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Moeen Ali ‘takes break’ from Test cricket as he misses out on full ECB contract

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Moeen Ali will miss England’s two Tests in New Zealand in November, and may also be omitted from the red-ball leg of the South Africa tour in December and January, after requesting a break from Test cricket in the wake of a gruelling English season.

The news came as Moeen was omitted from England’s list of centrally contracted Test players for the 12 months to September 2020, which was announced on Friday at Lord’s by England’s director of cricket, Ashley Giles.

Although he retains his white-ball contract, and will be a central part of England’s plans for the World T20 in Australia next year, this was the first time since 2014-15, the year of his England debut, that Moeen had been overlooked for the top tier of ECB contracts – a run that reflects the amount of international cricket, 186 matches in all formats, that he had been playing in the preceding five years.

“It’s just to get away from it a little bit. I feel like I want to enjoy my batting and this will give me a bit of a break,” Moeen told ESPNcricinfo on the eve of T20 Finals Day at Edgbaston, where he is hoping to captain Worcestershire to back-to-back titles in the Vitality Blast.

“I want to spend some time with the family. I’ve been playing for England for five years and it’s been quite tough. The intensity is obviously higher in Test cricket so this is just to give me a break and then we will see what happens after that.

“I’m not ruling out playing Test cricket in the future. I’ve had long chats and thought about it quite a lot. I just want to give myself a bit of time to refresh my batteries and see where it goes after that.”

Speaking at Lord’s, Giles was equally keen to stress that Moeen’s decision did not spell the end of his 60-Test career – a period in which he has claimed 181 wickets, second only to Graeme Swann among English spinners this century.

However, Giles did indicate that Test retirement had been discussed during their conversations, as Moeen came to terms with a disappointing summer in which he was dropped after England’s defeat in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston, having already lost his starting berth in the World Cup-winning team.

“For all the guys, not just Moeen, it’s been a really challenging summer,” Giles said. “A World Cup and an Ashes back-to-back has had a massive effect on many of these guys psychologically, as much as physically. And some of those guys are still carrying [those issues], one of them being Moeen.

“His experience in the first [Ashes] Test wasn’t a great one, but that’s cricket. He’s has been a great servant for his team. And that’s why I encouraged him to leave that option open to come back. He might just need to go away and freshen up. But he’s been a really good servant for this team. And he’s still relatively young.”

England are due to tour Sri Lanka for two Tests in March and April, a country where Moeen last year claimed 18 wickets at 24.50 as part of a successful three-spinner attack, and that could, in theory, be an obvious time for him to return to the fray.

However, with Jack Leach established as England’s first-choice spinner and with a new coach likely to be in place by that date, Moeen’s decision to step back from Test cricket comes with obvious risk – especially at a time when England have signalled their intention to redouble their focus on the format after a four-year cycle in which it played second fiddle to the needs of the white-ball squad.

“The two Tests in New Zealand are not part of the World Test Championship, but actually they form a really important part of the build-up process to South Africa, which is a series that we’ve got to go and win,” said Giles. “And New Zealand are a strong team. We are not going there lightly, so we’ve got to be ready.”

A further consideration for Moeen is that the Sri Lanka tour falls close to the start of the 2020 IPL, a tournament for which he has a lucrative contract with Royal Challengers Bangalore. While Giles insisted that Moeen’s decision would not be solely driven by any desire to play a full part in RCB’s campaign, he was adamant that the rewards of the tournament were not merely financial – as shown by the big-game experience that many of England’s 50-over stars were able to lean upon in key moments of the World Cup.

“It is going to be very difficult for us to stop players going [to the IPL] without risking losing them,” Giles said. “We’ve got to accept that and manage our players outside that. They have to be reasonable in accepting we are making space for them, because their main duty is to represent England. But that window [in the schedule] is left open for them for a reason.”

Giles acknowledged, too, that the incredible demands placed on England’s cricketers in the summer to end all summers were unsustainable, and that the board had a duty of care towards Moeen, and others who have struggled with the team’s multiple ambitions.

“These are extraordinary circumstances, and some players deal with it better than others,” he said. “Some players are in different cycles of their own game, and where they are in terms of confidence – look at where [Ben] Stokes has been all summer compared to Moeen – but we’re going to support these guys to come back into the side. Our whole system has got to be better at picking them up and making sure that they’re better prepared for the rigours.”

He conceded, too, that England’s achievement in drawing the Ashes with a memorable victory in the fifth Test at The Oval was a credit to the character of a team that “really ran through the line” for themselves and for their captain, Joe Root.

“The players all suffered in different ways really,” said Giles. “But I have to say great credit to every one of them. It would have been easy to roll over and just give in. But they saw it right through, and if you started the summer and offered us a World Cup win and a drawn Ashes series, we probably would have taken it.

“‘Neglected’ might be a strong word, but for the last four years, we know we focused primarily on white-ball cricket, and Joe has done a great job in challenging circumstances. And when a team runs through the line like they did for him this year, I think that’s great credit to him.

“I said to Joe before Headingley, and this wasn’t a case of taking any eyes off the ball, that if we won this series, it would have been a fantastic effort. But it would have been more on pure performance than anything else.”

Additional reporting by Paul Edwards.



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‘The PCB has dealt us a massive blow’ – Qalandars CEO

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The CEO of T10 franchise Qalandars – which stood to lose most from the PCB’s decision to revoke NOCs for Pakistani players in the league this season – did not hold back in his anger at development. Sameen Rana lost players of the quality of Mohammad Hafeez, Imad Wasim and Faheem Ashraf in one fell swoop, leading him to say the PCB should have made this call well ahead of the draft to enable the franchises to make informed decisions.

“I wish it had been clear before the draft whether the PCB would issue NOCs or not,” Rana told ESPNcricinfo. “This is a proper cricket organisation and it hasn’t suddenly dawned on them that the league clashes with the Quaid-e-Azam trophy. I think it’s disappointing for the Pakistan players, with them being prevented from playing in global events like the T10. They would have had a chance to learn from players around the world. The WICB, CA, and almost all other boards are supporting this league.”

The third edition of the T10 league, set to take place in the UAE from 15 to 24 November this year, includes eight teams. It is the Qalandars, owned by the same group that owns the Lahore Qalandars in the Pakistan Super League, who stand to lose most from the eleventh hour decision.

The make-up of the Qalandars squad is almost exclusively Pakistani, and while most of those players continue to remain available to them for the tournament – emanating as they do from the Player Development Programme the Lahore Qalandars organised in their quest to uncover hidden talent throughout the country – key names like Hafeez, Imad and Ashraf will become unavailable.

“Our team will be badly hurt; there is no doubt about it, but a lot of guys are here from the Player Development Programme. So we don’t need NOCs for them. These are players that we have developed and groomed, and they are on our contracts. But it would have been good to get support from the PCB because this is a fundamentally Pakistani team. Qalandar is a Pakistani name.”

In addition to the Player Development Programme, the Qalandars will still retain the services of icon player Shahid Afridi and former Pakistan opener Imran Nazir, given they are not contracted by the PCB and so don’t need an NOC to play in the event. But Rana was still annoyed at losing seasoned internationals because part of the reason he’d chosen them was so they could guide the younger players.

The PCB’s official policy towards leagues around the world is what is informally known as the “PSL plus one” policy. This has resulted, as the name suggests, in players permitted to participate in one league other the PCB-backed Pakistan Super League, with further permission subject to a case-by-case evaluation. The PCB believes this strikes a healthy balance between the players’ desire to safeguard their economic interests, and the board’s concerns about fatigue and burnout. The main reason the PCB provided for blocking player participation in this year’s T10 League is that it wanted them to play domestic matches in the QEA Trophy.

Rana, however, emphatically rejected that explanation. “I don’t agree with the statement the PCB put out on the workload of the Pakistan players. Did they not think about the workload on Mohammad Hafeez when they issued him an NOC for the CPL? This is something I don’t understand. You can play in the CPL, you can play in Canada and everywhere else in the world. But when it comes to the T10, where you have a Pakistani-origin team that is full of Pakistanis, you refuse permission? If you wanted to take this decision, you could have taken it before the draft. What has happened is the PCB has dealt us a massive blow.”

Rana said while the primary purpose of investing in Pakistan players was to develop local talent, this would invariably force the Qalandars into being more wary in the future.

“The UAE government backs this league, and we should look at it in that context. When the UAE is trying to develop the game there, you should think about the UAE’s contribution in making the PSL a brand and supporting it from the get-go. They provided their grounds, and the PCB and the ECB [Emirates Cricket Board] have enjoyed a great relationship over the years. This will send a very wrong message to the ECB, because they may well feel the PCB’s decision has damaged the value of their league.

“The purpose of our team was to give the Pakistani players an opportunity. This is visible from the draft we conducted, where there are 10 Pakistani players, including our captain Sohail Akhtar. We didn’t expect the NOCs to be revoked so late in the day. If we had, perhaps our decision would have been different.”



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Full coverage: Bangladesh players go on strike

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The Bangladesh players went on strike on October 21, 2019, deciding not to participate in any cricket related activity until the BCB met 11 demands. Here is how the saga unfolded.

October 23

News – We call off the strike and will return to playing’ – Shakib Al Hasan News – Strike moves towards resolution, Mashrafe could mediate

October 22

News – BCB chief lashes out at players’ strike, but says board is ‘open for talks’

October 22

News – FICA head Tony Irish criticises Bangladesh players association for inaction

October 22

Analysis – A Bangladesh press conference two decades in the making

October 22

News – ‘They’ll come’ – Sourav Ganguly confident Bangladesh tour of India will go ahead

October 22

News – BCB calls emergency meeting of directors; Mashrafe Mortaza backs players

October 21

News – Better contracts, no discrimination, open transfers: Bangladesh players’ demands

October 21

News – Bangladesh players go on strike, India tour under threat

October 21

News – Top Bangladesh players likely to go on strike amid growing discontent with cricket board



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MPs implore ECB to return live Test cricket to free-to-air TV

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MPs have implored the ECB to improve cricket’s visibility by returning live Test cricket to free-to-air television and ensuring more county cricket is played at weekends.

As part of an inquiry designed to ensure the ECB is “capitalising on the success of English cricket following the men’s team World Cup success,” senior figures were invited to give evidence at an oral evidence session for a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee on Wednesday afternoon.

The witnesses for the ECB were Colin Graves (chairman), Tom Harrison (chief executive), Clare Connor (women’s cricket managing director) and Lord Patel of Bradford (senior independent non-executive director), and all four repeatedly stressed their excitement about the game’s future in the country, and made reference to ‘Inspiring Generations’, the board’s 2020-24 strategy to grow cricket.

Ian Lucas, the Labour MP for Wrexham, repeatedly focused his questioning on the lack of live cricket on free-to-air television, highlighting “concerning” participation figures, and said he “wondered how many Ben Stokes we lost” since cricket had gone behind a paywall.

ALSO READ: MPs grill ECB over budget for the Hundred amid growing costs

“Monthly cricket participation fell from 403,000 in 2011 to 279,000 in 2016, which is a huge fall,” Lucas said. “In 2005, I had lot of discussions with people like Giles Clarke about the fact [cricket] was leaving free-to-air TV and I was very concerned about it.

Harrison said the fall in participation was a “complex issue”, and noted the “very different media environment” that existed in 2005. “Cricket is in the best possible place to be able to answer some of the issues that you’ve raised in participation,” he said.

Lucas said: “A lot of people that would have come to love cricket have missed out [since 2005]. Don’t do this again, please. I’d love to see at least one Test – the Lord’s Test for example – on FTA TV. That would be a tremendous incentive and showcase for the game.”

He also highlighted the rapid growth of women’s football in the UK, and suggested it would have been impossible without games being shown live on free-to-air TV.

Harrison responded by citing figures from 2009 which suggested that broadcasting one home Test per year on free-to-air TV would cost an estimated £134.7 million over a four-year cycle, and claimed that it would be “extremely difficult” to justify their investment in the game without that money.

Much of the session focused on the Hundred, the new 100-ball competition that will begin in July 2020. Julian Knight, the Conservative MP for Solihull, asked if the ECB was concerned by the “idea that [their] customer base seemed to dislike the idea” of the new tournament so much.

“The Hundred is all about growing the game in this country, and protecting the things that we value the most,” Harrison said. “We’ve just seen throughout the Cricket World Cup, grounds across this country packed to the rafters full of fans, 40 percent of whom were first-time buyers to cricket in this country. The vibrancy, the colour, the noise, the energy in those crowds is something that will live with all of us.

“The Hundred is an attempt to replicate some of that, and bring it back to our country every single year, without taking anything away from our precious county environment at the moment, in which we’re investing half a billion pounds over the next five years to ensure we’re taking every advantage we can to grow the game of cricket in this country. That is our job.”

Knight asked if the reason that the ECB had devised the Hundred was that it had “missed the boat on Twenty20”.

“You came up with this great idea… you invented Twenty20, you had this originally big uplift of interest,” he said, “and then either we did rest on our laurels, or even the management at that time… then ignored it or didn’t do what it should have done. The IPL went massive, the draft [auction], everything else – you’re effectively now repositioning in order to try and make up that lost ground.”

Graves admitted: “A lot of people will say we missed the boat with our T20, we didn’t push it enough, we didn’t invest in it enough, and the world passed us and got ahead of us. People will agree with that.

“The one thing with cricket is that it is adaptable and it is changeable. It adapts to the audiences that we try and get involved.”

Other topics for discussion included the county schedule, with committee chair Damian Collins, the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, criticising the lack of cricket played at the weekend this season by his local county, Kent.

Graves’ response noted that the 2019 summer had been unusually busy on account of the World Cup being played in England and Wales, and said that counties had been invited to formulate their own schedule for the 2020 season.

Stevens also criticised the decision to host the women’s Finals Day of the Hundred on a Friday next year, though Connor suggested that it was “the best option” and that the ECB “wouldn’t want to put it up against a high-profile men’s game at the weekend”.

“Sport has never before launched a professional competition for both genders at the same time, and I think in our ambitions to make cricket more gender-balanced, and in our ambition to have men’s and women’s teams playing under the same team names, we’ve seen it work brilliantly in the Big Bash.”

There were also questions over the discrepancies in salary between men and women for the Hundred, with the highest-paid set of men’s players each set to earn more in the competition than an entire women’s team’s playing budget.

“I really believe that we have to be realistic about the journey that we’re on,” said Connor. “It was only five years ago that we had our first round of centrally contracted female players in England. That journey has been huge in terms of pay from where we started to where we are now.

“Of course, they’re not paid the same as Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and their team-mates. But I personally believe that we’re headed in the right direction. We’re all very committed to closing that gap. It doesn’t happen overnight.”



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