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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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Virat Kohli: MS Dhoni played a big role in my becoming captain

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Virat Kohli has credited MS Dhoni with playing a significant role in anointing him as his successor as India captain.

Kohli took over as the full-time Test captain when Dhoni retired from the format midway through India’s tour of Australia in 2014-15, and later became captain across formats when Dhoni quit his limited-overs post in early 2017.

Kohli said the process was a gradual one of “earning trust” over several years.

“I was always inclined towards taking responsibility,” Kohli said of his early days in the India dressing room, during an Instagram chat with team-mate R Ashwin. “After that it was all about just wanting to play, wanting to be in the XI regularly. I didn’t play all the games, but I wanted to be discussed, that ‘whether this guy is good enough to play or not.’ That is a transition that slowly happens.

“Then with your interest in the game you start talking to the captain regularly. I was always in MS’s ear, standing next to him, saying, ‘We can do this, we can do that.’ He would deny a lot of things but he would discuss a lot of things as well. I think he got a lot of confidence that I can do this after him.

“A large portion of me becoming captain was also to do with him observing me for a long period of time. It can’t just happen that he goes and the selectors say, ‘Okay you become captain.’ Obviously the guy who is there takes responsibility and says, ‘Okay I think this is the next guy. I will tell you how it is going.’ And then slowly that transition is formed. He played a big role in that, and that trust you have to build over six-seven years. It doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process.”

Kohli was first appointed vice-captain for the 2012 Asia Cup, which followed India’s tour of Australia for a Test series and a tri-series in 2011-12. In a tour that otherwise went poorly for India, who were blanked 4-0 in the Tests and failed to reach the tri-series final, Kohli emerged with distinction. He scored his maiden Test century in the fourth match at Adelaide, becoming the only India batsman to reach three figures in that series. In the ODIs, he made his then highest score in the format , smashing 133* off just 86 balls as India chased down a target of 321 in 36.4 overs to keep their hopes of making the final alive.

Kohli said that tour helped him become aware of his game and hone it significantly. “I remember that whole season,” he said. “It was from that Test hundred in Adelaide to continuously stringing scores. That was a phase of six to eight months where I really realised a lot about my own game and came into my own as far as my skills were concerned.

“I was very competitive but I wasn’t very sure or in control of what I wanted to do before. When you come in new, you’re still figuring out how to go about it. At the international stage you want to be feared, you want to be respected. You don’t want to walk in and hear, ‘He’s one of the youngsters, we’ll just knock him over.’ We all play for that. That was a phase where I started to realise this.”

In the Asia Cup that followed, Kohli made 183 in another tall chase, against Pakistan. He revealed that during this knock, he had negated the threat posed by Saeed Ajmal by treating the offspinner as if he were a legspinner.

“I told myself I’m going to start playing him like a legspinner,” Kohli said. “Because his doosra was quite difficult to face and his offspinner was not that lethal. So I said I’m going to try and hit him over cover consistently, and it just paid off. As soon as I negated his doosra, the potency of his threat became lesser and lesser.

“In that game I scored most of my runs against him through the off side [29 off 10 balls on the off side and 7 off 7 on the leg side]. My only aim was I’m going to make him unsettled with his doosra. He should fear bowling the doosrato me, then I’m on top of my game.”



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Rohit Sharma nominated for Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award

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The BCCI has nominated Rohit Sharma for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, India’s highest sporting honour. The board has also nominated India fast bowler Ishant Sharma, opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan and India woman allrounder Deepti Sharma for the Arjuna award.

Rohit’s Khel Ratna nomination comes on the back of an outstanding 2019 with the bat: 556 runs at an average of 92.66 in five Test matches, all while opening the batting for the first time; and 1657 ODI runs at 57.30, including the unprecedented feat of five centuries at a single World Cup.

If Rohit wins the award, he will become only the fourth cricketer, after Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, to do so.

“We went through a lot of data and considered various parameters before shortlisting the nominees,” Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI president, said via a media release. “Rohit Sharma has set new benchmarks as a batsman and achieved scores people thought were not possible in the shorter formats of the game. We feel he is worthy of getting the prestigious Khel Ratna award for his commitment, conduct, consistency and his leadership skills.

“Ishant Sharma is the most senior member of the Test squad and his contribution has been vital in Indian team’s long run as the No. 1 Test side. Fast bowlers are prone to injuries and Ishant has had a fair share of them but he has fought hard to be back on the park every time. Shikhar has been consistently scoring at the top and his performances in the ICC events have been significant. Deepti is a genuine allrounder and her contribution to the team has been vital.”



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Kent and Mohammad Nabi agree to cancel T20 Blast deal

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Kent and Mohammad Nabi have mutually agreed to cancel the Afghanistan allrounder’s contract for the 2020 Vitality Blast, due to uncertainty around the English summer caused by Covid-19.

Nabi had been due to return for his second season at Canterbury, having made an impact with bat and ball in 2019. He scored 147 runs at a strike rate of 153.12 to go with eight wickets, as Kent narrowly missed out on a place in the knockout stages.

“There was a lot of excitement around Nabi returning as a Kent Spitfire in 2020, but unfortunately the uncertainty around the cricket schedule during this current crisis means that this isn’t possible this year,” Kent’s director of cricket, Paul Downton, said.

“He was very popular amongst the squad, staff and supporters here last season and it was great to bring his experience to the club first time around. Hopefully there will be an opportunity for Nabi to join us again in the near future.”

All professional cricket has been put on hold in the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there are hopes of playing some County Championship games, as well as the T20 Blast from August.



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