Australia's new assistant coach Ricky Ponting believes the inclusion of Steve Smith and David Warner will help the nation shrug off a woeful run of form in one-day cricket and transform them into genuine contenders at the World Cup in England.
Smith and Warner's ball-tampering bans expire on March 29 and though the pair are struggling with elbow injuries, former captain Ponting said the presence of Australia's two top batsmen in England would boost their hopes of back-to-back titles.
"India and England are probably the two standout teams right now but if you add Warner and Smith back into that line-up, I think that team looks as strong as any," Ponting told reporters in Melbourne on Sunday.
"With the inclusion of two of the best one-day players in the world and a lot of experience, all of a sudden the team starts looking a lot better.
"I am not just saying that because I am one of the coaches, I actually said it when I wasn’t around the group.
"Conditions in England will suit our style of play ... I think Australia will be the one of the main contenders for sure."
Ponting has replaced Graeme Hick as batting coach on a short-term appointment for the World Cup which starts at the end of May.
Few in Australia would argue Aaron Finch's side could have a better mentor than the 44-year-old Ponting, who played in three of the nation's five World Cup triumphs and led the team to back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2007.
Australia have since slumped to sixth in the world rankings, losing their last six ODI series in succession in a miserable two-year period since defeating Pakistan at home in Jan. 2017.
More pain might be in store for Finch's squad in India this month where they will take on the world number two without first-choice bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
Ponting, who joined local broadcaster Channel 7 as a cricket analyst last year, will not travel with the team in India for the five-match ODI series starting March 2, or for the following warmup series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates due to other commitments.
The UAE tour's dates are yet to be fixed but Smith and Warner's suspensions will rule them out for at least part of the series, leaving them to try to find form in the Indian Premier League which starts on March 23.
Ponting shrugged off Australia's injury worries and the idea of there being risk in rushing Smith and Warner into the team.
"We went to World Cups with Michael Bevan injured, Darren Lehmann suspended, Warney (Shane Warne) went home and Jason Gillespie went home," Ponting said.
"World Cups very rarely run exactly to plan.
"All the planning right now is we will have all those guys in the squad and if we do, it looks as good as any squad on paper."
Pope, Hain steer England to draw against India 'A'
Ollie Pope (63) and Sam Hain (57) stood out on the final day with fighting half-centuries as England Lions drew the first unofficial Test against India 'A' at the Krishnagiri stadium, in Wayanad, on Sunday.
Resuming Day 4 on 20 for no loss, openers Ben Duckett (30) and Max Holden (29) looked positive and brought up the team's 50 in the 12th over.
India 'A' captain Ankit Bawne rotated his bowlers around, in an attempt to break the partnership. However, Duckett and Holden made smooth progress, hitting some crisp shots in the process.
Paceman Avesh Khan got the first breakthrough for the home side, when he had Duckett caught by K L Rahul after the openers had added 82.
Holden went seven overs later, giving Jalaj Saxena, who plays for Kerala in domestic cricket, his first wicket in the second innings.
Hain and 21-year old Pope, a highly rated batsmen who has played two Tests so far, joined forces and defied the India 'A' bowlers for the next couple of hours.
They were willing to play the waiting game and didn't miss out on scoring opportunities.
The 105-run partnership went a long way in ensuring that the visiting team, who were at the receiving end in the One-Day series preceding the 'unofficial Tests', stayed in the game.
The right-handed Pope played some attractive strokes as he picked up 10 fours in his 122-ball knock. Hain was more restrained and his innings lasted 178 balls.
Pope became the first of Shahbaz Nadeem's victims, nicking one to wicketkeeper K S Bharat.
Skipper Sam Billings didn't have a great game, falling for just five to Nadeem,
There was a brief stoppage due to mild showers and on resumption, the Lions lost two wickets before Steven Mullaney (3 from 38 balls) and Will Jacks (13 for 31 balls) knuckled down and denied India 'A'.
The match was called off when England Lions were ahead by 14 runs and teams decided a result was not possible.
India 'A' opener Priyank Panchal, who slammed a double century, was named man of the match.
The second unofficial Test begins in Mysuru on February 13.
Brief scores: England Lions 340 and 214/5 in 83 overs (Ollie Pope 63, Sam Hain 57) drew against India 'A' 540 for 6 dec (Priyank Panchal 206, K S Bharat 142, K L Rahul 89).
Warne named Rajasthan Royals brand ambassador
Australia spin legend Shane Warne was on Sunday named as the brand ambassador of Rajasthan Royals for the upcoming Indian Premier League.
Warne, who led Rajasthan Royals to their first and only IPL title in 2008, was the mentor of the side last season, but this year the Australian will be associated with the team in a new role.
Warne went on to captain Rajasthan Royals for four seasons until 2011, after which he retired from all forms of cricket.
"I'm very happy to be back with the Royals and I'm grateful to the team and the fans for their constant support. It was important for us to retain our established values but at the same time develop a new and modern identity. I am already in love with the new look of the team and hope the fans will love it too," Warne said.
Besides, Rajasthan Royals has also decided to change its jersey colour from blue to pink this year.
"Jaipur is known as the pink city, Jodhpur is famous for pink sandstone and Udaipur produces pink marble. Pink, therefore, is best suited as the official colour of Rajasthan Royals, which will also help the fans identify and celebrate their team," the franchise said in a statement.
Former selector Rathour added to India A, Under-19 support staff
The BCCI is set to appoint former Test opener Vikram Rathour as batting coach of India 'A' and Under-19 team but since he is a relative of Under-19 national selector Ashish Kapoor, the recruitment may lead to a 'conflict of interest' controversy.
It has been learnt that GM (Cricket Operations) Saba Karim got a green light for temporary appointment of Rathour and wicket-keeping coach Vijay Yadav from the Committee of Administrators (CoA) chief Vinod Rai as "additional staff for A and U19 teams".
However Kapoor is Rathour's brother-in-law and as per new BCCI constitution, it could lead to a direct case of conflict of interest.
"India A and U19 coach Rahul Dravid had specifically recommended two names -- Rathour as batting coach and Vijay Yadav as fielding coach as additional staff for A team," a senior BCCI official privy to the development said on condition of anonymity.
"The appointment is on a temporary basis and they will also work with U19 set up during Quadrangular series and also at the NCA. He (Rathour) will also be Rest of India coach in Irani Cup," the official added.
Rathour is supposed to be part of India Under-19 set-up during an upcoming Quadrangular series involving India U19 A and B teams along with colts from South Africa and Afghanistan.
The question being raised is whether GM (Operations) Karim had apprised CoA chief Rai about problems that can arise due to Rathour's appointment even it has been Dravid's recommendation.
While Karim was unavailable for a comment despite being contacted, a senior official did raise a few questions about the process.
"It is not Mr Rai's duty to know who is related to whom. Did Karim intimate him about a potential conflict of interest situation? That's the first question.
"The second question here is whether a due diligence was followed by Karim while appointing Rathour and Yadav? Were proper interviews conducted on basis of advertisement on board''s site?" he further questioned.
"Last and final point is that if he will work on a temporary basis with U19s, and he is also supposed to work at the NCA as batting consultant, so does that mean a separate batting coach (for NCA) will be appointed later."
Rathour, a prolific run getter for Punjab and later Himachal Pradesh in Ranji Trophy, played a handful of Tests in 1996 in England and South Africa.
He was also a national selector till 2016 and during his tenure a couple of inspired selections happened in the senior national team including Punjab's Barinder Sran and Himachal Pradesh's Rishi Dhawan.
A little known left-arm pacer Sran was picked for ODIs in Australia purely on basis of talent with no domestic performance to show for his efforts.
Sran later faded into oblivion and now finds it difficult to get into Punjab first XI.
Dhawan still takes lot of wickets on seamer-friendly Dharamsala tracks but is not considered good enough at the international level.
Windies vs Eng 2nd Test: Antigua pitch rated below average
The Antigua pitch, where West Indies and England played the second Test of the three-match series has been rated as below average.
Consequently, the venue has received one demerit point according to the International Cricket Council (ICC) Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process.
Jeff Crowe of the Emirates ICC Elite Panel of Match Referees, who gave the rating, cited the uneven bounce at the southern main pavilion end as the reason for the rating in his report.
In the revised ICC Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process, which was introduced on 4 January 2018, if a pitch or outfield is rated as being substandard, that venue will be allocated a number of demerit points.
One demerit point will be awarded to venues whose pitches are rated by the match referees as below average, while three and five demerit points will be awarded to venues whose pitches are marked as poor and unfit, respectively.
No demerit point will be awarded when the outfield is rated as below average, but two and five demerit points will be awarded to venues whose outfields are marked as poor and unfit, respectively.
Demerit points will remain active for a rolling five-year period.
When a venue accumulates five demerit points (or crosses that threshold), it will be suspended from hosting any international cricket for a period of 12 months, while a venue will be suspended from staging any international cricket for 24 months when it reaches the threshold of 10 demerit points.