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Azhar marks Somerset debut with century

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LONDON: Pakistan Test batsman Azhar Ali marked his Somerset debut with a century as the visitors established a commanding position in their First Division County Championship match away to Worces­tershire .
The 33-year-old right-hander made 125 off 188 balls with the help of 13 fours and two sixes, before he was last man out in a Somerset total of 362 for nine declared at New Road.
England off-spinning all-rounder Moeen Ali did his chances of a Test recall ahead of next week’s series opener against India at Edgbaston no harm with a return of five wickets for 107 runs.
Worcestershire then lost Daryl Mitchell (6) and Moeen (7) before ending the third and penultimate day on 50 for two, leaving them needing a further 393 runs to win on the final day of the four-day fixture.
“I’m really happy. It is my first game for Somerset and I’ve been made welcome,” Azhar, a veteran of 65 Tests since his international debut in 2010, told the county’s website. “I really enjoyed batting out there and it was really pleasing to get some runs in the first game and hopefully I can build on that.”
Reflecting on his innings, Azhar, who played in Pakistan’s drawn Test series in England earlier this season, added: “Moeen started to turn the ball out of the rough so I thought attacking him early on was the right option because if you are bogged down, they can bring a short leg into play so, I had to go after him to start with.
“We wanted to score runs as well to be in a position to boss the game. That is why I played positively and it paid off,” explained Azhar, who was eventually caught off a reverse-sweep against Moeen.
Somerset have had a superb return from their overseas batsmen so far this season after deciding not to go ahead with bringing Cameron Bancroft to Taunton following the Australian’s role in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa earlier this year.
They signed Matt Renshaw, a fellow Australia batsman, in his place and he went on to make three hundreds, while averaging 51.30, before breaking a finger against Surrey last month — an injury that paved the way for Azhar’s arrival.


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Australia refuse to tour Pakistan for proposed ODI matches, cite safety concerns

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Melbourne: Australia has turned down Pakistan Cricket Board’s request to play two One Day International (ODI) matches in the country, citing security concerns. The PCB had asked Cricket Australia to play two of the five ODIs, which are slated to be played in UAE, in Pakistan, but security concerns made Cricket Australia decide against the same.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, though the proposal has been rejected by the Australian cricket board, it has assured the PCB that they would be open to the idea in the future.

“We want to see international cricket return to Pakistan – the country has a huge passion for it,” said a CA spokesperson.

 

“However, the safety of our players and support staff is our number one priority and we won’t compromise that. We’ll continue to take advice from a range of government agencies and our own security intelligence and act on this accordingly.”

“At this stage, from an Australia team perspective, we are not contemplating moving our current bilateral-tour arrangements from taking on Pakistan in the UAE, when they host the next series but we do remain open to the idea of playing in the country again. We formally advised the PCB of this position in early January,” he added.

The PCB has in return, declined reports of Australia refusing to tour Pakistan, terming negotiations with Cricket Australia (CA) as currently ‘open and ongoing’.

Australia have not played an away series against Pakistan since 1998 which PCB chairman Ehsan Mani had attempted to address during the former’s recent Test series against the Asian side.

Mani attempted to convince CA chief executive Kevin Roberts to schedule an away series against Pakistan, urging them to follow the lead of Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe who had toured the nation since 2017.

Sri Lanka’s return was hailed as a major boost considering the deadly attack on their players in Lahore in 2009.

Australian ODI captain Aaron Finch and Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja have recently expressed a desire to tour Pakistan, in case the security concerns were addressed.

“Obviously, whatever Cricket Australia tells us, that’ll be the big thing. We’ll leave it to the administrators. They’re pretty good at taking care of us and making sure everything’s safe,” said Khawaja.

“I was born in Pakistan so it won’t be too different for me, but it’s still a while away,” he added.

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Federer ponders over his ‘miraculous’ career after Murray’s early retirement prospect

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London: As the tennis world continued to digest the prospect of Andy Murray`s retirement, an evergreen Roger Federer pondered the “luck” of his longevity on Sunday ahead of his bid for a hat-trick of Australian Open titles.

Murray`s announcement that Melbourne Park could be his last tournament as a professional has made 37-year-old Federer`s career seem all the more miraculous.

Seeking a 21st Grand Slam title and a record seventh in Melbourne, the Swiss will plough into his 20th consecutive Australian Open on Monday with a first round clash against Uzbek Denis Istomin.

 

While suffering an assortment of niggles common to all hardened professionals, Federer`s only major layoff came in 2016, after he tore his meniscus when running a bath for his twin daughters.

It happened a day after losing the Australian Open semi-final to winner Novak Djokovic, but a year later, he was back raising a fifth trophy at the tournament.

While knowing the limits of his body and full of praise for his team for being able to patch him up repeatedly, Federer admitted that fortune had played a part in his longevity.

“I definitely needed a little bit of luck,” he told reporters at Melbourne Park.

“If you look at how unlucky things were with the incident here a few years ago when I ran the bath, I guess the knee, that part of the body was ready to go.

“Could have happened easily in the match against Novak, but it didn`t, maybe because I was warmed up. I have no idea what happened. I think you also need a little bit of luck.”

The 31-year-old Murray has been far less fortunate, with major hip surgery a year ago doing nothing to stop the pain that has driven the Scot to distraction and the brink of retirement.

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Barcelona on lookout for striker after Munir sale: Coach Ernesto

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London: Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said that the club were looking to sign a centre forward in the January transfer window after selling Munir El Haddadi to Sevilla.

The league leaders want back-up for Luis Suarez after Sevilla agreed a one-million-euro ($1.15-million) deal to buy Spain international Munir on Friday, leaving the Uruguayan as the only No. 9 at the club, playing between Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele.

“We have to look at it, it`s clear that after Munir`s departure we have a space,” Valverde told reporters on Saturday.

 

“We`ll see if we can sign a player, although we have to take into account the club`s economic conditions. We will see if we can, if someone comes.”

Asked about Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata, who has been linked to Barcelona in Spanish media reports, Valverde said: “I can only say the same thing — that he`s a great player, that he`s at another team, that we respect that a lot, etcetera.”

Barcelona are currently leading the La Liga with 40 points, with Atletico Madrid trailing them in second place with 35 points.

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