DUBAI: Australian fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle have singled out veteran Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali as the key wicket for the tourists in this month’s two-Test series in the UAE.
If the numbers are anything to go by, their concerns about the batsman are well-founded; in seven Tests against Australia, Azhar averages 69.75, having made three hundreds and four fifties.
The last time the two sides met, in Australia in the 2016-17 summer, the 33-year-old made scores of 5, 71, 205 not out, 43, 71 and 11 to be the tourists’ leading run-scorer and second only to Steve Smith from either side in what was a clean sweep for the hosts.
Azhar debuted in the same Test as Smith and current Australia captain Tim Paine at Lord’s in 2010, and has forged a reputation as a dependable opening batsman across 65 Tests, averaging 44.84.
In that time, only seven players worldwide, and no Pakistanis, have scored more than his 5,202 Test runs.
“They’ve got a quality batting line-up, and on some really flat wickets their whole middle order’s going to be a really good battle,” Starc was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au.
“I think someone like Azhar Ali, who scored a fair few runs against us in Australia last time they were here, he’d be a big one at the top of the order for them.
“He can bat long periods of time, he’s not too fazed about being tied down. So I think if we can get him early and get their middle order in against a newer, harder ball, then that’s a good starting point.” Starc and Siddle were both on the receiving end of the best of Azhar in Abu Dhabi four years ago, when he became just the eighth Pakistani to score hundreds in each innings of a Test as the Aussies were thumped by 356 runs to round out a 0-2 series defeat.
Siddle, who is back in the Test squad and hoping to don the Baggy Green for the first time in almost two years, also nominated the opener as the hosts’ dangerman.
“The key wicket for them is always going to be Azhar Ali,” Siddle said. “He’s one of the leaders in that side now.
“From the last tour when we went over there, they had the stars and the old heads of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq to lead them, they’re probably a little bit less experienced now, which is good news for us, but they’ve still got a lot of class players.
“We saw that on the last tour [to Australia] they had a lot of young guys that stood up and performed well for them.
“So I think [Azhar] is going to be the big wicket, but in that time these young guys have come about, and they play some exciting cricket, so we’ve got to be on our toes and prepared.
“But like I said, they are a little bit less experienced this time around, so if there’s ever an opportunity to beat them away from home, it’s definitely this time around,” Siddle said.
Punjab fall short again
Ludhiana: Services overcame hosts Punjab 1-0 in the final to win the 69th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy at Guru Nanak Stadium here today.
Bikash Thapa’s 61st-minute strike proved the difference between the two sides as Services’ recent dominance in the tournament continued. Of Services’ six titles, five have come in the last eight years — in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2019. Since losing to Punjab in the 2008 title match in Srinagar, Services have not lost in the final.
On the other hand, this was Punjab’s third defeat in the final since winning their last title in 2008. The eight-time champions had lost 2-1 to West Bengal in 2010. In their last final appearance, in 2015, they had lost to Services 5-4 on penalties at the same venue. This is the eighth time Punjab have finished as runners-up. This was the fourth time Punjab were playing hosts. In 1970 and 1974, they had emerged champions in Jalandhar.
Being the final, the match expectedly saw a slow start, with both teams playing a little cautiously. Punjab, however, were the faster off the blocks. They dominated possession and had greater depth in their attacks. The hosts created a few opportunites but couldn’t convert, with Sunny and Vikrant Singh shooting just over the bar.
However, as the match wore on, Services gained composure and got more control over the proceedings. They started building their attacks from the flanks and almost got the breakthrough just before the end of the first half.
After the changeover, Services came out with more intent and energy. They continued pushing up the flanks and the strategy paid off. Lallawmkima PC found himself on the edge of the Punjab box. He squared the ball to Thapa, who slotted it into the bottom corner. A shirtless celebration followed, for which Thapa received a yellow card.
Punjab could have restored parity in the dying minutes but Services goalkeeper Vishnu VK made some valiant saves to ensure his side won the coveted trophy after three years.
Services skipper N Suresh Meitei was adjudged the Player of the Match. The winners received a prize of Rs 5 lakh, while Punjab pocketed Rs 3.5 lakh.
Pakistan cricketer seeks Tendulkar’s advice before WC
Lahore: Picked in Pakistan’s World Cup squad, opener Abid Ali sought advice from Sachin Tendulkar ahead of the showpiece and said he wants to hug the Indian batting great.
The 31-year old has been in prolific form in Pakistan’s domestic cricket and broke into the national one-day squad for the World Cup after scoring a century on his debut against Australia in Dubai last month.
The immensely talented Abid bats in a manner similar to one of cricket’s all-time greats.
“It’s my wish and hope that I meet Sachin Tendulkar. Definitely, I would like to hug him and I am sure that just like all great players meet youngsters I am sure that he will not turn me down.
“I am sure that if I want to get any information on cricket from Sachin, he will give a positive reply,” Abid told a group of journalists.
Abid said meeting his idol would be a memorable moment.
“It will be the best day in my life when I meet him (Tendulkar) because he was one of the best batsmen.
“West Indian Viv Richards was also a great so I want to meet all the great players and learn from them,” said Abid.
MU suffer fifth straight defeat with 0-4 loss to Everton
London: A woeful Manchester United suffered their fifth straight away defeat, in all competitions, with a 4-0 Premier League hammering at the hands of a vibrant Everton at Goodison Park.
Brazilian Richarlison fired Everton ahead in the 13th minute with an acrobatic high volley after Dominic Calvert-Lewin flicked on a long throw.
Gylfi Sigurdsson made it 2-0 with a low drive from over 25 yards out that United keeper David De Gea was slow to react to.
Lucas Digne then blasted in the third in the 56th minute after De Gea punched out a corner to the French full-back as United struggled to get even a foot in the game.
Icelandic playmaker Sigurdsson then put substitute Theo Walcott through with a clever pass through the legs of Victor Lindelof which the former Arsenal striker confidently converted.
United, eliminated from the Champions League by Barcelona on Tuesday, remain in sixth, outside the four qualification spots for next season`s campaign.