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Recent Match Report – Melbourne Stars vs Sydney Thunder, Big Bash League, Challenger

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Melbourne Stars 2 for 194 (Stoinis 83, Larkin 83, Morris 2-30) beat Sydney Thunder 8 for 166 (Ross 58, Haris 3-17) by 28 runs

A change in approach and finals pressure worked beautifully in concert for the Melbourne Stars, allowing them to squeeze the Sydney Thunder into defeat after a rousing post-season campaign and delivering the hosts a place in the Big Bash League decider against the Sydney Sixers at the SCG, on what is likely to be a very soggy Saturday night at the SCG.

Batting first at their captain Glenn Maxwell’s request, Marcus Stoinis and Nick Larkin provided the spine of the innings with a pair of identical scores that had contrasting constructions and also expectations. Stoinis, as the tournament’s leading run-maker, did what has been expected of him at the top of the order in the style of an experienced professional, while Larkin showed why the Stars had kept faith with him over the past two seasons, coming to the boil beautifully with one of the best and certainly most high profile innings of his career in front of 13,067 spectators.

Their efforts gave the Stars 194 to defend, and with Nathan Coulter-Nile providing an impactful contribution to see off Alex Hales and Usman Khawaja before Haris Rauf accounted for the Thunder captain Callum Ferguson, Maxwell and his bowlers were able to steadily ramp up the squeeze on the visitors. Rearguards from Alex Ross and Arjun Nair were not enough, meaning the Stars will travel north for a final they would have hosted had they not been beaten badly by the Sixers in the battle between first and second last week.

Role reversal suits Stars

Not since 2014 had the Stars last chosen to bat first in a BBL final when given the option, and only Maxwell, Stoinis and Dan Worrall were still playing for them back then. So it was a major change in approach when the coin came down on the right side for Maxwell, but a shrewd one given the Stars had lost four in a row batting second, while the Thunder’s rise from fifth on the ladder to the cusp of the tournament decider has been characterised by their staunch defence in the field and with the ball as Callum Ferguson swung his bowlers around with supple captaincy.

And as the Stars crunched 26 from the first two overs and the Thunder reprieved both Stoinis and Larkin with early dropped catches – Jay Lenton’s off a Stoinis leg glance from Chris Morris one of the worst of the entire season – the role reversal appeared to create a dominant theme for the evening. Stoinis certainly enjoyed the chance to reprise the role he took up when coshing 147 against the Sydney Sixers at the MCG after the Stars had been sent in, while Larkin grew into his innings with a calmness that allowed the rate to slow to 7.76 after 13 overs before acceleration.

Cook attacked, Maxwell not needed

One of the Thunder’s strongest suits against the Hurricanes and the Strikers was the whippy wrist spin of Jono Cook, who had returned figures of 5 for 37 from the two finals and revelled in bowling second to put opponents under pressure. He seemed destined for a more difficult night from his second ball this night, as he drifted full to Stoinis and was punched back down the ground. For a bowler with a style that lends itself to targeting the stumps, Cook strayed wide too often, giving Stoinis room to free his arms, and only bowled for three overs costing 36 for 0.

As a result of that analysis and the keeping of wickets in hand, Stoinis and Larkin were able to free their arms with terrifying effect for the visitors in the final overs. Tallies of 18, 14 and 12 came from overs 14, 15 and 16, and after Stoinis was bowled behind his pads by a relieved Morris – having reached the highest ever aggregate for a single BBL – it was Larkin who was able to take control as Maxwell arrived for the closing overs. Forty-nine were clumped from the final four overs, of which Maxwell was required to score only four: there’s a ratio no-one expected before the start of the game.

Coulter-Nile has one of those nights

For the Thunder to be a chance, they needed Alex Hales to maintain his run of five consecutive scores over 40 and Usman Khawaja to support him in the manner seen when they helped usurp the Hurricanes at Bellerive Oval. But the Stars had in their line-ups one of the more mercurial players in recent Australian cricket history: Coulter-Nile. Team-mates and opponents alike have spoken of days and sessions in which Coulter-Nile “clicks” and turns a game, and here he did it in the field with the ball.

Unable to find the boundary early, Hales chanced a quick single to Coulter-Nile’s right arm at mid on and paid for it with a direct hit that saw him run out by about a centimetre. When Maxwell called Coulter Nile into the attack he scythed through Khawaja’s attempted slog to splay the stumps, celebrating raucously with Adam Zampa after he did so. By way of a follow-up, Haris maintained his domination of Ferguson, a bouncer down the leg side snaffling the Thunder skipper for the third time in 10 balls faced this tournament, and placing the game all but in the Stars’ keeping.

Ross rearguard can’t save Thunder

One quality batsman remained in the path of the Stars. Ross’ ability to combine improvisation and power has made him a valuable commodity in Australian domestic cricket for some years, and in the company of Nair, among the league’s most unconventional hitters, he was still capable of wresting the match from the hosts’ strong grasp. After a period of slowing down and taking stock as Nair sliced boundaries where he could, Ross looked to take on the task of wrenching the runs he needed.

His first target, having reached his second 50 of this tournament, was the Australian limited-overs spin bowler Zampa, and he got a hold of one leg break with sufficient force to send it flying well into the seats in between the two team dug outs, and next ball shouldered arms to a wide. Zampa, though, was able to respond with something tighter to Ross’ legs and thus harder to get under, resulting in a catching chance in the deep. Nic Maddinson, for all his batting struggles over the competition, took a tremendous running catch, and that was to be more or less that.



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Chandrakant Pandit moves from Vidarbha to MP as head coach

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Chandrakant Pandit, the former India player and one of the most successful coaches in Indian domestic cricket, has decided to move from Vidarbha to Madhya Pradesh for the 2020-21 season. Pandit had coached Vidarbha to back-to-back triumphs in the Ranji Trophy and Irani Trophy in 2017-18 and 2018-19, having earlier achieved Ranji Trophy success with Mumbai too.

Pandit, who has also been in charge of Maharashtra and Kerala in the past, said he would always have fond memories of his time with Vidarbha and the support he received from the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA), but it was time for him to embrace a new challenge.

“I have coached Vidarbha for three years. Normally I always do my coaching stints for two years or three years. The idea is to always move forward. It’s good to take a new challenge,” Pandit told ESPNcricinfo. “There is no doubt I was very happy with Vidarbha – the way the team has played, the way I got support from the association. From Prashant Vaidya (VCA vice-president and chairman of the cricket development committee) and Anand Jaiswal (VCA president). So it is not anything else, but just to move forward and take a new challenge. I was very happy with Vidarbha. I respect the support I received, and that will always be part of my life.

“I had played for MP for six years in the past. So when they contacted, I accepted. Because I was not going to continue with Vidarbha. It was purely my call, nothing untoward (had happened).”

This year, MP were coached by Abbas Ali – the grandson of Mushtaq Ali – with Devendra Bundela being the batting coach and Harvinder Singh Sodhi, who has been the coach of the team previously, doubling up as bowling coach and manager.

An official with the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association said that it was too early to take a call on whether any of last season’s coaches would continue to be with the team, but confirmed that Pandit had been given a letter of intent to be the MP coach from next season. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown in India, Pandit has not been able to sign the contract formally yet.

ALSO READ: Chandrakant Pandit: Less of a general, more of a 12th man

“We’ll have to wait till things improve definitely,” Pandit acknowledged. “Ultimately it’s for the good of everyone (staying indoors for now). We have to take care of that. I’ll definitely be contacting players and drawing up plans. It’s like people who are working from home, I’ll have to do that for now till things get better. I’ll have to start planning for the MP team. Though I may not be able to get in touch with the players personally, but definitely, communication with the association, the secretary is there. I can put forward my plans so they can be ready with that. I’ve been talking to them and they have already told me that let things get better and then we’ll start. At the same time I’ll be trying to figure out what are the things I can do.”

Pandit’s departure from Vidarbha comes on the heels of Wasim Jaffer also announcing his retirement, leaving a bit of a void in terms of experience in the Vidarbha think-tank. Pandit, however, was confident that the processes put in place would hold the team in good stead.

“See whatever we have done in the last three years, we have developed a good, young team,” he said. “There was very healthy competition created. So I hope they maintain that and continue it. I’m sure the young boys coming through – the Under-23 side has won the CK Nayudu Trophy – they will be able to take it forward with whoever takes charge.

Vidarbha had come into this Ranji Trophy season as double defending champions, but although they began well, they faltered midway through, and ended up finishing seventh on the combined Groups A and B table, where only the top five teams make it to the quarter-finals. A loss against Delhi in the middle of the season hurt them particularly. Vidarbha declared on 330 for 3, with the lead being 347, to set Delhi a steep chase. It was a declaration made with the intent of going for full points rather than playing safe and getting only first-innings lead points, but Delhi had an inspired fourth-innings chase led by Nitish Rana’s 105* off 68 balls and they hunted down the target.



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South Africa faces shorter domestic season as CSA looks to cut costs | Cricket

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CSA acting chief executive Jacques Faul © Getty Images


South African domestic cricket will face a slightly shorter 2020-21 season with a reduction of fixtures for the franchise competition as Cricket South Africa seeks to cut costs following a tough 12 months. The organisation is forecasting losses of millions of Rands after sponsor withdrawal, an inability to sell two editions’ worth of broadcast rights for the Mzansi Super League (MSL) and loss-making incoming tours in the 2018-19 summer and the pinch is being felt in the local game, which depends on CSA finances to operate.

The two-tier system, of six franchise teams and 15 provincial affiliates, will remain in place with fewer matches and discussions on a possible restructure ahead of the 2021-22 season are ongoing while flagship T20 competition, the MSL is likely to continue, but may also see a curtailed fixture list.

CSA, while still under suspended CEO Thabang Moroe, had initially planned to eliminate the franchise set-up for the 2020-21 season and create a domestic system of 12 teams. The South African Cricketers’ Association (SACA) challenged that motion in court, claiming they were not consulted about the changes and that around 70 players would lose their jobs.

The matter dragged on for several months during which time Moroe was temporarily succeeded by Dr Jacques Faul, who was able to re-engage SACA. On agreement that the domestic structure would be retained for the coming summer, SCA withdrew legal action against CSA and the two parties remain in discussions about the best way to structure domestic cricket.

For the 2020-21 season, the status quo largely remains. The six franchise will play a four-day first-class and fifty-over competition while the provincial teams will play three-day cricket, which will also be classified as first-class for all teams apart from Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and a fifty-over one-day competition.

However, instead of each franchise playing 10 first-class and 10 fifty-over matches per season (home and away games against each of the other five teams) as was the case in previous seasons, they will be divided into two groups of three and will play seven matches each. This will include home and away matches against each of the teams in their own group, for a total of four matches, and only one match against the three teams in the other group.

Both competitions will be decided by a playoff match between the top two teams in each group to decide the title. Previously, the first-class competition trophy was awarded to the team at the top of the points’ table after all 10 rounds of competition, or eight in the case of this season, with the final two rounds suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The reduction of fixtures will enable CSA to save money on transport and accommodation costs, which is particularly important in the case of the first-class competition that has been without a sponsor for two seasons.

The provincial teams remain divided into two groups of eight and seven teams and will play a single round of fixtures. They will also feature in a new 40-over knockout competition which will include the 15 provinces and the South African under-19 side. While there is no T20 competition at the provincial level, CSA will introduce a Super Club T20 competition which will be contested by the top six university teams and three teams from the community cup.

South Africa’s domestic season is expected to start in September and squad and fixture lists are currently being planned. Although all cricket in the country was put on hold for 60 days last week as a response to Covid-19, CSA is hopeful that play will be possible when the summer starts, in about six months’ time. There have already been some significant player signings with Cobras’ quick Thando Ntini moving upcountry to the Titans and white-ball international Lutho Sipamla leaving the Warriors for the Lions. Final squads are expected to be released by the end of the month.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent


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Lions and Dolphins crowned domestic champions on Graeme Smith’s recommendation

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The Lions and Dolphins have been crowned champions of South Africa’s first-class and the one-day competition respectively after both events were suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The two franchises each finished at the top of the points’ tables of the respective competition and acting director of cricket, Graeme Smith, recommended the titles be awarded based on log-standings.

His suggestion was endorsed by CSA’s board and member’s council, a body made of the 13 provincial presidents. That means the only franchise competition which ran to conclusion in the 2019/20 summer was the Mzansi Super League (MSL), a twenty-over tournament which was won by the Paarl Rocks.

But, the fate of the MSL remains unclear, after CSA were unable to sell television rights for the first two editions of the tournament and footed the full bill, amounting to approximately R120 million (US$6.8 million) per year. ESPNcricinfo understands that the MSL is unlikely to take place if it continues to be a drain on CSA finances and that talks are ongoing in the current off-season to decide on the next steps.

So too is the search for sponsors after the country’s flagship four-day competition took place without a corporate backer for the second season in succession. Eight out of the 10 rounds of matches were played this season and the Johannesburg-based Lions remain champions of the format, despite losing their head coach Enoch Nkwe to the national side in September 2019.

Nkwe, who now works as South Africa’s assistant coach, was succeeded by Wandile Gwazu at the Lions, who has enjoyed a successful first season. His team won four of their eight matches, double the number of victories of any other franchise, and finished 8.46 points above their neighbours, the Titans.

The one-day cup, which was scheduled to have playoffs last week and the final at the weekend, finished before it reached the crunch stage. The Dolphins were on top with seven out of 10 victories. Their successful campaign also came under a new coach with one-time Test opener Imraan Khan in charge for the first time. They will be awarded 40% of the prize money, sponsored by financial services company Momentum, with the rest split 30-15-15 between the other three teams who would have played in the semi-finals, the Lions, Warriors and Knights.

At provincial level, the first-class three-day competition and provincial one-day cup titles have been awarded jointly to the two teams that finished on top of the respective pools. Easterns (Pool A) and Kwa-Zulu Natal (Pool B) share the three-day cup and Free State (Pool A) and Northern Cape are joint one-day cup winners. Easterns, however, did not actually end the season on top of the table but played one fewer match than their rivals and earned the victory through an average points calculation.

“This is undoubtedly the fairest way to decide the various winners, Smith said. “In the provincial competitions where some teams have played more games than others, we have taken the average number of points per game to decide on final log positions.”

The women’s provincial T20 league was won by Western Province, who finished on top of the “Top 6,” group with seven victories from eight matches. They missed out on the fifty-over competition title by one point, after finishing behind North West, who claimed the cup.



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