Australia star batsman Steve Smith believes he has found the rhythm and technique that had gone missing from his game, just in time for the home series against India.

The former captain felt the disruption of the COVID-19 lockdown in his batting, with his once-assured mastery of the crease replaced by a sense something was not quite right.

It is only in the past week, he said on Tuesday, that Smith has begun to feel like his old self.

After struggling for form in the recent Indian Premier League, where he captained Rajasthan Royals, Smith is out to remind India what he is really about.

The 31-year-old said: "The past few days I have found something... I have found my hands which I am extremely excited about.

"I had a big smile on my face after training the other day, I walked past [Australia assistant coach] Andrew McDonald and said, 'I've found them again'."

The rejuvenated Smith has even been sharpening up his batting skills in his hotel bedroom, which has not been overwhelmingly popular with team-mates.

He said: "I've done a bit of shadow batting in the hotel and copped a few messages last night saying, 'stop tapping the bat down'."

An in-form Smith would be a formidable opponent for any touring side, and a hugely valuable asset for Australia, whose three-match ODI series against India starts in Sydney on Friday.

That will be followed by three Twenty20 clashes and four Test matches.

Smith explained his technical tweaks, saying: "Theoretically it is a simple thing, but it is just getting that feel and the look of the bat behind my toe the right way and the way my hands come up on the bat.

"It's hard to explain but it just hasn't quite been right until probably two days ago and I found a little something and everything just clicked in.

"It's taken me a lot longer than usual, I don't know why… I pretty much didn't bat for four months at the start of COVID."

Smith said he was "pretty disappointed" with his form for Rajasthan, for whom he scored just 311 runs in 14 innings at an average of 25.91, with only three half-centuries.

"There are those players around the world that can hit sixes at will, and I'm probably not one of those," he said.

"For me it's about playing proper cricket shots and hitting the gaps and manipulating the field as much as I can, and I probably went away from that a bit in the IPL."

David Warner insisted he would be happy with whoever he opens with for Australia, but the left-hander talked up his partnership with Joe Burns.

Burns is under pressure ahead of the first Test against India, with Will Pucovski starring for Victoria to begin the Sheffield Shield season.

In 27 Test innings, Burns and Warner have scored 1,365 runs at an average of 50.55, including averaging 65.4 against Pakistan and New Zealand in 2019-20.

Warner is happy with the stability of Burns, but said Pucovski – who has scored 495 runs at an average of 247.5 to begin the Shield campaign – was in fine form.

"To be honest, I've had over a dozen opening partners and it's never been quite stable," he told a news conference on Monday.

"Obviously, when I was batting with 'Bucky' [Chris] Rogers, we had a great partnership and we bonded really well together out in the middle. I think something with me and Joe, we've done that over the past few years.

"I've known Joe for a long time. We've played out in the middle together, we know each other's game very well but, at the end of the day, it's upon the selectors to pick the right person to fit that position.

"If they go the way of Will, he is obviously batting fantastic. He has been in and out of the Test squad and, obviously, removed himself in some sad times, obviously, with his mental stuff.

"He is in the right frame of mind at the moment. It probably is an opportunity for him to come into the team but, as we know, it's harder to get out of this team than get in. Whoever they go with, I will be well and truly happy with as long as that person who comes in does their job.

"At the moment, I didn't think Joe did anything wrong last summer. We put on some great partnerships, averaged over 60 and that's what you want from your opening partnership so at the end of the day, it's upon the selectors to pick their team and I've got to be happy with that and just embrace it."

As Pucovski has starred, Burns has scored just 57 runs in his five Sheffield Shield innings.

Warner said he saw no reason to change a partnership that has worked with Burns, who averages 38.3 in Tests.

"It's not a thing where the coach and selectors will come to me and ask me. It's just a preference," Warner said.

"I have batted time with Joe Burns before in the middle. I know exactly what we are about when we're out there, building a partnership and building a bond.

"We won a lot of games last year. For me you don't really break something that's actually working, it's usually the opposite. When things aren't going your way, you've got to find problems and solutions, that's the only thing I can sort of back that answer up with.

"To get into the Australian team, you've got to put numbers on the board and Will's an exceptional talent and a great player for years to come especially, he's in the right mind frame at the moment. This next sort of [Australia] A game is probably going to be the tell all, it could be the bat off for that position so it's going to be interesting to see and obviously it's up to the selectors to pick the team at the end of the day, not me."

The first Test between Australia and India is set to begin in Adelaide on December 17.

Fakhar Zaman will miss Pakistan's tour of New Zealand as he is still suffering from a fever.

Batsman Fakhar was named in a 35-man squad for three Twenty20 Internationals and two Tests against the Black Caps.

The 30-year-old opener tested negative for coronavirus but is not deemed to be well enough to fly out of Lahore with his team-mates on Monday.

Pakistan doctor Sohail Saleem said: "Fakhar's covid test report was received on Saturday which came out negative but today he picked up fever.

"As soon as his condition was reported, he was isolated from the rest of the squad in the team hotel. We are constantly monitoring his condition and remain hopeful of his quick recovery; however he is not fit to travel with the squad and as such has been withdrawn from the touring party."

Pakistan and New Zealand start the T20 series at Eden Park on December 18.

In four days’ time when the West Indies bow into action against New Zealand ‘A’ at the Queenstown Events Centre in Queenstown, New Zealand, fans should expect to see evidence of some of the areas that head coach Phil Simmons has had the players concentrating on since they arrived in New Zealand.

The West Indies were given a special dispensation to train while they were isolation but have now began more intensive training as they ramp up their preparations for their three T20 Internationals and two Test-series that begins on November 27.

Phil Simmons revealed that there are specific areas which the team has been focused on that will hopefully translate in better performances in what is expected to be a challenging tour.

“The big areas are consistency, especially in the bowling and understanding situations, especially in the batting,” Simmons said.

We have situations when we have been in control of games and people give away their wickets, so things like that are the main things that we are concentrating on now.”

Overall, things have been going well Simmons said, explaining that while some days have been cold there have also been warm days which they players have enjoyed.

“When its warm, West Indies teams tend to thrive so they’ve been very good. They’re enjoying it,” he said.

 

 

 

As the West Indies squad continues to prepare to take on New Zealand in three T2o Internationals and two Tests later this month, West Indies batsman Shamarh Brooks said he is eagerly anticipating the challenge.

Sean Abbott is ready to take his chance for Australia, but believes it is more likely to be in the bowling attack in the Test team.

Abbott was named in a 17-man Test squad to face India, with the series beginning in Adelaide on December 17.

The New South Welshman has taken 14 wickets at 17.92 to begin the Sheffield Shield season, while he also has 261 runs at 130.50.

However, Abbott believes his best chance of a Test debut would be as part of Australia's bowling attack.

"I'd be keen to play, I'm happy to put my hand up for any role that would come up. I'll take that opportunity with both hands," he told reporters.

"I probably see myself more as a bowling opportunity as someone who can bat. If there's that opportunity to bat higher up the order and the selectors and Painey [captain Tim Paine] think that I can do that job then I'm not even going to think twice about that.

"I'm walking out there when I bat as a batsman and trying to do whatever job is in front of me and enjoying that competition of playing Test cricket for my country.

"I'd definitely say probably more of a bowling spot. If a bowling spot came up I'd be more in line for that one as opposed to someone who bats six or seven, but we'll have to wait and see."

Will Pucovski and Cameron Green have well and truly earned their spots in Australia's Test squad.

After impressing to begin the Sheffield Shield season, Pucovski, 22, and Green, 21, were named in a 17-man selection to face India.

Pucovski has shown just why he is so highly rated, having previously been named in the Test squad to face Sri Lanka in early 2019, although he did not make his debut.

Later that year, the Victorian revealed his struggles with mental health issues, withdrawing from contention for a Test series against Pakistan.

But his form to begin the 2020-21 Shield season was impossible for selectors to ignore, and he has put pressure on Joe Burns for a place when the first Test begins in Adelaide in December.

Pucovski has scored 495 runs at an average of 247.5, including double centuries against South Australia and Western Australia.

He became the first player to score double centuries in consecutive Shield innings since Dene Hills in 1997-98. Since Bob Simpson in 1963, that feat has been achieved just four times – by Peter Burge in 1963-65, Dean Jones (1991), Hills and Pucovski.

Having contributed 42.1 per cent of all of Victoria's runs in the Shield this season, Pucovski boasts the highest such percentage of any player, as per Opta. The next best is his opening partner, Marcus Harris, who has scored 355 – 30.2 per cent.

Pucovski and Burns, who has just 57 runs in five innings this Shield season, were also both named in the Australia A squad to face India A and India in tour matches.

He may not be the only injection of youth to Australia's Test team.

Green, also named in the limited-overs squad to face India, is pushing his case too. The Western Australian has amassed 363 runs at an average of 72.6 to begin the Shield season, while also taking two wickets.

Green made 197 against New South Wales last month, facing Sean Abbott and Nathan Lyon, who are also part of the Test squad.

Most impressively, Green has a false shot rate of just 6.1 per cent, which is the second lowest of any player who has scored at least 50 runs in the Sheffield Shield this season. Only former Australia batsman Callum Ferguson (5.9 per cent) has a better rate, and he has 177 runs in six innings. Pucovski's, meanwhile, is 12.2 per cent.

While Pucovski and Green are in contention, they may have to wait. Australia coach Justin Langer suggested on Friday that Burns would keep his place ahead of Pucovski, thanks to his opening partnership with David Warner, which has yielded 1,365 runs at an average of 50.55 in Tests.

That average is similar to Warner's with Steve Smith (1,482 at 51.1) but also lower than the left-hander's with Usman Khawaja (1,348 at 53.92).

By the time Adelaide comes around, Australia's mos recent Test would have been almost a year ago, against New Zealand in Sydney. Of the top six from that encounter, only Marnus Labuschagne (26) and Travis Head (26) are under 30, but Australia are the world's top-ranked Test team.

Now, Pucovski and Green are knocking the door down as they push for places, but they may have to bide their time.

Australia coach Justin Langer suggested Joe Burns would keep his spot ahead of Will Pucovski for the first Test against India.

Pucovski, 22, was named in a 17-man Test squad on Thursday, piling the pressure on Burns after scoring 495 runs at an average of 247.5 to begin the Sheffield Shield season.

Burns, meanwhile, has struggled, making just 57 runs in five innings to be in danger of losing his place for the first Test starting in Adelaide on December 17.

While Langer was full of praise for Pucovski, he is prepared to stick with what has helped Australia reach the top of the Test rankings.

Warner and Burns' partnerships have yielded 1,365 runs at an average of 50.55 for Australia in Tests.

"[Pucovski has] been amazing hasn't he? And it's exactly what we are looking for, I've said it for a very long time that we want guys who are outside of the team to bang so hard you can't ignore them," Langer told reporters on Friday.

"The fact is he's been so good we can't ignore him, he's been brilliant.

"That said I've also been consistent with the messaging that last summer we loved the combination of Joe Burns and David Warner, they have a real synergy, so at this point I'd say that will remain the same.

"But what Will's doing, what Cameron Green has done, is making a real statement through sheer weight of runs and that's always been a strong foundation for the strength of Australian cricket."

Langer said he wanted Australia to have consistency in their line-up, and he is prepared to back the players who currently hold their spots.

"We went through a period where there was lots of ins and outs, and in my view, we should back the guys in there," he said.

"That can change, but it's a pretty strong philosophy to stick to."

Will Pucovski and Cameron Green have been rewarded for their good form, selected in Australia's Test squad for the series against India.

Pucovski, 22, and Green, 21, were named in a 17-man squad on Thursday after starring in the Sheffield Shield.

With 495 runs at an average of 247.5 for Victoria, Pucovski is the leading run-scorer in the competition this season.

Green has also impressed, scoring 363 at 72.6 for Western Australia, while also picking up two wickets.

"Two of those many standout players were of course Cameron Green and Will Pucovski. Their undeniable form demanded selection and we are very pleased to have these young men in the squad for what will be a tremendous Test series against an extremely formidable opponent," Australia national selector Trevor Hohns said in a statement.

"Cameron has already won selection in the white-ball squad and continues that in joining the Test squad. He is a wonderful young talent who has great potential to become an all-rounder of substance over time. His batting alone has demanded his place in the squad.

"Will's record-breaking start to the summer has been exceptional. His ability to show such patience is something which stands him in good stead for Test cricket and he is in rare company with two double centuries to start the summer. We very much look forward to Will developing further on the international stage."

Leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson has also been rewarded after taking 23 wickets at 21.17, earning a place as another option to Nathan Lyon.

Sean Abbott (14 wickets at 17.92) was also included in the squad.

Pucovski, Green, Swepson and Abbott were among nine Test players included in an Australia A squad to face India A and India.

Joe Burns, whose place is under threat from Pucovski, is part of both teams despite struggling to just 57 runs in five innings to start the Sheffield Shield season.

The first Test between Australia and India is scheduled to begin in Adelaide on December 17.

Australia: Sean Abbott, Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, Tim Paine, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner.

Misbah-ul-Haq has challenged Asad Shafiq to earn a recall after he was dropped for Pakistan's tour of New Zealand.

Batsman Shafiq was on Wednesday omitted from a 35-man squad to face the Black Caps after a poor Test series in England.

Mohammad Amir and Shoaib Malik were also omitted from a touring party for three Twenty20 Internationals and two Tests against the Black Caps in December and January.

Uncapped Paceman Amad Butt, batsmen Danish Aziz and Imran Butt were included along with Rohail Nazir as the Pakistan selectors invested in youth.

Pakistan head coach Misbah, who named Mohammad Rizwan as Babar Azam's Test vice-captain and Shadab Khan as T20 deputy, says there can still be a way back for the 34-year-old Shafiq.

He said: "There are three major omissions from the side that toured England. Asad Shafiq has been left out due to lack of form after he managed 510 runs in his last 15 innings, including a total of 67 runs in England.

"Asad is an experienced batsman and I am sure he will utilise this time to work harder on his game in the domestic first-class matches so that he, like Sarfraz Ahmed, can reclaim his form and be back in contention for the upcoming Tests against South Africa and Zimbabwe.

"Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Amir are not part of the white-ball matches as for this tour we have opted to invest, develop and focus on the promising and emerging players who are likely to be available to Pakistan for all formats."

The first T20 will be staged at Eden Park on December 18 and the Test series gets under way at Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui on December 26.

 

Pakistan squad:

Abid Ali, Abdullah Shafique, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Zeeshan Malik, Babar Azam (captain), Azhar Ali, Danish Aziz, Fawad Alam, Haider Ali, Haris Sohail, Hussain Talat, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imran Butt, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Rizwan, Rohail Nazir, Sarfraz Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Usman Qadir, Yasir Shah, Zafar Gohar, Amad Butt, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Musa, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz.

Cricket West Indies have launched an international investigation into the circumstances under which members of the Windies touring party breached strict COVID-19 protocols within the team’s Managed Isolation Facility in Christchurch.

The breach has resulted in the team members being unable to train for their final days of isolation prior to their continued preparations for the upcoming T20 series that begin on November 27.

According to reports from New Zealand, NZ Cricket said it found out on Tuesday that some members of the West Indies team had "contravened protocols" within the managed isolation facility in Christchurch.

"These incidents included some players compromising bubble integrity by sharing food, and socializing in hallways,” New Zealand Cricket said.

However, there is no evidence that any members of the touring party left the facility, or that any unauthorized persons accessed it, reports said.

CWI said the New Zealand Ministry of Health advised them that all members of the West Indies touring party will now be unable to train for the remainder of the quarantine period and will have to complete their quarantine within the Managed Isolation Facility only.

“CWI is in full support of the New Zealand Ministry of Health’s position,” CWI said in a statement.

“From the information we have received so far, we have been told that the incidents in question included some players compromising the bubble integrity by mixing between two separate West Indies bubbles into which the touring party had been split.”

Ahead of the tour to New Zealand, the West Indies touring party all returned two negative COVID-19 tests before leaving the Caribbean, and underwent two further tests since they have been in New Zealand. All results were negative.

The players underwent their final scheduled tests yesterday and, results permitting, are scheduled to leave the Managed Isolation Facility on Friday to travel to Queenstown ahead of two warm-up matches against New Zealand “A”.

Babar Azam has been named the new Pakistan Test captain.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) confirmed on Tuesday the batsman has taken over from Azhar Ali.

Babar, who is now skipper across all three formats for his country, will first captain his side in the Test series against New Zealand in December and January.

"I feel truly honoured to have been appointed Test captain and join some of the most iconic players who have captained Pakistan in the purest format of the game," he said.

"I can now say with conviction that dreams can come true only if you chase them with honesty, dedication and commitment.

"I am ready and prepared to take up the additional responsibility and the fact which gives me additional confidence that I can do the job is the experience that is available to me in the changing room in the shape of the players and support staff.

"I want to thank Azhar Ali for the way he captained the team in the last season, which was a difficult one, but I know that he will leave no stone unturned in giving his very best to the team."

PCB chairman Ehsan Mani said: "I want to thank Azhar Ali for stepping up last year by captaining the side in what was a historic first home Test series in over a decade. I believe Azhar still has a lot of cricket left in him and Pakistan cricket can continue to make the best use of his experience and knowledge as specialist top-order batsman moving forward.

"Babar Azam was identified at a very young age as a future leader and as part of his progression and development, he was appointed white-ball captain last year. With his consistent performance and leadership skills, he has demonstrated that he is ready to take on the additional responsibilities of a captain.

"As we are looking into the future, it is appropriate that we appoint him the captain now so that he continues to grow stronger with every match. I wish Babar all the best and remain optimistic that he will help Pakistan cricket make an upward movement across all formats not only through his performance but also with his positive attitude and result-oriented approach."

Babar made his Test debut against West Indies in October 2016 and has made five centuries and 15 half-centuries in just 29 matches.

He hit 82 off 55 balls at the top of the order as Pakistan sealed a six-wicket win in the Twenty20 series opener against Zimbabwe last week, following up with 51 as they claimed victory in the second match on Sunday.

Like the CPL, the 2021 Regional Super 50 competition will likely be held in one country as Cricket West Indies attempts to get competitions back up and running in the Caribbean. And, like the CPL that was held in Trinidad in late August, there will be no spectators.

West Indies bowling coach Roddy Estwick has urged the players to raise their game for the series against New Zealand set to run from November 27 to December 15.

Cricket Australia (CA) has confirmed dates and venues for Australia's upcoming showdown against India across Test, ODI and Twenty20 formats.

Australia will host Virat Kohli's India amid the coronavirus pandemic, starting with a three-game ODI series, starting in Sydney on November 27.

A three-game T20 contest will follow, beginning in Canberra on December 4, before a blockbuster four-Test showdown between Australia and Border-Gavaskar holders India.

The five-day series will get underway with the first-ever day-night Test between the countries – Adelaide Oval hosting the historic clash on December 17.

Melbourne will also stage the iconic Boxing Day Test and a crowd is expected as the state eases lockdown restrictions following the COVID-19 crisis.

"In relation to the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, we are working with the Victorian Government and the Melbourne Cricket Club on plans to safely host spectators at the iconic event with details to be confirmed in due course.," CA's interim chief executive Nick Hockley said in a statement.

"The safety of the Australian community and all participants is our highest priority and we will continue to work with governments across Australia to ensure the schedule proceeds in line with relevant directions and biosecurity protocols."

Hockley added: "Across all three formats, Australia and India represents one of the great rivalries in world sport and we are delighted to welcome Virat Kohli's outstanding squad to Australian shores this summer.

"We have worked closely with the [Board of Control for Cricket in India] BCCI for many months to bring this tour to life, and I cannot speak more highly of the professional, thorough and collaborative manner with which they have approached this tour in these extraordinary and complex times.

"I would like to express my gratitude to everyone at the BCCI for the faith and support they have shown in the plan we have developed, which we believe will result in a safe and successful summer for all involved.

"We would also like to especially thank the NSW Government for allowing players from both teams to safely prepare during quarantine, as well as other governments and health authorities who have worked with us to host a series which, I have no doubt, will live long in the memories of all who experience it.

"I would also like to thank everyone across Australian cricket and our valued partners for working tirelessly to navigate through the challenges and deliver a schedule that will bring joy and excitement to hundreds of millions of fans at home and abroad."

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