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Steven Smith headlines Australia stars returning to Big Bash

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The majority of the Australia one-day squad will return to Big Bash action over the next few days for the backend of the regular season and then the finals for the teams that make it.

Of the players who were in India, only David Warner, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc – who don’t have BBL deals – will not be available.

Here is a rundown of who each team gets back:

Melbourne Stars

Peter Handscomb, who did not get a game in India, will return to bolster the middle order and will likely resume the wicketkeeping duties from Seb Gotch. Adam Zampa will be back as a key part of the spin attack for the Stars who are already assured of hosting the Qualifier on January 31 with the loser of that match earning a second chance to reach the final by playing in the Challenger on February 6.

Sydney Sixers

The Sixers are among the teams currently fighting for second spot to play the Stars and, for the first time in six years, will be able to call on Steven Smith who is available from the match against the Brisbane Heat at the Gabba. Josh Hazlewood will be given a few extra days rest after the India tour, but will likely be available for the Sixers’ final regular season game against the Melbourne Renegades and the finals. They remain unsure whether Sean Abbott will have recovered in time for the finals, by when they will have lost Tom Curran to England duty.

Adelaide Strikers

Alex Carey‘s return will bolster the Strikers’ middle order as they push for second place and for the first time this season they will be able to field their strongest possible batting line-up with Carey and Travis Head back in harness.

Perth Scorchers

Ashton Turner and Ashton Agar will be back in the fold as the Scorchers look to build on their handsome victory against the Sydney Thunder. They will hope that Turner’s lean time in India does not impact his form for the final stretch of the tournament. Morne Morkel will also play the final regular season match against the Thunder – which may well be a decider for qualification – in place of Chris Jordan so he is eligible for the finals.

Sydney Thunder

The Thunder did not have anyone in the one-day squad. Last season Cummins made one late-season outing for them but he will not play this year.

Brisbane Heat

Marnus Labuschagne is available to add to his seven T20 outings and he may well be seen as a key to stopping the sort of batting collapses – that reached new heights against the Renegades – which have left the Heat battling to reach the finals.

Hobart Hurricanes

It will likely be too late to save their season, but D’Arcy Short and Matthew Wade will be able to link up at last at the top of the order for the Hurricanes’ last two matches having not joined forces this season due to their respective international commitments. Short spent the three matches in India carrying the drinks after his late call-up to replace the injured Abbott.

Melbourne Renegades

It is officially all over for the Renegades after their horror run of nine defeats on the bounce ended any chance of defending their title. However, they have won their last two games – extraordinarily so against the Heat – and should have Aaron Finch and Kane Richardson back for the final two outings which could cause problems for opposition still looking to secure their finals berths.



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England v Australia, 3rd ODI

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Steven Smith is more likely than not to return as the missing piece of Australia’s batting order that failed to seal the ODI series against England in Manchester, leaving the final match of their brief tour on Wednesday as the decider.

Some mystery still surrounds the circumstances in which Smith has missed the tourists’ past two matches. He was struck on the side of the helmet by a throwdown during net practice at Old Trafford, and though Cricket Australia officially stated he had passed a concussion test, he was still required to go through a series of protocols before another net session on Tuesday. Following that net, a CA spokesperson confirmed that a final decision on Smith’s availability would only be made on Wednesday.

Whatever the true extent of Smith’s need to recover from the blow to the helmet, his inclusion would allow the Australians to have a far more versatile and reliable batting order for the final match, having fallen apart alarmingly in some adverse conditions against the pace and reverse swing of Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer in the second game of the series.

“Fingers crossed. We know what a great player he is, he got a blow to the head in training the day before the first game, so we’ve been going through all the concussion protocols, he’s definitely tracking in the right direction,” Australia coach Justin Langer said on Tuesday morning. “We’re hopeful he’ll be right for tomorrow, but if he doesn’t come up again, then like always we’ll keep him healthy in mind.

“He was just practising, we talk about Steve, he was probably on his 30,000th ball, probably had two or three to go, and the wickets over here, the facilities have been brilliant, but they’re a bit worn because of so much traffic through them over the past few months. One ball just didn’t quite get up, he ducked into it and it hit him in the side of the helmet.

“He did all his running yesterday, did some high speed running, worked hard as part of the protocols, he has ticked every box at the moment, so he will 100% have a bat this afternoon unless he’s not feeling well this morning. He’ll definitely have a hit this afternoon.”

“The day to day life is pretty good with some restrictions. It’s just when you start looking ahead to when we get home and then quarantine and how the summer looks and if you keep looking too far ahead, then it gets challenging.”

Justin Langer

Langer spoke glowingly of how his players had responded to the challenges of an England tour with no meaningful cricket behind them, in addition to the constraints of the biosecurity bubble in which they have been thrust due to the coronavirus pandemic. However he said that the selectors remained on the lookout for middle order problem solvers to weather scenarios like those that have presented once each in the T20 and one day series.

“It’s been disappointing, we’ve played such great cricket throughout this whole tour,” Langer said. “You always look below the surface, how we’ve all played our cricket, all the guys have played their cricket from the moment we arrived with no cricket under our belts, it’s been a real credit to the boys. Consistently across the board we’ve been really impressive. there’s a few areas we need to get better at though, and that’s part of becoming a great team.

“One is bowling in those last few overs, which is always the case, but also in our middle order. And we’re not shying away from that. The boys were incredibly disappointed the other night and disappointed during the T20 series, but they’re working hard on it.

“What do you look for? Problem solving. I think about the Dhonis and the Husseys and the Bevans, Jos Buttlers, the guys who finish it well, are great problem solvers, and they’ve got real confidence in their ability to, over and over, solve the issues which come up, whether you’re chasing big scores, small scores, on different wickets, spinning wickets, wickets that are stayng a bit up down. that’s what we’re looking for in the middle order, guys who are able to solve problems and get the job done.”

As far as the mental strain of the bubble itself was concerned, Langer said a key part of the exercise was not being overwhelmed by thoughts of occupying similarly restricted circumstances for an entire summer. “The biggest challenge for all of us is that it’s a bit like scoring a hundred, you can’t score a hundred unless you give the next ball 100% attention,” he sad. “If we start looking too far ahead of ourselves, that becomes a real challenge.

“It’s almost one day at a time, because if you look too far ahead – when we’re here, the ECB have looked after us incredibly well, they’ve been brilliant, the day to day life is pretty good with some restrictions. It’s just when you start looking ahead to when we get home and then quarantine and how the summer looks and if you keep looking too far ahead, then it gets challenging.”

As for the likelihood of most of his best players entering home Test assignments after a surfeit of white ball matches in the IPL and then against India, Langer struck a time-honoured theme about the best players finding ways to adapt.

“It’s something we’re very aware of,” Langer said. “Particularly as you think about the lead-up to this tour, straight to the IPL, potentially straight into some white ball cricket, and then the Test match, with it all pretty tight. Am I worried about it? Not really, we had a good dress rehearsal last year between the World Cup and the Ashes, the best players adapt and we’ve got some great players who might need to adapt. But when it comes to the colour of the ball, I’m really confident they’ll be able to do that.”



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England v Australia, 3rd ODI, Chris Woakes

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Chris Woakes says that England’s unprecedented recent success in white-ball cricket has given them the belief that “they can win from any position”.

Woakes was instrumental in England’s stunning fightback in the second ODI on Sunday, claiming three quick wickets at the back-end of the run-chase, including both of Australia’s set batsmen, Marnus Labuschagne and Aaron Finch, to set in motion a stunning collapse of 7 for 32.

In closing the game out for a 24-run win, England not only squared the series with Wednesday’s decider to come, they kept alive their hopes of an unbeaten record across formats this summer, and maintaining their perfect run in home ODI series that dates back to 2015.

“Over the last five years we’ve earned that respect, I think,” Woakes said. “Across that period, teams have realised that we can win from any position and the game is not done until they get over the line.

“We’ve found that in this series and also in the T20 series, so we’ve earned that respect. Within the dressing room we’ve got that character and the belief that we can win from any position.”

Speaking on the eve of the series, Eoin Morgan had welcomed the prospect of three tricky batting surfaces at Emirates Old Trafford, as England begin to adapt their style of play from the no-holds-barred batting force that racked up a world-record 481 for 6 on Australia’s last bilateral ODI visit in 2018, to the more rounded outfit that will have to defend their world title on India’s slow and low pitches in 2023.

And given the success of England’s bowlers on Sunday, first in chivvying their total to a defendable 231 for 9 with some calculated hitting from Tom Curran and Adil Rashid, and then in bowling Australia out for 207 in reply, Woakes was pleased with their early efforts to reinvent their game.

ALSO READ: Steven Smith firming for place in series decider

“A few years ago we probably thought we could only win from a tricky position with the bat chasing, but now we feel like we can do it with the ball as well,” he said. “I don’t really see why that should change

“The other night was brilliant. A different role for us to play to come back and attack and take wickets rather than hold overs back for the death.

“It was a completely different game in comparison to a normal ODI so I’m really pleased how we pulled that back and took the attack to Australia and put them on the back foot. It was the only way we were going to win that game.

“We’re in a great position as a team. I think there have been times in this series where we feel we haven’t played our best cricket across the two games so hopefully we can put in a big performance and bring it all together in the last one, because there are areas of our game that haven’t been quite as sharp as we would like them to be.”

Whereas the second ODI was played on a used surface, a fresh pitch has been prepared for Wednesday’s day-nighter, which may change the way the two teams approach the contest.

“The first game, it was a bit two-paced but it was actually a pretty good wicket,” said Woakes. “By no means a 400 pitch but 280-290 was around par. The other day, it was used, so it took a little bit more spin, and it definitely slowed up as the game went on. Then the ball roughed up as well which mean a little bit of reverse on offer. It was tricky to bat on.

“The new wicket looks pretty good, pretty flat,” he added. “The boundary looks a bit shorter on one side so it’s definitely different to the last game, and the team which adapts quickly will probably come out on top.”

Given the extraordinary nature of their victory in the second game, England are now clear favourites to seal their series win, but Woakes was cautious when it was put to him that Australia’s mental fragilities had been exposed.

“We’ve been playing against Australia a hell of a lot over the last few years, and we’ve obviously got good records in white-ball against them recently, but we know how dangerous they can be.

“They’re obviously a good side,” he added. “They’ve shown how dangerous they can be a couple of occasions this summer but also last summer during the World Cup. We’ll take the positives from the last couple of games but also there are a few things we need to work on ourselves.”

One key factor could be the return of Steven Smith, who missed the first two games with concussion after taking a blow to the head during training. He was back in the nets on the eve of the match, and a final decision on his availability will be taken before the match.

“We are wary of the impact Steve Smith could have,” Woakes said. “We know he’s a world-class player and we’ve been on the receiving end of his performances a few times in the past.

“We know he can affect games but, at the same time, it can be tricky coming in with not much cricket under your belt and having to perform from ball one in a decider.

“We’ll prepare for him to play and if he does we have our plans for him and I think Australia would love to see him back.”



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Recent Match Report – Gloucestershire vs Birmingham Bears Central Group 2020

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Gloucestershire 173 for 6 (Hammond 49, Cockbain 44) beat Birmingham Bears 123 (Hain 43*, van Burren 3-33, M Taylor 3-29) by 50 runs

Ian Cockbain proved the scourge of Birmingham Bears again as Gloucestershire moved to the brink of qualification for the Vitality Blast quarter-finals with a 50-run Central Group win in Bristol.

Having smashed an unbeaten 84 in the corresponding game at Edgbaston, the 33-year-old Merseysider hit 44 off just 21 balls to boost his side’s total to 173 for 6 after winning the toss.

Chris Dent and Miles Hammond had led the way with an opening stand of 88, but it was Cockbain’s blistering knock that ensured an above-par score. Olly Stone was the pick of the Birmingham attack with 2 for 31.

In reply, the Bears could manage only 123 all out, Matt Taylor returning 3 for 29 and Graeme van Buuren 3 for 33. Only Sam Hain offered much resistance with 43 not out.

It was the home side’s sixth successive group win and they now look assured of a place in the last eight, while the Bears have some work to do.

Dent wasted no time signalling Gloucestershire’s intentions, with two fours off the opening over, bowled by Tim Bresnan. Hammond was quickly into his stride too, a couple of reverse-sweeps to the boundary off Jeetan Patel taking his side’s score to 21 off two overs.

The two left-handers continued to score freely and by the end of the six-over Powerplay Gloucestershire’s total was a healthy 49 without loss.

That became 86 for 0 after 11 overs. But Dent was then caught and bowled off a steepler by Patel, having hit five fours in his 34-ball innings. Hammond went in the following over, well caught on the run at deep midwicket by Dom Sibley off Stone. He had faced 41 balls and notched seven boundaries.

The Bears began to put a brake on the scoring rate and the 16th over was reached without a six in the Gloucestershire innings. Cockbain put that right with two in succession off Patel and was looking in prime form when caught on the deep cover boundary off Henry Brookes, having hit four sixes and three fours.

From 144 for 2, Gloucestershire lost four wickets for 28 runs, but their score still looked more than competitive. Ryan Higgins was unbeaten on 21 at the end.

The Bears made a poor start to their chase, losing Dom Sibley lbw in the first over, sent down by van Buuren. Soon it was 24 for 2 as Rob Yates cut a catch to point off David Payne.

Adam Hose hit the first six of the innings off Matt Taylor in the fifth over, but perished tamely two balls later, pulling a catch straight to Higgins at midwicket.

The next over saw Rhodes bowled trying to drive van Buuren and the Bears were in disarray at 37 for 4.

Gloucestershire lost skipper Jack Taylor to a hand injury when he tried to catch a fierce drive from Sam Hain in the eighth over, Cockbain taking over the captaincy.

Michael Burgess holed out to long-off as Tom Smith began to weave his customary spell at the Ashley Down Road End. His first three overs cost just 11 runs. Smith bowling in tandem with fellow left-arm spinner van Burren has been one of Gloucestershire’s strengths in the competition and when the latter bowled Tim Bresnan to make it 83 for 6 the outcome was beyond doubt.

Hain did his best, with little support, but it was another impressive success for a Gloucestershire side who will be no-one’s pushovers as the tournament moves to its climax.

They are all but guaranteed a spot in the last eight after today’s win: for them to miss out would take heavy defeats in their final two games while other results all went against them.

“To win six on the bounce in the Vitality Blast is a great effort by the lads,” Cockbain said. “What we want now is to earn a home quarter-final because we know the conditions here and play them well.

“It’s just one of those things that I have been able to score big twice against the Bears. Sometimes you just feel it is your day and I’ve hit the ball sweetly in both games. Today I probably got out to my sweetest hit of the lot.

“We rested Benny Howell because we didn’t want him playing back-to-back games after such a long injury lay-off and Jack Taylor’s hand should be fine, so both should be available for the next game.”





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