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Australia’s batting ‘in the spotlight’ for Langer ahead of Pakistan Tests

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It was hardly going to be a state secret, but Justin Langer revealed Australia’s hand for the first Test against Pakistan at the Gabba two days before it starts, all but confirming that Michael Neser and Cameron Bancroft would sit out.

There remains a chance for things to go wrong, but in reality, the decision was made pretty simple once James Pattinson was ruled out after his code of conduct breach. Neser is a fine bowler, and with two day-night Tests this season his chance could still come, but the in-form Mitchell Starc slots back in alongside Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood – the trio that retained the Ashes at Old Trafford.

However, the bowling was never really going to be the issue. The tough choices were made a few days ago when the squad was named in the wake of Australia A’s collapse to 9 for 57 in Perth.

“I was disappointed for the guys that no-one banged the door down,” Langer said. “But I did say leading up to that game that it wouldn’t just be picked on that game, it’d be a whole range of things. I just came to realise that we’re going to have to show Pakistan great respect.”

Australia may have regained the services of Steven Smith and David Warner – both now set to play their first home Tests for 21 months – but as with last season when they were absent, there remains significant uncertainty around the batting. Joe Burns and Travis Head are those who have been given the first chance to bring stability as Langer balances the twin ambitions of immediate success and longer-term planning.

Burns’ last Test brought him 180 against Sri Lanka in Canberra and Head has only been absent for one game when he made way for Mitchell Marsh at The Oval, so there is plenty of logic around their returns. But it would not take long for questions to be asked if substantial returns aren’t forthcoming.

“We’re No. 5 in the world in Test cricket at the moment, and there’s a reason for that. One of them is that we don’t score 300-plus in the first innings enough,” Langer said. “Our batters are very aware of that. We understand there’s a spotlight on our batting at the moment and the boys have got to embrace that. They understand that and that’s part of the responsibility and privilege of being selected in the top six in the Australian Test team. We’re not going to shy away from that.”

Burns’ comeback recreates an opening partnership with Warner that has enjoyed success at Test level – four century stands and an average of 44.31 – with Langer hoping their contrasting styles and personalities can form a long-term alliance.

“He’s got a very good first-innings record as well, and I know Davey likes batting with him,” Langer said. “And I obviously have some understanding of how important it is for the openers to get on really well, and work well together and understand each other. I’ve said one of the things we need to do is get our top three cemented and get that as strong as possible because it’s a pivotal part of winning games of cricket. So I’m hopeful the odd couple will get out there and, like we’ve seen in the past, form a really good opening partnership.”

Meanwhile, Head remains Australia leading run-scorer since Newlands albeit Smith has done his best to overtake him in just four matches. A maiden Test hundred against Sri Lanka in Canberra capped a successful home summer amid a struggling batting line-up before a combination of a failure to build on starts and team balance cost him his place.

For a little while at the beginning of the season, it appeared Head may struggle to make the case for an immediate return, but a century against a strong New South Wales attack was enough.

“Runs didn’t come early, I probably missed out at Junction Oval and missed out here [against Queensland] but at no time did I doubt what I was doing, was making sure I backed what I’d been over the last 18 months and trying to get better,” Head said. “Fortunately, I was able to spend some time in the middle in Adelaide and finish not out in Perth.

“[It’s about] trying to continue the work I did last summer. I felt like I started the Ashes really well, but wasn’t able to post a score. I knew what was working and probably went away from that in Manchester which probably led to me missing out, but it was good learnings to work out the reasons why. I’ve looked at that over the last month, feeling I’m moving really well again. I continue to get better at the technical aspect, it’s still a work in progress.”

Though he won’t play, barring a late injury (or concussion substitution), Bancroft’s selection in the squad was the most contentious call given his first-class average of 17.67 for the season – and that was boosted by his 49 against Pakistan. Usman Khawaja‘s first-class season has been an equal struggle (average 17) but he averages 52.97 in Australia and has scored six of his eight Test hundreds on home soil.

“He knows what he has to do,” Langer said. “In this instance, we probably don’t need a 33-year-old like Uzzie [being around the squad] not playing the Test match. That’s what it comes down to. I’ve got great admiration for Uzzie, I think he’s a fantastic player, and I’m sure when he finds a bit of touch he’ll be pushing really hard to get back into the team.”

Will the Australia top six that starts the Test season at the Gabba on Thursday be the same one that finishes it in Sydney in six weeks?



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Crisis in South African cricket – full coverage

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Crisis in South African cricket – full coverage



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Recent Match Report – Cape Town Blitz vs Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, Mzansi Super League, 26th Match

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Nelson Mandela Bay Giants 173 for 6 (Dunk 75, Breetzke 64, Wahab 3-19) beat Cape Town Blitz 162 for 8 (Malan 60, de Kock 40, Tahir 2-22) by 11 runs

Nelson Mandela Bay Giants pulled away from Paarl Rocks at the top of the Mzansi Super League points table. The Giants are guaranteed a top-three finish as they lock horns with Paarl on Sunday, a match to determine the table-toppers, who automatically qualify for the final.

The Giants defended 174 against a Cape Town Blitz line-up that was primed for victory at 106 for 2 after 10 overs. But the chase unravelled spectacularly in the second half; they lost 6 for 56 to eventually lose by 11 runs. The loss leaves them having to win each of their remaining games as well as a few other results going their way if they are to finish in the top three.

Highest partnership of MSL 2019

Ben Dunk was part of a record chase on Wednesday against Tshwane Spartans. On Friday, he was at it again with Matthew Breetzke. The pair put on the highest partnership for any wicket at this year’s MSL with a 136-run stand, eclipsing the previous best of 104 between Theunis de Bruyn and Dean Elgar for the Tshwane Spartans.

Breetzke’s contribution was particularly significant because it was his first half-century in the competition. It came off 32 balls and demonstrated both his power hitting as well as his ability to work acute angles and send the ball through point and fine leg. Dunk went on to score 75, which put him on the top of the run-scorers’ table for about 90 minutes before Janneman Malan leapfrogged him back into pole position. Malan leads by five runs.

Highest partnership for the Blitz in MSL 2019

Cape Town didn’t get a tournament record, but had their moments when Malan and Quinton de Kock shared their highest stand of this tournament – 85 – to lay a strong foundation. Their half-century stand came up off 25 balls; they walloped 82 in the powerplay. They were particularly severe on Nandre Burger, whose first over went for 22, while both Beuran Hendricks and Chris Morris were plundered for 26 runs in their first two overs.

Death-bowling specialist

With the start they got, the Giants looked set to get 200 at least, but Wahab Riaz and Sisanda Magala ensured they didn’t even get 175. Their death-bowling yielded five wickets and cost just 22 runs in the last four overs. The strangle began when Jon-Jon Smuts, eager to pick up from where his openers left out, was out trying to smack Wahab out of the ground. In the next over, Magala almost gave Dunk a freebie, a low full-toss that he miscued to extra cover with Wahab taking the catch. The Pakistan fast bowler couldn’t stay out of the action as he picked two more wickets in his final over, castling both Marco Marais and Ryan ten Doeschate as they tried to create room to hit through the covers. Heino Kuhn threatened a last over special when he hit Magala for six but was out caught in the deep as he tried to repeat that again.

Ageless Imran

The turning points in Cape Town’s chase came courtesy Imran Tahir, who dismissed the openers six overs apart. Tahir had de Kock caught at deep midwicket off a slog-sweep. Then he returned in the 14th over to bowl Malan with a googly. By then, Jon-Jon Smuts had David Bedingham caught at deep midwicket. George Linde followed suit as he was run out. Cape Town lost steam, with Tahir turning it around for his team. He now has 4 wickets in the competition, one fewer than the leading wicket-taker, Dale Steyn.

And in off-field news

There’s been plenty of upheaval with the administration, amid which an injury to a fast-bowling great (yes, another one), had the potential to get lost. But no, we’re on the money. Steyn was ruled out with an intercostal muscle strain that has been diagnosed as “low grade”, which means he should be back in time for Cape Town’s finale against Spartans on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Giants received approval to miss their transformation target and field only one black African player instead of two in this fixture. Injuries to Junior Dala and Onke Nyaku meant they could only play Akhona Mnyaka. They will be expected to meet the target again when they play the Rocks on Sunday.



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Live Blog – The Pakistan Super League draft

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Welcome to ESPNcricinfo’s live blog for the Pakistan Super League draft. The new season starts in February 2020



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