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England declaration sets up intriguing final day in Rawalpindi



Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes had underscored their philosophy several times over: England will risk defeat in order to win Test matches. And so it proved in Rawalpindi. The visitors offered a brave declaration of their second innings, asking Pakistan to chase 342 for victory with about 100 overs left in the game, light permitting. At the end of another truncated final session, Pakistan had whittled down 80 runs from their target but lost two of their first-innings centurions Abdullah Shafique and Babar Azam along the way while experienced batter Azhar Ali had to retire hurt with a finger injury.

Thankfully for the hosts, their other centurion from the first dig, Imam-ul-Haq, survived England’s bouncer plan and moved along to 43 and added 55 runs for the third wicket in the company of Saud Shakeel. It was a tricky 20 over period for Pakistan before bad light ended play early once more. They were chasing leather for much of the day before Stokes and McCullum dangled the fourth-innings carrot. Given the pitch had continued to remain benign deep into the fourth day, a chase at a rate above three runs to the over wasn’t going to be difficult. But, in it was England’s best chance to force mistakes out of their excitable opponents.

Stokes also began the final session by inverting all usual conventions. Test cricket’s most prolific fast bowler, James Anderson, was not handed the new ball and instead Ollie Robinson and Stokes took it upon themselves to test out areas half-way down from the batters. The bouncer ploy worked. Shafique miscued a pull and was caught by Harry Brook at deep square leg. Ollie Robinson then around the stumps and got a ball to climb awkwardly on Azhar Ali and pinged him on the fingers, forcing the senior batter into retiring hurt. In walked Babar at No.4. He slapped one short ball over the off-side for four but then was caught in two minds against a Stokes short ball and inside-edged a ball to the ‘keeper.

At 25/2, Pakistan were wobbling. But the pair of Imam and Shakeel managed to work their way out of trouble. It helped that the ring of attacking fielders stationed by Stokes allowed for ready boundary opportunities. Jack Leach, for instance, when introduced into the attack bowled with a pair of catching mid-wickets, a slip, a forward short leg and a silly point. That meant Shakeel could simply chip the ball towards mid-on for a pair of boundaries. There was one nervy moment for Pakistan when a Shakeel clip went straight to Keaton Jennings at short leg but the reflex catch didn’t ‘stick’ and Pakistan could go into the final day with no further damage and still with a realistic chance of victory.

It is an intriguing place for them to find themselves having conceded 657 in the first innings and then again 264 in less than 36 overs on the fourth day. When it was their turn to bat, England’s batters were in no mood to allow the game to peter out. Zak Crawley, Joe Root and Harry Brook all hit fifties at faster than a run a ball.

The signs were not hard to read in that second session. Crawley, who was on 24 at Lunch, began with an on-drive and a square drive while Root played an audacious reverse scoop off Naseem Shah for a boundary of his own. Almost immediately after getting to a half-century to go with his first-innings ton, Crawley was strangled down the legside attempting to put away a short ball from Mohammad Ali. The umpires didn’t pick up the glove and the opener himself appeared to suggest the ball had hit his shoulder but Pakistan’s ring fielders were convinced enough to ask for the DRS aid and get their third wicket.

Brook joined Root with the former captain seamlessly taking over as the tempo setter. He continued to play with the field, pushing the ball into gaps and running twos or using his famous dab to run the ball down to third man. Despite hitting only four boundaries, Root had a 48-ball 50 of his own.

Babar Azam, already hamstrung by the loss of Haris Rauf to an injury, brought the spinners on with the strategy to bowl from round the stumps and into the right-handers’ blindspot. To counter and continue with his run-making ways, Root turned into a left-hander for a ball and then abandoned that move in favour of the reverse sweep. Boundaries continued to flow as Root raced into the 70s. Eventually, Zahid Mahmood and Pakistan’s persistence paid off when Root eventually miscued a sweep and was caught at short fine. Ben Stokes followed his former skipper into the dressing room in the same over, miscuing a shot to sweeper cover.

Brook took over from there and launched an all-out offense on debutant legspinner Mahmood, repeatedly slogging him over mid-wicket or stepping out and hitting him over his head. Will Jacks, promoted above the injured Liam Livingstone, hit three sixes off his own in a 13-ball knock of 24. It was Brooks, however, who was marched on rapidly towards a second hundred of the game before he was out on the cusp of the Tea break, bowled off Naseem Shah while trying to swipe across the line. His 11 fours and three sixes, however, was perfect for England to set up a brave declaration.

More earlier in the day, Jacks finished with a six-fer on debut, having known of his participation in the Test merely minutes before the start of the game. Pakistan had begun the day, trailing England by 158 in the first innings and had Agha Salman to thank for eating into his deficit by farming the strike with the tail. Salman though edged Jacks to first slip and the offie went on to dismiss Mahmood and Rauf for figures of 6 for 161. Little would he have known then that he would be needed to produce another strong show on the final day for that first-innings performance to not end up on a losing side.

Brief scores:

England 657 and 264 for 7 decl. (Harry Brook 87, Joe Root 73; Mohammad Ali 2-64)

Pakistan 579 and 80/2 (Imam-ul-Haq 43n.o.)

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Dharmasena reaches singles final



Ranjan Dharmasena(Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

Ranjan Dharmasena booked a berth in the singles final against Korea’s Sung Bong Han as he beat Sagg-Ho OH 6-1, 6-2 in his semi-final in the Sri Lanka Open International Wheelchair Tennis Tournament at Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Tuesday.

Sung Bong Han of Korea prevented an all-hosts final as he beat Gamini Dissanayake 6-1, 6-2 in the other semi-final.

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New champions add spice to tennis singles events



The First Capital SSC Open Men’s and Women’s Singles championships were won by Sharmal Dissanayake and Sajida Razick respectively (Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

By A Special Sports Correspondent

Tennis star Sharmal Dissanayake (26) made a comeback to the racquet game in Sri Lanka when he won the Men’s Singles event at the First Capital SSC Open Championships worked off in Colombo recently.

The annual SSC Open tournament gave a great start to the tennis scene in the island for the New Year. It was also a new start for champion player Dissanayake after being away from playing on Sri Lankan courts at local tournaments for a while. He overcame stiff resistance from Chaturya Nilaweera in the finals, which went for four sets. Dissanayake won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 and 7-6 in the pulsating final which was scheduled to go for five sets if required. This is the first time five-set tennis was introduced at a local tournament in the island.

Dissanayake has played at peak condition in past tournaments. Fitness was not a cause for Dissanayake at this tournament, but he can reach top playing condition as the months roll away this season. The talk doing the rounds in the tennis circles is that Dissanayake wants to raise his game and fitness and make himself available for the country at overseas assignments too. Meanwhile, Nilaweera, an up-and-coming player with much promise, had to sweat his way into the final with a tough semi-final fixture against Kiran Vairawanathan. It was good to see seasoned players like Guyanga Weerasekare contesting the SSC Open Men’s event. The men’s open tennis event overall in the country has just got the needed boost with the competition that’s raised by so many talented players entering and wanting a share of the pie.

Dissanayake won the Arjun Fernando Challenge Trophy for his efforts at the tournament which was witnessed by an appreciative crowd.

Schoolgirl Sajida Razick made a giant kill in the women’s open singles by beating seasoned player Neyara Weerawansa (6-3, 6-4). Despite taking the first set with her power play Razick saw the experienced Weerawansa breathing down her back in a well-contested second set. Both players made their share of unforced errors, but that didn’t take the punch away from the game Razick looked so confident throughout the game and brilliantly negotiated Weerawansa’s spirited late rally during the second set before winning her first major title in senior tennis. Razick overcame Vishmi Serasinghe in the semis while Weerawansa got the better of Dinara de Silva. Razick won the Sriya Munasinghe Challenge Trophy for her efforts.

Razick has raised her game tremendously and plays some powerful shots and also uses the full court. It would have been interesting to see how she would have fared against Anjalika Kurera had the latter taken part in this tournament. Incidentally, Kurera was not available for the SSC Open this season because she was busy preparing for a vital examination.

The tournament not only attracted its title sponsor in First Capital, but also saw Perera & Sons and Dimo coming in as co-sponsors. It’s one of the most looked forward-to events in the local tennis events calendar; having recorded its start in the 1980s. The SSC Open also serves as a category 1 ranking tournament.

The tournament was organized by the SSC Tennis Home Committee and held under the auspices of the Sri Lanka Tennis Association.

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Amameth scores back-to-back centuries



Anjala Bandara (left) and Kavindu Amameth

Under 19 Cricket

by Reemus Fernando

Kavindu Amameth scored back-to-back centuries and put on a partnership over 200 runs for the second time in the match as Mahanama College earned major honours against De Mazenod in the Under 19 Traditional cricket encounter which ended in a draw at Kandana on Tuesday.

Amameth followed up his first innings score with an identical knock. In the first essay, he conceded 173 balls for his knock. But in his second he consumed only 101 balls as he cracked 11 fours and seven sixes to boost the score. He also put on a first-wicket stand of 209 runs with Anjala Bandara as Mahanama posted 323 for three wickets at close on a pitch where the home team could muster only 150.

It is also the first time this season that a batsman scored back-to-back centuries in a match.

At Ananda Mawatha, Mahinda College restricted the home team to 159 runs as Dhanuja Induwara picked up five wickets for the visitors to dominate day one of the traditional encounter.


Mahanama take major honours



363 all out in 92.1 overs (Kavindu Amameth 126, Inuka Karannagoda 75, Rashmika Perera 52, Chamika Heenatigala 24, Eshan Withanage 24; Kavindu Kaushalya 4/97, Thushan Udayanga 3/64, Sithum Fernando 3/71) and 323 for 3 in 54 overs (Kavindu Amameth 126, Anjala Bandara 84, Koojana Perera 55, Inuka Karannagoda 52n.o.; Thushan Udayanga 2/56)

De Mazenod

2 for 1 overnight 150 all out in 49.0 overs (Neshan Dias 65, Shevan Menusha 25, Uvindu Perera 20, Thareen Perera 20; Chamika Heenatigala 4/12, Inuka Karannagoda 2/26, Rashmika Perera 2/29)

Mahinda dominate day one at Ananda Mawatha



159 all out in 53.1 overs (Viduna Wijebandara 27, Iruth Gimshan 25, Ayesh Shahimal 42; Dhanuja Induwara 5/33, Tharusha Dilshan 2/37, Arosha Udayandga 2/18)


142 for 5 in 44 overs (Hareen Achintha 36, Hiruna Gallage 38n.o., Tharusha Dilshan 21n.o.; Ashinsa Deshan Nainayaka 4/40)

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