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Eyes on the Ashes: Australia’s Test squad talking points



There was another Australia squad with plenty to digest as the selectors brought in a new-look top order to try and overcome the batting woes for the Sri Lanka series. Shaun and Mitchell Marsh, Peter Handscomb and Aaron Finch have been dropped – their Ashes hope now hanging by a thread – with Joe Burns, Matt Renshaw and the uncapped Will Pucovski taking their place. National selector Trevor Hohns addressed the media to cover various issues, both in terms of the immediate selection and the bigger picture, and here’s how he reacted to the major talking points.

The debate: Shaun Marsh has been dropped after making 183 runs in the series against India with one-half-century. He has been axed and brought back on many occasions during his career, but at 35 years old it feels like this could be it for a Test career that has occasionally promised so much.

Hohns: “Shaun hasn’t done what we’d like him to have done over the last period and I am sure he would say the same thing. As far as the Ashes go that’s a long way off, he now has the opportunity in one-day cricket to get some form back. But the door is certainly not closed

The debate: Burns and Renshaw were much-discussed since they were parachuted in following the ball-tampering scandal at Newlands. Renshaw looked set to play against Pakistan in the UAE before suffering concussion and has been on the sidelines since. He has endured a lean Shield season to date (199 runs at 19.90) while Burns has been solid, averaging 47.20, with a strong school of thought his three Test centuries should have seen him in long before now

Hohns: “Joe Burns has a good record in Test cricket and has been in good form leading up to when the Big Bash started. Matt Renshaw on the other hand is very, very highly regarded young player, he’s scored a lot of runs in England when he went over there and played county cricket. With the Ashes in mind it’s probably time now to get him back and around the group.”

The debate: Despite Australia’s batting being at an historical low, missing David Warner and Steven Smith, there has been a sense that the selectors have ignored strong Sheffield Shield numbers by some players – favouring potential over performance. Matthew Wade is the Shield’s top scorer with 571 runs at 63.44.

Hohns: “With Matthew Wade it’s fantastic to see him scoring a lot of runs. It wasn’t long ago that he was in our Test squad, he struggled and we dropped him. He was wicketkeeper at that stage, he’s playing as a wicketkeeper-batsman for Tasmania and it just so happens we have a wicketkeeper-batsman in our Test side who is the captain. If Matthew wants to be considered as a straight out batsman it would be nice to see him batting a little higher up for Tasmania and that conversation has been had.”

The debate: A continued omission from the Test side is Glenn Maxwell who last year was told not to take up a county deal, which we wanted to play more red-ball cricket, because he would be on the A tour to India with a chance to secure a place in the Tests against Pakistan. He has played two first-class games since then because of white-ball commitments.

Hohns: “We’ve had several conversations with Glenn about all this and right now he is just content to focus on one-day cricket and white-ball cricket. However, he makes it very clear he would like to play Test cricket, there is no doubt about that. Glenn has chosen to go and play country cricket again this year and a lot of that is one-day cricket leading up to the World Cup. He has also chosen not to put his name in for the IPL so that’s all credit to him for doing that.”

The debate: Australia have long been vexed over how to balance their Test side. Mitchell Marsh’s return against India was brief, dumped after a poor batting performance in Melbourne. There was a bit of talk about Marcus Stoinis (largely from Shane Warne) but in the current squad any extra overs from the top order will be mostly in the hands of Marnus Labuschagne‘s legspin.

Hohns: “There’s always talk about having an allrounder in your side. My only answer to that is if the allrounder isn’t performing and you don’t have a good allrounder, well maybe we shouldn’t have one and go back to the stock standard six batsmen, four bowlers. But if you have a match-winning allrounder, they’re like gold. If we can unearth one, that’d be fantastic.”

The debate: Going into the India series it was at least considered that Australia had a world-class bowling attack. They still do, but it now has a few questions hanging over it after being ground down by Cheteshwar Pujara. It has remained intact for Sri Lanka, as was to be expected, with Peter Siddle retained as the back-up.

Hohns: “They are definitely our best three fast bowlers, I don’t think anyone would argue that. Whether they are operating as the best unit, I’m sure there’s some improvement that can be had there. There are fringe bowlers there’s no doubt about that and three of those are in the CA XI squad. We also have Jhye Richardson who is seen as a very bright prospect. But we think it’s essential that we have Pete around. He’s such an experienced campaigner and he’s great around the group.”

The debate: So, inevitably, there is an eye on the Ashes. It may be that there are three batting spots up for grabs in the final squad while it seems as though there will be some jostling for the support bowling. But will things be any clearer after the two matches against Sri Lanka?

Hohns: “Of course a lot will depend on the availability of Smith, Warner and Bancroft for that matter as well. Our players right now and through the Indian series had a great opportunity – we saw it like that and we hoped that they would see it like that – to make it difficult for us if and when these players come back and are available. There are still positions available of course, particularly given the revamp of the squad for now. So these guys now have the opportunity to cement a place or at least make it difficult for us to leave them out going forward.”

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Kane Richardson and Mohammad Nabi set up comfortable Renegades win



Melbourne Renegades 3 for 116 (Cooper 49, Harper 31, O’Keefe 2-23) beat Sydney Sixers 9 for 115 (Curran 44, Nabi 4-25, Richardson 3-26) by seven wickets

The Renegades dealt the Sixers a thrashing at the SCG, taking only 13 overs to coast past the home side’s paltry total of 115.

Both sides arrived as part of the mid-table logjam with eight points each, and were met with a beautiful Sydney evening. On what appeared to be a flat pitch, the Renegades won the flip and elected to field. From there, they controlled the match from start to finish, seeing excellent contributions from Mohammad Nabi and Kane Richardson with the ball, while Tom Cooper and Sam Harper put the result beyond doubt with the bat.

Sixers undone By seam

The Renegades got the jump, restricting the Sixers to 3 for 20 after the Powerplay. with Daniel Hughes the first to depart after under-edging Richardson through to keeper Sam Harper, before new recruit James Vince chopped on attempting a booming off-drive from the bowling of new Renegades recruit Harry Gurney.

Matters got worse for the Sixers after captain Moises Henriques spliced a pull to a diving Tom Cooper at midwicket, leaving opener Jack Edwards and Jordan Silk to repair the damage to the Sixers’ innings. Both soaked up numerous dot balls before Edwards shovelled one to Cameron White, just one ball after being dropped by the same player in the same position.

As is common after a flurry of wickets, the ensuing period was relatively quiet. Save for some audacious flips over leg from Josh Phillippe, the Sixers were content with batting conservatively. Despite the caution, they still continued to lose wickets. Richardson shaped as the chief destroyer; having already accounted for Hughes and Henriques, he had Silk comfortably taken at third man. Soon after it was Phillippe’s turn to go, bowled by Nabi for an enterprising 20 after exposing his stumps trying to sweep.

Curran resists; Nabi cleans up the tail

At 6 for 72 after 15, the SCG DJ summed up proceedings for the home side by spinning Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.”

Tom Curran, meanwhile, attempted to march things forward with some lusty blows, including one back-foot six over extra-cover that will be worthy of any BBL highlights reel. He then managed to strike two long balls into the Members’ pavilion off Nabi from the final over of the innings, though Nabi had the last laugh, accounting for Curran with the final ball of the innings to go along with the scalps of Philippe, Sean Abbott and Ben Dwarshuis.

That said, Curran’s efforts at the death managed to provide the Sixers with some impetus, and a small ray of light heading into the innings break.

Renegades edge toward finals

Whereas the Sixers laboured from start to finish, the Renegades flew from the off. They were 1 for 58 after the Powerplay courtesy some fine strokemaking by Cooper. That figure was their best result in the Powerplay this tournament, and from there they didn’t look back.

If Cooper was the mainstay, Sam Harper was the bright spark. Tonight’s innings of 31 from 24 showcased his class, as he regularly took bowlers through point and over midwicket, once again showcasing an array of shots that permits him to “play 360,” as they say in the biz.

Along with Cooper’s, his hand allowed the Renegades to find some breathing space on the BBL table. They now move to 10 points, and can reflect on a team with contributions all around the park. Richardson set them going tonight, and his haul propels him to equal top of the BBL wicket-takers. Gurney was impressive tonight too, as was Nabi. The Renegades’ top order is looking increasingly settled, and with Aaron Finch set to return, they could pose a genuine threat as we move deeper into tournament.

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Vinay Kumar’s last-wicket heroics give Karnataka the lead



Halfway into their Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Rajasthan, there’s a familiar face on top of Karnataka’s charts for the season. Except, Vinay Kumar is heading the wrong chart. He’s got the highest batting average in the team, a quite stunning 62.40, nearly ten points higher than Manish Pandey’s 52.80, the next best.

Vinay’s bowling returns are 11 wickets in six matches at 31.09. If he was a batting allrounder, these numbers would mark a legendary season. But for a man whose primary suit is bowling, the returns with the ball are underwhelming and the runs are a bonus.

The bonus could save Karnataka in their quarter-final, though. On day two, Vinay came in 152 for 7 after Rajasthan had made 224 in their first innings. Karnataka quickly slipped to 166 for 9 and Rajasthan were looking at a decisive lead, with Karnataka to bat last. Vinay ended the day 83 not out and had put on 97 with Ronit More for the last wicket, giving Karnataka a lead of 39. More’s contribution was 10 off 59 balls, while Vinay made 77 off 128, farming the strike expertly. Even the 10 runs More made were far more than a career first-class average of 4.14 would have led anyone to expect. And the 59 balls he faced were unprecedented, his previous highest being 37 balls. Egged on and cajoled by Vinay, More outdid himself.

“It was very important for me to be there, as the senior. We discussed adding runs in blocks of five to ten and building a partnership,” Vinay said at stumps. “I needed to plan according to the match situation. I know Ronit can defend, but if the ball keeps low he might have played across. That was there in my mind.

“The opposition will definitely look to bring fielders in in the last two balls and not give a single. I was ready to hit a boundary off the fifth ball and take a single off the sixth. That was the plan and it came good for us. But see, how much ever I perform, the same credit goes to Ronit. If he wouldn’t have stood there, we couldn’t have got a 97-run partnership.”

Vinay, who has two first-class centuries, said he had been taking his batting ‘more seriously’, but reproached his team’s top order for not lasting long enough to capitalise on run-scoring opportunities.

“I’ve always maintained batting is very important (for bowlers). Especially nowadays, the lower middle order and the bowlers have to perform for the team,” he said. “Adding those 40-50 runs at the end always has value for the side. You can see nowadays, for any team if the bowlers contribute 50-60 runs it makes a big difference. I was working on my batting. When I started my cricket I was a batsman and then I became a fast bowler. Nowadays, seeing all the competition, I’m taking batting more seriously.

“We could have batted a little better. It was not doing that much, but odd balls were doing a bit. If we could have stayed for that initial period when bowlers were coming hard at you, after that, when I was batting it became a bit easier. As a bowler, you can bowl 18-20 overs in a day normally, after that your energy will lessen. If we could have tackled those first 10-12 overs, we would have done better.”

Vinay’s runs could prove crucial in the second half of the match, with Karnataka having to bat last. And though the former captain said the pitch at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium wasn’t one where 20 wickets should have fallen in two days, he admitted it wasn’t always playing true.

“The cracks are a bit wider now and if you hit the cracks it can keep low,” he said. “Definitely it will be difficult. If bowlers can keep it wicket to wicket, and keeping it back of length, the odd ball will keep low. If you can bowl in those areas, it is going to be difficult.”

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Right-handed David Warner swats Chris Gayle for 14 off 3 balls



Ever since his involvement in the sandpaper scandal at Cape Town last year, not much has gone right for David Warner in his year spent in exile from the Australian team on the T20 franchise circuit. That is until the left-hand batsman went right. Literally.

Warner turned heads when he took guard right-handed against Chris Gayle midway through the 19th over of the Sylhet Sixers innings against Rangpur Riders on Wednesday. Judging by the resulting performance, he may be tempted to do it more often.

The Australian captain of Sylhet was on 45 off 32 balls at the time and had started the over on strike to Gayle with a two, but then couldn’t get either of the next two balls away. Ahead of the fourth ball, he swapped stance at the crease and, with Gayle coming around the wicket, smashed the fourth ball with a golf-style straight drive over Gayle’s head for six to bring up his half-century.

Gayle countered by going over the wicket but Warner stayed right-handed for the fifth ball and reached out to sweep a low full toss behind square for four. For the last ball, Warner reverse-swept Gayle, not middling it but still getting enough of it to go to the boundary. Warner celebrated during the sequence by doing a hip-shimmy dance and appeared to exchange a few words with Gayle at the end of the over. Warner ended the innings unbeaten on 61 off 36 balls.

“It was one of those things [batting right-handed] at the back of my mind as I couldn’t get Chris [Gayle] away because of his height and the lengths that he was bowling,” Warner said at the post-match presentation. “I play golf right-handed, so I thought I might as well come and swing and clear the ropes. It came off.”

Warner, who is naturally right-handed with his throwing arm and initially batted right-handed as a child, has made a habit at training sessions of spending time batting right-handed. Gayle perhaps should not have been totally surprised at Warner’s method since the Australian attempted to employ the right-handed stance in a T20I against the Gayle-captained West Indies in 2010.

However, Warner was denied by the on-field umpires, who allegedly told him at the time that it was against the spirit of the game and that it could produce a lengthy stall because the fielding side would need to adjust their field settings to comply with regulations. But Warner would not be denied in Sylhet, as he pulled out all the stops in an effort to get the Sixers out of last place on the BPL table.

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