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Unique circumstances provide no consolation for England’s outsiders

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One day in the summer of 1987, Paul Smith found himself in the England dressing room at Edgbaston during a rain break.

Smith, a Warwickshire player, was 23 at the time. He had scored 1,500 first-class runs as an opening batsmen the previous season and, as a bowler, had been dubbed “the fastest white man in the world” by Bob Willis. He had, he thought, a decent chance of a call-up as England started to contemplate life after Sir Ian Botham.

But then he heard Micky Stewart, the England coach at the time, list some of the issues facing his team. And one sentence, in particular, put him back in his place with a jolt. “The problem is, we just don’t have any allrounders,” he recalls Stewart saying.

It was a moment of crushing disappointment. A moment when all the hopes and dreams of recent months suddenly seemed foolish and naive. A moment when the door to the England team seemed to have been slammed in his face.

There will be a host of England-qualified cricketers feeling the same way today. For as much as it has been encouraging for the likes of Laurie Evans and Richard Gleeson to win inclusion in this extended training group, it is probably the omissions which tell us most. Not to be in included among the 55 – that’s five teams – really does seem like a knockout punch.

ALSO READ: Who are the new names in the England frame?

The absence of Alex Hales‘ name that will draw the most attention. And it’s true that, on form, he should be there. But Eoin Morgan, England’s limited-overs captain, made it clear on Wednesday that there would be no imminent return.

Many might think missing a World Cup – and such a World Cup – was punishment enough. It now seems Hales will miss the T20 one as well. But Morgan has earned the right to lead the limited-overs teams as he sees fit and clearly feels the culture he has inculcated requires further entrenchment. And it is true, it is not so long since some cricketers seemed more motivated by thoughts of their next night out than training or even playing for their country. The treatment of Hales provides a sobering reminder of the consequences and will serve as a deterrent.

There’s still a way back. He could win a recall in 2021, if he continues to score heavily and maintain a clean disciplinary record. He really is very good. But he’s 31 now. And some of those who have taken advantage of his absence, notably Tom Banton, are every bit of 10 years younger. That’s an uncomfortable equation for Hales.

There’s probably no way back for Liam Plunkett. He is now 35 and, in the year leading into the World Cup, clearly struggled to redress a notable drop of pace. As England look to challenges ahead, conditions in which his cutters may find little grip and that drop in pace might be punished, it is clear they have decided to move on. It’s not necessarily wrong, but it is ruthless.

Plunkett really was terrific in that World Cup. England won every match in which he played and, lest it be forgotten, he claimed three wickets – including that of Kane Williamson – in the final. Indeed, it’s probably no coincidence they lost only six of his final 57 ODIs. Maybe, in time, he will reflect that bowing out of international cricket in that Lord’s final was better than doing so in an empty Ageas Bowl in September. Either way, it to be hoped this ending does not leave a sour taste in a mouth that was full of champagne not so long ago.

Whatever happens, Hales and Plunkett and even Gary Ballance, who seems destined for a Ramprakashian second half of his career, can console themselves with the memories of many fine days in the sun wearing an England shirt. It has to end sometime and it nearly always ends badly.

Jamie Porter and Sam Northeast do not even have that consolation. Porter’s frustration, in particular, is understandable. He was told, in the summer of 2018, that he would play Test cricket at some stage that year. But James Anderson refused to age, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran offered better batting options and Porter fell back among the pack.

He’s only 27 so there is time to come again. But with the next couple of winters offering Test tours of India and Australia, his style of bowling – fast-medium, accurate and skilful though it is – is not as fashionable as it once was. Like Jake Ball, who not so long ago looked the best seamer in the county game, the sense lingers that England have not extracted all they could from their talent. Both could be forgiven for concluding, in the dark hours, that their moment has gone.

Northeast, meanwhile, may reflect that he needs to bat at No. 3 – or higher – if he is to force his way into the England side. He is a fine player but in batting at No. 4, where he is expected to feature for Hampshire this summer, he is putting himself up against Joe Root. That’s not a battle he’s going to win. Increasingly it seems he’ll be sharing knowing expressions with James Hildreth, who long ago stopped looking out for his name on such lists, when the pair pass on the county circuit.

ALSO READ: Hales, Plunkett left out as England name 55-strong training group

Perhaps the exclusion of Joe Clarke is the most unfortunate. Not so long ago, Clarke looked the outstanding young batsman in the county game. Clearly his involvement in the ugliness around the Alex Hepburn case disturbed his equilibrium, but he remains a special talent and one, perhaps, who could have done with some encouragement. It is to be hoped the timing of Hepburn’s appeal is not relevant. Clarke was never accused of anything unlawful and has served his time in respect to other matters. He endured a grim 2019 but remains a potential England player.

The door is not shut on him or several others. While Mark Stoneman may feel distraught at having fallen behind almost two-dozen other batsmen, he must remind himself this training group contains many white-ball options or middle-order Test players. It will only take a broken finger here and a poor run of form there to see him back in the reckoning as a Test opener. This is a setback, of course, but it need not signal the end.

Usually, after squads are announced, players can console themselves that they just missed out. This time feels different: not only is it vast, but the fact that many of those excluded will remain furloughed and distanced from the game will make it tough to accept for those on the outside. It’s another reminder, if one were required, that professional sport is a brutal business.



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Craig Meschede retires aged 28 due to shoulder problem

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Craig Meschede, the Glamorgan allrounder, has been forced to retire due to a shoulder injury at the age of 28. Meschede was diagnosed with Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome last year and took the decision to end his playing career on the advice of specialists.

Meschede said that the syndrome, which can cause pain, tingling and weakness in the arm, had “taken a massive toll physically and mentally”. He underwent months of rehabilitation, in an attempt to regain shoulder strength and mobility, but has now called time on a nine-year career that saw him represent Glamorgan, Somerset and Germany in T20 internationals.

“The last few weeks have been very emotional for me as cricket has played such a big part of my life,” Meschede said. “Saying that, I have to do what’s best for my health and there is life after cricket. The physio and support staff and everyone at Glamorgan have been brilliant throughout this process and I can’t thank them enough.

“The syndrome has taken a massive toll on me physically and mentally and it’s been hard to perform skills at a level I know I’m capable of. I now need to undertake an operation and period of rehabilitation in order to get my quality of life back.

“Playing at Somerset and Glamorgan has presented me with many great opportunities as well as making a number of friends for life. I will always be grateful for the opportunities cricket has provided me. I wish all the players and staff great success in the future and hope the lads can get on and play this year.”

Born in South Africa but educated in Somerset, Meschede came through at Taunton as a hard-hitting allrounder. His maiden first-class wicket was that of Sachin Tendulkar, during a 2011 tour match, but he found his opportunities limited and moved to Glamorgan, initially on loan, in 2015.

At Glamorgan, he scored both of his first-class centuries, as well as taking a maiden five-wicket haul. He helped the club reach T20 Finals Day in 2017, and recorded his career-best T20 score – 77 from 47 balls – the following season, batting in the top three. Meschede also took advantage of his German parentage to be selected for the 2018 T20 World Cup regional qualifier in the Netherlands.

Injury limited his opportunities in 2019, but he made his full T20I debut for Germany in the European regional finals in Guernsey, scoring 179 runs at a strike rate of 155.65 to go with six wickets in five matches.

Glamorgan’s director of cricket, Mark Wallace, said: “It’s always very sad when a player is forced to retire through injury and especially in Craig’s case at an age when many are reaching the peak of their careers.

“Craig’s natural talent and skill always stood out and he had a flair and talent for the game, which made him exciting to watch and play with. Moreover, off the field, Craig was a committed professional and popular member of the squad who always worked hard to give himself and the team the best chance of success.

“I’m sure I speak for everyone at the club in thanking Craig for everything he has done both on and off the pitch during his time here and we wish him well for a bright future outside of the playing field.”





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CSA gets sports-ministry green light to resume training

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Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) return-to-train-and-play plans have been approved by the country’s sports ministry and the organisation will meet on Thursday to plot its course back to action. ESPNcricinfo understands that CSA’s focus will be on getting the national men’s and women’s teams back in action, though franchise and provincial players will continue to wait before they can begin pre-season camps. A new date for the 3TC competition – a format in which three teams will play in the same game – is not expected imminently.

Last week, CSA was forced to postpone the 3TC exhibition event, originally scheduled for June 27, because it had yet to receive the government’s green light to train or play. CSA needed both the sports and health ministry’s permission because it hoped the match would take place at SuperSport Park, in Centurion, a coronavirus hotspot. With infections rising as South Africa heads towards its peak (predicted to occur between July and September), CSA may consider an alternative venue for the fixture. One source said CSA would require players to have at least seven days of training before rescheduling the 3TC match.

This means that for now, CSA’s top priority will be to ensure its national player groups return to organised sessions, especially as they have been out of action for more three months. There has been no cricket in South Africa since March 15, when the group stage of the domestic one-day cup was completed. The playoffs and final did not take place. At the time, South Africa’s men’s team was in India playing a three-match ODI series. After one rained-off fixture, the team returned home. South Africa went into strict lockdown on March 27 which meant the women’s home series against Australia had to be postponed. The women’s team will also not travel to play against West Indies. The men’s team has had its white-ball tour of Sri Lanka, which was due to take place this month, put back and next month’s two-Test, five T20I trip to the Caribbean will, at best, be delayed by several weeks.

South Africa are also hopeful of hosting India for three T20Is in August but have made provision for those fixtures to take place later in the home summer, as far forward as March 2021.

All CSA’s other plans for its national sides will depend on when the ICC makes a decision regarding the T20 World Cup and 2021 Women’s World Cup. The organisation is hopeful of discussing elements of the Future Tours Program at its Thursday meeting.



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Nitin Menon included in Elite panel of umpires for 2020-21

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India’s Nitin Menon has been included in the ICC Elite panel of umpires for the 2020-21 season after the annual review conducted by the game’s governing body. Menon, who was earlier part of the International panel, will replace England’s Nigel Llong in the Elite roster.

A panel consisting of ICC general manager of cricket Geoff Allardice (chairman), former player Sanjay Manjrekar, and match referees Ranjan Madugalle and David Boon made the selection.

Menon, 36, began his umpiring career in 2017 and has officiated in three Tests, 24 ODIs and 16 T20Is so far. After S Venkataraghavan and S Ravi, he becomes the third umpire from India to make it to the Elite panel.

“It’s a great honour and matter of pride for me to be named in the Elite panel,” Menon said in an ICC release. “To be officiating regularly along with the leading umpires and referees of the world is something that I always dreamt of and the feeling has yet to sink in.

“Having already officiated in Tests, ODIs and T20Is as well as in ICC events, I understand the great responsibility that comes with the job. I also feel this is a responsibility on me to take Indian umpires forward and help them by sharing my experiences.”

Adrian Griffith, the ICC’s senior manager of umpires and referees, congratulated Menon, saying he “has come through our pathway system with very consistent performances”.

The ICC monitors umpires’ standing through various parameters, including on-field decision-making, the number of reviews the match official has got right, and conduct on the field. Accordingly, points are tallied and umpires are ranked internally.

Last year, England’s Michael Gough and West Indies’ Joel Wilson were promoted to the elite panel, while India’s S Ravi was omitted from the list.

ICC Elite panel of umpires: Aleem Dar, Kumar Dharmasena, Marais Erasmus, Chris Gaffaney, Michael Gough, Nitin Menon, Richard Illingworth, Richard Kettleborough, Bruce Oxenford, Paul Reiffel, Rod Tucker and Joel Wilson

ICC Elite panel of match referees: David Boon, Chris Broad, Jeff Crowe, Ranjan Madugalle, Andy Pycroft, Richie Richardson and Javagal Srinath



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