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England aim to revive rocky title defence against Oman

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Aqib Ilyas' party trick of bowling offspin to left-handers and leg breaks to right-handers has been effective enough [ICC]

The first of a three-part fightback must start here. Before England can even indulge the unthinkable – rooting for Australia to take down Scotland by a sizeable enough margin to grant them sheepish passage into the Super Eights – they must hold up their end of this monkey-paw deal with NRR-boosting victories over Oman and Namibia. Simple enough in the spreadsheets.

That Oman come first on today [13] is welcome. Three games in, they look a team on the wane, one stretched to their limits after two solid showings. A valiant Super Over defeat to Namibia and a solid start with the ball against Australia gave way to a listless display against Scotland.

The 19th-ranked team in the world are currently number one as far as drops go – a total of eight putting them bottom on the catching front in the T20 World Cup. Captain Aqib Ilyas also lamented the number of dot balls faced on Sunday, which resulted in a score of 150 for 7, which Scotland knocked off with seven wickets and all of 6.5 overs to spare.

Form does not quite go out the window for their meeting with England, no matter how much introspection the defending champions have indulged since Saturday’s defeat to Australia.  And it is Oman’s tentativeness with the bat that will give Jos Buttler’s bowlers the belief they can make amends for two less-than-convincing outings.

Buttler has put on a cheerier front this week, discarding the sterner visage he had adopted at the start of the T20 World Cup. ICC competitions demand a lot from captains when it comes to media engagements, and Buttler’s lack of enthusiasm for such duties is nothing new. So, it is fair to assume his new tact is an attempt to channel more favourable chi.

The proximity to the 2023 ODI World Cup failure makes comparisons unavoidable, and the inability to call an audible in the field against Australia speaks to similar errors in planning. David Warner and Travis Head kiboshed a prepared plan of straight lines and length from the quicks, peppering the short boundary early on. Only Jofra Archer had the wherewithal – and skill – to make adjustments, leaning on cutters to emerge relatively unscathed with an economy rate of seven. The gut feel on Will Jacks for the second over was probably indigestion.

That Australia’s pace attack took cues from Archer means analysing England’s one batting innings in two weeks is a little pointless. The collective 77 from 66 balls managed by batters three to seven was far from ideal, but understandable given the pace-off, Adam Zampa-led squeeze after Buttler and Phil Salt’s opening stand of 73. Nevertheless, improvements need to be made by the individuals – particularly Jonny Bairstow, who struck 7 from 12 deliveries before tamely hoicking one in the air – by any means necessary.

There is a sense, however, that this group – even those, like Bairstow, who were on deck for last winter’s debacle in India – have their heads well and truly in the game. Their 2022 success was ultimately forged by a similar fightback following defeat to Ireland and a washout against Australia. Though there is a little less in their control this time around, they will look to emerge from the corner for what will be a defining four days for this iteration of English white-ball cricket.

Part of the criticism Bairstow copped for his innings in Barbados was fuelled by the “demotion” of Harry Brook to number six. Moeen Ali’s floating role – which is set to continue – saw him come in ahead of Brook, who eventually got to the crease upon Moeen’s dismissal with 74 to get in just 26 deliveries. The Yorkshire wunderkind could only manage 20 from 16.

Brook has never batted higher than four in T20I cricket, and he’s only done that six times in 29 knocks. Getting him into an innings early makes sense, and No.4 seems a prime spot for him in this line-up. Whether that means dropping Bairstow down the order or altogether – unlikely for now – it feels a necessary play to ensure Brook is not wasted. It is worth noting that both times Brook has faced more than 30 deliveries, he has pocketed half-centuries at strike rates of 231.42 (against Pakistan in 2022) and 186.11 (against New Zealand in 2023).

Aqib Ilyas was refreshingly honest after the defeat against Scotland. But it is time for the Oman captain to contribute. Three innings at first drop have reaped just 34 runs from 25 deliveries, all of which have come in the first six overs. He did at least practice the positivity he preached in his last innings, striking 16 off five before being trapped lbw by Safyaan Sharif.

His party trick of bowling offspin to left-handers and leg breaks to right-handers has been effective enough. He started economically across the first two matches at Bridgetown, particularly with his 0 for 18 from four overs against Australia. But there was a rude awakening at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium when his three overs were taken for 41.

Reece Topley is likely to be brought in for his first appearance of the tournament to add some much-needed dimension to England’s bowling attack. If that is the case, it will be for Chris Jordan, with the understanding that England are set to continue with dual pace-threat of Mark Wood and Jofra Archer. The temptation to draft in Ben Duckett to add a left-hander to the XI, at the expense of Bairstow, has been resisted for now.

England (probable): Phil Salt, Jos Buttler (capt & wk), Will Jacks, Jonny Bairstow,  Harry Brook,  Liam Livingstone,  Moeen Ali,  Jofra Archer . Mark Wood,  Adil Rashid,  Reece Topley

Oman need a refresh of their batting after a series of costly false starts. Their lead batter Ayaan Khan, with 92 runs at an average of 46.00, has been operating at six but is surely due for a promotion.

Oman (probable):  Pratik Athavale (wk),  Naseem Khushi,  Aqib Ilyas (capt),  Zeeshan Maqsood,  Ayaan Khan,  Rafiullah,  Mohammad Nadeem,  Mehran Khan,  Fayyaz Butt,  Samay Shrivastava,  Bilal Khan

[Cricinfo]



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Djokovic sets up Alcaraz rematch in Wimbledon final

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Novak Djokovic is trying to match Roger Federer's total of eight Wimbledon titles [BBC]

Novak Djokovic outclassed Italian underdog Lorenzo Musetti to reach the Wimbledon final and set up a showdown with reigning champion Carlos Alcaraz in a repeat of last year’s final.

The 37-year-old impressed as he stayed on course for a record-equalling eighth men’s singles title at Wimbledon with a 6-4 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 victory on Centre Court.

Musetti, 22, had one chance to get the break back in the final set but sent a forehand into the net and crouched down with his head in his hands, knowing the end was near.  Djokovic made sure his opponent did not get another opportunity.

Under pressure, Musetti sent a shot long before Djokovic walked to the net, knowing he had reached his 37th Grand Slam final and 10th at Wimbledon.

The Serb then moved his racquet over his shoulder and imitated playing a violin, in a gesture aimed at his six-year-old daughter Tara, with television cameras showing her grinning along.

Some fans, however, started booing, thinking Djokovic, who produced the same celebration following his win over Holger Rune in the last 16, was being disrespectful.

Alcaraz beat Djokovic in last year’s showpiece, winning 1-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-1 3-6 6-4 in a five-set epic, which lasted four hours 42 minutes and is regarded one of the best matches in the tournament’s history.

The pair meet again on Sunday in what could be another amazing chapter in Wimbledon folklore.

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Top ICC official Chris Tetley and Claire Furlong resign

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There was a lot of scrutiny of the matches in the US leg of the World Cup, particularly the games held in New York

A couple of senior officials from the International Cricket Council (ICC), who were closely involved in organizing the Twenty20 World Cup in the US and the West Indies, have resigned. On Friday, it came to light that Chris Tetley, the ICC’s Head of Events, and Claire Furlong, the General Manager of Marketing and Communications, have announced their departures from the organization.

The resignations, coming as they did immediately after the conclusion of the World Cup and just about a week ahead of the ICC’s annual conference in Colombo, are believed to be related to the conduct of the championship. However, ICC insiders say the resignations are several months old.

One particular source has claimed that both Tetley and Furlong decided to leave the world body at the end of the last commercial cycle itself but stayed on in view of the Twenty20 World Cup in the US. The source went on to add that the two quit quite some time back but will continue to be with the ICC for a few more months ‘to ensure smooth transition of charge in a crowded event cycle.’ They will also attend the Annual Conference in Colombo from July 19 to 22.

The World Cup in the US, and particularly in New York, was a major project of the ICC and the two officials were closely involved in it. Many members of the ICC were priming to raise the issue of the New York games, which were low-scoring affairs due to the ‘up and down’ nature of the drop-in pitches at the NY stadium, at the Colombo conclave. A key member of the ICC board is learnt to have raised the issue through a letter to the members.

The number of fours and sixes, which are generally expected to be high in numbers in the Twenty20 games, was significantly low in the New York games. The Indian team, the eventual champions, however, did not comment on the nature of the pitches, stating that the conditions were equal for all the participating teams.

The matches in the US were conducted by an entity called T20 World Cup Inc which had built a modular stadium in the Nassau County of New York’s Long Island in record time. The stadium was dismantled immediately after the NY leg of the championship. NY hosted eight of the 16 games allotted to the US.

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Junior National Athletics Championship commences today

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The spotlight will fall on the Under 20 age category when the Junior National Athletics Championship commences at Diyagama today as the four-day championship will be the final opportunity to qualify for the World Junior Championships.

Six athletes have already reached entry standards for the world event to be held in Lima, Peru in August.

Sri Lanka Athletics has spelt out the plan to form a team for the costly tour also leaving a space for those athletes who excel in the Under 18 age category. The World Junior Championship is open to Under 20 age category.

The day one programme includes at least ten events in the Under 20 age category.

However, it is not only the athletes in the Under 20 age category that will compete for honours.

The event will be vital for athletes in the Under 16, Under 18 and Under 23 age categories as well.

The Junior National Athletics Championship was earlier scheduled for June but inclement weather forced Sri Lanka Athletics to postpone the event to July. This postponement has affected athletes of some areas as some zonal championships commence during the Junior National.

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