Sri Lanka to start 12-day training camp on Monday

By Sports Desk May 31, 2020

A 13-man Sri Lanka squad will start a 12-day residential training camp in Colombo on Monday.

The players and four members of the coaching team and support staff will be based at the Colombo Cricket Club for just under a fortnight.

They will stay in a hotel throughout the camp and have strict health regulations to adhere on their return after a lockdown was imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The players called up were not named, but Cricket Sri Lanka stated they were primarily bowlers and the squad covers all formats.

They will undergo conditioning work after a lengthy spell without playing early in the Mickey Arthur era.

Sri Lanka are awaiting confirmation over whether they will host India and Bangladesh in June or July when they get the green light to play again.

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    Babar Azam made a classy unbeaten half-century and Shan Masood was given two lives by Jos Buttler as Pakistan had the better of a weather-hit opening day in the Test series with England. 

    The tourists were 43-2 at one stage after Abid Ali and Azhar Ali, who had opted to bat after winning the toss, were dismissed by Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes respectively at Old Trafford. 

    However, Babar then took centre stage with a majestic 69 not out, while Masood was still there on 46 as Pakistan reached 139-2 when play was abandoned due to bad light. 

    Buttler dropped Masood on 45 and the opener was still on the same score when the England wicketkeeper-batsman missed a chance to stump him during a day when just 49 overs were bowled. 

    England, unchanged following their series-clinching win over West Indies at the same venue, were below par, Babar in particular making them pay in what is Pakistan's first Test since February. 

    Masood and Abid came through probing new-ball spells from James Anderson and the in-form Stuart Broad, but the excellent Archer struck with the first ball of his second over. 

    Abid was the man to depart, paceman Archer rocking back his off stump with a delivery that nipped in to end an opening stand of 36. Azhar soon followed lbw to Woakes, the visiting captain also wasting a review. 

    Babar and Masood steadied the ship in contrasting fashion, the opener continuing to dig in as Pakistan's white-ball skipper played with greater fluency after lunch. 

    The elegant Babar showed great timing with glorious drives, racing to his 50 off 70 balls, though Masood had a stroke of luck when he nicked Dom Bess behind but Buttler failed to hold on. 

    An early tea was taken due to rain with Pakistan on 121-2 and there was further frustration for England in a short resumption, Buttler unable to stump an advancing Masood off Bess, with Joe Root forced to bowl himself due to the poor overhead conditions. 

  • Pakistan pick two leg-spinners and opt to bat, England unchanged Pakistan pick two leg-spinners and opt to bat, England unchanged

    Pakistan picked two leg-spinners and Azhar Ali chose to bat after winning the toss in the first Test against an unchanged England side at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

    Shadab Khan was selected along with Yasir Shah to give Azhar a pair of leg-spinners to call upon, with Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah and Mohammad Abbas the seamers in a dangerous attack.

    England went with the same team that sealed a 2-1 series victory over West Indies at the same venue last week, Ben Stokes strictly playing as a batsman due to a quad injury.

    Dom Bess did not bowl a single ball in that win over the Windies in Manchester, but the spinner retains his place in the first of three Tests.

    The in-form Stuart Broad and James Anderson will again spearhead the England attack and will be hoping to make early inroads in Pakistan's first Test since February.

     

    England team: Dom Sibley, Rory Burns, Joe Root (captain), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wicketkeeper), Chris Woakes, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, James Anderson.

    Pakistan team: Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali (captain), Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Rizwan (wicketkeeper), Yasir Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah.

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    When Pakistan were previously in England for a Test series, Babar Azam saw a promising start cut short by a bad break.  

    The batsman made a half-century in the opening game at Lord’s in May 2018, but his involvement in the series was painfully cut short when struck on the left arm by a Ben Stokes short ball.  

    Forced to retire hurt with 68 to his name, Babar did not appear again during the tour. A fracture ended his contribution as the tourists triumphed at the home of cricket, while he had to watch on as his side were crushed in the second Test at Headingley. 

    At that stage of his career, Babar was viewed as a limited-overs specialist still making his way in the Test arena. With an average under 25 prior to playing England, he was – at the age of 23 – a player with obvious potential working out how to play the game of patience.

    Just over two years on, he returns to England having enhanced his reputation to such an extent that the so-called 'Fab Four' - Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson - have company. It is unclear who identifies as the cricketing versions of Paul, John, Ringo and George, but Babar is not like the fifth Beatle – his identity is clear.

    Start a discussion with cricket fans over who should be considered the lead act in the group and you are opening a cricketing can of worms. It is a topic that, understandably, stirs up national pride, but also heated discussions about the weight of importance given to each format. 

    What is not up for debate, however, is that Babar deserves to be in the conversation. His white-ball numbers are outstanding – he averages over 50 in Twenty20 and one-dayers for Pakistan – yet his Test statistics in recent times provide additional evidence for those keen to argue his case.  

    Indeed, his average of 75.9 across his 12 Test knocks since the start of 2019 is the best rate of any batsman to have 10 or more innings during that period. Better than Kohli, despite the India captain piling on the runs at home against South Africa, including a career-best 254 not out. Better even than Smith, whose Ashes heroics last year were so crucial in helping Australia retain the urn on English soil.  

    He also sits above the same pairing when it comes to contributing for his team, providing an astonishing 22 per cent of Pakistan’s total Test runs over the period. There is clearly substance to the style now, a determined streak to go with the eye-catching technique.  

    Ricky Ponting, the former Australia captain, tipped Babar to become one of the best in the world at the start of the year; he was a little late to get on board a bandwagon that now offers standing room only. 

    "I think he is right up there already," Azhar Ali, Pakistan's Test skipper, said on the eve of the series opener with England at Old Trafford. 

    "His performances have improved massively in Test matches over the last year or so. Firstly, he was performing really well in white-ball cricket and people thought he was only a white-ball player, but he took on that challenge and played with a lot of freedom and flair.” 

    Babar's career totals do not stand up to the sheer volume scored by Kohli, Root, Smith and Williamson - at least not yet. Still, since 2018, he sits above the quartet in terms of Test average (65.5) and strike-rate (63.2 runs per 100 deliveries).

    That stretch includes a memorable maiden hundred on home soil. While rain ruined the spectacle of the first Test played in Pakistan for over a decade, Babar brightened up the final day against Sri Lanka in Rawalpindi with an unbeaten 102 that delighted the crowd who had patiently waited to see their team return.  

    Scores of 60 not out, 100 and 143 followed in the remainder of a truncated series, all from a player who did not reach three figures until his 17th Test. 

    Prior to that breakthrough innings against New Zealand in November 2018, Babar had managed an unspectacular 822 runs at 30.4. Since then, though, there have been four more three-figure scores in 10 games, plus a 97 in a losing cause against Australia in Adelaide when no colleagues were willing to stick around in support. 

    Pakistan are likely to lean on him heavily again in England, particularly as they come up against a team brimming with fast-bowling options and fresh off a 2-1 series victory over West Indies. 

    Babar's development - including a highly productive Cricket World Cup campaign last year on English soil, as well as finishing top run-scorer in the T20 Blast while playing for Somerset - suggests he will relish the challenge.

    The head-to-head battle with Root will be one of the main storylines, too. England's captain has much on his plate in the coming weeks, including fathoming out a way to nullify the brilliant Babar, who has stylishly climbed his way into the top tier of international batsmen.

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