MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – Australia captain Aaron Finch is hoping spin bowler Ashton Agar can blossom into a swashbuckling “finisher” in the batting lineup to give the team more flexibility ahead of next year’s T20 World Cup. Left-arm spinner Agar, who has averaged 13.66 with the bat from 16 T20Is, was named at seven in the batting order in the series-opener against Sri Lanka on Sunday but went unused as Australia’s top order dominated in the 134-run victory.While Agar is some way short of all-rounder status, Finch said the 26-year-old was working hard to get there.“His batting’s still developing,” Finch told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday. “Something that he’s been working on is becoming that real finisher towards the back end of an innings in T20 and in one-day games.“So if he can keep developing that, it’ll give you a lot of options to play that second spinner or go with four quicks, or if there’s another all-rounder that comes in.”On Sunday, hard-hitting all-rounder Glenn Maxwell was sent in ahead of number three Steve Smith and smashed 62 off 28 balls after David Warner (100 not out) and Finch (64) set up a 122-run opening partnership. The captain’s call denied former skipper Smith a chance to bat in his first full international on home soil since serving a 12-month ball-tampering ban. Finch said he wanted his batsmen to be ready to play anywhere in the order according to match situations, to make the team more competitive when they host the T20 World Cup.“I think at all times, you’ll see four or five guys in the sheds with their pads on,” said Finch.“To be really flexible as a middle order, prepared to go in at any stage, is important to catch teams off guard. “If you’ve got left and right-hand combinations, there’s a few options there, so it’s a nicely balanced side at the moment.”With the T20 World Cup the only major piece of silverware missing in Australia’s bursting trophy cabinet, Cricket Australia have scheduled a glut of T20 matches to help the world’s fifth-ranked team build.“It’s a really great time to be playing T20 cricket for Australia because you’re getting enough game time to start to develop that squad mentality,” said Finch. “Now we’ve got a specific date in mind, which is the start of the World Cup, to really build that 12-month foundation of a really solid T20 side that can beat the best and sustain that for a long period of time.”Australia will look to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match T20 series against Sri Lanka at the Gabba on Wednesday.
LONDON (Reuters) – Eric Dier became the first Tottenham Hotspur player to discover Jose Mourinho’s ruthless streak as the Portuguese manager’s decision to haul off the midfielder after half an hour ultimately proved a masterstroke yesterday. Mourinho’s first home game in charge after replacing Mauricio Pochettino was turning ugly as Greek side Olympiakos Piraeus led 2-0 inside 20 minutes of the Champions League Group B game.But twice Champions League winner Mourinho acted decisively, sacrificing Dier’s defensive shield, and sent on Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen who, just as on Saturday in Mourinho’s debut win over West Ham United, had been left on the bench.It took a while for the tactical switch to work but Dele Alli levelled on the stroke of halftime and the second half saw Tottenham run riot with Harry Kane scoring twice either side of a thumping effort by Serge Aurier. Tottenham, runners-up in June under Pochettino, have qualified for the last 16 and in Mourinho’s first two games in charge they have scored seven and conceded four, perhaps confounding those who said he would bring boring football to north London.While the Dier/Eriksen swap worked a treat, Mourinho said it had been the hardest part of his evening.“The most difficult moment for me was not the goals but the change I had to make,” the 56-year-old, whose tactical acumen has earned him silverware at every club he has managed, told reporters. “It hurt the player but also hurt me. It was not easy for the player or me. “But it’s important the player understood and I was fortunate that it was a very intelligent boy who understood it was about the team not the performance. I apologised to Eric and made it clear I didn’t do it to hurt him.“Christian gave us what we needed at that time.”Mourinho, sacked by Manchester United last season after his reign there turned sour, has been charm personified since swapping punditry for the Tottenham job. As well as praising his players’ response to adversity yesterday, and the fans, he also waxed lyrical about a ball boy, whose sharp thinking allowed Serge Aurier to take a quick throw-in that ultimately led to Harry Kane’s 50th-minute equaliser.“To do that you have to be a very good ball boy,” Mourinho said with a straight face. “I was, between 10 and 16 years old a very good ball boy and he was a very good ball boy.“He was reading the game and wasn’t looking at the stands. I wanted to invite him to the dressing room to celebrate with the players but he had disappeared.” Tottenham’s performance rather summed up their season. They were caught cold and were lucky that a defensive howler allowed Alli to reduce the arrears before the interval.In the second half, with Eriksen providing the ammunition for Kane, Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura, Tottenham were ruthless.With a home game against Bournemouth this weekend, Mourinho has every chance of starting with three straight wins.“Next game at home I expect the boys to start without ghosts, open and confident,” he said.
CAPE TOWN, (Reuters) – In an age of sport science, expert physical conditioning and meticulous planning, watching test cricketers clumsily kick a soccer ball around as they warm up defies belief. Not only because they look as if they are going hurt themselves, but because that is often what happens as their child-like enthusiasm for a kick-about clashes with the tenets of professional sport.The latest casualty is Rory Burns, England’s opening batsman who top scored in the first test against South Africa but who will now return home with a serious ankle injury, missing out on the rest of the four-match series.He hurt ligaments on Thursday trying to kick the ball away as his captain Joe Root bore down on him. It came only 24 hours after Ollie Pope had taken angry exception to a crunching tackle from teammate Matt Parkinson that in a real game of football might have earned the leg spinner a red card.“If you look at what football does, the benefits from a psychological and fun point of view are outstripped by the dangers from it, but we will discuss that. I am not coming in with an iron rod right now,” said Ashley Giles — a year ago when he was appointed the new England director of cricket.But England have now added yet another name to a growing list of soccer casualties. Just over a year ago, Jonny Bairstow lost his place as wicketkeeper on a tour of Sri Lanka after damaging ankle ligaments in a kick-about. A decade ago, then England coach Andy Flower banned the warm-up soccer routine after Joe Denly damaged a knee because of an unwieldy tackle before a one-day international match against Australia at The Oval.Like Bairstow, Denly is on tour in South Africa and might have offered some caution, as might have James Anderson, who turned his ankle playing soccer on tour in New Zealand in 2008.Opponents South African can relate. Ace bowler Vernon Philander was out for eight months after he damaged his ankle in a pre-match kick-about in India. But South Africa also still continue to play an awkward version of a rondo, where a few players in the middle of a circle of others try to intercept a soccer ball being passed between the players on the outer ring.Australia’s culture is reflected in their choice of touch rugby rather than soccer to get the blood flowing.But this proved even costlier. In was during such a game that Glenn McGrath stood on a stray cricket ball left on the outfield at Edgbaston and ripped the ligaments in his right ankle, changing the course of the Ashes in 2005.
SYDNEY, Australia, CMC – Head coach Gus Logie has urged his senior players to lift their performances, as West Indies find themselves facing a tricky path to the semi-finals of the Women’s Twenty20 World Cup. The Caribbean side have taken two points from their opening two games and need to win their remaining fixtures against England and South Africa in order to guarantee their place in the final four for the sixth straight tournament.West Indies beat minnows Thailand in their opener but then suffered a surprise defeat to Pakistan last Wednesday in Canberra, to create difficulty for themselves.Logie, a member of the legendary West Indies men’s side of the 1980s, said it was now the responsibility of the “big players” to carry the team. “Let’s hope we can pick ourselves up. I think we’ve done quite a bit of work over the last few weeks and many players have expressed how confident they are in their own ability to execute,” Logie said.“It’s just one of those days (against Pakistan) we did not execute as we expected but we know we’re better than that. “Our big players need to step up. We’ve seen it throughout the tournament – the big players are stepping up and making runs and taking wickets. We have enough quality players in our team to step up and do the business for us.” Marquee opener Hayley Matthews has managed just 16 runs in two innings while veteran all-rounder Deandra Dottin has scraped scores of two and one, in her first outing since a year-long injury layoff.Fast bowler Shamilia Connell has claimed a single wicket from six overs and veteran off-spinner Anisa Mohammed has failed to threaten, even though proving inexpensive.West Indies’ biggest test will come tomorrow when they take on 2018 losing finalists, England, who lie second in Group B on four points. Unbeaten group leaders South Africa, on four points, lie in wait on Tuesday, and Logie said self-belief would be key to any Windies success in these fixtures.“We put this (Pakistan defeat) down to one of those bad days and we look forward to the next two games … and I’m hoping that the players continue to believe in themselves,” he stressed.“This World Cup is not over, we have two important games. We win the next two and we should be in the semi-finals.” Prior to last Wednesday, West Indies had only lost to Pakistan once in the T20s. However, a lacklustre batting effort saw them muster only 124 for seven, a target which their opponents chased down with 10 balls to spare and eight wickets in hand.Logie said despite the modest target, West Indies’ had backed themselves to defend it.“I think 120-odd was a par score. I think we were looking at one stage like 140, 150 but these things happen at the end of the day,” he pointed out.“We felt we’d been bowling well, fielding well and felt if we put Pakistan under a bit of pressure early on, 125 could’ve been difficult but unfortunately I think it was one of our most difficult days in the field. “Bowling wise, we give away quite a few extras and we just weren’t [on top of our game] as we expected to be.”West Indies won the T20 World Cup in 2016 in India but were knocked out at the semi-final stage when the Caribbean hosted the tournament two years ago.
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CMC – Cricket West Indies chief executive, Johnny Grave, has cautioned that the governing body needs to continue “living within its means” as it seeks to further consolidate its finances in the face of challenging global conditions. CWI has been hit by bleak finances in recent years and lost an estimated US$20 million in 2018, a year which Grave described in an interview last year as “financially horrible.”And while lucrative 2019 home series tour against England and India had been expected to be a huge boost to CWI’s coffers, Grave said this week that with international media companies experiencing “enormous pressure and strain, it was critical CWI continued to exercise prudence in managing its financial affairs.“One of the things we are going to have to do in a far better way than ever before in our history is live within our means,” Grave told Starcom Radio’s Mason and Guest cricket show here. “The international landscape isn’t necessarily the way it’s been [before] where for the most part in professional cricket, and in professional sport, revenues have been increasing year on year.“We’re now into a challenging few years where traditional media companies which have been the bread and butter of most organisations in professional sport, their business is under significant pressure as everyone who watches sport, and TV and live entertainment changes their habits significantly and fewer and fewer of us are watching any sort of live entertainment and particularly sport through TV.“Therefore the business plans of TV companies are under enormous pressure and strain and many nations in the world including ourselves are facing a drop in revenue and therefore we’re going to have to be very agile in terms of how we manoeuvre that ever-changing landscape.” Apart from broadcast rights revenue, Grave indicated that key to CWI’s finances will be the redevelopment of the Coolidge Cricket Ground in Antigua, formerly the Stanford Cricket Ground.The Englishman said CWI was poised to undertake long term financing on the venue in order to underwrite “ambitious” redevelopment plans which would ultimately lead to increased revenue.“We’re certainly going to do long term financing for the Coolidge Cricket Ground,” Grave explained. “At the moment we’ve effectively bought the venue out of our operating cash flow and we need to turn that into a long term financing and replace some of that operating cash in the business.”He added: “It (venue) has been making revenue but in terms of our plans to redevelop the entire 16-acre site, they’re much more ambitious and we would be looking to significantly increase the revenues from [those plans].”
NEW DELHI, (Reuters) – The time spent away from cricket felt like a “torture” but India opener Prithvi Shaw believes he returned hungrier after serving a doping ban last year. Shaw was handed a back-dated eight-month suspension by the Indian cricket board for the doping violation after the opener said he had inadvertently ingested a prohibited substance.The 20-year-old, who smashed a century on his test debut against West Indies in 2018, returned to international cricket during the tour of New Zealand earlier this year.“It was a mistake. And the period away from cricket was a torture,” the Delhi Capitals player told fans of his Indian Premier League (IPL) team in an Instagram Live chat. “Doubts and questions arise, but I kept the faith and belief… When the ban got over, and I returned to domestic cricket, I was hungrier than before.“I picked up my bat and realised I hadn’t lost my touch at all. If anything, that time off made me a more determined person.”Shaw made his one-day debut in New Zealand even though India were whitewashed in the three-match series. Like any professional cricketer, Shaw is cooling his heels at home after this year’s IPL was indefinitely postponed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.Shaw stressed that patience was key in coping with the lull in the cricket world.“Mental strength is very important at this time, given that we are all restricted indoors,” he said. “A lot of us don’t have patience for things in life, so now is a great time to work on it.“I’ve been working out a bit indoors and shadow practising to maintain my fitness levels.“I’ve also been helping my father in the kitchen. I can cook eggs quite well, and I’m trying to learn a few new things.”
BARCELONA, (Reuters) – Spanish soccer has edged closer to returning after a long pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic after La Liga president Javier Tebas confirmed clubs in the top two divisions will begin training in groups of up to 10 players from today. The return to group training follows a government announcement on Saturday allowing sports teams to return to activity regardless of the status of the lockdown in their own region.Previously, only teams from regions that were in phase one of the de-escalation of the national state of emergency would be able to return to training in groups. The provinces of Madrid and Barcelona are currently in phase zero.“The confirmation of the return of group training will help to level up to standardise training,” Tebas told Spanish television station Movistar yesterday. “It’s very important that all teams are training at the same level and we are grateful that is now the case.”All organised soccer in Spain has been indefinitely suspended since March 12, with Tebas previously warning that clubs would lose up to one billion euros if the season was not allowed to be completed.Clubs began individual training earlier this month and the next step will be for them to move to full training before resuming matches without spectators, which must first be approved by the government’s department for health. Tebas reaffirmed that he hopes matches will start up again from June 12 and said he was feeling even more optimistic about being able to complete the season after the Bundesliga became the first major European league to resume action this weekend. “I’ve sent my congratulations to the Bundesliga because they have made a tremendous effort,” he added.“We have worked very hard along side them in these last few months, exchanging protocols and ideas and I’m very proud of the Bundesliga because it wasn’t easy but they were the first and they are an example to follow.”
PARIS, (Reuters) – French Open director Guy Forget said he was working hand in hand with tennis authorities to make sure the dates of the claycourt Grand Slam tournament and those of the U.S. Open do not clash, adding that Flushing Meadows would make an announcement next month. The French Open had originally been due to start today, but the new coronavirus crisis forced organisers to postpone the start to Sept. 20, one week after the scheduled final of the U.S. Open, leading to criticism within the tennis world.Earlier this month, the French tennis federation said it was in talks with the ATP, WTA and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) over a revised calendar for the season.“The official announcement has not been made yet. It (the French Open) will probably be between the end of September and the beginning of October. We’ve been working closely with the ATP, the WTA and the ITF to make a global announcement on what the circuit will be like until the end of the year,” Forget told French radio Europe 1 yesterday. “There are so many question marks. The city of New York is more affected by the coronavirus than France. They also have a lot of organisation problems, they will make an announcement mid-June to say how it’s going to be like for the U.S. Open.”Meanwhile, Forget is confident the French Open will be played in good conditions.“We’ll see how the situation is in a couple of months. We will adapt to what the government will say. We have to be ambitious and optimistic,” he said. France has banned events involving 5,000 or more people until the end of August.
(Reuters) – The lack of fully professional clubs in the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) has handcuffed the sport in the country, former Scotland manager Gordon Strachan said. Almost half of Scotland’s 42 professional clubs utilise players on a part-time basis, according to the BBC, and Strachan, who is the technical director at Championship side Dundee, believes this is holding the sport back.“If you want to be a professional club, show it,” Strachan, 63, told the BBC. “Have full-time employees, full-time players, an academy… Just don’t play at being a football team and expect us to look after you.“When you talk about clubs coming into the league, what are they bringing in? Two hundred people per week to a game, is that really professional football? “Don’t tell me you’re a professional club when you’re paying people part-time 80 quid a week and nobody turns up to your football matches.”Strachan, who previously coached English Premier League side Southampton, bemoaned the poor quality of football in Scotland and said several SPFL clubs would struggle to stay afloat even in the lower tiers of English soccer.“If you think giving a good product is watching two teams in the bottom half of the Scottish Premiership playing on a plastic pitch, you’re kidding yourself,” Strachan, who was capped 50 times by Scotland, added. Clubs have struggled to weather the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought an early end to the Scottish season, and Strachan believes the shutdown should be used to bring about changes in the way the game is marketed.“I just think we get over this period, see where we all are, how we all come out it… I’m sure if we do it properly, our product can be 100%t better than it is right now.”
MALLORCA, (Reuters) – Lionel Messi scored and grabbed two assists as La Liga leaders Barcelona eased to a 4-0 win away to struggling Real Mallorca yesterday, making the perfect return to action after Spanish football’s three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The champions got off to a flying start when Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal scored with a diving header in the second minute, while Danish international Martin Braithwaite scored his first goal for Barca later in the first half.Jordi Alba then added a third goal for Barca in the 79th minute after latching on to a through ball from Messi, who had also set up Braithwaite’s goal. The Argentine then completed the scoring with a deflected strike in stoppage time.The win takes Barca on to 61 points after 28 games, five clear of nearest challengers Real Madrid, who host Eibar today in their first game back. The game was played behind closed doors to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus, but a fan wearing an Argentina shirt somehow made it on to the pitch, only to be swiftly taken away by security guards.Luis Suarez made his first appearance since injuring his knee six months ago, coming off the bench in the second half, while his fellow Uruguayan Ronald Araujo hit the post shortly before Alba struck.Mallorca occupy the final relegation spot in La Liga but despite the heavy loss they gave a decent account of themselves, with 19-year-old Japanese playmaker Takefusa Kubo pulling the strings. Kubo tested Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the first half while Ante Budimir, Lago Junior and Abdon Prats all flashed shots just wide of the target after the interval.