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Posts Tagged ‘sri lanka’

Away from the tension, hype and seagulls (yes, honestly, seagulls) of the build-up to the final Ashes Test, New Zealand and Sri Lanka are preparing for a Test series of their own.

For most of the tourists, Test cricket in Sri Lanka will be a new experience (only three members of the Black Caps’ squad have played a Test in Sri Lanka before). Their recent record is a cause for concern – a mere four Tests won in the last two-and-a-half years (with three of those coming against Bangladesh). None of the likely front-line bowlers have much experience of Sri Lankan conditions, which may prove costly. The likes of Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder will be taking a step into the unknown, and – on recent form – New Zealand’s top order is hardly likely to set them up with a comfortable platform to do so.

The hosts will be comfortable favourites, and will be looking to sneak the Number 2 spot in the ICC Test Rankings. Ajantha Mendis looks set to miss out given Rangana Herath‘s performances against Pakistan, whilst Murali returns to the side to worry New Zealand’s inexperienced batting line-up.

Anything other than a Sri Lankan series win would be a massive surprise.

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Rahul Dravid is set to return to One Day International cricket after being included in India’s squad for the upcoming tri-series in Sri Lanka and the autumn’s Champions Trophy. Although Dravid hasn’t played an ODI since 2007, his performances in this year’s IPL and the relative weakness of India’s middle order in the World Twenty20 have encouraged the selectors to bring back ‘The Wall’ in place of Rohit Sharma.

Sachin Tendulkar also returns to the side after sitting out the ODI series against the West Indies, but Virender Sehwag is still out with the shoulder injury that caused him to miss out on the World Twenty20.

The squad in full is: MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh,Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Ashish Nehra, RP Singh, Amit Mishra, Dinesh Karthik, and Abhishek Nayar.

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Australia are facing the prospect of losing their ranking as the world’s best Test side for the first time since 2003. Only victory at both Headingley and The Oval would see the Aussies hold on to top spot, whilst defeat in the Ashes series could see them sink below South Africa, India and Sri Lanka to fourth, which would be their lowest ranking since the current system began. With the weather forecast for Leeds not looking great (as well as the fact that the pitch no longer favours bowlers as it used to) and The Oval’s growing resemblance to a pancake, the tourists could be facing a serious rankings slump.

To be honest, Australia have long since ceased to enjoy the level of dominance that, for younger cricket fans, they seemed to have possessed for eons. The ultimate humiliation, although very unlikely, could come later in the summer – at the time of writing, Australia only lead England in the ODI rankings by 8 points (Australia are in third with 119 points, England are fourth with 111).

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After the Test series, Sri Lanka’s first home series win against Pakistan, the two sides move on to ODIs with the tourists looking for revenge. In trying to get their own back, Pakistan will be boosted by the return of ICL exiles Naved-ul-Hasan and Imran Nazir (as well as Abdul Razzaq,back after sitting out the Tests).

After the relative success of both sides in the World Twenty20, the focus shifts to preparation for the World Cup in 2011, but both sides have chosen to focus on experience – whilst Pakistan welcome back their ICL players, Sri Lanka bring back the likes of Thilan Samaraweera. The hosts also enjoy the return of Lasith Malinga (although Dilhara Fernando is available as cover in case the slinger picks up an injury. Meanwhile, the pressure on Mendis to deliver against Pakistan, a side who have played him pretty well, continues to mount amid suggestions that his magic has worn off.

Pakistan will hope that their new opening partnership of Nazir and Kamran Akmal (or whatever other partnership they go for – the squad is as strong as it has been for ages) can deliver, whilst their bowling attack – led by Umar Gul – looks strong as usual. If Shahid Afridi can take his World Twenty20 form into the (slightly) longer form then the tourists have a real chance of victory, but inconsistency (as ever) may prove the largest obstacle to success for Pakistan.

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The Third Test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which starts tomorrow, will be Chaminda Vaas‘ last. The announcement of his retirement from Test cricket comes just a fortnight after he denied speculation that his Test career was coming to an end, and his recall to the Sri Lankan side for the first time since February gives him the chance to leave on a high, with his side looking for a clean sweep against Pakistan.

Vaas is probably Sri Lanka’s greatest ever fast bowler, having played more than 100 Tests and taken more than 350 wickets. Whilst he intends to play one-day and Twenty20 cricket for another two years, his absence from the Test side will be keenly felt. If you don’t believe me, watch his 5-61 against the West Indies in Guyana last year below.

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Yesterday’s recovery from Pakistan has proved to be somewhat of a dead cat bounce, as the tourists lost their last 9 wickets for just 35 runs (only the top three made it into double figures) to allow Sri Lanka to wrap up a historic win (and their first home series win against Pakistan) within three days.

Rangana Herath and Nuwan Kulasekara took 5-99 and 4-37 respectively for Sri Lanka as the hosts restricted Pakistan to a lead of just 170, before their batsmen reached 171/3 in less than 32 overs to wrap up a victory which seemed improbable 2 hours earlier.

For Pakistan, the brief moment of hope has once again faded, and the number of times that their batsmen were given out LBW is cause for concern. For Sri Lanka, there is encouragement that the absence of Murali need not preclude significant progress, and that the pace bowling attack is robust enough to cope without Vaas and Malinga.

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After their shocking display in the first innings, Pakistan fought back in their second innings of the Second Test against Sri Lanka, closing day 2 on 178/1, having clawed back the first day’s deficit through impressive displays with both bat and ball.

First, it was Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal who took the game by the scruff of the neck, finishing with four wickets each as Sri Lanka were restricted to 240 all out, having been 164/3 overnight. Gul in particular was instrumental, kick-starting the comeback with the wicket of Sangakkara and ending with figures of 4-43 and as the cheapest of Pakistan’s bowlers.

After the innings break, it was debutant Fawad Alam (one of my ‘ones to watch’ from last year, albeit as an all-rounder – this was the first time he had opened the batting, as far as I can tell, in any form of the game) who took over, erasing criticisms and memories of his first innings failure with a fine knock, ending the day unbeaten on 102.

Pakistan are still only 28 runs ahead in the match, but the turnaround since yesterday has been dramatic -yet another compelling argument for the continuing primacy of Test cricket.

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Pakistan’s strong record in Sri Lanka is taking a beating. After the tourists’ collapse from a strong position in the First Test, they have managed to concede a first-innings deficit within less than a day’s play in the Second Test.

Kulasekara, Thushara and Mendis all finished with impressive figures for Sri Lanka as Pakistan made a mere 90 runs, with only three Pakistani batsmen making it into double figures (Shoaib Malik did hang around for more than two hours, but made only 39 not out). All this after Younis Khan won the toss and elected to bat.

In reply, the hosts passed Pakistan’s total in just over 26 overs, and now have a strangehold on the series, no mean feat given the big names that are absent from their side.

For Pakistan, it’s difficult to see a way back, and questions are already being asked about team selection and the batting order.

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Mohammad Yousuf has made a century on his return to international cricket, making 112 for Pakistan as the tourists recovered from 80/4 to earn a first-innings lead of 50 runs in the First Test at Galle.

Notably, Pakistan continued to play the bowling of Ajantha Mendis well, with the spinner ending wicketless and going for 89 runs from 25 overs, including the runs which brought up both Yousuf’s half-century and the century itself.

Although the majority of the cricketing world’s attention is understandably taken up by the impending Ashes series, this finely-balanced Test is worth keeping an eye on – as is Yousuf, who is now only one ton behind Inzamam ul-Haq in Pakistan’s all-time ranking of century-makers (Yousuf also overtook Javed Miandad on the same list with today’s score).

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The build-up to the imminent Test series between Sri Lanka and Pakistan may have brought up memories of two recent meetings between the sides – the recent World Twenty20 final, and of course the sadly curtailed Test series of four months ago – but there’s change afoot for both sides.

For the hosts, Kumar Sangakkara takes over as captain, whilst Muralitharan, Vaas and Malinga are all absent, opening up opportunities for the likes of Angelo Matthews and Suraj Randiv to make debuts (and for Kulasekara to front the Test attack). Sri Lanka have never won a Test series at home against Pakistan, and in fact have only won a single home Test against the tourists, but their batting form is impressive enough to make the sorts of scores that can remove defeat from the equation.

For Pakistan, Mohammad Yousuf returns from his self-imposed (and self-rescinded) ICL exile, whilst Mohammad Aamer, supremely impressive at times in the World Twenty20, could be in line for a Test debut. The feelgood factor from that tournament hasn’t worn off yet, but bowling Sri Lanka out twice will be a challenge even for an attack featuring the brilliance and form of Umar Gul.

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After all that Pakistani cricket fans have been through recently, there is no set of supporters that deserves something to celebrate as much as they do. With that in mind, congratulations to the side which has just won the World Twenty20 finalShahid Afridi shone again with the bat after Abdul Razzaq had taken 3-20 (continuing the strong impact that he’s had since returning from the ICL) as Sri Lanka fought their way back from 70-6 to set Pakistan 139 to win.

Uncharacteristically, the eventual victors didn’t even put their fans through any last-minute anguish with a collapse, or stumble across the line. At times, there was even a worrying outbreak of sensible batting from Afridi, but luckily he shook that off with a couple of massive sixes to get the party started.

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Shane Bond looks set to return to Test cricket, and he won’t even need to wear a comedy disguise. Having cut all ties with the ICL, the Kiwi pace bowler has made himself available for selection by New Zealand.

The news has been welcomed by captain Daniel Vettori, given the injury problems that frustrated his side during their World Twenty20 campaign. Bond, however, says that he doesn’t expect to be recalled for the Black Caps’ upcoming tour of Sri Lanka.

With the ICL seemingly now a dead end, a number of ‘rebel’ players are making the transition back to mainstream cricket, with Bond arguably the player who was most missed by his international side during his exile.

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