The Pakistan comebacks of Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad might not have gone to plan but skipper Sarfraz Ahmed feels that the decision to bring back the two controversial players back from the cold was the right one.
Akmal made his first T20I appearance for Pakistan in over three years in Saturday’s 64-run loss to Sri Lanka at Lahore while Shehzad made his comeback as well after serving his suspension for a doping violation.
Many had questioned the logic behind giving the two talented, but highly inconsistent batsmen, another shot at international cricket and the duo only provided more ammunition to their detractors with displays to forget in the crushing loss.
While Akmal was dismissed for a golden duck, Shehzad lasted just nine deliveries in which he scored the mere four runs. Despite their failures with the bat, Sarfraz has given the duo his full backing as captain.
“If you talk about previous two domestic seasons, they were performers and they were again performers in the Pakistan Super League,” the Pakistan skipper had stated after the first T20I against Sri Lanka.
“We are trying our fullest to give a complete chance to those who are brought back. There is nothing to worry. Both are experienced players and once they settle in, they will perform. So, my full backing for them as a captain.”
Akmal and Shehzad’s selections in the playing XI for the first T20I came at the expense of Fakhar Zaman and Haris Sohail who both had to contend for a place on the bench.
Justifying the decision to drop the two in-form batsmen, Sarfraz said, “Fakhar and Haris both have been part of the team for some time now.”
“When we brought back Ahmed and Umar, we intended to make them play in their own positions. Had we played Fakhar, then Ahmed would have been made to play at one down. Me and Misbah bhai (Misbah-ul-Haq) decided to try Ahmed as an opener.
“With our eyes on the 2020 T20 World Cup, if Ahmed is able to settle himself at this (opening) number, we can never find a better player than him.
“Similar with Umar Akmal. We wanted to play him in his number and hence had to drop Haris, who we have seen and have no doubt about his ability.”
Sarfraz and head coach cum chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq will now hope that Akmal and Shehzad can seize their chance when Pakistan take on Sri Lanka in the second T20I at Lahore on Monday.
India stormed to a 203-run victory over South Africa in the first Test thanks to nine wickets between Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja in the second innings.
Set a target of 395, the away side were bundled out for 191 on the final day of the first Test on Sunday to give India a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Shami returned figures of 5-35 while Jadeja took four wickets.
Dane Piedt (56) and debutant Senuran Muthusamy (49 not out) frustrated the Indians with a defiant stand of 91 runs for the ninth wicket after the visitors had slipped to 70/8.
Shami however got the job done, removing Piedt before claiming the final wicket of Kagiso Rabada.
India beat South Africa by 203 runs❕— Yashas (@imyashas4) October 6, 2019
☑️ Mayank Agarwal bought up his maiden Test ton which he converted into double.
☑️ Rohit scored century in both the Innings.
☑️ Ashwin's Super spell.
☑️Shami's 5fer in the 4th Innings.#INDvsSA pic.twitter.com/0AjT0ERYXp
In another match, Rohit Sharma’s back-to-back tons would’ve made his performance the undisputed match-winning one. And it will still be largely credited for the victory, but the same argument could be made for Mayank Agarwal’s double century in the first innings or Ashwin’s figures of 8/190.
That’s just the sort of performance it was from India with a number of players excelling. A 317-run opening stand between Rohit and Agarwal on the first day put India in the driving seat. Any hope of victory might have evaporated though had it not been for Ashwin’s wickets when South Africa took to the crease.
Rohit then pressed home the advantage in the second innings with another ton, breaking records along the way in his first match as a Test opener. Meanwhile Jadeja was a consistent performer with bat and ball – he scored 70 runs in 78 balls during the match and took six wickets.
The timing of those wickets, particularly in the second innings were crucial in chasing victory. He got the ball rolling by dismissing Dean Elgar at the end of day four before three quick wickets – two off successive deliveries – put the visitors on the ropes.
Of course, Shami’s five-for was then the story of the final day, even picking up the winning wicket.
Prior to this Test, Ashwin hadn’t featured for India in 10 months. His selection has been limited to red ball cricket since July 2017 given the plethora of spin bowling options available to the team in the likes of Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvender Chahal.
He even failed to feature in the recent tour of West Indies with India opting for only one spinner in Jadeja.
After picking up his 27th five-wicket haul during the first innings at Vizag, it seems preposterous that such an accomplished player remains so limited. It’s even more ludicrous that he is now on par with an all-time great in Muttiah Muralitharan as the fastest to reach 350 Test wickets.
Like the Sri Lankan legend, Ashwin has taken 66 matches to reach the milestone. His form on home soil, where turning wickets are abundant, means his place for the next two Tests against South Africa and then the series with Bangladesh should be secure. But what can he accomplish in that time to force selectors to pick him beyond that?
FOR PIEDT’S SAKE
Piedt and Muthuswamy have brought up South Africa's highest ninth-wicket partnership against India, giving the visitors something to cheer about.— ICC (@ICC) October 6, 2019
They are now 142/8, the current pair contributing 72 to that!
Follow #INDvSA LIVE 👇 https://t.co/dCGJ4Pcug5 pic.twitter.com/mYbllTsAJi
The South African batsmen must take a long hard look at themselves. After doing superbly in the first innings and racking up 431, a tame second effort at the crease was as surprising as it was inexcusable.
India deserve credit for their bowling on the final day and Shami will naturally take the plaudits. The seamer had no business taking a five-wicket haul on this track but with the pitch breaking up, he used the uneven bounce to his advantage and took out some of the big-hitters.
That said, the manner of some dismissals were poor on a wicket that had plenty of runs in it. Faf du Plessis was the big one. Granted the ball nipped back remarkably but he didn’t pick up the line well and watched as his off stump was dislodged. Temba Bavuma was unnecessarily on the back foot for his dismissal and had no way to improvise when the ball kept low.
Quinton de Kock, after top-scoring with 111 in the first innings, also had his stumps knocked over as he allowed a huge gap between bat and pad.
After being reduced to 70/8, Piedt and Muthusamy put the top order to shame with their 91-run stand for the ninth wicket. Yes, the new ball was long gone but they showed how comfortable things could get if only you spent a little time out in the middle.
Piedt’s innings in particular was especially defiant as he went after the bowling and pushed fielders back before Muthusamy then followed suit.
Rohit Sharma’s second hundred on his debut as a Test opener helped India set South Africa a daunting 395 to win on Saturday in the opening match of their series.
The hosts declared their second innings on 323 for four in the final session of day four in Visakhapatnam.
South Africa were 11 for one at stumps with Aiden Markram, on three, and Theunis de Bruyn, on five, at the crease.
The visitors needed another 384 runs and India nine wickets on the final day to get ahead in the three-match series
Follow the ball-by-ball LIVE commentary from Vizag below.