Pleased with the performance of the South African players in their practice game against Sri Lanka Board President’s XI, coach Ottis Gibson urged the batsmen to play a positive brand of cricket to counter the spin challenge that Sri Lanka are likely to throw at them during the three-match Test series which starts on July 12 in Galle.
“If we are going to win in these conditions, we have to be positive and we have to try in most situations to take the positive option. The way Sri Lanka play their cricket, when a batsman comes in they will have fielders close to the bat, which means there are scoring opportunities to be had. You have to be positive and confident enough in your game plan to take on those open spaces in the outfield.
“If you are going to scratch around and get out, you might as well be positive and try and make some runs while you’re at the crease. That has always been my philosophy, and these conditions here don’t change my feeling on that,” Gibson said on Sunday (July 8).
The two-day warm-up encounter at the P Sara Oval in Colombo ended in a draw with South Africa scoring 338 in reply to the opposition’s total of 287. Tabraiz Shamsi (5 for 45) did well with the ball before Faf du Plessis (79) Hashim Amla (78) and Temba Bavuma (58) shined with the bat. However, South Africa suffered a lower-order collapse – they were 260 for 3 at one stage before losing wickets in a heap to be bowled out under 340.
Gibson said the focus during the practice game was on getting used to the conditions although he admitted that being bowled out quickly after a strong start was ‘not ideal’, but was also ‘not the end of the world’. Meanwhile, he was happy with Shamsi’s performance, hinting that the wrist spinner has put himself in the reckoning for making the Test eleven.
“For the most part, I thought we got what we wanted. Yesterday I thought we bowled very well, at this stage it is about getting used to the Sri Lankan conditions. We knew the wicket was going to be slow, it was about getting miles in the bowlers’ legs, especially the seamers. I thought Shamsi was excellent yesterday, he has really hit the ground running and put himself in the frame for a Test place,” Gibson said.
“Today we batted well, we made a conscious decision to try and give everyone a hit. Hashim retired when he got to 78 to give the others an opportunity to have a hit. At the end, I was a bit disappointed that the lower-order didn’t use their time a lot better. To get bowled out this afternoon was not ideal but it is not the end of the world. We move on to Galle, we have had a good week of preparation,” he added.
The match also provided an opportunity for Dale Steyn to hit the ground running. The experienced pacer, who’s attempting his Test comeback after being sidelined due to a heel injury in the Newlands Test against India in January, bowled 12 wicketless overs for 52 runs in the tour game. Gibson didn’t want to read too much into this performance although he admitted that the 35-year-old did look a bit rusty.
“I’m happy with where Dale is at, because he was playing in England. He came in yesterday and he looked a little bit rusty, I’m not going to lie. We’re talking about one of the best fast bowlers of the modern generation. He knows what he needs to do to get himself up for a Test match. We’ve had a little chat already today about what he needs to do for the remainder of the days building up to the Test match. He’ll be good to go by the time the Galle Test comes around,” Gibson insisted.
He also said South Africa are open to playing two spinners in the first Test but was quick to mention that the decision would only be taken after taking the pitch into consideration.
“We have covered our bases with the team that we have picked. We have four quality fast bowlers and three quality spinners, we have to get to Galle and have a look at what the surface is going to be like. We are confident that whichever combination we put out will be a strong one, one that can go and win us a Test.
“We will try and pick the best bowler for the conditions that we have. If the conditions are going to favour spin, we will obviously try and get another spinner into the attack. If it looks like it’s going to be a good pitch and we feel that having extra pace will make a difference to the Sri Lankans, we will also consider that option. At the moment, we are not sold on one way or the other, looking at the surface will go a long way towards us making a final decision,” he concluded.
Australia refuse to tour Pakistan for proposed ODI matches, cite safety concerns
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.
Federer ponders over his ‘miraculous’ career after Murray’s early retirement prospect
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.
Barcelona on lookout for striker after Munir sale: Coach Ernesto
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.