#360debate: Can Pakistan win World Cup without Ajmal?

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Out of action: Saeed Ajmal will miss the ICC Cricket World Cup.

Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal was forced to withdraw from next year's ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia after failing to rectify his bowling action in time. The 37-year-old made his decision in front of the Pakistan Cricket Board on Saturday, but will his absence hinder Pakistan's prospects at cricket's showpiece event down-under?

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Our #360debate today is: Can Pakistan win the World Cup without Saeed Ajmal?

Ajit Vijaykumar, Sub Editor, says YES

Admittedly, Pakistan are not exactly the favourites to win the World Cup in February Down Under.

There are many things going against them. Their captain Misbah-ul Haq has not been in the best of forms in limited overs cricket and there is a quiet struggle going on for the leadership role, with Shahid Afridi also eyeing that post.

The batsmen have been inconsistent in coloured clothing and their efforts against New Zealand in the UAE, where they lost the five-match series 3-2, didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Their bowling has been hampered by the ban on spinners Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez and with the former pulling out of the World Cup, many are fearing Pakistan’s chances have extinguished with it as well.

However, it’s in adverse situations like these that a mercurial team like Pakistan can be at their most dangerous. They do have a few factors going in their favour. They have some excellent batsmen in peak form, with the likes of Ahmed Shehzad and newcomer Haris Sohail finding form.

The way Younis Khan plundered the runs in Tests against Australia and New Zealand shows he is in peak form and can turn up the heat in coloured clothing as well. 

Afridi has always been reliable with the ball and he has suddenly hit a purple patch with the bat. His novel plan of batting with earplugs on has worked wonders for him, fetching him two half centuries and a 49 against the Kiwis.

And Pakistan have no dearth of very quick and efficient fast bowlers. Left arm pacers Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz and Sohail Tanvir can expect to trouble the best in the world in helpful conditions and should be eager to bowl Down Under.

One must also not forget that the favourites don’t always lift the world title. The 1992, 1996 and 1999 editions all saw teams who were not expected to triumph take home the spoils.

So even though Pakistan’s spin threat has been nullified to a great extent, they have enough firepower to genuinely go for glory. Whether they have the belief is another matter.

Jaideep Marar, Assistant Editor, says NO

Pakistan only had a 10 per cent chance of winning the upcoming World Cup and now that Saeed Ajmal has withdrawn from the tournament it has been reduced to eight per cent. It is a harsh assessment allright but their recent displays prove that they are way behind in the list of contenders.

Their current ODI ranking of seven is an apt indicator where they stand as their win percentage in 2014 is a lowly 37.5.  Compare that to the year’s showings of other heavyweights – World Cup hosts Australia (72.22) and New Zealand (63.33), defending champions India (63.04),  South Africa (66.66) and Sri Lanka (62.50) – and you get a fair picture of what they will be up against Down Under. Worse, they have just two victories from their last 10 one-dayers, that too in sub-continent conditions that suit them the best. 

Only England (nine wins from 25 ODIs)  have fared more badly in 2014 amongst the top Test nations. But unlike Pakistan, England have a solid squad in place suited for the conditions in Australia and New Zealand.

With a new captain in Eoin Morgan, they have it in them to challenge the best and are potential dark horses of the tournament.

On current form, Pakistan have a mountain to climb. They are struggling to put together their best line-up at the World Cup. Their strongest suit, bowling, has been laid low with injuries and suspensions while their batting doesn’t inspire confidence. Highly inconsistent displays is another cause for concern. They might create an odd upset but to do it consistently is beyond them.

Ajmal’s return would not have changed the situation and neither does his absence. The star off-spinner’s effectiveness with a new action was not a surety which means he would have played purely on reputation. To do that in a World Cup is a risky proposition and Ajmal needs to be lauded for his decision to pull out from the tournament.

The good thing is that Pakistan know what to expect without Ajmal as they have played their last 12 games without him. But it has not been easy as they have won just three games since. Such is their state of affairs that World Cup glory is a distant dream.

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West Indies unveil fightback attitude against South Africa on day three

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Half-century: West Indies Kraigg Brathwaite drives a delivery.

Kraigg Brathwaite and Marlon Samuels hit half-centuries as the West Indies fought back on the third day of the second Test against South Africa at St George's Park.

Brathwaite made 65 not out and Samuels was unbeaten on 60 as the West Indies reached 144 for two in reply to South Africa's 417 for eight declared.

Morne Morkel was the only successful South African bowler, taking two wickets in two balls. 

He ended a 55-run opening partnership between Brathwaite and Devon Smith by having Smith caught at first slip, with Leon Johnson edging the next delivery to third slip.

Bad light ended play with 16 overs remaining after rain delayed the start of play by an hour.

With most of the second day lost to rain, South Africa were hoping to score quick runs on Sunday morning before making inroads into a potentially fragile West Indian batting line-up. But they were frustrated on both counts.

The West Indies took four wickets before lunch, including the prize scalps of Amla and AB de Villiers, who were dismissed in successive overs.

Only 80 runs were scored during the morning but Dale Steyn went on the rampage after the interval, thrashing 58 off 28 balls with six fours and five sixes. Amla declared when Steyn was caught attempting another big hit off left-arm spinner Suleiman Benn.

Amla hit two fours in the first over of the day, bowled by Jerome Taylor, but only added ten to his overnight score of 23 before he was trapped leg before wicket by a ball from Jason Holder which nipped back off the pitch.

New cap Temba Bavuma scored a boundary off his first ball, when a defensive shot flew to third man off a thick edge from Holder but De Villiers was out in the next over, bowled by Taylor.

De Villiers survived a failed review after a leg before appeal was turned down by umpire Paul Reiffel but was bowled next ball when he tried to work a full-length delivery to leg.

The scoring rate slowed as Bavuma and the similarly inexperienced Stiaan van Zyl, playing in his second Test, could only add 21 in 10.2 overs before Bavuma (10) gloved a bouncer from Shannon Gabriel to wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin.

Van Zyl made 29 before he was caught behind, playing a loose drive against the left-armed Kenroy Peters.

Steyn transformed the tempo of the innings as he launched a brutal assault on fellow fast bowler Taylor immediately after lunch. He reached his second Test fifty off 26 balls, the joint fourth fastest in Test history.

Brathwaite and Smith made a solid start, seeing off the new ball pairing of Steyn and Vernon Philander. The tall Morkel troubled Smith several times after coming on as first change and finally tempted the left-hander into edging a drive to Hashim Amla at first slip. Johnson followed immediately.

Samuels batted soundly but had an escape on 20 when he was given out lbw to Morkel by umpire Reiffel but a review showed the ball was going a centimetre or two above the stumps.

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Tons for Ajinkya Rahane & Virat Kohli as India close on Australia

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India counter-punched their way back into the third Test on the back of centuries from Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in a record stand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday.

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Kohli savaged the Australian bowlers, particularly Mitchell Johnson, for his third ton of the series, while Rahane hit his highest Test score of 147.

The pair piled on 262 runs for the fourth wicket, a record for the fourth wicket by any pair at the MCG.

Kohli was out in the last over of the day, brilliantly snapped up by Brad Haddin off Johnson for 169 in 380 minutes off 272 balls with 18 fours.

At the close India were 462 for eight, trailing by 68 runs with two days remaining. Mohammed Shami was nine not out. "I'm very proud of the way we played. 

Rahane was finally out leg before wicket to Nathan Lyon for 147 in the 108th over. He batted for four hours and faced 171 balls with 21 fours.

The pair were particularly severe on Johnson, with Kohli crunching three fours off one over and Rahane repeating the dose in Johnson's subsequent over.

The last time Johnson (1-133) had been punished as severely was 0-104 against England at the Gabba in 2010. Rahane raised his highest Test score with a cross-bat four off Johnson.

Their running between the wickets was impressive as was their array and placement of shots to neuter the Australian attack. India's cause was aided by a poor day in the field for Australia, with three dropped catches. 

Lyon bungled a regulation two-handed head-high chance off his own bowling when Rahane was on 70 and Watson put down Kohli (88) at first slip off Johnson.

Substitute fielder Peter Siddle made it three with a dropped two-handed chance off Lokesh Rahul. But the debutant was out off Lyon's next ball, caught by Josh Hazlewood for three.

The ragged Australian fielding was in contrast to the morning session when Brad Haddin took a stunning catch to dismiss Cheteshwar Pujara off the second ball of the day. 

The veteran wicketkeeper, who missed a far easier chance off Pujara late on Saturday, pulled off one of the catches of the series, flinging himself to his right to take a spectacular acrobatic catch as the batsman failed to add to his overnight 25.

Skipper M.S. Dhoni was out late in the day, caught behind off Harris for 11, and the lion-hearted Harris took a tumbling caught and bowled to dismiss Ravi Ashwin for a duck.

There was a chilling moment as Murali Vijay on 63 turned his head to avoid a searing Johnson bouncer and took a blow on the side of his helmet early in the day.

It was eerily reminiscent of the blow Australian batsman Phillip Hughes took when he was fatally struck by a similar delivery in a domestic game last month. Vijay batted on but was out five runs later when he was caught by Shaun Marsh at first slip off Watson.

Johnson was also involved in a flash point when he hurled the ball back at Kohli, striking the batsman on his back. Kohli collapsed to the ground.

Johnson quickly apologised but the mood soured, with the umpires intervening to ease tensions between the two.

India, trailing 2-0, are striving to win the Melbourne Test to stay alive in the four-match Border-Gavaskar Trophy series. But they have not won at the MCG for 33 years.

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