Bairstow was expected to be available for the Stars after Christmas after completing the 14-day mandatory quarantine in Australia following England’s limited-overs tour of South Africa. However, he is expected to be recalled to England’s Test squad for the tour of Sri Lanka in January.
The Stars moved swiftly to sign Fletcher, who like fellow Stars signing Nicholas Pooran, has been in New Zealand playing in the T20I series.
“We’re naturally disappointed Jonny won’t be able to link up with us this season but we wish him well on his recall and England’s winter tours,” Stars coach David Hussey said.
“We’re glad Andre was in a position to join us and he’ll bring plenty of power and entertainment at the top of the batting order. Andre is a former T20 World Cup winner with the West Indies so he knows what it takes to succeed in major tournaments and I’m confident he’ll be a great asset around our group.”
Fletcher has played 200 T20 matches worldwide with extensive experience in the Caribbean Premier League, the Bangladesh Premier League, and the Pakistan Super League. He is likely to be available for the Stars for the regular season up until January 26.
“I’m really looking forward to coming over to the Melbourne Stars and being part of what should be an exciting season ahead,” Fletcher said. Hopefully, I can bring my brand of batting and recent form to the Stars during the BBL.”
Aus vs Ind 2020-21 – How Ajinkya Rahane and his trusted lieutenants masterminded India’s triumph
Ajinkya Rahane has credited the collective leadership that he shared with vice-captain Rohit Sharma and senior players Cheteshwar Pujara and R Ashwin for India being able to come back from behind in the absence of regular captain Virat Kohli and take the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a 2-1 series win in Australia. All four players, Rahane says, took greater responsibility upon themselves to instill belief and confidence in an inexperienced India team.
Rahane took over the captaincy when Kohli went home on paternity leave following India’s defeat in the first Test in Adelaide, where they were bowled out for 36 in the second innings. Rahane’s first message to the dressing room was clear: the Adelaide defeat was a closed chapter.
“I told them that topic should not be discussed at all,” Rahane told Sakal, a leading Marathi daily. “The fact that we got all out for 36 is not any mistake. We should just accept it and move on. No point going in depth and thinking about it because the [next Test] match was immediately starting in three days. My only message was: it happened in one hour. They [Australia] played good cricket. Such things happen once in a century. The faster we accept this happened and move on, that is good for us.”
Rahane also told his players that it made no difference to him if people outside were writing India off, and that it shouldn’t bother the other players either, going into the second Test in Melbourne. “It is a good opportunity for us to stay and play as one. Whatever the result, especially after the Melbourne Test or at the end of the Test series, does not matter. Outcome is the last thing. What I wanted was we should come together and play as one, that was my priority.”
Sharma, who played the last two Tests, Pujara and Ashwin were Rahane’s three key sounding boards. All four players are close friends on and off the field having begun their international careers at roughly the same time. Their closeness allowed them to talk openly and help each other.
How Rahane gave confidence to Ashwin and Pujara
While Kohli brings the team together with his intensity and energy, Rahane prefers doing it with a quiet word shared with his team-mates. In the Indians’ first warm-up match against Australia A, Ashwin made 8 and 5. According to Rahane, the bowling allrounder was worried about his batting – he had come into the tour with just two 30-plus scores in his last 19 Test innings.
“Our discussion started from the [first] practice match itself,” Rahane said. “Ashwin got out early and was sitting alone. I told Ashwin, please do not take tension about your batting. There are times when you think too much about your batting. His record as a batsman is pretty good. When things are not going well, obviously you start brooding about your batting not going well. I told him, you just focus on your bowling.
“With your bowling you can win us matches. He bowled well and I feel that reflected in his batting [later in the series]. My responsibility was to get his focus on his bowling. He bowled well and that confidence showed in his batting.”
Rahane said he explained to Ashwin that the more “desperate” he was to do well with the bat, the more disappointed he would get if he failed. “Desperation does not work. I told him to play 40-50 balls while batting without thinking about it. And that is what happened. I did not say much to him. All credit should go to Ashwin. I told him, too: your bowling is going so good and consequently, mentally, you are very relaxed and that is why you are batting well [now]. And where we wanted him, he did perform [with the bat] in Sydney.”
Batting with a bad back, Ashwin helped India save the Sydney Test with an unbeaten 39 off 128 balls.
Pujara was another key match-winner who received a quiet word of support from Rahane when voices in the media including former players and captains were questioning his scoring rate. Pujara faced 928 balls across the series, wearing Australia’s bowlers down cumulatively, and his final-day half-centuries proved crucial to India saving the Sydney Test and winning in Brisbane.
“I told Pujara, you play your game,” Rahane said. “You don’t change your game bilkul (at all). Others will play around you.”
‘Take responsibility but enjoy it without pressure’
As a captain Rahane is yet to lose a Test match. He is a calm character at most times, and during the Australia series he made sure to remind himself to continue enjoying the game when he took over the captaincy, and not let himself get bogged down by the pressure of the responsibility. “I told them we are two or three seniors in the team. That does not mean we have to take the pressure. Let’s enjoy our cricket, enjoy our batting. And then we will take the others along with us. Many times what happens is when you say there is responsibility then you put pressure on yourself. In my mind I knew we had to take the responsibility: but enjoy it while you take it, not with pressure.”
That joy and freedom is what Rahane said enabled him to bat himself into a “zone” during his 112 in India’s first innings in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, which allowed the visitors to take vital lead and eventually win the Test. “That innings in Melbourne I was enjoying as a batsman. I was enjoying the pressure situation. I have walked in to bat many times in the past when India were 20 for 3 or 40 for 3, but the situation in Melbourne was totally different. I told myself while batting: “chal (go on), you enjoy every ball. Enjoy each situation. Enjoy every run. What has to happen will happen.” Because of that I went into the zone while batting.”
According to Rahane, by the time India entered 2021 with the series level, he felt more confident also because he found support from his deputy, Sharma, who had missed the first two Tests while completing rehab on a hamstring injury picked up during the IPL. Having been team-mates since the age-group days in Mumbai cricket, Rahane and Sharma had complete trust in each other. Rahane admitted that Sharma played a big hand in sharing leadership duties. “The big advantage is Rohit’s experience. My job became easier, since if I could not pay attention to every player, I would ask Rohit to deal with that.
“Having played together so much cricket, if we felt any of the players in the Indian dressing room was down, we thought how we could make that person stand up and perform. Hence we could easily discuss such things.”
‘We talk about cricketing gods – it is there somewhere’
Over the course of the series, India lost a number of key players to injury. By the time India landed in Brisbane, their options had dwindled to nearly zero, and they eventually picked a five-man bowling attack whose most experienced member was playing his third Test match. After the series victory, Ravi Shastri, India’s had coach, had praised Rahane for remaining calm while handling such an inexperienced line-up. How did he do it?
“I felt that there is an opportunity somewhere in all this,” Rahane said. “As a player we always aspire to play for the country. So I told them that you cannot get any bigger opportunity than this. If we do good here as a team, what will happen in the future we cannot even imagine. All those who got the opportunity, all of them did well. And, importantly, they did well because there was no pressure on them. They could play freely.
“As a captain I was feeling bad that some players had missed out [due to injury], but I also thought whoever comes in, it was a big opportunity for them. Whatever the resources were available, how we could give them confidence and make them help the team do well was my main aim. Again, the result was not the motive: win or loss was not in my mind. The only thing in my mind was play good cricket and give them [Australia] a fight on the ground. Because of that only the result has come. There is some supreme power somewhere. We gave respect to cricket. We talk about cricketing gods – it is there somewhere. It was surreal and a fairytale ending.”
Recent Match Report – Ireland vs Afghanistan 2nd ODI 2020/21
Naveen-ul-Haq and Mujeeb Ur Rahman played key roles to restrict Ireland to 259
Afghanistan 260 for 3 (Rahmat 103*, Shahidi 82) beat Ireland 259 for 9 (Stirling 128, Campher 47, Naveen 4-42, Mujeeb 3-46) by seven wickets
Better support with bat and ball ensured Rahmat Shah‘s unbeaten 103 trumped Paul Stirling‘s 128 as Afghanistan took an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match ODI series. A third-wicket partnership of 184 between Rahmat and Hashmatullah Shahidi carried Afghanistan to a seven-wicket win with 28 balls remaining, after Ireland had set them a target of 260.
The only comparable partnership for Ireland was a fourth-wicket stand of 106 between Stirling and Curtis Campher, which came up in just 100 balls and featured excellent use of the sweep from both batsmen, particularly off Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan. The partnership left Ireland in good shape to mount a slog-overs charge, but they lost steam following the dismissal of Campher, caught at short extra-cover off Rashid. They only made 49 off the last 51 balls of their innings, and lost five wickets while doing so.
Three of those wickets, including that of Stirling in the 45th over, went to the fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq, who finished with figures of 4 for 42 from his ten overs. Afghanistan’s other bowling star was Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who picked up three wickets including the key dismissals of Kevin O’Brien and Andy Balbirnie with the new ball, which left Ireland 20 for 2 at one stage. Stirling began rebuilding the innings in the company of Harry Tector, who made a watchful 24, before Campher joined him in the 25th over of the innings.
Stirling celebrated his hundred – his 11th in ODIs, equalling William Porterfield’s Ireland record – by paying tribute to Roy Torrens, the former Ireland player and team manager who died yesterday, pointing to the sky after removing his helmet. Stirling had tweeted that Torrens’ passing was “crushing news”, describing him as “Irish cricket to the very core but an even better man”
Afghanistan’s chase began brightly, with Rahmanullah Gurbaz following up his debut hundred in the first ODI by clattering 31 off 26 balls, including two sixes off Simi Singh’s offspin. Barry McCarthy and Campher struck in successive overs thereafter, though, to leave Afghanistan in a bit of bother at 48 for 2 in the ninth over.
Rahmat and Shahidi counterattacked, hitting four fours and a six between them in their first four full overs together. Shahidi then slipped into a lower gear even as Rahmat kept finding the boundary with pristine drives to keep the required rate well under control. He brought up his half-century off 49 balls, at the start of the 23rd over.
It took Shahidi another ten overs to get to that milestone, off 68 balls, but having done so he opened out significantly, hitting Craig Young for back-to-back fours in the 38th over to bring up Afghanistan’s 200, and repeating the dose off Simi in the 42nd over before holing out to long-off to fall 18 short of a century.
There was no such trouble for Rahmat, who brought up the landmark for the fifth time in his ODI career, before giving a chance, put down at point by a diving Tector off McCarthy. By then Afghanistan only needed 21, and their captain Asghar Afghan ensured they’d finish in a hurry, hitting McCarthy for 6, 6, 4 in the 45th over and ending up unbeaten on 21 off 13 balls.
While Afghanistan have now wrapped up the series with a game to spare, the final fixture on Tuesday will not be treated as a dead-rubber, with 10 World Cup Super League points still on offer.
India tour of Australia Aus vs Ind 2020-21 – T Natarajan
The India left-armer looked back at his fairytale Australia tour, where he made his debut in all three formats
“I’m so happy right now. There’s no limit to it and I just can’t explain that feeling.”
This was India left-arm seamer T Natarajan‘s reaction to his rousing reception at his hometown Chinnappampatti, near Salem in Tamil Nadu, after returning from Australia, where he made his debut in all three formats and played his part in the historic Gabba Test win.
Natarajan, who had seemingly driven down from Bengaluru to Chinnappampatti on Thursday, was greeted by hoardings, drumrolls and firecrackers on Thursday. After being welcomed back by his mother Shantha, his father Thangarasu and other family members, Natarajan was carried home on a horse-drawn chariot, with everyone in Chinnappampatti wanting a piece of him.
Several people thronged Natarajan’s home for selfies and some even presented him portraits of himself.
On Friday, Natarajan recalled his grand homecoming at a press conference in Salem. “I never expected to get this kind of a reception. I have to thank the people in my village,” Natarajan said. “It was an unforgettable experience in my life and I dreamt of making it big, hoping to bring recognition to Salem. It’s all god’s grace, and I’m so happy right now. There’s no limit to it and I just can’t describe that feeling. I just feel like being selected for the Australia tour was a gift for me.”
Natarajan was initially picked as a net bowler for the Australian tour, but, as it turned out, he became the first India player to make his international debut across all three formats during the same tour. After an injury to mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy he was added to the T20I squad and then hours before the ODI series opener he was included in that squad as well, as injury cover. He made his international debut in the third ODI in Canberra and took 2 for 70 in an India win.
“He [David Warner] has tweeted about me and I think he feels proud about me. He has captained me at Sunrisers and during a match he told me that I’m very lucky and told me everything has happened after my daughter was born.”
Natarajan said he felt pressure after he heard the news of his sudden call-up, but at the same time he was keen to prove his talent at the top level.
“I just wanted to do my job,” Natarajan said. “I was suddenly given an opportunity – I didn’t expect to make my one-day debut there [Canberra]. Suddenly they told me that I would be playing and that was pressure for me. But I wanted to make the best use of this opportunity, so I shifted my focus to that. That [first] wicket and everything that followed seems like a dream to me.”
The dismissal of Marnus Labuschagne was only the beginning of the dream. Natarajan then made his T20I debut, also in Canberra, returning 3 for 30. In all, he picked up a chart-topping six wickets in three games at an economy rate of 6.91.
The T20I series ended with regular captain Virat Kohli handing the trophy to Natarajan and the Test series would end with stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane passing the Border-Gavaskar Trophy to him as well.
“I never expected it,” Natarajan said. “I didn’t expect Virat Kohli to come over and hand the trophy to me; I was just standing on the side. Kann Kalangitten [I teared up]. When a legend like Kohli came in and gave the trophy over to me it was a great feeling – I can’t describe it.”
Natarajan reckoned that being part of the IPL for four years and exchanging notes with seniors and overseas players smoothed his path to international cricket. He was first snapped up by Kings XI Punjab for INR 3 crore in 2017 and, after spending two seasons on the bench at Sunrisers Hyderabad, he became their gun death bowler in IPL 2020 in the UAE.
“I’ve been part of the IPL for four years,” he said. “At the IPL, I’ve mingled with many foreign players and many Indian players, and communicated with the coaches. Plus, taking tips from the foreign players and the bowlers was useful. Initially, it was difficult for me, but things became better thereafter.”
During the Australia tour, Natarajan got to lock horns with his Sunrisers captain David Warner.
“He has tweeted about me and I think he feels proud about me. He has captained me at Sunrisers and during a match he told me that I’m very lucky and told me everything has happened after my daughter was born. He has had these friendly and emotional chats with me.”
When Natarajan was enjoying a breakout IPL in the UAE, he was probably hoping to return home for the impending birth of his child. However, after being picked in the India white-ball squads, he chose to hang around in Australia for the Test leg as well and improbably made his Test debut in Brisbane.
“It was quite difficult [missing the birth of my child], yes,” he said. “But, for my wife and my family, me representing the country gave them a lot of happiness.”
Having been rested for the upcoming Test series at home against England, Natarajan can now look forward to spending more time with his daughter and rest of the family before the white-ball leg begins on March 12.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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