One of the most famous sporting victories of recent history was the curse-breaking campaign of the 2016 Chicago Cubs to win the Major League baseball club’s first World Series in more than a century. It was built largely upon a formula of marrying up a young and dynamic batting and fielding line-up to a seasoned and powerful pitching roster: young hitters, old pitchers.
That formula is not a million miles from the one that New South Wales will take into this week’s Sheffield Shield final. The success or otherwise of the approach will likely give pause to other states at a time when Australian cricket is looking ever more fervently for a fresh batting generation to replenish the huge gaps likely to be left by the likes of David Warner and Steven Smith in coming years.
It was only a matter of weeks ago that Mark Taylor, the former Australian captain and longtime New South Wales and Cricket Australia board director, raised alarms about what he perceived to be a lack of batting talent coming through in the nation’s most populous state. “It would mean our Test side just won’t be as good, there’s no doubt about that,” Taylor told the Sydney Morning Herald. “The way the numbers in Australia stack up, it’s the responsibility of the two big states to produce their share. If they don’t, chances are Australian cricket will struggle.”
Based on the look of the batting order selected for a humiliating Shield defeat to Tasmania, in which the Blues were shot out for 32, Taylor might have had some valid queries: of the top seven, only the recently recalled Jason Sangha was under the age of 25, and none of Daniel Hughes (32), Nick Larkin (30), Daniel Solway (25) or captain Peter Nevill (35) were anywhere near Australian calculations. Of the group, only Kurtis Patterson could realistically have ambitions for the Test team, and faint ones at that based on recent returns.
Taylor’s assertions were met with an unusual level of umbrage from within the state system, not so much for what he had observed at Shield level but for what has been steadily bubbling underneath. There is a wellspring of batting promise among young cricketers in New South Wales, the counter-argument went, they just haven’t been picked yet.
Perhaps, then, the Tasmanian humiliation and Taylor’s response were necessary evils for the Blues. As much as Larkin and Solway had earned their chances through steady accumulation at grade level, they also struggled to become consistently high scorers for their state, something that Hughes had at least managed to achieve. At the same time, Nevill’s decision to withdraw from the remainder of the Shield to be present for the birth of his first child, and Moises Henriques’ IPL deal, created additional spots for youth.
The young Blues batters will take the field in the knowledge that the bowling attack alongside them, likely to feature Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Trent Copeland and Sean Abbott, is extremely well versed at pressuring opponents with the benefit of runs on the board
The New South Wales selectors had already shown some degree of interest in the future arc of the national team by elevating Pat Cummins to the domestic limited-overs captaincy ahead of Smith. It was a call effectively indicating their preference for who they would like to see named national captain whenever the time comes for Tim Paine to surrender his post – most likely after next summer’s Ashes series, as commentary roles and the release of a memoir await him.
At the same time, the Tasmania defeat forced a pivot to a far more less experienced batting line-up for the final Shield game against Queensland with a place in the final still to secure. Out went Larkin, Solway and Nevill; in came Matthew Gilkes, Jack Edwards, Lachlan Hearne and Baxter Holt as wicketkeeper. Of this group, Edwards (to turn 21 on the final day of the final) has already been heavily invested in, while Hearne (20) and Holt (21) have been growing ever more impatient for chances to show their wares.
In Wollongong, Gilkes, Edwards, Hearne and Holt all showed signs of promise, while Sangha responded to greater seniority in the line-up by composing arguably the best century of his young career. The Blues might still have faded to defeat at the hands of Mitchell Swepson if not for a rain-ruined final day of the game, but they at least go into the competition decider with a few more first-innings runs behind them against essentially the same bowling attack they must face again.
In between Shield games, of course, 20-year-old Edwards sculpted a century of his own on the domestic limited-overs final at Bankstown to guide the Blues to a 12th one-day title, and will now hope to emulate the feat in the long-form final. The young Blues batters will take the field in the knowledge that the bowling attack alongside them, likely to feature Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Trent Copeland and Sean Abbott, is extremely well versed at pressuring opponents with the benefit of runs on the board.
Queensland have much the more travelled batting line-up of the two sides, featuring no less than four Test players in Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Matt Renshaw and the captain Usman Khawaja. But it is the performances of young bats in Shield finals that the selectors will be looking most keenly for – think of Justin Langer in 1992, Michael Bevan in 1994, Adam Gilchrist in 1996 or Andrew Symonds and Simon Katich in 1999, all preludes to substantial international careers.
“We’ve got so much talent in our batting ranks, so pleasing to see Jack do what he did the other day, to see the way Matt Gilkes and Jason Sangha played the last Shield game against these guys,” Patterson said. “That’ll give them the world of confidence going into this game. It’s certainly on myself and Dan Hughes as the two older guys in the group to make sure we do our part and play our roles, but while those other guys are young, most of them have enough experience now and they’ve got a lot of confidence in their games.”
So the balance of the New South Wales side for the Shield final might have been a case of circumstances as much as design, but it has at least provided the game’s decision-makers with some new talents to assess on the biggest stage short of a Test match. It has also followed, if loosely, the formula of those drought-breaking Chicago Cubs.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
Bangladesh cricket – Former BCB president Kamal Ziaul Islam dies aged 86
During his term – 1983 to 1987 – he made the important contribution of introducing Bangladesh’s first school-cricket competition
Former BCB president Kamal Ziaul Islam, popularly known as KZ Islam, has died in Dhaka. He was 86.
Islam was the president of the board, then known as the BCCB, between 1983 and 1987. During his term, he made the important contribution of introducing the country’s first school-cricket competition. He funded the tournament through his company, Nirman International Ltd, which gave it its name: the Nirman School Cricket Tournament.
The competition moulded many top-class cricketers – Habibul Bashar, Khaled Mahmud and Javed Omar emerged from its first batch. Islam also set up the Nirman XI cricket team in the Dhaka league, which was promoted up to the List A Dhaka Premier League in the early 1990s. At one time, Islam hired Northamptonshire’s Alan Fordham as player-coach of the Nirman side, and even arranged a private England tour for the team’s young players.
For many generations since the mid-1980s, the Nirman school competition regularly produced cricketers who would progress to the Dhaka leagues, and later the national team. Even Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim played this school cricket, though they came through the BCB’s system. The Nirman tournament is the precursor to the BCB’s game development programme.
BCB president Nazmul Hassan praised Islam for his vision at a time when cricket wasn’t even a professional sport in the country. “He was a pioneer and Bangladesh cricket will forever be grateful to him for his vision and belief,” Hassan said.
“He patronised and encouraged age-group cricket with the Nirman school tournament during a period when the game was far from being a professional sport. Because of resourceful personalities like him so many budding players could dream of becoming cricketers and cricket reached every corner of the country.”
As a mark of respect, the BCB flag will fly at half-mast on Tuesday.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
The Hundred – BCCI grants NOCs to four India players
ESPNcricinfo understands that the Indian board has already sent ECB the NOCs
The BCCI has granted four India Women players No Objection Certificates (NOCs) for their participation in the inaugural Hundred, the eight-team tournament which starts on July 21.
ESPNcricinfo understands that the Indian board has already sent the ECB the NOCs and the official announcement regarding the four contracted players comprising the Indian contingent is likely to made by the franchises soon.
The Indian players with the Hundred contracts will extend their stay in the UK following the completion of India’s multi multi-format assignment against hosts England which begins with a one-off Test on Bristol on June 16 and concludes with the third and final T20I on July 15. A three-match ODI series is also slotted in between.
Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, and Deepti Sharma made up the Indian contingent at the now-defunct Kia Super League (KSL), the ECB’s domestic T20 tournament that made way for the Women’s Hundred.
During India’s home series against South Africa in March, India T20I vice-captain Mandhana, who represented the Western Storm in the 2018 and 2019 seasons of the KSL, had confirmed that the ECB and the BCCI had been in touch regarding the NOCs.
The Hundred, which was postponed last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will kick off with the women’s match between the Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals in London before their respective men’s sides meet the following day.
With no player draft for the women, teams are selected by their respective head coaches. Players with contracts for 2020 were given the option to roll them over to 2021 at the same salary band, or to negotiate with other teams. Teams can sign a maximum of three players with England central contracts, and have until June 2021 to finalise their squads.
Some of the big names in the tournament include Sophie Devine (Birmingham Phoenix), Deandra Dottin (London Spirit), Marizanne Kapp (Oval Invincibles), Meg Lanning (Welsh Fire).
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha
IPL 2021 – Amid Covid concern, IPL may shift entirely to Mumbai
BCCI is believed to be working on a plan that will minimize risks, especially in travel
As Covid-19 cases emerge within the IPL, ESPNcricinfo understands the BCCI is looking at minimising risks and moving the rest of the tournament to Mumbai. If the plan is executed, the IPL could be shifted to Mumbai as early as this weekend.
This will necessitate a rejigged tournament schedule, with multiple double headers. There is also a likelihood of the IPL final being moved from May 30 to early June.
The biggest challenge for the BCCI in making its Mumbai plan work is to create the IPL bubble, which mainly entails finding hotels for the eight teams to be housed in and preparing the stadia. Luckily, in terms of match fitness, all the three key grounds in Mumbai – Wankhede, DY Patil and Brabourne – were utilised during the first leg of the IPL in April.
While the Wankhede hosted 10 IPL matches, the other two grounds, and the Mumbai Cricket Association’s ground in the Bandra-Kurla Complex, were used by various teams for training purposes.
It is understood that the BCCI team made calls on Monday to various big hotels in Mumbai to verify if they were capable of satisfying the various SOPs needed to create a team bubble. No BCCI and IPL official was available for a comment. Franchises, too, have not heard of the plan formally, but some say they will not be surprised if the Mumbai plan was acted on.
It would mean ditching the two-venue caravan model and reverting to the BCCI’s original plan, when it was working out the IPL schedule, of having Mumbai as the hub. The schedule eventually released, on March 7, had six venues – Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. Chennai and Mumbai hosted the first leg while the second leg is being played currently in Ahmedabad and Delhi.
The IPL’s next stage is meant to be in Bengaluru and Kolkata, from next week. However, with India being enveloped by a second wave of the pandemic and the first cases emerging of the IPL bubble being breached, franchises, players and even some within the BCCI remain concerned about the pitfalls involved in travelling.
When the IPL began, Mumbai was the worst-affected metro in India, with almost 10,000 new cases every day. It is now acknowledged that a corner has been turned in this respect – Monday’s case count was 2,662, the lowest daily tally since March 17. It was a steep drop from a month ago – 11,163 covid-19 cases on April 4, the highest-ever number in the pandemic.
The impact on the WTC final
If the IPL is stretched beyond May 30, it is bound to potentially have an impact on the World Test Championship final, between India and New Zealand in Southampton from June 18-22. With the UK recently blocking travel from India, the ICC, the WTC host, is currently negotiating quarantine norms and exemptions with the British government for the members of both teams who are currently playing in the IPL.
One BCCI official, though, pointed out that moving the IPL to Mumbai could offer the advantage of the Indian and New Zealand players flying direct to England instead of the potential two-leg journey if the IPL final were to be played in Ahmedabad, as scheduled.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo
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