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Maharaj takes eight to help SA bounce back in final Test

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COLOMBO: Left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj claimed career-best figures of eight for 116 as South Africa restricted Sri Lanka to 277 for nine by stumps on the opening day of the second and final Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) Ground .
Maharaj’s figures are the third best against Sri Lanka by any opposition bowler following Imran Khan’s eight for 58 in Lahore and Shannon Gabriel’s eight for 62 in St Lucia last month.
After a promising start where the openers put on 116 for the first wicket, Sri Lanka collapsed as Maharaj bowled a probing line. In a bid to strengthen their batting after their poor show in Galle, the tourists went into the game with a lone spinner, leaving out Tabraiz Shamsi and they may have regretted the decision given Sri Lanka’s troubles against the only spinner.
After electing to bat first, Sri Lanka’s openers dominated the morning session. Their 116-run stand is Sri Lanka’s first 100-plus partnership for the opening wicket since October 2016. Since then Sri Lanka have gone through 21 Tests without a 100-plus partnership by the openers.
Maharaj bowled unchanged in the afternoon session and picked up both openers Dimuth Karunaratne (53) and Danushka Gunathilaka (57) in successive overs. He also accounted for Kusal Mendis to reduce Sri Lanka to 168 for three by tea.
In the final session, Maharaj claimed five wickets to put South Africa on top. Kagiso Rabada claimed the other wicket to fall when he cleaned up Roshen Silva for 22.
Maharaj thanked his lucky stars as well as the pitch after his record haul.
“I think it was written in the stars by God that things worked out this way,” Maharaj said after recording the best figures for a South African spinner in a first innings anywhere, in addition to his own personal record. “I think I did get a little bit of assistance off the wicket. It is a little bit different here than in Galle, because the ball skids on. There’s a chance of getting LBWs and also the top edge when the batsman sweeps.”
Dhananjaya de Silva top scored with 60 and was tested by Rabada, who reverse-swung the old ball considerably but with little success. De Silva was hit on the shoulder by a Rabada bouncer when he ducked late.
Eventually, he became yet another victim of Maharaj as South Africa successfully reviewed after the appeal had been turned down by umpire Nigel Llong.


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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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