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Test drought poses possible Ashes problems

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Tight home-Test schedule of six games in eight weeks lies ahead, with questions over red-ball preparation to boot

Australia are set to play six matches in fewer than eight weeks next summer, after a gap of 312 days since their last assignment against India in January, meaning an idling Test team will have to re-learn the fundamentals of the longest form of the game in an almighty hurry.

A one-off Test against Afghanistan at Bellerive Oval in November-December – Hobart’s first Test match since November 2016 – will be followed by an Ashes series that will take in matches at the Gabba, Adelaide Oval (day-night), the MCG, the SCG and concluding at Perth Stadium in mid-January. It’s the first time Sydney has not hosted the conclusion of an Ashes series since 1995, when the WACA Ground was the scene of the final match in early February.

The women’s international calendar is also heavily stocked, with a series against India in September that ESPNcricinfo has reported will include a Test match, before the multi-format Ashes series against England that will take place after the conclusion of the WBBL. The men’s and women’s international fixtures have been devised with virtually no clashes between the two.

Covid-19 risk management, combined with a concentration by Cricket Australia on the home fixtures that bring in the vast majority of the governing body’s revenue through broadcast-rights deals, has left the team led by Tim Paine and his deputy Pat Cummins to play just 10 Test matches over the course of more than two years, after going 345 days between Tests in 2020. None will take place away from home between September 2019 and (at least) February 2022 when a tour of Pakistan is very lightly etched into the calendar.

The home series defeat to India last summer, in spite of a raft of injuries and withdrawals from the touring team, was put down partly to the difficulties of adapting from cricket’s short formats to its longest without much in the way of preparation in between. CA is looking at re-filling the position of batting coach that sat vacant last summer, in order to give the top six – which underperformed badly against India – greater one-on-one assistance this time around.

Equally, the selection chairman Trevor Hohns has spoken firmly of the need to return to a system of squad rotation for the fast bowlers in particular, after the gains made in the 2019 Ashes were abandoned over the past two home summers, much to Australia’s cost against India.

“Particularly now, when most Test matches are programmed pretty closely on the heels of each other. We can’t ask them to continually back up, day after day after day,” Hohns said when naming the central contracts list in April. “It’s only natural they are going to get tired. Sure, they might feel okay within themselves, but we’ve really got to monitor that a bit harder.”

But the challenge will be all the greater with another year devoid of Test or first-class matches for many of the players, namely those who will also be involved in Australia’s Twenty20 World Cup campaign in the second half of the year. Among established members of the Test team, only Paine, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood and perhaps Marnus Labuschagne can expect to play much Sheffield Shield cricket prior to the Afghanistan Test, which will be left to serve as a sort of Ashes preparation game for the rest.



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Covid-19 – India in England

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The three had to isolate after training assistant Dayanand Garani tested positive for Covid-19

Bowling coach Bharat Arun, wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, and reserve batter Abhimanyu Easwaran rejoined the Indian squad in Durham on Saturday – and even took part in a training session – after completing a ten-day quarantine in accordance with the UK’s Covid-19 protocols.
The trio had to isolate in London while the rest of the squad and support staff travelled to Durham, after being identified asclose contacts of training assistant/net bowler Dayanand Garani, who tested positive for Covid-19 on July 14. Garani has not yet rejoined the team.

Rishabh Pant, who had also tested positive for Covid-19, has also linked up with the squad, on July 22, after recovering. All three players – Pant, Saha and Easwaran – are now available for selection, having missed India’s three-day warm-up match against a County Select XI.
With Pant and Saha both absent for the three-day game, KL Rahul kept wickets for the Indians, as the matchended in a draw.

Rahul made 101 (retired) in the first innings, top-scoring for the Indians. Ravindra Jadeja also scored twin half-centuries, 75 and 51 (retired), while Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Siraj were among the wickets in the first innings of the local side.





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PSL 2022 to be played in January-February in Pakistan to avoid clash with IPL

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Matches to be played in Karachi and Lahore, and finish before Australia’s tour of Pakistan

The seventh edition of the PSL will be played in Pakistan in a window in January-February next year, the PCB has confirmed after consulting the six franchises. The tournament is expected to start in early January and continue till the third week of February. The scheduled has been drawn up despite a dates’ clash with the BBL in Australia. Lahore and Karachi will host 17 matches each, with the final to be played at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.

The regular PSL window, since 2016, has been in February-March, but in 2022, Pakistan is hoping to host Australia. That forced PCB to work a window either before the series against Australia or after, and neither window was without its share of clashes. April-May clashes with the IPL, and that affects the broadcasting and commercial arrangements. It is also likely to affect player availability. That window will also overlap with the month of Ramzan.

The January-February period isn’t free either, because the BBL takes place then, and a number of premier T20 players are expected to be occupied there. There is also the issue of the weather in the Punjab province of Pakistan, which tends to be foggy in winter. To deal with the weather, the PCB has decided to start the PSL in Karachi, which is ion the Sind province, in January, and then travel to Lahore, in Punjab, in February, when it is likely to be more conducive.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hampered the PSL schedule for the past two seasons, as it has the cricket calendar around the world. The fifth and sixth editions of the tournament were both played in two chunks. The 2021 edition started in February in Pakistan but was postponed after 14 matches and completed in June in Abu Dhabi. In 2020, the tournament started on time in February, but though the league stage was completed by March, the playoffs could only be held in November.

The seventh edition of the PSL will also have fresh broadcast and commercial partners after the previous deals concluded this year after a three-year run. The PCB has confirmed that it is presently working at a framework for the evaluation of the rights and their subsequent sale. The PCB is expected to hire an independent consultant to evaluate the value of the brand. In the last cycle, the PCB had secured a 358% rise in the broadcast deal, worth approximately USD 36 million.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent



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Match Preview – Zimbabwe vs Bangladesh, Bangladesh in Zimbabwe 2021, 3rd T20I

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If fit, Mustafizur Rahman and Liton Das could come back to the visitors’ playing XI for the decider

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It is rather apt that a series that has had almost every shade of drama possible, including a touch of the inexplicable when, in Friday’s game, there was the hit-wicket-that-wasn’t, should have a finale of some sort. That is what we have now, after Zimbabwe beat Bangladesh by 23 runs in the second of three T20Is to set things up nicely for the final fixture.

Zimbabwe have pushed Bangladesh hard all along. They have squandered strong positions on three occasions after their bowlers had given them a chance, they have thrice suffered batting collapses, and they failed to defend 298 in the last of the three ODIs. All of those have proved that Bangladesh are the superior side on the whole, but they faltered on Friday, losing it on the fielding stakes. They let go two catches and had another catch fall between two fielders, while Zimbabwe defended 166 by holding on to all their nine chances.



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