Nick Webb is the favourite to replace Shankar Basu as India’s next strength and conditioning coach after the New Zealander emerged as the top choice of BCCI’s senior selection committee.
Webb is currently serving as the strength and conditioning coach of the New Zealand women’s cricket team while he has also held similar positions with ruby teams such as North Harbour and Vodafone Warriors.
According to a report by CricketNext, Webb emerged as the preferred choice of the committee after the five shortlisted candidates for the job were put through a theoretical and practical assessment at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru on Sunday.
England women’s rugby strength and conditioning coach Luke Woodhouse was the second preference of the committee while former Delhi Daredevils fitness coach Rajnikanth Sivagnanam was the third choice.
The panel has forwarded their recommendations to BCCI chief executive Rahul Johri who will make the final appointment.
India’s strength and conditioning coach role is lying vacant with Shankar Basu opting not to extend his stay with the team after a four-year tenure. India recently retained Ravi Shastri as the head coach on a new two-year contract until the 2021 T20 World Cup.
Meanwhile, the appointments for the rest of the support staff including the batting, bowling and fielding coaches are also expected to be made soon.
A new lease of life has been infused into the Ashes with England’s stirring win at Headingley and the five-match series is now perfectly poised ahead of the fourth Test at Manchester which gets underway on Wednesday.
Tim Paine’s hopes of becoming the first Australian skipper since Steve Waugh in 2001 to retain the Ashes urn on English soil were thwarted by a Ben Stokes special but the visitors still remain just one win away from performing that feat.
England, on the other hand, need to win both the remaining Tests to reclaim the historic urn but the hosts do have their tail up after snatching victory from the jaws of defeat at Headingley.
Ahead of the pivotal penultimate Test at Old Trafford, we look at three key battles that could prove to be decisive for both sides.
Archer vs Smith
The script has been perfectly set up for the battle between Jofra Archer and Steve Smith to take centerstage at Old Trafford following their engrossing tussle in the second innings of the Lord’s Test.
The nasty blow inflicted by Archer on Smith in that Test saw the Aussie batsman subsequently miss out on the Headingley clash and he will be itching to extend his prolific form when he makes his return at Old Trafford.
Smith’s scores in the series so far are 144, 142 and 92 with the right-hander proving to be the difference between two otherwise evenly stacked sides.
Archer did give him a few uncomfortable moments at Lord’s with his raw pace and steep bounce and England will hope that the pacer can crank it up again against a batsman who has already hurt them several times in the past.
“There’s been a bit of talk that he’s got the wood over me, but he hasn’t actually got me out. He hit me on the head on a wicket that was a bit up and down at Lord’s,” Smith had said ahead of the fourth Test.
“Well, I can’t get him out if he wasn’t there. But there’ll be more than ample time to get him out (at Manchester),” was Archer’s response.
The mind games have already begun between the two and it now remains to be seen who backs it up on the pitch.
Stokes vs Lyon
While Stokes managed to become a national hero for England for the second time in six weeks with his Headingley heroics, it was a bitter pill to swallow for Nathan Lyon who was at the heart of Australia’s calamitous final hour in the stunning defeat.
The Australian off-spinner fluffed a straightforward chance to run out England’s No11 Jack Leach before his lbw appeal against Stokes was incorrectly turned down by umpire Joel Wilson.
But while Stokes has now managed to register two unbeaten tons in as many Tests, the England star all-rounder has had his fair share of luck against Lyon.
“We’ve looked at, I think Nathan Lyon in the last two Tests alone had got him (Stokes) out five or six times had we held our catches or referred our lbws. Lyono’s still a huge weapon against him,” Tim Paine said after the Headingley defeat.
Stokes’ individual brilliance has kept England afloat in the Ashes but Australia will hope that Lyon can reinstate his dominance over the left-hander in the remaining two Tests.
Root vs Cummins
With Smith set to make his return for Australia, the onus is on England skipper Joe Root to step up and lead from the front with the bat. The right-hander has not been at his very best in the series so far but his half-century along with Denly’s were crucial to England’s second-innings fightback at Headingley.
However, Ben Stokes won’t be able to bail the hosts out every single time and England’s main man with the bat will need to assume more responsibility at Manchester. Root’s Test returns has been dwindling since the turn of 2018 and the England skipper is averaging less than 28 with the bat in his last seven appearances.
England’s batting card still remains suspect despite Stokes’ individual brilliance and they need Root to start converting his fifties into centuries if they are to cope with the impending return of Smith for Australia.
Pat Cummins, however, will have other ideas and the leading wicket-taker in the series will be desperate to ensure that Root’s impact with the bat is restricted. The Australia pacer has featured in all three Test so far and claimed 17 wickets at an average of under 19.
The 26-year-old has used the short-ball to good effect in England and has been a tireless performer on the tour before he copped some punishment from Stokes at Headingely.
Having had more than 10 days to recharge his batter ever since, Cummins should once again prove be a difficult customer for both England and Root to navigate.
Justin Langer has revealed that the Headingley loss to England in the Ashes left him ‘physically sick’ but the Australia head coach remains up for the challenge of retaining the historic urn.
Australia were just one wicket away at Headingley from retaining the Ashes on English soil for the first time since 2001 but a sensational unbeaten ton from Ben Stokes saw the hosts level up the series in dramatic style with two Tests still to play.
“That’s the toughest part of it, we were that close,” Langer was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au.
“I actually felt physically sick after it, then I went back to my room and I wasn’t sure whether to cry my eyes out or smash my hotel room. For most people it’s just a game of cricket, but when so much goes into it, it means a lot.
“You do take it personally because I know how much work’s going into it. You never like to let opportunities slip in your life. But that’s okay, we’ll make sure we learn from it. We’ll learn a lot of lessons from that, short-term and long-term, and hopefully we can do it better next time.”
While England will feel they have the momentum on their side for the remaining two Tests in the series, Langer is taking confidence from Australia’s response in the recent tour game against Derbyshire.
The visitors claimed victory by an innings and 54 runs in the practice game and Langer feels that the response shows his men are very much up for the Ashes fight.
“Before the toss we said ‘it’s not a practice game, it’s not a centre-wicket hit out, we’re going to play a proper game of cricket’,” Langer stated.
“We’re going to try and win the game, no matter what. The way our guys won the game in two-and-a-bit days was a guide to me that they’re up – they were all together, they trained together.
“Sometimes it can become a bit fractured. It’s not going to be fractured here for the next few weeks.”
Australia need to win one of the remaining two Tests to retain the historic urn and they will hope Steve Smith’s return can give them the edge once again. The fourth and penultimate Test between England and Australia will get underway at Old Trafford on Wednesday.