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Openers Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett punished Pakistan on a batting-friendly pitch on Thursday as England raced to 174 without loss on the opening day of the first Test in Rawalpindi.
Crawley was unbeaten on 91 and Duckett 77 at lunch after England won a good toss and maintained their recent aggressive style, dubbed “Bazball” after the nickname of head coach Brendon McCullum.
Crawley showed his intent right from the start, hitting three boundaries off Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah’s first over of the match, and bringing up his half-century off just 38 balls.
Crawley could have become the first England batter to score a century before lunch on day one of a Test but was left nine short.
He has struck 17 boundaries so far.
Duckett, playing his first Test in six years, was equally aggressive with 11 fours in his second half-century.
England’s robust batting was the ideal start to the Test — its first in Pakistan for 17 years — after the start hung in the balance on Wednesday when several of the squad came down with a mystery virus.
Pakistan included pacers Haris Rauf and Mohammad Ali, spinner Zahid Mahmood, and batsman Saud Shakeel for their first Test, while England gave Liam Livingstone and Will Jacks their debuts.
First Test commences as per schedule Earlier, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced that the match would be played as per the original schedule.
“The ECB (England Cricket Board) has informed the PCB that they are in a position to field an XI, and, as such, the first PAKvENG Test will commence as per schedule today (Thursday, 1 December) at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium,” the PCB said in an early morning tweet.
The commencement of the match today had become doubtful after several players in the England camp fell ill on Wednesday.
For today’s match, the touring side has made one change to their original playing 11, replacing Ben Foakes with Will Jacks, who makes his test debut along with all-rounder Liam Livingstone.
“We’ve had some illness going round but we were really excited to get started,” Stokes said after winning the toss. “It’s not been ideal obviously, to start our tour like this, but hopefully we’ll be fine.”
Pakistan have named four debutants — Saud Shakeel, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Ali and Zahid Mehmood — in their playing 11.
England and Pakistan will contest a three-Test series with the first match starting today (Dec 1-5), the second in Multan from Dec 9-13 and the third in Karachi from Dec 17-21.
Illness strikes England team BBC reported on Wednesday that about half of England’s playing squad of 16 was hit by an illness, with only five taking part in an optional training session around 14 members of the travelling party — including coaches and backup staff — advised to stay at the team hotel.
Joe Root, Zak Crawley, Harry Brook, Ollie Pope and Keaton Jennings were the players at training on Wednesday, while head coach Brendon McCullum was also in attendance. All of the squad had trained on Tuesday.
Following reports of England players falling sick, the PCB and England Cricket Board had announced that a final decision on whether to go ahead with the first Test as per schedule would be announced on Thursday morning.
In a joint statement, the PCB and ECB said they had discussed the “outbreak of viral infection” among the England team and “unanimously agreed to delay the decision on the commencement of the first Test […] until 07:30 Pakistan time tomorrow (Thursday)”. The statement said that the two boards made the decision based on “medical advice from the England doctors”.
England are on their first Test tour of Pakistan in 17 years, following their T20 side playing seven matches in the country two months ago, taking the series 4-3.
Problems with food and players becoming ill during the T20 series led to the decision to bring a chef, Omar Meziane, who also worked with the England men’s football team at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and at Euro 2020.
However, former England Test captain Joe Root dismissed on Wednesday the possibility of his team teammates falling ill during the ongoing tour due to food poisoning, saying “it is just I think one of those things that we, unfortunately, picked up as a group”.
“I don’t think it’s food poisoning or Covid or anything like that,” said Root as he responded to a query at a press talk in Rawalpindi.
Teams
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Salman Ali Agha, Mohammad Ali, Haris Rauf, Saud Shakeel, Zahid Mahmood, Naseem Shah
England: Ben Stokes (captain), James Anderson, Joe Root, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Will Jacks, Jack Leach, Liam Livingstone, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson
Umpires: Joel Wilson (WIS) and Ahsan Raza (PAK)
TV umpire: Marais Erasmus (RSA)
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)


ALL roads led to Al Thumama Stadium on Tuesday night, the tension palpable in the air, the sense of occasion overwhelming. There has been so much before, there will be so much more after but this felt like the end of the world; last-16 heaven and salvation in store for the victors, end of the road for the losers.
It was a battle of attrition on the pitch between geo-political rivals Iran and the United States, 90 minutes of mayhem eventually settled by a goal by Christian Pulisic, who put his body on the line to turn in a header by Serginho Dest in the 38th minute. The 1-0 victory meant the US finished second in Group ‘B’ and advanced to a round-of-16 tie against the Netherlands while Iran’s journey came to an end.
It’s not often that football throws up fixtures so deeply interlaced with political rivalry but here, in the middle of the Arabian desert, at football’s grandest stage, teams from two countries with no diplomatic relations since 1980 slugging it out for the right to remain in Qatar.
It couldn’t have been a more compelling setting; the 44,000-seater stadium shaped like the traditional Arab cap worn by men abuzz with activity, a cacophony of noise.
The last time these two sides had met at the World Cup, 24 years ago in France, Iran’s players had given their American counterparts white roses as diplomatic tensions between them had reduced. There was no such thing this time.
Former US coach Juergen Klinsmann, a World Cup winner with Germany, had stirred up this tie when he’d said in television comments that it was in the Iranian culture to heckle the referees that forced them to lose focus, provoking a strong reaction from Iran coach Carlos Queiroz who invited Klinsmann to attend an Iran training session but only after he resigns from Fifa’s Technical Study Group.
Tensions had been simmering even before that after the United States Soccer Federation had removed the Islamic emblem from the Iranian flag in a social media post. US coach Gregg Berhalter was forced to apologise. He and his captain Tyler Adams underwent an extensive grilling on the eve of the game by Iranian reporters. Adams, who is Black, was asked how it felt to be in a racist country.
But here was Adams, celebrating at the final whistle, sinking to the ground before being embraced by his team-mates.
Iran, playing in Qatar under the shadow of widespread protests by women’s rights activists back home, knew a draw would take them through and it was the US who came out with more intent; attacking the Iranians from all angles but missing the final pass.
But the spectre of the game changed after Pulisic’s goal; the American forward being substituted at half-time after a collision with Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand as he steered the ball into the net.
Knowing they had to score, Iran piled men forward in the second half; half-time substitute Saman Ghoddos guilty of missing two gilt-edged chances.
Tempers flared as the clock ticked down, their fans tried to raise the volume to rouse up their players for one last go and in the dying minutes, they had a loud penalty call turned down. The referee deemed contact wasn’t enough. The goal they wanted never came.


Pakistan pace ace Shaheen Shah Afridi was ruled out while leg-spinner Abrar Ahmed and fast bowler Mohammad Ali received their maiden Test call-ups as the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on Monday announced the 18-player squad for the upcoming Test series against England.
Wicket-keeper batsman Sarfaraz Ahmed also returned to the side following his recent performance in the domestic circuit.
Abrar and Ali have been rewarded for their “strong first-class performances,” said PCB Chief Selector Muhammad Wasim, according to a handout released by the cricket board.
Uncapped Mohammad Wasim Jr and Zahid Mehmood, who were part of the Test side against Australia earlier this year, were also included in the squad.
“I want to congratulate all the players who have been selected for the historic Test series against England. We have selected this 18-man squad keeping in mind the form of the players, the conditions and the opposition,” Wasim told reporters.
The chief selector said the Pakistan-England series had provided opportunities to Abrar, Ali, Wasim Jr and Zahid Mehmood. “Abrar has been on the radar since his debut first-class season in 2020-21,” he said.
There are also four notable exclusions from the squad — Shaheen, Hasan Ali, Fawad Alam and Yasir Shah — who were part of the Sri Lanka Test series earlier this year.
Shaheen underwent surgery on Sunday and was unavailable for selection. According to today’s PCB handout, Shaheen will require three-four weeks’ rest following which he will resume his two-week rehabilitation on his right knee.
England are set to tour Pakistan for a Test series in December. The tour opens with the first Test in Rawalpindi between December 1-5, before Multan hosts the second between December 9-13. The third and final Test will be in Karachi on December 17-21.
The three fixtures will count towards the ICC World Test Championship. Pakistan are currently fifth in the table and England seventh.
Squad
Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Rauf, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Ali, Mohammad Nawaz, Wasim Jr, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel, Shan Masood and Zahid Mehmood.


DOHA: In the 51st minute of a tense, cagey game against Mexico, Argentina received a free-kick in prime Lionel Messi territory.
Needing a win to keep their hopes alive, Argentina were looking to their talisman to provide them with a moment of magic at the Lusail Stadium packed with 88,966 spectators.
This wasn’t it. Messi blazed over, and the moment hordes of Argentina fans were waiting for came 12 minutes later.
Messi was found on the edge of the box by Angel Maria and the 35-year-old took a touch before unleashing a left-foot shot that went into the back of the net.
This was priceless; a lifeline to hang onto especially after Argentina had been stunned in their Group ‘C’ opener by Saudi Arabia at this very venue.
Mexico had shown good value for a win in the first half but Argentina had all the momentum now and sealed a 2-0 win when Enzo Fernandez curled in an inch-perfect finish three minutes from time.
It means Argentina head into their last group game against Poland, where a win would definitely see them progress to the last 16, but a draw may also be enough.­


DOHA: Only six minutes in here at the Khalifa International Stadium in the heart of Doha, Qatar’s hopes had sunk, their flickering flame at the World Cup they’re hosting all but extinguished as Dutchman Cody Gakpo’s shot rippled the netting of the Ecuador goal.
Just before this game kicked off on Friday evening, Qatar had been handed a second straight defeat. Senegal’s victory some 14 kilometres away at the Al Thumama Stadium meant the hosts were going out if the Netherlands were to beat Ecuador or if the game were to end in a draw. They needed an Ecuador win to stay alive, at least mathematically, till the last round of group games.
And now, Louis Van Gaal’s side had taken the lead. What a finish that was for the opening goal, though. Davy Klassen received the ball at the edge of the box and as he saw Gakpo run in his periphery, he teed it up for the exciting PSV Eindhoven prospect to pick up the ball and send a rifle of a left-foot shot past a despairing Hernan Galindez.
Qatar’s chances now rested on Ecuador.
The South Americans came back strongly after conceding and crafted a few chances, the best coming when Enner Valencia, the man whose two goals in the opening game of the tournament saw Ecuador overwhelm Qatar, cut inside from the left to unleash a shot that Andries Noppert dived to palm away.
Ecuador weren’t holding back. Though they had got their reward in additional time at the end of the first half and left-back Pervis Estupinan was wheeling away in celebration until the equaliser was chalked off for off-side because one of his team-mates was standing in Noppert’s line of sight when he tucked away the corner.
There was parity four minutes in the second half though. The Dutch needlessly lost possession and the ball was worked on the left to Estupinan. His shot was parried by Noppert and Valencia was on hand to gleefully bundle it in.
The momentum was now with Ecuador and buoyed up by the swathes of their fans behind the Dutch goal, they came at Van Gaal’s team from all angles. Just before the hour mark, Gonzalo Plata’s shot hit the upright.
In the stands, a sea of Ecuadorian yellow had blended into the Dutch orange under the bright lights but on the pitch, Ecuador were tearing into the Dutch.
But the goal they wanted, the one Qatar wanted, never came. The match finished 1-1.
Ecuador now face Senegal in what’s effectively a shootout for a last-16 berth from Group ‘A’, while the Dutch will take on Qatar knowing that a draw will take them through.
For them, unlike Qatar, the flame is still burning under Van Gaal, who’s looking to deliver a maiden World Cup title for the Dutch.
The 71-year-old, suffering from an aggressive prostate cancer, came out of retirement to revive a side that had failed to reach the last edition of the World Cup in Russia, four years after they had been semi-finalists in Brazil under him. Van Gaal has brought together a group of exciting youngsters, blended them in with the likes of Virgil Van Dijk and Daley Blind to mould this side which survived a stern examination of their credentials to keep their unbeaten run under him intact.
Qatar, meanwhile, only have pride to play for.


LAHORE: Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan on Tuesday assured the British High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner and Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ramiz Raja that the forthcoming long march would not disturb the Test series between Pakistan and England starting in Rawalpindi on Dec 1.
The PTI has announced to begin a long march against the present government from Rawalpindi on Nov 26.
England after a long gap of 17 years toured Pakistan prior to this year’s T20 World Cup to play a seven-match T20 series which the tourists won 4-3. The English Test team is scheduled to tour Pakistan for the second leg comprising three Tests to be played in Rawal­pindi, (Dec 1-5), Multan (Dec 9-13) and Karachi (Dec 17-21).
Turner and Ramiz in their joint meeting with Imran at his Zaman Park residence informed the former prime minister about the importance of England team’s tour to Pakistan and expressed their concerns over the security of the tourists that maybe compromised in case of political unrest in the country.
Imran, Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup-winning captain, during the meeting was told that the said series was crucial for cricket of both the countries and therefore it needed to be free from any possible security-related issue.
In response, Imran was very positive and assured Turner and Ramiz that his party workers would not interrupt the Rawalpindi Test, and emphasised that his political campaign would not be a security threat for the English team.
It is unconfirmed if Ramiz had gone to Zaman Park after getting clearance from Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who is also PCB’s patron-in-chief, as Imran is a staunch political opponent of PM Shahbaz.
It may be mentioned here that Rawalpindi city is part of the Punjab government, where PTI is in power. Therefore, arranging and maintaining security in the city is the direct responsibility of the provincial government.
Still both Ramiz and Christian preferred to meet the PTI chairman to get assurance about the security necessary for the smooth conduct of the Test series.


The winning goal that got Saudis the lead was worthy of winning any game.
Saudi Arabia’s team left the Argentinian side stunned in a thrilling 2-1 win after eight crazy, frenzied second-half minutes of their opening match of the World Cup in Qatar on Tuesday.
The winning goal that gave them the lead was worthy of winning any game while Argentina looked devastated. This was something the team, led by mesmeric Lionel Messi, had in all probability never thought of.
Here is a look at the nail-biting match.

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