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It’s almost like a normal English cricket summer, isn’t it? England lost the first Test yet again but came battling back in the series, something they do far more frequently than any other Test side. The batting order was rejigged regularly and debated in increasingly repetitive terms. Ben Stokes came good, and James Anderson and Stuart Broad continued to take wickets. Their detractors kept reminding everyone with indefatigable banality these were only home wickets, as most people smiled and nodded. The rain made a persistent enough nuisance of itself to send every Test to the final session on the fifth day, which, of course, lit the touchpaper for the four-day Test debate.

Coming into the Pakistan series, England have the distinct, irreplaceable advantage of having played three Tests against high-quality opposition, and no amount of intra-squad matches or net sessions can quite match that for Pakistan. The games against West Indies allowed England to tinker, particularly with the bowling attack, which unearthed an embarrassment of fast-bowling riches, with Broad, Jofra Archer and Anderson all missing a Test without the attack appearing any less menacing. In addition to those three, they have Sam Curran, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes to call upon.

Even the top order, which has never really been the same since Andrew Strauss retired eight years ago, showed flashes of encouraging promise against West Indies. Openers Dom Sibley and Rory Burns combined for 460 runs across the three Tests, each batsman averaging over 45. Lower down, Joe Root may not have got the runs he’d desired but Ben Stokes more than made up for that, scoring over 90 between dismissals and demonstrating he was an automatic pick even if a niggle keeps him from bowling, as it well might in the first Test. Jos Buttler got a half-century. Hell, even Broad did.

Pakistan, meanwhile, have hung around the UK since before that West Indies series began, keeping confined amongst themselves and, by historical standards, generating impressively little gossip fodder. The conversations in the squad have revolved entirely around tactics, team combination, player form, and, of course, whether or not Fawad Alam will finally get to play. The side last played a Test in February, with no competitive cricket on offer since the PSL was put on hold before the semi-finals. There has almost been an air of – whisper it softly should you dare – professionalism about how the build-up has gone.

England has always seemed to Pakistan a barometer of the state of its cricket; performances here, brilliant or disastrous, have been accepted as representative of the quality of the side. Pakistan tours to England have served as the most useful waypoints for a digestible history of the nation’s cricket, encapsulating most of the recurring themes so distinctly redolent of Pakistan cricket. From perhaps Pakistan’s greatest underdog moment in 1954 to the domination of the fast bowlers in the 80s and 90s, bitter controversy in 2006 and disgrace in 2010, Pakistan’s presence in England has always seemed to put fate on notice.

They will hope the headlines they make remain strictly confined to the back pages, and with the side they have, there’s no reason that won’t happen. Babar Azam has only ever played one Test in England, and is a vastly improved Test cricketer from the one whose fluent half-century was ended by injury two years ago. In Shan Masood, Pakistan have found an opener whose technique and temperament both look to have finally come into their own, and he has the runs to prove it. Azhar Ali, appointed captain last year, also has at his disposal arguably the most exciting Pakistan fast-bowling trio in a decade; Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah all boast match-winning Test performances in their nascent careers.

Ali’s side may lack experience and be decisive underdogs, but when has that ever stopped Pakistan in England? Joe Root’s, in turn, may well be heavily fancied, but that isn’t a tag they have worn as lightly as they might have wished.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

England WWLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Pakistan WWDLL

In the spotlight

Joe Root is almost guaranteed to be the most classical Test batsman on either side in just about any series, but that isn’t quite the case this time around. Opposition vice-captain Babar Azam has seen his red-ball career flourish just as Root’s phenomenal career numbers have begun going the other way. You could almost trace the trend to the last time Pakistan toured England, when a 23-year old Babar played his only Test in England. Since that encounter, Root has averaged 38.48 between dismissals, nearly ten runs down on his overall career average. Babar’s numbers, meanwhile, have soared, his average a stratospheric 68.52 over the same period, 23 runs up from his career mean. The Pakistan batsman has outscored his English counterpart in the centuries department, too, five to Root’s four in fewer than half the innings. There was talk of the famous Fab Four taking on a fifth member in Babar, but the England skipper will have to better his most recent numbers to ensure he doesn’t drop out of it altogether.

Team news

England have announced an unchanged 14-man squad to the one that was chosen for the deciding Test against West Indies. Root suggested in his pre-match press conference one of Mark Wood or Jofra Archer would play, while Stuart Broad’s place in the playing party appears certain. The final balance of the side will be determined by Ben Stokes’ ability to bowl, having been managing a quad niggle during the Windies series. If England err on the side of caution, then Zak Crawley will again be the fall guy, with the rest of the middle order moving up one slot.

England (possible) 1 Dom Sibley, 2 Rory Burns, 3 Joe Root (capt), 4 Ben Stokes, 5 Ollie Pope, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Sam Curran/Chris Woakes, 8 Dom Bess, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Mark Wood/Jofra Archer, 11 James Anderson

Head coach Misbah-ul-Haq looks to be leaning towards playing two legspinners, which would seem to rule out Fawad Alam. It would, however, leave the lower middle order somewhat vulnerable, in spite of Shadab Khan’s competence with the bat, and with a 16-man squad, there’s plenty of flexibility to work around it.

Pakistan (possible): 1 Shan Masood, 2 Abid Ali, 3 Azhar Ali (capt), 4 Babar Azam, 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Fawad Alam/Shadab Khan, 7 Mohammad Rizwan(wk), 8 Yasir Shah, 9 Shaheen Afridi, 10 Mohammad Abbas, 11 Naseem Shah

Pitch and conditions

England were forced to practise indoors on the eve of the game due to rain, and there is more expected for the first couple of days. The weather is expected to brighten up over the weekend, though.

The fast bowlers on either side in the West Indies series found plenty of swing at Old Trafford, with specialist offspinners Rakheem Cornwall and Dom Bess playing less of a role than both sides’ respective selectors might have hoped.

Stats and trivia

  • Of the 10 Tests Pakistan have won in England since 1987, eight were played in London. Old Trafford, the venue of the first Test, played host to one Pakistan Test win in this period (in 2001), with the other success coming at Headingley in 1987.

  • Pakistan’s other two victories in England were also in London, at The Oval in 1954 and Lord’s in 1982.

  • James Anderson needs 11 wickets to become the first fast bowler to 600 Test dismissals.

  • Anderson has only ever taken 11 wickets in a Test once – against Pakistan in 2010

Quotes

“He’s very skilful, looks like he has a lot of pace. You can speak to as many people as you want, but until you get out there and face him, you can’t really know what it’s going to be like”
Joe Root looking ahead to facing 17-year old Naseem Shah for the first time

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Charlo Brothers fight card: Five storylines to watch on massive Showtime Boxing PPV doubleheader

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With the Charlo twins set to headline separate main events within the same unique pay-per-view doubleheader on Saturday from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, there are no shortage of storylines surrounding the 30-year-old rising stars. 

Both Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs), the WBC middleweight champion, and brother Jermell Charlo (33-1, 17 KOs), who holds the WBC 154-pound title, enter what can be legitimately called the toughest challenges of their respective careers on Saturday.  The six-fight event (Showtime PPV, 7 p.m. ET) also features a four-pack of exciting matchups in the bantamweight and junior featherweight divisions. 

Let’s take a closer look at what to watch for entering the Showtime Boxing PPV extravaganza featuring the Charlos this weekend.

1. PBC betting time is now on all things #LionsOnly

With an equal balance of speed and power to form a combined pro record of 63-1 with 39 KOs, the 30-year-old Charlo twins have both seemed one breakthrough victory away from cracking the sport’s top 10 pound-for-pound list in recent years. Marketing wise, however, there has always been talk about the potential of their #LionsOnly brand becoming more, maybe to the level of being a household name across the sport (and beyond). Following a flurry of headlining roles over the past year on pay cable and in primetime on national television, PBC boss Al Haymon believes the Charlos’ time is now to take that swing in this somewhat historic double PPV main event across two cards. There has never been a doubt that the fighting brothers, who are just as competitive seemingly with one another other even more so than their opponents, have the right kind of brash attitude to sell themselves and a firm understanding of how to grab an audience’s attention. But for this PPV kickoff to truly have lasting power, both will need to win in very difficult matchups, respectively. 

2. Jermall’s island finds shipwrecked passenger

Among the most talented and well-rounded talents in the 160-pound division, Charlo simply hasn’t had the opportunity to prove his skills translate the same against the elite members of the division. His prior junior middleweight title run brought him impressive wins over names like Cornelius Bundrage, Austin Trout and Julian Williams. His five fights at middleweight have largely seen him on the wrong side of boxing’s political line, however, despite a respected decision win over former champion Matvey Korobov. With his goal remaining the same of an eventual showdown with Mexican icon Canelo Alvarez, Charlo finally gets the chance to prove his worth against as tough an out as the division can find in Derevyanchenko. For every bold word Charlo has ever proclaimed in the face of critics, this fight represents his ultimate shot at having the last word in regards to where he stands. 

3. Derevyanchenko hoping third time is the charm

A native of Ukraine with an extensive amateur background (who called the likes of future world champions Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk as teammates), it didn’t take but 12 pro fights for Derevyanchenko to earn his first pro title shot. Despite two outstanding performances in title shots against Daniel Jacobs and Gennadiy Golovkin over the past two years, Derevyanchenko has nothing to show for it. While he deserved a mild level of contention for his split-decision loss to Jacobs, it was his absolute war with GGG — who received the nod from all three judges — that Derevyanchenko seemed to find the majority believing he deserved better. Not only did “The Technician” rise from the canvas against both to showcase his toughness, he stood up to the powerful Golovkin and became the aggressor as the fight wore on. At 34, there’s never a guarantee how many future title shots will be available to any fighter, let alone one who faces the reality of a third defeat being his last. It’s now or never for such a great fighter to realize his full potential. 

4. Control of loaded 154-pound division at stake

For all of the justified complaining by boxing fans of the sport’s constant disorganization and political trickery, the junior middleweight division is an almost throwback example of how the sport used to be. Nearly everyone at 154 pounds who matters fights under the PBC banner, and just about all of them are willing to try and prove they are the division’s best the old-fashioned way: doing so inside the ring. Charlo faces off with the upset-minded Jeison Rosario, owner of the WBA and IBF titles after shocking Julian Williams via TKO last year, to allow the winner a firm grasp on the division at large by owning three of four recognized belts (Patrick Teixeira holds the WBO strap). Considering how insanely competitive the biggest 154-pound fights have been over the last two years (including the likes of Jarrett Hurd, Erislandy Lara and Tony Harrison, to name a few), it will be nice — for as long as it lasts — to see a temporary king crowned. 

5. Loaded undercard puts spotlight on two divisions

The double Charlo PPV might be new school in its execution, but it carries with the classic charm of what used to be a standard throughout the sport: an undercard worth making an appointment to tune in early. In whatever the four support bouts under the two Charlo title clashes lack in mainstream appeal, they more than make up for that in terms of street cred from the hardcore fans. Competitively matched with each promising a certain level of two-way violence, the four world-class fights also offer the competitors a chance to steal the show at large. Will it be Mexican slugger Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs) in his vacant super bantamweight title bout against fellow unbeaten Aaron Alameda (25-0, 13 KOs)? Or how about WBA 122-pound titleholder Brandon Figueroa (22-0-1, 15 KOs)? Others are pointing to WBO bantamweight champion Jon Riel Casimero (29-4, 20 KOs) to carry on the Filipino fighting tradition of Manny Pacquiao. Either way, there are no shortage of explosive candidates. 



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No fans for Blast knock-outs as ECB warn of ‘severe’ consequences of further lockdown measures

The ECB has reiterated that the impact on cricket would be “severe” if fans were unable to return to grounds for the 2021 season, after the UK government confirmed that plans to reintroduce spectators to sporting events were being paused.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, the prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed that a spike in Covid-19 cases in the UK had required a postponement of the proposed date of October 1 for a trial reintroduction of fans in stadiums.

The final rounds of the rescheduled T20 Blast had been set for October 1 (quarter-finals) and 3 (Finals Day), in an attempt to enable some spectators to return to watch the action. However, those plans are now on hold, following the rise of the UK’s Covid-19 alert level to 4, meaning that transmission is “high or rising exponentially”.

“We have to acknowledge the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen large sporting events,” said the prime minister. “We will not be able to do this from October 1 and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs, which are the life and soul of our communities.”

Earlier this week, 100 leaders of sports and fitness bodies, including the England & Wales Cricket Board and the cricket charity, Chance to Shine, wrote to the UK government to warn of a “lost generation of activity” if sporting clubs were to face financial hardship as a consequence of Covid-related measures.

According to a report in the Guardian, the government is braced to bail out eight sports facing a financial black hole as a consequence of lockdown measures.

ECB officials were among those to sit in on a phone call with the sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, in the wake of the prime minister’s announcement, alongside representatives of the Rugby Football Union, the Football Association, the British Horseracing Authority and the governing body for Formula One.

ALSO READ: ‘We can’t let this crisis narrow our ambition’ – Clare Connor

“Like other sports, the financial impact of Covid-19 on cricket has been severe,” read an ECB statement, “and we welcome today’s constructive call with the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport where we discussed potential ways to overcome the significant challenges facing sports across the UK.

“Through this crisis we have worked closely with the government to enable cricket to be played through the summer, and we will continue to work with the Government and other sporting bodies to see the safe return of crowds to stadia as soon as possible.

“The impact of having to stage cricket behind closed doors again next year would be severe. Many clubs will also face a significant financial impact if they are unable to host conferences and events over the coming months.

“Meanwhile, restrictions on indoor team sports will also mean a reduction in activity levels and could particularly hit those whose participation has been limited during the pandemic.

“We will continue to work with the government over the coming days and weeks to ensure the challenges facing our sport are understood and can be overcome.”

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Twins, Tigers will miss Gardenhire in dugout

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When the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers begin a quick two-game series Tuesday night, manager Ron Gardenhire will be watching from home.

Gardenhire surprised the baseball world by announcing his retirement Saturday afternoon, citing personal health as the main factor in his decision to hang up the cleats one week before the 2020 regular season concludes.

Gardy has been a mainstay in Twins-Tigers games since becoming Minnesota’s manager in 2002. Gardenhire collected a 1,068-1,039 record with the Twins from 2002-14, posting a winning season in eight of 13 campaigns. He carried himself with a humorous, light-hearted attitude — with everyone but umpires, that is, as Gardy was ejected from 73 games while at the helm of the Twins.

Gardenhire was named the American League Manager of the Year after leading Minnesota to a 94-68 record in 2010. He’s the only Twins manager to have won consecutive division titles, doing so twice with three straight banners from 2002-04 and two in 2009-10. Rocco Baldelli could become the second.

At age 60, Gardenhire was hired as manager of the Tigers in 2018. He registered a 132-241 record with the rebuilding franchise from 2018-20 and went 15-26 against the Twins.

Gardenhire was let go by Minnesota following the 2014 season. Paul Molitor filled in for four campaigns before Derek Falvey and Thad Levine ushered in Baldelli as manager in 2019.

Baldelli owns a 134-63 record (.618) over his first two seasons, which is the fifth-best winning percentage for a manager through two campaigns in MLB history. The Twins are tied with Houston and the New York Yankees for the best AL records since the start of 2019.

NOTABLE

— Twenty-five of Miguel Sano’s 36 hits have been for extra bases — 12 doubles and 13 home runs. That adds up to 69.4% of Sano’s hits this season, which would go down as the highest percentage of extra-base hits in a single season, besting Barry Bonds (68.6%).

— Miguel Cabrera has smacked 42 career homers against the Twins. The former two-time MVP has smacked seven dingers this season in 208 plate appearances.

— Homer Bailey is one of 11 different pitchers to start a game this season for the Twins. Only Boston (15) and Tampa Bay (12) have used more starters.

Statistics courtesy Sportradar, baseball-reference.com



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