for the 2021 ICC T20 World Cup, we also might face a reverse situation because of the safety and uncertainty on players’ visas. But we are confident that things will ease out over the period of time.”



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