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Umar Akmal, Sohail Tanvir help Pakistan tame Sri Lanka in first T20I -
7/31/2015 9:24:33 AM

Umar Akmal plays a shot during the first Twenty20 international against Sri Lanka.

Umar Akmal smashed 46 off 24 balls and Sohail Tanvir grabbed three wickets as Pakistan beat top-ranked Sri Lanka by 29 runs in the first Twenty20 international in Colombo on Thursday. Pakistan piled up 175-5 after electing to bat and then restricted the reigning T20 WC champions to 146-7 in the day-night match at the R Premadasa stadium.

Akmal hit three boundaries and as many sixes during an entertaining fourth-wicket stand of 81 from just 45 deliveries with Shoaib Malik, who remained unbeaten on a 31-ball 46. Ahmed Shehzad was the other notable contributor with 46 off 38 balls, but Sri Lanka lost the way when Pakistan plundered 70 runs in the final six overs to set up the challenging target.

Pakistan lost opener Mukhtar Ahmed in the second over, but Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez revived the innings with a 42-run partnership for the second wicket. Debutant left-arm seamer Binura Fernando conceded 17 runs in the 16th over which included two consecutive sixes by Akmal. Sri Lanka's captain Lasith Malinga was the most expensive bowler, giving away 46 runs in his four overs.

The hosts were dealt early blows as Kusal Perera fell off the third ball of the innings and Tillakaratne Dilshan was dismissed in the next over to make it 13-2. Debutant Dhananjaya de Silva looked promising during his knock of 31 and another youngster Milinda Siriwardana made 35, before Chamara Kapugedera justified his recall with three sixes in his unbeaten 31 off 16 balls. However, Tanvir's three for 29 and Anwar Ali two for 27 tied down the Sri Lankan batsmen and the hosts ended up well short of the target.

The second match will be played at the same venue on Saturday with Pakistan looking to complete a triple on the current tour, having earlier clinched the Tests 2-1 and the one-dayers 3-2.

James Anderson in injury scare during third Ashes Test -
7/31/2015 9:23:51 AM

England's James Anderson walks back to the pavilion after coming off injured mid-over on the second day of the third Ashes cricket test match between England and Australia at Edgbaston in Birmingham, central England, on July 30, 2015.
James Anderson, England's all-time leading wicket-taker, is in danger of missing the fourth Test against Australia and possibly the rest of the Ashes series after suffering a side injury at Edgbaston on Thursday. Anderson left the field three balls into his ninth over in Australia's second innings of the third Test at Edgbaston with what appeared to be a side strain.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) subsequently released a statement via Twitter saying Anderson had a "tight side" and would be "assessed overnight". Anderson's absence on Thursday did not harm England unduly, with recalled fast bowler Steven Finn taking five for 45 as Australia closed on 168 for seven -- a lead of just 23 runs with three days left in the match.

England are still in pole position to go 2-1 up in the five-match series, even if Anderson doesn't bowl again in this match. But they would dearly love to have him fit in time for next week's fourth Test at Trent Bridge.

However, England great Ian Botham said he feared Anderson would be ruled out of the series. "If it's an intercostal, we won't see him again in this series," the former pace bowling all-rounder said on Sky Sports. "You can't sneeze, can't cough, can't laugh. You have to let it heal."

Anderson, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Thursday, has a brilliant record at Trent Bridge.

Steven Finn elated after fantastic return to Test cricket -
7/31/2015 9:23:14 AM

England fast bowler Steven Finn said it felt "fantastic" to be back among the wickets in Test cricket after taking England to the verge of an Ashes victory at Edgbaston on Thursday. The Middlesex paceman had been in the wilderness, so far as Test duty had been concerned, after being dropped following an off-target spell in the 2013 Ashes series opener at Trent Bridge.

That was arguably nothing compared to a wretched time on England's woeful 2013/14 tour of Australia which saw Finn, struggling with his action and low on confidence, sent home early after then limited overs coach Ashley Giles declared him to be "not selectable" But, having taken two wickets in Australia's meagre first innings 136, the 26-year-old Finn bagged five for for 45 in 13 hostile overs on Thursday's second day to leave the visitors in dire straits at 168 for seven in their second innings come stumps -- a lead of just 23. England now have three days in which to seal a win that will put them 2-1 up with two to play in the five-match series.

"To pull a Test shirt back on has been great fun," said Finn, a protege of former Middlesex and England fast-medium bowler Angus Fraser, now an England selector. "There have been dark times along the way, but it makes those good times all the more satisfying. To be sat here and help put the team in this position, it feels pretty darn good to be honest with you."

Australia opener Chris Rogers, who was Finn's captain at Middlesex, recalled seeing the 6ft 7in Finn in tears during a county match at Edgbaston last season. "Every cricketer goes through ups and downs no matter how high or how low. To come out the other side, it's a good feeling," said Finn. "It's been a while since I played Test cricket so to get a five-for on my game back feels fantastic."

Finn, recalled in place of the injured Mark Wood after England's 405-run thrashing by Australia in the second Test at Lord's, stressed England still had much work to do if they were to win this match, amid concerns over the fitness of spearhead paceman James Anderson, who went off the field on Thursday with a side injury.

Australia on-tour selection chief Rodney Marsh certainly knows a thing or two about seeing Ashes Tests lost from improbable positions. Marsh, one of Australia's greatest wicket-keepers, was involved in a stunning batting collapse at Edgbaston in 1981 where Kim Hughes's men slumped to 121 all out chasing 151 as England, with all-rounder Ian Botham taking five for one in 28 balls, won by 29 runs.

"You'd definitely need at least 150 plus, if I?m being realistic," said Australia opener David Warner, whose defiant 77 was a rare batting highlight for the Ashes-holders on Thursday when asked what would be a defendable total.

Meanwhile left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, who started Thursday with two vicious rising deliveries to have both Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes caught behind as he became just the fifth Australian to take 300 Test wickets, said the tail "needed to wag". Australia, bidding to win their first Ashes series in Britain in 14 years, will resume Friday with wicket-keeper Peter Nevill 37 not out and Mitchell Starc seven not out.

"We're 23 runs ahead and we need to fight in the morning, we need Starc and Nevill to put on a hundred partnership," Johnson told Sky Sports. "We've got to stop this rot, it's not looking promising for us at the moment."

GETTING IT RIGHT - Virat Kohli looks to master the sweep shot -
7/31/2015 9:22:37 AM

It took almost six years for the first glitch in Virat Kohli's batting to show up when James Anderson ruffled him with the moving ball outside the off-stump about a year ago in England. When the fired-up Delhi boy went Down Under last winter, he put most of those doubts to rest. The ardent India fan would like to believe that was the only chink in his armour. But the Indian Test captain chooses to think otherwise. The sweep shot ­ seemingly a modern-day batting necessity ­ wasn't needed by Virat till now. Now, faced with the challenge of a deluge of spinning deliveries on the slower pitches in the upcoming Test series in Sri Lanka, Virat wants to add that extra option to his batting armory.

The first glimpse of Virat attempting to sweep came against Australia's Nathan Lyon in the Test series before the World Cup. Towards the end of the recent month-long break, Virat went back to his childhood coach in West Delhi to brush up his game and work on the sweep shot. "His batting is technically very clean but he never played the sweep shot," Rajkumar Sharma told TOI, "But now he is making a conscious effort to sweep and he feels he needs to master that as it will help him dominate the spinners even better."

The coach added that Kohli was working hard to develop the stroke. "He came here to practice for a few days and asked for dry and rough pitches. He batted for nearly two hours every day against spinners and practised the sweep." But then came the disclaimer."He hasn't developed it completely . He will be very cautious playing the shot, if at all he decides to play it," said Sharma.

In his last international innings, Virat lost his stumps after losing his shape when trying to sweep Bangladesh left-arm spinner Shakib Al Hassan out of the attack. Even in the World Cup, he fell against Zimbabwe after failing to execute the sweep. For all his imposing play against the slow bowlers, Virat has often fallen to them due to indecisive strokes over the last year, starting with Moeen Ali in England.

Preparations aside, Virat's string of mediocre scores after his hundred in the first match of the World Cup against Pakistan could indicate a wobbling form. On Wednesday, he fell cheaply in the first innings against Australia 'A' in Chennai. But his coach feels otherwise. "He is in good touch. It's unfortunate that he got out cheaply."

Stuart Law: I am ready for India coaching role -
7/31/2015 9:21:25 AM

Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is looking for a new coach and former Australian cricketer Stuart Law has thrown his hat in the ring. Law, the assistant coach of the Australia 'A' side, said: "I would love to work with some of the greatest players in the world. I have spent quite a bit of time in the subcontinent and I know the conditions. So if anyone knocks on my door, I would be extremely happy to sit down and listen to the offer," Law said.

The 46-year-old had coached Sri Lanka after the 2011 World Cup and then took up the Bangladesh job. He was also in charge of the Bangladesh team that made the Asia Cup final at home in 2012, losing to Pakistan.

Law said India will start as favourites in the three-Test series against his former employers Sri Lanka. "Sri Lanka are going through a rebuilding phase. So the youngsters will be eager to prove themselves. It is always tough to beat Sri Lanka in their backyard. India, on the other hand, had not played well against Bangladesh in the recent one day series. They have got a point to prove as well. But I think India have got a fair chance to win the series," he said.

The series will also be Virat Kohli's first full-fledged series as Test captain. Law feels Kohli's aggressive style might be the difference.