South Africans breathe sigh of relief as bearded Amla makes World Cup squad

South Africa’s Hashim Amla have been chosen for South Africa’s World Cup squad as the Proteas make another attempt to win the cricket title for the first time. There were doubts over the inclusion of Amla after a dip in form.  AP

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There was disappointment in some cities and joy in others around the world as some of the 10 teams competing in the World Cup, the sport’s quadrennial showpiece, released their 15-man squads for the tournament that will be played in England starting on May 30. In Cape Town fans breathed a sigh of relief that Hashim Amla made it. In Lahore fans shook their heads in disbelief after Mohammad Amir was forced to take an extended summer break. In Colombo Lasith Malinga was informed he had been stripped of his captaincy. Elsewhere Alex Hales of England stepped down because of “personal problems” and a Bangladeshi player broke down in tears on learning he was dropped.

Pakistan’s decision to omit its ace pace spearhead Amir came as a major shock. The 27-year-old left-arm speedster has seen his form dip in the last few weeks, but this is one tournament Amir was banking on to get his name back in the headlines after missing the signature tournament in 2011 and 2015. He was banned for five years for match-fixing in England in 2010 and spent some time behind bars for his transgression. Filling in for Amir will be Mohammad Hasnain, a 19-year-old speedster who has been on fire in recent months, hurling thunderbolts at 150 k/ph.

Meanwhile, South Africa and fans worldwide were thrilled that opening batsman Amla was included in the Proteas squad as rumours circulated “Mighty Hash” would not make the cut. There would have been a huge outcry as the bearded Amla is considered one of the greats of South African cricket. Amla has suffered from a loss of form for the Cape Cobras as his mind has been pre-occupied with caring for his ill father. Amla will be reunited with the hard-hitting Quinton de Kock at the top. The two have featured in two first-wicket partnerships of 200 runs and will want to give the Proteas a solid start. Amla beat out Reeza Hendricks for the job but he will still have to impress the selectors in the upcoming warm-ups to keep Aiden Markram out of the team. Markram has been in dazzling form with the bat of late and the Proteas will possibly slot him in at No. 3.

The selectors in the island that was rocked on Easter Sunday by deadly bomb blasts that killed more than 300 people fired the bushy-haired Malinga as captain and replaced him with Dimuth Karunaratne and, for good measure, also gutted the team. The Sri Lankan squad has in the last year been plagued with personality clashes and disciplinary troubles and Asantha de Mel, chairman of the Sri Lanka selectors, said they he wanted “somebody who can get the team together” in England. When questioned about Malinga, he added: “He was OK as captain but he does not get along well with some of the senior players.” Former skipper Angelo Mathews refused the captaincy owing to differences with the coach Chandika Hathurusingh but like Malinga was included in the squad. Sri Lanka possibly made a superb choice in picking the 31-year-old Karunaratne, who burst into prominence by leading Sri Lanka to that historic 2-0 Test win in South Africa earlier this year. Sri Lanka became the first Asian team to conquer the Proteas in a home series. Also cut were former captain Dinesh Chandimal, wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella, off-spinner Akila Dananjaya and opening batsmen Danushka Gunathilaka and Upul Tharanga. World Cup favourite England was rocked by the news that hard-hitting Hales was stepping down because of “personal problems” and there was no timetable for his return. Meanwhile in Dhaka paceman Taskin Ahmed burst into tears after he was left out of Bangladesh’s squad. He was a certainty to travel to England and his omission was a surprise. And Afghanistan took away the captaincy from Asghar Afghan and that set off a flurry of criticism from players themselves. Afghan, though, made the 15-man squad and will play under Gulbadin Naib Naib, himself, criticized the move and threw his support behind Afghan.

DHONI THRILLER IN VAIN

There have been thrills galore in the Indian Premier League with most games going right down to the wire as the eight teams battle for entry into the playoffs. By far the most exciting clash had to be Easter Sunday’s matchup between Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore and leaders Chennai Super Kings led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The former India captain turned back the clock with a swashbuckling 84 only to see his Super Kings’ hopes dashed by a run out on the final ball. Chasing 161 for victory the 37-year-old wicket-keeper took matters into his own hands after his team was staring at defeat at 28 for four. He smashed five fours and seven sixes in his 48-ball bombardment, leaving Chennai 26 runs to get off the last over. Dhoni slammed a four and three sixes off India pace man Umesh Yadav and then missed the final ball and dashed off to get the remaining runs through byes. But Bangalore’s eagled-eyed wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel hit the stumps at the other end to run out Shardul Thakur for a nail-biting one run win. . . . Rajasthan Royals’ Australian opener Ashton Turner became the first man in Twenty20 history to make five consecutive ducks when he fell first ball to Delhi Capitals in the IPL.

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