It was yesterday I realized that it has just been over a year since I started this blog. Lately, the frequency of new posts have reduced, but I have always enjoyed writing about cricket whenever I get the time; and so, I intend to keep putting up new posts. I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year of blogging, and I hope that most of you have too. Here are six of my favorite posts over the last year:
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
It was early 1999, on one of those hazy February days when I was stuck in class, trying to follow the score of the ongoing Test match between India and Pakistan, surreptitiously through regular text updates which my friend was receiving from a friend of his who was watching the game from home. The inaugural game of the Asian Test Championship was taking place in Kolkata, closely following that magical Test in Delhi where Kumble picked all 10 wickets in an innings. It was the second day and India were batting after having bowled out Pakistan cheaply; Ramesh and Dravid were batting, solid as ever and I was hoping that India would end the day with a comfortable lead. I was just drifting off to a lecture-induced nap, when my friend nudged me and relayed the news that Dravid and Tendulkar were dismissed off consecutive deliveries by Shoaib Akhtar. I still remember my response – “Who the hell is Shoaib Akhtar?”
Over the next few years, Akhtar has shown me and everyone else around the cricket world, who he is and what he is capable of. Speed demon, prima donna, scandal magnet – he was a symbol of the unpredictable nature of Pakistan cricket. Controversies were never far away for most of his career, with a list that includes doping bans, complaints of poor attitude, indiscipline, and accusations of chucking, ball tampering, feigning injury, altercations with team mates and coaches, and even the indignity of a public announcement of his genital warts condition. Still, he found time in between these tumultuous incidents to demolish batting line ups whenever he was in the mood. With a long run up in those early days, the Rawalpindi Express would steam in, for what seemed to be like an eternity to the batsman, before delivering a thunderbolt, which if on target, would almost always knock the stumps out of the ground.
He was a visceral delight for any true cricket fan. Along with the likes of Lee and Bond, he was one of the few pace bowlers who could set your heart racing. The run up, the delivery, the airplane celebrations upon taking a wicket – they were all trademarks of a special bowler, who could have been much more if not for his fitness and discipline issues. Still, that was Shoaib Akhtar as the whole package. What you saw was what you got.
There were some memorable contests over the years. The 1999 World Cup, his battles with Tendulkar and Dravid, his frequent demolitions of New Zealand, the Colombo spell against the Aussies and much more.Over the last few years, his speed may have dropped off a bit, and he seemed to be bowling on crutches; but when he gets it right, like the Jayawardene dismissal a few weeks back, there is no better fast bowler in sight.
For me, there were days I wished he was an Indian, considering the lack of genuine speedsters in India. Looking around, many other countries might feel the same way. Except for Steyn and Roach, there is no out and out speed demon out there. There is a sea of fast medium bowlers, who need helpful conditions to be threatening; but guys like Akhtar, Bond and Lee in his prime, could take the pitch out of the equation with their pace. For the sake of more thrilling spells like the ones which we used to get from this trio, I wish we can unearth more genuinely fast bowlers in International cricket; and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pakistan produce such a bowler again!
So, thank you for the memories, Shoaib! Best of luck for your future engagements, and whatever you do, remember to play safe!
“How many diamonds can you retrieve from one single mine; there has to be an end somewhere. I don’t see any natural fast bowler after me.”
Just when one thought that the India-England game could not be bettered as the game of the tournament, Bangalore was treated to its second thriller in four days. England have taken part in both, and despite scoring in excess of 300 in both matches, they haven’t managed to secure a win in either. Its hard to see them regroup in this tournament, after two matches which must have exhausted them physically and mentally; then again, as Ireland showed, nothing is certain in this edition anymore.
Where to begin? One can carp on about England’s dismal bowling and fielding; or even the failed acceleration in the dying overs of their innings. Anderson’s rapid decline and England’s absent lower order are some of the topics which one can talk about; but to do so would be distracting from the main story. Ireland, in particular Kevin O’Brien, played out of their skins to secure one of the most famous upsets in World Cup history.
Most upsets have a common thread. They would all be low scoring thrillers, where a couple of bowlers and a bunch of charged up fielders ruthlessly exploit the opposition’s complacency to bowl them out for a low score. The team causing the upset would barely do better, with one or two key batsmen carrying their team across the line, just in time or with a few wickets to spare.
Here too, one batsman played the main role, supported by a couple of key contributions; and Ireland scraped through in the last over with 3 wickets to spare. This is where the similarities end. For, the magnitude of Ireland’s achievement on March 2, 2011 was much, much bigger than your usual upset.
For one, they played in the backdrop of the ongoing controversy over the ICC booting the Associate nations out of the next World cup. They were also coming to Bangalore on the back of a demoralizing defeat to Bangladesh, in a game which they should have won. They were facing off against an opponent who had just days previously tied, in a high scoring game with India. When the game got underway, things got only worse.
They let England rack up 327 runs, and in reply stumbled to 111/5 at the halfway mark. This was supposed to be the cue for the Associate nation to get rolled over after a flurry of rash shots, or after gifting their wickets away to a hat-trick performance by the opposition’s strike bowler.
Instead, a 29 year old electrician/cricketer decided that this was the time to regale the few Irish supporters who had come to the ground, so that they may leave home with at least a few memories to cherish.
Sixes and fours started to rain from the bat of Kevin O’Brien, who reached his fifty in quick time; and in the company of Cusack, he began to build a partnership which the pair realized quickly, could turn their fortunes around. Cheered on by vociferous supporters (both Irish and Indian) and a hopeful dressing room, O’Brien, Cusack, and later Mooney and Johnston stole the most stunning victory from a shell shocked English camp.
Most impressive was O’Brien, who emulated his brother Niall (of 2007 Pakistan upset fame) in leading an upset over a full ICC member nation. Statistics will show that he broke the record for the fastest World Cup ton by a margin of 16 balls (!) and that his 113 runs consisted of 88 runs through boundaries alone. What they will not tell is the calm and clinical way he dismantled the bowling. Like Pollard and Pathan, he chose which deliveries to hit wisely, and once he committed to it, there was only one way the ball was heading. Calls for an IPL contract might be premature, but if he can sustain these kind of performances, he can turn out to be one of the most dangerous batsmen in the shorter format. After all John Davison announced himself with a 67 ball hundred in a World Cup match too, but since then, he doesn’t have much to show.
One cannot forget the contributions from Cusack, Mooney and Johnston. Cusack played the most mature innings under the circumstance, wisely feeding strike to O’Brien and making sure that the run rate wouldn’t flag. Mooney, and later Johnston ensured that all the hard work done by the 6th wicket pair was not wasted, by duly sealing the deal.
The Irish are known for their celebrations, and there is no doubt that the party would have lasted late into the night. For many of the supporters, it was not just any victory; an Irish victory over England in any sport is cherished, and to beat the English in a game which they are vastly superior made it Ireland’s greatest sporting moment. Now, the sport is sure to win new fans in the country for this reason alone! What a pity, that they might not feature in the next edition..
You sure can play cricket, Ireland..
(For my penny’s worth, I feel that the move to prune the number of teams in the next World Cup to be a step in the right direction. I don’t agree with it in entirety, as I feel Associate nations should be included; just that only the top two associates should feature. eg: Netherlands, Ireland. This will be incentive for other nations to improve their performance, and drastically reduce the number of mismatches like the ones involving Canada and Kenya. For, I long to see a World Cup one day, when Afghanistan will be competing for the World Cup with Ireland in the final!)
So, where to now, Ireland? A miraculous chase will not paper over their bowling. Rankin, Dockrell, Mooney, Johnston and Stirling will need to be consistent in every match of the group phase, to give their batsmen a decent chance of winning any game, and thereby progressing to the next phase.For that matter, the Irish top order has not exactly covered itself in glory over the last two matches, but in Porterfield, Joyce and the O’Brien brothers, they have quality batsmen who cannot fail for long. All in all, Ireland have served notice to the rest of their group, that they cannot be considered just ‘another’ Associate nation. If teams like India and West Indies take them lightly, they will do well to remember Strauss’ shocked expression at the end of another pulsating encounter at Bangalore.
With the World Cup less than three weeks away, every Tom, Dick and Hariharan has an opinion as to how the World Cup is going to pan out, and I suspect you do too. So, why not have some fun while doing it?
This is an open invitation to all cricket freaks, to join my group on ESPN Cricket Pick ’em, and try your luck at becoming the next famous World Cup outcome predicting octopus in town! Who knows – you might get to appear on TV before tragically passing away a few months after the World Cup!
(The password for the group is ‘I heart cricket’)
Paul the Octopus - now sleeping with the fishes (metaphorically)
As England continue to ruthlessly break down Australian spirit, down under in Adelaide; there are quite a few interesting things happening elsewhere in the world of cricket:
Under a stand-in captain, and without most of their first choice players, India has been doing an ‘England’ to the Kiwis, by demolishing them in one-sided games; with two games to go, India has already claimed the series, thanks to the Delhi pair of Gambhir and Kohli. When the seniors return, this Indian side will be a handful, in the World Cup. For New Zealand, there is simply nothing to write about.
West Indies and Sri Lanka played one of the most rain-affected series, in a long time. Except for Gayle’s triple ton and Darren Bravo’s stroke-play, the series didn’t really excite. Darren Sammy made a decent start to his captaincy stint and if he continues to have the respect and loyalty of his team-mates, West Indies can start to hope again.
Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are playing yet another series against each other; though i admit, the cricket is usually entertaining because it is like a battle of equals. Shakib Al-Hasan, who is turning out to be the Vettori of Bangladesh, is once again at the forefront with a couple of good performances so far. If you don’t mind the lack of star players, and fancy some well fought cricket, this series is worth watching.
The IPL saga rambles on. Kochi is back in, Rajasthan and Punjab are still in limbo, and the auction looks like it is going to be postponed again; despite a flurry of IPL-related activity, which happens every day, nothing really changes. It is a spectacle in itself.
South Africa have included Ryan McLaren to the squad for the first test against India. I don’t think it is going to make too much of a difference. Steyn and Morkel are the only bowlers, India will worry about.
And finally, in Pakistan, Shahid Afridi has wisely played down any hopes of winning the World Cup next year; while their batting in tests seems to have improved in their last two matches, their ODI batting has to improve, and I doubt if they have enough time for that.
I’ll conclude this post, by posting a good quote by Ian Chappell, regarding the merits of the team huddle:
If speeches were that important, Winston Churchill would have made a great captain.