Keshav Maharaj, South Africa’s premier left-arm spinner, has been ruled out of the third Test against India, which starts on Saturday in Ranchi. Maharaj sustained a shoulder injury during the second Test in Pune and will require two-to-three weeks’ recovery time. Cobras left-arm spinner George Linde has been called up to the squad as a replacement.
Losing Maharaj is a major blow to South Africa, who are already 2-0 down in the three-Test series but have 40 points of the World Test Championship to still play for in the final fixture. Though Maharaj has not had the success of India’s spinners, he is South Africa’s highest wicket-taker of the series with six scalps – albeit with an average of 85.66 – and has also bowled the most number of overs. He was also one of the few players who showed fight with the bat, scoring a career-best 72 in the first innings in the second Test and featuring in a ninth-wicket stand of 109 with Vernon Philander, after he had already picked up the injury.
Maharaj was bowling his 50th over in India’s only innings of the Test when he tried to stop a run after Virat Kohli punched the ball towards long-on. Maharaj fell on his right shoulder and immediately rolled over, clutching it in pain. He was treated on the field and completed the over, but left the field for scans shortly after. His first set of scans were inconclusive and he was sent for a second scan on Saturday morning when he was also required to bat. Maharaj was strapped up and batted in a marathon stand, only occasionally grimacing after attempting shoulder-intensive shots like the pull. Nonetheless, Maharaj has been diagnosed as having hurt a muscle and will not be fit in time for the Ranchi Test.
South Africa have two other spinners in the squad, left-arm spinner Senuran Muthusamy and offspinner Dane Piedt. Both played in the first Test in Visakhapatnam, where they were largely ineffective, and Piedt was dropped for Pune. He may come into contention again for the third Test, unless the team management is after a like-for-like replacement for Maharaj, in which case Linde may make his debut.
Linde has made a good start to the domestic season, which began earlier in the week, and sits atop the wicket-takers’ chart with 11 for 131 from his first match. Those figures need to be taken in context, as they were claimed on a pitch where 39 wickets fell in two days.
However, Linde has been on the national selectors’ radar. He was part of the South Africa A side that toured India for a List A series prior to the senior side’s arrival, and was in the T20I squad, although he did not play a game.
Saqib Mahmood: Saliva ban will bring reverse-swing into play
Mahmood is in line for a Test debut at some stage this summer, with a packed revised schedule likely to force England to rotate their pace attack, and has been back training at Emirates Old Trafford over the past two weeks.
And while he has found it difficult to adjust to not shining the ball as he is used to – “it’s almost second nature” – Mahmood thinks that a combination of hot weather, dry pitches and the ban on saliva could see bowlers use different methods to get the ball moving.
“It’s not ideal. As bowlers, especially swing bowlers, you lose one of your biggest threats,” Mahmood told ESPNcricinfo. “You want to start practising new skills, but it does take a big weapon away from bowlers and that will favour the batsmen a lot more.
“If you’re playing on an abrasive or dry surface, which Old Trafford and Southampton [the venues for the West Indies series] can be, then you might use [reverse-swing] as a tactic. Rather than shining the ball and getting it to swing conventionally, you might scuff up one side on the wicket and try to look after the other to get it smooth and dry to get lateral movement.
“The wickets I’ve been training on have been fairly green, but once I get up to 100% fitness, I think I’ll start practising that. That’ll come into play over the next couple of weeks.”
Mahmood worked closely with Darren Gough, employed as a bowling consultant by the ECB, on England’s tour of New Zealand this winter, and has a Kookaburra ball at home that Gough gave him which he uses to practise reverse-swing.
And while he has rarely tried to hone the skill in England, he expects that it will come into play over the coming weeks.
“It’s almost like my point of difference, which is why I have to practise it and try to get it as good as possible. It’s something you want to practise to get good at, both to bowl teams out overseas and potentially, with how things are looking, at home as well this year.
“In England, you don’t really practise reverse-swing, and not everyone can do it. Last year, we had one game at Old Trafford at the back end of the season where the ball was reversing in my spell after tea, and while it felt good when I got it right, it took me a while.
“That’s what I’ve been practising this winter: trying to get it to feel right from ball one or two of the spell, rather than wasting two or three overs and then getting it right. That’s been the biggest difference.”
While Mahmood’s ability to get the ball reversing is perhaps the main reason that he has many admirers within the England set-up, his pace is also an important factor. He has regularly been clocked at 87-88mph in televised games, and thinks that the ball is coming out faster than usual since his return to training.
That increase in speed is little surprise after he decided to set himself physical targets during lockdown, kitting his garage out to turn it into a home gym and “solely focusing on strength” for the first time that he can remember.
“I’ve been able to build up pretty quickly. I’ve obviously not hit match intensity yet, but in terms of the feel of my run-up and action, and the rhythm that I’ve been able to get into, I thought it would take me a lot longer.
“There was that uncertainty of how long lockdown was going to be, and I wanted to make the most of it. I had everything I needed for leg strength, core stuff, upper-body stuff and I feel the difference in my body now. I don’t know if that’s added any pace, but so far it feels like it is coming out quicker than what it was, which is good.”
Training remains a strict environment with regards health protocols, and Mahmood is yet to bowl to a batsman since returning, but after the ECB were given the green light to move onto ‘stage two’ training, it has become less of a solitary experience. Mahmood has been able to train at the same time as James Anderson with Glen Chapple, Lancashire’s head coach, on hand for technical advice.
But there won’t be too much of an opportunity to settle into a routine. When West Indies arrive in England next week, they are due to spend the first three weeks of their tour at Old Trafford. As a result, Lancashire will move their training base to Chester Boughton Hall, meaning a longer commute for Mahmood.
“Old Trafford becomes off-limits for us, and I’ll just have to crack on with it. It’s about building everything up and getting as close to match-ready as possible now. As individuals, it’s a case of not putting too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect and making the most of it.”
Anil Kumble: ‘Let’s get spinners back in Test cricket’
Anil Kumble, the former India captain and chairman of the ICC’s cricket committee, believes cricket should utilise pitches to even up the contest between bat and ball. The legspinner, who is the third-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket, said that it was time for teams to consider playing two spinners even in Australia and England by roughening up the pitch.
“The advantage that cricket has over other sports is that there is an element of adjustable variance in the pitch, which not many sports have,” Kumble said during a webinar, organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) on Wednesday. “You could manage the pitch in such a way that you could bring about a better balance between bat and ball.”
Incidentally, Kumble made this suggestion a few hours after Sri Lanka head coach Mickey Arthur told ESPNcricinfo that his bowlers preferred saliva over sweat to shine the ball. Arthur is part of the ICC cricket committee that recently recommended that saliva should not be applied on ball in cricket as Covid-19 is a respiratory infection and rubbing spit could result in spreading the virus, which is highly contagious.
However, bowlers remain unconvinced. In a chat with the former fast-bowling pair of Ian Bishop and Shaun Pollock recently on the ICC’s video series Inside Out interviews, India quick Jasprit Bumrah said there needed to be an “alternative” to shine the ball other than sweat.
“Based on medical advice, we believe that saliva could be the major contributor to carrying this disease and that’s why we banned the use of saliva, although it’s second nature in cricket,” Kumble said. “That’s something that players will find hard to manage.”
According to Kumble, the pandemic offered another opportunity to “bring spinners” back into Test cricket. Outside the Indian subcontinent, especially in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand or Australia) countries, the norm has been to include just one spinner on pitches favouring seam bowling.
“You can probably leave grass on the surface or even rough it up and have two spinners,” Kumble said. “Let’s get spinners back in the game in a Test match. Because if it’s a one-day or T20 game, you’re not worried about the ball or shining of the ball. Sweat can certainly take care of that.
“It’s [a] Test match that that we’re taking about and in a Test match why not get two spinners? [I] would love to have two spinners playing in Australia, two spinners playing in England, which never happens. Not often do you see that happening. Of course in the subcontinent, you have two spinners playing. So, in cricket you have the surface you can play around with and bring about a balance between bat and ball. All of us are yearning to start the game and not really worried about saliva or sweat or condition of the ball – we just want to play cricket.”
‘They’ve all been injured for the last three months’
According to Kumble, the other key factor team managements would need to pay close attention to is managing the workloads of the bowlers. Last month, while releasing guidelines for players returning to cricket at all levels, the ICC suggested teams would need to exercise extreme caution over bowlers’ workloads to avoid serious injuries like stress fracture of the spine.
Kumble concurred with that. “That’s why I believe that at training, they’ll have to start slowly. Because it’s not just about coming back and playing in a match,” he said. “It’s also about coming back from two-and-a-half months of lockdown. Especially if you are a bowler, you need to have those bowling overs under your belt before you start competing. So it’s important that you slowly and gradually come back into the sort of normalcy that you can.”
He also said that a safe way for squads returning to sport would involve training in a “bio-secure zone” followed by playing practice matches between themselves before playing a Test match. “I know England have announced a potential Test series against West Indies, subject to the government allowing them, but there again the players will have to have some sort of a cushion [or] a back-up in terms of loading up their body to be able to sustain a Test match because bowling 30 overs for a fast bowler… 30-40 overs for a spinner is not going to be easy,” Kumble said. “And even for a batsman, the muscles which you use when you’re batting are totally different. In a match situation, you’re doing everything in a split of a second and you’re not training for those, especially in a home condition. So, you need to build it up and probably have a few friendly games before you get into an important Test match.”
Kumble also said one good way to build the players’ confidence was to treat the current situation as if the entire team was returning from an injury, and handle the players with care. “It’s like when someone is injured and he’s coming back from injury, how do you monitor him? That’s how you need to look at the entire squad now,” he said. “They’ve all been injured for the last three months and they’re now coming back into training. So, you need to slowly load them up and then start building their skill levels. I think it’s mostly [about] the confidence. Once the players are out and training it comes back very quickly. It doesn’t go away; you’ve been doing this for all your life. It’s just a matter of being out there and training with the team. Within a few weeks, you’ll be back to your usual self.”
CA claims cuts will reduce A$142 million revenue hole
Kevin Roberts, the Cricket Australia (CA) chief executive, has outlined his case for 25% across the board cuts to the governing body, the state associations and revenue due to the players. Roberts claimed that the game would be facing a cash deficit of A$142 million by the end of the next financial year without major cost reductions in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cricket Australia and Roberts have been mired in arguments with its state association owners, the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) and within its own organisation since declaring in April that there was danger it would be “trading insolvent” by August without major cutbacks. New South Wales, Queensland and the ACA have all openly disputed CA’s course of action, while Western Australia has insisted that its own agreement to a reduction on distributions will not take effect unless all states agree.
Coinciding with the delayed deadline for CA’s projections of Australian Cricket Revenue to the ACA – a requirement inked into the MoU with the players that was last renewed in 2017 – Roberts attempted to articulate his and the CA board’s position on cutbacks on Wednesday, after briefing the state associations of NSW and Queensland earlier in the week.
The ACA’s response is expected on Thursday, with players looking at a reduction to their payment pool of around A$28 million. This would be smoothed out by drawing cash from the adjustment ledger that collects the extra cash made above CA’s conservative 2017 revenue projections – most of it from a A$1.18 million broadcast deal signed with Fox Sports and Seven in 2018.
According to its modelling, CA could improve its projected cash position by the end of June 2021 to a deficit of around half the A$142 million figure with cuts of around 25% to player pay, state association grants and staff cuts – an amount that would be covered by the provision of a credit facility worth A$100 million through the Commonwealth Bank. The plan has been pulled together by a financial crisis team featuring Roberts, the CA chairman Earl Eddings, fellow board members Paul Green and Michelle Tredenick and the acting chief financial officer Paul Reining, who previously worked with Roberts at the sports apparel company 2XU.
“Given the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, many organisations are working with scenario plans rather than developing precise financial projections that may need to be updated various times in ever-changing circumstances,” Roberts said in a statement provided to Nine and News Corp. “We face similar challenges in projecting cricket’s revenue, however we wanted to fulfil our obligation to provide the ACA with our outlook for the next two years, along with additional information on various possibilities for that period.
“We are continuing to do everything possible to deliver an exciting 2020-21 cricket season, including the men’s Test series between Australia and India that will see the world’s top two ranked teams face off against each other. Our planning for the 2020-21 season also needs to respond to ongoing uncertainty in relation to travel, mass gatherings and economic conditions that mean the season will most likely look quite different to what we are accustomed to.
“It’s important to note the revised revenue projection provided to the ACA will have zero impact on the value of player retainers, match fees, national team performance bonuses or domestic competition prize money in 2020-21 or 2021-22. As it stands, the revised revenue projection would impact the amount owing to the players at the end of the five-year MOU agreement in 2022, however we are focused on maximising revenue in the next two years.”
Cricket Australia’s board and executive felt compelled to move in a drastic cost-cutting direction in late March, less than two weeks after the women’s Twenty20 World Cup final was watched by nearly 90,000 spectators at the MCG. This change of direction – after Roberts had publicly stated that CA was well placed to ride out the coronavirus pandemic – was not articulated beyond a small circle of executives and board members until about a month later in late April. It cannot have been driven by anything other than fears of massive reductions in the broadcast rights payments that are the bread and butter of the game’s wellbeing.
The first action made by CA was to stand down the majority of CA staff on 80% pay cuts until the end of June, returning a saving of just A$3 million. At the same time, it asked the state associations to accept cuts of 40% to their annual grants and also contacted ten senior contracted players individually rather than first approaching the ACA to declare the urgency of the situation.
Those actions set off a chain reaction of cutbacks among all the states apart from NSW, while the ACA reacted with understandable scepticism given the relatively recent history of a fractious pay dispute in 2017. Some of the state cutbacks, particularly in Victoria and Queensland, met an angry response from CA as they saw huge swathes of community cricket staff being removed despite the governing body’s previous statement of a strategic priority for funding cricket’s grassroots.
Negotiations between CA, the states and the ACA have subsequently been taken on primarily by the chairman Eddings and fellow board director Green, the second time Roberts has been moved to one side in critical talks after a similar turn of events during the 2017 pay dispute. This has left Roberts to deal with considerable disillusionment among his staff, who after being stood down in vast numbers in April are now bracing for the inevitable round of redundancies.
There is a sense among many of the game’s people of an opportunity lost, even in the time of coronavirus, for a more open and integrated approach to have been taken, rather than the piecemeal, state-by-state cuts that have resulted in recent weeks.
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