Test cricket might just return to Pakistan later this year. Sri Lanka could be open to playing at least one Test in the country, after a security delegation visited Lahore and Karachi, and gave SLC “very positive feedback”. If everything goes to plan, Pakistan could host its first Test match since the Lahore attack on Sri Lanka’s team bus in March 2009.
The series against Sri Lanka, Pakistan’s first of the World Test Championship, was originally supposed to be played at a neutral venue, but the PCB made SLC an offer to play in Pakistan. With the offer in mind, SLC sent a security delegation headed by Mohan de Silva to assess security arrangements.
The security report, ESPNcricinfo understands, was tabled on Friday in Colombo. “The feedback we got from the security team was very positive,” SLC CEO Ashley de Silva said. “We’ll be talking to the PCB about some alternatives before we arrive at a decision. The government will be consulted as well.”
The biggest concern is understood to be obtaining the players’ consent to tour Pakistan. A Sri Lanka team played one T20I in Lahore in October 2017, but did so without a number of its prominent names. Sri Lanka’s then T20I captain, Upul Tharanga, pulled out, along with Lasith Malinga, Niroshan Dickwella, Suranga Lakmal and Akila Dananjaya. The team was captained by Thisara Perera, and the then SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala and sports minister Dayasiri Jayasekara accompanied the side to Lahore. The brief tour was successful, and was a major stepping stone that paved the way for PCB to convince teams to play more international cricket in Pakistan.
If Sri Lanka do play Test cricket in Pakistan, it will be a reciprocal gesture of sorts. The PCB was the first board to send a team to Sri Lanka following the April 21 bombings in Sri Lanka this year, a Pakistan Under-19 team touring the island a month after the attacks.
There was no top-rung international cricket in Pakistan for six years, following the 2009 Lahore attack, but since 2015, the country has hosted limited-overs games featuring Zimbabwe (2015), World XI (2017), Sri Lanka (2017) and West Indies (2018) apart from a number of Pakistan Super League (PSL) matches. A number of high-profile players have been part of these tours; the World XI side, for instance, was coached by Andy Flower and included five players from South Africa – including Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla – three from Australia, two from West Indies and one player each from England, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.
These matches have made some headway towards changing the perception of Pakistan among potential visiting teams, and recently the PCB managing director Wasim Khan presented the country’s case before the MCC World Cricket Committee. He emphasised the importance of bringing international cricket back to Pakistan, and invited the MCC to visit.
“It was a very positive meeting with the MCC,” Wasim said. “Shane Warne, Kumar Sangakkara and Mike Gatting, the chair of the committee, were present there. They wanted to me to present on the current security in the country, along with what impact playing no international cricket here has had, and what can be done to restore it.
“I am very, very confident that we will have an MCC team touring us in the near future. But, there are some matters related to security that need to be covered before they send their team. We will work very closely with the MCC to make sure that the tour happens.”
The MCC World Cricket Committee, headed by Gatting, expressed its support to see the resumption of tours to the nation after 10 years, and said the MCC would be interested in sending a touring team of its own by way of re-opening the door – final security checks pending as ever.
With additional reporting by Andrew Fidel Fernando
Hilton Moreeng reappointed as South Africa women’s head coach
Hilton Moreeng has been reappointed as the head coach of the South African women’s team on a three-year deal. His new contract includes both the 2021 ODI World Cup and 2022 T20 World Cup, due to be held in New Zealand and South Africa respectively, and will take Moreeng’s tenure in the role to 11 years, since he was first appointed in 2012.
More to follow…
Virat Kohli and…? Sourav Ganguly picks five current Indian Test players to play under him
Sourav Ganguly has worn many hats over the years, the latest being that of the president of the BCCI, but it’s Sourav Ganguly the India captain that people still remember with the most fondness. Chatting with Ganguly a couple of days before his 48th birthday, on the board’s official website, Mayank Agarwal got him to reminisce about his playing days, and also act as India’s Test captain, if only for a while. Excerpts from the interaction.
Five players from the current lot he would have wanted in his Test team
It’s a very tough question, Mayank, because I feel every generation the players are different, players face challenges differently in different generations, pitches, quality of opposition, even the change of the cricket ball – Kookaburra during my era and your era has completely been changed, maybe because of the leather, because the lacquer on the ball has changed. But on a humorous note, on a lighter note – and I hope nobody feels this generation is better than the other or that generation is weaker than the other because we unnecessarily get into such debates and for me, that has no meaning. From your current team, I would have loved to have Virat Kohli in the side, Rohit Sharma in the side… I will not pick you at the moment because I had Virender Sehwag at the other end, you’re my third opener. I will go for [Jasprit] Bumrah because I had Zaheer [Khan] at the other end, who I thought was exceptional. I would also go for Mohammed Shami after Javagal Srinath retired, because I think Mohammed Shami is a fantastic bowler. So I’ve got Rohit, I’ve got Virat, I’ve got Bumrah, I’ve got Shami, so I’ve got four. I had Harbhajan [Singh] and Anil Kumble in my side, so [R] Ashwin would be my third spinner. I would be very tempted to have Ravindra Jadeja also.
He made Steve Waugh wait at the toss during the 2001 series – fact or fiction?
It was an accident actually. In the first Test match, I left my blazer back in the dressing room. They were such a good side, and I was very nervous in that series because it was my first big series as captain and up against a fantastic cricket team. In the last 25-30 years, I haven’t seen a cricket team as good as Australia in that generation. So initially it was [just that] I forgot my blazer in that first Test, but then I realised that he [Waugh] reacted to it. He reacted, and then he was not taking it very seriously, and it was working on them, working on the team, the way they play, the way they go about their… they were a bit grumpy with all that. And it worked for us, we won the series 2-1. But having said that, Steve Waugh is a dear friend, he has always been a friend, and I have tremendous respect for him as a cricketer, and it was all in good humour.
“The best players in the shorter format have the ability to hit boundaries at will. You look over a period of time, in the history of one-day cricket, the best players can find the fence under pressure consistently. And MS Dhoni was one of them, and that’s why he was special”
Did Sachin Tendulkar force him to take strike when they opened together in ODIs?
Always, always he did. He had an answer to that. I used to tell him, “Yaar, sometimes you also face the first ball, I am always facing the first ball.” He said he had two answers to it. One, he believed when his form was good it should continue, that he should remain at the non-striker’s end, and then when his form wasn’t good, he said, “I should remain at the non-striker’s end because it takes the pressure off me.” So he had an answer for both, good form and bad form. Until and unless you walked past him and stood at the non-striker’s end, and he was already on TV and he would be forced to be at the striker’s end. And that has happened one or two times, I have just walked past him and stood at the non-striker’s end.
On pushing for MS Dhoni‘s inclusion in the side during his captaincy days
Yes, that’s true, but that’s my job, isn’t it? That’s every captain’s job, to pick the best and make the best team possible. You go by your instincts, you go by faith on that player, that he will deliver for you, and I am happy that Indian cricket got a Mahendra Singh Dhoni, because he is unbelievable. One of the great players in world cricket, I would say, not just finisher. I think everyone talks about how he finishes lower down the order, [but] he batted at No. 3 when I was captain and he got 140  against Pakistan in Vizag, I think. The old stadium. It was fantastic. So I always believed that he should bat up the order because he is so destructive. The best players in the shorter format have the ability to hit boundaries at will. You look over a period of time, in the history of one-day cricket, the best players can find the fence under pressure consistently. And MS Dhoni was one of them, and that’s why he was special.
Jason Holder on Ben Stokes battle: ‘Maybe I don’t get as much credit as I deserve’
While Holder has been top of the ICC rankings for Test allrounders for the past 18 months, he acknowleges that it is the No. 2-ranked Stokes who dominates conversation on the world’s premier allrounders. And he is not entirely sure why.
“I don’t really like to get into these personal accolades or ICC rankings,” Holder said ahead of Wednesday’s first Test between the sides at the Ageas Bowl. “Ben has always been talked up and quite rightfully so, he’s a really good cricketer, but the ICC rankings say that I’m the No. 1 ranked allrounder and maybe don’t get as much credit as probably I deserve, who knows?
“I don’t get caught up with it to be honest. Journalists are there to write their stories, I am merely here to play cricket. It’s always a good battle on the field when you face competitors like Stokesy, face competitors around the world.”
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While both players have impressive records in their careers to date, it was Holder who starred last time these sides faced off. While Stokes performed well in defeat, averaging 37.20 with the bat and 22.80 with the ball, Holder made a defining contribution, thanks to his maiden Test double hundred in the first Test at Bridgetown. That innings set up a 381-run win in the match and a 2-1 victory in the series, meaning it was Holder who got his hands on the Wisden Trophy.
And while it is a significantly different looking England side to the one defeated in the Caribbean last year that Stokes will captain this week in the absence of Joe Root, who is on paternity leave, Holder was not about to offer any advice to his opposite number about leadership.
“I’ll give my advice to Stokesy after the series,” Holder said. “England are in capable hands: he’s an excellent cricketer, a great competitor and I’m sure the guys in his dressing room look up to him. He’ll have experienced campaigners in his dressing room to help him along, I’m sure, so I wish him all the best in this one game as captain.”
Perhaps in further evidence that he sees the key battle as being against Stokes the allrounder rather than Stokes the captain, Holder highlighted the importance of performing on the field himself. Nursing an ankle injury, Holder faced fewer than 30 deliveries for just seven runs across three innings in West Indies’ two intra-squad warm-up matches. He also bowled only five overs in that time.
ALSO READ: Holder’s lean run continues in warm-up
But Holder was confident of being ready for the first Test where, having passed 100 Test wickets against India in Jamaica last year, he needs 102 runs to reach 2000 in Test cricket. It is a feat that only Sir Garfield Sobers and Carl Hooper have previously achieved for West Indies, and Holder has often sought Sobers’ advice throughout his career.
“Before captaincy I’m a player and my performances must stand out: I must perform my role for the team,” Holder said. “With bat in hand I’ve got to make runs, with ball in hand I’ve got to take wickets and in the field I’ve got to help the guys hold on to chances.
“Leadership will come into effect after that and when I do perform well with the bat it sends added confidence throughout the dressing room.
“I’ve had tonnes of conversations with Sir Garry. I always look up to Sir Garry – he’s one of the most positive individuals I’ve ever spoken to. He just sees things from a different light and I guess that’s why he was so great. He’s never shy of giving information or advice and he’s one of those guys that would put his arm around you and nurture the next generation.”
It was not just Holder who was short of runs during the warm-up matches, with a likely top five of Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks, Shai Hope and Roston Chase managing just 29 runs between them in their rain-affected second intra-squad game. Brathwaite, Hope and Brooks did reach fifties in the first tour game, as did Shane Dowrich, who missed the second with a side strain.
On the prospect of either himself or Dowrich moving up the order, Holder said he would leave it until match morning to finalise his team, but he did not rule out moving to No. 6 at some stage.
“It’s on the radar for me,” Holder said. “I’ve had success and been consistent where I’ve been batting but no doubt at some stage I will definitely come up the order, it’s just a matter of when.
“The beauty about the lower half contributing so heavily in the last couple of years is that we’ve got stability and depth… you go back to the series against England, Roston Chase got a century in that series as well as myself and Shane. There were still very significant contributions from the top order so generally I think we’ve got to bring it together as a squad.
“I know a lot has been said about the lower half contributing the bulk of the runs in the recent past but if you look at the calibre of players we’ve got. Kraigg Brathwaite has had success here in England, Shai Hope has had success here in England, Shamarh Brooks has had success in youth team cricket in England and that’s just to name a few. I’m more than confident that these guys will do well here in this series.
“It doesn’t only have to come from the top order. We’re putting a lot of emphasis on the top order. Yes, they probably haven’t lived up to the expectation but it’s still a team sport and we’ve just got to put runs on the board. However we get them, personally I don’t care, it’s just a matter for us to put the runs on the board and give our bowlers something to work with.”
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