Australia's chief selector George Bailey has confirmed Marcus Harris will open in the first Ashes Test against England at the Gabba.

Harris only averages 23.77 from 19 Test innings, with the second of his two half-centuries coming against India in January 2019 after scoring his first in the same series.

The 29-year-old staked a strong claim by making a 19th first-class hundred for Victoria against New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield last month.

Bailey says Harris deserves his chance to open along with David Warner in the opening Test against England in Brisbane, which starts on December 8.

"It gives you great confidence as a selector when you know your opening batters are locked away as far as a Test series go," Bailey told RSN radio.

"It's a hard spot to bat and to get those places settle, it's really important. Harry's only had a limited opportunity in the past, and he's been in and out a bit, so we'd love nothing more than for him to hopefully to get an opportunity to get an extended run at it.

"What we have liked is his consistency. He's obviously been a prolific run-scorer at domestic level here, but also love the fact he went overseas and had a great year for Leicester as well."

Will Pucovski would have been a rival for Harris at the top of the order, but suffered another concussion setback.

Australia will tour Pakistan for the first time in 24 years, it was announced on Monday.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) confirmed details of a month-long tour in March and April 2022 comprising three Test matches, three ODIs and one T20I.

The Tests will be held in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Lahore in March, with the latter also hosting the white-ball matches.

While the Tests will form part of the ICC World Test Championship, the one-day matches will be linked to the ICC Cricket World Cup Super League, a 13-team event from which seven qualifiers and host nation India will progress to the final tournament in 2023.

Speaking of Australia's first visit since 1998, PCB chairman Ramiz Raja said: "I am delighted to welcome Australia to Pakistan. From a personal point of view, it pleases me no end that we'll be engaged in a three-Test match series, connoisseurs delight.

"Australia are one of the high-performing sides and them playing in our backyard for the first time after a gap of 24 years will be a special treat for the fans.

"Likewise, it will be a great opportunity for the Australia cricketers to not only play at our iconic venues but also feel and enjoy the respect, love and hospitality that this great country offers, something which most of their previous generation of cricketers missed out by playing offshore."

Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley: "Cricket Australia is excited about the prospect of touring Pakistan next year for what will be a highly anticipated series in a country so incredibly passionate about the game and their national team.

"Pakistan is a formidable opposition with an exceptionally talented team, as evidenced by their dynamic performances in the current ICC Men's T20 World Cup in the UAE.

"We thank the PCB for their considerable efforts in planning for the tour and look forward to continuing to work closely over the coming months to finalise the necessary operations, logistics, security and Covid-19 protocols.

"The safety and welfare of our players and staff remains our number one priority, and we will continue to work with the PCB and relevant agencies to ensure that appropriate and sufficient arrangements are put in place for the tour."

Australia won the series 1-0 in their previous tour of Pakistan, which was their first since Richie Benaud's side won 2-0 in 1959-60.

The previous four series between the countries have been held offshore, most recently in 2018-19, when Pakistan won 1-0 in the United Arab Emirates.

Rory Burns says Ben Stokes' return to the England Test squad in time for the Ashes tour of Australia has provided "a massive boost".

Stokes was initially omitted from the squad for the away series as he recovered from a second operation on a broken finger and took a break from cricket to protect his mental wellbeing.

But the all-rounder gave Joe Root's side a huge lift last week by declaring he was ready to make his comeback, and he flew out to Australia on Thursday.

He will be available, barring any fitness issues, for the first Test at The Gabba on December 8.

 

Stokes was a star of the previous Ashes series in 2019, albeit his heroics in a famous Headingley Test did not prove enough for England to reclaim the urn.

And Burns explained the confidence boost Stokes' timely return has provided.

"It's obviously a massive boost, you know. To get Stokesy back in the side and back in the squad and back around things is obviously a massive boost for us," the opener told reporters.

"We all know what a good player he is. I don't really have to tell you about that. To get a bloke of his calibre and background back in our group is obviously a massive lift for us."

Stokes' return may have come as a surprise to some, but not Burns, who said: "I wasn't actually that surprised. I kind of felt like something was bubbling away.

"So, it was nice when I saw it announced. Because it is exciting and we want to get out there and have the best side possible, and obviously Ben adds to that in a massive way."

Burns impressed in the 2019 series, scoring 133 in the first innings of his Ashes debut before going on to record two more half-centuries (53 and 81).

"I think, from a personal standpoint, I played quite nicely in my only Ashes series to date," Burns continued.

"That was in my home conditions and those sort of things; we are probably going to get some different conditions out here in Australia. There is confidence there but also, at the same time, it's just taking what's in front of you every step of the way."

Rahul Dravid will replace Ravi Shastri as India head coach after the T20 World Cup.

Shastri's reign will come to an end following the tournament in the United Arab Emirates and the Board of Control for Cricket in India last month invited applications for the post.

Legendary former India batter Dravid was expected to succeed Shastri and his appointment was confirmed while India were playing Afghanistan in a crucial World Cup match on Wednesday.

Dravid, 48, will start his tenure with a home T20I series versus New Zealand this month followed by two Tests against the Black Caps.

Shastri took over as head coach of his country for a second time in 2017 and helped guide India to the top of the Test rankings and an inaugural World Test Championship against New Zealand, which the Black Caps won this year.

Dravid said: "It is an absolute honour to be appointed as the new head coach of the Indian Cricket Team and I am really looking forward to this role.

"Under Mr Shastri, the team has done very well, and I hope to work with the team to take this forward. Having worked closely with most of the boys either at NCA, U19 and India A setup, I know they have the passion and desire to improve every day.

"There are some marquee multi-team events in the next two years, and I look forward to working with the players and the support staff to achieve our potential."

Sourav Ganguly, president of the BCCI, said: "The BCCI welcomes Rahul Dravid as the head coach of India's senior men team.

"Rahul has had an illustrious playing career and is one of the greats of the game. He has also served Indian cricket as head of National Cricket Academy (NCA) with distinction. Rahul’s effort at the NCA has nurtured several young cricketing talents who have gone on to represent the country at the international stage.

"I am hopeful that his new stint will take Indian cricket to new heights."

Ben Stokes is relishing the prospect of making his return in "the pinnacle of Test cricket" when England do battle with Australia in the Ashes.

Stokes was initially omitted from the squad for the series Down Under as he recovered from a second operation on a broken finger and took a break to protect his mental wellbeing.

The all-rounder then gave Joe Root's side a huge lift last week by declaring he was ready to make his comeback.

Stokes will fly out to Australia with the Test and Lions squad on Thursday and is raring to go ahead of the first Test at the Gabba on December 8.

"I just took it day by day, step by step. I had fantastic support around me to help me through that, and I'm just excited to get out there," Stokes told Sky Sports.

"I had a lot of scar tissue build-up around my joint and my tendons so he [the surgeon] removed all that, which thankfully allowed me to actually get some movement and took away the frustration in terms of pain as well.

"I'm glad to come out the other side of that. I think it's important for anyone [to take a step back]. Whether it be a job or their day-to-day life, it's important for everyone."

 

Stokes believes England have a good chance of regaining the urn, with the onus not only on proven world-class players such as himself to perform.

"One player doesn't make a team, and although I know I'm a senior member of that team over the last few years, every member of that team is just as important as each other," he added.

"We have got a huge amount of experience in our squad, although we've got some young guys who are still learning their way in Test cricket.

"We've got the likes of Jimmy [Anderson], Broady [Stuart Broad] who have obviously been there, done that. Rooty - fantastic leader and England's greatest-ever batter, so we've got everything to come back at Australia with what they've got.

"You are playing at the highest level possible and the Ashes - for an Englishman in Australia, that is the pinnacle of Test cricket. It is the only series that is almost like a World Cup, because they are such rivals."

Ben Stokes has been added to the England squad for the Ashes tour of Australia.

The Durham all-rounder was omitted from the original selection as he continued his recovery from a second operation on a broken finger.

Stokes, who sustained the injury while playing in the Indian Premier League in April, announced in July he was taking a break from cricket to protect his mental wellbeing and allow his finger to recover.

Having been given the all-clear by the medical team of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), the 30-year-old will depart for Australia with the Test and Lions squad on November 4.

"I had a break to prioritise my mental wellbeing and I got my finger sorted," Stokes said.

"I am looking forward to seeing my mates and being on the field with them. I'm ready for Australia."

 

Ashley Giles, managing director of England Men's Cricket, said: "Following a very successful operation on his finger and several conversations over the last few weeks between Ben and I, our medical staff and his management team, Ben called me to say he was ready to return to cricket and was excited about the prospect of playing a significant role in the Ashes series.

"Time and time again, Ben has demonstrated how important he is to the England team and having him available for the Ashes series is excellent news for all of us and, in particular, [coach] Chris [Silverwood], Joe [Root] and the rest of the players.

"Having not played for some time, we will move forward cautiously over the next few weeks to ensure he is fully prepared across all facets of his game.

"Ahead of a very busy period of cricket, we continue to remain mindful of the stresses on all our personnel, and our primary focus continues to be the wellbeing of all of our players and support staff."

The Ashes begins at The Gabba on December 8 and concludes a month later at Optus Stadium in Perth.

England are looking to regain the urn after it was retained by Australia following a 2-2 series draw in 2019.

The Cricket West Indies (CWI) Selection Panel announced the squads for the upcoming Best v Best men’s red-ball matches.

The panel named 24 players for two three-day fixtures, which will be played at the Coolidge Cricket Ground on October 27-29 and November 1-3. The two teams will be led by Kraigg Brathwaite and Jermaine Blackwood.

The players will use these matches as preparations ahead of West Indies’ forthcoming tour to Sri Lanka for two Test matches following the ICC T20 World Cup. The team will depart from Antigua on November 6 and the tour will run until December 4. The full tour squad and schedule will be announced at a later date. The series is the second of six series, three at home and three away, that West Indies will play in the 2021-2023 ICC World Test Championship after drawing the first Betway Test Series against Pakistan in August.

 “These Best v Best matches are a critical part of the Test team’s preparation for the series in Sri Lanka. For a number of players, it will be the only serious red ball cricket they will have since the Betway Test series against Pakistan and prior to going on this tour. So, it helps to get them back into the groove of the red-ball format and gives the Selection Panel an indication of the players’ readiness for the tour,” said Lead Selector Roger Harper.

SQUAD A: Kraigg Brathwaite (Captain), Shamarh Brooks, Rahkeem Cornwall, Joshua Da Silva, Shannon Gabriel, Shai Hope, Kyle Mayers, Veerasammy Permaul, Jayden Seales, Preston McSween, Nial Smith and Jeremy Solozano.

 SQUAD B: Jermaine Blackwood (Captain), Nkrumah Bonner, Jahmar Hamilton, Chemar Holder, Kavem Hodge, Alzarri Joseph, Imran Khan, Shayne Moseley, Kieran Powell, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach and Jomel Warrican.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is hopeful a crowd of at least 80,000 will be able to attend the Boxing Day Ashes Test at the MCG.

Melbourne residents this week celebrated coming out of a sixth lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

No city in the world has been locked down more than Melbourne, but further easing of restrictions have been mapped out by the Victorian government.

There is optimism that there will be a huge attendance when Australia do battle with England in the third Test in two months' time, provided vaccination rates continue to increase.

Andrews said on Sunday: "I want to see 80,000 plus people at the Boxing Day Test on day one, that's what I want to see.

"We are determined to deliver that. It won't be easy. I think selling the tickets will be pretty easy."

A crowd of 78,113 for the Anzac Day AFL match last April was the biggest at the MCG, which can hold in excess of 100,000 people, since the start of the pandemic.

England and India will complete their interrupted Test series in July 2022, but Old Trafford will not stage the fifth match between the teams.

Concern over a rising number of cases of COVID-19 in the India camp caused the match to be called off on September 10.

Rather than being staged at Lancashire's home ground, however, the fixture has been switched to be played at Edgbaston in Birmingham.

The England and Wales Cricket Board said in a statement: "The match, which was due to take place last month at Emirates Old Trafford, was called off when India were unable to field a team due to fears of a further increase in the number of COVID-19 cases inside the camp.

"With India leading the series 2-1, the concluding fifth match will now take place from July 1, 2022, at Edgbaston, following an agreement between the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)."

The ECB cited "complexities in the schedule" that meant Old Trafford could not host the rescheduled match, pointing to "clashes with pre-planned events at the venue, which will leave insufficient time to prepare a Test pitch".

Those events have not been specified; however, rock band Foo Fighters are due to play a concert at the cricket stadium on June 25.

Old Trafford will still get a Test match next year, with the second match of England's series against South Africa being switched from Edgbaston to the Manchester venue, with that match due to start on August 25.

The start of the planned T20I and ODI series between England and India has been set back by six days due to the Test being planted in the diary, and the T20I games will get under way on July 7 at the Ageas Bowl.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said of the fixture shake-up: "We are very pleased that we have reached an agreement with BCCI to creating a fitting end to what has been a brilliant series so far."

BCCI honorary secretary Mr Jay Shah said: "I am delighted that the England-India Test series will now have its rightful conclusion. The four Test matches were riveting, and we needed a fitting finale."

Australia spinner Nathan Lyon is expecting Ben Stokes to earn a late Ashes call-up and says he is eager to come up against England's star all-rounder.

Stokes missed England's home contests against India earlier in 2021 after announcing in July he was taking time off for his mental wellbeing and to allow a broken index finger to recover.

A second operation on that injury earlier this month preceded Stokes being left out of an initial 17-man squad for the five-Test Ashes series, which begins on December 8 in Brisbane, though he has since posted footage of him batting and bowling 

While a continued omission for Stokes, who is also not with England for the T20 World Cup, would obviously be a boost for Australia, Lyon remains hopeful he will go head-to-head with one of the best in the game.

"I'm expecting him to come. I'm expecting Stokes to be out here and, to be honest, I hope he is," Lyon told reporters at the Hurtsville Oval in Sydney, where the NSW Blues were playing an intra-squad practice match.

"You want to play against the best players in the world and Stokesy is the best all-rounder in the world. 

"He's an X-factor and he's a game-changer, and you want to play against these players, so I'm expecting Stokes to be here."

 

Stokes has 4631 runs in 71 Tests and a batting average of 37.04. With the ball, he has 163 wickets at an average of 31.38.

His absence would be a blow to an England batting line-up many feel is lacking in quality depth.

That is not an opinion shared by Lyon, though, who says he has a few surprises up his sleeve for Australia's greatest cricketing enemy.

"I've always got a couple of mystery balls," he said. "That's been the beauty about this pre-season, it's been my first ever proper pre-season. 

"I've been able to do a lot of fitness work and a lot of skills work. I've already started looking at a couple of England's batters, so that's exciting.

"They've got some very talented batters early in their Test careers. Look at Ollie Pope's last red-ball game. He got a pretty big double-hundred. 

"It's going to be a different challenge for these guys, coming out to Australia and we want that."

Australia fast bowler James Pattinson has retired from international cricket less than two months before the start of the Ashes.

The 31-year-old's start to the season has been delayed by COVID-19 lockdowns and an injury and the quick has decided to call time on representing his country.

Pattinson played for Australia 40 times and had been expected to add to his 21 Test appearances in the upcoming series against England, which is due to start at The Gabba on December 8.

"Leading into pre-season I really wanted to give the Ashes a crack but in the end, I haven't had the preparation I would have liked heading into the coming season," Pattinson said in a statement.

"If I was to be part of the Ashes I would need to do myself and my team-mates justice. I didn't want to be in a position of battling with my body when you need to be 100 per cent fit and ready to go at any time. That would not be fair to myself or the team.

"It was then I felt that instead of trying to play at the very highest level, knowing I have only got three or four years of cricket left, I would focus more on Victoria, helping the young guys develop, perhaps some cricket in England and spending more time with my family."

Pattinson made his Test comeback against England in 2019 following three-and-a-half years out of the side, having undergone surgery on a serious back injury.

He claimed 81 Test wickets at an average of 26.33, picking up four five-wicket hauls.

England's players are "desperate" to travel to Australia for the Ashes after the five-match series was conditionally approved by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), says all-rounder Chris Woakes.

The ECB confirmed on Friday that the tour – due to start at The Gabba on December 8 – would go ahead "subject to several critical conditions" being met regarding travel, quarantine and 'bubble' arrangements.

Captain Joe Root and deputy Jos Buttler are among the players that had previously stated they were not ready to commit to the series due to uncertainty over COVID-19 restrictions.

But while still holding some reservations concerning the logistical side of the tour, Woakes is looking forward to travelling to Australia after being named in England's 17-man group on Sunday.

"There is no player that does not want to be part of the Ashes," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Behind the scenes there are still things being ironed out between all sorts of levels. I think the players are relatively relaxed and the guys are desperate to go.

"But we want to be under the best sort of conditions possible so we can still live our lives outside of cricket."

 

Woakes, who has made 39 Test appearances for England, is one of five players to have been named in both the Ashes and T20 World Cup squads.

While the focus is largely on the showdown with Australia, Woakes will not let that influence his preparations for the World Cup, which begins later this week.
 
"It's exciting that there is an Ashes series around the corner, but there is a small thing of the World Cup first, so obviously I have my eyes firmly on that," he told reporters.

"We have a T20 World Cup to focus on and prep for and as soon as that is done and dusted our attention will shift. 

"We have no choice – you don't want to get to the end of a World Cup and think 'I wasn’t fully engaged'.

"We have to give this our full attention – what is going on with the Ashes is on the back burner and with the people who are making the decisions, kind of dealing with that on our behalf. You can't get too fixated on that.

"It is important we focus on the here and now. It is a great opportunity to win some silverware for your country. The Ashes stuff will have to be parked."

Ben Stokes was not included in the England squad for the Ashes tour of Australia.

The all-rounder was expected to be left out of the 17-man group after having a second operation on his broken index finger.

Stokes, who sustained the injury while playing in the Indian Premier League in April, announced in July he was taking a break from cricket to protect his mental wellbeing and allow his finger to recover.

Sam Curran, who was diagnosed with a stress fracture to his lower back in the past week, was also omitted from head coach Chris Silverwood's squad for the five-match series in Australia, which starts on December 8 in Brisbane.

Fast bowlers Jofra Archer and Olly Stone remain absent as they recover from injuries, but Stuart Broad is selected after suffering a torn calf muscle during England's home Test series with India in July.

Joe Root will be captain and Jos Buttler vice-captain of a side consisting entirely of players previously capped at Test level.

 

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) only confirmed on Friday that the tour would be going ahead amid possible concerns around coronavirus restrictions in Australia.

While "several critical conditions" must still be met for the Ashes to proceed, the ECB said "positive discussions" were ongoing and that "it is hoped matters will be resolved in due course".

Silverwood said he was "delighted that all of our available players have committed to the tour" despite the likes of Root and Buttler previously expressing doubts.

"A tour of Australia is the pinnacle as an England Test cricketer," he said.

"This is why we play and coach to be involved in iconic series like this. More than half of our squad haven't featured in an Ashes tour before, which means we will be fresh and looking to embrace the cricket and the excitement of touring one of the best places in the world.

"I believe we have selected a well-balanced squad with options in all areas and a blend of youth and experience. There is real competition for places and a genuine desire to work hard and compete, aiming to create some history."

England are looking to regain the urn after it was retained by Australia following a 2-2 series draw in 2019.

England squad for the Ashes:

Joe Root (captain), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler (wicketkeeper), Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has conditionally approved for The Ashes tour to go ahead in Australia.

England captain Joe Root and his deputy Jos Buttler are among the players who stated they were not ready to commit to the five-match series due to uncertainty over coronavirus restrictions.

Bubble fatigue and quarantine periods for the players' families are issues that have been raised, leading to doubts over whether the five-match Test series – due to start at The Gabba on December 8 – will go ahead.

The ECB on Friday confirmed England will tour Australia, providing "several critical conditions" are met before they board the plane.

"Over recent weeks we have made excellent progress in moving forward on the England men's Ashes Tour," an ECB statement said.

"To facilitate further progress and allow a squad to be selected, The ECB Board has met today and given its approval for the tour to go ahead.

"This decision is subject to several critical conditions being met before we travel.

"We look forward to the ongoing assistance from Cricket Australia in resolving these matters in the coming days."

Australia captain Tim Paine earlier stated he expects England to bring a "really strong" side to Australia, with only "one or two" players opting out of the tour.

"I'm hearing a lot of their players will commit," the wicketkeeper told SEN Radio.

"There might be one or two that don't, but I think we'll see a really strong England side come out here."

Australia's prime minister Scott Morrison last month warned England will not benefit from any "special deals" regarding quarantine rules when they arrive in the country.

Paine says he has spoken to the prime minister as Australia wait for confirmation that England will make the long journey to try to regain the urn.

"He was keen to find out what the sticking points might be from a player's perspective," said Paine of his conversations with Morrison.

"I shared a few text messages with him. He loves his cricket."

England players will no longer be awarded separate red and white ball contracts under a new structure that was revealed on Friday.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced the first 20 players who have been awarded a single contract for 2021-22.

A change of structure was introduced following consultation between the ECB, Team England Player Partnership (TEPP) and the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA).

The ECB stated that it was "designed to meet England's future needs in what has become a fluid and dynamic landscape."

Spinner Jack Leach, batsman Dawid Malan and seamer Ollie Robinson receive central contracts for the first time.

Dom Sibley has lost his central contract after the opener was dropped during the home Test series against India.

All-rounder Liam Livingstone is awarded an increment contract along with seamer Tom Curran, who is among the players to have a white-ball contract for 2020-21.

Dom Bess and Chris Jordan have also been given increment contracts, while Saqib Mahmood, Craig Overton and Olly Stone earned pace bowling development contracts.

Managing director of men's England Cricket, Ashley Giles, said: "I would like to thank TEPP and the players for all their constructive input through the process of developing this new system, which I believe is the fairest and most transparent way of rewarding players across all formats.

"We have worked well to get to this stage and the refinements made will take into account the amount of cricket we will be playing across formats over the next period of the ICC Future Tours Programme.

"Since the inception of central contracts in 2002, the system has facilitated improved preparation, performance and professionalism of the England team and has ensured that players are well rewarded for representing their country at the elite level.

"The international game continues to evolve, and we have to be mindful that we have to lead the way in player performance across cricket's ever-changing landscape. Our objective remains the same to develop world-class players in all three formats as we strive to become the most respected team in the world.

"I would like to congratulate all the players offered agreements for the coming year, particularly newcomers Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, and Ollie Robinson. Receiving your first central contract is a great moment in any player's career. They will all play a pivotal role in England's fortunes over the next 12 months."

 

England men's central contracts:

Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Eoin Morgan, Ollie Pope, Adil Rashid, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

England increment contracts:

Dom Bess, Tom Curran, Chris Jordan, Liam Livingstone.

England pace bowling development contracts:

Saqib Mahmood, Craig Overton, Olly Stone.

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