SHARJAH: Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur is confident new players will grab the opportunity to fill a few available places for the ICC World Cup 2019 through the five-match ODI series against Australia.
Pakistan have rested six players — captain Sarfraz Ahmed, Hasan Ali, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Shadab Khan — to provide an opportunity to the other leading performers to stake a claim for the tournament to be held in England and Wales from May 30 to July 14.
Arthur believed it was a well-thought out and a sensible decision. “We designed this series for our players for the simple fact that we want to test our best bench players.
“There was planning, sometimes people think that its ad hoc. We want to test our bench-strength so that we could have a look at our final squad and combination. We know our major players for the World Cup.”
Openers Shan Masood and uncapped Abid Ali have been prolific scorers in domestic and ‘A’ series, while batsman Saad Ali scored more than 900 runs in the 2017-18 first-class season.
Paceman Mohammad Abbas is an established Test spearhead who has the knock of doing well in limited overs as well, while rookie 18-year-old Mohammad Hasnain has impressed with his pace in the recently-concluded HBL Pakistan Super League.
Umar Akmal has also been recalled after impressing with his match fitness in the PSL.
“After this series, we go to England and there we go with a very, very settled squad and the roles will be defined. We want to know where the squad stands. We felt that we have done everything possible to be the best possible prepared team for the World Cup,” Arthur remarked.
Pakistan also play five One-day Internationals against England before the 10-team mega event.
Arthur believes trying new players will help in long term. “For us, it isn’t so much about Australia, this is about us and those positions for the World Cup and the opportunity created for a lot of players because for us, we need to find who our players are for every position.
“If we could do that out of this series, then it would be good for us.
“To be honest, it’s a new squad. This is a series of opportunities. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work-out that a few positions are available for the World Cup. There are probably four available. [chief selector] Inzamam-ul-Haq and I have discussed that. So, these young players need to raise their hands up and try make those places their own. It’s an exciting time going into the World Cup.”
Arthur backed the decision to rest skipper Sarfraz Ahmed and five others.
Smith raring to go, Khawaja expected to be fit for Ashes opener
London: Sixteen months after leaving Test cricket in disgrace over the ball-tampering furore, Steve Smith’s preparations for the Ashes have gone up to a manic level as the former skipper looks to return to red ball cricket in top form.
Australia captain Tim Paine said former skipper Smith had given batting coach Graeme Hick long and taxing work-outs in the nets as he looks to hone his formidable game ahead of the Ashes opener in Edgbaston on August 1.
Renowned for his obsessive approach to training, Smith is back in the Test squad along with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, the other two players hit with long bans for their involvement in the Cape Town scandal in March, 2018.
“You don’t become one of the best players in the world and average 60 in Test cricket if you don’t have some sort of a mission,” Paine told reporters of Smith at the team’s training base in Southampton.
“The boys have been having a bit of a laugh the last couple of days because nothing’s changed — he’s hit a million balls and our coach’s arm is falling off already on day two of the trip.
“It’s great to see that him, and David (Warner) and Cameron Bancroft have come back in and fitted perfectly in our group.
“They are guys who have always trained at exceptionally high standards and set the standard for others.
“The three of them have been outstanding since they’ve been back and involved.”
Australia are bidding to retain the urn and erase the disappointment of their one-day World Cup campaign, which ended in the semi-finals at the hands of hosts and eventual champions England.
Australia will play a four-day intra-squad match starting on Tuesday, with two sides padded out by Australia A players.
With the final Ashes squad to be named after, Paine said it would be no gentle hit in the park.
“Both sides will be looking to win and both sides will have individual players wanting to do really well to press their final case for Ashes selection,” he said.
“At the moment it’s a fair dinkum game of cricket and that’s been made really clear.
“We’re looking at it as a real opportunity to Test each other’s skills so when we get to the first Test we know exactly where we’re at and everyone’s had a perfect preparation, and everyone’s been put on pressure.”
Top order batsman Usman Khawaja, who suffered a hamstring strain during the World Cup semi-final, is being rested for the unofficial match but Paine said he was expected to be fully fit and available for selection for Edgbaston.
“I don’t think he’s in serious doubt (for the Test),” Paine said.
“He’s in a rehab stage so the decision has been made that he won’t play at this stage.
“There is a possibility, maybe, if something were to happen to someone else he might be right for the back end of the (practice) game.”
Zidane confirms Bale’s exit from Real Madrid
London: Forward Gareth Bale’s tenure with Real Madrid could come to an end in a matter of days after manager Zinedine Zidane said the club were working on offloading the Welsh international.
Bale, 30, has won four Champions League titles since joining Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013 for a then world record 100 million euros (USD 112.20 million) but struggled to hold down his place in the starting side last season.
Amid suggestions that competition will only increase next season after the arrival of Belgian Eden Hazard, Bale was left out of Saturday’s 3-1 defeat by Bayern Munich in a pre-season clash in Houston.
“He wasn’t included in the squad because the club is working on his departure… that’s why he didn’t play,” Zidane told a news conference.
“We’ll have to see if it goes through tomorrow, if it does then all the better. Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, that it happens soon.”
Zidane’s comments drew a stinging reply from Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett, who labelled the Frenchman “a disgrace.”
“Zidane is a disgrace to speak like that about someone who has done so much for Real,” Barnett was quoted as saying by ESPN.
“If and when Gareth goes it will be because it is in the best interest of Gareth and nothing to do with Zidane pushing.”
Bale was criticised by the Spanish media last season after failing to fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus as Madrid came third in La Liga last season, 19 points behind champions Barcelona.
Zidane, however, said there was nothing personal in his decision to deem Bale surplus to requirements.
“There comes a time when things are done because they need to be done. I’ve not got anything against him,” Zidane added.
Focus of ISL and I-League clubs needed: Devi
New Delhi: Street football was never her thing but a road behind her house did help Ashalata Devi forge a career in football. After dropping her bag at home after school, Devi would use it to slip away unnoticed to an addiction she couldn’t quit despite her mother’s best efforts. When the scolding got severe, she would lay off for a while, only to return to football days later. Till the next time her mother got angry.
“My mother would keep asking why I would not focus on academics and be the lawyer that I wanted to be,” says Devi, who was adjudged India’s woman player of the year.
“Even when I got selected for the India under-17 side my folks were sceptical but that was also when they started coming around to the idea that football would be my way of making a life. Now my mother gets upset if I mention that I will quit football,” says Devi.
Parental objection was not a hurdle for Dangmei Grace. She started playing with her brothers. It wasn’t something she was serious about till a friend took Grace, then in high school, to a football event.
“That was when I started getting interested. It helped that there were so many seniors to look up to: Bala di (Bala Devi), Bembem di (O Bembem Devi), Malik di (Sasmita Malik), Tababi (Tababi Devi). That was five years ago,” says Grace, adjudged emerging player of the year by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
Grace is 23, and a striker; Devi, 26, is a central defender. Grace’s favourite player is Megan Rapinoe—for how she plays, conducts herself off the pitch and how she looks—though she would draw the line at colouring her hair pink.
Devi likes David Luiz and US striker Alex Morgan but among defenders, England full-back Lucy Bronze is her favourite.
Devi and Grace’s paths converged at Imphal’s Krypsha FC and from then they have been at opposite ends of the pitch for club and country. Both played for Sethu FC which won the last Indian Women’s League (IWL). Football helped them find employment: Grace is a physical education teacher with Manipur’s youth and sports department and Devi works for the Railways.
Both are now part of the India’s preparatory camp here for the COTIF Cup, an invitational tournament in Valencia, Spain, beginning on July 28. And both owe a lot to Chaoba Devi, their coach at Krypsha, and assistant to Maymol Rocky in the senior national team.
“Defenders don’t become player of the year and I was no different thinking it would never come my way. If it did now, it is because of Chaoba ma’am. She would chide me for saying this at Krypsha,” says Devi.
Both also spoke about Krypsha being crowd-funded. “‘Please can you help us, we are going to play a tournament’, we would say. They would give bags of rice, some would give money,” says Grace. Krypsha now has multiple girls’ youth teams, adds Devi.
And both say only more teams can make the IWL longer and stronger. “My request to I-League and ISL (Indian Super League) clubs is to focus on women’s football,” says Devi. “The IWL will only grow if more clubs are interested,” says Grace. Twelve teams played the IWL last term. “Not enough,” opines Grace.