A return to the England Test team for the upcoming tour of South Africa would have felt too soon, all-rounder Moeen Ali has conceded.

Moeen opted to take a break from the longest format after a chastening experience in the first Ashes Test with Australia at Edgbaston.

He scored only four runs with the bat, suffering the ignominy of twice being undone by fellow off-spinner Nathan Lyon, while taking disappointing match figures of 3-172 with the ball.

England went on to draw the five-match series, failing to regain the urn in the process, before losing a two-match series in New Zealand 1-0.

That led to talk of Moeen returning for four Tests in South Africa, but Jack Leach and Matt Parkinson were selected as the slow-bowling options in the 17-man squad.

"It just felt too soon. The past few years have been so full-on and the plan behind my break from Test cricket was to freshen up, enjoy some new environments and get my game back in good order," Moeen wrote in his column for the Guardian.

"That is something that people perhaps don't realise is hard to do when you play all three international formats and particularly so when you are an all-rounder.

"The time away has felt quite liberating. Since my international debut in 2014, the miles on the clock have probably crept up and Test cricket is the level where the pressure and scrutiny are greatest.

"Combining it all had become a bit draining and rushing back now might have seen nothing change in this regard.

"Playing 60 Tests has meant so much to me, especially picking up 181 wickets and five five-wicket hauls, which for a guy who grew up thinking as a batter first is something I never thought possible.

"My batting is where I really want to find form again, though. Five Test centuries suggests I have it in me."

Moeen, who is set to play in the Pakistan Super League for Multan Sultans, did not rule out the possibility of featuring in the tour of Sri Lanka in March next year.

He claimed 18 wickets – the same tally as left-armer Leach - in a 3-0 whitewash in England's last Test series in the country, back in November 2018.

"The back end of the PSL coincides with the Sri Lanka Test tour in March and at this stage it is a tournament I intend to see out," he added. 

"But the franchise's head coach, Andy Flower, is someone I know I can talk to, if and when the England conversation arises again. So let's see what happens."

Ben Stokes has revealed he should be fit to bowl during England's tour of South Africa after scans confirmed he had not sustained a knee injury.

Stokes complained of a knee problem during the first day of England's second and final Test against New Zealand in Hamilton,.

However, he did bowl 25 overs during the Test, which was drawn as England lost the series 1-0.

The all-rounder - a star of England's Cricket World Cup and Ashes campaigns - has now confirmed he will be fit to bowl against the Proteas, with England's four-Test tour to begin on Boxing Day.

"It's alright," Stokes told talkSPORT. "I got some scans when we got back [to] England and there's nothing really showing up on the MRI scans, which is good news.

"I just need to toughen up I guess but it's alright and it's just treatment now. I will be fine to bowl [in South Africa]."

After a difficult Ashes series and a poor performance with the bat in the first Test in New Zealand, Joe Root returned to form in style in Hamilton, scoring 226 in the first innings, and Stokes claimed he backed the England captain to hit a double century ahead of the tour.

"Rooty is one of the best players in the world. He obviously went through a little bit of a dip in performance but that is natural, he’s human. The old saying is form is temporary and class is permanent," Stokes added.

"It's obviously great for English cricket to see Joe go out in his last innings before a big tour and hopefully we can see Rooty scoring runs like he normally does.

"Being Test captain is one of the toughest jobs and one of the most criticised and how people speak about you is dependent on how well the performances on the pitch individually and as a team.

"It's unfair most of the time that when things don’t go well the captain gets it all. I actually called Joe to get a double hundred on day one of our first warm-up game to Rory Burns. I think I was stood at slip and I said, 'Joe is going to get a double hundred this tour'."

Cricket South Africa (CSA) has confirmed they are close to appointing Graeme Smith as their new director of cricket.

The former Proteas captain – who scored over 9,000 runs in 117 Test appearances for his country – had previously released a statement on social media to dismiss speculation he would be taking the role, citing "real concerns", though discussions with the governing body were still ongoing.

At a press conference on Saturday, president Chris Nenzani announced CSA expects to finalise terms with Smith in the coming days.

The organisation has also moved quickly to fill the void created by the suspension of chief executive Thabang Moroe on Friday, with Jacques Faul taking over immediately on an interim basis.

Smith is set to be officially presented next Wednesday, less than three weeks before South Africa begin their four-Test series against England on home soil.

"I'm happy to announce that we have engaged Graeme Smith. I am confirming that he has agreed that by next week Wednesday all of the negotiations around the contract terms that need to take place would have been concluded," Nenzani told the media.

"We still have these three days left for engagement on the specific issues around the contract. He and CSA have both agreed that it is important that we conclude this by Tuesday so that on Wednesday we are able to announce to the public a certainty of how we go forward.

"If you have you have your director of cricket in place, then your selection processes are going to kick in, then your team preparation is going to kick in."

Faul steps in following the "precautionary" suspension of Moroe – who remains on full pay – due to allegations of misconduct.

Nenzani revealed they had held discussions with ex-Proteas international Dave Richardson, who previously held the position of chief executive officer for the International Cricket Council (ICC), over a temporary appointment.

While unable to assist on a full-time basis, Richardson will be available to provide support for Faul, who is CEO of the Titans franchise in domestic cricket.

"When I spoke to him [Faul], he did not even think for a moment, he said, 'I will come in and lend my support and put my shoulder on the wheel for the benefit of cricket in this country'," Nenzani said.

On talks with Richardson, he added: "His role will be to offer support and also to be available when required by the acting CEO.

"That to us ticks the box when we are having stability at that level of management. Up to this moment, we did not have a CEO and, in leadership, you should not allow a vacuum to occur."

James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow and Mark Wood have all been recalled by England for the Test series with South Africa.

Seamer Anderson, his country's leading Test wicket taker, has not appeared on the international stage since tearing his calf in the first Ashes match at Edgbaston in August.

He and Wood have been taking part in a fast bowling camp in Cape Town, the latter reduced to the role of spectator for the Ashes and the recent tour of New Zealand due to a left knee injury and side strain sustained in the World Cup final in July.

Wood is not expected to be available for the "earliest matches" of the tour, with Bairstow – who also travelled to Cape Town to work on his batting – restored to the 17-man squad after being omitted from the squad for the Black Caps series.

Bairstow endured a disappointing Ashes, scoring 50 just once in the five-match series. Moeen Ali, who had been tipped for a possible return to the squad having been dropped after the Edgbaston loss to Australia, is still unavailable for the selection. The all-rounder elected to take a break from the longest format in September.

Saqib Mahmood is the only player to lose his place. The Lancashire seamer did not feature in either Test in New Zealand.

Moeen's continued absence means Jack Leach and Matt Parkinson will provide the spin options for the four-Test series.

National selector Ed Smith said: "It is not predicted that Mark will be available for selection for the earliest matches. However, he will travel with the team and continue his rehab work with the medical staff on tour.

"There is no exact date given for his return, but the medical team is working towards him becoming fully available for selection during the tour.

"With that in mind, and given the extended period that James and Mark have had on the sidelines due to injury, it was sensible to have a 17-man squad."

England play a pair of warm-up matches before the first Test, which begins on December 26 at Centurion.

Cricket South Africa (CSA) has suspended chief executive Thabang Moroe following allegations of misconduct.

The governing body confirmed the "precautionary" move to suspend Moroe - who will continue to receive full pay - on Friday, having received reports related to "possible failure of controls in the organisation".

A statement released also announced a forensic audit will be launched, covering both "critical aspects of the business and conduct of management".

The decision comes after CSA came in for heavy criticism for revoking the accreditation of five journalists for the Mzansi Super League due to their coverage of the organisation, though Moroe later issued an apology.

However, in a further blow, lead sponsors Standard Bank confirmed they will not be extending their long-standing deal when it runs out in 2020.

"The board of directors of Cricket South Africa (CSA) has taken a decision to put the chief executive officer, Mr Thabang Moroe, on precautionary suspension with pay, effective December 6, 2019, on allegations of misconduct, pending further investigations," the statement read.

"The decision to place Mr Thabang Moroe on precautionary suspension follows from the reports received by the social and ethics committee and the audit and risk committee of the board related to possible failure of controls in the organisation.

"During the course of Mr Thabang Moroe's precautionary suspension, a forensic audit of critical aspects of the business and the conduct of management related to such aspects shall be conducted by an independent forensic team.

"In this regard, we urge all our stakeholders - including sponsors, members of staff, players, volunteers and cricket fans - to allow this process to unfold and we will provide updates on this matter."

CSA's statement also confirmed they will look at "various options" to appoint a temporary replacement for Moroe, including having discussions with ex-Proteas international Dave Richardson, who previously held the position of chief executive officer for the International Cricket Council.

England assistant coach Graham Thorpe wants players to use their experience of the 1-0 Test series defeat in New Zealand to develop a harder edge.

Joe Root's side are back in action in South Africa later this month, with the first of four Tests starting on Boxing Day at Centurion.

James Anderson, Mark Wood and Jonny Bairstow are expected to return to the squad having sat out the trip to New Zealand, where a draw in Hamilton meant the tourists were unable to overturn an innings defeat in the first Test at Mount Maunganui.

Nevertheless, Thorpe acknowledges there is a bigger picture to consider when it comes to England developing their Test game under new head coach Chris Silverwood – namely the next chance to regain the Ashes in 2021-22.

"We've got to keep developing our players, no doubt about that. They have to ask themselves when they come away from a trip like this: where can I get better?" said Thorpe, as quoted by The Guardian.

"Because the big picture is that down the line, in a couple of years' time, we'll need resilient cricketers going to Australia.

"It’s down to our players to be honest and for us to be honest with them.

"If we are going to keep trying to go up that Test ladder and really compete abroad then we have to keep challenging the players along the way."

The British and Irish Lions will play the first of a three-Test series against world champions South Africa in front of potentially a record crowd.

Warren Gatland will lead the Lions for a third time in 2021, with Johannesburg's FNB Stadium to host the first encounter on July 24.

The venue has a capacity of around 88,000 and a sell-out would surpass the highest attendance figures for a Lions fixture, which came when 84,188 watched the series decider against Australia in Sydney in 2001.

Cape Town Stadium is the venue for the second Test a week later before the third and final match takes place in Gauteng at Emirates Airline Park on August 7.

In total, the Lions will play eight matches, with Super Rugby sides the Bulls, the Sharks and the Stormers among the opponents, while Gatland's side are to face an invitational side in Port Elizabeth and South Africa 'A' in Nelspruit.

Gatland, who oversaw a series win over Australia in 2013 and a draw with New Zealand four years later, says the itinerary is perfect preparation for what promises to be a thrilling series with Rugby World Cup winners South Africa.

"I am absolutely thrilled with how this schedule looks," he said.

"Touring South Africa is always a huge challenge, not only from a rugby perspective, but also in terms of the venues and the conditions facing the players.

"We are very comfortable that three of the games, two of which are Test matches, will be played at altitude. Our schedule falls in a way to allow us to start at sea level before building up and acclimatising to the unique environment that playing at altitude presents.

"Ensuring the team are absolutely primed for the Test matches is a critical element of any Lions Tour, and I am confident the quality of opposition we will face in the opening weeks will get us ready to take on the Springboks. The Bulls, Sharks and Stormers are all tough sides and present different challenges, which is exactly what we want.

"Moreover, the venues we have agreed – some of which will be new to the Lions – open up the matches to a vast audience and will undoubtedly provide an unforgettable experience for the players and travelling supporters alike.

"We are very much looking forward to touring this wonderful country."

South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus added: "There are players who have been to three Rugby World Cups an finished their careers with a winners' medal yet never got to play against the Lions.

"They only come around every 12 years for our players and only a few of them ever have the privilege of wearing the Springbok jersey in a Lions series.

"The Lions have not lost a series since they were last here a decade ago and they will present a next-level challenge in 18 months' time.

"Warren Gatland is a massively experienced and astute coach with a phenomenal record with the Lions and the rugby experience for our players and public will rival that of a Rugby World Cup."

 

Schedule in full:

Saturday July 3: Lions v Stormers – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Wednesday July 7: Lions v South Africa Invitational – Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Saturday July 10: Lions v Sharks – Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
Wednesday July 14: Lions v South Africa 'A' – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Saturday July 17: Lions v Bulls – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Saturday July 24 (First Test): South Africa v Lions – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
Saturday July 31 (Second Test):  South Africa v Lions – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Saturday August 7 (Third Test): South Africa v Lions – Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

Following a disappointing campaign in South Africa's Mzansi Super League (MSL) West Indies batsman Chris Gayle is claiming he does not get respect.

Rugby World Cup champions South Africa will face Scotland twice and play a one-off match with Georgia in July next year.

The Springboks secured a famous victory over England in a surprisingly one-sided final in Japan last month, Rassie Erasmus' side running out 32-12 winners. 

By contrast, Scotland failed to qualify from their pool after losing to Ireland and Japan.

The European nation will head to South Africa for a pair of fixtures on July 4 and 11, with the Springboks also scheduled to host Georgia the following week.

While South Africa and Scotland have met many times, the Boks have faced Georgia only once – in a pool match at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Georgia won one of their four games in Japan, beating Uruguay 33-7.

The venues and kick-off times for all three games will be confirmed at a later date. 

England's coaching staff are hopeful James Anderson will be fit to feature in the upcoming tour of South Africa, according to Ashley Giles.

Anderson has not travelled with England's Test squad for the two-match tour of New Zealand, which starts next week.

The 37-year-old - England's record wicket-taker in red-ball cricket - sustained a calf injury in the first Ashes Test, which saw him miss the rest of the series.

However, England's managing director Giles is confident Anderson, who will be attending a pre-tour training camp in South Africa, will be able to face the Proteas.

"Jimmy is going out to Potchefstroom," Giles told BBC Sport. "We're hopeful. We think he is on track, which is great. The medical team are happy.

"The older you get these things tend to linger longer. We felt no point forcing it for this short tour.

"It will be interesting to see the pitches we play on in South Africa. I think they'll be green and they'll go for a bowler war and take us on. It's not something I'd take on with Jofra Archer and Jimmy Anderson, but it will be an exciting series."

Joe Root's captaincy was called into question at times through the Ashes, with Australia retaining the urn.

However, Giles stressed the plan is for the Yorkshireman to lead England during the next Ashes, which takes place in Australia in 2021-22.

"We have talked about Joe leading and winning in Australia. We've not said 'maybe if you get there.' We plan for him to be our captain," Giles added.

"That series will come around quickly as we know with the business of the schedules. None of us know what is around the corner, things can change quickly. But in our planning when we sat down even before the Headingley Test we were looking to Australia.

"That's the holy grail for Joe. Going to Australia and winning is the big prize and we have enough time to plan for that."

Rassie Erasmus hailed Francois Louw as a "warrior" after the South Africa back-row announced his international retirement.

The 34-year-old has called time on his Test career on the back of the Springboks' Rugby World Cup triumph in Japan.

Louw played 76 times for the world champions and Rugby Championship holders after making his debut against Wales in 2010.

South Africa director of rugby Erasmus paid tribute to the forward, who will continue to play for Premiership side Bath.

Erasmus said: "Flo was a real warrior of the back row.

"He was always ready to go where the fire was hottest and was the kind of tough-minded character that you'd always want beside you. He didn't take a step backwards ever.

"He has been a tremendous servant of South African rugby and we're losing a lot with his retirement, not just in how he played, but in the calmness, insight and character that he brought to the group."

Louw said: "I've had an amazing journey in international rugby.

"I've made friends for life in the game and created incredible memories with great people."

Tendai Mtawarira has retired from international rugby just four days after helping South Africa to Rugby World Cup glory in Japan.

The 34-year-old prop put in an all-action performance as the Springboks dominated England 32-12 in Yokohama to win the Webb Ellis Cup for a record-equalling third time.

Mtawarira, nicknamed 'The Beast', steps away from South Africa duty having amassed 117 caps, during which time he also won a Tri Nations and a Rugby Championship with his country.

"I've been privileged to play this great game and achieve many career goals over the last 12 years of playing senior rugby," Mtawarira said.

"I've been blessed to have been part of teams that achieved so much success over the years, and I have many memories to cherish forever, but I can honestly say that winning the Rugby World Cup is the perfect ending and cherry on top.

"I am grateful for the opportunities afforded to me by many top coaches at the Springboks and the Sharks, and grateful to my numerous team mates in green and gold, and black and white, over the years."

After making his Sharks debut in 2006, Mtawarira received his first Springboks cap two years later and only Victor Mayfield and Bryan Habana have appeared more times in a South Africa jersey.

South Africa Rugby president Mark Alexander added in a statement: "'Beast' is someone who never complained, always put in the hard work and simply got on with his job in his typically unassuming way.

"When he first got an opportunity at the Sharks, he rode a bicycle to training, which perfectly sums up not only his humbleness, but his desire to make it to the top. He worked very hard to achieve what he has and we’re all very proud of him.

"'Beast', thank you for what you've done for South African rugby, to show that Springboks can indeed be gentle giants, and for never putting your own interests above that of the team. We salute you and will miss you in green and gold."

Quinton de Kock expects Faf du Plessis to captain South Africa in the ICC T20 World Cup next year but says he would grab the opportunity "with both hands" if he was asked to take over.

De Kock led the Proteas in a drawn Twenty20 series with India in September as Du Plessis was given a rest.

The wicketkeeper-batsman will also skipper Cape Town Blitz in the Mzansi Super League, but he believes Du Plessis will lead his country in Australia next year.

De Kock told ESPNcricinfo: "The way I see it is that I was just a replacement. That's the way I took it. For now, it's still Faf's baby. But maybe if things change and they do want me to do it, then I will do it.

"For the moment, I am not looking too far ahead. I am just trying to look at how I can help out with the youngsters, with the new guys in the T20 team and by myself, just getting better and getting ready for the T20 World Cup next year.

"But if that does come upon me, then I will try to grab it with both hands."

De Kock says South Africa can take inspiration from the way England turned around their fortunes in limited-overs cricket to win the Cricket World Cup this year.

"We are not the first team that has gone through a transition," De Kock said. "England did it after their last World Cup and look at them. Four years later, they end up winning the thing.

"It's alright if the whole country and guys are a bit down and out but when we all gather together, especially after winning this Rugby World Cup, a lot of people are pumped up.

"[People] want to get this transition going so, by the time we get to our next World Cup, we can really put ourselves in a good stead, just like England did."

South Africa were crowned champions of the world with the best player on the planet this weekend but not even Pieter-Steph du Toit could make the Opta team of the Rugby World Cup.

The Springboks overpowered England at International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday and lifted the Webb Ellis Cup for a third time after a commanding 32-12 victory.

Outstanding lock Du Toit was crowned World Rugby Player of the Year the following day and Rassie Erasmus was named the top coach in the world at a ceremony in Tokyo.

Yet there were no Springboks in the Opta team of the tournament, with Japan's South Africa-born back-row Pieter Labuschagne in at number seven ahead of Du Toit.

There were four New Zealand players and as many from the host nation Japan in the Opta XV.

Players had to have been on the field for at least 320 minutes, or 240 for props, to be eligible for selection, with tries, carries, metres carried, offloads, turnovers assists and tackle success contributing to earn points.

New Zealand playmaker Beauden Barrett, twice named the best player in the world, claimed the most points in the competition.

 

Opta's Rugby World Cup team of the tournament: Beauden Barrett (New Zealand), Kotaro Matsushima (Japan), Manu Tuilagi (England), Anton Lienert-Brown (New Zealand), Semi Radradra (Fiji), Richie Mo'unga (New Zealand), Gareth Davies (Wales); Joe Moody (New Zealand), Shota Horie (Japan), Kyle Sinckler (England), Maro Itoje (England), Kane Le'aupepe (Samoa), Chris Vui (Samoa), Pieter Labuschagne (Japan), Kazuki Himeno (Japan).

Roger Federer has saluted the "amazing" South Africa team and captain Siya Kolisi following their Rugby World Cup final win over England.

The Springboks thrashed favourites England 32-12 in Yokohama on Saturday and tennis superstar Federer sent a video message praising their achievement.

Federer's mother, Lynette, was born in South Africa and the 20-time grand slam champion clearly enjoyed the nation's success in Japan.

"Siya, it's Roger here. Couldn't be more happy for you and the team," he said in a video shared on the Springboks' Twitter account on Sunday.

"What a victory, what an amazing team effort. You guys spent so much time together and you ended up with the big win.

"I was watching it, I was following it. Many, many congratulations and I hope I can meet you soon.

"You're the best. Well done everybody, you guys are amazing."

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