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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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‘Don’t perform, you don’t get chance’

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India coach says squad for the New Zealand series and Women’s World Cup picked itself, going by each player’s recent performances

India head coach Ramesh Powar has provided official clarification on the exclusion of Shikha Pandey and Jemimah Rodrigues from India’s extended squad for the forthcoming series against New Zealand and the Women’s World Cup that follows. Asked about the same ahead of the team’s departure for these assignments, he said, “If you don’t perform, you don’t get your chances.”

Addressing a virtual press conference from Mumbai, Powar, when asked if Pandey and Rodrigues’ experience would be missed on either assignment, said: “Not really. At the end of it, five selectors, captain, the coach – they have their discussed all the players and we came out with 18 players who can play better in the New Zealand series as well as in the World Cup.”

“Every player knows. Whoever is not in the team knows why they are not there,” Powar said. “That communication from, say, captain, coach, selectors – it is not a one-time communication; it’s been on for a long period of time – at least last six months, I was very clear about the roles. I told them, specifically, what is expected out of them, and end of it this is a competition, a competitive position, so you have to perform. If you don’t perform, you don’t get your chances.

While the questions at the presser were around batter Rodrigues and swing bowler Pandey, the India squad also excluded experienced batter and ODI veteran Punam Raut. The squad was announced by means of a written media release, with no explanations given as to why the trio was left out. ESPNcricinfo had reported that all three players were fit and available for selection. That none of them were picked even as standbys raised questions, more so given they were part of a boot camp for 20 World Cup hopefuls in Dehradun last month.
Three players with much less experience (quick bowler Renuka Singh, who impressed on her debut in the T20I series on the Australia tour last year and in the domestic 50-over Challenger Trophy that followed, allrounder Simran Bahadur and batter S Meghana – both standout performers in the Challenger Trophy) – instead came into the extended squad of 18, leaving a lot to conjecture. Renuka was part of the main squad, with the other two named as standbys.

Now, Powar said the group picked itself, going by recent performances of each selected player. “So, if you look at it, you cannot pick everyone. There’s only 15 [in the primary squad] and then three standbys. And we were looking at the particular things, like fast bowlers, like Meghna [Singh], Renuka – they’re doing well and they are going to get their chances in upcoming matches.

“Again, the batting unit is consistent like Yastika [Bhatia], Smriti [Mandhana], Mithali [Raj]. Everyone is consistent so we don’t we don’t change much. At the end of it seven of us getting together and picking the right team and backing the players, that matters.”
Pandey, 32, last played an ODI in July, during the tour of England. She was also part of the Australia tour that followed in September-October but didn’t make the XI for 50-over matches.
Bhatia made such a strong impression down under that she has effectively replaced Jemimah Rodrigues in the team. Rodrigues was dropped from the playing XI in the first ODI against England in July and then, having failed to make an impression in the next two matches, was not considered to start in the Australia ODIs.
In the six ODIs that she played in 2021, Raut, 32, accumulated 295 runs, including a hundred, at an average of 73.75, but her historically low career strike rate of 58.26 has seen her being outperformed by younger, more aggressive batters. She has publicly expressed her disappointment at the World Cup snub.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha



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Women’s World Cup 2022 – India captain Mithali Raj says ‘too much importance is given to strike rate’

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India captain wants her batters to dig their heels in and ‘play according to match situation’

India captain Mithali Raj wants her batting line-up, especially the top order, to dig their heels in and “play according to the situation” in the upcoming ODI World Cup, instead of channeling their focus “entirely” on strike rate. And, when the need arises – which, in India’s case, is often, going by their up-and-down performances with the bat since the 2017 World Cup – they must take the responsibility to “get your team out of the hole too”.
India have been trying to score 250-plus totals on a consistent basis and, according to Raj, this is the blueprint by which they can achieve it. To further reinforce the point, she cited the example of Beth Mooney and her epic 125 not out last year where she started off circumspect, risking a low strike rate for prolonged periods of time, before hitting top gear.

“I think too much importance isn’t given to strike rate by you all?” Raj asked in response to a question on India’s takeaways regarding dot-ball percentage and boundary rates from the Australia tour, where they lost the ODI series 2-1. “Because it is always spoken [of] when it comes to batting or putting up big totals.

‘I just wanted to know if you all only follow the strike rates of the India players or the players from the other teams, because if you might give me an opportunity to enlighten [you], the Australia [ODI] series itself, the game that Australia won, the decider, if you’ve seen Beth Mooney, who scored her 50 in 80-odd balls, but she went on to play a match-winning innings for the team.

“So, as for me, I believe that cricket is a game played on situations on the ground. And yes, it is important that we keep that in mind that we need to have a healthy strike rate. But at the end of the day, it’s how our batting unit revolves and [what] the depth of the batting unit in our team [is].

“So yes, when we have to score 250-270, we need to have a healthy strike rate, but having said that, we will not only entirely focus on strike rate, it’s important to play an innings to win and build partnerships, and that happens, not because of strike rate but because you apply and play according to the situation on the ground. Sometimes you have to play fast, but sometimes you have to play to get your team out of the hole too.”

India, who were runners-up in the 2005 and 2017 tournaments, are looking to win their first world title in New Zealand in March.

More to follow…

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha



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Recent Match Report – Strikers vs Thunder Knockout 2021/22

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Team’s remarkable march towards an unlikely title continued as they beat Thunder by six runs

Adelaide Strikers 6 for 184 (Cockbain 65, Short 39, T Sangha 2-15, Sandhu 2-40) beat Sydney Thunder 6 for 178 (J Sangha 61, Ross 56, Conway 2-33, Siddle 2-41) by six runs

Harry Conway bowled a superb final over as Adelaide Strikers’ remarkable late season revival and march towards an unlikely BBL title continued after knocking out Sydney Thunder by six runs in a thriller at the MCG.
With Thunder needing 14 runs off the last over, Conway held his nerve and dismissed Alex Ross (56) and Ben Cutting with successive deliveries as Strikers claimed their sixth straight victory.

Strikers, who had been bottom two for much of the regular season, play two-time defending champion Sydney Sixers on Wednesday at the SCG with the winner to book a spot in Friday’s final against Perth Scorchers at Marvel Stadium.

It was heartbreak for Thunder, who finished third in the regular season and looked on track to chase down Strikers’ 6 for 184 only to fall short.

Conway and Siddle star under pressure

In-form Strikers had beaten Hobart Hurricanes in a sudden-death final on Friday but this proved much more difficult against Thunder’s imposing batting order. For the first time since he departed late in the season, star spinner Rashid Khan was desperately missed with his replacement Fawad Ahmed wicketless.

Strikers appeared to have no answers to Ross and Jason Sangha (61), who got Thunder within 39 runs before ageless Peter Siddle inspired a comeback in the 17th over. He removed Sangha and then Daniel Sams to thwart Thunder, who hit back thanks to some lusty blows from Cutting.

It came down to the final over delivered by Conway, who was under pressure when Ross hit a boundary off the third ball. But Conway proved the hero to conjure a famous Strikers victory as their stunning resurgence continued.

Thunder fall short amid contentious Khawaja dismissal

For chunks of the season, especially when they peeled off a six-match winning streak, Thunder looked like genuine title contenders so they will be frustrated to fall at this hurdle.

Even though they lost Alex Hales in the third over, Thunder remained on course with their hopes largely resting on captain Usman Khawaja and Sangha, who hit three gorgeous boundaries in his first five deliveries.

But the match turned in the seventh over when Khawaja sliced to a forward diving Fawad at short third man with the fielder claiming the catch. Replays appeared to show the ball hitting some turf before going into Fawad’s fingers but the third umpire believed there was not enough evidence to overturn the soft signal.

A stunned Khawaja trudged back and a shaken Thunder had to regroup quickly. They did exactly that with Sangha and Ross, who found form after two successive ducks, expertly working the ball around the MCG’s vast expanses. But it wasn’t enough.

Cockbain overshadows Test stars

It seemed like déjà vu for Strikers who were following their successful formula against Hurricanes after electing to bat. Alex Carey and Matthew Short appeared set to replicate their match-winning century partnership last start as they once again got off to a flier.

Carey was in a belligerent mood but his dismissal on 23 halted Strikers as Short departed then so too Travis Head, who has mustered just eight runs across two games since his return from his outstanding Ashes.

Strikers were in danger of falling away but No. 3 Ian Cockbain steadied the ship with a superb 38-ball 65 to again prove why the 34-year-old has been the find of this BBL season after recently being plucked out of suburban cricket in Melbourne.

He couldn’t quite be there at the death but his innings proved vital and lifted Strikers to a total that was just enough.

Sams’ blinder brightens ragged Thunder

Sams has enjoyed another stellar season but things were unravelling for him early at the MCG. He came on during the four-over powerplay only to be belted for 19 runs and worse was to follow when he dropped big-hitter Short on 15 after misjudging a skier.

But a seething Sams made up for all of that with a blinder to dismiss Carey, where he leapt backwards on the midwicket boundary to pull off one of the best catches of the tournament.

It sparked Thunder as frontline spinner Tanveer Sangha (4-0-15-2) tied down Strikers in the middle overs with skiddy bowling to change the momentum. But an otherwise ragged Thunder couldn’t finish the job with their seamers struggling and sloppy fielding undoing Sangha’s earlier brilliance.

It would eventually prove costly.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth



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