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Moeen Ali set for ‘short break’ from cricket after Lord’s omission

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Moeen Ali will take a short break from cricket after his omission from the England squad for the second Ashes Test at Lord’s this week.

Moeen struggled badly in the first Test of the series, taking 2 for 130 in Australia’s second innings on a turning pitch and twice being dismissed cheaply by Nathan Lyon, who has now dismissed him in nine of his last 11 innings against Australia.

He was left out of the squad for Lord’s in favour of Jack Leach, the Somerset left-arm spinner, and was expected to return to Worcestershire’s squads for the Vitality Blast.

ALSO READ: The triumphs and travails of Moeen Ali’s Test career

Instead, Worcestershire announced that he would be stepping away from cricket for a “short break” after a “hectic and high-intensity period of international cricket” before linking up with the county again.

Despite Moeen’s brief break, England’s captain Joe Root said that he remained integral to England’s long-term success, and backed him to bounce back after a spell in county cricket, just as he did against India last summer, when he returned to the side for the fourth Test at Southampton with a Player-of-the-Match-winning nine-wicket haul.

“I spent a good while chatting to Mo, making sure he understood where he’s at, and where we’re at in terms of getting him back to his best,” said Root. “We felt it was best for him to play some county cricket, and perform well for Worcestershire.

“Now, as he proved last summer, coming into that India series having a massive influence on it, there’s no reason why he can’t go back and do the same again, and try and force his way back into the squad.

“You know, he’s been a big part of English cricket and he’s done some fantastic things in a Test shirt. And it’s certainly not the last we’ll see of him, he’s a fine character, a great man and gives so much to this team. I’m sure that it won’t be long until you see him back involved.”

Worcestershire coach Alex Gidman said: “Mo is spending a little time away from the middle recharging his batteries and putting in some quality practice time which he feels he needs, and we completely respect. He has had an intense schedule of international cricket involving the ICC World Cup and the start of the Ashes.

“Mo loves playing for Worcestershire and he gives a lift to everyone in the dressing room when he comes back and plays for us. We saw at Trent Bridge [in the Blast] what he gives to us and we look forward to when he returns soon.”

The announcement, in addition to Adil Rashid’s season-ending shoulder injury, suggests that Leach is likely to be England’s spinner for much of the ongoing series – though it is possible Moeen could return for Sunday’s Championship match against Northamptonshire.

Leach told the BBC this week that he had been in conversation with Moeen after the squad announcement.

“Mo sent me a text wishing me all the best,” Leach said. “He said he hopes that I do really well. He’s been so supportive of me coming into this environment and helping me with my bowling. I actually told him to be ready for the third Test, so we had a little laugh.”



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ECB deny downplaying Blast amid fears for Hundred’s ticket sales

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The ECB has denied suggestions that it has attempted to play down the success of the T20 Blast.

Several counties were set to celebrate the competition’s ticket sales exceeding one million for the first time in 2019 when an apparent change to the reporting system saw the figure fall well short.

On August 31 – before the quarter-finals – the ECB reported sales figures (termed ‘total ground sales’) of 973,941 (up 14 percent from 2018) for the competition to date. The report also showed the overall attendance (872,104) when adjusted to take account of games abandoned due to poor weather (24 games were abandoned in 2019; just seven were lost in 2018) and the average attendance per game (8,550, up from 7,424 in 2018).

Ten days later, however, the ECB produced another report with the ‘total ground sales’ metric removed. They also did not add on the figures for the quarter-finals (which were 22,368) or finals day (which was 26,404). Had they been included, the sales figures would have broken the million mark for the first time. Instead, they only quoted the overall attendance – which is the figure adjusted to subtract sales for games subsequently abandoned due to poor weather – in the group stages.

An ECB spokesperson said the report was “consistent with how we reported numbers last year” and suggested “attendance is generally the standard [metric measured] in sport.” They also pointed out that, as the competition wore on, the overall attendance figure was deemed more accurate as the ‘total ground sales’ figure sometimes includes an estimate of the number of county members likely to attend. The ECB’s official figure for overall attendance at the Blast in 2019 – a figure that does not include tickets sold at rained-off games – is 920,000.

The reason for the discrepancy between the reports – and the reason why the ‘total ground sales’ metric was removed – remains unexplained. In a media release at the end of the season, the ECB quoted the number of tickets sold for Test cricket before Christmas 2018 without feeling the need to subtract the number subsequently refunded due to poor weather.

While it might seem odd that a governing body would seek to play down the success of one of its own competitions, some suggest that officials at the ECB are nervous that the perceived success of The Blast – the domestic T20 competition – might negate the need for a new competition, The Hundred, played utilising a new format of the game.

ALSO READ: The Hundred: It is coming, and there’s no going back from here

Any suggestion that the Blast’s success may have been downplayed will also do nothing to assuage the fears of those who fear the two competitions – The Blast and The Hundred – are effectively in competition with one another for spectator attention, sponsor revenue and broadcast interest.

“The Blast saw average attendances increase by 15 percent this year,” an ECB spokesperson said. “The ECB is committed to investing more than ever into the tournament next season to help continue its growth while dove-tailing with our other men’s and women’s fixtures to entertain core cricket fans and attract new fans to our game.”

The news emerges at a time when concerns are growing over likely ticket sales for The Hundred. ESPNcricinfo understands that, while the ECB is targeting 80 percent capacity at Hundred matches, their financial projections are based on the more realistic figures of 60 percent capacity. Some hosting venues fear they will struggle to reach 50 percent.

The problem stems, in part, from the scheduling of The Hundred. While the competition has been allocated the prime weeks of the summer, the decision to stage matches every day of the week – ostensibly to allow broadcasters an opportunity to fill their schedules – is creating challenges for the venues. Sales for matches early in the week – on Monday and Tuesday nights, in particular – are thought likely to prove most problematic. By contrast, most counties are reporting satisfaction with their Blast fixture schedule in 2020. The initial allocation of tickets for Finals Day has already sold out.

Plans to put tickets for The Hundred on sale this month have been delayed so it doesn’t clash with attempts to sell next year’s international fixtures. Hundred tickets may now not go on sale until close to the start of the 2020 domestic season.

The ECB are set to claim that The Hundred will make a profit in its first year. The competition will, they say, gross £51million in its first year (a figure that includes £36.5million from the home broadcast deal, £4million from the overseas broadcast deal, £4million from sponsorship and £6.5million from ticket sales) against costs of £35million.

But, ESPNcricinfo understands, their costs exclude the £1.3million fee – £23.4million overall – guaranteed to each county. With those costs included, the competition is not currently projected to make a profit in its first five years, though it could break even in year five. To be fair to the ECB, T20 leagues around the world have struggled to achieve profitability in their first few years, with even the IPL taking until 2018 – ten years after its inception – to deliver profits to all its teams.



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Sarfaraz Ahmed sacked as Pakistan’s Test and T20I captain

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Sarfaraz Ahmed has been sacked as Pakistan’s Test and T20I captain ahead of the November-December tour of Australia, and has also been dropped from both the teams following a run of poor form in the two formats. In his place, Azhar Ali has been named the Test captain and Babar Azam leader of the T20I side. Sarfaraz will, however, continue to lead Pakistan’s ODI side.

Azhar’s appointment is for the 2019-20 World Test Championship matches, while Babar will be in charge of the T20I side till at least the men’s T20 World Cup in Australia late next year.

Sarfaraz’s dismissal follows a dismal run for Pakistan, who are currently at No. 7 in the ICC Test rankings. In their most recent Test series, they were swept 3-0 away in South Africa in December-January, and, prior to that, had lost a three-Test series at ‘home’ in the UAE 2-1 to New Zealand. In T20Is too, Pakistan suffered an embarrassing 3-0 defeat at home earlier this month in Lahore in the hands of a Sri Lanka side without a number of their top players.

Ehsan Mani, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s chairman, called the decision to sack Sarfaraz from the two formats as a “difficult” one.

“It has been a difficult decision to drop Sarfaraz Ahmed, who has performed well as a player and a leader,” Mani said in a statement released by the PCB. “But, his loss in form and confidence is visible and, in the best interest of the team, it has been decided to leave him out and provide him the opportunity to reflect and regroup himself and try to reclaim his form away from international cricket.

“Sarfaraz Ahmed’s contributions are second to none and being the gutsy cricketer and fighter that we all know he is, I have no doubts he will be back in Pakistan colours at some stage.”

Pakistan did win five of their nine games at the 50-over World Cup in England and Wales this year, and only failed to qualify for the knockouts because of New Zealand’s superior net run-rate, and have since beaten Sri Lanka 2-0 in a three-ODI series in Karachi, results that have helped Sarfaraz hold on to the job in the format.

“It has been an honour to lead Pakistan at the highest level. I want to thank all my colleagues, coaches and selectors who have helped me in this journey. My good wishes are with Azhar Ali, Babar Azam and the Pakistan cricket team, and I hope they will continue to grow stronger and stronger,” Sarfaraz said.

Azhar is a veteran of 73 Tests, in which he has 5669 runs, and is second on the list of highest run-getters in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam first-class tournament in Pakistan with 388 runs in four matches.

“There is no bigger honour than to captain the Pakistan national cricket team in the pinnacle format of the game,” he said. “I feel humbled, excited and privileged, and with the support of the team, look forward to justifying the faith that has been entrusted upon me for the World Test Championship.

“Sarfaraz Ahmed has done an excellent job in transforming raw talent into experienced players and I now look forward to inspiring those skillful players in our endeavours to collectively achieve our World Test Championship objectives and beyond. These are exciting times in Pakistan cricket with a new team management. As a captain, I feel comfortable that there will be number of knowledgeable people in the hut who I can rely for advice and guidance.

“I am not only targeting wins, but also aim to provide opportunities to players to grow in stature and express themselves so that Pakistan cricket can resume its journey to the top. I have always played my cricket the hard way but in a fair manner, and will ensure I continue to uphold the spirit of cricket and enhance the image of the team and the country.”

Babar, meanwhile, also has a tough job in his hands despite being handed the reins of the No. 1 side in T20Is – he is the No. 1 batsman in the world in the format too – but he called the elevation “the biggest thing” to have happened in his career.

“To be named captain of the No. 1-ranked side in the world is the biggest thing that has happened to my career to date,” he said. “I am ready for this challenge and also willing to learn more in the process. I feel it has been a natural progression for me and I am delighted that the PCB has put faith in my capabilities.

“Sarfaraz Ahmed has led the side in the shortest format by example and it is my responsibility to take forward his accomplishments so that we remain a consistent, attractive and powerful side.”



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Recent Match Report – New South Wales vs Tasmania, Sheffield Shield, 4th Match

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Stumps Tasmania 6 for 258 (Webster 65, Doolan 58, Silk 41, Starc 2-36, Abbott 2-50) v New South Wales

An impressive late spell from Mitchell Starc helped give New South Wales the honours on the opening day against Tasmania in the rearranged fixture at Drummoyne Oval in Sydney.

Starc, who claimed just one wicket in the opening-round match against Queensland, removed Test team-mate Matthew Wade during the afternoon and then found some reverse swing with the old ball, pinning Caleb Jewell lbw with a wicked yorker shortly before stumps.

Worse was to follow for Tasmania whenBeau Webster, who came into the Tasmania side at the expense of George Bailey, was run out for a studious 65 as Sean Abbott came across from his follow through to intercept Tim Paine’s nudge to the off side to leave the visitors on 6 for 254.

The match was moved to Drummoyne from the SCG earlier this week and a surface that had only had a few days of preparation did not offer much of anything to any of the bowlers. But New South Wales worked hard to keep the run rate in control and after a wicketless opening session claimed three in each of the next two.

They had made a tough selection call in the morning leaving out Harry Conway despite his career-best figures of 10 for 56 at the Gabba last week, opting for a five-man attack with two spinners, as Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe both played their first matches of the season.

Having gone in with one batsman less, they were then hit with a blow when Kurtis Patterson re-injured his quad chasing a ball to the boundary and it remains to be seen how much of a part he will play over the next three days.

Barely a ball beat the bat during the opening session as Jordan Silk and Alex Doolan lay the foundation before New South Wales started to make inroads after lunch. Abbott produced an excellent six-over spell to remove both openers through catches to first slip.

Wade couldn’t take the opportunity of the strong base and friendly batting conditions to bolster his tally ahead of Test selection. Facing Starc, another man who needs to nudge the selectors early season, he attempted to pull a very wide delivery and toe-ended to mid-off for an ugly dismissal.

The credit in the bank of two Ashes hundreds will probably be enough for Wade to retain his spot – not least because there are form and injury issues with some of the contenders – but he will want a substantial score over the next week or so.

At 3 for 146 in conditions offering very little for the bowlers, New South Wales were handily placed and they could have made another incision after tea when Steven Smith spilled Ben McDermott at slip off Lyon on 24. That miss only cost 14 runs, however, with McDermott falling to a horrid top edge as he aimed to swing Lyon over the leg side.



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