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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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CPL submits proposal to stage tournament in Trinidad

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The Caribbean Premier League (CPL) organisers have submitted a proposal to Keith Rowley, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, to stage the entirety of this year’s tournament in the country, starting in mid-August.

Last week, Rowley told the local press that he was waiting for a formal approach from the CPL, but said his government was “cautiously optimistic” about hosting the tournament, subject to clearance from the country’s health authorities.

As part of the proposal, the CPL has said it would want to host the entire tournament, comprising 34 matches, at Trinidad’s two main grounds, the Queen’s Park Oval and the Brian Lara Academy. Games might be played back-to-back on the same day at 10am and 6pm local time, meaning the tournament would be played over 25 days rather than last year’s 39.

ALSO READ: CPL is the second-best T20 league after IPL – COO Pete Russell

Tournament officials hope that overseas players will be willing to participate, with the first round of international signings due to be announced next week, and remain optimistic that some fans will be able to attend games while adhering to social-distancing protocols.

Pete Russell, CPL’s chief operating officer, has said that officials will hold a virtual meeting with cabinet ministers on Thursday, June 4, in order to talk through details such as possible quarantine periods upon arrival in Trinidad, health protocols, and any assurances that need to be given.

“We’re ready to play,” Russell told ESPNcricinfo. “If you get the second wave that everyone hopes won’t come, we’d be back to square one, but the only other thing that will derail us is the government not allowing us to play for safety reasons. It’s just a case of getting the green light from them.”

The cricketing part of the Caribbean has avoided the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, with death tolls remaining low after governments imposed strict lockdowns before the virus could spread. The region’s relative success in managing the pandemic has raised hopes that the CPL might be able to proceed, and the tournament has appointed a medical board of four doctors who are putting health protocols in place. The Caribbean has already hosted competitive cricket in the form of the Vincy T10 Premier League at the Arnos Vale Sporting Complex, where there were sanitising stations on and off the field.

ALSO READ: Leg shakes and sanitising stations – cricket gets used to the new normal

Under current plans, all six CPL teams would stay in the same hotel in Trinidad, with each team being cordoned off and treated as a single household. Within that household of around 25, teams would be broken down into ‘clusters’ of four or five, within which social distancing could be relaxed. Players and support staff would also be subject to daily temperature checks, as well as viral and antibody tests both in the days before they would fly to Trinidad and on arrival.

While organisers had initially discussed the possibility of hosting games at Kensington Oval in Barbados, Trinidad is currently “Plan A” on account of the fact it has two international-standard grounds, which would reduce the prospect of pitches becoming worn and slow by the end of the tournament. Playing games in the morning will also be an attractive commercial proposition: the CPL’s business model relies heavily on India for broadcast revenue and sponsorship, and a 10am start time in Trinidad (7.30pm IST) would suit that market. The second game would be played at some point in the evening, with 6pm the provisional local start time.

However, the government approval remains the main stumbling block. “We don’t have a proper handle yet but we are cautiously optimistic if the CPL authorities would like to host the tournament in Trinidad,” Rowley had said last week.

Rowley said that once the proposal was submitted, the country’s chief medical’s officer would need to give his approval, with public safety the top priority. “We have to be careful… but we want to look at [staging the CPL] positively and we will,” he said.

Russell admitted that the tournament will make a financial loss this year, but said that all six franchises had confirmed they wanted to take part after being given the option not to. “They want continuity, and they want their teams to be represented,” he said. “Our thought was that if we had the option to play, we should; it’s good for the Caribbean.

“The Caribbean relies on tourism, that’s its bread and butter. So it needs to show the rest of the world that it’s open, and beaming live cricket around the world is a very good way of doing that.”

While plans to allow fans into grounds remain at an early stage, the tournament’s organisers have developed various contingency plans for behind-closed-doors cricket. These include the possibility of having socially-distanced cheerleaders, LED screens with videos of fans, and playing stadium sounds on the global TV feeds even if no fans are physically present.

With Cricket West Indies announcing last week that players across the region would be asked to take a temporary 50% pay cut, Russell said that the CPL felt a “sense of responsibility” to get players earning again following the lockdown.

“These guys’ livelihoods have been decimated through no fault of their own,” he said. “CPL isn’t just about the guys who have their IPL riches, but it’s about the journeymen, and the up-and-coming players who want to make a name for themselves. It’s very important for the whole cricketing ecosystem in the Caribbean that we get it on and these guys can earn money.”



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Travis Head’s Sussex contract deferred until 2021

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Sussex have announced that Travis Head‘s contract with the club has been deferred to 2021.

Head, who was due to play across all three formats in the 2020 season, has worked under Sussex’s head coach Jason Gillespie at the Adelaide Strikers, and was set to become the latest in a line of players to represent both teams, after Alex Carey, Chris Jordan, Rashid Khan and Phil Salt.

He had initially been recruited to play for the county last summer, but the move fell through after he was named in Australia’s Ashes squad, meaning Carey was signed instead.

The ECB announced last week that no professional domestic cricket would be played until August 1 at the earliest, and while plans are being drawn up to stage a reduced County Championship and T20 Blast competition, the majority of counties have cancelled or pushed back contracts for their overseas signings due to uncertainty over international travel and as a cost-cutting measure.

Gillespie said that Sussex were “delighted” that Head had committed to playing for the club next year. “It is clear that this season is going to be difficult and we are keen to develop a longer-term relationship between Travis and the club, so this suits both parties,” he said.

“Whilst it is very disappointing, it is clear that there are many difficulties surrounding the 2020 English domestic cricket season and we all agree this is in the best interests of all concerned,” Head said.



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Daren Sammy, Chris Gayle raise voice against racism in wake of George Floyd killing

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Former West Indies captain Daren Sammy and senior batsman Chris Gayle have become the first active cricketers to join a growing number of sports personalities worldwide in publicly raising their voice against the scourge of racism following the custodial killing of George Floyd at the hands of a policeman in Minneapolis.

Sammy, in a series of tweets on Monday, urged both the ICC and cricket boards to stand up against the “injustice” of racism against “people of color”, an issue that his former team-mate Gayle said was prevalent in cricket.

On Tuesday, former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara also put out a thread of eight tweets on the issue, saying that the events in the USA were a “powerful lesson to us all”.

Floyd, 46, a black man, died in Minneapolis on May 25 – a death now officially classified as homicide after a white police officer had held him down with his knee on his neck for over eight minutes while he was handcuffed. The incident, captured on video, has sparked widespread, angry protests across the USA.

Several sportspersons have spoken out since then, with basketball great LeBron James putting out a social media post referencing Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who famously kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice. On Monday, English Premier League football side Liverpool also “took a knee” while prominent players in the German Bundesliga wore t-shirts in solidarity with the protests.

“Right now if the cricket world not standing against the injustice against people of color after seeing that last video of that foot down the next of my brother you are also part of the problem,” Sammy tweeted.

Sammy said he was “frustrated” that black people continued to suffer on a daily basis and cricket needed to voice its protest. “Can you be part of the change by showing support? @ICC and all the other boards are you guys not seeing what’s happening to ppl like me? Are you not gonna speak against the social injustice against my kind. This is not only about America. This happens everyday.”

The ICC said that it has always condemned racism and had “zero tolerance” towards it. “As part of the Code [of Conduct], the players not only get punished, but also have to go through an education programme to promote a better understanding and awareness of issues directly relevant to the offence that he has committed. There is also a conciliation element to the proceedings,” the ICC told ESPNcricinfo, when approached for a comment. “We have a zero-tolerance policy towards this sort of conduct and it can be punished with a lifetime ban. We provide guidelines to our members and we also make it clear that no discriminatory behaviour of any kind will be tolerated by anyone at the event – staff, media, fans etc.”

The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) tweeted a picture of Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer and Adil Rashid hugging, captioned: “We stand for diversity. We stand against racism.”

Gayle said he had received “racial remarks” during his travels across the globe and that was only because “I’m Black.”

“Racism is not only in football, it’s in cricket, too,” he said. “Even within teams, as a Black man, I get the end of the stick.”

Sangakkara, in turn, called for a “world culture that has no place for ignorance and prejudice”.

Last November, England pace bowler and World-Cup winner Jofra Archer was at the receiving end of a racist comment from a spectator during the Test series in New Zealand. Archer later said that the person contacted him on Instagram. “I will never understand how people feel so freely to say these things to another human being. It baffles me,” Archer said. This January New Zealand Cricket (NZC) confirmed that it had banned a 28-year-old man for two years from attending any cricket in the country following a police investigation into the matter.

Several players have been sanctioned under the ICC’s anti-racism code with former Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed being a prominent recent example. Sarfaraz received a four-match ban last January after he admitted to making a racist comment to South Africa allrounder Andile Phehlukwayo during an ODI in Durban. Nambia allrounder Christi Viljoen was penalised by the ICC in June last year, for “inappropriate” sledges directed towards Uganda players at the T20 World Cup Africa Qualifiers.

Ian Bishop, the former West Indies fast bowler who is now a prominent television commentator, also spoke out on Twitter, saying that the world, in its current state, was in pain and needed help healing.





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