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

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

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

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

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.

PSL vs IPL: In numbers

Pakistan Super League (PSL) inaugural edition will kick off on February 4 in the UAE, where five teams named after the four provincial capitals; Karachi (Sindh), Lahore (Punjab), Peshawar (KP), Quetta (Balochistan), and one team named after the federal capital Islamabad will take part in a 20-day long tournament.

There is no doubt that the PSL project will take the country’s talent to new heights and can only be described as a win-win for the cricket obsessed nation. However, the obvious comparisons to the most successful cricket league, the Indian Premier League (IPL), can’t be avoided largely due to the intense rivalry between the neighbours.

The Express Tribune took a look at the key differences between the PSL and the IPL, including target audiences, pay scales for cricketers and other interesting aspects.

That’s not it. We also spoke to former cricketer-convert commentator Ramiz Raja and Pakistan T20I captain Shahid Afrid on how the league will hold up in the future.

To start off, the difference in wages is startling but also a given considering it will be the PSL’s first edition and the smaller target audience. The highest paid players in PSL (Shahid Afridi and four other ‘Icon’ players ) will earn $200,000, compared to a whopping $2.5 million being paid as remuneration to IPL’s Virat Kohli.

The duration and matches played in the IPL will also dwarf the PSL events. A total of 24 matches will be played over 20 days in the PSL, while 60 matches will be played over 45 days in the IPL.

T20 leagues around the world are largely inspired by the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and there is good reason for its success: a massive target audience for IPL. We will have to wait to see how many tune in for PSL.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Raja said the PSL-IPL comparison is futile for now. “It’s just a start. We definitely should hope for better things in future,” he said.

“We should not compare PSL with IPL. IPL is a settled tournament, it has a special window from the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the whole world gets hooked to it,” he added.

The former opening batsman went on to say that players should expect the pay scale to increase after a few editions of the PSL as sponsors and greater investment will come with time.

“We have to develop  a robust model,”said Ramiz. “The initial target should be to create and then sustain the credibility of the tournament.

“Once we set up the credibility of the tournament, I am sure more brands and sponsors, who are waiting to see what the PSL has in store for them, will come forward and invest. This will eventually increase the flow of money into the league and eventually for the players.”

The 53-year-old said that the draft system of selecting players in the PSL might be replaced by player’s auction in the future. “We should not rule out the possibility of player’s auction in future editions of PSL,” Ramiz concluded.

Meanwhile, Afridi said PSL would only get bigger once the tournament comes back to Pakistan.

“It [PSL] will get bigger as time goes on,” said Afridi while talking The Express Tribune. “Once the tournament is organised in Pakistan, I think everything will get bigger and better.”

The 35-year-old went on to say that PSL will help Pakistan cricket in moving forward, and for now, the focus should be on building the credibility of the tournament.

“PSL will help Pakistan cricket immensely in moving forward. As of now, we should not focus on the amount of money a player will earn from the tournament. Instead, the focus should be on building the credibility of the tournament,” he added.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune.

The cricket records that 2015 broke

Individual records:

The number of consecutive centuries scored by Kumar Sangakkara in the World Cup; the most by any player

 

The number of deliveries AB de Villiers took to complete the fastest ever ODI half- century in the history of the game against West Indies at Johannesburg

 

The number of deliveries AB de Villiers took to complete the fastest century in the history of the game against West Indies at Johannesburg

 

The number of deliveries AB de Villiers took to complete the fastest score of 150 or more in the history of the game against West Indies in Sydney

 

The runs Bhuvneshwar Kumar conceded in his 10 overs in the final match of the five-match series against South Africa at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, which is the second most expensive spell in ODI history

 

The number of deliveries Chris Gayle took to complete the fastest ever double-century in the history of the game against Zimbabwe at Canberra

 

Is the number of runs Chris Gayle scored against Zimbabwe in the World Cup on his way to the first-ever World Cup double-hundred

 

Martin Guptil scored 237 not out against West Indies in the quarter-final of the World Cup at Wellington, which is the second highest individual score by any batman in the ODI format. It is also the highest individual score in the World Cup.

 

The number of runs scored by Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels for the second-wicket against Zimbabwe at Canberra, which is the highest ever partnership for any wicket in ODIs

 

Team Records

Was the number years it took Bangladesh to defeat Pakistan in any format of the game since their win in the 1999 World Cup. The Tigers went on to complete their first-ever whitewash over the Men in Green.

 

Was the margin of victory for Australia against Afghanistan in a World Cup group match at WACA; the second-biggest margin of defeat in terms of runs

 

Was the target England chased against New Zealand at Nottingham, which is the fifth highest run chase in ODIs

 

Was the amount of runs South Africa scored against West Indies at Johannesburg, which is the second highest score in ODIs

 

Was the aggregate amount of runs scored in a match between England and New Zealand, which was the third-highest aggregate score in an ODI match.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune.

Standout sports performances of 2015

As the year 2015 comes to a close, we look back at some of the standout performances in the sporting world.

Here’s a list of emerging superstars who managed to surprise us throughout the year, with some great pull shots, great finishing touches, knockout punches and backhands, all of which will make us remember this sporting year for some time to come.

Cricket: Bangladesh

PHOTO: AFP

Bangladesh cricket finally had a year to remember, as they raised their caliber as a team that has shown immense improvement throughout the year.

2015 started with Bangladesh qualifying for the knockout stage of the ICC World Cup after defeating England.

This was followed by three consecutive ODI series wins at home against India South Africa and also included whitewashing Pakistan.

The successes were mostly down to team effort, but the standout performer from the tigers was young left-arm medium fast bowler Mustafizur Rehman, who performed his best every time he was on the field.

Football: Leicester City

PHOTO: AFP

Leicester City became the team that achieved more than anyone could have imagined at the start of 2015.

When the year began, the Foxes were favourites to be relegated after being placed at the bottom for most of the season, and had to win at least six out of the last nine for any chance of surviving the league; but they ended up achieving much more.

Leicester went on to win seven of the last nine, and finished the league at a comfortable 14th position.

The Foxes remained top of the league on Christmas, which saw them cut the odds of winning the league from 1 to 5,000 to 1 to 20.

This incredible turn-of-form is being largely credited to two young sportsmen, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who have been in sublime form for current league leaders.

MMA: Holly Holm

PHOTO: AFP

Holly Holm became one of the show stoppers of the year when she defeated Olympic bronze medalist Ronda Rousey.

Rousey had a record of 12-0 before the defeat, and was tipped as a strong favorite to win the fight.

Rousey was knocked out in the second round.

Rugby: Japan

PHOTO: REUTERS

The standout performance from rugby comes from Japan, who defeated two-time world champions South Africa 34-32.

Japan, who is due to host the next Rugby World cup in 2019, managed to score in the last moments to seal the famous victory.

This was Japan’s first victory in 24 years. South Africa had won the tournament in 1995 and again in 2007.

Following their remarkable performance, the Japanese team coach was nominated for the World Rugby Coach of the Year award.

Tennis: England

PHOTO: AFP

England won the first Davis Cup title in 79 years after beating Belgium in the final round of the tournament.

Andy Murray, who is currently world number two, was undoubtedly the star of the show for Great Britain, becominge the first player to win eight live single rubber in a Davis Cup since 1981.

The former Wimbledon champion defeated Belgium’s David Goffin (6-3, 7-5, 6-3) in straight sets to help his team lift the first Davis Cup since 1936. He also became the second player to have 11 rubbers at the World Group level.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune.

Don’t panic, Pakistan! Sure, we will miss Yasir Shah, but not too much

On Sunday, anyone who follows the Pakistani cricket team was left dumbfounded. Yasir Shah, our very own Messi, failed a random sampling dope test taken on November 13, 2015 after the match against England.

Yasir was found guilty of the use of banned medicine chlortalidone, which was said to be used either as a masking agent, or as a blood pressure control medicine. According to the rules, Yasir now has seven days to ask for a retest from sample B, which was also taken at the same time. If the results come negative, the entire test will be considered negative. In the event that the right-arm leg-spinner does not ask for a retest, he will have 14 days to request for a hearing before an anti-doping tribunal, where he will have to respond to the charges against him and provide an explanation as to why he used the banned substance in the first place.

As things stand now, it seems unlikely that Yasir will ask for a sample B retest, which means that some sort of ban is on the cards. Considering Yasir became an integral part of the team in the last year or so, his exile from the playing eleven will prove costly.

But the question is how costly will it be?

Well the answer will be separated in two parts. In the first part I will discuss his absence from the Test team and its impact, which will be severe to say the least, and in the second part I will refer to the impact of exile from the One-Day International (ODI) team, which won’t be that costly.

Yasir emerged from behind Saeed Ajmal’s shadow, after Ajmal was banned last year for illegal bowling action, and suddenly became the backbone of the Pakistan Test team. Yes, Pakistan did lose two of its prime assets in Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez over the last year, but in Tests at least, Yasir exceeded our expectations from the very beginning.

From an unranked bowler just over a year ago, Yasir is currently ranked the fourth best bowler in the world, behind South African Dale Steyn, India’s Ravi Ashwin and England’s James Anderson.
As of now, he has picked 76 wickets in 12 Tests, the best by any spin bowler in his first 12 matches, at an average of 24.17.

Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne ranked him the best leg-spinner in the world, which shows he will have a big impact on the Test side.

However, his ODI record suggests that his absence will not mean the end of the world for team Pakistan, as he never looked anywhere near as threatening as he looked on the Test side. The right-arm leg spinner has picked 18 wickets in 14 innings in ODI, at an average of 36.44, with an economy of 5.20.

Of those 18 wickets, Yasir picked 10 against Zimbabwe in five innings at an average of 18.20 and an economy rate of 4.43.

Against better oppositions, such as the likes of England, Sri Lanka and India on turning tracks, Yasir picked eight wickets in nine innings, at an average of over 59 and an economy of 5.57. Out of those 14 innings, Yasir remained wicket less six times. Fortunately, we have the likes of Zafar Gohar, Bilal Asif and Usama Mir, who can prove to be assets along with Imad Wasim. As far as the T20’s are concerned, Yasir just featured twice and is yet to pick up a wicket for the men in green in the shortest format of the game.

This, again, shows that his absence from the ODI format will not affect Pakistan team as such, but on the Test side, we need to come up with something and we need to do it fast.

All in all, the fact that in the 12 Tests in which Yasir featured for Pakistan, he picked 36 per cent of the total wickets taken. That in itself shows that team Pakistan will definitely feel his absence in the longest format of the game,

As far as the shorter formats are concerned, team Pakistan has a lot of work to do, be it with or without the help of Yasir.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs.

UAE will be colored Green this time around

The first part of England’s trip to the UAE has come to an end, and it was Pakistan who clinched the Test series to become the second best team in the world in the longest format. Before the tour began, Pakistan were being touted as hot favourites to beat the visitors in Tests as the home side hadn’t lost a home series for five years under Misbahul Haq’s captaincy.

Keeping in view Pakistan’s Test performances in the desert, it was always on the cards that the hosts would be too hot to handle, and that England would face a stern test against them. However, come the ODIs, the predictions are not exactly the same, and many believe it will be Pakistan who will find it hard to beat England.

PHOTO: AFP

The negative sentiment regarding the ODI series seems more to do with an unconscious mindset than reality. To begin with, in some pundits’ mind, there is still a backlog of what happened three years ago — England thrashed Pakistan 4-0 in the 50-over format. Another reason for such predictions can be the recent rise of the English team in the ODIs, where they defeated World Cup runners-up New Zealand and had a more than competitive series with the current World Champions Australia back home.

But amid all the claims and counter claims of how England will dominate the shorter format, there are many reasons to believe that Pakistan should be able to clinch the series.

If we compare the 2012 series with 2015, the major difference is the team selection.

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Seven players were brought directly into the ODI team after a not-so-successful Test campaign in 2012. The retained players were also part of the 2011 World Cup squad, which was organised in the sub-continent, so they were more acclimatised to the conditions in the UAE.

In the current ODI squad, England have retained six players who took at least some part in the Test series. Taylor played only one match in the series of three, whereas, Buttler was dropped after consecutive poor display with the bat after a couple of matches.

In 2012, England’s success in the ODIs was mainly due to four players. In batting, Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen contributed 61.8 % of the total runs scored by the English team in the series. If Ravi Bopara, the third-best scorer, is included then the trio scored 72.8% of the total runs for England.

In the current team, it’s hard to find anyone other than Joe Root, who encompasses all of what Cook, KP and Bopara had back then. England’s top-three batsmen in 2012; Trott (46), Pietersen (45.5) and Cook (38.5) had considerable averages in Asia, whereas, Bopara had an average of 27 but played as an all-rounder. However, in the current squad, only Root has an average of 51 against spin but he also has played only one series in the Asian conditions (against Sri Lanka), whereas other players have seemed to find it hard on slow pitches and some of them are yet to feature on these turning tracks.

Meanwhile, only two players who were part of the 2012 squad will be featuring against Pakistan this time around — Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan. Buttler averages 26.5 in eight innings in Asia, with only one half-century. Morgan averages less than 20 in his last 16 innings in the continent, with only one half-century to his name as well. Taylor is good against spin and he has proved that with two scores of fifty in four innings in Asia but this will be a different ball game for him altogether.

In bowling, Steven Finn and Greame Swann were ruthless against Pakistan. Both are not available this time around and the new breed of bowlers hasn’t promised anything much to the English team as of now. England will be relying mostly on Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan, Reece Topley and the spin duo of Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid.

Pakistan, meanwhile, look a far more settled side than they were in 2012. Pakistan team management, three years earlier, experimented a bit too much. For instance, in the first ODI, Pakistan played with Wahab Riaz and Umar Gul as the fast-bowling options, but in the second match, Wahab was replaced by Cheema.

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In the first match, Asad Shafiq was used at one-down, in the second he was replaced by Azhar Ali. Shoaib Malik played in the first ODI, and was then dropped for the next two, but was again given a chance in the last match.

Umar Akmal kept wickets in the first two ODIs and Adnan Akmal did so in the next two. Imran Farhat opened in the first three ODIs, but was dropped in the fourth and replaced with Azhar, while Shafiq was reinstated as one-down.

Umar Akmal batted at number six in the first three matches, and was promoted to bat at number four in the last. In the last match, Pakistan went in with only one seamer, with all three Wahab, Gul and Cheema out as Abdur Rehman opened the bowling with Junaid Khan.

Back then there was no clarity in the team plan and the results were horrible in the end. However, in recent times, Pakistan’s team management has learned the value of consistency, and this team is more settled; with players knowing exactly what their role is in the team.

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The argument that Pakistan does not have the likes of Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez to trouble the Englishmen this time around is also to be considered since Test specialist leggie Yasir Shah is yet to bring the same form with the red ball. However, Pakistan have bolstered their bowling attack with four potential spinners; Yasir, Bilal Asif, Zafar Gohar and Shoaib Malik and all of them can become a potent threat on helping pitches for an opposition which cannot treat spin well.

Cricket is a funny game and one cannot predict what’s going to happen the other morning. However, Pakistan this time seems to be the clear-cut favourites; not because they have already won the Test series, but because of the kind of talent they possess.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune.

We need Amir back because our selection committee couldn’t find a replacement bowler

PHOTO: AFP

Pakistan’s team is being re-known for all the excitement it brings to the game of cricket. That comes from the fact that surprises are the forte of Pakistan cricket structure.

So much so, that we ended up giving a 40-year-old his debut match just two series before the World T20, and now we are on the verge of giving a chance to a player who just completed his five year ban amidst a spot fixing scandal.

We must give credit to the selection committee as Rafatullah Mohamed from Peshawar was included on the back-to-back impressive performances in the Domestic T20 tournament, and Muhammad Amir is being considered for the national team on the back of a really impressive return to competitive cricket.

For what we witnessed in the past, earning Pakistan’s cap has been too easy in recent times.

We used to hear that you have to score hundreds and thousands of first class runs and play more than just a couple of seasons to be selected for the national team, before becoming prominent in the eyes of the selectors, but this trend has changed with the arrival of T20. We once claimed that youngsters are not given enough chances, now it feels that the chances are rapidly distributed among players.

The likes of Awais Zia, Mukhtar Ahmed, Saad Nasim, Bilal Asif, Nauman Anwar, Rafatullah,Imran Khan Jr and Shakeel Ansar all fall under the category of players who wouldn’t have lasted 10 matches. It’s evident that most of these players may not be able to survive in the international arena with the kind of qualities they possess. But, ironically the selection committee lacked the eye of picking international players. They missed the fact that players such as Ahmed, Zia and Rafatullah wouldn’t easily adjust to the international arena as they weren’t included in the national team at the best time, for instance; it’s ‘too late’ in the case of Rafatullah.

Then there’s Imran Khan, he would find it hard to outfox the opposition, since he only bowls either a slow ball or a yorker length, and thus becomes extremely predictable.

On the other hand, there is hype surrounding the potential return of Amir to the national side, assuming that he would be great for the team.

Having said that, the Pakistan head coach once said that he would like to see Amir playing at least two seasons before being included in the team, and the selection committee said that he will have to prove himself before being considered again. But within a month’s time, after back-to-back good performances, everyone has now agreed on ‘principle’ that he should beincluded in the team in the near future, even though some players are likely to resist this move.

But amidst all this hype, excitement and controversy, there is a serious need of a reality check for the Pakistan cricket system. Yes, Amir was and still is, an exceptional talent, but here we are talking about how faulty the cricket system is in this country.

On the look of events, we are over the moon as we have quality bowlers back in the ranks, but on the other hand, it’s absolutely sad to see that the cricket system in this country could not find a replacement of a boy who hardly played for 14 months, and was only 18 when he was suspended.

There was a time when it was hard to select the best five bowlers for your team, as there were many options to choose from, but today it is completely the other way around.

If the past three years were not enough, where we literally had to pray that West Indiesdoesn’t play an ODI so we can qualify for the Champions Trophy in 2017, the episode of rushing Amir back in the mix of things should be alarming enough for all parties concerned, because obviously, in these past five years, we could not find a replacement bowler.

Dear Virat Kohli, creating a pitch that only favours your team, is unfair

Finally, the Proteas’ un-defeated run of nine years in Tests comes to an end, and it was India who literally forced it to come to an end.

Since the achievement was so massive, it was presumed that there would be words of praise for the young Indian team, who managed to achieve something no one could in nearly a decade, but that was not the case.

The whole discussion was down to the fact that ‘pitches were off sub-standard’ and that the victory looked more like a “snatched” one than an “earned” one.

The discussion increased with the number of matches, and with it increased the anger within the Indian team management as well, where the likes of captain Virat Kohli and team director Ravi Shastri were left fuming after the comments about the pitches.
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Ravi Shastri slammed Australian veteran Mathew Hayden and all-rounder Glen Maxwell, who criticised the pitch in the third Test match which ended in less than three days.

“Let them sit in Australia and talk about their pitches,” said Shastri. “Tell them not to waste their time about Indian tracks. Come and play here.”

“When we go overseas, we don’t have any choices. Why would you complain?”

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Indian captain Kohli also defended the pitches, and more so defended his team’s success, which is somewhat tainted due to this pitch controversy.

“Why are we not talking about the fact that we are 2-0 up in the series?” said Kohli. “We are criticised about our game and technique when we don’t play well abroad. But when the visitors perform badly, it’s always the wicket.”

Looking at both of the above statements, Shastri and Kohli seem to be missing the point. As an avid cricket follower, we love to see a competition between the bat and ball, but what happened in India is absolutely shambolic to say the least.

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When Kohli and the Indian team complain about tracks outside Asia, their records suggest otherwise. In the recent series, a total of nine innings before the start of the fourth Test and only four 50s or plus have been scored from both teams, whereas only three players out of both squads have an average of 30 plus.

On the contrary, looking at India’s last three tours to AustraliaSouth Africa andEngland, they did lose the series comprehensively, but their batting performance was far superior even in those grounds than in the current series at home.

In South Africa in 2013/14, in four innings, Indian batsmen managed to score two centuries and five 50s, and Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Kohli, all had averages over 65.

In the England series of five Tests in 2014, Indian batsmen managed to score two centuries along with 15 half centuries. Later last year, India visited Australia, where in a four-match series, their batsmen managed to score seven 100s and 11 50s.

What those records suggest was that India did manage to play on those pitches, but perhaps their quality was not the same as of their opponents, and that’s why they ended up on the losing side. But in this series, Faf Du Plessis said that after the first day of the third Test, the par score on that pitch in the first innings was not more than 140 – which pretty much sums up the criticism on the playing surface.

Pakistan just won the series against England in the Emirates, and no one made a fuss about the pitches, as everyone expected them to turn. But it was nothing like the India-South Africa series, where if you score a four and even if you are an Indian batsman, you might feel like throwing a party later at night.

What Kohli and the team have to understand is that creating a pitch that favours you is fine, but creating a pitch which practically makes it impossible for the other team to play will be termed as ‘unfair’. Similarly, one is called a dry track, one is called a rank turner, and one is called “a surface full of scattered little stones, and a ball hitting on any of them can either tweak a mile, or might just come straight, or might stay down, or might just go to the fourth slip without anyone touching it”.

I think Kohli and the team took the advertisement “Mushkil hai, maza ayega” (It’s hard, will be fun) to a whole new level.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs.

Shoaib Malik retirement: A mediocre career, an honourable exit

On the eve of the third day of the last Test match between Pakistan and England, all focus was shifted from a gripping match to a headline which was least expected. Malik, who just made his comeback to the Test side in this very series, after a gap of five years, announced his immediate retirement from the longest format of the game.

Malik, who was originally not included in the squad, made his way in after Bilal Asif was reported for his action while playing against Zimbabwe. He was given a go in the playing eleven after Azhar Ali was ruled out of the first Test due to a foot injury.

In cricket, it is always about taking the opportunity when it arrives and Malik knew it was his time to perform. He played a mammoth innings of 245 in the first Test on a dead Abu Dhabi pitch. His innings gained more significance as he was batting at one-down, which was never his preferable position in Tests, and he was playing the longest format of the game after a break of five long years.

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For Malik, it was more about grinding it out in tough soaring conditions than his technique which made thing work for him on his Test return.

After witnessing such a phenomenal comeback to the side, no one would have thought that a man who just expressed his desire to play in all three format, would retire so soon. Yet, his decision makes so much more sense.

The famous phrase ‘all’s well that ends well’ suits the game of cricket as well. Malik, who averages in the early 30’s and has more than 30 wickets to his name, called it quits at the age of just 33. It looks even more bizarre when you see a 41-year-old leading the same side and is yet to make any official announcement to hang his boots.

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However, the decision speaks volumes about Malik’s matureness as a professional which he must have learned by playing in different leagues all over the world. He had the opportunity to share dressing rooms with several modern day greats, which surely would have helped him understand that it’s better to leave when people are asking you ‘why now’ than at a time when the question becomes ‘when will you’?

Many greats such as Ricky Ponting and Shivnarayan Chanderpaul, to name a few, could have had a better ending if they left at the right time. The likes of Inzamamul Haq and Muhammad Yousuf in Pakistan fall into that category. They did not retire when the time was right and their good work was somewhat compromised since they failed to receive the farewell they deserved.

Malik raised his bar as a true professional and a team man when he wrote in his blog after retirement that he left the team to make room for youngsters. He also left a silent message for other seniors. His, more than just graceful, exit from the five-day format, even after having such a mediocre career by any standards, sets an example for the likes of Younus Khan. The veteran, even after having a below par ODI career, is adamant to play in the 50-over team at the age of 37, most probably at the expense of a deserving youngster.

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The Sialkot Stallions’ captain also set an example for the likes of Saeed Ajmal who has failed to settle with his new bowling action and there is no great hope that he will make it to the national side any time soon.

Malik’s early departure sets an example for everyone that leaving at the right time for the greater good of the team can help you earn respect even with such an average career.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune.

Keep calm, Pakistan: Our cricket team is shaping up quite well

The brief Zimbabwe tour came to an end a couple of days ago, with Pakistan emerging as thevictors. It wasn’t a clean cut victory since Pakistan won four out five matches and the one match we lost was under extremely controversial circumstances. Having said that, Pakistan has managed to perform commendably against Zimbabwe this year. This particular tour highlighted five aspects about our cricket team. 

Imad Wasim – The most wanted in the team

Photo: AFP

The first and foremost aspect that needs to be mentioned in this list is the emergence of Imad, more so after the ban on Muhammad Hafeez’s bowling action, which left the Pakistan cricket team in a fix for a while. Imad’s emergence as a composed and collected player is a positive sign for Pakistan, as he brings forth the much needed calmness during tough times.

He displayed this calmness in the previous T20 series against Sri Lanka, where he tookPakistan over the line with a brilliant batting performance, even though he continuously lost partners at the other end of the batting crease. Imad is more than just an effective left arm bowler, a commendable fielder, and an excellent reader of the situation; he also knows how to get the job done.

In the first T20 and in the first ODI during the Zimbabwe tour, he showed us his skills with the bat, whereas throughout the series, he showed his skills with the ball. He will soon become an irreplaceable asset in the shorter format of the game.

Muhammad Hafeez – Struggling under pressure?

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For our dear professor in his mid-30s, time seems to be running out and pressure is continuously mounting on him to deliver with the bat. There used to be a time when Sikandar Bakht used to say Hafeez is irreplaceable because he brings the required balance which was lacking at that time and no matter how poorly he performs with the bat, he won’t be dropped.

However, things have taken a turn now, and his role is being filled by Imad and to some extent by Shoaib Malik. His batting is coming under scrutiny due to the likes of Haris Sohail and Sohaib Maqsood, who are eagerly waiting in the wings to get a chance to show off their performances. For him to stay on the team, his performance graph needs to improve vastly. The upcoming series against England in the UAE will prove to be a real test of his batting quality and ability.

Shoaib Malik – The new Mr dependable

Photo: AFP

Five hundred runs in 12 matches with an average of mid 90s and two Man Of The Series awards since his comeback to the national team, Malik is becoming the new Mr dependable for the men in green.

It’s been more than a happy and successful comeback for the 33-year-old veteran who seems hungrier, calmer, more focused, and eager to give his best in terms of performance. However, his performance will be keenly scrutinised in the upcoming series against England, where Captain Azhar Ali and Coach Waqar Younis will rightfully be pinning their hopes on him for standing up to the challenges and playing a pivotal role in helping Pakistan cruise towards victory.

Imad, Bilal Asif, Anwar Ali, and Aamer Yameen – Our future seems bright thanks to them

Not long ago, our nation was quite wary about our team’s future in the T20 format, as Pakistan was short of all-rounder’s, especially after the ban on Hafeez’s bowling action, which left the Pakistani team with no adequate all-rounder at that particular time.

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It was quite alarming for all the cricket experts as well, since all-rounders were Pakistan’s forte in the T20 format. However, over the past recent months, with the arrival of Imad, Anwer, Bilal, and Amir these fears and doubts have been brushed aside and we have been able to breathe that sigh of relief we needed so badly.

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Given that the mentioned players are not world class by any means, but there is a spark within them and we can hope to refine and polish them into something the team is looking for. They can bowl, at least two of them can bat extremely well, and most of them are excellent fielders, which is enough for us to believe that our future in the shorter format is brighter and more secure than we actually thought it would be a few months back.

Mohammad Rizwan’s welcome addition and Asad Shafiq’s lost cause in the ODIs

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Lastly, a comparison of two players with contrasting careers in the T20 format is a must.Mohammad Rizwan is gradually becoming the main stay towards the lower middle order of the team, in ODIs as well T20s, due to the obvious reason that he has shown his worth with every chance given to him by the team management.

His innings in the first ODI match of the series, when Pakistan was five down for some 120 odd runs, was an absolute master class to watch, and is another example of why he is what Pakistan wants and needs instead of Umar Akmal or Maqsood. His energy on the field is above par, and during this short span of time, he is being called the Jhonty Rhodes of Pakistan.

On the other hand, we have Asad Shafiq, who fails to deliver nearly every time he is given a chance As many things as they may be to admire in him at Test level, his performance in the ODI format is below par. Till now, he has played 58 ODIs over the past five years, in which he has scored 1318 runs at a below par average of 25.34 and with nine 50s to his credit.

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He was given a chance yet again to perform in two out of three ODIs, even though he did manage a decent 38 in the last ODI, unfortunately he crumbled amidst a tense situation in the second ODI, chasing a wide ball outside the off stump. His continued failure raises a question as to when our selectors will realise Shafiq is not suitable for this format.

Keeping in mind our young and skilled squad, as well as Pakistan’s recent performances against Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, it’s safe to say we have a more than fair chance at winning the series against England.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs.

Dear India, Pakistan will not play cricket on your terms anymore

We have been taught since childhood, or at least I have been taught regularly, that two wrongs do not make a right. I believe the real message behind that age-old adage is to make a child understand that each problem needs to be dealt with separately. One cannot pile one ‘wrong’ over ‘another’ in the hopes of concocting a ‘right’. As a grown up and someone who is in their mid-20s, I understand that, but unfortunately, our 68-year-old noisy neighbour cannot.

Firstly, I do not categorise myself as an anti-Indian. I am merely critical of the Indian government policies which are unfair on the most part. Once again, after recent tensions at the border, and an attack on a village near the Indian border on Indian soil, the Indian government presented another lame excuse on the premise that terrorism and cricket together cannot exist together.

This particular argument is weird, not only because of the manner in which it is presented but also because of the entity which is presenting it. For a country that takes pride in calling itself the biggest democracy in the world, such actions where you ignore your present and avoid your past are more than just disappointing.

For a sports lover, nothing is better than watching a clash between two arch rivals going head to head in a home-and-away clash. However, the Indian government made sure that they would find a way to interlink politics and sports, which is highly disappointing. If that is to be the case, where a government is going turn a sport into a matter of war, then I believe that Pakistan’s government should step in, instead of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and say that cricket and terrorism cannot go forward together, as Pakistan has a far more genuine reason to use that statement.

Unless and until India stops its activism on the Line of Control (Loc), there won’t be any cricket. I believe that it’s about time that we as a nation should say it once for all and that we won’t play the game on your terms.

As far as I can understand, one thing that allowed the situation to deteriorate to this level is our apologetic posture, which never gave us the same power as the diplomats. We, as a nation, have always displayed an apologetic posture in terms of diplomacy and that has never really paid any dividend. India has always played on their front foot and has never allowed Pakistan any leverage, which we shouldn’t expect them to do anyway.

I find it funny that our accomplished and experienced Chairman of PCB, Shahryar Khan, had been very hopeful of the series materialising, even after repeated refusals from the other side. I find it even funnier that an experienced and well-informed Najam Sethi was even more adamant about the series taking place as per the plan. The other side was clear about the series not taking place. Where was his famous ‘chirya then? Since the two aforementioned gentlemen have exhibited loyalty to the state, I will not bash them and will only assume that naivety led them to believe in the commitments of their counterpart across the border.

I am convinced that all of this overhyped optimism is driven by the theory that playing against India is a way to attain economic success. Such an assumption may be correct, but the truth is that an arrangement with India keeps us on our guard at all times and that is problematic. Exhibiting enthusiasm in the field of cricket is great, but it should not come at the cost of our national integrity. I wish to ask our diplomats, government, and PCB officials why we cannot stand up and speak for what is right, especially when our hands are far cleaner than the ones on the other side of the border?

This question needs to be asked within our borders as well. When the Indian media can bash Pakistan and hold it responsible for any unfortunate event that happens to take place, then why does our media lack the necessary teeth to counter India’s offensive, despite being called Pakistan’s ‘teesri quwat’ (third force)?

Hearing allegation after allegation and seeing nearly every cricket series between the two neighbours undergo a war of sorts, one wonders why our sports ministry, the PCB, and government officials are so slow to react on the diplomatic and media front? Why are there are no counter allegations from our side?

Even if for the sake of argument, we accept that Pakistan is the cause of terrorism in India, that we support non-state actors and hence no cricket is possible, our diplomats, PCB officials and sports ministry should be able to put forth the assurance that we definitely are not the cause of terrorism.

Be it the admission of India’s current National Security Advisor (NSA) Mr Ajit Daval in a seminar where he confessed how India is involved in a proxy war in Pakistan which left thousands of Pakistanis dead, or be it the current tension on the LoC, Pakistani officials have an extremely strong argument, which is, if we ever had to play cricket against each other based on political matters, Pakistan would never want to play against India.

One thing that we need to learn from this is that we should not be tempted by the amount of money we can generate with a cricket series against India. Nothing comes at the cost ofnational integrity. It’s about time we inform them that we are not playing against them until they sort themselves out.

Enough is enough.

As for the PCB and the Pakistan cricket team, we should all sit around the table for the World T20 which is going to be held in India and chalk up a master winning plan for our team. That will be our chance to shine on the global stage. Winning against India on Indian soil will send the right message to everyone, regardless of the games being played; Pakistan will come out on top.

Let’s go there boys and win it all, win it for the men in green. Let’s win it for the brave men who protect us on our borders.

If you try to bring us down, we will rise,

If you try to break us down, we will shine,

Because we turn the tides around and do the impossible,

Because we are Pakistan.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs.

Anwar Ali and Shoaib Malik, the unsung heroes of Pakistan’s ODI revival

Not long ago, Pakistan, a sport loving nation who looked towards cricket as a uniting force, was down and dejected when they were thrashed by none other than Bangladesh, the team for whom we always took pride in playing an instrumental part in allowing them to become a Test-playing nation.

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It was heartbreaking really. I never thought such a day would come, but it did. During that time, many thought that a touring Zimbabwe would also be a difficult side to beat, and that the chances of Pakistan playing in the Champion’s Trophy would definitely slip out of our hands, because the only way we would qualify for the league would be by beating Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, and that even on their home ground.

Photo: AFP

But you can’t just write Pakistan off, not yet. We came out from nowhere during the Sri Lankan tour, and apart from the last five-match ODI series in Sri Lanka, Pakistan dominated each and every single aspect of the ODI series.

Even in the second ODI, where Pakistan was beaten narrowly by two wickets, it was the individual brilliance of Kusal Perera that snatched the game completely away from us by scoring 60 odd runs on 20 odd deliveries. Even then, we fought back, and at one stage, we even had a slight advantage when Sri Lanka was down to 156 for five. But we could not stop them since Perera came in and delivered his blitzing innings.
Photo: AFP

Our victory may cover up all the problems our team has, but the question remains, what has transformed Pakistan from a demotivated and disgruntled unit into a unit that is unwilling to accept defeat?

For me, apart from the fielding and better batting performance, the real answer is the balance in the team.

Pakistan under Misbahul Haq’s captaincy always looked like a team short of a batsman or two, and with Shahid Afridi coming in at number seven, we were constantly playing with six batsmen, which put extra pressure on the bowling unit, resulting in total chaos in the ODI format.

After the 2011 World Cup, for the first time as far as I can recall, we have six bowlers and a pretty decent batting line -up until number eight and that is due to the fact that the selectors finally turned their attention to young Anwar Ali and, as Ramiz Raja said, a “veteran” Shoaib Malik. I feel they are the two unsung heroes important for the revival of the Pakistani cricket team in the ODI format.

Anwar, the man from Karachi, along with Mohammad Rizwan, is a breath of fresh air in the Pakistan team’s fielding department and it’s probably the best since a long time. Anwar probably took two of the best catches in the series and was also a part of the brilliant solo run-out effort in the follow up. He also bowled deathly overs in the fourth ODI and has been instrumental in saving crucial runs for the Pakistani team.

Photo: AFP

As a bowler, Anwar’s role was a difficult one, which he completed with utmost honesty and hard work, producing some great results. For a bowler new at international cricket and for someone who does not possess an extremely great set of skills, finishing the series as the joint second highest wicket-taker along with Mohammad Hafeez with an economy rate of under six runs while bowling at the start is a great achievement.

His batting in the second ODI with Rizwan once again assured the management, as well as the player’s sitting in the dressing room, that we finally don’t have to worry about our batting order thinning out towards the end as he is more than a decent batsmen coming in at number eight.

For the veteran Malik, it’s been a more than happy comeback. For once, he is being reinstated into a team where his batting order is what it should have been all these years. Under Misbah’s captaincy, Malik played 22 innings, out of which 15 he batted at number six and number seven.

Malik was never the big hitter you needed at the end of an innings, instead he was the player who can provide you with the platform to finish big. Fortunately, under Azhar Ali’s captaincy, Malik was given a settled role, a role that he seems to like. Batting at number five, Malik is seen flourishing as the man who links the upper order to the lower order in order provide that bit of stability in the batting department.

His calmness on the pitch was instrumental for Pakistan in the first ODI victory chase, where he guided the team, first with Hafeez and then with Rizwan. Another reason for his success is the amount of confidence young Azhar showed in his bowling, which eases the pressure on his batting as well.

Under Misbah, Malik hardly ever got the chance to bowl, which meant that he had to play as a batsman only, and that too at a position that never synchronised with the kind of player he is. To understand how a batting position can affect a player’s utility, one would have to understand that Virat Kohli won’t have the same kind of effect while batting at number seven as compared to what he produces batting at number three. Similarly, MS Dhoni might not be the same Dhoni batting at number three, as compared to batting on number seven.

As far as his bowling is concerned in the series, even though Malik did not pick up a wicket, he was one of the most economical bowlers for Pakistan in the series, where he bowled five overs a match and was not easy to get away with in terms of scoring runs. His fielding has always been a plus point and that too helped Pakistan in their fielding department.

All in all, Pakistan finally has a balance in their ODI team, a balance they’ve desperately been looking for. The Champions Trophy qualification is not over and done with yet, but it is up for grabs as Pakistan now holds the initiative, come the September 30th deadline.

Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed have gone back to their basic ODI format that Pakistan always had, where we never depended on a specialist to take us forward. It was always two or three all-rounders that set us apart from the rest of cricketing world, the one’s that remain unnoticed, yet contribute to the teams’ success.

Even though Hafeez cannot bowl for a year due to the ban, but in Anwar and Malik, Pakistan now has two all-rounders who can bat, bowl and are brilliant fielders, which sets Pakistan off on their rightful journey towards a glorious future in ODI cricket.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs.

Can he change from Azhar Ali ‘the batsman’ to Azhar Ali ‘the captain’

Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is the governing body that controls this country’s cricket system. We often ponder on the reasons behind our cricket performances being unpredictable, but we don’t acknowledge the fact that the same kind of character possesses our cricket board as well. An example would be PCB naming Azhar Ali as the new ODI Captain after Misbahul Haq’s retirement.

PCB names Azhar Ali as the new ODI Captain – Photo: AFP

The astounding part of being impulsive is that Pakistani cricket gets defined by their mistakes if the team fails, and encase they succeed, they are then labelled as geniuses. When the World Cup fever was over, the procedure of “rebuilding process” of the team started for the 2019 World Cup. Out of all the possible candidates that one can think of, PCB found a candidate for captaincy who couldn’t even make the final 15 of the World Cup, or was not even in logical debate for a place in the final 15, as we had similar kind of players in the squad, such as Misbah and Younus Khan.

Misbahul Haq – Former Captain. Photo: Reuters

PCB outthought all of us once again, and it was a gamble that seemed a little odd to start with. I wanted to ask PCB how they always manage to surprise us, but then I realised that this is what Pakistani cricket consists of – surprise, unpredictability, uncertainty and complete gamble. Many may think it’s a case of one defensive captain replacing another defensive captain, or some could see this as a youngster being given a chance to prove himself.

However, I thought otherwise.

It may result in being a burden for the youngster as he is yet to make an impact in a particular format. Moreover, he has to not only lead an inexperienced side, but also cement his place in a struggling team which is full of youngsters who don’t get to play at home and players who are making a comeback after injuries and after remodelling their actions.

In the Bangladesh series, Pakistan got white washed in the ODI series and slumped down to their lowest ever ranking in ODI Cricket. However it was not Azhar’s fault. Our selectors did not take the series seriously and we had to pay the price for their judgement. We sent bowlers who were lacking due to their injuries or a ban on their bowling action in a middle order that did not have any experienced players on the international level either.  Moreover, we had a coaching staff that kept making blunders. However, Azhar, the batsman, stood out and is proving all of us wrong with every inning as we were quite sceptical about his delivery as an ODI batsman.

Bangladesh beats Pakistan by 8 wicket and completed an ODI series whitewash. PHOTO: AFP

At the time of Azhar’s inclusion, one thing was certain – that he will make scores as he usually does.  Nevertheless, those who watch Pakistani cricket closely were concerned about the strike rate at which he will score. Earlier in his career, we had a short sample size of him scoring at a strike rate of 64, which was lower than the strike rates of all the Pakistani batsmen – their strike rate was incomparable with the rest of the world. We were all holding our breaths and praying that he doesn’t become another player like Misbah, who would feel the burden of captaincy and won’t be able to break the shackles and express himself while batting.

Luckily, our fears did not become the reality we expected and Azhar proved us wrong.

First of all, he opted to open the innings and that was the best place for him to bat for all the logical reasons. He proved to be innovative and ready to take the bowling face on. Most importantly, he was looking to take singles and was striving to keep the strike rotating, much opposite to his presider, Misbah. The evidence of his performance appraisal is apparent through statistics that verifies increase in his strike rate from 64 in the first 14 ODIs to 75 after 19 ODIs, plus his consistency was never an issue.

Having said that, Azhar’s captaincy is not as perfect compared to his batting in the first five ODIs. Errors such as having no slips for Yasir Shah in the first and second ODI against Zimbabwe until the wicket fell because of a poor shot. Removing Muhammad Sami after just four overs in the first ODI, when he seemed to be in good rhythm and not using Haris Sohail as a bowler at all, were also bad decisions.

Nonetheless, Azhar can’t be blamed for that, it’s again PCB’s fault that Azhar doesn’t seem to have the ability to contemplate proactively thus would react to a situation in an impulse manner. PCB commonly seems short sighted and therefore they didn’t have any idea on who should replace Misbah once he retires. They appoint a bloke who has never captained a department or state side from where he played. Furthermore, the PCB didn’t ask the department or the state side to give him the captaincy role in order to groom him to become a leader in the future.

PCB chairman Shahryar Khan. Photo: Reuters

This leads us to an unfortunate situation where not only our youth, who we inaugurate in our national team and who learn about various things which they should have learned at the grass root level, but now even our captain will have to go through the same route. He will need to learn the art of captaincy while leading the team in the international arena.

I fear that the Pakistan team may have to pay a heavy price for this.

As a Pakistani cricket fan, I hope and wish that Azhar proves us wrong each and every time he is out leading Pakistan, which he has but only as a batsman. His captaincy, however, is what we are waiting for. He should know that the trust and hope of the nation, which consists of countless cricket fans, relies on him.

Pakistani cricket fans in Lahore stadium. Photo: Reuters

However, this should not stop him from being fancy, street smart or clever on the field. In fact, it should encourage him to do things that the status quo may not dictate but merely focus on the requirement of the situation.

For the Pakistani cricket fans, it’s about time we give our freshly elected captain some time to prove himself; we may not have to pay the price that we are dreading so much. Either way, it’s time to support the men in green, with Azhar in charge for the spot in Champions Trophy 2017. Fingers crossed, we wait to watch the young Azhar “the batsman” transform into the innovative Azhar “the captain”.

The article originally appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs

Pakistan needs to bring its aggression back

There are times when nothing goes your way. When you lose at every stride and luck seems to have faded away from the stars, and it feels like nothing is going to change. Pakistan cricket team is going through such a phase.

After a lacklustre World Cup, this nation was expecting for a turnaround with the arrival of young blood, but those expectations were crushed a little too soon. We not only lost to Bangladesh after 16 years, we were “Bangla-washed” in the ODI and T20 series and believe me, being a diehard fan, seeing Pakistan lose like this is excruciatingly painful.

Bangladesh cricketer Taskin Ahmed (C) reacts as Shakib Al Hasan (L) looks on after the dismissal of Pakistan cricket captain Azhar Ali (R) during the first One Day International cricket match between Bangladesh and Pakistan at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka on April 17, 2015. Photo: AFP

However, Pakistan losing matches was not an entirely unexpected scenario.

Some of us did believe in the possibility that we would lose quite a lot of matches – since our team lacks experience and direction. Some of us hesitantly thought of how Pakistan might not qualify for the 2017 Champions Trophy because we would end up at ninth place. And some of us also thought about how, if we keep on losing games after games, we will eventually not be able to get through to the qualification round for the 2019 World Cup. But no one thought it would start happening this soon, right after the World Cup.

In order for us to qualify for the Champions Trophy, we need to win at least nine out of the upcoming 11 ODIs before the September 30th deadline – otherwise, we can kiss our participation good bye. And the state in which our team is in, I highly doubt if we will be able to win nine ODIs.

When surrounded by adversity, people often look for a positive side – something that can spark new hope and reincarnate the system with a new life. That hope might not be enough to give you your glory back but it can surely be a beginning of something to look forward to. For Pakistan, that positive side is its bowlers, who have been a ray of hope for the team on multiple occasions, even when there is no logical reason to believe in hope.

And it is here that our team needs to work, if we wish to even entertain the idea of winning the upcoming 11 ODIs.

Here is what our bowling side has to offer right.

Wahab Riaz

Wahab Riaz, after his spell against Watson, remained the talking point for everyone for a long time. His performance against Australia was something that brought out a spark for this nation. It had that onslaught, that aggression and that flavour of a young, aggressive Pakistani taking on the world champions, in their own backyard. Wahab’s spell was a real example of what this nation is capable of, and how we act when the chips are down. His spell was something new for the viewers but it wasn’t out of character for the Pakistani team.

Wahab Riaz. Photo: Reuters

As Ramiz Raja wrote in his article on EspnCricinfo, it is in our DNA to show aggression; that attitude of “if you hit with me a rock, I will hit you back with a brick” is just something that runs in our veins.

Inexperienced fast-bowlers

Wahab’s performance was a glimpse from the 90’s, when we had two formidable “Ws” who would take the world head on for their team. They used to run in with fire, with an attitude to annihilate the opposition with a fierce pace.

But looking at Wahab’s stats throughout his career, they do not reflect the kind of charisma that he shows on the field. And why is that so? Well, there can be only two logical answers to this in my view.

1. He is a bit-and-pieces bowler

2. He is not being given a chance to show his talent

Mohammad Irfan. Photo: Reuters

Personally, I believe the second one is more pertinent. The fact that our current bowlers are not of the same quality as the ones we used to have before, yet we were able to put nearly every batting team under pressure in the World Cup, goes to show our bowling merit.

During Misbahul Haq’s era, Pakistan became too heavily dependent on the spinners – so much so that we stopped taking fast-bowlers as an attacking option, and this cost us heavily after ICC banned Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez one after another.

Pitches not compatible with our pacers

In order to understand this dichotomy better, I broke down the stats from the last 15 years into two sets – one from January 2001 to the 2011 World Cup final, and the second from after the World Cup final till the recent series against Bangladesh. The stats revealed that till the 2011 World Cup final, Pakistani pacers had a strike rate of 36, which was far greater than that of spinners during the same time (strike rate of 44.7) while playing at home-ground or neutral venue (UAE).

However, after the World Cup, when we stopped depending on the seamers all together, our fast-bowlers strike rate, while playing at home, dropped to 38.5 and our spinners’ showed improving reductions to 41.2.

The above mentioned statistics show that even on batting-friendly pitches, our pacers were able to give excellent performances. However, for some unknown reason, we started creating slow and low pitches, which offered none or very little assistance to fast-bowlers.

Arguments that people make for creating such pitches are:

1. UAE is our makeshift home-ground, and since the pitches there are foreign to our bowlers, there is nothing much that we can do about it.

2. Pakistani batting is too weak to play on supportive pitches.

For me, both arguments are flawed.

First of all, once you have played in a country for nearly seven years, you should be able to create a track which would facilitate fast-bowlers. If I entertain argument number one, then how would PCB explain our performances against England in the Test series (especially in the second Test), where we ended up whitewashing them comprehensively? I am not saying that an Abu Dhabi or Sharjah pitch can be turned into a WACA pitch in seven years, but with better management and better vision, it could have been a bit more facilitative.

Pakistan’s Adnan Akmal (R) plays a shot as England’s Matt Prior (L) looks on during their first cricket test match at the Dubai International cricket stadium in the United Arab Emirates January 19, 2012. Photo: Reuters

As for the second argument, it is baseless because I believe that Pakistan always plays better when the pitches have something for everyone. That’s why we were able to beat South Africa on their home-ground in 2013, India on their home-ground in 2012-13 (where the pitches surprisingly were more useful for seamers) and victory against South Africa and Zimbabwe in the recent World Cup. Both of our major tournament triumphs (the victory of 1992 in Australia and the T20 victory in 2009 in England) came on pitches that had something for everyone, which proves my point that we can thrive in testing conditions as well.

A compromised Ajmal and an out-of-charm Hafeez

Seeing Ajmal and Hafeez’s performances after their action got remodelled, I don’t think they look anything like the bowling gods that they used to be for Pakistan, and so far, there is no reason to believe that they will be ever as effective as they were, since usually when bowlers make a comeback after remodelling their action, they end up losing their grip and hence give shabby performances.

Muhammad Hafeez (L) and Saeed Ajmal.

Need for aggression

All of this leads us back to the primary elements of Pakistani cricket – aggression, passion, pace and a roaring attitude. We need to reverse the trend of focusing on spin bowling all together. We should look for creating pitches that are more fast-bowling-friendly in domestic as well as international matches, which will bring our mighty fast-bowlers back into the game and will surely help Pakistan as well.

We might not have Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar anymore, but that doesn’t matter, because other countries do not have that quality in their ranks either. But we do have the aggression of Wahab, the passion of Irfan, the swing ofJunaid Khan and Rahat Ali and the yorkers of Sohail Khan to take any opposition down, on any given day.

All they need is a little polish and a comprehensive vision.

The original post was posted here on 10th May, 2015.

The Answers we are looking for

The whole of Pakistan mourn about the current thrashing against Bangladesh, which exposed Pakistan Cricket at many fronts. In my last article, when I said that I am extremely worried about Pakistan’s chances this time around, many asked me what my Cricket credentials are. When I said that Shehzad and Umer Akmal should not have been dropped the way they did, people said about me that “He is a student, and unfortunately, he doesn’t know about the game”.

It’s Ok. I believe all of those comments were from the people, who were as disappointed and dishearten seeing Pakistan Cricket in this position in their very own way, like I was. Many abused players and Coaches, and many just stopped watching Cricket altogether. Some with a very heavy heart said that “Yes, defeats are painful, but give these youngsters a chance”, and many raised their voice about the “Tried and tested” ones to be brought back (I was one of them). The reason for all of that activity was the mere fact that as a Pakistan cricket fan, we were shattered, broken into pieces seeing this very team, going from the high’s to the great lows.

As for the series, it is done and we should move forward. The real question remains, is this the end of Pakistan Cricket? Is there no way to revive it? People come up with arguments, such as “restructuring the domestic cricket” and a lot more phrases that I have been hearing from the time I started watching Cricket. I believe that Domestic cricket needs an overhaul, but that’s a long term solution. In the short run, we need to look at the mistakes we did, held someone responsible for the results and try to rectify it in the near future.

To begin finding who is actually responsible for this capitulation, we need a fair reflection of how things went and answer some questions honestly.Questions like is the current lot the best one we have? The answer is pretty much yes (apart from some players who were being forced to ignore). Another question is that is this team is as bad as the results suggest? Or a better performance could have been extracted from the players? Not that long ago, after the 2007 World Cup, Pakistan gave 14 players their debut while playing against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe under Malik captaincy, and with better management, we abled to thrash them with ease. I believe the answer is that these players are not as bad and with a better management, we could have produced better results in the series.

I find it absolutely un-ethical& un-professional to hold our Young Captain (whom I am not a big supporter of) or this young team responsible for the defeat. If anyone deserves to be held responsible for the loss against Bangladesh, it has to be our Coaching staff. But seeing PCB’s policy recently, I don’t believe that they will ever hold Waqar responsible for the defeat. Since PCB won’t sack him, and our coaching staff won’t resign themselves, we are going to pinpoint mistakes that our coaching staff did, and discuss about it, like we always do.

First of all, Waqar and the Coaching staff along with Selectors are guilty for picking up the team, which is just not competitive enough at the International level. They picked up a Captain, who did not have a assured place in the lineup, which will going to always make it hard for him to lead the side. They picked up Saeed Ajmal, without knowing how he is actually bowling after his remodel action, and it looks like his magic is vanished. They dropped Shahzad and Akmal, after investing too much effort and time to develop them as a product, just to drop them at the end when they were supposed to be given a more responsible role in the team. They shatter the confidence of Ahmed Shehzad to an extent that he could not hit a ball against the same bowling attack, against which he scored a scintillating 100, just a year ago in the World T20, after being told that he is not being dropped on the basis of his performance, but his flamboyance. He looked scared, cautious & confused. He was nothing more than just a shadow of what he used to be.

There are not many times when you actually have a clean sweep in a series without blunders, and this time our Coaching staff made sure that they will make enough blunders to sink Pakistan down. Looking at the 1st match, Bangladesh were struggling with 67 for 2 in the 20thover and Pakistan was all over Bangladesh. Azhar Ali was in charge of the team for the first time, and it was natural for him to do a mistake by actually introducing 2 part timers from both end, which eased the pressure on Mushfiqur and Tamim Iqbal. But the real question is, was our Coaching staff sleeping that time? In between overs, they could have sent a message to Azhar that this move would backfire and that he should keep attacking from one end at least, which they didn’t. In the same match, when Pakistan came to chase 300 +, Hafeez was coming off from an imposing 85 as an opener in the practice match against BCB XI, but somehow our Team management thought otherwise and demote him in the order and opened with Sarfaraz. I was one of the many voices who was cheering for Sarfaraz when he opened in the World Cup, but that was because we did not have any other opener inform with Shehzad at that time. This time, opening with Sarfaraz left us vulnerable at the back end of the innings, and we did not had any one to improvise at the death overs to give us a good finish.

Another blunder was seeing Fawad Alam batting at no.6, where he looked completely out of sort. He normally bats at no.3 or 4 at the domestic level, but either our Coach didn’t know that or he was trying to show everyone that he is so naïve that he don’t know what Fawad is capableoff. Fawad is the sort of player that you need to anchor the inning, not to bat at 6, because he is just not for big shots. Having him at 6 is like telling him in person that “we don’t need you at all “.

I cannot comprehend the fact that how our team management is so naïve or incompetent that they cannot define a role to a player in the playing XI? Our batting looks as baffled as it looked in the World Cup and before. Prior to World Cup, it was evident that only Misbah had a defined role, which was to play till the last over. The rest was playing as if they are a driver of a car who is lost in the desert, without any clue as where to go and without any knowledge to what the final destiny is. In the 3rd match, as soon as Azhar got out, our Team management sent Rizwan in. It was supposed to be Rizwan’s duty to improvise from there on as Pakistan was easily looking for 300 and beyond, and it should have been Haris to carry the team till the last over, but as usual, his role was not delineate. He got out just 4 balls later, trying to heave Mashrafe for a long hit over mid – wicket, which left Pakistan on the brink of a collapse. Had he been informed by the team management that he needs to stay there till the end, it would have simplified his role, but as usual our Team management was too lazy to say the least. I am not saying that Pakistan would have won the series had these decisions been taken by the Team management, but having the ability to adapt to a particular situation in modern Cricket is what is the need of an hour, and hour Coaching staff is experienced enough to know the importance of these moments.

Our team management, who is mostly dominated by our Head Coach “Waqar Younis”, needs to be asked these questions as to why Pakistan’s performance on the field has a constant decline. He was a legend of this Country, whom was loved by the people in this country. But in his current stint as a Coach of the National team, he seems to be still in the stardom of the past, and his ego is being too much to handle for this team. He was the Coach when the Spot Fixing scandal came in the media, and his ego was one of the reasons behind Razzaq’s decline, and that was not the only case to remember. His man management skills are being questioned over and over again, and this time around, he isn’t doing any better. But the real question remains to be seen is the current PCB hierarchy have the ability, moral ground or courage to ask these questions to Waqar, and sack him if he won’t satisfy with the answers? The answer is what we are still looking for.

The original post was posted here on April 27, 2015.