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Punjab win five-way qualification race despite defeat

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On the final day of the group stage, Maharashtra and Punjab (Group C), Delhi and Jharkhand (Group E) filled the last four spots for the Super League round of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2019-20. They joined Karnataka and Baroda from Group A, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan from Group B, and Mumbai and Haryana from Group D for the next stage, which will be followed by semi-finals and the final.

Punjab win a five-way race despite defeat

Till Sunday, six out of eight teams in group C were tied on 16 points. On Monday, Azim Kazi and captain Rahul Tripathi’s unbeaten half-centuries helped Maharashtra beat Punjab to take them to the top with 20 points. Railways also had a chance to join them but they faltered against Himachal Pradesh, leaving five teams – Punjab, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Hyderabad and Railways themselves – tied on the second spot with 16 points each.

If there were only two teams tied on points, the winner of the head-to-head contest would have qualified for the next round. But in this case, that particular playing condition didn’t apply, and Punjab made the cut on the virtue of their superior run-quotient.

After opting to field, Punjab had Maharashtra on 90 for 4 in the 12th over but Kazi (71* off 36) and Tripathi (63* off 27) added 111 in just 48 balls in an unbroken fifth-wicket stand to propel them to 201 for 4. Punjab’s captain Mandeep Singh led the chase with 67 off 49 balls but there wasn’t much support from the other batsmen. In the end, Punjab could manage only 156 for 7 and fell short by 45 runs.

In the Railways-Himachal Pradesh game, Nitin Sharma (76 off 51) and Prashant Chopra (47 off 30) helped Himachal to 193 for 4. Mrunal Devdhar (26 off 15) started well for Railways but once he was dismissed, the chase fell apart. Railways eventually stuttered to 139 for 9, losing the game – and the qualification spot – by 54 runs.

Delhi prevail, Jammu & Kashmir fail

The equation was relatively simple in group E. Jharkhand with 22 points were at the top, with Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir tied on 18 points with a match in hand.

Delhi beat Odisha by 20 runs on the back of Lalit Yadav’s three-wicket haul. After opting to bat, Delhi made 149 for 6, with Shikhar Dhawan top-scoring with a 33-ball 35. In response, Odisha were all out for 129 in 18.1 overs. Apart from Lalit, Nitish Rana and Pawan Negi also chipped in with two wickets each.

Had Jammu & Kashmir won their game against Gujarat, they also would have been on 22 points, making it a three-way tie at the top with NRR becoming the deciding factor. But they crumbled against Chintan Gaja and Hardik Patel and were dismissed for 101. Gujarat then knocked down the target in just 13.3 overs. Jammu & Kashmir’s defeat meant Jharkhand also made it to the next round.

In other games on Monday, Haryana trounced Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh eked out a narrow win against Puducherry and Bengal defeated Assam but none of those results had any bearing on the qualification scenarios.



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West Indies striving to balance power and strike-rotation

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The stars are aligning for West Indies’ T20 World Cup defence. Phil Simmons, who had coached them to the title more than three years ago, is back at the helm. Kieron Pollard has taken over the limited-overs captaincy, Lendl Simmons is back in form, and Dwayne Bravo has come out of retirement, making himself available for T20I selection next year. Then, there are exciting talents from the CPL like Brandon King and Hayden Walsh Jr.

West Indies’ ODI side, however, is searching for some stability in a transitional phase. In the 50-overs World Cup earlier this year, they went either cray-cray or so very quiet. As a result, they finished second from last on the World Cup points table, with just two wins from nine games.

When they stuck to this lop-sided ODI approach against England and Australia, they wound up losing from winning positions. In Southampton, West Indies were 144 for 3 in the 30th over. While boundaries weren’t a problem, they couldn’t quite rotate the strike enough to keep the scorecard ticking.

A fairly well-set Shimron Hetmyer miscued a drive down the ground and Carlos Brathwaite swished and nicked off, adding to West Indies’ irreparable collapse. They gave up their last seven wickets for 67 runs to be bundled out for 212, with more than five overs unused in their innings.

Earlier in the tournament, against Australia, West Indies had been in a similar position – 149 for 3 – in pursuit of 289, but they were eventually pinned down to 273 for 9. The likes of Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, and Jason Holder found the boundary semi-regularly, but the rest of the West Indies batsmen struggled to rotate the strike.

All told, West Indies had a dot-ball percentage of 57.7 in the 50-overs World Cup. In order to address this issue and tighten the middle order, West Indies roped in allrounder Roston Chase, who had been ignored for the World Cup.

The 27-year-old offspin-bowling allrounder made an immediate impact, playing a starring role in West Indies securing their first ODI series win in more than five years, against Afghanistan.

ALSO READ: ‘I see myself as someone who can be the No.1 allrounder some day’ – Chase

Batting at No.3 in the ODI series opener against Afghanistan in Lucknow, Chase shepherded West Indies’ pursuit of 195 on a sluggish track, with an assured 94 off 115 balls. Then, in the third ODI, Chase floated down to No. 7 and made a rapid 32-ball 42 to help West Indies overhaul Afghanistan’s 249. Chase was also at it with the ball, finding drift and turn to provide West Indies with vital breakthroughs.

Pollard conceded that Chase’s selection was a “left-field” one, but was particularly impressed with the flexibility he has added to the line-up. Chase’s strong form, Pollard said, could allow West Indies to play an extra batsman or a bowler depending on the conditions.

“I think he brings balance to the whole team,” Pollard said at the pre-match press conference. “He’s first of all a Test batsman – he has Test hundreds – and that in itself is a great asset for us. Having a guy who bats in the middle order in Test cricket coming in and in one-day cricket can do any role.

“Given that, he can bowl as well, it gives an opportunity to play an extra bowler or an extra allrounder or an extra batter. So, he has been very valuable for us. We saw his talents and we’re trying to exploit what we can give for himself as he can up there in terms of being the No.1 allrounder in the world. And no better way than the opportunity to do it. He has come in [as] a left-field selection, but that’s something that has worked for us.”

Another West Indies batsman who is more known for his stickability than muscle is wicketkeeper-batsman Shai Hope. The 26-year-old has been in stellar form in ODI cricket in the last two years, hitting 2023 runs in 44 innings at an average of 56.19 and a strike-rate of 76.71. Hope is a batsman in the mould of India’s Ajinkya Rahane, who is technically compact and can play some glorious drives, but doesn’t quite have the higher gears.

However, the likes of Nicholas Pooran, Hetmyer and Pollard have the higher gears and the bigger shots. So, West Indies need to strike the balance between power and strike-rotation if they’re to topple India.

“We have sat and discussed how we want to go about in the middle overs – both batting and bowling,” Pollard said. “Obviously, you can’t [me] expect to tell you what exactly the plan will be. But, we have sat and discussed how we want to play and play this format. So, the guys are aware of their roles and responsibilities. It’s a matter of them going out and executing their roles.”

West Indies will also have to contend with the conditions – both overhead and underfoot – in the ODI series opener in Chennai. Rain has lashed Chennai in the days leading up to the game and wet weather even interrupted West Indies’ training session on Saturday. West Indies are also sweating over Evin Lewis’ fitness. The in-form opener had been stretchered off the field in Mumbai and is recovering from a soft tissue injury is his right knee.

West Indies haven’t been able to field a full-strength side in the past few years due to various factors. But, despite that, the T20I side dug deep into its reserves and challenged India. Can the ODI side now veer away from the old lop-sided approach and spring a surprise against Virat Kohli’s men?



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Mark Boucher appointed South Africa head coach till 2023

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Mark Boucher has been announced as the new head coach of the South Africa men’s cricket team on a four-year deal, running till 2023, with Enoch Nkwe, who was the interim team director, taking up the role of assistant coach.

“I have brought Boucher on board because I feel he will bring the toughness to turn a young and inexperienced Proteas squad into a battle-ready outfit,” Graeme Smith, the newly-appointed CSA acting director of cricket, said. “With his experience of a long career as an international cricketer he has first hand experience of what it takes to succeed in the Test arena.

“I have the highest regard for Enoch as well and I want to create a clear path for him to grow into a top international coach. At the same time there is a clear need to maintain continuity and stability in the Proteas management team and we will be retaining the technical support staff along with Volvo Masubelele continuing as team manager and Justin Ontong as fielding coach.

“I will be appointing batting and bowling consultants, and these will be announced in the next couple of days.”

More to follow…



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Ricky Ponting picks Pat Cummins, Chris Woakes to ‘go for big money’ at IPL auction

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Pat Cummins and Chris Woakes “could go for big money” at the IPL auction on December 19, according to Delhi Capitals head coach Ricky Ponting.

Cummins, No. 1 and No. 5 in the ICC rankings for Test and ODI bowlers respectively, was part of the Delhi franchise in 2017, where he topped their wicket-taking chart with 15 strikes from 12 games with an economy rate of 8.07. He has set himself a base price of INR 2 crore (US$ 282,900 approx.) this time.

Woakes, who has earlier been part of Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore, has set his his base price at INR 1.5 crore (US$ 212,195 approx.).

ALSO READ: Where do the eight franchises stand before the 2020 auction?

“There’s going to be a lot of focus and attention on fast bowlers, overseas ones in particular. Pat Cummins could go for big money, as could Chris Woakes,” Ponting said in a Capitals statement. “Allrounders are always interesting in my opinion. Players like Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Marsh, Jimmy Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme could all be big picks.”

They weren’t the only ones Ponting picked to do well in the auction – perhaps even suggesting that his team might try to acquire them – with a number of allrounders, according to him, likely to be on the franchises’ radar.

Ponting also welcomed the addition of R Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane to the Capitals’ ranks, saying the two senior India cricketers will “bring tremendous experience with them”.

Rahane and Ashwin, two big-ticket Indian players have already joined the Capitals during the trade window to bolster their top-order batting and spin bowling. “They are the kind of players who are likely to do well on the [Ferozshah] Kotla wicket, and of course, bring tremendous experience with them.”

Capitals, who have 14 players and go into the auction with 11 available slots – six Indian and five overseas – have INR 27.85 crore (US$ 3,939,760 approx.) to spend at the auction.

“Going into the auction you have to be very specific about the kind of players you need,” Ponting said. “For instance, we’ve got three openers [Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw], so we don’t need to look for one. You need to identify the problem areas in your starting eleven, and essentially plug the gaps.

“We’ve had several discussions over the last few months, and have put in a lot of time and effort to make sure that we’re well prepared. You can do all the planning in the world, but at the auction table, the unpredictable always happens.”

The Capitals have never won the IPL, with final-four finishes in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2019, the last season, their best performances to date.

“The semi-final loss against Chennai [Super Kings] was disappointing of course,” Ponting said of the 2019 season. “But we played some great cricket, and even now, about 7-8 months after the tournament, I feel like there were times when we were the best team in the competition.

“I just remember how much fun everybody had. It was a totally different environment than most other IPLs that I have been a part of. The idea is to recreate that atmosphere and culture with our new and existing bunch of players.”



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