Australia up against it as Pakistan turn the screw in crucial Test

Sarfraz Ahmed plays a shot during his knock of 81 in the UAE capital. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2018
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Australia up against it as Pakistan turn the screw in crucial Test

  • Baggy Greens staring defeat in the face after hosts set tourists 538 for win.
  • Sarfraz Ahmed in the runs again with 81.

ABU DHABI: Pakistan grabbed an early wicket after Babar Azam struck a fluent 99 to edge closer to claiming a series victory over Australia in the second Test at Abu Dhabi.
Azam narrowly missed out on a hundred after an aggressive innings, while skipper Sarfraz Ahmed followed up his first-innings 94 with 81 as Pakistan declared their second innings at 400 for nine, setting a daunting 538-run target for the tourists.
By the close on the third day, Pakistan had Shaun Marsh dismissed for four — bowled by left-arm paceman Mir Hamza for his first Test wicket — to boost their chances of victory after Australia clung on for a thrilling draw in the first Test in Dubai last week.
Aaron Finch (24) and Travis Head (17) were at the crease with Australia, who are 47 for one and need another 491 for an unlikely win or to bat out two full days on a weary and spinning Sheikh Zayed Stadium pitch.
No team has ever chased more than 418 for seven to win a Test, made by the West Indies against Australia at Antigua in 2003.
Pakistan piled on the runs with Azam, Sarfraz and Azhar Ali — who was the casualty of a bizarre run out — all making half-centuries to build on the hosts’ 137-run first-innings lead.
But none of them could go on to score a ton, with Azam falling agonizingly close to his maiden hundred, trapped leg-before by medium pacer Mitchell Marsh.
“Of course, missing a hundred is disappointing but such things are part and parcel of the game,” said Azam. “I am happy that Sarfraz and I built a partnership and have taken our team to a winning position.”
Azam, who hit three sixes and six fours, improved on his previous best Test score of 90 not out he made in New Zealand two years ago.
He and Sarfraz added 135 runs for the sixth wicket to end any hopes Australia had of a fightback after taking the second new ball at 273-5.
Sarfaz struck five fours and a six and delayed the declaration in hope of a century, but fell leg-before to leg-spinner Marnus Labuschagne who finished with two for 74.
But the pick of the bowlers was off-spinner Nathan Lyon who followed his first-innings four wickets with three for 135 in a marathon 43-over vigil.
After a dull opening period, the embarrassing dismissal of Azhar brought the day to life. The batsman edged a Peter Siddle delivery toward the third-man boundary and, thinking the ball had crossed the rope, halted in the middle of the pitch to talk to fellow batsman Asad Shafiq.
But Mitchell Starc picked up the ball less than a yard from the boundary and threw it back to wicketkeeper Tim Paine, who ran Azhar out, leaving the Pakistani duo — who have combined experience of 130 Tests and over 9,000 runs — stranded and looking bewildered.
Azhar fell for a well-played 64, including four boundaries.
“It was funny to say the least,” said Azhar. “I thought it had crossed the boundary and even when the throw came to Paine I did not realize the danger. It was only when I was got out that I came to know of the mistake.
“My eldest son (Ibtisam) is going to ask about it in the funniest possible way, I imagine.”
Pakistan had earlier lost Haris Sohail for 17, stumped by Paine off Nathan Lyon after resuming at 144 for two.
The teams will play three Twenty20 internationals after the Tests, with the first in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.


Juan Antonio Pizzi calls for more Saudi Arabia stars to play in Europe after Asian Cup exit to Japan

Updated 21 January 2019
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Juan Antonio Pizzi calls for more Saudi Arabia stars to play in Europe after Asian Cup exit to Japan

  • Green Falcons coach claims side at disadvantage by not having its best players play in the best leagues.
  • Japan hold on to 1-0 lead as Saudi Arabia exit early after promising start to campaign.

LONDON: Juan Antonio Pizzi has called for more Saudi Arabian players to play abroad if the Green Falcons want to return to the top of Asian football.
The coach was speaking having watched his side exit the Asian Cup at the hands of Japan — a Takehiro Tomiyasu header after 20 minutes the enough to see the Blue Samurai through to the last-eight.
Saudi Arabia were in the ascendancy early on but it was Japan who snatched the advantage with a straightforward goal from a set piece on 20 minutes.
From a corner, Japan defender Tomiyasu climbed above his marker and nodded firmly into the bottom corner. The Green Falcons twice came close with headers as they strived for a way back, and Hatan Bahbri curled one just 
off-target as he went for the top corner.

Saudi Arabia could find no way past a resolute Japan defence in Sharjah. (AFP) 


But they could not find a way past an organized and determined Japanese backline and paid the price with an early exit.
For Pizzi the lesson of the 
tournament is that Saudi Arabia’s finest talents need to get more experience in Europe if the side is to take on the continent and world’s best on a regular basis.
“The league has not developed enough and football in other places has improved. It’s tough to have success if you change philosophies every year. Players must go to Europe,” the former Spain international said.
“I am very satisfied with the performance of the players who adhered to my directions on the pitch, and we will analyze our mistakes right away. We just did not have the final touch in the match.”
Last year, before the World Cup, three of Saudi Arabia’s leading lights did play in Spain in a bid to get more exposure to top-class football. Salem Al-Dawsari joined Villarreal, Fahad Al-Muwallad signed for Levante, while Leganes took Yahya Al-Shehri. All three had limited game time in the five months they were in La Liga but it is clear that Pizzi wants more of his players to follow their lead.
What is also not in doubt for the coach is the effort of the players. They started their campaign off well with a 4-0 thrashing of North Korea, followed up with a 2-0 
victory over Lebanon, but were unable to maintain that form, going down 2-0 to Qatar before the Japan defeat.
“The players have not let me down throughout the entire Asian Cup, but we must not forget that we played against one of the best teams in Asia, with most of their players participating in the European leagues.
“We chose the best players who deserved to represent the team. I am satisfied with how they performed during the tournament and what they earnestly sought to apply in the games in terms of technical plans and strategies.”
Pizzi confirmed in the post-match press conference that his contract with the Saudi Federation has run out and there have been no discussions about the future.

The pain of the early exit was clear to see after the final whistle. (AFP)