Five things we learnt from PSL

The roller coaster ride of the Pakistan Super League is finally over but it’s safe to say all naysayers have been proven wrong with its unexpected success.

Over the past few weeks, the country’s cricket-obsessed population had been glued to their TVs, while even the country’s cricketing gurus learnt a thing or two about the potential of Pakistan cricket and the road map ahead. Here we will have a look at five things we learnt from the inaugural edition of the Pakistan’s first ever T20 league.

1. Umar Akmal isn’t going anywhere anytime soon  

PHOTO COURTESY: PSL FACEBOOK

Before the tournament, some were asking whether Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) should look somewhere else, as Umar Akmal just did not make the best out of chances he was presented over the past six years. The twenty-five-year-old — who is yet to feature in the ODI team after the ICC World Cup 2015 quarter-final defeat against Australia — certainly wanted to quash such speculation.

Akmal clearly set himself apart from the others in the tournament. The Lahore-born middle-order batsman was the highest scorer of the tournament with 335 runs at an impressive average of 83.75, despite only playing seven innings in the tournament.

He produced some sublime performances with the bat, and almost single-handedly took his team into the next round of the tournament. In conclusion, Akmal isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and the Pakistan team management will certainly be looking for some inspiring performances from him in the upcoming Asia Cup and World T20.

2. Azhar is not captaincy material. Sarfraz is

PHOTO COURTESY: PSL FACEBOOK

Ever since Azhar Ali was appointed as the captain of the Pakistan team in the ODI format, there was always a sense that his appointment will remain a talking point.

The results under his captaincy, with Pakistan losing three of four series (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand), have certainly not helped his cause.

After the World Cup, there were some who were in favour of wicket-keeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmed’s appointment as captain but the voices faded up until now.

Nearly nine months down the line, Sarfraz’s case is as strong as it ever was. The 28-year-old managed to lead the clear underdogs of the tournament (Quetta Gladiators) to the final of the inaugural PSL tournament.

The Karachi-born player made a clear case for himself as a leader by showing courage, innovation and grit at crucial moments in the tournament.

On the other hand, Azhar’s appointment as the leader of Lahore Qalandars back-fired completely, as they were the only team to miss out on the spot in the playoff.

The 31-year-old once again disappointed on the individual level, lacking innovation in the batting department —  a key area to success in the limited overs game.

On the captaincy level, Azhar made the unforgivable blunder of giving the last over to a left-arm spinner with a wet ball despite having the option of medium-pacer Cameron Delport. The decision cost Lahore a place in the play-off. With results not going Azhar’s way in the past few months, it surely looks like Sarfraz is inching closer to becoming team captain.

3. Pakistan still on the hunt for batsmen, not spinners

PHOTO COURTESY: PSL FACEBOOK

When the PSL kicked off on February 4, the main focus of the league was to find the future stars of Pakistan cricket.

The good news? We found plenty of potential stars in the tournament, including the likes of Peshawar Zalmi’s Mohammad Asghar, Quetta Gladiators Mohammad Nawaz and Islamabad United’s Imran Khalid. The bad news? They were all bowlers, primarily left-arm spinners.

Taking a closer look at the batsmen in the tournament you will find that most have already played for Pakistan at the top level, such as the likes of Umar Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan and Mohammad Hafeez.

The only exception was Quetta Gladiators Mohammad Nawaz who managed to infiltrate the top 30 run-getter list in the tournament. Even then he was largely praised for his bowling efforts.

Batting remains Pakistan’s weakest department and there is no dount that fans and selectors were left disappointed with the results. Even Pakistan T20I captain Shahid Afridi was ‘surprised’ to see the dearth of batsmen in the tournament. For now, we can only hope PSL’s next edition addresses this key issue.

4. Age is just a number

PHOTO: AFP

When T20 cricket arrived on the scene, it was said that this format, which is short and requires a lot of energy, would heavily rely on younger blood for success.

But that all went out of the window with Islamabad United — the oldest team in the tournament with an average age of 33 in the final eleven — dominating the league in the later stages and winning the final.

Fun fact: Islamabad United was also the fifth oldest team by age that took the field, all over the world in any league.

Misbah’s men showed that there is no alternative to experience, and even the older players can cement their spots in the shortest format of the game.

Some prime examples: Australia’s duo Brad Haddin and Brad Hodge, Pakistan’s Misbahul Haq and Shahid Afridi, Englan’s Kevin Peterson and Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakara.

5. PSL is here to stay

PHOTO COURTESY: PSL FACEBOOK

When the tournament started, there were a lot of doubts over the success of the PSL, as the response for the Master Cricket League (MCL), which started on the same venues just four days before the tournament was pretty disappointing.

However, PSL undoubtedly proved to be a big success, despite being held at a neutral venue, and despite having the leading stars of the game. The tournament attracted big crowds in various games. Sharjah in particular saw sold out crowds, while Dubai also saw two sold out crowds during the first play-off between Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators, and then in the final match between Quetta Gladiators and Islamabad United.

According to Ramiz Raja, the second match between Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars had more viewership than the India-Pakistan clash in the ICC World Cup 2015. PSL was also heavily watched in Pakistan with 55% of the country’s TV-watching public tuning into the tournament at peak times.

The game was played in tremendous spirit throughout the tournament. More importantly, there was no scandal in any of the organisational areas of the tournaments which shows that the authorities worked hard to maintain the credibility of the league.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune.

PSL in numbers

PHOTO COURTESY: PSL FACEBOOK

A lot of hype surrounded the inaugural edition of the HBL Pakistan Super League (PSL) and statistics at the end of the group stages show that the league has delivered.

The event had a rather slow starting with matches in Dubai producing scores of below 150 but once the batsmen got used to the slow UAE pitches, finding the sweet spot of the bat became easier.

Lahore Qalandars, who couldn’t advance to the playoffs, were the first to go past the 200-run mark but their opponents Quetta Gladiators put them in the shade by chasing down that mammoth score. Lahore set a 202-run target, which Quetta reached off the last ball to score 203.

On the other end of the run-making scale, Islamabad United were able to successfully defend a target of 131 against Karachi Kings; the lowest to be defended in the tournament. Islamabad hold another stat, albeit a much more unwanted one, as their 117 against Quetta Gladiators was the lowest scoring innings of the tournament.

Lahore also holds the record for the biggest victory in terms of runs when they defeated Quetta by 63 runs. Meanwhile, Afridi’s Peshawar Zalmi holds the record for the biggest win by wickets as they beat Lahore by nine.

A lot of people had said that PSL was a chance for the youngsters to share the dressing room with the veterans and learn the art of pressure-handling and decision making, but one player who found his prime in the tournament was the experienced Umar Akmal. He finished the group stages as the tournament’s highest run-scorer (335), while also boasting its highest individual score (93), best batting average of 83.75 and most sixes (17).

Meanwhile, Kiwi all-rounder, Grant Elliot, had the best bowling average with just 11 runs conceded per wicket for Quetta.

In terms of run scored, Lahore scored the highest (1,215) in their eight matches. Peshawar were second with 1,098, Quetta third with 1,065, Islamabad couldn’t cross the 1000-run mark with 928 runs and Karachi scored the least runs at 819.

Peshawar was the most successful team with the ball as they accounted for 49 batsmen as a whole, Quetta were second with 44 and Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad were third, fourth and fifth respectively with 39, 38 and 34 wickets.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune.

PSL 2016: Best performers so far

PHOTO COURTESY: PSL FACEBOOK

The inaugural Pakistan Super League (PSL) enters the play-offs today with the top two teams, Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi, taking on each other to book a spot in the final.

The Express Tribune takes a look at the best performances in batting and bowling during the league matches.

Most runs: Umar Akmal

Pakistan right-handed batsman Umar Akmal was the most in-form batsman during the Pakistan Super League (PSL) group stages, and ended his campaign as its highest run-getter.

But Akmal’s heroics were not enough as Lahore missed out on a place in the play-offs after finishing bottom of the table.

The 25-year-old scored 335 runs in 7 innings, at an average 83.75, and is the only batsman in the tournament to have scored four half-centuries.

Umar Akmal is followed by Karachi Kings’ Ravi Bopara (292) and Peshawar Zalmi’s  Tamim Iqbal (267) in the list of highest run-getters.

Most wickets: Wahab Riaz

Left-arm Pakistan fast-bowler, Wahab Riaz, was the most prolific bowler during the PSL group stages.

Wahab was one of the main bowlers for Shahid Afridi’s Peshawar Zalmi and apart from that little scuffle with Quetta Gladiators’ Ahmed Shehzad, the aggression in his bowling was able to pay him dividend.

His best bowling performance came against Islamabad United when he bagged 3-23 in his four overs. He dismissed Shane Watson, Sam Billings and Andre Russell.

Karachi Kings’ Ravi Bopara is not that far behind Wahab with 11 scalps, while two left-arm spinners — Peshawar Zalmi’s Muhammad Asghar and Quetta Gladiators’ Muhammad Nawaz — are third with 10 wickets each.

Highest individual score: Umar Akmal

Akmal also produced the tournament’s highest individual score in an innings, when he single-handedly destroyed Quetta Gladiators bowling attack and scored 93 off just 40 balls, with the help of six fours and eight sixes.

Due to his blistering innings, Lahore scored 132 runs in the last 10 overs, and also managed to post the third-highest total of the tournament till now.

Gladiators, who were unbeaten till then, did not manage to match the brilliance of the 25-year-old, and eventually suffered their first defeat of the tournament.

The second-highest innings score is from Quetta Gladiator’s Luke Wright (86*), which he scored in the opening match of the tournament, and he is followed by Peshawar Zalmi’s Brad Hodge (85*) against Karachi Kings.

Best bowling figures in an innings: Ravi Bopara

Bopara was Karachi Kings’ best pick during the drafts without a doubt. The all-rounder not only scored with the bat but was also the second-highest wicket taker.

Meanwhile, he had best bowling figures of the tournament when he ripped apart the Lahore Qalandars’ much-vaunted batting attack with 6-16 in his four overs.

Bopara is followed by Peshawar Zalmi captain Shahid Afridi — who took a five-for against Quetta Gladiators — and gave away only seven runs in his four overs. Quetta Gladiators’ left-arm spinner Muhammad Nawaz is third with figures of 4-13 in four overs against Islamabad United.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune.

The not so lucky match-fixers of Pakistan

PHOTO: AFP

Left-arm fast-bowler Muhammad Amir will make a sensational return against New Zealand on Friday when he will play his first international in more than five years.

The nation is clearly divided over the sensational bowler’s return, but Amir has himself acknowledged on numerous occasions how lucky he is to be given another chance to represent the men in green.

It’s hard to argue against Amir on this one considering numerous others have suffered more consequences for being involved in match fixing scandals.

Danish Kaneria

Danish Kaneria. PHOTO: AFP

Former Pakistan leg-spinner Danish Kaneria, who represented the green jersey in 61 Tests and is the highest wicket taking spinner till date in the longest format of the game, wasn’t as fortunate as Amir when it came to untangling himself from match-fixing charges.

Kaneria was found guilty along with fellow fast-bowler Mervyn Westfield in the English Cricket Board (ECB) spot fixing inquiry for a Pro-40 match against Durham in 2009.

Kaneria later appealed against the decision, but the decision was upheld, and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) agreed to abide the decision of the ECB.

Salim Malik

Salim Malik. PHOTO: AFP

Pakistan’s former captain Salim Malik was once heralded as the country’s most gifted batsman, but all of his wizardry with the bat was not enough to save him from a match-fixing scandal that rocked Pakistan cricket in the 1990s.

The right-handed batsman was banned for life in 2000 from playing cricket, holding any office and from involvement in any cricket-playing activity on Justice Malik Qayyum’s recommendation.

Rashid Latif, former captain and wicketkeeper, was the first cricketer to accuse Malik of match-fixing during Pakistan’s tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe in 1995.

With the return of Amir, the 52-year-old has once again appealed to the PCB to give him another chance.

“I’m not angry or bitter. It just hurts. I played so many matches for Pakistan, I took part in so many great wins and even single-handedly won and saved matches for my country so why can’t I be given a second chance as others have been?” said Malik, who represented Pakistan in 103 Tests and 283 ODIs.

In 2014, Rashid Latif backed former team-mate Salim Malik in his bid to overturn a life ban imposed 14 years ago for match-fixing.

“I think Malik should be given relief now,” Latif told AFP. “He is not playing or coaching cricket and has served 14 years of his ban.”

Ataur Rehman

Former Test Cricket Attaur Rehman (L) PHOTO COURTESY: PAKCS.ORG

Former Pakistan medium-fast-bowler Ataur Rehman, who represented Pakistan in 13 Tests and 30 ODIs, was banned for life in 2000 for perjury but was cleared by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2007.

The 40-year-old confessed in his affidavit that he was involved in match fixing, and was subsequently banned for life from playing cricket.

Rehman, who was hired by the PCB as head coach of the Fata region in 2012, said that he has unfinished business to complete after spending years away from the action.

“My peak years were wasted in fighting to get my name cleared, so I feel that I haven’t served Pakistan cricket as much as I should have,” Rehman told The Express Tribune.

Qasim Umar

Kenyan-born Pakistan batsman Qasim Umar, who represented Pakistan in 26 Tests and 31 ODIs, is often remembered as one of the first Pakistani players to raise his voice against corruption in Pakistan cricket.

Unfortunately, the cricketer’s decision to come out with the allegations ended his playing career prematurely.

In 1985-86, Umar himself admitted, according to BBC, that he “took money from a bookmaking ring involving a leading Perth businessman in return for throwing away his wicket in matches against Australia during the 1980s.”

Umar also accused several of his teammates [and other cricketers] for being involved in match-fixing and use of drugs. However, the confession backfired when the PCB handed out a seven-year ban to him for ‘maligning’ Pakistan cricket.

Shortly afterwards, he also lost his bank job. “I spoke the truth and I was penalised for it and my career was destroyed. But I stand by what I said,” said Umar in an interview with DNA years later.

“Honest and straight forward people can’t survive in Pakistan cricket which is perhaps the worst cricket system in the world. I spoke the truth and my career ended,” he added.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune.

Lights, camera, action: Let the (PSL) games begin!

As with any cricket league around the world, the ceremony had all the excitement, flair, fashion, glamour and music to provide massive entertainment for the eager audience. PHOTO: NEWSTRIBE

After a long period of waiting, the first edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL) finally kicked off in Dubai last night. Stars from Pakistan, Jamaica and America performed their hearts out for a pretty decent sized crowd.

As with any cricket league around the world, the ceremony had all the excitement, flair, fashion, glamour and music to provide massive entertainment for the eager audience.

Photo: Tribune

By the looks of the event, the opening ceremony did extremely well considering this was our first time hosting such an event. Wasim Akram said this has got to be one of the biggest and greatest things to have happened to Pakistani cricket. It surely did look like that, keeping in mind last night’s festivities at the Dubai Cricket Stadium.

The show started on a sober tone, with brief speeches from the UAE Minister for Culture, Youth and Social Development and His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, who honoured the ceremony with his opening remarks and discussed the deep bond shared between Pakistan and UAE.

This was followed by a speech by Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) Chairman Shahryar Khan, who discussed the potential of the league and its future plans. PSL chairman Najam Sethi also graced everyone with a speech, he thanked the authorities in the Emirates for assisting PCB in the organisation of the first edition of the league.

After various speeches, the national anthem was sung with great fervour. Then came the exciting bit which entailed the music and hungama. It started off with performances by actress cum model Sanam Saeed and actor and presenter Mohib Mirza on their upcoming movie song.

Sean Paul, the Jamaican superstar lit the night with an astonishing performance. He was joined on stage by the Caribbean trio Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy. The last performance of the night was from our very own rock star, Ali Zafar, who ended the event by performing on the official anthem of the PSL.

Photo: ESPNcricinfo

In between those performances, teams were made to walk-in and parade the stadium on their official songs. The glittering PSL trophy was also unveiled during the ceremony.

Once the excitement died down, the momentum shifted towards its rightful direction, the field.

Islamabad United led by Misbahul Haq faced Sarfraz Ahmed’s Quetta Gladiators in what later proved to be a one-side contest, where Quetta Gladiators bagged an easy victory against Misbah’s team.

Islamabad United batted first, unfortunately, none of the batsmen managed to strike the ball, due to which Islamabad United were reduced to 63 for 6 in the 15th over. Once again it was down to Misbah (41 off 28 balls) who along with Andre Russle’s 35 off 20 balls helped the team post a mediocre total of 128 in 20 overs.

Chasing just 129 to win, Englishman Luke Wright (86 off 53 balls- not out) showed Islamabad United how it was rightfully done on slow and low pitches. He hit some breath-taking shots and finished the match with four overs to spare.

A tournament 20 million cricket fans had endlessly been waiting for began on a brilliant note. Pakistanis have a reason to be proud since we have our very own league now.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs.

Do or die: Azhar Ali’s time as captain may be running out

PHOTO: AFP

The Pakistan cricket team has landed in New Zealand where the men in green are set to play their final ODI series before the World T20 scheduled to take place in India in March.

The focus of the series will undoubtedly be on the returning left-arm fast-bowler Muhammad Amir, who will make a much-awaited return to the national team after serving a ban of five years.

Amir’s return was the talking point in Pakistan cricket for the last month, more so, after Pakistan ODI captain Azhar Ali and veteran Mohammad Hafeez publicly expressed their intent to not play alongside him.

The issue was later resolved after the interference of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), but it leaves a big question mark on what effect it will have on the team when Pakistan face 2015 World Cup runner-ups in their own backyard.

PHOTO: AFP

Azhar went as far as resigning from captaincy over the dispute but PCB chairman Shahryar Khan rejected his resignation and asked him to carry on as leader of the pack in the 50-over format.

The series, therefore, is all the more important for skipper Azhar, who made a return to the team as captain despite being out of the side for two years.

As much excitement as there is for the series, there is obvious anxiety among the Pakistan fans too, since the series will only consist of the ODI and T20 formats. Pakistan have been consistently struggling in the shorter formats, with the five-day format their clear forte.

One can imagine the PCB’s motives behind Azhar’s appointment as captain of the one-day team, as he is expected to take over the Test captaincy once Misbah will retire in the near future.

PHOTO: AFP

Since his appointment, Pakistan has won three of five series; a decent enough record, but two of them was against Zimbabwe, and one was against a transitional Sri Lanka.

It also included the now infamous ‘Banglawash’, which was a hard pill to swallow. In the recently concluded England series, Pakistan lost 3-1 despite winning the first match comfortably.

The troubling similarity between the two series was that the team could not recover from a jolt in the early matches. Azhar’s batting, which was praised since his return to the ODI side, has been on the decline since Zimbabwe’s tour of Pakistan.

In the first six matches of his captaincy, Azhar managed to score at an average of over 75, with a strike rate of 90; with two hundreds and a couple of fifties.

PHOTO: AFP

In the last 11 matches, he scored an average of just over 30 and a strike rate of 77, with just one score of 50 or more.

As far as his captaincy is concerned, things look even bleaker. Under his captaincy, Pakistan’s usually prolific bowling has been taking a wicket every 39.88 runs — the worst among all Test playing nations.

The bowling seems to be letting the side down, and a lack of attacking intent is costing the team dearly. Since Azhar took command of the team, two of the team’s most lethal weapons have found themselves wicketless, with Wahab Riaz going wicketless in seven matches and Yasir Shah in five.

With Yasir facing a potential ban, Azhar finds himself in an even trickier situation than he would have wished for. He will now have to deal with a rookie left arm-spinner, Zafar Gohar, who has tons of talent but no experience to bank on.

On the other hand, the 30-year-old will have a separate task to deal with Amir, and will have to make sure that his personal grudge will not effect the performance of the team and his batting performance as well.

Come the New Zealand series, it will be as big as it can get for Azhar and his men. For Azhar as a batsman, the series will offer an opportunity to return to form in conditions where, if he excels, it will take his ODI career to new heights.

For Azhar as a captain, especially after the incident regarding Amir, the series can either go a long way to cementing his place as the ODI leader of the side or it can be the final nail in the coffin.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune.

La Liga Gameweek 8: Winners/Losers – Moyes Under Pressure

t was another feisty week of full weekend after a two week international break, and here we are once again discussing the winners and losers from the game day 8 in the La Liga BBVA.

Winners

 Celta Vigo

First in the list of winners for the game day 09 in the La Liga BBVA features Eduardo Berizzo’s Celta Vigo, who managed to win a tough away fixture against Marcelino Garcia Toral’s Villareal.

In a tough fixture away from home, the winning team was on the ball straight away, and took away the lead in the 40th minute. However, a red card right after the 1st half, went in the favor of the visitors.

But even then, visitors had to grind it hard and got the winner in the last minute of the regular time. Eduardo Berizzo would be glad to take away all 3 points back home from a match where he would have been pleased to even get a point from this fixture.

Atletico Madrid

Next in the list of winners for the game day 09 in the La Liga BBVA features Diego Simeone’s Athletico Madrid, who managed to win a crucial match away from home to stay in the title’s race.

In a match where the defense of the visitors was put to test, Simeone’s men came out with flying color and manage to register a comprehensive win on the road. Star of the show for the visitors was Frenchman Antonio Griezmann, who is proving to be a real star for the Spanish giants this season.

Barcelona

Last in the list of winners for the game day 09 in the La Liga BBVA features Luis Enrique’s Barcelona, who thrashed Rayo Vallecano at Camp Nou.

The most impressive thing about Barcelona’s victory was the fact that Luis Enrique’s side is currently under pressure due to different injuries, but they didn’t let that affect their squad at the weekend.

Star of the show for the home side was Brazilian star Neymar, who stood up in the absence of Lionel Messi and get past 4 times against a crumbling Vallecano’s defense. A win would have given a much needed belief to the defending champions, who were facing tough times after being put under pressure after injuries to different players.

Losers

Villareal

First in the list of losers for the game day 09 in the La Liga BBVA features Marcelino Garcia’s Villareal, who lost to Celta Vigo at home, which saw them sliding down to 5thin the league.

Garcia’s men were top of the table just a few weeks back, but after consecutive defeats there is a lot to think for the manager as to what he should do to turn it around.

However, there is some positive sign for the home team, as their resilience after going a goal down and getting down to 10 men, Garcia’s men were able to come on equal terms and nearly got a point in what was a tough fixture at home. Garcia will hope that the kind of character that was shown by his team even after going a goal down will help them turn around their form in the weeks to come.

Real Sociedad

Next in the list of losers for the game day 09 in the La Liga BBVA features David Moyes’s Real Sociedad, who suffered another defeat and the pressure is mounting on the Welshman after his side’s poor start to the season.

Moyes will be bitterly disappointed in a match where his team had most of the possession, had more shots on goals and had more corners, but couldn’t able to capitalize on the chances. Moyes knows that the time is running out for him and he needs to turn it around quickly if he has to stay in charge of the club for a long time.

Eibar

Last in the list of losers for the game day 09 in the La Liga BBVA features Luis Mendilibar’s Eibar, who will be bitterly disappointed after controlling most of the match after taking an early lead, but lost 2 crucial points because of an error from Spanish Goal Keeper Asier Riesgo, which lead to the equalizer. Mendilibar’s side remained pretty much in the control throughout, and the manager will hope that his players will learn a lesson or two from the draw, and will be able to put up a more disciplined performance in a tough fixture when they will visit Camp Nou next weekend.

The article originally appeared on Playingfor90.com.