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West Indies board approves UK tour in principle

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Cricket West Indies (CWI) has approved the scheduled tour of England in principle following a meeting via teleconference on Thursday. The Test series, part of the World Test Championship, was scheduled to start from June 4 but was pushed back because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The boards are now looking at an early July start, with the West Indies team arriving in June and isolating prior to the series which will be played behind closed doors.

The board’s formal approval comes days after CWI chief executive Johnny Graves told ESPNcricinfo that he was “increasingly confident” that the tour would take place. A CWI release said the decision was made after detailed discussions between its medical representatives and those of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), including plans around logistics and creating a bio-secure environment during the tour.

It now awaits approvals from the various national governments in the Caribbean region for player and staff movement – which will be through chartered planes – and that of the UK government itself. Players and staff will be screened regularly through the tour.

The decision follows weeks of discussions between the two boards, including a phase where CWI wasn’t as confident as they have been this past week, given the marked difference in Covid-19 cases between the two regions. But the ECB’s safety plans have made CWI confident.

“What has changed is the ECB have got more confident that they’ve got a robust and safe plan to deal with cricket in a biosecure environment behind closed doors,” Grave had said during the interview. “Our medical team are getting more confident and comfortable with those plans. Our players and support staff who we have met with [on conference calls] are beginning to understand what a seven-week tour behind closed doors might look like.”

Subject to a negative Covid-19 test result, the squad is expected to be chartered to Antigua from various parts of the Caribbean, following which they will fly together to the UK. Upon getting there, the team will spend three weeks in their quarantine and training facility.

“If someone tests positive at any stage in the tour they would be removed from the main squad and will be placed into isolation within the biosecure environment and will be treated by the team doctor along with the other on-site medical support staff. Should any player have more serious symptoms, they will be treated in hospital at pre-arranged facilities,” Grave said.

It is also expected that player replacement during a match, along the lines of a concussion substitute, will be mulled by the ICC Cricket Committee when it meets in June.



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Kusal Mendis arrested after being involved in fatal road accident

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Sri Lanka cricketer Kusal Mendis has been arrested after the vehicle he was driving hit and killed a 64-year-old cyclist at around 5am on Sunday.

The police media unit confirmed the accident had occurred in Panadura, just south of Colombo, and that the victim had been a local resident who sustained serious injuries and died as he was being admitted to hospital. Mendis will appear before the Panadura magistrate – likely in the next 48 hours – while police conduct an investigation.

The initial police statement made no mention of whether either Mendis or the victim were under the influence of alcohol.

As Sri Lanka’s lockdowns and curfew have now ceased, Mendis was allowed to be on the road at the time. He had been part of Sri Lanka’s residential training camp at Pallekele, which ended on Wednesday.



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Quinton de Kock, Laura Wolvaardt scoop up major CSA awards

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Quinton de Kock and Laura Wolvaardt were named South Africa’s Men’s and Women’s Cricketer of the Year respectively at CSA’s annual awards ceremony, held virtually on Saturday night. Both players also scooped up two other awards, with de Kock winning Test cricketer of the year and men’s players’ player of the year and Wolvaardt winning ODI cricketer of the year and women’s player’s player of the year.

Lungi Ngidi took both men’s white-ball awards after being named ODI and T20 player of the year. Shabnim Ismail was named women’s T20 player of the year while David Miller was voted the fans’ favourite player. Anrich Nortje was recognised as the newcomer of the 2019-20 season, which was the worst for the South African men’s team since readmission.

A disastrous World Cup campaign, Test series defeats away to India and at home to England and only one white-ball series win from the four played at home made this a difficult year for South African cricket to celebrate for everyone but de Kock. He stood head and shoulders above the rest, as their second-highest run-scorer across the seven Tests (behind Dean Elgar), their highest run-scorer in the ODIs and T20Is against England, and the T20I series against Australia, and their new white-ball captain. For all his efforts with the bat, de Kock did not star in the ODI series against Australia, which South Africa swept 3-0, but he did captain them to their only trophy of the summer.

“Quinny is the leading wicketkeeper-batsman in Test cricket and is, in fact, one of the leading batsmen in both red ball and white-ball cricket. He is also starting to emerge as an outstanding leader,” CSA Acting CEO, Dr Jacques Faul, said.

This was the second time de Kock has won the biggest prize in the country’s game, after also being named cricketer of the year in 2017. He joins Jacques Kallis, Makhaya Ntini, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Kagiso Rabada on the list of players who have won the award twice.

The other notable performers in the men’s game were bowlers and of those, Ngidi and Nortje made the biggest impacts. After missing the season’s home Tests with a hamstring injury, Ngidi returned to lead the white-ball wicket-takers’ list in both formats. Nortje made his Test debut in India and was the most successful bowler in the Test series against England, from both sides. He also featured in South Africa’s white-ball teams, and worked well with Ngidi, providing another attacking option.

The women’s team fared much better than the men’s, having secured automatic qualification to next year’s 50-over World Cup by beating New Zealand away from home and in reaching the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup. Wolvaardt became the youngest player to win the women’s cricketer of the year award, at 21-years-and-two-months old. She was South Africa’s second-highest run-scorer in ODIs against India and New Zealand and showed her ability to significantly up her strike-rate at the T20 World Cup, where she was one of the stand-out performers. So too was Ismail, who took the T20 prize. Left-arm spinner Nonkululeko Mlaba, who also featured at the tournament, was named women’s newcomer of the year.

“Laura was named in the tournament select XI at the conclusion of the ICC Women’s World T20 which tells us a great deal about the esteem in which she is held at international level,” Faul said. “At the age of 21 her best years are ahead of her and she will be a key player when the team go to the Women’s World Cup next year.”

At domestic level, Cape Cobras’ left-arm spinner George Linde, who also made his Test debut, in India, was awarded the four-day cricketer of the year title. Linde was second on the wicket-takers’ list and also voted the franchise system’s Most Valuable Player. Dolphins’ batsman Grant Roelofsen, who led the one-day cup run charts, was named one-day player of the year and was also the domestic players’ player of the year while Tabraiz Shamsi, who bowled the Paarl Rocks to the Mzansi Super League (MSL) title, was named the tournament’s impact player. Janneman Malan, the highest local run-scorer at the MSL, was the competition’s noteworthy young player of the year.



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‘No doors are closed,’ says Ed Smith after Bairstow, Moeen Test omissions

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The omission of Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali from England’s 21-man Test party to take on West Indies was in part a reflection of their importance in white-ball cricket, rather than a statement on the current pecking order, according to Ed Smith, the ECB’s national selector. Smith confirmed that both players would move over to the “white-ball bubble” in the coming days, suggesting it made sense to do so once it was deemed neither was likely to make the first Test playing XI.

With England’s rearranged summer schedule largely dictated by the protocols around Covid-19 and bio-security, and an ODI series against Ireland expected to begin two days after the end of the third West Indies Test, the selectors were always going to be faced with making difficult choices about which formats to prioritise for certain players.

ALSO READ: England stick with Denly, no room for Bairstow, Ali in Test squad

Bairstow is currently behind Jos Buttler and Ben Foakes in the queue to keep wicket, and has had little opportunity to burnish his first-class batting record since being dropped last year, while Ali was unable to put pressure on Dom Bess as the incumbent spinner during this week’s warm-up game. Rather than be retained among the reserves – staying with the 13-man squad in case of the need to make Covid-19 substitutions – they will instead begin limited-overs preparations, with a white-ball group expected to be named in the coming week or so.

“With Moeen and Jonny, part of the calculation is that they have been in the white-ball squad and been very good performers in white-ball cricket,” Smith said. “You know if they’re not in the eleven here, obviously it’s good that they’re playing cricket in the white-ball team.”

Bairstow and Ali have been on the periphery of the Test side since last summer’s Ashes. Bairstow lost the gloves to Buttler at the conclusion of the series, and was left out of the Test squad for tours of New Zealand and Sri Lanka, while Ali opted not to make himself available for England’s winter Test commitments after losing his central contract, citing a desire for rest.

England chose to pick Essex’s Dan Lawrence and Gloucestershire’s James Bracey as batting back-up at the Ageas Bowl, after both impressed during the three-day intra-squad game. But Smith reiterated the suggestion he made at the end of last summer that there was still scope for Bairstow to come again as a Test force.

“A couple of things with Jonny. No one doubts he’s a very good cricketer across formats for England. No doors are closed for Jonny. We’re fully aware of what he can do in Test cricket, and of course we’re fully aware of his talent in all forms of the game. It’s also the case that we are where we were. When Covid-19 caused a suspension of cricket, Jos Buttler was the man in possession – still is the man in possession – and has our full support as England’s wicketkeeper-batsman. And Ben Foakes was the deputy on the tour of Sri Lanka. That’s where it is today.

“It’s also the case that Jonny is in the white-ball team, and has had an exceptional spell of form in white-ball cricket. There’s cricket to be played there. It seemed the best arrangement for Jonny to move over to the white-ball bubble and to stick with the consistency of where we were.

“I wouldn’t make any presumptions, in terms of anything being blocked for Jonny. There’s a wide understanding of how good Jonny is when he’s at his best, and that’s not going to be forgotten. Jonny’s a very talented player, and has played some very fine innings across England formats.”

Similarly, with Somerset pair Bess and Jack Leach competing for the berth of No. 1 Test spinner, Ali was overlooked for a Test recall. Smith again characterised Bess as the man “in possession”, with Leach included among the reserves.

“We’re very glad that Moeen is available for Test cricket,” Smith said. “Moeen is a trusted and valuable England cricketer, and as a selection panel we’ve always wanted to select from the widest available talent pool. Moeen being available is good news for the talent in the spin department. It’s also the case that Dom Bess did very well in South Africa, and Jack Leach has had spells in recent months when he’s been England’s spinner, and illness and injury have been very unfortunate for Jack. But we’re glad that Moeen is available again.”

The other topic for deliberation was the shape of England’s top order, with Rory Burns returning from injury after missing three Tests in South Africa. The selectors opted to stick with Joe Denly – a decision eased by the absence of Joe Root while he attends the birth of his child – rather than look at an uncapped option such as Lawrence.

Smith pointed to England’s 3-1 success in South Africa, and a renewed emphasis under Chris Silverwood on the top order looking to bat time in order to set up big scores; Denly has faced 100-plus balls in nine of his last 15 innings, although he hasn’t converted any of his six Test fifties into a hundred. Smith also said that he expected Denly to keep his place at No. 3, meaning Zak Crawley, an opener who deputised for Burns in South Africa, is likely to have to fill Root’s spot at No. 4.

“The first thing to say is to look at the player and look at the team. England have come off the back off three consecutive Test match victories, a 3-1 victory in South Africa. There is also clearly an emerging Test plan by Chris Silverwood and Joe Root, supported by the selectors, about how they are setting up the team. There has been a real emphasis on solidity at the top of the order and getting first-innings runs. Enough runs for the bowling attack to really have a bank of runs behind them to bowl as a unit to win games. That’s the plan.

“What we have seen is that since moving to a slight shift of plan for this winter, the England team has batted with more solidity and consistency throughout the order and Joe Denly has been a big part of that. Obviously, sometimes, the standout performances might have come lower down the order at four, five or six but the platform has been laid by the top order. What we are trying to do as selectors is to give the strongest possible options so England can execute the Test plan that they want to and that’s what we are doing.”



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