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‘Not too many concerns’ around hamstring but elbow not 100% yet




The New Zealand captain been feeling discomfort while gripping the bat and extending the elbow but is pleased with the overall progress

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson has confirmed that his hamstring is fine but elbow might still need “a little bit of time” to get back to 100%. The elbow complaint has been a long-standing one for Williamson, forcing him to miss the ODI series at home against Bangladesh, the start of the first leg of IPL 2021 in India and the Edgbaston Test against England.
After leading New Zealand to World Test Championship glory, Williamson continued to manage his elbow as he withdrew from the Hundred, where he was supposed to turn out for the Birmingham Phoenix.

“The hamstring is minor, it’s progressing nicely, so not too many concerns and we’ve still got plenty of time,” Williamson said, speaking from New Zealand’s base in Dubai. “So, yeah, hopefully in the next sort of few days or so, I’m taking basically full part in the training. So, it’s all good.

“The elbow – it has just been a bit of a slow-burner. Yeah, it has been quite frustrating for a long period of time. However, it has definitely improved a bit over the last two months I’ve had after the World Test Championship. On rehab, it has definitely seemed to move forward, which is refreshing, but still a little bit of time to get back to a 100 [%], but it’s definitely better.”

Williamson explained that he has been feeling some discomfort while gripping the bat and extending the elbow, but was pleased with his overall rehab in months that followed the WTC final against India.

“Basically just gripping and then extending,” Williamson said. “So, which you do a lot of obviously [while] batting and it has been frustrating certainly when it was at its worst. But the harder you grip and further you extend, the more it seems to be quite disruptive. Like I said there’s been a lot of improvement over the last three months, which is good. That has really been the focus and I’m at the stage where I’m largely about to get through with some comfort and it’s nice to be able to focus a bit more on the cricketing side of things rather than having constant negotiations with physios.”

Williamson’s niggly elbow – and the fitness of the other players – will be put to test when New Zealand play their last four group-stage games in seven days across the three venues in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Three of those matches will have afternoon starts (2pm local time).

“Recovering will be a big part of that,” Williamson said. “The temperatures are getting a little bit better and being here nice and early – it allows the guys to acclimatise a little bit [to the conditions] and get a little bit more comfortable in these sorts of temperatures. Those day-offs after the game, especially when it’s as dense as that, will be really important so that guys can be back up and be as fresh as possible going into the following game.”

Williamson has already had a taste of the slow, low UAE pitches, having been Sunrisers Hyderabad’s second-highest run getter in the second half of the tournament, behind Jason Roy, with 138 runs in six innings at an average of 27.60 and strike rate of 102.98. Williamson was wary of the conditions, reckoning they could change at the forthcoming World Cup.

“They’ve varied a lot actually,” Williamson said. “Even a lot compared to what we experienced last summer when we had the whole tournament here [the UAE] and in previous years when we’ve played here as well. Something to be aware of; something certainly to prepare for and try and make those adjustments as quickly as possible and get comfortable with what realistic expectations are and what competitive totals are because it has not unfolded in that traditional T20 style at times.

“But then we’ve had other days, in the IPL when we turned up to Abu Dhabi, the wicket looked very similar, but there was sort of an 80-run difference in what was perhaps a par total. It is really adjusting to what’s in front of you as quickly as possible and trusting in that judgement.”

After the T20 World Cup in the UAE, New Zealand will tour India to launch their defence of the World Test Championship and three T20Is. Williamson urged New Zealand to focus on the job at hand – and their collective progress.

“I mean there’s a lot of challenges in front of us,” he said. “I mean any tournament, any World Cup is always tough, particularly the T20 World Cup. There are match-winners in every team and anybody can truly beat anybody and for us, we want to continue the path of growth and improve as a side and make those adjustments. There are very little promises in this game, but we want to continue to get better as a side and hope that holds us in good stead. That’ll be our focus and that will be important for us in this tournament.

“And then the focus will change, it will be on India and [we will] try and get a bit of clarity around what we might expect in some of those conditions, which can also vary quite a lot. Be nice and clear how we want to operate there. As a side, it’s always a challenge [when] you have a number of different world events, but ultimately in terms of the bigger picture, you want to keep evolving and moving forward as a team and that’s where you try and put your energy.”

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Racism in cricket – Azeem Rafiq: ‘Time is right’ for Yorkshire to get back right to host international cricket




Things are improving, he says, but wants the club to be “kept under review to make sure this really is the start of something important and meaningful”

After seeing signs of positive change at Yorkshire CCC since Lord Patel took over as chair, Azeem Rafiq has called upon the ECB to reinstate the club’s right to host international cricket at Headingley.

Lord Patel, who replaced Roger Hutton as chair in November, told the Yorkshire Post on Wednesday that he was “working hell-for-leather” to meet the ECB’s set of criteria before an early-spring deadline, and Rafiq wrote in a newspaper column that he hoped Headingley was able to host internationals in 2022.

Rafiq said that the idea that young children in Yorkshire would be “denied the high-level cricket that could inspire them” was “the last thing I want” and that instead of helping to solve the problems in the English game, the club’s suspension from hosting internationals “could end up adding to them”.

“It has been a whirlwind since I appeared in front of MPs almost two months ago, and what Yorkshire and Lord Patel have done to bring change is definitely a step in the right direction,” Rafiq wrote in the Daily Mail. “That is why I believe the time is right to say they should be given back the international cricket so vital to their very survival. The people of Yorkshire should be able to watch England in Test and white-ball games at Headingley this summer.

“It just seems outside the county everyone wants to throw the book at Yorkshire and my concern is some want to do that in order to make themselves look better or deflect attention away from their issues. I don’t agree with that because it will not drive change.”

The ECB stripped Yorkshire of their right to host international fixtures and major matches in early November until they have “clearly demonstrated that it can meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and first-class county” after describing their handling of Rafiq’s allegations of institutional racism as “wholly unacceptable”.

There has since been a mass overhaul of personnel at the club, with 16 staff losing their jobs and Darren Gough hired as director of cricket. The search for a permanent head coach is ongoing, and the club has received more than 80 applicants covering the various vacancies on their coaching staff.

Headingley is due to stage two men’s internationals next summer, England’s Test against New Zealand from June 23 and their ODI against South Africa on July 24. The fixtures are still listed on Yorkshire’s website, though tickets are unavailable at the moment.

“I am not saying everything is now hunky-dory at my old county and we can all move on,” Rafiq wrote. “Yorkshire must be kept under review to make sure this really is the start of something important and meaningful. Everything is not fine yet, not by a long way.

“At first in all this I believed international cricket should be taken away from them. But they have done enough to warrant getting it back, for now at least. I want to see England playing at Headingley this summer. I may even pop down to watch myself.”

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee is due to publish its own report into racism in cricket on Friday, following the conclusion of a series of parliamentary hearings last year, with the ECB’s own investigation yet to be completed.

Lord Patel has called an emergency general meeting in February in order to vote on changes to the club’s rules, and has opened applications for six new non-executive directors. He has also proposed that two representatives of the Yorkshire membership sit of the board of director.

Meanwhile, Yorkshire are expected to keep their place in Division One of the County Championship, though they could face a points penalty for the 2022 season. County fixtures are due to be published in the next two weeks.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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The Ashes 2021-22 – Joe Root backs Chris Silverwood to continue as England coach despite disappointment




England captain weighing up IPL auction involvement with deadline looming

Joe Root has publicly backed Chris Silverwood to keep his job as England coach despite their heavy Ashes series defeat, suggesting that he had been let down by his players.

Silverwood has maintained since his promotion from bowling coach to head coach in October 2019 that his top priority was ensuring England had the tools to compete in the 2021-22 Ashes, and the manner of their defeat – going 3-0 down in the series inside 12 days’ cricket – means that his job is under pressure.

He has re-joined the squad ahead of Friday’s fifth Test in Hobart after a positive Covid-19 test forced him to self-isolate during the draw in Sydney, and Root said that he believed this week’s match should not be Silverwood’s last in charge.

“Yes I would,” Root said, when asked if he would like Silverwood to remain in charge. “It was a difficult week for the group of players with him not being around and it must have been very difficult for him.

“But I think the performances we put in during the first three games, I feel we’ve let him and the coaches down to a degree. We’ve not played anywhere near the level we’re capable of. It’s a chance to do that this week.”

Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, and Ashley Giles, the managing director of men’s cricket, are both in Australia to determine how England will move forward from the defeat, and with their next Test series due to start on March 8 against West Indies, Silverwood’s future needs to be decided imminently.

Root suggested that Silverwood’s tenure as head coach had to be judged within the context of England’s busy fixture list and the challenges created by Covid protocols and bubbles, and that results had suffered as a result.

“I think he’s very calm, he has the respect of the guys and he’s got a desperation to see everyone do well or up-skill the players as best he can,” Root said. “He’s had a very difficult time of it with the environments we’ve been living in, trying to manage winning matches with bubble environments away from home, and multi-format players trying to prepare for an Ashes and a World Cup. It’s very difficult.

“For a long time we’ve not been able to put our best teams out because we’ve been constantly trying to make sure from a mental wellbeing point of view everyone is looked after properly, because of the schedule we’ve dealt with over two years.”

Root also revealed that he is considering entering the IPL auction for the first time since he went unsold in 2018, but will only do so if he thinks he can play in the tournament without detracting from his Test career. Players are required to submit their paperwork to enter next month’s mega auction by the end of this week.

“Time is ticking but I have a lot to weigh up,” Root said. “Will it have a negative impact on me playing Test cricket? If I don’t think so then I will put myself in the auction. But I will never do anything that will detract from playing Test cricket for England. It’s so important to make sure that is the priority for me and other players as well.”

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Paul Stirling fears players will pull out of tours as ‘financial reasons’ dictate Covid rules




Acting Ireland captain says bubble life leaves players feeling like they’re being “manoeuvred on a chessboard”

Paul Stirling has said there is “no doubt” that large numbers of players will pull out of tours and tournaments if they continue to operate in tight biosecure conditions, suggesting that Covid bubbles no longer feel like they are about “our health and safety” and instead are only in place for “financial reasons for companies, organisations and franchises”.

Stirling has played overseas in the Hundred, T20 Blast, PSL, LPL and Abu Dhabi T10 in the last two years as well as touring regularly with Ireland. He contracted Covid-19 in Florida at the end of December following their T20I series, and has now joined up with the rest of Ireland’s squad – minus four Covid-positive team-mates and their interim coach David Ripley – in Jamaica ahead of Thursday’s second ODI against West Indies.

With Andy Balbirnie among the positive players – along with Lorcan Tucker, Simi Singh and Ben White – Stirling will stand in as captain for the rest of the series. Speaking during his pre-match press conference on Wednesday, he said that while his introverted character meant he had coped with bubbles, there is “not too much rope left” for many players around the world.

“Will players pull out? One hundred percent,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. I think the restrictions are now no longer as much to do with our health and safety as they are to do with making sure that competitions go ahead and financial reasons for companies, organisations, franchises and making it work from that point of view.

“When that starts happening and that transition is so apparent, and you feel as a player that you’re just being manoeuvred on a chessboard, that’s I think when people are going to be pulling out, fairly swiftly. That’s probably not far away, or else rules will be broken as you go.

“As a whole, we’ve done pretty well. Not that you can blame anyone else but it would seem like we’ve had our camp in a good way, our discipline was good, we were sticking to the rules which is easier said than done sometimes.

“We had a pretty good record and I think whenever cases came out, we nipped it in the bud. This is the first time where it’s lingered. I don’t know any teams that have completely avoided it, so it’s maybe time to start moving on in that direction a bit quicker.”

Ireland’s players are in a strict bubble in Jamaica but were not at the start of their tour in Florida, where they had to abide by Covid protocols as part of a “managed environment”. It was not enough to keep the virus out of their camp, with their ODI series against the USA abandoned at short notice after players’ family members tested positive, but Stirling denied that the decision to avoid draconian protocols had been a mistake.

“I don’t think the tour would have gone ahead [in a strict bubble],” he said. “Going away over Christmas in a different country – if you’re going to propose that with a full bubble like we’re in now, who’s going to say yes to that? It could only be relaxed.

“And I say relaxed: it’s being allowed outdoors, it’s eating outdoors, it’s 15 minutes in places to get your essentials. I wouldn’t say it was extremely enjoyable. It was certainly the way that we see it going forward – that as an absolute bare minimum as to what we’re allowed to do.

“Everyone reacts differently to news of positive tests. Even if you’re negative, you’ve got that anxiety of ‘will it be me next?’ This just seems to be one of those ones where it feels like our turn. It is tough if you’re not used to it. You’re away from home, you’re not sure if you’re going to get home.

“Hopefully this is going to ease out with time this year. I don’t think there’s too much rope left with the players with having these bubbles as we go forward. The next three-four months, an easing of these sort of protocols would be pretty high on our list.”

Stirling said that he was fit to play on Thursday despite suffering from “two dodgy days” while self-isolating in Miami, and feeling like he was “in the Highlands in South Africa” while jogging at his first training session in Jamaica.

“From a health point of view, I’m feeling good,” he said. “I’m glad it’s over – the people who have had it are so glad they’ve already had it because that takes you off for six months [due to natural immunity] where we can focus on cricket. We’ve got [T20 World Cup] qualifiers coming up [in Oman in February] and the last thing we want is this sort of environment where people are unsure.”

Andy McBrine (concussion) and Mark Adair (foot) are both expected to be available for Thursday’s game, while Singh and White could be available for Sunday’s third ODI if cleared by medical staff.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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