India head coach Ravi Shastri wants his team to leave behind a legacy like West Indies and Australia did in the past. He also called reports of a rift between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma “nonsense”, and said it was important to “get behind the team and be positive rather than try and create any trouble”.
Shastri’s comments came after India’s series sweep in the Caribbean, where they blanked West Indies in all three formats, denying the hosts even a solitary win in the T20Is, ODIs and Tests. “This kind of consistency I have not seen any time,” Shastri, who was recently given an extension in the job until the 2021 T20 World Cup, told Gulf News. “This team has an opportunity to do great things. We have a legacy like the West Indies did in the eighties and Australia did at the turn of the century. This team, too, has an opportunity to leave that kind of legacy, and they are already doing it.”
What gives Shastri the belief that Kohli’s India can match the feats of Clive Lloyd’s West Indies and Australian teams lead by Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting? Overseas performances. Apart from the West Indies, India have won Test series in Sri Lanka and Australia, the latter a historic 2-1 triumph earlier this year, during Shastri’s tenure.
“Look at how we have performed in T20, one-dayers and Tests, and even in the big ICC tournaments, it is unbelievable,” he said. “People used to say earlier that we only perform at home and we don’t do anything abroad. Now they are saying the opposite as wherever they are going they are performing.”
India have been No. 1 in the ICC’s Test rankings since October 2016, and were favourites at the recent ODI World Cup, alongside hosts England. India’s World Cup campaign, however, was ended by a semi-final loss to New Zealand, following a top-order collapse. Incidentally, India, currently ranked No. 2 on the ODI rankings, had failed to clear the semi-finals at the 2015 World Cup, too.
In T20Is, India are fourth in the ICC rankings. They won seven straight T20I series, including the four-team Nidahas Trophy, between November 2017 to November 2018, a streak that included away wins in South Africa (2-1), Ireland (2-0) and England (2-1), but they lost series in New Zealand and at home against Australia.
Addressing recent reports of differences between Kohli and Rohit, Shastri said India India would not have performed the way they have if there was a rift between the two, neither would the pair have scored as freely as they have in recent series.
“Listen, I have been around the dressing room for the last five years. I have seen how the boys have played and how they have complemented the team and know their work ethics. I feel it is absolute nonsense (reports of a rift). I have been there with them and I know the way they play. If that was the case why would Rohit get five hundreds in the World Cup? Why would Virat do what he is doing? How would they have partnerships together?
“In a side when you have 15 players there will always be times when there will be opinions that will be different. That is what is needed. I don’t want everyone toeing the same line. You have got to have discussions and someone might then think of a fresh strategy, which has to be encouraged. So you have to give the guys the opportunity to express themselves and then decide what is best. Sometimes it might be the junior-most player in the team who may come up with a strategy which we hadn’t even thought of and we need to bring that to the table. So these should not be seen as a conflict.”
‘Test cricket is the best and most rewarding form of cricket’ – Jos Buttler
Jos Buttler admits that he cannot continue to be picked on “potential” alone at Test level, after being retained in England’s squad for next month’s tour of Sri Lanka despite an off-colour showing during the recent Test series in South Africa.
In the midst of an otherwise upbeat run of performances from England’s new-look Test team, Buttler’s form was a notable exception. He mustered 115 runs in seven innings, with a highest score of 29 – a run that evoked a similar collapse in red-ball confidence on the tour of UAE in 2015-16, after which he played just three more Tests in the next three years.
And in the wake of England’s 3-1 series win, there was inevitable speculation about Buttler’s future as a Test cricketer – especially given his integral importance to England’s white-ball fortunes, both in winning last year’s World Cup on home soil and in challenging for three more titles in the next three years: back-to-back 20-over World Cups in Australia and India this winter and next, before the defence of England’s 50-over title in 2023, by which stage he may well be the white-ball captain.
Buttler himself, however, insists he still has the drive to succeed in Test cricket, which he describes as “the best form of the game”, and says that, despite a Test record that now comprises a solitary century in 73 innings, at an average of 31.74, he retains the “massive self-belief” required to become a world-class player across all three formats.
“I’m very committed to Test cricket,” Buttler said. “It’s the best form of the game, it’s the hardest form of the game. That’s what makes it – when you have good moments – the most rewarding. You want to be a part of that.
“My performances may have meant that decision would be taken out of my hands. But fortunately for me I’m on the tour [to Sri Lanka] and really excited about it. I enjoyed the last tour there that we won back in November 2018. I’ve got good memories from that tour and looking forward to going back.”
Though he finished the South Africa tour on a relative high, with a 23-ball fifty in England’s series-clinching victory in the third T20I, Buttler acknowledged that his form throughout the tour had not been where he wanted it to be. However, he insisted it was an “easy assumption” to put that down to any sense of a post-World Cup hangover.
“I’ve got massive self-belief in myself. I’m too old now to get picked on potential but I feel that I haven’t got to the level I know I can get to, and that’s a big driver for me”
Instead, he insisted that the challenge of “managing your energy” was something that all the world’s top players had to get their heads around as they seek to make the most of their finite years at the top level of the sport.
“Definitely a lot went into the World Cup, not just that summer but for four years,” Buttler said. “Probably the realisation of it coming together and achieving that, it confuses you a little bit – that’s been your clear cut-off for a long time, then that’s done. So you’ve got to quickly reassess.
“But at the same time, I maintain I just haven’t played as well as I’d like and that’s through decision-making, probably.”
There’s no let-up in Buttler’s 2020 schedule. He sets off for Sri Lanka with the Test squad in early March before linking up with Rajasthan Royals in the IPL immediately after the conclusion of the second Test in the first week of April. Then he returns to England for three Tests against West Indies in June, by which stage the inaugural season of the Hundred will be coming into view. Further international engagements against Australia and Pakistan will complete the English summer, by which stage the T20 World Cup will be looming large. It promises to be a lot of chopping and changing if Buttler truly believes he can compete on all fronts.
“I think trying to manage your energy, it’s actually a real skill of the best players around the world,” he said. “Learning how to peak at the time you walk to the middle is a massive skill that comes with experience, but you can learn that from watching guys go about it and trying to work out how you do that authentically for yourself.
“Of course you need to find breaks in your schedule, because your mind is your biggest asset, and you need to make sure you can bring that to the best place when you turn up to games of cricket. But there’s a crop of guys who are the best players in the world and they’re the best players across all the formats.
“I’ve got massive self-belief in myself, and a lot of it is about fulfilling potential,” he added. “I’m too old now to get picked on potential but I feel that I haven’t got to the level I know I can get to, and that’s a big driver for me. That’s my aim every time I turn up to practice, to try and get better and try and reach that level I am capable of. I’ve always maintained that belief.”
Instead of the prospect of any outright rest, Buttler believes that a change will do him just as much good, and said that the chance to cut loose in the recent T20I series came as a “big relief” after a run of ten Tests in a row against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
“I love T20 cricket and it allows you to go out without as many consequences and you can take more risks and move the game on,” he said. “To play in that white-ball team again was great because that is the most fun team I have played in for a long time, so that was a great change up.
“I can’t think of any times I’ve played well in Test cricket and gone out and been really aggressive in the way I do in the white-ball game,” he added. “In white-ball cricket it might look like risky shots but it doesn’t feel like a risk because of the way you break down the probabilities of the game.
“The same is the case in Test cricket, it is about risk management I think. And it is about managing your time when you are waiting to bat. You’ve got to be aware of what is going on in the game but it is about saving energy as well.
“Maybe if I look back to when I first lost my place in the Test team, I probably listened to too many people,” he added. “Everyone’s got an opinion on how you should play, and if you’re not good with how you manage that, you can confuse yourself, which I certainly did four or five years ago.
“Maybe in South Africa I did that a little bit in terms of, after the first game, thinking I’m going to come out and counter-attack. When actually, you’ve just got to play the situation in front of you and react best and, as an individual, play how you see best according to that. I maybe didn’t do that as well as I would have liked.
“The main skill, and the biggest one that I do well when I’m at my best, is making sure that when I walk out to bat I access being in my zone, whether I’ve been waiting for six hours or just have a 10-minute turnaround in a T20.
“When I walk out to bat, if I’m in the best frame of mind, that allows me to perform. And looking forward to Sri Lanka. I will try and do more of committing to my way, whether it’s trying to block 1000 balls or slog 1000 balls. If that’s what I want to try and do, I’ll do it.”
DJ Rabada in the house: Kagiso Rabada is on song again – with help from Dad
When Kagiso Rabada earned his fourth active demerit point in a 24-month period and was suspended from the final Test against England last month, his father sent him a little something to make him feel better and it’s not what you might expect.
“I sent him a song about the ICC. To cheer him up,” Dr Mpho Rabada said, at the launch of his new track, Ska Chechella Morago, a collaboration with family friend and music student Motswedi Modiba at the Red Bull Studios in Cape Town.
The song was inspired by the idea of being able to take flight and its message of positivity is quite unlike the one Rabada senior composed on the fly when he heard that his son had fallen foul of the game’s governing body again. Neither of the Rabadas would share the content but Mpho Rabada said it was “quite hilarious,” and hoped that “maybe one day,” his son would release it. Judging by the look on Kagiso Rabada’s face it will be a long time before that happens. But, asked if he could sing something to the ICC, Rabada brightened up and offered a few chords. “Please don’t judge me,” he started, before the room gave way to giggles.
At least everyone could see the lighter side of what has been a tough summer for South African cricket and Kagiso Rabada, who, at 24 years old, is already five years into his international career. In that time, injuries to more experienced quicks meant that he was quickly elevated to leader of the pack while he was trying to find a level of aggression that intimidated opposition but did not tip him over the ICC’s code of conduct edge.
It’s little wonder he needs an outlet off the field and he has found it on the turntables. “Music has always been a part of me and my family. It’s something to get away and just think about something else,” Rabada Jnr said.
His father shares a passion for the beat and the pair spend time together experimenting with sounds, mixing tracks and seeing what happens. That’s where Modiba comes in. She is the daughter of Mpho Rabada’s best friend and an aspiring singer, who is influenced by gospel music. While Modiba and Mpho have taken the step up and released a single, Kagiso has been working with DJ Da Capo on some house music, which the pair have yet to put the finishing touches on, given their busy schedules.
So for now, music remains a hobby for Kagiso Rabada, and a motivator as he goes about trying to get the South African team and his own performances back on track. Like many sportsmen, he can be spotted with headphones on when he gets off the team bus; most of the time, he is listening to traditional tunes. “For me to get inspiration, that comes from tribal music, African tribal. That gets me going, the different sounds, the chants, it’s like I am bonding with my ancestors,” he said.
With music such an important part of his process, it’s not a surprise that he bonds with the crowd at St George’s Park, famed for their brass band. Last Sunday, when South Africa beat Australia in a tense T20 to square the series and Rabada bowled a decisive penultimate over, he could feel the fans acting as a 12th man.
“The atmosphere was really electric. That was the first time in a while where I actually felt the crowd, other than being at the Wanderers,” he said. “The Wanderers is my favourite ground because of the electrical atmosphere. Yesterday was similar to what I felt at the Wanderers, it was a sell-out and the band came out and we were in it together.”
That is a rarity in South Africa, especially this season, when most of the spectators were traveling English supporters. During the white-ball games that changed, with capacity crowds of mostly local supporters and it is set to stay that way for the deciding T20 against Australia on Wednesday and the three ODIs that follow.
Generally, though, South Africans don’t fill out cricket grounds and Kagiso Rabada thinks the team’s performances have something to do with it. “We have to win and we have to entertain the crowd,” he said “People need to feel an interest towards the game, even more of an interest than they feel already, to want to go the stadium and witness international cricket. If they realise that the skill level is going up, the professionalism is going up and they are going to be entertained, they might come.”
Though South Africa’s results have been poor of late, even when they were No.1 in the world Test crowds were thin, which could be attributed to anything from lack of interest to lack of time to lack of marketing. Cricket South Africa has been embroiled in various crises since the failed T20 Global League almost three years ago and has lost major sponsors. At best, they have appeared out of touch with their audience, at worst, uninterested.
Kagiso Rabada spent time last week experiencing the opposite when he traveled to the NBA All-Star game. While his highlight was seeing LeBron James because he “admires watching other sportsmen doing well in their craft,” he also saw first-hand how a sport can speak the same language as its supporters.
“What fascinated me the most was how it’s marketed and how it’s really fresh and they keep with the times,” he said. “It’s got everybody talking about it. It doesn’t have an age barrier. If you are older, you can go there and feel young because that energy is electrifying. Music and sport go together in America, the in-thing is trap music and the hip culture. It just feels as if the culture is so inviting and they are always staying on top of it. There is tradition, yes but they keep with the times.”
Sounds like a message to cricket to get the DJs in and they know the Rabada household has a few they can start with.
Recent Match Report – Australia A vs England Lions Only unofficial Test 2020
Australia A 176 (Wildermuth 50*, Carse 3-50, Robinson 3-66) and 5 for 180 (Maddinson 52) trail England Lions 428 by 72 runs
England Lions closed in on a convincing win in their four-day game against Australia A, enforcing the follow-on as their seamers continued to impress at the MCG.
Resuming on 5 for 103, Josh Inglis continued to hold proceedings up alongside Jack Wildermuth before he was bowled by Ollie Robinson, and the wickets then came easily for the Lions, Brydon Carse and allrounder Tom Abell taking two apiece as the lower order offered limited resistance. Wildermuth did complete a 10th first-class fifty, but was left stranded as wickets fell around him.
Keaton Jennings did not hesitate to enforce the follow-on, and his faith in his attack was immediately rewarded as Craig Overton trapped Usman Khawaja lbw in the first over. Nic Maddinson, the Sheffield Shield’s form batsman, made a quickfire 52 before falling to the same bowler, and then offspinner Dom Bess struck twice in as many overs to leave the hosts teetering at 4 for 85.
Robinson removed Inglis for the second time in the day before rain brought proceedings to an early close, and despite Kurtis Patterson’s resistance, the stage was set for the Lions to wrap up a win on the final day.
“We’ve had another good day in the field but we know there’s still work to be done tomorrow if we’re to win the game,” said Jennings. “Patterson and Wildermuth are good batsmen and I’m sure they’ll do everything they can to frustrate us and take the game as deep as possible.
“Our bowling throughout the day was generally good and even when decent partnerships started to form we held our nerve to take advantage of any breakthrough and put the Australian batsmen under pressure. Winning any game in Australia is difficult, so hopefully we can push on to victory tomorrow.”
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