Abbas, Markram and other players to watch out for in Newlands Test

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Mohammad Abbas is set to return from injury.

South Africa and Pakistan will welcome 2019 with the second Test of the three-match series which gets underway at Cape Town on Thursday.

The hosts lead 1-0 after a six-wicket win at Centurion and will be looking to clinch the series at Newlands while Pakistan have it all to do if they are to keep their hopes alive.

There will be plenty of players from both sides who will be under the spotlight at Cape Town for different reasons.

Here, we look at the three players from each side to watch out for in the second Test.

SOUTH AFRICA

Vernon Philander

Duanne Olivier’s 11-wicket display at Centurion meant the Proteas barely missed their star seamer Philander who was ruled out with a fractured thumb. Now back to full fitness, Philander should waltz into the playing XI in what is his home ground.

The 33-year-old’s record at Newlands is exceptional with the seamer picking up 49 wickets in nine previous Tests at the venue at an average of just 16.55. With his ability to move the ball both ways at will, Pakistan’s batsmen better watch out.

Philander is back at his favourite stomping ground.

Philander is back at his favourite stomping ground.

Aiden Markram

The young South African opener has already been earmarked as a future skipper after his bright start to life in international cricket. The right-hander showed his class in the infamous series win against Australia last year where he registered two centuries.

Since then, his form has tailed off badly with poor displays on the tour of Sri Lanka. He was off-colour in the series opener at Centurion, dismissed by Hasan Ali in both innings for scores of 12 and 0. The pressure will be on the 24-year-old to deliver the goods at Newlands.

Markram is struggling at the moment.

Markram is struggling at the moment.

Faf du Plessis

Another South African batsman struggling for form currently is skipper Faf du Plessis. The 34-year-old veteran bagged a pair in the Centurion win with Pakistan teenager Shaheen Afridi getting his number in both innings.

The Proteas captain has been a consistent performer with the bat over the years and will be desperate to get back to some semblance of form at Newlands.

Du Plessis will be itching to get back into form.

Du Plessis will be itching to get back into form.

PAKISTAN

Azhar Ali

The Pakistan veteran is the most experienced batsman at the disposal of the tourists but he failed to show that in a dismal outing at Centurion. While he did score 36 in the first innings, he perished for a duck in the second while attempting an ill-judged pull shot off Olivier.

The 33-year-old was one of the senior batsmen to reportedly cop an earful from coach Mickey Arthur and the pressure will be on him to bring all his years of experience to the fore at Newlands.

Azhar Ali disappointed at Centurion.

Azhar Ali disappointed at Centurion.

Mohammad Abbas

Newlands has always been a seamer’s paradise as Philander’s excellent record at the venue shows. In Abbas, Pakistan have a seamer who can more than match the excellent Philander and the 29-year-old will be the biggest threat for the opposition batsmen in what is his maiden outing in South Africa.

Now back to fitness after recovering from his shoulder injury, Abbas will relish the conditions on offer in South Africa and look to continue his sensational red-ball form so far.

Abbas could be too hot to handle on the Newlands pitch.

Abbas could be too hot to handle on the Newlands pitch.

Sarfraz Ahmed

Being in Ahmed’s shoes is an unenviable position as it gets. The Pakistan skipper’s Test captaincy has been under fire for some time and his own form with the bat hasn’t helped matters.

Just like his South African counterpart Du Plessis, the wicketkeeper-batsman bagged a pair in Newlands. With reports trickling in of a strain in his relationship with Arthur, Sarfraz is under more pressure than ever to deliver and how he goes at Newlands could very well decide his long-term Test captaincy hopes.

Sarfraz is under more pressure than ever.

Sarfraz is under more pressure than ever.

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Pressure rising on Sarfraz's Pakistan captaincy as Abbas gets ready for return

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Sarfraz Ahmed is feeling the heat.

The series will be on the line for Pakistan as they get ready to take on hosts South Africa in the second Test at Newlands, Cape Town from Thursday.

The tourists trail 0-1 in the three-match series after their six-wicket loss in first Test at Centurion and will have it all to do if they are to keep their hopes of a first series win on South African soil alive.

With all to play for at the picturesque Newlands, we look at the talking points ahead of the Test.

ALL’S NOT WELL IN PAKISTAN CAMP AS PRESSURE RISES ON SARFRAZ

The Centurion loss has affected Pakistan in more ways than one with reports of head coach Mickey Arthur taking his senior batsmen to task following yet another batting collapse. The team management did come out to refute those reports but batting coach Grant Flower admitted that the atmosphere in the team camp was far from ideal.

One of the senior batsmen to reportedly come under Arthur’s crosshairs is skipper Sarfraz Ahmed whose Test captaincy has come under increasing pressure of late. A possible breakdown in his relationship with Arthur at this stage would not be the most ideal of preparations for the tourists going into the second Test.

His own personal form is under the scanner too after he bagged a pair in the Centurion defeat and yet another series loss following the defeat to New Zealand in the UAE could see the walls finally close in on the wicketkeeper-batsman’s captaincy in the red-ball format.

Not a happy Pakistan team camp at the moment.

Not a happy Pakistan team camp at the moment.

HOSTS GRAPPLE WITH PHILANDER DILEMMA

South Africa are in the driving seat after their convincing triumph in the first Test but the hosts have a fine balancing act to do in terms of team selection for the Newlands clash. Star seamer Vernon Philander has been declared fit to play after missing out at Centurion but his return has given skipper Faf du Plessis some serious selection headaches.

Du Plessis confirmed that Philander will slot straight back into the playing XI in what is the seamer’s home ground. The question now is which player Philander will replace.

The hosts deployed a three-man pace attack in Centurion in the form of Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Duanne Olivier. Olivier put in a man-of-the-match display with a 11-wicket haul and it would be unfair to drop the seamer after that performance.

Dropping Rabada or Steyn would be near unthinkable for the Proteas and Du Plessis has to now decide whether to sacrifice a specialist batsman or a bowler to make way for Philander’s return.

Who makes way for Philander's return?

Who makes way for Philander’s return?

PAKISTAN GET ABBAS BOOST BUT BATTING REMAINS A WORRY

While Du Plessis will have to put on his thinking cap in the wake of Philander’s return, his Pakistan counterpart Sarfraz will have no such troubles as Mohammad Abbas returns from injury.

The Pakistan seamer did not feature in Centurion due to a shoulder injury but has now fully recovered in time for the Newlands Test. Abbas will be welcomed back with open arms after what has been a stellar 2018 for him in which he has picked up 38 wickets in just seven Tests at an average of under 14.

However, it is in the batting department that Pakistan’s troubles lie with senior batsmen such as Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq failing spectacularly at Centurion. While veteran Azhar is expected to retain his place, Shafiq’s spot could be in question with the likes of Haris Sohail and Mohammad Rizwan lying in wait. Shafiq registered scores of seven and six in the first Test but it was the loose manner of his dismissals more than his low contribution that will frustrate the Pakistan team management the most.

With the pressure well and truly on the tourists, it will be interesting to see if Shafiq features in the playing XI at Newlands.

Abbas' return will boost Pakistan in the bowling department.

Abbas’ return will boost Pakistan in the bowling department.

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Afghanistan secure direct qualification for 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia

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An excellent achievement for the rapidly rising Afghanistan.

Afghanistan secured a direct berth in the main group stage of the 2020 T20 World Cup to be held in Australia while Sri Lanka and Bangladesh missed out.

12 teams will take part in the main group stage of the 2020 edition with the top-eight ranked sides in the world on the cut-off date set by the ICC gaining an automatic entry.

By virtue off their No8 rank in the T20 standings currently, Afghanistan have pipped ninth and 10th ranked Sri Lanka and Bangladesh respectively.

2014 champions Sri Lanka and 2018 Asia Cup runners-up Bangladesh will now have to go through the opening round of the 2020 World Cup in order to secure their berth in the ‘Super 12’.

Both sides will now need to finish among the top two spots in their respective four-team groups in the opening round to seal their passage to the main group stage (Super 12).

Sri Lanka T20 skipper Lasith Malinga remains confident that the islanders will be able to progress to the Super 12s.

“It is a bit disappointing that we have not been able to ensure a direct Super 12s berth but I’m confident that we will do well in the tournament,”Malinga was quoted as saying by the ICC.

“Having played three finals and winning once, it is natural that everyone expected us to finish in the top-eight but we have to take the opportunity in the extra matches of the group stage and prepare well for the knock-out matches,” he added.

His Bangladesh counterpart Shakib Al Hasan echoed similar sentiments.

“We have not secured a direct Super 12s berth but I’m confident that we will do well in the tournament by going through the group stage,” Shakib stated.

“We are a side capable of beating the best on our day and I see no reason why we can’t go far in the tournament. There is still some time and we will use it to be at our best for the T20 World Cup.”

The Super 12 stage in the 2020 T20 World Cup will see the teams divided into two pools of six and will have a round-robin format.

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