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Jack Leach to return home from South Africa to aid recovery from illness



Jack Leach is to fly home from England’s tour of South Africa after failing to recover from illness. Leach, who arrived in the country as England’s first-choice spinner, has not been able to bowl a competitive delivery on the tour after being taken ill ahead of the first warm-up match in Benoni in mid-December.

Leach was also taken ill in New Zealand in November. Originally described as a bout of gastroenteritis, it now transpires the episode deteriorated to the extent that he was suffering from sepsis. He was hospitalised for several days in Hamilton and has not bowled a ball in anger since the Mount Maunganui Test, which ended on November 25. He will leave South Africa on Thursday.

Leach’s situation is complicated by his long history of Crohn’s disease, which requires him to take immune suppressant medication. The England management are keen not to push him too hard in his recovery phase and risk any long-term health implications. While Leach currently appears healthy, and has been able to play a full-part in the last couple of training sessions, his fitness levels have not recovered to the extent where he could be considered for Test selection.

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The England management remain hopeful that Leach will be available for England’s Test tour of Sri Lanka – the first Test starts in Galle on March 19, the first tour game on March 7 – but he must be considered a doubt at this stage.

“It has been an unfortunate time for Jack with illness and since the Test series in New Zealand six weeks ago, he hasn’t been able to get 100% fit,” England head coach Chris Silverwood said. “This has hampered his preparation in South Africa and despite his best endeavours he is not in a position to make himself available for selection for the final two Test matches.

“He is a great lad to have around the squad and his infectious personality and popularity will be missed. However, his focus has to be getting himself better and receiving the optimum levels of recovery and treatment, which is best served back in England without any distractions.

“I have no doubt that he will return to full fitness in the medium-term and hopefully he will recover in time for our tour of Sri Lanka in March.”

Leach is the third member of the tour party to return home. Rory Burns left as the second Test started after sustaining ankle ligament damage, before James Anderson suffered a fractured rib in the Cape Town Test. At least 11 members of the playing squad – and around half-a-dozen of the non-playing tour party – have also suffered from a sickness bug that decimated the team during the first Test and resulted in Ben Stokes referring to this, only partly in jest, as “the cursed tour”.

England are unlikely to call for further back-up for Leach. They still have two specialist spinners in the squad – Dom Bess and Matt Parkinson – and there is a possibility neither will play in the final Test in Johannesburg. Bess, Leach’s deputy at Somerset, performed a good holding role in Cape Town.

Looking ahead to Sri Lanka, though, this episode may further incentivise the England management to repair the relationship with Moeen Ali. Moeen, who is currently taking an extended break from Test cricket, has previously intimated that he was minded to “see out” his PSL contract, which would exclude him from the Sri Lanka tour, but there is little doubt the England management will try to coax him back to the Test team.

He is understood to maintain a good relationship with both Silverwood and England captain Joe Root, and has been invited to take part in some mentoring an England Lions training camp at Loughborough this week.

Moeen and Leach were the equal highest wicket-takers when England won in Sri Lanka little more than a year ago but, at this stage, there seems a possibility that neither they nor Adil Rashid, who was the third member of the spin attack, will return.

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South Zone battle to a draw after mistaken early declaration



South Zone escaped with a draw against Central Zone to book a place in the Bangladesh Cricket League final. They will now take on East Zone to have a shot at their fifth title, and third in a row, in the five-day final at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, in Chattogram from February 22.

South Zone, who had erroneously declared their first innings on 114 for 4 – 121 runs behind Central Zone’s 235 all out – in a bid to deprive them of a bowling bonus point, had to bat out the final day and a half in Cox’s Bazar to ensure that they at least drew the game. South Zone had thought they would deprive Central Zone from getting points for taking five wickets, which led to the declaration. However, when Central Zone took a massive lead, South Zone ended up having to bat for 144 overs to draw the game, since a loss would have not only given Central Zone more points, but also an additional bonus point for having won two matches in a row.

After Shamsur Rahman made 133 and Anamul Haque and Nasum Ahmed got out in the eighties, it was down to the last pair of Farhad Reza and Shafiul Islam to bat out the remaining 9.4 overs to ensure survival. South Zone finished on 386 for 9 in 144 overs, with Shamsur hitting 18 fours and a six in his 230-ball innings.

After South Zone’s declaration on the first day, Najmul Hossain Shanto struck his maiden double-century to give Central Zone a massive 506-run lead. Shanto made an unbeaten 253 off 310 balls, with 25 fours and nine sixes. The match also saw Marshall Ayub reach 8,000 first-class runs during his 116 on the first day.

At the ground next door, Mushfiqur Rahim struck his eleventh first-class hundred but couldn’t prevent East Zone from beating North Zone by eight wickets.

Batting first, North Zone were restricted to 272 runs with Nayeem Hasan taking 8 for 107, the second eight-wicket haul in an innings in his first-class career. Yasir Ali‘s 165 then gave East Zone a 59-run lead, and perhaps won him a place in the Bangladesh side for the upcoming one-off Test against Zimbabwe.

Left-arm spinner Sunzamul Islam took 7 for 115, the fifth time he has taken seven or more wickets in an innings. North Zone were then bowled out for 269 runs, with Nayeem taking a second five-for, which gave him his best match bowling figures of 13 for 208.

Yasir then struck a second century on the fourth day, taking his team to a comfortable victory.

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St Lucia Zouks sold to Kings XI Punjab owners



KPH Dream Cricket Private Limited, the consortium that owns Kings XI Punjab, has purchased the Caribbean Premier League team St Lucia Zouks.

They become the second set of IPL owners to currently run a CPL team, alongside Red Chillies Entertainment, who own both Kolkata Knight Riders and Trinbago Knight Riders. Previously, Vijay Mallya owned both Royal Challengers Bangalore and Barbados Tridents.

Mohit Burman, one of the Zouks’ new co-owners, said: “We are excited at the opportunity to invest in one of the most exciting sporting tournaments in the world, and we have been impressed by the vibrancy of CPL over the last seven years.

“We visualise taking the franchise to the next level and showcasing St Lucia in the best possible light over the coming years.”

St Lucia Zouks, under their current guise, were a late replacement in last year’s CPL, after the axing of St Lucia Stars shortly before the tournament. CPL Limited terminated the Stars’ participation agreement on August 7, 2019 – just under a month before the team’s first scheduled game – and replaced them with the Zouks, as the team had initially been known before their purchase by Royal Sports Club, LLC in 2016.

Last season, the Zouks finished fifth out of six under Darren Sammy’s captaincy, with three wins and six defeats.

This year’s competition will begin on August 19, with the final scheduled for September 26.

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South Africa pick du Plessis for Australia T20s, Rabada returns



Faf du Plessis has been included in South Africa’s T20 squad to play against Australia, after stepping down from captaincy on Monday morning. The team will be led by Quinton de Kock and also includes a return for Kagiso Rabada, who was rested for the limited-overs matches against England, and Anrich Nortje.

AB de Villiers was not named despite coach Mark Boucher’s indication that he will be considered for this year’s T20 World Cup. There was also no room for Reeza Hendricks, who did not play in the England series, Beuran Hendricks, or Sisanda Magala, who has yet to pass a fitness test since being part of the strength and conditioning camp last month. Uncapped batsman Pite van Biljon remains with the group, with a view to debuting in this series.

South Africa have stuck with the same core of players that lost 1-2 to England, where their bowling skills were under scrutiny. Boucher emphasised that the development of skills, such as delivering yorkers, are high on South Africa’s agenda and the Australia series will be an opportunity for Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo to do more work on that discipline. It is also a chance for the batsmen to bed into their roles, having pleased Boucher and independent selector Linda Zondi with their intent against England.

“The T20 series may not have been won but it was really pleasing to see our batting unit play so well,” Zondi said. “They showed a lot of aggression, particularly upfront, in every match which set a good foundation for the rest of the line-up to follow. The very exciting bursts of cricket that we were served up bode very well for the future, especially in the short term as we begin our hunt in earnest for the T20 World Cup squad.”

The form of the opening pair, Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock, was the highlight of the England series after they shared stands of 92, 48 and 84, but there is a chance they may not be together for the next three matches. Bavuma left the field with a right hamstring injury and will have an MRI scan to determine the extent of the damage. Depending on the seriousness of the injury, de Kock may have to be accompanied by another opening partner. With Reeza no longer in the squad, van Biljon, Rassie van der Dussen, Jon-Jon Smuts or even du Plessis could be tasked with that job.

While that may increase the load on de Kock, he has shown an ability to thrive with additional responsibility and has taken to captaincy with ease. Though de Kock has not been confirmed as the permanent T20 skipper, it appears to be only a matter of time, which means he will be opening the batting, keeping wicket and leading in both limited-overs formats. Rather than question the sustainability of the treble role, his opposite number Aaron Finch is in awe of it.

“He is someone who reads the game really well and loves getting around the team and encouraging and motivating. Your No.1 one job as an opening batter and wicket-keeper is to do your own job really well and once you do that, it’s easier to get everyone else on board and pulling in one direction,” Finch said. “The hardest thing as a leader is to be battling your own form. I went through this for a lot longer than I would have liked and to then try and drag other people with you when you know you are not going well yourself, its the hardest thing I found as a captain. The fact that he started really positively as an opening batter and as a wicket-keeper – he takes some unbelievable catches and does some brilliance behind the stumps. He is someone who naturally people would gravitate to and follow his direction if he keeps performing the way that he does.”

Finch followed the series against England – which boasted the highest run-rate for any three-match T20 series – closely and also had praise for the rest of the South African squad for taking each game to the final over. “For South Africa to have a changing side and come in and play so well right from the top order through to No.11 was great,” he said. “All the guys in the side had an impact on a game at various points. They are slowly starting to get to their best XI, especially with some older guys mixed in there with some real experience.”

South Africa’s most experienced T20 player is Steyn, who has played in 46 matches, and is now using the format to prove that pace is not the only effective way of dismissing batsmen. His slower balls and offcutters made regular appearances during the England series, where pace off the ball was key. Australia expect that to be the case in this series as well, and believe spin will play a role.

“It looked like the wickets are maybe on the slower side, spinning a little bit so that will have its challenges,” Finch said. “We’ve identified that as something that we need to get better at as a one-day and T20 team in particular: finding ways to score but be really proactive against spin and Shamsi has been bowling well.”

Apart from Shamsi, who is the frontline spinner in the squad, South Africa also have two left-arm spin options in Smuts and Bjorn Fortuin.

The first match in the series will be played in Johannesburg on Friday, followed by a move to the coast with games in Port Elizabeth on Sunday and Cape Town next Wednesday.

SA squad: Quinton de Kock. Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Pite van Biljon, Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phehlukwayo, Jon-Jon Smuts, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Lungi Ngidi, Bjorn Fortuin, Anrich Nortje, Dale Steyn, Heinrich Klaasen

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