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‘Play along with the crowd and have fun’ – Steven Smith on his return to South Africa

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Steven Smith plans to “smile and laugh and play along and have fun,” with South African crowds over the next three weeks as returns to the scene of his ball-tampering offence. And he will have to start at the most hostile ground in the country.

Although the sandpaper gate had unfolded at Newlands, where Australia will play the last of the three T20s, the Wanderers in Johannesburg was where they lost the final Test in 2018, where Darren Lehmann resigned and the city out of which Smith was frogmarched by a police escort on his way home. It is also, as England have just experienced, where the crowd are unashamedly vocal against the opposition but Smith is prepared, and a little excited.

“They are hostile at the best of times here,” Smith said. “It doesn’t bother me too much. Like Justin (Langer) said we had the dress rehearsal in England where there was a fair bit going on but I honestly don’t notice it, particularly when I am batting. I don’t really hear anything that’s going on and I block it all out. Maybe a little bit when I am fielding. But then again it’s just words, it doesn’t affect me. I think I will be doing some outfielding so I’m looking forward to it. I will smile and laugh and play along and have fun.”

But, Smith cannot block out everything. He admitted that coming back to the same accommodation the team stayed at in 2018 brought back difficult memories. “Walking into the hotel in Sandton, initially I was like, last time I left here it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t the best time in my life,” he said. “But I’ve moved on from that and learned a lot over the last two years and I’m moving forward.”

Since making his comeback, Smith has scored two centuries and a double-hundred in the Ashes, a hundred in his most recent ODI innings against India and two unbeaten fifties in his last three T20 innings. In that time, he has come across South Africa only once, in Manchester at the 2019 World Cup where their parting shot was beating Australia. He has been in contact with some South African players and exchanged, “a few text messages with AB and Faf here and there but caught up with all of them during the IPL last year and when we played South Africa in the World Cup,” and found there were no hard feelings. “Everyone was pretty chilled. Everyone was just normal,” Smith said.

So far, people in South Africa have reacted similarly. “I’ve been to a few of the restaurants where people have been lovely,” Smith said. “Guys have come up and had a few photographs so that’s been good. It’s been pretty normal to when I have been here previously.”

That may change when he steps onto the field but Smith’s new attitude of “not taking things too seriously,” means he is more concerned with how well he will hit the ball rather than how many words are directed his way. “We are at a place with altitude, so the ball just flies. You don’t have to over-hit the ball. If you hit the middle of the bat, it will go a long way,” he said, recalling a conversation from eight years ago about how to approach batting at the Wanderers.

“I remember playing in the Champions League T20 final here and talking to Michael Lumb. I said, ‘What do you do here at the Wanderers?’ And he said, ‘Just get it in the atmosphere.”

Much like how is going to treat whatever South African fans have to say to him.



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‘Scheduling clashes’ force West Indies Under-19s tour of England to be postponed

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West Indies Under-19s’ tour of the UK, slated to run from August 16 to September 3, has been postponed due to “scheduling clashes”. The initial schedule had included one T20, three List A games and two youth Tests.

“The situation is an unfortunate one as we had planned for the tour to be the end of a two-year development cycle for this group of U-19 players,” Jimmy Adams, CWI’s director of cricket, said. “This tour to the UK, added to the recent World Cup in January, and the tri-series that we hosted in December of last year would have given this cohort an excellent competitive component to cap their two-year U19 program.

ALSO READ: ECB draws up COVID-19 contingency plans

“That said, we will continue to follow up on the cohort, especially those not contracted to franchises, through our Emerging Player program, which has so far facilitated many of our upcoming players who fall in the 19-23 category. Thankfully, while the tour to the UK will not proceed [sic] this year, the ECB are committed to hosting our U-19s at a mutually convenient time in the future.”

Mo Bobat, the ECB’s performance director, said it was the right decision to postpone the tour in the “current climate”. The COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic has brought sport to a standstill across the world, but the ECB hopes to salvage something from the 2020 summer.



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Two small windows to reschedule PSL 2020 knockouts – Wasim Khan

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Wasim Khan has said that the PCB’s “first point of call” is to ensure that the knockout stages of the 2020 PSL can be played at some point, following speculation that Multan Sultans might be awarded the trophy after topping the group stage.

Speaking to ESPNcricinfo’s Stump Mic podcast, Wasim, the PCB’s chief executive, said that the fifth edition of the competition had been a “resounding success” and that the board has identified two possible windows for the knockout stages of the competition to be played later in the year, after the tournament was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Multan Sultans co-owner Ali Khan Tareen tweeted that it would be “ridiculous” for his franchise to be handed the trophy, and that the knockouts should be rescheduled for later in the year “so our local players get more opportunities to shine”.

Last week, franchise owners seemed divided upon the issue, with Multan’s other co-owner Alamgir Tareen urging the PSL not to reschedule the unplayed fixtures but stakeholders in the other semi-finalists – Lahore Qalandars, Karachi Kings and Peshawar Zalmi – hoping a window could be found for the games to be played.

“We’re currently looking at when we can reschedule the remaining matches to be played, and we’re confident we’ll get those done at the back end of the year, subject to obviously all things going well,” Wasim said.

“From our point of view, the first point of call is to try and ensure that we get the remaining matches played. There are two small windows that we have identified at the back end of the year.

“Ideally, you probably need no more than three or four days. So we’re just working that out. We’re going to be taking the views of the franchise owners into it, get their views on it, look at what potential format we can play.

“If you remember, initially it was based on qualifiers, eliminators and then the final, and then we moved to semi-finals and a final based on the shorter window because of safety reasons around the coronavirus. We are looking at that, and we are confident that we can get that done.”

Elsewhere, domestic competitions have been abandoned early, with the team topping the table awarded the trophy: New South Wales were declared Sheffield Shield winners, Weillington were given the Plunket Shield title, while Lions and Dolphins were named as first-class and one-day winners in South Africa.

But Wasim pushed back against the idea that Multan, who topped the group stage with 14 points, should be given the trophy.

“There’s no fun, right, in just handing it over to Multan Sultans at the moment? Although they’ll probably be pushing for that. Our first point of call is to make that happen.

“If it can’t happen then as other leagues around the world have done is to then declare a winner. Them [Multan] being on top, that would probably be the case.”

While Alamgir Tareen had pushed back against the idea of playing a knockout stage, saying he did not consider it to be “practical”, Ali Khan Tareen tweeted that he had “differing views on the way forward” to his co-owner.

“Finishing at No.1 means we were the most dominant/consistent team, but it doesn’t mean we won,” he tweeted. “It would be ridiculous for the PCB to just give us the trophy. All 4 teams have the same chance of winning. Trophies should be won, not given.

“And as I’ve always said, trophies are not important. Helping players develop, giving them a platform and watching them excel is so much more rewarding. So that’s why I want the remaining games to be played later in the year so our local players get more opportunities to shine.”

While the destination of the trophy remains unclear, Wasim said that the PSL’s first full season in Pakistan had been a “massive, massive success”.

“For the first time we’d brought the whole of the PSL back to Pakistan. It was a huge undertaking to do that, and to see close to 600,000 fans turn up at four venues across 26 matches… for us, that was a huge success. The PCB staff worked day and night to make that happen.

“Despite the fact we had to postpone at the semi-final stage, we felt it was a massive, massive success, particularly based off the feedback we’ve had from round the world.”



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Pandemic halts Australian cricket’s wedding season

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Since time immemorial, April has been wedding season for Australia’s cricketers, after the end of the season and before winter’s chill takes full effect.

This year, however, the tally of delayed weddings provides yet another measure of the toll of the COVID19 pandemic, as best-laid plans are put off indefinitely, or at least until the end of next summer.

No fewer than eight Cricket Australia or state contracted players have chosen to delay their nuptials due to strict restrictions on public gatherings, which in Australia limit the size of weddings to five people in total – the two participants, the pastor or celebrant, and their witnesses.

Australian men’s wrist spinner Adam Zampa and women’s left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen are among the group, while Jackson Bird, Mitchell Swepson, Andrew Tye, D’Arcy Short, Katelyn Fryett and Alister McDermott are the others. All had scheduled their weddings for April or thereabouts, forcing postponements until such a time as they can enjoy their big days as originally planned.

There are others not in quite the same company, having recently become engaged and now in planning for weddings to take place at a yet to be decided date. These include Glenn Maxwell and Pat Cummins, who said that he would now be far more involved in wedding plans on account of not having any cricket immediately in front of him.

“First of all it means that I’ll have to be more involved with the plans because I am around more, which is good,” Cummins said. “No we’re lucky. Obviously just got engaged, so hopefully most of this would have blown over by the time our wedding comes around.

“I really feel for a couple of close mates here like Adam Zampa who had to delay their weddings. It’s really tough times. So nothing’s hopefully changed too much from our point of view with that. Obviously bigger things at play.”

Cummins’ fiancee Becky Boston is English, and he said his heart went out to all cricketers and families experiencing an even greater interruption than those to wedding plans – that of the start of the northern summer cricket season. He also noted the awful scenes in Italy and Spain, where coronavirus has taken a much harsher toll than that experienced so far in Australia.

“It’s awful seeing things like – Italy and Spain, but now America and the UK in recent days – it’s just crazy how quickly it’s developed,” Cummins said. “Obviously got a lot of family over in England at the moment, speaking to them regularly – first of all making sure they’re staying indoors. But they’re all- it just seems like what we’re doing here but on an even more intense scale.

“They’re really staying at home, trying to do all the right things. It’s obviously moving so quickly, so I think we’re scheduled to go over there in June I think it is. It’s still 3 months away, just have to wait and see. I know no call has been made on that either way, but I guess unless things improve, I can’t really see many tournaments going on anywhere in the world for a little while.

“So just sit back and wait. Obviously wish everyone in England the best, especially from a cricketer’s point of view, speaking to a few close mates who play county cricket over there – they’ve gone through the whole pre-season and geared up for the start of their summer and they’re staring down the barrel of potentially their whole summer of cricket being over. So obviously the health risk is a big one, but those guys basically have to put their careers on hold.”

Other nations, too, have seen wedding plans interrupted. In South Africa, the marriage of Lizelle Lee and Tanja Cronje was slated for April 10, but is now on hold.



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