Jos Buttler has hailed Joe Root’s performances in the last two Tests in Sri Lanka as “a masterclass”, and believes that everyone in the England squad – not to mention those watching back home – can learn from his example after a superb display of technical and physical prowess in Galle.
Root was unluckily run out by a direct hit from short leg off the final ball of the third day’s play for 186, his second hundred in consecutive Tests after making a match-winning 228 in last week’s series opener at the same venue. And Buttler, who was England’s next-highest scorer with 55 in a fifth-wicket stand of 97, was confident that the captain’s example would rub off on his dressing room, as they build towards both the climax of this match, and the forthcoming four-Test series in India.
“It was a quite amazing innings,” Buttler said. “To back up his double-hundred in the first Test, both physically and mentally, and to show the application to go and do it again. Today it’s been a masterclass in batting against spin, and it has been a great education for all of us, watching from the sidelines. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching him and we’re gutted for him to get out in that fashion at the end of the day.”
Nevertheless, the gulf between Root’s performances in this series and the rest of the England batting line-up has been stark – aside from Buttler, only Dan Lawrence with 73 in the first Test has so far passed fifty, and in England’s first innings of this match, Lawrence was one of three top-order batsman to fall in single figures to the left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya – alongside the openers, Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, who have made 28 runs in six innings between them.
But Buttler insisted that the work that all the players were putting in, plus the lessons that they could glean from watching a batsman such as Root at the top of his game, could still stand them in good stead for the rest of the winter.
“Not just young players but older players and people watching from home can learn a lot from watching Joe Root bat against spin,” he said. “The dressing room is right behind those guys, it’s only a couple of innings and starting against spin is a different proposition.
“They are putting in an immense amount of work in the nets and it’s important those guys continue to trust their game. Once you get through that initial period it does change and become more comfortable. We’ve seen in both sides, once you get in, there are runs to be had on these surfaces. Those boys are working hard and everyone is right behind them. I’m sure everything clicking is just around the corner.”
A focus on conditioning, Buttler added, had been a significant part of Root’s durability in the first two Tests – particularly given the sapping heat of Galle – and he praised the efforts of England’s nutritionist, Emma Gardner, who has been present in Sri Lanka to help the team with their preparations.
“Sri Lanka is as challenging conditions as we face,” Buttler said. “So, again, that just adds to the magnitude of the efforts of Rooty’s innings, really. For the eight days of cricket so far, he’s been pretty much on the field. It seems a lot hotter, a lot more draining, than the first game, which had rain breaks as well, so we have to not just praise the tactical and technical aspects of his game, but the physicality and concentration to apply himself for so long.
“Fuelling correctly is a big part of that,” Buttler added. “We are very lucky that Emma [Gardner], our nutritionist, is out here and she’s brilliant at getting the right information to people about what they need to eat and drink; what things they need to take on and when.
“That’s been a big part of the performance so far and a great help for everyone to have her here guiding that side of things. We know the effects it can have on performance.”
Asked if Root’s motivation had been redoubled by a relatively lean 2020, in which he failed to make a Test hundred for the first full year of his career, Buttler acknowledged that he had seemed especially determined during their brief warm-up phase in Hambantota.
“You can talk about his under-performing, but it’s pretty good for others,” Buttler said. “He certainly sits at the top table of cricketers in the world, and the standards he sets himself and drives on to achieve is what makes him so good.
“That hunger to back up a double in the first game, to go and score another massive hundred, just shows where he is at with his game. Knowing how much he loves batting, having not been able to bat for a while and with the ODI tour in South Africa getting cancelled, he looks hungry in the middle.”
England will link up with significant reinforcements when they depart for India on January 27, ahead of the first Test in Chennai on February 5. On Sunday morning, the three absentees in Sri Lanka – Ben Stokes, Rory Burns and Jofra Archer – all touched down in India, where they will undergo six days of quarantine – with the prospect of individual gym work from day three onwards – before commencing full training next Saturday, five days out from the start of the series.
Buttler himself, however, will be heading in the other direction after the first Test. He has been rested for the final three Tests of the India tour, given his importance to England’s white-ball fortunes, with the five T20Is and three ODIs against India in March replicating the conditions that England can expect to face in the T20 World Cup at the end of the year.
“Like most people, there have been discussions with the selectors and the coaches, because it’s important to try and find gaps,” Buttler said. “No one wants to miss games but the ECB are looking after player welfare in such a strange time with the pandemic, and in such a busy calendar for English cricket. This year is important so that’s why.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket
Channel Seven entitled to tiny rights discount, arbitrator finds, amid Cricket Australia dispute
A strong season of ratings for the Australia-India series and BBL appears to have weakened the position of the free-to-air network
Seven West Media are entitled to a broadcast rights fee discount of as little as A$5 million from Cricket Australia due to changes in the schedule due to Covid-19, according to the independent arbitrator demanded by the free-to-air network.
In a draft outcome understood to have been delivered to the warring parties on Tuesday night, the arbitrator Justin Jameson, of Venture Consulting, concluded that Seven should get only a tiny portion of the A$70 million reduction the debt-laden network had been chasing. The figure would rise to around A$8 million if the rescheduled Test match between Australia and Afghanistan does not go ahead next summer prior to the Ashes.
While Jameson’s formal finding is still to be tabled, the heads-up was a source of some relief to CA, after an ugly and protracted campaign by Seven for massive cuts to their A$82 million-a-year share of the A$1.18 billion deal signed alongside Foxtel in April 2018.
Led by their chief executive James Warburton, Seven have mounted all manner of arguments for a greater discount, from complaints about the quality of the BBL to allegations of a vast conspiracy between CA, the BCCI and Foxtel to move this summer’s limited-overs fixtures from January to November.
Seven had embarked upon ambitious cost-cutting campaigns last year, designed in part to raise the long-sinking stock price of Seven West Media. Cricket’s presence appears to have helped lift the network’s value significantly over summer: shares valued at just 13 cents in October are now trading at a relatively princely 54 cents – Seven’s highest share price since 2018.
Ironically, the finding for an A$5 million discount to Seven’s fee would give it significantly less of a saving than the A$20 million believed to have been handed to Foxtel last year, an effective reduction of A$5 million a season for the remainder of the rights deal. CA has attempted to avoid slinging public mud back at Seven, particularly as the two organisations continued their operational relationship during the international and BBL schedules, but there has undoubtedly been a corrosive effect on relationships.
The dispute reached arguably its lowest point in November, when Seven lodged a legal affidavit as part of “pre-discovery” action aimed at targeting schedule changes as being the result of convenience for India, CA and Foxtel rather than Covid-19. Private exchanges between CA’s head of commercial and broadcast, Steph Beltrame, and Seven’s head of sport Lewis Martin, were printed in the document and widely reported.
That court action remains in play, although it remains to be seen how Seven’s multibillionaire chairman Kerry Stokes reacts to the underwhelming outcome of Warburton’s push for independent arbitration.
Either way, the successful completion of the international home schedule, with vastly improved audiences for both Seven and Fox Cricket relative to India’s previous visit in 2018-19, plus the staging of the BBL in its entirety, left the free-to-air network’s protests largely in the realm of impressions and assertions rather than legally binding volumes of content.
“With so much positivity around Australian cricket, it is disappointing that Seven West Media has again chosen to use the media to talk our wonderful game down,” CA’s acting chief executive Nick Hockley said in November after the affidavit’s release. “CA has maintained all along our commitment to delivering a thrilling summer of cricket and on behalf of all involved, be that governments, partners, players and staff, I’m proud to say we are doing just that. We remain confident in our contractual position.
“We continue to have tremendous respect for the hardworking people across Channel 7’s cricket and news broadcast teams and congratulate them on the substantial increase in ratings cricket has delivered them to date this season. We have, and will continue to, fulfil our obligations to our partners and supporters by scheduling a brilliant summer of cricket, despite the cost and complexity of doing so given the current public health situation.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
Hannah Darlington’s Australia call-up – ‘Everyday I’m pinching myself that this is happening’
The pace bowler’s career already has strong links to New Zealand and it could be the scene of her international debut
New Zealand has already played a significant part in Hannah Darlington‘s cricket journey. Two years ago she toured with the Australia Under-19 squad and last season played for Otago in the Super Smash, her performances helping her secure a state contract with New South Wales.
Now it could be the scene of her international debut after being named in Australia’s squad for the ODI and T20I tour next month. Darlington, who has been a star of the last two WBBL seasons with Sydney Thunder, is one of two uncapped players on the trip alongside Darcie Brown, the Adelaide Strikers and South Australia quick, who was her roommate on the U-19 tour.
Darlington was named the female young cricketer of the year earlier this month after a WBBL campaign with the Thunder that brought 19 at 13.68 and economy rate of 6.19 for the champions. That followed 16 wickets in the previous season, although after that she was overlooked for New South Wales Breakers which is how she found herself back in New Zealand.
She took 13 wickets for Otago, with an economy rate of 5.75, and on returning to Australia was selected by NSW then during the off-season earned a full contract. This summer she was named vice-captain, although the plan for her to potentially lead the side when Alyssa Healy departed on tour will now have to shelved with her on the same flight.
“I’m pretty shocked at the moment, it hasn’t sunk in yet and not sure when it will,” she said. “To think I was struggling to get a run in the Thunder squad, couldn’t get a contract with the NSW Breakers last year, it was a tough couple of months to bounce back. After putting in that hard work I can now sit back and think it was all worth it. Everyday I’m pinching myself that this is happening.
“[Otago] came up because I wasn’t going to be in the Breakers squad so to be able to go across and get a bit of experience in New Zealand in another T20 competition, after the success I’d had in the Big Bash was a no-brainer. I wasn’t even 18 and living by myself and traveling so probably one of the best experiences I’ve had.”
When the call came from selector Shawn Flegler, Darlington was in the middle of a bike session in the gym and after getting the good news gave herself 15 minutes to take it all in and call her family before resuming training and trying not to let the news slip out.
“It was a really nice phonecall, I’ve have had a lot to do with Flegs in the under-age pathway,” she said. “I’ve had a few calls from him but wasn’t sure if this would be the one that [says] you are a reserve or not selected, but to get the news I was in the squad was special.”
Flegler has said that Darlington’s selection is primarily with an eye on the T20s – the format where she has excelled – as Australia start to have one eye on the future following last year’s T20 World Cup victory on home soil.
Darlington, who would be the third Indigenous female player for Australia if she debuted, is still learning the ropes in the 50-over game but believes her skills are transferable and is eager to soak up as much as she can from the senior bowlers.
“As a bowler you have a lot more time and think that’s something I’m getting used to,” she said. “I’ve had five games for the Breakers now and finding my way with that format. Finding myself comfortable with a bit of a middle-overs role and at the death which is similar to what I do in Big Bash. It’s still quite fresh and probably something I can take away from this tour is learning off how those girls go about bowling in 50-over cricket
“It will be a massive experience allround, it’s a dream come true to have them as team-mates. Weird to think a couple of years ago I was a kid watching the Australian team and hoping to even meet them one day, but to be playing alongside is a real dream.”
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
Sri Lanka’s Upul Tharanga retires from international cricket
Former batsman ends his career with the fifth-most centuries for Sri Lanka in one-day cricket
Sri Lankan batsman Upul Tharanga has announced his retirement from international cricket at the age of 36.
Having made his debut in August 2005, Tharanga last turned out for Sri Lanka in an ODI in South Africa in March 2019. He played his final T20I in March the previous year and his last Test in August 2017.
Over the course of his career, Tharanga has captained Sri Lanka’s limited-overs sides several times, first taking up the role in November 2016 in an ODI series against Zimbabwe. Months later he would also take over the reigns of the T20I side for a tour of Australia. Unfortunately for Tharanga, his captaincy coincided with a lean period in Sri Lankan cricket, and he suffered the ignominy of captaining his side to three 5-0 whitewashes in 2017.
Tharanga’s failed captaincy stint somewhat soured what had been an overall impressive period with the national side. While his Test and T20I careers underwhelmed, his ODI record is among the best in Sri Lanka’s history. His 15 one-day hundreds are the fifth-most by a Sri Lankan batsman, while his performances in the 2011 World Cup played a major role in the run to the final. Opening the batting, his 395 runs in the tournament came at 56.42 and included two centuries.
Fans will also remember fondly his role in setting a then-world record for an opening partnership, plundering 286 runs off just 201 deliveries alongside side Sanath Jayasuriya against England at Leeds in 2006.
Tharanga finishes his career having played 31 Tests, 235 ODIs and 26 T20Is. His 1754 Test runs came at an average of 31.89 and included three centuries and eight fifties. It was in limited overs cricket though that Tharanga came into his own, scoring 6951 runs at 33.74 in ODIs, inclusive of 15 centuries and 37 fifties. While he had shown flourishes in the domestic T20 circuit, that form never really carried into his brief T20I career, in which he averaged 16.28.
“As the good old saying goes ‘all good things must come to an end’, I believe it is time for me to bid farewell to my International Cricket Career after over 15 years of giving the game my all,” Tharanga said in a statement.
“I leave behind a road traveled with fond memories and great friendships. I am thankful to Sri Lanka Cricket for always having faith and the trust vested in me. I am grateful to the many cricket loving fans, friends and my family for standing by me during my highest of highs and even at my lowest points in my career. Your well-wishes and messages of encouragement was easily the drive behind my ambition. For that I thank you all, and I wish you well.
“I would like to wish Sri Lanka Cricket all the very best for the future and I am hopeful that the team will bounce back strong soon.”
Sri Lanka Cricket, in media release, paid tribute to Tharanga’s “tremendous service” to the team.
“Upul Tharanga has done a tremendous service as a player to Sri Lanka Cricket during his long career and has been an integral part of the National Team during its many achievements,” Sri Lanka Cricket CEO Ashley De Silva said.
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