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Afridi rolls back the years as Smith-less Comilla triumph – WSAIGO Sports
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Afridi rolls back the years as Smith-less Comilla triumph

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Comilla Victorians 130 for 5 (Anamul 40, Lewis 28) beat Rajshahi Kings 124 (Udana 32, Mehidy 30, Afridi 3-10) by five wickets

How the game played out

First, he takes wickets with ripping legbreaks, not always associated with Shahid Afridi‘s style of bowling. Then he comes, sees out a few deliveries – surprise, surprise – and with victory all but certain, seals it with a six. While the Test team continues to struggle in South Africa, at least one Pakistani cricketer is giving his country something to rejoice at.

Comilla Victorians hardly felt Steven Smith‘s absence, both as a leader and batsman. His replacement – the experienced Imrul Kayes – tactfully used his spinners to reduce Rajshahi Kings to 63 for 7, but relaxed a little to see Isusu Udana top score with 32 hard-fought runs to set up a 125 chase. The damage had been done in dewy conditions, though. Anamul Haque, Ewin Lewis and Tamim Iqbal set up the chase which Comilla finished off with eight balls to spare, their second in three games. Afridi’s 4-0-10-3 earned him the Player-of-the-Match Award.

Turning points

Mohammad Saifuddin, the medium pacer, wasn’t originally given the ball to bowl the third over of the innings. Liam Dawson had marked his run-up and given his cap to the umpire when Imrul made a late change. It worked immediately as the skiddy bowler picked up two wickets in two deliveries. First he had Mominul Haque playing all around a full delivery to be trapped plumb in front of middle. Then, he bowled the perfect inswinging yorker that sneaked past Soumya Sarkar’s bat and pad to flatten his stumps. Hafeez then averted the hat-trick, but the early damage had been done.

Afridi’s crucial wicket of Mehidy Hasan, the Rajshahi Kings captain, who made a 17-ball 30 where most other top-order batsmen struggled, completed a top-order meltdown of sorts. Rajshahi went on to lose three wickets in four deliveries, losing the cream of their middle order.

Shoaib Malik’s run-out and Mustafizur Rahman’s set-up to get Imrul – reminiscent of Jasprit Bumrah’s dipping, slow yorker that removed Shaun Marsh during the MCG Test – breathed life into the game. Comilla had slipped to 109 for 5. Soon after, Afridi got a thick edge which Mehidy failed to latch on to at a wide slip. Six down with a handful against a skilled bowler may have panned out differently.

Star of the Day

One month can be a long break for a retired 38-year-old cricketer, but looking at Afridi running around, it seemed like he had the boisterous energy of his 18-year-old avatar. He was coolly pedaling away on the cycle with his pads on as his team-mates set up the chase for him to come and finish off. An hour earlier, he was turning them big on a sluggish deck that has seen plenty of cricket already. With Smith away in Australia to nurse an injured elbow, he was also constantly by Imrul’s side, being a driving force from a leadership point of view, too.

The big miss

Between them, Udana and Mustafizur Rahman took 5 for 33 off eight overs in the previous game. Udana’s back-of-the-hand variations and Mustafizur’s cutters could have been a handy proposition early in Rajshahi’s defence of a modest target. Mehidy waited for five overs to bring them into the attack, by which time Comilla had raced to 42 for no loss. This made a big difference.

Where they stand

Comilla jumped to third and are within two points of Dhaka Dynamites, the table toppers. Rajshahi, meanwhile, are placed sixth, with one win in three matches.



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Misbah-ul-Haq to play QEA Grade Two cricket ahead of PSL

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Misbah-ul-Haq is set to play Quaid-e-Azam Grade Two competition for his home side Faisalabad ahead of the Pakistan Super League, which begins on February 14. This is the second time in the last two years that the former Pakistan captain has turned to the lower level in a bid to extend his playing career. He will be joined by batsman Ahmed Shehzad, who is aiming to work his way back from his ban.

Misbah retired from international cricket in 2017 and has since been active in the domestic circuit. Last season, he played both List A and the four-day games for SNGPL. Ahead of the PSL draft last year, he backtracked on his agreement to mentor Islamabad United, saying he wanted to play in the 2019 season. He was picked by Peshawar Zalmi in the Diamond category in the draft.

The 44-year-old led Faisalabad to a win in 2017 in the Grade Two tournament and helped them qualify for the country’s premier first-class tournament Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. They, however, lost six straight games out of the seven, with one abandoned, following which they were relegated.

“The biggest motivation for me is to help Faisalabad regain their Grade One spot,” Misbah said. “We were relegated last season and our aim is to qualify for first-class cricket again; this is what we can strive to do for our region. Such events also provide an opportunity to work with younger players, to spend time with them to work on their game and transfer experience. On a personal note the tournament should help me prepare for the PSL.”

Meanwhile, Shehzad will return to competitive cricket after serving a five-and-half-month ban for violating the board’s anti-doping rules. He was initially handed a four-month suspension but it was extended by six weeks after he was found guilty of breaching the ruling on the original ban. As a result, he missed playing the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, where he was to play for Sui Southern Gas Corporation after his contract was terminated by Habib Bank Limited.

“The last few months were very tough for me; I badly missed playing cricket especially since the sport is a childhood passion of mine and an integral part of my life,” Shehzad said.

“I am more focused than ever and have worked hard on improving my mindset and other aspects of the game. I am really looking forward to representing Faisalabad. Grade Two is a platform from where a lot of players have emerged and I am eager to deliver to the best of my ability for my team.”



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‘Probably the best I’ve batted in a session’ – Markram

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While many have been engaged in debates surrounding the state of South Africa’s pitches, Aiden Markram has defied conditions with back-to-back innings of remarkable fluency.

His 78 in Cape Town showed that a bouncy, seaming track needn’t be a hindrance to stroke-play, while his 90 on the opening day of the Wanderers Test was “probably up there with the best I’ve moved in a session”.

As at Newlands, Markram didn’t have it all his own way early on, watching his captain depart to one that seamed appreciably off the track. But he struck back with 14 boundaries before lunch, putting on 126 with Hashim Amla to steady South Africa’s innings on what appeared to be a benign surface.

“I thought it was quite tricky up front,” said Markram. “In the first five-six-seven overs, their seamers made it really hard for us and the ball was going around a bit. But it was nice to get a good partnership with Hash. It was quite important to get through that first hour, and allow us to set up a chance for us to go big after that.”

What was most remarkable about Markram’s innings was not just the number of boundaries and his rapid scoring, but the shot selection of what to hit and what to block, or leave. He showed respect where due.

ALSO READ: The Zubayr Hamza story

“It’s important to still respect good balls and identify good balls that you can’t be getting out to and need to be showing respect towards,” said Markram, who felt South Africa’s 262 was a little under par. “But when a bad one does present itself or a ball in your zone to score, you need to be in the frame of mind to put it away and try and keep scoring. That’s important for me, I feel I move quite well when I’m looking to score. It’s a bit of the intensity as well, and a lot of the natural and instinctive things take over as well.”

He was also “excited” by Zubayr Hamza’s first showing at Test level, the young right-hander cruising to 41 before he was late pulling his bat out of the way of a Mohammad Amir delivery and feathered an edge through to the keeper. Pieter Malan could’ve been South Africa’s second debutant here had Markram not recovered from the bruised thigh he picked up in the field in Cape Town.

“I’m very lucky with Craig Govender being our physio. He’s incredibly good at what he does, and he put a lot of care into trying to get me ready. It was sort of a miraculous recovery if you can call it that, I never looked like playing three days ago, it was just too much pain.”

The one remaining question mark for South Africa is their selection of four seamers, and no specialist spinner, on a track that also gave legspinner Shadab Khan some encouragement.

“I think when you see turn and you’ve left out a spinner and we’ll be bowling in the fourth innings, there will be question marks. But at the end of the day, we’ve selected our four quicks, and they did the job in Cape Town so we have to back them to deliver the goods even if the wicket does get flat and even if the wicket is spinner friendly. Our seamers need to find a way to take wickets. We’ve got with our selection, now we need to back it up.”



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Mohammad Amir peeved by Sarfraz Ahmed’s criticism

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If Sarfraz Ahmed‘s criticism of his bowlers at the conclusion of the Cape Town Test was intended to provoke a response, he might have played a masterstroke. After two sessions of South African domination on the first day at the Wanderers, Pakistan, spearheaded by Mohammad Amir, dragged themselves back into the contest. In the most commanding passage of play with the ball Pakistan have enjoyed on this tour, they took the last seven South African wickets for just 33 runs, bowling them out for 262, a below-par total according to Aiden Markram.

Sarfraz had publicly and robustly questioned the lower pace of his bowlers as compared to South Africa’s after Cape Town, an approach that had raised eyebrows at the time because Pakistan’s struggle to be competitive was more firmly rooted in their batting. On the first day of the series in Centurion, after the visitors had been bowled out for 181, they had reduced South Africa to 44 for 4, and bowled them out for 223. In the second innings, Pakistan slumped from 101 for 1 to 190 all out, leading Mickey Arthur to have a stern word with the batsmen.

In the second Test, Pakistan found themselves bowled out for 177 on the first day, though this time the bowlers failed to restrict South Africa to a total that would have kept the game competitive.

Amir, appearing at the end of the first day’s play at the Wanderers, was prickly when probed about his captain’s comments. “Please leave this question,” he shot back. “Leave this question. Are we done?” Five minutes into his press conference, he walked out.

ESPNcricinfo understands that Amir was especially peeved by Sarfraz’s censorious remarks in the aftermath of Cape Town, which he understood to be more pointedly directed at him than any of the other bowlers. According to CricViz, Amir bowled 61% of his deliveries in the 120-132 kph range, which meant his bowling in Cape Town was the slowest of his career. The other bowlers are also understood to not be especially pleased with the remarks and, crucially, it was an assessment that others in the team set-up did not share. Amir’s curt response suggests that this story may have some distance to run.

Sarfraz himself has been under pressure, both for the team’s performances under him as well as his own batting form: a pair in the first Test, 53 and 6 at Cape Town. And given how publicly frustrated and harangued he can appear to be by his bowlers and fielders, this development will not help.

At least for the first two sessions today it looked as if the bowlers were not responding well to the criticism. It was a spell of play where Amir admitted the bowlers hadn’t been on the top of their game.

“The first two sessions we didn’t bowl well,” he said. “But after tea, we made a plan that we had to bowl wicket to wicket and we have to control run rate so we can get wickets. So that was the idea and I think we were successful.

“This wicket is far better than previous wickets. If you settle in, you can get the runs and wickets. But I always believe when you stick with the basics whether you’re a bowler or batsmen, you can get the reward.”



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