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Ulster scrum-half John Cooney has been called into the Ireland squad to provide cover for Jamison Gibson-Park.

Cooney was one of the most notable omissions from Andy Farrell's 35-man squad, having featured in all three of Ireland's Six Nations games in February.

Gibson-Park reported hamstring tightness after making his debut in Saturday's win over Italy but remains with the squad as they prepare to face France in a potential tournament decider this weekend.

Cooney will link up with the Ireland panel on Monday having played in Ulster's Pro14 win over Dragons on Sunday.

A scintillating 2019-20 season up until the pandemic forced rugby's suspension had established Cooney as Ireland's second-choice scrum-half, behind Conor Murray.

He was in line to start against Italy in March before the game was postponed, but a loss of form after the restart in August saw Gibson-Park and Connacht's Kieran Marmion overtake Cooney in the pecking order.

It has also been confirmed that centre Garry Ringrose will miss the rest of the autumn international window, having broken his jaw in the first half against Italy.

The 25-year-old is set for six weeks on the sideline after colliding with wing Edoardo Padovani's knee in Dublin.

Wing Keith Earls, who was ruled out of the initial squad by a back injury, is finishing his recovery at the IRFU's High Performance Centre, where the international team are based, with a decision on his availability to be made within the next few days.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews is "very confident" that there will be a crowd for the Boxing Day Test against India following the announcement that Melbourne will come out of its Covid-19 lockdown which has lasted four months.

The schedule for India's visit is yet to be rubberstamped as it awaits final BCCI approval following last week's sign-off from the New South Wales government that the India squad, and the Australia players returning from the IPL in the UAE, could quarantine and train in the state.

Cricket Australia has kept Melbourne in its plans for the traditional fixture throughout, although Adelaide Oval has been put on standby to host the Boxing Day Test with the ability to host crowds a deciding factor.

"I am very confident that we will get a crowd at the MCG for the Boxing Day Test," Andrews told reporters. "I don't know how big it will be but there will be a crowd. That's the advice that I have, that's what we're working towards."

Crowds have returned to sport in Australia over the last three months with 30,000 at the AFL final at the Gabba on Saturday followed by 40,000 at the NRL final in Sydney on Sunday.

The cricket season has begun with small crowds admitted to the Australia-New Zealand women's series at Allan Border Field in Brisbane and a selection of the Sheffield Shield and WBBL matches.

Travel between various states is still restricted by border closures although Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week that he hoped all borders, except for Western Australia's, would be open by Christmas.

The India tour is set to start with ODIs and T20Is from November 27 which will be played in Sydney and Canberra. The four-match Test series will then take place in Adelaide for a day-night match, followed by Melbourne, Sydney and then Brisbane in mid-January.

On Monday, the BCCI president Sourav Ganguly indicated the board's approval for the trip was close with just a few final issues being ironed out.

"So far it is ahead," he told Fairfax newspapers. "The initial part will be in Sydney. We are still in discussions how to get the bio part and medical parts stronger because it's a long tour but I am told Australia is Covid free at the moment, there aren't many cases. Basically, we are trying to get everything in place and make sure it is safe. That's all."

Ishant Sharma likely to be fit for Adelaide Test

Published in Cricket
Monday, 26 October 2020 03:47

Injured fast bowler Ishant Sharma is likely to be fit for India's first Test of the Australia tour in December. That is the opinion of the National Cricket Academy (NCA), located in Bengaluru, where Sharma travelled to after being ruled out of the IPL due to a muscle tear.

ESPNcricnfo understands that the NCA, which is headed by former India captain Rahul Dravid, noted in a letter to the BCCI that Sharma, subject to his rehab going well, is expected to start bowling from November 18.

Sharma is expected to then gradually increase his workload, with the NCA optimistic that he would be match fit for the Day-Night Test in Adelaide, scheduled to begin on December 17.

The NCA, however, has pointed out that Sharma would need to play at least one practice match before he is declared ready to bowl in the Tests.

A final decision on Sharma is likely on Monday, when the Indian selection committee is expected to announce the squads for the Australia tour comprising three ODIs, three T20Is and four Tests. A formal itinerary has not been announced but as per the schedule submitted by Cricket Australia to the BCCI, the tour will start on November 26 and end on January 19.

One key question that both the BCCI and the selectors will need to factor in is whether Sharma, if picked, travels to the UAE and flies out to Australia along with the other members of the Indian team after the end of the IPL on November 10. Strict travel and biosafety guidelines have been put in place by Cricket Australia in coordination with the Australian government and the various state governments due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Both the selectors and the Indian team management would want Sharma to travel to Australia, two years after India became the first Asian country to win a Test series in the country. This is the second injury Sharma has suffered in 2020, having missed the second Test against New Zealand back in February due to an ankle injury.

Sharma is the most experienced fast bowler currently playing for India. He is three matches short of becoming only the second Indian fast bowler to play 100 Test matches, after Kapil Dev.

Pirlo howls at Juve play: We shouldn't need a 'slap'

Published in Soccer
Monday, 26 October 2020 02:38

Juventus should not require a slap to wake up even if the atmosphere at grounds is soporific, coach Andrea Pirlo said after the Serie A champions stumbled to a 1-1 draw against Hellas Verona on Sunday.

- Serie A on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Pirlo said he could understand players might be influenced by appearing in near-empty stadiums during the COVID-19 pandemic but added that it was something they would have to adapt to.

"We played a wait-and-see game in the first half, we were not aggressive in midfield although we had the best chances," said Pirlo, whose side fell behind after an hour.

"There was a good reaction after their goal but we shouldn't need a slap to wake us up."

"It's one thing to play in the Champions League with a crowd that raises your levels of attention," said Pirlo whose side host Barcelona in Europe's elite competition on Wednesday.

"Tonight there was a more soporific atmosphere but you need more determination -- these things win matches as well."

Games against teams such as Verona and Atalanta were always difficult, he added.

"They get you involved in one-on-one battles all over the pitch," he said. "We worked to avoid their high press and that worked better in the second half. It tough against them but we could have done better."

Verona coach Ivan Juric was disappointed at his team's performance in the closing stages.

"We did really well for an hour but then we fell away, we didn't have the right energy," said the Croatian who got into an angry altercation with the Juve bench at the final whistle.

"There were some insults and when I am insulted, I react," he said. "But it stops there."

Depay honours Liverpool's VVD in Lyon rout

Published in Soccer
Monday, 26 October 2020 02:37

Lyon were in devastating form as they demolished visiting AS Monaco 4-1 to move up to sixth in the Ligue 1 standings on Sunday.

Rudi Garcia's side, who are not playing in any European competition this season, prevailed thanks to goals by Memphis Depay, Houssem Aouar and a Karl Toko Ekambi double while Monaco could only respond with a Wissam Ben Yedder penalty.

The result put OL on 13 points from eight games, five behind Paris Saint-Germain, who lead the table following a 4-0 victory against Dijon on Saturday.

Lille missed an opportunity to reclaim the lead earlier on Sunday when they were held 1-1 at Nice and stayed behind PSG on goal difference.

In Lyon, Depay opened the scoring with a low crossed shot after being set up by Aouar, unveiling a t-shirt with the message "Virgil -- Stay strong my brother" in support of Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, who suffered a serious injury against Everton in the Premier League earlier this month.

Toko Ekambi doubled the tally in the 34th, finishing off form close range after collecting Tino Kadewere's cross.

Aouar added a third from the penalty spot after Djibril Sidibe brought down Toko Ekambi in the box four minutes before the interval.

The Cameroon striker netted his fourth goal of the season in the 44th after benefiting from some poor Monaco defending.

The visitors pulled one back with a penalty three minutes into the second half following a foul by defender Sinaly Diomande.

Lyon finished with 10 men when Melvin Bard picked up a straight red card for a brutal challenge on Ruben Aguilar, one minute from time.

Monaco are 12th on 11 points.

Van de Beek wrong to join Man Utd - Van Basten

Published in Soccer
Monday, 26 October 2020 02:38

Former Netherlands forward Marco van Basten has said Manchester United midfielder Donny van de Beek should have joined a club where he can play more regularly.

United signed Van de Beek from Ajax on a five-year contract this summer for a fee around £40 million.

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But he has made only four substitute appearances in the Premier League and was not used in the 0-0 draw against Chelsea on Saturday.

"Donny shouldn't have gone to United," Van Basten told Dutch TV channel Ziggo Sport. "When you're a good player you want to play every week.

"It's really bad for a player like Donny to play six or seven games this year. That's shocking for your rhythm.

"I know he's earning loads more than he used to. But as a top player you have to be critical and look at the chances of playing when you sign for a new club. Donny should have waited for better prospects and signed for another club.

"Is it about a five-year contract that he can sign? No, that's bull----. Then you shouldn't go to Manchester United, but wait with it or for another club. You have to want to play football every week, and such a club is then bad for your career."

After United's 4-1 victory over Newcastle United last week, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said the midfielder will enjoy more minutes as the season progresses.

"He'll get his game time," he said. "He's been fantastic in the group. I think you see today and in training, he's so neat and tidy, I don't think he lost the ball once.

"It's about finding the balance in the team. We've won 4-1 today and you're asking why I didn't start one of the players. He'll have a very good impact on the team."

Following the Chelsea match, former United defender Patrice Evra said that United did not need Van de Beek.

"That's the truth," the Frenchman told Sky Sports. "Nothing against the kid, but why have we bought him? He's watching from the stand every game."

United legend Gary Neville appeared baffled by Van de Beek's lack of matches and added: "He must be thinking: 'what am I doing here?'"

Sophie Ecclestone, the England spinner and the No. 1 T20I bowler in the ICC's rankings, has revealed that she turned down a contract to play for Perth Scorchers in the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL).

While quarantining in the UAE ahead of the Women's T20 Challenge, Ecclestone told ESPNcricinfo in an interview to be published this week that she had been offered the chance to play in the WBBL for the first time earlier this year.

After initially telling the Scorchers she would be available, Ecclestone decided to pull out of the tournament after spending the summer in biosecure bubbles ahead of England's planned international fixtures.

ALSO READ: 'It's been a difficult preparation' admits Renegades coach ahead of WBBL

"I was going to go to the Big Bash," she said. "Initially I said yes, but since the quarantine was two weeks and in a bubble I was like: no, I'm all right, I'll pass and try and do it next year. When this [the Women's T20 Challenge] came along with six days of quarantine and in Dubai, I thought I could cope with that.

"I was going at one point. I had to send them an email saying: I'm really sorry, but I don't think I can do it. Hopefully I can do it next year. I was meant to be going. I feel bad really, but hopefully they'll have me back at some point."

Six of Ecclestone's England team-mates are playing in the WBBL: Tammy Beaumont and Heather Knight both joined Syndey Thunder, Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver were picked up by Melbourne Stars, and Amy Jones and Sarah Glenn are both at the Scorchers.

They had to quarantine in hotel rooms for 14 days before joining the tournament's Sydney hub, having had only three days at home after leaving Derby at the end of their T20I series against West Indies before flying out to Australia.

"We had the training camp at Derby, which was two or three weeks, then the bubble at Burleigh Court [Loughborough] and then Derby again which was a month and a bit, and I think the girls had a three-day turnaround before they flew to quarantine in Australia. I think that would have been too much."

Ecclestone's revelations come at a time when several players have questioned the long-term viability of bubbles. Last week, Eoin Morgan and Jason Holder both raised concerns about the prospect of players suffering from burnout after travelling from one biosecure environment to another, while Ellyse Perry echoed their points on Saturday.

"There's going to be various struggles for people at different points of time, for all different reasons," she told AAP. "I don't think it's a sustainable option. Obviously this is a unique season and year, but I think there is probably a limit on what we can put people through."

Navdeep Saini suffers split webbing in bowling hand

Published in Cricket
Monday, 26 October 2020 02:16

Navdeep Saini, the Royal Challengers Bangalore fast bowler, has suffered a split webbing in his right hand while bowling in the match against the Chennai Super Kings on Sunday. He got hit on the right thumb while fielding off his own bowling, forcing him to immediately leave the field after the 18th over of the Super Kings' chase in Dubai.

A plastic surgeon was instantly called to stitch his right webbing. This puts him in considerable doubt for the Royal Challengers' next game against the Mumbai Indians on October 28, even though Evan Speechly, the team physio, says he'd be working overtime to get him ready.

"Saini has split his webbing in the last ball there," Speechly told RCB TV after the match. "He obviously got hit on the right thumb. Fortunately, we had a good hand surgeon who stitched up nicely. We will monitor overnight and check whether he can ready for next match. I cannot be sure when he is good to go but hoping he will play next match."

The injury is similar to what Virat Kohli suffered in the 2016 season. At the time, Kohli had nine stiches on his right hand but continued to play. He finished that season with 973 runs, the most by a batsman in a single edition.

"Virat four-five years ago had it in Kolkata. We managed to stop the bleeding and he smashed a 100 [113, against the Kings XI Punjab] after we got a plastic surgeon who had stitched it. Unfortunately, you cannot compare the two injuries," Speechly explained. "Some people manage it and some can't.

"It's also because Saini's injury is on his bowling hand, so it puts a lot of pressure on him. I cannot be sure when he will be good to go. I am hoping that he will be good to play in the next game and the rest of the tournament."

Saini has been key to the Royal Challengers' turnaround this season. He has so far played in all 11 games, and while he has only picked up five wickets, he has been among the most economical pacers in the team, conceding just 7.95 runs an over.

If Saini isn't fit enough to take the field, the Royal Challengers' have Umesh Yadav as a like-for-like replacement. Yadav, however, has struggled for consistency, featuring in just two games so far. They also have a spin-bowling allrounder in Shahbaz Ahmed on the bench.

Only their net run rate separates third-placed Royal Challengers with table-toppers Mumbai. They've won seven out of their 11 games and are primed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016, when they finished runners-up. The Royal Challengers play two of the top three - Mumbai and the Delhi Capitals - to round off the league stages.

CSA in turmoil as all board members step down

Published in Cricket
Monday, 26 October 2020 00:59

Cricket South Africa's entire board - consisting of 10 members at last count - have resigned. The news comes after six of the directors, including former acting president Beresford Williams, four other non-independent members and one independent member Dheven Dharmalingam had stood down following a meeting on Sunday.

By Monday morning, the other non-independent director, Zola Thamae, and the three remaining independents, Eugenia Kula-Ameyaw, Marius Schoeman and Vuyokazi Memani-Sedile, also quit.

"After the Members' Council had deliberated and resolved that in order to best serve the interest of cricket in South Africa, the entire Board should resign - which they did. All Independent and Non-Independent Directors have now resigned," CSA confirmed in a statement on Twitter.

The standing down of the board clears the way for an interim steering committee to be put in charge of CSA, as per the instruction of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC). As recently as last Thursday last week, CSA had refused to disband, rejecting a suggestion from the Members' Council - the country's highest decision-making body in cricket made up of the 14 provincial affiliate presidents - to comply with SASCOC.

As a result, SASCOC had referred the matter to the country's sports minister, Nathi Mthethwa, who had given CSA until Tuesday to provide him with reasons not to use the National Sports and Recreation Act to intervene. Mthethwa also issued the ICC with notice that he would be wading in to CSA in a bid to stabilise the organisation. Now, CSA may be able to avoid government interference by working with SASCOC and instituting a new administrative structure.

By close of business on Tuesday, CSA will need to present Mthethwa with their plans for an interim steering committee, which is expected to include at least one former player. It remains unclear whether the CSA executives will follow the board in leaving their positions, with further developments expected in the next day-and-a-half.

As things stand, South Africa's domestic and international fixtures should be unaffected by these developments, with the franchise four-day competition set to start next week and England scheduled to arrive for a six-match white-ball tour in mid-November. CSA is also in talks with Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Australia to complete the summer's fixtures.

Sydney Sixers 1 for 47 beat Adelaide Strikers 7 for 68 (Kapp 3-14) by nine wickets (DLS method)

Ellyse Perry struck the winning runs in her first match for more than seven months as the Sydney Sixers beat both the Adelaide Strikers and the weather with two balls to space on a grey, wet day at North Sydney Oval.

After appearing set to join the other three games in being abandoned, the skies broke for long enough for a contest initially reduced to nine overs. The Sixers were impressive from the start, a superb catch at backward point by Jodie Hicks setting the tone, and the Strikers slumped to 4 for 14 as Lisa Griffith struck with her first two balls in Sixers' colours. They did well to scramble as far as 68 largely through Bridget Patterson's 28 and after three overs of the chase the Sixers only had 13.

However, Perry Alyssa Healy then cut loose against Amanda-Jade Wellington before the rain returned with the contest seven balls short of the minimum five overs required. For the Australia players involved there may have been flash backs to the T20 World Cup semi-final at the SCG when the rain relented just enough to finish the game - the electronic screen couldn't cope with it all which left ground staff racing to keep the players updated on the traditional scorecard - and Perry swiped a leg-side boundary to get the Sixers up and running.

The other game at North Sydney Oval between Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Stars briefly began as a 15-over match before being washed out while the two games at Hurstville Oval - Brisbane Heat verses Melbourne Renegades and Perth Scorchers v Hobart Hurricanes - were called off without a ball bowled. It meant the opening two days of the WBBL only saw three positive results.

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