misbah

Random thoughts from the Mohali clash

It has been a long while since the match got over, but the excitement has still not left me. I wish I could analyze the game in a comprehensive manner, but to hell with that. India won! Every time India has moved closer to World Cup glory, memories of the 2003 humiliation at the hands of Punter are being scrubbed away from the recesses of my brain. Now, being one match away from history, I hope India has generated enough momentum to clinch the Cup. It is not going to be easy against the mighty Lankans, but this is the call of destiny for Tendulkar and Zaheer who had a day to forget at Johannesburg eight years ago. Please anwer the call!

Anyway, I stayed up through the night, to watch this game and here are some random thoughts from during the match:

  • When I heard that Dhoni had replaced Ashwin with Nehra, there are no words to describe the feelings of angst and despair which filled me. Sidhu, the master of hyperbole, put it aptly when he stated that it was like ‘a dog going back to its vomit’. Luckily for India, the ‘vomit’ justified Dhoni’s decision (though he admitted that he got it wrong, later) and I duly apologize for my lack of faith.

courtesy: 'Stumped'

  • All Sehwag might have done was to get a quick fire 38, but it was perhaps a more crucial knock than Tendulkar’s, as in a space of two overs he broke Gul down, and neutralized Pakistan’s most impressive fast bowler in this tournament. If Gul had been in a more confident frame of mind, he and Riaz could have terminated the Indian innings early.

Sehwag and Gul (at the end of the match!)

  • I have never been comfortable with equating Tendulkar to God, and today it was proved that a higher being exists; and that He was watching over Sachin. A close lbw decision in favor of the batsman, lucky to survive a stumping opportunity (by Kamran Akmal!) and four dropped catches. The real God gave Sachin many opportunities to reprise the heroics of 2003, but after Tendulkar kept turning Him down repeatedly, a moody God terminated his innings by allowing a catch to finally stick.

  • When Tendulkar finally got out, I breathed a sigh of relief. Whenever Sachin has scored a ton in this World Cup, India have failed to seal the deal. At first, I thought that even the Pakistani fielders were aware of this, and were playing along. Apart from that, this innings was not worthy of a history making 100. Sachin’s sheepish smiles after every reprieve told as much.
  • I hate it when my instincts are right. Well before the game, I felt that it was the unknown commodity (Riaz) who would cause problems for the Indian batsmen; and so he did. In the absence of Amir and Asif, he has stepped in to support Gul appreciably whenever he has got the chance. Today was no different. If the wicket of Sehwag was the first punch, Yuvraj’s dismissal was the knockout blow. Well, as it turned out, someone forgot to mention that to Raina.

  • Raina sure has got big match temperament. He has a history of doing well in the knockout stages of the IPL and the CLT20. In this World Cup, he has already played two crucial knocks in the knockout games against Australia and Pakistan, which should hold him in good stead against the Lankans.

  • With the advent of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, I realized how sensitive I could be to jibes from supporters of the opposition. When Pakistan were on top during a passage of play, some Pakistan supporters took  delight in rubbing it in, and mocking Indian players. It took a lot of self control not to get into a tangle with any of them; of course, this was not limited to the Pakistani supporters as Indians duly returned the favor later. Now, I accept this as part and parcel of following the game online. In the end, it was nice to see tweeters and bloggers (most of them!) from both sides congratulating each other and wishing each one well. Now, thats the spirit!
  • 260 was eventually 20-30 runs short and by the way the pitch was behaving, the decision to leave out Ashwin was turning out to be more and more foolish. Luckily, Munaf and Nehra were spot on throughout the game while Zaheer had an off day (which was due!). Nehra was pretty impressive in the field, and took a pretty decent ‘catch’ too, even though it was not a legitimate one.
  • Trust the Taufel. Always. He is the Tendulkar of umpiring. When he makes a decison, whether out or not out, he does so with utter conviction and self belief, that it could be unnerving to cricketers in the wrong. Three of his decisions were reviewed today and all of them were spot on. If the adjudicators were a little creative, they could have made him man of the match.

'I got this for a reason, you know!'

  • For once, there was nothing unpredictable about the Pakistani batting. Hafeez played an innings which Ian Bell would be proud of (in terms of strokes and dismissal), Younus Khan scratched around without convincing, Umar Akmal dazzled without staying till the end, Afridi got out to a slog, and the most predictable of all – Misbah was the last man dismissed after raising faint hopes of a heist. Memories of the 2007 T20 WC, anyone?

  • Lot of high profile celebs in the house. Apart from the Prime Ministers and politicians, there seemed to be a lot of IPL team owners and other assorted movie stars. How much do you wanna bet that, there is going to be more of them in Mumbai on Saturday?
  • An Indian model has promised to reveal her ‘bare assets’ to the cricketers if they win the World Cup. I wonder now that they have come so close, whether they think that they should reserve the right to choose the celebrity whom they would prefer to see in their bare essentials! Jokes aside, I hope that this does not materialize and the cricketers strongly rebuff any such publicity seeking stunts if they win the World Cup, in what should be a defining moment for this generation of Indian cricketers.
  • Say what you want about Afridi, but he has been Pakistan’s saving grace over the last few months. Ever since the spot fixing scandal broke out, he has handled this team in such an impressive manner that it is hard to see anyone doing a better job. While his batting prowess has disappeared from view, he has been the world’s best ODI spinner and led the team from the front. He was magnanimous in defeat, congratulating the victors and praising his ‘boys’; how can anyone in Pakistan be mad with the team after his sincere apology to them, even when he had nothing to apologize about? If the PCB are wise (thats a big ask!), they will keep Afridi as captain for a bit longer and develop a strong team under him. Well played, Afridi; and thank you for the entertainment!

When Afridi became Flintoff

  • In the end, India won the game pretty convincingly, and they didn’t even play their most effective bowler today. Having faced the heat of two sapping encounters against the Aussies and now the Pakistanis, the atmosphere at Mumbai might seem to be a breeze to them. Well, of course, one should not be complacent against an impressive Lankan outfit, but this is India’s World Cup to lose. For the likes of Tendulkar and Zaheer, this could be one final shot at glory. Hopefully, they will rise to the occasion and deliver a performance worthy of world champions.

Go India!!

(PS: Recently, I had blogged here that I would eat my article if India wins the World Cup. Here’s hoping that they make me eat my own words!)

'Mumbai, here I come!'

Never say never – Destiny beckons Pakistan

Can Pakistan really win this World Cup?

I was one of many who severely doubted their chances at the outset of this tournament. After all, they had a disastrous run up to the Cup. Two of their world class bowlers were lost to a fixing scandal. Their board chief seemed more intent on spreading conspiracy theories than doing anything useful for the team. There was also the confusion over the captaincy, with the board not finalizing the skipper, till a couple of weeks before the tournament started.

Coming to the team itself, I didn’t believe that the batsmen will be reliable enough for the duration of this tourney. To some point, that has been vindicated with no Pakistan batsmen in the top 20 highest run getters. I also believed that apart from Gul and Afridi, they didn’t have enough firepower to bowl out or contain the opposition. In that regard, I was partially right. Seems, Gul and Afridi with a little help from Hafeez and Rehman is all they need.

While many like to tag the Pakistan team as ‘unpredictable’ (the same way the Saffers will always be considered ‘chokers’), there has been nothing unpredictable about this side. I suspect that this is due to the wise heads of the coach and manager. Together with the wild Afridi, they have fashioned a team which has had clear game plans for each match and who seem intent on proving their detractors wrong. West Indies was just a footnote in a surprisingly consistent campaign so far, and suddenly despite the presence of Sri Lanka and South Africa, Pakistan can consider themselves as serious contenders for the Cup.

So, what is the secret? What do they have, that the top ranked sides like India and Australia do not look as confident as Pakistan? For one, they have a talented and varied bowling attack which is the envy of the aforementioned two teams. Umar Gul has been an underrated bowler for a long time due to the presence of more charismatic and controversial fast bowlers, but in this World Cup, he has risen to the occasion and set the tone for the rest of the attack. Shahid Afridi cannot be considered a batsman or an allrounder any more, but there is no doubt that he is the most dangerous spinner in ODIs. Along with Gul, he has run through all lineups Pakistan have encountered, making the sight of him holding his arms aloft, very common. Hafeez has also been a handy customer with his darting off spin while Rehman and Razzaq have made sure that there is no respite for the opposition. Most importantly, except for the late overs carnage against New Zealand, they have put in consistent performances, game after game.

While the batting may not have been as impressive as the bowling, they have invariably done the job required of them. With the experience of Younis Khan and Misbah backing up the talents of Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq, they have a middle order who have rarely collapsed in a heap this tournament. And now, in Kamran Akmal and Hafeez, they seem to have stumbled on to an opening pair who have succeeded after umpteen tries; but the biggest reason to hope for Pakistan, is the improved wicket keeping by Kamran Akmal. If he can somehow hold on to every chance that comes his way, Pakistan might have won half the battle.

Pakistan have historically performed well when the world discounts them. It has been a horrid couple of years for them, what with all the bans, scandals, and inability to play international games at home; but it is precisely in these kind of situations, they seem to tap into some hidden reserve of determination and will power to confound their critics. This World Cup has all the makings of another glorious chapter in Pakistan cricket. A player who might never even be considered as a captain in any other side, leading a band of no-hopers to World Cup glory is the stuff dreams and Hollywood movies are made of. Destiny is calling the Pakistan cricket team forward and the time is ripe for Afridi and his boys to grab the moment.

So, can they do it? Can Pakistan win the 2011 World Cup?

As a wise Bieber once said/sang ————— Never Say Never