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Marnus Labuschagne nonplussed after making Ashes case on wild wicket

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Batsman and bowlers alike were left puzzled by a Southampton surface that seamed like a green top but dried out rapidly over day one of Australia’s lone Ashes warm-up while also providing variable bounce.

A ledger of 201 for 17 across the day hardly depicted a batting paradise, but nor was it exactly the sort of slow, seaming surface that the tourists can be expected to face against England over five Tests at Edgbaston, Lord’s, Headingley, Old Trafford and The Oval over the next two months. Marnus Labuschagne, the only batsman to pass 30 all day, and Jackson Bird, one of four pacemen to take three wickets or more, were united in their puzzlement.

“We were umming and ahhing this morning about what to do if we were going to bowl or bat,” Labuschagne said after making 41 out of 105 for his side. “I actually called Sam Northeast up in the change room and he was saying that on this wicket they tend to bat first because of the deterioration during the game. It’s really hard to tell – the conditions with the ball as well, there was plenty of swing and seam for pretty much the whole day, so I don’t really think it made too much of a difference batting first or second.

“The heavy roller probably did, over here it flattens it out a little bit for probably 30-40 minutes but towards the back end it was still pretty lively and going. It was just the dryness of the wicket, with the bowlers we had who did bowl a heavier ball into the wicket I think they got considerably more up and down out of the wicket than you would potentially in a championship game with the bowlers bowling a bit slower and a bit more sideways movement. But everyone you’ll see will adapt and hopefully get some runs in the second innings.”

Bird, who has played county cricket for Hampshire and Nottinghamshire in the past, said it was not like any pitch he had seen before in these parts. “It was a funny sort of wicket, you don’t really see this sort of wicket in England,” Bird said. “There was lots of live grass on it but the surface was really dry, so there was a bit of inconsistent bounce from the top end, and it nipped around a little bit as well with that inconsistent bounce, which made it hard. The wicket got a little bit better as the day went on, but the bowling all day was reasonably good.”

Where this all leaves Australia’s Ashes preparations is anyone’s guess, but suffice to say there were more than a few batsmen who would have preferred greater time in the middle, particularly given its dual status as a preparatory fixture and also a selection trial.

“This game is a very serious game and it’s one where we’re all looking to perform,” Labuschagne said. “As a whole squad everyone wants to score runs, take wickets and I think we’re getting the best out of each other by playing this hard cricket and its the best preparation for the upcoming tour.

“Facing the majority of the people out there bowling 130-140kph plus, facing the extra pace on a wicket that is going a little bit up and down, you need to make sure your ducks are in a row and your plans are in order. You wish as a batter it counted as 141 but no, 41 is still 41. In a low-scoring game those scores do help the team but from a personal view, it’s frustrating when someone does get in and doesn’t go on with it.”

As Labuschagne’s opponents, Bird complimented the Queensland No. 3 on his diligent planning for the surface. “He had a plan especially facing up to me, he came down the wicket and across to off stump and tried to take away getting bowled and lbw,” Bird said. “The wicket could nip and stay a little bit low so he took that mode of dismissal out and it seemed to work for him. Although he nicked one in the end but that happens sometimes. It was good to see him have a plan, he’s had a really strong start to the county championship season this year.”

Regarding the selection trial, with the final Ashes squad to be named at the end of the match, Bird admitted to more than a few unusual emotions. “It’s a weird situation that we haven’t been in before,” Bird said, “but everyone’s really embraced it the last week and it’s been really good to get in both teams in separate groups and I guess try to get the team camaraderie as much as you can in a weird situation.

“Our batters are world class as well, so anytime you get to come up against those guys it’s good for your confidence and good for honing your skills I guess. It was a poor day out for the batters but the bowlers took a lot out of it. I’m expecting the batting group to bounce back in the next three days.”



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Cricket to return to Commonwealth Games in 2022 with women’s T20s

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Cricket is set to make a reappearance at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) for the upcoming edition – Birmingham 2022 – with the top eight international women’s teams from among countries that come under the Commonwealth ambit competing in the T20 format over eight days, with all matches taking place at Edgbaston.

The game, then in the 50-over format, last featured in the CWG back in 1998, in Kuala Lumpur, with South Africa winning the gold medal after beating Australia in the final by four wickets.

“Today is an historic day and we are delighted to welcome the sport of cricket back to the Commonwealth Games,” Dame Louise Martin, president of the CWG Federation, said in a statement.

The ICC will lend support to the federation by overseeing the staging of the competition, apart from providing match officials.

ALSO READ: ICC working towards cricket in 2028 LA Olympics, says Mike Gatting

Amy Satterthwaite, the New Zealand women captain, was among the first to react after the news came out, calling it an “important milestone for the game”.

“To expose the women’s game to such a different global audience, and to be part of such a prestigious event such as the Commonwealth Games – it’s a huge boost at a time of real momentum,” she said. “Having the opportunity to play against countries we currently don’t usually compete with will be unique and only a good thing for the growth of the game.”

The growth of the game and it’s increasing popularity were major factor in the first-ever standalone ICC Women’s World T20 being staged in the Caribbean last November, with another edition set to be held in Australia in March 2020.

“This is a truly historic moment for women’s cricket and for the global cricket community, who were united in their support of this bid,” ICC’s chief executive Manu Sawhney said. “Women’s cricket continues to go from strength to strength, and we are delighted and honoured the Commonwealth Games Associations voted to include Women’s T20 cricket at Birmingham 2022.

“Fast and exciting, the T20 format is the perfect fit for the Commonwealth Games and offers another chance to showcase women’s cricket on the global stage as part of our ambitious plans to accelerate the growth of the game, whilst inspiring the next generation of cricketers. All the players who are lucky enough to compete at Birmingham 2022 will be part of a truly memorable experience.”



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Mohammad Hafeez joins Middlesex as AB de Villiers’ replacement | Cricket

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Mohammad Hafeez tweaks his moustache © Getty Images


Mohammad Hafeez has signed for Middlesex as AB de Villiers‘ replacement for three Vitality Blast games.

De Villiers’ initial stint finished with a victory against Surrey last week, but he will return to the club for the final two games of the group stage, and the knockouts if Middlesex qualify.

Hafeez has been playing in the Global T20 Canada – he hit 85 runs in five innings for Edmonton Royals – and is expected to be available for Wednesday’s game at Essex.

This will be Hafeez’s first stint in county cricket, though he did play club cricket in the Liverpool League in 2004 and 2005.

Hafeez retired from Test cricket in December, but remains available for white-ball internationals.

He was part of Pakistan’s World Cup squad, making 253 runs including a vital 84 against England at Trent Bridge, but was left off their central contracts list last week.

After reaching the knockouts once in the last ten seasons, Middlesex have had an impressive campaign, and sit second in the South Group with five games to play.

De Villiers’ shoes will be difficult to fill: in five innings for the club, he made 253 runs, striking at 191.66, including two scores of 88 not out and a 40-ball 64 to sign off against Surrey.

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New Zealand Cricket to introduce domestic contracts for women

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A wider pool of contracted players, extending to the domestic level for the first time, and a significant pay hike for centrally contracted New Zealand women players are among the key features of the new Women’s Master Agreement. When finalised, the agreement will replace the previous Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which was signed in 2016, and expired on July 31 this year.

Under the new agreement, reached in principle between New Zealand Cricket and the New Zealand Cricket Players Association, the number of contracted players will be 79 across three levels, up from 15 under the previous MoU, while the total player payment pool will comprise $4.136 million over three years, an annual payment of $1.38 million. The player payment pool in the previous MoU was $1.575 million for three years.

The number of centrally contracted players increases to 17, from 15 over the last three years, with pay ranging from $64,000 to $40,000 annually (inclusive of a retainer payment, retirement fund contribution and promotional payment). Players can also each earn up to $16,000 in match fees. Thus, a centrally contracted player could earn up to $80,000 annually (up from a maximum of $48,000 in the last MoU). In addition, centrally contracted players can participate in overseas T20 leagues in Australia, England and India, when not committed to international or Super Smash fixtures.

Under the new agreement, eight centrally contracted Development Players will earn a minimum of $7,500 for participating in NZC High Performance Programmes and two domestic competitions.

In the first-ever domestic contracts structure, 54 players (nine for each of the six major associations) will be on domestic competition agreements worth $3,250. The agreements will compensate players for their availability for the Super Smash and Hallyburton Johnstone competitions. Non-contracted players selected to play in a domestic competition will be paid an assembly fee.

According to a statement from the NZC, the model of the Women’s Master Agreement sought to provide a starting point for the eventual semi-professionalisation of the domestic game. The aim was also to help reduce the financial barriers for the players’ continued involvement in the women’s game, while retaining their ability to maintain their involvement in other vocations – an issue that emerged as a priority following discussions between the players and the NZCPA.

The new agreement was welcomed by the players. Amy Satterthwaite, the senior women’s captain, said the investment in domestic and developing players was an important step forward for the game in the country.

“I know people tend to focus on the White Ferns’ contracts but the investment in domestic and developing players is an important step forward for women’s cricket in New Zealand,” she said. “This is an agreement that recognises the need to grow the game at grassroots and domestic level in order to produce White Ferns who excel on the world stage.

“This means all White Ferns can now ply their trade as full-time professional cricketers as well as having the flexibility to participate in overseas leagues – which is a huge leap forward for all involved. With the ICC Women’s World Cup 2021 on the horizon, this will mean a great deal in terms of upskilling and training, and providing the best possible environment for preparing ourselves and the team.”

Batsman Suzie Bates hoped the new agreement would make the game more attractive for aspiring players. “From what I can see, it provides a great framework and starting point for the eventual semi-professionalisation of the women’s domestic game in New Zealand – and that’s probably the most important point in the entire agreement,” Bates said.



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