Wahab Riaz's 2019 World Cup dreams get a shot in the arm with Pakistan Test recall

Waseem Ahmed 30/09/2018
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Wahab Riaz is making his Test comeback in the series against Australia.

A few months ago Wahab Riaz was derided for his work ethic by Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur.

“He has not won us a game in two years. I expect players that have been around for a long time to be winning us games and setting standards. Otherwise we will invest in younger players who have long futures. We have good youngsters around,” Arthur had told ESPNCricinfo in April.

“I cannot fault Wahab when he has a ball in his hand but his work ethic around training is something needs to be looked at,” the South African had added.

Those statements by Arthur were made in April after the 33-year-old pacer was omitted from the list of the 25 probables for Pakistan’s tour of Ireland and England.

It was a strange statement given the left-armer’s display in his most recent Test for Pakistan. The fast bowler was the best performing Pakistan pacer in their loss to Sri Lanka in the second Test at Dubai last year with a five-wicket match haul.

Wahab had picked a five-wicket haul in his last Test for Pakistan.

Wahab had picked a five-wicket haul in his last Test for Pakistan.

With his advancing age, it would have been easy to assume that Wahab’s international career had come to a permanent halt after the remarks made by Arthur.

However, an underperforming Mohammad Amir has opened the doors for the pacer’s return with Wahab being recalled for Pakistan’s upcoming Test series against Australia.

Amir’s wicketless display on the slow tracks of the UAE in the just concluded Asia Cup counted against him as the selectors announced the squad for the Australia series.

Wahab’s return to the squad seems justified given his ‘work ethic’ on the pitch.

As Arthur admitted, Wahab’s work ethic with the ball in hand cannot be doubted. Often he has bowled tireless spells on lifeless pitches and conjured something out of nothing.

His fiery spell against Shane Watson at the 2015 ICC World Cup clash against Australia is still fresh in the memory of fans.

His record in Tests held in the UAE speak for itself. In seven Tests Wahab has played on UAE soil, he has picked up 25 wickets at an average of just over 30. In comparison, Amir’s returns in the UAE are a dismal seven wickets from four games at an average of 56.42.

Wahab's fiery spell to Watson was a treat to watch for cricket fans.

Wahab’s fiery spell to Watson was a treat to watch for cricket fans.

Amir’s ineffectiveness on UAE pitches came to the fore in the Asia Cup. That might be the only reason behind Wahab’s return for now but the two Test series presents him with a chance to work his way back into contention for the 2019 World Cup in England.

“At the moment, being selected for the 2019 World Cup for Pakistan and performing well is my main, and only, priority at this time. There is also the 2020 World T20 on the horizon but I am firmly focused on playing in the 2019 World Cup at the moment,” he had told PakPassion.net in August.

Pakistan’s leading wicket taker in the 2015 World Cup, Wahab’s return to the side might not have come in the ODI format but the Australia Tests could be his chance to prove Arthur wrong with regards to his work ethic in training.

The 2019 World Cup is less than a year away but there is enough time for Wahab to make that dream come true.

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Australia series the perfect chance for Pakistan to erase their painful Asia Cup memories

Waseem Ahmed 29/09/2018
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Sarfraz Ahmed's men were unable to do justice to their 'favourites' tag.

As an off-colour Pakistan crashed out of the Asia Cup following defeat to Bangladesh in their final Super Four clash, under-fire skipper Sarfraz Ahmed admitted to having ‘sleepless nights’ over his and the team’s dismal showing in the tournament.

It was a tournament Pakistan had entered as heavy favourites after their ICC Champions Trophy win over India last year coupled with excellent results in the limited-overs formats of late.

The team was after all riding high on confidence after demolishing Australia and Zimbabwe in a T20 tri-series earlier as well as blanking the latter in a five-match ODI series.

With the familiar setting of their ‘home’ venue in the UAE, it was hard to look past Sarfraz Ahmed’s men, especially after India opted to rest skipper Virat Kohli for the tournament.

What followed was a painful showing by the Men in Green who exited the competition with only two victories to show against their name in which one came against minnows Hong Kong.

Star opener Fakhar Zaman failed to come to the party after plundering runs at will in Zimbabwe while Mohammad Amir’s poor ODI form continued as the pace spearhead went wicketless in the tournament.

Crucial catches dropped on the field were another reason for Pakistan’s failure with the high standards the side has set since Mickey Arthur took over as coach dropping to an alarming level.

All in all, Pakistan have come away from a dismal tournament with plenty of questions to answer before the 2019 ICC World Cup gets underway. They have less than a year to figure out their combinations for the world event but for now, they will turn their attention to a two-Test series against Australia to be held in the UAE.

Fakhar Zaman's repeated failures cost Pakistan dear.

Fakhar Zaman’s repeated failures cost Pakistan dear.

While the series presents Pakistan with a chance to erase their Asia Cup memories quickly, it will also be an opportunity for them to reclaim their ‘fortress’ UAE.

Their most recent ‘home’ Test series in the UAE ended in defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in October last year. That was the first time Pakistan had suffered a Test series defeat in the UAE ever since the Gulf nation became their alternate home venue in 2009.

In their wake lies an Australian team still reeling from the effects of the ball-tampering episode which occurred on their tour of South Africa earlier this year.

With star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner unavailable due to their one-year bans, the Australia batting card does not inspire much confidence, especially in keeping with the slow and spinning tracks that can be expected in the UAE.

Their formidable pace battery has been vastly diminished after injuries to Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood ruled them out of the tour.

Australia are without the services of their two best batsmen against spin.

Australia are without the services of their two best batsmen against spin.

As such, there will not be a better time for Pakistan to play Australia in the familiarity of UAE conditions. With Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan and Bilal Asif in tow, the hosts will definitely look to conduct a trial by spin against the Aussies whose best batsmen to counter that threat have been banned by their own cricket board.

Mohammad Amir’s poor showing in the Asia Cup has cost him a place in the Test squad for the series but the left-armer’s services will hardly be missed in the UAE where spinners are expected rule the roost. He does not look like a force anymore on flat tracks and overseas assignments where conditions favour his swing will be the best bet for him to regain his flailing confidence.

There is no doubt that Sarfraz and his men are hurting right now following that subpar performance in the Asia Cup. But, a victory against a depleted Aussies will help them overcome much of it while at the same time help them reclaim their proud record in the UAE.

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Asia Cup 2018: Afghanistan should hold their heads high despite elimination

Denzil Pinto 24/09/2018
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Afghanistan had a strong Asia Cup campaign

When Samiullah Shenwari chucked his bat and was unable to make connection to Mustafizur Rahman’s last ball delivery on Sunday night, TV pictures of dejected Afghanistan players painted the whole story on what could have been had he struck that boundary.

One big hit to the ropes would have been enough to keep them in the mix of facing defending champions India in Friday’s final. But pride will only be at stake in their final Super Four game against the Men in Blue.

While nothing will be riding on that match in what is effectively a dead rubber in Dubai, captain Asghar Afghan and his team-mates should hold their heads high on how they pushed teams all the way.

Prior to the three-run defeat to Bangladesh, Afghan reiterated the ICC’s latest Test nation are “there not to just play cricket but come to win matches”. They couldn’t win all their games but with two wins in four, stayed true to his words that Afghanistan were not just in the tournament to make up the numbers.

Surprisingly, Afghanistan are only playing in their second Asia Cup with minnows and qualifiers Hong Kong even playing in more with three appearances. But while many teams would have had to do their homework on the Associate side that isn’t the case for Afghanistan.

They have made headlines of their own with the likes of spin stars Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur-Rahman, more often than not, stealing the show. Not to mention their incredible team spirit that has propelled them to being a Test nation.

Rashid Khan (r) has picked up eight wickets so far

Rashid Khan (r) has picked up eight wickets so far

There were even whispers of Afghanistan being dark horses for the Asia Cup and it wasn’t to do with their talent. The fact they played so much cricket in this country was a big advantage with 19 wins in 35 ODIs.

The signs were already there when they crushed Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to top the group with a perfect record.

Two-time champions Pakistan nearly became their third victim only for Shoaib Malik to rescue the Men in Green in the last over to deny Afghanistan a historic ODI win over their neighbours.

While Bangladesh gained revenge to keep their hopes alive, the fact Afghanistan lost both games in the last over proves that Phil Simmons doesn’t have to make drastic changes to the squad.

Once again Afghanistan showed their strength with the ball with Rashid and Mujeeb taking eight and seven wickets already. But what has really shone in the last week has been their batting.

In four games, they have amassed 1007 runs after totals of 249, 255, 257 and 246. That is more than India have registered with 861 runs.

Although Afghanistan will lament the lack of runs, they should hold no fear when they face India on Tuesday. Opportunities like these don’t come around often and although there’s nothing to play for, Afghan and Co will certainly not make things easy for the finalists. After all, they have nothing to lose.

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