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In excellent conditions for batting, South Africa’s captain felt his team had finished “about 10 runs short”

He may not have wanted it but Heinrich Klaasen can recognise he had a front-row seat to one of the smoothest T20I innings the game has seen, as Babar Azam notched up his first century in the format, and added 197 for the first wicket with Mohammad Rizwan, to ease Pakistan through their highest successful chase.

“It was something [to see] from behind [the stumps],” Klaasen said. “We tried a lot of things. We tried to go death [bowling] early to them because they were hitting the ball nicely. They made a lot of good balls that were well-executed look bad by very good placement and strokeplay.”

Klaasen introduced Lizaad Williams, whom he has previously identified as one of his end-of-innings bowlers, in the fifth over, and with some success. Williams conceded just four runs after the new-ball pair of George Linde and Beuran Hendricks had given away 42 in the first four overs. That blazing start included what may be the classiest shot Azam has played on this tour so far, off Hendricks, when he opened the face of the bat at the last millisecond to run the ball wide of short third man.

Despite that, Hendricks was given another over which began with Azam breaking his bat off the same ball he hit for six, and ended up costing 18 runs, in an early sign that South Africa would run out of ideas. “It was difficult from a captaincy point of view to try a lot of things because on a wicket like that you don’t want to try too many things,” Klaasen said.

One of the things South Africa didn’t try was using another of their death-bowling specialists, Andile Phehlukwayo, who has only bowled two overs in the series to date. “His confidence is a little bit low but he is picking it up and I had no need for him,” Klaasen said. “We’ve got specialist guys in the positions.”

But the specialist guys were not able to pull off their specialities, such as Tabraiz Shamsi, whose task is to take wickets in the middle overs. Though he didn’t concede a boundary in his first over, Shamsi did not threaten at all, and by his third, Azam was ready to take him on. He pulled a long-hop for six before driving a tossed-up ball through the covers to bring up a century off 49 balls. “Babar has a special manner,” Klaasen said. “When a guy like that comes off, it’s very difficult to defend on this ground.”

Maybe the best method of defence was attack and the only way for South Africa to win the game was to dent Pakistan’s chase with dismissals but, as Klaasen put it, “the question is how do you take wickets on pitches like this? There’s no turn, the wicket is skidding on, the slower balls are not gripping, and the ball travels [through the air] at the Highveld. It’s difficult to strike. So the way you get your wickets is to be defensive and make sure they can’t bat easily at 10 an over like they did tonight.”

Or to get the batsman to make a mistake in reaching for a wide delivery, like Hendricks did against Mohammad Rizwan, who did not get enough bat on it and sent a chance to Pite van Biljon at backward point. Van Biljon put it down. “We have were very poor in the field as well tonight,” Klaasen acknowledged.

Overall, South Africa have been no worse than Pakistan, who dropped five catches in the ODIs and four in the T20Is so far. South Africa have spilled four in each format, but as an outfit that prides itself on this discipline, that simply isn’t good enough. “We try not to be so bad in the field and at training we are brilliant. It’s guys maybe trying too hard and not being calm enough in the field,” Klaasen said. “It’s been a trend that we have to get rid of.”

So is their record in defending big totals. Three of the four highest successful T20 chases have come against South Africa, while Pakistan have reached the highest and second-highest T20I targets in this series. Although Klaasen has not played in all of those matches, he was part of the team that England chased 223 against at the same venue last year. The conditions may have something to do with why South Africa have struggled even when they put big totals on the board, but Klaasen was careful not to blame the surfaces and rather pointed the finger at the South African line-up. “We were about 10 runs short,” he said, perhaps a conservative estimate since Pakistan won with two overs to spare. “It’s a very good wicket and we had both openers going past 50. We are guilty in that not one of the guys over the last three games, the guys that scored runs went on to be there at the back end like the Pakistani batters.”

Aiden Markram racked up his third successive fifty in this format, Janneman Malan recorded a career-best 55, and the pair shared an opening stand of 108, but were both dismissed in the third quarter of South Africa’s innings. In the end, their milestones will lurk in the shadows of a much bigger achievement: Azam’s first T20I ton and Pakistan ensuring they have one hand on the trophy. As Klaasen put it: “Tonight it was just a case of some brilliant batting from their side.”

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent



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No Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav in India’s squad of 20 for WTC final and England Tests

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KL Rahul and Wriddhiman Saha were picked subject to “fitness clearance”

There was no Hardik Pandya or Kuldeep Yadav as India named a squad of 20 players, including two – KL Rahul and Wriddhiman Saha – subject to “fitness clearance”, as well as four standby players for the final of the World Test Championship against New Zealand and the subsequent five-Test series against England in August-September. India will play the WTC final from June 18 to 22 in Southampton and the Test series against England from August 4, starting in Nottingham, to September 14, with the last Test scheduled for Manchester.

Virat Kohli’s side is expected to leave for England on June 2, and keeping in mind the length of the tour as well as possible contingencies because of the Covid-19 pandemic, India are carrying a total of 24 players, their reserves’ list reading Abhimanyu Easwaran, the opening batter, and three fast bowlers: Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan and Arzan Nagwaswalla.

Rahul underwent surgery for appendicitis in early May after he complained of “severe abdomen pain” during the IPL. At the time, the doctors were understood to have told the Punjab Kings that Rahul would be able to resume all activity in a week’s time.

Saha, the other player who has to prove his fitness in time for the tour, tested positive for Covid-19 on May 4, the same day the IPL was postponed indefinitely. Saha, who was a part of the Sunrisers Hyderabad, is still in Delhi, where he returned the positive test. It is understood that he would have to undergo 14 days in isolation and be able to move out only after a negative test. As things stand, he is still exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 including the loss of smell.

Of the players dropped from the squad that played against England at home earlier this year, Pandya did have a question mark over him since he has not bowled regularly for some time now, with Kohli saying that he wanted to preserve Pandya the bowler for the Tests in England. He had a shoulder niggle during the IPL, and didn’t bowl at all in the seven matches he played for the Mumbai Indians. He did, however, bowl a nine-over burst in the third and final ODI against England.

As for Kuldeep, while he has been a part of the India squad recently, he has not had many games. Of his seven Tests, he has played only one in the last two years – the second Test against England in February this year – and he got to bowl just 12.2 overs overall, returning 0 for 16 and 2 for 25 as India won by 317 runs. His previous Test appearance before that was back in January 2019 in Sydney, where he picked up 5 for 99 in the first Australia innings.

With Axar Patel making a big splash on Test debut in the England series with a haul of 27 wickets from three games and India mostly preferring one or both of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, depending on conditions, Kuldeep’s chances of making the cut took a hit.

Squad: Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-capt), Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Umesh Yadav, KL Rahul (subject to fitness clearance), Wriddhiman Saha (wk; subject to fitness clearance). Standby players: Abhimanyu Easwaran, Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan, Arzan Nagwaswalla

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India set to name squads for England Tests, WTC final over the weekend

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The selectors are expected to pick an enlarged squad with enough reserves to cater for any contingency

The Indian squads for both the World Test Championship final and the five-Test England series are set to be picked over the weekend. It is understood that the Virat Kohli-lead Indian squad is likely to depart for England on June 2.

Keeping in mind the extensive length of the tour, spanning between June and mid-September, the selectors are expected to pick an enlarged squad with enough reserves to cater for any contingency. Even the ICC recently approved increasing the squad strength from 23 to 30 (including support staff) for global events during the Covid-19 pandemic.



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Covid-19 in Pakistan – PCB approaches Emirates Cricket Board to host remainder of PSL 2021 in the UAE

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The franchises had requested the PCB to shift the games out of Karachi because of the pandemic

The PCB has formally approached the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) to host the remaining games of the rescheduled 2021 edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in the UAE. The earlier plan was to play the matches in Karachi, but the PCB has decided against it following a request from the six franchises as well as advice from the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC), which asked the board to avoid playing in Karachi because of the worsening Covid-19 situation in the country.

As reported by ESPNcricinfo, the franchises had written a letter to the board last week, asking for the tournament to be played in the Emirates, and the PCB, which had been reviewing the existing plans, has now accepted the proposal. It is understood that the PCB has also cancelled its booking with the hotel in Karachi where it had reserved 407 rooms.

The 2021 edition of the PSL was suspended after 14 games – played between February 20 and March 3, all in Karachi – following an outbreak of cases among players and support staff. After a date for resumption was finalised – June 2 to June 20 – the franchises took part in a replacement draft to plug holes in their line-ups because a number of overseas players would not be able to take part in the games on the new dates.

The changed situation with the pandemic, however, made franchises nervous about the situation, which led to them approaching the PCB.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has announced a decision to curtail inbound flights to the country from May 5 to May 20. And a national lockdown has also been put in place in Pakistan from today till May 15.

A move to the UAE would not be without its own logistical and operational issues, though. Flights to the country from Pakistan are currently operating at a severely reduced frequency. And June is not a month in which top-level cricket is often played in the UAE, because of the oppressive heat at that time of the year.

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Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent



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