Matthew Wade has become the second Australian squad member to test positive for COVID-19 this T20 World Cup, in a worrying development just a day out from a crunch clash with England.
Wade follows Adam Zampa, who missed Australia’s win over Sri Lanka on Tuesday after contracting the virus, in isolation, but is reportedly only suffering minor symptoms.
Australia still expects the wicketkeeper to take on England on Friday night at the MCG unless his condition worsens, but with no back-up gloveman in the squad due to Josh Inglis’ bizarre pre-tournament injury on the golf course, his availability could leave the team scrambling to find an alternate option.
Glenn Maxwell was spotted at training taking some wicketkeeping drills, and could be a shock choice to take the gloves should Wade miss and a full-time replacement not be found.
Following Inglis’ withdrawal, captain Aaron Finch hinted that David Warner would be the most likely alternate wicketkeeping option should any misfortune befall Wade; Warner has donned the gloves at Test level as a replacement for Brad Haddin midway through a match against Pakistan in 2014.
World Cup rules enable players to continue to play despite a positive COVID test, but Wade will need to travel to the ground separately to the rest of the team and will not be able to use the same dressing room.
Zampa, meanwhile, is all but confirmed to return to the XI against England, having returned multiple negative COVID tests in recent days.
Concern for Pucovski after taking indefinite leave
Will Pucovski’s future is in doubt again after Australian cricket’s rising star opted to take indefinite leave from the game.
Cricket Victoria confirmed on Thursday that Pucovski had decided to take time away from the game, marking the 24-year-old’s third period of personal leave.
Pucovski had only just returned at the start of this season after suffering from the 11th concussion of his short career.
He initially toured India as part of a cricket academy in August, before scoring a big century for Victoria’s Second XI in September.
The right-hander has played two Sheffield Shield matches since then and was due to turn out for Victoria in Hobart on Saturday before Thursday’s news.
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The latest decision is not believed to be related to any injury. Cricket Victoria said in a statement they would support Pucovski and asked for privacy.
“Player welfare is always our top priority; we’ll continue to work with Will to ensure he gets the support and space he needs and welcome him back when he’s ready,” high-performance manager Graham Manou said.
Widely regarded as one of the country’s best rising talents, Pucovski has played just the one Test against India in January 2021.
He initially took personal leave in October 2018 after announcing himself a rising star with a double-century against Western Australia for Victoria a week earlier.
The young prodigy was then expected to be named in Australia’s squad at the start of the 2019-20 summer, before withdrawing from contention.
Injuries have also not helped his cause.
His debut was then expected to come in late 2020 against India, but he suffered an ugly concussion in a warm-up match at Drummoyne Oval.
When his debut finally came, he hurt his shoulder diving and was ruled out of the remainder of the summer.
There is no timeline on Pucovski’s leave, with women’s star Meg Lanning also currently on her own indefinite break from the sport.
Finch says he and Cummins will bounce back
Australia captain Aaron Finch has written off his painful Twenty20 World Cup knock as an “anomaly” and believes he is the right choice to open.
Regularly under-fire during the past 12 months, the 35-year-old will lead the reigning champions into a must-win battle against England at the MCG on Friday night.
Despite mounting pressure to retain his spot, including from legendary former Australian captain Allan Border who called for Steve Smith to replace him in the XI, Finch is determined to push on.
It comes after the powerful right-hander could barely contain his frustration as he crawled to 31 not out off 42 balls in Australia’s seven-wicket win over Sri Lanka in Perth on Tuesday night.
“I think it was an anomaly in my career, it was just one of those days,” Finch told reporters at the MCG on Thursday.
“I still feel like I’m playing pretty well.
“I still feel confident in my game, 100 per cent.
“I don’t feel anymore pressure than I ever have, the only pressure is the expectation you put on yourself.
“Everyone’s got their opinion, that’s fine. I’ve got no issue with what people’s personal opinions are, I don’t read or listen to any of it.”
Australia’s Test and ODI captain Pat Cummins has also come under criticism for his start to the tournament, with former selector Mark Waugh saying the star quick should be dropped.
But Finch has emphatically backed in the world’s No.1-ranked Test bowler.
“His (Cummins) numbers over the last 18 months have been outstanding in T20 cricket,” Finch said.
“It blows my mind sometimes where people go with selection chat. He’s been unbelievable over all three formats for a long time and the calmness and experience that he brings to a bowling group is invaluable.”
Legspinner Adam Zampa missed the important victory over Sri Lanka after testing positive for COVID-19.
No other players in the Australian camp have contracted the virus and Zampa is in contention to return against England. Zampa’s replacement against Sri Lanka, Ashton Agar, was servicable against the Lions with figures of 1-25 from his four overs.
“(Zampa) was really flat the day before the game and we were going to give him as much time as possible to get up for the game but we just thought it’d be too much, you want to be 100 per cent going into a World Cup game,” Finch said.
The clash between the famous rivals takes on extra significance following England’s shock loss to Ireland on Wednesday night.
Australia were thumped by New Zealand in their opening game, but their prospects of progressing to the semi-finals were enhanced by England’s disastrous stumble.
But Australia simply have to beat England otherwise their title defence on home soil will be over after just three games.
England will enter the match full of confidence having beaten Australia 2-0 in their recent bilateral series and pulled off a resounding victory against Finch’s team in the group stage of last year’s World Cup.
Aussies to honour Warne
Aaron Finch knows Australia’s first match at the MCG since Shane Warne’s death is going to be an emotional affair.
A crowd of more than 80,000 is expected for Australia’s must-win Twenty20 World Cup clash with England on Friday night.
It will be the first time an Australian team has set foot on the famous Victorian arena since Warne’s shock death in March and the Great Southern Stand at the ground was renamed in honour of the cricketing icon.
Warne’s memorial service, attended by more than 50,000 people, was even held at the MCG, the venue where he took an Ashes hat-trick and claimed his 700th Test wicket.
“It will be tough,” Finch, Australia’s T20 captain, said on Thursday.
“(He’s) someone who had such an impact on so many guys with us growing up, him being our idol, knowing him personally and being a Victorian.
“Coming to the ‘G so many times and watching him do his thing and perform unbelievably well is really special.
“It will be difficult, but I hope everyone can celebrate it as well.”
Warne’s larger-than-life presence would have been on full display at the first T20 World Cup to be held in Australia.
The legendary legspinner’s legacy extended all across the world, with his passing mourned in every cricket-loving nation.
India legend Ravi Shastri, who is in Australia to commentate on the tournament, will deeply miss Warne’s exuberant personality in the media area.
“His influence on the game worldwide is phenomenal,” Shastri told AAP last week.
“It really touched the hearts of a lot of Indians when he passed away.
“I know if he was around the banter would have been unbelievable.
“You feel sad because he was a mate, he was a good mate of mine, so it does hurt.”
It has been a painful year for Australian cricket, with influential wicketkeeper Rod Marsh passing away only hours before Warne after being placed in an induced coma following a heart attack.
In May, former Australia allrounder Andrew Symonds was tragically killed, aged 46, after a car accident near Townsville.
David keen to cut down Wood
Australia will adopt a no-fear approach when they attempt to keep their T20 World Cup title hopes alive against England’s speed demon Mark Wood on Friday night.
Wood regularly clocked more than 150km/h in Saturday’s win over Afghanistan, while Sam Curran snared 5-10 in that same match to register his country’s best ever T20 international bowling figures.
England’s World Cup hopes are on the ropes following Wednesday’s shock five-run loss to Ireland, meaning their pool match against Australia now shapes as an elimination final for both sides.
Wood, who snared 3-34 against Ireland, looms as a key figure at the MCG, but Australia power hitter Tim David isn’t fretting.
“No it’s not fear at all, it’s instinct,” David said of facing up to Wood’s thunderbolts.
“It’s tough to walk out for your first few balls and face someone bowling fast.
“You’ve got to be switched on, and that’s a challenge.”
Spinner Ashton Agar made a welcome return to the Australian line-up in Tuesday night’s seven-wicket win over Sri Lanka after Adam Zampa was struck down by COVID-19.
Zampa is a chance to return against England.
But if he misses a second straight game Australia will have full faith in Agar, who returned the excellent figures of 1-25 off four overs.
Australia’s title hopes will effectively end if they lose to England, but Agar is confident of what the group can achieve.
“We don’t even think about losing games to be honest,” Agar said.
“This team gels so well together, we just think how we’re going to go out there and try to win the game from any situation. It’s a beautiful place to be in as a team. We have great belief in the guys out there in those moments.
“It’s an experienced group who really enjoys the big moments.”
Agar’s participation in the tournament was in some doubt after suffering two side strains in recent months.
The 29-year-old revealed he only started feeling good again a few weeks ago.
“I’ve had a couple of side strains, obviously a bad one in Sri Lanka which was probably the sorest I’ve been out on the cricket field. I couldn’t even run,” Agar said.
“It was a good eight weeks before I was back from that and then I niggled my other side in India as well. When you have sore sides and not a lot of confidence in your body coming back from that, you can fall into bad movement patterns.
“So it was about trying to groove those patterns again.
“I was feeling pretty average up until about two weeks ago and then it all just started to slowly click into gear.”