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He missed Rishabh Pant’s record by five balls but powered Kerala to their first-ever win over Mumbai in any format

Kerala’s Mohammed Azharuddeen smashed the second-fastest century in the Syed Mushtaq Ali, India’s domestic T20 tournament, getting to the mark in 37 balls against a Mumbai attack led by Dhawal Kulkarni. He missed the Rishabh Pant’s record by five balls but it was still the joint-third-fastest T20 century by an Indian, the first hundred by a Kerala batsman in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, and sealed their highest-ever chase in the tournament as Kerala registered their first win against Mumbai in any format.

Kerala were chasing 197 after 40s from Yashasvi Jaiswal and Aditya Tare and handy cameos from Suryakumar Yadav and Shivam Dube. Azharuddeen started the innings with Robin Uthappa, who was sedate only in comparison, and the two put on 129 runs in 9.3 overs before Uthappa a 23-ball 33. Soon after, Azharuddeen got to his century off left-arm spinner Atharva Ankolekar. Rishabh Pant’s record of the fastest hundred – off 32 balls – in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy though was never really under threat.

Azharuddeen slowed down after being on 89 in 31 balls, scoring 1, 1, 0 and 1 to get to 92 in 35 balls before a six off Mulani – his eighth – and a two took him to the landmark. He remained unbeaten on 137 off 54 balls, with nine fours and 11 sixes, as Kerala cantered to victory by eight wickets in 15.5 overs.

Azharuddeen, the 26-year-old, got off the mark off the third ball of the innings – his first – with a boundary off Kulkarni, and took a special liking to Tushar Deshpande, the other new-ball bowler. In the second over of the innings, bowled by Deshpande, Azharuddeen hit one six and two fours as 20 runs were scored. Deshpande went off the attack but returned in the sixth, and Azharuddeen hit him for two fours and two sixes as the over went for 23, taking his score to 65 at the end of the powerplay.

The most noteworthy aspect of Azharuddeen’s innings was his pull shots, but he did play more than a few pleasing drives too, and found his runs off Ankolekar and Shams Mulani primarily in the V, even as he slapped the experienced Kulkarni over his head for two sixes, both off the back foot.

The record for the quickest T20 century is in the name of Chris Gayle – he got to the mark off just 30 balls when he hit 175 not out off 66 balls for the Royal Challengers Bangalore against the Pune Warriors India in IPL 2013. Then comes Pant’s effort. Rohit Sharma’s 35-ball ton against Sri Lanka in a T20I ranks second among Indians, while Azharuddeen has pulled level with Yusuf Pathan, who hit a 37-ball century for the Rajasthan Royals against the Mumbai Indians in IPL 2010.

Azharuddeen has never featured in the IPL before, but this century is a timely step in that direction, given the IPL 2021 auction is scheduled for February.



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Australia vs India, 4th Test, Brisbane

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Australia’s captain Tim Paine has no intention of resigning, even after giving a frank and unflattering assessment of how his team found themselves beaten by an injury-ravaged India side in the battle for the Border Gavaskar Trophy, capped with the first victory by a visiting team at the Gabba since 1988.

At 36, Paine said he was looking ahead to the forthcoming tour of South Africa and a bid to qualify for the final of the World Test Championship, but would not guarantee his tenure beyond that to next summer’s home Ashes series.

Clearly rocked by consecutive day fives in which he was unable to marshal a strong bowling attack to deliver victory over Ajinkya Rahane’s preternaturally resilient tourists, Paine said India had in truth won the majority of the key moments across all four Tests, cancelled out only by one crazy hour in Adelaide where they had been razed for 36.

“Even if you went right back to Adelaide, if it was with bat, ball or field, every time we had a chance to go ahead of the game we let it slip,” Paine said. “It happened a little bit in Sydney with our fielding, and then yesterday a bit with our batting, we continually lost wickets when we were trying to put the foot down and couldn’t quite get a partnership together. I thought every time India needed to do that or needed a wicket, someone managed to do it for them. I think they won the key moments.

“I just said then to JL [coach Justin Langer], we turned up in Sydney on day five and the Gabba on day five in as good a position as you would want to be in I reckon, and couldn’t get the job done, so there’s some things that we should’ve and could’ve done better, but at the same time I thought India, their batting group were amazing on both those day fives.”



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Bangladesh vs West Indies – Tamim Iqbal

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New ODI captain wants Bangladesh to qualify directly to 2023 World Cup

Every ODI is important in Bangladesh’s road to qualification for the 2023 World Cup. This is what new ODI captain Tamim Iqbal believes. Bangladesh will start their ODI Super League campaign against West Indies on Wednesday, with the top eight teams (including hosts India) set to qualify automatically for the showpiece event.

Bangladesh were in danger of not qualifying directly for the 2019 World Cup, but series wins at home over South Africa, India and Pakistan in 2015 helped them enter the top eight of the ICC ODI rankings.

This time around, they take on West Indies, New Zealand and England (all in 2021), along with Afghanistan and South Africa (in 2022) in three-match bouts in the road to the World Cup. They were to play Ireland and Sri Lanka, but both the tours were postponed due to covid-19.

“We are likely to play 27 or 28 ODIs from now till the start of the 2023 World Cup and the points system have made every game important for us,” Tamim said. “These are not your usual series that it doesn’t matter if you lose. Every game is important to qualify for the World Cup. We would like to ensure that we don’t have to play the qualifying tournament, and we remain in top eight. It doesn’t matter what team we are playing, we will only work with what we have under our control.”

Tamim, who was named captain last March during a BCB board meeting, has had to sit out for nine months like the rest of the Bangladesh players, due to the pandemic cancelling or postponing a majority of their assignments. His full-time captaincy was supposed to begin in Ireland last May, but in the absence of international cricket, he led the teams he played for in the BCB President’s Cup and Bangabandhu T20 Cup.

“I think it is a bit of an advantage that I led two sides before starting off my international captaincy,” he said. “We missed several series unfortunately due to the pandemic. Both the tournaments were quite hard for me, and that’s when you learn a lot. If I have done well, I know what to take forward.

“I think my style of captaincy will grow with time. I think the time and the situation in front of me, will tell me which way I should be going. Sometimes you have to think defensively or even at times you have to think over-aggressively.”

A veteran of 345 internationals spanning 13 years, Tamim wants to try and understand which of his players would require him by their side, and which of them needs space. “Mashrafe bhai has done a lot for the team, no doubt. I will try to give my best,” he said. “I will try to lead the way I can. Some individuals need me to speak to them, while others like to have their own space. You have to know who you are dealing with, and act accordingly.”

Tamim said that he was aware of the baggage that comes with leading an international side, particularly the criticism that could come his way. “I don’t think many cricketers in Bangladesh have heard as much criticism as I have, some necessary and some unnecessary criticism,” he said. “I am prepared for it. When you accept captaincy, you have to accept what comes with it. There will be both criticism and praise.

“The most important thing for me is whether I am enjoying the role or not. At the moment, I am in a good headspace. I am excited about the game tomorrow, but it is also important to see how I react three or four months, or a year from now. I am ready for everything, whether it is criticism or praise.”

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84



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PCB to seek government permission for crowds at Pakistan Super League

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If approved, the PSL could see stadia filled at up to 30% capacity

The possibility of crowds at the Pakistan Super League is not out of the question, with the PCB open to it pending approval from the government. The PCB wants to have stadia at 30 per cent capacity in both Karachi and Lahore, and awaits permission from the government before going ahead with their contingency plans. The PCB intends to host up to 10,000 spectators at the National Stadium Karachi (capacity 32,000), and a maximum of 8000 at Gaddafi Stadium Lahore (capacity 27,000).

In the last update from the National Health Centre in September, sports got the green light to resume at grassroots and recreational levels with adequate safety measures in place. But the guidelines were separately designed for indoor and outdoor sports. The last available guideline reads: “Spectators should be allowed for sports/ games with outdoor pavilions while ensuring six feet of distancing between them.” It forbade the number of spectators from exceeding 50% of seating capacity. Since cricket is the most popular sport in the country and draws the largest crowds, the PCB will need federal and provincial approval to have crowds at the PSL, with the regulations concerning what is permitted determined at government rather than PCB level.

Welcoming crowds back at the PSL will be the next major step after the PCB conducted the cricket season so far behind closed doors. Professional cricket returned to Pakistan in September after a 24-week hiatus forced by the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2020-21 domestic season had kicked off with PCB forming a bio-bubble for teams in hotel with strict standard operating procedures. It had started with the National T20 Cup – played over two legs in Multan and then Rawalpindi – followed by the first-class tournament Quaid-e-Azam trophy, held fully in Karachi. Four remaining games of the fifth edition of the PSL in Karachi were followed by a home series homes against Zimbabwe.

The National T20 Cup and the home series against Zimbabwe was not open to crowds, and the upcoming two-Test, three T20I series against South Africa will also be played in empty stadia. The PSL is scheduled to start on February 20 with 34 matches in total.

Pakistan did experience a surge of coronavirus cases over the winter, though cases did begin to tick downwards after the closure of schools last month. The government has urged people to take necessary precautions, but enforcement remains low and most public places – shopping malls, marriage halls and public transportation – are fully open. However, with set to reopen next week and the PSL still over a month away, any decisions taken over crowd involvement at the league are set to remain subject to change as the situation evolves.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent



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