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England’s challenge in 2021 is to peak for Australia ‘pinnacle’, says Joe Root

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Joe Root says that the challenge of taking on New Zealand, the world’s No.1-ranked Test team, followed by five home Tests against India and an away Ashes campaign, makes 2021 the sort of year that “you play the game for”.

However, Root also admitted that England’s new-look selection panel – now led by the head coach Chris Silverwood – faces a tricky balancing act to ensure the entire squad is fit and firing ahead of the Australia tour, which he conceded was the year’s “pinnacle”.

The squad for England’s first Test of the summer, against New Zealand at Lord’s, is expected to be announced on Tuesday, and may provide an opportunity for some of England’s uncapped squad members – notably Gloucestershire’s James Bracey and Sussex’s Ollie Robinson – to test their mettle on the big stage after long periods on the sidelines during the team’s recent bio-secure campaigns.

However, Root admitted the importance of striking the right balance between opportunities for fringe candidates and sufficient game-time for the first-choice players, especially given the continued uncertainty about how long the Covid-safe environments will have to be kept in place.

“It’s very difficult at the minute, the circumstances make it very tricky,” Root told Sky Sports during Yorkshire’s ongoing County Championship clash with Glamorgan in Cardiff. “You’ve got to factor in so many different things and the welfare of the players is obviously paramount.

“But this is what you play for, years like this one. You want to pit yourself against the best, you want to be successful against the best, and this is the opportunity to do it.”

The New Zealand series will be an early test of the ECB’s new selection arrangements. Ed Smith’s removal as national selector last month means that Silverwood holds an unprecedented influence within the England camp, but Root believes his new role will add clarity to the process, given the bond that already exists between captain and coach.

“More than anything, it just means that that relationship between the two of us has to be as strong as ever,” he said. “We get on very well and we’ve got a good understanding of each other. We know what we want, and so hopefully, that process becomes a little bit easier.

“It’s always a tricky balance,” he said of the prospect of blooding some new faces against New Zealand. “What you’re trying to do is create that environment where you’ve got a strong squad of players that have been together for a good period of time, but no-one going in cold.

“You can’t plan everything perfectly, especially at the minute with Covid. There might be natural opportunities where things arise, there might not be, but the most important thing is that we remain very open-minded about how we want to move going forward.

“We’ve got some really important cricket coming up. And we’ve got to prioritise that. So when we sit down, we’ll factor in everything as best we can, and make sure that we’ve got a real clear idea of how we want to go, how we want the year to look, and how we’re going to peak for that tour of Australia.”

England overtook Australia as the No.3-ranked Test team this week, behind New Zealand and India, who face off in next month’s World Test Championship final at the Ageas Bowl, and after impressing for the first half of their recent tour of Sri Lanka and India, Root is confident their Test plans are on track.



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WTC final, Ind vs NZ: India’s XI ‘takes the pitch and conditions out of the equation’

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Indications are both teams aren’t tweaking plans yet, given they still have five days available to them, but India will take a call on their XI ‘if needed’ at toss time

India’s XI for the World Test Championship final has been chosen to “take the pitch and conditions out of the equation”, according to their fielding coach, R Sridhar, who said he did not anticipate any changes to the team announced by the BCCI on the eve of the match, despite the first day of the contest being washed out.
The frustration on the opening day of the final, between India and New Zealand in Southampton, was mitigated to a degree by the provision for a reserve sixth day, which will now be triggered in the event that the title cannot be decided in the next four days of play. And for that reason, both Sridhar and Tom Latham, New Zealand’s vice-captain, agreed there was little need yet for either side to start formulating alternative plans.

“I was expecting this to be the first question,” Sridhar said. “I think the XI which has been announced is the XI which takes the pitch and conditions out of the equation,” he added, referring to the team India had named containing two front-line spinners in R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, alongside a trio of quicks in Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Ishant Sharma. “I think it’s an XI which can play and perform on any given surface in any given weather conditions. So that is what I believe this XI is all about, which we will put in the park.”

“But having that said, the toss is not yet over, so we will … if it needs to be taken, there will be a decision taken at the time of the toss.”

New Zealand, at this stage, are still keeping their intentions under wraps. Kane Williamson’s hopes of recovering from his elbow problem will have been improved by an extra day of rest, after he underwent a cortisone injection earlier in the week, but their main dilemma revolves around the balance of their attack.

The prospect of further damp conditions for the rest of the week may yet persuade New Zealand to omit their spinner, Ajaz Patel, in favour of a five-man seam and swing attack. However, Latham said that all such decisions would have to wait until the covers are removed and the team has a chance to assess the nature of the pitch.

“It probably doesn’t change a huge amount,” he said of the first-day washout. “For us it’s about adapting to whatever conditions we’re faced with, whether it’s tomorrow or whenever it may be.

“With the extra day that we’ve got up our sleeve, the game can still go the full five days … so it’s important that we aren’t caught on the hop. We’ve been in this situation many times before as cricketers, and I guess it’s about trying to stay ready when we’re called upon.”

“We haven’t confirmed the final XI yet,” he added. “I’m sure Kane and Steady [coach Gary Stead] have a few contingencies in place but, as I say, we’ll have to wait until the canvas comes off and we get the chance to play.”

In the meantime, the challenge for both teams has been to keep their focus on the long-term aim of winning this one-off Test, while at the same time switching off for the short term. Latham admitted that New Zealand’s dressing-room had achieved this mainly through the medium of table tennis and darts, but the concurrent Women’s Test against England in Bristol had given India’s men a separate contest to get stuck into.

“We have not missed a bit of the girls’ game right from day one,” Sridhar said. “All of us have seen the game. It’s been live going on in our rooms, in our team room, in our breakfast area, and even today while we are waiting for the rain to stop. All of us were sitting together and watching the girls’ game and encouraging our girls.

“We know they are fighting to get back into the game,” he added, after India’s 17-year-old opening batter, Shafali Verma, posted her second half-century of the match in response to the team being made to follow on. “We’re seeing they put up a strong performance there. We are enjoying the innings from Shafali … her mindset is so clear.”

“Looking at the wicket, we thought maybe we could play the finals there,” he joked. “The ball is turning a bit so we’re just wondering if we shift the finals from here to Bristol. What do you reckon?”

Sridhar had no doubt, however, that India would have their game faces on when the time comes to get the WTC final underway.

“As motivation goes, I don’t think you need to motivate anyone who’s representing their country. And in a World Test Championship final, I think there is no further and better motivation than that,” he said.

“They are a very, very experienced bunch of players. They have played a few finals, they have won a few tournaments and they’ve played a few Test matches, each one of them in that XI.

“We’ve all been very close because most of our time we have always been in the bubble, so there’s a great camaraderie in this team,” he added. “So passing time amongst us is the easiest thing. The chat and the games that they play is always on.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket



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Kevin O’Brien, Ireland’s hero of Bangalore, retires from ODI cricket

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Allrounder steps down from 50-over format but will continue in Tests and T20Is

Kevin O’Brien, the Ireland allrounder whose record-breaking hundred stunned England at the 2011 World Cup, has announced his retirement from the 50-over format.

O’Brien, 37, will carry on playing at Test and T20I level, but has chosen to bow out of the format in which he made his debut against England as a 22-year-old in 2006, in Ireland’s first full ODI. He went on to make 3618 runs from 153 ODIs, and claim 114 wickets, the most by any Ireland bowler. His 68 outfield catches is another national record, while he played 95 of his matches alongside his elder brother, Niall, who retired in 2018.

“After 15 years playing for Ireland, I feel now is the right time to step away and retire from ODI cricket,” O’Brien said. “It has been an honour and a privilege to represent my country 153 times. The memories I take from them will last a lifetime”.

Those memories include appearances at three World Cups, including the 2007 event in the Caribbean, the moment when Ireland truly made their mark on international cricket.

Their historic victory over Pakistan at Sabina Park sent shockwaves through the sport, and O’Brien played an integral role in Ireland’s tense run-chase, digging in from an unbeaten 16 from 52 balls to guard against a collapse before the captain Trent Johnston struck the winning six to seal a three-wicket win.
However, it was four years later at the 2011 event in India that O’Brien played the innings for which he will forever be remembered – a breath-taking knock of 113 from 63 balls in Bangalore, including a century from 50 balls that remains the fastest in World Cup history.

Replying to England’s imposing total of 327 for 8, Ireland had slumped to 106 for 4 when he arrived at the crease, which soon became 111 for 5. But he responded to the adversity with an outrageous counterattack, cracking 13 fours and six sixes, before falling in the penultimate over with 11 runs still needed. However, John Mooney kept his cool to seal the chase, with Johnston again unbeaten at the other end.



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Recent Match Report – South Africa vs West Indies 2nd Test 2021

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Temba Bavuma and Nkrumah Bonner ruled out, Kyle Verreynne and Kieran Powell keep their places

Toss West Indies chose to field vs South Africa

Under cloudy skies and after a 15-minute rain delay, Kraigg Brathwaite won the toss and decided to field, having gone the other way in the first Test. The pitch in St Lucia showed off a healthy tinge of green and Curtly Ambrose, on the pitch report, said he expected bounce and seam movement.
So do West Indies, who included an extra seamer in Shannon Gabriel at the expense of offspinner Rahkeem Cornwall. Gabriel missed the first Test with a hamstring injury. That left allrounder Roston Chase to do most of the spin bowling in this Test.
West Indies were also without Nkrumah Bonner, who started the first Test but was then replaced with Kieran Powell after suffering a concussion. Bonner was hit on the helmet by Anrich Nortje and was unavailable for this match. Powell kept his place in the XI.
South Africa’s XI was unchanged with vice-captain Temba Bavuma sitting out once again. Bavuma had recovered from the hip injury that kept him out of the first Test but dislocated his left middle finger during fielding drills two days before the match. Kyle Verreynne got another opportunity at No. 5 as a result.

While South Africa cannot lose the series, they are chasing a first series win away from home since March 2017, when they beat New Zealand.

Cricket West Indies has made arrangements for 400 fully vaccinated fans to attend each day’s play, marking the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic that spectators have been allowed in for a cricket match. The stands, however, were empty when play began.

West Indies: 1 Kraigg Brathwaite (capt), 2 Kieran Powell 3 Shai Hope, 4 Kyle Mayers, 5 Roston Chase, 6 Jermaine Blackwood, 7 Jason Holder, 8 Joshua da Silva (wk) 9 Shannon Gabriel, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Jayden Seales

South Africa: 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Rassie van der Dussen, 4 Keegan Petersen, 5 Kyle Verreynne 6 Quinton de Kock (wk), 7 Wiaan Mulder, 8 Keshav Maharaj 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Lungi Ngidi

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent



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