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Ishant Sharma set to fly to New Zealand after clearing fitness test

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Fast bowler Ishant Sharma has cleared his fitness test at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru and is set to join the India squad in New Zealand for the two-Test series. ESPNcricinfo understands Sharma will fly out on Sunday and join the squad in Wellington, the venue of the first Test starting February 21.

Sharma had injured his right ankle during a Ranji Trophy game against defending champions Vidarbha nearly a month ago and had been looking doubtful for the Test series in New Zealand, having been advised six weeks’ rest with a grade three tear. He later went to the NCA for rehab and was named in the Test squad subject to clearing his fitness. Sharma will join Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Navdeep Saini in the pace attack. Sharma was also the leading wicket-taker the last time India toured New Zealand, in 2013-14, with 15 scalps from two Tests, and the only bowler to claim two five-fors in the series.

Sharma has been the leader of India’s pace attack in Tests in recent years, helping the team strengthen their grip at the top of the ICC rankings, and taking all 360 points in the ongoing World Test Championship. He has been India’s second-highest wicket-taker since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, only behind Shami, with 74 wickets from 19 matches at an average of 20.17 and strike rate of 43.7. He has played 96 Tests so far and could reach three digits in Australia later this year, subject to form and fitness.





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ICC clears Devon Conway to play for New Zealand

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Devon Conway, the South Africa-born batsman who plays for Wellington, will be eligible to represent New Zealand from August 28, the ICC has confirmed.

Conway left Johannesburg in September 2017, at the age of 26, to try and forge a cricket career in New Zealand. He had played extensively at provincial level, the second tier of South African domestic cricket, but had struggled to make an impression in his sporadic appearances in top-tier franchise cricket.

The move to New Zealand has been vastly productive as far as Conway’s batting returns go: in 17 first-class games for Wellington, he has scored 1598 runs at the stellar average of 72.63, with four hundreds including an unbeaten 327 against Canterbury last October, only the eighth triple-hundred scored in New Zealand.

The extent of Conway’s appetite for runs can be gauged by the fact that he topped the run charts in all three domestic competitions in the 2019-20 season – the first-class Plunket Shield, the List A Ford Trophy, and the T20 Super Smash – and in two of the three tournaments in 2018-19. Conway’s stupendous 2019-20 run also coincided with Wellington bagging the Plunket Shield and Super Smash double.

With those numbers behind him, Conway seems almost certain to join the likes of Grant Elliott and Neil Wagner as South-Africa-born-and-raised cricketers to play for New Zealand.

“It’s really awesome to have that solid date, 28th of August, as a date, as a reminder to say that you’re pretty close,” Conway said in a media teleconference on Tuesday. “In saying that, it doesn’t guarantee selection. So I am pretty pretty happy to hear about that, but you’ve just got to keep working hard and hopefully get an opportunity to break into that Black Caps team which is pretty awesome at the moment, you’ve got world-class players there, and it won’t be easy to get into that team.”

The ICC has granted Conway an exceptional circumstance dispensation, which means he can play in tour games before his August 28 eligibility deadline, leaving him available for selection for New Zealand’s tour of Bangladesh, which is scheduled to start on August 12, or for New Zealand A’s tour of India, which is set to begin on August 15.

The COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe and putting all cricket – and all sport – in suspension, however, means those dates only exist on paper for now.

“Little bit mixed feelings at the moment,” Conway said. “Obviously really happy to hear the news about my eligibility, but then again, in saying that, with regards to what’s happening at the moment throughout the world, just puts [everything] in perspective.”

Conway has not been able to bat during the lockdown that’s in place in New Zealand, with all training facilities shut, but he’s continued to work on his fitness.

“I’m trying to do as much physical work as possible, as it allows me, but I also try and focus on doing some of those eye exercises that are quite important to me, and using skills like boxing to stay active – I’m enjoying that recently,” Conway said. “There’s not a lot that we can do, but as much as you can do, it’s important to do during this period.”



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Australia stars prepared for pay cuts, says Tim Paine

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Australia’s captain Tim Paine says the nation’s cricketers are aware the delay to their central contracting for next season may well lead to pay cuts, and they accept that such a move would be part of the need to “do our bit” to preserve the game amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He has also conceded that the scheduled Test tour of Bangladesh is looking unlikely, with the ICC yet to deliberate on what will take place should the remaining series of the World Test Championship be delayed or cancelled due to the need to reset for whenever it is safe again to travel around the world for international series.

While Cricket Australia has been highly fortunate in the timing of the pandemic, the governing body and its state association owners have been locked into deep discussions of how to prepare for the broad range of scenarios in front of them, ranging from minimal disruption of next summer to an outlook as bleak as that currently faced by the winter football codes.

Paine, who awoke on Tuesday morning to find his wallet had been stolen after he left it in his car in Hobart after moving it outside to make room for a home gym set-up, said that the players were aware of the fact that they may need to make financial sacrifices to help shore up the wider game, under the terms of their collective agreement with CA that affords them around 26% of Australian Cricket Revenue each season.

“Certainly discussions will start happening in the next week or so,” Paine said. “There’s obviously the delay in our list announcement if you like. Certainly if things happen similar to what’s happened to football and other sports, then we’ve certainly got to do our bit to make sure the game survives and remains really healthy for years to come.

“If it comes to that, I’m sure that’s something that the players will look at. But there are bigger issues going on around the world at the moment than how much our sportsmen are going to get paid. That’ll be a small thing to us if that was to happen.”

As for Bangladesh, Paine said that time was running short for the series to be able to be played as scheduled, leaving administrators to weigh up what to do next. “At this stage I think you don’t have to be Einstein to realise it’s probably unlikely to go ahead, particularly in June,” Paine said. “Whether it’s cancelled completely or its pushed back, we’re not quite sure at the moment, but it’s a couple of Test matches and if at the end of the day we have to miss them, then so be it.

“I think whether some series have been cancelled, whether one’s going forward, or we are going to postpone them [we have to wait and see]… And maybe players are going to go through a period where we play five weeks’ cricket [at a stretch] if we can to complete the Test championship.

“I think the players are certainly enjoying that points system and the fact that every Test match counts for something and you are playing towards a premiership if you like. I think all players will be in favour of trying to finish that in any way we can. But again if it doesn’t happen as I said there are bigger issues in the world and missing a few Test matches isn’t going to hurt us.”

Similarly, Paine spoke with equanimity when asked about the likely need for fixture clashes between cricket and football codes should health restrictions for coronavirus be relaxed late this year.

“If that’s what happens, that’s what happens. We’re going through some pretty different circumstances clearly around the world at the moment,” Paine said when asked about the Twenty20 World Cup going head-to-head with the AFL. “I think all sporting codes and businesses are going to have to do things slightly differently going forward. Again it’s about working together, I think footy and cricket can help each other as much as society can in general in difficult times. For me personally I’d quite like to see both if I’m totally honest.”

This week brought an end to Steven Smith‘s two-year ban from captaincy in the wake of the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, and Paine indicated that leadership would likely be a conversation topic with his No. 4 batsman. However he clarified that he had no intention to stand aside early to hand the captaincy reins back to Smith, also pointing out that there were a growing number of options around the national teams.

“I haven’t had that conversation with Steve, I probably will at some stage no doubt,” Paine said. “But I think if you look at the fact he’s captaining Rajasthan Royals, captaining in The Hundred, it’s obviously something that he loves doing. So if Steve Smith decides that’s the way he wants to go, then I will fully support him in trying to do it again.

“I know it’s a really big thing for JL [coach Justin Langer] and [CA chief executive] Kevin Roberts to make sure that we are developing a number of people when the role comes up, whether it’s the Test role or when [limited-overs captain] Aaron Finch decides that he’s had enough. We’ve got a number of guys to choose from.

“At the moment, I’d like a Steve Smith who’s done it before or ones that are developing like a Travis Head or Alex Carey, Marnus Labuschagne. Pat Cummins is another one. We are starting to build a real depth and that’s what we want to do to make sure that when my time’s up, there are a number of options.”



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Hundred ticket sale delayed due to coronavirus concern

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Tickets for the inaugural season of the Hundred will not go on general sale as planned on April 8, the ECB has announced.

Priority tickets for the new competition went on sale in a window in February, with the ECB reporting that initial sales had “surpassed expectations” as an initial allocation for men’s Finals Day tickets sold out within 24 hours.

But with the coronavirus pandemic delaying the start of the English season by at least six weeks and the ability to stage the Hundred in the planned window in doubt, the ECB have decided to delay the next two ticket windows, scheduled for the start of April.

ALSO READ: PCA seeks collective solutions as players face prospect of pay cuts

“In the midst of an epidemic which is affecting the nation in unprecedented ways, it would be wholly inappropriate for us to promote and sell tickets to the Hundred,” said Sanjay Patel, the competition’s managing director.

“We appreciate this may cause some disappointment to fans that were keen to purchase tickets in the April sales window, accessing early bird prices and securing tickets to the most in-demand games.

“When it is appropriate to go back on sale, we will of course offer the same ticket offers and accessible pricing. Like the rest of the nation, we all hope that it is not far away before cricket returns to our screens, stadiums, parks and clubs.”

Several counties had already taken their ticketing platforms offline due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, with many clubs currently operating with a skeleton staff.

While Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, has signalled that the governing body’s intention is to prioritise the most lucrative competitions, i.e. the T20 Blast and the Hundred, Durham chief executive Tim Bostock suggested last week that if the season is squeezed into a two-month window, it may make sense to delay the new tournament’s first season to 2021.

“It’s pretty clear international cricket comes first, then after that it’s the Blast and the Hundred.,” he told TalkSPORT. “That’s where the revenue is.

“Protecting the Hundred is important, although in the conversations I’ve had with the ECB, if it ends up getting squeezed into a two-month season – which is possible – a view will be taken about whether this is really the right time to launch the Hundred.

“Tom Harrison has been really pragmatic about this. I certainly get the impression if we get a two-month season the pragmatic view would be: what’s the point of launching this competition now? Let’s launch it properly next year.”



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