After fans in Karachi were treated to some rare international cricket action in the just concluded ODI series, it is now the turn of Lahore to rejoice as Pakistan and Sri Lanka prepare to do battle in a three-match T20I series beginning on Saturday.
Nearly two years after Sri Lanka turned up at Gaddafi Stadium for a one-off T20 clash, the islanders arrive at the historic venue once again to help return some normalcy after what has been a nearly decade long drought of high-quality international cricket in the country.
The visitors, however, will be hoping for a much better outcome than the preceding ODI series where they were blanked 0-2 by Sarfraz Ahmed and his men.
T20 Kings aiming to bring back the good times
The mandate for new head coach cum chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq has been clear from the very start and it is to improve Pakistan’s fortunes in the Test and ODI formats.
While the widely respected former Pakistan skipper’s main revolution will have to come in those two formats, it is in the 20-over version where he might find his most immediate success.
The Men in Green are the undisputed kings of the shortest format with their No1 ranking remaining undisturbed for a long time running now. With the T20 World Cup in Australia just over a year away, Misbah will not want to let the momentum drop as he seeks to usher in a new era for Pakistan cricket.
However, Pakistan have suffered setbacks lately in the format with three losses to show in their last four encounters and they will want to put the record straight once again as they take on a side against whom they enjoy a 13-5 win-loss record.
They will look towards their newly appointed vice-captain Babar Azam to continue his fabulous form with the No1 ranked T20I batsman in the world registering a fine ton in the recent ODI series.
Inexperienced visitors look to find the cutting edge
Taking on the No1 ranked T20I outfit in their own den is no small task and Sri Lanka’s problems are only compounded by the absence of their senior stars, such as Lasith Malinga and Angelo Mathews.
Despite missing 10 big names on the tour, the islanders have showed there is plenty of potential in their reserves with the likes of Shehan Jayasuruiya, Danushka Gunathilaka and Dasun Shanaka putting their hands up at various stages of the ODI series loss.
While Pakistan did manage to win both ODIs convincingly, there has been plenty for Sri Lanka to be optimistic about and it has been their failure to withstand the pressure at critical junctures that has cost them in the two losses.
T20Is has traditionally been the Achilles heel for the visitors who have a 57-59 overall win-loss record in the format. However, a young and inexperienced side with nothing to lose might just be the antidote they need for their T20 woes.
The return of the discards
Misbah sprung many surprises in naming his first T20 squad as Pakistan chief selector with the likes of Umar Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad and Faheem Ashraf being handed international recalls for the upcoming series.
Umar, in particular, will be under the spotlight with his penchant for causing controversy time and time again. The 29-year-old has flattered to deceive on many occasions in what has been a stop-start Pakistan career, but he will be eager to seize his chance after being recalled for the umpteenth time to the national team.
Meanwhile, Shehzad will hope to get a chance to open the innings in the absence of Imam-ul-Haq and Abid Ali with the right-hander making his international return after serving his suspension for a doping violation.
Misbah has shown that he is willing to forgive past transgressions with the lifelines handed to Umar and Shehzad, however, they must now ensure that they make it count in front of what is expected to be a sell-out crowd at the Gaddafi.
Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Asif Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed (c and wk), Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari.
Sri Lanka: Avishka Fernando, Danushka Gunathilaka, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Perera, Minod Bhanuka (wk), Shehan Jayasuriya, Dasun Shanaka (c), Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Isuru Udana.
South Africa came out battling on Day Three of the first Test against India, the visitors recovering from a poor start with the bat before ultimately giving themselves a fighting chance to avoid a potential loss.
Having started the day’s play at 39-3, the Proteas stretched their first-innings total to 385-8 after superb tons from opener Dean Elgar and wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.
With the visitors now trailing India by 117 runs in the first innings, it is still the hosts who hold the edge in the Test although South Africa have managed to confirm that they won’t bow out without a fight.
At the end of what was a frustrating day for the hosts on the field, we look at the key talking points from Vizag.
Defiant Elgar joins the 100 club for openers
After India openers Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal had cracked tons earlier in the match, it was the turn of their South African counterpart Dean Elgar to join in on the fun.
The left-hander had it all to do after Ishant Sharma’s dismissal of Temba Bavuma in the morning session reduced South Africa to 63-4, but he found the perfect ally in skipper Faf du Plessis to mount a terrific comeback for his side.
Despite India’s spinners getting significant purchase on the Vizag pitch, Elgar was undeterred as he took the attack to the hosts in uncharacteristic style. The southpaw forged valuable partnerships with Du Plessis and then De Kock as he marched his way to a first Test ton in India.
Getting to the three-figure landmark with a swashbuckling six, Elgar dug in for the long haul and was looking good for a double ton before his defiant knock of 160 was ended by Ravindra Jadeja in the final session of the day.
In total, the South African struck a total of four sixes and 18 boundaries in his 287-ball marathon stay with his century being the first by any Proteas batsman in India since 2010.
De Kock’s sensational tour continues
India thought they had found their much-needed opening when Ashwin ended Faf du Plessis’ 55-run knock but it wasn’t to be with Quinton de Kock coming out all guns blazing.
The South Africa wicketkeeper batsman had been the star of the preceding T20 series with two half-centuries in as many innings and he continued that golden form by slamming a rapid Test ton.
The left-hander was in no mood to be subdued by India’s spin attack as he unleashed a flurry of boundaries at Vizag to race away to his maiden Test ton in India and fifth overall. Like Elgar, De Kock too, got to his hundred with a sumptuous six as he displayed a varied range of strokes on the off-side in a stellar innings.
The 32-year-old was instrumental in the visitors avoiding the follow-on and he was batting at a strike-rate of nearly 70 before he was undone by a straighter delivery from Ashwin which sneaked past his defence.
While the Proteas man will be disappointed to not have held fort for longer, his superb counter-attack relieved much of the pressure on his side and has provided them with a glimmer of hope.
A fine innings from Quinton de Kock 👏 pic.twitter.com/KwmbUngelN— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) October 4, 2019
Jadeja brings up 200 Test wickets in a day of toil for India’s spinners
After India’s spin duo of Ravi Ashwin and Jadeja snared three wickets fairly early towards the end of Day Two, the hosts would have expected them to run through the South African batting card in a jiffy on Friday.
However, that proved not to be the case with Elgar and De Kock resisting them in fine style. It wasn’t due to a lack of trying though, with the two spinners making the ball spit and jump at the batsmen with venom with remarkable frequency.
While Ashwin’s perseverance was rewarded with the important scalp of Du Plessis, Jadeja got his due reward late in the day when he got Elgar to miscue a sweep into the hands of Cheteshwar Pujara.
It was the 200th Test dismissal for the India man and it came in only his 44th Test appearance. With that breakthrough, Jadeja has now become the quickest of all left-armed bowlers in history to bring up 200 Test wickets.
It turned out to be an important breakthrough for India as well in the end with Ashwin adding the late scalps of De Kock and Vernon Philander to bring up his five-wicket haul.
England’s Andy Moles has been appointed as Afghanistan’s director of cricket as well as the new chief selector.
The former Warwickshire batsman had previously served as the head coach for Afghanistan in 2014-15 while he also took charge of the team on an interim basis following the exit of Phil Simmons after the 2019 World Cup.
With former South Africa all-rounder Lance Klusner having been appointed as the new head coach of the men’s team until the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) have opted to move Moles up in the hierarchy.
Following Afghanistan’s dismal campaign in the World Cup in England where they lost all nine of their matches, Moles was appointed the head coach on an interim basis. The Englishman took charge of the team for their recent tour of Bangladesh where they registered their second Test win with a 224-run victory over the hosts at Chattogram.
Andy Moles appointed as Director of Cricket and Chief Selector.— Afghanistan Cricket Board (@ACBofficials) October 3, 2019
Mr. Moles served as interim head coach of Afghanistan in the recently concluded tour of Bangladesh. He has a vast experience of over 25 years in the sport and is a Level-4 Coach as well. pic.twitter.com/Z7IXme4H9I
Under Moles’ stewardship, the Afghans also qualified for the final of the T20I tri-series in Bangladesh where they ultimately shared the trophy with the hosts after a washed-out final.
In his extensive coaching career, Moles has been at the helm for Hong Kong, Kenya, Scotland and most recently with New Zealand in 2009. He was in charge of the Afghanistan team for their 2015 World Cup campaign in Australia-New Zealand where their sole victory came against his former team Scotland.