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Three questions for Sri Lanka, three questions for Bangladesh

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The two-match series in Pallekele will present two uncertain teams a stiff examination of their Test-match mettle Sri Lanka are seventh in the Test rankings, and have not won a match against top-nine opposition since August 2019. Bangladesh are ranked ninth and are coming off a difficult 2-0 Test defeat at home to West Indies. ESPNcricinfo looks at some of the biggest challenges the two teams will attempt to overcome through the course of their two-Test series in Pallekele.

Sri Lanka
Spin bowling

To win in Sri Lanka, spinners generally need to take a lot of wickets. One of Sri Lanka’s problems has been that since the retirement of Rangana Herath, their spin attack has fallen away somewhat. Where their spinners collectively averaged 27.80 at home in Herath’s last three years, they average 32.62 since his exit.

In this series, they will be without Lasith Embuldeniya, their most promising slow-bowling prospect, after he picked up a serious soft-tissue injury in the Caribbean. They are also without Dilruwan Perera, whose effectiveness had dipped substantially (he averages 32.17 at home since Herath’s retirement in November 2018). They’ll likely rely on wristspin via Wanindu Hasaranga or Lakshan Sandakan (or both), with Dhananjaya de Silva’s offspin in support. But neither Hasaranga nor Sandakan have seemed up to leading a Test attack so far, partly because their control has been inconsistent between spells.

Although this series is being played in Pallekele where seamers may play more of a role than they do in Galle, Sri Lanka will likely need big wickets from the spinners too.

Batting collapses

Although since December Sri Lanka’s batting has been sporadically impressive, such as in the first innings at Centurion or the second innings at North Sound, these successes have been interspersed with dramatic, harrowing collapses. In their last 12 Test innings, Sri Lanka have failed to make 200 on five occasions. Two of the worst nosedives came in their last series at home, against England, against modest bowling, when they were out for 135 and 126 – innings in which they surrendered the series. If they go into self-destruct mode again, they could cede another match.

Fitness

Coach Mickey Arthur has been adamant that players raise their standards, and have ruled certain players out of contention purely on fitness grounds. And still, Sri Lanka’s long history with muscle and soft-tissue injuries continues to plague them. In addition to being without Embuldeniya in this series, they are also missing seamer Kasun Rajitha, while rookie batter Pathum Nissanka has been struggling with a niggle as well (but is expected to be fit for the series). There are many theories on why injuries seem to plague Sri Lanka more than most other teams. Some find fault with the conditioning, others point to a lack of recent cricket, or to developmental issues going back to the players’ formative years. Whatever the case, rare is the series from which Sri Lanka emerge with all their key players intact.

Bangladesh
Overseas troubles

Bangladesh’s Test record is such that it is considered inevitable they will not threaten on foreign soil. They have won only one away Test in the last five years, and since that one win, which came in Sri Lanka in 2017, they have lost each of their nine Tests on the road, all by heavy margins.

A big part of their problem is the inability to take 20 wickets abroad – a feat they have only managed five times in their history. Their spinners have been effective on favourable pitches at home, but these have left the fast bowlers with little to do. This lack of bowling at home translates into a lack of rhythm and effectiveness abroad. It has been eight years since a Bangladesh fast bowler won them an overseas Test.

The Shakib-sized hole

What would make it more difficult for Bangladesh in Sri Lanka this time is Shakib Al Hasan’s absence. His stature as a Test allrounder makes him particularly difficult to replace. Mehidy Hasan Miraz performed admirably against West Indies recently but he has a lot to do to earn the allrounder’s tag. This time the selectors have picked the 34-year old Shuvagata Hom as a batting allrounder when five years ago, during his last Test appearance, he was counted as a bowling allrounder. This is the sort of confusion that can arise when Shakib isn’t around; no Shakib is always an advantage to the opposition.

Catching

Bangladesh’s catching was one of the most worrying aspects of their disastrous New Zealand tour last month. They dropped ten catches in the ODIs and T20Is, which cost them results and momentum, and netted a bit of embarrassment as well. When the team returned from the tour, newcomer Nasum Ahmedoffered an explanation for the dropped catches that was the stuff of internet memes: “Their sky is very clear and their weather is nothing like ours.”

The real story, however, was different. The 2-0 home defeat to West Indies in February shook the team, leading to a team-wide lack of confidence. As is often the case in cricket, this lack of confidence made for a poor fielding side.

 

(ESPN Cricinfo)



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South Africa target four-in-four with Nepal preparing for Kingstown party

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If crowd support could win you matches, Nepal wouldn't lose too many [ICC]

A tournament of firsts has an addition: this is the first time South Africa and Nepal will meet on the international circuit. And they do so from opposite ends of the group’s points table.

South Africa advanced to the Super Eight after the Nepal-Sri Lanka washout, but would have likely made it there anyway. They have won all three of their matches so far – two by close margins – and are looking like one of the form teams.

Nepal have yet to win a match – and have in fact only played one full game – but they might feel they have already enjoyed some success. A 7000-strong crowd in Dallas, made up almost entirely of their supporters, cheered Nepal through their opening game against Netherlands. But their batting wilted under pressure from the Netherlands seamers, which does not bode well for them coming up against South Africa, whose fast bowlers have been exceptional.

South Africa’s main concern coming into the tournament was the form of Anriche Nortje  but he is back to, and perhaps even better than, his previous best. Nortje has reached speeds of 150kph-plus, has shown off a good slower ball, is taking wickets, and is now two away from Dale Steyn’s record as South Africa’s leading bowler in men’s T20 World Cups.  Nortje and Otteniel Baartman  with all his variations, have formed a formidable first and second change and have eclipsed Marco Jansen and Kagiso Rabada.

It is yet to be seen how much of a role the spinners will play – and remember South Africa have included three specialists in their squad but only used one, Keshav Maharaj, so far – and the trip to the Caribbean might reveal that. Should things take a turn in the direction of the spinners, Nepal are well resourced with the addition of Sandeep Lamichane for the West Indian leg of the tournament.

Sandeep Lamichhane, Nepal’s best-known player, has not played an international match since November last year after being convicted of and then acquitted for rape. The latter came ten days before participating teams had to name their final squads for the tournament and his name was not on Nepal’s initial list. Cleverly, they only included 14 players. But Lamichhane was subsequently denied a visa to enter the USA and had to miss Nepal’s first two games, but has reached St Vincent.

All this for what, you may wonder? Well, Lamichhane is match-winner, who was the fourth-leading wicket-taker in ODIs last year, and played a key role in Nepal reaching the World Cup Qualifiers. He has described playing at a World Cup as “fulfilling my dream of all cricket lovers”  and big things are expected of him.

The one aspect of South Africa’s game that needs improving is the performance of the top-three batters, who have collectively scored just 61 runs from nine trips to the crease. That may be due to the difficulties of the New York surfaces, where they played all their matches, and could change if conditions are less tricky in the Caribbean. Still, Quinton de Kock,  who is likely playing his last international event, Reeza Hendricks,  who was overlooked in 2022 and may feel the pressure to prove why that was the wrong decision, and Aiden Markram who is captaining, will want to do better. De Kock and Markram have both made some starts but Hendricks is particularly short of runs. With Ryan Rickelton in the squad, he will know he has some competition.

Nepal will have to leave someone out to make space for Lamichhane, if he is available for selection, and it could be left-arm spinner Sagar Dhakal, who was economical but went wicketless against Netherlands.

Nepal: Kushal Bhurtel,  Aasif Sheikh (wk), Anil Sah,  Rohit Paudel (Capt), Kushal Malla,  Dipendra Singh Airee,  Sompal Kami,  Gulshan Jha,  Karan KC,  Sagar Dhakal/Sandeep Lamichhane,  Abinash Bohara

Unlike Australia, who may or may not empty their bench against Scotland, South Africa are not considering anything other than fielding what they believe is their best XI. White-ball coach Rob Walter was clear that the top three will be given the opportunity to get some runs, while any changes to the attack will only be conditions-based.

South Africa: Quinton de Kock (wk),  Reeza Hendricks, Aiden Markram (capt),  Tristan Stubbs,  Heinrich Klaasen,  David Miller,  Marco Jansen,  Keshav Maharaj,  Kagiso Rabada,  Ottneil Baartman,  Anrich Nortje

[Cricinfo]

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Rainy Florida awaits confident USA and demoralised Ireland

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Aaron Jones captained USA in Monank Patel's absence against India [ICC]

Florida is in the midst of a tropical disturbance  that has brought intense rainfall. And there’s no respite for the remainder of the week. A flash-flood emergency in the region threatens to wash out the entire leg of matches at Central Broward Park.

Two days ago, Nepal vs Sri Lanka was washed out before there could be a toss. Friday’s morning fixture between USA and Ireland will likely meet the same fate. If that happens, USA can celebrate; a Super Eight berth will be theirs along with India from Group A. It will mean a dagger through Pakistani hearts; it will seem inevitable after they opened their campaign with back-to-back losses to USA and India.

Saurabh Netravalkar may need to change the date of his out of office email from June 17 until possibly the end of the month. It’s likely he won’t need to tell his employers why. The cricketing world watched his opening salvo with the new ball as he famously dismissed Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in successive overs on Wednesday morning.

Ireland are entering this game with slim hopes of qualifying. Having begun the tournament with two morale-shattering losses themselves, including one to Canada, they need to win both their remaining games by considerable margins.

But instead of plotting and planning, they will likely be scouring weather forecasts, and that may not change anything. It’s that bleak.

Monank Patel missed Thursday’s match against India due to a shoulder niggle. The USA captain has been in good form too; his half-century was pivotal in their taking the game against Pakistaan into a Super Over. In the lead-up to the T20 World Cup, he struck two match-winning half-centuries against Canada, while a cruicial 42 helped steer USA home against Bangladesh. While the team management is optimistic of him being ready for Friday, the rain may just come as a blessing in disguise to give him two extra days to recover in time for the Super Eight.

He can make heads turn with his robust approach in the powerplay, but Paul Stirling has endured a lean run lately, dismissed for 2 and 9 in Ireland’s first two games. His highest score in seven T20Is since the start of May is 36 against Netherlands. Ireland will need much more than that if they are to compete. Stirling has been a part of several giant-killing acts during the course of his career. Can he come up with another to keep the group alive, if rain allows play?

Monank is likely to come in for Shayan Jahangir for the hosts.

USA possible XI: Monank Patel (capt & wk),  Steven Taylor,  Andries Gous,  Aaron Jones,  Nitish Kumar,  Corey Anderson, Harmeet Singh, Jasdeep Singh,  Saurabh Netravalkar,  Ali Khan,  Nosthush Kenjige/Shadley van Schalkwyk.

Conditions will probably dictate who among Ben White, the legspinner, or Craig Young, the fast bowler, play.

Ireland possible XI:  Paul Stirling (capt),  Andrew Balbirnie,  Lorcan Tucker (wk),  Harry Tector,  Curtis Campher,  George Dockrell,  Gareth Delany,  Mark Adair,  Barry McCarthy,  Josh Little,  Craig Young.

[Cricinfo]

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Afghanistan storm into Super Eight; New Zealand knocked out

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Fazalhaq Farooqi was named the Player of the Match for his 3 for 16 [ICC]

Afghanistan booked their place in Super Eight, thereby knocking New Zealand out of men’s T20 World Cup 2024 after a seven-wicket win over PNG in Tarouba.

Their win was set up by new-ball spells from fast bowlers Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen-ul Haq that saw PNG lose five wickets inside the powerplay. A total of four run-outs did not help PNG’s cause either as they were dismissed for 95.

Afghanistan romped home with 29 balls to spare with Gulbadin Naib staying unbeaten on 49. The result meant that for the first time since 2014, New Zealand bowed out before the semi-final stage of a men’s World Cup – ODI or T20.

With six points and a net run rate of 4.230, Afghanistan lead Group C.

A target of 96 would not have worried Afghanistan. Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran had added century stands for the opening wicket in each of their first two games. Gurbaz had struck fifties in those outings. As a result, the middle order had barely had time in the middle. On Thursday, Afghanistan’s worst fears nearly came true.

Semo Kamea brought in for vice-captain Charles Amini, almost struck first ball when Ibrahim was ruled out lbw. He used the DRS to his benefit but lost his stumps three balls later while trying to attack an inswinger from Kamea. In the next over, fast bowler Alei Neo knocked over Gurbaz, who also charged down to heave one across the line. PNG could have put even more pressure on Afghanistan had wicketkeeper Kiplin Doriga hung on to Naib’s outside edge in the fifth over.

PNG were left to rue those chances on a surface with dry grass, which, as Daren Ganga had said in his pitch report, contributed to variable bounce. The proof was in Azmatullah Omarzai’s dismissal when a length ball from Norman Vanua barely got up and bowled him.

But Naib, in the company of Mohammad Nabi, countered the conditions to ensure Afghanistan faced no further hiccups.

PNG made almost the right start after being sent in. A double through fine leg, a single through point, a cut shot for four – they were ticking along without any risk. But it all went south when captain Assad Vala was run out in the second over. Going for the third run, his bat was in the air at the non-striker’s end when Gurbaz nailed a direct hit at the bowler’s end. Had Vala slid his bat, he would have been safe.

Farooqi then did what he does best: flummox batters with swing. He had Lega Siaka caught behind by Gurbaz diving full length to his right and then, on the next ball, Sese Bau also nicked one behind.

When Naveen got Hiri Hiri to chop one onto his stumps on the first ball of the fourth over, PNG had lost four wickets in nine balls. Batting first on a used surface that hosted the West Indies-New Zealand clash just 24 hours ago, that was handing over advantage on a platter.

When Naveen crashed through Tony Ura for his 50th T20I wicket, PNG were reduced to 30 for 5. PNG needed to bat a few overs safely at that point, and Chad Soper and Doriga did that for 24 balls while scoring 16 runs. But in the tenth over, both were guilty of ball-watching, which resulted in Soper being run out.

Doriga then used the slog sweep and sweep to rotate strike against Rashid Khan and Noor Ahmad. Neo punished the seamers when they bowled on his pads. The pair was effective without being enterprising and added 38 off 34 balls.

Once Doriga was done in by a wrong’un from Noor to be trapped lbw, PNG lost their last three wickets for just seven runs.

Brief scores:
Afghanistan 101 for 3 in 15.1 overs  (Gulbadin Naib 49*; Alei Neo 1-26, Semo  Kamea 1-16, Norman Vanua 1-18) beat Papua New Guinea 95 in 19.5 overs (Kiplin Doriga 27; Fazalhaq Farooqi 3-16, Naveen Ul-Haq 2-04, Noor Ahmad 1-14) by seven wickets

[Cricinfo]

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