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Sri Lanka mull playing Test cricket in Pakistan

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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



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SL look to embrace ‘role definitions’; WI eye improvement in bowling

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As Sri Lanka and the West Indies prepare to square off in the first of three ODIs on Saturday – which will be followed by two T20Is next month – the series offers the chance for both sides to benchmark themselves as they work towards the T20 World Cup later this year.

For the West Indies, it’s an opportunity to see if they can build on their impressive showing in India in December, when they went toe to toe with arguably the top limited-overs team in the world. Eventually, they came away on the wrong end of narrow 2-1 series defeats in both the ODIs and T20Is.

For Sri Lanka, after a chastening T20I series loss in India and an underwhelming Test series win over Zimbabwe to start the year, this series offers them a chance at testing themselves against a quality opposition but aided by familiar home comforts.

“We’ve got some realistic goals that we want to achieve over the next couple of years, and this is the start for us,” Sri Lanka head coach Mickey Arthur said at a media briefing in Colombo on Wednesday, ahead of the start of the series.

Arthur, who will be taking the reins of the ODI side for the first time since being hired as national coach, said he was particularly keen to see how his players adapted to the newly allocated roles given to them. But more than that, he was hopeful that good results over the coming weeks had the potential to give his players some much-needed belief in the process put in place.

“We’re very realistic about where we’re at at the moment but we have some very good goals that we want to achieve over the next couple of years,” he said.”We just want to keep getting better and better. Everybody has certainly been given very clear role definitions, so to see how the guys embrace those role definitions is going to be very, very interesting.

“Also we need to establish what’s going to be our best brand of cricket and how we’re going to go about that, and hope that we can get some results which will give the confidence in the brand of cricket we want to play over the next couple of years. Because ultimately that gives you sustainable success, and that’s what we’re all in the game for.”

As for West Indies head coach Phil Simmons, the tour is more about looking to carry on the progress that was so evident against India.

“For the last three months we’ve been trying to build both our white-ball teams,” Simmons said. “We’re looking at improving. And [at the end of this tour] if we’ve gotten better than we were in India then we could be walking away with the series.”

One of the main areas for improvement the team has been eyeing since that India tour has been in their bowling. While the West Indies batsmen have never been short of confidence, Simmons felt it was in the bowling department that impactful gains could be made.

“I think during the series we played well, but we just had to improve our bowling. We’ve been working hard on that, in terms of getting more wickets in the middle overs and things like that. I think we’ve improved and we’ll see what happens in this series.”

The first ODI takes place in Colombo on February 22.



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Low-stakes domestic cricket leaves South Africa short on death-bowling nous – Charl Langeveldt

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The absence of proper pressure in South Africa’s domestic competitions is leaving bowlers ill-equipped to handle similar situations on the international stage, according to bowling coach Charl Langeveldt.

Speaking three days after Mark Boucher assessed his bowlers’ skill levels as not being good enough following South Africa’s failure to defend totals in two out of the three T20 matches in the recently completed England series, Langeveldt said more practice at franchise level is essential for his young pack.

ALSO READ: Hamstrung Bavuma out of first T20I

“It was disappointing, especially with the scores we had. I thought we could have defended that but in saying that, not a lot of guys get into that position in domestic cricket,” Langeveldt said. “It’s a concern for me. It’s not good enough. In World Cups, you are going to get a lot of games like that. And if I look around the country, domestic cricket, the close games aren’t like it used to be.”

The evidence from the Mzansi Super League (MSL), South Africa’s flagship T20 competition, supports Langeveldt’s claim. In 54 completed matches across two editions of the tournament, only three matches have reached their stage where the fielding team needed to defend fewer than 15 runs to win off the last over. On two occasions, they were successful, once in 2018 when Andrew Birch of the Tshwane Spartans ensured they beat the Paarl Rocks and then in 2019, when Sri Lanka’s Isuru Udana gave Paarl Rocks victory over the Cape Town Blitz. While Udana has been in action against India recently, Birch has never played for South Africa despite a strong domestic record.

Instead, it is a new crop of quicks that Langeveldt has been tasked with moulding into death bowlers and the one he sees as best-placed to do the job is no longer in the squad. “A guy like [Sisanda] Magala, from seeing him in the nets, he is the most confident,” Langeveldt said. But uncapped Magala was dropped from the squad having spent the England series working to pass a fitness test that would see him debut. He has returned to his franchise, the Warriors, and was named in their team to play a domestic one-day cup match on Tuesday, which was rained off.

Magala is due to continue working with South Africa’s fitness trainer to meet the team’s requirements and remains a candidate for the T20 World Cup but for now, Langeveldt is looking at Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo to do the job and the latter, specifically. “has gone a bit backwards.” Phehluwayo’s changes of pace used to be key to South Africa’s ability to contain but he has struggled with his consistency.

One of the only ways to improve on that is repetition and Langeveldt is trying to emphasis that. “It’s training. The same way you train bowling length every day, with yorkers you have to train it,” he said. “It’s when to release the ball.”

But even then, bowling in the nets is entirely different to pulling it off in a match, when eyes and expectation are on you and that is something Langeveldt can’t teach. “The big thing is to land it under pressure. You can execute it in the nets but it’s when you are in the game, you need to be able to,” he said. “It’s sometimes difficult to coach that to a guy because he needs to figure it out for himself, once he is out in the middle. You can give him the tools, it’s what he does with them.”

While Langeveldt’s focus is on “mentally preparing” his bowlers, he also hopes the inclusion of experienced players like Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada will bring belief into group. Rabada was rested for the white-ball games against England, after being suspended from the final Test, and spent his time at NBA All-Star game in Chicago. He arrived in Johannesburg on Wednesday, “refreshed and ready to get straight back to work,” which is exactly what Langeveldt hoped would happen.

“Renewed focus is a good thing. As 24-year-old playing for your country all the time, you’re always under pressure,” Langeveldt said. “He was our leading bowler for a couple of years and probably still is so hopefully he brings that energy back.”

One thing that is certain is that Rabada will bring intent, especially against Australia. His most recent history with them involved a shoulder-brush with Steve Smith which almost saw him banned for a match in the 2018 Tests series but he successfully appealed the charge. He has since earned a further demerit point for an aggressive send-off which included screaming at Joe Root and entering his space during the Port Elizabeth Test and has promised to contain his passions for the good of the team in future.

But Langeveldt hopes not too much. “KG will always bring that competitiveness. He is competitive by nature. He wants to take wickets and we will definitely use our bumpers,” Langeveldt warned. “But he also needs to control the aggression. Be controlled with your lines, lengths and your bouncer.”





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Back the big-hitters, bank on Shane Watson and Colin Munro

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February 11: Quetta Gladiators v Islamabad United in Karachi

NOTE: We might not always be able to tip you off about late injury (or other relevant) updates

Our XI: Shane Watson, Colin Ingram, Luke Ronchi, Colin Munro, Ahsan Ali, Asif Ali, Mohammad Nawaz, Shadab Khan, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Rumman Raees

Captain: Shane Watson

Watson has been among the top run-getters in the last two seasons of PSL. He topped the list last year and was the fifth-highest run-scorer in 2018. He has scored 96 runs at a strike rate of 145.45 in his last two innings against Islamabad.

Vice-captain: Colin Ingram

Ingram recorded the highest individual score (127*) in PSL history last season. The century came against the Gladiators under tremendous pressure. Even as a middle-order batsman, he was never dismissed by spin in PSL 2019. In fact, he scored 139 runs of 75 balls without getting dismissed by spinners.

Hot picks

Colin Munro

Munro has been in red-hot form, scoring 188 runs at a strike rate of 131 in the recently-concluded five-match T20I series against India. Munro is a good pick against the Gladiators pace attack.

Mohammad Hasnain

Hasnain was the third-highest wicket-taker for the Gladiators last season, picking up 12 wickets in seven games. He is also in great form, having picked up 15 wickets in his last six domestic limited-overs games.

Value picks

Ahsan Ali

Ali scored 178 runs in eight matches for the Gladiators at a strike rate of 130 last season. He also made his T20I debut against Bangladesh a few weeks back on the back of some good form in domestic cricket.

Naseem Shah

The 16-year old quick recently has been impressive for Pakistan since his debut, and he recently became the youngest bowler to bag a Test hat-trick. He is a must-pick in the T20 format as well.

Point to note

In PSL 2019, the average first-innings score in Karachi was 184 and teams batting first won five out of eight games.



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