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Spirited Australia can’t mask batting frailties as Moeen Ali spins England to victory



England 218 for 7 (Morgan 69, Root 50) beat Australia 214 (Maxwell 62, Plunkett 3-42 Moeen 3-43) by three wickets
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details

They were handing out sandpaper boundary placards on the way up from Vauxhall Tube Station, but in the end, nothing could smooth away the rough edges in Australia’s new-look batting line-up. Despite their rookie bowling attack mounting a spirited defence of a substandard target of 215, England overcame a double dose of jitters to seal a three-wicket victory in the first ODI at The Kia Oval.

Most of the pre-series focus had, rightly, been on the absence of Australia’s finest two batsmen, David Warner and Steven Smith, and, as might have been expected, they struggled to mitigate for that void in class. After winning the toss on a bright afternoon in South London, Australia mustered 214 in 47 overs, the sort of slow-death innings that exposed their shortcomings more comprehensively than a full-on batting collapse could have done.

Nevertheless, England aren’t without a few notable embarrassments in their (very) recent history, and only days after failing to close out a chase of 372 to hand Scotland a famous victory, they came improbably close to stumbling in pursuit of a target of barely half that height. The beanpole seamer Billy Stanlake was the catalyst for Australia’s defiance, bowling Jason Roy second-ball for a duck as England slipped to 38 for 3 at the top of their innings, before Andrew Tye and his illegible T20 variations came to the fore in the tense closing stages.

In the end it was left to David Willey to haul England over the line with an improbably grindy knock of 35 from 41 balls, with Liam Plunkett unbowed for the second match running on 3. But even then, England still won with a handsome 36 deliveries to spare, which spoke to the gulf in batting quality more eloquently than the official margin of victory.

That was largely a testament to the elder-statesman class of Joe Root and Eoin Morgan. Their fourth-wicket stand of 115 in 21 overs managed to combine defensive accumulation with calculated aggression in a manner that Australia’s own middle order had been unable to replicate. Without such knowhow to rescue their innings, England really would have been in the soup. But then again, that is the entire point of experience.

Before the start of play, Tim Paine had seemed visibly excited at the prospect of ending all the talk of sledging and cheating, and getting back to the day job. But, by the innings break, the captain who had instigated a pre-match handshake with his opponents to mark the start of a new era for his team might have been wondering if he was really that keen to starting talking about actual cricket once again.

The early exchanges of Australia’s innings amounted to a vivisection of the tourists’ anxieties in overseas conditions. Willey’s prodigious new-ball swing accounted for Travis Head via a flat-footed slash to slip from his second delivery, before Moeen Ali came whirling through the middle overs, putting his miserable winter behind him with single-spell figures of 10-1-43-3 that might have been lifted straight out of the 1997 Texaco Trophy.

Four balls into Moeen’s spell, Aaron Finch gave himself room outside off to pick out short third man with an ambitious wipe. Two balls into his second over, Shaun Marsh stayed leg-side of a well-flighted tweaker, a la Ben Duckett in Bangladesh, and lost his off stump for 24. And when Paine himself, desperate to set a tempo, any tempo, offered catching practice to short third man with a muffed reverse sweep, Moeen’s figures were 3 for 11 in 4.1 overs.

After that, it was a given that he’d bowl his spell straight through. Adil Rashid kept him company for a six-over burst of his own, in which time he scalped Marcus Stoinis for 22, before Glenn Maxwell rode to the rescue of his team’s dignity, if not the overall match situation. A restorative 84-run stand for the sixth wicket ended when Plunkett induced a top-edged a pull to deep square leg, and when Agar misread the length of a Rashid legbreak to be plumb lbw for 40, the tail were rounded up meekly.

But there was nothing meek about the response of Stanlake in particular. In the absence of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, this was his chance to demonstrate the timeless virtues of hitting a good length at 90mph. Roy survived one ball before losing the top of his off stump to a beautiful nipbacker, and when the debutant Michael Neser made it two wicket-maidens in the space of four overs by pinning Alex Hales on leg stump, the game was officially afoot.

Jonny Bairstow, with three ODI hundreds in as many innings, once again looked a different class in easing to 28 from 22 balls with six outstanding boundaries. But then he nailed a pull straight into the hands of the lone man at square leg to give Kane Richardson his breakthrough, and England faced a test of their ego at 38 for 3.

But Root and Morgan swallowed their pride and ate up the overs with deft sweeps, well-placed drives and sharp judgement of the quick singles. By the 29th over, they were 153 for 3 and cruising; three overs later, they’d lost both of their set batsman plus the dangerous Jos Buttler as well, who may be in some of the best form of his life, but today read Tye’s knuckle ball as if it was a Jaipur railway timetable. He had already been dropped off Stanlake – a swirling chance to Paine behind the stumps, who spilled it as his elbows hit the ground – when he scuffed a drive to mid-off.

Moeen, determined to carry on playing his way despite criticism of his dismissal at the Grange, looked to have the chase in hand when he holed out to deep midwicket to give Neser his second and ignite that debate all over again. But in the end, he’d already done enough with the ball to ensure that England’s wobbles would not be terminal.

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Brett Hutton helps put Northants in charge



Northamptonshire 4 for 1 trail Gloucestershire 125 (Hutton 4-65) by 121 runs

Brett Hutton played a starring role as Northamptonshire dominated Gloucestershire on the opening day at Bristol.

He claimed 4 for 65 as the hosts were shot out for 125 inside 55 overs on a day in which 35 overs were lost to bad light or rain.

Fellow new ball bowler Ben Sanderson weighed in with 2 for 16, while Nathan Buck took 3 for 32 to fully justify Alex Wakely’s decision to field on a green-tinged pitch beneath heavy cloud cover.

Eight of those dismissed were caught behind the wicket on a wretched day for batting as tail-enders David Payne and Craig Miles emerged as Gloucestershire’s highest scorers.

Pressed into service as a nightwatchman, Hutton fell lbw to Payne as Northants, required to negotiate two overs at the end of the day, reached the close on 4 for 1.

A model of consistency since joining Northants from Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire-born Hutton made the most of bowler-friendly conditions, extracting movement off the pitch to rip the heart out of Gloucestershire’s top and middle-order batting.

His initial intervention came in the second over of the day, left-handed opener Miles Hammond pushing tentatively at a ball outside off stump and edging behind to Adam Rossington without scoring to set the tone for what was to follow.

Hutton returned to the attack from the Ashley Down Road End after lunch, taking three wickets in 22 balls in a devastating burst which further reduced the hosts to 68 for 8. Having negotiated best part of two hours and 78 balls, obdurate Chris Dent finally surrendered his wicket for 15, edging a length ball from Hutton to third slip.

He then accounted for Ben Charlesworth and Ryan Higgins in rapid succession, having both caught behind, the latter via a top edge, to confirm East Midlands supremacy.

Fellow Yorkshireman Sanderson was also rewarded for bowling a consistent line and length, the 29-year-old taking two wickets to further erode the top order. James Bracey was squared up in offering a catch behind, while Benny Howell could only edge a late in-swinger to Richard Levi at third slip.

Ian Cockbain’s first Championship innings of the summer lasted just five balls, pinned lbw in the crease for a duck by Buck, while Levi again demonstrated safe hands when Ben Cotton located Jack Taylor’s outside edge as Gloucestershire limped to 57 for 5 at lunch.

Ball continued to beat bat with alarming regularity and Miles decided attack was the best form of defence, the Warwickshire-bound bowler helping himself to five boundaries in staging a valuable stand of 33 for the ninth wicket with Payne.

Buck wrapped up the innings, bowling Miles for 23 and then having last man Matt Taylor caught in the slips for nine, leaving Payne unbeaten on 23.

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Afghanistan, Bangladesh look to avoid Dubai detour



Big Picture

Having already qualified for the Super Four stage, after knocking out Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will play the last league fixture in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. The incentive is that the winner will stay in Abu Dhabi while the losing team will have to move to Dubai in less than 12 hours to face the table-toppers from Group A the next day. Both teams will be wary of the oppressive heat in the UAE and will be hoping to avoid the Dubai detour.

Bangladesh have some injury issues, so resting Shakib Al Hasan (finger injury) and Mushfiqur Rahim (rib injury) would make sense. Similarly, it would make sense for captain Mashrafe Mortaza to rest on Thursday, instead of taking on the strain of potential back-to-back games for what is essentially a dead rubber. In that case, the likes of Abu Hider, Nazmul Islam and Ariful Haque will look to gain more exposure ahead of bigger challenges.

Afghanistan will focus on a familiar template: bat steadily for much of their 50 overs and look up to their seamers to provide support to their in-form spinners.

Rahmat Shah’s 72 off 90 balls against Sri Lanka in the previous match backed up a solid start from the openers and allowed the big-hitters to go after the bowlers in the end overs. Captain Asghar Afghan, Mohammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran, meanwhile, will look to make more substantial contributions with the bat, while Hashmatullah Shahidi, who made 37 against Sri Lanka, will hope to capitalise on such starts.

But the key will be the three spinners – Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Nabi. Bangladesh had a hard time against Rashid in the three T20Is in June this year. Can they find a way past him in the UAE?

It might be a dead rubber, but both teams will be keen to build momentum and confidence going in to the business end of the tournament.

Form guide

Afghanistan: WWLWW (last five completed games, most recent first)
Bangladesh: WWLWL

In the spotlight

Mohammad Mithun made a confident 63 against Sri Lanka and helped Mushfiqur push the total beyond 250. Mithun has plenty of domestic and A team experience, but can he be consistent in international cricket and secure his middle-order position?

Rahmat Shah, who top scored with 72 against Sri Lanka, has played the Dhaka Premier League, and will be a familiar opponent for most of the Bangladesh players.

Team news

If Afghanistan look to rotate their squad, wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad and seamers Aftab Alam and Guladin Naib might get a break. Munir Ahmed Kakar, Samiullah Shenwari, Sayed Shirzad and Wafadar are options to replace them.

Afghanistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Ihsanullah, 3 Rahmat Shah, 4 Asghar Afghan (capt), 5 Hashmatullah Shahidi, 6 Mohammad Nabi, 7 Najibullah Zadran, 8 Gulbadin Naib, 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Aftab Alam, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman

Nazmul Hossain Shanto could open for Bangladesh in place of the injured Tamim Iqbal while Mominul Haque, Abu Hider, Nazmul Islam and Ariful Haque could get some game-time in place of the seniors.

Bangladesh (probable): 1 Liton Das 2 Nazmul Hossain Shanto, 3 Shakib Al Hasan, 4 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 5 Mahmudullah, 6 Mosaddek Hossain, 7 Mohammad Mithun, 8 Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), 9 Mehidy Hasan Miraz, 10 Rubel Hossain, 11 Mustafizur Rahman

Pitch and conditions

Dew was either not present in Abu Dhabi, or had no effect judging from the evidence of Afghanistan spinners’ total dominance over Sri Lanka.

Stats and Trivia

  • Mashrafe Mortaza is four wickets away from becoming the first Bangladeshi bowler to 250 ODI wickets. Overall, he will be the 17th fast bowler to the milestone.

  • Bangladesh have won three out of the five ODIs against Afghanistan.

  • Rahmat Shah is one match away from 50 ODIs. He will become the sixth Afghanistan player to the landmark after Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad, Samiullah Shenwari, Dawlat Zadran and Asghar Afghan.


    “It is great to get off to a good start but what’s more important is that middle period; if you lose wickets in that period, then it really does hurt.”
    Bangladesh coach Steve Rhodes

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Troublesome ankle could sideline Vernon Philander until November



Vernon Philander has begun bowling rehabilitation this week as he recovers from an ankle injury that could sideline him until at least November.

Philander has struggled with his ankle since twisting it against India in late 2015 and while the latest recurrence of the niggle will not affect his Test-playing ability, it may impact his chances of making a case for World Cup selection.

If fit, Philander would have been picked alongside Dale Steyn for the upcoming ODIs against Zimbabwe but he will miss out. Philander also cannot be considered for the white-ball trip to Australia in October-November but may have an opportunity to return during the T20 tournament that is due to be played from early November to mid-December. However, it’s likely Philander will only make a comeback on Boxing Day, when South Africa host Pakistan.

Philander last played for South Africa in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle in mid-July, where the injury flared up. He did not play the second Test in Colombo and has not played any county cricket or in any T20 leagues since as he concentrates on recovery. Surgery is an option, but that would require a longer recovery time and CSA’s medical team are opting for a more conservative approach.

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