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Malinga, Rajitha double strikes leave New Zealand reeling



Toss: Sri Lanka won the toss and chose to bowl against New Zealand

Lasith Malinga won the toss and chose to bowl first in the T20I that closes out Sri Lanka’s as-yet win-less tour of New Zealand. Although the pitch appeared good for batting, Eden Park – with its short straight boundaries – is reputed to be a difficult venue to defend a score on.

Fast bowler Scott Kuggeleijn debuts for the hosts, coming into the side on the back of excellent form in the Super Smash T20 competition, in which he had taken 4 for 18 for Northern Districts less than a week ago. Also in the hosts’ seam attack is Doug Bracewell, playing his first international in over a year. Bracewell had been in the ODI squad as well, but had not entered the playing XI through the course of that series.

Mitchell Santner – the spin-bowling allrounder – plays his first match after a long layoff as well. This is Santner’s first match since returning from knee surgery – the injury having kept him out since March.

For Sri Lanka, meanwhile, 23-year-old batsman Sadeera Samarawickrama gets his first game of the tour, having also been in the Test and ODI squads. Allrounders Asela Gunaratne and Seekkuge Prasanna have been omitted, with Sri Lanka preferring specialists for this match. Batsman Dhananjaya de Silva, and bowlers Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara and Lakshan Sandakan are all playing.

The weather is expected to remain good for the duration of the game.

New Zealand swept the ODI series 3-0, and had won the Test series 1-0.

New Zealand: 1 Colin Munro, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Tim Seifert (wk), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 Mitchell Santner, 7 Doug Bracewell, 8 Tim Southee (capt.), 9 Scott Kuggeleijn, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Lockie Ferguson

Sri Lanka: 1 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 2 Kusal Perera, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Thisara Perera, 5 Dhananjaya de Silva, 6 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 7 Dasun Shanaka, 8 Lasith Malinga (capt), 9 Lakshan Sandakan, 10 Kasun Rajitha, 11 Lahiru Kumara

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Hardik Pandya and the man in the mirror



First, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. What Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul said on the talk show was misogynistic and unacceptable, and warranted the BCCI’s intervention. They are public figures and will, and must, be held to those standards; they are role models for hundreds of millions not only in India but, thanks to live streaming, beyond the regular cricketing world. Reports suggest a two-match ban is on the way and that will be fair enough. It will, hopefully, send out a message that there is a line that cannot be crossed, however big a star you are.

There is, however, a silver lining of sorts to this controversy: by speaking without filters, Pandya has shown us a glimpse, if we needed it, of the conversation and mindset in the wider Indian society. It raises questions about the “surround” – not the statements themselves but the circumstances that prompted them. What made Pandya say what he did? Where was the failure? If Pandya is a symptom, what’s the disease and what’s the cure? Perhaps taking a step back and looking beyond the comments will help explain, and hopefully in the longer run weed out, the problem.

ALSO READ: We definitely don’t support inappropriate comments – Kohli

First, whoever on Pandya’s management team – and the focus here is on Pandya because the most execrable statements came from him – thought it was a good idea for him to appear on a talk show that feeds off controversial revelations? Knowing Pandya, they would (must) have been aware of his candour and willingness to open topics others shy away from. Could he not have been prepped better? Ironically, Pandya was refreshingly frank for most of the show. He’s a high school dropout, barely able to read and write by his own admission and, while candid about his lack of literacy, did say it was not the example to follow. That he has made a career for himself despite those failings in the formal structure – and in a country where the formal structure still counts for a lot – testifies to his own character. He loves high fashion, he loves money, he loves women, he loves to talk about it. There is no issue with that.

The problem is with the issue of how he treats, and refers, to women. And with a host as skilled as Karan Johar, once the genie was out of the bottle there was no pushing it back in. Pandya did as he was asked, as he was expected to; lacking the guile of the usual Bollywood guests, he answered questions as candidly as possible. The problem was in the line of questioning; once Johar realised the general drift, he could have moved away from that, it could have even been edited out. There are many ways of dealing with controversial content that isn’t being broadcast live. Ultimately, though, a commercial talk show has to do what it says on the tin; no one but Pandya (and his minders) is responsible for his own fate.

Pandya’s statements should also be seen in the context of his journey, from a family environment in which, as he said, everything is discussed, nothing is off the table, to the over-the-top celebrity and riches of the IPL, the ultimate goldfish bowl – or platform, depending on your personality type. It’s the same IPL that brought in the cheerleader culture to India, the most definitive example of objectification of women in sport. The IPL brought in celebrity, blurring the lines between glamour and sport; of the original franchises, two were wholly or partially owned by some of the biggest Bollywood stars of the day, and a third was owned by the most flamboyant of Indian billionaires. It was a heady world where the after-parties were as entertaining and sought-after as the matches themselves and, though the celebrity quotient has waned (the flamboyant billionaire is now a millionaire, and a fugitive from the law), it is still a world of bright lights.

Imagine Pandya – or any young cricketer – thrown into this cocktail, with the crores of rupees now at his disposal. The IPL took his persona, bling and all, amplified it, put it on the biggest screens across the country and turned him from a player “too shy to even approach ESPNcricinfo to have his bowling style changed on his player profile page” (as one 2015 story put it) to what he is today: despite not being one of India’s top cricketers, he has 11 million friends/followers across the three main social media handles and has made it to the Forbes India 100 list for 2018 (at 27, three spots above Karan Johar). There’s a reason for that and it’s not his cricketing skills alone.

This is usually the part of the comment piece where one pulls up the BCCI for its own errors of omission and commission but their relationship with top players is complicated. Yes, they are the primary paymasters and yes, the primary disciplinarians too. But the task they face here is to change individual mindsets that go back 20 years or more into one’s childhood. There’s no debating that India is a deeply patriarchal country where the average adult male has huge issues with how to treat women. And a top cricketer is the alpha male among alpha males; the BCCI’s list of contracted players has about 25 names on average. That’s 25 cricketers in a country of several hundred million active cricketers. Imagine the privilege, the entitlement.

Of course there’s lots that can be done in the medium and long term, and the BCCI has the wherewithal to be as proactive on this as possible. The world has changed even in the IPL era; social media, barely around in Season 1, now dominates the landscape and there are new rules and norms of social engagement that are no longer optional. The board also has the responsibility to ensure that the playing field – the physical space as well as the wider world of cricket – is treated like any other professional work space, with the same rules and regulations. These are boys who’ve never grown up; help them grow up. Start gender sensitisation at the age-group levels; make it part of the formal structure across the board and especially up the ladder. Train your top players in every aspect of media management – not merely the cricket-focused questions at press conferences but also the googlies they may have to negotiate on talk shows. Make sure that the next time an Indian cricketer goes on a general entertainment talk show it will not be a national embarrassment.

ALSO READ: Why the Johri investigation has been a kick in the gut for women

And talk to them about life. Make them not merely the best players but the best ambassadors. The New Zealand Cricket Players Association, in their latest annual handbook for players, has a chapter on consent that is explicit and unambiguous on the situations that will inevitably occur in a professional sportsman’s life. The National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru should have an in-house, full-time professional working on this.

The last time Pandya and Rahul made the headlines together was for their “jersey-swapping” gimmick in IPL 2018. Their latest exploit has thrown up uncomfortable questions not just about them or their exalted bubble. It questions us: those of us who watched the show, those of us who have joked in locker rooms, those of us who have kept quiet when the banter has crossed the line. Those of us who have created the likes of Pandya and fed off his exploits.

It’s possible that Pandya and Rahul will emerge from this with a better understanding of how to deal with half the world. Let’s hope that applies to the rest of us too.

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We definitely don’t support inappropriate comments – Kohli



Virat Kohli has said it has been made clear to Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul that their controversial comments made on an Indian TV show, which has left them facing a suspension, are not acceptable and the personal opinions are not the view of the India team.

Pandya and Rahul appeared on a talk show on Sunday where their comments – Pandya’s in particular – came in for widespread criticism and raised concerns over the team culture. The BCCI issued the players a show-cause notice to which Pandya responded with an apology to the board.

“From the Indian cricket team point of view, any inappropriate comments that are made in that scenario are something that we definitely don’t support and the two concerned players felt what has gone wrong and they have understood the magnitude of what’s happened,” Kohli said at the SCG ahead of the opening ODI against Australia. “Definitely it has to hit anyone hard, they will definitely understand the things that have not gone right.

“We, definitely, as the Indian cricket team do not support views like that and that has been communicated. I can definitely say that as the Indian cricket team and responsible cricketers we definitely don’t align with those views and those are purely individual views.

“We are still waiting for a decision to be made but from the Indian cricket team point of view this changes nothing in terms of our beliefs in the change room. It does nothing to the spirit that we’ve been able to create within the change room and these are purely individual opinions and something as I said which is inappropriate.”

While the controversy is dealt with by the Committee of Administrators (CoA), which is overseeing the BCCI, it creates a headache for Kohli ahead of the first ODI on Saturday, especially the uncertainty around Pandya’s availability given how key he is to balancing the India line-up as the seam-bowling allounder in the middle order.

Kohli acknowledged the outcome of the process may require the team to rethink their plans, but was confident that with Ravindra Jadeja in the squad, they had the options to cover for Pandya even though Jadeja is a spin-bowling allrounder.

“From the combination and team balance point of view, yes, you’ll have to think about the combination you’ll need now,” Kohli said. “You don’t have control over these things so you have to address it the way it unfolds. That’s how we are looking at it, the combinations will have to be looked at when the decision comes out and from there on we’ll see what needs to be done about the whole situation.”

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Siddle’s miraculous comeback lands him on the doorstep of World Cup



Last October, Peter Siddle played his first Test in two years. But that’s nothing. The same month he was added to Australia’s T20I squad, a format he has played just twice for his country, and now he will play his first ODI in eight years. He has a chance at being part of a World Cup and Ashes double tour to England.

What if someone had told him that 12 months ago? “I would have laughed at them,” he said.

There has been a lot of recrimination around the Australia men’s teams this season amid continued upheaval, and Siddle’s story feels like an uplifting tale.

The Test return is the least surprising development. Siddle has remained a very consistent red-ball bowler, having overcome a back injury he suffered in 2016. However, his rise to prominence in the limited-overs game is the result of a cricketer reinventing himself towards the latter part of his career.

“I’m getting on in my years so haven’t got a hell of a lot of cricket left, especially at the international stage, so just knew I had to get fit and see how things went,” he said. “It hadn’t even crossed my mind playing white-ball cricket for Australia again. In the UAE, I stayed as back-up after [Mitchell] Starc got rested for the T20Is, but didn’t think much of it. I feel like a young kid getting his first opportunity.”

By playing at the SCG on Saturday he will comfortably set a new record for the longest gap between appearances for an Australia player, beating the six years and 282 days of Tim Zoehrer between 1986 and 1994. It is also at the ground of his last appearance in limited-overs international cricket: from that match against Sri Lanka, he is one of just four of the Australians still playing, along with Shane Watson, Cameron White and Steven Smith.

ALSO READ: Australia make wholesale changes, bring back Siddle and Lyon for ODIs

His return to Australia’s coloured clothes is down mostly to his outstanding BBL campaign in 2017-18 – form he has carried into this year’s tournament. Last season, he was a key part of Adelaide Strikers’ tournament-winning run, conceding just 5.94 runs per over across 11 matches, which was easily the best for any quick who played more than a single match. It was also the best economy in Big Bash history for a pace bowler playing at least 10 matches a season.

Having found life tougher in the T20 Blast where he played for Essex, taking three wickets at an economy of 9.50 from five innings, this season he currently has a BBL economy of 4.88 across his three matches which have brought four wickets. Against Sydney Thunder, on New Year’s Eve, he claimed 3 for 20, but having started to hear a few suggestions an ODI call-up might come, he admitted feeling the nerves that night.

“I went away before the selection meeting and played the New Year’s game. I was a bit more nervous than I was previously because I knew if I put in a good performance, it could mean a lot.”

It was being away from the international scene that gave him time to work a new – or updated – set of skills which have now caught the eye of the selectors. Having played just seven BBL matches for Melbourne Renegades in 2014 and 2015 before being sidelined by the back injury in 2016, he found a new home with the Strikers.

“Getting the chance to play a full season of the Big Bash, if there’s ever a good way to learn fast, how to develop skills in white-ball cricket, it’s definitely the T20 format. You have to learn quickly, learn on your feet and if you don’t execute the deliveries, you obviously cop it a lot in the shortest format. That’s definitely helped my 50-over form.”

“For him to go away and work on the skills that he’s brought to the table over the last couple of years in Big Bash cricket is outstanding,” Australia’s one-day captain, Aaron Finch, said after confirming him in the XI. “He probably went with a real red-ball focus for a long time there and probably neglected the one-day skills and then to come back and have an eight-week period last year where he just focused on skills for the white ball, how quickly he learnt, how quickly he improved was unbelievable and he’s kept doing that.”

Siddle is still waiting to see what role he is given in the ODI side – and T20 form does not guarantee success over the longer duration – but given his role in the BBL, it would not be a surprise to see him have the responsibility of the closing overs. “Obviously the death bowling, yorkers and change-ups, I think my skills I’ve been able to execute pretty consistently. That will play a big role in my set-up, but I’ll find out more in the next couple of days. The focus over the last couple of weeks has been on that death bowling and working on trying to perfect that.”

And if he is asked to bowl at the India batsmen when they are in full flight in the latter stages of an innings, he’ll be keeping it pretty simple.

“Sometimes people do get caught up a little bit in trying to have too many options, not just having the few good options they can fall back on and that they know they’ve perfected under pressure. So for me that’s what it has been. Getting everything perfected as best as I can, so when it comes to the heat of the battle that I can back up my skills.”

The only other global tournament Siddle has played was the 2009 Champions Trophy. He took 3 for 55 in the semi-final victory over England before nabbing 1 for 30 off his 10 in the final against New Zealand to help secure the title. Nine years on and Siddle could be a few good performances away from booking a World Cup trip.

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