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If rules of Test cricket are changed, call it ‘easy cricket’: Ben Stokes

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Powerful England all-rounder Ben Stokes on Tuesday said if the rules of Test cricket are going to be changed in future, it should be termed as ‘easy cricket’ as opposed to the traditional grind, the best of which he showed during the famous Headingley Test in the 2019 Ashes.

There has been a lot of talk around the future of Test cricket with dwindling attendance at stadiums, especially in the sub-continent being a major issue. Reducing the traditional form to four days has also come up for debate among others.

Stokes, who shared an extraordinary 76-run stand with no.11 Jack Leach off which the latter contributed just one run to take England to a series-levelling, one-wicket win over Australia in the Ashes last summer, said Tests are the pinnacle and it would be sad if the format is tinkered with.

“For me Test cricket is the pinnacle. There’s been a lot of talk recently about Test cricket dying, but I don’t know where that comes from,” Stokes said during a chat with Rajasthan Royals spin consultant and New Zealand spinner Ish Sodhi at the The Royals Podcast Episode 5.

“You ask all the players who, or maybe not all the players, but I know the likes of Virat (Kohli) and (Joe) Root have spoken about how Test cricket is where you really get tested.

“It’s where you find out what you’re really about as a cricketer and for me it is the purest form of the sport. It has to stay around, it would be a sad, sad day if Test cricket was changed. If they are going to change the rules, I think they should call it “easy cricket!” said the 28-year old who has been named the Leading Cricketer of 2019 by Wisden Almanack.

Stokes became the first English cricketer after Andrew Flintoff since 2005 to win the award.

Hosts England won the World Cup for the first time in 2019 and Stokes said the country will always remember the year for cricket.

“In England, 2019 will always be remembered for cricket. I feel that it eclipsed 2005 in terms of what we managed to do for the sport. 2005 was massive, it was a long time ago but it took cricket (in this country) to a whole new level, but I think we managed to take it to another level here,” he said.

On winning the World Cup final at Lord’s by beating New Zealand on boundaries after a tied Super Over amidst heart-stopping drama, Stokes said: “Sky Sports recently showed a ball-by-ball replay actually, just being able to look back on something like that which we will never be able to take away from ourselves. It’s common knowledge that the World Cup was a four-year journey of completely turning around the ODI format thinking for us after the 2015 World Cup, which was a disaster… not my words!”

Chasing 242 for victory, Stokes’ scintillating unbeaten 84 helped the hosts tie the see-saw contest, forcing the Super Over where more drama unfolded.

Jos Buttler and Stokes took 15 runs off Trent Boult’s Super Over without losing their wickets.

“I understand Jos, he understands me, we both feed off each other. We didn’t have to talk like ‘you do this, I’ll do that’, we both knew what we were trying to do and I was happy to play second fiddle to Jos in that partnership because of how he was playing,” Stokes said.

Asked about the Headingly Ashes Test, Stokes said: “Yeah, that was a good day! It was a bizarre Test match to be involved in given how it went up and down, getting bowled out for 60 and then being so far behind in the game. Being written off as a team, to everyone saying we had a chance on day four, to come out on top in that game was brilliant.”

Stokes, like almost all athletes around the world, is staying indoors with the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world.

“I feel not just for cricketers, but also for other athletes around the world, we still have to prepare as if we are playing in two/three weeks’ time, because I don’t think you can just sit back and wait for the news that says we are playing again.

“It takes too long to get everything back up and running again. I’m very lucky, one of my sponsors is Red Bull and as soon as the news got out that isolation was happening, they managed to get all their UK athletes the gym equipment they needed. My garage is now a home gym!”

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IND v NZ, First Test: Patel picks five wickets to give India slight edge against NZ

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Axar Patel’s incredible run in Test cricket at home continued with him picking his fifth five-wicket haul in just seven innings as India bowled out New Zealand for 296 in the first innings. Patel’s efforts of breaking the back of New Zealand’s innings meant that India took a 49-run lead, which eventually became 63 at stumps on day three at the Green Park Stadium on Saturday despite losing Shubman Gill cheaply.

Patel was a central figure in India bouncing back from an underwhelming day two to take the upper hand on day three. The spin troika of Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, and Ravindra Jadeja spun a web around the New Zealand batters, taking nine wickets overall.

Patel’s show began in the post-lunch session, starting with taking out Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls in quick succession. The left-arm spinner got a length delivery to turn and take the outer edge off Taylor’s bat on forward defence to substitute keeper KS Bharat (as Wriddhiman Saha had neck stiffness). He then returned in his next over to take out Nicholls, who missed the sweep and was rapped on the back pad. Nicholls reviewed the decision but couldn’t reverse it.

Latham, who was as solid as a rock, fell five short of his 12th Test hundred in a sudden rush of blood moment in the 103rd over. The left-hander came out to defend, but the inner edge rolled to Bharat, who kept his balance to complete the stumping, giving Patel his third wicket. In the final session of the day, Patel sneaked one past Tom Blundell’s defence to hit the stumps with low bounce. He then completed his fifth five-wicket haul in Test cricket by surprising Tim Southee with an angled-in delivery, which spun past the bat to leave the stumps shattered.

It was clear that handing Patel the second new ball from the other end worked wonders for India. He used the crease well, managed his pace, and used his round-arm deliveries to good effect in extracting some purchase from a slow pitch. He also got good help from Bharat, who took two catches and effected a stumping off his bowling.

Earlier, Ashwin was the first bowler to give India the breakthrough as Will Young (89) edged an outside off delivery, which kept low, with the outer edge snapped by Bharat taking a superb low catch in the 67th over. Ashwin almost had his second wicket in the 73rd over had India taken the review. The ace off-spinner got one to turn from leg-stump and rapped Latham’s pad in front of off-stump. Later, replays showed three reds, which meant a costly miss for India.

Kane Williamson was nervy against Ashwin but came out in full flow against Jadeja, smashing him for boundaries through cover and point. After taking the new ball, India were instantly rewarded with Williamson’s wicket at the stroke of lunch, as Yadav got a length ball to nip back in and rapped the right-hander on his back pad. Williamson reviewed but replays showed the ball hitting the top of the middle stump.

Debutant Rachin Ravindra looked good while striking Ashwin for boundaries but his promising stay at the crease ended with Ravindra Jadeja bowling him through the gate as New Zealand wobbled from 214/2 to 241/6. After Patel left the visitors reeling, Kyle Jamieson showed some resistance before miscuing a slog to Patel at deep mid-wicket off Ashwin in the 139th over. Four overs later, the off-spinner had William Somerville clean bowled to wrap up New Zealand’s innings.

Starting off the second innings with a 49-run lead, India lost their first wicket as Gill was clean bowled by an incoming delivery from Kyle Jamieson hitting the top of off-stump. The dismissal also made Jamieson the fastest New Zealand pacer to reach 50 Test wickets in nine innings, breaking former spee’ster Shane Bond’s record which, he had achieved in 12 innings.

Cheteshwar Pujara got some boundaries while Mayank Agarwal was cautious in taking India to safety till stumps were called, completing a day in which India have their noses ahead of New Zealand with two days left in the match.

Brief scores: India 345 (Shreyas Iyer 105, Tim Southee 5/69) and 14/1 in five overs (Cheteshwar Pujara 9 not out, Kyle Jamieson 1/8) against New Zealand 296 in 142.3 overs (Tom Latham 95, Will Young 89, Axar Patel 5/62, Ravichandran Ashwin 3/82), leading by 63 runs.

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Indonesia Open: PV Sindhu loses to Ratchanok Intanon in semi-finals

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Ace Indian shuttler PV Sindhu’s campaign at the 2021 Indonesia Open came to an end after she lost to Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon in the women’s singles semi-finals, here on Saturday.

Two-time Olympic medallist Sindhu lost 21-15, 9-21, 14-21 to world no 8 Ratchanok in a 54 minute semi-final clash.

This was the third successive semi-final loss for the 26-year-old at a BWF event after the French Open and the Indonesia Masters. It was also her third straight loss to Ratchanok Intanon.

Up against the Thai shuttler, the reigning world champion began in full tilt, racing to an 8-3 lead in quick time. Ratchanok then made a comeback in the match and kept nibbling away at Sindhu’s lead, but the Indian did enough to seal out the first game 21-15.

With her powerful smashes and clever net game, Intanon responded strongly in the second game, seized the early momentum and took an 11-7 lead at the mid-game interval. The Thai ace pressed the advantage even harder after the break and cruised to a 21-9 win.

In the decider, both shuttlers went neck-and-neck in the early exchanges, but Ratchanok eventually broke free to take an 11-5 advantage into the breather. As the match progressed, Sindhu tried hard to close the gap but the Thai shuttler matched her opponent to seal the match in 54 minutes.

The second seeded Ratchanok will now play South Korea’s An Seyoung in the final.

Sindhu last reached a final at the Swiss Open in March, where she lost to arch-rival Carolina Marin.

Meanwhile, the Indian duo Chirag Shetty-Satwiksairaj Rankireddy will be in action in the men’s doubles semi-finals, later in the day.

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Warne not amused with Steve Smith’s return to leadership role

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Australian spin wizard Shane Warne is not amused with the fact that while former captain Steve Smith can return to the leadership role, David Warner would remain suspended from captaining or vice-captaining his country again during his cricketing career.

Smith, who has served a one-year ban for his involvement in ball-tampering in 2018, was appointed vice-captain of the Australian Test side ahead of the Ashes series, beginning at the Gabba in Brisbane on December 8.

In the aftermath of the ball-tampering, also called ‘Sandpaper-gate’, that took place during the third Test against South Africa at Newlands in Cape Town in 2018, the then Australian skipper Smith, his deputy David Warner and team-mate Cameron Bancroft were banned for different periods of time.

In addition to a one-year suspension, a two-year leadership ban was also imposed on Smith, while Warner, who was the then vice-captain, also received a year ban, as well as a lifetime leadership ban.

Warne is not happy with the dichotomy in punishment for the same crime.

He made his displeasure known by slamming the fact while Smith could return to a leadership position Warner would remain suspended from taking up the leadership role of the Australian team.

“We all love Steve Smith and are proud that he’s the best Test batsmen in the world again,” Warne wrote in his column for the Herald Sun on Saturday. “But he should not be the Australian vice-captain.

“Everyone makes mistakes, we know that and we’ve all moved on from sandpaper-gate. But that happened under Steve Smith’s captaincy; he allowed that to happen on his watch. I think the punishment he was given was way too severe, which I said at the time. He paid a huge price for his mistake.

“But his second chance is getting to play for Australia again and in my opinion announcing him as vice-captain opens up CA (Cricket Australia) for ridicule and criticism, and they should throw the code of conduct out the window.”

Warne also said that Warner had the “the best cricket brain in the team” and demanded Marnus Labuschagne to be named vice-captain.

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