England hope Archer is on target against Smith in second Ashes Test

England’s Jofra Archer during a training session at Lord’s cricket ground in London on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 13 August 2019
0

England hope Archer is on target against Smith in second Ashes Test

  • Holders Australia, bidding to win their first away Ashes series for 18 years

LONDON: England are set to field a revamped attack featuring fast bowler Jofra Archer as they try to finally get Australia’s batting star Steve Smith out cheaply and level the Ashes in the second Test at Lord’s.

Holders Australia, bidding to win their first away Ashes series for 18 years, humbled England last time out thanks in large part to Smith, who returned to this level following a 12-month ban for his involvement in a ball-tampering scandal with two centuries as they cruised to a 251-run first Test win at Edgbaston.

England have only twice won the Ashes after losing the opener — when all-rounder Ian Botham turned the 1981 series on its head with several superb solo efforts, and in the thrilling 2005 contest which they edged 2-1.

Defeat at Edgbaston was made worse for England by the fact that James Anderson, their all-time leading wicket-taker, broke down after bowling just four overs with a calf injury that has ruled the 37-year-old swing specialist out of a Lord’s encounter starting Wednesday.

“We are very aware that England played without James Anderson, one of their best players and we got lucky,” said Australia coach Justin Langer.

“That’s the truth of it, with him not playing. He’s a brilliant fast bowler, one of the all-time greats, so if he only bowls four overs for the match then we got lucky there.

“Here at Lord’s there’s different conditions and different pressures so we just have to make sure we’re right for this Test match,” added the former Australia opener, who played at the “home of cricket” for English county Middlesex.

Anderson’s absence means England are set to give a Test debut to Archer, who will be returning to the ground where he bowled the dramatic Super Over that sealed a thrilling World Cup final win over New Zealand last month.

But the 24-year-old, coached at Sussex by former Australia paceman Jason Gillespie, has played just 28 first-class matches and Langer was looking to his batsmen to wear Archer down in a way that’s not possible in a one-day international, where bowlers are restricted to a maximum of 10 overs.

“It’s the same for everyone in Test cricket, get them into their second, third and fourth spells,” Langer said.

But a defiant Archer insisted he was ready for the challenge, having proved his fitness for Sussex in a 2nd XI match against Gloucestershire during which he took 6-27 in the first innings and then scored 108 after a side strain ruled him out of contention at Edgbaston.

“I’ve played a lot more red-ball cricket and it’s my preferred format,” Archer said. “I’m more ready than I’ve ever been.

“I bowled 50 overs in one game for Sussex and am the one usually bowling at the end.

England are also set to field left-arm spinner Jack Leach, who scored a career-best 92 in the one-off Test win over Ireland at Lord’s last month, after Moeen Ali was dropped following the off-spinner’s lacklustre display at Edgbaston.

Analysis by CricViz shows Smith averages a modest 34.90 against left-arm spin compared to a superb overall Test mark of nearly 63.

But as for suggestions Smith had an inherent weakness when confronted with this type of bowling, Langer replied: “No, I don’t buy into it.

“He has got this incredible ability to solve problems.”


Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

Updated 25 August 2019
0

Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

  • When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain

NEW YORK: During a break in practice two days before opening his US Open title defense, Novak Djokovic pulled off his blue shoe and white sock so a trainer could look at his right foot.

Did it again a little while later.

And then, toward the end of Saturday’s training session in Louis Armstrong Stadium with 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori, Djokovic stopped a sprint and pulled up short of a ball, raised his right leg off the ground entirely and hopped repeatedly on his left, wincing. Nothing to worry about, Djokovic said later at his pre-tournament news conference: Just blisters.

“A minor thing,” Djokovic called it. “Like anybody has ... Nothing major that is causing a concern for the event.”

When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena, a 26-year-old from Spain whose career-best ranking was 72nd.

Carballes Baena has an overall career record of 43-50. That includes 2-7 at major tournaments, 1-1 at Flushing Meadows, where he made his debut a year ago and lost in the second round.

Djokovic, meanwhile, has won 33 of his past 34 Grand Slam matches en route to collecting four of the past five major titles. That allowed the 32-year-old Serb to raise his career haul to 16 trophies, putting him just two away from second-place Rafael Nadal’s total of 18, and Roger Federer’s 20, which is the record for men.

He’s not shy about trying to catch those guys.

“More or less everything is about Grand Slams, in terms of how I see tennis and how I approach it, because they matter the most,” Djokovic said. “So I will definitely try to play my best tennis — and aim to play my best tennis — at these events.”

And while many would attribute Djokovic's success to his ability to return serves, say, or his mental strength and propensity for coming up big in the biggest moments — such as saving two match points along the way to edging Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the Wimbledon final last month — there's something else the man himself would point to as his most vital quality.

That's the way Djokovic can cover a court, which is why the state of that right foot is actually a rather big deal.

His movement, Djokovic said Saturday, is "the base of everything" and "the most important thing."

"It just allows you to be more in balance. And at the end of the day, that is what you're looking for as a tennis player," he explained. "How can you hit the ball, being in the right balance, so you can penetrate the ball with the right speed, accuracy and precision?"

Watch Djokovic during a match, and you'll see him change direction in a heartbeat, twist and turn, contort his limbs, slide — on clay, on grass, even on hard courts — always getting to the right spot at the right time.

He attributes his strength in that area to the flexibility of his ankles and is grateful he used to participate in another sport while growing up back home in Serbia.

"I credit my childhood spent on the skis. I used to spend a lot of time skiing," Djokovic said. "That had an effect as well, with kind of coordination and changing movement from one side to another. Even though they're different sports, in essence, you're using some major muscle groups and joints and stuff like this in most of the sports."

It is Djokovic's right elbow that gave him the most trouble a couple of seasons ago.

He missed the last half of 2017, including that year's US Open because that arm was bothering him, then wound up having surgery in February 2018. It took some time for Djokovic to get going after that. All's good these days, though.

"Novak had a couple years where he didn't seem like the same guy," ESPN's John McEnroe said. "Now he's back with a vengeance."

Only 1½ months have passed since Djokovic edged Federer in that classic title match at the All England Club.

Not a lot of time to savor the victory. Not a lot of time to rest a weary body.

"This sport can be a little bit 'cruel,'" Djokovic said, using fingers to indicate air quotes, "when it comes to, I guess, marveling or celebrating your own success. You don't have that much luxury of time to really reflect on everything because the season keeps going."