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The second most prestigious tournament in everyone’s third-favourite format of the game is nearly here. Can you contain yourself? Here are the Group A runners and riders:

  • Australia will no doubt have had a confidence boost from driving a steamroller over England over the latter part of the summer, but doubts remain over how they will perform when faced with tougher opposition. Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson are a potent combination with the ball, and there seems to be no shortage of batsmen able to make runs (foremost amongst which, of course, is Ricky Ponting).
  • India may be missing Virender Sehwag, but will be amongst the favourites as they look to improve on their last showing at a 50-over tournament, when they didn’t make it past the first round of the 2007 World Cup. Since then, however, India have won an ICC tournament in South Africa – the same year’s World Twenty20 – and there is enough quality in the side to beat any opponent on the right day.
  • The West Indies go into the competition still in disarray, with a side full of reserves as the contract dispute rumbles on. Although progress seems to have been made on that front, this competition is likely to be little more than a further embarrassment for the WICB.
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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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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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The ECB have announced that Pakistan will play two Tests and two Twenty20 matches (no ODIs, interestingly) against Australia in England (and possibly Wales – the venues are yet to be confirmed) next July.

Previously, hosting matches in England had been considered too expensive for the PCB, but that obstacle seems to have been overcome. English fans (as well as UK-based Aussies or Pakistan fans) can now look forward to Afridi vs Johnson and Gul vs Ponting at a ground near them.

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It seems New Zealand were a little suspicious of Umar Gul’s 5 for 6, and asked the match officials whether it was possible that the Pakistani paceman’s ‘excessive‘ reverse swing might have been down to ball-tampering. Younis Khan finds this “embarrassing“, as do I.

When a team has been soundly beaten, it is hardly in keeping with the so called ‘Spirit of Cricket‘ for them to immediately accuse the other side of foul play. The spectre of Pakistani ball-tampering seems difficult for some to dispel, and yet New Zealand’s reverse swing in the same match (admittedly not to anywhere near the same degree or effect) attracted no such suspicion.

Whilst it is impossible to say for certain what happened to the ball, the presence of several TV cameras and the regular examination of said ball my the match officials without any sanction being imposed on Pakistan would seem to suggest that there is little cause for concern.

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In honour of Umar Gul’s remarkable 5-6 yesterday (youtube here), here are four more of the best-ever T20I bowling performances:

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A number of sides have left it until the last minute to announce their squads for the upcoming World Twenty20 (the final deadline is May 5), but Pakistan’s has grabbed a couple of headlines for the inclusion of relative unknowns Shahzaib Hasan (scorer of 607 runs in ten matches for Karachi in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy) and Mohammad Aamer (who has taken 56 first-class wickets in ten matches for Rawalpindi this season).

The rest of the 15 is as follows: Younis Khan (the captain), Salman Butt, Ahmed Shehzad, Shoaib Malik, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Fawad Alam, Shoaib Akhtar (who may be lucky to be included given continuing doubts over his fitness), Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul, Yasir Arafat and Saeed Ajmal.

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