It’s a new start for both teams at Lord’s. For England, Joe Root takes on the Test captaincy reins, a position he was earmarked to reach early on in his career. How he copes with the pressure of captaincy will be critical as he is the lynchpin of England’s batting. Alastair Cook now only has to worry about his own batting so expect an energised Cook to take guard in London.
England’s bowling, however, is a concern. Stuart Broad has just about recovered from a heel injury. James Anderson, 34, returns from a groin tear while Jake Ball and Chris Woakes have been ruled out due to knee and side strains respectively. Even Ben Stokes has struggled with knee issues since his IPL stint. Not good signs ahead of a highly competitive four Test series that has been crammed into 30 days. The demands put on pacers’ bodies will be immense.
South Africa have even bigger problems. AB de Villiers is not taking part in the series and is expected to announce his retirement from Tests next month as he looks to improve his chances of helping South Africa win the 2019 World Cup. The Proteas have managed well in his prolonged absence though, winning their last four Test series. Captain Faf du Plessis has taken up the responsibility without any hiccups but even he is unavailable for the first Test to be with his wife and new-born child, with Dean Elgar named as captain.
On the bowling front, there is a giant Dale Steyn-sized hole in the pace attack. The veteran pacer has struggled with a shoulder injury for a long time and in his absence, young quick Kagiso Rabada has become the leader of the pack. He will have some experienced shoulders to rely on. Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel have 414 Test wickets between them and will provide the back-up.
Both teams are light in the spin bowling department. South Africa only have one – left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, while England have Moeen Ali and the inexperienced Liam Dawson.
The spotlight thus falls on the leadership of Root and Elgar in the opening Test. Elgar at least knows he is just keeping the seat warm for Faf but there will be no place to hide for Root.
MS Dhoni was there until the end against the West Indies in Antigua on Sunday, scoring a half-century in a low scoring game. The only aspect that changed in the ‘Dhoni the finisher’ script is that the 35-year-old failed to take the team over the finish line.
As expected, the murmurs began. Dhoni losing his finishing touch was the prevailing sentiment, and looking at some of his efforts over the last two years it doesn’t seem so far off the mark. Two ODI innings in particular stand out – the Kanpur ODI against South Africa in 2015 when India needed 11 and Dhoni (31 off 30) couldn’t get the job done in the final over, and the Delhi ODI against New Zealand in 2016 when the Indians were chasing 243 and lost by six runs with the veteran making 39 from 65 balls. Add in the 114-ball 54 against the West Indies to the mix and it looks like the iconic glovesman is slipping.
These instances stand out because Dhoni is being measured against the standards he set for himself over the years. But if his innings since 2015 are viewed objectively, the 35-year-old has done well.
At the 2015 World Cup, Dhoni remained 45 not out as India battled to a four-wicket win over the West Indies chasing 183. Then in the next game, he made an unbeaten 85 in the company of centurion Suresh Raina to guide the team home against Zimbabwe, chasing 288.
In Bangladesh in 2015, India were 2-0 down in the three-match series and needed a strong batting effort in the final match. Dhoni tackled ‘mystery’ quick Mustafizur Rahman with great dexterity, taking the score to 317 with a knock of 69 and salvaging some pride.
Right after the unsuccessful chase against South Africa mentioned above, Dhoni scored 92 off 86 balls to help post 247 against the Proteas and set-up a narrow 22-run win. Even against the Kiwis, after he failed to chase down a low total in Delhi in 2016, he hit 80 in a successful chase of 286 the following match.
Woke up to realise that India lost to WI. Pinched myself.— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) July 3, 2017
So, India's last three ODI losses are to teams ranked 9th (WI), 8th 🇵🇰 & 7th 🇱🇰
Even in the ongoing West Indies series, his knock of 78 not out in the third ODI helped India post 251 which proved well beyond the hosts.
While he has failed on occasions during a chase, he still hits the target regularly. What’s more, Dhoni is good at setting up the game for his team in the first innings, as can be seen in his efforts against South Africa, Bangladesh and West Indies as previously outlined.
All these knocks were made since 2015. Yes, they don’t have the flair of the 2011 World Cup final where he hit 91 off 79 balls while chasing 275. But if we look at absolute numbers in ODIs since 2011, Dhoni has only had one bad year with the bat – 2016 when he averaged 27.8 and had a strike rate of 80.11. In every other year he has averaged more than 45 with a strike rate of more than 86. And the lowest number of matches he has played in any year since 2011 is 12.
In 2017, Dhoni has hit 386 runs at an average of 64.3 in nine innings at a strike rate of 86.3. He has three fifties and one century in nine outings this year. Also, he is still the best wicket-keeper batsman in the country, with his reflexes as stupefying as ever.
Can India be certain of victory when Dhoni is at the crease during the chase? Maybe not. Has Dhoni been making match-winning contributions with the bat? Yes. This may not be the Dhoni we have become used to. But he is not a spent force. Far from it. Maybe we just need to alter our expectations.
English cricket’s finances received a major boost on Friday with a new TV contract netting the governing body the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) over a billion pounds.
Sky Sports saw off strong competition from BT Sports for the most expensive part of the contract retaining its position as the main rights holder for the 2020-2024 period.
However, there was some comfort for those who have gone years without watching live cricket on free to air television – the 2005 Ashes was the last domestic cricket to be aired free on Channel Four.
The BBC – who last showed live cricket in 1999 but recently showed highlights of the Champions Trophy tournament – won live broadcast rights from 2020 for 21 matches, including men’s and women’s internationals and the England and Wales Cricket Board’s new Twenty20 competition.
The decision on who won the rights was taken by a five man panel including ECB chief executive Tom Harrison and chairman Colin Graves.
Harrison was keen to stress the breadth of coverage the deal will bring could provoke extra interest in the sport.
There has been a fall in participation in recent years despite huge financial investment at all levels.
“This is a great result for cricket. ECB has secured the reach, revenue and relevance the game deserves, to help it to grow,” said Harrison.
“Together, these new deals will deliver the partnership, distribution and investment that will fuel the future of our game, driving recreational, professional and international cricket for years to come.
“Sky Sports have offered a true partnership – more than a broadcast deal — with their shared vision for cricket.
“Here, they further increase their live commitment and have added bold ideas to drive engagement and to help to get a bat and ball in more hands.
“BBC are valuable long-term partners, bringing cricket to listeners, viewers and a new digital audience. “We are delighted they will go to another level with live coverage of international and domestic T20 – men’s and women’s – alongside prime-time highlights shows and a commitment to taking the game to even wider audiences.”
We analyse the key questions after the England and Wales Cricket Board revealed details of its broadcast rights deal for the five-year period between 2020-2024, with Sky Sports and the BBC the successful bidders.
Sky will retain its status as the main home for live English cricket, hosting all home Tests, ODIs and T20Is, women’s matches and county cricket, including the entirety of the new eight-team T20 competition. BBC has won a 21-match bundle of free-to-air games, all of which are Twenty20 matches and which will also be shown on Sky.
That breaks down as two men’s internationals and one women’s international, 10 matches from the new T20 competition and eight from the women’s equivalent. In addition the national broadcaster will show primetime highlights of all men’s internationals, while both organisations have access to digital clips.
Cricket last appeared on free-to-air in 2005, when Channel 4 signed off following the unforgettable 2005 Ashes. Since then while players’ pay packets have increased there have been concerns over the wider visibility of the sport and a decline in participation.
The hope now is the regular appearance of the nation’s top male and female players on the BBC – who last hosted live English cricket in 1999 – will help bring cricket back into the national conversation. Sky has also committed to driving engagement initiatives, informed by its Sky Ride cycling programme.
The ECB will bring £1.1billion from the new arrangements, a huge increase on the previous deal which saw Sky pay £75million a year. The governing body had not set any official targets but the final figure is thought to marginally outstrip even the upper estimates.
BT Sport’s entry into the market was a big factor in pushing Sky to raise their offer, with a genuine tug-of-war between the broadcasters strengthening the ECB hand considerably.
With three years to wait before the changes come in, no firm decisions have taken place as to how the windfall will be spent. There will be no shortage of takers, with elite players, the county system and grassroots development all having persuasive cases to make for an increased slice of the pie.
Plenty of discussions will take place in the coming months, and years, with a variety of stakeholders but the ECB has considerable leeway to invest at all levels.
Having celebrated its 60th anniversary this summer, TMS can look forward to at least another seven years on the airwaves. TalkSPORT were rumoured to be interested in a deal but BBC Radio won live coverage of all domestic and international competitions.
Provided by Press Association Sport