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The Ashes 2021-22 – Australia vs England

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England’s Ashes campaign officially gets underway on Tuesday, according to Joe Root, the Test captain, with the emergence from quarantine of the multi-format players who featured in the recent T20 World Cup in the UAE, and the scheduled start of an intra-squad four-day match in Brisbane.

Jos Buttler, Mark Wood, Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan and Chris Woakes, all of whom featured in England’s run to the semi-finals, will be available for selection in the fixture against England Lions at the Ian Healy Oval, after completing their 14 days of quarantine, with the tour’s coaching contingent of Chris Silverwood, Paul Collingwood, Jeetan Patel and James Foster also now able to link up with the rest of the squad.

But to judge by the weather that the main Ashes party has been encountering on the Gold Coast since their own arrival at the start of the month, it promises to be a soggy reunion, with Root admitting that the players may need to focus on their mental preparation to compensate for their limited time in the middle.

Only 29 overs were possible on the opening day of the initial three-day warm-up against the England Lions last week, meaning that the openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed, and the spinner Dom Bess – leant out to the Lions attack – are the only three members of the Ashes party to have had any match practice since the start of the tour.

And for that reason, Root said the proposed first-class status of the squad match had been downgraded, to allow enough flexibility to give the team’s key players sufficient time in the middle – among them Ben Stokes, who has not batted in a red-ball match since the tour of India in February.

“It’s been unusual,” Root admitted, “Having spent a period of time in quarantine and training within that quarantine phase, and then coming to Brisbane. We haven’t had that three-day game, as we would have liked, but it was always going to be the case that tomorrow was really the first day as a squad that we would get together, with those World Cup guys joining us.

“So we always knew that this next phase was going to be the most crucial part, in terms of getting tight, getting clear and readying ourselves, and that’s going to be the real test for us.

“We want that intensity to be as high as we can, as close to the Test matches as we can, and I expect it to be very competitive,” Root said of the four-day fixture. “The quality of the players will be there from both teams and, because of the lack of preparation that we’ve had in that previous three-day game, having that extra bit of flexibility to make sure we can get as many guys what they need throughout these four days is going to be crucial.

“But it might be that, in the next couple of days, we get some similar weather and we don’t get the time out there in the middle. But whether you play those games in your mind a little bit more, visualise a little bit more, it’s really important you find different ways of making sure that, when that first ball comes down at the Gabba, we’re in the best place possible.”

Stokes endured a dramatic 24 hours over the weekend, after briefly choking on a tablet that got lodged in his windpipe in his hotel-room, and then being struck on the forearm while facing throw-downs in the nets from the batting consultant, Jonathan Trott. And while Root was eager to downplay the latter incident, he acknowledged the blow would need to be monitored as he continues his return to action.

“It was a bit of a concern,” Root said. “The wickets, because of the weather, have been slightly spicy and guys have really had to get stuck in. There have been a few little knocks here and there. To see Ben get hit like that was obviously a scary moment. We all know how crucial he is within our squad but he seems to have come through it pretty well.

“He practised again today and again we’ll keep assessing, making sure it doesn’t have a prolonged effect on him. It’s going to be really important that he gets himself ready both physically and mentally for this series and to play a big part in it.”

Either way, England could still find themselves with more match readiness going into that first Test on December 8 than Australia, whose own lack of red-ball game-time has been compounded by internal upheaval, following the resignation of Tim Paine as captain, and the appointment of Pat Cummins in his place.

“It’s not really for us to worry about,” Root said. “For us, it is about readying ourselves as best we can. Playing against Pat, I know what a competitor he is and what he brings to their team. I expect him to do just that as a captain as well. But it is really important we focus on ourselves, get the most out of this lead-in and don’t get distracted by anything that Australia are doing.

“There’s a lot of people that will want to prove things, and will want to show that they deserve an opportunity for that first Test match,” Root added. “This is a really good chance for us to get ahead of things, maybe get ahead of Australia in terms of preparation and game-time ahead of the series, and it would be silly for us to just cosy our way through the four days. It has to be good hard proper cricket that we’ll benefit from, going into the first Test.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket



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Mark Boucher charged with ‘gross misconduct’

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South Africa’s head coach to face a disciplinary hearing chaired by senior counsel advocate Terry Motau; he will remain in his role as coach in the interim

In a follow-up to the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) report, Mark Boucher has been charged with gross misconduct by Cricket South Africa, and will face a disciplinary hearing chaired by senior counsel advocate Terry Motau. Boucher remains in his role as head coach of the senior men’s team, and will be with the team as they take on India in the second ODI in Paarl on Friday.

On Thursday, CSA named Motau as chairperson of the disciplinary hearing into the allegations of misconduct against Boucher, and said in a statement that the coach had been presented with his charge sheet.

The statement said: “It is proposed that the parties [Boucher] will meet with Advocate [Motau] on 26th January 2022 to determine a timetable for the proceedings.

“This follows December’s Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) report, which made tentative findings regarding allegations of discrimination and racism against various persons, including Mr Boucher. Specifically, during the SJN process, allegations of racism were levelled against Mr Boucher by his former Proteas team-mate, Paul Adams.
“CSA confirms that a charge sheet, containing both the disciplinary charges against Mr Boucher, as well as his rights, was provided to him on 17 January. The upcoming inquiry will also consider concerns and allegations that arose following the resignation of former assistant coach, Enoch Nkwe.

“While Mr Boucher is being charged with gross misconduct, which could lead to his dismissal, CSA emphasises it is important that the independent inquiry first needs to test all allegations before any question of sanction can arise.”

Responding to the development, Boucher issued a statement of his own later in the day, saying: “I look forward to dealing with and defending these allegations which have been made and will do so at the hearing in due course. For now I am solely focused on my duties as head coach of the Proteas.”*

The SJN report, which was released in December, made “tentative” findings that Boucher, among others, had engaged in prejudicial and discriminatory conduct in the past on the basis of race. But ombudsman Dumisa Ntsebeza was unable to make definite findings, and recommended to CSA that a further process be undertaken for this. This secondary process is now what CSA is flagging off, with Motau at the helm.

The CSA statement said further steps in this regard will be announced “in due course”. “Further steps and action by CSA to transform cricket and act on other applicable recommendations in the SJN report, aligned to the Board’s new strategic framework and pillars of access, inclusion and excellence, will be announced in due course.”

*2.45pm GMT, February 20: The article was updated with Boucher’s statement.



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Match Preview – Sri Lanka vs Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe in Sri Lanka 2021/22, 3rd ODI

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Preview

Sri Lanka looked a batter short in the second ODI, with the Zimbabwe quicks triggering a collapse

Big picture

On Tuesday, two significant weaknesses in Sri Lanka’s XI were exposed. On flat tracks, even with Dushmantha Chameera in the side, the bowling attack lacked for penetration through the early and middle overs, with only legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay claiming wickets in the first 35. Then, while chasing 303, the top order’s fragilities were laid bare. Against testing but hardly unplayable bowling, Sri Lanka were 31 for 3 inside eight overs, and 63 for 4 inside 15. Although captain Dasun Shanaka‘s maiden international hundred kept Sri Lanka in the hunt, you don’t come out on top of many chases with the kind of start they had.

Their strategy has come under serious review with that loss; perhaps they are a batter short. With Kamindu Mendis and Charith Asalanka capable of contributing overs, could they perhaps push Chamika Karunaratne down to No. 8? And it is possible they did not use their better bowlers enough. Vandersay had one over unbowled; Karunaratne, who had taken a wicket and gone at only four an over, delivered only six of his possible ten.

Zimbabwe, meanwhile, will be thrilled at their own bowlers’ performances. Blessing Muzarabani was the standout on Tuesday, as he, Tendai Chatara and Richard Ngarava produced arguably the defining period of the game – the early overs of Sri Lanka’s innings. In fact, such was the dominance of those three quicks, and the control of left-arm spinner Wellington Masakadza, that Zimbabwe didn’t even need Sikandar Raza to bowl his offspin at any stage. The attack also held its nerve when the match seemed headed for a tight finish.
A victory in the final match would give Zimbabwe their first series win of this inaugural Super League cycle after also tying a series against Ireland. And it would be the second successive ODI series they would have won in Sri Lanka, having done the same back in 2017, which amounts to serious bragging rights.

Big picture

Sri Lanka LWWLW (Last five completed matches; most recent first)
Zimbabwe WLLWL

In the spotlight

In the four years that Blessing Muzarabani has played ODIs for Zimbabwe, he has had a substantial impact. Away from home, his numbers are excellent: 25 wickets from 16 matches at an average of 27.32. And what is more, since late 2020, he is on a pretty serious run of form despite the infrequency with which Zimbabwe play. In his last nine ODIs, he has gone wicketless only once. Tall, sharp and accurate, he will likely be a menace again come Friday.

While Dasun Shanaka did not have the best night as captain, perhaps mismanaging his bowling resources, he will at least be pleased that he produced his first excellent innings since taking over as Sri Lanka’s white-ball captain last year. His form had been a concern right through the last few months, and was perhaps the greatest sticking point in his captaincy so far. Another good innings will help shore up his leadership.

Pitch and conditions

Another flat surface is expected in Pallekele. The weather is not forecast to interrupt.

Team news

Offspinning allrounder Ramesh Mendis is likely to come into Sri Lanka’s XI in order to target Craig Ervine and Sean Williams, the two left-handers in Zimbabwe’s middle order, as well as to bolster the hosts’ batting. Maheesh Theekshana, who has been economical without being a major wicket-taking threat, is likeliest to make way.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Pathum Nissanka, 2 Kusal Mendis (wk), 3 Kamindu Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Charith Asalanka, 6 Dasun Shanaka (capt), 7 Chamika Karunaratne, 8 Ramesh Mendis, 9 Dushmantha Chameera, 10 Jeffrey Vandersay, 11 Nuwan Pradeep

Zimbabwe were unchanged in the second ODI, and will probably see no need to switch things up for this game too.

Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Regis Chakabva (wk), 2 Takudzwanashe Kaitano, 3 Craig Ervine (capt), 4 Wesley Madhevere, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Ryan Burl, 8 Wellington Masakadza, 9 Blessing Muzarabani, 10 Tendai Chatara, 11 Richard Ngarava

Stats and trivia

  • Zimbabwe have now won four of their last seven ODIs in Sri Lanka. Before 2017, they had never won a match on the island.
  • In 12 innings in 2020, Shanaka averaged 22.45 with a strike rate of 71. But thanks to Tuesday’s knock, he averages 112 and strikes at 106 across two innings so far this year.
  • Despite their modest overall ODI record, Sri Lanka have won three of their last four bilateral ODI series at home, defeating Bangladesh, West Indies and South Africa since 2019.
  • Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf



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    Womens Ashes 2022 – Tammy Beaumont wants England to ‘get over the line’ after encouraging start ends in defeat

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    England opener described Australia allrounder Tahlia McGrath’s execution as “the difference between kicking onto like 180-190”

    Tammy Beaumont has backed England to compete with Australia when the sides reconvene for back-to-back matches at the Adelaide Oval over the weekend to complete the T20I leg of their Ashes series. But despite a heavy defeat in the first T20I to start off the tour, she was keen to highlight the positives for England after the match – not least after the visitors’ senior side had lost both of their T20 warm-up matches to England A in the lead-up to Thursday’s series opener.
    “We’ve come a long way in the space of less than a week,” Beaumont said. “There’s still a long way to go. We’ve got a lot more cricket to play, and I’m sure [we] will improve. We wanted to come out here and play the way we want to play T20 cricket, and to put 170 on the board was certainly the way we go about it. The way Danni Wyatt came out and really attacked – particularly the spinners down the ground – I thought was exceptional.

    “We wanted to say that we’re going to come toe-to-toe with Australia, and I think they were surprised in the field. You saw some mistakes from them, so I think we started well but we’ve just got to try and get over the line.”

    Beaumont admitted that there was little England’s batters could do in the face of Tahlia McGrath‘s excellent bowling, which not only removed two set batters – Wyatt and Sciver in a double-wicket over – at a crucial time but also accounted for No. 5 Amy Jones, caught for four at long-on by Grace Harris, who returned to the Australian line-up with Beth Mooney’s fractured jaw pushing captain Meg Lanning up the order to open and Ellyse Perry dropped primarily owing to a dwindling strike rate.

    Australia’s depth wasn’t tested even after Sophie Ecclestone dismissed Alyssa Healy for just seven in the fourth over of their response thanks to McGrath and Lanning, the latter finishing on an unbeaten 64 off 44 balls. Ecclestone, the left-arm spinner who took a stunning 7 for 14 for England in a losing cause in one of the T20 warm-ups against England A, remains a huge weapon for the visitors, but the Australian line-up looked impenetrable in Adelaide on Thursday. As McGrath and Lanning turned up the pressure, cracks formed in England’s fielding and that was one area Beaumont said needed work.

    “I’ve been part of heavier defeats in some ways,” Beaumont said. “Obviously they have got a nine-wicket win at the end of the day but to post 170 on a ground where the par in women’s cricket here is a lot lower is a massive positive. We started really well in the powerplay as well with the ball. We’ve got to tighten up some areas: we probably didn’t field well enough on our ground fielding, and maybe tighten up our lines a little bit and come back with some plans to try and get those two out.”

    The hosts took the first two points of the seven-match multi-format contest with an emphatic victory in the opening game – thanks to McGrath’s three wickets and 91 not out, despite England setting themselves up well through an 82-run opening partnership between Beaumont and Wyatt, and another 59-run stand for the second wicket between Wyatt and Sciver. Wyatt had breathed new life into her international career with 89* in the third T20I against India in July and unbeaten 50-over scores of 63 and 43 during New Zealand’s visit to England in September. Her latest innings of 70 came off just 54 balls and included three glorious sixes, while Beaumont contributed 30 off 24.

    But the margin of defeat and the fact that England’s bowlers had no answers as McGrath and Lanning put on an unbroken second-wicket union of 144 to see their side home with three overs to spare, is cause for concern. So too is the fact that – surviving McGrath’s pin-point yorker in a devastating double-wicket over aside – England couldn’t have done much more with the bat.

    “We just need to build a bit of pressure, get a couple of dots an over, stop the boundary balls and then if they’ve got to get nine an over – which they did at one stage – they’re going to have to take more risks,” Beaumont said. “They played really well, took the right risks at the right time, but I’m not too worried about our bowling attack – it’s been brilliant for the last two, three years.”

    “At the beginning of the day we would definitely have taken 170,” Beaumont said. “We just really wanted to get off to a good start and set the tone really well for our team. Credit to Tahlia McGrath, she bowled two brilliant yorkers there to get our two set batters out and that’s probably the difference between kicking onto like 180-190.”

    Meanwhile, England face one injury concern going into the second match on Saturday after Maia Bouchier appeared to jar her right knee heavily as she attempted to stop a McGrath boundary and spent the rest of the match off the field with it strapped and packed in ice.

    Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo



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