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Pakistan in South Africa – Misbah-ul-Haq forced to defend Sharjeel Khan selection, insists fitness not compromised

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The left-handed opener has been picked for the T20I leg of the South Africa and Zimbabwe tours

Pressure is mounting on the Pakistan management, with head coach Misbah-ul-Haq in the firing line this time. He has maintained that fitness standards will not be compromised on for anyone looking to work their way into the national side, insisting that Sharjeel Khan‘s selection isn’t a compromise on fitness but a player picked with everyone’s consent.

Since the changing of the chief selector, fitness has been downgraded as a criterion for picking players, allowing Sharjeel and Azam Khan most notably to come into contention. The previous head coach Mickey Arthur had an uncompromising view on fitness standards and what they meant for a player’s selection, but those have become less of a priority over the past few years. The fitness parameters are clearly mandated in players’ contracts, and the head coach insisted they were not being done away with or eroded.

“We are not bringing the standards of fitness down,” Misbah said during a virtual press conference a day before leaving for South Africa. “We have had detailed discussions about it with all trainers and National High-performance center coaches. Certain targets to players can be customised, such as whether they are overweight, their fat level, endurance level – we will simplify it but we will not lower the standards. We will look at ground fitness and match fitness. It’s not like if before we had a benchmark of 18 in the yo-yo test that we will bring it down to 15 or 14. That’s not happening.

“There was great discussion on him and his role in the team. How we will bring him in fitness and his on-field performance and standards of our fitness. We were in agreement that we will plan and allocate the time he is with us. We got everyone to play domestic cricket and it was a busy and tough year all around with Covid-19. But now we have time and hopefully, you will see that his fitness will get better. Otherwise, we have an understanding with National High-Performance Centre that if there are issues around certain players’ fitness, they be referred to the HPC so that both skills and fitness level can be worked upon simultaneously.”



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The Hundred – Players and staff told to avoid shops and pubs to mitigate Covid-19 risks

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They will not be confined to hotels, but have been asked to avoid areas where the risk of infection is high

Players and staff involved in the inaugural season of the Hundred have been encouraged to avoid shops, pubs and restaurants during the competition as the ECB hope to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 sweeping through entire teams.

The UK is due to relax its remaining Covid restrictions on July 19, two days before the start of the Hundred, but Public Health England provisions surrounding cases – which require the close contacts of a person who tested positive to self-isolate for 10 days – will continue until August 16, two days before the end of the tournament’s group stage.



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Match Preview – Sri Lanka vs India, India tour of Sri Lanka 2021, 1st ODI

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The home side have the advantage of game-time, but are coming into the series on the back of off-field turmoil

Big Picture

And now, some cricket.

Since last year, scheduling has become a challenge unlike any other period. It rubbed off on this series too, which was to begin much earlier this week, and the players will be relieved to take the field. None more so than the Sri Lankan players, who have not only had to deal with the pressure of bubbles and positive tests, but also the additional burden of off-field drama. Questions of player compensation, continuity, leadership, communication, administration – even the idea that the existence of this series is an insult – have combined to form a vicious dark cloud that will hang over their heads throughout the duration of India’s tour. Most of that will fade once they step onto the field, hopefully, and it is an escape Sri Lanka will be craving.

On the flipside is a team that will give them something else to think about. India’s second-string side is more experienced, more settled, and has names that are desperate to impress inside a system that has produced India’s deepest roster ever. There are many sub-plots waiting to be played out within this team – openers knocking on the first team’s door, wicketkeepers who are battling for backup spots, spinners looking to prove they aren’t done, and others eager to show they are capable beyond the IPL.

The one thing in Sri Lanka’s favour is recent game time, but India start as favourites.

Form guide

Sri Lanka (completed matches, most recent first) LLWLL

India WLWWL

In the spotlight

Dasun Shanaka was a key figure during the contracts standoff in Sri Lanka; more precisely, he is believed to be among those players who precipitated the end of the standoff, by agreeing to sign the tour contracts to play against India. The man he replaces as captain, Kusal Perera, was at the opposite end of that standoff, and Shanaka’s emergence is understood to have created disunity in the team. That will make his new job as captain substantially harder, and there will be eyes on him.
It is no secret that the Indian management is desperate to make Prithvi Shaw a central figure across formats for the decade to come. Despite his prodigious talent and a bright start to his international career, Shaw’s time with India has been a wobbly series of ins and outs. With the relative calm and distance away from the main team, Shaw will be looking to capitalise on his recent form – remember, he made four centuries in eight Vijay Hazare Trophy matches this year – and use the certainty of a spot to erase some doubts.

Team news

With Kusal Perera out injured, the immediate hole Sri Lanka have to fill is in their opening slot. Minod Bhanuka is expected to fill in as wicketkeeper, and Bhanuka Rajapaksa is likely to slot in alongside Dhananjaya de Silva and Dasun Shanaka in the middle order. Fast bowler Kasun Rajitha is back in the squad after injury, and should make it to an XI that will likely have spinners of all varieties.

Sri Lanka: (possible) 1 Avishka Fernando, 2 Pathum Nissanka, 3 Minod Bhanuka (wk), 4 Dhananjaya de Silva, 5 Bhanuka Rajapaksa, 6 Dasun Shanaka (capt.), 7 Wanindu Hasaranga, 8 Isuru Udana, 9 Lakshan Sandakan, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Kasun Rajitha.

As had been the case since Hardik Pandya’s emergence as India’s foremost allrounder, the composition will depend largely on his ability to bowl. The word from within the camp is that he has been bowling, and with him as a third seaming option, India will be tempted to play three spinners. Bhuvneshwar Kumar will lead the attack and Yuzvendra Chahal is all but confirmed to play after being told he is the senior spinner on this tour.

India: (possible) 1 Shikhar Dhawan (capt.), 2 Prithvi Shaw, 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Ishan Kishan (wk), 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Navdeep Saini/Deepak Chahar, 10 Kuldeep Yadav/Varun Chakravarthy/Rahul Chahar, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal.

Pitch and conditions

The R Premadasa Stadium last hosted ODIs in 2019, and was a characteristically high scoring ground. That should stay as it is, at least for the first few games on this tour. The temperatures aren’t expected to get high, but the humidity will be prevalent and there is a reasonable chance of rain.

Stats and trivia

  • India last played an ODI in Sri Lanka in 2017 and haven’t lost an ODI there since July 24, 2012.
  • On India’s last tour to Sri Lanka, Akila Dananjaya took his career-best figures of 6 for 29.
  • Shikhar Dhawan is 23 away from 6000 ODI runs.
  • Quotes

    “These are talented youngsters, who’ve done well for their respective IPL teams. I don’t think they need much guidance. I talk to them if they need something. We never try to complicate things. We have Rahul Dravid [head coach] with us here and he’s guiding them well. Being a senior player, talking to them is not rocket science.”

    Bhuvneshwar Kumar says there isn’t an air of this being an inexperienced Indian squad.

    Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo



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    Recurrence of ACL injury rules Aneurin Donald out of 2021 season

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    The same injury made him miss the whole of Hampshire’s 2020 season

    Aneurin Donald has been ruled out for a second consecutive summer after a recurrence of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury which saw him miss the whole of Hampshire’s 2020 season.

    Donald, 24, joined Hampshire from Glamorgan in August 2018 citing his desire to play international cricket and had a strong first full season with the club, scoring 554 County Championship runs at 39.57 and making 203 T20 Blast runs while striking at 138.09.

    But he suffered an ACL injury in December 2019 which required surgery, ruling him out for the whole of the 2020 summer, and reported a knee twist during an intra-squad match in March which has required further reconstructive surgery.

    The news is a significant blow to Donald’s career. Aged 19, he equalled the record for the fastest double-hundred in first-class cricket by hitting 234 off 136 balls against Derbyshire at Colwyn Bay, and he had shown flashes of brilliance in white-ball cricket as a top-order batter. James Clegg, Hampshire’s head of sports science and medicine, said that he was “absolutely confident” that Donald would be able to resume his career in 2022 despite another setback.

    “Most ACL failures occur when a new unstable episode disrupts the repaired ligament graft,” Clegg said. “In Aneurin’s case, the scans showed that his repaired graft was slowly failing – ultimately you rely on the harvested graft tissue repairing and being able to withstand the demands cricket places on it.

    “It is really unfortunate Aneurin finds himself back in an ACL rehabilitation programme and these are inevitably long, drawn-out processes but he is the model professional and continues to go above and beyond. Whilst he now unfortunately faces a significant spell on the sidelines, we are targeting a full return to play in 2022 and are absolutely confident Aneurin will return despite this setback.”

    “I’m devastated to be back on the sidelines following my reinjury,” Donald said. “It’s certainly a tough pill to swallow after such a long rehabilitation process that led to me being back in a position to feature on the pitch at the start of this pre-season.

    “Unfortunately, after trying to continue without a functioning ACL, a scan showing a tear in my meniscus a few weeks later finally led to surgery being the only remaining option. Fortunately, with thanks to Andy Williams and his team at the Fortius Clinic, my second surgery was a success, and I have already begun to dive into the rehabilitation process once again with a full recovery fully expected.”

    Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98



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