Pink balls, stress and Stokes

Updated 21 November 2017
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Pink balls, stress and Stokes

LONDON: One of the oldest battles in sport gets underway tomorrow in Brisbane. The Ashes rarely fails to serve up anything short of sporting drama and excitement at its very best. Here are the five things that will shape the series over the next month and a half.
ESCAPING THE ‘GABBATOIR’
The Woolloongabba “Fighting ground” is an Australian cricket citadel. It’s no coincidence that most high-profile series begin there. Australia’s game plan is fairly simple — ambush the opposition at the Gabba and then widen the scars opened up throughout the rest of the series. Lose at the Gabba, as England did by 381 runs in 2013, and you can almost kiss the storied urn goodbye. Only three teams have drawn a Test at the venue in the past 15 years. England (2010) and South Africa (2012) went on to win the series. India (2003) almost did, denied only by Steve Waugh’s last stand. If you discount the win in 1978, when Australia’s finest were playing in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, England have won just once at the Gabba since the days of Sir Donald Bradman. And that was in 1986.
ADELAIDE’S BRIGHT LIGHTS
Once, the picturesque Oval was where batsmen went with a spring in the step. With the harsh southern sun bleaching the pitch blonde, the surface was invariably full of runs over the first three days. Now, with the redesigned Oval being shared with Aussie rules football and a drop-in pitch being used under floodlights, it’s the bowlers that hold sway. Australia have beaten both New Zealand and South Africa in day-night Tests there, but with the pink ball very amenable to swing, their line-up will face a tough examination against Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. Anderson, in particular, can be unplayable when there’s appreciable movement in the air, or off the pitch. Josh Hazlewood has taken 15 wickets in those two pink-ball Tests though, and England’s batsmen are also unlikely to fancy a trial by swing-and-seam.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
With the exception of the old firm of Anderson and Broad, only three of the English contingent have played in Australia before. Alastair Cook has failed twice, either side of a stellar series in 2010-11 — 766 runs, with three hundreds. Joe Root managed just 192 runs in four Tests in 2013, while Jonny Bairstow’s two outings fetched him only 49 runs. The Australians won’t just be mouthy on the field. The tabloids will have their barrels trained on England, and every slip will be magnified, while the rowdy crowds will not be shy of telling the tourists what they think of them. Many have wilted under the scrutiny. Others, like Virat Kohli and Graeme Smith, used the fear and loathing to motivate themselves. England will soon discover just how many in the squad have the appetite for a scrap.
FITNESS
From the time he made his Test debut, picking up seven wickets and hitting the winning runs at The Wanderers in November 2011, it was obvious that Pat Cummins was a once-in-a-generation talent. Sadly, injuries have kept him to just four Tests since then — two in India and two in Bangladesh earlier this year. He has never taken on a workload anything like as intense as an Ashes series. Mitchell Starc, who made his debut a fortnight after Cummins, has had his share of injury woes too, featuring in only 36 of the 68 matches Australia have played since then. On the other side, Anderson, after years of being the bionic man, has had his share of niggles and serious injury during the past 12 months. Neither side has back-up options of the same quality, so the onus will very much be on the physios and trainers to earn their corn.
BEN STOKES
This week ended his Twitter hiatus to query Matthew Hayden’s description of England’s squad as a “rabble,” but there’s still no clarity on whether he will play any part in the Ashes. When Mitchell Johnson’s searing pace destroyed England in 2013-14, Stokes was one of the few silver linings, scoring a belligerent century and taking 15 wickets. Tom Harrison, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive, has spoken of “rehabilitation,” but first the police must complete their investigation into the case of alleged assault. “We have to get that balance between censure and support absolutely right,” said Harrison. “I think cricket’s response to this will show the value of the game in the best light.” For now, Stokes is hitting the nets in Durham, waiting for his chance to influence one of sport’s oldest feuds.


Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum attempts a layup in front of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the third quarter of game five of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 24 May 2018
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Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

  • Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and the Celtics held LeBron James to two fourth-quarter points.
  • Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary.

BOSTON: LeBron James is tired. The young Boston Celtics seem to be getting stronger.
Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and Boston beat Cleveland 96-83 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
The Celtics held James to two fourth-quarter points, earning their 10th straight victory in Boston to remain perfect at home this postseason and move within one win of their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010.
“I just enjoy playing in the big moments, in the big games. That’s when I have the most fun,” said Tatum, who needs one more 20-point game to tie Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rookie record of 10 in a postseason.
“I can’t say it enough: We’re one win away from being in the finals,” Tatum said. “The playoffs bring the best out of people.”
Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary. The home team has won every game so far in the series, and none has been closer than nine points.
“We’re looking forward to having an opportunity to force a Game 7,” said James, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds but also had six turnovers. “It’s up to us to see if we can come back here for one more.”
Al Horford had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown had 17 points for Boston. Tatum added seven rebounds, four assists and four steals one day after finishing a single vote shy of a unanimous selection to the NBA’s All-Rookie team.
“The sky’s the limit” for Tatum , Brown said. “He’s going to continue to get better. He’s my workout partner. I expect it in myself and I expect it in him.”
Kevin Love scored 14 points for the Cavaliers, who are trying to reach the finals for the fourth consecutive season. James has played to the end in seven straight seasons.
To extend that streak, he’ll need to win two in a row.
One of them will be in Boston.
“Our focus — LeBron’s focus — is to win,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s the only thing that matters.”
The Celtics opened a double-digit lead in the first quarter and nursed it the rest of the way, holding on through a four-minute scoring drought that saw Cleveland score nine straight points to cut the deficit to 83-71. But Terry Rozier hit Horford with an alley-oop to snap the skid, and that was as close as the Cavs would get.
Reserves Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart each scored 13.

FADING STAR
James had one basket on four shots in the fourth quarter, and afterward conceded that he was worn down. He finished 1 for 6 from 3-point range in the game; the Cavaliers made just 9 of 34 attempts from beyond the arc and shot just 42 percent overall.
“I had my moments, but I think everybody at this point is tired, worn down whatever the case may be,” he said. “I was still trying to make plays, put our team in position to win.”

GOONING IT UP
Boston went on a 15-3 run in the first quarter to turn a three-point deficit into a nine-point lead. The Celtics scored nine in a row at the end of the first quarter and into the second to take a 36-19 lead, their biggest of the game.
That’s when the Cavaliers fought back .
After a hard defensive play by Morris sent Larry Nance Jr. into the first row of seats, Morris appeared to wander over and say something. Nance to jump up and body checked him; Morris responded with a one-handed shove to the face.
Aron Baynes and Brown came in to break it up, and Terry Rozier put a body on Nance. After a review, the referees called technicals on Rozier, Nance and Morris. Kyle Korver made the foul shot to make it 36-20 and Cleveland went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to eight points, 36-28.
But Morris made a long 3-pointer to stop the scoring drought, and soon hit another to cap an 8-2 run that made it a double-digit lead.
Smart said the Celtics wanted to more aggressive at home.
“At their place, they were the aggressor,” he said. “That showed and they came up with the victory. We just wanted to be that team tonight.”

TIP-INS
Teams that win Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series win 83 percent of the time. ... James had 16 points, four rebounds and three assists at the half. Tatum had 13 points, and Horford had 10 points and seven boards at the break. ... Baynes made his first start of the series, subbing for Morris. ... It took until midway through the third quarter for a Cavs starter other than James or Love to make a basket. J.R. Smith sank a floater to make it 63-50, and George Hill followed with a jumper of his own. ... The Celtics were 10-0 in the playoffs at home in 1986. ... Horford had his 7th double-double of the postseason, matching a career high he set in 2015.