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Chris Woakes admits realities of post-Covid training ‘take up headspace’

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Chris Woakes believes that his first day back at training has given him an insight into how the rest of the England summer will pan out, after admitting that the strict social-distancing protocols at his home ground of Edgbaston would “take up some headspace”.

Woakes bowled five overs at about 50% intensity on Thursday, on his return to outside practice, using the box of six balls that each member of the England squad has been allocated since the ban on sporting activity was partially lifted by the UK government.

And while he said that his hour-long session was “literally about turning the arm over and getting things moving again”, the measures taken to protect the players from contracting Covid-19 were a central part of the experience, from taking his temperament and uploading it to an app before leaving his house, to following a prescribed route into Edgbaston, the venue that looks set to host Pakistan’s training camp ahead of their planned three-Test series in August.

ALSO READ: England training ‘safer than going to supermarket’ – Ashley Giles

“The venues and counties have tried to make this as safe as possible,” Woakes said. “In my eyes, they’ve done a really good job. I knew exactly how I was going to go into the ground. You have to drive your own car – at the minute there’s a lot of testing going on at Edgbaston, with the testing facility – [so I] parked in a safe area at the back, and walked onto the pitch through the Hollies Stand. This has all been planned in the last few weeks, so it’s as safe as possible, we don’t come into contact with anyone.

“I took everything I needed for training with me: bottles. towels, medicine balls, bands that I use for warming up. I was given a box of balls, ready there for me to use once I got into the ground. And then those balls are now mine. No one else will touch them – the whole thing of having one skin on each ball.

“It was all very strict. On arrival there’s a station where you can wash your hands and put anti-bac on before you start. There was a physio from Warwickshire there with me but, again, we don’t come into contact. We stayed more than two metres apart and I did my training. It took about an hour, and then I walked back through the Hollies to my car and left.”

The need to ensure no overlap with team-mates means that the players’ sessions are tightly scheduled at this stage of the process, before they progress to “contact clusters” in the coming weeks, ahead of the proposed start of the West Indies Test series in July. And though Woakes admitted he was glad to get back to work after an extraordinary period of downtime, he did acknowledge that the circumstances would take some getting used to.

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Stuart Broad shared the different steps he has needed to take to return to training on his Instagram

“I guess it’s a bit of a window [into the new reality],” he said. “Cricket is not generally a contact sport, so that helps, but we will get more of an inkling when we start practising more as a team, and have more people training at a venue. There are no changing rooms involved at the moment, match mode will look a lot different.

“Off the park, it will take up quite a bit of headspace. The world we are living does take up some headspace. But on the field you want 100% concentration, whether that is batting or bowling, and cricketers and sportsmen in general are quite good at focusing on the job in hand. But the ECB, the venues and counties are going above and beyond making it as safe as possible, so that will help us as players.”

Some habits will have to change on the field, however, in particular the ingrained bowler’s instinct to polish the ball with saliva, which has now been outlawed by the ICC.

“You’re going to have remind yourself that you can’t use those things to shine the ball,” said Woakes. “Don’t get me wrong, you can shine the ball without saliva and sweat, it probably just doesn’t have the same effect. You might have to work a little bit harder on the rubbing on the trousers, but luckily enough the ball moves around in England anyway.

“You don’t always have to work overly hard on the ball, so hopefully that’ll work in our favour a bit. Thankfully it’s a Dukes and not a Kooka this summer, because then we would be struggling.”

One trend that could catch on this summer is the use of bowler’s headbands, with both Woakes and Stuart Broad taking to wearing them in their practice sessions. However, while Broad said on Instagram that his had been a bid to prevent sweat running down his face, Woakes claimed that he was merely keeping his hair out of his eyes after several weeks without a trim.

“I haven’t had it cut in 12 weeks apart from the wife doing the sides,” he said. “The alice band will probably be a feature for a while until I can get it cut.”



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Virat Kohli: MS Dhoni played a big role in my becoming captain

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Virat Kohli has credited MS Dhoni with playing a significant role in anointing him as his successor as India captain.

Kohli took over as the full-time Test captain when Dhoni retired from the format midway through India’s tour of Australia in 2014-15, and later became captain across formats when Dhoni quit his limited-overs post in early 2017.

Kohli said the process was a gradual one of “earning trust” over several years.

“I was always inclined towards taking responsibility,” Kohli said of his early days in the India dressing room, during an Instagram chat with team-mate R Ashwin. “After that it was all about just wanting to play, wanting to be in the XI regularly. I didn’t play all the games, but I wanted to be discussed, that ‘whether this guy is good enough to play or not.’ That is a transition that slowly happens.

“Then with your interest in the game you start talking to the captain regularly. I was always in MS’s ear, standing next to him, saying, ‘We can do this, we can do that.’ He would deny a lot of things but he would discuss a lot of things as well. I think he got a lot of confidence that I can do this after him.

“A large portion of me becoming captain was also to do with him observing me for a long period of time. It can’t just happen that he goes and the selectors say, ‘Okay you become captain.’ Obviously the guy who is there takes responsibility and says, ‘Okay I think this is the next guy. I will tell you how it is going.’ And then slowly that transition is formed. He played a big role in that, and that trust you have to build over six-seven years. It doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process.”

Kohli was first appointed vice-captain for the 2012 Asia Cup, which followed India’s tour of Australia for a Test series and a tri-series in 2011-12. In a tour that otherwise went poorly for India, who were blanked 4-0 in the Tests and failed to reach the tri-series final, Kohli emerged with distinction. He scored his maiden Test century in the fourth match at Adelaide, becoming the only India batsman to reach three figures in that series. In the ODIs, he made his then highest score in the format , smashing 133* off just 86 balls as India chased down a target of 321 in 36.4 overs to keep their hopes of making the final alive.

Kohli said that tour helped him become aware of his game and hone it significantly. “I remember that whole season,” he said. “It was from that Test hundred in Adelaide to continuously stringing scores. That was a phase of six to eight months where I really realised a lot about my own game and came into my own as far as my skills were concerned.

“I was very competitive but I wasn’t very sure or in control of what I wanted to do before. When you come in new, you’re still figuring out how to go about it. At the international stage you want to be feared, you want to be respected. You don’t want to walk in and hear, ‘He’s one of the youngsters, we’ll just knock him over.’ We all play for that. That was a phase where I started to realise this.”

In the Asia Cup that followed, Kohli made 183 in another tall chase, against Pakistan. He revealed that during this knock, he had negated the threat posed by Saeed Ajmal by treating the offspinner as if he were a legspinner.

“I told myself I’m going to start playing him like a legspinner,” Kohli said. “Because his doosra was quite difficult to face and his offspinner was not that lethal. So I said I’m going to try and hit him over cover consistently, and it just paid off. As soon as I negated his doosra, the potency of his threat became lesser and lesser.

“In that game I scored most of my runs against him through the off side [29 off 10 balls on the off side and 7 off 7 on the leg side]. My only aim was I’m going to make him unsettled with his doosra. He should fear bowling the doosrato me, then I’m on top of my game.”



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Rohit Sharma nominated for Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award

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The BCCI has nominated Rohit Sharma for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, India’s highest sporting honour. The board has also nominated India fast bowler Ishant Sharma, opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan and India woman allrounder Deepti Sharma for the Arjuna award.

Rohit’s Khel Ratna nomination comes on the back of an outstanding 2019 with the bat: 556 runs at an average of 92.66 in five Test matches, all while opening the batting for the first time; and 1657 ODI runs at 57.30, including the unprecedented feat of five centuries at a single World Cup.

If Rohit wins the award, he will become only the fourth cricketer, after Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, to do so.

“We went through a lot of data and considered various parameters before shortlisting the nominees,” Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI president, said via a media release. “Rohit Sharma has set new benchmarks as a batsman and achieved scores people thought were not possible in the shorter formats of the game. We feel he is worthy of getting the prestigious Khel Ratna award for his commitment, conduct, consistency and his leadership skills.

“Ishant Sharma is the most senior member of the Test squad and his contribution has been vital in Indian team’s long run as the No. 1 Test side. Fast bowlers are prone to injuries and Ishant has had a fair share of them but he has fought hard to be back on the park every time. Shikhar has been consistently scoring at the top and his performances in the ICC events have been significant. Deepti is a genuine allrounder and her contribution to the team has been vital.”



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Kent and Mohammad Nabi agree to cancel T20 Blast deal

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Kent and Mohammad Nabi have mutually agreed to cancel the Afghanistan allrounder’s contract for the 2020 Vitality Blast, due to uncertainty around the English summer caused by Covid-19.

Nabi had been due to return for his second season at Canterbury, having made an impact with bat and ball in 2019. He scored 147 runs at a strike rate of 153.12 to go with eight wickets, as Kent narrowly missed out on a place in the knockout stages.

“There was a lot of excitement around Nabi returning as a Kent Spitfire in 2020, but unfortunately the uncertainty around the cricket schedule during this current crisis means that this isn’t possible this year,” Kent’s director of cricket, Paul Downton, said.

“He was very popular amongst the squad, staff and supporters here last season and it was great to bring his experience to the club first time around. Hopefully there will be an opportunity for Nabi to join us again in the near future.”

All professional cricket has been put on hold in the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there are hopes of playing some County Championship games, as well as the T20 Blast from August.



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