These were circumstances that, ordinarily, make cricketers question their life choices. A biting, blustery day on the South Coast, with a ragged wind harassing the bowlers in their run-ups and the batters in their stances. The first-team squad went through their paces for a while in the nets behind the square, but not a soul in the flats overlooking the 1st Central County Ground bothered to poke their heads out to observe the twos going about their business – Sussex versus Surrey in the Second XI County Championship.
The sun made infrequent appearances, but only of the “look what you could have won” variety. Slip fielders stood stiff-limbed in the cordon, hands jammed deep into pockets, When people talk of four-day cricket being pushed to the margins of the summer, these are the clichéd conditions that the mind’s eye conjures up.
And yet, these were also the conditions in which one of the most sought-after cricketers on the planet was making his comeback from injury. For a man who spends most of his professional life on the road – or, in the current climate, in hotel-rooms of varying degrees of solitude – home, aka Hove, is most definitely where Jofra Archer’s heart is.
As if to prove the point, Archer’s sea-front flat – a short stroll from the ground – has featured in the headlines more often than most sportsmen’s homes in recent months, firstly due to his unsanctioned detour during last summer’s West Indies series, which caused him to miss the second Test at Emirates Old Trafford, and latterly due to the infamous fish-tank incident in January which left a shard of glass embedded in his right middle finger.
And now Hove is where Archer has been undergoing his rehab in recent weeks, after a recurrence of his right elbow problems caused his withdrawal from this year’s IPL. But given the news that broke shortly before the start of play on Tuesday, you suspect that Archer might have been quietly grateful for an excuse to duck out of the unfolding drama in India, for all that he professes his loyalty to the tournament that has played such a significant role in his career.
Had it not been for the decision, taken late last month, to withdraw Archer from the entirety of this year’s IPL, he would almost certainly have been caught in the maelstrom this week – effectively swapping an eight-day quarantine period on arrival in Delhi for a further ten days’ isolation back in the UK, with maybe not even a solitary outing for Rajasthan Royals in between whiles, now that the tournament’s bubble has burst and the players are scattering (with varying degrees of difficulty) for home.
Archer was visibly fed up of the bio-secure lifestyle during England’s tour of India earlier this year – no player spent longer in hotel rooms that his 90-plus days during last summer’s contests in Southampton and Manchester, while he’s also had stints in South Africa in December (albeit truncated due to another bubble breach) and in the UAE at the last IPL in November, where he was named the tournament’s MVP for his haul of 20 wickets at an economy rate of 6.55.
Instead, his injury has given him a chance to take stock, and build back into his workload, with two spells a day in the nets under the regular scrutiny of Jon Lewis, England’s bowling coach, and Craig de Weymarn, the physio. Writing in the Daily Mail this week, Archer reckoned he was already back to bowling at full pace after starting his comeback at 60-70 percent. Surrey’s reserves will find out soon enough quite how accurate that claim actually is.
For the first day of action, however, Archer was made to play the waiting game. It was 70 overs before he got his first taste of action with the bat – almost enough time to complete an IPL double-header – as Sussex’s innings was carried first by Marcus Campopiano, an alumnus of the nearby Hurstpierpoint College, who set the day’s platform with 66 from 99 balls, and latterly by Oliver Carter, a 19-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman, who belied a previous highest 2nd XI score of 15 with a fluent and compact 110, studded with 14 fours and a pulled six behind square off Conor McKerr.
Archer’s innings, when it finally got underway at the fall of the sixth wicket in the early afternoon, proved to be a perfect paint-by-numbers amalgam of white-ball flamboyance and exaggeratedly dour red-ball dead-batting. His 46-ball 35 including three fours and two sixes – both of them heaved over the short square boundary – and he was dropped twice in an over too, including a flying edge at second slip that brought him out in a sheepish grin as he jogged through for a bonus single off McKerr.
His luck ran out at the third time of asking, however, as Laurie Evans at gully swallowed an open-faced steer off the seamer James Taylor, and Archer trooped back to the pavilion, followed not long afterwards by the second cloud-burst of the day.
As prologues go, it was a promising exhibition from a player easing his way back to match fitness. Archer’s levers certainly seemed to be functioning without inhibition, as he extended his elbows into a brace of fierce drives over long-off against the spin of Will Jacks, and if he perhaps seems a touch more inhibited than he had been in his previous appearance for Sussex’s second XI – when he took six wickets and smashed 108 from 99 balls against Gloucestershire at Woodmancote in 2019 – then he’s also got a longer lead-in before his next big date with destiny.
Back then, he had just a week to get himself ramped up for his Test debut against Australia at Lord’s. The same venue awaits this year as well, but with New Zealand’s visit getting underway on June 2, Archer’s still got licence to take it slowly as he returns to the fast lane.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
IPL 2021 – Delhi Capitals
He tested positive on two consecutive tests, and has been moved to a designated medical care facility
Delhi Capitals’ Amit Mishra has become the fourth cricketer to be confirmed as Covid positive since Monday, and takes the overall tally to seven known cases in the now-postponed IPL 2021. Mishra tested positive in two consecutive tests, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, and is the only player from the franchise who is currently positive.
“He has been moved to a designated medical care facility, as per BCCI & IPL guidelines. The Delhi Capitals medical team is in constant touch with Mishra, and ensuring his safety and well-being. We wish him a speedy recovery,” said a media statement by the franchise.
After Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier, both Kolkata Knight Riders players, were said to have tested positive on Monday, all Delhi Capitals players had been asked to isolate themselves in their hotel in Ahmedabad. The Capitals were the last team to play the Knight Riders in the tournament. Their routine test, scheduled for Tuesday, was advanced by a day after news of the bubble breach, and a subsequent test was also conducted on Tuesday.
Mishra is the second Capitals player this season to test positive, with Axar Patel missing out most of the early stages because he had been infected and been outside the bubble. Mishra played four matches this season, the last one being a week ago against Royal Challengers Bangalore, during both teams’ first match in the Ahmedabad leg of the tournament.
The fallout from the Covid-19 cases has escalated since it emerged on Monday that there were active cases inside the KKR bubble, as well as that of CSK’s, where bowling coach L Balaji and a bus cleaner tested positive for the virus. On Tuesday, Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Wriddhiman Saha was said to be positive as well. The tournament stand’s postponed for the moment. There is no official word yet on when or whether the remainder of the tournament will be staged, though BCCI vice-president Rajiv Shukla was emphatic it “will happen” and a decision would be taken when the pandemic situation improved.
In a statement, the IPL said the decision to postpone was “unanimously” taken by the tournament’s Governing Council and the BCCI. The statement also said the BCCI would do “do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all the participants in IPL 2021”.
Hampshire sign Colin de Grandhomme for second half of T20 Blast
New Zealand allrounder to stay in UK following World Test Championship final
Hampshire have signed Colin de Grandhomme, the New Zealand allrounder, for the second half of the T20 Blast.
Having undergone ankle surgery after missing the home international season through injury, de Grandhomme is expected to be fit enough to take his place in New Zealand’s Test squad for their tour of England, which includes the World Test Championship final against India at the Ageas Bowl from June 18-22.
He will join up with Hampshire immediately after the WTC final – most likely in time for their fixture against Somerset on June 25 – and is expected to be available for the final eight games of the Blast’s group stage. It is unclear whether he would be available for the knockout stages, with a five-week gap between the final round of group games and the quarter-finals. He has become a specialist at attacking spinners in the middle overs of T20s in recent years, and provides an extra bowling option with his cutters.
Hampshire are de Grandhomme’s second county after two years playing for the Birmingham Bears in 2017 and 2018. He is the fifth New Zealand international to sign a contract for this summer’s Blast, following Glenn Phillips (Gloucestershire), James Neesham (Essex), Finn Allen (Lancashire) and Lockie Ferguson (Yorkshire).
Hampshire have won the Blast twice, in 2010 and 2012, but have endured a poor run in the competition over the last five seasons: since 2016, they have won only 21 of their 60 completed games, fewer than any other county.
After IPL 2021 postponement, UAE becomes realistic contender for T20 World Cup in October-November 2021
IPL 2021 was meant to be a test case for the BCCI to understand if the T20 World Cup could’ve been held in a ‘caravan model’
Will the postponement of the IPL have an impact on the 2021 men’s T20 World Cup, scheduled in India later this year?
It is clearly too early to say as the fallout from the postponement of the IPL is yet to settle, after the number of cases inside the bubble began to rise over the last few days. But ESPNcricinfo understands that while the ICC continues to monitor the situation in India, the UAE, which has been slotted in as a back-up venue, is now becoming a more realistic contender to host the global tournament.
As it stands, the T20 World Cup, comprising 16 countries, is scheduled to be played in India between late October with the final on November 14.
The BCCI recently shortlisted nine venues in India, which were proposed to the ICC, the host for global tournaments. An ICC team of experts from the biosafety, events and security wings was scheduled to visit India from April 26 to do an inspection of the venues but was forced to shelve that plan due to the travel ban imposed by the UAE to and from India.
This week India crossed the 20-million mark for positive Covid-19 infections, and has been brought to a standstill by a raging second wave. The numbers were significantly high even in March, when the BCCI announced the IPL schedule comprising of six venues.
Unlike in the past where all eight teams played on a home and away basis, this season the BCCI decided the IPL would be played on a caravan model, with two venues in operation at a time and the tournament itself split into four legs. The BCCI was utilizing the IPL as a dry run for the T20 World Cup.
However, concerns among overseas players and teams as well as their countries are bound to rise in the wake of the IPL bubble being breached. Several countries had banned travelers, including their own citizens, if they were traveling from India, in addition to imposing stiff quarantine norms.
Such measures left the overseas contingent in the IPL uneasy. Two players each from Royals Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals immediately left the IPL bubble to return home and left many more anxious.
The ICC is keen to avoid such a scenario. On March 5, two days before the IPL announced its schedule, Manu Sawhney, the then ICC CEO, had pointed out that the risks associated with organising a 16-team World Cup were “exponentially larger” compared to T20 franchise leagues like the IPL or bilateral cricket.
On Tuesday, a senior BCCI official said the T20 World Cup was “too far away” to make a call about whether it will have to move. The status of the pandemic in the country will be the key factor, but the question is how long can the ICC now wait? Normally, the ICC finalises venues at least a year in advance. The other key question for the ICC to determine is whether it can allow crowds into the tournament. The BCCI has said that even if the tournament is moved to the UAE, it will want to run the event, which would mean in case the crowds are allowed, the ticketing revenues will go to the Indian board.
From May 1, the Indian government opened vaccination for all adults over 18 years of age. However, currently, India is facing a vaccine shortage with reports stating several states will not be able to procure enough vaccines until June or July. The BCCI did consider vaccinating players at the IPL but were wary of the optics of such a move.
While the next formal meeting of the ICC Board is not until its annual conference in July, it is likely the global body will ask members to meet before that to get a sense of how they are feeling and discuss options.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo
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