Chris Woakes believes that Alex Hales would be welcomed back into the England set-up this summer, assuming he has learnt his lessons following the drugs ban that caused his axing from last summer’s World Cup squad.
Speaking in anticipation of next week’s squad announcements, for which England are likely to choose up to 45 players to accommodate both red- and white-ball needs, Woakes acknowledged that Hales remains a “world-class player” despite not having been selected for England since March 2019, and admitted that a part of him felt sorry for his former team-mate, after missing out on what ought to have been the highlight of his career last summer.
“I don’t 100% know what will happen but I’d be happy to see Alex back in England colours,” said Woakes. “I would imagine the majority would have the kind of views I have given. People deserve a second chance, as long as they’ve gone away and worked on a few things. I don’t know why anyone would see that any differently.”
The ultimate decision remains in the hands of the England white-ball captain, Eoin Morgan, who took a hard line on Hales in the immediate aftermath of his drugs ban, describing his actions as a “complete disregard” for the team’s values.
And though Morgan conceded earlier this month that “the door is still open” for Hales to return to the white-ball set-up, he also put no timeframe on how long he would need to “regain that trust”.
Nevertheless, Woakes’ endorsement is significant seeing as he was one of the group of senior players – alongside Morgan, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali – who initiated the removal of Hales from England’s World Cup plans last May.
“I don’t know 100 percent if it’s the right decision, it’s not my call,” Woakes said. “[But] I’m a believer that people serve their time so to speak – he’s gone through a tough time, being left out of the World Cup, and going on to see that team lift the trophy must have been difficult for him.”
Though Hales has yet to make a public apology for his actions, which overshadowed England’s final preparations for their most important campaign in a generation, he recently told the Daily Mail that he had matured as a character since his fall from grace, and hoped that the England management would find it in themselves to “forgive and forget”.
Hales has certainly demonstrated a renewed focus with his on-field performances. In 22 innings for Sydney Thunder and Karachi Kings since December, he has amassed 815 runs at 42.89, including eight fifties, and believes he has been in the “form of his life”. With back-to-back T20 World Cups looming – albeit October’s event in Australia may be facing postponement – the statistical case for his England recall is self-evident.
And Woakes, who has played with and against Hales throughout their rise through age-group cricket, including two Under-19 Tests against New Zealand in 2008, said that he would be willing to take Hales’ commitment to self-improvement at face value.
“I think if people have gone away for a time and worked on their weaknesses, they should be allowed a second chance,” Woakes said. “Alex is a world-class player. I have played a lot of cricket with him from a young age actually. In a way I felt sorry for him but I understand the decision from the management, captain and rest of the team.
“We have a culture and an environment in the England squad that we all try and pull in the right direction. If Alex is willing to do that then I imagine everyone would be happy to see him back playing for England.”
Rachel Priest loses New Zealand central contract
Priest, 34, won back her national contract last year after impressing for Western Storm in the Kia Super League and Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash, having been dropped by former head coach Haidee Tiffin after the 2017 World Cup in England, who cited fitness issues for her omission.
But after a return of 60 runs in four T20 World Cup innings and no half-centuries since her recall, she has not been offered a contract for the 2020-21 season.
Priest’s fellow keeper-batter Bernadine Bezuidenhout has also made way, after being left out of the T20 World Cup squad, with Dodd – who debuted in 2010 and last played international cricket in 2018 – winning her first full deal following a year on a development contract.
Kerr, whose younger sister Amelia has been a New Zealand regular for nearly four years, has also been offered a national contract for the first time on the back of her tournament-record 20 wickets in last season’s Super Smash, which helped Wellington Blaze to the title. She was part of the squad for the T20 World Cup, playing in New Zealand’s opening game against Sri Lanka.
Bob Carter, New Zealand’s head coach, said that Kerr and Dodd’s contracts were “an acknowledgement of hard work and perseverance”.
“I’m happy the majority of our group can remain stable as we look for continual improvement and application from our players,” Carter said. “We have an experienced core of White Ferns and want to ensure our younger, less experienced players have the chance to learn from them over the next 12 months.”
New Zealand contract list, 2020-21: Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine, Natalie Dodd, Lauren Down, Maddy Green, Holly Huddleston, Hayley Jensen, Leigh Kasperek, Amelia Kerr, Jess Kerr, Rosemary Mair, Katey Martin, Katie Perkins, Anna Peterson, Hannah Rowe, Amy Satterthwaite, Lea Tahuhu.
South Africa cricketers could resume training next week after government nod
Subject to government approval, South Africa’s national and franchise cricketers could be back in training from next week, and may be involved in an exhibition event at the end of the month. The country moved to Level 3 of the five-stage lockdown today, which allows non-contact professional sports training and matches to take place, after consultation and approval from the sports ministry.
That means national sporting bodies are required to present the ministry with their return-to-train and return-to-play protocols which should include details around social distancing. Cricket South Africa (CSA) hope to submit their plans this week, with a view to resuming training next week.
In its first stage, the return-to-training plan will see franchise cricketers training at their home grounds, in accordance with set guidelines. That includes a prohibition on the use of saliva on the ball as well as regulations around the use of changing rooms – which will not be allowed – and the number of players and support staff who will train at the same time.
At a later stage, CSA will look into whether it is possible to obtain permits to allow for players to travel across provincial borders for camps and eventually matches. Currently, South Africans cannot move between provinces for any reason other than a funeral or the transportation of children between parents or to schools and even those trips require a permit. Inter-provincial travel will be allowed at Level 2 of the lockdown, but there is no indication of when that will be.
However, CSA still hope to be able to put on some live action at the end of June. An insider told ESPNcricinfo that the plan is to put on “something which we have not seen before,” which rules out a T20 festival or any other kind of franchise competition. CSA intend to reveal more in the next few weeks.
South Africa are not in a rush to return to training or playing as they enter the winter period. Their next assignment is a two-Test and five-match T20 series in West Indies in July-August, which is set to be postponed with West Indies due to be in England until the end of July. CSA and Cricket West Indies remain in talks about when to schedule the series and are considering all options, including playing it in South Africa later in the year.
South Africa are also due to host India for three T20s at the end of August and are looking at creating a bio-secure bubble for the series, which will take place behind closed doors. That series is particularly important for CSA finances, as it will help bolster their bank balance, amid forecasted losses of R645 million (approx. US $36.9 million) over the next four years. With South Africa’s Covid-19 cases expected to peak around July, it is possible the India series will have to take place later in the summer but CSA are confident it can happen before the end of the financial year in February 2021.
Kagiso Rabada: My wicket celebrations stem from ‘passion’
Kagiso Rabada believes that his enthusiastic wicket-taking celebrations, which have led him to fall foul of the ICC’s code of conduct several times, stem from “passion”, but he has suggested he is looking for ways to express himself differently. Speaking from lockdown, Rabada indicated he has been using some of his time to consult with mentors after what he called a “disappointing” past summer.
“It’s passion, but everyone has their opinion and they are entitled to their own opinion,” Rabada said. “I have identified things that I needed to identify and I will address them with the people that are closest to me and who I feel should be helping me address it.”
Who those people are, Rabada did not get into, but it’s likely at least one of them is his father Dr Mpho Rabada, who is involved in everything from supporting his son from the sidelines to getting his musical side-hustle. Rabada senior released a single in February, the day before Rabada played what would be his last game for South Africa – a T20I against Australia – before cricket came to a worldwide standstill. A groin strain ruled him out of the subsequent ODI series and South Africa’s aborted series in India, leaving him to reflect on the season as a tough one.
“The past season was a disappointment,” Rabada said. “Even though I see that my stats are okay, I just felt really rusty and a bit out of place.”
The 2019-20 season, in which South Africa lost Test series away to India and at home against England, was Rabada’s leanest to date in the longest format. He played six Tests, and took 21 wickets at 32.85 – it was the first time he had finished a season with an average above 30. He would have played a seventh Test but was suspended from South Africa’s final fixture against England in Johannesburg after picking up a demerit point for screaming in Joe Root’s face after dismissing him in Port Elizabeth. Rabada already had three other points to his name, thus forcing him to spend a Test on the bench.
It was not the first time Rabada had been forced out of a match because of a code-of-conduct breach. In July 2017, he had to miss the second Test against England at Trent Bridge and in March 2018 he was due to sit out both the third and fourth Tests against Australia after a shoulder brush with Steve Smith but CSA hired a top-level advocate to head up Rabada’s appeal.
Rabada’s transgression was downgraded from a Level 2 offence to a Level 1 violation, but he acknowledged he needed to change his behaviour. However, Faf du Plessis, until recently the Test captain, has consistently said South Africa don’t want Rabada to lose his aggression. South Africa’s coaching staff have echoed du Plessis’ thoughts, but voices from abroad, notably the commentator Michael Holding, who shares a close relationship with Rabada, have taken the counter approach and hoped Rabada reins himself in.
Rabada is careful not to read to much into outside opinion. “Everyone will always criticise you in some way. It’s important that you don’t take what people say to heart,” Rabada said. “You will always have a lot of critics. Not everyone will agree with what you do. As long as you are true to yourself you can grow. What other people say about you shouldn’t affect you at all.”
The insular nature of the lockdown period means that Rabada has had more than enough time to shut out the noise, fully recover from his groin niggle, and even branch out into non-cricket-related projects. “I am really glad I can get a rest, not in the way that it has come but I am really enjoying my time,” he said. “It’s allowed me to think about what I really want and makes it easier to set goals.”
Together with this friend Cameron Scott, Rabada has started a podcast called The Viral Wellness, which aims to raise awareness about issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic. The pair have also worked on creating a Healthy at Home handbook, to help people cope with the challenge of being under lockdown. Rabada is also looking at ways to help those who are in need of financial assistance at this time. “A lot of people in the country are economically challenged,” he said.” “South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, so it’s good to lend a helping hand, especially now.”
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