Tag Archives: Pakistan

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.

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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.

The Wisecrackers

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The latest in the line of the various wisecracking mavericks in Pakistan cricket were out in full force against the ‘might’ of Zimbabwe. Sledging is a customary tradition in cricket now, and is expected at the top-most level. Many Pakistani cricketers (inevitably) take it to the next level of awesomeness by their witty retorts in Punjabi. ‘Jugatbaazi’ it seems, comes as natural to a cricketer from the Land of Indus, as reverse-swing.

So when I logged in today to catch the afternoons session on the 4th Day of the one-off test between Pakistan and Zimbabwe, I expected the resurgent Zimbabweans to give the rookie bowling attack a tough time. Little did I expect that, Pakistani close-in fielders will be chatting away and creating insurmountable pressure on the inexperienced Zimbabwe side.

Adnan Akmal a relative newbie to International cricket, with his legendary – yo’self – and Azhar Ali at silly-mid off were chattering away in a mix of English-Urdu-Punjabi, as 8 wickets fell in quick succession.

Here are some of the best quips I was able to decipher amongst all the shitty commentary by Ten Sports commentators.

Adnan ‘Manjhla‘ Akmal is such a colorful character. He is in your face constantly and never shies away from a word or two with the opposition. His chirping behind the wickets is already legendary and he was at his absolute best today. He clearly believes in sledging away and giving the opposition an earful. Here are some of his best one-liners today.

Beauty that’s the one boy – when Aizaz Cheema bowled a bouncer, the batsmen ducked under.

It’s a huge pressure– when a wicket fell, and the new Zim batsman walked into the middle.

Very tight lads– when Aizaz bowled a maiden over and batsmen were changing ends.

Waj jayegi paiyaan, kuj nai paya hua – when Ajmal called in Umer Akmal at sill-mid off. Clearly he wasn’t wearing his ‘guard’.

Thora jeya LOOP dena aino off-stump tay to Hafeez when Brian Vitori was starting to slog and the advise resulted in a wicket, the very next ball.

‘Umer nu vi kar lo thora pichay’Adnan directing traffic from behind the stumps.

Then there was the conversation in Punjabi between Hafeez & Misbah where they were trying to set a field, Hafeez was clearly adamant on setting his own field and sho down a suggestion by Misbah saying – “Zaroorat hi nai haigi eh, jadon ho reya aey.”

What really surprised me today was the non-stop chirping of Azhar Ali at silly-mid-off. He is not someone who is known as aggressive in any facet of his cricket. Yet, there he was constantly encouraging and advising the bowlers, in his own brand of Punjabi humor. And as TwentyTwoYards – very aptly quipped later on, ‘what a chupa rustam’.

Vich kar kay de deyo aeno – To Hafeez, after Taibu & Jarvis started to frustrate the bowlers.

‘Shaba Hafeez bhai, football khaid reya aey tuaday naal, goal kareyo zara’ – This time, a gem from Azhar Ali, was egging on Hafeez to take his 4th wicket.

‘Paiyan balla band kar k khaid’da aey’ – Advising Ajmal, that Jarvis was closing the face of the bat very early.

‘Come on hit your lengths boy, patience patience boys – Pretty sure it’s Azhar this time as well, when Cheema bowled a very high bouncer, which was called a wide.

‘Lagey raho Munna bhai, shabaash – Azhar to Aizaz, after he bowled a beauty to Jarvis.

An act of chivalry

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The incumbent is a buffoon and cricket in Pakistan is a basket case.Malcolm Speed

It is no secret that the current PCB administration, led by the elderly Ijaz Butt – has broken all records of incompetence. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to claim that the ineptitude shown by the PCB – during Ijaz Butt’s tenure as chairman is the worst in the history of this beleaguered institution. There are no justifications for the inept leadership of a lackey like Ijaz Butt, which has resulted in numerous gaffes. Pakistan cricket has yet to come out of the crisis that fell in after the disastrous 2003 World Cup campaign of an ageing team. It seems that successive ham-fisted PCB regimes after that, have only hastened dis-connect between the cricket loving masses and players.

For all his failures as a cricket administrator, nobody can deny that there have been a few positive developments during his tenure as PCB chairman. However, the negatives have so far, out-weighed the positive aspects of his decision making and management skills. This is just an attempt to highlight the good occurrences – far and few they might have been, under the embattled PCB supreme.

Let us first analyze the record in all 3 formats of the game since Ijaz Butt took over as PCB Chairman.

Tests – 5 Wins | 11 Lost | 7 Draws ——— ODIs – 30 Wins | 31 Lost | 1 No-Result ——— T20s – 18 Wins | 16 Lost

A rocket scientist you need not be, to figure out that when a team in winning consistently, the pressure on the players, coaches and administration is almost non-existent. The perfect example of this was seen at the WC earlier this year, when the ultimate cardinal sin of a devil heading the PCB was forgotten for almost 2 and a half months just because Pakistan made it to the semi-finals.

Now we turn to the positives that have taken place under Ijaz Butt’s tutelage.

2009 T20 World Cup

By a long shot, the greatest moment in the history of Pakistani cricket (and in Ijaz Butt’s life), since the 1992 WC win. The rag-tag group of players, who were almost knocked out of the group stages in the tournament, then went on to win the World Cup in style. Notorious slow starters we are in world events. The team was also helped by the news that Chief Selector, Abdul Qadir had quit due to a row with The Chairman.

Drawing a Test Series against Australia in England

For me the second greatest achievement under The Chairman was the fact that we drew against the, still mighty Australians – with a squad full of youngsters, despite the retirement of another young person just a Test ago. The suave & debonair Salman Butt, led us to a test win against Australia only after a gazillion years. Oh, and a certain pace duo also played a small part in this victory.

Butt celebrates with his boys

Emergence & re-emergence of talent

Umer Akmal, Azhar Ali, Junaid Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umer Amin, Adnan Akmal.

Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umer, Wahab Riaz.

I left out The Great Left-Arm Hope deliberately.

Drawn series against SA and Away series win against NZ

Re-calling Misbah and making him the test captain out of wilderness was perhaps as shrewd a move as any. Not only did, the Tokay Waali Sarkar from Mianwali led us to a satisfying drawn test series, against the mighty South Africans, but we also came close to winning a test against them, led by the return of the prodigal Younis Khan. An away test series win later on against New Zealand was the first one after a long hiatus of almost 4 years for Team Green.

Close, but no cigar

Near misses include, reaching the 2009 Champions Trophy semi-final, reaching the 2010 T20 WC semi-final and playing in the Mother of All Matches against India in the 2011 WC semi-final. Add, two 3-2 ODI series losses against the England & South Africa. Mid-level triumphs include 3 consecutive ODI series wins against NZ, Windies & Ireland. Butt saab will be desperate to whitewash Zimbabwe as well.

A proper plan for Domestic Cricket

The partnership with Faysal Bank & Geo Super seems to have inducted a new life into the moribund tournament that was the National T20 Championship. Not only has the current PCB regime changed the T20 format by conducting two T20 tournaments per year, but they have also successfully managed to revive public interest in the game. Small wonder then, that the last 3 T20 Championships have attracted large crowds and strong TV audiences.

Another feather in the cap of the current regime was the decision to play the final of the First-Class tournament under lights with the orange ball. It was big surprise that such innovative idea was passed by the governing board headed by Mr. Butt. Introducing & implementing a strict code of conduct Notorious for their off the field activities, Pakistani cricketers find themselves unable to express their feelings to media of all sorts. Bit too late perhaps.

Crowds have swarmed T20 Cups

Last but not the least

…and certainly the greatest, is Butt saabs ability to hang in there. Weathering storms and brushing away ridicule comes easy to Butt it seems. Whether it is the terrorist attack on the Srilankan team, the Australian tour fiasco, the oath-gate against Younis Khan, the spot-fixing saga or the screaming accusations against the England cricketers, former and current PCB officials or the country’s senators or MNA’s – Ijaz Butt has shown an uncanny ability to be an immovable object. Little help comes in the form of El Presidente and the Defense Minister, Ahmed Mukhtar.

A friend summed it up perfectly, ‘I think it’s the little things that were allowed to fester that ultimately led to all the bigger issues. Had there been a stronger Chairman who took it on himself to take care of these things by putting the right people in the right places then I’m sure many of these things would not have been allowed to happen. His ineptitude was also apparent at ICC meetings where we were continuously taken the piss out of. He just does not have the skills for the role.’

Perhaps the bolded part above, explains why he is still on the job in our country.

Cricket – can end myopia

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A recent newspaper report suggests that the Pakistan Cricket Board has hit the jackpot and is set to receive a $16 million cheque in compensation for its inability to stage World Cup matches due to grave security concerns. What is the PCB going to do with this money?

The epicenter of terrorist activities in Pakistan lies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Much has been written about the social & economic backwardness of the area, despite it being home to 2.4% of Pakistanis. The menace of terrorism has uprooted many families from their homes, forcing them to live with the tag of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in shelter camps across the country. Can cricket be part of the solution to tackle their problems?

The former Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara’s recent speech about cricket’s potential “to be more than just a game’ in his country immediately struck a chord. Sri Lanka suffered from a bitter and bloody civil war for almost three decades and Sangakkara contended that their surprise World Cup win in 1996 helped bring the country closer and made it “a shared passion and a force for unity.”

Therein lies the beauty of this great game or of sports in general. The ability of sport to rise above the various ills that plague a society, to bring joy to the people who have suffered immensely, to transcend the barriers a war has placed on an already fractured society. As Michael Messner wrote, “Sport is not an expression of some biological human need, it is a social institution.”

The popularity of the game – and hence its potential to influence the youth – can be gauged by the fact that cricketers are the sole remaining superstars in entertainment-starved modern-day Pakistan. The sport of cricket brings together the aspirations of millions of Pakistanis and the awaam immediately identifies with their heroes.

The terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore resulting in the pariah status of Pakistan on the international cricket calendar should have prompted the PCB to invest heavily in the domestic game. A befitting response to the extremist threat would be to expand it further in areas that have been hit hard by the insurgents. Not only will it help spread the game at the grassroots level and in turn find new talent for the PCB to groom, it will also prompt the youngsters in those areas to channel their energies into something productive and find a positive way of taking ownership of Pakistan as their country.

Who will be the next Umer Gul?

For starters, the PCB can team up with the army-run de-radicalization facilities in Swat where young men poisoned by the dogmatist hatred of the Taliban are being rehabilitated successfully. The PCB can use a part of the $16 million it received from the ICC to provide full-time coaches and equipment to the de-radicalization centers. Surely, if PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt can buy an expensive ticket to fly to New Zealand for a week, just to keep an eye on Shahid Afridi’s body language, then the small matter of lending a proper cricket coach and equipment for a good cause should be no trouble at all.

The PCB can also do a lot to broaden the game at the grass-roots level in the insurgency-hit areas. Funds for bats, balls, nets and pitches can be provided to government schools, or whatever is left of them, which have lots of space but no credible sports programs. Not only will it positively impact the children, who will be provided extra-curricular activities and have a reasonable chance to represent their nation, but also unlock the door to untapped talent to bolster the existing pool of players available at the PCB’s disposal.

New grounds can be built in Swat, Waziristan and other parts of FATA. Talent hunts and coaching camps can be conducted there. A cricketing superstar like Shahid Afridi can be made a cricket ambassador for the tribal agencies (where his ancestral home is) to inspire the vulnerable youth there to choose sport over militancy.

The answer to every problem.

Summer cricket tournaments can be organized in Gilgit-Baltistan and in other parts of the north where the PCB can team up with the tourism authorities to help attract domestic tourists to the area, thereby helping the struggling local economy, in addition to promoting cricket and providing an outlet to the youth to discover their talent.

Cricket has helped Sri Lanka grow closer as a nation and has shown its capacity to be more than just a game. The ground where the leader of the LTTE rebel army, Prabhakaran, used to deliver his annual war speech has been turned into  a cricketing academy where young talent from the troubled Northern areas comes to hone their skills with the help of ex-national cricketers, hired by the Sri Lankan Cricket Board. The coaching program – first initiated in 2009 – has not only helped hundreds of aspiring boys move one step closer to realizing their dream of playing for their country, but has also provided the SLC with an abundance of polished talent in its youth reserves.

There is no reason why the sport of cricket cannot overpower terrorism and economic grievances in Pakistan – no reason why it cannot provide the people in those areas something that they can cherish. The rise of extremism in our country began with one man’s myopic thinking – to counter it the PCB as an institution must end its own myopia.

Drop the guns, raise the bats.