Rival skippers excited as Pakistan, Sri Lanka set for historic Test

Sri Lankan spinner Lakshan Sandakan talks to teammates during a training session for the first cricket test match against Pakistan at Pindi stadium in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP)
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Updated 11 December 2019

Rival skippers excited as Pakistan, Sri Lanka set for historic Test

  • The attack plunged Pakistan into sporting isolation during its years-long battle with militancy

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan’s captain Azhar Ali thanked Sri Lanka Tuesday for returning to Pakistan for the first Test tour there in a decade, after a fatal militant attack on their team in 2009 drove international cricket away.

“It’s a historic occasion and all the players are excited to be part of this,” Azhar, who has played 75 Tests — but, until now, none at home — said at a press conference in Rawalpindi with his counterpart, Dimuth Karunaratne.

“We thank the Sri Lankan team for coming here. The last Test was also against them so their visit will send a strong message to the world that we need to support each other,” he said.

Eight people were killed and several players and officials were wounded when militants opened fire on the Sri Lankan team bus traveling to a Test in Lahore in 2009.

The attack plunged Pakistan into sporting isolation during its years-long battle with militancy, with all “home” venues played in the UAE.

But with security dramatically improving in recent years international cricket began creeping back starting in 2015, albeit only for limited overs. Sri Lanka will play two Tests under heavy security, one in Rawalpindi and the second in Karachi, ending a decade-long absence for cricket’s five-day format. They will be the first home Tests for all 16 players in the Pakistan squad.

“Cricket is the biggest thing and if the youngsters can’t see matches here then it’s a big loss for our cricket and budding players,” Azhar said.

“I am sure our grounds will host more matches in the years to come.”

Karunaratne — who refused to tour Pakistan for a limited over series in September-October this year —  shared his rival’s sentiments.

“I am really excited ... The players are excited to be part of this historic occasion,” he said.

Sri Lanka are on the up in Test cricket after becoming the first Asian team to win a series in South Africa earlier this year.

They then drew a Test series 1-1 against New Zealand at home in August, their first fixture in the World Test championship.

Sri Lanka have not lost a series in Pakistan since 1992 — winning two and drawing two.

They beat Pakistan 2-0 in their last series in UAE two years ago, a win Karunaratne hoped will motivate them.

“We played good cricket in 2017 so that confidence is with us,” he said.

Pakistan, meanwhile, are smarting from a 3-0 defeat in South Africa and 2-0 in Australia this year.

“Test cricket demands discipline and they (Sri Lanka) are a well disciplined side, whether playing at their home or away so we have to play disciplined and good cricket,” Azhar said, adding that as captain he has to “lead by example.” 

He managed just 59 in six innings in South Africa and 62 in four in Australia.

The second Test is in Karachi from Dec. 19.

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Spanish driver Carlos Sainz takes third Dakar Rally title after winning Saudi edition

Updated 17 January 2020

Spanish driver Carlos Sainz takes third Dakar Rally title after winning Saudi edition

  • Asked about defending his title next year Sainz said: “It’s too early to think about it, let me enjoy this”
  • He has now won the Dakar with three different manufacturers, having previously triumphed with Volkswagen in 2010 and Peugeot in 2018

QIDDIYA: Veteran Spanish driver Carlos Sainz won the Dakar Rally for the third time on Friday, finishing with a comfortable winning margin in the first running of the event in Saudi Arabia.
The 57-year-old crossed the line in the 12th and final stage 6min 21sec ahead of nearest challenger and reigning champion Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar, who had managed to cut Sainz’s lead to just 24 seconds on Tuesday but fell back after navigation blunders.
“I feel very happy. There’s a lot of effort behind this. A lot of training, practice,” Sainz told the race’s website.
“It has been a flat out rally since the beginning. It was fantastic, a first time in Saudi Arabia, of course you can always improve but it was a fantastic effort,” he added.
Asked about defending his title next year Sainz said: “It’s too early to think about it, let me enjoy this.”
Sainz, the father of F1 driver Carlos Sainz Jr., seized control of the race from the third stage in his X-raid Mini.
He has now won the Dakar with three different manufacturers, having previously triumphed with Volkswagen in 2010 and Peugeot in 2018.
Stephane Peterhansel was third at 9min 58sec behind in his Mini. Both the Frenchman and Sainz won four stages in the marathon 12-day, 7,800-kilometer (4,800-mile) race.
Ricky Brabec triumphed in the motorbike section for Honda, becoming the first US rider to win the gruelling race.
Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso finished 13th on his Dakar debut, nearly five hours behind the winner.
Alonso came second in one stage but his first participation in the Dakar was a bruising affair as the 38-year-old Spaniard suffered a double rollover in the 10th stage after hitting a dune at an awkward angle.