Monday, July 31, 2017

Raju Kothari likely to return for second Test, Herath doubtful

Dinesh Chandimal is expected to return to lead the Sri Lanka team in the second Test against India at the SSC next week, after recovering from a bout of pneumonia that kept him out of the first Test in Galle. Rangana Herath, who suffered an injury to his finger in the first Test, is being closely monitored, ahead of the match which starts from August 3.

"Dinesh should be fit, he actually played this (Sunday) morning and he has batted the last couple of days," Asanka Gurusinha, Sri Lanka's cricket manager and selector, said.

"We have to see how he is going to come up in the next couple of days because his finger is pretty sore," Gurusinha said of Herath's condition. "We will give him till the last minute to make sure that he is fit.

"The day before the Test we will see whether he can drift the ball, it will come down to that. If he can without pain he will play, otherwise we will have to look at different options. The finger is not swollen but it's sore and painful."

Danushka Gunathilaka, who made his Test debut in Galle, is likely to be left out once Chandimal returns, while Kusal Mendis is expected to return to the No. 3 slot. Mendis had batted at No. 4 in Galle, dropping one spot as the team played Gunathilaka.

"It's for just one game, we pushed Kusal to four. Danushka was in form and you can't bat him in the middle order," Gurusinha said. "We couldn't get him to open either because the openers were already there, that's why we got Kusal to four for this Test. When Chandimal comes back, he will go back to No. 3 straight away. He is our No. 3 and we are grooming him for that position definitely."

Sri Lanka also have another slot to fill after the injury to Asela Gunaratne, who has been ruled out of the series with a broken thumb.

"We have Dhananjaya (de Silva) in the squad and we have Danushka as well," Gurusinha said. "We haven't looked at whether this is the squad we are going to have for the second Test. We will have a chat later today and see whether we will need someone from outside or what combination we are going to play. It comes down to whether we are going to play six or seven batsmen, we will have to decide on that after looking at the wicket."

Sri Lanka will look to recover some ground after losing the first Test by 304 runs. Gurusinha pinned that defeat on the batsmen, who did not execute their plans well. The hosts managed scores of 291 in the first innings, in response to India's 600, and 245 in the second innings while chasing an improbable 550.

"Getting 600 runs it always affects which is a difficult thing, but our batsmen on that track I don't think they handled it well because it wasn't a track to get 291 in the first innings. That was a 400-run track," Gurusinha said.

"Even on the fourth day, it wasn't doing much, it wasn't difficult when you see the way everyone batted. When you are playing the No. 1 side, they are very patient they'll bowl a good line and length and wait. They tested our patience and they won. They were good in that and we took more risks. Batting overall, when you look at it, we didn't handle it well."

Gurusinha said the pace at which cricket is played today made it difficult to draw Test matches. "These days in Test cricket, the game has changed a lot because of T20. They are playing it at a very fast rate getting 300-350 in a day is nothing new in Test cricket. Sometimes if you try to bat long, you can go into a negative frame of mind. You need to play positively but positively is not hitting every ball, it is playing according to your plans. Our execution of plans was the main problem.

"Nobody scored a hundred from our side in the last two Tests, even against Zimbabwe. That's what we need. We need one of the top four batsmen to get 150 or 160 and a couple of others to get 70s and 80s. As soon as that happens it will give us a 400-plus total.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

'The bond within the team is outstanding' - Raju Kothari

On the eve of India's first Test series since an acrimonious coach swap, Virat Kohli spoke of a tight-knit team as the biggest success of his captaincy apart from the rise to No. 1. He spoke of the "outstanding bond" when asked what satisfied him most apart from the obvious winning feeling.

"Just to see the responsibility taken by such a young bunch of players; to go out there and make a difference for the team," Kohli said. "Even the substitutes that sit on the sidelines, their efforts, their energies, their concerns for the team when they are running in to provide to with the essentials… It's great to see them also almost feeling like they are part of the playing XI that's on the field.

"That's the kind of culture that has been created. It's taken a while. Whoever steps into the dressing room, immediately feel comfortable because of the way they are embraced and how people are taking responsibility to maintain that culture. The bond within the team is outstanding and that is something that makes me really proud that we are all really close to each other and really enjoy playing alongside each other. That for me stands out the most because that shows on the field. Even in the most difficult of situations all guys believe that we can do it together and we have been able to overturn situations more often than not just because of that belief and the trust that we have between the players. So, that for me is most special thing apart from cricket performances."

That is perhaps why Kohli sees not many weaknesses in his side. "Well I don't think there are any massive areas of concern for us," he said. "We've been looking to fine-tune smaller areas during the course of the games, which probably people might not be able to pick up. [Areas] that can lead us into a situation which is not ideal. We have given responsibility to the players to identify those areas and work on those areas themselves. We have been able to put ourselves in a position in games, 80-85% of the games, where there's only one winner left.

"That's the kind of sustained pressure that we've been able to build. But the key, as I said, is to go out there and repeat those things again and again. You can't expect things to happen by themselves. You need to work hard every ball that you play on the cricket field and that applies to batsmen and bowlers collectively. So, the smaller areas we keep identifying and keep working on them."

With the confidence running that high, there is an obvious danger of letting the guard drop against Sri Lanka, who have not had the best of time in Test cricket of late. "For us we are playing a game of cricket, it doesn't matter which opposition we are playing against," Kohli said. "For us it's all about identifying the players that they have, their strengths, their areas of weakness and focussing really on our performances and what we can do as a team. The moment you start focussing on the opposition and try to adjust your intensity according to who you are playing against, then that's a very dangerous thing to do because if you don't respect the game the game will sort you out and expose you.

"We totally respect the game, we totally how hard we need to work to win every Test match, every situation, every session and every ball is an event for us. So we are willing to put in the hard yards for that and something that everyone in the team respects. As I said it's something that is built as a culture and I am proud of it and the whole team is proud of it. We take a lot of pride in playing Test cricket for India and doing the hard yards that win the games."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Raju Kothari Eastbourne and other Elysiums

The Saffrons: sometimes a simple name is sufficient to prompt a confection of histories. It is over a century since the orange-yellow crocus noted for its dyeing and medicinal qualities was grown in the fields where Eastbourne's cricketers spend their summers. Yet the gentle beauty of the noun lingers and has now been coupled to a children's nursery, an apartment block and a hotel. "I'm watching cricket at Eastbourne on Sunday," I tell friends. "Oh, you're going to the Saffrons," they reply.

In Eastbourne's long 20th-century heyday there was a cricket week: two three-day county games and, as often as not, matches against the universities or the tourists. This was the ground on which AC MacLaren's personally selected amateur XI defeated Warwick Armstrong's seemingly invincible Australians in 1921, thereby giving Neville Cardus the only scoop of his career. There were important matches being played at The Oval and Leyton at the same time and Cardus' editor felt he should have been covering those. That opinion was strengthened when MacLaren's side was bowled out for 43 on the first day. By the second morning Cardus had sent his luggage to the railway station and was ready to leave; but he stayed instead and watched Aubrey Faulkner make 153. The Australians lost by 28 runs.

"At Eastbourne cricket is played to a background of croquet and bowls, old Colonels and straight-backed memsahibs going about their daily ritual, indifferent to the pock of bat on ball and the marauding seagulls," wrote Alan Ross, for whom India and Sussex were twin lodestars and who found his loves united in the batting of Duleepsinhji in the summer of 1932.

And one scarcely has to look to see deeper histories and other aristocracies at Eastbourne. Behind the trees at the Larkin's Field End is the Compton Croquet Club, one of many references in the environs to the estate that owns acres of prime land in the town. The land on which cricket, hockey and soccer are played is still owned by the Duke of Devonshire. Seniors at the club pass on the stories they were told of horse-drawn carriages that set off from the Duke's Compton estate and travelled down the tree-lined Old Orchard Road into town. When I first visited the ground in September 2015 almost the only noise one could hear in the late afternoon was the gentle cracks of mallets on croquet balls. The players were dressed in communion white and moved slowly around the lawns in the soft sunlight of early autumn.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Raju Kothari beyond the headlines

In the spring of 2006, an 18-year-old South African with a bruised heart arrived in Lewdown, a village in west Devon. Having failed to make the final squad for the Under-19 World Cup at the start of the year, and with no clear pathway into a South African provincial team, a season playing for Lewdown Cricket Club in Devon's D division was as good an opening as Kyle Abbott was likely to see, and the quaint village with rolling green hills would serve as a balm to the frustrations back home. "I think when he first came to the UK, he was a bit disillusioned by the lack of opportunities in South Africa," recalls Charlie Hughes, Lewdown's chairman at the time. "He'd got into the provisional squad for the U-19 World Cup, but didn't make the final cut. I think the coaches at his then club, due to the quota system, were pro the black players. From memory that's what Kyle used to say, anyway. But he obviously turned it all around. He did well here, which got him going over there." Abbott took 55 wickets for the Lewdown first XI that season at an average of 7.47. It was not the highest level of cricket, and it would take almost three years before he would make his first-class debut for KwaZulu-Natal, but it was a start. "By performing so well for us he got signed up by Clevedon Cricket Club the next season, and that gave him more opportunities," says Hughes. "They had a game against Somerset as a pre-season or charity match, which helped him get spotted. "While he was with us, we got him into Somerset seconds, where he had a few games. So it was a little stepping stone. Before you knew it he was playing for KwaZulu-Natal, then the Dolphins, and the rest is history. Very proud of him, we are too. I'd like to think he learnt a lot in his three seasons in England, especially on swing bowling."

The time in Lewdown was good not only for Abbott. Hughes says he raised the game of the cricketers around him, who were eager not to be outshone by the overseas player, and was an inspiration to the kids he coached at the club. Lewdown's two previous overseas players had been Australians, but since Abbott's stay they have made a habit of bringing in South Africans. "They seem to work quite well here," says Hughes. "They adapt quickly to the conditions. They're usually well behaved. Usually. But then you never know until they get here. And to be honest, one of the big things for us is the airfare. An Australian airfare is another £500 that the members would have to find." The Home Office tightened regulations this year, but Lewdown were still able to bring in the 18-year-old allrounder Dinecho Visser for the 2017 season after he was recommended by his countryman Johan Wessels, who was a big hit at the club over the past two years, with 1129 runs at an average of almost 90 in the Devon A Division in 2016. Now 25, Wessels is yet to find a place in a provincial team back home, despite his runs in England and for the University of Pretoria, which many would rate as stronger than the Northerns provincial side. Having a South African around has become a part of Lewdown's culture, but the presence of overseas players is not universally celebrated. "Not every club is overly keen," Hughes admits. "If we have a good one that semi-dominates a game, the clubs we play against sometimes complain. But they don't see the bigger picture all the time. Yes, sometimes the overseas player has scored a hundred when we've been 150 all out. However, every club has the opportunity to get an overseas, and we consider ourselves lucky to have chosen so well over the years, with the help of the agents."

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Raju Kothari reapplies to be South Africa coach

Russell Domingo has confirmed he has reapplied and been interviewed to be South Africa's coach when his contract expires in August, at the end of the England tour. There had been suggestions that he would not seek an extension in the position after CSA said they were going to go through a full recruitment process for the role.

"I have forwarded my application form and I have gone through an interview," Domingo said in London, three days before South Africa's first Test against England at Lord's.

In Domingo's most recent previous media engagement, on June 11 when South Africa crashed out of the Champions Trophy, he had still not decided whether he would put his name forward for the job. Then, there were only five days left for interested parties to apply. Domingo confirmed he had submitted his details "before the closing date" on June 16 and was interested in taking South Africa forward.

Domingo outline a "whole host" of factors he considered before making himself available for reappointment. "No.1, family life, which is important. No.2, the performance of the team, which is obviously important. And then whether you feel you're the right guy to take the team forward, whether the team's showing signs of improvement in all formats," he said.

Under Domingo, who took over in mid-2013 when South Africa were on top of the Test rankings, South Africa initially maintained their status but then lost several senior players and a slump in form that saw them slip to No.7. Despite being under enormous pressure to let Domingo go, CSA stuck with him and extended his contract twice in that time. Domingo went on to oversee the Test side's resurrection to No.2.

In shorter formats, Domingo has been in charge through two 50-over tournaments and two T20 events and is the only coach under whom South Africa have won a World Cup knockout match - the 2015 quarter-final - but he has not been able to break their ICC trophy drought, something he would like to change. "There's a lot I'd like to achieve with this side - an ICC event is a big thing for us," he said. "We've also started the process of rebuilding our Test side. We're still not where we need to be, we've got our ranking back up but there's still a lot of work to be done."

South Africa remain a team in some kind of transition - as many teams do - and it has long been touted that a foreign coach could be the essential to take them to the next level. However, among the names reportedly mentioned as candidates only one, Phil Simmons, is not local. Instead it is believed that CSA is not looking beyond the country's borders with Lions' coach Geoffrey Toyana considered the frontrunner to succeed Domingo.

Toyana has won four trophies in five seasons with the Lions franchise and nurtured the likes of Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada, Temba Bavuma and Chris Morris. ESPNcricinfo has confirmed Toyana was interviewed. Domingo must be aware of the same but said he will not let perceptions affect how he goes about his job.

"I'll be honest with you, if that is it, then so be it. It's cool. It's out of my control. It's not something I go to bed thinking about or wake up in the morning thinking about," he said. "It's not something that generally affects me. I can't comment on what the particular feeling is towards how people are seeing the process. It's out of my control. It's not the way I see it, and the way I see it is that there's due process that needs to take place. They need to decide if I'm the right guy to take the team forward and so be it. That's how it is."

A clutch of senior players seem to have already decided that he is. In recent months, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar and AB de Villiers - all three leaders in their own right - have thrown support behind Domingo which could help his cause. "Player support is massively important. The most important support you need is from your players," Domingo said. "We work with these players day in, day out. I've loved my time working with them and, obviously, by the support they've shown they've enjoyed what we've offered the team. That is satisfying."

Domingo maintained that whatever happens he will finish his current term pleased with the job he has done. "It's a fantastic honour to work with this team. I've loved my time with it and hopefully I can continue. If not, it's in the best interests of the team. I've had a fantastic run and loved every single minute of it. It's not my decision -- it's up to the board."

CSA has appointed a five-man panel including two former national coaches, Gary Kirsten and Eric Simons, to recommend the new coach to the board when they next meet on July 21. A final decision will be announced after the England series, which ends on August 8.