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Bold selections must be lauded

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Sri Lanka were in India in 2005, when their selectors brought in a wicketkeeper to the fold. Dinesh Karthik had already established his place in the side so people were actually wondering what was the need to bring in someone who was rarely heard of. Kiran More the Chairman of Selectors said that despite being not known too well, he had seen something special in the wicketkeeper. He was confident that this bloke would go onto make an impact in the game. Well, he had more than just an impact in Indian cricket winning the 50 over World Cup, 20 over World Cup and getting India to number one rank in Test cricket. M.S. Dhoni is his name.

Kudos to Pramodaya Wickramasinghe and his selection panel for some bold selections they have done in recent weeks. When Lasith Embuldeniya was injured and his understudy Duvindu Tillekeratne was also on the mend, the next in line was Prabath Jayasuriya. But he failed the skin fold test placing the selectors on a sticky wicket. The easier option would have been to go back to the tried and tested Malinda Pushpakumara. However, rather than going backwards, they were forward thinking. They backed young Praveen Jayawickrama and it paid off.

Praveen had played a handful of First Class games. Against a team that plays spin well, this must have been a real hard decision to hand him his Test cap, especially with Lakshan Sandakan in the squad. But the selectors were convinced that Praveen was good enough to succeed at the highest level and they were proved right. His was the best debut by a Sri Lankan bowler and in fact the tenth best debut in the history of the game.

Prior to this, the selectors had made another tough call in handing Pathum Nissanka his Test debut in the Caribbean. Despite having Roshen Silva in the squad, instead of going for experience, the selectors backed youth and Nissanka went onto become the first Sri Lankan to score a Test hundred on debut overseas.

Fitness of players have been a huge concern over the years and the selectors have done well to demand players show commitment  and to leave out those who do not meet minimum fitness standards.

The performance of the national cricket team in white ball cricket has not been up to scratch in recent years and the selectors have been bold in axing half a dozen seniors and bringing in new blood. Their initiatives need to be commended as Sri Lankan cricket is looking to regain past glories.

 

 



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Ferguson’s incredible 4-4-0-3 helps NZ exit T20 World Cup on a high

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New Zealand signed off a disappointing T20 World Cup 2024 campaign with a dominant win over Papua New Guinea, chasing down a paltry target of 79 with seven wickets and 46 balls to spare at the Brian Lara Stadium, in Tarouba.

The scale of the mismatch was characterised by Lockie Ferguson’s figures of 3 for 0 from his four overs. The New Zealand speedster became only the second bowler to bowl four maidens in a T20I fixture after Canada captain Saad Bin Zafar achieved the feat in 2021 when he returned 2 for 0 against Panama.

While Ferguson was sharp and accurate, the moisture in the pitch and what remained in the air from the morning showers that delayed the toss by an hour made it a tough ask for PNG’s batters. The weather was a primary reason Kane Williamson inserted the opposition upon winning the toss, who in turn were 16 for 2 after the powerplay.

Charles Amini’s 17, the highest score of the innings, came in the most productive stand – 27 for the third wicket with Sese Bau – before he was pinned lbw for Ferguson’s second of the innings.

Trent Boult, playing in his last T20 World Cup match,  went on to pocket two wickets when he returned to bowl his final two overs at the death. Ish Sodhi, replacing Jimmy Neesham in the XI for his first match of the competition, also picked up a brace, taking the final PNG wickets in the 20th over as they were bowled out with two balls left in their innings.

But PNG were not about to bow out without a fight.Kabua Morea returning to the XI after playing the opener against West Indies, removed Finn Allen, caught behind, off the second delivery of New Zealand’s innings. He then pocketed Rachin Ravindra when the left-hander tried and failed to lift beyond deep midwicket at the start of the fifth over.

Further excitement on the field came when Semo Kamea trapped Devon Conway on the crease. His 35 – which included two fours and three sixes – had, however, taken the sting out of the chase. Conway and Williamson added 34 runs for the third wicket – New Zealand’s highest partnership of the tournament.

Williamson and Daryl Mitchell then completed the formalities, scoring the remaining 25 runs from 18 balls to earn New Zealand their second win, consigning PNG to a fourth defeat.

It began with a wicket: extra pace across Assad Vala that enticed a drive. There was even a bit of extra bounce which only served to make Mitchell’s catch at a wide first slip that little bit tougher. From that point on, Ferguson was locked in.

Did he know a place in the record books was in the offing? Probably not. But the movement through the air and off the deck, not to mention the high pace that was always going to ask unanswerable questions to a limited PNG batting line-up, meant Ferguson was likely to emerge with extraordinary figures.

The 33-year-old was primarily over the wicket to the left-handed Bau, who entered the fray upon Vala’s dismissal. Having switched to over the wicket midway through his second over (the seventh), Ferguson returned for the 12th from that angle and was immediately rewarded with a delivery into Amini’s pads that skidded on with the angle so sharply it was initially given not out on the field.

DRS corrected that error before Ferguson took matters into his own hands by hitting Chad Soper’s stumps for his third. Then came two leg byes down to deep third – which did not count against the bowler – and the final three deliveries, which were counted down by those in the commentary box, now fully invested in witnessing history. Kiplin Doriga’s mistimed pull almost broke the streak – though it also could have resulted in a catch at mid-off – before the right-hander charged Ferguson’s final delivery to no avail.

Ferguson looked a little sheepish as his team-mates filed over to congratulate him. Nevertheless, a forgettable T20 World Cup now has a memorable side note.

As valiant as PNG’s displays have been at their second T20 World Cup, there is good reason to look at their batting and wonder what might have been. Particularly when Allen and Ravindra were snared early.

Signing off with a score of 78, following totals of 95 against Afghanistan and 77 versus Uganda, highlights the limitations of their batters. Even the 136 for 8 against West Indies looked light at the halfway stage, having faced 55 dot balls when setting that evening in Guyana.

Even discounting the 23 scoreless deliveries off Ferguson, they failed to find a run from the 58 balls delivered by the rest of the New Zealand attack. Conditions were not kind to batters throughout, particularly those taking guard against the new ball duo of Boult and Tim Southee on a new track with variable bounce, but more intent could have been shown.

Particularly against Mitchell Santner. The left-arm spinner floated plenty up but conceded just one boundary. Perhaps spooked by Bau lifting Santner into the hands of long on, it took until Santner’s final delivery for someone to land one on him, as Doriga smeared a sweep shot to midwicket for four.

Of course, this match does not really qualify as a missed opportunity given New Zealand’s undoubted superiority. But it did serve as a reminder of the shortcomings that cost them victory against Uganda and allowed West Indies off the hook.

It was 15 days between appearances at this T20 World Cup for Morea. The left-arm seamer started against West Indies, arriving into the match with the expectation he would be a crutch for the attack over the coming fortnight. He ended up with figures of 0 for 30 from three overs, the last of which went for 13 as Roston Chase profited off a couple of full tosses to take the hosts over the line with an over to spare

Morea spent the next two matches on the sidelines as PNG opted for a more spin-heavy attack. Conditions dictated as much, but Morea would have every reason to consider himself an unfortunate casualty of this shift having been the side’s leading wicket-taker at the 2021 edition.

But here in Tarouba, he seized the opportunity to leave the World Cup on something of a high, returning home with figures of 2 for 4 from 2.2 overs. Allen’s hot-headed hack gave him a wicket with the second ball. And having tied Ravindra down for the rest of that first over, the Kiwi No.3 greeted his reintroduction for the fifth over with a desperate charge and swipe that nestled into the hands of Kamea in the deep.

It was at this point that the rain made a return. New Zealand were 20 for 2, level with the five-over par score, which they passed when Williamson punched a single off his first ball. It was the only run off the over, with Morea boasting figures of 2 for 2 from his first two overs. As it turned out the rain did not stop play, either. While not as headline-grabbing as Ferguson’s exploits, Morea’s 11 dots against an engaging and far more equipped New Zealand batting line-up were equally impressive.

Brief scores:
New Zealand 79 for 3 in 12.2 overs (Devon Conway 35, Daryl Mitchell 12*, Kane Williamson 18; Kabua Morea 2-04, Semo Kamea 1-23) beat  Papua New Guinea 78 in 19.4 overs  (Charles Amini 17;  Lockie Ferguson 3-00, Tim Southee 2-11, Trent Boult 2-14, Ish Sodhi 2-29, Mitchell Sntner 1-17) by seven wickets

[Cricinfo]

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West Indies and Afghanistan look to protect unbeaten records in last clash before Super Eight

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With a line-up packed with power-hitters from top to bottom, West Indies have always been the prototype of a perfect T20 batting side, and it’s no different at T20 World Cup 2024.  Add the incisive fast bowlers and effective spinners and they look like the team to beat.

The balance of the Rovman-Powell-led team resembles the ones they had during their title-winning runs in 2012 and 2016. Samuel Badree gave them successful starts with the ball with his legspin then, a role Akeal Hosein has assumed this time with his left-arm orthodox. It may not be a mere coincidence that Daren Samy, who captained West Indies to the title in those two editions, is at the helm as head coach now.

With all Super Eight spots decided, West Indies’ clash against Afghanistan has little significance. But try telling that to the players that. “Momentum” and “pride” were the keywords in the pre-match press conference that Powell and Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott addressed.

Afghanistan will have tough competition in the Super Eight round, having been clubbed alongside India, Australia and Bangladesh, and will want to carry positive vibes into it. Having enjoyed an unbeaten run thus far, neither team will want to trip up heading into the business end of the competition.

Among those in the current squad, only Nicholas Pooran (1914) and Brandon King (1365) have more T20I runs for West Indies than Rovman Powell (1351). Pooran (487) and King (621) also are the top scorers for them in T20Is since January 2023 with Powell (461) at third. But Powell’s strike rate of 163.47 is far superior to that of the other two, which highlights his destructive powers. However, he is yet to fire in this World Cup – 39 runs in three matches at a strike rate of 105.40. A decent hit ahead of the Super Eight will bode well for the co-hosts.

Rashid Khan has six wickets in this World Cup, and all of them have come in the middle overs. In his T20I career, he has only nine wickets in eight matches against West Indies. They are one of only four teams against whom Rashid averages in the 20s. But against a line-up dominated by right-hand batters, Rashid should be licking his lips to have a perfect outing.

West Indies (probable): Brandon King, Johnson Charles, Nicholas Pooran (wk),  Roston Chase,  Rovman Powell (capt),  Andre Russell,  Sherfane Rutherford,  Akeal Hosein,  Romario Shepherd, Alzarri Joseph,  Gudakesh Motie.

Afghanistan (probable):  Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk),  Ibrahim Zadran,  Gulbadin Naib,  Azmatullah Omarzai,  Mohammad Nabi,  Najibullah Zadran,  Karim Janat,  Rashid Khan (capt),  Noor Ahmad,  Naveen-ul-Haq,  Fazalhaq Farooqi

[Cricinfo]

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Can Papua New Guinea spoil Boult’s T20 World Cup farewell plan?

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It's been a disappointing T20 World Cup for Kane Williamson and New Zealand  [ICC]

Is it one last time for New Zealand’s golden generation in T20Is? They only have three players under 30 in their side. None of their senior batters have come to the fore in the tournament so far. Trent Boult,  well, has been Trent Boult-ing, but he’s confirmed this will be his last T20 World Cup.

Though Kane Williamson believes it may not be the end of the road yet for many seniors, New Zealand bowing out of the tournament early will make them rethink the future.

They did come together to show their prowess against Uganda in the last game, rolling them over for 40. Though all of their bowlers made a mark, their batting unit, one of their biggest letdowns this tournament, did not get much time in the middle. The win also came a bit too late, their fate already sealed: they will not be heading to the knockout stage of a men’s World Cup for the first time since 2014.

Papua New Guinea, meanwhile, will be exiting with different emotions. They gave co-hosts West Indies a near scare in the first game. Their spinners bowled superbly in that game. Their fast-bowling unit has been impressive. This will be the first time these teams come up against each other. Can PNG’s bowlers challenge New Zealand’s demoralised batting unit?

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