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Tuesday,07-December-2021

International

Eoin Morgan feels he is batting ‘better than ever’

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England white-ball captain Eoin Morgan has said he is batting better than ever after playing another breathtaking knock in T20I cricket.

Morgan hit 66 from just 33 balls at the Old Trafford on Sunday as England chased down 196 against England with five wickets in hand to move 1-0 up in the ongoing three-match T20I series.

“I think (I am playing better than ever) and that is backed up by the stats,” Sky Sports quoted him as saying.

“The last couple of years have been the most productive of my whole career.

“Even before this series started, the last two years of international T20 cricket and some domestic cricket, are my best numbers to date, which is great.

“If I can combine that with experience, it will go a long way to – when I am moving up and down the order between four and six – trying to win a game (for England).

“It’s experience and confidence. I am more comfortable with the roles I am playing. Before I became captain I didn’t feel that comfortable jumping up and down the order.

“But now it’s my decision I feel more at ease, say, slipping down to No 6 and having Jos Buttler ahead of me than I would have beforehand,” he added.

The likes of Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Joe Root could return for the six-white ball games against Australia, which begin with the first of three T20Is on Friday.

“There is a chance some guys will be back for (the Australia games) which is great,” said Morgan, whose side will also play Australia in three ODIs.

“Guys enjoy playing in our white-ball set-up so the fact some of them want to come back and play is great, particularly after being in the bio-secure environment for so long,” he added.

England and Pakistan will now face each other in the final T20I of the series at the same venue on Tuesday.

International

Four things we learned from Spain’s Matchday 16

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Real Madrid opened up an eight-point gap at the top of La Liga this weekend as both Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona lost at home. Here are some things we learned in Spain over the past two days.

1. The title is Real Madrid’s to lose.

Real Madrid were lucky to beat Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao in their two previous games, but they were clear winners away to Real Sociedad in San Sebastian on December 4 night, with goals from Vinicius Jr and Luka Jovic seeing them home against a disappointing rival that seemed to suffer big night nerves.

The win lifts Real Madrid 10 points above a side that only three weeks ago was top of the table, and puts them eight ahead of Sevilla who are second with a game in hand.

You could argue that for much of the season Real Madrid have not been brilliant and the goals of Vinicius and Karim Benzema have sustained them, but even if that is true, they have still been better than everyone else and the title is clearly theirs for the taking.

2. Sevilla quietly stake their claim

Sevilla’s 1-0 win at home to Villarreal may have had a dose of fortune to it as Villarreal missed several chances to take a point, but it leaves Julen Lopetegui’s men in second place and quite possibly as Real Madrid’s main title challengers, Xinhua reports.

Lopetegui deserves credit as his side is without key players Youssef En-Nesyri and Jesus Navas, robbing him of his top goalscorer and right wing-back, but he has built a team based on a solid defense, with the ‘triangle’ of Fernando, Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde the foundation that allows others such as Lucas Ocampos, Joan Jordan and Ivan Rakitic to shine.

This is a decisive week for Sevilla with a Champions League visit to RB Salzburg followed by a league game in Bilbao, but for the moment they seem to be the most creditable of Real Madrid’s rivals.

3. A reality check for Xavi

Barca rode their luck to beat Espanyol and Villarreal in Xavi Hernandez’s first two league games in charge, but the 1-0 defeat to Real Betis on December 4 provided fans with a reality check.

Barca started brightly in the Camp Nou as they have done in Xavi’s other games in charge, but once their initial burst ran out of steam, Betis were comfortable and controlled the game except for a brief spell when Ousmane Dembele came on as a second-half substitute.

Xavi’s main problem is that without Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez or Antoine Griezmann and with Ansu Fati injured, he doesn’t have the players to score the goals when they are on top, while the number of young players in his side means it is hard to keep their performances going for 90 minutes.

4. All credit to Betis

It would be unfair to focus just on Barcelona after Saturday’s game. Betis produced an assured display in defense and even without key playmaker Nabil Fekir, they were able to dominate the ball for long periods of the game and create chances against Barca on the break.

Juanmi has gone from being a fringe player to the top-scoring Spaniard in La Liga, and much of the credit has to go to coach Manuel Pellegrini. The man nicknamed ‘the engineer’ is not a coach for a quick fix, but slowly and surely he gets his teams to win games with a mix of organization and individual talent. That’s why Betis are currently third in La Liga.

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Commit more time, money to develop spin bowling skills: NZ great to players

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 Former New Zealand skipper Jeremy Coney had demanded the Black Caps commit more time, energy and money to develop their spin bowling skills in the wake of the humiliating loss to India in the second and final Test at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Monday.

India thrashed the World Test champions by 372 runs to record their biggest victory by run margin. With this win, India also bagged 12 points in the World Test Championship 2021/23 standings.

The Indian spinners had reduced New Zealand to 140/5 in their second innings at stumps on the third day and they wrapped up victory in 43 minutes on the fourth morning, bundling out New Zealand for 167 runs in 56.3 overs to record a smashing win.

India’s spin magic was not lost on the 69-year-old Coney, who played 52 Tests scoring more than 2,600 runs for the Kiwis. He urged New Zealand Cricket (NZC) to spend some time and resources to improve the Black Caps’ skills at facing and bowling spin.

Though New Zealand spinner Ajaz Patel rattled India with his 10-wicket haul in the first innings, the visiting team batters were woeful against Indian spinners managing only 62 and 167.

“I think NZ Cricket need to be braver and believe in spin bowling and commit time and money to the development of that part of the game,” Coney said on SENZ’s post-Test coverage on Tuesday.

“We need a place to go where guys can practice facing spin and having a batting coach there, or we should try send guys to India. Another option is that we have a wicket in New Zealand that turns more than the others, so we get our keepers and fielders learning on these pitches. These are full-time players, and I think we can do more.”

New Zealand earned the dubious distinction of losing the match by 372 runs, which is their biggest margin of defeat after their previous loss by 358 runs against South Africa in 2007.

New Zealand will now play a two-Test home series against Bangladesh from January 1.

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Stokes included in England’s Ashes squad of 12; Anderson rested

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All-rounder Ben Stokes has been included in England’s 12-member squad for the opening Ashes Test beginning at The Gabba on December 8, putting to rest speculation that he might not be considered for the first Test as he is returning to competitive cricket after a long time.

Stokes could, however, still be dropped from England’s playing XI as skipper Joe Root will take a call on the final XI at the toss.

Pace bowling stalwart and England’s top wicket-taker in Test history, James Anderson too is missing from the playing XI.

Anderson, an England spokesperson confirmed, isn’t carrying an injury. Rather, the decision to leave out the 39-year-old has to do with managing his workload ahead of what will be a gruelling five-Test, high-octane series.

“Jimmy is fit to play, and is not carrying an injury,” an England spokesperson said. “With five Tests in six weeks, the plan was to get him ready for the second Test in Adelaide.

“With the limited build-up we have had so far on the tour, both him and the management didn’t want to take the risk of him playing after what had happened in 2019 at Edgbaston when he broke down on the first morning.

During the 2019 Ashes, England lost Anderson to a calf injury during the opening Test in Edgbaston and had to go through the rest of the match with a bowler short. Belying his age, Anderson bounced back thereafter, playing all the home Tests against India and New Zealand this year.

A statement issued by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said on Tuesday that, “England Men have named a 12-strong squad for the first Ashes Test starting at The Gabba in Brisbane on Wednesday 8 December. The final XI will be confirmed at the toss.”

England Men’s Squad for first Ashes Test: Joe Root (c), Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Haseeb Hameed, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood.

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