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‘Not getting in a battle with myself and Temba over who plays’ – du Plessis

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Faf du Plessis will not be drawn into a social (or any other kind) of media battle over his form or comparisons with other players, specifically Temba Bavuma, who continues to crop up in conversations despite not playing in South Africa’s ongoing series against England.

Bavuma was dropped for the Newlands Test after recovering from a hip injury that kept him out of the first match, and has been sent back to play on the domestic circuit. At the time, du Plessis explained that “weight of runs,” was the only way for Bavuma to work his way back into the XI. While that made sense from a cricketing perspective – Bavuma averaged 19.84 in 2019 – it struck a nerve with Bavuma supporters. They argued on two fronts: dropping Bavuma robbed the country of its only black African batsman and so diminished representation and further disenfranchised the majority, and that du Plessis himself had been through a dip, with no scores over 30 in his last seven innings.

Du Plessis knows that. He knows that his performances are not quite where he needs them to be. He also knows that as the person who most offers delivers explanations for team selection, he will bear the brunt of the public’s anger if they disagree with the playing XI. And he also knows that as a white captain, working under a white head coach and a white CEO in a country where the majority is black African, his public statements need to be nuanced and non-polarising and that more often than not, they won’t be. It comes with the territory.

“You are used to it. When you have played international cricket for as long I have, it comes with media for you and media against you. And to read to much into it, for and against – it’s really important for any player not to get sucked into it too much,” du Plessis said. “I am not getting in a battle with myself and Temba over who plays and who doesn’t. My performances also need to go up in terms of scoring. Temba has been put in a position where he needs to score runs to get back into the team and if he does that, he will.”

“We are as close as we have been before. There is a real direction and purpose for this team. The outside noise will always be there. It’s almost like a good story to read that its not going well and there are a few things going wrong in the camp, which they are not.”

FAF DU PLESSIS

Importantly, du Plessis identified the ongoing debate as an issue that has the potential to severely impact a cricketing career. Like other controversies (think sandpapergate or an affray charge), the race debate in South Africa is serious and there are no easy answers. Du Plessis is caught in the cross-hairs at a time when the landscape of the country’s cricket is changing, so he faces as much pressure off the field as he does on it. He has worked hard on ways to deal with both in order to ensure longevity to his career. “The difference between players who play at this level for a short time and those who play for a long time is how they can cope mentally with the pressures that come with it,” he said.

Du Plessis has been an international for nine years and the Test captain for three-and-a-half. He has overseen South Africa’s redemption from the back-to-back series losses in India and against England in the 2015-16 summer, their first home series win over Australia since readmission in 2017, their first home series loss against a subcontinent side (Sri Lanka 2019) and two disastrous tours to the subcontinent (Sri Lanka 2018, India 2019). He has outlasted three coaches, Russell Domingo, Ottis Gibson and Enoch Nkwe, and seen all his team-mates from his debut call time on their careers. He is the storm.

And he also believes there is a rainbow that the rest of us cannot see. While divisive rhetoric surrounds the South African side, they remain unified and committed. “We are as close as we have been before. There is a real direction and purpose for this team. The outside noise will always be there. It’s almost like a good story to read that its not going well and there are a few things going wrong in the camp, which they are not. There are no issues. The team is going well,” du Plessis said.

He emphasised that the team’s morale has improved since their whitewash in India but stressed that there are still things that need fixing, apart from his own form. “For a very young team to have put in performances that we have in the last two Tests, shows really good signs. From where we were in India, as a team, very low on confidence, we have shown huge steps in the right direction to become the team that we need to be,” du Plessis said. “But myself and [Mark] Boucher said that a few times, it does not happen overnight. Things like this will take time. We need to get some caps under our players, we need to get some experience and in a year or two’s time, hopefully this team would have made the increase in performances and could challenge to be in the top three in the world.”

By then, du Plessis will also have retired and if you believe South Africa’s assistant coach, Enoch Nkwe, Bavuma could be in charge of the side. If that happens, South African cricket and its media wars will have reached a truce.



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India vs England Tests, IPL 2021 could be held in the UAE

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India could host England in the UAE this winter, with the BCCI signing an agreement with the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) to “boost cricketing ties” between the two boards on Saturday. While the agreement is restricted only to this year’s IPL, which begins today in Abu Dhabi, ESPNcricinfo understands there have been brief discussions in which the possibility of India hosting England, as well as next year’s IPL, in the UAE has been raised.

On Saturday, BCCI secretary Jay Shah posted a tweet announcing the Indian board had signed a “hosting agreement” with the ECB “to boost cricketing ties between our countries”. Shah signed the agreement at a meeting with ECB vice-chairman Khalid Al Zarooni.

Also present at the meeting were BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and board treasurer Arun Dhumal. Shah did not spell out details of what the agreement entailed, but a senior BCCI official told ESPNcricinfo that it was specific to the 2020 IPL. The IPL was shifted to the UAE because India is still experiencing a surge of Covid-19 infections.

More to follow…



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England Women v West Indies Women 2020

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West Indies allrounders Deandra Dottin and Hayley Matthews believe that having a “strong mindset” proved pivotal in keeping themselves motivated through the Covid-19 pandemic-induced off season. It helped them overcome fears that “we wouldn’t have any women’s cricket for the rest of the year” after the T20 World Cup in Australia ended in early March.

The 2021 Women’s World Cup has been postponed by a year. That along with the cancellation of several bilateral women’s series, even after international men’s cricket resumed in July, threatened to leave the women’s calendar vacant for the rest of 2020, outside of Australia’s home series against New Zealand which begins September 26.

However, the ECB successfully drew up contingency plans to make up for India and South Africa’s withdrawal for tours in July-August by inviting West Indies. Their first T20I against England in Derby on Monday is set to mark the return of top-level women’s international cricket 196 days on from the T20 World Cup final at the MCG.

“The whole time in the pandemic I just thought that that was it for the year for women’s cricket,” Dottin, the West Indies vice-captain, told ESPNcricinfo. “I think this pandemic [has taught] that mentally you’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to have a strong mindset. It [is] something that you can’t easily give up.

“I actually thought we wouldn’t have any women’s cricket for the rest of the year. I just kept training and doing things here and there and kept motivating myself in all ways. I started playing cricket with my cousins, the boys, just to keep active and keep that work up: of playing cricket.”

Matthews echoed her team-mate’s apprehensions. She was, like Dottin, part of West Indies’ 2016 T20 World Cup-winning side. She has also been a sought-after name in domestic T20 competitions, plying her trade in the WBBL, the now-defunct KSL and the Women’s T20 Challenge.

ALSO READ: West Indies women in England: ‘Women’s cricket needs this’ – Stafanie Taylor

“It’s obviously something very challenging,” said Matthews, who will play for the Hobart Hurricanes in the WBBL later this year. “You have to have a strong mentality to go out there, still be training, and putting in all the hard work, not knowing if you’re going to be able to be playing again this year. I’m just really glad we are able to get back over again and that Cricket West Indies and ECB have [made that possible] for us to play.

“We also see the Women’s Big Bash League; it seems it’s going to come off as well. It’s really good to see these boards are stepping up at this point and get cricket played – not only for the men’s sides but the women’s sides as well.”

West Indies have lost (19) more times than they’ve won (17) in their 37 T20Is since their 2016 T20 World Cup victory. Like the side, Matthews, the Player of the final in that tournament, too, has struggled to replicate the abandon that became a hallmark of the side’s maiden world title triumph four years ago. In her last 15 T20I innings, she has reached 30 only thrice, her maiden T20I hundred in May last year included.

In the T20 World Cup earlier this year, Matthews, who opens for the side, made only 26 runs in three innings as eventual semi-finalists England knocked West Indies out in the league stage with a game to go. Their poor performance prompted then head coach Gus Logie to describe their performance in the world tournament as “timid” and possessing a “fear factor”.

Matthews, however, was hopeful the upcoming five-T20I series against England could be a starting point for West Indies to make up lost ground.

“Probably of late, the pressure [on us] has eased off a bit,” Matthews said. “If you look at our performances [from the recent past], because they probably weren’t the best, the expectations from us for a lot of people aren’t as high.

“I don’t necessarily say that as a bad thing, though. Coming back after the pandemic and being given the opportunity to start afresh, especially against a team like England, we’re going out there knowing we’re the underdogs. I think it kind of gives us that freedom to really be able to go out there and play our natural game and play freely and express ourselves as players and as a team as well.”

With Logie’s tenure having ended with the T20 World Cup, Andre Coley, who was West Indies women’s head coach in 2012, has stepped in an interim capacity. He’s overseeing the tourists’ 18-member squad, which will be based in a biosecure environment in Derby throughout the tour and is without Anisa Mohammed, the veteran offspinner who declined the invitation to tour, with uncapped Guyanese left-arm spinner Kaysia Schultz included.

Matthews, 22, underlined that the opposition’s lack of familiarity with the West Indian rookies could hold them in good stead as would the experience of the seasoned campaigners in the likes of captain Stafanie Taylor, legspinner Afy Fletcher, Dottin and herself.

“We have a lot of versatility,” Matthews said. “We have a lot of different players that have stepped in, including the new players. Obviously, there wouldn’t have been much footage on them out there and stuff, so it definitely brings something new to the table when we face up against England.

“We also have a lot of experience within the team: people have been playing for the last five, ten years now, so that makes our combination pretty good, and hopefully it will win us some games as well.”



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Former NZ batsman Craig McMillan not to join Bangladesh for Sri Lanka tour due to family tragedy

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Craig McMillan will be unable to take up his role as batting consultant for Bangladesh’s Test series against Sri Lanka due to a loss in the family. McMillan was supposed to join the team later this month to prepare for the three-match series which would have been Bangladesh’s first assignment since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out worldwide in March.

BCB’s chief executive Nizamuddin Chowdhury said on Saturday that McMillan had informed them of the tragedy, and that they recognise his predicament.

“Craig has communicated to us that his father has passed away recently and therefore it would not be possible for him to take up the batting consultant’s position of the national team for the upcoming tour at this moment of grief. We fully understand his situation. Our sympathies are with Craig and his family during this difficult time,” Chowdhury said.

ALSO READ: Sri Lanka Cricket proposes split quarantine to Bangladesh Cricket Board

McMillan had agreed to take up the role last month after spending five years as New Zealand’s all-format batting coach. He was to replace Neil McKenzie, who had worked with Bangladesh for two years in the same capacity before deciding against travelling during the pandemic.

If the Sri Lanka tour does go ahead, it would leave the BCB with very little time to replace McMillan ahead of their preparatory camp for the tour, which is likely to be split between Dhaka and Colombo in the coming weeks.

However, the series remains an uncertainty as the Sri Lankan health authorities haven’t agreed with the BCB’s offer to scale down the quarantine period for their players upon arrival in Sri Lanka.



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