STUART BROAD: Boy does it feel good to be back on a cricket pitch

It’s only 12 overs so far, but boy does it feel good to be back on a cricket pitch… and I don’t see problem if Dad’s the ref for England Test series

  • Broad bowled properly for the first time since returning from Sri Lanka
  • The paceman is building up to the fitness required to bowl in a Test match
  • Director of cricket Ashley Giles has been in regular contact with the players 

I was only bowling at an empty net, and yet, when I left Trent Bridge on both Thursday and Friday there was a real ‘wow’ feeling. It felt really good to be back out in the middle again.

There’s something about the place. Even if there’s no one else in the ground it has an aura. There are only a few grounds in the world that are similar: Cape Town, Lord’s, Sydney, the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. They all have a presence.

It was the first time I’d bowled properly since we returned from the tour of Sri Lanka 10 weeks ago. To be fair, although I’ve only bowled 12 overs so far, the action feels pretty solid.

Stuart Broad bowled properly for the first time since returning from Sri Lanka 10 weeks ago

Of course the circumstances of returning to safe practice were a little strange. I drove into the car park at the Trent Bridge Inn, found my own parking space with no cars parked within two spaces of me, and when I got out I was signposted all the way to the field of play.

There, I met up with James Pipe, the Nottinghamshire physio, and he showed me where my designated toilet was. Mine was a ladies one, as it happens.

When we got out into the middle, the net had already been erected by Steve Birks, the groundsman, and the stumps were in the ground, with a set of balls also waiting for me. Those six brand new Dukes are assigned to me for this period of training. The theory is that only one skin comes into contact with them.

So when I knocked one of the stumps out of the ground, I retrieved the ball and James, who has been instructed to wear gloves as part of the protocols, replaced the stump. I must say, that was a pleasing feeling — thankfully, they were well-watered holes!

The England paceman is attempting to reach the fitness required to bowl in a Test match

Then we did some aerobic stuff. As part of our training with Nottinghamshire, we do an exercise we call the stag run. It is a variation of the training routine used by the Brisbane Broncos rugby league team they call the Bronco.

It’s a set of shuttle runs — 20 metres and back, followed by 40 metres and back, then 60 metres and back. The aim is to run it five times as fast as you can.

For now, while I’m getting back into things, I’m having between 30 seconds and a minute of recovery between each set. The target is to improve my time significantly by June 15. If James and I are doing that three times a week, we will get better pretty quickly.

I have done quite a bit of long distance running at a slower pace during these last couple of months but the good thing about the stag run is that it is done at about run-up pace. And it incorporates turning too, which gets the body into similar scenarios that you would encounter on the field — like changing direction to chase the ball. It all seemed over in a flash really but that was in keeping with what we have been told to do: get in, bowl, get out. We’re not lingering.

Over the next couple of weeks. it will be about building up the loads because whatever you might do to try to replicate bowling in the gym you need six-over spells at full intensity consistently to get the kind of fitness required to bowl in a Test match.

Chris Woakes welcomed the return of some familiar aches and pains after resuming training

What I mean by that is that even Jessica Ennis-Hill — one of our country’s best-ever athletes — in her peak would find it hard if asked to bowl half a dozen overs if she’s not been conditioned to do it. She could do all the elements she would normally perform on a track to win gold medals but bowling that amount of overs requires a different type of fitness.

Although I felt great, on the second morning I woke up at half past six to discover muscles I’d forgotten existed. That’s what bowling does to you! Even bending down to touch my toes caused me to grimace a little. I could feel my sides too. I wouldn’t call it pain. I was just very aware that my body had been doing something different again. Later, I spoke to Chris Woakes, who had been training at Edgbaston, and he felt the same.

After I posted some pictures on Instagram, the number of messages I received from professional cricketers was incredible. There was a common theme — things like ‘I’m so jealous’ and ‘I wish it was me’. Everyone is missing the game.

The next step, in a few weeks — once the body and lungs are used to continuous bowling — will be to introduce batsmen but for now it is small steps.

I have been comfortable enough returning to training in these circumstances. The only thing I struggled with, to be honest, was how to sign online to opt-in, after downloading an app.

Ashley Giles, England’s director of cricket, has been in regular contact with the players

The opt-in for professional sport is led by Government and, as I understand it, supported by the ECB. But the only thing I wanted to double-check was whether it affected life insurance.

I wanted to make sure that in opting-in, I wasn’t opting out of all my protection.

Ashley Giles, England’s director of cricket, has been great. Ashley and his senior colleagues have been excellent at communicating during this pandemic. The communication has been open and honest.

It would be so easy in a situation like this to feel that you are just doing something for the TV money but Ashley has been very clear that our health is his number one priority.

There has been no pressure to sign the form and I genuinely believe him when he says nothing will be held against players who decide not to come back under the current circumstances.

I certainly don’t feel as though my hands are tied in any way, shape or form. It feels like my decision to go back to training — to get into the best possible shape to play for England in July.

I hope every player feels the same. There is a long way to get back to playing international cricket again, of course, as getting one person to train is a different kettle of fish to getting 30-40 players in a camp.

I feel very safe, reflecting on what I’ve done over the last few days, but who knows what will happen in a month? It’s such a long period of time. We don’t know what the Government stance will be at the end of June. How much will the restrictions have been eased?

At the moment, we are planning to go into a bio-secure environment around that time and not come out until all the cricket’s finished.

Yes, it might feel weird to play Test matches behind closed doors but what I would say is that we have all come through the county system.

Where we differ from Premier League footballers and arguably Premiership rugby players is that there have been many times when we have walked out after tea on a Wednesday afternoon for, say, Nottinghamshire versus Hampshire, and there have been 200 people in the ground.

We’ve played in near-to-empty stadiums, even in international cricket abroad when not many people have turned up.

So I don’t think we’ll rely on the atmosphere as much as maybe footballers will.

I don’t see problem if Dad’s the ref

This situation has led to the prospect of my dad Chris being match referee in England’s Test series versus West Indies and Pakistan this summer, and some people have questioned whether this is appropriate.

Sure, if he was an umpire I could understand that because he could have a subconscious influence on decisions that are made on the field.

No offence to him here but he sits in an office and if I, or anyone else, breaks the code of conduct he simply looks up the regulations in a handbook and determines the appropriate sanction from the relevant section. There is no emotion in a match referee’s job. And there is likely to be no contact between us.

Stuart’s dad Chris could be the match referee for Test series against West Indies and Pakistan

If I was to be caught swearing on camera — like I was at Faf du Plessis in Johannesburg in January — there’s no haggling over the punishment. It’s not as if I can go into a room and barter to only pay 12 per cent of a 15 per cent match fee fine. Immediately after that particular game, for example, I went into the match referee’s office with the two umpires, and Bruce Oxenford, who was third umpire. I was told they were going to sanction me for what I said at the time.

I told them I couldn’t remember what I’d said. But Bruce, as TV umpire, had heard it and had an audio clip. It was as clear as day. Faf was having a go at Sam Curran and I stepped in. I couldn’t argue against that. I was being reprimanded with a fine and one demerit point because I’d sworn on television. Pleading not guilty in that kind of situation would result in the punishment increasing. In the unlikely scenario that I was required for a code of conduct hearing, it could be carried out with another match referee remotely.

From experience, and I’ve played 138 Tests, you only see a match ref if you’re in trouble. Often they are sat in a different building. You only tend to meet at breakfast in the hotel or on the outfield before the start of play.

From a selfish point of view, I’d love the chance to be able to have a coffee and catch-up with dad in a bio-secure environment.

There have been many times over the years where I’ve only bumped into him for a few minutes in Dubai airport when our flights have crossed.

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Eagle Farm races stopped after bomb threat received, police on site

Stewards at the Eagle Farm racetrack has brought the day’s races to a stop after receiving a bomb threat.

Police have arrived at the track to investigate the matter with jockeys and all others at the site reportedly safe.

Stewards confirm a bomb threat at Eagle Farm has stopped the meeting, police on site now

An update from the Brisbane Racing club followed shortly after the reports emerged where they said: “Stewards have temporarily delayed today’s Eagle Farm races due to a police matter. We will await more information from stewards and police before the meeting resumes. All people on course are well. We expect to be underway again shortly.”

Only two out of nine races on the day had been run when the action was brought to a halt with jockeys at the track told to expect a substantial delay as the police investigation continues.

While crowds aren’t allowed to attend race day’s, the Eagle Farm track has an apartment block on it which is full of residents.

After investigating the track, the races were set to get back underway with the bomb threat believed to be a hoax.

Eagle Farm looks set to continue with Sky Racing reporting that it's believed to be a hoax after checking the facilities

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Royal Ascot to host 36-race extravaganza next month

Royal Ascot will be bigger than ever in 2020 after the Queen’s racecourse broke with tradition to serve punters up a whopping 36-race extravaganza.

The glittering fixture is historically limited to six races per day – hosting 30 heats each year since it was expanded to five days in 2002.

But, after receiving the royal seal of approval, Ascot bosses have beefed up the programme – Royal Ascot 2020 is due to take place in its original slot of June 16-20 – to include an additional six races.

Tuesday to Friday’s cards will consist of seven contests apiece, before the action climaxes with an eight-strong finale on Saturday.

Describing this summer’s offering as an “exceptional renewal”, Ascot’s Director of Racing and Public Affairs Nick Smith said: “We hope these extra opportunities will be welcomed by horsemen, broadcasters and the public at home.

“We are of course taking nothing for granted in terms of government's final approval to permit behind-closed-doors sporting events from June 1.

Newcomers to the party are consolations to the big betting handicaps of royal week, the Silver Royal Hunt Cup and the Silver Wokingham, to open proceedings on Wednesday and Saturday.

The Copper Horse Handicap (1m6f, Wednesday), the Golden Gates Handicap (10f, Thursday) and the Palace of Holyroodhouse Handicap (5f, Friday) are also new additions, while the seven-furlong Buckingham Palace Handicap, which lost its place to the Commonwealth Cup in 2015, makes a comeback as the meeting’s curtain-raiser on Tuesday.

In a change to the traditional running order, the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes and Coronation Stakes will be run on the fixture’s final day to allow runners from the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas – scheduled to take place on June 6 and 7 – maximum recovery time.

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Woakes urges England selectors to give Hales a second chance

‘I’m a believer that people serve their time’: Chris Woakes urges England selectors to give Alex Hales a second chance after he was exiled in disgrace on the eve of last summer’s World Cup because of a recreational drugs ban

  • Chris Woakes believes the time is right for England to recall batsman Alex Hales
  • Hales served a 21-day ban in 2019 after failing ECB’s recreational drug policy
  • Woakes says Hales must have found it ‘difficult’ to watch England win World Cup
  • Captain Eoin Morgan said last month that the ‘door wasn’t closed’ on Hales

Chris Woakes believes Alex Hales should be given a second chance and recalled by England when they next week name two squads for the international summer.

Hales was exiled in disgrace on the eve of the World Cup last summer when it was revealed he was serving a ban for recreational drug use and had, in the words of captain Eoin Morgan, ‘broken the trust’ of the England team.

But Hales insisted in a Sportsmail interview earlier this month that he had learned his lesson and hoped ‘the damage isn’t terminal’ as he targeted an England return ahead of what was scheduled to be a Twenty20 World Cup in Australia in November.

Chris Woakes says Alex Hales (pictured) should be given a second chance to play for England

Now he has received significant support in the form of one of the senior players who banished him last year in Woakes after his own return to individual training this week.

‘I’m a believer that people serve their time, so to speak,’ said Woakes after bowling five overs in a bio-secure environment at Edgbaston to take the first steps back towards what England are increasingly hopeful will be a full international summer.

‘Alex has gone through a tough time being left out of a World Cup and seeing the team lift the trophy must have been difficult for him. I believe if people have gone away for a period of time and worked on their weaknesses they should be given a second chance.

Woakes believes Hales has ‘served his time’ after being banned for recreational drug use

‘I’ve played a lot of cricket with Alex from a young age and in a way I felt sorry for him but I understand the decision from the management, captain and the rest of the team. I don’t know a hundred per cent what will happen but I’d be happy to see Alex back.’

Morgan, the man who lifted the World Cup for England, said the ‘door wasn’t closed’ on Hales last month but it was a cautious endorsement of his chances and Sportsmail understands there are still reservations about his return among key figures.

But, really, the situation England find themselves in provides the perfect opportunity to bring Hales back in what will be an extended white-ball squad of up to 30 players named separately to the Test party that will face West Indies and Pakistan.

Woakes says it must have been ‘difficult’ for Hales to watch England lift Cricket World Cup

Essentially, it could be now or never for the 31-year-old Hales, who has been in prolific form in various short-form tournaments – and Woakes believes he is far from alone in offering an olive branch to a batsman he insists is ‘world-class.’

‘I would imagine the majority of the team feel the same way as I do,’ said Woakes. ‘I don’t know why anyone would feel any differently. We have a culture and environment in the England team where we all try to pull in the right direction. If Alex is willing to do that I’d imagine everyone would be happy to see him back playing for England.’

Woakes will be among the group of bowlers stepping up training next week and plans three sessions with Warwickshire coach Graeme Welch under strict protocols. 

Key figures in the England setup have expressed reservations about Hales’ possible return

‘It will take quite a bit of headspace trying to do the right things and ticking all the boxes,’ he said in a zoom conference call yesterday. ‘The ECB, venues and counties are going above and beyond making it as safe as possible and that will help us as players.’

And Woakes believes bowlers will find a way to find swing even though they will not be allowed to use saliva on the ball when cricket goes back to its new normal, in England’s case when they hope to play the first Test against West Indies on July 8.

‘My first session was literally about turning my arm over and getting things moving,’ he said. ‘Moving forward you will have to remind yourself you can’t use those things to shine the ball. I think from a bowler’s point of view we’ve just got to find a way to shine the ball harder and longer. Luckily enough the ball moves around in England anyway.’ 

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Briscoe ends heartbreaking week with Xfinity win

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Chase Briscoe capped a heartbreaking week by winning the Xfinity Series’ return to action at Darlington Raceway on Thursday.

Briscoe was in the Darlington infield Tuesday awaiting the race’s original start when he digitally joined his wife, Marissa, for a 12-week exam for their expected baby. The couple heard the tragic news: There was no fetal heartbeat. “The worst news I could’ve heard,” Briscoe posted on Instagram on Wednesday.

Still, Briscoe was in the lineup for the series’ first action since March 7 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and used two strong restarts and a quick pit stop to finish on top. He got the lead out of the pits during the final caution, then pulled away from Kyle Busch and Justin Allgaier on the subsequent restart with seven laps to go for his fourth career win and second this season.

“This is the biggest day of my life after the toughest day of my life,” Briscoe said.

Busch seemed to have the race in hand as he took the second stage in a dominant showing. But he was called for speeding in the pits and ordered to the back of the 39-car field.

But Busch was there to challenge Briscoe at the end, the cars touching off the final turn before Briscoe crossed the finish line in front by 0.08 seconds.

Allgaier was third, Austin Cindric fourth and Noah Gragson, the pole sitter who won the first stage, was fifth.

For Busch, it was another error that cost him a win at Darlington. In the NASCAR Cup Series race Wednesday night, he clipped Chase Elliott late to cause a spin — Elliott waited and extended his middle finger at Busch — and finished second to Joe Gibbs teammate Denny Hamlin.

Busch was satisfied with his run. “I had a good showing, put on a little bit of an exciting show there at the end,” he said.

Busch and Timmy Hill were in all three Darlington races. The two plan to run all four races at Charlotte, too.

After the delay Tuesday because of rain, more storms delayed the planned noon start for another 4½ hours.

NASCAR’s Cup Series had a successful return at Darlington with two races.

Kevin Harvick earned his 50th Cup win when he took Sunday’s race, the first for the series in 10 weeks, while Hamlin won a rain-shortened race Wednesday night, the first time the series ran on that day since 1984.

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England women: India & South Africa tri-series an option – Clare Connor

England’s women could host a tri-series featuring India and South Africa later this summer, according to director of cricket Clare Connor.

India’s tour, scheduled for June and July, was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, while South Africa are due to travel in September.

“We’re optimistic of holding at least one series,” Connor told BBC Sport.

“It could be that we play the two series concurrently and look at a tri-series. Everything is possible.”

England’s men began training this week and the women are planning a return on about 22 June.

  • When will cricket return – and what will it look like?
  • Awkward car rides and hiding a World Cup medal – Cross and Hartley on life on the sidelines

A revamped men’s schedule, involving games behind closed doors, is due to be released by the end of May, with Connor explaining that women’s fixtures have been involved in the discussions around holding fixtures in a ‘bio-secure’ environment.

“We need to get a lot of men’s Test cricket played. We are completely integrated in those conversations around medical provisions, logistics, how venues and hotels would work, what the procedures would be,” said the former England captain.

“We’re keeping all scenarios open. It could be India first, followed by South Africa. It could be both at the same time. One thing we don’t know for definite is if those teams want to come and will feel safe in coming.”

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‘Staggering and humbling’ response to coronavirus

Connor was speaking as part of the launch of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) ‘Together Through This Test’ campaign, which celebrates the work of more than 200 initiatives at all levels of the game in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The ECB has also established a resource hub on its website, focusing on providing physical and mental health support to the public, delivering resources to children and supporting the recreational game.

“I hope this shows the game in its best possible light,” said Connor.

“It’s been remarkable to see the number of initiatives going on, ranging from taking food to vulnerable people, helping the home-schooling of children, and things to lift morale. It’s been staggering and humbling.

“We recognise we are in this for the long haul, and the game wants to support its participants and members.”

Kent is one of the 18 first-class teams to have offered its ground to the NHS, while the county’s players, staff and coaches joined with local clubs for the ‘Rainbow Run’ to raise funds for coronavirus appeals.

“The game has come together,” said Kent chief executive Simon Storey. “We are all conscious of the responsibility we carry as Britain’s summer sport.

“It’s so important to be ready to return when we can do so because it is so crucial to the financial sustainability of the game.”

All cricket in the UK is suspended until at least 1 July, with international fixtures set to be held first when the game does resume.

The ECB has said it is hopeful of staging domestic first-class and limited-overs cricket later in the summer.

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England's bowlers begin socially distant training

England’s bowlers begin socially distant training in preparation for cricket’s return with players made to retrieve their own balls, told not to shine them with saliva and ordered to turn up in full kit

  • England players have officially begun training for their West Indies Test series  
  • Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes were among those invited to start preparations 
  • Broad documented his first day back at training on his Instagram account  

Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes were amongst those booked in for individualised training sessions on Thursday as England’s players officially began their preparation for July’s Test series versus West Indies.

Under the guidelines set out by the ECB for a safe return to practice, the onus is on individuals to book their own time slots with their appointed physios.

Broad, England’s second most prolific Test bowler behind current new-ball partner James Anderson, was due at Trent Bridge and Woakes at Edgbaston for what was expected to be 45-minute workouts.

Stuart Broad is among the first group of England stars to return to socially distanced training

Pace bowler Broad documented his first day back in training, sharing his session on Instagram

 Broad was one of the first England cricketers to return to practice at Trent Bridge on Thursday

A group of 18 bowlers have been invited to a safe return first ahead of the batsmen and wicketkeepers, who are scheduled to join in from June 1.

This week, players have been advised to take part in up to two sessions, although they have been given grace to start next Monday should they so wish and some like Warwickshire’s Olly Stone might not begin until a later date as they contend injury niggles.

Initial training – which takes place after players turn up at venues in full kit – will incorporate shuttle runs and other aerobic activity with very little focus on bowling.

The balls that individuals do bowl will be delivered alone in a net and are to be retrieved by the players themselves under the Covid-19 protocols which prevent contact with others.

Players have been told to maintain regular washing of hands and a two-metre social distance, clean equipment and mobile phones regularly with disinfectant wipes, and not to impart sweat or saliva on balls even though they have been personally assigned.

Next week, they will step up to a minimum of three, slightly longer sessions. These sessions will see both a coach and a physio in attendance.

Chris Woakes is also part of the group of 18 bowlers invited to train ahead of summer Tests

That should coincide with the ECB announcing its schedule and venues for England’s 2020 summer. The Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford are set to be confirmed as its new behind-closed-doors centres barring any last-minute hitches.

Counties who paid staging fees touching £1million apiece to be hosts on the original 2020 itinerary will then have their deposits returned soon afterwards. They will retain all money from ticket sales until the ECB reclaim it via their insurance at a later date.

Sportsmail understands that all newly-arranged fixtures will be ‘cost neutral’ meaning that hosts will neither make or lose money from them. 

A staging handout of around £100,000 will cover any administrative expenses incurred by Hampshire and Lancashire, the clubs in question. However, there is likely to be a healthy profit in the fees paid for exclusive use of the two site’s hotels – an essential component of the bio-secure cricket the ECB are committed to delivering.

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Rohit Sharma in awe of Ricky Ponting

Indian cricket star Rohit Sharma has hailed Ricky Ponting’s leadership qualities, saying he’s “from a different planet” when it comes to getting the best out of his players.

Ponting and Sharma played together in the Indian Premier League (IPL) for the Mumbai Indians when the former Australian captain was picked up by the franchise in 2013. The batting legend later went from captain to coach, handing the baton to Sharma, who learnt a lot from his predecessor about the finer arts of captaincy.

Ponting’s feel for the game has long been admired, even more so in retirement as he’s established himself as one of cricket’s most astute commentators with his ability to read the play and predict events on the field before they even happen.

You only have to watch recently released Amazon documentary The Test to see how revered Ponting is among current-day Australian players, who listen to his every word and praised him for his influence as an assistant to coach Justin Langer during last year’s World Cup.

Speaking in a video to Indian teammate Ravichandran Ashwin, Sharma echoed those thoughts, saying witnessing Ponting’s approach to captaincy up close helped him appreciate the Aussie’s true greatness.

“He was the first one to arrive in India (for the 2013 IPL), much before any other domestic player,” Sharma said. “You can imagine his passion, you can imagine his energy. He wanted to feel the team, he wanted to come in and understand each and everybody.

“He was the one who called the shots and he said, ‘I want to have a team bonding session with all of them’. Ponting was in my group and there were two youngsters from domestic cricket. Now Ponting is telling them, ‘I’ve watched your video, you look solid, you can go way up’.

“Imagine what the youngster will be feeling. That was him (Ponting).”

Ponting is still having a major impact in cricket circles years after retiring.Source:Getty Images

In the twilight of his career, having already retired from international cricket at this point, Ponting was struggling for runs in the IPL and put his faith in Sharma to take over from him as he gave the game away for good that year.

“He was always there to help me, he always stood in front if there were any issues,” Sharma said.

“Over the years … three years I worked with him, I just feel he’s a guy from a different planet when it comes to motivating players, understanding what that player has in him and bringing the best out of that player. He’s the best in that.

“The judgment of all these characters, he’s so good at it.”

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