India lay down their marker as spin takes a backseat

India lay down their marker as spin takes a backseat

Football might be coming home, but cricket isn’t. Not for a while, anyway.

After their success against a diminished Australia – defeated 6-0 across limited-overs formats – England were brought crashing down to earth by an India side that look significantly better than anyone England have played since 2015.

The real worry for England is that, over the last three years, they have built their limited-overs strategy upon amassing vast scores on surfaces ideal for batting. While they have, from time to time, conceded huge totals, they have backed themselves to score more. Even if that requires a total well in excess of 350 in ODI cricket.

But on the limited evidence of this series, India have the batting firepower to match – or surpass – anything England can achieve on such surfaces. And, crucially, a bowling attack with a little more bite to render any chase a more risk-filled business.

Maybe on surfaces where the ball nips around laterally, the likes of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli can be contained. But on these pitches? Where batsmen can hit through the line and the boundaries can be cleared with relative ease? They look daunting. And MS Dhoni didn’t even make it to the crease.

The only way England were going to contain India here was by taking wickets. But after the ball stopped swinging after a few deliveries – David Willey struck Rohit on the pads when the first ball of the innings nipped back and then beat him outside of when the next held its line – England looked toothless in the face of the assault that confronted them. Unless Willey strikes in those first few balls, England look set for a long session in the field.

Eoin Morgan reckoned England fell 25 or so short of the total they should have set. But the ease with which India knocked off the runs suggested they could have chased even that amount – and quite possibly another 20 or so on top of that – with confidence.

Indeed, the margin of defeat may flatter England a little. It was only their fielding – perhaps the one area in which they are better than India – that kept them in the game. It took three outstanding catches to claim the India wickets. One of them, by Chris Jordan, was an almost impossibly good running catch at long-on to end KL Rahul’s innings. Take that out of the equation – and you can’t really plan for the miraculous – and India’s victory would have been even more thumping.

The most impressive aspect of this victory in Bristol, from an Indian perspective, is that it was achieved without much assistance from their spinners. Persuaded to drop Kuldeep Yadav by a green-tinged surface and some painfully short boundaries, India instead opted to deliver 16 overs of seam. And, tellingly, they were delivered at greater pace – both Deepak Chahar and Umesh Yadav bowled quicker deliveries than anything managed by any England bowler – and greater control than England could manage.

“Hardik Pandya hit a good length,” Morgan said afterwards. “And we didn’t hit it.

“On this ground taking wickets is a priority. So I was chopping and changing [the bowlers] and trying to find a wicket. Trying to be as unpredictable as we could. And it didn’t work.

“India stuck to banging in a hard length, until they went to yorkers towards the end. We watched them do it, after we couldn’t, and it emphasises that we need to be better at either putting somebody off their length or hitting length.”

There are caveats. Most importantly, this was a T20 series. England are a better, more experienced unit in 50-over cricket. This was the first time since the World T20 in 2016 that England have even attempted to assemble their best T20 side – it is the format that has been used to rest and rotate players for higher priority cricket – and it stands to reason they will improve for greater experience and exposure.

They missed a couple of decent players, too. Both Chris Woakes and Mark Wood may well have strengthened their bowling – especially at the death.

England might take some encouragement from the fact they won in Cardiff, too. It shows it can be done. And it’s more than two years until the next World T20. There is time to learn. Joe Root, for example, who has hardly played T20 over the last few years and was here dropped by England for the first time since January 2014 (the Sydney Test that ended England’s miserable Ashes campaign) will react to this setback by working harder than ever. The whole of this England set-up could do well to look at the way India play – matching the aggression with the bat with the ball – and learn from it.

But many of the decisive factors in this series – the variety of India’s bowling, the strength of their batting – will apply to 50-over cricket, too. The upcoming ODI series should provide an excellent gauge of England’s real standing in the format. If they can beat India in these conditions, they really can be considered favourites for the World Cup.

India have shown how high the bar is in this series. Clearing it, in 20 or 50 over cricket, looks desperately tough.

Talking Points: Royals finally play their leggies together

Talking Points: Royals finally play their leggies together

Royals finally play their two leggies

Right-arm legspinners have a better average and economy rate than any other type of bowler this IPL. Royals have two in-form right-arm legspinners. You would think the math would be simple. Play them both and build a strong bowling unit around them. Yet, Royals waited for their last game of the season to play Shreyas Gopal and Ish Sodhi together. They had alternated them through the tournament, despite their Indian pace bowlers struggling.

When those two finally got a go together, they absolutely strangled Royal Challengers Bangalore, taking five wickets for 47 runs from eight overs, and delivered a win that could get Royals into the playoffs – they still need other results to go their way. If Royals don’t end up making it, they will be left ruing not attacking with the Sodhi-Gopal duo earlier in the tournament.

How does this result affect the table?

A 30-run win means Royals’ net run-rate jumps to -0.250, which is still some way behind Kolkata Knight Riders’ -0.091. Kolkata Knight Riders need to lose by a big margin to Sunrisers Hyderabad (for example, by 45 runs chasing 180) for Royals to go ahead of them. So, Royals’ best chance of qualifying is if Mumbai Indians lose to Delhi Daredevils tomorrow, which will keep them on 12 points. The good news for Royals is that this result makes it extremely difficult for Kings XI to qualify. Their net run-rate is -0.490, so they need to win by a massive margin (for example, 53 runs after scoring 180) to leapfrog Royals.

Archer experiment denies Samson time

The risk of sending a pinch-hitter to open is not that he gets out early but that he struggles for form and ends up wasting valuable balls. Jofra Archer’s 0 off 4 meant Royals effectively started their innings in the third over, with Rahul Tripathi on 2 off 6 when Archer was dismissed.

The other drawback of Archer opening was that Sanju Samson, Royals’ best batsman after Jos Buttler, was going to come in at No. 4, behind the captain Ajinkya Rahane. Samson is the one player in the Royals line-up who has showed potential to get a really big score. He also has a much better smart strike rate than Rahane or Tripathi, so Royals could have tried to give him as many deliveries to face as possible.

The shuffling of the batting order was a surprise because Royals had already been shown the value of having their best player at the top – when Buttler made five consecutive fifties after being promoted to open the innings.

Slow Rahane hurts RR

After the Archer experiment failed, Rahane backed himself to play the anchor role at No.3. But a strike rate of 106.45 in a 31-ball innings meant that the Royals innings never gathered momentum. Rahane has not only been the slowest scorer this IPL of all batsmen who have faced 250 or more balls, but he has been significantly slower than the next slowest, Suresh Raina. His smart strike rate is just 101.52, compared to Raina’s 121.29. This means he has cost his team 48 runs this season, more than any other batsman.

Rahane may have been concerned that the Royals batting line-up was not long enough, but they had K Gowtham, who has a smart SR of 281.15, only coming in for the last six balls of the innings. If they do make it to the playoffs, Royals may want to rethink their batting strategy and try to give Samson more time to build an innings and Gowtham more time to explode at the death.

London's Olympic Stadium to host Major League Baseball during marquee Cricket World Cup fixtures

London's Olympic Stadium to host Major League Baseball during marquee Cricket World Cup fixtures

London’s Olympic Stadium may not have been deemed suitable to host any Cricket World Cup matches next summer, but the venue holds no such concerns for Major League Baseball, which has confirmed it will stage two matches between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox next summer.

What is more, the two fixtures will clash with a pair of marquee World Cup matches – the 2015 finalists, Australia and New Zealand, are due to face one another in a day-night contest at Lord’s on June 29, before England and India meet at Edgbaston the following day.

The announcement of MLB’s arrival in London comes in the wake of discussions between Rob Manfred, the sport’s commissioner, and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and follows the successful introduction of other US sports into the capital.

The NFL have been playing regular-season games in London since 2007, and could eventually host a franchise if the proposed purchase of Wembley Stadium by Shahid Khan, the owner of Jacksonville Jaguars, goes ahead. In addition, the O2 Arena in Greenwich has hosted an annual NBA game since 2011.

Regardless of the success of the MLB’s foray to London, two more matches have already been slated for 2020 – potentially involving different teams – as Manfred continues his push to expand baseball’s footprint beyond the confines of the US.

In April, two games between the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins took place San Juan in Puerto Rico, while the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres played a three-games series in Monterrey, Mexico earlier this month.

Each Yankee and Red Sox player will receive an additional 44,000 to play in London.

Sunrisers pick Alex Hales and bat; Ish Sodhi debuts for Royals

Sunrisers pick Alex Hales and bat; Ish Sodhi debuts for Royals

Toss Sunrisers Hyderabad chose to bat v Rajasthan Royals

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4:03

Ajit Agarkar discusses Sunrisers Hyderabad’s ‘lucky’ week, while Shaun Tait backs Rajasthan Royals’ consistency

Sunrisers Hyderabad handed an IPL debut to England opener Alex Hales and opted to bat against Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur. Afghanistan allrounder Mohammad Nabi was left out while Bhuvneshwar Kumar had still not recovered from the injury that kept him out of the last two matches.

Royals captain Ajinkya Rahane said he would have preferred to bat first as well. Royals gave debuts to New Zealand legspinner Ish Sodhi and left-arm spin allrounder Mahipal Lomror, who plays domestic cricket for Rajasthan.

Royals were handed a nine-wicket thrashing when the sides last met in Hyderabad.

Rajasthan Royals 1 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 2 Rahul Tripathi, 3 Sanju Samson, 4 Ben Stokes, 5 Jos Buttler(wk), 6 Mahipal Lomror, 7 Jofra Archer , 8 K Gowtham, 9 Ish Sodhi, 10 Jaydev Unadkat, 11 Dhawal Kulkarni

Sunrisers Hyderabad 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Shakib Al Hasan, 6 Yusuf Pathan, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Basil Thampi, 10 Siddarth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma

Archer makes IPL debut as Mumbai bat

Archer makes IPL debut as Mumbai bat

Toss: Mumbai Indians chose to bat v Rajasthan Royals

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3:56

James Faulkner and Shaun Tait believe it’s time Rajasthan Royals played Jofra Archer and promoted Rahul Tripathi to the top order

Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai Indians captain, has chosen to bat first at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, reckoning that the stadium’s large boundaries would aid his team in defending a total. Rajasthan Royals captain Ajinkya Rahane said he had been looking to chase anyway.

Jofra Archer, Royals’ USD 1.125 million acquisition, makes his IPL debut in place of Ben Laughlin, adding raw pace to their bowling attack and giving them an extra lower-order hitting option. Archer missed all of the PSL and the first five games of the IPL with a side strain.

Royals made one more change, bringing in the seamer Dhawal Kulkarni for the allrounder Stuart Binny.

Mumbai were unchanged, with Ishan Kishan, who was hit near the eye by a throw from Hardik Pandya in their previous game against Royal Challengers Bangalore, fit to take the field again.

Rajasthan Royals: 1 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 2 Heinrich Klaasen, 3 Sanju Samson, 4 Ben Stokes, 5 Jos Buttler(wk), 6 Rahul Tripathi, 7 Jofra Archer, 8 K Gowtham, 9 Shreyas Gopal, 10 Dhawal Kulkarni, 11 Jaydev Unadkat

Mumbai Indians: 1 Suryakumar Yadav, 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Ishan Kishan (wk), 4 Rohit Sharma (capt), 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Mitchell McClenaghan 9 Mayank Markande, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Mustafizur Rahman

How cricket played a role in Gift Ngoepe's amazing baseball story

How cricket played a role in Gift Ngoepe's amazing baseball story

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Gift Ngoepe of the Toronto Blue Jays plays better defence thanks to his varied background. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

TORONTO – Gift Ngoepe can pinpoint the exact moment he decided to abandon cricket completely on the way to launching his baseball career.

The South African infielder was in the middle of a three-day test match against Krugersdorp High School in Johannesburg when he had a legendarily uneventful day on the cricket pitch.

“We played against Krugersdrop High and I spent the whole day in the field, didn’t get a ball, didn’t get to bowl. I was by the boundaries and didn’t get one ball,” he recalls. “I didn’t even get to hit because the team didn’t make enough runs that day. So basically I wasted my whole Saturday doing nothing on the cricket field. That’s when I was like ‘You know what? I’ve got to quit because I don’t get to do a whole lot in this game.”

Although Ngoepe famously spent his formative years in the clubhouse of Randburg Mets baseball team on his way to becoming the first African-born player in the majors – up until that fateful Saturday, cricket had been a big part of his life. In South Africa, the sport is absolutely massive, and their national team – The Proteas – wildly successful. They currently rank second in the world in both test cricket (multi-day games) and one-day internationals (single day matches).

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South Africa is one of the world’s cricket powerhouses. (Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The athletic Ngoepe had been a strong cricketer who played since he was in Grade 1 and was proficient as both a batsman and a bowler – with a preference for batting. His self-scouting report is as follows:

If I see myself as a cricket player right now I’d say I’m a batsman. I can bowl, but I’m a little rusty. I did bowl like two years ago, one of my friends asked me to come out and I bowled a couple, and my whole side hurt from bowling.”

Although nothing became of his foray into one of his country’s traditional sports, it did affect the course of his baseball journey. His first spot in professional baseball came with the Gulf Coast League Pirates in 2009, where he encountered Rinku Singh, another baseball pioneer.

Singh – an Indian southpaw and one of the subjects of the movie ‘Million Dollar Arm‘ – and Ngoepe bonded over cricket and ended up playing it around the Pirates’ clubhouse.

“The garbage can was the wickets and the baseball bat was the cricket bat and we just used a baseball for the cricket ball,” Ngoepe says. “We just fooled around with it in the clubhouse.”

The stakes were raised when Singh decided to spring for some more legitimate gear.

“Rinku got a cricket bat somehow from one of his Indian friends that lived up the road and he brought the bat and just started whacking balls in the locker room and I was like ‘Dude take it easy, you’re going to break something’ but he was just loving it.”

Although he doesn’t get up to much after-hours clubhouse cricket these days, playing with Singh – whose fascinating career path has recently taken him to WWE wrestling – is one of Ngoepe’s treasured memories from his early days with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The 28-year-old’s experience with cricket isn’t just fodder for fond recollections, though, it plays a role in the player he is today. In baseball, Ngoepe’s trademark is his defence, which he developed in part by learning to play everything bare-handed on the cricket pitch.

“My hand-eye coordination is good so when I played cricket that wasn’t too tough for me, ” he says. “Practicing cricket helped me with baseball because when I put a glove on it was a little bit easier for me. I was used to working with my hands on the cricket field. My skills in both sports transitioned from one to the other and helped me better at both.”

With Troy Tulowitzki out for the forseeable future, Toronto Blue Jays fans may see more of Ngoepe than they bargained for – especially in the field. The first time he has to barehand a slow-rolling grounder and make a bang-bang play at first they might be thankful he got his reps in on the cricket pitch.

He certainly will be – even if it cost him a boring Saturday or two.

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