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Unsettled Australia v settled India at start of World Cup year

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Big Picture

Five days after the end of the Test series, where India celebrated their historic victory, the attention now shifts to the main one-day event of the year: Mission World Cup.

These are two teams in vastly different positions at the start of the final run-in to the tournament in England. Australia, the defending champions, have won three of their last 24 games since the end of January 2017 and have a multitude of questions over their team. India, one of the favourites, are very close to knowing the players they’ll take.

The contrast was stark in the build-up days with Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli saying it’s unlikely they’ll be many changes from the squad on show in Australia – save for the rested Jasprit Bumrah to return and some competition for the reserve pace-bowling slots – while Australia captain Aaron Finch confirmed another much-changed XI with new players in new positions and incumbent players taking new roles.

Just matching up the top three of both teams doesn’t feel like a contest: Finch, Alex Carey and Usman Khawaja against Rohit, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli. If India’s top trio fire, as they did consistently last season, they will be very hard to stop for a new-look Australia bowling attack.

While India can think of the World Cup from a position of strength, Australia are desperate for short-term success as well. They have yet to win a series in any format since the ball-tampering scandal. It would certainly go against the form guide if they ended that run here.

Form guide

(last five completed matches)

Australia LWLLL
India WWLTW

In the spotlight

Glenn Maxwell has prompted significant debate in the last few days with his continued Test omission and now he finds himself at No. 7 in the one-day side, tasked with bringing power to the latter stages of an innings. He appeared somewhat frustrated in that role against South Africa in Hobart earlier this season and it is unlikely to provide much chance to build an innings although Finch offered the prospect of him moving up the order in certain situations.

Does MS Dhoni have a final hurrah in him at the World Cup? A great player, he has looked a shadow of his former self in recent times and hasn’t passed fifty in 14 ODI innings. That is partly due to batting behind a mighty top order, but even when given the chance to dictate a passage of play he hasn’t seemed to have the touch of old. One thing in his favour, however, is that his glovework remains sharp and he continues to produce some terrific work against the spinners.

Team news

All change, please. Australia have mixed things up in their one-day side again in the search for answers. Carey will open with Finch, with the recalled Khawaja and Peter Handscomb either side of Shaun Marsh. Peter Siddle will play his first ODI in more than eight years while Adam Zampa misses out. Mitchell Marsh was ruled out yesterday due to illness.

Australia 1 Aaron Finch (capt), 2 Alex Carey, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Shaun Marsh, 5 Peter Handscomb, 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Glenn Maxwell, 8 Peter Siddle, 9 Jhye Richardson, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Jason Behrendorff

A lot for India revolves around what happens to Hardik Pandya following his controversial comments on an Indian TV show. In an ideal world he provides the balance that allows three seamers and two spinners, but if he isn’t there then Ravindra Jadeja is the all-round option while another seamer plays.

India 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 MS Dhoni (WK), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya/Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav 10, Yuzvendra Chahal/Khaleel Ahmed, 11 Mohammed Shami

Pitch and conditions

After the damp end to the Test match and more rain in recent days, the good news is that the forecast for a warm, sunny Saturday in Sydney. The SCG pitch has been flat this season which should bode well for a high-scoring contest although there appeared a decent covering of grass left on the surface.

Stats and Trivia

  • The teams have played 16 ODIs at the SCG with Australia winning 13 and India two. India won the most recent encounter in 2016, chasing down 331 with two balls. Australia had centuries from David Warner and Mitchell Marsh while India were steered home by Manish Panday’s 104 off 81 balls

  • Dhawan needs 65 runs for 5000 in ODIs; Jadeja needs 18 for 2000 runs; Bhuvneshwar needs one wicket for 100

  • Carey, who will open in ODIs for the first time, has a strike-rate opening the batting in List A cricket is 75.55 from 19 innings

Quotes

“While it would have been great to have a settled side for the last 18 months there’s still enough time to get it right and make sure come that World Cup that we are ready to go with a really balanced and settled side.”
Aaron Finch on getting the team right

“We’ve been wanting to figure out who apart from Bhuvi and Bumrah are the two or three guys we can bank on. And these games will provide an opportunity for those guys to firstly present their case strongly and secondly gain confidence from playing these games.”
Virat Kohli on the battle for seam-bowling spots



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Joe Clarke and Tom Kohler-Cadmore stood down from Lions tour after WhatsApp sex revelations

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Joe Clarke and Tom Kohler-Cadmore have been dropped from the England Lions squad that leaves for India on Saturday, after revelations about the pair’s off-field behaviour emerged in the course of the rape trial of their former Worcestershire team-mate, Alex Hepburn.

Hepburn faces the prospect of a retrial after the jury at Worcester Crown Court failed to meet a majority verdict on Friday, following a five-day case which featured an alleged “WhatsApp sexual conquest game” among its central planks of evidence.

In the course of the trial, it was alleged that Hepburn had attacked an unnamed girl in April 2017, having entered Clarke’s bed while she was sleeping.

It was heard that Clarke had already had consensual sex with the girl on the night in question, and having been arrested in the aftermath of the alleged incident, he was released without charge.

Kohler-Cadmore, who was not present on the night in question, was not arrested. However, his first name appeared to be referenced during the prosecution’s examination of the WhatsApp messages, which included Hepburn’s posting of the “rules” of the game. It is understood that a number of other young Worcestershire players were also involved.

In his summing-up of the case Judge Jim Tindal said: “It was effectively a competition – and I regret to use this word but it seems to be accurate – to ‘collect’ as many sexual conquests as possible. It’s about ‘collecting’ new girls – to them, ‘freshies’, as they put it.”

Although the case may not yet be concluded, the revelations are a further embarrassment to the ECB, a body which has spent much of the past 15 months dealing with the fall-out of the Ben Stokes incident in Bristol in September 2017.

That case was finally closed in December when the Cricket Discipline Commission imposed fines and suspended sentences on both Stokes and his team-mate, Alex Hales – who received further punishment after inappropriate images were widely circulated on social media in the wake of the original incident.

Speaking at Lord’s last week in his unveiling as the ECB’s new director of England cricket, Ashley Giles warned that he would be taking a hard line on player discipline during his tenure, as England build towards a seismic summer featuring a home World Cup and an Ashes series, in which England’s squads can expect to be under intense scrutiny.

Giles’ first move has come quickly, with England Lions due to fly out to India at the weekend for a five-match 50-over series against India A, starting on January 23, before two unofficial Tests in February.

The two players had been named in both the 50-over and first-class squads, and are considered to be two of the most promising up-and-coming talents in the country.

Clarke, 22, left Worcestershire for Nottinghamshire at the end of the summer, while Kohler-Cadmore, 24, left for Yorkshire midway through 2017.

The incident also resulted in the departure of Worcestershire’s former head coach, Steve Rhodes, who was sacked in January last year, and relieved of his duties as England’s Under-19 coach, after it emerged that he had delayed reporting Hepburn’s arrest to the club.

It is the second high-profile suspension this week involving cricketers and their off-field actions, after the India duo, Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul, were sent home from the tour of Australia pending an enquiry into controversial comments they made during a chat show.



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‘Plan of controlling run rate worked’ – Amir

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Mohammad Amir may have taken time to put plans into action, but South Africa found themselves in a straitjacket once he began to execute them. Having gone wicketless despite being the tightest of the Pakistan bowlers in a pair of sessions where South Africa scored close to four runs per over, the left-arm fast bowler found his rewards after tea.

For his part, Amir said the riches he and his fellow bowlers found after tea had to do with sticking to the plans more effectively than they had done on a surface that offers more to the batsmen than the previous two did.

“When the batsman is settled in, he can get the runs. It’s very difficult to control the run rate but as I said, if you stick with the plans, you can get rewards,” he said. “You have to bowl as a combination. It’s a bowling unit so we have to back each other up. I think (Mohammad) Abbas and I were doing that because that was the plan to control the run rate. That’s why we were successful.”

Numbers show Amir was most effective just short of a good length. Of the 27 balls, he conceded nine runs; it was also the length that brought him both wickets. In addition, the South African batsmen were in control for just 70.3% of the deliveries Amir bowled at that length, the least comfortable they were at any length for any bowler all innings.

Amir said there wasn’t a special plan for any batsmen, but added that Aiden Markram had played exceptionally well and required the greatest effort to bring back under control.

“I was bowling with the same plan. He was a good batsman playing very good shots. We were bowling with the plan, we had to bowl on middle and off. We don’t want to give him runs and we did it.”

Pakistan’s bowling fightback aside, the mood after the high of the final session would be slightly sullied by losing two early wickets in an awkward seven overs before stumps. Most worryingly, it was the man in form, Shan Masood, and the man supposed to be the leader of the batting attack, Azhar Ali, who succumbed before play, leading Amir to believe the game was very much in the balance.

“It’s a 50/50 call [on who won the day],” he said. “It’s Test cricket and you can’t predict anything before the match ends. We have to bat well and if we don’t lose a wicket in the first session (on Saturday) we have a good chance. We are teammates and we have to back up each other. It’s cricket and anything can happen. Sometimes I didn’t bowl well and sometimes you struggle with the batting. It’s all about momentum.”



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Scotland call up uncapped Adrian Neill, Chris Greaves for Oman tour

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Scotland men have named the uncapped Adrian Neill and Chris Greaves in their 14-member squad for their first ever tour of Oman, where they will feature in a T20I quadrangular series, from February 13 to 17, that also involves Netherlands and Ireland, followed by a 50-over series against the hosts. Fast-bowling allrounder Ruaidhri Smith, who had an impressive T20 season with Glamorgan, also returns to the national fold.

For what will be Scotland’s first international assignment since the T20I tri-series in Netherlands in June, which also included Ireland, allrounder Dylan Budge and the quick-bowling trio of Chris Sole, Brad Wheal and Stuart Whittingham are the prominent exclusions.

Speaking about the make-up of the squad, acting head coach Toby Bailey said: “We are delighted that Adrian Neill has developed so much in the last year with the help of Gloucestershire and Owen Dawkins who will also join the coaching staff for the tour. Adrian now has the engine and skills to match his 6-foot-8 frame to be a real menace at international level.

“We also wanted to introduce the legspin skill set of Chris Greaves and it will be exciting to see this other dimension added to our spin unit. Chris impressed at the end of the Tilney T20 series and in La Manga. He also adds strength to the batting line up down the order and has recently been training with Pakistan in South Africa, learning from Yasir Shah and Shadab Khan.

“We are also excited to see Ruaidhri Smith back in the squad after a successful T20 campaign with Glamorgan, including a 4-6 against Middlesex. He will not only add strength to our seam attack but also to the batting and fielding unit. Ruaidhri also impressed in La Manga and it will be great to see him back in a Scotland shirt.

“We are looking forward to the challenge of continuing the success of last year, and the quadrangular tournament and one day series against Oman represent an ideal opportunity to do this.”

The quadrangular series will be played on February 13, 15 and 17, before the three-match series gets underway.

Scotland squad: Kyle Coetzer (capt), Richie Berrington, Matthew Cross, Alasdair Evans, Chris Greaves, Michael Leask, Calum MacLeod, George Munsey, Adrian Neill, Safyaan Sharif, Ruaidhri Smith, Hamza Tahir, Craig Wallace, Mark Watt
IN: Ruaidhri Smith, Adrian Neill and Chris Greaves
OUT: Dylan Budge, Chris Sole, Brad Wheal and Stuart Whittingham



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