Melbourne Renegades have signed experienced Pakistan bowling allrounder Imad Wasim for the second half of the upcoming BBL season.
Imad will join the Renegades from December 26 after the completion of the three-match T20I series between Pakistan and New Zealand in New Zealand. The 31-year-old will be able to play immediately upon arriving in Australia without quarantining due to the Covid travel-bubble agreement between New Zealand and Australia.
“Imad is one of the best T20 players in the world with his ability to impact games with the ball and to finish the innings with the bat,” Renegades coach Michael Klinger said.
“He’s an experienced player with recent title success, he’s capable of bowling in the powerplay and he’ll strengthen our middle-order batting.”
Imad joins South Africans Rilee Rossouw and Imran Tahir, and Afghanistan spin duo Mohammad Nabi and Noor Ahmad on the Renegades roster. The BBL has allowed three overseas to play per game this season and the various international commitments and travel restrictions have meant the Renegades have added five to their roster to give them flexibility.
“Given the current landscape we’ve had to be flexible with our international players,” Klinger said. “We’ll have Rilee Rossouw available for the whole season while our other international players will feature at different points throughout the tournament.
“It’s a really talented group of international players and they’ll provide us with some great flexibility throughout the season.”
India vs England – Chennai Tests set to be played behind closed doors
The TNCA and the BCCI took the decision in unison, as a “preventive measure”
The prospect of the first two Tests of the India-England series being played behind closed doors has grown stronger after the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association informed its members that no crowds would be allowed at the MA Chidambaram stadium. The TNCA took the decision despite the Indian government recently ruling that outdoor sport could be conducted with spectators at 50% capacity.
Chennai will host the first two matches of the four-Test series with the first Test scheduled to be held from February 5 to 9 and the second from February 13 to 17. Both teams will then travel to Ahmedabad for the last two Tests, to be played at Motera stadium. The third Test, to be played under lights, is scheduled from February 24 to 28 and final Test from March 4 to 8.
England’s tour of India, which also includes five T20Is (to be played in Ahmedabad) and three ODIs (in Pune), is the first international cricket that India will host since the sport went on a global hiatus last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. India ranks second globally in terms of total Covid-19 infections reported, with its count inching towards the 11-million mark.
On January 20 the TNCA secretary R Ramaswamy sent a circular to the association’s members saying the decision to bar crowds was taken in unison with the BCCI as a “preventive measure”. “In view of the prevailing Covid pandemic, BCCI has decided not to take any kind of risk with the safety of the players during the forthcoming India-England Test series,” Ramaswamy said. “As per BCCI directive, the first two Test matches will take place behind closed doors (No Spectators/Guests/Sub-Committee Members) as a preventive measure.”
Incidentally the Indian government had said outdoor sports could have crowds of up to 50% capacity. “For outdoor events, spectators will be allowed upto a maximum of 50% of the total capacity of the stadium,” the Indian Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports had said while putting out a note on December 26. The note was part of the “standard operating procedures and guidelines for conducting sporting competition in India in the Covid-19 environment.”
Despite the TNCA decision, a senior official at the Gujarat Cricket Association, which runs the Motera ground, remained optimistic of having some section of the ground open to crowds. In 2020 the refurbished Motera was inaugurated by former US president Donald Trump. With a capacity of 110,000 Motera is the biggest-capacity ground in world cricket. The GCA official said that subject to the permission of both the Indian and Gujarat state governments, if not half, at least tickets could be sold to fill the stadium to at least 20-30% capacity.
Both squads are scheduled to land in Chennai by January 27 and will straightaway enter a biosecure bubble, which has become the norm in all cricket. After an initial three-day quarantine, teams would start their training while undergoing regular testing.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo
Quarantine restrictions to force South Africa to use separate T20I and Test squads
The red-ball players will leave Pakistan early to quarantine before the home series against Australia
Both the South African and Australian Test squads will quarantine ahead of their yet-to-be-confirmed three-Test series in March, in what will be the strictest biosecure bubble yet in South Africa. Unlike for the England and Sri Lanka series, where training could begin after the squads had taken their first Covid-19 tests – though social interaction was not allowed until after the third test – for the Australia series, players on both sides will be confined to their rooms for a longer period of time.
For that reason, South Africa’s Test squad will leave Pakistan on February 9 to begin their quarantine period at home. A separate squad will play the three T20Is in Pakistan on February 11, 13, and 14 in what CSA director of cricket Graeme Smith sees as an inevitable consequence of the times and something member boards will have to work together to ensure the cricket calendar is as unaffected as possible.
“When you work on biosecure environment protocols for Covid-19, you work with other member nations and if member nations don’t support each other and play cricket, cricket’s going to find itself in a very challenging space,” Smith said. “Your objective is to find the protocols that work for both. In working with Cricket Australia (CA), we’ve come to a lot of those medical conclusions and how that’s going to look. There will be an initial quarantine period before that series. Unfortunately, we would have to play two different squads at the time.”
While the dates for the Australia series are expected within the next week, ESPNcricinfo understands they are at an advanced stage and will see Australia playing Tests at SuperSport Park and the Wanderers in March. Although Smith told Australian media late last year that he would like to have fans at the grounds for the matches, with South Africa battling through a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, that is highly unlikely. Currently, the country is on Level 3 Lockdown (of five levels, with five being the strictest) and no spectators are allowed into stadiums, while all sports events have to finish by 8pm. The lockdown status will be reviewed before February 15 but even if it changes, it is unlikely to make provision for crowds. Insiders have confirmed that CA has already asked for more extreme measures than either the ECB or SLC required, and CSA is doing all it can to make it happen.
The series is the marquee event of this South African summer which has already seen a T20 series against England (but the ODIs that were to follow were postponed following concerns about the bubble in Cape Town) and festive season Tests against Sri Lanka. The men’s team are currently on their first tour to Pakistan since 2007 while the women’s team are hosting Pakistan, with more fixtures in the pipeline. But for CSA, the Australia series is a money-making opportunity through television rights, and a key series because of the historic needle between the two sides.
South Africa ‘desperately’ need teams to tour
“We would love to get our home summer completed, and Australia are a big part of that home summer. Not only do we want to get it played, we want to compete in that series,” Smith said. “We saw from the Australia-India series the hype around Test cricket. I think it’s going to be a great test of where we are as a squad. We are motivated. The last time a Test series with Australia happened in South Africa it was very heated and we all know what went on. We are very excited to be able to host Australia, but that comes with certain restrictions and medical protocols.”
The same is likely to apply to another other cricket played in South Africa this summer, and possibly beyond. The domestic franchise one-day cup is currently being played in a biobubble in Potchefstroom, which was organised late last year after it became clear that having teams travel to various venues around the country would not work. That was the case for the franchise first-class competition, in which two games were affected by Covid-19 in the penultimate round of 2020, and the final round was postponed.
All indications are that any other domestic cricket that takes place, including the remaining first-class fixtures, a franchise T20 cup and semi-professional cricket, which has been dormant since before the pandemic hit, will have to take place in biosecure environments as well. “I’m quite positive that with all the Covid-19 issues we’ve been able to get cricket played. There’s going to be a focus on trying to get semi-pro underway,” Smith said.
With South African domestic cricket’s impending restructure to 15 provincial teams and no franchises, this season’s semi-professional matches are important for players who are pushing to be contracted next season. At least 75 cricketers across the current franchise and provincial structures will find themselves out of a job, so competing for places is their work this summer.
Just as it is for the national men’s team. After slipping as low as eighth on the Test rankings last summer, and winning just one of the five trophies on offer, they are in a period of rebuilding and although Smith would like to see results, he believes this season is one of patience instead. “We want our team to win as much as possible but I wouldn’t say that’s the defining thing for me this season. I would like to answer a few questions in my own head. I think the selectors and the coaching staff would want to do the same,” he said. “(Because of the pandemic) there are going to be more opportunities for players than in the past. I’m really excited to see who puts their hand up and who are the people we can back into the future.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
Australia vs India – Bharat Arun says ‘Ravi called me and said let’s eliminate the off side for Australia’
The secret to the Indian bowlers’ success in the Border Gavaskar trophy is finally revealed
R Ashwin coming on inside the first hour at MCG and bowling a middle-and-leg line. India attacking Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne with a leg gully. Jasprit Bumrah’s plan of bowling short and into the body to Joe Burns and Will Pucovski – all these were part of India’s comprehensive bowling plan for Australia, one that was formulated long before the details of the tour were worked out.
This was revealed when B Arun, India’s bowling coach, threw light on the preparation done by the backroom staff, which was then put across to the captains – Virat Kohli and later Ajinkya Rahane – to implement during the Test series. In addition, they also took cue from New Zealand’s plans, particularly Neil Wagner’s short-ball strategy, against Smith during their 2019-20 series.
“Ravi Shastri (head coach) called me sometime in July,” Arun said. “When we were discussing the Australia tour, he said that we need to take the off-side out of the Australians. So, we had our own analysis and felt that most of the runs that Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschange had scored was off the cut, pull and on the offside. We also took a cue out of the New Zealand attack when they bowled to Steven Smith, where they had attacked his body and he had felt very uncomfortable at that point in time.”
Between India’s previous tour in 2018-19 to the start of the series that just finished, 36% of deliveries faced by Australia’s right-handers were played to the leg side. In this series, however, that number jumped to 45%, a consequence of India’s steadfast middle-and-leg lines to complement their strong leg-side fields. But the true effect of it can be seen in another far more stat: 36 out of Australia’s 68 dismissals were either bowled, lbw or caught on the leg-side.
It’s a tactic India tried to execute from as far back as January last year, during a three-ODI series in India. In the series-decider in Bengaluru, Mohammed Shami and Navdeep Saini were tasked with the challenge of attacking Smith’s body with a leg slip in place. For a batter part of that contest, Smith looked ungainly.
He was beaten for pace while trying to get inside the line, and when he did eventually manage to take them on, the timing was elusive. While Smith went on to make a century there, it wasn’t high on the fluency charts. By the end of it, India’s think tank may have seen enough of the plan to believe they had something to work with going forward.
“Ravi called and said, ‘I want you to make a plan where we eliminate the offside for the Australians.’ Then we sat and planned the whole thing,” Arun said. “We said we’re going to attack them with straighter lines and have on-side fields for batsmen. The thought process started in July and when we had discussion with Virat [Kohli], he bought into the theory. We employed it in Adelaide and Ajinkya [Rahane] was magnificent [in his use of the plan] in Melbourne onwards and the bowlers responded beautifully.”
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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