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Sheffield Shield 2021-22 – Will Pucovski in race against time to make Ashes squad after latest concussion

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Chris Rogers said the batter is “pretty positive” after the latest setback and last season showed what he can do

Victoria coach Chris Rogers believes Will Pucovski can still play himself into the opening Ashes Test, despite missing the team’s first Sheffield Shield match against New South Wales due to his latest concussion, although questions remain about how the multiple knocks could impact his career.
Pucovski’s latest concussion – adding to a long list dating back to when he was a teenager – occurred during nets earlier this month and was said to be on the minor end but he won’t make the trip to Sydney at the weekend.
Pucovski was already recovering from the shoulder reconstruction he underwent following his Test debut in January. His throwing continues to be hampered but, until the concussion, he was on course to play in domestic cricket.

It is hoped he will be available for the return fixture against New South Wales at the MCG next month and then potentially the third Shield game the two states are looking to pencil in during November, although for anyone selected in the Test squad there will be quarantine periods in Queensland to factor in.

Earlier this week, 25-year-old Derbyshire wicketkeeper-batter Harvey Hosein was forced to retire from the game on medical advice due to multiple concussions. Pucovski continues to consult with specialists and Rogers said he was feeling “pretty positive” about his latest recovery.

“It’s a good question,” Rogers said when asked when there are too many blows. “Nothing that I can really answer. He sees specialists so they’ll be talking to him about that and obviously that’s got to play a role at some stage but at the moment he’s still keen to continue on.

“He’s been through this before, he knows what it’s like. He’s a pretty resilient guy now. If you go through this many setbacks you’ve got to have something about you. He’s going alright. Yesterday when I spoke to him he seemed pretty positive so that’s all I can say.”

Rogers believes Pucovski’s performances last season, where he scored back-to-back double hundreds and then earned a Test debut against India after another recovery from concussion, will stand him in good stead.

He said the selectors, which from next month will include new member Tony Dodemaide, will want to be assured there are no concerns against the short ball but one big score could earn him a spot alongside David Warner at the top of the order. The India Test was the last competitive game Pucovski played.

“He’s shown before he can hit the ground running as he did last year with the two 200s, so if he’s good enough to do something like that again then the selectors would definitely have something to consider,” Rogers said. “He’s one of those players there’s an element of class. You know when you throw balls at him that it’s different.”

Test captain Tim Paine said fellow Victoria opener Marcus Harris, who is the incumbent in the Test side after playing against India at the Gabba in January, would be the frontrunner if Pucovski wasn’t available. But Usman Khawaja, who averages 96.80 in the five Tests he has opened, made a strong statement with 174 against South Australia.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo



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County news – James Pattinson returns to Nottinghamshire for 2022 season

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Former Australia quick retired from internationals in the lead-up to Ashes series

James Pattinson, the Australia fast bowler who retired from international cricket on the eve of the Ashes, is set for a third stint with Nottinghamshire after signing an all-format deal covering the 2022 season.

Pattinson is a British passport holder but has been registered as an overseas player, having previously spent parts of the 2017 and 2019 seasons with the county, taking 40 first-class wickets at 15.52.

Pattinson’s elder brother Darren, who made a one-off Test appearance for England in 2008, won the County Championship title with Nottinghamshire in 2010.

“Trent Bridge felt like home from the moment I first stepped through the gates,” said Pattinson. “To arrive here and be met by a group of guys that made me so welcome from minute dot was pretty special, and I’m looking forward to getting back amongst them again.

“The family link with Darren having done what he did in Nottingham a few years back, and with Dad having played football at junior level for Forest, made it feel like an authentic fit for me right from the off. I knew straight away that I’d found a county I could be really passionate about representing.

“The bowling group did some special things last season. Hopefully I can add something to that and help the club enjoy some success in the coming years.

“Once I get that badge back on my chest and the ball in my hand, there’ll be no backward steps taken for sure. It’ll be a case of ripping into the season and giving it everything to win matches for the club.”

Pattinson claimed 32 wickets at 12.06 in his first Championship stint at Trent Bridge in 2017, and made an immediate impact on debut, scoring a career-best 89 not out, adding 122 for the eighth wicket with Stuart Broad, as well as claiming match figures of 8 for 84.

He played in ten matches as Notts lifted the Royal London Cup, taking 13 wickets in the tournament and hitting the winning runs against Surrey at Lord’s, then returned for a brief stint in 2019.

“We first recruited James in 2017 because we believed he possessed the two qualities you always look for in an overseas signing: tremendous pedigree and the desire to commit fully to life at the club,” Peter Moores, Nottinghamshire’s head coach, said.

“In both respects, he proved to be everything we wanted and more, both with his performances on the field and the mark he left on us all as a character and a competitor, so we’re all really looking forward to welcoming him back over here.

“Our bowling attack did great things in 2021, and the way to build on that is by going again and trying to get even better.

“Jimmy will add a new dimension with his pace, hostility and experience. He’s someone our young players can benefit from spending time with and he adds more depth and quality to our bowling group, which we know is really important.”



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Women’s Ashes 2021-22 – Covid-19 positive hits England party ahead of Women’s Ashes start

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England captain Heather Knight has admitted to “concerns and anxieties” among the touring party in Australia after news of a support staff member testing positive for Covid-19, the latest disruption to their preparations ahead of the Women’s Ashes.

The unidentified individual received a positive result in the second round of PCR tests conducted since England’s arrival in Australia. They are now in isolation and will remain in Canberra while the group moves on to Adelaide ahead of the T20I leg of the Ashes, which starts on Thursday. No other positives have been reported, with a further round of testing to be carried out before the team flies by charter on Monday.

England have been in Australia for less than a week and were already having to rejig their plans after the schedule was changed in the run-up to departure – the T20Is were brought forward, ahead of the one-off Test, due to quarantine requirements for the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand.

They then saw their first outdoor training session affected by torrential rain, with Knight describing England’s build-up so far as “pretty average”.

The discovery of a positive Covid case in the camp has added to the restrictions England are under – although two scheduled intra-squad warm-up games in Canberra this weekend will still take place – amid an atmosphere of extreme caution before the World Cup.

“We were prepared for this,” Knight said, “I think it would be pretty naive to think we wouldn’t be affected by it [Covid-19] but there’s concern and anxieties from the group. We’ve had to live under pretty strict protocols since we’ve arrived, we’ve only been allowed to socialise outdoors for exactly this reason, to try and limit the spread.

“It’s going to be a nervous 24-48 hours, but the PCR tests we’ve done already have all come back negative. Fingers crossed. It was always going to be affected by Covid. We’ve had to ‘safe live’ for two weeks in the UK, from Christmas pretty much, just in order to get out here. It’s been a colossal effort.”

With Covid numbers in England having surged during December after the arrival of the Omicron variant, players were told to limit contacts to those within their household ahead of departure for Australia – leading to some unusual training routines. Alongside the changes to the Ashes itinerary, Knight said it been “quite hard to focus on the cricket”.

“It’s not been ideal, that’s for sure,” she said. “The lead-up has been pretty average, but that’s all out of our control. For those two weeks before we left England we could only train as individuals, with our households, so we’ve had mums feeding bowling machines, boyfriends slinging, girlfriends slinging, dads batting, and supporting our training. As you can imagine it’s been pretty comical, but also not ideal preparation for a series of this magnitude.

“We found out that with that quarantine in New Zealand, our preparation’s going to be a bit shorter. Getting our heads around that and trying to find ways to get ourselves ready, physically and mentally, has been a little bit hard, and then you throw Covid in there and shifting goalposts with the World Cup as well, as you can imagine it’s been quite hard to focus on the cricket.

“It didn’t help that the first training session it rained cats and dogs. We haven’t had the best preparation but what we’ve got to do is try and make the most of it.”

Changes to regulations while the squad was in the air mean players are currently unable to eat together at restaurants outdoors, although Knight was hopeful of that being relaxed at some stage.

“Restrictions are in place to try and protect the integrity of the series, but we also need to make sure that we look after players and staff and everyone who’s out here as well,” she said. “We need to find that balance between trying to keep the integrity of the series and staying as safe as possible but also feeling like you can live within the restrictions with a tiny bit of freedom, which I think is important.”

The switch to beginning the series with three T20Is has meant changes to planning – in particular how to get overs into the bowlers ahead of the Test – but Knight also suggested that T20 was her side’s “strongest format” and represented an opportunity to start the series well. She also said the disruption may help to “take the pressure off” against the No. 1-ranked Australians.

“Of course there’s a frustration but it’s the times we’re living in at the moment,” she said. “It’s very challenging to tour with Covid around. The restrictions we’ve been under have changed as well, so just being adaptable to that has been quite tricky. As soon as you get your head around something, something else changes.

“But we’ve got no other option but to try and make the most of it and do the best we can. Maybe it will take the pressure off, we’ve just got to find a way to free up, go out there and throw caution to the wind a bit. Mentally it’s going to be tough but we’re doing everything we can to try and get ourselves prepped and ready for the first game.”

England are looking to reclaim the Ashes for the first time since 2015, with three T20Is, three ODIs and a Test to be played under the multi-format points system. The touring party includes an England A squad, who will provide warm-up opposition before playing their own fixtures against Australia A.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick



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County cricket – Ben Brown signs for Hampshire after early Sussex contract release

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Wicketkeeper-batter will form part of a strong Championship middle order

Ben Brown has signed a two-year contract at Hampshire after leaving Sussex at the end of last year following his removal from the club captaincy.
Brown, 33, had two years left to run on his Sussex contract but was released from his deal in December following talks with the club. Brown had an excellent 2021 season with the bat, making 976 County Championship runs with four hundreds, but was axed as captain in mid-summer and requested a move.

He has signed an all-formats contract with Hampshire but will be expected to perform in the Championship in particular, as part of a strong middle order already containing James Vince, Nick Gubbins and Liam Dawson. He will be competing with Lewis McManus and Tom Alsop for the wicketkeeping gloves.

“Ben’s arrival is exciting news for the club and we are looking forward to welcoming him to the group next week,” Giles White, Hampshire’s director of cricket, said. “He brings many qualities and has a particularly impressive red-ball record; we are confident he’ll be a great addition to the squad.”

Brown said: “I am extremely proud and humbled to sign for Hampshire. To be joining such a talented playing squad and to have the opportunity to work with the club’s impressive coaching staff is a privilege.

“I’m looking forward to being able to call the Ageas Bowl my home ground and am hugely grateful to everyone at Hampshire for the opportunity to do so. I’m excited to be joining the group next week and to play my part in pushing for trophies and silverware over the coming years.”

Brown’s departure made him the latest in a string of senior players to leave Sussex in recent years, and came two weeks after Ian Salisbury, their Championship and 50-over head coach, had insisted he would see out the rest of his contract at a fans’ forum.

Sussex announced on Friday that Chris Adams and Tony Cottey have been added to their cricket committee, with Adams declaring that “it has been too long” since Sussex were regularly competing for trophies and that “many challenges lie ahead for the team and all the coaching staff”.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98



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