Azhar hopes confidence can confound predictions

first_imgPakistan had to wait a week following victory over England at The Oval to have their rise to the No. 1 Test ranking confirmed and they will get only a couple of days to enjoy the accolade before walking out at the Ageas Bowl, on the ring-road-and-retail-park outskirts of Southampton, with the slightly less awe-inspiring billing of ninth-best ODI side in the world.That’s life in the tightly scheduled world of international cricket, as Frank Sinatra didn’t quite sing: “Riding high in August, shot down in August.” Azhar Ali, Pakistan’s ODI captain, played his part in the Test side’s success, spanking the six that effectively took them to No. 1 (once the elements had nixed India’s chances of a 3-0 win in the Caribbean) and he is hopeful that some of the positivity engendered by the first leg of the tour will bleed through into the rest.Misbah-ul-Haq has been rightly hailed for his leadership in Tests but even he had his struggles with Pakistan’s 50-over cricket and since handing over to Azhar after the last World Cup results in ODIs have continued to be indifferent. They managed to hold off West Indies as Bangladesh surged through to make the Champions Trophy cut-off last year but now sit outside the top eight, with qualification for the World Cup at stake.Nevertheless, Azhar was able to enjoy the south-coast sunshine and bask briefly in a little reflected success before turning his attention to the challenge ahead in the five-match series against England.”Confidence is very high and belief is there, obviously coming in from the Test series, we had a very good couple of months here. We take that confidence into the one-day internationals as well,” Azhar said.”It is a massive boost and a proud moment for Pakistan cricket and the whole nation is very happy about it, as players the team is really happy about it. It’s definitely a good thing for us, our one-day ranking is not great right now but we will take the opportunity the way the team is performing, hopefully we can convert it into ODIs as well.”He could also point to the low expectations people had of Pakistan’s chances of Test success in England – where they had not played in six years – when the team turned up to make the Ageas Bowl their base for a preparatory camp two months ago. “No one rated us very highly [when we arrived] – a few people said we would be competitive but there were doubts if we could win the Test matches here. The boys really believed in the Test matches so here also, we believe we can do it.”Pakistan were handed a 3-1 defeat by Eoin Morgan’s side in the more familiar environs of the UAE last winter but this series will take on greater significance, with the next two ICC 50-over trophies to be contested in England. Azhar described it as “a good opportunity for us to keep in touch with the conditions” and was also hopeful of ending a personal run of 12 innings and more than a year without passing 50 in ODIs.”When you play international cricket, pressure is always there,” he said. “I’ve had a few starts in recent months but I didn’t convert into big scores so I will focus on that. As a batsman I need to score some big runs.”Morgan would doubtless concur about the twin demands of captaincy and scoring heavily. He has not played for a month, after chipping a bone in his finger while playing for Middlesex, but proclaimed that a lack of matches “doesn’t bother me at all”. His last half-century in either limited-overs format came in the UAE last November but he did find some form with an unbeaten 47 when England last played at the Ageas Bowl – an eight-wicket T20 win against Sri Lanka – and it is a ground where he averages 65.85, with two hundreds, in ODIs.Morgan’s style of captaincy has largely been free of prescriptions, preferring to grant his side the freedom to play in the way that suits them best, and he is also wary of predictions. England’s No. 5 ranking in part reflects how far they had slipped by the time of the World Cup (when they did even worse than Pakistan), as well as their inconsistency despite a year of record-breaking performances, and Morgan was grateful that the ECB’s professed commitment to the one-day game extended to providing him with a full-strength side at the end of long summer.Ben Stokes is set to return after suffering a calf tear in the second Test against Pakistan, initially only as a batsman, while Mark Wood should make his first international appearance since the UAE tour, having recovered from ankle surgery. Alex Hales, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes have all been included after playing in the majority of England’s fixtures across this season.”Yes, delighted,” Morgan said of selection. “I think it’s hugely important playing against Pakistan who are flying high at the minute, in Test cricket, but that rubs off on any side doing well. Also when teams tour places they don’t come to that often they get better as they go along, so that’s another challenge … With the way we’ve been performing we’d like to think we are progressing nicely but we have a tough series ahead and a tough winter.”Azhar praises ‘sacrifices’ to reach No. 1Azhar Ali hailed the spirit of the Test side, which has seen them rise to No. 1 in the world despite not being able to play games in Pakistan. As well as meaning the players have to spend time away from home while playing in the UAE, the loss of international cricket has made it harder for fans to follow the team.”It’s a big achievement, for the nation and for the players,” he said. “People in Pakistan they don’t see their stars playing in front of them, there’s a lack of interest sometimes. The kids really want to see the players they look up to but they don’t see it in front of them, they just watch the TV. For the players also, they have been away all the time, they can’t spend much time with their families, also.”There are a lot of sacrifices the players have done but hats off to the guys, they have been working so hard, so committed. When we go inside the ground we really want to do something very good for our country because we know people are looking up to us for some happiness and we want to provide that.”last_img read more

Favorites Brazil held by Switzerland in Rostov

first_img0Shares0000Neymar had a long evening being a target as Switzerland held Brazil to a 1-1 draw in RostovROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia, Jun 17- Neymar’s Brazil were held 1-1 by Switzerland in their opening World Cup game at Rostov-on-Don on Sunday.On the day when holders Germany were shocked 1-0 by Mexico, Brazil’s tag as pre-tournament favourites looked justified in a dominant first-half capped by Philippe Coutinho’s wonder strike to open the scoring. However, Brazil paid for their failure to kill the game off when Steven Zuber powered home an equaliser from Xherdan Shaqiri’s corner five minutes after the break.The pressure will now be on Brazil to kickstart their campaign when they face Costa Rica on Friday.Earlier, Serbia beat Los Ticos 1-0 to move to the top of Group F.Coutinho had been handed a central role behind Neymar, on his first competitive game for four months, Gabriel Jesus and Willian in a line-up filled with attacking intent from coach Tite.The five-time world champions went about their task of erasing the memories of a 7-1 thrashing by Germany on home soil four years ago purposefully early on.Paulinho passed up a glorious chance when his scuffed effort from close range was turned behind by Yann Sommer.-Coutinho masterpiece It seemed a matter of time before Brazil’s pressure paid dividends and the opener arrived in stunning style on 20 minutes.Brazil’s Philippe Coutinho (right) celebrates his goal against SwitzerlandBarcelona’s record signing picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area and in trademark fashion bent the ball crashing in off Sommer’s far post.Neymar looked bright despite his lack of match practice as he teased the Swiss defence provoking yellow cards for Stephan Lichtsteiner, Fabian Schar and Valon Behrami.However, Brazil failed to build on their lead as Thiago Silva and Jesus headed off target from dangerous corners and were made to pay early in the second-half.Switzerland had offered barely any attacking threat before levelling when Zuber took advantage of a gaping hole in the heart of the Brazilian defence to head home Shaqiri’s corner.Forced back onto the front foot, Brazil turned to Neymar for a moment of inspiration but he could only blast into the side-netting before Coutinho sliced wide with a much simpler opportunity than the one from which he opened the scoring.Brazil were unhappy that Zuber wasn’t penalised for a slight push on Miranda for the equaliser and felt hard done by again when Jesus tumbled under a challenge from Manuel Akanji inside the area with Mexican referee Cesar Ramos unmoved.Tite’s men ended as they had begun with a series of chances for a late winner as Neymar and Roberto Firmino headed straight at Sommer before Miranda dragged a shot inches wide.And deep into stoppage time Schar’s outstretched leg turned a goalbound effort from Silva wide as Switzerland held out for a vital point.0Shares0000(Visited 2 times, 1 visits today)last_img read more