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South Africa bat, bring in Hamza; three changes for Pakistan

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Toss South Africa chose to bat v Pakistan

South Africa’s stand-in captain Dean Elgar won the toss and chose to bat in Johannesburg, with his team pursuing a 3-0 whitewash in the Tests against Pakistan.

There was one change to the South Africa team, with Faf du Plessis’ suspension for an over-rate offence handing a debut in the middle order to Zubayr Hamza. Opener Aiden Markram was passed fit after a thigh injury, leaving Pieter Malan waiting for a first cap.

Having enjoyed success with a four-man pace attack in Cape Town, South Africa stuck to the same gameplan, meaning no return for spinner Keshav Maharaj.

As expected, with the series already gone Pakistan made several changes to their team. The return to fitness of Shadab Khan has meant two allrounders coming into the team where there were none: Faheem Ashraf and Shadab taking over from the misfiring Fakhar Zaman and Yasin Shah.

There was also a change to the seam attack, with young left-armer Shaheen Afridi replaced by Hasan Ali, who sat out the second Test.

South Africa: 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Theunis de Bruyn, 5 Temba Bavuma, 6 Zubayr Hamza, 7 Quinton de Kock (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Duanne Olivier

Pakistan: 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Shan Masood, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Asad Shafiq, 5 Babar Azam, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt/wk), 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Faheem Ashraf, 9 Mohammad Amir, 10 Mohammad Abbas, 11 Hasan Ali



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Recent Match Report – Surrey vs Warwickshire, County Championship Division One, 2nd Innings

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Surrey 194 (Lester 4-41) and 325 (Stoneman 71, Elgar 53, Curran 52, Miles 5-91) beat Warwickshire 230 (Rhodes 51, S Curran 3-50) and 215 (Sibley 73, Morkel 4-34) by 74 runs

Surrey wrapped up their maiden Specsavers County Championship victory of the season by claiming Warwickshire’s last seven wickets for 67 runs to win by 74 runs at an overcast Kia Oval.

After a cut and thrust opening three days to this Division One basement battle, it was the hosts who took a grip on proceedings on the final morning by wrapping up the innings inside two hours to win with two sessions to spare, banking 19 points to Warwickshire’s four. Veteran spinner Gareth Batty proved their nemesis with 4 for 34, but pacemen Sam Curran and Morne Morkel each chipped in with two wickets apiece during an action-packed session.

Warwickshire, needing 142 to land their third Championship win of the summer, resumed on their overnight score of 148 for 3 only to lose nightwatchman Craig Miles leg before to Rikki Clarke’s fourth ball of the day.

On a gloomy morning, the visiting top order attempted to dig in but found batting a struggle, particularly against the pace of Morkel, who had shouts for leg before and a catch in the cordon turned down against Adam Hose and Dominic Sibley respectively.

Warwickshire’s fifth-wicket partners saw off Clarke who, after 45 minutes from the Pavilion End, gave way to the offspin of Batty. In his opening over Batty had two leg-before shouts in three balls turned down by umpire James Middlebrook as Sibley battled on.

With 100 runs required for victory, Warwickshire lost Hose for 21, squared up on the walk to one from Curran that thudded into the back pad forcing umpire Martin Saggers to uphold the leg before appeal. Four balls later and again from around the wicket, Curran swung one back in to pluck put Matthew Lamb’s off stump with one that nipped through the gate via a thin inside edge.

Warwickshire’s demise continued as they lost their third wicket inside seven balls and without addition to the total. Sibley, looking to rotate the strike against Batty, called a hesitant Tim Ambrose through for a risky single only for Scott Borthwick to swoop and throw to the non-striker’s end where Ben Foakes ran out his counterpart for a duck.

Curran, whose workload in the match was restricted to 30 overs under an ECB request, gave way at the Vauxhall End to Morkel who ended Sibley’s 231-minute stay for 73 with his fifth delivery. Sibley, driving on the up, appeared stunned when the tall South African stooped in his follow through to claim a stunning return catch low to his left.

With 81 still needed, Jeetan Patel danced down the pitch to Batty only to miss an attempted heave over mid-on and gift a regulation stumping to Foakes. Last man Oliver Hannon-Dalby then skied an attempted slog sweep to Batty who ran around toward mid-on to claim the catch and end the match.



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You’d better believe, It is on Pakistan

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Scene on hai?

In other words, is it on? Is it happening? Is it really happening? You need not ask more. You need not say more. It has been a sort of secret greeting, the widest-known secret because the millions of Pakistan fans are in on it. Ever since Sri Lanka – Pakistan lite, as it has been proven time and again – beat England to slice open this World Cup and hand Pakistan, among others, a lifeline, this question has gained serious momentum.

This it is this awesome, all-consuming, enormous roll that Pakistan tend to get on when everything miraculously starts falling in place. Actually, let’s just use a capital I to spell It, shall we? Just like Chris Jericho’s “It”, Pakistan’s It has a life of its own, a meaning of its own. This It is a proper noun. This It is a one-word catchphrase.

And It is not just Pakistan’s cricket. Unrelated events start conspiring to push them along. This is not even about the 1992 World Cup although it is a massive surprise there hasn’t emerged a viral Twitter account called Banwey [Urdu/Punjabi/Hindi for 92]. The similarities are indeed eerie, but the Banwey thing started as a self-mocking parody because fans knew the team were a shambles coming into this World Cup.

WATCH on Hotstar (India only) – Full highlights of Pakistan’s victory

While other serious contenders were preparing and planning for this World Cup at least two years in advance, Pakistan practically assembled a team two days before. Mohammad Amir, now the second-highest wicket-taker in this World Cup, was not even a part of the XV originally announced. Wahab Riaz was not even part of the provisional 30 names announced. He was not even at the training camps. In a gloriously Pakistani way, he was privately advised to not go a holiday that he wanted to go on. Because somebody in the camp didn’t rule out this kind of a last-minute call-up happening. That is Pakistan.

Rationalists saw the desperate Pakistan team that was hoping for miracles rather than believing in themselves. They were hoping for wonders from Wahab, who should have been on a holiday, from Amir, who had hardly taken a wicket last year, from Shoaib Malik, who has a terrible record in England. Belief is an extremely important word in this story. That belief was not there at the start. They didn’t even know what their combination should be. They were just hoping to turn up on the day and outdo meticulously planned teams.

And so the Banwey parody continued even as all hell broke loose with all familiar tropes. Customary TV-smashing has already happened. Small-time rabble rousers have gathered serious notoriety. Sarfaraz Ahmed has been harassed in a mall. Half-truths – if that – about players’ unhealthy eating have been accepted as serious criticism by fans. A non-Pakistani Pakistan coach has rather insensitively spoken about feeling like committing suicide because of a loss at the World Cup. What else is left to do then? It.

Sri Lanka – the Pakistan of this tournament till we searched the real Pakistan – had no business beating tournament favourites England. But they did, thereby saving this tournament from 20-odd dead rubbers. Since then, especially in Birmingham with a big population of Pakistani origin, there has been this irrational belief among the fans. Belief that not only can Pakistan win their remaining four matches – including those against South Africa, the undefeated New Zealand and the rising Bangladesh – but also that through some cosmic power England can lose all their mojo.

Even within the team things started to fit in miraculously. Having refused to drop Malik all this while, they finally gave a chance to Haris Sohail almost as an afterthought in a defeated campaign. Haris drowned South Africa, a man Pakistan kept denying in matches when the tournament was wide open. This was a sign. Like Fakhar Zaman in the 2017 Champions Trophy replacing the suspended Sharjeel Khan, like Rumman Raees replacing the injured Wahab, like Faheem Ashraf being picked as a batting allrounder but giving them bonus wickets with the ball. Like Abdul Razzaq who replaced the injured Yasir Arafat in the World T20 of 2009 and removed Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill in his first spell.

It was a wild fantasy when Sri Lanka won on Friday, there was a little bit more conviction with this Sunday win. On Tuesday you couldn’t sit in a Birmingham cab that didn’t have radio commentary of the Lord’s match on. As Australia piled on the runs, as their bowlers turned it on in the second innings, the question had found more urgency: “Kya lagta hai, scene on hai? [What do you think, is It on?]”

ALSO READ: Welcome to the age of Babar Azam

You could see it in bowling coach Azhar Mahmood’s press conference where he just stopped short of calling New Zealand chokers. They are a team, he said, that has great record in league stages of every big tournament before losing in the semi-final or quarter-final before couching it under the law of averages. “Everybody has to have one bad day,” he said with conviction that the bad day would be against them on Wednesday.

It can be difficult against a team that has such belief. Bazid Khan, former Pakistan cricketer and now a commentator, an astute observer of Pakistan and a known rationalist, explains it irrationally when you tell him every team goes with a belief they can win. “There’s a difference between belief and yakeen,” he says. Yakeen is basically a literal Urdu/Punjabi/Hindi translation of belief. But belief is belief, and yakeen is It.

When that yakeen of the team meets the yakeen of the loudest crowd you can encounter, and when you add bits of other accidents, it makes for a perfect storm that makes you actually want to sit up and ask, “Is It on?”

Pakistan are planning to bat first, but they lose the toss and get first use of the seaming ball. The best readers of pitches, New Zealand, have erred and have played only one spinner in arguably a match-losing error. Shaheen Shah Afridi finds the right length and the right amount of seam movement. Enough to miss the middle but not so much that he beats the edge. This is the biggest sign of It. This is a tournament where it has taken on average 14 false shots to draw one wicket in the first 10 overs. On Tuesday at Lord’s, England drew 25 false shots in the first 10 overs for no Australian wicket. Here the first nine have brought four wickets.

One of those is a smashing diving, one-handed low catch from Sarfaraz, known so far only for yawning in this World Cup. There is not a soul yawning at Edgbaston. The atmosphere is wild. People are having the times of their lives. They are living every ball. They have forgiven all burgers and pizzas eaten or not eaten. When Azhar lightened the situation around the suicide comments of Arthur with part humour, part harsh truths, he told the fans and the media to give them also a reason to live. Afridi bowling full, the ball jagging just enough, taking the edges is reason enough to live.

Babar Azam – him taking a dipping catch from Alex Hales in the Champions Trophy 2017 was the first definite sign that It was on back then – is continuously sniffing during the press conference after scoring the century that has broken a mental block for him, a streak of pretty fifties not amounting to match-winning knocks, especially in chases. He has the flu, because of which he didn’t train the day before. That, according to the batting coach Grant Flower, is the only thing he has done differently this time. And that has come by accident and not design. This is It. Many of these players – Babar and Afridi of course – were not even born in 1992, but they know 2017 and they know 2009.

Pakistan are definitely feeling It now. They now they have beaten the tournament favourites, and ended the unbeaten streak of New Zealand, which surely you have been reminded of many times. They know in all likelihood – Pakistan need to beat Afghanistan for that – that England will come to play India at Edgbaston, probably the slowest track of the tournament, one point behind Pakistan. They now know that even if England beat New Zealand, there is a chance they will end up level with New Zealand. In that case they will play the last game, knowing what to do to achieve the required net run rate. Belief if turning into yakeen fast.

There is probably a rational explanation for what is happening, but let’s be rationalists for a day, shall we? Or a week. Let’s just accept Pakistan. There’s every chance this might not end the way other such rolls have ended, but right now it is not a question anymore. Scene on hai boss. It is on.



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Neesham’s defiance a significant moment in his comeback story

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Jimmy Neesham likes to call it the “fastest 47” in ODI cricket, and he’s not wrong. After having being in the funk for two years, almost having given up on cricket and then setting himself right, Neesham came back to smack 47 off 13 balls against Sri Lanka on his return. That innings, he says, was 18 months in the making, a reward of all the hard work he had put in when he was away. Yet it was just a score of 47 in a career whose highest score was 74.

The chance to play this World Cup, he admits, was sooner than he expected when he set on path to recovery. He was more philosophical about success and failure. He had now learnt to deal with personal failures much better by looking at his efforts through the team of the prism. He was happier nicking off first ball if New Zealand won than scoring a hundred in a defeat. Deep down, though, there must have been some desire to prove himself in more trying circumstances than walking in at 316 for 5 and smashing the ball around.

It is not ideal but this World Cup has provided him these challenges. There was the tense chase against Bangladesh where he ended up holing out to long-off. They lost two wickets in the first over against West Indies where he did better and added 41 for the fifth wicket Kane Williamson for the fifth wicket and himself ended up with 28 off 23 balls.

WATCH on Hotstar (India only) – Jimmy Neesham’s unbeaten 97

At Edgbaston against Pakistan, though, Neesham found himself with a much bigger task. He walked in to join Williamson at 46 for 4, and would soon lose Williamson too. In difficult batting conditions, he battled through, especially when facing the red-hot Shaheen Shah Afridi, and ended up unbeaten on a career-best 97 to give New Zealand a competitive score of 237. This was the longest innings of Neesham’s 55-match career. It must give New Zealand some confidence as they continue to struggle with their openers.

On a personal level, that has to feel satisfying. “I’m pretty tired now,” was Neesham’s immediate reaction after having bowled three overs to go with it. “That’s sort of my emotions at the moment, I think. Yeah, obviously, I suppose there’s external noise about whether you have the ability to guide an innings like that, and I sort of have the belief in my own ability that I have the ability to come out at 40 for 4 and guide our team to 200-plus and also the ability to come out at 310 for 3 with two overs to go. So it’s just about putting it out there, I suppose, and having belief in your own processes.

READ MORE: Second spinner might have helped New Zealand, admits Santner

“Obviously, we had a large period of time where we had to soak up pressure. That was the nature of the wicket and the nature of the bowling attack. We certainly had a belief, if we could get through that hard period, we’d be able to score some runs at the back end, and obviously that’s what ended up happening.”

Neesham did soak up all the pressure, getting beaten multiple teams by Afridi, but then turning it on towards the end. He scored 26 off the first 58 balls he faced followed by 71 off the next 64. This was a near perfect rearguard in conditions ideal for both seam and spin, for which he was congratulated by Pakistan fielders even as he walked off in the innings break. He, in turn, sought out Afridi to congratulate for the spell he had bowled.

However, Neesham was not willing to draw too much pleasure out of the knock. “It [this innings] is something I’ll probably reflect on after the tournament is finished,” Neesham said. “I think, obviously, the whole point of trying to graft out our partnership like that is to try to get ourselves in a position to win the game. I feel like we potentially did that. We potentially had a score that was defendable. Obviously, in a game where you lose, you don’t take a whole lot of pleasure out of stuff like that.”



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