The briefing July 31, 2017

The Mithali betrayal and other stories

It's been a month in which Kohli gained an elder buddy, Mithali's reading matter flattered to deceive, and England declared a new era (again)

Virat Kohli next to his mentor, friend and elder buddy © AFP

The coach-captain bond
Following the deterioration of Virat Kohli's relationship with Anil Kumble, India went looking for a new head coach. After a weeks-long search, they finally appointed a coach with the boldness, courage and audacity to agree with everything that Kohli says.

The team is currently on tour in Sri Lanka, and there are excellent signs that new appointment Ravi Shastri is getting on famously with the captain. Early reports from the team hotel suggest Shastri not only now loves exercising, drinking kale smoothies, eating Japanese food, and making viral videos of himself doing the weightlifting "snatch", but has also grown a stylish beard and has taken to telling new people how he was born to a Punjabi family in Delhi in 1988.

The job description
All this after an official BCCI statement laid out exactly what India were looking for from a new head coach. They were after someone who is "a mentor […] a friend, and an elder buddy," the statement said. Duties would include a focus on harmony, and also "motivating and guiding". The same qualities, it turns out, that are sought after by parents when deciding suitable sleepover partners for their children.

The happy accident
While it may now seem difficult to imagine a time before Australia's cricketers were involved in a pay dispute with their board, the standoff has apparently only been going for a few months. And there does finally appear to be a resolution in the works. However, this may arrive only after a lengthy arbitration process, which in turn means there is a good chance Australia will miss the tour to Bangladesh that is scheduled to begin on August 18.

"There's nothing we'd love more than to tour Bangladesh. Honest!" © Associated Press

Now, let's not be cynical. I think we can be sure that Australia's cricketers are dying to play in Bangladesh - not having been there for Tests since 2005. They will take their commitment to the game in all parts of the globe incredibly seriously. The fact that they have a horrendous recent Test record in Asia probably has zero bearing on the pace of their pay-dispute proceedings. The fact this dispute may nix a tour on which they could lose a Test to Bangladesh for the first time ever has to be a complete, unqualified coincidence.

The one-friend wonder
Not content with having had a long-standing blood feud with the BCCI, the PCB has lately taken to blitzing its relationship with their other Full-Member neighbours, to the extent that they now have only a single remaining ally in South Asia. In recent months, the PCB has been petulant at the BCB for justifiably refusing to tour Pakistan because of security concerns. It is telling, too, by the way, that Pakistan have only invited Bangladesh to their own country, and not to the UAE, where they have hosted each of the other top nine Test sides.

This month, the détente that had existed between the PCB and the Afghanistan Cricket Board was also set afire. The ACB cancelled the T20 friendlies that were scheduled to be played in each country in the wake of a horrific Kabul bomb blast, and later said that no agreement could be "valid in a country where terrorists are housed and provided a safe haven". The PCB has since demanded an apology for that statement, which does not appear to be forthcoming.

Thankfully for the PCB, their only friendship in the region has deep roots. SLC has been close with the PCB ever since Pakistan's public and cricket establishment overwhelmingly favoured Sri Lanka in the 1996 World Cup final in Lahore. And it is a relationship that has withstood much calamity, such as the 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team, and Ahmed Shehzad's religious sermons.

The moment when Mithali Raj raised our hopes © ICC

The betrayal
No side had as much effect on cricketing fandom this month as India's women, who, in a sensational run to the final, woke a nation up to women's cricket. Although Mithali Raj led her side with courage and vision, she did, nevertheless, produce one of July's major letdowns. Early in the tournament she endeared herself to the cricket world's book nerds by reading a copy of Essential Rumi as she waited to bat. Wonderful. What would she read next? The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, perhaps? Tagore's Gitanjali? Or maybe, given the setting, William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience? But then later in the tournament, she was seen carrying a copy of a book written by Nasser Hussain, and the love affair turned to crap.

The new new name
No team does buzzwords and relaunches like England. Just in this decade, we have had "daddy hundreds", "bowling dry", "new England", "McCullumisation", and "no-fear cricket". For the distant observer, it is difficult to keep track of which term is in current usage, and which goes with which coach, captain or managing director. England, at times, seem like the big buffalo whose ownership is impossible to discern, because every farmer in the village has branded it.

Now, with the installation of a new captain, a fresh catchphrase has taken grip. "The Root Era", they call it. Teams like Pakistan used to change captains at the same rate most people did their underwear. When the England team gets a new leader, it is like some great dictator has been overthrown, statues have been brought down, and people have flooded the streets holding candles and weeping for joy.

The birds of a feather
"Maybe they can give us some advice," said Faf du Plessis of South Africa women, who had gained entry to the World Cup semi-final. It was not to be. Having perhaps been the standout bowler of the tournament, legspinner and captain Dane van Niekerk went wicketless in the semi-final (though she did produce an excellent run-out), and her team fell short in a thriller.

© AFP

England had been in control during large parts of the match, so this was only a minor choke from South Africa's women, really. With the right investment and development, perhaps future generations of South African women may one day be able to dream of choking as hard and as often as the men.

The horror show
Sri Lankan cricket has basically been a large public-display bonfire this month, the team having lost an ODI series to Zimbabwe, then almost losing a Test to the same opposition, before the mega-hiding in Galle at the hands of India. There has also been a captaincy resignation, several administrative blunders (though this is true of every month), a case of pneumonia, a shattered thumb, and in Hambantota, ground staff were stripped of the trousers they were wearing.

Amid all this, the nation's greatest Test batsman and best ever captain have been trading public blows. Arjuna Ranatunga suggested on national television that the 2011 World Cup final was suspicious, and perhaps a match-fixing inquiry should be launched. In response, Kumar Sangakkara - who had captained that side - said the decision to send Sri Lanka's team on the ill-fated Pakistan tour in 2009 should also be probed (Ranatunga was head of SLC at the time).

The best line in the saga went to current SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala (who is also publicly at war with Ranatunga, but that is a whole other fiasco), who despite the month his board had had, said with a straight face, that former Sri Lanka captains should stop "tarnishing Sri Lanka Cricket's good name".

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

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