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Teams divided on PSL 2020 as PCB mulls tournament’s fate



Two weeks ago, the fifth edition of the PSL was suspended due to the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic, with two semi-finals and the final still to be played. The fate of the tournament is still uncertain, with viewpoints divided over whether it is to be rescheduled or aborted, with the winner decided on the basis of league-stage standings. The PCB, ESPNcricinfo understands, is having internal discussions on the matter and exploring all options before chalking out a list of workable recommendations.

If the pandemic settles down in few months’ time and the world takes a step towards normalcy, the PCB has an obligation to find a window for the PSL and November is understood to be a slot it is considering. But the board faces a challenge to regather all the stakeholders in one place for three days, including 16 overseas players.

Before suspending the tournament, the PCB had attempted to shorten it by scrapping its four-match playoff stage, and turning it into a two-day affair with a semi-final double-header followed by the final. Apart from the PSL, the final leg of Pakistan’s home series against Bangladesh, scheduled for early April, and the domestic one-day cup also stand indefinitely postponed, and the national team’s upcoming tour of the UK also faces a blurry future.

According to the PSL’s playing conditions, it is understood that the team placed at the top of the league standings can be declared the winner if the tournament doesn’t find a window to hold its knockout matches. Multan Sultans topped the table at the end of the league stage, with 14 points from 10 games, and their bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed believes this should give them the title. “The PSL 5 has to have a proper closure and that can be done by taking into [account] the top team on the points table at the end of the league stage and declaring them winners,” he told PTI. “If the PCB doesn’t close the PSL 5 and tries to organise the remaining four or five matches including the final later this year or before the PSL 6 it will dent the hype and spoil the momentum of the next edition.”

Alamgir Tareen, the owner of the Sultans franchise, has also urged the PCB not to reschedule the PSL and decide on the season as it stood when it was suspended. “We are yet to have a conversation with the PSL management to assess if and when they can find a window to schedule the playoffs,” he said. “However, we do not see the rescheduling of the playoffs to be practical. If the PSL does identify a window for the playoffs in the later part of the year, who knows which players will be able to come and what the composition of the teams will be. Alternatively, if we set apart a week at the beginning of the next PSL and choose to play with newly drafted teams, it will be a part of PSL 6 more than a continuation of PSL 5.”

Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars and Peshawar Zalmi were the other three teams in the top four. The Qalandars finished the league stage in third place and qualified for the playoffs for the first time, having finished bottom of the table for four straight seasons.

The Qalandars hoped the remainder of the tournament would be played before the start of the next season, if the situation improves. “The only sense we understand is to regroup and play the tournament whenever it is possible and sign off with a winner,” said Sameen Rana, one of the Qalandars’ owners. “We believe in competing, otherwise there is no point of having playing cricket. The ideas of deciding a winner on the basis of a team on top in the group stage will suck out all the fun. There is a sense of competition and this is what makes cricket more beautiful. If this is a thought process then why we playing cricket, let’s decide a winner on toss in every game we play.”

Rana added: “All we have to do is find a window and we can easily afford to bring 16 players for two days on a weekend and finish the tournament on a high note.”

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WhatsApp messages should not have led to Alex Hepburn rape conviction, Court of Appeal hears



The lawyer for Alex Hepburn, the former Worcestershire cricketer who was last year convicted of rape, has argued that WhatsApp messages boasting of a sexual conquest “game” should not have been submitted as evidence in his trial.

Hepburn, 24, was jailed for five years in April 2019, after being found guilty of oral rape following a retrial. The court heard how he had attacked a sleeping woman in the bed of his former team-mate, Joe Clarke, with whom the victim had already had consensual sex.

The prosecution put it to the jury that Hepburn had become “fired up” by the challenge of sleeping with more women than his team-mates, and had carried out the attack at his flat in Worcester on April 1, 2017.

However, the same jury also cleared Hepburn of a second count of rape, and at London’s Court of Appeal, David Emanuel QC argued that the two verdicts were “inconsistent”.

“The idea propagated by the Crown, that he was so desperate to win the game this year that he would ignore true consent if he had to, is just not supported by anything in the messages or by the fact of the game itself.

“I accept it would be different if there was talk of sex against will, or trickery to gain a point, or taking a chance, but there’s nothing like that in the messages.

“They are too far removed as to be able to be to do with the facts of the alleged offence.”

Hepburn’s appeal is being heard by a bench of three senior judges, including the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, who said that the court would give its ruling at a later date.

Miranda Moore QC, representing the Crown Prosecution Service, argued that the WhatsApp messages were not merely an example of “boyish banter”, but a “deep-seated and long-running game between a number of professional sportsmen”.

“It wasn’t, as suggested, motivation on the part of the prosecution to generate disgust,” Ms Moore added. “The motivation on the part of the prosecution was to shine a light on the appellant’s state of mind.”

At his sentencing at Hereford Crown Court in April last year, Judge Jim Tindal described the game as “pathetic”.

“You probably thought it was laddish behaviour at the time. In truth it was foul sexism,” he said.

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Counties remain hopeful of two overseas players for 2021



Counties are likely to be able to field two overseas players in the County Championship next season, despite the impact of Covid-19 on the finances of English domestic cricket.

The Kolpak loophole is due to close on December 31 when the UK’s transition period with the European Union ends, and the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) has recommended increasing the number of overseas signings permitted in Championship and 50-over cricket from one to two to enable affected players to extend their county careers.

Any change would need to be discussed and ratified by the ECB’s cricket committee and then approved by the board. The issue is an ongoing topic for discussion internally, and a PCA spokesperson said: “Our focus is on retaining jobs for our members and that means all players, including the 134 out-of-contract players and Kolpak players.”

The majority of counties have already cancelled or deferred their overseas players’ contracts for this season due to the uncertainty surrounding the domestic season, restrictions on international travel, and the financial implications of the pandemic.

But some counties have already made plans to employ two overseas players in the Championship next season. Essex, for example, deferred Peter Siddle‘s contract to 2021, and Simon Harmer – currently on a Kolpak registration – has guarantees in his deal that mean he will become an overseas player next year.

“It sounds more and more as though that has been agreed,” Derek Bowden, Essex’s chief executive, said. “We’re still hopeful and being told that two overseas players will be permitted. There’s no reason to believe it won’t be.”

Harmer is one of several players on Kolpak deals known to have a clause in his contract meaning he will switch to overseas status next season. Dane Vilas has an agreement whereby he will become an overseas player at Lancashire, with the club retaining an option to sign New Zealand’s BJ Watling after cancelling his contract for this season, while Duanne Olivier has similar guarantees at Yorkshire.

There are 10 players who won contracts to play as domestic players in the Hundred that are highly unlikely to be eligible to do so next year, Brexit permitting, with a handful more or less clear on their status having qualified through EU passports. Discussions regarding contracts for the tournament are ongoing, but it is understood that adding an additional overseas slot per team is unlikely at this stage.

The PCA announced on Monday that the collective agreement that has seen players take salary reductions of up to 20% since April has been extended, with special dispensation for the 134 players whose contracts expire at the end of this season.

Players in the final year of their deals have been permitted to talk to other counties since June 1, but the transfer market is likely to be limited as teams look to cut costs rather than add to their wage bills.

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Fit-again Rory Burns admits timing of ankle injury was frustrating



Rory Burns returned to the nets for the first time in six months on Monday, confident that the ankle that he injured during football practice in South Africa has fully recovered, but admitting that his time out of the Test team had come at a frustrating moment in his career.

Burns, who turns 30 in August, seemed to have established himself as Alastair Cook’s heir at the top of England’s batting order in 2019, with a maiden Test century in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston, and a further 101 in New Zealand in November.

However, his run in the side came to an abrupt halt when he sustained ligament damage during a seemingly innocuous tackle from Joe Root, as England practised at Newlands ahead of the second Test. Having made 84 in the second innings of England’s series-opening defeat at Centurion, Burns returned home for surgery as Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley played key roles in England’s three subsequent wins.

“It was obviously frustrating,” Burns told Sky Sports’ Cricket Show. “It was my first injury of any note in my career, and to pick it up at a time where you feel like you’re developing and moving along in the right direction quite nicely was frustrating.

“The turn wasn’t bad before it though, so we’ll always remember that,” he joked, referencing an impressive piece of footwork that was caught on camera moments before the injury. “But yeah, it was obviously frustrating, but it’s nice to be back now, with a bat in my hand, and almost getting back to it.

“The ankle’s strong,” he added. “I’d have been able to start the county season if that had gone ahead on time, so that was a big positive, but instead it’s been another couple of months that I’ve been able to ease it back, and that’s probably helped a little bit.”

With his unusual batting stance, which involves glancing over his right shoulder to ensure his alignment at the crease prior to delivery, Burns admits that his technique has more “moving parts” than some, which made his initial return to the nets a bit of a struggle.

But, he added, his decision in the wake of his injury, to jot down his thoughts about where he was at as a batsman, had helped him to pick up where he had left off with the England team.

“There are a lot of moving parts, but it’s more of a rhythm thing,” he said. “It’s about feeling how those movements go in. The idiosyncrasies probably didn’t quite click into gear to start with, but I tried to leave myself fresh going into that first net on Monday.

“I didn’t try and think about it too much. When I got injured in South Africa, I wrote down all the things I though I’ve been doing well, what I’d enjoyed about my batting, in terms of feelings. So I had little read of them on Tuesday, And luckily it’s got a little bit better on Wednesday and Thursday.”

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So far, Burns’ work at The Kia Oval has been limited to one-on-one sessions – principally with Graham Thorpe, the England batting coach, which he said had not felt too different to his usual training regime. The players are due to resume “cluster” training in the coming days, when the bowlers have built up their workloads, and Burns is hopeful he’ll be ready for action by then.

“A couple of hits down the line, I’ve remembered how to pick the bat up which is quite nice, and it’s good to be back,” he said. “I had a set of ten throwdowns, the day before we got locked down, but the last time [I batted properly] would have been January 1, six months ago.”

England know they will be in for a stiff test when West Indies series begins, not least from the battery of fast bowlers who played a central role in their side’s 2-1 series win in the Caribbean last year.

Shannon Gabriel is missing on this occasion, as he recovers from injury, but Kemar Roach, Oshane Thomas and Alzarri Joseph have been joined by the former Under-19 World Cup winner, Chemar Holder, who claimed 36 wickets in West Indies’ domestic competition this year.

“The last time we played each other they won, so they’re no slouches,” said Burns. “Their bowling attack caused us a lot of problems, they are very skilful and they’ve got some pace, certainly. I remember walking around the pitch in the first Test and seeing [Gabriel and Thomas] bowling, and I thought, oof, this will be quite tasty. It’s going to be a stiff test, no matter what comes.

“The biggest difference between County Cricket and international cricket is the intensity of the game,” he added. “Everything just ramps up, especially the consistent pace of bowlers, and you have to make yourself sharp by overtraining on speed and short balls, areas where you are going to get targeted by the opposition.”

England are due to assemble at the Ageas Bowl in late June ahead of the first Test on July 8. However, Burns said that, after some initial concerns about playing cricket during the Covid-19 outbreak, he was confident that the ECB’s provisions would ensure the players’ safety throughout the series.

“There were some hypothetical scenarios about what it might that look like, what risk factors there were,” he said. “But the messaging that we’ve had has put our minds at ease about the situations that we might find ourselves in.

“The explanations we’ve had are really positive, and I think a lot of the guys just looking forward to playing some cricket.”

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