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‘India top order should bat 20 overs’ – Smriti Mandhana

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From the outside, it looks like India’s women’s team has a problem with its middle order. The team is gearing up for the T20 World Cup – the preparation included playing the favourites Australia and England recently, and a theme that emerged from that tri-series is that they are prone to collapses.

Playing on one of the grounds which will host those World Cup matches in a few days’ time, India were on course for victory in the final, until they lost seven wickets for 29 runs. The collapse began with Smriti Mandhana‘s wicket in the 15th over and led to a stinging critique from former India captain Diana Edulji, who called the players “lazy”.

On Saturday, Mandhana admitted the collapses – there was one against England as well, when India went from 78 for 3 to 99 for 9 – were a cause for concern but that there was a way around it.

“The middle order could definitely improve,” she said. “There are some things we still have to figure out with our batting and we are trying hard to do that.

“The best way to support the middle order is for the top order to bat 20 overs. I think we need to try and bat long as a top four. We must try not to get out in the 16th or 17th over and the problem will be sorted if we can stay until the 20th over.”

India do contain players capable of pulling this off. Mandhana herself is a prime candidate alongside the captain Harmanpreet Kaur and the two teenagers Jemimah Rodrigues and Shafali Verma. This too was readily apparent in the tri-series when India chased down a target of 174 against Australia.

ALSO READ: ‘Even if the top order is firing, the winning runs will be the 20-odd from the lower order’ – India women’s coach WV Raman

Australia had put up what seemed like a winning total riding on Ash Gardner’s 93 off 57 balls but India were able to cruise the chase, losing only three of their wickets. Mandhana held the innings together with a steady half-century while Verma (49 off 28) and Rodrigues (30 off 19) had the liberty to clatter the ball to all parts. That game exemplified why Australia coach Matthew Mott rated India as having the most feared batting line-up in the world.

“We can be very unpredictable on our day, but I’d like to agree (with Mott),” Mandhana said in response. “We have some great batters and our order is very balanced. The top four or five are quite settled. We’ve had the same top five for the last year and that’s been a good thing for us.”



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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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Expectation is that CA as a business can absorb this – Matthew Mott

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A postponement in moving Cricket Australia’s headquarters and a drastic cut down in travel may be among the measures the governing body will make to save cash in the time of coronavirus, while any decisions to reduce staff or salaries will be delayed as CA attempts to “absorb” the global pandemic within the business.

CA has been compelled to look into a raft of saving measures to keep what cash the organisation can. This is over and above cash reserves that were around A$26 million entering the summer, augmented by the recent payment of rights fee instalments from Fox and Seven. CA had been planning to move its headquarters into rented office space while renovating its longtime headquarters in Jolimont, Melbourne, one of two large office properties the governing body can name as assets, alongside the A$29 million National Cricket Centre in Brisbane.

Matthew Mott, coach of the T20 World Cup winning women’s side, said that while the message to all staff had been that CA would do its best to absorb the global suspension of sport to limit spreading of coronavirus, ways and means of becoming more efficient needed to be found in all departments of the organisation.

“I can only go on the messaging we’ve had from our senior management, and this is an awful thing to happen to the whole of society, but in terms of timing we’ve been incredibly lucky,” Mott said. “We can shut down over Easter, we can shut down a few off-season programs. There will be huge financial implications, but timing wise if we were going to suffer something like this, the timing is not too bad.

“We’ve been assured we’ve just got to make sure we come up with some really constructive feedback on how we can save some money going forward, but the expectation at the moment is that CA as a business can absorb this.

“Obviously the longer it goes on, it’s going to put more pressure on everyone. I haven’t got a crystal ball, I don’t know how long this is going to last, nor does anyone, but in the short to medium term we’ve been assured that we’ve got enough equity and agility within the business to be able to absorb it, and we just need to be smart and pretty clinical about how we prepare and get our players ready.”

In addition to having all staff work from home as of last week, CA will be able to find savings from a dramatic reduction in domestic and international travel, while the taking of paid annual leave among staff will be another option available to take cost off the governing body’s books. Mott was certain, however, that the women’s game would not be subject to cost-saving that might serve to stem the momentum that flowed from the World Cup and its technicolour finale, when Australia beat India in front of an 86,000-plus crowd at the MCG.

“What we saw at the MCG just showed if you put the work in behind the scenes and you promote the game then the audience is there,” Mott said. “I think if anything the whole business is just going to have to be more efficient, and there’s going to be things that are cut out, it’s just the nature of where we’re at. I’m sure there’ll be input in both male and female programs about how we can get the best bang for our buck, and how we can be a lot more efficient. Everyone needs to work out what’s going to be the best for their programs, and how they’re going to make them run most efficiently.”

It is a common lament among retired athletes that they never get the chance to stop, reflect and make balanced life decisions in the hurtling momentum of careers that last far less than half as long as those working regular jobs. Now, all of the world’s athletes will be taking stock, no matter where they sit on the road from rookie to veteran.

“We’ve certainly put out messaging to our players, we’re going to have a break during this period here now, but often in those breaks you still think ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that’. Not just cricket but sport and the community, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on what’s important,” Mott said. “I think it’ll wear thin after a while, but I’ve absolutely loved being able to hang out with my family on the weekend, cook meals together and spend time together and just hang out.

“There’s no pressure to be catching up with other people or stuff like that. I do think it is a great opportunity for everyone just to take stock, work out what’s really important in their lives, and just plan out what are the next steps. All these things have a funny way of happening for a reason. I think if you take a positive mindset towards them, you can really make them work for you.

“I know there’s going to be people out there that are really struggling making ends meet, and it’s going to put a huge amount of financial pressure on a lot of people in our community and that’s incredibly sad, but there’s a lot of people also who can use this as a real positive driver to just work out what’s really important in your lives and make sure that when we get out of this situation, which we will, that we can really crystallise what’s important for us as a community and how we want to take ourselves forward.”

Two players who were already looking at time for reflection were Ellyse Perry (torn hamstring) and Tayla Vlaeminck (foot stress fracture) who did not make it to the end of the World Cup campaign. Mott said that both were tracking to be fit to play within the normal timeframes for their respective injuries. Whether there will be any cricket to play yet by the time they are ready is another matter entirely. “It probably eases both their minds a little bit,” Mott said, “that they’re not missing out on as much as they would if we were over in South Africa.”



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Match Preview England vs Pakistan, 1992 World Cup Final 2020

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Welcome to #RetroLive, ESPNcricinfo’s answer to the ongoing global sporting outage. Over the coming weeks and months, we will be dredging through the archives to relive classic matches via our unrivalled ball-by-ball commentary. And when better to start than this coming Wednesday, March 25, the anniversary of the England v Pakistan 1992 World Cup final? If you don’t want to know the score, look away now…

Big picture

After 38 matches and 32 days, it all comes down to this, at the ‘G. England v Pakistan in the World Cup final, in front of a crowd that is expected to push 90,000. At some stage on Wednesday evening, Graham Gooch or Imran Khan – two of the most senior statesmen in the world game – will hoist the Benson & Hedges crystal-globe trophy to confirm the new first-time world champions. What a tantalising prospect we have in store.

If, after the spectacle we’ve been witnessing for the past month, pyjama cricket still isn’t quite your thing, then fear not, the two teams will be back in whites soon enough, locked in a five-match Test series during the English summer – one that is sure to have an extra piquancy given how much will have been won and lost in the coming hours.

But, even for die-hard traditionalists, it would be hard to dispute that cricket’s World Cup has come of age during its maiden staging in Australia and New Zealand. A festival of the sport that began, almost as an afterthought, in England in 1975 and was rattled off in a fortnight, has now grown to become a powerhouse competition in its own right.

And in the country where floodlit cricket was pioneered, 15 long years ago, by Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket, the concept has stepped up another level this month – the coloured clothing, white balls and black sightscreens providing a sneak peek into the sport’s future as a 21st century spectacle. And thankfully, the cricket, by and large (and give or take the odd rain rule), has lived up to its heightened billing.

Even in what proved to be a subdued and ultimately futile campaign, the hosts and holders, Australia, played a massive part in ramping up the excitement. After crashing to chastening losses to their Southern Hemisphere rivals – New Zealand in the opening match and South Africa in their thrilling return to the sporting big-time – the Australians’ tooth-and-nail battle to save their skins was compelling. But an agonising one-run win over India gave way to one final Botham-ing against England, and after that, they were always playing catch-up.

And so we are down to two. And while it’s customary to quibble about the exact identity of a tournament’s finalists, no two teams epitomise the spectacle of the 1992 World Cup better than England, the early tournament pace-setters, and Pakistan, the late-charging thoroughbreds, whose respective campaigns have utilised all the permutations that the tournament’s excellent round-robin format was designed to make possible.

Gooch’s men hit the ground running with five wins and a hugely significant no-result (more of that in a moment) in their first six matches, but they’ll need to blank out the slight nagging suspicion that they have peaked a week or two early. With qualification to the last four already secure, a distracted pair of defeats against Zimbabwe and New Zealand dented their aura a touch, and while they still have enviable depth in their batting and bowling stocks, injuries and fatigue after a long winter are encroaching.

Mind you, if ever there was an occasion to dredge one’s last ounces of energy, this is it. And while some of the squad, notably Robin Smith and Chris Lewis, are young and talented enough to lead the line in Asia in four years’ time, for several old warhorses – Gooch, Ian Botham, Allan Lamb, Derek Pringle – there can be no more tomorrows. Each of them has been in a losing World Cup final dressing room before – in Gooch’s case, twice – and each knows how long the regret can linger.

Pakistan, by contrast, have had to grift and graft their way back into contention after looking for all the world as though their tournament was over following three losses in their first five. But, led imperiously by Imran, who would probably back himself to unite the subcontinent given half a chance, Pakistan then thumped Australia in a massively significant showdown in Perth, and have scarcely looked back. Breezy victories followed over Sri Lanka, again at the WACA, and the table-topping New Zealand in Christchurch, and few could argue that they have hit their stride at precisely the right time.

Unlike England, who boast an extraordinarily balanced XI in which every player has a first-class century to his name, Pakistan have got where they need to be with bursts of timely inspiration rather than any sort of coherent plan. And let’s not forget either their burst of divine intervention in Adelaide, when against these same opponents, Pakistan were routed for 74, only for rain to sweep to their rescue with elimination staring them in the face. The point they salvaged there proved just enough to vault them into the last four, and now here we are. Maybe Allah will be smiling on them after all …

Back on the field, Wasim Akram‘s travails with the new ball have epitomised Pakistan’s yin-and-yang campaign – in a tournament for swing bowlers, he’s got the ball to talk too much on occasion up front. But hand him an ageing Kookaburra and watch the mastery take root. With his fellow king of reverse swing Waqar Younis missing the tournament with a stress fracture of the back, he’s got the stage and the talent to bid for immortality.

Whatever transpires at a packed MCG, it’s been a month to remember. The emotional return of South Africa, and their every-bit-as-emotional departure; the home-spun endeavour of New Zealand, raised to the brink of glory by Martin Crowe’s class with the bat but foiled in the final analysis by his cruel hamstring tear, allied to Pakistan’s soaring faith in youth. And the galvanisation of Gooch’s one-day wonders – a team whose sky-blue shirts will surely retain a special place in their fan’s affections, whatever transpires on the day. But, for God’s sake, let’s hope it doesn’t rain …

Form guide

England WLLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)

Pakistan WWWWL

In the spotlight

With his high-born lineage, Imran was bound to evoke the majesty of the tiger in rallying his cornered team, but Javed Miandad, Karachi’s natural-born streetfighter, has probably had something more down and dirty in mind while leading the charge in his inimitably pugnacious fashion. While Pakistan as a whole have had a rollercoaster ride to the final, Miandad himself has been a pillar of indomitability at No. 4, with four half-centuries to date and only one score below 30 (albeit that came against England in that infamous escape in Adelaide). And whether he’s been aping Kiran More’s incessant appealing behind the stumps or anchoring the semi-final chase to allow Inzamam-ul-Haq to cut loose at the other end, his ubiquitous presence has been tournament-long proof that you can never write Pakistan off.

For a man who is indisputably England’s greatest all-round cricketer, Ian Botham has long had a curiously underwhelming one-day record – at least until this, his farewell to the true glory days. Prior to his belated arrival in New Zealand (after completing his stint as the king in Jack and the Beanstalk), Beefy had amassed 1738 runs at 22.35 and 122 wickets at 29.14 in 99 ODIs – steady but far from swashbuckling. Since then, however, he’s turned on the bravado, compiling a career-best 79 in Christchurch before mocking the Australians on their home patch in Sydney with his best ODI figures of 4 for 31, not to mention another buccaneering fifty. He goes into the final as England’s leading wicket-taker for the tournament with 15 wickets at 17.60, and with a licence to have a go in his pinch-hitting role alongside Gooch at the top of the order. And if Botham’s sense of occasion is anything to go by, we can expect another concerted bid to steal the show.

Team news

England wait anxiously on the fitness of two key players, Smith, who trapped a nerve while practising before the semi-final, and Pringle, who missed the South Africa semi-final with an intercostal injury. Pringle, in particular, has been an immense factor in England’s canny use of the two new balls, finding teasing swing allied to impeccable line and length to deny any opposition batsmen any liberties, and though Gladstone Small is an able deputy, his absence would be a huge blow. Smith, meanwhile, will surely find a way back into the starting XI, either in place of Lamb, who’s yet to make a big contribution in his three games, or – perhaps more likely, given Lamb’s big-match experience and their wealth of allrounders – Dermot Reeve, whose sparky cameo in Sydney doesn’t quite justify his retention, though his medium-pacers are a useful go-to option.

England (possible): 1 Graham Gooch (capt), 2 Ian Botham, 3 Alec Stewart (wk), 4 Graeme Hick, 5 Neil Fairbrother, 6 Robin Smith, 7 Allan Lamb, 8 Chris Lewis, 9 Phil DeFreitas, 10 Derek Pringle/Gladstone Small, 11 Richard Illingworth

The spectacular coming-of-age of the new boy wonder Inzamam in the semi-final has justified one of the key decisions Pakistan took to arrest their free-falling form in the early part of the tournament – namely the promotion of Imran himself to No. 3, to provide a sheet-anchor in the event of early wickets, and a foil for the in-form Miandad. It’s a gamble to rely on an explosive finish to your innings in an ODI, but at least it’s a plan, and with the likes of Saleem Malik and Ijaz Ahmed (a likely recall in place of the second legspinner) still to produce telling displays in this tournament, Pakistan know they have untapped resources to call upon. With the ball, so much rests on their three key spearheads – Akram, Aaqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed. After that, it’s Imran living on fading glories, and not a lot else.

Pakistan (possible): 1 Aamer Sohail, 2 Rameez Raja, 3 Imran Khan (capt), 4 Javed Miandad, 5 Inzamam-ul-Haq, 6 Ijaz Ahmed, 7 Saleem Malik, 8 Wasim Akram, 9 Moin Khan (wk), 10 Mushtaq Ahmed, 11 Aaqib Javed

Pitch and conditions

There’s a threat of rain in the air in Melbourne, and given everything we have learnt about the rules for adjusted targets in this tournament, it’s hard to see how either captain could risk bowling first if they won the toss. But the pitch looks very true, and will surely hold up across 100 overs, even under lights, when the threat of dew could add a further jeopardy for the chasing team.

Stats and trivia

  • England have reached at least the semi-finals in each of the previous four World Cups, and Gooch has played in each of their previous two finals in 1979 and 1987. But they have yet to lift the trophy.

  • Miandad, with 379 runs at 63.16 in eight matches so far, needs another 78 in the final to overhaul New Zealand’s Crowe as the tournament’s leading run-scorer.

  • Only Australia’s David Boon has matched Rameez Raja’s tally of two hundreds in the tournament to date. Raja’s came against West Indies in Pakistan’s opening match and New Zealand in Christchurch.

  • With 15 wickets apiece, more than any other bowler, Botham and Akram are locked in a tight battle to be the tournament’s leading wicket-takers. Mushtaq (14) is poised to leapfrog both of them.

Quotes

“I want my team to play today like a cornered tiger, you know when it’s at its most dangerous.”

Imran Khan first issued that rallying cry ahead of their critical group-stage win over Australia at the WACA. But it worked then, so it’s hard to see him changing his T-shirt in a hurry.

“Paraded in, sat down – really don’t want to be there. Got my mind a million miles away.”

Ian Botham is less than amused after walking out of an eve-of-World-Cup-final dinner as a comedian takes the mickey out of the Queen.



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