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Eng vs SL, T20 World Cup 2021

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Jos Buttler‘s six-hitting clinic against Australia on Saturday night prompted a question: what’s the best innings an Englishman has played in a T20 World Cup? Then, 48 hours later, Buttler provided an unequivocal answer.

There will be nights when English batters have found run-scoring much easier than Buttler did against Sri Lanka in Sharjah but none has paced an innings better, nor executed such a calculated takedown of an opposing attack. The majority of games to date in the Super 12 stage had been decided by the toss; this was decided by the Jos.

To comprehend Buttler’s innings requires an understanding of conditions in Sharjah. Ever since the pitch block at this intimate venue was relaid earlier this year, pitches have played slow, with low bounce from a good length its defining feature. This was the third time that this strip had been used in eight days and its skiddy nature rendered timing near-impossible before the dew took over.

Buttler’s innings had started with a shot that has quietly became a trademark since his promotion to open in T20 cricket, a compact back-foot punch through the covers off Dushmantha Chameera which earned him three runs, he struggled early on, inside-edging Lahiru Kumara for four past short fine leg.

When England lost three wickets in the powerplay, Buttler recognised that he would have to soak up some pressure. He hardly played a shot in anger against Wanindu Hasaranga, Sri Lanka’s emerging superstar, and their mystery spinner, Maheesh Theekshana, content to nudge singles into gaps. After 10 overs, Buttler had just 24 runs off 30 balls.

An undervalued skill for T20 openers is the ability to judge conditions early on. It has proved particularly tricky in this tournament, with teams batting first regularly losing their openers early due to movement off the seam and often undershooting as a result – particularly given the advantages chasing teams have enjoyed after dew has taken over.

“You’re trying to get a read of the wicket, and looking for a number or a score,” Buttler explained in an interview with the Telegraph last week. “After an over or two, you get a bit of a feeling of what the wicket might be like. The skill is you’re trying to work that out as you’re going along and still trying to put pressure on the opposition and play well.”

Perhaps that was the one area of the evening where Buttler fell short of his usual standards. “We were in a bit of trouble [but] the guys were relaying back to the dressing room that 110 might be a good score,” Paul Collingwood, England’s assistant coach, said at the interval; Buttler managed 101 on his own.

The second half of his innings was a devastating assault on Sri Lanka’s seamers, with Charith Karunaratne and Dasun Shanaka’s medium pace – splitting the fifth-bowler allocation between them – coming in for particularly rough treatment. Buttler spotted the weak links in the attack and pounced, punishing anything full or short.

Karunaratne was thumped through and over midwicket with a strong bottom hand and Shanaka, left to bowl the 18th over after going in for an early kill with his main bowlers, came in for particularly harsh treatment: a length ball at 81mph/131kph disappeared over midwicket; his response, a late-dipping slower ball, was bludgeoned back over his head and into the stands with a whip of the bottom hand.

Buttler made a rare misjudgement in Chameera’s final over, top-edging a pull to deep square leg. But Pathum Nissanka put down the catch, charging in off the rope, and after two mistimed shots, Buttler rolled his wrists to clip a full toss off his pads for six, joining Heather Knight as the second England player to hit international hundreds in all three formats.

All told, Buttler managed 12 runs off 24 balls against spin, but 89 off 43 against seam; after taking 45 balls over his first 50 runs, his next 51 took just 22. His average as an opener in T20 internationals is now 60.50 with a strike rate of 149.17, a remarkable cocktail of dependability and destruction.

“I found it tough early on, the spinners especially tricky with the low bounce and they were hard to get away,” Buttler told Sky. “So I’m really pleased to keep a calm head and work through it, back myself to come good at the end and start to target certain bowlers and at certain ends with a shorter side on one side.

“I felt like I used a lot of experience. I remember saying a while ago, if I can put both parts of my game together then I think I’ll be getting in a really good place with my T20 batting: I’ve had a lot of experience batting in the middle and to put that together with the top, I can back myself to catch up at certain times and [rely on] the death hitting of my game which is a strength.”

0:50

WATCH - Buttler can do no wrong! Runs out Shanaka with a direct hit

WATCH – Buttler can do no wrong! Runs out Shanaka with a direct hit

His near-perfect night even extended into the field: in the first over of Sri Lanka’s chase he effected the run-out of Nissanka, whipping the bails off after Morgan’s clean throw; in the 18th, his direct hit left Shanaka short of his ground to effectively seal England’s successful defence. “The run-out was the best feeling on the field today,” he smiled after.

The brevity of T20 World Cups means that certain factors can have a huge impact on outcomes: a streak of consecutive toss wins, or several tight decisions going in a team’s favour. Equally, it allows a purple patch of career-best form by one of the world’s best players to lift a team to a trophy: England might be two nights of Buttler brilliance away from the World Cup.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98



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South Africa domestic 4-day franchise series

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He is the favourite to join Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje in the Test squad to face India in December

Duanne Olivier has made himself available for an international comeback but is not allowing himself to think too far ahead. Olivier, who returned to South African cricket following the end of the Kolpak system earlier this year, is the leading wicket-taker in the domestic first-class competition and has had contact from the national selectors but wants to focus on the Lions, who are the top of the points table.

“I am open to everything but I am trying to think of the present and not the future at the moment. Victor Mpitsang (convener of selectors) phoned me and asked me if I was open to playing for South Africa again and I said of course I am. It’s up to the selectors if they want to include me,” Olivier told ESPNcricinfo.

Olivier’s eight wickets in their match against the Knights included his second five-for of the season and second in successive matches as he bowled the Lions to a big win after a brave declaration. After knocking the Knights out for 124, the Lions declared on 193 for 3, 69 runs ahead and then dismissed the Knights for 103, leaving themselves a small target of 35 to win. “There was loads of rain around in this match and we thought it was going to be quite difficult to get a result. We made a risky declaration and luckily it paid off,” Olivier said.

The Lions, led by Olivier, are the only team to have dismissed all their opposition twice so far, taking 80 wickets from four matches. Although he credited the whole attack for their efforts, he also indicated his time in the county circuit had made him a more skilful seamer. Specifically, Olivier has adjusted his length in order to challenge batters more. “I am bowling a bit fuller here in South Africa, which is something I worked on in the UK. At the Wanderers, you can easily bowl a touch shorter, that normal South African length but that may not be that effective and I really believe you should make the new ball count,” he said. “It’s a bit of a risk and reward playoff. If you bowl a bit fuller you might get hit for a few boundaries but you’re testing the batter’s technique. You’re not just allowing him to leave and get himself in.”

Olivier has also had the opportunity to perfect the fuller length on his new home ground, the Wanderers, where, if all goes well, India will play the first of their three Tests from mid-December. With Lungi Ngidi severely lacking match practice after missing the white-ball tour of Sri Lanka for personal reasons, not playing during the T20 World Cup and contracting Covid-19 ahead of the matches against the Netherlands, Olivier is the favourite to join Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje in the Test squad.

But at the moment, he is not setting his sights that far. “For now, I am enjoying being back, enjoying the warmer weather and playing cricket in South Africa again. The quality and standard of the cricket has been very good and it’s nice to be back.”

In other results

  • The Warriors beat Western Province inside two days to remain in second place on the points table and leave the Cape Town based side winless after four matches. Matthew Breetzke scored a century and Rudi Second 76 as Warriors totalled 366. Then, they bowled Western Province out for 79 to force the follow-on and bowled them out again for 173. Left-arm spinner Tsepo Ndwandwa finished with 5 for 46.
  • With the third day lost to rain in Potchefstroom, the Dolphins and North West played out a draw. Honours were shared between several players. Marques Ackerman scored 123 and Delano Potgieter took 5 for 85 in the first innings, which the Dolphins declared closed on 400 for 9. In response, North West had a second-wicket stand of 169 with Lesego Senokwane scoring 91 and Shaylen Pillay an unbeaten 156. They were 313 for 2 when no further play was possible. The big runs allowed North West to sneak above Western Province on the table, with a 0.78 point advantage.
  • An exciting clash between Boland and the Titans was also curtailed early, with no play on the fourth day. The Titans were well placed after captain Neil Brand‘s 111 helped them to 308 in their first innings and he was unbeaten on 32 as they reached 96 for 3 in their second. That gave them a 170-run lead after they bowled Boland out for 234 with Isma-eel Gafieldien top-scoring with 97. Simon Harmer and Ayabulela Gqamane claimed three wickets each. The match also marked a return for allrounder Chris Morris to the domestic set up. He played his first red-ball match for the Titans since October 2019, scored 36 in the first innings and bowled 17 overs with a return of 0 for 40.
  • Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent



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    Moises Henriques struggled to understand Test snub but grateful for George Bailey’s honesty

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    He was part of the Test squad for the South Africa tour earlier in the year tour but not included for the Ashes

    Moises Henriques was left confused by his omission from the entire Ashes build-up having been part of Australia’s previous Test squad, but holds no ill-will towards the national selector George Bailey as he retains hope of adding to his four caps.

    Henriques, who is preparing to lead Sydney Sixers’ bid for a hat-trick of BBL titles, had been named in the squad for the South Africa tour earlier this year which was postponed due to Covid-19 but could not even find a place among the Australia A players who are now in Brisbane. He is the only player from that South Africa group who was available but not part of the original selection – Will Pucovski (concussion) and James Pattinson (retirement) were also absent.

    His start to the domestic season with New South Wales had been further delayed following the IPL as he waited to return without having to quarantine meaning he did not play a game before the squad was named.

    “I have a different view to what the selectors do,” he said. “To be picked on one Test tour and be told that I was there or thereabouts to be playing on that tour and then the next Test tour rolls around and you’re not in the best 25 players. It’s a huge fall, considering I hadn’t played any other four-day games or Shield games in that break.

    “So I didn’t really understand the logic but it’s not my job to understand the logic either. It’s just my job to go out and keep playing as well as I can. I’m comfortable with it. I didn’t agree with the process of it all and that’s completely fine as well. That happens to a lot of people in a lot of different industries.

    “I’ve been a beneficiary of it in the past when I’ve also been like, oh, geez, I wasn’t expecting to get picked for this trip. So I’ve had the good and the bad.”

    The last of Henriques’ four Tests came in 2016 and he has now been overtaken by Nic Maddinson and Matt Renshaw in the current Australia A set-up, while the No. 5 spot in the Test side will be a contest between Travis Head and Usman Khawaja – the latter was not in the South Africa squad – with last season’s average of 70.33 having seemingly lost its weight. He has spoken extensively with Bailey with the pair having a close relationship from playing with and against each other.

    “I get on with George quite well which adds another layer of complexity into that relationship,” he said. “I think that’s a good sign of a good working relationship with when you can both air what you think, and you don’t necessarily agree, but you both understand that it’s okay, and you’ve got to move forward.

    “Any conversation I have with him is always a positive one. Even when he’s delivering bad news. I still walk away going, okay at least he’s been honest and told me his point of view. So it’s disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world and there’s still other opportunities there for me.”

    He still believes it is in his hands to get another crack at Test cricket. His next opportunity for first-class cricket will be in February when the Sheffield Shield returns while Australia are scheduled to tour Pakistan and Sri Lanka during 2022.

    “If I do well enough, I’ll get another opportunity,” he said. “Even though I am 34, I still believe if I score enough runs, if I keep banging the door down, and I keep doing what I know I can do you know that I’ll still play another Test match for Australia, hopefully.”

    Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo



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    Nathan Ellis’ rise to Australia still sinking in

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    The Hobart Hurricanes quick is now looking ahead to the prospect of a home World Cup

    It’s been a whirlwind few months for Nathan Ellis and he is still trying to take it all in. A late call-up to Australia’s tours of the Caribbean and Bangladesh culminated in a debut hat-trick, then came a stint with Punjab Kings in the IPL this season and a spot as a travelling reserve for the T20 World Cup.

    He will shortly start another BBL season with Hobart Hurricanes – the competition that has helped make his name – and he admitted it feels different to now have an “Australia cricketer” among his credentials.

    “Even just hearing you say that it doesn’t sound like it’s right, doesn’t feel real, to be honest,” Ellis told ESPNcricinfo. “It was a dream come true…to hear you say Australian cricketer it’s a really proud thing.

    “I didn’t expect to be on the Caribbean and Bangladesh tours. Then, to get a game at the back end and have the luck I did, I was really content and stoked with that. But then to get the call-up to the World Cup was a dream, rubbing shoulders with the biggest stars we have in the Australian cricket set-up, going onto win it, it’s an experience I’ll never forget.”

    The actual volume of cricket Ellis has played during that period has been limited: two matches in Bangladesh and three games for Kings in the IPL. But he believes he has put his time to good use and, having initially begun by focusing on the death bowling he is most renowned for, has worked to widen his game.

    “Would be remiss of me not to talk to all the players and get as much out of it as I can. I feel like I’ve done that. I haven’t played that much cricket, but just the experiences in the nets and talking to those guys, and even watching them in tough situations, I feel like it can only do me good.

    “Initially, I tried to hone those skills and grow that death bowling skillset, but I’ve also done a lot of new-ball bowling in the powerplay, and as a T20 bowler, you need to keep trying to evolve. My role is the tough overs, so I tried to bowl a lot with the new ball.”

    Having a ringside seat at one World Cup triumph, Ellis now has sights set on remaining in the T20 set-up with an eye on next year’s home tournament. While for now, the shortest format appears the likeliest route to higher honours his domestic numbers – a first-class average of 25.11 and one-day average of 23.75 – suggest he has the potential to expand.

    “In the short term, we’ve just had a T20 World Cup, and we have another one next year, then a one-day World Cup following that, so there’s a lot of white-ball cricket coming up,” he said. “Naturally, I’d love to play for Australia in all formats, but at the moment, my opportunity is in the T20 set-up, so I’ll do everything I can to stay in the mix.

    “Winning this World Cup was amazing, but the possibility of going back-to-back in front of home fans is mouthwatering.”

    Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo



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