India’s fringe players sense opportunity in Zimbabwe series
(Reuters) – Zimbabwe may not be the strongest of opponents but the importance of an away series against them is not lost on India’s fringe players who are keen to make the most of the opportunity in absence of their seniors.
India rested regular players including captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and put Ajinkya Rahane in charge of a second-string side for the three ODIs and two Twenty20 matches in Zimbabwe.
The Africans are nine places lower than India in the ODI rankings but for someone like Robin Uthappa, who is expected to keep wicket in Dhoni’s absence, the series is precisely what he had been waiting for.
“I am really grateful that I have finally got a whole series to play than just one or two games a year,” Uthappa, who played the last of his 43 ODIs late last year, told reporters on Monday.
“I want to make the most of it and want to consolidate my spot in the side.”
Uthappa made his way into the Indian team as a 21-year-old hard-hitting opener and impressed immediately hitting 86 in his ODI debut against England in 2006.
He got a decent run in Indian colours but failed to cement his place in the side.
At 29, he’s now a more confident cricketer and even sees himself as a possible successor to stumper Dhoni, having taken to full-time keeping recently.
“I know the game I used to play was a flash in the pan. That’s good to watch but consistency definitely takes a hit,” Uthappa said.
“I didn’t capitalise on the kind of opportunities I got as a young guy.
“I was 21 and I could have had a firmer head on my shoulders, I could have had someone to guide me, I could have had a million things.
“I went through my own personal issues that kind of sidetracked me for a few years to the point where I wanted to give up the game. And then I kind of resurrected myself and I fell in love with the game completely.”
For India’s regular test opener Murali Vijay too, the series presents an opportunity to stake his claim for ODI inclusion.
The 31-year-old right-hander last played an ODI for India two years back and the last of his seven T20 international in January, 2011.
“I always wanted to play all three formats of the game. It’s a great opportunity for me,” Vijay said. “I got my chances but I have not been getting a (full) series. It’s very difficult for a batsman.
“I have been part of the Indian team for seven years now and I have played 14 ODIs, that says it all. Now is the opportunity for me and I hope I can do justice to my talent.”
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who played the last of his 229 one-dayers in June 2011, will also be keen to do well in the series, having lost the number one spinner’s place to Ravichandran Ashwin, who has also been rested.
Harare Sports Club hosts the ODIs on Friday, Sunday and next Tuesday, to be followed by Twenty20 Internationals on July 17 and 19 at the same venue.
England stutter to offer South Africa chance of victory
(Reuters) – England lost four wickets on the last morning of the second test against South Africa as overcast conditions brightened up action and offered the possibility of a dramatic finish on Wednesday.
England were 87-4 at lunch, with James Taylor (23) and Ben Stokes (two) not out, seeking to keep batting to take the game away from their hosts after the top order had been dismissed.
Cloud cover over Newlands for the first time in the test finally offered bowlers the swing that had been missing over the previous four searingly-hot days and saw South Africa claim quick wickets to spice up the game and boost hopes of claiming an unlikely victory.
England’s top four batsmen looked short on confidence as a little moisture in the air and an absence of wind gave bowlers a window of opportunity.
England started the day on 16-0 in their second innings, having an 18-run lead over South Africa after both posted high-scoring totals in the first innings.
Cook (eight) was strangled down the leg side and caught by wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock off Kagiso Rabada’s bowling on the eighth ball of the morning with England having added a single to their overnight total.
Alex Hales (five) was snagged by a brilliant diving one-handed catch from Chris Morris at slip to give Morne Morkel a deserved wicket after some fiery bowling.
Joe Root was caught in the slips by AB de Villiers off Morkel on 17 but television replays showed the bowler had his foot over the crease line, and England’s top-ranked batsman was reprieved.
Root added 12 more runs to his score before Morris bowled him with England 55 for three.
Nick Compton fell 10 minutes before lunch as he played straight to Faf du Plessis at short mid-wicket and was out after a tentative 15.
South Africa might have had another before lunch when James Taylor top edged off Morkel and Rabada made a superb one-handed diving catch, only for the ball to pop out of his hand as his elbow made contact with the ground.
South Africa will need to dismiss England cheaply in the second session and then chase down a low target with time running out if they are to level the series at 1-1.
England had looked well set to win a second successive test when they went on a run-scoring riot on the second day to shatter several records in amassing 629 for six declared.
But South Africa batted themselves back into the game over three days eventually declaring on 627-7 some 30 minutes before the end of Tuesday’s play.
Zimbabwe gives Pakistan second chance in Test Cricket
Zimbabwe’s cricket team is in Pakistan, the first Test-playing nation to visit the country in six years.
Thousands of security personnel were deployed as the team were taken from Lahore airport to a city hotel.
Pakistan has hosted no top-level international cricket since Sri Lanka’s team bus was attacked by gunmen in Lahore in 2009. Six policemen died.
Zimbabwe and Pakistan will play two T20 matches and three one-day internationals starting on Friday.
Pakistan have recalled their former captain, all-rounder Shoaib Malik, and fast bowler Mohammad Sami for the T20 games. There is no place for spin bowler Saeed Ajmal.
The 15-man squad also sees batsman Umar Akmal return after failing to impress in the Cricket World Cup and being left out of the recent tour of Bangladesh.
The International Cricket Council has refused to send any match officials to Pakistan for the series with Zimbabwe because of security concerns.
A driver was killed along with the six policemen who died in the 2009 militant attack. Seven Sri Lankan players were wounded, causing shock around the world.
Pakistani policemen stand guard beside a bus carrying Zimbabwe cricket team players on their way to hotel after their arrival in Lahore on May 19, 2015.
The Zimbabwe team arrived in the early hours of Tuesday and were whisked to their hotel
The first T20, to be played on Friday, is sold out amid a wave of jubilation among cricket fans across Pakistan, reports the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad.
Pakistan Cricket Board officials received the Zimbabwe players at Lahore airport with garlands.
“This is a happy occasion. I am grateful to the Zimbabwean government which made this tour possible,” PCB chief operating officer Subhan Ahmed told Pakistan TV.
Pakistani Rangers gather for a rehearsal of security arrangements for the Zimbabwe team outside the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore on May 16, 2015.
Thousands of security personnel are involved in protecting the Zimbabwe team
Television channels offered live coverage of the arrival of the Zimbabweans – most playing famous Bollywood songs about the “home coming of the beloved” in the background.
All channels ran footage of fans welcoming the Zimbabwe squad and expressing relief over what they saw as the “improved security situation” in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the local authorities have been rehearsing security and evacuation plans involving both airborne and ground forces in the event of an attack, BBC Urdu reports. The authorities have also ordered the closure of all businesses and eating places around the Qaddafi Stadium area in Lahore for two weeks.
Officials say only spectators with valid tickets will be allowed to approach the stadium.
The BBC’s Shahzeb Jillani in Karachi says officials are determined to make sure the Zimbabwe visit goes smoothly and hope it will pave the way for more international cricket on Pakistani soil.
Since 2009, Pakistan has played all home series at foreign grounds, mostly in Dubai.
The Zimbabwean visit is being seen as a major test as the country seeks to end its sporting isolation.
Thousands of people have been killed in recent years in Pakistan’s militant violence, which continues to rage despite a military offensive in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
A sectarian bus massacre in Karachi last week highlighted the security risks.
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