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Steven Smith international return date in doubt due to elbow surgery



Steven Smith requires surgery on the elbow injury that forced him home from the BPL and appears unlikely to be fit to resume his international career when his ban expires at the end of March potentially leaving him short of time to prepare for the World Cup.

He is expected to wear a brace for six weeks after the operation before returning to training, which will rule him out of the Pakistan Super League, and makes it highly doubtful he would be fit to play any part in the one-day series against Pakistan that had been suggested as his international comeback if the fixtures lined up with the end of his year-long ban. The timescale for his recovery will also put him in doubt for the IPL which starts on March 23.

However, the main concern for the Australia selectors will be if the injury means he is not able to play any international cricket before the World Cup squad has to be named on April 23.

Smith arrived back in Sydney on Sunday and was assessed by Cricket Australia medical staff.

“Steve Smith will undergo surgery on Tuesday to repair a ligament in his right elbow. He is expected to wear a brace for six weeks before commencing rehabilitation. Return to play time frames will be clearer once the brace has been removed,” a CA spokesman said.

Depending on Smith’s recovery he may be available to take up part of his IPL deal with Rajasthan Royals, but those Australian players selected in the World Cup squad have to leave by early May for a preparation camp in Brisbane where they are set to play two matches against a New Zealand XI.

During his ban, Smith has played T20 in Canada and the Caribbean before his aborted spell in Bangladesh. He has also played regular grade cricket for Sutherland and has trained with the New South Wales and Sydney Sixers squads but now faces an even bigger challenge to be ready for the demands of a World Cup campaign.

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Rayudu reported for suspect action



Ambati Rayudu was reported for a suspect action during the first ODI between Australia and India in Sydney on Saturday. The part-time offspinner now has to get his action tested within 14 days, but can continue bowling in international cricket until the results are known.

Rayudu is primarily a batsman – India’s No. 4, although there is some debate around that. Nevertheless, Virat Kohli used him for a couple of overs in the middle of the innings and when they went for 13 runs, he was taken off.

Rayudu has only ever bowled in nine of his 46 innings in ODIs but India turned to him after leaving Kedar Jadhav, who has been their favoured part-time bowling option in recent times, out of the XI.

The ICC allows bowlers to flex their elbows only up to 15 degrees. If, on testing, Rayudu’s is shown to flex beyond that, he will be suspended from bowling in international cricket until he can get his action rectified.

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Strikers fall in a heap after Watson’s thunderous fifty



Sydney Thunder 6 for 168 (Watson 68, Sangha 30) beat Adelaide Strikers 97 (Ingram 48, Nair 3-12) by 71 runs

Sydney Thunder atoned for their New Year’s Eve loss to Adelaide Strikers after a Shane Watson batting blitz and early inroads with the ball was enough to see off the high-flyers from South Australia.

Both sides had major absentees, with the Thunder saying goodbye to English imports Jos Buttler and Joe Root, while the Strikers were without Alex Carey and Peter Siddle, both on international duty.

Thunder captain Watson won the flip and elected to bat, finally making good on his early season promise with a powerful half-century. He was backed up by Anton Devcich, with the New Zealander providing an impressive opening foil. A handy 30-run partnership from 13 balls closed the innings at 168, led chiefly by Jay Lenton.

Usual suspects Rashid Khan, Michael Neser and Ben Laughlin bowled well for the Strikers, but Liam O’Connor and Billy Stanlake were wayward at key times, allowing for the Thunder to take charge. A poor Powerplay consigned the Strikers to a tough scoring rate early in their chase and they failed to recover. While Colin Ingram provided a vigil of sorts, once the Thunder were ahead, they didn’t look back.

Watson belligerent

He’d threatened to go big in previous matches, and this time he did. Watson was at his destructive best, his characteristic portfolio of pulls and drives almost taking the game away from the Strikers before it had properly begun.

He got the Thunder’s innings going when he was able to dispatch O’Connor’s wayward first over for multiple boundaries. He was ably supported by Devcich, who unleashed a brutal, fence-clearing on-drive from Neser’s follow-up over.

O’Connor was subsequently withdrawn and replaced by the returning Stanlake who had been released from Australia duty for the day. He came into the game with an economy rate of 9.25 and was unfortunately true to form to begin with, conceding 14 from his first via another Devcich lofted on-drive, a top edge over keeper Harry Nielsen, and another swung away through the leg side, beating backward square.

It amounted to a blistering Thunder start, yielding them 34 from their opening three overs.

Watson brought his fifty up from 27 balls with a six, having been dropped in the deep on 35, and then hit two more in his next three deliveries. His partnership with Jason Sangha was a particular highlight. Sangha perished for 30 after an enterprising innings of flicks and drives at high bat speed, but did much to back the view that he is one for the future.

How to handle Khan: Bat first?

Rashid was thrown the ball after four overs in response to the fast start. There was some discussion that left-handers may provide the best antidote to the competition’s best bowler, who statistically enjoys better success against right-handers. The theory proved fruitless, as Rashid had Devcich lbw playing a reverse sweep at his third delivery. It brought Callum Ferguson to the crease, and Rashid claimed him first ball when he innocuously chipped him to midwicket after seeming to get tangled on the back foot. So far, no antidote.

It meant Sangha was charged with the task of surviving the hat-trick ball; a ball he faced with a slip, leg slip and bat pad in place. He both read and defended Rashid’s wrong’un, and saw out the remainder of the over with both the slip and bat pad unmoved. That both positions remained, despite the run rate at 10, says everything about Rashid’s impact. He started the over with the opposition 0 for 34 after three, and finished it at 2 for 37 from four.

That said, there is something about batting first against a team containing Rashid that creates freedom. Freedom from a scoring rate. Freedom from scoreboard pressure. And if teams can take toll from other bowlers, as was the case here, it somewhat forces the usage of Rashid reactively. Though he finished with a classy set of figures (2 for 21), his impact felt less decisive given the regular carnage around him.

No Powerplay, No Party for Strikers

The Thunder started with duel slow bowlers, and Devcich claimed the dangerous Jake Weatherald with the last ball of the first over. Shuffling in and bowling left arm around-the-wicket outswingers, Weatherald miscued a square drive that was caught by Gurinder Sandhu. Chris Green was typically miserly at the other end, his darted offspinners conceding only four from his first over

Sandhu then removed Matt Short lbw which brought together the Strikers’ two key batsmen: Ingram and Travis Head. Both managed to control then explode after a slow start in the Strikers’ last start against the Stars. Could they do it again? Not here. The introduction of Chris Jordan brought immediate dividends, after Head edged a ramp-cut that was too close to him, straight through to wicketkeeper Lenton.

While Ingram was able to clear the ropes, no one could go with him. The innings dissipated as so many of these do, with batsmen meekly surrendering their wickets to longs off and on with the scoring rate at impossible levels. Each Thunder bowler took a wicket, with Arjun Nair picking up three in a collapse of 7 for 22. Stanlake’s comical run-out to close proceedings – where his jack-knifed bat had him looking like a 100-yard dasher – gave everybody a laugh at the game’s conclusion, including Stanlake.

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New-look Australia brings back reverse swing



In a season where there hasn’t been much cheer for the Australia team, the sight of two inexperienced pacemen, Jason Behrendorff and Jhye Richardson, making sizeable inroads into India’s top order at the SCG will have been welcome.

Richardson took the Man-of-the-Match award for his 4 for 26 which included the scalp of Virat Kohli while Behrendorff bagged two wickets on his debut, Shikhar Dhawan in his first over and then MS Dhoni – albeit to a poor lbw decision – when India were threatening to make a game of it.

While it was the three wickets inside the opening fours overs, which put Australia in control, there was also a sight later in the innings, which will gladden the hearts of the home side: a hint of reverse swing. Quite how much depended on the bowlers – and a few of the Indian batsmen – but it was something the Test attack could not manage during the entirety of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

“Surprisingly, the ball was reversing quite a bit when these guys were bowling so to adjust to that is not really easy for the new batter,” Rohit Sharma said after his 133, which gave India a chance in the chase of 289.

“We are always looking to use as much of the wicket and ball to our advantage,” Behrendorff said as the teams arrived in Adelaide on Sunday. “The ball might have started to reverse a little, we got hit into the stands a few times which might have helped scuff up the ball. We do whatever we can, change of pace and cross-seam deliveries, to change it up.”

With Behrendorff’s height and left-arm angle and Richardson’s skiddy pace there were different challenges posed by Australia’s latest new-ball attack. Behrendorff pinned Dhawan lbw with his sixth delivery and Richardson beat Ambati Rayudu for pace having had a touch of fortune when Kohli clipped to square leg.

“I was actually disappointed when the ball came out, probably bowled a bit too straight but I had a fielder there who hung on to it so it is a wicket I will remember for a very long time,” Richardson said of Kohli’s scalp. “We understood that it wasn’t the quickest wicket in the world, so we knew when the ball goes a little softer later in the innings, when we turn the slower balls and change of pace and we thought it would be quite effective and we saw that at the end.”

While Richardson is having his second run in the ODI side following four matches against England last year, for Behrendorff his debut marked a high point after a battle with a back injury which ruled him out of most of 2017-18. He won’t feature in first-class cricket at all this season in an attempt to ensure long-term fitness, so it’s purely a while-ball game for him.

“It’s been a really tough road for the last three years but to focus on some white-ball cricket, get some continuity and then to get the opportunity to play for my country is unreal,” he said. “You can’t really ask for much more. I joked with a couple of people before the game that I’d love to take a wicket in my first over then it happened. One way to settle the nerves.”

There was a spring back in Australia’s step as they shifted focus to the second match of the series in Adelaide on Tuesday. “To know a relatively new team in the ODI set up is able to knock-off India was great,” Behrendorff said.

And there are bigger rewards ahead in a double World Cup and Ashes year. “Justin [Langer] has said it’s a great opportunity to be able to push your selection for the World Cup. But we’ve still got a lot of white-ball cricket between now and then,” Richardson said.

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