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.


Jaka Ihbeisheh’s heartwarming journey from Slovenia to Palestine — via football

Updated 18 November 2018
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Jaka Ihbeisheh’s heartwarming journey from Slovenia to Palestine — via football

LONDON: Jaka Ihbeisheh’s eyes glisten as he recalls the moment his father first watched him play for Palestine. While the midfielder’s path to the national team may have been unconventional, those feelings of pride on his debut were wholly natural. From western Yugoslavia to the West Bank, Ihbeisheh’s journey was fueled by a desire to rediscover his roots.
Ihbeisheh was born in Ljubljana in 1986 to a Slovenian mother and a Palestinian father, who met while the latter was studying medicine in Croatia. His parents separated when he was seven years old, however, and his father moved back to Palestine.
It would be 18 years before he saw his father again.
An early love of football developed into a career for Ihbeisheh, who played for a number of Slovenian clubs. But while he lived out his childhood dream professionally, in his personal life there remained a nagging question about the whereabouts of his father.


In 2013, Ihbeisheh finally decided to try to reach out to the man from whom he had been estranged for three quarters of his life.
“After getting married, I started to question more where I was from and what my father had been doing,” Ihbeisheh explained. “We still had an envelope at home with an address on it so I decided to write a letter to him asking him if he wanted to meet me.
“I wrote three letters — in Slovenian, Croatian and English — and to be honest I had no idea if I would receive a reply.”
A month passed by with no response but then one day Ihbeisheh opened his Facebook account to see a friend request from someone whose name was written in Arabic.
“It was a strange moment after all those years but the date of birth matched my father’s so I knew it was him. We started to talk on Skype first, in Croatian. I was amazed he could remember but he said that because he studied medicine in the language he had never forgotten it. He still used Croatian medical textbooks.

 

Jaka Ihbeisheh in action for Slovenian side Rudar Velenje. (Photo / Twitter: @ihbeisheh)


“After a few calls, my wife and I decided the time was right to go and visit him in Palestine. A lot of people said things like, ‘Don’t go there you are crazy, you will get shot’ — but my father lived there and I wanted to go and visit him. I was not afraid.”
That first trip was fraught with nervous excitement as Ihbeisheh made his way to his father’s homeland via his aunt’s house in Jordan. The midfielder had read and heard about the potential difficulties of the crossing into Palestine and his own passage was not straightforward.
“The security at the border was very heavy and when they asked me where I was going, I said Palestine. He said, ‘No, to Israel’ and I said, ‘No, Palestine’. Then he separated me and my wife and a soldier came and took me into a room to ask a lot of questions.
“They asked about my life, my father, my work, my wife. They went on Wikipedia to check if I really was a Slovenian professional footballer. Then they called my wife inside — they were checking our stories matched. They asked my wife the name of my coach and fortunately she knew it. We were there for five hours in all.”
For Ihbeisheh it was glimpse into the border woes that are a regular part of life for Palestinians, though happier experiences were to come.


“When we got off the bus, my father and all his family were there waiting and it was very emotional. Of course, we had a big meal to celebrate.
“After that trip, I knew that if the opportunity came up I would want to play international football for Palestine. My father didn’t need to say anything for me to know how much it would mean to him.”
When Ihbeisheh returned to Slovenia, the thought of playing for Palestine was still on his mind but he had no idea how to put the wheels in motion. Then a fortuitous meeting with a Palestinian diplomat’s son opened the door. Six months later, Ihbeisheh received a text inviting him to be involved with the squad for the first time.
“My first game was a friendly in Dubai ahead of the 2015 Asian Cup and it was an amazing day. When the national anthem played, I was so proud. You meet the other players and hear their stories, then you understand why it means so much to represent Palestine.
“Since then I have come to play every time they call me. I love being part of this team.”

 

Jaka Ihbeisheh meeting hero Xavi, and on the sidelines of a Rudar Velenje game. (Photo / Twitter: @ihbeisheh)


Ihbeisheh went on to make a major impact at the Asian Cup in Australia, becoming the first Palestinian player to score at a major international tournament in a 5-1 defeat to Jordan.


But while that was a moment to savour, it paled in comparison to the first game he played in Palestine.
“It is a totally different occasion playing in Palestine. Everyone is supporting their country and they make incredible noise, they want to take pictures with us. We feel like heroes. It’s a shame that our home games are often moved away from our land and our people — I hope this stops.
“My first game there was a 0-0 draw with UAE in (the West Bank town) Al-Ram and of course it was the first time my father saw me play in Palestine. This was an emotional moment for him and for me. He said, ‘I was really proud to see you play but I am proud even when you are not playing. You are always representing your country.’
“The more I am called up to play for Palestine, the more I see him so, for us, football has an important meaning.”
That sentiment is true for many in Palestine, for whom football offers a temporary escape from difficult lives. Palestine may often appear to be a byword for conflict but Ihbeisheh has found the opposite to be true, the country uniting him with both his father and his heritage.
“I feel really sad about some of the things I hear, some of the experience my friends and family have. It is difficult to imagine for people like me who have always lived in Europe. You just hear the things on TV or radio but it is not the same as when my teammates tell me their stories.
“What each of them has gone through, and achieved, to play football for Palestine is inspirational. They know how football can help to give the supporters something, for a little bit of time they forget about all the worries. This is important to them, and me.
“I may not come from Palestine but when we are together as team-mates, there is no difference if you have lived your whole life in Palestine or outside of Palestine. We are all the same, we are family.”