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We have prepared well and are raring to go, says Azhar

We have prepared well and are raring to go, says Azhar

05/08/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 29981232

LAHORE: Pakistan Test captain Azhar Ali on Tuesday said though he has many inexperienced players in the side, they are extremely talented and showing lot of promise and will surely give tough time to England in the three-Test series starting from Wednesday at Old Trafford in Manchester.

While announcing 16 probables for the first Test in a presser held through video-link, Azhar replying to a question regarding unusual playing conditions owing to Covid-19, said: “Despite the challenging Covid-19 situation, all players are excited for the series with a positive frame of mind. The players have taken the situation in their stride and as Muslims are prepared to face it. We love cricket and we are going to play good cricket for which credit goes to both ECB and the PCB for arranging the series under these extraordinary circumstances.”

Speaking about lack of experience among his players, Azhar said: “As a cricketer you have to meet tough challenges. Yes we have some inexperienced bowlers and batsmen in the side, but they have tremendous talent and are proving their mettle. As cricketers you have to look at positive things and our last two series have been very good here in England. So that is the motivating force for us. We will bring further improvement in those performances.

“In batting, we have experienced batsmen like me, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Shan Masood and promising Abid Ali and we will go in with a strategy to give tough time to the opposition,” said Azhar. “And similarly, promising, young fast bowlers like Nasim Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi are improving a lot with every day.”

Azhar, who has played 78 Tests and needs just 81 runs to complete 6,000 runs in Test cricket, has confined himself to Test cricket after retiring from One-day International cricket three years ago.

MANCHESTER: Pakistan captain Azhar Ali speaks during an online media conference at Old Trafford on Tuesday.—PCB
MANCHESTER: Pakistan captain Azhar Ali speaks during an online media conference at Old Trafford on Tuesday.—PCB

“We have done our best preparations for the Test series as the boys put in good hard work, both in Worcester and later in Derby, and now the task ahead is to translate that hard work into the Tests,” he said.

To a question Azhar said that both openers Shan Masood and Abid Ali proved to be the best opening pair in the last home series and they would open in the first Test as well. “Though Imam-ul-Haq, as third available opener, has also been doing a lot of hard work and is improving but at the moment he has to wait in the wings.”

Asked if the experienced coaching staff of the Pakistan team had tried to impose their decisions on him as captain in anyway, Azhar said: “No. I am quite comfortable working with the coaches. They are trying to solve players’ problems by giving good guidelines and coaching.”

Azhar also admitted that his own performance lacked consistency but vowed to do his best to overcome that with good scores in the series.

“My performance has not been consistent and as a top player I am not happy with it. But I am working hard and that should pay off,” said Azharwho has led Pakistan in only five Test matches, with one victory, three defeats and a drawn game under his belt.

“It is an important series and I and Asad Shafiq fully realise that being the most experienced batsmen, we have to perform.”

Azhar observed that the last series between England and the West Indies proved that the role of spinners was quite vital and if Pakistan’s batsmen set a good total on the board, Pakistan had good bowling resources in both spin and fast bowling to defend it.

“Yasir Shah is our match winner and as spinner his role is very important. After watching the playing conditions, we will decide either to go with one or two spinners,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2020
Pakistan hoping to take advantage of England’s sluggish start

Pakistan hoping to take advantage of England’s sluggish start

05/08/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 29981233

MANCHESTER: England know another sluggish start to a Test campaign could prove costly as they go in search of a first series win over Pakistan in a decade.

Wednesday sees an intriguing three-match contest get underway with the first Test at Old Trafford.

And while England can point to recent series victories over most of their rivals, their last such success against Pakistan was back in 2010.

That campaign, however, was overshadowed by a ‘spot-fixing’ scandal at Lord’s which led to bans and jail terms for then Pakistan captain Salman Butt as well as pacemen Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir.

England have lost the first Test in eight of their last 10 series —including during last month’s 2-1 win over the West Indies that marked international cricket’s return from the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown.

Home side will assess whether Stokes is fit to bowl

Both of Pakistan’s past two series in England — 2016 and 2018 — ended in draws, which should encourage the tourists this time even though they go into the first Test on the back of just a couple of intra-squad warm-up fixtures compared to their ‘match-hardened’ hosts.

“We’ve had good preparations and team bonding,” said Pakistan head coach Misbah-ul-Haq.

“Still we feel there is always a slight nervousness when you just play Test cricket after a long, long time [away],” he added ahead of his side’s first Test in six months. “We’re aware that England have a slight advantage, but if we’re alert and go 100% in the first Test, that’s the only way we can beat England ... otherwise we will find ourselves in difficulty.”

England, meanwhile, will assess whether Ben Stokes is fit to bowl before naming their team for the series opener.

Stokes played as a specialist batsman in the series-sealing win over West Indies last month with a quad injury preventing him from bowling.

Captain Joe Root said a decision is likely to made on Wednesday morning.

Stokes bowled at training on Monday but rain in Manchester meant he was unable to do the same on Tuesday.

“We still need to know a little bit more about where Ben’s at. Unfortunately because of the weather [on Tuesday] he wasn’t able to bowl outside so we will probably have to wait on that throughout tonight and make a decision in the morning,” Root told reporters. “Ben is so committed to the team that he will always put his body on the line but the more he has played the more mature he has got.

“He has got better at understanding there are limitations to what he can do sometimes — even though those limitations are further for him than a lot of other players.

“He knows how important he is within our group. He is getting better at looking after himself and it is important we look after him as well.

“What we have got with this squad of players is a number of different options we can go down. We have everything to cover the conditions and the pitch. Whatever that throws at us, we think we will have an answer.”

England played seamers Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer in the final Test against West Indies, alongside spinner Dom Bess, with batsman Zak Crawley dropping out of the XI.

Crawley, paceman Mark Wood and all-rounder Sam Curran remain in England’s unchanged 14-man squad for the first of three behind-closed-doors Tests against Pakistan.

Speaking on England’s wealth of options, Root — who confirmed Stuart Broad will play — added: “It’s a fantastic position [to be in]. We were forced into making a slight change in balance of the side in the last game with Ben unable to bowl and we saw how well that worked, so to know we have had success with it will give everyone confidence.

“Ben doing everything he can do is huge for the team — it shows how pivotal he is in terms of balancing the side — but if he is not fit we have other ways to go and a number of guys who have put in fantastic performances, especially our seamers.

“I couldn’t be happier to have so many headaches and for us as a side to have strength in depth in a number of areas, so long may it continue.”

Misbah accepted that how his batsmen coped with the experienced pair of Anderson and Broad — who now both have more than 500 Test wickets each after Broad reached the landmark against the West Indies — would go a long way to determining the outcome of the series.

But the former Pakistan captain was also excited by a pace attack that includes the youthful promise of teenage rising star Naseem Shah as well as the accurate Mohammad Abbas,and towering left-armer Shaheen Shah Afridi.

Naseem has impressed Pakistan fast-bowling great turned bowling Waqar Younis and Misbah so much when they saw him in action in Lahore, the coach said they had no qualms about fast-tracking a ‘complete bowler’ into Pakistan’s side in Australia last year.

Naseem became the youngest bowler to take a Test hat-trick against Bangladesh in February and he showed a liking for English conditions with 10 wickets in the two practice matches at Derby.

“He is one who could win a Test match on his own,” said Misbah of Naseem.

Pakistan, however, could still deploy two spinners at Old Trafford in Yasir Shah and Shadab Khan.

The West Indies failed to post a single individual century in their recent series. Pakistan will hope the likes of Abid Ali, the first man to score a hundred on both Test and One-day International debut, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam and Asad Shafiq can provide the runs they need.

Teams (from):

ENGLAND: Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Root (captain), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Dom Bess, Jofra Acher, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Sam Curran, Zak Crawley, Mark Wood.

PAKISTAN: Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali (captain), Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah, Sohail Khan, Fawad Alam, Kashif Bhatti, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq.

Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (England) and Richard Illingworth (England).

TV umpire: Michael Gough (England).

Match referee: Chris Broad (England).

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2020
Top tennis resumes in Palermo with no handshakes

Top tennis resumes in Palermo with no handshakes

05/08/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 29981234

PALERMO: Tour-level tennis resumed after a five-month enforced break on Monday, and players at the Palermo Ladies Open had to handle their own towels and not shake hands of opponents.

The strict rules because of the coronavirus included no showers on site, and no autographs or photos with fans. Players in the singles main draw come from 16 European countries and Argentina.

A limited number of fans were allowed into the 1,500-seat stadium court and had to follow social distancing measures.

They watched sixth-seeded Donna Veki of Croatia beat Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands 6-1, 6-2 in windy conditions in the first official match for men or women since early March.

Veki sealed a place in the second round on her second match point, breaking for the sixth time in the match when Rus hit a forehand wide.

Veki will next face Italian teenager Elisabetta Cocciaretto, who beat Polona Hercog of Slovenia 7-6 (1), 6-3 for her first victory over a player ranked in the top 50.

Laura Siegemund of Germany also eased through in straight sets, beating Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 6-3, 6-4.

Siegemund next faces either fourth-seeded Anett Kontaveit or Patricia Maria ig.

It was harder for Sara Errani, the only previous champion in in the draw. The 2012 winner took nearly three hours to secure a 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 success over Sorana Crstea of Romania.

The Italian next faces Kristna Plkov who upset third-seeded Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4.

A third Italian is also through to the second round after Jasmine Paolini rallied from a set and a break down to beat Daria Kasatkina of Russia 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

In other results: eighth-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova also recovered from a set down to beat Kristina Mladenovic 5-7, 6-0, 6-1, and seventh-seeded Dayana Yastremska triumphed 6-3, 6-4 over Sara Sorribes Tormo.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2020
Azhar backs Babar to prove he is among world's best batsmen

Azhar backs Babar to prove he is among world's best batsmen

05/08/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 29981008
Manchester: Pakistan captain Azhar Ali has backed star batsman Babar Azam to underline his credentials as one of the best in the world in England this month.Babar, 25, is a fast growing phenomenon across all formats, sitting top of the International Cricket Council’s Twenty20 rankings, third...
Solskjaer tight-lipped on Jadon Sancho talks

Solskjaer tight-lipped on Jadon Sancho talks

05/08/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 29981011
LONDON: Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer kept his cards close to his chest as discussions continued over Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho.The Old Trafford giants are hoping to make the 20-year-old their marquee in a summer when the impact of the coronavirus pandemic means few...
Somerset thrash Glamorgan

Somerset thrash Glamorgan

05/08/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 29981010
LONDON: Surrey-bound Jamie Overton marked what could prove his farewell appearance for Somerset at Taunton with five for 48 to complete a 289-run Bob Willis Trophy victory over Glamorgan.Brother Craig finished with two for 31 and match figures of seven for 69 as the visitors’ five remaining...
Protests in India over IPL's Chinese sponsor

Protests in India over IPL's Chinese sponsor

05/08/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 29981009
NEW DELHI: The Indian Premier League, the world’s richest cricket tournament, faced angry protests on Tuesday after it decided to retain a Chinese phone maker as its main sponsor.One nationalist group threatened to call a boycott of the IPL, picking up one a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment...
Red card warning for deliberate coughing in football

Red card warning for deliberate coughing in football

05/08/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 29981012
LONDON: Footballers can be sent off if referees judge they have coughed deliberately at opponents or match officials in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, say the sport’s rule-makers and England’s Football Association.The International Football Association Board said it was up to...
West Indies T20 series in Australia called off

West Indies T20 series in Australia called off

05/08/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 29981013
SYDNEY: Australia’s October Twenty20 series against the West Indies was called off on Tuesday, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect the international sporting calendar.It follows the postponement of the T20 World Cup, scheduled for October-November in Australia, and this...