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Novak Djokovic to continue injury comeback in Barcelona

BARCELONA (Agencies): Former world number one Novak Djokovic will continue his comeback from injury at the Barcelona Open next week, tournament organisers announced on Friday.

The Serbian was beaten in three sets by Austrian Dominic Thiem in the Monte Carlo Masters third round on Thursday, but said he was pain-free for the first time in two years.

Djokovic chose Barcelona instead of the event in Budapest. It will be only his fifth tournament since Wimbledon last July after lengthy spells out with a right elbow injury.

The 30-year-old, who is working with former long-time coach Marian Vajda for the first time in a year, is now ranked 13 in the world.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion has only played the Barcelona Open once before, losing in the 2006 first round as an 18-year-old world number 178.

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Pakistan Cup one-day tournament to begin in Faisalabad next week

FAISLABAD (Monitoring Desk): The Pakistan Cricket Board has announced that Pakistan Cup cricket tournament will kick off in Faisalabad from Wednesday, April 25.

Five teams will be taking part in the event. Federal, Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan will participate in the fifty-over tournament over a course of 11 matches.

Ahmed Shehzad will lead Balochistan with Muhammad Nawaz serving as his vice-captain. Other players who will be playing for Balochistan include, Ramiz Raja Jr, Sohail Tanvir, Mir Hamza, Anwar Ali, Umar Gul and Shaheen Shah Afridi.

Punjab will be led by former Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik, while Muhammad Rizwan will serve as his vice-captain. Other players who will be representing Punjab include Asif Ali, Wahab Riaz and Muhammad Sami.

The Federal Areas team will be captained by Kamran Akmal, while Sindh will be led by Umar Amin with Afwad Alam serving as his vice-captain. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be under the captaincy of Muhammad Hafeez with Shan Masood as vice-captain. Khurram Manzoor and Umar Akmal will also be a part of the KP squad.

Squad for Pakistan Cup cricket tournament

Balochistan: Ahmed Shahzad (captain), Rizwan Hussain, Rameez Raja Jr, Khushdil Shah, Akbarur Rehman, Faizan Riaz, Rohail Nazir, Bismillah Khan, M Irfan, Muhammad Nawaz (vice-captain), Sohail Tanvir, Anwar Ali, Mir Hamza, Umar Gul, Shaheen Shah Afridi

Punjab: Shoaib Malik (captain), Zain Abbas, Sahibzada Farhan, Abdul Samad, Asif Ali, Ashfaq Ahmed, M Rizwan (vice-captain), Sohail Akhtar, Osama Mir, Kashif Bhatti, Imran Khan Sr, M Sami, Wahab Riaz, Shahid Yousaf, Abdur Rehman Muzammal

Sindh: Umar Amin (captain), Salman Butt, Gohar Ali, Fawad Alam (vice-captain), Iftikhar Ahmed, Danish Aziz, Rameez Aziz, Adnan Akmal, Muhammad Asghar, Bilal Asif, Aamir Yamin, Junaid Khan, Sohail Khan, Taj Wali, Muhammad Irfan Sr.

Federal Areas: Kamran Akmal (captain), Sarmad Bhatti, Abid Ali, Awais Zia, Sohaib Maqsood (vice-captain), Ashiq Ali, Saad Nasim, Hussain Talat, Raza Ali Dar, Raza Hasan, Ammad Butt, Salman Ali Agha, Waqas Maqsood, Usman Shinwari, Umaid Asif

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: M Hafeez (captain), Shan Masood (vice-captain), Khurram Manzoor, Israrullah, Umar Akmal, Saud Shakeel, M Saad, M Irfan, Adil Amin, Hassan Khan, Hammad Azam, Ziaul Haq, Sameen Gul, Sadaf Hussain, M Hasan.

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West Indies players get bored playing long format: Heath Streak

KOLKATA (Agencies): Be it Chris Gayle or Andre Russell, the West Indian cricketers have been in big demand in Twenty20 leagues across the world and former Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak says it could be because perhaps the ‘powerful’ Caribbeans get ‘bored’ playing Test cricket.

Gayle smashed 104 not out from 63 balls against one of the best bowling attacks of the tournament – Sunrisers Hyderabad – to fashion Kings XI Punjab’s 15-run victory. Gayle who holds the record for the fastest T20 century and also the leading run-getter was back in his elements, days after his Jamaican fellow mate Andre Russell’s 12-ball 41 helped KKR return to winning ways with a 71-run victory over Delhi. It’s not just about Gayle and Russell alone but there’s Sunil Narine who has been credited for KKR’s success story in winning titles in 2012 and 2014. Also the likes of Dwayne Bravo (Chennai Super Kings), Kieron Pollard and Evin Lewis (both Mumbai Indians) form the core of their respective franchises in the IPL.

“Firstly, they enjoy it I think. They get bored by playing the long format of the game. A lot of them are playing all the leagues around the world, If you look at guys like Andre and Sunil from our team and others in the tournament like Pollard,” Streak said. “You are getting to a stage where guys are making a career solely out of playing T20 cricket. They play in PSL (Pakistan), CPL (Caribbean), BBL (Big Bash), IPL.

“They’ve got physical attributes, the power. The guys like Pollard, Russell are physically strong guys, even their mis-hits go over the boundary.” But the KKR bowling coach hoped they have got enough variations in their armoury to stop Gayle early before he gets into his zone. “Lot of people always ask us bowling coaches ‘what’s the plan’. It is very difficult for us to say because then he’ll find out. So we can’t really tell you the exact plan. He is a dangerous player. How you start to him is very important early on. If you allow someone like Chris to get into rhythm and confidence, he is a very dangerous player. He is so powerful and backs his ability when the ball is in his zone to clear the boundary.”

Streak further said variation of slow balls have become the flavour of this IPL. In a format dominated by batsmen, it’s the bowlers who have become intelligent and smart – be it the pacers who cleverly use their slower ones to great effect or the demand of the wily wrist spinners. “Players have developed the ramp shots and stuff like reverse ramp. It has challenged the bowlers. You have seen that the different varieties of slow balls have become the flavour of the tournament,” Streak said at the pre-match news conference. Streak said wide yorkers and knuckle balls have become handy variations for the pacers.

“It’s not just the good old off-cutters and the ones that come from the back of the hand. We have seen the knuckle balls, and its variation. Most batsmen are now so good strikers that if you miss a yorker, and it’s half volley or a low full toss, it generally goes to the boundary. That’s why the wide yorkers. There’s not many players who can consistently hit fours and sixes over the offside field. That’s why you see a lot many wide yorkers being implemented.” Streak also hailed the U-19 World Cup winning duo of Shivam Mavi and Shubman Gill. “They definitely are right from the Virat Kohli school of fielding… Last year’s KKR, I think the fielding wasn’t one of their strengths.

I think we are definitely one of the top fielding sides with the youngsters coming in. That’s also a welcome aspect of KKR’s game that these guys have brought.”

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Ready to bat at any number for Pakistan: Fakhar

F.P. Report

Islamabad: Opening batsman Fakhar Zaman is just focused on helping the team win and is not worried about batting at any number after being for the Test team, which will face England and Ireland in May.

Zaman, along with four other uncapped players Saad Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Imamul Haq and Usman Salahuddin were selected in the 16-member squad, which was announced on Sunday. And the Mardan-born opener only wants to serve the team. “I am ready to bat at any number for the team’s cause,” said Zaman, while talking to media at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. “As a professional, it is our duty to play according to the circumstances. I will try my best to do justice no matter where I play.”

The left-hander is famous for his attacking display and has already scored 814 runs for the Men in Green in ODIs and T20Is at a collective strike-rate of 114.54. But Zaman, who has an average of 41.91 in 37 first-class matches, insisted that he is suitable for five-day format and will prove to be a good addition to the Pakistan team. “Test cricket is a different format, but I believe I am suited to playing in the longest format of the game,” he said. “I’ve a good record in four-day cricket, which is why I believe I will be a good addition to the team.”

Talking about conditions in England, Zaman revealed that he has had good preparation during the ongoing training camp. “Conditions in England are different, where the ball doesn’t come on to the bat easily,” he said. “Players have to make some adjustments and I’ve trained hard in the camp to overcome any difficulties there.” Zaman, who had a dream start to his career in the 50-over format when he scored back-to-back half-centuries during the International Cricket Council (ICC)’s Champions Trophy last year, believes that the experience of playing in England will be of great use.

“I’ve played in England already, even though it was in the 50-over format,” said Zaman. “But I believe that experience will help me immensely and I don’t think I will have any problems adjusting there.” Talking about the team’s chances, Zaman is optimistic and said that Pakistan can compete against tough opposition because of a strong bowling line-up. “Our bowling line-up is pretty strong and I believe we can put up a tough fight,” he said.

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Tim promises to alleviate Australia’s ball tampering

Monitoring Desk

SYDNEY: Australia Test captain Tim Paine pledged on Thursday to embark on a new era of “respectful” cricket and rebuild public trust after the ball-tampering scandal that rocked the sport.

The newly appointed leader said the fallout from the tampering episode was greater than players had anticipated and promised a different style of cricket in the future. “Going forward we have a clean slate. We can rewrite the way we play a little bit,” the 33-year-old told reporters in Tasmania’s capital Hobart. “The main thing for us is to bring the fans back to Australian cricket and make sure they like the way we are going about it, they want to come and watch and be proud of the Australian cricket team.”

The ball-tampering scandal during the third Test in South Africa last month stunned the sport and sparked reviews into the culture within Australian cricket. Then captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner have been banned from international and domestic cricket for a year, while Cameron Bancroft was exiled for nine months, leaving the squad badly weakened. They have all apologised and accepted the sanctions.

Paine said all three would be welcomed back to the national side but in a new environment that met public expectations. “Certainly playing international cricket you have to be as competitive as you possibly can be, but we just have to look at different ways of doing that… more respectful ways of putting opposition teams under the pump,” he said.

Australia has been under heavy scrutiny for sledging and Paine said on-field talk with the opposition “will be very different going forward”. Cricket Australia (CA) announced a meeting Friday to discuss who will replace head coach Darren Lehmann, who despite being cleared of any wrongdoing resigned amid the scandal fallout.

But it denied media reports that former Aussie opener Justin Langer had already been selected for the job. “The process to be undertaken for the appointment of a new Australian men’s head coach will be discussed and agreed at the CA board meeting this Friday,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “No appointment has been made, and nor will any candidate be put to the board for ratification on Friday.”

Paine on Thursday endorsed Langer but added there were many highly-regarded candidates worldwide. Langer remains favourite to take the top job but has indicated he wants to maintain his coaching and family commitments in his home state of Western Australia.


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Pakistan No. 1 Aqeel Khan wins DIG Aman Ullah Memorial Tennis Championship

F.P. Report

PESHAWAR: Pakistan No. 1 Aqeel Khan clinched the title of the DIG Aman Ullah Khan Memorial Tennis Championship played here at Qayyum Sports Complex Synthetic Courts on Thursday.

Renown cardiac surgeon and son of late DIG Aman Ullah Khan, Professor Dr. Hafizullah was the chief guest on this occasion. Vice President KP Tennis Association Professor Dr. Farhan Abbas, another promising heart surgeon, Secretary KP Tennis Association Umar Ayaz, coach Roman Khan, officials and players were also present and witnessed the thrilling final of the Men’s singles.

Aqeel Khan, a Pakistan No. 1 Davis Cupper, recorded victory against Barkat Ullah of KP Police in the thrilling final by 6-4 and 6-4. Young Barkat UIllah, a hailing for KP, gave tough resistance to his strong rival Aqeel Khan who is playing top level tennis from the last 30-year.

In the other final of the Under-14 category Aziz Khan of KP defeated Hasam Khan, also from KP 6-3 and 6-4. In the Under-14 doubles Aziz Khan and Hasam Khan defeated 10-year-old Hamza Roman and Kashan Umer in the final by 6-2, 3-6 and 6-4.

At the end, the chief guest professor Dr. Hafiz Ullah gave away trophies and cash prizes to the winners and runners-up. A total of 30 players took part in the three-day event organized by KP Tennis Association.


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If I were captain, Fawad would be in my team: Younis

Monitoring Desk

KARACHI: Former batting great Younis Khan has thrown his support behind the long-ignored Fawad Alam, saying that the all-rounder would have been in his Test team if he were captain.

Lamenting the continuous non-selection of the all-rounder, Younis said it is tragic that Fawad has been excluded from Pakistan’s Test squad for the upcoming England and Ireland tours despite performing consistently in domestic cricket.

“He is unlucky that, despite scoring [massive runs] in first-class cricket, he is being ignored,” said the former batsman, who retired in 2017 after becoming the first Pakistani to score 10,000+ Test runs.

Expressing his reservation at the 16-member Pakistan Test squad announced for the tours next month, Younis pointed out that even experienced teams have struggled in the cold, wet conditions of Ireland and England.

“When we toured England in 2016 under Misbah’s captainship, we [managed to draw] but didn’t win the series,” the cricketer recalled, adding that the younger team, led by Sarfraz Ahmed, could struggle in the English conditions.

According to Younis, there is no merit to the criticism that often surrounds Fawad Alam’s batting technique. “I refuse to believe it,” he said, pointing out that every player performs with his particular technique. He recalled that many people thought he would fail in England and Australia. But Younis proved them wrong with a batting average of 50.63 in 6 Tests he played in Australia, and 50.52 in 9 Tests in England.

As far as the age factor is concerned, for him, it’s just a number. “It would be wrong to [make age an excuse] to decide someone’s career,” he said. Fawad Alam is 32 years old, with most of his years spent waiting for a chance to play in the national side.

Misbah played for Pakistan till he was 42 years old, and he himself played till the age of 39, Younis said, pointing out that age was never a hurdle in his performance and records.

The veteran remarked that the coach, selectors and captain should always make decisions in the wider interests of the team. Assuming that any one person’s opinion is correct, does not yield any benefit when you’re a coach, selector or captain, Younis added.


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Zlatan Ibrahimovic drops World Cup hint

Monitoring Desk

Moscow: Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic has hinted that he hopes to feature at this year’s World Cup, teasing fans that he could come out of retirement to play in Russia.

In an appearance on ABC television’s late-night Jimmy Kimmel show on Tuesday, the former Sweden striker said “it wouldn’t be a World Cup” if he didn’t play.

The 36-year-old has previously been circumspect about his hopes of playing in the World Cup for Sweden, who qualified for the finals for the first time in 12 years when they defeated Italy in a play-off.

“I’m going to the World Cup, yes,” Ibrahimovic told Kimmel when asked if he would be in Russia. When pressed by the host if he expected to attend as a player or in another capacity, Ibrahimovic was coy.

“I just said I’m going to the World Cup,” the Los Angeles Galaxy striker said. “If I say more, people will hang me, so I have to be careful what I say now.” Speaking later, he added: “I mean, a World Cup without me wouldn’t be a World Cup.” Ibrahimovic, who last played at a World Cup with Sweden in 2006, retired from international football after the 2016 European Championship.

He said last month he wanted to concentrate on settling into his career in Major League Soccer before thinking about the World Cup. But he admitted he was available for Russia if required. “Let me first enjoy it here,” Ibrahimovic said on March 30. “What happens here will take it further.

“The World Cup is another question. I’ve said it before. Nobody needs to call anybody. If they want, I’m there.”


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Afridi, Malik to play for World XI against West Indies

F.P. Report

Islamabad: Former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi and veteran all-rounder Shoaib Malik will play for the World XI, which will take on West Indies in a one-off charity T20I match on May 31 at Lord’s.

The development was confirmed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in a press release on Thursday. The duo will be accompanied by Sri Lanka all-rounder Thisara Perera in the team which will be led by England’s middle-order batsman Eoin Morgan. The trio were the first set of players to confirm their participation for the ICC World XI.

The match is being organised to raise funds for stadia in the Caribbean that were badly damaged following Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year. Afridi, who retired from international cricket last year, has represented Pakistan in 98 T20Is, where he scored 1,405 runs and claimed 97 wickets. On the other hand, 36-year-old Malik is Pakistan’s highest run-getter in the shortest format of the game with 1,569 runs in 95 matches, and has also claimed 27 wickets with his part-time off-spin.

The pair played a crucial role in the Green Shirts’ 2009 World T20 triumph, and was on the crease when the winnings runs were scored. Both Afridi and Malik expressed their delight after being selected for the match in a statement issued in ICC’s press release. “I am humbled to have been selected for such a noble cause,” said Afridi. “Cricket is one big family and no matter how hard and tough we play against each other, there is tremendous comradery within the group.”

Fellow Pakistan legend Malik had similar views. “It’s a matter of great honour and pride to be selected in an ICC World XI and a wonderful opportunity to play with some of the biggest names in world cricket,” said Malik. “We have all heard of the damage caused by the two hurricanes in the West Indies last year and it is really good to see so many cricketers come forward to help raise funds for the reparation of the stadiums.”

West Indies have also announced a strong squad for the match which will be led by hard-hitting all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite. The West Indies will also have Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Samuel Badree and Andre Russell in the squad.



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Surrey head coach open to signing Smith, Warner

Monitoring Desk

SYDNEY: Surrey coach Michael Di Venuto has confirmed he would be interested in signing Australian cricketers Steve Smith and David Warner if allowed by the English Cricket Board (ECB).

Smith and Warner were banned for a year by Cricket Australia after the pair had admitted to ball tampering, during the third test match between South Africa and Australia. Cameron Bancroft was handed a nine-month ban.

The duo have already lost their Indian Premier League (IPL) contracts with their respective franchises following the events of Cape Town. Di Venuto who is a former Australia batting coach, having held the role from 2013 to 2016, said it would be “mad” not to consider signing either of the duo should it be allowed.

The bans handed down by Cricket Australia only cover Australian international and domestic cricket, although any position in the county game would need the ECB to sign off. “From an Australian perspective, it is probably important that they play a bit of cricket at some stage,” Di Venuto said.

“I don’t know if they are allowed to play in this competition. I know what it states in their sanctions that they can’t play domestic cricket in Australia.

“If they are in the right mental state to play cricket and the ECB will have to allow it to start with, then we’d be mad not to look at some of the world’s best players potentially playing,” he added.

According to ban handed to the trio, they are only permitted to play grade cricket in Australia, however, their bans do not prevent them from playing in England, although it would require approval from ECB.