pakistan

ICYMI – February Flashback

 

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

RETIRING IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

The day was coming, you would think. Given the increasing relevance of social media in cricket today, it was about time some player used Twitter or Facebook for something other than copy-pasting philosophical quotes and informing us what food they “smashed” recently. Kiwi batsman and pioneer freelance cricketer Lou Vincent drew curtains on a very unfulfilled career by  tweeting the ‘only’ useful stats us cricket fans are interested in and informed his followers about his decision. While scoring a century on debut in Perth against the likes of McGrath, Lee and Warner will remain as the highlight of his career, using all of his allotted 140 characters to tweet his retirement is no less feat.

“This is the face of ruthlessness. Fear me.”

FROM KING OF SPAIN TO RUTHLESS COACH OF ENGLAND  

England’s newest cricket coach, albeit only in the limited-overs version, Ashley Giles has made a promise to maintain a stiff upper lip while it comes to choosing the right combination of players for the Champions Trophy in June. With the success of their new star Joe Root, England are in a dilemma as to which player to leave out of their top order – KP, Trott, Bell, Morgan, Root. This is complicated by the fact that Trott and Bell are former team-mates of Giles at Warwickshire. My advice to Giles would be to ask himself the question – ‘What Would Dhoni Do’. Then go ahead and pick a combination that no expert will be able to understand. Also pick more Warwickshire players in the squad.

“Ineffective? Gulity as charged. You got me!”

THE CONTRASTING FORTUNES OF SINGH AND SUPER KINGS

MS Dhoni had a dream test at his second home, as India packed off the Aussies in the first test. He scored a double century and his spinners sealed the fate of Clarke and company. Dhoni, Ashwin and Jadeja rose to the occasion at a ground they should be knowing very well by now. On the other hand, Harbhajan Singh returned to the venue where he sealed a famous win against the same opponents 12 years ago, only to highlight his declining effectiveness, even on a helpful track against inexperienced batsmen. Harbhajan is now the Ashwin of two months ago, and Ashwin is now the Harbhajan of twelve years ago.

“I got the wicket of Harbhajan…that counts, right??”

CAN MOISES LEAD THE AUSSIES ACROSS THE INDIAN WILDERNESS?

Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke and now Moises Henriques. If it is an Australian tour of India, you can rest assured that it will kick-start an Aussie cricketer’s career, or at least rejuvenate it as in the case of Hayden. While Clarke was always the known threat for the Indian bowlers, they wouldn’t have expected resistance from a 26 year old Portuguese born  cricketer playing his first test ever, let alone his first on the subcontinent. 280 balls faced, 149 runs scored, 11 fours and 2 sixes later, the Australian top order excepting Clarke might have just found a template on how to tackle spin for the remainder of the series. And no, you cannot request to “re-debut” against the Indians now.

“This international cricket is easy-peasy…yawn…”

A DIFFERENT KIND OF ABBOTT-ABAD

It is not even funny anymore. As if facing Steyn, Morkel and Philander is not bad enough as a batsman, there is a new South African pacer on the block. Kyle Abbott, all of 25 years and 38 first class games old, made a stunning debut against Pakistan, picking up 9/68 at the Centurion test.  Granted, it was against a brittle Pakistani line-up and his pace hovers in the mid-130s kph; but his modus operandi is very much similar to Philander, and look where the Vern is now. If there is any cheer for the opposition, they can breathe easy as Abbot is only the sixth choice bowler for the Saffers. Yup, with the likes of Steyn and Philander to terrorize you, why worry about him? Yet?

“You mistake me…I eat only the red ones!”

THE RETURN OF AFRIDI: THE SEQUEL TO THE TRILOGY

I don’t know which is funnier – that Shahid Afridi is making his umpteenth comeback or the words of chief selector Iqbal Qasim, “this is Afridi’s last chance and he has to perform”.

“Vaas” my name? It’s Chaminda

SRI LANKA IS “GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER” 

Sanath Jayasuriya is chief selector, Chaminda Vaas is bowling coach and Muttiah Muralitharan is a special adviser. Hey Sri Lanka, the late 90s called and they wished you best of luck. After all, these are exciting times for the island nation, as they start afresh under new captains, and who better to show pointers than a bunch of cricketers who were responsible for their golden era?

“This knock should help….urm….uh….my team to win!”

CHRIS GAYLE TWITTER STAR

Gone are the good old days when Gayle garnered sympathy for his stand-off with the WICB. Now that he is back, he is expected to exhibit that annoying trait expected of any cricketer worth their salt – “consistency”. After a disastrous run over the last two series against Bangladesh and Australia, the Jamaican Hulk decided that he had enough, skipping the one day series against Zimbabwe to take a break. If you thought that Gayle takes this break to spend some quiet time with family or work on his game, you obviously don’t follow his Twitter account. It’s only a matter of time before he jumps ship and becomes a Reality TV star.

[This article was originally published in Sportskeeda on February 28, 2013]

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That man Afridi!

75 runs and a 5 wicket haul...as you like it

Shahid Afridi is a freak of nature. You can take away the captaincy, take him out of action and blame all the ills of  Pakistan cricket on him; but give him a bat and a ball, and he will proceed to show why he is still the most valuable player in the shorter forms for Pakistan. He may say the darndest things, and even do some of the craziest acts imaginable; but there is no doubting the existence of a fighter in that crazy persona that is Shahid Afridi.

Pakistan is the most resilient cricket team there is, no thanks to their board ofcourse. No other team could face the amount of controversies and upheavals they do, and still manage to produce a side capable of beating any of the top dogs at any given time. Despite losing many world class bowlers over the last few years due to varying reasons, they still possess one of the finest bowling attacks in the world. Now if their batsmen can become more consistent, they could pose a viable challenge for the top rankings in international cricket; and that is saying something.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka are in decline. Their bowling lacks tooth with the absence of Murali and restricted appearances of Malinga, while the batting revolves around Dilshan, Sangakarra and Jayawardene who aren’t gonna last long either. They have a good bunch of youngsters, who unfortunately have been around for long and are yet to realise their full potential. New coach Geoff Marsh has a tough task on his hands to rebuild this side, and he will do well to build it around the exciting Angelo Mathews.

Akhtar strikes, Afridi bites

Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago. 

Shoaib Akhtar is no stranger to controversy. He made an entire career out of it. When he was not busy shattering stumps and taking off on airplane celebrations, he spent his time fighting doping allegations, chucking scandals, ball tampering suggestions and even an unfortunate case of genital warts! He never shared a good equation with most of his team-mates as Mohammed Asif and Inzamam will testify. So what do you expect from him when he is finally unshackled from the restraints of being an active player and is all set to release his autobiography?? The book is titled, “Controversially yours”, for God’s sake! I would have been more shocked if there was no eyebrow-raising stories in the book.

Autobiographies need to have controversies, if they have to sell. Just ask Herschelle Gibbs. In Akhtar’s case, he has served a generous dolloping of controversy, ranging from candid admissions about ball tampering to passing incendiary comments about Tendulkar, Dravid, Akram and some of his own team-mates. Lost in the hullabaloo over the Tendulkar-Dravid comments is the fact that Akhtar has generously praised Ganguly and Dhoni for their leadership skills; but then again, how do you promote your book’s publicity based on that?

When there is a controversy involving India-Pakistan cricket, can the great Afridi be far behind? I have already written about him here, and my feelings since then have not changed much. While most other Pakistani cricketers have rubbished Akhtar’s tales, Afridi has backed him on his observations over Tendulkar, generously adding that Sachin’s legs used to ‘shiver’ when facing him. Setting aside the fact that this is hard to visualize, it is mighty impressive that Tendulkar manage to score a brilliant 98 in the 2003 World Cup and some impressive knocks in the tour of Pakistan in the following year – all this while on ‘shivering legs syndrome’!

Look, I’m not dissing either Akhtar or Afridi here. It is their right to express their opinion, whether most people agree with them or not. If they feel that Tendulkar is scared of Akhtar or that Dravid is not a match-winner, so be it. If you think otherwise, go ahead and express that as well. It is not a compulsion that everyone should shower glowing praises on Tendulkar, or have an unanimously good opinion about Dravid (though it would be hard to differ in this regard!). The fact is, when people look back twenty, thirty years from now, they will see that the records and accomplishments speak for themselves. There is no need to fly into nationalistic rage and degrade others’ achievements. It is noteworthy that the men at the center of the storm – Tendulkar and Dravid – have refused to comment on this, while others speak for and against them. Perhaps, there is a lesson to learn from them here.

Where Them Future Stars At

Peter Roebuck recently wrote an article on CricInfo, asking a simple question – ‘Who are cricket’s future greats?’. Unfortunately, apart from a statistical look at the modern greats and an expressed fear for the future, he didn’t really talk about any future stars in particular. So, I decided to make up a list of players from each Test playing nation, except Bangladesh, whose progress I am following and who I feel are more likely to be international cricketers of great caliber in the next ten years or so.

PS: I apologize in advance for the mangled statistics table!

KANE WILLIAMSON

Country: New Zealand

Age: 20 years

                Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
Tests 5 9 0 299 131 33.22 698 42.83 1 2 28 0 1 0
ODIs 15 14 2 352 108 29.33 514 68.48 1 0 22 3 3 0
First-class 29 49 2 1998 192 42.51 3732 53.53 6 9 242 12 27 0
List A 46 43 10 1537 108* 46.57 2054 74.82 4 7 105 15 18 0

I noticed Williamson for the first time during a nondescript tri-series in Sri Lanka last year. It was his debut series and he looked so out of depth at the international level that I wondered what the fuss was all about, as he was touted as the next big thing in New Zealand cricket by the experts; but it was during the Test series against India later, when I was won over. The way he tackled the spinners and batted with a calm assurance indicated a mature head, and while tours of South Africa and England will be challenging in their own right, I foresee a great future for him; I wouldn’t be too surprised if he is the Kiwi captain when the 2019 World Cup rolls around.

DINESH CHANDIMAL

Country: Sri Lanka

Age: 21 years

          Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
ODIs 4 4 2 143 111 71.50 168 85.11 1 0 9 5 4 1
T20Is 5 4 0 59 29 14.75 58 101.72 0 0 2 2 0 0
First-class 33 52 7 2733 244 60.73 3653 74.81 9 13 306 56 62 11
List A 42 41 5 1010 111 28.05 1266 79.77 1 8 73 25 35 2

Early last year, when India sent a weakened team to Zimbabwe under Suresh Raina for a pointless ODI tournament involving the host nation and Sri Lanka, they had their bottoms forcefully kicked by both teams. Apart from that, I remember the tri-series for a brilliant century by Chandimal against the Indians in just his second ODI innings. Later, I found that he has a stellar record in First class cricket, while there is scope for improvements in the short formats. Still, he has impressed many with his attitude and leadership skills right from the U-19 stage; and with the likelihood of Sri Lanka losing the services of stalwarts Sanga, Jayawardene and Dilshan in the next few years, the spotlight is going to be focused on him for the foreseeable future.

RILEE ROUSSOUW

Country: South Africa

Age: 21 years

               Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
First-class 39 69 1 2967 319 43.63 4675 63.46 9 13 431 22 45 0
List A 48 47 2 1656 131 36.80 1786 92.72 4 9 186 24 26 0

I have to admit that I have not seen much of his actual game, but in the few matches I have seen him play for his domestic team, he has looked the part of a quality player. I noticed him first during the 2008 U-19 World Cup where he turned in some decent performances, and then saw him again during the initial Champions League T20; and I came away with the feeling that he is steadily improving as a player. He could very well turn out to be a major batsman in Gary Kirsten’s new Proteas. Like the previous players in this list, he has every chance of becoming the future captain of his country.

BEN STOKES

Country: England

Age: 20 years

                Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
First-class 26 38 5 1541 185 46.69 5 5 16 0
List A 19 19 3 509 150* 31.81 540 94.25 1 2 40 14  5 0
                   Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 4w 5w 10
First-class 26 32 1398 1046 28 6/68 7/145 37.35 4.48 49.9 2 1 0
List A 19 9 236 207 14 4/29 4/29 14.78 5.26 16.8 1 0 0

Stokes fulfills the first criteria to become an English player – He was born outside the country 🙂 …. specifically in New Zealand, where his father played rugby for the Kiwis. Once he moved to England and started playing cricket though, people started to take notice. Like most others in this list, I noticed him first during the last U-19 World Cup, where he scored a century against India. Apart from being an aggressive batsman, he is also more than a handy performer with the ball; he has already put in some eye-catching performances this season before a dislocated finger brought an early end to his season. Still, he looks to be the most promising young cricketer in England and it seems to be a matter of time before he makes his debut for the senior English team.

ABHINAV MUKUND

Country: India

Age: 21

          Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
First-class 40 61 3 3446 300* 59.41 6207 55.51 13 9 435 17 29 0
List A 28 28 1 1550 130 57.40 1869 82.93 5 10 151 10 16 0

Such is the strength of the Chennai Super Kings, that they could afford to leave out one of the best batsmen in the country from the playing XI throughout their victorious campaign. Mukund is well known throughout the domestic circuit for his gluttonous appetite for runs. Along with his opening partner Murali Vijay, he has decimated many a new ball attack in the country. For his consistent performances throughout the last two seasons, he has won himself a place in the Indian Test squad to the West Indies in the absence of Sehwag and Gambhir. Don’t be too surprised if he edges out Vijay for the third opener’s slot when the two return to take their places.

JAMES PATTINSON

Country: Australia

Age: 21 years

                Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 4w 5w 10
First-class 6 11 1156 560 19 4/52 5/76 29.47 2.90 60.8 2 0 0
List A 15 15 760 659 26 6/48 6/48 25.34 5.20 29.2 0 1 0

It would be an understatement to say that there are not enough quality bowlers out there today. It doesn’t look too bright for the future as well. One bowler who might prove to be the odd exception is James Pattinson. While his elder brother shot to prominence first with an infamous debut for England in 2008, it was always the younger Pattinson who was being talked up as a future star. With the gift of swing, he is slowly working his way up the ranks, from the U-19 side for his state, to the Australia U-19 to Australia A, and now to the senior squad. Even as Australia struggle to retain top position in the international rankings, they would do very well to look at a fresh crop of players, with none more promising than the young Pattinson.

JUNAID KHAN

Country: Pakistan

Age: 21 years

                Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 4w 5w 10
ODIs 7 7 288 223 9 4/12 4/12 24.77 4.64 32.0 1 0 0
T20Is 1 1 12 15 0 7.50 0 0 0
First-class 35 63 7110 3562 167 7/46 13/77 21.32 3.00 42.5 6 13 3
List A 34 34 1590 1279 46 4/12 4/12 27.80 4.82 34.5 3 0 0

Who else but a fast bowler would be the most promising young cricketer for Pakistan? While I would have normally gone for Mohammed Amir, I will settle for a less controversial choice in Junaid Khan. Like Amir, he is a left arm pace bowler who has been turning heads with his impressive ability for pace, swing and success in the domestic scene. Playing for the now famous province of Abbottabad, who are supposedly one of the weaker teams in Pakistan, he has built up an impressive reputation for himself. It was going to be only a matter of time before he made his debut for the senior side, and sure enough, he made his debut in ODI colors against West Indies a couple of months ago. His performance in that series indicate that with the right guidance and care, he can turn out to be one of the best fast bowlers in international cricket within the next few years. As long as Ijaz Butt and cronies don’t come up with an ingenious way to screw his career too.

DARREN BRAVO

Country: West Indies

Age: 22 years

              Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
Tests 5 8 1 313 80 44.71 767 40.80 0 4 30 6 1 0
ODIs 26 23 3 635 79 31.75 872 72.82 0 4 46 15 3 0
T20Is 3 3 0 83 42 27.66 75 110.66 0 0 9 2 0 0
First-class 23 35 2 1231 111 37.30 3 6 22 0
List A 48 44 6 1491 107* 39.23 2 10 10 0

Even if you have not been following West Indies cricket for the last year or so, you might be knowing that Darren Bravo bats like his famous relative Brian Lara. Fortunately for him, he has a decent record at both First class and Test level to back that fame…somewhat. While his half brother Dwayne has been an integral part of the senior side for a while now, Darren has earned a name for himself on the international scene only in the last two years. While his domestic records don’t scream run machine, his short stint in Tests and ODIs so far, indicate there is substance beneath the style. At the moment, he is not in the best of form, but for a team which comprises of batsmen who struggle to cope with quality international bowlers, his progress to a fully fledged champion batsman can’t come soon enough.

Why power corrupts

What is it about power and authority that corrupts just about every person in a leadership position? In the last week, former California governor Arnold ‘Sch-whatever’ and IMF chief Strauss-Kahn have been caught out for their sexual misadventures. In Africa and the Middle East, power drunk tyrants oppress their own people, defying international outrage and sanctions. In just about every continent, politicians spend more time untangling themselves from legal troubles pertaining to bribery and other corruption charges, than working on whatever they got elected for.

This extends to sports and sporting bodies as well. Just take cricket, for instance. In Pakistan, a bumbling cricket administrator keeps changing captains and flouting conspiracy theories at the drop of a hat. Sri Lanka, West Indies and South Africa have innumerable issues with their administrators. The less said about Zimbabwe, the better. For all his business acumen and commercial talent, Lalit Modi’s ego had become so big, that he had to kicked off from the venture that he himself had made successful. In the past few weeks, a previously little-known-of administrator of a state cricket association in India filled with too much self importance, felt that he could go toe to toe with a legend of the game, coming out of the whole fracas, the smaller man. Captains and coaches are not impervious to this, either. Kevin Pietersen, Greg Chappell, Hansie Cronje are some of the people who failed to handle their positions appropriately, and whose misuse of authority led to their shameful exits.

This brings us back to the question I raised at the start of the post. Dr Ronald Riggio, a psychologist tries to explain this by stating that there are two types of power – socialized and personalized power. Power used to benefit others falls in the previous category, and the power for personal gain falls under the latter category. Politicians and rulers are expected to use socialized power, but most of them invariably fall prey to personalized power. A position of authority automatically confers the individual a sense of self importance and idea that he can get away with anything, just because he can. Try as he might, a person who becomes a leader of men, with good intentions will almost always come to a point where he has to choose between using his power for the good of others, or just for himself. Sadly, most will choose the latter.

So, there is no point in railing against our leaders or other men in powerful positions. I know many men who like to mock Tiger Woods or Bill Clinton for their sexual indiscretions, but who when put in a similar position of wealth and power, would do the same thing. What I’m trying to say is, that it is human nature. We are imperfect beings and while we expect our leaders to be better versions of ourselves, we’ll just have to accept that it will never be the case. We might get lucky with a few individuals who can overcome the intoxicating aroma of power abuse, but more often than not, we’ll have to put up with idiots like Gaddafi, Kim Kong Il and Ijaz Butt.

So, the next time you want to rail against a dictator, an inefficient sporting body or Andrew Hilditch, just remember that even if they exit, their places could be taken up by other morons who are much worse. The only thing to be done in such situations is, to be better people ourselves and try to influence outcomes which are under our control. And for those not under our control, perhaps say a silent prayer for those in charge and hope they see the follies of their ways and set things right.

On that cheerful note, have a great week-end!

PS: Just a couple of days after the post, I came across this article on Time…have a look.

Say it ain’t so, Afridi

So yesterday, I’m going through all the cricket articles I can find on the internet, when I stumbled onto a provocatively titled:

Indians not as large hearted as Pakistanis: Afridi

Now knowing the Indian media’s penchant for sensationalism, I refused to believe that Afridi would have said anything close to that, and decided to take a look for myself as to what he was talking about.

Here is the video link, thanks to @teejay_tweets.

Now, there are a few things here which I would have normally ignored, but few others I can’t simply let go. I have admired Afridi for a long time, and I was really impressed with the way he handled himself and the media after the semi-final; but something seems to have changed ever since he went back home.

In my opinion, if I have to tell the truth, they (Indians) will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I don’t think they have the large and clean hearts that Allah has given us.

(Apart from the pretty obvious bigotry here, has Shahid never met an Indian Muslim in his life?)

It is a very difficult thing for us to live with them (Indians) or to have long-term relationship with them. Nothing will come out of talks. See how many times in the past 60 years we have had friendship and then how many times things have gone bad.

(So, what do you propose Afridi? You seem to know how to fix this problem..Definitely not if you keep spewing these statements..)

We don’t want to fight with each other but a third country – everyone knows which one it is – is trying to spoil our relations. (This country) is taking advantage of Pakistan and wants to take advantage of India. I don’t want to go into details but these people will not let us come together.

(I’m sorry…I have no clue…if everyone knows this, can someone let me in on the secret?)

The Indian media has a very negative approach and very negative thoughts. The people may not be like that but I think the media had a very dirty role in spoiling relations between us and India.

Our media, which is criticised by people, is hundred times better than theirs.

(This is one point which may be actually true, but since I don’t read Pakistani newspapers, I can’t verify that.)

Here is the statement that really got my goat (metaphorically speaking, of course!)

I think they were both very stupid comments by Rehman Malik and Gautam Gambhir…I wasn’t expecting this from Gautam…This is all politics, what do you know about who carried out the Bombay attacks?

(While I completely agree with his views on Rehman Malik, why did he drag Gambhir into this? Gambhir had only dedicated the World Cup victory to victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Where did he imply that it had anything to do with Pakistan? Even Tendulkar had dedicated his knock in the third Test against England in 2008 to the victims of the attack. Nowhere did he imply that Pakistan were responsible for it. Why does it matter to Afridi as to whom Gambhir dedicates the victory to?)

Anyway, I refused to believe the story till I saw the video. Now, I have lost all respect I’ve had for Afridi. Hopefully, this was just an instance of a brain fade for him. He has already copped enough abuse for these statements, and I’m not going to join in on it; but I hope that he refrains from making class-less statements like these, which does nothing to improve the relations between the two nations.

Afridi and his case of serious 'head dislocation'...

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!'

Not sufficiently excited about the Mohali clash?

A World Cup semi final featuring India and Pakistan. It will be the mother of all cricket matches. War sans the weapons. A battle for pride and honor. A blood feud between two warring neighbors.

Yawn.

In truth, it will be a high pressure match between two very talented teams, who will play the game like their lives depend on it (in some cases, their lives do depend on it!). There has been a lot of hype as usual, with politicians and movie stars wanting a piece of the action and the security and secret service are being kept on their toes, but the real pressure will be on the players, who dutifully have to maintain that they feel no pressure at all, in front of the cameras. For the agnostic who wonders what the fuss is all about and who feels left out, take a look below, as to why you should get excited about the Mohali clash:

1. Miandad sets a template for things to come…

2. ‘More’ Miandad (see what I did there?)…

3. Prasad and Sohail share the love in 1996…

4. Kanitkar’s moment in the sun (floodlight!)…

5. Will we see a contest between these two for the final time on Wednesday?

6. Afridi does what he used to do best…

7. Dhoni returns the favor…

8. Its a tie!

9. Misbah gives birth to IPL…

10. Yuvraj and Gul…will we see Act 2 in Mohali?

11. Gambhir and Afridi…all they want is some space..

12. Gambhir’s comments on Akmal’s keeping skills gets him riled up..

13. The last time they met each other…

 

I rest my case.

(If anyone has a problem with my selection of clips, stop whining and let me know which ‘moments’ should make the cut; and I will be gracious enough to add it here….)

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

 

The polls are in..

Hello World…So, I have been away from cricket for a few days attending to non-cricket matters; and when I return, I see that apart from a Sehwag thumping, a Lankan mauling and a couple of other Associates-bashing matches, I didn’t miss much.

Anyway, I was checking my blog stats when I was stunned to see that my World Cup preview post had got a total of 3,844 hits since it was published on Feb 2, and that the highest number (765) was on the day before the World Cup opener. Still, only about 196 people voted in the opinion poll as to who will lift the trophy on April 2, and this is what I learnt.

  • India lead the way, with 44 percent believing that they will win; I suspect this is more out of optimism than anything else.
  • There is a broad consensus that a subcontinent team will lift the trophy, as the 2nd, 3rd and 4th placed are Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
  • Shockingly, South Africa only got 8 votes, which is a vast underestimation of their ability and overestimation of their choking skills.
  • Australia and West Indies got three votes each, with England getting just two. When West Indies are given more of a chance to lift the trophy than England, there is something wrong somewhere.

What?? You can't be serious!!

  • New Zealand got no takers, while there is at least one person who believes that any one of the associate nations can walk away with the trophy.

Anyway, the World Cup is just getting warmed up, and predictably it is the minnows who are facing most of the heat; but a week of interesting clashes is coming up – South Africa vs West Indies, Australia vs New Zealand, Sri Lanka vs Pakistan and India vs England. It will provide the earliest indicator of which teams are serious contenders for the title.