Independence Cup – Pakistan v ICC World XI T20I Series Preview

International cricket returns to Pakistan on Tuesday for only the second time since 2009. Eight years ago, a terrorist attack against the visiting Sri Lankan team sent shock-waves around the cricketing world, and sent Pakistan into exile. Apart from Zimbabwe, who visited two years ago for a limited overs series, no team has been keen to visit due to security concerns, and Pakistan have been forced to play their home games in the United Arab Emirates for eight long years.

This week’s Independence Cup series marks a hopeful beginning of the end to that exile. The ICC, much to its credit, has arranged a three-match T20 International series between Pakistan and a World XI comprising players from seven countries. All three games are to played at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.

The ICC team, led by ex-England head coach Andy Flower, contains a number of current internationals of the highest quality, and the matches have been granted official T20 International status, so the games have an added gravitas beyond their symbolic nature.

The 14-man ICC World XI squad is captained by South Africa’s Faf du Plessis and comprises the following players:

Faf du Plessis (South Africa, Captain), Hashim Amla (South Africa), Samuel Badree (West Indies), George Bailey (Australia), Paul Collingwood (England), Ben Cutting (Australia), Grant Elliot (New Zealand), Tamim Iqbal (Bangladesh), David Miller (South Africa), Morne Morkel (South Africa), Tim Paine (Australia, Wicketkeeper), Thisara Perera (Sri Lanka), Darren Sammy (West Indies) and Imran Tahir (South Africa)

The matches are seen as the first baby steps towards Pakistan regularly hosting other nations again on home soil, a progression given a further boost with the news today that Sri Lanka will play one game of their T20 series against Pakistan in Lahore rather than the UAE later this year. Given it was Sri Lanka that were attacked back in 2009, this is a remarkable gesture from the islanders, and will be greeted with glee in Pakistan.

The ICC World XI as a team will be playing its first official T20 Internationals and first games in any format since 2005, when a previous incarnation played three ODIs and one “Super Test” against Australia – a series which unlike this one was ill thought out and poorly attended by the locals in Australia.

You suspect that poor attendances are not going to be an issue in Lahore, where the series has brought unbounded joy to local fans, so long starved of the chance to see their national side in the flesh rather than beamed in from Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

Pakistan have named a full strength squad, and are treating the series seriously. These are their first games in any format since they sensationally won the ICC Champions Trophy in England in June, so it will be a triumphant homecoming for a team regarded as heroes in their homeland.  They are in form in the shortest format too with their last outing in T20s in April this year seeing them beat world T20 champions West Indies 3-1 in an unusually long four games series held in Trinidad and Barbados.

With the games having official ICC T20I status, players’ statistics will count to their overall career records and rankings. Personal milestones will of course take a back seat, given the larger significance of the games being held, but nonetheless there are a few players to keep an eye on:

Morne Morkel (ICC World XI, South Africa)

With 46 T20I wickets in his column, Morkel he’ll be out for four more to notch up 50.

The big South African quick will also play for his third official international side if selected – having also represented his country and the Africa XI side in an official ODI series against an Asia XI in 2007.

(Incidentally, he won’t be the first player to be able to claim this honour surprisingly, as a number of players in that Africa XI v Asia XI series also played in the ICC World XI Super Series in 2005, such as Shahid Afridi, Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock.)

David Miller (ICC World XI, South Africa)

BIg hitting middle-order batsman Miller currently has 846 runs in the shortest format of the game, so will be looking for 154 across the three games to reach 1,000.

Shoaib Malik (Pakistan)

All rounder Shoaib currently has 1,625 T20 International runs to his name, enough for ninth place in the world all-time. He’ll be confident of moving a few places up the top ten list with South Africa’s JP Duminy (1,683), Australia’s David Warner (1,686) and countryman Umar Akmal (1690) well within his sights.

Imran Tahir (ICC World XI, South Africa)

Currently ranked second in the world in the ICC T20I bowler rankings, exuberant spinner Imran Tahir has taken 55 wickets in the twenty over game, enough for 12th place in the world all-time. Afghanistan’s Mohammed Nabi sits in ninth on 59, with New Zealand’s Nathan McCullum and Tahir’s fellow South African Dale Steyn in joint tenth place on 58. Tahir will be confident he can overhaul all three in this series.


Sri Lanka v India – Second Test Preview

The second Test of this three-match series takes place at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) ground in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, starting on Thursday 3rd August.

India will look to wrap up the series with a game to spare, as they are already 1-0 up after their comprehensive 304-run drubbing of their hosts in the shadow of the Galle Fort last week.

Both sides will welcome back injured players into the starting XIs with India having confirmed KL Rahul will return, likely in place of Abinhav Mukund given fellow opener Shikhar Dhawan notched a 190-run masterpiece in Galle. Sri Lanka will be boosted by the return from a bout of pneumonia of their new Test captain, Dinesh Chandimal.

Look out for the following personal milestones:

Cheteshwar Pujara (India)

Fresh on the back of a big hundred at Galle, first-drop Pujara now has 3,966 career runs. He plays his 50th Test for India at the SSC and will be looking to celebrate by bringing up the 4,000 run milestone.

Ravichandran Ashwin (India)

With 1,950 runs to his name, India’s spinning all-rounder is just 50 runs shy of a career 2,000.

Ravindra Jadeja (India)

Jadeja’s six scalps in the first Test took him to 148 career test wickets, needing just two more for his 150.

Rangana Herath (Sri Lanka)

Despite an injury scare at the end of the first test, it appears that the lovable Rangaga will be fit for the second game. We previewed his upcoming milestones in some details in our preview of the first test.

However, he had a relatively quiet game by his own high standards as stand-in captain in Galle, only taking the one wicket. He therefore still needs to six to overtake Mikhaya Ntini’s 390 and move into 14th place in the all-time wicket takers list.


West Indies v India – July 2017 T20I preview

Fresh from India wrapping up the ODI series 3-1 against their hosts the West Indies,  the focus now shifts to the shortest form of the game.  The tour concludes with a one-off T20 International on Sunday 9th July at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica.

For the hosts, it is a chance to show their T20 muscle, being the reigning world champions in the format, and comes on the back of a 3-0 series win against an up-and-coming Afghanistan team the last time they played in this format in June.

The last time India played a 20-over series was in January/February this year when they edged England 2-1.

So both sides are in good form in the format and will be looking to finish off the tour in style.

From a personal player point of view, there is plenty to focus on:

Chris Gayle (West Indies)

The pre-match news has been dominated by the surprise inclusion of self-styled Universe Boss and T20 specialist Christopher Henry Gayle in the West Indies squad. This is the first time Gayle will have appeared for the Windies since the famous night in Kolkata in April 2016 when the Caribbean superstars stunned England in the World T20 final.

It will also be the first time he has played a T20I at his home ground in Jamaica.

Gayle currently has 1,519 T20I runs, placing him in 13th spot in the world overall. He is also one of only two players (alongside the now-retired New Zealander Brendon McCullum) to have scored two 20-over international centuries.

If he can turn up the heat with a century in this game it will take him past Mohammad Hafeez into 10th place in the all-time runs scorers list (and past Eoin Morgan and AB de Villiers in 11th and 12th along the way) as well as giving him the outright world record for T20 International centuries.

Samuel Badree (West Indies)

Spinner Badree brought up 50 wickets in T20 internationals during the recent Afghanistan series, and now sits in second place in the Windies all-time T20 wicket-takers list. Three more wickets in this game will see him overtake Dwayne Bravo’s 52 and move into top spot.

Sunil Narine (West Indies)

Fellow slow-bowler Narine has 48 shortest-form international wickets, so will be looking for two more to bring up his half-century.

Virat Kohli (India)

India’s captain-superstar has scored 1,709 runs in this format of the game for his country, a total which sees him in fifth place worldwide.

71 more runs will see him move past the suspended Afghani Mohammad Shahzad into fourth, and 98 will see him edge past New Zealand’s Martin Guptill into third.

MS Dhoni (India)

India’s veteran but evergreen keeper Dhoni currently has 65 dismissals to his name in T20 Internationals, comprised of 42 catches and 23 stumpings.

It’s a long shot, but five more dismissals in the on-off game will give him a share of the world record with South African superstar AB de Villiers, who has 70.