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Pak hold nerve to level T20 series with England

Babar Azam needs to hold the captaincy reins tighter. The highlight of the series was the batting performance of Mohammad Hafeez who seems to be getting better with age.

Raman Bhanot

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Pakistan skipper Babar Azam

Pakistan almost ended their 2020 Tour of England the same way they started it — the visitors were on the brink of losing a match from a winning position. However, the heartthrobbing cliffhanger ended when the medium pacer Haris Rauf conceded just 11 runs in the last over, while England required 17.

 In the 1st Test of the series, they took a 107 run lead and still ended up losing the match and thus the series 1-0.

On Tuesday, in another format with a different captain at the helm, Pakistan won the last T20I of the 3-match series after scoring 190 and having England tottering at 69 for 4 in the 8th over.

Pakistan’s T20 unit is undoubtedly a capable line-up. Remember, just a while ago — till 1 May 2020 — they were the No. 1 ranked T20 side in the world, before losing that mantle to Australia.

Mohammad Hafeez was named man-of-the-series for his scintilating batting performance throughout the series.

England are currently No. 2 in the rankings and will have a chance to move to No. 1 if they beat Australia in the upcoming T20 series between the teams starting on 4 September.

In two consecutive matches in this T20 series, Pakistan scored 195 and 190, yet ended up without clinching the series — however, their last win managed to level the saga 1-1.

The highlight was the batting performance of Mohd Hafeez, who like old wine, is just getting better with age. He has now scored backto-back 50s in his last three innings in T20Is and is only the second batsman to have scored more half-centuries (3) after crossing the age of 39 in the shortest format of the game. Only Tilakaratne Dilshan had more 50s than him (4 half-centuries) after turning 39. It’s a startling number because people around the world consider T20s to be the slam-bang format which is better suited to the youngsters’ style of play.

Talking about youngsters brings me to the point about the promising Haider Ali. The Under-19 star for Pakistan, came of age in the 3rd T20 of the series, when he stroked his way to a fearless 54 off just 33 balls, thus becoming the first Pakistan cricketer to score a half-century in an International T20 on debut.

Though Babar Azam is the top-ranked batsman in the ICC T20 listing, a worry is that his strike rate is the lowest among the Top 10 batsmen in this format. Going forward, that’s an area he needs to work upon, to get it from the 128 to at least the 135 range, especially since he opens the innings and has a chance to take maximum advantage of the field restrictions in the six overs of power play.

Babar’s captaincy and failure to drive home a win after having the upper hand in two contests is another area of concern. You expect a captain to look and be in control of proceedings on the field and not let the situation drift out of hand.

 With England losing skipper Eoin Morgan to a runout and the free-stroking Tom Banton being dismissed by Harris Rauf in the 8th over, one expected Babar to bring back Shaheen Afridi to break the back of the England middle order.

Afridi had a fiery first spell of 2 overs and was looking unplayable. Yet he chose to hold the pacer’s overs back and allowed the partnership between Sam Billings and Moeen Ali to fester. The decision came back to haunt Pakistan, as England recovered from 69 to 126 for 4 before Billings was finally dismissed.

To top it up, Sarfaraz Ahmed on his comeback to the Pakistan T20 side, miffed what should have been an easy stumping of Moeen Ali, and the England all-rounder went on to score a match-winning 61 of just 33 balls. However, Pakistan got the grip once again on the match when the fiery pacer Wahab Riaz caught and bowled Moeen Ali, utterly beating him on pace.

Nevertheless, when Mohammad Rizwan, who had been named Pakistan’s Man of the Series in the Tests in England, had amply displayed his wicket-keeping prowess in the first two T20s as well, the decision to pick Sarfaraz ahead of him for the final match of the series was baffling and it almost proved costly.

What this team needs is a strong captain who can take ownership of the team selection and performance while giving his players the confidence to play their natural game freely.

The author is a sports broadcaster & cricket commentator who has worked on assignments for leading sports networks in India & abroad and was on the Hindi commentary panel for the ENG v PAK T20 series.

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Ngidi, Nortje put Proteas in command against West Indies

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GROS ISLET [ST LUCIA]: South Africa’s Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje stole show with the ball before West Indies’ Jayden Seales picked three on debut as 14 wickets fell on opening day of first Test between West Indies and South Africa at Daren Sammy Cricket Ground in Gros Islet, St Lucia.

The visitors were clearly on top at the end of the first day as Ngidi (5/19) and Nortje (4/35) combined to dismiss the home team for just 97. Coming out to bat, the Proteas ended the day on 128/4 — a lead of 31 runs with six wickets in the bag.The home team had something to cheer about as debutant Seales bagged three wickets to keep hosts in the game.

While he started with the wicket of Keegan Peterson in his very first over, he had the prized wicket of Aiden Markram (60) and Kyle Verreyne (6) by the end of the day. The start was just what the doctor ordered for the Windies after the poor show with the bat as Kemar Roach sent back skipper Dean Elgar (0) off the fifth ball of the innings.But Markram and Rassie Van Der Dussen (34*) did the hard yards before the Windies debutant sent back opener Markram. At stumps, Quinton de Kock (4*) was at the crease giving Dussen company.While South Africa got off to a poor start with the bat, it was a decent start from the Windies side as skipper Kraigg Braithwaite and Shai Hope played out the first 11 overs and just when it looked they would start to add to the scoring rate as well, Nortje sent both of them back and hit Nkrumah Bonner on the helmet off the very first ball.

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KREJCIKOVA STORMS INTO WOMEN’S FINALS, SETS UP SUMMIT CLASH AGAINST PAVLYUCHENKOVA

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Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova on Thursday progressed to the finals of the ongoing French Open.The 25-year-old Krejcikova defeated Greece’s Maria Sakkari 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 to gain a hard-fought victory in the semi-final match here at Court Philippe-Chatrier. Now, Krejcikova will lock horns against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the women’s finals of the French Open.

The first set between Krejcikova and Sakkari saw back and forth action and at one stage, it stood level at 5-5. In the end, Krejcikova managed to hold her nerve and she took the first set 7-5.Greece’s Sakkari staged a comeback in the second set and she managed to win it 6-4, and as a result, the match progressed into the third and deciding set.

The third set saw back and forth action between both the opponents and at one stage, it was level at 7-7. However, going for the kill, Krejcikova raised her game and she progressed to the finals of the tournament.

Earlier on Thursday, 29-year-old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova stormed into the finals of the ongoing French Open.

Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova defeated Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek 7-5, 6-3 in the semi-finals of the ongoing Grand Slam here at the Court Philippe-Chatrier.

On Friday, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will lock horns in the men’s semi-final while Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas will square off in the other semi-final.

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SPAIN GOOD ENOUGH TO REACH QUARTERS, SAYS LUIS GARCIA

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NEW DELHI: Former Spain winger Luis Garcia feels the team will have a good chance to spring a surprise in the upcoming European Championships. Spain is placed alongside Sweden, Poland, and Slovakia in Group E and the side will lock horns against Sweden in their first match of the tournament.The build-up to Spain’s tournament has not been great as captain Sergio Busquets has already been ruled out of the first game against Sweden due to a positive Covid-19 result and some of the other players are also isolating.However, on Thursday, defender Diego Llorente returned a negative test and now he needs to return two more negative results to be able to join the squad.“Yeah, it is going to be tough. We have to wait until we see the latest news. Two players tested positive for Covid-19, we need to see the next couple of days. We have players from the U-21 squad that we can bring into the national squad and I am not afraid of that. I can tell you that they are ready to play, they are going to be hungry to play in Euros with the senior side. They have enough experience, most of them to try the fill the gaps of the players who will miss out,” said Garcia while replying to an ANI query during a virtual press conference.“If we pull out more players, but it is going to be difficult to have a good tournament, still I am saying, this is a long tournament, you can have ups and downs, but if you can maintain 14-15 good players and you can maintain rotation among them, then it would be good. Hopefully, there are not many injuries,” added Garcia who will be a panelist on Sony Ten 2 studio show Football Extraaa for the upcoming UEFA Euro 2020.

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IOC chief Bach to arrive in Japan to see preparations of Olympics in July

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The International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach will arrive in Japan for the Tokyo Olympics in July, the CEO of the Tokyo organising body said on Thursday.

Toshiro Muto told reporters that John Coates, who heads the IOC Coordination Commission overseeing the games’ preparations, will arrive on Tuesday along with other senior officials, as per reports in Kyodo News.

Meanwhile, with the Tokyo Olympics round the corner, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is looking at redistributing the slots that were held for North Korea.

An IOC official speaking at a press conference explained the need to finalize the allocation of slots to ensure fairness as there are athletes waiting for information about participating in the games.

Even though North Korea’s Olympic committee is yet to make any official communication to the IOC on the decision to miss the Games, North Korea’s sports ministry had said in April that Pyongyang would not participate in the Summer Games to protect its athletes from the novel coronavirus. The last time they skipped the Olympics was in 1988.

Overseas media personnel will be strictly monitored after entering Japan for the Olympic Games to ensure they have no contact with the public, Tokyo Olympic chief Seiko Hashimoto has said.

Hashimoto told an executive board meeting in the opening remarks that Japan is still in a “very difficult situation,” and “to make sure that people don’t go to places other than the places where they are registered to go, we will use GPS to strictly manage their behavior.”

Media arriving from abroad need to submit pre-determined destinations during the games and with the use of GPS, they can be tracked by organisers to ensure they are isolated during the first 14 days after arrival.

“If any violations are found, measures like suspension or deprivation of accreditation or deportation proceedings will be applied,” Toshiro Muto, the Tokyo 2020 CEO, told reporters after the executive board meeting.“After 14 days, they can engage in normal media coverage,” Muto said. “Considering the current situation, that is tolerable.”

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HUMBLED BY THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEAD INDIA: SHIKHAR DHAWAN

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India opener Shikhar Dhawan who has being named as captain of the squad slated to tour Sri Lanka for the limited-overs series on Friday said he is humbled by the opportunity.

India and Sri Lanka will lock horns in the three-match ODI series and as many T20Is from July 13. The three ODIs will be played on July 13, 16, and 18. While the T20I series will commence on July 21, and the next two matches will be played on July 23 and 25. The All-India Senior Selection Committee on Thursday picked the squad for the Sri Lanka tour. Dhawan was appointed as the skipper with Bhuvneshwar Kumar being picked as the vice-captain.

Dhawan on Friday said he is humbled to get the opportunity to lead India in the white ball series against Sri Lanka. “Humbled by the opportunity to lead my country. Thank you for all your wishes,” Dhawan tweeted. All matches will be played at the R Premadasa International Cricket Stadium, Colombo. Prithvi Shaw has earned a call-up into the white-ball squad. Opening batters Devdutt Padikkal and Ruturaj Gaikwad have also been named in the squad.

Meanwhile, Varun Chakravarthy, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Rahul Chahar, K Gowtham have been chosen as the spinners while the young speedster, Chetan Sakariya who impressed everyone in IPL has also earned a place in the squad.

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I try to learn from calm minds like Sunil Chhetri, Roy Krishna: Manvir Singh

Striker Manvir Singh opens up about the forthcoming match against Afghanistan and talks at length about him playing as a striker and also as a winger.

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Striker Manvir Singh who headed to the National team after a successful domestic season maintains that nothing is constant as a striker. In a candid interview, Manvir opens up about learning from Sunil Chhetri and Roy Krishna, his maturity, the forthcoming match against Afghanistan and talks at length about him playing as a striker and also as a winger. Excerpts

Q. How much have you matured as a striker in recent years?

A. A striker is all about confidence and that only comes through the game time he gets. The more you get to play, the more mature you become. It’s all about your intuition, the movements inside the box, sniffing it, and eventually the finishing. I reiterate, you can only get all of that when you get to play. Otherwise, your talent and determination will always be on the bench.

Q. What is the biggest takeaway for a striker?

A. I have learnt that nothing is constant. There will be days when you will score and there will be misses too. A striker needs to move on and stay focused.

Q. Can you elaborate?

A. My job becomes easier when I play alongside top strikers. I just watch Sunil-bhai and try to imitate his calm in front of the goal. At the end of the day, that ice-cool head makes all the difference. That’s education for me. In a match a striker won’t get a million chances.

There will be days when you will get just one chance, or maybe a half chance. If you are able to make it count, you have done your job. I also need to mention that I look up to Roy Krishna’s calm in front ofthe goal. They are my heroes.

Q. How would you describe yourself as a player – a winger, or as a striker?

A. At the outset, I was an out and out striker. But a player needs to be flexible. Modern-day football is not just about sticking to one position and role. I have been playing on the wings – both on the right-wing and left-wing in recent times. I feel that has helped me understand the dynamics of a team’s attacking philosophy. It is a plus point for any player.

Q. Sunil has been there for so long. How do you describe his longevity?

A. My dad Kuldip Singh who played for PSEB as a striker and scored quite a few goals in the Federation Cup, Durand Cup and the IFA Shield besides a host of other tournaments always mentions to me to learn fromSunil-bhai the art of his longevity. In fact, he had played against him, and always tells me: “When you are seeing him from close, learn as much as you can. Sunil’s speciality is that he has been there for so long. And that is extremely hard work.” Being around him I have already taken my baby steps. The rest is forme to sustain, and improve.

What can we expect from the next match against Afghanistan?

We need to sustain the momentum gathered in the match against Bangladesh and even in the 0-1 loss against Qatar. But everyone is aware that all of that is past. The match on 15th is a fresh canvas. We need to paint it in the right manner. The coach has been constantly working with us. We need to pay him back.

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