India 4 for 132 (Sharma 49*, Jonassen 2-24) beat Australia 115 (Healy 51, Yadav 4-19, Pandey 3-14) by 17 runs
A bewitching spell of wrist-spin bowling from Poonam Yadav sank Australia on the opening night of the T20 World Cup at the Sydney Showgrounds, underlining India’s status as genuine contenders to win a tournament that has heaped untold pressure on the world No. 1-ranked hosts.
In front of a crowd of 13,432 – the best for a standalone women’s cricket match in Australia – the Indians began with familiar bombast at the top of the order before the loss of three wickets for six runs lowered their expectations. Deepti Sharma was not daunted, reverting to plan B of running as many singles as possible and guiding India to a competitive 132.
While Alyssa Healy made a much-needed return to runs and confidence at the top of the Australian order, the rest struggled for timing on a slow, dry surface that proved to be ideally suited to Yadav’s art. A legbreak and three wrong’uns delivered her the wondrous figures of 4 for 19, and with the strong support of Shikha Pandey, Australia were confounded. Having entered 2020 as the world’s undisputed T20 dominators, the hosts have now lost three games out of six and are no guarantee to make the semi-finals.
India boom, then bust
If it was a surprise to see Molly Strano go from missing Australia’s World Cup squad to bowling the first ball of the tournament a couple days after she was a late inclusion for the injured Tayla Vlaeminck. India’s top-order approach after blocking out the offspinner’s exploratory first over was not.
After she was dropped by Strano at midwicket, Smriti Mandhana found the boundary off Ellyse Perry, and Shafali Verma found her range against Megan Schutt, pinging four boundaries as the Indians vaulted to 0 for 40 from four overs.
The Australians knew they needed to maintain composure, and did so through the intervention of the in-form Jess Jonassen, who pinned Mandhana lbw on the slog sweep and was later to be the beneficiary of a foolhardy dance down the pitch by a keyed-up Harmanpreet Kaur and then a fortuitous stumping as the ball rebounded off Healy’s pads. That after Verma had pulled her 15th ball straight to mid-on off Perry to depart for 29 off just 15 balls. Three wickets down for six in 15 balls made the rest of the innings a salvage job.
Sharma keeps her cool
A decidedly sluggish surface at the Sydney Showgrounds recalled some of the desperately slow pitches the Sydney Thunder men’s team had played on at the neighbouring Sydney Olympic Stadium in the early years of the Big Bash League. This meant that it was fiendishly difficult to force the pace against anything but the longest of half-volleys, something Sharma recognised as she sought to pull the innings back from the brink.
Singles were the order of the day, and Sharma was to collect no fewer than 29 of them in her sturdy, unbeaten 49. She received useful support from Jemimah Rodrigues, who had been reprieved from an early lbw decision in Perry’s favour when a review showed the ball sliding past leg stump, and scored 24 runs in singles herself. So while a tally of three boundaries in the final 16 overs of the innings sounds paltry, the approach at least meant that India could reach a couple of runs beyond the average T20I score at the venue.
Healy turns a corner
Nine, one, duck, one, four, nine. That sequence of six sickly innings represented Healy’s run into the T20 World Cup, and left her team hoping as much as expecting that she would be “due” for a big score when the main event began. The fact that the long build-up was finally over had to help Healy’s mind, and she was soon back into the sort of stride that had seen her win the Player of the Tournament in the Caribbean in 2018 and also take out the T20 and ODI Player of the Year trophies at the Australian Cricket Awards earlier this month.
Healy’s power down the ground, along with some deft touch on the cut and glide past short third man, put India’s bowlers on the back foot quickly, and also saw the return to some Australian batting line-up permutations that had not been needed so long as she kept being the first out for her team. Meg Lanning came in at No. 3 in place of Ashleigh Gardner when Beth Mooney cut to backward point, and Rachael Haynes replaced Lanning when she was beaten wonderfully in flight by Rajeshwari Gayakwad.
Australia were comfortably placed if not quite dominant when Yadav entered the attack, having not played at all in the triangular series before the Cup proper. Her high, looping legbreaks and googlies provide a tantalising sight for opponents and spectators alike, and Healy was soon teased into a return catch. That was nothing, though, on the sequence of googlies Yadav would present to the middle-order. Haynes was beaten and comfortably stumped, Perry even more comprehensively bowled first ball, and Jonassen’s edge was only millimetres too thick to allow Taniya Bhatia to hang on to.
Nevertheless, another wrong’un soon claimed a slighter deflection and a safe catch for Bhatia, giving Yadav the figures of 4 for 15 from three overs and India control of the contest. More smart work from Bhatia saw Annabel Sutherland stumped off Pandey, and when Harmanpreet brought Yadav back, only the quirk of a second bouncing short ball denied her a fifth wicket. Australia had needed 75 off 66 balls with eight wickets in hand when Yadav came on. By the time she was done, the equation was 28 from 12 with three in hand: the game-changer without doubt.
England’s centrally contracted players decide against temporary pay cut
England’s centrally contracted players appear – at this stage – to have declined the offer to accept a temporary pay cut as part of the sport’s efforts to combat the challenges set by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, wrote to Tony Irish, his counterpart at the Professional Cricketers’ Association (the PCA; the players’ union who negotiate pay on behalf of centrally contracted players), on March 29 to broach the subject. ESPNcricinfo has a copy of this letter.
In the letter, Harrison revealed that he personally would be taking a 25% pay cut “for at least three months” as the ECB “confronted… the biggest challenge the sport has known in the modern era.” It is understood that other ECB executives have volunteered a 20% pay cut and some staff will be informed on Wednesday morning of a decision to furlough them.
While the ECB understood they could not compel the players to accept a pay cut, they had hoped they might volunteer one as a “gesture” in an unprecedented crisis. But, after receiving a less than enthusiastic response to the idea, in a media conference on March 31, Harrison said the ECB “are not seeking pay cuts from England players”.
“In these circumstances,” Harrison wrote, “it is my strong belief that a leadership example must be set.
“These measures will be far more effective with the support of our professional players and we seek your help and understanding in this. We are rightly proud of the role our England players play in wider society and how they are helping people through these difficult days and across the country we recognise the valuable role that professional cricketers play in support of the cricket family. In unprecedented times like these, it is important for the whole cricket family to show a willingness to be part of the solution.
“I am encouraging the PCA and all professional players to support the recommendations the first-class counties present to you next week, which may very well propose a 20% reduction in salaries for April and May”
Tom Harrison letter to Tony Irish
“Whilst the health of the nation is under threat, the future of our sport depends on every single one of us sharing the load right now. In light of this, I am encouraging the PCA and all professional players to support the recommendations the first-class counties present to you next week, which may very well propose a 20% reduction in salaries for April and May, with a view to revisiting this on a monthly basis until we have navigated through the crisis.
“I am hopeful that our players are able to contribute in rising to this unprecedented challenge. If we can all pull our weight in working together and come through this, then we will not only reinforce the truly inspiring spirit of the cricket family, but we will safeguard the future of our sport and the livelihoods of everyone who works within it.”
ESPNcricinfo understands that the PCA is yet to receive a proposal from the first-class counties, and will wait for that to arrive before considering it. Irish’s most recent public comments stressed the need for collective solutions.
There is an additional element of negotiation for centrally contracted players due to the Team England Player Partnership (TEPP), which effectively decides the value of central contracts for international players.
It is unclear how much direct input the players had on the decision. While there were some exchanges between the PCA and the players on WhatsApp groups, the PCA stance has remained that pay cuts should only be seen as a last resort. Jos Buttler, meanwhile, is auctioning off the shirt he wore when England clinched the World Cup to raise money for a health service charity.
It remains possible that the PCA stance will change. The PCA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Newlands fallout has improved behaviour in Australian cricket – Tim Paine
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.”
ECB announces £61 million support package to confront ‘biggest challenge in our history’
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
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”.
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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