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Alastair Cook would prefer no County Championship to a less ‘meaningful’ shortened season

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Former England captain Alastair Cook has said that he would prefer a season without the County Championship to playing a greatly reduced version of the competition.

The first seven rounds of Championship cricket have already fallen victim to the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic, with the ECB announcing last week that no professional cricket will be played before May 28.

When it is possible to resume playing, chief executive Tom Harrison has made clear that the more lucrative domestic competitions will be prioritised, meaning the T20 Blast and the Hundred would take precedence over the Championship.

ALSO READ: Coronavirus outbreak: County cricket latest

That means there could be limited time in which to play the Championship, and Cook – who won the competition in 2017 and 2019 with Essex – said that he would rather wait a year to defend the title than have to do so in an abbreviated season.

“In this year, over the next six months, the bigger picture is the most important,” Cook told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“Whatever happens, if we do play any sort of cricket which hopefully we will, what I hope is that they don’t try and have a six-game County Championship or something like that. I would rather have one or two full tournaments, because if you do then play that tournament or two tournaments it is so much more rewarding to win it.

“If there is not time for a meaningful County Championship, say [you can only play] three or four games, there is probably not much sense us having it.

“I would rather concentrate on two full tournaments than saying: ‘We have four tournaments that we need to play, let’s get them all in even if we have to shorten them.’ I think you would rather have two tournaments played full length so there is meaningful cricket at the end of it.”

Previously, Essex’s chief executive Derek Bowden had suggested that “there is an opportunity to be creative with the schedule”, raising the possibility of playing a regional four-day competition instead of attempting a Championship season.

“Let’s look at regional four-day cricket, maybe four or five regional competitions with round-robin four-day cricket,” he told Sky Sports.

“Spectators and members would love that and it would also give us some four-day cricket to support England’s Test series in a very tight schedule.

“Essex could play Kent, Middlesex and Surrey, while Yorkshire could play Lancashire, Durham and one other team, maybe Nottinghamshire.”



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ECB welcomes green light for behind-closed-doors sport

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The ECB has welcomed the UK Government’s go-ahead for the return of professional sport behind closed doors as it presses ahead with plans to host international cricket this summer, and stage a domestic season.

In a further easing of lockdown restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden announced government health and safety guidance on Saturday for elite athletes and professional sportspeople to return to competition in the absence of spectators from June 1. He added that it was up to individual sports to confirm they could meet the safety protocols and therefore when to resume.

The ECB, who are hoping to host a condensed international schedule at so-called ‘bio-secure’ venues, starting with a three-Test series against West Indies in July, issued a statement on Sunday saying they were “heartened” by the news. The ECB will study the guidelines to determine how they will help the sport emerge from lockdown, but it clearly saw hope for the resumption of domestic and recreational cricket.

ALSO READ: ECB backs Covid-19 substitutes as plans for return ramp up

“We are extremely heartened by Saturday’s announcement from the Secretary of State, which will support the return of professional, domestic cricket behind closed doors, and provides a meaningful next step for recreational players to begin playing at their clubs again,” the ECB statement said.

“Over the coming week, we will seek to understand the specific guidance from Government’s medical teams so that we can provide support for cricket clubs who will be eager to see their communities safely playing in small groups. We extend our thanks to all those in Government who have worked hard to support the return of sport and we look forward to seeing players from across the game start returning to the field.”

The ECB has been working on plans to hold televised international matches at two grounds – understood to be Emirates Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl – with another base to allow a third team to train – likely to be Edgbaston. Each of the venues will be configured to encourage social distancing, along with the use of different zones to separate groups such as players and match officials from those not staying on site.

England last week named a 55-man training group to prepare for the series against West Indies as well as planned visits from Pakistan, Australia and Ireland.

Cricket West Indies has agreed to the scheduled tour of England in principle and is awaiting approvals from the various national governments in the Caribbean for player and staff movement on charterd planes. The Test series, part of the World Test Championship, was originally supposed to start on June 4 but was postponed when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

The ECB last week announced that no professional domestic cricket would be played in England or Wales until at least August 1, while recreational cricket would remain suspended until further notice, with the exception of using outdoor cricket nets and pitches for exercise under the government’s social distancing guidelines. It is investigating options for playing a domestic season possibly starting in August, including a County Championship split into regions and a T20 Blast competition.



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Jasprit Bumrah wants an ‘alternative’ to saliva for shining the ball post-Covid

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Jasprit Bumrah believes some provision should be made for an “alternative” to saliva for bowlers as a means to shine the ball, once cricket resumes. The ICC had agreed with its cricket committee and said no saliva should be applied to the ball as part of the new safety protocols in a post Covid-19 world, but Bumrah has suggested that, with conditions already loaded in favour of batsmen in limited-overs cricket, a counter-balance was needed.

Bumrah was speaking to Ian Bishop and Shaun Pollock on the ICC’s video series Inside Out interviews, and elaborated on his unique action, why a short run-up works for him, his preference for the Duke ball, and life in lockdown.

On the prospect of no saliva, high-fives or hugging
I was not much of a hugger anyway! And not a high-five person as well, so that doesn’t trouble me a lot. The only thing that interests me is the saliva bit. I don’t know what guidelines we’ll have to follow when we come back, but I feel there should be an alternative. If the ball is not well maintained, it’s difficult for the bowlers. The grounds are getting shorter and shorter, the wickets are becoming flatter and flatter. So we need something, some alternative for the bowlers to maintain the ball so that it can do something – maybe reverse in the end or conventional swing.

[Bishop points out that conditions in Test cricket have been pace-friendly over the last couple of years]

In Test match cricket, yes. That is why it’s my favourite format, because we have something over there. But in one-day cricket and T20 cricket… one-day cricket there are two new balls, so it hardly reverses at the end. We played in New Zealand, the ground (boundary) was 50 metres. So even if you are not looking to hit a six, it will go for six. In Test matches I have no problem, I’m very happy with the way things are going.

Whenever you play, I’ve heard the batsmen – not in our team, everywhere – complaining the ball is swinging. But the ball is supposed to swing! The ball is supposed to do something! We are not here just to give throwdowns, isn’t it? (laughter) This is what I tell batsmen all the time. In one-day cricket, when did the ball reverse last, I don’t know. Nowadays the new ball doesn’t swing a lot as well. So whenever I see batsmen say the ball is swinging or seaming and that is why I got out – the ball is supposed to do that. Because it doesn’t happen so much in the other formats, it’s a new thing for the batsmen when the ball is swinging or seaming.

On how bowling can be affected during the lockdown
I really don’t know how your body reacts when you don’t bowl for two months, three months. I’m trying to keep up with training so that as soon as the grounds open up, the body is in decent shape. I’ve been training almost six days a week but I’ve not bowled for a long period of time so I don’t know how the body will react when I bowl the first ball.

I’m looking at it as a way to renew your own body. We’ll never get such a break again, so even if you have a small niggle here and there, you can be a refreshed person when you come back. You can prolong your career.

On the back injury that made him miss the 2019-20 home season
I don’t know what actually was happening because there was not a lot of pain. There was some difficulty, some stiffness here and there, so we took the conservative approach and just tried to make it stronger. Could have been back earlier, but yes – there was no pain, no difficulty as such. I was just focusing on the break that I’d gotten because of a small niggle. I focused on the whole body development at that time.

On the New Zealand tour post-injury
We earlier thought it was a stress fracture but I was lucky that it was not giving me any pain. If there is no physical pain there is no limitation. So you won’t hold yourself back. In that aspect I was a little lucky. Yes maybe one or two games you give yourself a little bit of time, but as soon as one or two games went by I wasn’t holding myself back.

On his unique action
I’ve never been to a professional coach as such (in his formative years). All my cricket is self-taught. Everything I learned was through television, watching videos… so I don’t know how this action developed. There were always some people doubting that should I change it or not, but I’ve never really listened to them a lot. I always had belief that it could work.

I have changed certain things… When I started, in 2013, I used to jump out a lot. If something is giving you trouble you change it. If it’s not giving you any trouble, then I keep on doing it. I listen to a lot of advice, I’m very inquisitive. I ask a lot of questions to all the senior players and coaches. Getting general feedback, filtering the advice – if it works for me, then I try to do it. If it doesn’t, you have to let it go.

Growing up, wherever I went, the general feedback was that this guy won’t be a top-rated bowler, he won’t be able to play for a long period of time, he won’t be able to do well as a bowler (because of his action). But the only validation that is required is your own validation.

On having a short run-up
The run-up is because of playing in the backyard. We didn’t have a lot of space when I used to play as a child. This was the longest run-up you could have, so maybe that could be a reason. I’ve tried a longer run-up and nothing changes – the speed is still the same. So why run so much?

This helps me when I play Test matches because when I’m bowling my fourth spell, fifth spell, I’m relatively more fresh than the bowlers who play with me and have a longer run-up. This was my theory. This is not the best thing I should say but I am bowling quicker than them in my fourth spell as well! So I think I should stick to it. If I have some physical difficulty and if it’s giving me some trouble, then I’ll find solutions. But if it’s not broken, why fix it?

On developing the outswinger (inswinger to left-handers)
I always had the outswinger, but when I came into the international set up I was not very confident of it because maybe it was not going out really well. The pace should be good, you should have the feel of it. I was trying to work on it, and in the West Indies, conditions were helpful, the ball was helpful so I was able to swing it.

It was there even in the 2016 T20 World Cup. I bowled an inswinger to Chris Gayle. That was the first time I tried bowling an inswinger to the left-hander. But I was not so confident of it because you don’t know if you’ll have the zip, if it will swing as much. In England (2018) I didn’t play the first two Tests because I had a thumb injury so I bowled in the nets. That was my first experience with the Duke ball and it was swinging in the nets. So I became more confident and bowled the outswinger in the nets. Hearing the commentary as well (on air, there was talk of the left-handers being able to leave Bumrah outside off because it wouldn’t swing back in), I thought maybe if they are listening, and they don’t know I have the outswinger, then it could probably go to my advantage.

On the Duke ball
I love bowling with the Duke ball. It does a lot, it seams, it swings… when you have a little bit of help, that does make a difference. Nowadays it’s difficult to be a fast bowler because the boundaries are getting shorter, the wickets are getting flatter. So if the ball does something, it makes an even competition. If there is no help you have very few things to play with so it becomes a lot more difficult for a bowler. I enjoy bowling with the Duke ball more than any other ball.

On his Test career so far
When I played my first Test match in South Africa, I was not used to bowling on such different kinds of wickets, because that was my first time in South Africa. There was a lot more bounce, lot more seam. In India, we tend to bowl a lot fuller because we have to use reverse swing in first-class cricket to get wickets, or maybe try to swing the ball early up. But in that Test series, in the first innings, I tried bowling Indian lengths, tried to bowl a little too full. So the South African batsmen played me a lot better. They drive the ball on the rise over there, so that was something new. Quickly in the second innings we had to adjust. We could afford to bowl a little shorter there and try to seam the ball because there was a lot more bounce. After that went to England, the ball swings, so again you have to go fuller. Then Australia was different again.

On the T20 World Cup
We were really preparing well for it. We had a lot of T20 games before the World Cup as per the old schedule. If everything had been on plan, we would have had the IPL as well so we would have had a fair number of T20 games. We would always want to believe that we can win the tournament. That is how we felt in the 2019 World Cup, but you know how the game was. In half an hour, 40 minutes it can change.



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Sri Lanka’s 13-man squad to begin training on Monday

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Sri Lanka Cricket will go ahead with plans for a 13-man squad of players to begin training on Monday, despite a sharp rise in the number of Covid-19 infections in the country over the past few weeks.

The players will essentially put themselves and four support staff in a bubble, over the course of the 12-day “residential training camp” at the Colombo Cricket Club. The squad, which largely comprises of bowlers, will stay at a nearby hotel, and “will not be allowed to leave the hotel premises or the practice venue to attend personal matters” according to an SLC release.

Although 531 new Covid-19 patients had been identified in Sri Lanka since May 24, those new cases are believed to be almost entirely from quarantine centres from around the country, with recent returnees from the Middle East comprising the majority of patients. In general, the Sri Lanka government has indicated that the spread of the virus is under control, and has so far avoided reimposing the strict, extended curfews seen through April and the early part of May.

The government is also understood to be supporting this resumption of training.

“Health officials already visited the hotel and the practice venue, and provided health guidelines to the staff members of the respective venues to follow,” the board release said.

Among those who will start training are quicks Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Isuru Udana, Kasun Rajitha and Lahiru Kumara, as well as spinners Wanindu Hasaranga and Lasith Embuldeniya. Kusal Perera and Danushka Gunathilaka have also been included in this squad. Head coach Mickey Arthur and batting coach Grant Flower – both of whom have been in Sri Lanka through the duration of the viral outbreak – are among the support staff.

SLC had hoped international cricket could begin on the island in late June or early July, but India – the team that is due to visit next – has not confirmed the tour.



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