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New Zealand ‘quietly optimistic’ on Boult, de Grandhomme being fit for Australia

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New Zealand are “quietly optimistic” that Trent Boult and Colin de Grandhomme will be fit to play in Australia.

Boult and de Grandhomme missed the second Test against England after sustaining injuries during the victory in Mount Maunganui. And while New Zealand coach, Gary Stead, admits it is too early to know for sure if the pair will be available for the Perth Test on December 12, he described progress so far as “encouraging”.

Both players will be obliged to step up their rehabilitation in the coming days. While they have had gentle bowls over the last couple of days, they will be pressed a little harder on Wednesday and then expected to deliver “a decent spell” on Friday. Only after that will a decision be taken on whether they fly to Perth on Saturday.

If either of them struggle to get through those sessions, Stead suggested a replacement would be called into the squad.

“Both Colin and Trent are progressing well, which is encouraging for us,” Stead said. “Colin could have kept bowling through the last Test so he’s probably just a little more advanced. But Trent actually rocked up really well today.

“Both have rolled their arm over at a very low level in the last two days. But both are going to have to prove their fitness a couple of days out from the first Test and bowl a decent spell of 10-12 overs at least over two or three spells.

“I don’t know if I’m really confident, but I’m quietly optimistic they’re tracking where we want them to be. But it’s a long way to go if we know they’re not going to play, so it’s likely we’d look at replacements.”

In an ideal world, New Zealand would probably have time to reflect on an excellent series victory over England – their fifth home series win in succession and their second over England in little more than 18 months – before heading into another Test campaign. But such are the schedules in modern international cricket that they will instead be obliged to go into a day-night Test in Perth without any sort of warm-up game. Instead, three training sessions – two of which are under lights – will have to suffice.

“It’s just another thing to adapt to,” captain Kane Williamson said phlegmatically. “Such is the international schedule. We fly out in a couple of days, have a bit of training and we’re straight into another match. So it is quite a quick turnaround.

“The conditions – the surfaces – are quite different. They will bounce a bit more. This was a brilliant series win for us, but we’re going to have to adapt quickly. We know it’s tough – a lot of the guys have been there before – and we know they’re very strong, clinical in their own [backyard]. We’ll look forward to the challenge.”

Williamson also confirmed that opener Jeet Raval, who endured a miserable series, would be retained for the Australia series. Raval made just 24 runs in the series falling to a couple of loose shots in his first two innings and failing to review a leg-before decision which replays show he hit in his third. His most recent seven Test innings have produced five single-figure scores – including two ducks – and a best of just 33.

But his long-term record is decent – he scored his maiden Test century only six Tests ago – and New Zealand have not lost faith in him at this stage.

“These things happen,” Williamson said of Raval’s grim series. “He has had a number of successful times at the top of the order with Tom Latham and he has been up against a really strong bowling attack here against England. He’s been playing well and he’s been very successful. He’ll be turning his focus to Australia now.”

A 213-run partnership between Williamson and Ross Taylor shepherded New Zealand to safety on the final day in Hamilton. Despite resuming with their side still in deficit, the pair both completed centuries – Williamson’s 21st at Test level; Taylor’s 19th – to ensure the draw. During the course of his innings, Taylor also became the second New Zealand batsman to make 7,000 Test runs (Stephen Fleming is the other) and passed 1,000 Test runs at Seddon Park. This was his sixth Test century at the ground in 12 Tests.

While Williamson admitted he had been fortunate to survive a remarkable dropped chance to Joe Denly – it really was as simple as they come at this level – such is his confidence at present, he hinted that he was a bit disappointed that the rain curtailed this Test denying New Zealand the chance to chase victory.

“It was a great effort form the guys after being slightly up against it after the first innings,” he said. “A lot of hard work went into saving the match in the end when rain didn’t allow us time to win it. But overall it was a really good effort. Ross’ record here is incredible.

“The catch? It was fairly simply. No doubt Joe Denly is disappointed. The bowler, Jofra Archer, certainly was. I was very fortunate. You don’t get many opportunities like that.”



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Quinton de Kock, Laura Wolvaardt scoop up major CSA awards

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Quinton de Kock and Laura Wolvaardt were named South Africa’s Men’s and Women’s Cricketer of the Year respectively at CSA’s annual awards ceremony, held virtually on Saturday night. Both players also scooped up two other awards, with de Kock winning Test cricketer of the year and men’s players’ player of the year and Wolvaardt winning ODI cricketer of the year and women’s player’s player of the year.

Lungi Ngidi took both men’s white-ball awards after being named ODI and T20 player of the year. Shabnim Ismail was named women’s T20 player of the year while David Miller was voted the fans’ favourite player. Anrich Nortje was recognised as the newcomer of the 2019-20 season, which was the worst for the South African men’s team since readmission.

A disastrous World Cup campaign, Test series defeats away to India and at home to England and only one white-ball series win from the four played at home made this a difficult year for South African cricket to celebrate for everyone but de Kock. He stood head and shoulders above the rest, as their second-highest run-scorer across the seven Tests (behind Dean Elgar), their highest run-scorer in the ODIs and T20Is against England, and the T20I series against Australia, and their new white-ball captain. For all his efforts with the bat, de Kock did not star in the ODI series against Australia, which South Africa swept 3-0, but he did captain them to their only trophy of the summer.

“Quinny is the leading wicketkeeper-batsman in Test cricket and is, in fact, one of the leading batsmen in both red ball and white-ball cricket. He is also starting to emerge as an outstanding leader,” CSA Acting CEO, Dr Jacques Faul, said.

This was the second time de Kock has won the biggest prize in the country’s game, after also being named cricketer of the year in 2017. He joins Jacques Kallis, Makhaya Ntini, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Kagiso Rabada on the list of players who have won the award twice.

The other notable performers in the men’s game were bowlers and of those, Ngidi and Nortje made the biggest impacts. After missing the season’s home Tests with a hamstring injury, Ngidi returned to lead the white-ball wicket-takers’ list in both formats. Nortje made his Test debut in India and was the most successful bowler in the Test series against England, from both sides. He also featured in South Africa’s white-ball teams, and worked well with Ngidi, providing another attacking option.

The women’s team fared much better than the men’s, having secured automatic qualification to next year’s 50-over World Cup by beating New Zealand away from home and in reaching the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup. Wolvaardt became the youngest player to win the women’s cricketer of the year award, at 21-years-and-two-months old. She was South Africa’s second-highest run-scorer in ODIs against India and New Zealand and showed her ability to significantly up her strike-rate at the T20 World Cup, where she was one of the stand-out performers. So too was Ismail, who took the T20 prize. Left-arm spinner Nonkululeko Mlaba, who also featured at the tournament, was named women’s newcomer of the year.

“Laura was named in the tournament select XI at the conclusion of the ICC Women’s World T20 which tells us a great deal about the esteem in which she is held at international level,” Faul said. “At the age of 21 her best years are ahead of her and she will be a key player when the team go to the Women’s World Cup next year.”

At domestic level, Cape Cobras’ left-arm spinner George Linde, who also made his Test debut, in India, was awarded the four-day cricketer of the year title. Linde was second on the wicket-takers’ list and also voted the franchise system’s Most Valuable Player. Dolphins’ batsman Grant Roelofsen, who led the one-day cup run charts, was named one-day player of the year and was also the domestic players’ player of the year while Tabraiz Shamsi, who bowled the Paarl Rocks to the Mzansi Super League (MSL) title, was named the tournament’s impact player. Janneman Malan, the highest local run-scorer at the MSL, was the competition’s noteworthy young player of the year.



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‘No doors are closed,’ says Ed Smith after Bairstow, Moeen Test omissions

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The omission of Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali from England’s 21-man Test party to take on West Indies was in part a reflection of their importance in white-ball cricket, rather than a statement on the current pecking order, according to Ed Smith, the ECB’s national selector. Smith confirmed that both players would move over to the “white-ball bubble” in the coming days, suggesting it made sense to do so once it was deemed neither was likely to make the first Test playing XI.

With England’s rearranged summer schedule largely dictated by the protocols around Covid-19 and bio-security, and an ODI series against Ireland expected to begin two days after the end of the third West Indies Test, the selectors were always going to be faced with making difficult choices about which formats to prioritise for certain players.

ALSO READ: England stick with Denly, no room for Bairstow, Ali in Test squad

Bairstow is currently behind Jos Buttler and Ben Foakes in the queue to keep wicket, and has had little opportunity to burnish his first-class batting record since being dropped last year, while Ali was unable to put pressure on Dom Bess as the incumbent spinner during this week’s warm-up game. Rather than be retained among the reserves – staying with the 13-man squad in case of the need to make Covid-19 substitutions – they will instead begin limited-overs preparations, with a white-ball group expected to be named in the coming week or so.

“With Moeen and Jonny, part of the calculation is that they have been in the white-ball squad and been very good performers in white-ball cricket,” Smith said. “You know if they’re not in the eleven here, obviously it’s good that they’re playing cricket in the white-ball team.”

Bairstow and Ali have been on the periphery of the Test side since last summer’s Ashes. Bairstow lost the gloves to Buttler at the conclusion of the series, and was left out of the Test squad for tours of New Zealand and Sri Lanka, while Ali opted not to make himself available for England’s winter Test commitments after losing his central contract, citing a desire for rest.

England chose to pick Essex’s Dan Lawrence and Gloucestershire’s James Bracey as batting back-up at the Ageas Bowl, after both impressed during the three-day intra-squad game. But Smith reiterated the suggestion he made at the end of last summer that there was still scope for Bairstow to come again as a Test force.

“A couple of things with Jonny. No one doubts he’s a very good cricketer across formats for England. No doors are closed for Jonny. We’re fully aware of what he can do in Test cricket, and of course we’re fully aware of his talent in all forms of the game. It’s also the case that we are where we were. When Covid-19 caused a suspension of cricket, Jos Buttler was the man in possession – still is the man in possession – and has our full support as England’s wicketkeeper-batsman. And Ben Foakes was the deputy on the tour of Sri Lanka. That’s where it is today.

“It’s also the case that Jonny is in the white-ball team, and has had an exceptional spell of form in white-ball cricket. There’s cricket to be played there. It seemed the best arrangement for Jonny to move over to the white-ball bubble and to stick with the consistency of where we were.

“I wouldn’t make any presumptions, in terms of anything being blocked for Jonny. There’s a wide understanding of how good Jonny is when he’s at his best, and that’s not going to be forgotten. Jonny’s a very talented player, and has played some very fine innings across England formats.”

Similarly, with Somerset pair Bess and Jack Leach competing for the berth of No. 1 Test spinner, Ali was overlooked for a Test recall. Smith again characterised Bess as the man “in possession”, with Leach included among the reserves.

“We’re very glad that Moeen is available for Test cricket,” Smith said. “Moeen is a trusted and valuable England cricketer, and as a selection panel we’ve always wanted to select from the widest available talent pool. Moeen being available is good news for the talent in the spin department. It’s also the case that Dom Bess did very well in South Africa, and Jack Leach has had spells in recent months when he’s been England’s spinner, and illness and injury have been very unfortunate for Jack. But we’re glad that Moeen is available again.”

The other topic for deliberation was the shape of England’s top order, with Rory Burns returning from injury after missing three Tests in South Africa. The selectors opted to stick with Joe Denly – a decision eased by the absence of Joe Root while he attends the birth of his child – rather than look at an uncapped option such as Lawrence.

Smith pointed to England’s 3-1 success in South Africa, and a renewed emphasis under Chris Silverwood on the top order looking to bat time in order to set up big scores; Denly has faced 100-plus balls in nine of his last 15 innings, although he hasn’t converted any of his six Test fifties into a hundred. Smith also said that he expected Denly to keep his place at No. 3, meaning Zak Crawley, an opener who deputised for Burns in South Africa, is likely to have to fill Root’s spot at No. 4.

“The first thing to say is to look at the player and look at the team. England have come off the back off three consecutive Test match victories, a 3-1 victory in South Africa. There is also clearly an emerging Test plan by Chris Silverwood and Joe Root, supported by the selectors, about how they are setting up the team. There has been a real emphasis on solidity at the top of the order and getting first-innings runs. Enough runs for the bowling attack to really have a bank of runs behind them to bowl as a unit to win games. That’s the plan.

“What we have seen is that since moving to a slight shift of plan for this winter, the England team has batted with more solidity and consistency throughout the order and Joe Denly has been a big part of that. Obviously, sometimes, the standout performances might have come lower down the order at four, five or six but the platform has been laid by the top order. What we are trying to do as selectors is to give the strongest possible options so England can execute the Test plan that they want to and that’s what we are doing.”



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West Indies batsmen need to ‘stand up and make difference’, says Shamarh Brooks

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Shamarh Brooks has backed the preparations of West Indies’ batsmen as being good enough to “bring success” in the series against England, despite assistant coach Roddy Estwick admitting to concern about the form of the top order going into the Tests.

A likely top five of Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Brooks, Shai Hope and Roston Chase managed just 29 runs between them in West Indies’ second intra-squad warm-up match, a rain-affected four-day game at Emirates Old Trafford earlier this week, prompting Estwick to describe their lack of time in the middle as one of his “biggest worries”.

While Brathwaite, Hope and Brooks did manage fifties in the first tour game, they were unable to build on that, as West Indies’ first-choice pace foursome of Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph combined to reduce the Brathwaite XI to 49 for 5 in their only innings. But Brooks remained confident that the building blocks were being put in place for West Indies to be competitive with the bat.

ALSO READ: Gabriel added to West Indies Test squad to face England

“Clearly our bowling will be our strength, and has been for the past couple of years,” he said. “If you look at our batting, when we do get it right as a unit we have won games. That’s why I’m stressing on the point that we need to bat well, especially against a team like England at home, who are going to be very challenging.

“The coach, I guess he would feel that way because of what he saw in the last game, where the bowlers really raised the intensity and we fell down. But I still don’t feel that, when we come to the Test series, it will go that way. We need to apply ourselves, stick to the basics and stick to our gameplans.

“Some of us got the opportunity to bat and spend time at the crease. It’s still a batsman or bowlers game [and] our bowlers bowled well, especially in the second game, our Test bowlers really came with a different intensity. It’s good to get out there and have a practice game but I think we are backing our preparation to bring success in this series.”

While both teams will have suffered from a lack of preparation time, due to disruption caused by the Covid-19, West Indies have the added challenge of trying to get used to unfamiliar conditions ahead of a challenging schedule of three Tests in as many weeks. There have also been concerns over the form and fitness of captain Jason Holder, while wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich sat out this week’s warm-up match after suffering a side strain.

Additionally, a CWI board dispute over the decision to allow coach Phil Simmons to leave the team’s bio-secure bubble in order to attend a funeral has provided an unwanted distraction in the build-up to the Tests. After three negative Covid-19 tests, Simmons is now back in charge of the squad, which has relocated to Southampton ahead of the first Test, starting on Wednesday.

“The guys have been working very, very hard,” Brooks said. “We know the English bowling attack is a good one, [but] once we bat well, I think we have a very good chance. Spending time at the crease will be key and as long as we apply ourselves, spend some time out there, it will get easier. We need as a batting unit to stand up in this series and make the difference.

“I think we’ve had enough time to prepare. We’ve been here three-four weeks now, we’ve had two practice games, and I think the intensity in those practice games was decent. But having said that, we just came off a first-class season as well, so it’s not like we are out of the woods in terms of not being in cricket form. I know three months [without cricket] might seem like a while, but I think the four weeks we have had here would be enough time to get ourselves back in shape and ready for this Test series.”

Brooks, one of the large Bajan contingent in the squad, also paid tribute to Everton Weekes, who died this week at the age of 95. Brooks made his maiden hundred, in only his third Test, against Afghanistan in Lucknow last year, and touched on the influence Weekes had on him as a youngster in the Barbados set-up.

“When I scored my first Test hundred in India, I spoke about Sir Everton. Even in first-class cricket, whenever cricket is being played at Kensington [Oval], he would always be in the president’s suite watching. You were always able to go up there, whether it be during the game or after the game, and have a word with him about what he would have seen, what you can do differently. Now that great man has gone but he has left a legacy and hopefully the guys in the team now can carry on that legacy.”



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