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Amid excitement over cricket’s return, there are debts to be repaid

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The end of lockdown – maybe the pause in lockdown will prove a more accurate phrase – has precipitated many long-awaited reunions. Friends, lovers, families have all been reunited. It’s hard to say where the resumption of cricket rates compared to such events.

But it’s significant in many ways. Not least, it will go some way towards avoiding a financial meltdown in cricket in England and Wales. As things stand, it seems England have a better than even chance of fulfilling all their international fixtures for the 2020 summer. From the situation in which they found themselves when the season was meant to start in April, this is a fine achievement. The fact that the highlights will be shown on the BBC also represents an opportunity. There’s never been too much wrong with our game; if we can get more people to see it, there’s no reason they should not fall in love with it.

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The ECB – and Steve Elworthy, their events director, in particular – deserve a huge amount of credit for making this series a reality. Realising early that the cost of doing nothing would be far greater than the cost of drastic action, planes, grounds and hotels have been requisitioned. New protocols have been introduced to cover everything from training to eating to walking around stadiums. The scope of the project is vast and would have seemed unimaginable as little as four months ago. A huge amount has been asked of many. Everyone has bought in.

Most of the methods adopted by Elworthy and co in recent weeks will provide a blueprint for governing bodies around the rest of the world. That, in turn, allows the sport to navigate its way through a crisis that could be with us for some time yet. Playing behind closed doors is nobody’s idea of perfect but, in the circumstances, most would have settled for this solution.

Elworthy already had an outstanding record in this area. He was tournament director of the World Cup last year and in 2013 organised a Champions Trophy that may well have saved the 50-over format. In pulling off this project, he deserves to be viewed, alongside the likes of Tony Greig, Andy Flower and Kevin Pietersen, among the most valuable southern African imports to the English game.

England owe a great deal to West Indies, too. Leaving a region that has been spared the worst of Covid-19 and traveling to one in its grip has taken a certain amount of courage and determination. Yes, CWI needed the tour to satisfy their sponsors – Sandals, the hotel chain, aims much of its marketing at the UK audience – but the players could easily have opted out. English cricket owes every one of them.

It’s not fair to conclude England would definitely not have toured had roles been reversed. There would have been doubts, of course. But England returned to India after the terrorist attacks in 2008 and went to Bangladesh, in 2016, at a time other teams were unwilling. Even before recent events, there seemed every chance they would return to Pakistan in line with their obligations in the Future Tours Program. Their understanding of their global responsibilities is better than is sometimes credited.

But this series, in particular, seems timely. It comes amid a renewed focus on racial equality and will feature a team of cricketers of Afro-Caribbean heritage answering England’s plea for help. It’s a reminder, perhaps, of how much England has gained from the Caribbean over the years. It needs to be acknowledged and respected.

Pakistan have been equally helpful to England. Their squad is here already and seeing out their period of isolation in a Travelodge in Derby. Not every international team would do that. Again, an opponent who has had a chequered relationship with the ECB, has answered their call for help.

It would be nice to think this sense of cooperation will foster a new spirit among the cricketing community. That it will remind all involved of our interdependence and shared interests. That it will lead to a new revenue model for international cricket which sees the biggest earners, like higher-rate tax payers, contribute a little more. That those who run the ‘big three’ will understand that, eventually, without strong opponents, the appeal of the international game will wither and their own business models will be compromised. It would be nice.

But the early evidence is not encouraging. The T20 World Cup, an event that would generate income for multiple cricket boards, is on the verge of being postponed for an event – the IPL – that will generate income for one. And while Australia look set to host a lucrative bilateral series against India, they seem less keen to host Zimbabwe. Within eight months next year, England will play 10 Tests against India and then travel to Australia for an Ashes series. The obsession for the rich to play the rich is leaving the rest struggling for survival.

The shame of all this is that recent weeks have shown what can be achieved when the game works together. If England are truly grateful for the support of Pakistan and West Indies at a time they needed them most, they will ensure their words of gratitude are translated to more tangible rewards. Cricket can be stronger for this experience but we require more than warm words and gestures. We need change.

Maybe such issues can wait for a day or two. There will be a sense of joy at seeing the resumption of cricket over the next few days. A sense of relief, too, that we are finding a way back towards the normal life we will never take for granted again. Well, not for a while, anyway. But amid the excitement, let’s not forget the debt owed to West Indies, Pakistan and Ireland too. And debts need repaying.



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Match Preview – England vs Pakistan, Pakistan tour of England 2020, 1st Test

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It’s almost like a normal English cricket summer, isn’t it? England lost the first Test yet again but came battling back in the series, something they do far more frequently than any other Test side. The batting order was rejigged regularly and debated in increasingly repetitive terms. Ben Stokes came good, and James Anderson and Stuart Broad continued to take wickets. Their detractors kept reminding everyone with indefatigable banality these were only home wickets, as most people smiled and nodded. The rain made a persistent enough nuisance of itself to send every Test to the final session on the fifth day, which, of course, lit the touchpaper for the four-day Test debate.

Coming into the Pakistan series, England have the distinct, irreplaceable advantage of having played three Tests against high-quality opposition, and no amount of intra-squad matches or net sessions can quite match that for Pakistan. The games against West Indies allowed England to tinker, particularly with the bowling attack, which unearthed an embarrassment of fast-bowling riches, with Broad, Jofra Archer and Anderson all missing a Test without the attack appearing any less menacing. In addition to those three, they have Sam Curran, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes to call upon.

Even the top order, which has never really been the same since Andrew Strauss retired eight years ago, showed flashes of encouraging promise against West Indies. Openers Dom Sibley and Rory Burns combined for 460 runs across the three Tests, each batsman averaging over 45. Lower down, Joe Root may not have got the runs he’d desired but Ben Stokes more than made up for that, scoring over 90 between dismissals and demonstrating he was an automatic pick even if a niggle keeps him from bowling, as it well might in the first Test. Jos Buttler got a half-century. Hell, even Broad did.

Pakistan, meanwhile, have hung around the UK since before that West Indies series began, keeping confined amongst themselves and, by historical standards, generating impressively little gossip fodder. The conversations in the squad have revolved entirely around tactics, team combination, player form, and, of course, whether or not Fawad Alam will finally get to play. The side last played a Test in February, with no competitive cricket on offer since the PSL was put on hold before the semi-finals. There has almost been an air of – whisper it softly should you dare – professionalism about how the build-up has gone.

England has always seemed to Pakistan a barometer of the state of its cricket; performances here, brilliant or disastrous, have been accepted as representative of the quality of the side. Pakistan tours to England have served as the most useful waypoints for a digestible history of the nation’s cricket, encapsulating most of the recurring themes so distinctly redolent of Pakistan cricket. From perhaps Pakistan’s greatest underdog moment in 1954 to the domination of the fast bowlers in the 80s and 90s, bitter controversy in 2006 and disgrace in 2010, Pakistan’s presence in England has always seemed to put fate on notice.

They will hope the headlines they make remain strictly confined to the back pages, and with the side they have, there’s no reason that won’t happen. Babar Azam has only ever played one Test in England, and is a vastly improved Test cricketer from the one whose fluent half-century was ended by injury two years ago. In Shan Masood, Pakistan have found an opener whose technique and temperament both look to have finally come into their own, and he has the runs to prove it. Azhar Ali, appointed captain last year, also has at his disposal arguably the most exciting Pakistan fast-bowling trio in a decade; Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah all boast match-winning Test performances in their nascent careers.

Ali’s side may lack experience and be decisive underdogs, but when has that ever stopped Pakistan in England? Joe Root’s, in turn, may well be heavily fancied, but that isn’t a tag they have worn as lightly as they might have wished.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

England WWLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Pakistan WWDLL

In the spotlight

Joe Root is almost guaranteed to be the most classical Test batsman on either side in just about any series, but that isn’t quite the case this time around. Opposition vice-captain Babar Azam has seen his red-ball career flourish just as Root’s phenomenal career numbers have begun going the other way. You could almost trace the trend to the last time Pakistan toured England, when a 23-year old Babar played his only Test in England. Since that encounter, Root has averaged 38.48 between dismissals, nearly ten runs down on his overall career average. Babar’s numbers, meanwhile, have soared, his average a stratospheric 68.52 over the same period, 23 runs up from his career mean. The Pakistan batsman has outscored his English counterpart in the centuries department, too, five to Root’s four in fewer than half the innings. There was talk of the famous Fab Four taking on a fifth member in Babar, but the England skipper will have to better his most recent numbers to ensure he doesn’t drop out of it altogether.

Team news

England have announced an unchanged 14-man squad to the one that was chosen for the deciding Test against West Indies. Root suggested in his pre-match press conference one of Mark Wood or Jofra Archer would play, while Stuart Broad’s place in the playing party appears certain. The final balance of the side will be determined by Ben Stokes’ ability to bowl, having been managing a quad niggle during the Windies series. If England err on the side of caution, then Zak Crawley will again be the fall guy, with the rest of the middle order moving up one slot.

England (possible) 1 Dom Sibley, 2 Rory Burns, 3 Joe Root (capt), 4 Ben Stokes, 5 Ollie Pope, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Sam Curran/Chris Woakes, 8 Dom Bess, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Mark Wood/Jofra Archer, 11 James Anderson

Head coach Misbah-ul-Haq looks to be leaning towards playing two legspinners, which would seem to rule out Fawad Alam. It would, however, leave the lower middle order somewhat vulnerable, in spite of Shadab Khan’s competence with the bat, and with a 16-man squad, there’s plenty of flexibility to work around it.

Pakistan (possible): 1 Shan Masood, 2 Abid Ali, 3 Azhar Ali (capt), 4 Babar Azam, 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Fawad Alam/Shadab Khan, 7 Mohammad Rizwan(wk), 8 Yasir Shah, 9 Shaheen Afridi, 10 Mohammad Abbas, 11 Naseem Shah

Pitch and conditions

England were forced to practise indoors on the eve of the game due to rain, and there is more expected for the first couple of days. The weather is expected to brighten up over the weekend, though.

The fast bowlers on either side in the West Indies series found plenty of swing at Old Trafford, with specialist offspinners Rakheem Cornwall and Dom Bess playing less of a role than both sides’ respective selectors might have hoped.

Stats and trivia

  • Of the 10 Tests Pakistan have won in England since 1987, eight were played in London. Old Trafford, the venue of the first Test, played host to one Pakistan Test win in this period (in 2001), with the other success coming at Headingley in 1987.

  • Pakistan’s other two victories in England were also in London, at The Oval in 1954 and Lord’s in 1982.

  • James Anderson needs 11 wickets to become the first fast bowler to 600 Test dismissals.

  • Anderson has only ever taken 11 wickets in a Test once – against Pakistan in 2010

Quotes

“He’s very skilful, looks like he has a lot of pace. You can speak to as many people as you want, but until you get out there and face him, you can’t really know what it’s going to be like”
Joe Root looking ahead to facing 17-year old Naseem Shah for the first time



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IPL 2020 SOPs: Rigorous testing, restricted movement, one team per hotel

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The IPL has laid out a rigorous testing process for players and support staff who will need to clear at least four tests along with a week-long quarantine before they can start training in the UAE. Details of the testing process and frequency feature among the draft document of standard operating procedures (SOPs), which the IPL shared with franchises on Monday.

The SOPs include details on dos and don’ts during travel, lodging and training during the 53-day tournament, which is scheduled to be played at three venues in the UAE – Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah – between September 19 and November 10. The BCCI is yet to announce the tournament schedule as it awaits a formal nod from the Indian government.

ESPNcricinfo understands that teams have been asked to travel with “minimum” contingents and not before August 20. Among the SOPs, the IPL has permitted families of squad members to travel to the UAE and stay inside the bio-secure bubble, but the final decision on that front will remain with each franchise. However, the IPL has made it mandatory that each team will need to have a medical doctor on board to help the franchise mitigate risks as well educate the squad during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Testing protocols

As per the draft SOPs, IPL has recommended to franchises that all members carry out two tests before their squads depart for the UAE. Those two tests will need to be done at 24-hour intervals as per the World Health Organisation norms. They will also need to be done before the player or coaching/support staff member assembles in the city where they will board the flight for the UAE. The validity of the second test result will need to last for at least four days (96 hours) including the date of landing in the UAE.

The player or staff in question can only fly out if both those tests come out negative. Anyone infected will need to undergo the mandatory two-week quarantine period as per the guidelines of the Indian government. After that, the person will need to undergo a fresh set of two tests and clear them before joining the squad in the UAE.

Once the squad lands in the UAE, all members are to undergo another test at the airport before heading to the team hotel. From this point, the IPL testing protocol will kick in.

As per the protocol, every squad will undergo a mandatory seven-day quarantine in the team hotel. During this week every squad member will be tested thrice – on days 1, 3 and 6. Once all those results come back negative, the squad can start training.

After that, all squad members will be tested on the fifth day of every week throughout the tournament.

“The IPL has permitted families of squad members to travel to the UAE and stay inside the bio-secure bubble, but the final decision on that front will remain with each franchise.”

As far as the non-Indian players and staff are concerned, they will need to carry the negative result of the test carried out in the last 96 hours before arriving in the UAE.

As per the local rules, during the tournament squads travelling to Abu Dhabi will need to carry negative test results carried out in the previous 48 hours. As per the IPL guidelines, if the weekly test result has expired during the course of travel to Abu Dhabi, squads will need to undergo a fresh test again.

Testing positive during the tournament

In such a scenario, it is understood that the person in question would need to isolate but outside the bubble, considering that aerosols – respiratory droplets – can easily be transmitted. That infected person would be put in a sanitised room within the same hotel. One of the guidelines recommends having a few rooms where the squad is staying to isolate any infected person(s).

No stepping out of the bubble

It is understood the IPL has made it clear no person can go in and out of the bio-secure bubble during the course of the tournament. Strict social distancing norms have been recommended, including squad members discouraged from having any close contact even within the bubble which includes moving between hotel rooms. Squad members have also been asked to wear masks outside their rooms at hotels and avoid any unnecessary movement.

There will be exceptions. If an injured player needs to visit a hospital for X-rays or scans, then the guidelines suggest the movement be restricted to the clinic with minimal interaction with outsiders.

One team per hotel

As per the guidelines all eight teams will stay in separate hotels. The franchises have been asked to book a hotel or resort exclusively for the squads with no outsiders allowed. If that is not possible, then IPL has recommended they stay somewhere with a separate wing, entrance and exit.



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England hopes of adding Jeetan Patel to coaching staff for Pakistan Tests thwarted by visa rules

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England’s hopes of adding Jeetan Patel to their coaching staff for the Test series against Pakistan have been thwarted by visa regulations.

Patel, the former New Zealand off-spinner, had been due to join the Test squad as spin bowling consultant for the second and third matches of the series against Pakistan.

Those plans have now been abandoned, however, after it transpired Patel’s visa only permits him to work as a player in the UK. He will, therefore, return to Warwickshire – to whom he is contracted until the end of the season – and is expected to appear for them in the Vitality Blast T20 competition. He is expected to retire as a player at the end of the season.

The England management have said they “will consider all options before appointing a spin bowling consultant for the remainder of this season”.

In an ideal world, Richard Dawson would be a strong candidate. As head coach of Gloucestershire, however, Dawson is currently busy with his county side.

In the longer term, Patel could still fulfil a coaching role in the England set-up. It is thought that the ECB will, when finances and other practical issues allow, appoint both a spin bowling coach for the England sides and another to work with players around the counties. Patel, who had enjoyed previous spells in the consultancy role, remains a strong candidate for either position. Dawson would also be a favoured candidate if he was prepared to leave Gloucestershire.



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