Black Caps captain Williamson ruled out of opening two India ODIs

By Sports Desk February 03, 2020

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson will miss the opening two games in the ODI series against India due to a shoulder injury.

Williamson continues to battle an inflamed AC joint in his left shoulder suffered during the third Twenty20 of the five-game series, which India swept 5-0.

The star batsman is still dealing with the injury, leading to the Black Caps calling up Mark Chapman – who has played five 50-over matches for New Zealand – to the squad.

"Kane has had an X-ray scan which cleared him of anything serious, but it's best for his recovery that he avoids aggravating the joint for the next few days," Black Caps team physio Vijay Vallabh said in a statement on Tuesday.

"He will continue his fitness training sessions throughout the week and will start batting again on Friday with the prospect of being available for game three next Tuesday."

Tom Latham will captain New Zealand, with the opening game of the series set for Hamilton on Wednesday.

Chapman, meanwhile, has scored 160 ODI runs at an average of 40, although most of those came against the United Arab Emirates in 2015 before he struggled against England two years ago.

"It's disappointing for Kane, but with so much important cricket still ahead this summer we must take a safety first approach," New Zealand selector Gavin Larsen said.

"It's great to welcome Mark back into the one-day unit off the back of consecutive centuries for New Zealand A against a strong India A side.

"Mark's a versatile player who can cover multiple batting positions and his fielding is a real upshot to have in the squad."

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    When Pakistan were previously in England for a Test series, Babar Azam saw a promising start cut short by a bad break.  

    The batsman made a half-century in the opening game at Lord’s in May 2018, but his involvement in the series was painfully cut short when struck on the left arm by a Ben Stokes short ball.  

    Forced to retire hurt with 68 to his name, Babar did not appear again during the tour. A fracture ended his contribution as the tourists triumphed at the home of cricket, while he had to watch on as his side were crushed in the second Test at Headingley. 

    At that stage of his career, Babar was viewed as a limited-overs specialist still making his way in the Test arena. With an average under 25 prior to playing England, he was – at the age of 23 – a player with obvious potential working out how to play the game of patience.

    Just over two years on, he returns to England having enhanced his reputation to such an extent that the so-called 'Fab Four' - Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson - have company. It is unclear who identifies as the cricketing versions of Paul, John, Ringo and George, but Babar is not like the fifth Beatle – his identity is clear.

    Start a discussion with cricket fans over who should be considered the lead act in the group and you are opening a cricketing can of worms. It is a topic that, understandably, stirs up national pride, but also heated discussions about the weight of importance given to each format. 

    What is not up for debate, however, is that Babar deserves to be in the conversation. His white-ball numbers are outstanding – he averages over 50 in Twenty20 and one-dayers for Pakistan – yet his Test statistics in recent times provide additional evidence for those keen to argue his case.  

    Indeed, his average of 75.9 across his 12 Test knocks since the start of 2019 is the best rate of any batsman to have 10 or more innings during that period. Better than Kohli, despite the India captain piling on the runs at home against South Africa, including a career-best 254 not out. Better even than Smith, whose Ashes heroics last year were so crucial in helping Australia retain the urn on English soil.  

    He also sits above the same pairing when it comes to contributing for his team, providing an astonishing 22 per cent of Pakistan’s total Test runs over the period. There is clearly substance to the style now, a determined streak to go with the eye-catching technique.  

    Ricky Ponting, the former Australia captain, tipped Babar to become one of the best in the world at the start of the year; he was a little late to get on board a bandwagon that now offers standing room only. 

    "I think he is right up there already," Azhar Ali, Pakistan's Test skipper, said on the eve of the series opener with England at Old Trafford. 

    "His performances have improved massively in Test matches over the last year or so. Firstly, he was performing really well in white-ball cricket and people thought he was only a white-ball player, but he took on that challenge and played with a lot of freedom and flair.” 

    Babar's career totals do not stand up to the sheer volume scored by Kohli, Root, Smith and Williamson - at least not yet. Still, since 2018, he sits above the quartet in terms of Test average (65.5) and strike-rate (63.2 runs per 100 deliveries).

    That stretch includes a memorable maiden hundred on home soil. While rain ruined the spectacle of the first Test played in Pakistan for over a decade, Babar brightened up the final day against Sri Lanka in Rawalpindi with an unbeaten 102 that delighted the crowd who had patiently waited to see their team return.  

    Scores of 60 not out, 100 and 143 followed in the remainder of a truncated series, all from a player who did not reach three figures until his 17th Test. 

    Prior to that breakthrough innings against New Zealand in November 2018, Babar had managed an unspectacular 822 runs at 30.4. Since then, though, there have been four more three-figure scores in 10 games, plus a 97 in a losing cause against Australia in Adelaide when no colleagues were willing to stick around in support. 

    Pakistan are likely to lean on him heavily again in England, particularly as they come up against a team brimming with fast-bowling options and fresh off a 2-1 series victory over West Indies. 

    Babar's development - including a highly productive Cricket World Cup campaign last year on English soil, as well as finishing top run-scorer in the T20 Blast while playing for Somerset - suggests he will relish the challenge.

    The head-to-head battle with Root will be one of the main storylines, too. England's captain has much on his plate in the coming weeks, including fathoming out a way to nullify the brilliant Babar, who has stylishly climbed his way into the top tier of international batsmen.

  • Ireland bring back World Cup memories with stunning ODI win over England Ireland bring back World Cup memories with stunning ODI win over England

    Ireland matched their famous 2011 Cricket World Cup victory over England as they scored 329 again to take the final match of the one-day series in Southampton. 

    Kevin O'Brien - the hero of the historic three-wicket triumph in Bangalore nine years ago - hit the winning run, seeing Ireland home in the final over to end the long wait for a second win over their neighbours.

    However, it was opener Paul Stirling and captain Andy Balbirnie who were the architects of this outstanding result, both right-handers making centuries to set up the innings.

    England captain Eoin Morgan had earlier hit 106 but suffered a groin injury while batting, forcing him to watch on from a seat inside the empty Ageas Bowl as his side's score of 328 all out was overhauled with seven wickets in hand.

    Stirling smashed 142 from 128 deliveries while Balbirnie hit 113, the pair adding 214 runs for the second wicket before a mix-up saw the former, previously dropped twice by James Vince, run out.

    The skipper also perished as the finishing line drew closer, lofting Adil Rashid to Sam Billings in the deep, but Harry Tector and O'Brien saw the job through, finishing unbeaten on 29 and 21 respectively.

    As well as avoiding being swept in the three-match series, Ireland also claim their first points in the new ICC Cricket World Cup Super League by beating the reigning champions in the format.

    England looked set to post an even more challenging target having been put into bat, yet twice undermined their progress by losing wickets in clusters during a sloppy performance.

    Jason Roy fell in the first over of the contest, steering Craig Young to second slip, while opening partner Jonny Bairstow departed for four soon after, bowled by Mark Adair. 

    Vince (16) also departed inside the opening powerplay to leave the score at 44-3, yet Morgan still opted to go on the attack against the team he used to play for. 

    Tom Banton (58) recorded his maiden ODI half-century but played second fiddle to his skipper in a fourth-wicket alliance worth 146, though Morgan's departure led to another mini-collapse. 

    From 190-4, England slipped to 216-7. As well as both well-set batsmen, Moeen Ali (one) and the in-form Sam Billings, who picked out mid-on having eased to 19, were also dismissed during a passage of play that proved crucial in the end.

    David Willey followed up his unbeaten 47 on Saturday with a career-best ODI score of 51, while Tom Curran finished up 38 not out, but the hosts offered Ireland an opportunity they gratefully seized.

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    Pakistan captain Azhar Ali believes Babar Azam is up there with Steve Smith and Virat Kohli as one of the best batsmen in the world ahead of the Test series against England.

    Babar has proved he can be a class act in all formats and will be hoping to pick up where he left off on the Test stage at Old Trafford this week six months after he last played for his country. 

    The Pakistan white-ball captain scored four hundreds and two half-centuries in his last seven innings in the longest format before the coronavirus brought cricket to a halt.

    Babar is sixth in the Test batting rankings, but Azhar says that is not a true reflection of his quality.

    Asked if the 25-year-old can elevate himself to be put in the same bracket as Australia batsman Smith and India skipper Kohli in the next few weeks, he said "I think he is right up there already.

    "People are thinking and talking about it. He is just hungry for runs and I think if he keeps doing that he will be up there for quite a long time

    "His performances have improved massively in Test matches over the last year or so. Firstly he was performing really well in white-ball cricket and people thought he was only a white-ball player but he took on that challenge and played with a lot of freedom and flair.

    "As a captain I want him to play the way he wants to. Just to relax and play his game and I'm sure if he does that he will go massively up the rankings in Test matches as well.

    "He is a very important player for us but I would like him to be free from any pressure and just enjoy his game."

    Azhar is also backing 17-year-old Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi to make a big impact in the three-match series with Joe Root's side, which starts in the bio-secure bubble in Manchester on Wednesday.

    "They are very talented, obviously not as experienced as some of the bowling attacks that have come to England in the past, but potentially they are right up there," said Azhar.

    "Naseem is a young talent who came up and played Test cricket from nowhere. He's impressed all of us and is in our number one bowling attack. Over time he will get the experience he needs.

    "In terms of his potential, he is very threatening and hopefully he will be very good for us in this series."

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