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A lot to learn about mental health issues – Cricket Australia’s Ben Oliver

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Australian cricket’s new overseer of national teams Ben Oliver admits the game still has a lot to learn about dealing with the mental health of its players, coaches and staff in the wake of the withdrawals of Glenn Maxwell and Nic Maddinson from national duty over the past few days.

As one part of a two-man high-performance team – the other being former Olympian Drew Ginn – that replaced Pat Howard earlier this year, Oliver’s commission is to work closely with the national men’s and women’s teams and their coaches Justin Langer and Matthew Mott.

He quickly surmised that closer and better management of people would be critical to the role, whether those in the national set-up or others working in the state system. To that end, the bravery of Maxwell and Maddinson to pull back from playing the game in order to look after their own wellbeing, rather than suffering in silence as many past generations have done, has been welcomed, but Oliver agreed that in the tension between a highly competitive sport and the wellness of its practitioners, Cricket Australia was trying to develop better understanding.

“Each individual person will have a whole range of different circumstances and that presents a challenge but it also means we can’t make a broad-brush statement about this or in fact a broad-brush approach to it,” Oliver told ESPNcricinfo. “Just because people are going through different challenges in their life doesn’t mean they’re also not able to perform at a really high level and so our aspiration is to make sure we’re giving our players and staff the best chance to thrive on and off the field.

ALSO READ: ‘We want guys being honest and able to talk’ – Carey

“I’m incredibly proud of both Glenn and Nic in feeling as though they could share what they were experiencing and really be open and honest about that. Equally proud in terms of our response to that. The coaching and support staff response and their care and empathy for both Glenn and Nic. And more broadly my view is it’s a really complex issue, something that all of society is grappling with and, as a sport, we’re part of society.

“We’re not immune to it, and we’ve got to continue to find ways to understand the issues and we’re doing all we can and applying our support and resources around players and staff on their own health and wellbeing. There’s lots to do, I think there’s lots to understand and we’re really committed to making sure we give our players and staff the best possible support we can.”

Australian players currently have the option of reporting mental health problems or spiralling feelings via the wellness apps used to track their physical and mental wellbeing, but are also able to discuss their state of mind with coaches, medical staff and team psychologists.

“We’ve got some systems in place where players are tracking their experience,” Oliver said, “but equally, we’ve got a whole range of coaching and support staff who are working with players on a daily basis and get to understand them very well.

“I don’t think there is any one effort that is better or worse in terms of understanding where a player is currently at, I think it’s a combination of those aspects that will ultimately allow us to better understand where a player is at and provide support at any given time. We’ve got a couple of ways in which we are trying to understand where a player is at and how to respond.”

In his former role with Western Australia, Oliver dealt with numerous instances of players and staff battling mental health and wellbeing issues. Ashton Agar is one WA cricketer who has spoken publicly about learning how to “ride” the peaks and troughs of personal wellness, having taken time out of the game for that reason in the past.

“It’s certainly clear to me and important to me coming into this role that Australian cricket is prioritising its people, players and staff”

Ben Oliver

“I spent six or seven years in WA and we had a whole range of challenges on and off field for players and staff and that’s a reflection of the world we live in and some of the challenges people are going through,” Oliver said. “And it reinforced to me the great opportunity we have as a sport to really lead the way and show how we can care and support our people. Whether it was with WA or this role or other states and territories from a cricket perspective, we’re all increasingly aware of the challenges people are going through and we’re learning how they go through that.

“Certainly not the first time this has come up, I’m sure it won’t be the last, and our obligation is to really make sure we’re understanding the issues and supporting our people. If and when they’re going through different challenges we provide them with the best care and support. I don’t think they’re necessarily mutually exclusive, there’s certainly opportunity for us to continue to perform at a high level on the field and support people off it.

“It’s just a case of building really strong relationships with our players in this case around how they’re travelling, what they’re experiencing and making sure we’re supporting them in that, helping them prepare, and ultimately go out and perform.”

Oliver has built up plenty of respect over time as a calm and considered presence in cricket administration, having previously held roles with Cricket Victoria, CA and also the ICC prior to moving to WA. In joining CA less than a year after the announcement of damaging findings from the cultural review that followed the Newlands scandal, he is well attuned to the attitude of listening and learning that so many of the governing body’s partners had demanded.

“It’s certainly clear to me and important to me coming into this role that Australian cricket is prioritising its people, players and staff,” Oliver said. “So that becomes a really important part of what we stand for as an organisation. That’s been really clear that is a priority, an important part of what the future looks like, and I’ve been really pleased with the endeavour going in to understand how we best do that. Really proud of the players and their willingness to be open and honest about what they’re experiencing.

“One of my initial observations coming into the role is the intensity of international cricket and the complexity of the schedule and those things are obviously real challenges for us to find the best possible solutions for. That’s all part of what players, coaches and staff are experiencing and mechanisms for that. Really comfortable that players are feeling confident to be open and honest and really proud of our staff for being able to care and support them when they do present that way.”

One set of fresh information about the mental health of Australian cricket is set to land early next year, with the results of a study begun three years ago by the youth mental health consultancy Orygen to be handed to CA in February.



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CSA CEO Thabang Moroe suspended for alleged misconduct

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Thabang Moroe, the chief executive of Cricket South Africa, has been suspended with immediate effect, but with full pay, following allegations of misconduct. An investigation into his actions, which will include an independent forensic audit, is expected to be conducted soon.

Chris Nenzani, the CSA president, has been tasked with appointing an acting chief executive for the duration of Moroe’s suspension. Nenzani has been mandated to look at all options, including holding discussions with Dave Richardson, the former South Africa cricketer who was ICC chief executive till recently and is believed to be interested in getting involved with the CSA.

ESPNcricinfo understands that former chief executive Haroon Lorgat, Moroe’s predecessor, and former acting CEO Jacques Faul, have already been approached by several provincial presidents, but neither has heard from Nenzani yet.

Moroe’s suspension comes after five days of mounting pressure on CSA’s administration. There have been calls from several quarters for Moroe and the CSA Board to step down in the wake of a full-blown crisis spanning management, player and media relations, and financial affairs.

The catalyst for the recent sequence of events was the revoking of accreditation of five journalists on Sunday during the Mzansi Super League. No reason was given for the sanction but on Monday morning, Moroe told a national radio station that the board was unhappy with the reporters’ coverage of CSA. By then, CSA’s actions had been condemned by the South African National Editors’ Forum, South African Cricketers’ Association, and men’s Test and ODI sponsors Standard Bank, who also summoned CSA to a meeting that afternoon.

The reports CSA had problems with ranged from its disputes with SACA, including a court case over a proposed restructure of domestic cricket, the delay in appointing a director of cricket, which former captain Graeme Smith was being lined up for, the non-existence of a selection panel weeks before a series against England, and CSA’s mounting expenses – and debts – including that of running the MSL.

Taken together, this has left South African cricket in a state of turmoil, which will be discussed at a special sitting of the Board on Saturday, where it is hoped that clarity will be offered on key positions ahead of England’s visit.

Of particular concern is the position of director of cricket. Smith’s initial reluctance, and eventual withdrawal, was understood to be largely due to Moroe’s presence, and with Moroe suspended, Smith may be more willing to reconsider. However, there are less than three weeks before the Boxing Day Test against England, so decisions need to be taken swiftly.

More to follow…



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James Faulkner set for Lancashire T20 Blast return in 2020

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James Faulkner, the Australian left-arm seamer, will return to Lancashire for his fourth stint at the club for next year’s T20 Blast.

Faulkner first appeared for the county in 2015, and has been one of their overseas players in the Blast since 2018. This season, he took 11 wickets with an economy rate of 7.88 as Lancashire topped the North Group, but were beaten by eventual winners Essex in the quarter-finals.

“I am thrilled to be returning to Emirates Old Trafford for next season’s Vitality Blast,” Faulkner said. “It feels like a home away from home for me and I cannot wait to get started again in May.

“We were unlucky not to progress past the quarter-finals last year and we are all determined to put that right in 2020. We will be going all out to repeat the success of 2015, which remains one of the proudest memories in my cricketing career.

“Emirates Old Trafford is an amazing place to play cricket and I can’t wait to reunite with the squad next summer. I’m determined to win the Vitality Blast trophy back for the Club.”

Paul Allott, the club’s director of cricket, said: “James is a fantastic, well-rounded cricketer of significant experience and we are delighted to welcome him back to Emirates Old Trafford for a fourth season in 2020.

“He is the very definition of an all-rounder. He can bowl in any situation, which he has done successfully for us at both the beginning and back end of an innings, and is still a powerful batsman, not to mention his outstanding ability in the field too.

“His enthusiasm in representing the Red Rose is evident and he has established himself as a key figure in our T20 side. He is a proven winner and a great role model to the younger players.”



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Fantasy tips: India v West Indies, 1st T20I

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December 6: India v West Indies, 1st T20I in Hyderabad

NOTE: We might not always be able to tip you off about late injury (or other relevant) updates

Captain: KL Rahul

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have not played T20s for a while but Rahul has, scoring 313 runs from eight matches (strike rate 155.72) in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.

Vice captain: Deepak Chahar

Smart bowling in the powerplay means Chahar has gone wicketless only once in his last ten T20 games.

Hot picks

Yuzvendra Chahal
Chahal is three wickets away from being India’s leading wicket-taker in T20Is, and the West Indians aren’t the best players of quality spin bowling.

Virat Kohli
Kohli has six hundreds in his last nine ODI innings against West Indies and averages 45.42 against them in T20Is.

Kieron Pollard
West Indies captain Pollard has played a lot of IPL cricket and has been in good form in T20s in 2019, scoring 1299 runs at a strike rate of 146.94.

NOTE: Nicholas Pooran is serving a ball-tampering ban and is unavailable for the game.

Value for money

Keemo Paul
Paul could be a surprise value pick due to his dual skills and his ability to bowl a lot of cutters and other variations, and did well in Hyderabad in an IPL game earlier this year.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Kumar, back after an injury, is the third best domestic bowler (economy rate 9.45) in the death behind Jasprit Bumrah and Siddarth Kaul in the last three editions of the IPL.

Points to note

  • Based on historical – IPL – data, Hyderabad has two kinds of pitches: one is a slow and difficult to score on, the other is a batting-friendly surface. The average score on the belter was 213 and 146 on the other one. We don’t know which pitch will be used.

  • Since 2018, West Indies batsmen score at a strike rate of 122 against wristspinners in T20Is, and are dismissed once every 18 balls.



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