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Mitchell Santner becomes New Zealand’s T20I trump card

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The ultra-short boundaries at Eden Park, known as the postage stamp, are mean to the bowlers. They can be even meaner when rain cuts a 20-over series decider into 11 overs. After England’s bowlers suffer at the hands of Martin Guptill and Colin Munro, Eoin Morgan launches the visitors’ chase with a hat-trick of boundaries. Sam Curran then goes one better, clubbing Scott Kuggeleijn for four boundaries in a row. Jonny Bairstow, too, joins the carnage as England rack up 52 in just three overs. Bairstow has now nicked off for 47, but England are fairly well-placed at 100 for 4 in seven overs.

Captain Tim Southee turns to Mitchell Santner in search of a wicket. The left-arm spinner delivers a double blow, but then the match goes into another Super Over and we all know how that unfolds. However, Santner’s strikes and composure under pressure showed why he’s New Zealand’s MVP heading into the T20 World Cup across the Tasman Sea next year. Once he saw Sam Curran advance down the track, he speared a back-of-a-length slider well past the tramline and had the batsman stumped off an off-side wide for 24 off 11 balls. Wicketkeeper Tim Seifert, who was mic’d up, suggested that Santner probably knew that the batsman was coming at him.

Santner then made a rare error, looping a non-turning half-volley, which Lewis Gregory muscled over long-on for six. But he wasn’t flustered and bravely floated the next one up at 85kph, and got it to turn away, daring Gregory to manufacture pace for himself. Gregory swung hard, but Santner’s clever change-up defeated him as he could only scoop it as far as extra-cover. He conceded only singles off the next four balls to finish an excellent 11-run over. Earlier, in his first over, the fourth of the chase, Santner had given away only nine runs. In daunting defence against a power-packed line-up on flat track, Santner came away with the two most economical overs. What might have been had Santner been handed another over?

While Santner doesn’t quite demand the attention that Sunil Narine or wristspinners do these days, there’s no denying his class and control. It was on bright display during the 50-over World Cup in the UK earlier this year and also during this T20I series against England. Santner ended the series as the top wicket-taker with 11 wickets at an economy rate of 7.83 and strike rate of 9.8. Ish Sodhi and Adil Rashid, the purveyors of the more glamorous variety of spin – wristspin – managed only three wickets each while proving more expensive. Sodhi went at 11.73 an over while Rashid fared somewhat better, conceding at 9.54.

Meanwhile, left-arm seamer Sam Curran, who had the benefit of bowling as many overs as Santner did (18), picked up six wickets at an economy rate of 8.50. It’s no secret these days that Santner bowls one over in the powerplay and then works his way through the middle overs. Yet, batsmen haven’t been able to line him up as he hits the hard length in the early exchanges and then, when the batsman is desperately searching for the big hits, Santner slows up his pace. He also thrives by shifting his lines wide of off, challenging the batsmen to fetch the ball and then slog it. More than 80% of Santner’s success this series is down to hanging the ball up outside off or even wider. According to ESPNcricinfo’s ball-by-ball data, he has bowled 62 balls around that line, grabbing nine wickets and conceding 81 runs.

Santner’s wiles, in particular, were key to New Zealand pinning England down at the Westpac Stadium in the second T20I. Chris Jordan had shellacked Sodhi for four successive sixes and then cracked Lockie Ferguson over mid-off for four, threatening a late jailbreak. England were needing 49 off 30 balls when Southee tossed the ball over to his main man Santner. After his first ball was sent over extra-cover for four, Santner responded strongly by having Jordan holing out with a nifty drop in pace. Game over for England.

“Chris Jordan was hitting it pretty well there at the end,” Santner said at the post-match press conference. “When you bowl slow as a spinner, I guess you’ve quite a fine margin – you can be swept square or pulled square. You try to hit a couple in the [block]hole and mix it up. You try not to be too predictable and it was nice to get that wicket and go from there.”

Speaking to Radio Sport, Santner said that the wickets of big-hitters like Morgan and Jordan gave him extra pleasure. “They’re one of the best T20 sides at the moment and the way they like to play T20 cricket is to come pretty hard and that’s what they do whether you’re taking wickets or not. It’s one of things that even if you get a wicket, you’ve got to be on top of your game because the English can come hard and put you under pressure. And the best way to stall momentum is to take wickets throughout.”

All told, Santner has bagged 20 T20I wickets in 2019 – the most among bowlers from Full Member nations in the shortest format. This time last year, Santner was recovering from a knee surgery, wondering if he could prove his fitness in time for the World Cup. He, ultimately, made it to the UK and almost helped New Zealand win the tournament. Then, he almost helped New Zealand win the T20I series against England. If he keeps up his form, Santner could prove more effective on the larger grounds in Australia by this time next year and could (actually) help New Zealand win a World Cup.



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Ellyse Perry could miss rest of WBBL group stage

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The Sydney Sixers face being without captain Ellyse Perry for the rest of the WBBL group stage after she sustained a shoulder injury against the Melbourne Renegades but are hopeful she will be fit for the finals if the Sixers secure their spot in the knockouts.

Perry landed awkwardly while diving on the boundary during the Renegades’ chase on Sunday evening at Drummoyne Oval. Her discomfort was clear but she remained on the field for the rest of the match – which the Renegades won with a Courtney Webb six off the last ball – even though she was largely unable to use her right arm.

She has been diagnosed with a low grade AC injury and will certainly miss the Sixers’ next match, against Hobart Hurricanes on Wednesday, before further assessment later in the week when a more precise timeline will become clear with early estimates ranging from one to three weeks on the sidelines.

The best outcome could potentially see Perry available again at the end of the month while the lengthier timescale would push things close to the finals weekend on December 7 and 8.

The Sixers are currently third in the table with 12 points from nine matches. Perry stands as the second-leading run-scorer in competition with 469 at 93.80.



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Smith wary of Abbas but eager to challenge young quicks

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Steven Smith is wary of the threat that could be posed by Mohammad Abbas but is keen to push the stamina of Pakistan’s young quicks as he prepares to return to Test cricket on home soil.

Abbas, who has 66 wickets at 18.86 from 14 matches, is set to take the new ball and last time the teams met in the UAE he took 17 wickets at 10.58 – albeit in very conditions than he’ll encounter this week – but Smith was absent from that series due to his one-year ban for ball-tampering.

Abbas is likely to be entrusted with lengthy spells so that the young pace bowlers – of which 16-year-old Naseem Shah has generated the most excitement – are not overburdened.

ALSO READ: Mickey Arthur: What Pakistan must do to win in Australia

“I’ve never faced Abbas…he stands the seam up, any sort of movement he’ll get the most out of it,” Smith said. “And it looks like Shah bowls with some good pace. Being as young as he is, he probably hasn’t bowled lots of overs consistently so it’ll be about making him come back and bowl as many spells as he can and see if he can maintain it.”

Former Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur spoke to ESPNcricinfo about the challenge the young quicks face in maintaining pressure on Australia’s batsmen.

“I think Naseem Shah and Muhammad Musa will be very good bowlers, without a doubt, and the tour is really good for their development, but the thing that worries me is the ability to get six balls in the right area and you need to have that ability in Australia: strike with the new ball then go into a holding pattern. You’ve got to be able to be very consistent with your line and length so it will be interesting to see if they can get that balance right with their attack.”

Waqar Younis, Pakistan’s bowling coach, was also aware of the strain that could be on the inexperienced pace bowlers. “It’s hard work on these big fields, hard pitches, it takes a lot out of you as a teenager and we have to keep our fingers crossed that they stay fit and can challenge the Australians,” he said.

In the 2016-17 series between these two teams, Smith scored 441 runs at 110.25 including two centuries. Very few bowlers have had an answer to him since he returned to international cricket earlier this year. After 774 runs in the Ashes he has scored two centuries for New South Wales this season – his dismissal in the second bringing a fine for dissent – but they have come on two slow pitches at Drummoyne Oval and the SCG, where the slips became largely redundant, vastly different to what will confront him at the Gabba.

In the Sheffield Shield match against Queensland in Brisbane last month Smith collected a rare duck in the first innings then made 21 in the second and over the next few days he will be focusing on the change in conditions. “This week is going to be about getting used to the Gabba bounce, working on my leave and just being patient,” he said. “It’s probably a little bit different to the last two Shield games I’ve played at Drummoyne and SCG, where they’ve been pretty benign wickets. I don’t think I had a slip in basically for the whole time I batted.



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Shaw, Bhuvneshwar back in action in contrasting styles

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The closing stages of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2019-20 were enlivened by a tight race for the Super League and two prominent names making a comeback in Prithvi Shaw and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Sunday was to be the last day of the league stages for all five groups – A, B, C, D and E – but reschedules have meant there will be seven matches from Groups C, D and E played on Monday. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the Super League, to be followed by semi-finals and the final.

Shaw smacks half-century on comeback

Having served out his eight-month ban for inadvertently consuming a banned substance, Shaw returned to action for Mumbai in the familiar environs of the Wankhede Stadium with 63 off 39 at the top of the order in a Group D match. Assam had to bear the brunt of a Mumbai side smarting from a shock defeat against Meghalaya in their last match.

Mumbai piled up 206 for 5 after being asked to bat, while Assam could muster only 123 for 8.

But while Aditya Tare, Shaw’s opening partner, was the game’s top-scorer, smashing 82 off 48, Shaw was the cynosure. It was his first knock at a representative level since the IPL 2019 Qualifier 2 for Delhi Capitals against Chennai Super Kings on May 10.

He came through the test well, though Assam’s bowling didn’t pose the greatest challenge, hitting six fours and three sixes in his knock. Shaw will now need to build on a successful start to his comeback to challenge for a spot in the Indian team again. In his absence, Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal have established themselves as unquestionably the first-choice openers in the Test team.

Bhuvneshwar makes a solid comeback

Injuries, and team dynamics, have meant Bhuvneshwar has slipped from being a three-format player to one who is looked at primarily for limited-overs cricket. Even with the white ball, Deepak Chahar‘s emergence as a swing bowler of considerable skill has meant Bhuvneshwar’s absence hasn’t quite been an unfillable void.

Before the T20I series against Bangladesh, chief selector MSK Prasad had said, “Bhuvneshwar Kumar might come in the next series.”

Bhuvneshwar took some strides towards an international comeback, making a steady if understated return to competitive cricket. He played his second match in three days for Uttar Pradesh, in Group B. His comeback game was against Manipur on November 15 in Thumba, where he took none for 13 in three overs. Against Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday, he bowled his full quota of four overs and took 1 for 23.

Kerala made 119 for 8 in 20 overs, but Uttar Pradesh, set a revised target of 44 in seven overs, ended up on 42 for 4, losing by one run. That result had significant ramifications for who ended up qualifying.

Karnataka, Baroda, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Mumbai Haryana qualify

Karnataka, Baroda, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan have qualified for the Super League, with Groups A and B having completed all their matches.

Some matches remain in Group D, but Mumbai and Haryana have already qualified in that group. Mumbai are on 24 points and impregnable. Haryana have 20, with a match against Meghalaya. Even if they lose, there is no other team on 20 points. Puducherry are on 16 and can equal Haryana on points if they beat Madhya Pradesh, but Haryana had won their head to head match against Puducherry.

Both Karnataka and Baroda finished on 20 points in Group A, having five wins and one defeat each, and sailed through comfortably. The going was more tight in Group B. Tamil Nadu were the group leaders with 20 points, but all of Rajasthan, Vidarbha and Kerala finished on 16 points each. They had all beaten each other once, which meant Rajasthan, with a net run-rate of 1.938 qualified ahead of Vidarbha (0.566) and Kerala (0.503).

Two matches that were decided by a margin of just one run in rain-affected games played a part in the Group B table. Vidarbha had beaten Rajasthan by a single run on November 12 despite Chahar’s heroics, and on Sunday, Kerala beat Uttar Pradesh by the same margin. If Kerala hadn’t won, there wouldn’t have been a three-way tie and in that case, Vidarbha would have gone through by virtue of having won their head to head against Rajasthan.

Meanwhile, Rajasthan did all they could to qualify, destroying Tripura in a nine-wicket win. They first restricted Tripura to just 69 for 7 in 20 overs, and then smashed their way to 74 for 1 in five overs, ensuring their net run-rate would be high enough to take them through in case of a three-way tie – which is what happened.

Group C currently has six out of eight teams on 16 points, making the race very right. Two Group C games are still remaining. The winner of Maharashtra v Punjab will straightaway qualify, since they are two of the teams on 16 points. Railways, also on 16, will join in if they can beat Himachal Pradesh in the other game. Himachal have only eight points though, so if they win, it could leave five teams on 16. Punjab have a net run-rate superior to all others, so if they lose to Maharashtra, they’ll still be in position to qualify – should Railways lose. The team with the second highest net run-rate right now is an unlikely one: Chandigarh. It will be quite a story if they qualify.

Jharkhand are on top of Group E, but both Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir are close behind, and the latter two have matches in hand. The next two teams are Gujarat and Odisha, who will also be in action on the final day, which makes Group E’s scenario uncertain till the end.



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