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Ajaz Patel’s return signals an overhaul in New Zealand’s spin plans

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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”

Ajaz Patel

“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.”



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Harry Gurney, Stuart Broad convert pubs into delivery services to save staff’s jobs

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In normal circumstances, Harry Gurney would have spent Monday morning finishing his packing and saying goodbyes to his family ahead of his flight to the IPL, but normal left the building some time ago.

Instead, he found himself re-opening one of his pubs – co-owned with Stuart Broad since 2016 – under its new guise as a takeaway and a village shop in an attempt to keep some kind of revenue stream allowing him to pay his 20 full-time staff.

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“We started this back on Monday, when the prime minister said to avoid pubs,” Gurney explained, “and then when he updated that advice to pubs having to close on Friday, we were three or four days ahead of the curve.

“The idea – the reason we started doing it – was job preservation, because we knew that the trade of the pubs was going to pretty much vanish overnight, and we’ve got people who rely on us to pay their mortgages. We wanted to find a way to generate income in order that we were able to continue paying people throughout the crisis.

“I tried to nip it in the bud. I called a meeting last Monday morning of all the key management and just said to them: listen, I’m expecting that we’re going to get closed down in the next week or two, so let’s be prepared for it. We’ll do everything we can not to make any redundancies.”

Uncertainty remains as to whether it will be possible to run the service throughout – Gurney is yet to ascertain exactly what governmental assistance the company will qualify for following the chancellor’s announcement of support for businesses on Friday. But he remains hopeful that one way or another, the business will survive the storm.

“It’s just a chapter in the life of the business”

Harry Gurney

“The banks have been really understanding, one of the pubs that we own, we’ve got a mortgage on it and that’s just gone to interest-only for six months. Then the other one is a tenancy, and the landlord emailed to say we won’t charge rent for the foreseeable future.

“Business rates have disappeared again. We’ll be able to ride it out, but it’s frustrating and difficult. It’s just a chapter in the life of the business, but hopefully we can reap the rewards afterwards if we get through it.”

For Gurney, the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic has prompted one of the busiest periods in the business’ history from a management perspective, with opening nights the only contenders. Along with Broad and the third partner in their business, Dan Cramp, he runs two pubs in the Midlands, and as things stands intends to keep both open throughout the crisis.

Pizzas, fish and chips and curries are among the options on the new takeaway menu, with drinks also available for delivery, and Broad has been enlisted to help on the delivery run.

“I’m a lot more hands on than Broady, but he’s great when he’s around – it’s not common that we’re around at the same time” Gurney said. “He visits the pub, he does stuff on social media, and he’s talking about helping us do some takeaway and grocery deliveries next week.”

As for life stuck at home? Things could be worse. Aside from finding a way to keep his two-year-old son entertained, Gurney intends to “play a bit of piano, drink red wine, do some reading” as well as running to keep fit.

The working assumption remains that the IPL season will take place, though exactly when remains unclear, and the English season remains scheduled to start at the end of May with the T20 Blast. Gurney typically gives himself a four-week period to get up to speed ahead of a franchise tournament, so the lack of clarity is something of a frustration.

So on Monday afternoon, rather than boarding his flight to Kolkata as initially planned, he allowed himself a snap purchase with weeks sat at home in mind.

“I’ve just bought a PlayStation. I bought it about an hour ago. It’s the first time I’ve had one since I was, I reckon, 21 or 22.” At a time like this, who can blame him?



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Beuran Hendricks earns CSA national contract, Dale Steyn left out

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Beuran Hendricks, the left-arm seamer who made his Test and ODI debuts for South Africa in the past season, is the only new name on the national men’s contracted player list for the 2020-21 season. Meanwhile, pacer Nadine de Klerk, who was part of South Africa’s squad at the T20 World Cup earlier this month and wicket-keeper Sinalo Jafta have been added to the women’s national contracted squad. Both lists include the same number of players as least season – 16 men and 14 women – with the option of a 17th men’s player being contracted through the season.

Anrich Nortje, Rassie van der Dussen and Dwaine Pretorius are all examples of players who did exactly that. The trio were not originally named on the 2019-20 contract list but were upgraded over the course of the previous summer by virtue of the number of matches they played for the national side.

All three have been contracted for the 2020-21 season. Top-order batsman Theunis de Bruyn has been dropped from the men’s contract list, while Dale Steyn, who remains available in white-ball formats, has been excluded and Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander have retired. Offspinner Raisibe Ntozakhe and allrounder Zintle Mali are the two women’s players who no longer have contracts.

Faf du Plessis, who stood down as Test and T20 captain last month, has been re-contracted and remains available to play for South Africa in all formats suggesting his retirement is at least a year away. Du Plessis was part of the ODI squad that traveled to India earlier this month and has committed himself to his role as a senior player and in assisting his successor. While Quinton de Kock has taken over as white-ball captain, South Africa have yet to name a Test captain.

Contenders are believed to include de Kock, Temba Bavuma and Aiden Markram who remains on the contracted player list despite missing most of last season on the sidelines. Markram broke his wrist during the October Test series in India, a self-inflicted injury caused by “lashing out a solid object,” after bagging a pair in India. He recovered in time to play the 2019 Boxing Day Test against England but fractured a finger in the match, ruling him out of the rest of the summer’s internationals. Markram returned for his franchise, the Titans, in late February and scored two hundred in six one-day cup matches before the competition was suspended.

Markram’s replacement at the top of the order in the Test XI, Pieter Malan, has not been contracted. Neither has his brother Janneman Malan, who scored a century while opening the batting in his second ODI. Also missing from the list are Heinrich Klaasen and JJ Smuts, who have both been part of South Africa’s white-ball squads this summer and have both had decent returns, and Zubayr Hamza, who played in the Test team. However, all of them have the opportunity to earn a contract in the coming season.

South Africa’s men’s team has a busy schedule and are due to play away tours in Sri Lanka (white-ball) and West Indies (two Tests, five T20s) between May and August, although the future of those trips will hinge on the impact of COVID-19, which has already seen two men’s ODIs in India postponed. That will be followed by the men’s T20 World Cup in Australia and the home season, which sees visits from Sri Lanka (Tests), Australia (Tests), Pakistan (T20) and India (T20). The women’s team is due to travel to West Indies and England over the winter – tours that may prove unlikely – and will then turn their attention to the 2021 ODI World Cup.

They automatically qualified for the event before their home series against Australia, due to take place this month, was forced to be rescheduled because of the ongoing pandemic.

Last Monday, all activity in South African cricket was put on hold for 60 days, after South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster as a result of the coronavirus. Although the impact on the season has been minimal – with the semi-finals and finals of the one-day cup and two rounds of first-class cricket unable to be completed – it does mean that off-season camps, aimed to upskill South Africa’s cricketers, will have to wait.

Behind-the-scenes, CSA are continuing to plan for next summer and now that the central contracts have been announced, the six domestic franchises are expected to finalise their player pools in the coming week.

Nationally contracted men’s players:Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Rassie van der Dussen

Nationally contracted women’s players: Trisha Chetty, Nadine de Klerk, Mignon du Preez, Shabnim Ismail, Sinalo Jafta, Marizanne Kapp, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas, Lizelle Lee, Sune Luus, Tumi Sekhukhune, Chloe Tryon, Dane van Niekerk, Laura Wolvaardt



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How Ellyse Perry’s words turned around Australia Women’s T20 World Cup campaign

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“We just need to make sure we’ve got soul in this group.” It was Ellyse Perry who delivered this critical message to the Australia Women’s team when they stood on the brink of elimination from the T20 World Cup they would go on gloriously to win, the national team coach, Matthew Mott, has revealed.

Australia’s campaign culminated in a wondrous night at the MCG where Meg Lanning‘s team defeated India to raise the trophy in front of more than 86,000 spectators. Mott described how, as well prepared as they were beforehand, the Australians struggled mightily with the weight of expectation.

It had them nervous and getting away from their natural, aggressive instincts in the tournament opener against India at the Sydney Showgrounds, and took them near to elimination in the following game against Sri Lanka in Perth. After Lanning and vice-captain Rachael Haynes had fashioned a partnership to get them home, team leaders called a batting meeting at their hotel to discuss how to change things – at this point, they needed to win four matches in a row to claim the title.

“Traditionally what happens in cricket, and this is only in my experiences, but because you share so much information about bowling and batting is more of an individual pursuit, we rarely have actual batting meetings, they’re normally part of the full meeting,” Mott said. “But we actually called a batting meeting, we just opened it up and said ‘how do you think we’re going, what do we need to do to actually be the best we can be, and be true to ourselves’ and the honesty around that was incredible.

“Players admitted ‘I’m nervous, I haven’t been playing like I normally play, I should be doing this, I should be doing that’. Ellyse Perry was at that meeting because she goes in both meetings as an allrounder. She says ‘to be honest, we just need to make sure we’ve got soul in this group, and we look out for each other, be a little bit more overt with our body language and maybe the odd fist-bump and something like that when someone has hit a good boundary’. I think if you look back to us in the first two games compared to the last few, you definitely saw a greater appreciation of a partnership, and I reckon that was pivotal.”

Perry’s message, combined with the batting of Lanning and Haynes, gave the Australians the reset they desperately needed to play more freely, as demonstrated by subsequent wins over Bangladesh, New Zealand, South Africa amid Sydney’s showers, and finally India in the tournament decider. Perry, of course, was to miss the last two games with a hamstring injury, but her experience and wisdom were tellingly kept on board right up to the finish line.

“We talked about it a lot before the tournament,” Mott said. “The beauty of this team was we actually realised that we didn’t react well in the first game and we were nervous, I was nervous, so I can imagine what the players were like. There was so much expectation and build-up, and we knew there was a lot at stake. For us to turn out at the MCG was potentially a game-changing moment for not just cricket but women’s sport. So there was absolutely a burden there.

“How we internalised that and actually helped each other out sort of happened after Perth and that partnership between Rach [Haynes] and Meg [Lanning]. I think you always look back and say what a great final, but we had no right to be there unless that partnership happened, and that just changed our whole philosophy for the tournament. It was almost like a lightbulb moment of ‘if we keep playing scared and timid we’re going to get these results’. So I was really pleased with the batting group in particular that they galvanised and formed a unit and said ‘we’re going to commit to this. If it doesn’t come off, it doesn’t come off, but we’re going to make sure we go down swinging at least’.”

Mott, who began his coaching career as an assistant to Trevor Bayliss with the New South Wales state team, also spoke about the parallels between Australia’s women taking on the task of winning a home World Cup and England’s men’s team trying to win their first-ever global tournament, also on home soil in 2019.

“Even the way England, after their disappointment in 2015, tried to change the game up and take the game on,” Mott said. “It didn’t always come off, sometimes it doesn’t look great, and you’re always judged on your results. There are certain times where it doesn’t come off, but if you stay true to it, I think Alyssa Healy‘s the perfect example of that, if you’ve got that rare talent that not many players have, [it does reward you].

“As coaches and support staff you’ve just got to keep fostering that when the results aren’t coming, because you don’t want game-changers to start second-guessing themselves. We had to hold the faith and there was a lot of people talking about ‘how are you going to play’, there was never a doubt in our team that at some point she [Healy] was going to hurt someone and I think she did it a few times, ably supported by Beth [Mooney]. A different role, a bit more consistent over time, but they’re just a perfect foil for each other.”



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