On Monday, Manoj Tiwary became only the second Bengal batsman, after Devang Gandhi’s 323 in 1998-99, to make a first class triple-hundred, against Hyderabad. It allowed his side to charge to a bonus-point victory that puts them in a good position five games into the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy season.
Three times previously this season, Tiwary failed to convert his starts into substantial scores. He started the season with 51 against Kerala on a rank turner in Thiruvananthapuram. Then, on a green-top at Eden Gardens against Andhra, he made 46 – a knock he felt needed him to work as hard as he would to make 150 elsewhere. Last week, in a game that barely lasted two days, Tiwary made 48 as Bengal were handed a thrashing by defending champions Vidarbha on a dusty track. Coming back to home comforts, in Kalyani, he knew while the form hadn’t deserted him, he had to make a big one for the team’s sake to put them back in a good position building towards the knockouts.
On the first morning, he walked in to bat at 32 for 2. It soon became 60 for 3 when he joined hands with Anustup Majumdar to rebuild the innings. “Initially I counterattacked to just throw them off their plans,” Tiwary told ESPNcricinfo after Bengal’s innings and 303-run victory. “After I raced past a half-century, I knew I had to slow down just a bit. But as the day progressed the pitch eased out, so run-scoring became easy.
“The team needed it badly. In the game against Kerala, I kind of felt some pain in my back while evading a short-ball, and lost my focus after getting to a half-century. I could have come off, but I didn’t want a new batsman to come in. So I carried on, but somehow couldn’t get a big one. So I was determined to make this one count once set. In the other two games, as a batsman, you were never in because the conditions were really challenging. So when I saw this wicket, I knew if you spend time, the first hour or so, it will get easier and I was able to make it count.”
Tiwary’s return to big run-making mode bodes well for the team heading into the second half of the tournament. They will soon be without Abhimanyu Easwaran, the designated captain, who is set to fly out to New Zealand for the India A tour early next month. There are murmurs that Tiwary could once again be handed the captaincy. For the moment, Tiwary has only a simple request: “Those judging us need to watch our matches before looking at stats, else numbers won’t give you a true picture.
“The way I’ve been batting, I would say the season has gone well. Some of the scores have come in challenging conditions, so I’m happy deep down. It’s not always about the big knocks, you have to appreciate and value scores on rank turners or green tops. Every team is looking to maximise their home advantage because the competition in Groups A and B combined is stifling, and I see nothing wrong with that.
“Playing on tough wickets adds to the charm of the Ranji Trophy and when you make tough runs, it’s pleasing. But my only request is for the selectors to actually start factoring in surfaces on which runs have come before forming their opinion, instead of just looking at score-books.”
On the team front, he is particularly pleased to see Bengal back to winning ways, reserving special praise for Akash Deep, the 23-year old fast bowler, who has so far picked up 16 wickets in four matches. With Ishan Porel away with India A in New Zealand, Akash Deep and left-arm spinner Shahbaz Ahmed, who picked up a hat-trick in the first innings and ended with match figures of 6 for 77, have become key components of their bowling attack.
“Akash Deep is someone who should be looked after immediately. If India want another genuine quick who has promise, they should give him a try,” he said. “He bowls 140 and above, has an excellent bouncer, bowls consistently. He should be taken into the fast bowling talent pool at the NCA immediately and given chances. I think he’s India A material already. He deserves a proper road map, he could go great things going forward.”
Tiwary had told ESPNcricinfo prior to the season that his aim was to play as long as possible, even maybe for another 10 years. He has had time to reflect on those words, but the commitment still remains.
“Oh yes, without doubt. I’m ready to do what it takes,” he said. “I’m working hard on my fitness, I know I have to keep scoring runs consistently. I’ve always had to work hard, so that is nothing new. I want my son to see what his dad does on the cricket field, so that remains a motivating factor.
“He’s just two, I’ve just started under-arming rubber balls to him at the park. When he’s seven or eight, hopefully he can watch his dad still playing.”
Ajaz Patel’s return signals an overhaul in New Zealand’s spin plans
The big news in the New Zealand Test squad, apart from the post-injury comeback for Trent Boult, was the return to the arena for 31-year-old left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel in place of Mitchell Santner. It’s a good change, as far as former batting coach Craig McMillan is concerned, because Patel “can pick up four or five wickets in a Test match”. As for Patel, he is just excited at the prospect of facing off against “some of the best in the world”.
“Mitchell Santner, over a period of time, has done a holding role for New Zealand. And that’s down quite often to the conditions in New Zealand that aren’t really conducive to have the ball turning much. It’s the seamers who do all the damage and take most of the wickets,” McMillan, who finished up with the team after the 2019 50-over World Cup, told Radio Sport.
Gary Stead, the New Zealand head coach, had welcomed Patel’s inclusion when the squad was announced, saying, “It’s a slight change in role we’re looking in terms of that position being one where we can take wickets and focus hard on that.”
McMillan liked what he heard from Stead: “It’s good to hear, because Ajaz Patel is better than being just a holding spinner. He’s got over 230 first-class wickets [235 in 62 matches], so he knows how to bowl in New Zealand. So I hope they use him in an attacking role. They need to have a spinner who can pick up four or five wickets in a Test match. And Ajaz Patel is certainly a guy who could do that. So I thought it was encouraging to hear, and it will be interesting to see how they use him, because that’s one of the keys, when you have spinners in your side, it’s the time to use them and how to use them.
“I feel my game’s pretty adaptable. So I’m going to just see what the conditions are and what the scenario and situation is and try to play to that”
“I hope they give him the opportunity to continue bowling how he does at the domestic level at the international level, because I think he can do a really good job, pick up wickets and be really useful in that New Zealand Test side.”
Patel has played only seven Test matches since his debut in 2018, five of them in Asian conditions and only two in New Zealand, where the stress has been on pace with Santner trying to keep things tight without really being much of an attacking option. In the last 12 months, Santner has played one Test in Sri Lanka, two at home against England, and two in Australia, and picked up only five wickets in those games at an average of 96.80. The other spinners in the mix have been Todd Astle, who has since retired from red-ball cricket, and Will Somerville, who both played the New Year’s Test in Sydney on the back of an illness crisis in the squad.
Back in the scheme of things now, Patel is looking forward to going up against Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and the rest of the mighty India batting line-up.
“It’s a fantastic challenge. I suppose as a spinner, testing yourself against some of the best players in the world, it’s a great challenge and it’s something that you should, really, enjoy and cherish,” he said. “At the end of the day, I suppose, at some point in my career, I want to be known as the best in the world. So to be able to challenge some of the best in the world, it’s a great opportunity and a challenge, something that I look forward to.”
Whether he gets that chance or not depends on the Basin Reserve pitch. If it’s green, as McMillan pointed out, “perhaps playing a fourth seamer, which means Kyle Jamieson might get a run”.
Patel understands that. “I suppose it depends on the surface and the scenarios of the game,” he said of the role he expects to play. “Either way, I am going to try and contribute in any way that I can, whether it be with the ball, with the bat, in the field. If it requires me to try and take wickets, then I’m going to try to do that, if it requires me to try and restrict runs, then I’ll try and do that. I feel my game’s pretty adaptable. So I’m going to just see what the conditions are and what the scenario and situation is and try to play to that.
“The Basin could be quite interesting, I suppose. It depends on what kind of day it is and what kind of week you get. If you get a nice, sunny week, the wicket dries up pretty quickly. Although if there’s a bit of overcast conditions, that can be a bit different as well. And obviously you have the wind factor. There’s a lot of things you’ve got to think about at the Basin, but once again, it’s kind of adapting your game to whatever presents itself, and that’s probably one of the great things about Test cricket. You get different challenges thrown at you and you have to learn to adapt.”
What could have gone against Santner, apart from just his own moderate returns, was the fact that even as he picked up just one wicket in two Tests on the December 2019 tour of Australia, Nathan Lyon topped the wicket-takers’ chart with 20 wickets in three Tests, all of which Australia won.
Did that show up Santner, as well as New Zealand’s use with their frontline spinner? “I think it did in many ways,” McMillan agreed. “[Santner’s numbers] sort of stands out in itself, because his core role in the side is to pick up wickets as a spinner, not as a batsman. And he was getting picked in the side to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And New Zealand, with the bowling line-up they’ve got, need a spinner who can contribute four or five wickets a Test match, which just takes some pressure off the likes of [Tim] Southee, [Neil] Wagner and Boult.”
Dimitri Mascarenhas signs two-year deal with Middlesex as T20 bowling coach
Dimitri Mascarenhas has signed a two-year deal to stay on as Middlesex’s specialist T20 bowling coach.
Mascarenhas, whose arrival at the county last summer coincided with an upturn in results in short-form cricket, has held several coaching roles since his retirement from the game in 2014, including stints with New Zealand, Otago, Melbourne Renegades and Otago.
He will also be an assistant coach to Shane Warne in the Hundred next season, staying at Lord’s alongside Eoin Morgan following the Blast to work with London Spirit.
“Dimi’s laid back, calm persona is a great asset and his coaching style reflects this trait,” said Stuart Law, Middlesex’s director of cricket.
“He has simple methods that resonate well with the boys and allows the players to grow, while guiding them through. We’re really looking forward to working with Dimi again during the T20 Blast campaign this season.”
Middlesex reached the knock-out stages of the Blast for only the second time since winning the competition in 2008 last season, with their five-man bowling attack coming to the fore.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman has signed to return as an overseas player, while the Cricketer magazine has reported that Law hopes to sign an allrounder alongside him, with Mitchell Marsh one possible target. AB de Villiers is unlikely to return, with the Blast directly following the IPL season and workload management a concern ahead of a potential international comeback in time for the T20 World Cup.
“I loved my time last year and felt we made some progress on the bowling front and as a team,” said Mascarenhas. “The opportunity to work with Stu Law and Nic Pothas, two international-level coaches, is extremely exciting and brilliant for my development.
“The squad is very similar to last season and I’m sure we can make a huge play for the finals again. I can’t wait to join up with the squad and continue what we started last year.”
Michael Hussey hopes to keep Australia mentoring role through to T20 World Cup
Michael Hussey is hopeful that his stint with Australia’s T20 team will continue throughout their preparation for the World Cup in October, and into the tournament itself.
Justin Langer has made a point of using former players as backroom staff, often bringing them in for a series at a time on an informal basis. Hussey linked up with the squad ahead of their T20I series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the home summer, and has travelled to South Africa with them in a flexible role.
“I’m hoping to stay involve with the T20 team leading up to and through the World Cup,” Hussey said. “It’s a fantastic environment. I really like the guys: they work so hard, and there’s a lot of excitement around the team with that T20 World Cup on our own doorstep and not too far away.
“They’re really focused and driven to do well, and motivated to try and put in good performances to be in that squad and have a chance of winning the World Cup.
“I’m not exactly sure what [my] title is, whether it’s mentor, batting coach, or whatever. But I don’t really mind, I just want to get in there and help out however I can, and throw a lot of balls, I guess.”
Hussey filled a similar role at the last T20 World Cup, where he was hired as a consultant, and his short-form coaching experience also includes the batting coach job at Chennai Super Kings as well as a role as director of cricket at Sydney Thunder.
Australia have placed a greater focus on role clarity among their batsmen in the current cycle of T20I cricket, after their 2016 World T20 campaign turned into something of a debacle. With a coterie of top-order batsmen in their squad, David Warner was used at No. 3 or 4, and Shane Watson shifted down from opener to finisher three matches into the tournament.
“I’m rapt that [Matthew Wade] has got an opportunity and I really hope he can cement his place in that middle order, because he’s playing brilliantly well at the moment”
But partly thanks to Alex Carey‘s emergence, this year looks to be different, with Warner, Aaron Finch and Steven Smith emerging as the first-choice top three and Carey, Glenn Maxwell and one other batsman likely to form No. 4-6. Maxwell’s injury means there will likely be opportunities for Matthew Wade and Mitchell Marsh in the middle order, with the No. 7 spot filled by a bowling allrounder – either Ashton Agar or Sean Abbott.
Wade has been used exclusively as an opener in recent years by the Hobart Hurricanes, but is seen as a versatile option, not least with his ability as a back-up wicketkeeper. He has a good record against spin (139.2 strike rate, 76.00 average) over the last two Big Bash seasons, and Hussey backed him to make the most of his middle-order opportunity.
“I’ve been more focusing on the middle-order guys,” said Hussey, who spent 21 of his 30 T20I innings batting between No. 4 and No. 7 and played one of the great innings by a finisher in the semi-final of the 2010 World T20.
“I played with Matty Wade, but I really like the place he’s in at the moment with his game – he has a great understanding of his game now, and he also has perspective on life and the game as well. It’s not the be-all and end-all, although it’s still very important to him.
“So I’m rapt that he’s got an opportunity and I really hope he can take his opportunity and cement his place in that middle order, because he’s playing brilliantly well at the moment. I get on well with all the guys – Alex Carey, and Mitch Marsh [who] I obviously know quite well from WA.”
Conditions in South Africa are likely to be alien, with the series starting at altitude in Johannesburg on Friday night, but Hussey said that Australia should be able to adapt. He also suggested that in the World Cup, Australia hold something of an edge due to their knowledge of local conditions, and the side’s ability to manipulate ground dimensions to their advantage.
“The boys were a bit tired from yesterday’s session, just getting used to the altitude. It’s obviously something we don’t have to contend with back in Australia. It is different, and for a number of guys it’s their first time here, so it’s a great experience for them.
“You’ve got to try and adapt, and there might be different ways to score your 10 or 12 runs an over. It’s certainly a focus in our team, the running between the wickets, and that’s something this team really prides themselves on, particularly Davey and Steven Smith, Glenn Maxwell when he’s playing – they’re brilliant runners between the wicket.
“I think there’s a balance, certainly with the big grounds – it’s not easy to just stand there and smash it out of the park. Without doubt, I think it’s certainly going to be a point of difference. But I don’t want to give away too many secrets leading into the World Cup.”
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