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England tour ‘a great dress rehearsal’ for reception in South Africa – Justin Langer

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Australia coach Justin Langer has hailed Steve Smith and David Warner‘s “brilliant reintegration” into the national team, and suggested that last year’s tour to England had been a “great dress rehearsal” ahead of his side’s return to South Africa for the first time since the Newlands scandal in March 2018.

Langer replaced Darren Lehmann as coach in May 2018 at a time of uncertainty, with Cricket Australia seeking to improve the game’s image and the national team’s culture amid the fall-out from ‘Sandpapergate’, and he has spoken at length about the way his side play the game throughout his tenure.

ALSO READ: Newlands scandal born of leadership gulf – Ponting

“It was obviously a very hard tour last time,” Langer said. “It gave us a great opportunity to reassess where we are in Australian cricket. We talk about making Australians proud of us again and earning respect – not only from the Australia public and past players, but also across the world.

“The guys are in a really good place. They’ve worked hard. We had a tough tour in England, but the way the guys have come together, played great cricket – they’ve been great ambassadors for Australian cricket on and off the field, and we are really excited to be back here. We love playing cricket in South Africa.”

Neither Smith nor Warner has played in South Africa since their year-long bans following their involvement in the Newlands scandal, but both have been successful on the pitch. Smith won the Compton-Miller medal after scoring 774 runs in four Ashes Tests, 333 more than any other batsman on either side, while Warner was awarded the Allan Border medal after his imperious form throughout the home summer.

“David [Warner] loves that banter coming from the crowd. It gets him into the game”

Aaron Finch

And Langer suggested that the process of reintegration, which began with a series of meetings in the UAE before the 2019 IPL, helped both players slot back into the side seamlessly, despite their prolonged absence.

“There was a brilliant reintegration back into the team, before they came back into the team 12 months ago or whatever it was – eight months ago,” he said. “There was a lot of really good work done there, and we’ve had a great dress rehearsal for South Africa from England.

“[That] was a tough tour for those two guys and I was really proud of the way they let their bats do the talking and again, [they have been] great ambassadors off the field. So hopefully they’ll be looking forward to getting back here and playing great cricket as well.”

Aaron Finch, Smith’s replacement as white-ball captain, said that he has “leant on them quite a bit” during his time in charge of the limited-overs set-up, and said that it was “a powerful statement to the group” to have the pair back in the side.

“I’ve been someone who has leant on them quite a bit for advice, especially out in the field,” Finch said. “These are guys that have played so much international cricket and led in international cricket. You would be stupid not to use that resource at various times.

“They’ve been really supportive of me, and I think having good personal relationships with them… you build up a respect for each other. They’ve been nothing but supportive and helpful of every decision we’ve made as captain and coach, and to have these guys on board is such a powerful statement to the group.”

ALSO READ: Smith, Warner won’t be ‘fazed one bit’ by crowds – Hazlewood

Finch also suggested that Warner in particular would use any hostility or barracking from the South African fans as motivation to score runs, as appeared to have been the case during the World Cup in England.

“South African fans are very passionate,” Finch said. “Regardless of whether you’re playing in Australia or over here or even in ICC tournaments, the crowd are very vocal.

“Our guys are expecting that and David loves that banter coming from the crowd. It gets him into the game. Regardless of what I think, the crowd are going to act however they please – I don’t think it’s going to make much difference to us. We are going to play cricket with a smile on our face, and represent Australia very proudly.”



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Newlands fallout has improved behaviour in Australian cricket – Tim Paine

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Australia Test captain Tim Paine believes the behavioural changes forced upon the national team by the Newlands scandal have flowed down into the rest of the system over the course of the past two years, with incidents involving James Pattinson and Marcus Stoinis last summer the exceptions that prove the new rule.

Pattinson in the Sheffield Shield and Stoinis in the Big Bash League were both sanctioned by Cricket Australia for obscene personal abuse of Cameron Gannon and Kane Richardson respectively. In each instance the language used was homophobic in nature, in an unseemly reminder of the sorts of words that have been thrown around Australian cricket circles as a means of “trying to get into players’ heads” for decades.

As depicted in the documentary series The Test, Paine and Australia’s coach Justin Langer had led the work to ensure the national team’s language on the field was dialled down from what had previously been openly abusive levels to something less obscene without losing all its hostility – banter being the term most often used to describe it. Reflecting on the period covered by the documentary, Paine said he had seen a perceptible change in the language uttered on the field in domestic matches as well as Tests.

“You’re looking at one or two very isolated instances, one with Patto and one in the Big Bash,” Paine said. “So I think in general the behaviour throughout cricket in Australia has improved. I think the players have done a great job of that. It’s still a really competitive environment where you’re going at each other… but I think certainly in the time I’ve been in cricket, the banter or abuse level has certainly changed.

“I think that’s a good thing, I think that’s what we want, I think it then allows us to have things like the stump mics turned up and we’re able to take fans and spectators even closer to the game. Hopefully that behavioural trend can continue. I think it’s just been a change in mindset. I think those combative players still play the way they play, they’ve had to think a little bit more about how they go about it or what they actually say.

“I think there’s still plenty of chat on cricket fields that I’ve been on, there’s certainly still ways of getting in the contest and trying to get into players’ heads without flat-out abusing them, and I think that’s been shown by the Australian men’s team in particular.”

One element of the Australian team that was influenced indirectly by the documentary was the development of honest feedback sessions among players and coaches. The series charts how Langer’s harsh words were not always well received, culminating in a Christmas/New Year period during the India Test series in 2018-19 in which the players and the coach appeared equally unhappy with how their relationship was progressing.

However, things evolved with increasing team success, resulting in the ability to debrief the traumas of the Headingley Test in a way that was effective enough to have the team move on in time to put in an Ashes-clinching performance for the next Test at Old Trafford – the climax of the documentary.

“I think having him there, as we’ve said a few times, once you sort of got used to it, the first week or so, we literally went ahead as we normally would,” Paine said of the documentary’s prime cinematographer Andre Mauger. “We didn’t change any meeting set-ups or any discussions that we would normally have because the documentary was being made. It was business as usual. That’s what we wanted it to be, with probably the one exception being the one after Headingley, which was something we hadn’t done. And again, it wasn’t done for the documentary.

“That was done because JL thought it was something we needed to do, which was to address the mistakes, speak about it in front of each other and come up with ways with which we could move forward and win that next Test in Manchester. So that was slightly different to the norm, I suppose. Because normally you do look at a lot of footage by yourselves as cricketers, not so much in front of the team and going forward as much as we did. So that was different but certainly now it’s opened our eyes to different ways of going about it.

“We are certainly a lot more open and honest and we can do it a lot quicker as well. That’s one of the great things to come out of that Headingley Test match and the way we addressed it afterwards.”

As for the reception to the documentary, which has included the England captain Joe Root admitting he has watched it while kept at home by the coronavirus pandemic, Paine said it had been rewarding to see audiences respond favourably to the Austrlaian team’s decision to join the ranks of those sporting teams documented in similar ways elsewhere.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to whether I’m grabbing a coffee down the road, whether I was playing the last few games for my grade club, University or spoken to family and friends who are that connected to cricket, everyone that I’ve spoken to has loved the insight into the Australian cricket team,” he said. “It’s always been probably a change-room that you don’t get to see a lot of. So I think the documentary and the broadcast rights we got now with the two TV stations has sort of opened up the dressing-room and given a real insight into how we go about things.

“I think that’s been a great thing for the game, it’s been a great thing for our team and it’s been a great thing for the Australian public and potentially opposition captains like Joe Root to have a bit of a look. All the feedback that I’ve been given so far has been really positive and hopefully that continues. Hopefully people enjoyed it. That was the idea.

“We are no different. We are sports fans as cricketers and I love watching ESPN [films] on NFL or baseball teams for a number of years now. So It’s great that cricket’s sort of moved forward and done what we did with the documentary.”



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ECB announces £61 million support package to confront ‘biggest challenge in our history’

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The ECB has announced a £61 million financial support package in a bid to ensure that cricket can withstand what chief executive Tom Harrison has described as “the biggest challenge” the governing body has faced in its history.

Around £40 million will be made available immediately, with a further £21 million to follow in interest-free loans with a particular focus on ensuring that the game can survive at a recreational level.

Harrison warned that there would be “more pain ahead” if the coronavirus pandemic caused the majority of the summer to be wiped out, and also confirmed that:

  • Players with central contracts will not be furloughed or asked to take a pay cut

  • ECB exploring the possibility of furloughing some staff

  • He has volunteered a pay cut believed to amount, in pro rata terms, of over £100,000 a year

  • It is “not impossible” that two different England teams (Test and limited-overs) will play simultaneously if fixtures can be squeezed into the back end of the season

  • The feasibility of playing behind closed doors in “bio-secure environments” is being explored in talks with the government

ALSO READ: Root expects ‘discussion’ on pay cuts as uncertainty rules

As things stand, the entire English summer is in some doubt, with social distancing measures likely to remain in place in the UK for several months, and the start date of the county season has already been delayed by six weeks until May 28.

Several options are currently being modelled with possible start dates ranging from June to August, as well as the possibility of the entire season being wiped out, while options for games played behind closed doors are being planned. As the most lucrative domestic competitions, the T20 Blast and the Hundred will be prioritised.

“This is a real hammer blow to our plans. Our season is massively under threat now,” Harrison said. “It’s an incredibly difficult time for the country and the game.

“Everyone will be impacted. Right now we are addressing the short term. There’s more pain ahead if we lose a substantial portion of the season. We are building scenarios where we can take further steps as needed. We don’t think this will be the end of it.

“We won’t be playing until we know it is safe for players and eventually fans. We will then be prioritising the most valuable forms of the game: first international cricket, then the Blast and maybe the Hundred as and when we get there.

“This money – £40 million in cash for immediate and then £20 million in interest-free loans – is to give certainty in these extremely difficult times. It’s to keep the lights on.”

Around £40 million will be made available immediately, with measures including an early release of three months’ county partnership distributions, two years of facilities maintenance distribution, and the suspension of international staging fees – paid by clubs to hold England fixtures at their ground – for four months.

A further £21 million will later become available to the recreational game – which is currently suspended indefinitely – through a club cricket support loan scheme, grants through a ‘return to cricket’ scheme, and a 12-month holiday on loan repayments.

The ECB also confirmed that international staging fees will be waived if a fixture is not played as scheduled due to COVID-19.

The effects of the pandemic have been particularly severe for larger counties with diversified sources of revenue, because a smaller proportion of their income comes from guaranteed ECB funding. The suspension of staging fees, therefore, will come as a relief.

Citing contract confidentiality, Harrison declined to provide an update on negotiations with broadcasters and the prospect of their withholding payments. 2020 is the first year in a five-year broadcast deal worth £1.1 billion, which Harrison hailed at the time as a “game-changer”.

He accepted the pressures upon broadcasters, however, saying: “All of them are facing challenges themselves. The impact is cross-sector.

“But this comes down to relationships and we have very strong relationships with our broadcasters. The best relationships are the ones [in which] you don’t have to pull a contract out. You sit down and you work things out together. That’s what we’re doing.”

On the subject of the Hundred, Harrison conceded that the new competition’s inaugural season could yet be delayed until 2021, adding that the ECB was already in discussions with the government about the feasibility of getting crowds back into stadiums before the end of the English season, or failing that, the logistics involved in playing behind closed doors.

“Playing behind closed doors – in a bio-secure environment – throws up some challenges,” said Harrison. “David Mahoney [ECB FOO] is leading the cross-sports work with government on this so that we know what behind closed doors means from their perspective and so we can get permission [to play behind closed doors] as soon as we can. The government will control all big events so we will need DCMS approval for any cricket we want to play.

“We also need to know what behind closed doors looks like from an event perspective. Do we need to charter flights and book hotels. What do we need to make a sterile environment? It’s more complicated for players coming from overseas and what quarantine restrictions there might be.”

As reported by ESPNcricinfo, it is possible that two different England squads – one Test, one limited-overs – could play in different places at the same time if it allows games to be squeezed in at the end of the summer. Only a handful of players are first-choice across formats, and Australia set a precedent for such a move in 2017.

The ECB’s financial relief package made no mention of possible wage cuts for players, and Harrison confirmed: “We are not seeking pay cuts from England players”.

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

Counties were sent advice at the end of last week regarding the furloughing of employees. PCA chief executive Tony Irish said on Monday that he was expecting recommendations or proposals would be presented this week, which would be worked through with players and the ECB in the hope of finding collective agreement.

The ECB’s most recent set of accounts identified the “loss of cricket due to events outside of cricket’s control” as a “major risk”, and revealed that the governing body’s cash reserves were down to £11 million, from £73 million in the 2015-16 financial year.

But Harrison dismissed criticism of the ECB’s forward planning.

“You can normally make business models and forecasts where you might get a 15-20% fall in revenue,” he said. “There are very few businesses that would put a complete drop in revenues to zero on a risk register.

“I don’t think there is a big enough reserves pot to anticipate this sort of challenge. And it is important to base any judgement on our reserves policy against the money that has gone into the network: we have a thriving network, a high-performing sport and well-paid players.”



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Cricket South Africa to advertise for selection convener, national coaches

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Cricket South Africa will advertise the positions of convener of selectors, national women’s coach and support staff, men’s under-19 coach and support staff, South Africa A coach and chief medical officer imminently – with current contracts coming to an end on April 30. All the incumbents will be able to apply to continue in their positions.

That means Linda Zondi, currently the independent selector but previously the selection convener, Hilton Moreeng and Salieg Nackerdien, women’s head and assistant coach respectively, Lawrence Mahatlane, the under-19 coach, and Shuaib Manjra, the current chief medical officer, could all be replaced. The South Africa A job has been vacant since Russell Domingo left to take up the role with Bangladesh and had been filled by Ashwell Prince, the Cobras coach, and Malibongwe Maketa, the former national assistant coach, in interim capacities this summer with permanent appointment to be made in the next few months.

Similarly, acting director of cricket, Graeme Smith, is set to be confirmed in the role, whether or not he needs to take time off to commentate on the IPL. Smith was appointed in December on a short-term deal because of his prior commitment to the IPL and had indicated his desire to sign with CSA on his return. With the IPL start-date uncertain and no international cricket for South Africa until at least June, Smith is ready to continue in his current role and an announcement on his position is expected next week.

Zondi and Mahatlane confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that they intend to apply for the convener and under-19 roles respectively while, at the time of writing, Moreeng had not responded to requests for comment. Zondi was South Africa’s convener of selectors from June 2015 until June 2019, when CSA sought to restructure under Thabang Moroe. When Moroe was suspended in December last year, Zondi was reappointed as an independent selector. His role in bringing through the bulk of the current squad and identifying talent such as Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj and Aiden Markram stand him in good stead for the position in future. Mahatlane, on the other hand, has had a tough time with the under-19 side, who exited at the group stage of the World Cup, hosted in South Africa this year.

“It was always going to be the case that positions would be advertised in April when contracts came to an end,” Smith told the media during an online press engagement on Tuesday. “We’re busy drawing up the under-19 and women’s management and coach positions. It’s not stopping any of the people currently in those positions from putting their names into the hat, but those positions will all be advertised.”

Smith confirmed that South Africa’s Test captain will be discussed following the appointment of the selection convener and that the women’s game will require increased emphasis with preparations for the 2021 World Cup front and centre of CSA’s agenda. “That is going to be a huge focus going forward especially with the World Cup coming up.”

The women’s team reached the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup last month and narrowly missed out on a place in the final in a rain-reduced affair in the knockouts. They also got to the semi-finals of the 2017 ODI World Cup and have been mapping out a seven-year plan since professionalisation in 2014, which is aimed to culminate with success at the 2021 World Cup. Moreeng is a key part of that plan and given the timing of the tournament early next year, and the dearth of cricket expected between now and then, it is not unrealistic to imagine he will be retained, especially as the team qualified for the World Cup with a series to spare.

The women’s team were due to host Australia this month but the matches were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. They are also scheduled to travel to West Indies and England over the South African winter, but whether those tours go ahead will depend on how soon international travel resumes. Similarly, the men’s team’s tours to Sri Lanka (a white-ball visit scheduled for June) and West Indies (July-August for two Tests and five T20Is) are also hanging in the balance with final calls to be taken in the next two to three months.

Smith explained that CSA and the players would like at least six weeks to prepare for tours which means a decision on Sri Lanka will need to be made around the third week of April, and on West Indies by early June. “We need plus-minus six weeks to have our players fully ready for tours. Financially, with stuff like holding flights, around that six-week mark is the time away from the tour when decisions need to be made,” Smith said.

Apart from logistics, the six-week period is also necessary to have players match fit, something which is impossible at the moment. South Africa is five days into a 21-day nationwide lockdown which prohibits, amongst other things, outdoor exercise. Players have been given individual training programs to follow at home and Smith emphasised that they need to take charge of their own conditioning. “A lot of it is going to be their own responsibility to maintain those levels through the lockdown,” he said.

Meanwhile, South African cricket continues to prepare for a domestic season that will not start for at least another six months. As CSA table the fixtures for franchise and provincial matches, they also provided an assurance that the Mzansi Super League, the T20 tournament which has been played for the past two seasons, will go ahead, although it is not known whether it will be broadcast on the free-to-air provider SABC, as was the case previously, or if CSA have been able to secure a television deal.

“We’re still in the final negotiations, but I can confirm that there will be MSL 2020. We’re working through the details and the final contracts. We cannot give too many details other than stating that a third edition of the MSL will take place,” Jacques Faul said.



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