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Curran departure leads frustrated Stewart to call for IPL cut-off date



Alec Stewart, Surrey’s director of cricket, has lent his weight to calls for the ECB to consider a cut-off date for future call-ups to the IPL, after his team’s early-season plans were thrown “out of the window” due to the last-minute departure of Tom Curran to Kolkata Knight Riders.

Though Curran went unsold at his base price of USD156,000 during the IPL auction in February, his stock as a limited-overs allrounder rose considerably during England’s subsequent ODI series win in New Zealand.

And, when Mitchell Starc was ruled out of this year’s campaign due to a shin injury, KKR swooped for Curran in a USD253,000 deal. Barely a week later, he made his debut against Chennai Super Kings at Chepauk, and has impressed his new employers with three wickets in two appearances to date.

While Stewart did not begrudge his player either the pay packet or the high-pressure experience that he accepts will help mould Curran into a better player, he bridled at the timing of his departure, just days before the start of a County Championship campaign in which he had been expected to be a pivotal player.

Curran’s departure was one of three high-profile call-ups from the county circuit this month, preceding Yorkshire’s twin losses of David Willey and Liam Plunkett to Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Daredevils respectively, and the subject was the hot topic of discussion at last week’s crisis meeting of county coaches at Edgbaston.

“It’s far from ideal losing Tom so late,” Stewart said. “I hope in time this will be looked at. The IPL is not going anywhere – I fully understand players wanting to be part of it because, one, it’s a good competition and, second, it helps your bank balance.

“The problem is when you get the phone calls I got for Tom, and Martyn Moxon [Yorkshire’s director of cricket] got for Willey and Plunkett. Your planning goes out of the window.”

“Tom will come back a better player so I don’t have a real issue with it, but the issue is who controls the players – are they our players or are they IPL players?”

Alec Stewart, Surrey director of cricket

The fact that the IPL overlaps with the start of the county season has long been a bone of contention for the ECB, who were resistant to allowing their players to take part in the tournament for most of the first decade of its existence.

But now, having relaxed their attitude towards English involvement, an alternative problem is rearing its head – given that the players’ efforts to get ready for the English season make them obvious oven-ready replacements for IPL franchises seeking to replace injured players.

“All I think needs to be looked at is a cut-off, ideally a month before the championship starts,” Stewart said. “If you get picked up in the auction, that’s fine – it’s at the end of February, so that’s six or seven weeks before the start of the season.

“Then everyone knows that, even if you don’t get picked up in the auction, there’s a three- or four-week window, but once that has gone, you can’t then go and play.”

Stewart believes that the matter has been complicated by blurred lines of communication between the players, the counties, the ECB and the franchises, and says that a redrafting of the No Objection Certificate is the only way to prevent the situation being presented to the counties as a fait accompli.

“How it should work is that IPL phone the ECB to ask about a player, and the ECB talk to the county. That’s how it is meant to work – but it doesn’t, though, because the franchise will ring the player or agent direct to see if they are interested and, once they are told the money, they always are – so you have to let them go.”

“That needs to go on the No Objection Certificate, so that the IPL know and the franchises know that’s the deal and the players understand as well. Otherwise it leaves us in a bit of a mess.

“Tom will come back a better player so I don’t have a real issue with it, but the issue is who controls the players – are they our players or are they IPL players? They are under contract [to the counties] for 12 months, so I would argue they are ours. We should have more control than just saying ‘I guess you are going then’.”

A further complication stems from what Stewart believes is insufficient compensation to those counties who lose out when their star players are snapped up by the IPL – an issue that came to light when Plunkett, who is on an ECB white-ball contract, was approached by Delhi earlier this month.

“We have discovered that the ECB have been receiving 10% of the overall contract a player gets from IPL for a number of years and this year it is 20%,” he said. “I hope that it will now be looked at – now that we are aware that this has been happening, which we weren’t before.

“Should the ECB be keeping that? Or should that money come back to the county, who are the ones who miss out? I personally believe all that money should come back to the county if you are not an ECB contracted player because of the money that has been invested.”

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England bowl, bring in Alex Hales; Kasun Rajitha plays for SL



England won the toss and chose to bowl v Sri Lanka
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details

England won the toss and chose to field first in the fourth ODI, perhaps reasoning that overcast conditions may aid their seam bowlers, and with the threat of rain looming, that they would rather be chasing if Duckworth-Lewis-Stern calculations come into play.

England’s only change was forced by injury. Opener Jonny Bairstow rolled an ankle at training on Friday, and was ruled unavailable. Alex Hales moves into the XI in his place. Fast bowler Liam Plunkett, who arrived in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, was omitted, perhaps on the reasoning that he has not properly acclimatised yet. Olly Stone, the 25-year-old quick, retains his place.

Sri Lanka made one change on the fast bowling front. Nuwan Pradeep, who had been good in the first ODI, makes way for Kasun Rajitha. With rain around, and with Pallekele being a fairly seam-friendly venue, perhaps Sri Lanka felt Rajitha’s ability to move the ball was preferable to Pradeep’s experience.

One more victory here will see England sew up the series 3-0, with the final game to play on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka 1 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 2 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (capt), 5 Dhananjaya de Silva, 6 Dasun Shanaka, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Amila Aponso, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Kasun Rajitha

England 1 Jason Roy, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Tom Curran, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Olly Stone

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Samarawickrama pleads for patience as Sri Lanka seeks form resurgence



Sri Lanka’s fans have been unhappy with the ODI side for almost two years – that much is abundantly clear. Through that period, fans have expressed their dismay with a minor protest in Dambulla, a pelting of empty plastic bottles on to the field in Pallekele, and with this decade’s most popular insult medium: the social media meme.

Disenchantment with the team and the nation’s cricket establishment was perhaps higher last year, when Thilanga Sumathipala and Sanath Jayasuriya had forged a wildly unpopular partnership as board president and chief selector. But the ODI team hasn’t exactly turned its form around since both those made their exits. With 32 losses from the last 42 completed ODIs now, even junior players making their way into the side, such as 23-year-old batsman Sadeera Samarawickrama, are having to contend with public displeasure.

“I know the spectators must be very disappointed about the way we have played,” Samarawickrama said ahead of the fourth ODI. “But we also want to turn it around. We want to see the fans happy. We want to go from a losing mentality to a winning one.”

That the World Cup is on the horizon is, of course, of particular worry for Sri Lanka fans, with hope diminishing that the team will be able to hit form by the time the big tournament comes around in June. For Samarawickrama, though, the World Cup is too far away to worry about just yet.

“If we think too much about the World Cup right now, we’ll be under even more pressure when we get to the next match,” he said. “So what we have to do is to take it series by series and match by match as a team.We’ve still got three series before the World Cup.”

On a personal note, Samarawickrama was pleased to be offered the opening position, having scored most of his domestic runs as an opener, and he appears to have been given assurances that he will stay in that position, for now. He is the fifth batsman who has played in that position this year for Sri Lanka, with Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga, Danushka Gunathilaka, and Niroshan Dickwella being the others.

Samarawickrama’s first run in the role produced a middling performance – he hit 35 off 34 balls in a 21-over game.

“I really like to open the innings. When they told me I’d be opening, I got a lot of confidence. It’s not that I don’t like batting in the middle order, but that I like to play at the top. I was able to handle the pressure because in the recent past it’s while I’ve been opening that I’ve scored a lot of runs. I took that confidence forward. I didn’t put it in my head that I was playing England, or think too seriously about it. I just did the basics.”

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Confident England seek to close out rain-impacted ODI series



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A fortnight into England’s tour of Sri Lanka, and a pattern has settled over the cricket that has so far been possible. Invitingly clear skies in the mornings have invariably given way to torrential afternoon downpours and if, in between whiles, there’s been enough opportunity to get a contest underway, then the players have slotted into whatever windows present themselves.

It’s not exactly ideal, but for England – 2-0 up after three truncated contests and with a share of the series secured – they are at least passing their first significant test in this, the final approach to their 2019 World Cup campaign. For Sri Lanka, ill-balanced in the absence of Angelo Mathews and over-reliant on rare moments of individual brilliance, their only realistic target is respectability.

Plenty has been said about the timing of this tour, not least by the ECB themselves, who felt obliged to defend its scheduling in a post on social media during Wednesday’s six-hour rain delay.

But somehow, in spite of everything, we’ve been treated to a pair of entertaining contests so far – with England having to withstand a renaissance performance from Lasith Malinga in the opening contest in Dambulla, before outsmarting their opponents in a 21-over thrash at Pallekele on Wednesday.

Who knows what bearing any of this will have on England’s sterner tests to come in the new year, but they’ve given off the sense of a side with more gears to power through if required. Neither Jos Buttler nor Moeen Ali needed to bat during the run-chase in the third ODI, while Eoin Morgan, the captain, referred to the “good frustrations” in the England dressing-room after that same game, given that players of the calibre of Alex Hales, Sam Curran and Mark Wood can’t even get into the team at present. That said, there is a concern that Jonny Bairstow may have damaged his ankle playing football, which may present Hales with a chance to reclaim his opening berth.

Sri Lanka, for their part, need a measure of consistency above all else. Their implosion in the third match was a case in point – 55 for 0 after five overs, 95 for 9 in their remaining 15, with Niroshan Dickwella’s blazing intro proving insufficient to ignite a competitive total. Then there’s the hot and cold performance of Malinga to consider. He was stunning in adversity in Dambulla, his five wickets showcasing all the old tricks that many feared he could no longer deliver. And yet four days later, his powder-puff display in Pallekele later seemed to deflate the entire attack.

Anything can happen in the course of a one-day international, particularly when Messrs Duckworth, Lewis and Stern get involved in the permutations. But it is hard to see how the narrative of this leg of the tour can be changed in a hurry. England look to have too much in reserve, Sri Lanka already seem to be stretched beyond their limits. A rare win in Asian conditions is very much on the cards, but it’s as much a reflection on Sri Lanka’s struggles as England’s excellence that, should it come to pass, it is unlikely to feel like a seismic triumph.

Form guide

Sri Lanka LLLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)

England WWWWL

In the spotlight

He spent much of the summer in the shadow of his younger brother, as Sam Curran cut a dash during the India Test series. But after taking advantage of Liam Dawson’s misfortune, Tom Curran stepped into the vacancy to serve a reminder of the uncanny confidence he exudes whenever he’s armed with a white ball. His four overs in Wednesday’s 21-over thrash were masterfully delivered – his full repertoire of variations helped to check Sri Lanka’s rampant early progress before he returned at the death to pick off the lower order for figures of 3 for 17. It was a reminder of how valuable it can be to have a bowler in your ranks who wants to be the hero, and if he’s not yet inked into England’s first-choice World Cup XI, he’s rapidly making a case for the final 15.

There wasn’t a lot for Amila Aponso to write home about after his solitary outing during the Asia Cup – it was his first ODI in more than a year, and only his seventh all told, and his figures of 1 for 55 in nine overs proved incapable of slowing Bangladesh’s progress towards a 137-run win. But at Pallekele on Wednesday, no-one did more than him to give Sri Lanka a grain of hope in their defence of a sub-par 150. After opening the bowling, ostensibly to target the frailty of Jason Roy against left-arm spin, he bagged Jonny Bairstow straightaway, then bowled Joe Root through the gate one over later. He was powerless to prevent England surging past their target when he returned for his final over, but there was a confidence to his bowling which may manifest itself better over 10 overs rather than four – if the weather gives him a chance to settle into a longer spell.

Team news

Kusal Mendis stepped into the vacancy created by Kusal Perera’s quad strain, but his first-ball duck made it three blobs in a row since his Asia Cup meltdown, and suggested that his place in the team is once again in peril. Upul Tharanga, who made way for the 21-over match, is likely to slot back into the side, though possibly at No.3, with Sadeera Samarawickrama expected to be given the chance to build on his 34-ball 35. Dinesh Chandimal, who missed the post-match presentations on Wednesday after suffering a bout of dizziness, is expected to be fit to lead the side once more.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 2 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 3 Upul Tharanga, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (capt), 5 Dhananjaya de Silva, 6 Dasun Shanaka, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Amila Aponso, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Nuwan Pradeep

Bairstow did not appear for the rest of training after appearing to turn his ankle during a warm-up game of football. Hales is on standby to take over at the top of the order. Liam Plunkett has arrived in Sri Lanka and is ready to resume his deck-hitting mid-innings role after emerging unscathed from his wedding last week. But with Olly Stone impressing in his first outing of the tour, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be reclaiming his place straightaway.

England (probable): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jonny Bairstow/Alex Hales, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Tom Curran, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Olly Stone

Pitch and conditions

Shockingly, it didn’t rain in Kandy on Thursday, and Friday has dawned rather pleasant as well. Which, inevitably, means that the weather on match-day is forecast to be torrential. Nevertheless, after some heroic work from the Pallekele groundstaff, mostly involving the judicious positioning of several acres of blue tarpaulins, the actual pitch for the third ODI proved to be dry and true, with good carry for the seamers and a bit of purchase for the spinners – as Adil Rashid demonstrated with a pinpoint googly.

Stats and trivia

  • Sri Lanka have won just one of their last six ODIs at Pallekele. That came against South Africa, by 3 runs, in August.

  • To find an innings in which Dinesh Chandimal has hit a half-century at or better than a run a ball, you have to go back to June 2016. He has played 26 innings since then.

  • After making headlines earlier in the tour by admitting he would consider dropping himself for the World Cup if his form didn’t merit selection, Eoin Morgan has racked up four fifties in his last five ODI innings, scoring 305 runs at 152.50 in that period.


“Hopefully we’ll be able to capitalise on good starts through our middle order in the coming games. We’ve talked about that and formulated a plan about batting in the middle now.”
Sadeera Samarawickrama hopes to bring an end ot Sri Lanka’s batting woes

“We have to keep winning as a unit. People have come in and it’s about confidence that you can beat anyone in any condition. People say you never win away from home in the past, you struggle when you travel and when it’s spinning, but we’ve shown now we can win in any conditions..”
Liam Plunkett is pleased for his team-mates after rejoining the squad in the wake of his wedding

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