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When Zia met Khomeini

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Just finished reading Vali Nasr’s “The Shia Revival” and would like to share an anecdote from the book involving Zia and Imam Khomeini.

“On one occasion Zia took it upon himself to caution Khomeini about confronting the United States, warning that it was imprudent to tangle with a superpower. Khomeini retorted that he would never do such a thing and in fact had always relied on the super power. Zia was baffled at first, but then realized that Khomeini was mocking him, saying that his own superpower was God, whereas Zia’s was the United States.”

Excerpt taken from:

The Shia Revival – How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future by Vali Nasr

Pages 161-162

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Chanda ascends

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“Koi vi masla, paycheeda nai honda.” M. Hafeez

The only person who was surprised at Mohammad Hafeez’s ascension as Pakistan’s T20 captain was his predecessor Misbah ul Haq, not because it wasn’t in the plans, but because it came quicker than he had thought. By all accounts, Misbah took it like a man he is known as. At first, a display of anger (‘I will burn my kit’), but then a composed resolve, to help his friend and his successor, who is affectionately known as ‘chanda’ in his hometown of Sargodha.

In his first press conference after the most significant announcement of his life, Hafeez mentioned everyone who has been associated with the recent resurgence in his career as an integral part of the national team. The only thing he missed was his personal courage and conviction, which closely mirrors that of his close friend, mentor and captain. Both were discarded for long periods of time and drifted in the wilderness of domestic cricket in Pakistan, but the confidence in their abilities and a passion for the game has finally bore fruit.

Today, Hafeez stands on the cusp of the highest honor one can hope to achieve as an international cricketer.

The position of a captain in Pakistan is often ridiculed by the number of ad-hoc captains in the past, but his case is poles apart from the hasty decisions of the past. His journey towards the top job is designed, and if he gets there, it will be well deserved for a man who was not long ago playing club cricket in England.

The rise to the top job is in accordance to the value he brings to the team. Stats say that he was the leading run-scorer in the T20 format for his country this past year, as well as the joint-top wicket taker with Saeed Ajmal. While some argue the timing of the change is ill-suited with the T20 World Cup looming close, but PCB’s decision to select a team full of T20 specialist necessitated a change in leadership. Not only will it help the new leader mould the team according to his vision, but also help establish his authority over relative newcomers. Make no mistake about it; the T20 team will be Hafeez’s team.

It also bodes well for the future of Pakistan cricket, that a recognizable succession plan has been drawn and agreed upon by the incumbent and board officials. With Misbah nearing retirement, it was essential that a vice-captain be named who can be ready to take-over, without disturbing the core and unity of the team when the time comes. “You will be surprised how easy everything fell into place,” was how it was described to me by a top dog. The job was made easier by the fact that the only other competitors are only certain of a place in limited over cricket. With one of them not interested in the job, and the other not respected enough, Hafeez was the only viable choice.

The now clearly planned succession did come before its time, which has led to some people arguing that it will create fissures in the team and will lead to dressing room intrigue and backstabbing, which has been part and parcel of these power games in Pakistan cricket. However, the close camaraderie and deep respect both Captains have for each other, is a clear indication that no amount of media speculation and the elephant in the room stretching his legs will rupture this new found professionalism in the team.

The immediate challenge for Hafeez though is to lead his T20 team to success against Srilanka in the 2 match series. He has all the ingredients required to build a successful team, with the crème of Pakistan’s T20 talent, picked mainly from top performers in the domestic Faysal Bank Super 8 tourney.

If the Professor is relatively successful in the T20 arena, doors are wide open for him to take command in all formats of the game, and that we (apart from Aamir Sohail) would not have expected in our wildest dreams.

Cricket RULES | Part 1

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Since the team is on a well deserved rest, after a successful season under the guidance of Misbah, after much procrastination myself, I decided to embark upon this highly futile, yet personally fulfilling exercise of gauging the amount of success Pakistan cricket has had in the Test arena, under each head of state/ruler/dictator.

I hoped to achieve nothing from this exercise, and it is safe to say that I haven’t apart from another way to use CricInfo’s (awesome) stats guru.

So the basic idea was to count the number of Test matches/wins/losses/draws Pakistan has played under each head of state, I chose to start with the Ayub era, which starts from 8th October, 1958 and ended on 25th March 1969 with him handing over his powers to Yayha Khan.

Under Ayub Khan – 8th October, 1958 to 25th March, 1969.

Pakistan played their first match under the Ayub regime against the West Indies, which started on 20th, February 1959 and thrashed the Caribbean side by 10 wickets. A successful start for the team under the Ayub dictatorship saw Pakistan win 2-1 against the visiting Windies. However, that was the pinnacle of their success under Ayub, and Pakistan only managed to win 2 more tests against the visiting Kiwis in 1965, during the 10 years of the first despot in power. The last Test Pakistan played during the Ayub era started on 6th March, 1969 – three weeks later, he was packing up.

Played 33 Won 4 Lost 10 Draws 19 Win% 0.121

I am naughty

Under Yayha Khan – 25th March, 1969 to 20th December, 1971

Pakistan didn’t win much (read: at all) in the cricketing arena, just like in every other field during the 2nd dictator. Infact, we only played 2 series under Yahya, one against New Zealand (1969) at home and the other IN England, both of which, we managed to lose.

Played 6 Won 0 Lost 2 DrawWin% 0.00

I don't get it.

Under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto – 20th December, 1971 to 5th July, 1977

Apparently the first era of democracy in the country’s history, under waday Bhutto saw mixed results for our cricket. Up first was the graveyard of many-a-Pakistani-great-teams, also known as Australia. The first test in Adelaide was lost by and inns and 114 runs, and the team was clean swept in the 3 match Test series. The NZ (February ‘73) and Eng (March ’73) tour were immediately followed and Pakistan managed to retain some sort of respectability by beating New Zealand and drawing against the Poms. The 3rd Test against New Zealand was the first of 9 successive draws, Pakistan managed until they beat the same opponent at home in Lahore (1976). Pakistan closed out the Bhutto era with a 5 match series against the Windies, which I am told was lost after a hard-fought battle.

Played 25 Won 5 Lost 6 Draw 14 Win% 0.20

Under Zia-ul-Haq – 5th Jul, 1977 to 2nd December, 1988*

First of all, ‘insert-customary-jiyala-gaali-whenever-Zia-comes-up’. Now that we are done with the important stuff, let’s move on to the trivial bits and pieces. The resumption of cricketing ties between the arch-rivals saw Pakistan win their first cricket series in the Zia era. A series win followed in New Zealand, after which at Melbourne in 1979, Sarfaraz Nawaz destroyed (ok not really, but he did pick up 11 wickets) the Aussie batting line-up to win the match. Our current head coach Dav Whatmore scored 58 runs in that match. Various Pakistan-India series later, Zia ul Haq found that flying isn’t that safe after all.

*I choose to end the Zia era on 2nd December, 1988 since that is when BB1 took over.

Played 92 Won 27 Lost 17 Draw48 Win% 0.29

Kapil was never the same

Under BB1 – 2nd December, 1988 to 6th Novermber, 1990

Boring cricket to start the miss and hit decade of democracy saw the first 6 matches (against NZ and Ind) being drawn, followed by the customary series loss down-under. Back at home against Kiwis in late 1990, Pakistan found their form by clean sweeping the hapless New Zealanders.

Played 12 Won 3 Lost 1 Draw 8 Win% 0.25

Under NS1 – 6th November, 1990 to 19th October, 1993

It is said that the former first-class cricketer is a big fan of the sport. The two times the Mian saab was in power, Pakistan reached the finals of the cricket world cup.

Coincidence? I think not. Extra brownie points? Definitely.

Pakistan did play some exciting cricket under Mian saab. WWinning <— (not a typo) the famous series in England (1992) followed by more WWinning in the one-off New Zealand test, but losing – rather badly, the so-called un-official World Test Series to West Indies.

Played 15 Won 5 Lost 4 Draw Win% 0.33

I kid you not.

The second part covering BB(2) to the incumbent period may or may not come.

The Art of Professori

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Akmal’ed and Malik’ed in the same game, the poor batting form seems to have finally unruffled Mohammad Hafeez’s well composed exterior. The body language can only take a certain amount of toll, before giving way to the inner storm that has been brewing inside Professor’s head.

With aggressive batting at the top by the re-born Hafeez has won over a plethora of fans over the past year, but recent struggles with the bat (he remains an uncanny off-spinner) have played havoc with his confidence and self belief during the recently concluded tour of UAE against England.

His first ball return catch duck against Jade Dernbach was a classic example of a man void of self-belief. A tame poke back to the bowler, with the bat turning in his hand was uncharacteristic of a man who usually creams those with ease to the cover boundary.

*Getty Images

He scored 1885 runs across all formats during the last calendar year, while picking up 57 wickets. His only score above 50 this year in 14 innings (all three formats) was the 88 he made in the 1st Test against England. His bowling clearly affected by the struggles with the bat, has lost the wicket taking venom, but remains highly economical and essential to the balance of the squad. What has changed so drastically for the man from Sargodha, who was the most improved player in world cricket in 2011?

Nothing.

After rotting in the wilderness of Pakistani domestic cricket for so long, the sort of comeback, based on consistent performances with both bat and ball prove that the man they affectionately call ‘Chanda’ is as resilient as they come. A blip in his performance will not deter his determination to do well for his country; however a trip to a sports psychiatrist might help to remove that mental block which still seems to exist against top teams.

Pakistani selectors and fans must be patient with one half of the most successful Pakistani opening partnership since Anwar and Sohail. He is worth much more than what his batting and bowling averages suggest in the current national set up, forming not only a successful batting partnership, but an integral part of the spin bowling troika in all formats of the game with Ajmal, Rehman and Afridi. What’s more, he is one of the favourites to take over the captaincy, once 37 year old Misbah retires.

Winning 10 Man of the Match awards in a calendar year is no fluke. Pakistan has wasted too many cricketers due to decisions made in haste without looking at the bigger picture. With a captain of Misbah’s intellect in charge and a board chief who has so far not made a fool out of itself, it can be expected that rationality will prevail.

The next step….

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Gambling of any sorts is unlawful in Pakistan, yet many have seen and heard punters from all over the country, take risks and bet a huge amount of money on cricket. We have had our share of maverick cricketers, who not only took chances on the playing field and came out triumphant more often than not, but also indulged in taking risks off the field. The cricketing world finds our brand of cricket exciting due to its impulsive nature.

Yet, ever since the trios of spot fixing Pakistani cricketers were exposed, there has been a dearth of unpredictable actions, arcane simplicity and downright dullness being associated to Pakistan cricket. A Pakistani cricket fan is used to high octane action on the field, and there is still plenty of that as long as Shahid Afridi is around in the limited overs international. But, there has been a visible lack of positive intention from our test batsmen over the last 12 months or so.

Nobody can argue the solid results under the leadership of astute captain Misbah ul Haq, but the batting approach against lower ranked teams leaves a lot to be desired. Now I am no adrenaline junkie (it is desired at times though), but using a more positive batting approach will actually help the test team in order to win against quality opposition. Whilst batting has been solid, it is our bowling which has allowed Misbah’s men to have a winning record ever since he took over.

Team Misbah - solid but unspectacular

Our first test win this year, against New Zealand was courtesy of our bowling line-up which bundled up the wafer thin New Zealand batting line for a 110 in their second innings to secure a win in 3 days. Whereas the second test against NZ, where both teams batted under the RR of 3 in their first innings, and our bowlers could not wrap up the opposition for less than 250, ended up as a draw due to the safety first approach (nothing wrong with that) by batting at a RR of 2.45.

Pakistan’s only test loss came against the first test during the tour of West Indies on a tricky pitch, where once again our bowlers were superb, but the batsman failed to raise their game up a notch against a virtual minnow and were un-successful in chasing a modest total of 219. Pakistan scored a grand total of 160 and 178 in the two innings, both at a RR of under 2.50 – needless to say that Pakistan won the 2nd test and drew the test series after a much positive batting display where they piled up the runs in the second innings at 3.35 runs per over and restricting the opposition to less than 250 in both innings.

The upcoming series against England will be an important moment in shaping up the legacy of Team Misbah, it could either make or break his reputation as the best captain Pakistan has ever had, after Imran. I recently asked Pakistani cricket fans about the inability of Pakistani batsmen to score freely in test cricket, and whether this approach will be successful against a strong batting line-up of England. Most of them responded by saying that this conservative approach can be used to beat lower ranked teams, not the best team in the world.

What we are up against...

England has scored at a run-rate of 3.81 this year in test cricket, meaning that on an average, they have scored 342 runs in a day. Whereas Pakistan, have only managed to score 256 runs on average. It is the second worst of all test playing nations, just beating Zimbabwe.

Runs per six balls this year

Rotating the strike is one of the most undervalued cricketing ability in Pakistan. Not only does it keep the scoreboard running, it also helps release pressure and throws the opposition bowler off his plan. We might not appreciate it when batting against the likes of Shahdat Hossain, Lakmal or a Darren Sammy but come crunch time against England; their wily bowlers will use this shortcoming to exert pressure on our batsmen. And it is only a matter of time before it ensues into another classic collapse against a quality opposition.

If you ask Misbah, he would tell you that he plays the game to WIN. While going berserk is not being advocated, but showing the hunger to win, being upbeat while batting and taking risks can bring no harm to Team Misbah. It is the only natural step; they have to take to reach the top and be truly worthy of being compared to the unpredictable yet exciting yesteryear teams of Pakistan.

Aamb Chupo

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He has scored 840 runs in 16 innings so far in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy at an average of 70. He has scored 3 hundreds and a fifty, at an impressive strike rate of 71. He has had another stellar season on the domestic season, but Fawad Alam still finds himself out of the national team. The lean run-making machine is despised by fans of pajama cricket, on the bogus postulation of his un-ability to hit boundaries. Fawad has played some very valuable innings for Pakistan, in spite of the constant mistreatment of his abilities by the team management – he has it in him to be a solid all-round cricketer in Test and ODI cricket. Yet, he gets dropped for his shortcomings in a format ill-suited to the brand of cricket he plays.

Scoring 168 on test debut, away from home, from an unfamiliar position – where the rest of the team crumbled around you, is a significant feat. Such is the misfortune of Pakistan cricket that the precious talent found him out of the test team after just 2 more tests. He was presented to New Zealand as a sacrificial goat, due to the cowardly attitude of the senior players (read: Shoaib Malik) in the team, who refused to bat at #3 on a green top in New Zealand.

Fawad has represented Pakistan in 54 international matches in all three formats of the game; almost half of those have been T20I – a format of the game which is not suited to his approach of batting when sent at #6 or 7. Out of the 17 innings he has played in T20’s only 4 of them have been at his natural position of #4, 5. His two most noteworthy contributions in T20I cricket were his; 8-ball-23 against Sri Lanka in Canada, and his run out of Albie Morkel in the semi-final of the T20 WC 09.

Fawad along with Umer Akmal was the solitary bright spot during the Australian shambles of 2010. After being ignored for the first 2 ODIs, Fawad complimented Umer well, and formed superb partnerships with the Lahore Dynamite, which were a treat to watch from a Pakistani fans point of view. He came in to bat under complicated circumstances when the team was 4 down for as little as 39 runs, but ran hard, took singles and built partnerships.

In the sheer gloominess of the tour wash, he was being looked as a steadfast and responsible young talent, with a sane head. He averaged 39 in ODI’s against Australia, made valuable contributions in the England ODI series after the spot-fixing trauma, with an important 64 in the Umer Gul ODI. He also played a very useful hand at Abu Dhabi, in the Razzle Dazzle Show. Nearly got Pakistan home in the 3rd ODI against Saffers and was then unceremoniously dropped from the team in New Zealand after one T20 failure.

Another substantiation of his grown-up attitude can be found in his absolute silence on the issue of his non-selection. He has thrown no tantrums unlike other ‘stars’ in Pakistan, has not run his mouth off in the media, has not blamed anyone – but has promised to try his level best to get back into the team, on the basis of his domestic performances. Boy has he delivered on those promises.

Those who rubbish his domestic performances are naïve. Averaging 58.60 (the highest ever) in the history of Pakistan cricket is no mean feat, at any level of cricket. There is no point of having a domestic structure if you are not going to select players on the basis of how well they have done there.

His critics often question his lack of a proper technique as a reason why he shouldn’t be in the team. To them I say, aamb chupo.

Cricket behind barbed wires

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As an occasional Pindi-wala and cricket junkie, I was overjoyed to see the schedule of Quaid-e-Azam Trophy’s first round matches, with as many as 3 FC games being played in the twin cities of Rawalpindi & Islamabad. 

Premier cricketing talent from the country was on display at the Pindi Stadium, KRL Cricket Ground and Diamond Club Islamabad. Players like Misbah ul Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Umar Akmal, Umer Amin, Kamran Akmal, Adnan Akmal, Azhar Ali and Aizaz Cheema were to display their skills at the highest level on the relatively tricky pitches (from other cities). An equal battle between the bowl and bat makes for a riveting watch – if only.

KRL cricket ground where Pakistan captain Misbah ul Haq, star all-rounder Hafeez and the Lahore Dynamite Umer Akmal were in action is only a 10 min ride from my base in the city. It was with great enthusiasm that I took out my CD-70 (today) and ventured towards my 2nd ill-fated attempt (first attempt was mild success) to watch a domestic match in 2 days.

Where just a few years ago, a domestic match would attract a ground full of cricket enthusiasts, I was greeted with 3 check-posts manned by heavily armed guards and the 2 concrete stands of the ground empty. Not only was the ground inaccessible for fans who wished to watch their stars live, but the barbed wires put around 20 to 25 feet away from the ground fence also robbed the occasional passerby a glimpse of the action.

As soon I saw the check posts, I immediately thought of returning but in the hope of convincing the plain-clothed security officer who manned the entrance I continued on, and after a couple of minutes of arguing (read: pleading) I realized that it was an effort in futility. The only answer, he was able to give me was, ‘order nai hai match dekhnay ka’.

The petrol-wasool moment of the day was when i saw Umar Akmal play a typical arrogant pull shot for 4 at mid-wicket.

Will soon post a picture of the ground that i managed to take despite the ‘no photography’ signboard in a hasaas-ilaaqa like KRL.