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Tim Paine looks to Setven Smith, David Warner to spearhead World Test Championship tilt

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Australia captain Tim Paine believes the return of Steven Smith and David Warner to Test cricket down under will give the hosts the horsepower they need to mount a genuine challenge for the World Test Championship title. Paine said that the series against Pakistan would give them a chance to reel in some of India’s enormous lead at the top of the table.

Under the idiosyncrasies of the inaugural Test championship, a two-Test series offers the possibility of collecting 120 points for a 2-0 sweep, a result that would vault Australia from fifth to second position on the WTC table behind Virat Kohli’s side.

Apart from that, Joe Burns has returned at the top alongside Warner, while Marnus Labuschagne‘s formative last summer reaped strong rewards in England, a trend that Paine is looking to continue.

“Hopefully a huge one with runs,” Paine said of the impact he was looking for from Smith and Warner. “We’ve enjoyed having them back last winter and certainly Steve has added a hell of a lot of runs, a hell of a lot of know-how and experience and Dave is the same. I touched on it a lot last summer, it’s really critical that our young players spend a lot of time with those guys, learn from them as much as we can and try and emulate the things they’ve been doing.

“We would like to support Steve a lot more this summer, Davey is certainly one of those guys who is really keen to get amongst the runs and just watching him the last few days in the nets, he looks as good as I’ve seen him for a long time, which is a great sign for us.”

Warner gave a strong sign that he would rebound from a horrific Ashes series by sculpting a high-quality century for NSW against Queensland at the Gabba early in the season, and Paine said he had seen further evidence to back that up this week.

“He hasn’t lost any of his appetite to score runs, he’s still working as hard as I’ve ever seen him work,” Paine said. “Just watching him in the last few days, he just looks like he is back to his best, the ball is making a different sound off his bat again, he looks like he is in great positions most of the time when he’s batting in the nets.

“You can’t afford to be playing a Test match at the end of a Test series as a dead rubber, there’s no such thing, and our team has got our eyes set firmly on that Test final in June 2021. That’s one of our team’s goals”

Tim Paine

“But the best and most pleasing thing about Davey was during the whole Ashes when he was probably in the worst form of his career, he didn’t change one bit. A lot of players would. He has got unbelievable self-belief, which is his main strength. Obviously, he didn’t put the runs on the board he would like, but I still know he believes and we believe he is a world-class opener, he has played nearly 80 Tests and averages 45, so I’d be expecting that to be back up over 50 by the end of this series.”

Coach Justin Langer has noted the boom-and-bust tendencies of the Test team under Paine’s leadership, only once – against Sri Lanka last summer – putting two successive wins together in the same series. It will be essential for Australia to do so to contend for the championship.

“That’s the key to being a good Test team, being able to do it consistently,” Paine said. “We touched on it this week as well with the importance of the Test championship. You can’t afford to be playing a Test match at the end of a Test series as a dead rubber, there’s no such thing, and our team has got our eyes set firmly on that Test final in June 2021. That’s one of our team’s goals.

“It just adds to the importance of every Test match, every Test series, so for us to be playing consistent cricket both home and away and in all types of conditions, is something we’re certainly striving for. I think through that difficult period last year what we did was get some guys some exposure to Test cricket that probably wouldn’t have got it beforehand. So we’ve started to build some real depth around our squad. With depth, I think that’s when you start to get that consistency because guys know they have to perform to keep their spot.

“We’ve had some really good players in this series that have been left out of the Australian Test squad, which is disappointing for them, but really good for our side in the fact we’re building that depth and with the depth, we’re hoping we’ll get that consistency of performance.”

As for Labuschagne and Burns, Paine reckoned their Queensland experience would provide a useful head start to the top order. “At the moment, in the near future, the No. 3 spot is his to nail down,” Paine said of Labuschagne. “I thought he did a wonderful job in England, and he is someone we think can certainly fill that hole at No. 3. He’s had a terrific start to his Test career, he has got good technique, good character, good temperament, and a good No. 3 needs all those. We’re certainly excited by what he can do in that role.

“We know what we’re going to get from Burnsy, he is a hardened first-class opening batter and he bats at the Gabba a lot where it’s hard to score runs, particularly at the top of the order. He knows his game really well, he is really confident in it, and I think he has been picked now when he has come into the prime of his career and he is playing as well as he ever had. Similar to a Matthew Wade, we’ve just picked those guys now at the right time and they’ll make the most of this opportunity.”



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What is the reward for performing in this Ranji Trophy?

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Into its 86th year, the biggest first-class competition in the world – the Ranji Trophy – gets bigger with a 38th team, Chandigarh, added to the roster for the 2019-20 season. Like every year, it gives around 800 hopefuls a platform to establish themselves. Players aside, it is also a true test for ground staff, curators, logistics personnel, scorers, coaches and, of course, match officials. Here is a look at what the key talking points from this season are likely to be.



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Rahul 2.0 makes strong case for regular limited-overs spots

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Ball dekho, maaro.” (See ball, hit ball)

Speaking to Chahal TV for the BCCI website, this was how KL Rahul summed up his approach and mindset after getting to a start in India’s pursuit of 208 against West Indies in the T20I series opener in Hyderabad. In stark contrast to his captain Virat Kohli’s early struggles at the other end, Rahul seamlessly built on his start and converted it into a 40-ball 62. It was Rahul’s innings that set the scene for the angry Kohli masterclass in the latter half of the chase.

When Rahul had broken into first-class cricket in 2010, he was a proper top-order batsman whose game was founded on the old-school virtues: leaving anything that’s wide of off stump and playing the balls that threaten the stumps with a dead-straight bat.

Rahul, however, unlocked the white-ball monster in him during IPL 2018, when he racked up 659 runs in 14 matches at a strike rate of 158.41. He followed it up with 593 runs in 14 matches in 2019, having expanded his range with a variety of sweeps, scoops and big hits. Some of that funkiness has perhaps seeped into his red-ball game and as a result he has been jettisoned from the Test squad.

His white-ball form, though, is reaching a stage where it might be just too hard to ignore. Rahul might not have even started the series had Shikhar Dhawan been fit. This, despite being at the forefront of Karnataka’s 20-overs Syed Mushtaq Ali title defence. Rahul had tallied 313 runs in eight innings at an average of 52.16 and strike rate of 155.72, including some tough runs on spin-friendly tracks in Surat.

On the eve of the T20I series against West Indies, Kohli was even asked if the management might consider bumping Rishabh Pant to the top, but the India captain shot that thought down quickly and indicated that Rahul will slot in alongside Rohit Sharma.

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KL Rahul on getting to open the innings in T20Is and the new front-foot no-ball monitoring system

Rohit picked out deep midwicket for 8 off 10 balls in India’s steep chase in Hyderabad and Kohli just couldn’t find his bearings early on at the other end. West Indies’ bowlers, particularly Sheldon Cottrell, varied their pace and lengths smartly to make life more difficult for India.

After Cottrell had softened Rohit with a length ball that burst off the track and pinged his right glove, left-arm fingerspinner Khary Pierre made the incision for West Indies. However, Rahul continued to pick off runs in risk-free fashion.

Having all the shots is one thing and knowing when to use them is another. When Cottrell or Holder found some extra bounce and aimed for the fourth stump, Rahul simply rode it and tapped it behind point, down towards third man.

Only when the ball was well short and wide of off did Rahul unleash the full-blooded cut. Hayden Walsh Jr. was the best fielder of CPL 2019, his athletic interventions at backward point turned games as much as his wristspin did for eventual champions Barbados Tridents. Just ask West Indies and Trinbago Knight Riders captain Kieron Pollard. It was a moment of brilliance in the field from Walsh Jr. that ran out Pollard in the second qualifier and KO’d Knight Riders.

On Friday night, Rahul cracked a brace of square-cuts, beating a sprawling Walsh Jr. – both to his left and right for fours. Then, after bedding in, in the last over of the Powerplay, Rahul brought out his attacking enterprise. He backed away to left-arm fingerspinner Pierre and slog-swept him over square leg for six. See ball, hit ball.

In the next over, Rahul used the extra pace of Walsh Jr. to his advantage and dabbed him fine of short third man for four. He also rotated the strike without much fuss and raised his fifty off 37 balls. During the process, Rahul passed 1000 T20I runs in his 29th innings.

Just when Rahul was about to hit full tilt, having sent Kesrick Williams and Pierre for sixes over midwicket, he holed out to long-off while attempting a third six. By then, Kohli had found his touch and India eventually sailed to victory.

“[It’s] important to lay a solid foundation as an opener because there are power hitters in the back end,” Rahul told Star Sports after the match. “Playing Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy helped a lot. Doesn’t matter how many hours you spend in the nets. Winning games gives me the most confidence. Did that with Karnataka, happy to do it with India. Good that I can carry my confidence across tournaments.”

Rahul has two more T20Is in this series to extend his rich white-ball form and give the Indian management another happy headache in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup in Australia – the scene of his Test debut – next year.

“It’s a long way [away], honestly,” Rahul said of the T20 World Cup, at the post-match press conference. “I’ve got the opportunity to bat at the top of the order again after a couple of series. So [I’m] looking forward to just making the best use of it. Today was a good outing, a good hit in the middle, and hopefully I just continue the same thing and not worry about October next year, there are a lot of games before that.”



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Jacques Faul appointed acting CEO of CSA

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CSA have appointed Dr Jacques Faul as acting CEO. Faul replaces Thabang Moroe, who was suspended on Friday on allegations of misconduct.

Faul is currently CEO of the Titans, the franchise based at SuperSport Park and has acted as CSA head before. He filled the role in 2012, between the Gerald Majola and Haroon Lorgat administrations.

At a media briefing on Saturday afternoon, CSA president Chris Nenzani also confirmed that former captain Graeme Smith is in in “final talks,” with the organisation to take on the role of director of cricket. Smith was interviewed for the position last month, alongside suspended interim director of cricket Corrie van Zyl and former national selector Hussein Manack, but withdrew interest citing lack of confidence in the administration. He has since indicated on social media that negotiations are ongoing.

South Africa begin a four-Test, three ODI and three T20I series against England, starting on Boxing Day.

More to follow



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