‘We need to be hard on ourselves’ – India captain Virat Kohli pulls no punches

Captain Virat Kohli pulled no punches in his assessment of India’s performance in the ongoing Test series against South Africa.

The Proteas wrapped up a comfortable 135-run win in Centurion on Wednesday to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series, bringing the Asian tourists back down to earth after a string of nine straight series wins.

"We need to be hard on ourselves," said Kohli. "We need to ask ourselves if we are giving 120 percent for the team every time we play a ball, bowl a ball or field a ball.

"As a team we will definitely lay out these things in the open and ask the guys to be honest about what they were thinking about at particular stages of the game."

The Indian skipper acknowledged that South Africa had outplayed them on a slow pitch which should have played into the strengths of the tourists.

"These conditions are something we are used to," he said. "South Africa collectively were a much better team than us."

However, Kohli refused to fall into the thinking that his team is not worthy of their number one ranking on the ICC ladder, insisting that they had chances to dominate both Tests.

"We have to believe we are the best side. We have had opportunities to win in both games so that is the positive we can take out of it," he concluded.

The third and final Test starts next week Wednesday, January 24, at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.

India captain Virat Kohli

I’ll only leave Chelsea by being sacked – Antonio Conte throws down the gauntlet

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has explained that he has not intention of quitting the London club and will only leave if he is fired.

The Italian was an instant hit in England as he took the Blues to the Premier League title in his first season in charge.

But this term has been a much tougher challenge, with Chelsea essentially competing against Manchester United for second place - such has been the dominance enjoyed by Manchester City, who will surely dethrone the Blues as champions.

Conte’s position as Chelsea boss has come under increasing scrutiny, with the Italian not signing an extension to his current deal (which expires in 2019) and criticising the club’s transfer policy.

After a frustrating goalless draw at home to Leicester City on Saturday, Conte said that he plans to remain at Chelsea for the forseeable future.

“Everything is possible,” he said. “In one moment you stay here, in another moment another person replaces you in your job.”

Asked if he would extend his contract with Chelsea, he added: “In this case, I think the club has to decide to send me away.”

Conte, who has been linked with jobs in Italy and with Paris St Germain in France, was then asked if he would resign. He said: “No.”

Conte insisted he is happy at Chelsea, will continue to work as a professional and “never give up”.

He added: “For the manager of this club it’s normal to have this type of situation, also if you won last season the league and you reached the final in FA Cup.”

After achieving life-long goal, top-ranked Kagiso Rabada insists he can still improve

Despite achieving a life-long goal in reaching first place on the ICC Test rankings for bowlers, South African speedster Kagiso Rabada insists he still has plenty of room for improvement.

The 22-year-old leapfrogged England’s James Anderson into top spot this week following the Proteas’ dramatic victory over India in the first Test in Cape Town. Rabada took five wickets in the match.

"It's what I always wanted to do (reaching No.1). Now, I just want to keep performing and winning games for the team and to keep getting better and better," Rabada was quoted by ESPNCricinfo.

"There's always something you can improve on. Once you get something right, there's always something new that you can work on.

"I just need to just do more and more, striving for perfection. You are never going to reach perfection but at least [try to] get there and thereabouts."

The youngster insists that skill has been just as important in his rise as the searing pace he is able to generate.

"I don't know how fast I can get but I always try my best. I can feel when I am bowling quickly and when I am not,” he explained.

“Sometimes I feel I am bowling quickly and the speed gun says 145 or sometimes I can feel like I bowl a decent ball and the speed gun says 131.

“I feel like the pace is something that's already there, what's important is the skill."

Rabada will look to play another leading role when South Africa and India clash in the second Test, which starts on Saturday morning in Centurion.

Rabada stocks keep on raising

Vernon Philander takes a jab at India ahead of first Test

South African seamer Vernon Philander has taken a jab at India ahead of the first Test between the teams, starting at Newlands in Cape Town on Friday morning.

The 32-year-old was asked whether the tourists would be a different prospect to past Indian teams, which have tended to struggle on South Africa’s fast-paced pitches.

Virat Kohli’s current India team are on top of the ICC Test rankings and have enjoyed a purple patch of results. They have been talked up as better travellers than in past generations, but Philander hasn’t bought into their hype.

"They have played most of their games at home, so it'll be interesting to see how they go in South Africa," the seam bowler mused. "It's a total different ball game. We're going to have to wait and see once they pass the first Test match."

Philander also gave his opinion of the Newlands playing surface, arguing that prevailing conditions will play an important role and emphasising that the fast bowlers won’t necessarily dominate just because there is a good covering of grass.

"No, I wouldn't say it's greener [than other Newlands pitches]," Philander said. "I have played all my life here. I've seen a lot of similar wickets and they haven't done much. Obviously there's a little bit of grass there, but I don't think it's going to scare anyone."

He added, “But sometimes you get to Newlands, and it depends on the type of wind that blows here as well. You might get days there is grass, but it's absolutely flat. You get some days, the north-western blows, and the ball goes around when there's not much grass on there."


Can India translate their home strength to dominance on tour? Coach Ravi Shastri thinks so

India coach Ravi Shastri has backed his team to shed their reputation as poor travellers and translate the strength they have shown at home to dominate on their tough tours in 2018.

India top the ICC’s Test rankings after sealing a ninth consecutive series win last week. However, critics point to the fact that six of the series wins came at home and just one - away to West Indies - was outside of Asia.

Captain Virat Kohli’s team will face much tougher tests in 2018, as they travel to South Africa, England and Australia - three countries where their potent spinners will not be as effective and their batsman will be tested by surfaces more helpful to seam bowlers.

“This team is looking good and they have their priorities in place. They're hungry to prove themselves home and away," Shastri told the Times of India newspaper.

"It's often been argued that India are poor travellers. We want to be the team that helped change this perception and this is the year to do it.

"Frankly, we're not too hooked on to this 'home and away' thing, where a lot of chatter goes on about conditions that aren't too familiar," the former test player added.

"For instance, once you've played a test match in Kolkata, how long does it take before you play another test there? Two years? Sometimes three? It's the same as an overseas tour.

"So that mindset is quite passé. In this day and age, wherever you go, it's home. You just got to walk in there and perform."

India’s first away tour for 2018 starts in South Africa on January 5 when they play the first of three Tests, which will be followed by six ODIs and three T20s.

India's Umesh Yadav, right, jumps to celebrate the dismissal of England's Jonny Bairstow, left, on the third day of their second cricket test match in Visakhapatnam, India, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

Joe Root: We’re not giving up on the Ashes

England captain Joe Root is adamant his side is “still massively” in the Ashes contest despite going 2-0 down in the series in Australia.

The hosts sealed a 120-run victory in the second Test, which wrapped up in Adelaide yesterday, putting them two up following the 10-wicket win they claimed in the first match at the Gabba last month.

This makes the third Test in Perth, which starts next week Thursday, an all-important clash for the tourists. And the bad news for England is that they haven’t won at the WACA since 1978.

Yet Root remains positive and insists that a repeat of the 5-0 whitewash England suffered on their last tour ‘Down Under’ in 2013/14 will not happen.

"The way we batted in that second innings proved to everyone we are still massively in this series, simple as that," Root told reporters.

"We've shown throughout the two tests in periods we can out-perform Australia, but just not over five days.

"If we can perform to our ability for longer periods of time we'll win games. The belief in dressing room is definitely there."

Root said he "strongly disagreed" with suggestions that his team are heading for a 5-0 series loss.

"I don't think we're in the same situation (as last tour), we're much better than that. We're in a much better place," he said.

Nathan Lyon throws down the gauntlet to England’s batsmen

Australian spinner Nathan Lyon has challenged England’s batsmen to try and hit him out of the attack in the second Ashes Test, which is a day-night, pink-ball match at the Adelaide Oval starting on Saturday.

The 30-year-old played an impressive role in Australia’s comfortable win in the first Test at the Gabba, taking five wickets and shouldering a heavy workload to allow the fast bowlers time to rest and recuperate between spells.

After England's batsmen failed to dominate the offspinner in Brisbane, Lyon has invited them to go on the offensive at Adelaide Oval, where he helped bowl Australia to victory against South Africa a year ago.

"I think if they did do that, it does definitely play into my hands," Lyon told reporters in Adelaide on Wednesday.

"I like it when opposition guys try to attack me and try to whack me out of the attack.

"But it's a part of the game ... No doubt England will come prepared and they'll have a different plan for me compared to what they had in the first test. But it is what it is.

"It's about adapting, it's about enjoying the challenge and embracing the game of cricket."

Lyon has also somewhat backtracked on his controversial comments ahead of the first Test, when he declared that Australia would inflict a career-ending defeat on the tourists.

He was more conciliatory by claiming that Joe Root's team were a "classy" side and that their seam bowlers would be dangerous in the conditions in the first day-night Ashes Test.

"I think with the pink ball, it’s going to suit their bowlers," said Lyon. "We know they’re going to come back bigger and better and stronger. It’s not going to be a walk in the park ... We need to make sure that we respect them."

Nathan Lyon

AB de Villiers set to feature in Zimbabwe warm-up next month

AB de Villiers is set to feature for a South African XI in a three-day warm-up match against Zimbabwe, as he looks to make a Test comeback for the Proteas.

The former captain may feature in the match in Potchefstroom, which will be played from December 20 to 22, ahead of a four-day, day-night Test between South Africa and Zimbabwe which starts on Boxing Day (December 26).

With no domestic red-ball cricket on the go (South Africa’s franchise T20 tournament is currently being played), Proteas management want de Villiers playing long-format cricket before a possible Test return.

"We'd like to get him back in whites as soon as possible and we have some plans in place. There's the practice match which will be good for him," Linda Zondi, South Africa's convener of selectors, told ESPNcricinfo.

De Villiers hasn’t played a Test since January 2016 because of a combination of injuries and a self-imposed sabbatical, but he told reporters this week that the break was beneficial to his career.

"I've had time at home to get fresh, time to work on my body, and time to work on skills I've not worked on in many years," de Villiers said.

"I've sort of rediscovered that love of the game. I've not had an off-season where I've gone to nets to work on my skills and technique for ages. Last year, in the peak of the season, I was less ready for Test cricket than I am now."

As for where de Villiers will slot back into the Test team, Zondi says that’s a bridge they’ll cross when they come to it: "For us as selectors, it's about getting him into the squad and then it will be worked out from there. It's a nice problem to have.”

AB de Villiers

David Warner confident of playing first Ashes Test despite stiff neck

Australia vice-captain David Warner has shrugged off suggestions that he won’t be fit for the first Ashes Test - which starts tomorrow, Thursday 23 November - after suffering a neck strain in training.

Warner picked up the issue while taking a high catch in a fielding drill at the Gabba on Tuesday and received immediate treatment from team physiotherapist David Beakley.

The left-handed opener tried to have a bat in the nets, but faced only two throwdowns from batting coach Graeme Hick before withdrawing, sparking concerns that he is a doubt for the first Test.

"My neck is quite stiff," Warner said shortly afterwards. "I took a high ball out there and something just twinged in my neck. I'm getting a bit of physio treatment at the moment and hopefully it's settled down over the next 24 or 48 hours.

"I'll try and have a hit tomorrow at some stage. I might have to work on my technique a little bit more, facing up. It's quite sore. I haven't really had a stiff neck like this one. I'll get some treatment tonight, and get some heat packs on there and get some fingers into it and hopefully it's better tomorrow."

Warner pulled out of batting practice because the neck issue meant he couldn’t get his stance quite right.

"It was more of an alignment thing," he said. "I couldn't align myself face-on with Hicky. So for me, if I'm not being able to face on him, there's no point because I can't angle myself and I'll get into bad habits and that's not how I want to train."

But when asked if the injury will keep him out of the Test, he had a confident reply: "No. I don't think a sore neck is going to keep me out."

Australian batsman David Warner

Chris Morris set to return with remodeled bowling action

South African all-rounder Chris Morris says he has tweaked his bowling action ahead of a return to top flight cricket.

Morris suffered a lower back injury while representing the Proteas in their Test series in England earlier this year and will only make his comeback during the domestic Ram Slam T20 season, which begins this weekend.

The player’s bowling action - in particular his striving for extra pace - caused the injury and he has since had to remodel his technique - with the help of SA coach Ottis Gibson.

"I've had a few tweaks in my action that Ottis has changed. I had to iron it out because it wasn't good enough - simple as that," Morris said at the Ram Slam launch in Johannesburg.

"I think in striving for a bit of extra pace, there was some twisting in my action. I've got quite a bad kick-out with my left foot before I land. I was getting lazy and doing quite a lot of twisting, which caused a lot of pressure on my lower back and inevitably caused the injury."

He added, “If I didn't get injured I still would have had to change my action. In bowling, you like to work in straight lines, and I was working along the wrong lines. That's where the injury came along.

"We can't re-scan the same injury because we'd see the same thing the whole time. So we work on symptoms - if there is pain you stop, otherwise you play. I've got to trust the gym and rehab, all the things I've been doing behind the scenes since my injury happened."

Morris was also enthusiastic at the prospect of working more with Proteas coach Gibson: "I've only had a week and a half with him and he's been excellent. In England, he had the fortune of working with the best new-ball attack in the world in my opinion.

“If they've rubbed off on him, as a South African bowling attack we're going to be richer for it. He's been doing this for a long time and has a lot of experience. It's quite clear what our plans are going forward as a team. We're in a happy space, and it's quite exciting."

Chris Morris

Steven Finn out of Ashes series in another blow to England

England have been dealt another blow ahead of the start of the 2017/18 Ashes with the news that fast bowler Steven Finn has been ruled out of the series with a knee injury.

Having already lost all-rounder Ben Stokes, who is under a police investigation back in England and appears unlikely to join up with the team, and seamer Toby Roland-Jones (who has a stress fracture to the back) this is further bad news for the tourists.

Finn sustained a knee injury while batting in the nets in Perth. Initially he was treated with an injection, but the knock has not improved as hoped. It has now been diagnosed as a torn cartilage in the left knee.

The fast bowler will fly back to England for treatment and to ascertain whether surgery is required.

Tom Curran, Tom Helm and Liam Plunkett are the likely replacements for Finn, with Mark Wood unavailable due to injury.

This is a continuation of an ‘Ashes curse’ for Finn, who was sent home in 2013/14 when England last toured Australia because of a lack of form and confidence. He was also dropped midway through the 2010/11 Ashes.

The good news for English fans is that their spearheads - James Anderson and Stuart Broad - are both fit and firing, and the team will be managing their workload ahead of the first Ashes Test, which begins in Brisbane on November 23.

Steven Finn

Jimmy Anderson to replace Ben Stokes as England’s vice captain?

James Anderson has emerged as a serious candidate to replace Ben Stokes as England’s vice captain on the upcoming Ashes tour.

Stokes is currently unavailable due to an ongoing police investigation and skipper Joe Root has confirmed that a new deputy will be unveiled in the coming days.

Alastair Cook, a former captain of the Test team, remains the likeliest candidate, while Stuart Broad, who has skippered the T20 team, is another option.

Yet Anderson reckons he would embrace the responsibility, using his experience to help guide the younger bowlers - something he’s surely expected to do anyway.

"Of course I wouldn't turn it down," Anderson said. "In the last couple of years, I've seen my role in the team as a leader. It's kind of your responsibility to be a leader. It's part and parcel of the job as a senior player having played over 100 Tests.

"There are a lot of players on this tour who have not played in an Ashes series before and not toured Australia before. So our job is to try and help as much as we can.

“It's kind of your responsibility to be a leader. With young bowlers coming into the team I've tried to help out as much as I can. I think it's important that Joe has people he can rely upon."

The first Ashes Test gets underway at the Gabba in Brisbane on November 23.

James Anderson

Australia captain Steve Smith: We need to open up old scars in first Ashes Test

Ahead of the start of the Ashes later this month, Australia captain Steve Smith believes that his side need to remind England of the 5-0 whitewash they suffered in 2013/14.

The last Ashes tour ‘Down Under’ saw the hosts dominate the series on the back of Mitchell Johnson’s terrifying left-arm fast bowling.

Australia got the upper hand right from the first match in Brisbane and Smith wants a repeat of that in 2017/18.

The skipper is hoping to revive some nightmares for the current English players who were on that tour: Joe Root, Alastair Cook, Jonny Bairstow, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn.

"First Test match is going to be really important, we need to set the tone again and hopefully get them on a similar path to what we did in 2013," Smith told ESPNCricinfo.

"A few players were out here for that tour, and hopefully we can get them thinking the same way, open a few of those scars up as such, get them thinking 'oh not this again' and that kind of thought process.

"I know Trevor [Bayliss, England's coach] very well and he'll ensure they're very attacking and those kinds of things. We just need to stick to our guns and ensure we prepare really well and make sure we're doing the basic stuff really well out in the middle."

The first Ashes Test is set to be played at the Gabba in Brisbane on November 23-27.

Australian captain Steve Smith

AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn to walk back into Proteas Test team

AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn will be able to ‘walk’ back into the South African Test team once they have reached form and fitness, according to coach Ottis Gibson.

The Proteas recently completed a clean sweep of wins over tourists Bangladesh in all three formats and will only be back in action for the experimental four-day, day-night Test against Zimbabwe which starts on December 26.

This precedes more challenging series against India and Australia, for which South Africa will need the experience and skill of both de Villiers and Steyn.

De Villiers has not played a Test match since January 2016, having been sidelined through a combination of injury and a self-imposed sabbatical away from the longest format of the game.

He’s available for the match against Zimbabwe, but will have to work his way back into contention, especially after South Africa’s batsmen plundered plenty of runs against the Bangladeshis.

Yet Gibson has hinted that space will be made for de Villiers regardless. When asked by a journalist - who called his own question ‘stupid’ - whether AB would be welcomed back into the Test fold, the coach had this to say:

"What was it you said first there [in regards to the ‘stupid question’]? You've answered your question."

It’s a similar case for Steyn, who has been sidelined with a major shoulder injury but will return in South Africa’s domestic T20 competition, which starts later this month.

"He has got a lot of T20 cricket to play and he has also got a lot of time where we can build up his workload and see that he is 100 percent fit," Gibson said.

"He is Dale Steyn. He is not some average guy from down the road. He is one of the best bowlers the country has ever produced. If you look him in the eyes and you say, 'Dale are you sure you can make it?' and he says he can make it, then he is getting the opportunity."

Dale Steyn

Chris Woakes hits back in pre-Ashes ‘war of words’, questions Australia’s pace depth

The 2017/18 Ashes is less than a month away and the ‘war of words’ ahead of the revival of Test cricket’s oldest rivalry continues unabated.

Most of the talking has come from the Australian side so far, with aggressive opening batsman David Warner comparing matches against the English to “going to war”. They must have shown a different version of ‘Dunkirk’ Down Under.

The English have generally stuck to conciliatory tones so far, and with good reason: firstly, the Ben Stokes alleged assault incident means they come into the tour under something of a cloud and probably without their best all-round player; and secondly the Three Lions were given a 5-0 thrashing the last time they played in Australia.

However, Chris Woakes threw in an interesting barb this past weekend by questioning the strength in depth of Australia’s fast-bowling options, as well highlighting the battle for the wicketkeeper gloves, with Alex Carey and Peter Nevill vying to displace Matthew Wade.

The hosts will be able to call upon a superb pace trio in the form of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, but they have been robbed of the services of James Pattinson, who has succumbed to another back injury.

"The Australian bowlers have got some pace, [but] Pat Cummins hasn't played much Test cricket in Australia, so it will be as much of a test for him as for me," said Woakes, who will be playing in his first Ashes away series.

"They've probably got more pace than us but in [Stuart] Broad, [James] Anderson we've got two of England's best ever bowlers, and along with myself and some of the other bowlers I think we have got enough to cause them problems.

"I don't think they've got a huge amount of back-up bowlers apart from those three, guys who have got records of injury - if they break down during the series, what have they got coming through after that? They're also missing a keeper-batsman at the minute, they're short in that area, which is obviously quite a crucial position in every team."

Woakes added, “It's exciting, looking forward to it. I never find trouble getting into the battle, everyone does it in their own way. Warner might want to chirp, others do it their own way.

“You have to find out what's best for you, it might distract you from the day job. Each to their own, David can do what he wants and we will react and try to play our best cricket."

England's Chris Woakes (left) and James Anderson.

England skipper Joe Root: We’re planning to be without Ben Stoke for the Ashes

The issue of whether Ben Stoke swill play in the upcoming Ashes tour remains very much up in the air, but England captain Joe Root says his side are preparing to be without the spiky all-rounder.

As things stand, Stokes will not be part of the touring party ‘Down Under’ while a police investigation into his alleged offence of assault outside a night club a month ago remains open.

A pair of gay witnesses to the incident have recently come forward and claim Stokes was protecting them from homophobic abuse and labelled him a “hero”, casting the issue in a completely new light, but it doesn’t guarantee that the all-rounder will be on the flight to Australia - something Root knows all too well.

"I think we've got to plan as if he's not going to be there for the whole series," Root said. "It's an ongoing investigation, we're very much in the dark in what's happening, as is everyone. So as a side we have to make sure we plan accordingly and approach this as our squad.

"Ben offers a lot to the team but, as I said, it's an opportunity for other guys to stand up. In difficult situations, a lot of the time, people do surprise themselves and surprise you and are capable of more than what they might even think themselves.

“This is one of those occasions when you might just see that and there's also some guys that have been given another opportunity, who will be desperate to take that. As a side I look at where we are and how we've grown as a team and think that this is a great opportunity for us to keep developing and move forward again."

The first Ashes Test will be held at Brisbane’s Gabba starting from 23 November.

Joe Root