Balance – The Key

Pakistan's Recent Slump In Form is Alarming

Pakistan’s unfortunate demise in ODI Cricket, which was our ‘forte’ once, is quite intriguing when scrutinized. As an individual, who is in his mid-twenties and has seen Pakistan’s ODI dominance from the early 90s till the late 2000s, it is very hard to swallow this dismal performance of Pakistan team in ODIs in the last 2 years specially. I am of the generation of Cricket followers who had this believe that Pakistan always had an issue with playing in the ‘Whites’  but were awesome in the ‘Colors’. However, things change and I saw Pakistan going from one of the Top 3 in the World in ODI cricket to one of the Worst 3 in the World. I find only one reason for the downfall and that is the ‘lack of balance’ in this current Pakistani outfit.

Since I started watching cricket back in 92, when my elder brothers forced me to watch the World Cup live in the early morning, I always saw Pakistan had the formula to win matches. It was not a traditional formula of playing 5 bowlers, 5 batsmen and a wicket keeper. It was a formula that Pakistan created themselves, such as 3 bowlers, 3 all-rounders, 4 batsmen and a wicket keeper. I looked back at Pakistan’s top cricketing moment since 92 in colors that include the success of 92, final in 99, winning series against Australia in Australia in 2002, 2007 T20 Final, 2009 Champions Trophy semi-final, 2009 T20 Triumph, 2010 T20 semifinal, 2011 world cup semifinal, 2012 T20 semifinal and 1st ever ODI series victory on the South African soil by an Asian team.

There was one thing that stood out and that was the importance of all-rounders in Pakistan’s own method of success. Be it 92, when we only had Aqib Javed and Mushtaq playing as genuine bowlers, with Wasim, Imran, Amir Sohail, Salim Malik and Aijaz playing as all-rounders, or be it 1999 where we had Shoaib and Saqlain who played as a genuine bowler, supported by Wasim, Razzaq, Azhar and Afridi who played as all-rounders. It was always that mix and match that won us matches, which made us one of the best teams in the ODI cricket at least for over a decade. Pakistan never had more than 3 genuine bowlers who were supported by 3 or more all-rounders. That was the formula that served well for such a long time, but somehow, our team management who themselves have played on teams that have had all-rounders, completely lost it when they had the chance to pick the best 15 for the World Cup.

Over the last 2 years or so, they went for so called ‘specialist’, which is taking its toll on Pakistan’s fragile batting line up to produce any results really. Since when did our batting become so amazing that we can only have 6 batting options? (Considering Afridi is as reliable as nothing), we are actually playing with just an inch over 6 batsmen (let’s call it 6.25 batsmen) that is putting further pressure on our bowling which in not as great, neither as talented as it was used to be. The argument for all of this logic is that we don’t have an all-rounder like the quality of Razzaq, Azher and so on. For an argument, Razzaq was mere average, or should I say below average till 1999 World cup, where the team management had realized that he was more of a batting all-rounder than a bowling all-rounder. He had a batting average of less than 11 in 14 matches and had a bowling average of 33. Wasim Akram and team management back then, found a solution to use Razzaq more as a batsman in the top order and then he flourished at the top, while Azhar Mehmood was more of a bowling all-rounder and did really well lower in the order. Excuses like Pakistan does not produce quality all-rounders like Razzaq or Mehmood might have some legitimacy, but isn’t this a problem for the rest of the world as well? How many teams have an all-rounder who you can compare with Razzaq, Kallis or Azhar? I believe none. Watson and Ryan McLaren come closest, but aren’t of the same level.

We have to move on with what we have and make full use of it. Firstly, we need to understand that not every all-rounder will give us 10 overs and 2-3 or 4 wickets and not everyone who is called an all-rounder will give us 70+ runs in every 2nd innings. We need to understand the thin line between batting and bowling all-rounders just like every other team does. Like Australia, where they have Maxwell and Watson playing as batting all-rounders and would just be used for 3-4 overs in the middle of the innings, whereas Faulkner is being played as a genuine bowling all-rounder and has produced results with the ball as well.  If we start giving roles to people on what they are capable of, and find a mix like we had before, there is no point why we will not become a powerhouse in ODIs again. That’s what happened back in the 2013 series with South Africa, where it was only Junaid Khan and Saeed Ajmal, who were playing as specialist bowlers, but then we had Afridi and Bilawal Bhatti playing as a bowling all-rounders and Hafeez and Anwer Ali playing as a batting all-roundes and guess what? We became the first Team from this continent to win an ODI series in South Africa. We need to back players who will achieve heights like other countries do. We have batting all-rounders like Hammad Azam, Haris Sohail, Shoaib Malik, Hafeez, Umer Amin, who can score runs and get you a few wickets at the same time, and bowling all-rounders like Bilawal Bhatti, Sohail Tanveer, Yasir Shah and Wahab Riaz who will give us wickets with some useful runs down the order. This lot is enough to provide Pakistan team with the much needed balance that they lack right now and can lift this team up, producing results that we can still achieve, but for now, it seems a little too far away.

Phillip Hughes – “Not OUT” Forever

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I have grown up watching cricketers who were un-conventional, yet stylish, who fit the title “bold and the beautiful”, and who would also fit in the category of “ugly but useful”. Cricket has many faces, from being a gentleman’s game to a professional sport, cricket has had many ups and downs to come across. Yet, Cricket remains the 2nd most popular team sports in the World, and that is mainly down to the layers and athletes, who give their all to entertain people.

Philip Hughes was a player with immense talent. He emerged onto the screen with hundreds in each innings against Proteas in their own backyard. His stance was unique, that was more than just side on. He used to have a little dig before playing, like Ponting used to do, but it was just unique. His square cut, his pull, his cover drive, his enthusiasm, his energy, it was his aura that includes everything that made him the darling of the crowd. He came across in the domestic arena as someone, who has the habit to score bug hundreds. He was the youngest player in the history of Australian Cricket to score a Century in the Pura Cup match, at the age of 19.

He couldn’t stabilize his position in the national side, but yet he was never seem far. He was always around the corner, always knocking the door, always asking questions to the selectors. Whenever he was dropped, he went back to the domestic circuit and score tons of runs to make his way back in. Many have questioned his technique, but yet he somehow finds a way to answer them. He has been just not normal, he was extraordinary. He was the youngest player to score a century, in each innings of a test match. If that’s not enough, he did it against the best fast bowling duo of Steyn and Morkel at the age of 21. His smile was mesmerizing and his energy was a joyous feeling to come across with. He was not worried about not being selected in the playing XI after selecting in the squad. Instead, he was happy to be around the team mates and to help them get the glory for his country. He knew that his chance will come, and he will get the glory as he is bound to.

From the very start, till the end, no one ever heard about Hughes in news for the wrong reasons. He was unique, and so was his death, unheard off. He knew how to express while batting and was never afraid of hooking or pulling a genuine fast bowler. However, it was on 25th Nov, when he tried it one time too many and he never got another chance, to dig it or to leave it. He missed a short ball while pulling Sean Abbott, his close friend. That ball hit the exposed area around his neck, which cause his death. Hughes has a number of not out records to his name. He had the highest ODI score 138*, highest first class score of 243*, highest List A score of 202* and highest T20 score of 87*. His last innings of 63*, was an effort to ensure the selectors and the Captain, that he is ready to go for the first Test of the summer, but unfortunately, his time ran out and he remained “NOT OUT”, forever.

 

 

Richie Benaud reveals fight against Cancer

Former Australian skipper and a veteran commentator Richie Benaud revealed that he is suffering from skin cancer, and that the treatment is underway.

Benaud, who scored more than 2,000 runs for Australia in 63 test matches, announce at a public event in Sydney that he is going through radiation therapy.

“I’m coping with it very well – the doctors are pleased,” Benaud said in quotes on Channel Nine. “I’m going along slowly. The cancers need to be treated.”

The 84-year-old is going through treatment for skin cancer on his forehead and the top of his head.

Benaud, who played 63 tests for Australia and took 248 wickets at an average of 27.03, have urged kids and youngsters to wear cap to avoid chances of such disease.

“I recommend to everyone they wear protection on their heads. Eighty-four-year-olds don’t seem to mind as well as they used to,” he said. “When I was a kid, we never ever wore a cap. I wish I had. You live and learn as you go along.”

Benaud, who under his influential captaincy and all round performance, helped the baggy greens in reclaiming ashes back in 1958-9 , believes that things are going in the right direction about his health.

“Progress is slow,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of walking. We are out every morning, doing 40-minute walks every morning and it’s showing beneficial effects.”

Benaud, who started working as a journalist for BBC Radio in 1960, haven’t commentated since October last year.960 (1)

Pakistan lead 1-0 in three Test series as Ul-Haq makes history

Misbah-Ul-Haq has become the most successful captain in Pakistan’s cricket history. With 15 wins in 32 test matches under his belt, he has overtaken the likes of Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, who won 14 test matches as a Captain for Pakistan.

Misbah achieved this milestone in the recent 248 run victory over the Black Caps in the first test at Abu Dhabi.

Misbah won the toss and elected to bat on a slow and dry pitch. Pakistan declared their first inning after posting a mammoth total of 576 with the help of three centuries from Ahmed Shehzad (176), Younis Khan (100 n.o) and Captain Misbah-Ul-Haq (102 n.o).

Pakistan then bowled the Kiwis out for 262 in the first innings, taking a giant lead of 304 in the first innings. Misbah decided not to enforce follow on and opted to bat again, and declared for a second time in the test at the score of 175 for the loss of two wickets.

It was the turn of Hafeez this time, who scored his first century in last 22 innings and sixth test century for the men in green. Chasing 480 to win, New Zealand were bowled out for 231, giving Pakistan a 1-0 lead in a three match series.

Speaking at the post match interview, Misbah hailed the young team, especially the effort of the young and inexperienced bowling attack in the absence of Ajmal, Irfan and Junaid.

“It’s a great feeling to be part of the winning team. It’s a young team, nobody expected us to perform like this,” said Misbah

“The kind of conditions we are getting, the world-class bowlers are struggling but these youngsters are living up to the expectations of the team, me and the whole nation. They are getting 20 wickets every match. So that’s a really big achievement for them.”

The second test of the series will begin on 17 Nov at Dubai cricket stadium in UAE. Pakistan will look to continue the good work and seal the series, whereas the Kiwis will look to improve their performance from the last encounter.

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Coulter-Nile stars as Australia see off Proteas

Australia won the first ODI in a series of five against the Proteas on Friday at WACA, Perth. Star of the show was a young pacemen from Perth, who delivered a special bowling performance on his home ground.

It was South Africa who won the toss and put Australia in to bat. Australia made a solid start and cruised past 50 under nine overs and looked all settled for a score of over 300.

However, South Africa managed to pick five for 50 that reduced the hosts from 94 for no loss in the 15th over to 144 for five in 30 overs. It was then the turn of George Bailey, who was dropped twice in two overs, first by David Miller and then by Imran Tahir on his own bowling, to overcome the crisis situation and he just did that.

Bailey took Australia to 300/8 after 50 overs with the help of well-crafted 70 of 75 balls that included three fours and three mighty sixes.

Chasing 301 to win, South Africa made a poor start and were restricted to 76 for four in 16 overs. It was then captain AB de Villiers and David Miller, who formed a partnership, that put the visitors on track again.

Needing less than 100 runs in 14 overs and with six wickets in hand, the visitors looked in total command before young Nathan Coulter-Nile produced a magic spell, where he took Miller and McLaren in the same over before picking up Steyn a few overs later, that virtually set up the victory for the Kangaroos.

South Africa were bowled out for 268 in the 49th over, giving the hosts 1 – 0 lead in the five match series. Coulter-Nile was selected Man of the Match for his impressive bowling performance.

The second ODI between the two teams will be played on Sunday, 16 Nov 2014 at the same venue.Nathan-Coulter-Nile-sold-Delhi-Daredevils-Rs

Isco could be the missing piece for Real Madrid

Isco had an astonishing start to his Real Madrid career last season, but a change in formation saw him losing his place to Angel di Maria in the starting lineup.

It did, then, appear that it would be Isco rather than Di Maria who would be sweating over his future at the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer. But, alas, it was Di Maria who departed for Manchester United.

There were plenty of suggestions that Isco could leave the club, particularly following the arrivals of James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos, but things can change very quickly.

Real Madrid lost Bale due to injury and that proved to be the blessing in disguise. Isco finally get an extended run in the first team for the first time this season and he proved why Madrid paid big bucks for him in the first place.

In 10 games this season, Isco provided four assists and scored one goal for Los Blancos, but that’s not all as his work rate over this period of time has been phenomenal.

In the Champions League, Isco has made 3.7 tackles per game, which is better than the likes of Sergio Ramos (2.1), Pepe (2.5), Marcelo (3.3), Luka (2), Kroos (2) and James (2.3). Only Alvaro Arbeloa surpasses Isco with five tackles per game.

Looking at the defensive tackles collectively from Champions League and La Liga, Isco seems to be the man Madrid depends on with an average of 2.6 tackles per game, better than Sergio Ramos (2.1), Pepe (2.3), Varane (1.6), Kroos (2.3) and Modric (1.8). Only Marcelo and Arbeloa out pass Isco in this department.

Not only that, Isco’s passing accuracy is also notable with 89 percent in La Liga, which is better than the likes of Bale (81.1 percent), James (87.8 percent), Karim Benzema (82 percent) and Cristiano Ronaldo (83.1 percent). Only Modric (91.3 percent) and Kroos (93.6 percent) outperformed Isco in that area.

Isco time and again proves his versatility to open opposition defence with his swift touch and the understanding of the game, which often gives the impression he is far older than just 21.

He has an impressive 1.6 key pass average per game this season which is better superior to Kroos, Bale and Modric. Isco also shows the ability to press the opposition when needed and hold the line when the situation demands him to do so. It was due to these performances that Isco received a standing ovation the Classico win over Barcelona.

His performances in the recent past strengthen his relationship with Bernabeu faithful, and that was evident in recent poll held by Madrid owned newspaper Marca, where 82 percent of the people voted in favour of starting Isco keeping his placed ahead of Bale.

Madrid seems to finally have balance that they were lacking before and things are looking better, at least domestically, than a year ago.

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