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Shaw, Bhuvneshwar back in action in contrasting styles



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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Brian Lara to West Indies batsmen: ‘Protect your stumps, be smart’



Protect your stumps. Play beside the line of the ball. Two nuggets of wisdom to succeed in England, from former greats Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, to Jason Holder’s West Indies, before the first Test against England in Southampton. The visitors won the previous leg of the Wisden Trophy at home in 2019, but they have struggled in England, having failed to win a Test series in the country since 1988. They have managed only six Test wins during this period.

Batting remains West Indies’ weakness. Holder and head coach Phil Simmons have underlined that as a big concern. In the rain-affected second intra-squad warm-up match in Manchester, none of the top-order batsmen even got a decent start. After the first-innings collapse in that match, Holder was embarrassed to admit some of his batsmen needed to “look in the mirror“.

In the absence of Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer, West Indies will look at the pair of Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope to lead the batting department. They were the standout performers for West Indies on their 2017 tour, as the visitors clinched a rare Test win in the country at Headingly on the back of their heroics.

However, both batsmen have struggled since. In terms of average, since their tour of England in 2017, Holder has been West Indies’ best batsman.

Lack of application and focus, and absence of partnerships, have been outlined as the major issues with the batting by Simmons. Lara, meanwhile, said that batting remained the “key” to West Indies’ fortunes.

“The key to any team taking the field, especially if they are taking the field after batting, is the amount of runs they have to play with,” Lara told Tendulkar in a chat on the 100MB app. “This present West Indies team need the luxury of having runs on the board. They need their batsmen to come up trumps and give them that sort of comfort. So the effectiveness of a Kemar Roach or Shannon Gabriel will only come into play if they don’t have to go on the defensive because of the lack of runs. That has been our problem for many, many years.”

According to Lara, quickly understanding the conditions, playing late, and dominating bowlers selectively were some of the cues West Indies batsmen needed to understand.

When pressed by Tendulkar, who asked: “In short, your message to West Indian team is try and stay beside the line, don’t get behind the line too much?”, Lara agreed.

“In England it is protect your stumps. And get acclimatised quickly, get the pace and bounce of the pitch, know what the bowlers are doing. And then when you feel comfortable then you sort of grow. You don’t necessarily have to dominate every single bowler that is bowling to you – if you get to 70-80 and there’s somebody that is giving you trouble, back off. That’s key.”

When Tendulkar joked that West Indies ought to take Lara “seriously”, the former West Indies captain cited the example of Tendulkar’s masterful 241 in 2004 in Sydney where he abstained from playing the cover drive, a shot that had got him into trouble throughout the series.

To cut out what hurts you, Lara said, was the “key” to batting.

“You know that Sachin, as well. In terms of that great innings that you played in Sydney: it was not about a particular bowler getting you out, but it was a particular shot getting you out. And you stopped yourself from playing it and you were able to score in other areas. So it is similar sort of approach – be it your technique and may be having a problem with a particular shot or a particular bowler.

A good example would be Australia. Playing against Australia, I will be 70-80 or may a 140 and [Glenn] McGrath comes back for a spell. And I know he is going to bowl 36 balls or six overs, seven overs, I don’t need to sort of take any great risks. Give your other guy at the other end, give him the opportunity to score.”

Summing up the chat, Tendulkar said: “You just have to be smart.”

Lara nodded, “Yes, that’s all”.

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Hilton Moreeng reappointed as South Africa women’s head coach



Hilton Moreeng has been reappointed as the head coach of the South African women’s team on a three-year deal. His new contract includes both the 2021 ODI World Cup and 2022 T20 World Cup, due to be held in New Zealand and South Africa respectively, and will take Moreeng’s tenure in the role to 11 years, since he was first appointed in 2012.

More to follow…

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Virat Kohli and…? Sourav Ganguly picks five current Indian Test players to play under him



Sourav Ganguly has worn many hats over the years, the latest being that of the president of the BCCI, but it’s Sourav Ganguly the India captain that people still remember with the most fondness. Chatting with Ganguly a couple of days before his 48th birthday, on the board’s official website, Mayank Agarwal got him to reminisce about his playing days, and also act as India’s Test captain, if only for a while. Excerpts from the interaction.

Five players from the current lot he would have wanted in his Test team

It’s a very tough question, Mayank, because I feel every generation the players are different, players face challenges differently in different generations, pitches, quality of opposition, even the change of the cricket ball – Kookaburra during my era and your era has completely been changed, maybe because of the leather, because the lacquer on the ball has changed. But on a humorous note, on a lighter note – and I hope nobody feels this generation is better than the other or that generation is weaker than the other because we unnecessarily get into such debates and for me, that has no meaning. From your current team, I would have loved to have Virat Kohli in the side, Rohit Sharma in the side… I will not pick you at the moment because I had Virender Sehwag at the other end, you’re my third opener. I will go for [Jasprit] Bumrah because I had Zaheer [Khan] at the other end, who I thought was exceptional. I would also go for Mohammed Shami after Javagal Srinath retired, because I think Mohammed Shami is a fantastic bowler. So I’ve got Rohit, I’ve got Virat, I’ve got Bumrah, I’ve got Shami, so I’ve got four. I had Harbhajan [Singh] and Anil Kumble in my side, so [R] Ashwin would be my third spinner. I would be very tempted to have Ravindra Jadeja also.

He made Steve Waugh wait at the toss during the 2001 series – fact or fiction?

It was an accident actually. In the first Test match, I left my blazer back in the dressing room. They were such a good side, and I was very nervous in that series because it was my first big series as captain and up against a fantastic cricket team. In the last 25-30 years, I haven’t seen a cricket team as good as Australia in that generation. So initially it was [just that] I forgot my blazer in that first Test, but then I realised that he [Waugh] reacted to it. He reacted, and then he was not taking it very seriously, and it was working on them, working on the team, the way they play, the way they go about their… they were a bit grumpy with all that. And it worked for us, we won the series 2-1. But having said that, Steve Waugh is a dear friend, he has always been a friend, and I have tremendous respect for him as a cricketer, and it was all in good humour.

“The best players in the shorter format have the ability to hit boundaries at will. You look over a period of time, in the history of one-day cricket, the best players can find the fence under pressure consistently. And MS Dhoni was one of them, and that’s why he was special”

Did Sachin Tendulkar force him to take strike when they opened together in ODIs?

Always, always he did. He had an answer to that. I used to tell him, “Yaar, sometimes you also face the first ball, I am always facing the first ball.” He said he had two answers to it. One, he believed when his form was good it should continue, that he should remain at the non-striker’s end, and then when his form wasn’t good, he said, “I should remain at the non-striker’s end because it takes the pressure off me.” So he had an answer for both, good form and bad form. Until and unless you walked past him and stood at the non-striker’s end, and he was already on TV and he would be forced to be at the striker’s end. And that has happened one or two times, I have just walked past him and stood at the non-striker’s end.

On pushing for MS Dhoni‘s inclusion in the side during his captaincy days

Yes, that’s true, but that’s my job, isn’t it? That’s every captain’s job, to pick the best and make the best team possible. You go by your instincts, you go by faith on that player, that he will deliver for you, and I am happy that Indian cricket got a Mahendra Singh Dhoni, because he is unbelievable. One of the great players in world cricket, I would say, not just finisher. I think everyone talks about how he finishes lower down the order, [but] he batted at No. 3 when I was captain and he got 140 [148] against Pakistan in Vizag, I think. The old stadium. It was fantastic. So I always believed that he should bat up the order because he is so destructive. The best players in the shorter format have the ability to hit boundaries at will. You look over a period of time, in the history of one-day cricket, the best players can find the fence under pressure consistently. And MS Dhoni was one of them, and that’s why he was special.

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