India’s bowlers come to the rescue as South Africa reined in

India's captain Virat Kohli, foreground, reacts after making a catch to dismiss South Africa's batsman Quinton de Kock. (AP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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India’s bowlers come to the rescue as South Africa reined in

PRETORIA: Just over halfway through the first day at Supersport Park in Centurion, South Africa were cruising at 148 for 1 on a pitch that bore little resemblance to the one that was supposed to provide a trial by pace and bounce. Aiden Markram, who led South Africa’s Under-19s to the World Cup in 2014 and who plays his franchise cricket here for the Titans, was in sight of a third century in five Tests when Ravichandran Ashwin went round the wicket and angled one across him. Markram’s attempted late cut found Parthiv Patel’s gloves, and India had a route back into the contest.
But by the time the new ball was due, a rejuvenated Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, the captain, had moved the scoreboard on to 245 for 3, despite AB de Villiers, another of the local heroes, making just 20 before playing on off Ishant Sharma. For all Ashwin’s indefatigable effort and some miserly bowling from Ishant, the hosts were well on top.
Then, they decided to chance a single off Hardik Pandya. He rushed to gather, swivelled and threw down the stumps at the bowler’s end with Amla short of the crease. He had made a typically classy 82, playing himself into form after a nervy start.
Two balls later, Quinton de Kock (0) edged to Virat Kohli at slip to give Ashwin his third wicket of the day. And when Vernon Philander was run out, haring down the pitch after popping one up on the leg side off the alert Pandya, South Africa had slumped to 251 for 6. Through sheer persistence, India had made the pendulum swing back.
“Obviously bitterly disappointed,” said Markram of his 94. “It’s now the second time in a short career [he made 97 on debut against Bangladesh], but I’m just going to keep saying it’s part of the game and try to be positive.”
His disappointment was partly assuaged by praise from Kohli. “He is a massive competitor as everyone sees on the TV, but it’s great to see that he has got good values that people off the field might not see,” said Markram. “It was a great gesture and it meant a lot.”
He admitted to being surprised by an almost-Asian surface where he and Dean Elgar, who made 31 before being caught at silly point off Ashwin, eked out just 78 in the first session. But he also doffed his cap to Ashwin, who bowled 31 overs for his 3 for 90.
“He is difficult to face on a flat wicket, but he still had to bowl well,” he said. “You need to give him some credit. It will be interesting to see if the pitch will continue to spin like it did.”
Ashwin, who endured one of the worst spells of his career in Johannesburg in 2013, when he failed to take a wicket in the fourth innings – “It was a reality check in terms of not being able to win a Test match for the country on day five when all things were actually set up for a spinner. It was kind of a hit on my professional pride,” he said – was just glad to have kept India in the contest.
“It could have so easily been a game where they could have run away with it after the second session,” he said. I’d like to believe I was just dogged enough. I think my experience of going to England and playing at New Road (Worcestershire) helped, because this has been that sort of wicket.”


Pakistan’s Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

Pakistan's Azhar Ali celebrates reaching his century during a match between England and Pakistant on August 4, 2016. (Reuters file)
Updated 17 July 2018
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Pakistan’s Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

  • Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month

LONDON: Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali has joined Somerset for the remainder of their first-class English County Championship fixtures this season, the southwest club said Monday.

The 33-year-old replaces Australia opener Matt Renshaw, who made three hundreds at 51.30 in the opening rounds of the Championship before breaking a finger against Surrey at Guildford last month.

Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month.

"The standard of first-class cricket in England is very high and I hope that I can make a contribution to Somerset winning matches," Azhar told his new county's website.

"I have heard good things about Somerset and I was impressed by what I saw at Taunton in 2016 (when Pakistan opened their tour of England that year against the county).

"I am looking forward to joining my new team mates and meeting the Somerset supporters soon."

Azhar struggled during Pakistan's three Tests against Ireland and England earlier this season, making 73 runs in six innings although his lone fifty did come during Pakistan's impressive victory over England at Lord's.

"Finding the right fit at short notice can be challenging, however we are delighted to have secured a player of Azhar Ali's character, pedigree and class for the remaining seven Specsavers County Championship matches," said Somerset's director of cricket, Andy Hurry.

"His experience at the top of the order will prove to be hugely valuable at the business end of the season.

"I have spoken to him several times over the last few weeks and he is very keen to share his knowledge of the game with our aspirational players, so the influence he can have within the changing room will also be vital for us as a club."