Monday, November 28, 2011

Bangladesh look to break Pakistan's momentum

Pakistan begins its first full tour of Bangladesh with a one-off T20 International against the home side at Dhaka on Tuesday. Pakistan are riding high on their impressive win against Sri Lanka across all formats. On the other hand, Bangladesh have shown glimpses of talent but are a side struggling to make a lasting impression, often falling away at crucial times.

An unusual serenity and calmness surrounded the Pakistan team when it arrived in Dhaka. Usually embroiled in controversies, Misbah’s men have looked a calm and collected unit off late. The fans alike have started believing in the team, even more so after coming out on top of difficult situations in the recent series win against Sri Lanka.

The team flew directly from UAE, and only injuries have brought changes to the squad. All-rounder Abdul Razzaq and left-arm pacer Junaid Khan will both miss the tour due to injuries. Fast bowler Mohammed Khalil has come in the side. Skipper Misbah has indicated that they will field a full-strength side, rubbishing any impressions that they are taking Bangladesh lightly. The task will not be easy for their opposition, with Pakistan boasting of the three highest wicket-takers in T20 International history.

Bangladesh have made improvements through leaps and bounds in recent years. At times they take the world by a storm, while at others, even their staunchest supporters are left saving face. The team should use the recent win against West Indies in the T20 as a morale-boosting example and continue to believe that they can, on their given day, overcome even the best sides in the world. And realistically, the T20 format presents their best chance at achieving so.

In terms of their squad, former captain and experienced batsman Mohammad Ashraful has been axed owing to consistently poor performances. All-rounder Farhad Reza returns to the national side after three years, during which he signed with the breakaway Indian Cricket League and was thus banned by the BCB. Wicket-keeper Mushfiqur Rahim will lead the side, and Shakib al Hassan will pose the greatest threat to the opposition.

The two sides have met four times in the shortest format of the game, with Pakistan winning each time.

Young India still favorites against West Indies

India, the world champions, enter the one-day series against West Indies as firm favorites and one should expect little surprises, if any, in terms of results. West Indies have only upward to look to as their form in the 50-over format of the game has not been any impressive either.

India will be led by the explosive Virender Sehwag, with the selectors deciding to rest regular skipper MS Dhoni ahead of the tough Australian tour. For them it is a matter of continuing their winning run as well as testing their bench strength. Sachin Tendulkar has also been rested while Yuvraj Singh is unavailable as he battles lung tumor.

India have fared reasonably well off late, clean-sweeping England at home to add to the World Cup glory earlier in the year. In addition, they beat West Indies in West Indies as well, winning the first three ODIs before falling away in the last two inconsequential matches. The only glitch in an otherwise perfect year has come in the form of the abysmal tour to England where they lost 3-0.

West Indies will yet again be looking for answers to their miseries that surround them. Since crashing out in the quarter-final at the World Cup, the team has lost home series against Pakistan and India. While they won the ODI series in Bangladesh, the victory came through the tough route having lost the first match before bouncing back in the following two matches.

The absence of Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo has proven costly in recent times, and the young side will be looking to silence the critics with impressive performances. Darren Bravo has been a revelation on the tour and his teammates will look to draw inspiration from him.

Barabati Stadium in Cuttack hosts the day/night encounter. India have lost only two ODIs in two decades at this ground. With the match being played late in November, dew factor could be important and may affect the captain’s decision after winning the toss.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sri Lanka look to end tour on a high note

After comprehensively outplaying Sri Lanka throughout the tour, Pakistan will look to reign supreme in the shortest format of the game as well when the teams clash in Abu Dhabi for their one-off Twenty20 International. Surprising as it may sound, Pakistan are ranked seventh in ICC T20 rankings – a format they seem best suited for. On the other hand, Sri Lanka are ranked second on the table, and the only notable success they have had since World Cup has come in T20s only.

Sri Lanka look extremely out of ideas to arrest their woeful slide. While the unpredictable nature of T20 cricket gives them their best chance on tour to rectify it, their chances of doing so look slim against a Pakistan side gaining momentum with each win. Pakistan, on the other hand, are hungry for more wins, not only to put aside their off-field controversies behind them, but also to improve their seventh-placed ICC T20 ranking – something that took Misbah ul Haq by a shock. Of the last 10 T20 matches, Pakistan have won only three, two of them against the minnows Zimbabwe.

Injuries have depleted both sides with valuable talent, though Sri Lanka’s loss is more damaging on two counts. First, injuries to key players hamper the team’s hopes of change in fortunes. Secondly, their bench strength does not possess the same firepower and abundance in talent as Pakistan’s.

Mahela Jayawardene, who missed the last ODI as well, will be missed at the top of the order. In addition, skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan will wait on his fitness to decide whether he plays or not. For Pakistan, Abdul Razzaq had already been ruled out. In addition, Junaid Khan also suffered an abdominal tear during the last ODI and has been ruled out for six weeks. Such injuries will allow both sides to blood more youngsters into the side. Sri Lanka are likely to give Kosala Kulasekara and the experienced Ajantha Mendis a go. For Pakistan, Umar Akmal is likely to keep wickets again.

The match is scheduled for a late evening start on the weekly holiday of Friday. Therefore, a packed house should not be surprising. Interestingly, Pakistan have lost both their previous T20 games at this ground and will be hoping to set that record straight.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pakistan favorites against embattled Sri Lanka in dead encounter

Rallying on their impressive run, Pakistan will be keen to dent Sri Lanka further as the two sides meet in the inconsequential final one-day match at Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. Sri Lanka started the series at No. 2 on ICC ODI rankings and have already slipped to number four. Pakistan, on the other hand, edged past England and will be looking to solidify their fifth slot further.

After back-to-back wins, Pakistan’s confidence is sky high. From the lows of failure to a come-from-behind win in the fourth match, all masterminded by flamboyant Shahid Afridi, the team has continued its unbeaten run in bilateral series this year. And the team knows that to put all the controversies behind them, they need to keep winning irrespective of the series result, and that will keep Pakistan hungry for a win in the final game.

Pakistan may fiddle around a bit with their line-up, to try different combinations and test their bench strength. Umar Gul has looked out of sorts in the last two matches and may be rested to give Sohail Tanvir another chance. Another surprising omission has been that of Junaid Khan who impressed in the test matches as well. Shoaib Malik who looked out of sorts in the previous game is likely to retain his place as all-rounder Abdul Razzaq has been sent home due to injury.

For Sri Lanka, their abysmal tour keeps getting worse. Their experienced players have failed to carry the team over the line, and the youngsters have been unsuccessful in translating their immense potential into on-field results. On Sunday the team failed to chase 201, their last seven wickets collapsing for 19 runs. To make matters worse, Sri Lanka have injury concerns that may hamper their performance even further. Skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan is expected to lead the side despite injury. Mahela Jayawardene though has been ruled out of the remainder of the tour and has flown back home.

Given the unpredictable nature of performances on both sides, another close encounter cannot be ruled out on the slow, low pitches of Abu Dhabi. The match will be crucial not only for the teams’ viewpoints, but also for individual players to stand up and be counted with both teams looking to score psychological points ahead of the Twenty20 international.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

India eager to continue dominating run

India will be looking to continue their dominating run against the West Indies when the sides face off in the final match of the series, starting from Tuesday at Mumbai. With the series already lost, West Indies will be keen on scoring some positive points ahead of the one-dayers, having shown tremendous courage and grit in the second innings of the second test match.

Sachin Tendulkar will be the man yet again under the spotlight. Playing at his home ground, and with the series already decided, the script couldn’t be any better for the legendary batsman to finally score his 100th international ton. India have made one change to their squad, axing Yuvraj Singh for Rohit Sharma. Sharma has been impressive in the Ranji trophy and the selectors want to give him a try before Team India’s tour to Down Under next month.

West Indies will look to draw inspiration from their spirited fightback in the second innings, after being bundled out in the first innings. Darren Bravo proved his mettle with a gritty century and was ably supported by Kirk Edwards and Adrain Barath. The youngsters will look to impress yet again, together with Shivnarine Chanderpaul who is expected to play in spite of a calf injury. The bowling department sums up the misery of the West Indies team ever since their intimidating fast bowlers retired.

Wankhede Stadium hosts its first match in over five years, when England won by a convincing margin.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sri Lanka battle to keep series alive

Sri Lanka enter into the fourth ODI facing a grim battle to avoid yet another series defeat following the World Cup. Misbah ul Haq, on the other hand, will be looking to continue his impressive run as skipper and cap a series win against the No. 2 ODI side in the world.

The third ODI provided a sensational display of hard-fought cricket, with Pakistan’s energy and fighting spirit coupled with some astute captaincy completing their 21-run win.

Mohammed Hafeez’s Man-of-the-Match performance adds some confidence to the top order, though the middle-order needs to patch up having failed to reach a total of 300+ after being well-set in the third ODI.

Pakistan’s spinners will look to continue tormenting their opposition, with Saeed Ajmal almost unreadable for the less-experienced Sri Lankan batsmen. The fast bowlers looked less impressive, though Umar Gul ended up with three wickets.

One department where Pakistan have to improve considerably is their fielding. Pakistan were lucky to come out winners after missing several run-outs and other half-chances, and they will be keen to avoid complacency in the department.

Sri Lanka’s tendency to keep losing wickets regularly continues to cost them heavily. Tillakaratne Dilshan’s return to form would ideally spark a change in fortunes. Besides looking to build partnerships, their batsmen also need to work on their running between the wickets, as many mix-ups were witnessed on Friday. Mahela Jayawardene, having just reached 10,000 ODI runs, will be hoping to contribute heavily in the coming games to lead a struggling middle-order.

For the Sri Lankan bowlers, consistency is what their aim must be. Though they made a good comeback in the later overs, they were all over the place to begin with, allowing Pakistani openers a good opening stand.

Team news
Pakistan have no major reasons to spring around changes as Sohail Tanvir may be given an extended run. Sri Lanka could bring in left-arm Chanaka Welegedera, replacing the injured Suranga Lakmal, for underperforming Dilhara Fernando to provide control and variety.

Cricket returns to Sharjah after a long gap as two-test playing nations will be in action here after eight years. The last such match was the 2000th ODI, played between Pakistan and Zimbabwe in 2003. The pitch is renowned for favoring the batsmen, with many high-scoring day/night thrillers having been played in the 1990s.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pakistan wary of resurgent Sri Lanka

If there’s something you’re sure of about Pakistan going into every match, it is their unpredictable nature. After a convincing win in the first win, Pakistan gave Sri Lanka a much-needed morale-boosting win to level the series. The teams clash for a third time on Friday, and getting your nose ahead in this game may ultimately prove crucial in the context of the series.

Sri Lanka would be buoyed by the return to form of their key batsmen Upul Tharanga and Mahela Jayawardene, both scoring half-centuries. The batting though still has some questions to answer, as a total of 235 seemed disappointing following a breezy start when they reached 50 in 10 overs. Angelo Mathews, playing purely as a batsman, will have to do more to justify his position at No. 6. The bowling, though won them the match, still largely depends on Lasith Malinga and can be seen as a handicap. While Thissara Perera looked threatening, the rest of the bowlers easily allowed Pakistan to come back after being 3-11 inside four overs. Suranga Lakmal missed the second match through injury, and is still uncertain for the third ODI.

Pakistan must realize that despite outdoing Sri Lanka in all departments of the game overall, the series is still level. It is the key moments that Sri Lanka seized on Monday and Pakistan need to avoid a repeat of those. Umar Akmal’s 91-run knock is a welcome sign, but the 21-year old batsman still has to learn to take his team over the line to consider his job done. Mohammad Hafeez has failed in two outings thus far, but there are no alarms yet over his place in the team. Sloppy running and poor batting let them down on Monday, and the coach Mohsin Khan is expected to have come hard the players to avoid a similar situation. In the bowling, Aizaz Cheema may make way for left-arm pacer Junaid Khan who is also known for his controlled bowling in the death overs. Saeed Ajmal yet again proved expensive in the final overs, bringing back memories of the infamous T20 semi-final against Australia in 2010 when Mike Hussey took Ajmal to cleaners.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wounded Australia promise improved show

Australia will not mind having to play over five days as long as they are able to square the two-test series against South Africa. The second test match starts on Thursday at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. After an action-packed first test that saw the game see-saw within hours and wrapped up inside three days, both sides will be wary of avoiding a repeat of their colossal batting collapses.

Australia have a few changes to make and they will be hoping these changes come good. Back injury to Shaun Marsh has ruled him out of the remaining matches and David Warner has been flown in as replacement. However, Usman Khawaja, the first Muslim to represent Australia, is likely to be take Marsh’s spot in the playing eleven. Another prospective change is to award the baggy green to fast-bowler Pat Cummins, at the expense of either Peter Siddle or the usually-inconsistent Mitchell Johnson, both of whom picked up one wicket apiece in the first test.

South Africa, despite their batting succumbing miserably in the first innings at Cape Town, are likely to resist making changes. Opener Jacques Rudolph, although failed in both innings, is likely to be given an extended run on his return from exile. Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla stamped their authority with aggressive centuries and the rest of the batting order will hope to take cue from it. Vernon Philander’s impressive show on debut means the bowling unit also looks relatively stable. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel will be keen on extracting the maximum out of the pacer-friendly pitch at the Wanderers.

The Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg is known for its pacer-friendly pitches and both the teams will be looking to make maximum use of it. If Australia need some motivation going into the match, they must remember that they have won their test match at Johannesburg each time on their four previous tours, dating back to 1997. Jacques Kallis has a strong record at the ground, being the only batsman with over 1000 test runs.

The match may witness frequent rain interruptions with short thundershowers expected through the next seven days.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Upbeat Pakistan look to extend lead

After roaring to a convincing victory in the first match, Pakistan will be keen on carrying the winning momentum in the second ODI against Sri Lanka on Monday. Sri Lanka, the World Cup finalists, though have plenty of worries going into the match, having tasted very little success in the past six months.

Pakistan could not have scripted a better performance than the show they put up on Friday. The fast bowlers started off well, maintained the pressure and eventually the spinners breathed down Sri Lanka’s batting with contained bowling and crucial wickets. Bowling will once again be the key for Pakistan, and the blend of youth and experience is allowing them to adjust into their own roles well. The variety at Misbah ul Haq’s disposal is also something any captain would cherish on the slow, low surfaces of Dubai. The bulk of the batting is yet to be tested, though half-centuries from Imran Farhat and Younis Khan should do their own confidence a lot of good plus silence their critics to some extent. The all-rounders give Pakistan some easy breathing space, with hard-hitting Abdul Razzaq coming in at number eight. But all eyes will once again be on Shahid Afridi, expectations from whom are sky high following his Man-of-the-Match performance on his comeback.

Sri Lankan dressing room presents a totally opposite scenario to that of Pakistan. Their batting woes fail to go away, and even wholesale changes to the squad from the test series brought little luck, if any. Their batsmen need to get their act right urgently, as too many batsmen threw their wickets away to soft dismissals. Failure to convert the starts into big scores has been a recurring problem for the Tigers. The bowling also looked toothless, though it can be argued that it was a result of trying too hard defending a paltry total of 131. Lasith Malinga looked off-color but such is his threat that he can come good any moment. Suranga Lakmal continues to impress and if Pakistan are complacent against him, the latter can be caught off guard against Lakmal.

The conditions will be similar to the first match played here, with warm temperatures expected throughout the day/night encounter. The captain winning the toss is likely to favor batting first. Interestingly, the team winning the toss on this ground has won only once out of six attempts.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pakistan gear up for Lankan aggression in ODIs

After winning the three-match test series 1-0, Pakistan face Sri Lanka in the five-match one-day series starting in Dubai from Friday.

While the tests produced defensive batting reminiscent of the early 90s, the crowds and the audience alike will hope for the one-day series to yield some attacking cricket – something that has been a characteristic of the two sides, specially in the shorter versions of the game.

Monday, November 7, 2011

South Africa face Australia challenge on return to test cricket

Jacques Kallis has scored eight centuries at Cape TownOnce the top two sides in the world, South Africa and Australia head into an unusually-short two-test series starting from Wednesday. Cape Town will present the home side its first test match since the New Year’s test against India. Australia, on the other hand, are gradually picking up under Michael Clarke, with ODI series already in the bag and having shared the T20 series.