La Liga review: Barcelona farewell Xavi in style, Deportivo’s great escape

La Liga comes to an end after yet another exciting weekend and Barcelona are the newly crowned champions of Spain. The last weekend had some spectacular moments to remember, so without further ado, we review the final weekend of La Liga action.

Ronaldo – 3rd Pichichi in a row

Cristiano-Ronaldo-Real-Madrid-celebrates

Barcelona & Messi may have won the league, but it’s Real Madrid’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo who won the Golden shoe award for the third time in row after scoring a hat-trick against Getafe after 33 minutes of the first half. Madrid went on to win their game 7-3 with Chicharito, Jese, James and Marcelo were the other scorers. Ronaldo also created history by becoming the highest scorer in one season in La Liga ever, with an astonishing tally of 48 goals this season.

Deportivo – A GREAT escape

Deportivo-la-coruna

Deportivo miraculously came from two goals down against Barcelona at Camp Nou to escape relegation which looked certain for most of the match. Desperately needing a point against the newly crowned Spanish Champions, Deportivo hopes were all but gone when they went two goals down with 30 minutes remaining in the second half. But an inspirational performance saw them levelling inside 10 minutes, with goals from Lucas Perez and Diogo Salmao. Granada also escapes relegation with a hard-fought point against the former Spanish champions, Atheltico Madrid at home.

Valencia – Champions League is ON

Valencia celebrate Champions League qualification. Source: Getty.

Valencia qualified for Champions League qualification after a two-year drought. Valencia needed to get a win to keep their fate in their own hands against Almeria, who were fighting for survival and also needed a victory to boost hopes for escaping relegation. Valencia went down twice, but came back both times and finally went into a lead in the 80th minute with a goal who else but Paco Alcacer.

Ancelotti rules out AC Milan return

Carlo Ancelotti

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelloti reveals that it’s either Madrid or Nothing for this year in his plan. There were reports suggesting that Ancelloti might go back to Milan after a potential sacking due to trophy-less season, at the Bernabeu, but the Italian was quick to refuse that and express his desire to take a break from football if he will be sacked in the coming days.

Barca bid farewell to “graceful” Xavi

Xavi-Hernandez-Barca-farewell

The Camp Nou faithful bid farewell to the club’s one of the great legend, Xavi Hernandez with a La Liga celebration after an intense draw against Deportivo. Xavi had more than impressive career at Barcelona, with more than 760 appearance for the Blaugrana, with 27 titles in total, including eight La Liga titles.

The article was originally published on Playingfor90.com

La Liga Preview: End of an era at Barcelona, UCL spots up for grabs

As the curtain draws on La Liga for yet another season, Azeem Siddiqui previews the final round of fixtures.

La Liga finally comes to a conclusion this weekend and after much speculation about whether the last two weeks would be suspended. The La Liga title may already be decided, however, there are still a Champions League places and the final Europa League spot which have yet to be finalised. With that said, here are few things to look out for in this final weekend of Primera Division action.

Seville or Valencia, who will finish 4th?

Valencia need a win against Almeria to secure Champions League football next season. Source: Getty Images.

The UEFA Champions League qualification round is up for grabs both for Valencia and Seville, where just a point separates the two on the 4th and 5th position. A win against Almeria will ensure that Valencia will play at least in the qualification round of Europe’s elite club tournament, or better, could even propel them above Atletico (provided that they lose). A draw or a defeat, on the other hand, would open gates for Sevilla to potentially show off and qualify for the Champions League twice, who have to win a tough one against Malaga at La Rosaleda.

Two spots up for grabs in the relegation battle – who will avoid it?

Atletico

With the last day of league shaping up, it’s still anybody’s guess who is going to follow Cordoba into the footsteps of relegation, with only two points separating Granada, Deportivo La Coruna, Eibar & Almeria. Eibar has the easiest of the fixtures out of all the other three teams as they take on the already relegated Cordoba. And it seems Deportivo and Granada both would do well if either someone managed to avoid slipping into to the 2nd division. The former will take on the newly-crowned Spanish champions, Barcelona, at the Camp Nou will the latter will take on the former champions Atletico Madrid, who are also looking to secure Champions League football.

Fight for the Pichichi

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

The rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi remains a pivotal talking point as La Liga draws to a close. With Messi eyeing a third Treble with Barca and a potential Ballon d’Or award next year,  the battle for the league’s top scorer will come down to the wire. Four goals currently separate the two players, but with Barca playing Deportivo, scoring a hat-trick, perhaps even a double hat-trick, shouldn’t be unimaginable.

Carlo Ancelotti’s final match?

Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti will most probably manage the Los Blancos for the last time after a trophy-less season at the club. He came under huge criticism following a dismal week, where Madrid held to 2-2 & 1-1 draw at home in must-win matches against Valencia & Juventas that not only ended the club’s La Liga hopes, but also back-to-back Champions League dreams.

Xavi’s farewell

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Barcelona will bid farewell to one of the greatest midfielders, not only in their club history but of his generation with a rout against Deportivo. Xavi had earlier announced that he would leave Barcelona at the end of the season and will join Qatari football club, Al Sadd. The 35-year-old has enjoyed an illustrious career in Barcelona, in which he appeared in more than 760 matches, scoring 84 goals and won 23 titles for Barcelona, including eight La Liga crowns.

The article originally appeared on Playingfor90.com

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.

Pakistan will lose to Bangladesh…again

Pakistan cricket is bizarre, especially with regards to team management and structuring. Coaches, managers, captains and players, all seem to be stuck in a quagmire when it comes to helping Pakistan to get out of the plethora of issues it is plunged it.

Who would have thought back in January that Fawad Alam will be left out of the World Cup squad and Nasir Jamshed will get to play a full role? Who would have thought Rahat Ali will make it to the World Cup and prove to be a master stroke? Our lack of planning has led to many miracles – but that is not how matches are won.

Bangladesh cricketer Soumya Sarkar plays a shot 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

Six-months ago, had someone told me that Pakistan was going for a Bangladesh tour, I would have counted it as nothing more than a bunch of practice matches. I would have been sure of Pakistan’s success and I wouldn’t even have minded betting on Pakistan for once. But things are not the same anymore, and for a Pakistani cricket fan, it’s calamitous to say the least.

The match of Friday is a testimony of that.

This tour would not have been much of a hassle if our policies were straight-forward and simple. This tour would have been a mere formality, and we would have won our matches splendidly – if only the management was prudent enough to listen to experienced players and create a blend of young and senior players alike to bring forward a formidable side.

However, that did not happen.

I remember the last time we faced Bangladesh – during the Asia Cup – it was Shehzad, who scored a century against them and it was Umar Akmal who made us cross the line with a sublime Afridi-esque inning in the middle and a typical Fawad-like effort. We were chasing 300 plus and were in trouble at the start; however, not once was I worried about what the result will be – because I trusted my team.

But this time, I have no faith in them. And I am worried about our chances at winning.

Practice match

Anyone who witnessed Bangladesh’s performance in the ICC World Cup 2015 would know that this tour is not as easy as it might seem to most cricket pundits. They qualified to the quarter-finals at a time when nearly all of their players were inexperienced. They defeated England and were mighty close to beating World Cup finalist New Zealand as well. So they mean business.

They have the confidence and the passion to take on any team that comes their way, and yesterday’s match showed it. Also, from 2013 onwards, Bangladesh has played 23 matches at home, where they have won 11 and lost 11 with a win percentage of nearly 50%, which is better than Pakistan (38% win ratio) and England (44% win ratio).

Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) XI celebrate after defeating Pakistan by one wicket in the one-off warm-up game before the ODI series. Photo: AFP

On the other hand, Pakistan team is clearly in crisis mode.

We lost the only practice match against Bangladesh Cricket Board XI, a team which had only four international players playing against our complete touring team. We were 203/8 in the 44th over, and even though Fawad took us to a respectable 268, it was chased down with ease. I can’t recall a time when Pakistan lost a practice match with Bangladesh.

But oh well, I guess there is always a first time.

Pakistan versus Bangladesh – first match

On Friday, our fears became reality, where we lost to Bangladesh after 16 years by a comprehensive margin.

There is a lot to criticise about the way we played, but seeing that most of our players were young and our captain was inexperienced, it would not be appropriate to be brutal about their performances.

Azhar Ali played an inning that one wouldn’t have expected him to play, at the top of the order, scoring a well-crafted 72-runs and debutant Muhammd Rizwan played like a gem, at the lower end of the innings. However, questions need to be asked about the team management (especially Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq) as to why the batting line-up was so ill-prepared? Why did our batting side look so vulnerable?

Azhar Ali scores a fifty in his first match as the ODI captain. Photo: AFP

Furthermore, I cannot not understand the logic behind Mohammad Hafeez’s out. He was the highest run-scorer in the practice match; so what went wrong? Also, it needs to be answered as to why Fawad was batting at number six, when he is not a big hitter. Irrespective of how weak the team is, a few tweaks here and there could have made a huge difference. But our inept team management made sure that we lose badly, and if they do not mend their ways, the upcoming matches would have the same fate.

Way forward?

Pakistan needs to look at the crisis we are in and then come up with a viable solution. True, this is the first time, in more than eight years, that we are playing without Misbahul Haq and Shahid Afridi – who were the cornerstones of our team; true, we are going in with a captain who doesn’t have an ensured place in the line-up and it’s his first series as a captain of Pakistan in any format; true, Saeed Ajmal and Hafeez (hopefully) are making a comeback after months of ban and Junaid Khan is making a comeback after a long injury layoff, so their effectiveness seems to be compromised; and true, we dropped Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal, two of the brightest batting talents in the country, right at the time when they were supposed to be given a more responsible role, so our batting seems ever more weaker than it was before – but all of this does not validate such a harrowing defeat.

Tamim Iqbal scored his half-century off 75 balls. Photo: AFP

Teams have gone in with worse and have come out with better outcomes, just because their coaches and managers were strategic enough to understand their strengths and weaknesses.

I am all in favour of rebuilding of the team, but you can’t just rebuild it by dropping all the important players and replacing them with the young ones. There is a method to every madness but the kind of madness PCB is showing is just hilarious and downright scary. I fail to understand why we can’t find a proper time to do a certain thing. As far as I can recall, only West Indies has the tendency of making a bad decision at a crucial time more frequently than Pakistan.

When we need the likes of Shehzad and Umar, we drop them. When Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik should be given a chance on their preferable positions to make a comeback and fill the space of the seniors who have left, we ignore them. When we finally have the chance to include Anwar Ali into the mix to give him a chance to shine, we forgot him. And so our self-destructive ways continue to hinder our progress.

Pakistan cricket is in its worst shape right now. Our players have not played cricket at home for years and the authorities who are responsible for developing cricket in this country have their own set of agendas to follow. It looks hard for us to win against Bangladesh in the next match and I won’t even be surprised if Pakistan loses the entire series.

The original post was posted here on 19th April, 2015.

Pakistan vs Australia: Without Irfan, our romance with fast-bowling continues

As we qualify for the quarter-finals (the super eight) in the most unobjectionable style possible – keeping in mind how we lost our first two matches – it makes me wonder how phenomenal our team’s journey has been.

Looking back at how things were about a month ago, and how they are now, it was nothing less than an emotional roller coaster ride for the 180 million people of this country.

Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz (L) runs to his teammate Mohammad Irfan (R) as they celebrate their 29 run win over South Africa. Photo: AP

For the first week or so, our performances were so poor that many broke their TV sets, people were bursting with rage on social media and perhaps exaggerated a bit too much by saying things like,

“This team can’t win a tea cup, let alone the World Cup!”

Former cricketers called this team as bad as a “club side”.  It was all too emotional for us to accept.

However, things have changed and the picture looks more optimistic now. People have started looking for similarities with the 1992 triumph. I have realised that the reaction we had after the first two defeats was because we, as a nation, could not handle the frustrating thought that our bowling attack, which we were so proud of, was not the same as it has always been.

Pakistan’s Rahat Ali celebrates the wicket of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s Amjad Ali during the teams’ Pool B Cricket World Cup match. Photo: AFP

We neither had any high hopes from our batting nor did we think that we would take a dozen Jhonty-like catches in the field, or produce phenomenal run outs, to win us a match. It was always our bowling attack that we had faith in, no matter how weak it was, and this time too, it did not disappoint us. Even in the first two matches, when Pakistan lost, in all fairness, our bowlers did extremely well, apart from the last 10 overs in the match against West Indies.

In the game against Zimbabwe, facing a potential early exit from the World Cup, they tried to defend a mediocre target set by us, in a tournament where 300 runs had been chased down with ease and on a ground where 236 runs had never been defended in the last decade or so. This is when our bowlers came to the party at just the right time and we dismantled the minnows with aggression that showed shades of the 90s, when our bowlers were not scared of going for runs and they came back steaming in and blew the opposition away.

Pakistan’s spin bowler Shahid Afridi (R) gestures as India’s batsman Shikhar Dhawan (L) gains his ground. Photo: AFP

Then came the big game.

I, along with everyone else, thought it would be ‘impossible’ to beat a team, who scored 400 runs in consecutive ODIs with such ease. Things looked bleak when the mighty Proteas had to chase 232 runs in 47 overs but then the Pakistani pace battery stepped in, aiming to bring down one of the best batting line ups in the tournament like a house of cards.

From 67 for one in the 10th over, South Africa was all but gone when they went down to 102 for six wickets in the next 10 overs. AB de Villiers kept attacking our young and inexperienced bowlers but our pacers were undeterred. They were sure of their abilities and so were we. They ran in with fire, bounced out the opposition, set the batsmen up by bowling the out swingers, and then brought in the yorkers – it was just amazing to see the aggression we are known for.

Pakistan bowler Sohail Khan celebrates the dismissal of Indian batsman Virat Kohli. Photo: AFP

ESPN Cricinfo’s headline “Pakistan roar back through bowlers”, next to Muhammad Irfan’s picture is a testament of our match against South Africa. We came roaring back at Dale Steyn after removing him in a famous and first ever victory against South Africa in the ICC World Cup. Just reading the headline got me excited for our future matches and I am sure that many readers like me, who have grown up watching Pakistan play cricket, would have gone ballistic seeing a bowler in a Pakistani jersey labelled a “lion”.

All this sums up Pakistan and its cricketing abilities. We love our bowlers and we expect them to win it for us, anytime, anywhere and against any opposition.

That’s what we are and that’s what we do, whether you like it or not.

Muhammad Irfan (L) celebrates after dismissing Dale Steyn. Photo: AFP

Perhaps it’s because it has always been our bowlers who, in almost unwinnable situations, have come up with solutions for our team in the past and have produced innings which are nothing sort of magical. Our bowlers have done it time and again and that’s why they are the darlings of this nation. They are being followed, admired, idolised; they are the real superheroes of this nation full of cricket fanatics.

No wonder this nation broke into pieces when the spot fixing scandal came about, when two of our talented bowlers, whom we were very proud of, were taken away from us.

A year back, who would have thought that this team would be playing without two of the world’s best spinners in ODIs, Saeed Ajmal  and Muhammad Hafeez, without their best fast bowlers, Junaid Khan and Umar Gul, and yet will be competent enough to fight back nearly every team in the tournament.

Junaid Khan (TL). Saeed Ajmal (TR), Umar Gul (DL), Muhammad Hafeez (DR)

Now, it is a very crucial time in the World Cup, where even a single defeat could be fatal. We face Australia next, in their backyard, on their home turf and, to our disadvantage, we will be without our ace pacer, Irfan, who is out of the World Cup due to an injury.

Yes, this hurts our team’s chances, but that is how it is and we have to move on. We are the ‘cornered tigers’, we have always loved that title, but perhaps we’ll be even more dangerous as ‘wounded tigers’. No matter whom the PCB will send in, he won’t be here for the quarter-final match, so we have to go on with the four pacers left in the squad and believe in them, like we have before.

Misbahul Haq (L) and Muhammad Irfan (R).

Given that the pitch in Adelaide is a slow one and is not that scary for Asian teams, the batsmen should give our bowlers something challenging to bowl at, and if they are successful, then fingers crossed, the Kangaroos better watch out.

We are going to come in hard on you, we are going to roar like lions do, and we will do whatever it takes to take you down, because if our pacers are in the mood, then no victory is impossible.

The original post was posted here on 18th March, 2015.

Why Not Drop “Team Management” instead of Players?

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Pakistan cricket, often termed as something which is not a bed of roses for some, but for others maybe it is (By other’s I mean PCB Officials and Team Management). World Cup ended on a low and no one from the Team management or from the PCB headquarters took the responsibility, and all of us knew that “Players” will bear the consequence. It was only Moin Khan, who was the chief selector then, who was sacked or being laid off from his duty, but due to the casino scandal. I am sure even he wouldn’t have been replaced if that scandal didn’t happen.

As a cricket follower, I failed to understand why always players are to be blamed for a poor performance in cricket? Especially in Pakistan. In soccer or other sports, coaches or managers are held responsible for the team’s performance, but in Cricket that’s not the case. It can never work this way in sports that you held players only accountable for a debacle by saying that “when you win, you get the credit too”. It’s an illogical analogy in the first place.

Every country has a sporting attributes that are directly affected by their culture. In Pakistan cricket, where there is a shadow of Pakistani culture is visible in the team’s behavior on and off the field, the Team management role becomes even more important. Just like you have a grandfather or a father who rules the show in the family in Pakistan normally, it is the grandfather, like figure (Coach) in the team who runs the show there. The same way that we don’t expect to have much say in front of our dad or grandfather at home, I find it a total madness to believe that a youngster would have more say in front of an ex cricketer, who was his hero when he was a kid and who is an elderly figure in the dressing room now, because well he just knows more (Like our elder’s know more always). But unlike our home culture, when there is a time to take responsibility in Pakistan cricket, the youngsters have been shown the door.

That’s not it. Pakistan’s cricket another dilemma is the disaster of not letting the youngster grow in the limelight that other players enjoy all over the world. Cricketers in this country are being treated like school boys because 3 cricketers in the past have betrayed the trust of those, who actually allowed them to do all the shoddy stuff. Players are not allowed to use social media, not allowed to talk to the media during tours, they cannot stay out after 8 at night and then the media is after them for poor performances. I feel for the players who don’t get to play any cricket at home, are being kept in a prison abroad, and being bashed by the media upside down when they don’t perform up to the expectations of this naïve but emotional Nation. The reason for all of this so-called “Curfew” from our team management is the spot fixing scandal that tainted our image. But I want to ask the team management, how about putting the restrictions on the Coach as well? Who is the same one when that scandal came in the media 5 years back? I also want to ask PCB that is this the way to treat your stars? By keeping them in a prison like environment when they are supposed to enjoy their life? On a lighter note, I think if PCB’s tactics are really working, then that means that since most of the Talibs were Pakhtoon, so we should put all the Pukhtoons in the jail because well, some of them hurt us. Woah, What A JOKE.

Pakistan’s World cup campaign was not great, and it was the player’s fault (Obviously, according to PCB officials). So let’s drop everyone who underperformed. Ok, I Agree for the sake of argument, but what about the selection of out of form Nasir Jamshed? Was that the fault of player’s as well? Or the selection of Younis Khan? Or persistence with Mr. Technically sound Asad Shafiq, who have an average of 25 in more than 50 ODI’s since the 2011 World Cup? Or the omission of Fawad Alam from the World Cup squad after being the most consistent one in the past 8 months? Or now the selection of Azhar Ali, who couldn’t play a single ODI in the last 2 years and now he is the Captain of Pakistan ODI team. Is these all the players fault as well? And we should drop all of them?

If the pain of seeing Pakistani cricket going down the road is not enough, then the news of Ahmed Shehzad being dropped was nothing less than a minor heart attack. I saw Shehzad first in 2009 in a Domestic T20 tournament and he looked a package that will serve Pakistan for ages. He was aggressive, flaunting, charismatic and stylish at the same time, a rare combination that you will not find in Pakistan cricket now a days. But somehow over the period of time, Team management made sure that they turn him into an Ahemd Shehzad, who is cautious, scared, selfish and confused at the same time. All of which took his charm away, but yet he kept producing performances more consistently than any other batsmen except Misbah.

Ahmed Shehzad, who was the 2nd highest scorer in the World Cup for Pakistan, and had the 3rdhighest average after Sarfaraz and Misbah, have been dropped from the ODI squad for the Bangladesh tour on disciplinary ground. This omission seems even more surprising considering Misbah retired already and Hafeez is just making a comeback. Knowing Shehzad and his attitude on the field, many called him “Kohli” of Pakistan cricket, which always seemed a little over exaggerating. This country has a nation who just need a small point to criticize anyone, and they found Shehzad’sselfie craze as that one thing that lead him to go through serious criticism. But I want to ask my fellow countrymen that why can’t we handle a character like Kohli in Shehzad, who is aggressive on the field, have a little flamboyance touch, and is a little active on Social media? If the likes of Maxwell’s, Kohli’s, Warner’s, Kp’s, Steyn’s can survive on the international level for so long, why not Shehzad?

PCB sources say that he believes that he is a hero already and he does not take Cricket seriously and that’s why he should be dropped? , But the records suggest otherwise. Shehzad was the third highest scorer for Pakistan in Last 2 years in ODI’s, after Hafeez and Misbah. I always believe that Cricket need characters like Afridi, Yuvraj, Gambhir, Steyn, Akhtar, KP, Gayle, who brings the magnetism to the field, and Shehzad have that bit of spark of him. These sorts of players bring the kind of performance on the field like no other player can, and that’s why they remain the blue-eyed boys in their country. I still don’t remember a Pakistani opener playing the kind of innings Shehzad played against South Africa in South Africa against the best bowling attack in the world in their own backyard. His performance on the field was not the worst and his omission seems an obvious intentional effort from our old boys, sitting in an office which is centrally Air Conditioned in the PCB headquarters, to destroy this young boy flair of magnificence that sets him apart from the rest of the team.

To conclude, it all, Shakib’s statement about Bangladesh being favourite against Pakistan in the coming series sum it all. This is the same team who hasn’t beaten us in any format for the last 16 years, but now they pose a serious threat in the coming series. This shows that now we are at the crossroads, where it can make or break for Pakistan Cricket. It is easy to blame the weaker and let go the stronger, and that’s what we have done so far. We let go the big names and sacrificed the ones who did not have a lobby on his back for his support. But it’s now or never, and it’s better to be late than never. It’s high time we should hold PCB officials and Team management accountable for their blunders, which are making Pakistan suffer more and more as the days goes by.

The original post was posted here on 08, April 2015

Yasir Shah is Pakistan’s key to win against Ireland

After defeating the Proteas in Auckland, Pakistan has its sight set on yet another ‘do-or-die’ encounter with the giant-killers, Ireland, in Adelaide on March 15, 2015.

Amongst a group of seven, Pakistan is on the third position, one step ahead of Ireland, ready to qualify for the quarterfinals. In any other sport, this would be a favourable position to be in, but sadly, this is cricket. Unlike football, Pakistan cannot qualify for the next round with a nil draw.

Photo: AFP

The game of cricket is cruel. Pakistan has yet to make it through the next round, and if things do not work out, we might be on the flight back home sooner than expected.

Coming down to the match, the winning formula for Pakistan should be to include our very own ‘Messi’ – Yasir Shah – in the playing 11 for an all-important encounter.

Many may question the inclusion of Shah in the team, especially when our current bowling attack, which has defended two of the lowest totals in the tournament, has proven to be beyond remarkable.

However, as I mentioned in my last post, it all comes down to smart cricket and including Shah will prove to be a smart decision, regardless of what the result may be.

Here is why I think so:

Adelaide – a spinner’s ground

Adelaide is one ground in Australia where Asian teams feel at home, whereas, the home team feels out of their comfort zones. It is the sort of pitch one comes across in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, where you can play a shot on the up without having to worry about the bounce and lateral movement.

It is a pitch that is slow in nature and tends to get better as the game goes on, proving to be of great help to a spinner. Going through the statistics of the top seven grounds, which include Adelaide, Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG)Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA)BrisbaneHobart and Canberra, I thought that it would either be Sydney or Adelaide with the best strike rate for spinners.

However, it surprised me that the WACA ground has produced the best results (42 balls per wicket), with Sydney coming in second (45 balls per wicket) and Adelaide coming in third, with a wicket after every 48 balls for a spinner.

From January1990 to March, 2015. Source: http://www.espncricinfo.com

These statistics might not seem as attractive, but someone who has watched the Big Bash League and watched different forms of cricket in Australia over the years, would agree that Adelaide is one of the few pitches in Australia which assist spinners more as compared to the rest of the grounds.

Photo: AFP

The Irish record against spin

We have always heard that teams outside Asia are usually not good with spin, and that seems to be the case with Ireland. Since 2007, 239 times out of 663 Irish dismissals came against spin bowlers. This figure is quite gigantic in nature, considering that they do not play top quality opposition day in day out and do not possess bowlers who are quality spinners. They play cricket either in their home ground or in Dubai against the weaker opposition.

Their average runs per wicket loss, while playing against spinners, is lower (24.68) than their overall average of 25.68 runs per wicket. These statistics should push our team management to make the correct decision.

Photo: AFP

Ireland’s batsmen

The Irish record against spin is not that great, according to the statistics mentioned above. But the statistics that matter the most with Shah’s case is the ratio of right-handers in the Irish ranks, who had trouble batting against the spin. A total of 165 out of 239 dismissals were of right handed batsmen. Their top three batsmen’s are left-handed – Ed JoyceWilliam Porterfield and Neil O’Brien.

Going further into these statistics shows the real difference between the runs per wicket by right-handed and left-handed batsmen respectively. The difference is staggering. Left-handed batsmen in the Irish team have an average of 30.43 per wicket lost, which is far better than what right-handed batsmen produce – 22.36 runs per wicket.

Photo: AFP

Yasir Shah’s record

These statistics make Shah’s case even stronger. His record against right-handed batsmen speaks for itself, even in his short career at an international level. Out of 27 scalps that he took in his first five Test matches at an international level, 18 were right-handed.

This shows how valuable Shah can be against Ireland.

Many have argued that we should drop Shahid Afridi and bring in Shah because Afridi is not taking any wickets and does not score many runs. That would be a leg spinner to leg spinner replacement. I find these arguments futile and a step too far for the team.

Pakistan has already had a difficult time striking a balance ever since the ICC banned Mohammad Hafeez, and dropping Afridi, who is probably batting as consistently as he can in this World Cup by scoring an average of over 23, which is close to his overall career average and far greater than his overall World Cup average of 13 plus, makes no sense whatsoever.

Photo: AFP

He added a useful 20 down the order and dropping him would mean that the Pakistani batting would be shakier than what it already is. He is a match winner with the ball and he would have had more wickets if Umar Akmal had managed some catches. Dropping an experienced bowler like Afridi in the bowling line up, which already consists of many young bowlers, is a risky call, one that could easily unsettle the team.

Photo: AFP

Ideally, Shah should play instead of Muhammad Irfan, who has been facing problems with his upper thigh, which hopefully is not a hamstring injury. Giving Irfan an extended rest will help him recover completely and will let him stay fresh come the quarters. Making Irfan play on a subcontinent like pitch can lead to more severe injury.

With Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz, Rahat Ali, Yasir Shah, Shahid Afridi and Haris Sohail, Pakistan should have enough in the tank to outgun the Irish from the World Cup.

The original post was posted here on 13, March 2015

England, Cricket & the Lost Identity

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England, after a 5thconsecutive World Cup debacle, find themselves in the spotlight which no one want’s to be in. This downfall may feel like a little too exaggerated, but this was due for a very long time. England is probably the only country left out of the top 8, whose whole parameter of success is only derived from the results in Test Cricket. It might have not looked that bad or that prominent about a decade ago, where they would have got away with it with good results in one format out of 2, but things have changed with the arrival of T20 Cricket and seems like England has yet to come to terms with it.

It is staggering to see that England, who actually introduce Cricket to the rest of the World, has fallen so far abaft than the rest of the World. It’s probably more because they have lost identity of their own style of Cricket. Prior to 2000’s, England seems to have a blueprint that they used to follow for ages, and their players, who used to make it through the county cricket, knew the method before arriving at the International level. But 2000 onwards, they couldn’t hold it all together. The game has changed immensely, and for their part, the new generation that came from the county circuit couldn’t connect themselves with the English Cricket Philosophy. On the other hand, England found player’s that were not really English, and were from different countries who were not ready to accept the English cricket methodology. Likes of Kevin Peterson, Matt Prior, Owais Shah, Jade Dernbach, Kieswetter and Morgan fit that column. Those players became role model for upcoming players, which in short make England a bit of a lost wolf in the jungle.

To be fair to the players who were not English by origin, they were a little too good for English Cricket and they brought in a fair amount of success to the English team, but not the way the England Cricket officials would have wanted to see. As far as I see it, English Cricket “Top Brass” would have liked to see a set batsman leaving the short ball around chest high outside the 4th stump, when the team would require 6 of the last 2 balls and they would even be fine with the same men getting out on the last ball, than seeing the same player hit the 2nd last ball for the six and won them the match. They seem to be too stubborn to alter anything they ever plan which makes little or no sense at all.

There is always a theory as to why any team lost, and you would find it with England too. Going into stats about England’s performance since their last success story at the World Cup, which was back in 92, when they reached the final and lost to Pakistan, England’s record is atrocious among all the top 8 playing nations. People talk about West Indies losing their “X” factor, or that Pakistan is facing a “Draught” when it comes to finding good bowlers, but its England who has bigger questions to answer with all the facilities and infrastructure that they have. England have won only 5 of their last 22 matches against the Top quality sides in the World Cup, which is even worse than West Indies.

Team Matches Win Loss Tie/ Draw/NR Win %
Australia 33 26 6 1 78.7
Sri Lanka 35 20 13 2 57.1
India 28 16 11 1 57.1
South Africa 26 13 12 1 50
Pakistan 22 10 12 0 45.4
New Zealand 29 13 16 0 44.8
West Indies 23 6 17 0 26.08
England 22 5 16 1 22.72

Stats since 92 World Cup, Source: www.espncricinfo.com

Looking at the facts above will make all “Barmy Army” supporters wonder what have England done so wrong all those years, that they find themselves in this “dark tunnel”, once again. The problem for England cricket is back in their own managing office at ECB. It is a problem that they have faced for long and couldn’t cope with it. It is a problem with England cricket that their players, who perform brilliantly at the County level, couldn’t replicate when it comes down to performing at the International level. There can’t be that much flaw with their batting technique or temperament, because with poor technique or temperament, you can’t survive at that level for long. I am pretty sure it has more to do with over coaching or giving roles to player’s that they are not accustomed to.

Looking at their recent World Cup campaign till the Bangladesh match, which was a must win to stay in a tournament, people will find a lot of questions that English team management will fail to answer. Anyone who would have watched Alex Hales playing at the county level, couldn’t understand how such a destructive opener can be left out of the playing 11 for the first 4 games in the World Cup? One also can’t understand why Ian Bell, who plays at 2 down or 3 down in a Test match and plays there brilliantly for a very long time, will all of a sudden start opening with Moeen Ali? One must also question how England can drop Steven Finn, who picked up 8 wickets in his first 4 matches in only 29 overs that he bowled, and was the only bowler from England in top 20 wicket takers in this tournament till England were thrashed out of the World Cup.England’s team management should be asked that why they just won’t drop Anderson or Broad, who couldn’t pick 8 wickets together in 10 matches and 78.2 overs that they have bowled together in this tournament. If they were just kept in the team because they had a better “Economy” rate than Finn, then England earn the right to go back home and try to figure out what they need to do with this team all together. One must also question England’s theory of playing Moeen Ali as a front line spinner, when you have Tredwell in the ranks. With 59 wickets in 44 matches, he seems to be an option that will give you wickets, and wickets is all you need in this World Cup. England was fortuitous to have a top quality and experience spinner, unlike many other teams, but once again, they proved themselves to be the master of “Over Thinking”.

The likes of Michael Carberry, Kieswetter, Lumb and many of those Cricketers have gone the same root as Hales is going. Those cricketers have blossomed in County cricket, a place where they have been given freedom to express themselves, and forget about what might happen if they get out. Looking back at England high’s since 92, which are not many, but all of them had players with a brilliance and players that expressed themselves to impose on the opposition. Be it first Ashes win in more than a decade and a half or so, where it was the likes Kevin Peterson, Flintoff, Trescothick and Simon Jones, who came hard on an Australian side that was not used to receiving that sort of aggression, or be it the only Triumph at the International Level ICC T20 victory in 2011, where again it was Kevin Peterson and Kieswetter out footing the mighty Aussies in the final with asserting themselves with aggression, a bit of flair, or be it England’s 1st test series victory on the Indian soil, where it was again Kevin Peterson who turned it around after going 1 – 0 down, and chasing 320 in the first innings on a real turner against quality spin attack of India and scored 186 of 233 at strike rate of nearly 80, with 20 4’s and 4 mighty sixes. It was down to this flamboyance that England produce results like the ones they couldn’t before. But in the end, English cricket couldn’t handle character’s like KP, and hate him too often and made him retire at the age of 32, where he could have easily played for at least another 5 years. Speaking on Peterson’s force “Exile” from the team, Former England Captain Michael Vaughn explain what England will miss in his Tweet that says, “Won’t play for England again. So I will remember @KP24 for what he was. A maverick who could play innings that no other England player could.!”, which explains what sort of talent England let go, just because he did not fit their criteria of “Gentleman’s Game”.

All of those things summed it up where England is where they are today.  England lack that bit of creativity or thinking on the “Toes” as they say, and they always found wondering in the end. Just like what they in the must win match against Bangladesh, when they could have opted to ball full when Bangladeshi batsmen started pulling and cutting them with ease on a slow Adelaide pitch, but they didn’t. Just like they could have done with their batting order by sending Hales with Ali, followed by Bell and Morgan and then by root, to give that much important balance and that right – left combination, but they didn’t. Make no mistake about it, but this England team, even without the likes of Kevin Peterson was good enough to make Semi’s under any coaching staff (Yes, I mean ANY) other than the one they had. This team had everything, from genuine tall fast bowler to genuine swing bowler, from bowling all – rounders to batting all – rounders, from a genuine spinner to top quality opening batsmen and to brilliant finisher’s in Buttler and Morgan. There can be no excuse for this performance, with all the coaching staff, facilities, Tour planning and everything that this team had. So it’s high time when heads must roll in English Cricket, because their system needs to be overhauled, if they are to compete with the rest of the World, any time soon.

The original post was posted here on 28th, March 2015.

Pakistan vs South Africa: It’s time for some smart cricket, boys

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Pakistan is in a decent run of form and finds itself sitting not-so-pretty at the fourth spot in the World Cup.

In relation to the Pakistan-South Africa match, which is to take place tomorrow, countless people in Pakistan believe that the team is not capable of winning against the Porteas, the only side in the history of the game to score 400 plus in two consecutive innings.

Only the top four teams will make it to the quarterfinals and looking at the ranking right now, Pakistan either needs to move up the rank or maintain their fourth position to qualify.

However, there is a lot of work to be done and most of it has to come from the team management. It has been under severe scrutiny ever since it made some controversial player selections, like Nasir Jamshed, and ignored talented players, like wicket keeper-batsman Sarfaraz Ahmed.

So I have come up with a few factors which the Pakistan team must take into consideration in order to stay in the race for the quarterfinals over the next few games.

We are not qualified – yet

The enormous mistake Pakistan can make right now is believe that,

“Yes, we have done it.”

The ideal attitude would be,

“No, we haven’t done it. We have to do it. We can do it.”

Pakistan is on a very delicate footing right now, and we need to keep our calm and focus on the job. One bad day or one small, uncalculated mistake can still ruin our chances.

Misbahul Haq is not quite as expressionless as previously thought, Pakistan v Zimbabwe, World Cup 2015, Group B, Brisbane, March 1, 2015. Photo: AFP

Let Jamshed go, let Sarfaraz play

Sarfaraz is the talking point for all ‘self-proclaimed pundits’ of cricket at the moment. All of us wonder as to what he has actually done to go from the most ‘useful’ player in the squad to the most ‘technically flawed’. Recent comments from Waqar Younis have left us all wondering what the team management actually sees in Jamshed that the whole cricket fraternity cannot.

What is so impressive about his ‘slab’ like stance in batting and why do Waqar or Misbahul Haq continue to overlook his inflexibility while batting or fielding? One must wonder what he has actually achieved, if not in the World Cup then maybe back home in the domestic circuit, which makes our team management so adamant on including him in the line-up that is already full of batting woes.

Nasir Jamshed (L) and Sarfaraz Ahmed (R). Photo: AFP

None of us seem to have an answer to these questions, but whatever reasons may be, it’s high time that we include Sarfaraz back in the line-up, because there is no way he can perform worse than Jamshed. I mean, you can’t score less than zero runs or can’t make it worse than dropping everything that comes your way on the field.

So please, play him. This thought is now even trending on Twitter with the hashtag #BringBackSarfaraz.

Solve the opener dilemma

Let’s be honest, we have never really had a sturdy opening partnership ever since Saeed Anwar and Amir Sohail, but in this World Cup, we have reached new heights. So far, Pakistan has produced opening partnerships of 11, zero, 10 and one in this World Cup, with the average of 5.5 runs per opening partnership, which is nearly half of the next lowest of Scotland, who scored 9.5 runs per opening partnership. Even the likes of Afghanistan and UAE, who have visited New Zealand and Australia for the first time, have an average of 25.25 (UAE) and 27 (Afghanistan) per opening wicket partnership.

Keeping this in mind, and also seeing the hesitance of our team management to bring in Sarfaraz as an opener due to his technical deficiency, it makes sense to send in Shahid Afridi at the top of the order, which will make room for the likes of Sarfaraz to bat where our team management feels comfortable with him.

Afridi is in a rich phase of form lately (at least according to his own standards) and this move should help Pakistan in getting rid of this opening partnership dilemma, at least for this World Cup. Afridi has an experience of opening in more than 120 ODIs, so it will not be something that he is not accustomed to.

Shahid Afridi plays a shot vs UAE. Photo: AFP

Pakistan has a pattern of losing their first wicket in the first or second over anyway, so Afridi surely won’t do worse than what Pakistan has already done in this tournament, as he just needs a ball to surpass that 5.5 runs average per innings. In hindsight, if this works, it will give much needed time to Ahmed Shehzad and Haris Sohail to settle down without feeling the pressure of dot balls. Giving Afridi freedom at top of the order can do wonders for Pakistan as it might give room for the team to create that much needed balance.

Ahmed Shehzad (L) and Haris Sohail (R). Photo: AFP

Break the game into blocks of 10

Since I started watching cricket back in 1992, I always saw that teams who produce results on the field divide the game into blocks of five overs or 10 overs while batting. Pakistan used to do the same with Inzamamul Haq and Mohammad Yousuf stabilising in the middle. However, in last four to five years, I have failed to see that from the current ODI outfit.

I won’t point out only Waqar’s tenure, but also the Dav Whatmore tenure, when Pakistan seemed like a team who was always short on the game plan. The only plan was to hit and see where you go with it, and the notion was that if something goes wrong, we have Misbah to fix it for us.

That is one of the reasons why we are where we are today. We need to break the game into five blocks of 10 overs and then further break it down to two blocks of five overs, set small targets and see where we are at the end of those blocks. Every successful side does this and we need to start doing this sooner than later.

Misbahul Haq. Photo: AFP

Stay in touch

With two matches to go, Pakistan is not where we want it to be, keeping in mind that we have to face the mighty Proteas and giant killers, Ireland, in the next two matches. Practically, and in all fairness, this Pakistani side does not look like the one who can beat one of the tournament’s favourite. Knowing this fact very well, our primary target should be to not lose too badly against South Africa tomorrow, because if we do, that will leave us with too much to make up for against Ireland. We should go for the win, yes, but there has to be a plan B too.

In a long tournament like the World Cup, you need to keep everything in mind and give yourself a chance to fight for another day before the knockouts. So the lesson for Pakistan, for the upcoming match, is to fight and stay in touch with ground realities; a close enough defeat will not hurt us as bad.

Cricket is a game that has evolved immensely in the past decade or so and you cannot just get away with a plan that you made while having a team meeting in a hotel room. You need to be smart on the field to produce results. Misbah and the rest need to play smarter than how they have been already.

It might not be their forte to play smart cricket but this is the need of the hour for the men in green, if they want to progress in this tournament and beyond.

Good luck Pakistan!

The original post was posted here on 6th, March 2015.

Why Pakistan’s World Cup Stint Calls for Celebration, Instead Of Mourning

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As Pakistan lost out their quarter-final tie against Australia, one of the tournament’s favorites, the same kind of exaggerated sentiments were seen on TV and social media, yet again. Scenes of frustrated individuals taking their anger out by breaking TV sets, emotional fools showcasing bangles (chooriyan) that they want our national heroes to wear, because apparently, they’ve ‘disappointed’ fans who wake up for them early morning (as if they’ve been forced to do so). Ex-cricketers gave loathing comments to analyze the team’s performance, it was mind wobbling to see. They went as far as asking the Prime Minister, who is the Patron in Chief of the PCB, to remove the top management in order to prevent the cricketing downfall of the country.

A question for those ‘patriotic’ fans, who’ve been pulling off such publicity stunts – what chances did Pakistan have to win the World Cup in the first place? Former greats, ex-cricketers, who showed over the top animosity towards the team’s performance – what odds would India have, had they played without Kohli, Raina, Ashwin and a few other regulars? Or for that reason any other team. I know most people will come up with answers that will just not make any sense, whatsoever.

To start off, this is not the Pakistan’s strongest team that we would’ve liked to field in a tournament as big as the Cricket World Cup. We lost Ajmal and Hafeez due to the ban, Junaid, Gul and Irfan in the end because of injury problems. In all practical terms, we lost half of the players that would be in the team, any time you would pick a best XI for Pakistan. I don’t think I have to remind people about the loss that we suffered due to the spot-fixing scandal, where we lost 2 of our premier bowlers + 1 batsman, who was in the form of his life.

That’s not all. We are the only team in the top 8 Test playing nations, who haven’t played a single One-day International or Test match on home soil for more than 6 years now. We play our home series in UAE, where pitches are home like, but no place is home except Pakistan itself, no matter how hard we try. Out of the 15 member squad, 10 players have never played a single International game at home, with the other 2 out of 5 having played less than 10 matches at home, while 1 played less than 30 matches at home.

Anyone who follows cricket knows that players are developed in home conditions, so they can go abroad and perform there. As we look to compare nearly everything with India, we will look at the India squad as well, where you will only see Rahane as the player who is being truly developed on foreign soil. The rests are home developed products. Even then, our ‘disappointing’ players go abroad and win a T20 World Cup, qualify in 4 consecutive World T20 semi-finals, beat South Africa in South Africa, India in India and go on to white wash the English and Australian team in our makeshift home ground, being the UAE.

Even with all these issues, Pakistan moved on and tried not to look back. We are a nation that is full of resilience, where we keep on fighting for success even with all the political and social disputes around. This calamities reflect in our team as well. When we won the Asia Cup, not many would have given us a chance. Even in this World Cup, all seemed lost when we failed to win in the first two games. There was a feeling that we were done for the World Cup, and nothing good would come out of it. But we did what we do best; we fought back like lions and reached the quarterfinal stage with four victories in a row.

We successfully defended the lowest total in the tournament when teams find it hard to defend even 300+. We beat South Africa for the first time ever in a World Cup event. We had one of the most inexperienced bowling attacks around, but we never looked like one. We fought it out, with the aggression we have always been known for. We even had the Aussies on tilt with our steaming and aggressive pace bowling. The Adelaide crowd could have never dreamt of a fast bowler from Pakistan, Wahab Riaz, tormenting their best hook/pull-shot player on a slow Adelaide pitch.That famous victory was just inches away from us, and all could have been different had Rahat held on to the catch that cost us the semi-final berth. For the first time in such a long time I am sure, the Australians would have tasted their own medicine, which no one likes to do. Wahab’s prolific performance even made former greats of the game come on Twitter and praise his ability.

At the back-end of the World Cup, I find it way too easy to criticize the team’s performance, and pin point the loop holes that we have in our cricket system, but that’s not what I am going to do. I am going to celebrate, and cheer all the amazing moments we had throughout the World Cup. I am going to celebrate whatever these cricketers manage to achieve,even with such little resources, all the moments of excitement and adrenaline rush they managed to give us in these difficult times.

I think we should celebrate Afridi and Misbah’s amazing career and the performances that they produced for Pakistan over the years. We should celebrate 5 fifties from our captain in 7 innings that he played in this tournament. We should celebrate what Misbah contributed to the team, when we were at our lowest point after the spot-fixing scandal, precisely, his captaincy throughout the tournament, which was of the highest class. We should celebrate Wahab’s spell from the quarter-final that made the likes of Watson and Clarke mere ordinary. We should celebrate the first ever hundred by a Pakistani Wicket Keeper in a World Cup. We should celebrate all the highs instead of the lows in Afridi’s career. We should not remember him for what he did in the past few weeks, we should remember him for what he did over the past 16 years, especially what he did for us in the 2009 T20 triumph and World Cup 2011. We should celebrate the emergence of our young fast bowling attack. Many thought it was the weakest attack possible, but even then, it proved potent enough to dismantle anyone, on any given day.

We, as a nation, have too much negativity, which we go through each and every single day. These cricketers come from the same society and have the same kind of stress and pressure to go through. We have had enough arguments about the flaws in our domestic structure, which won’t get better overnight. It’s a long process that will take a long time to fix, but we need to stay calm. There is no need to press the panic button. We lost to the host nation, who were playing with their full team, on their ground and were labelled as favorites by nearly everyone prior to the tournament’s start.

There is no need for negativity as Pakistan’s cricket is not dying, not now by any means. We have a decent enough roster of 30 or more players or so, who can represent this country at all levels in the near future. All we need to do is talk less, work more. We need to identify the areas that need attention and start working on it, focusing on the task at hand and try to achieve the target within a proper frame of time. But for now, we,as a nation, should celebrate what we achieved in the 2015 World Cup with a below par team, than to mourn the subtle defeat.

The original post was posted here on 25th March, 2015

Balance – The Key

Pakistan's Recent Slump In Form is Alarming

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

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

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

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

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

Phillip Hughes – “Not OUT” Forever

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I have grown up watching cricketers where it was just unconventional, yet stylish, who fit the title “bold and the beautiful”, and who would also fit in the category of “ugly but useful”.

Cricket has many faces, from being a gentleman’s game to a professional sport, cricket has had many ups and downs to come across. Yet, cricket remains the 2nd most popular team sports in the World, and that is mainly down to the layers and athletes, who give their all to entertain people.

Philip Hughes was a player with immense talent. He emerged onto the screen with hundreds in each innings against Proteas in their own backyard. His stance was unique, that was more than just side on. He used to have a little dig before playing, like Australia’s two times World Cup winning captain Ricky Ponting used to do, but it was just unique.

His square cut, his pull, his cover drive, his enthusiasm, his energy, it was his aura that included everything that made him the darling of the crowd.

He came across in the domestic arena as someone, who has the habit to score big hundreds.

He was the youngest player in the history of Australian cricket to score a Century in the Pura Cup match, at the age of 19.

He couldn’t stabilize his position in the national side, but yet he was never seem far.

He was always around the corner, always knocking the door, always asking questions to the selectors.

Whenever he was dropped, he went back to the domestic circuit and score tons of runs to make his way back in. Many have questioned his technique, but yet he somehow finds a way to answer them. He has been just not normal, he was extraordinary.

He was the youngest player to score a century, in each innings of a test match for Australia.

If that’s not enough, he did it against the best fast bowling duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel at the age of 21.

His smile was mesmerizing and his energy was a joyous feeling to come across with. He was not worried about not being selected in the playing XI after selecting in the squad. Instead, he was happy to be around the team mates and to help them get the glory for his country. He knew that his chance will come, and he will get the glory as he was bound to.

From the very start, till the very end, no one ever heard about Hughes in news for the wrong reasons.

He was unique, and so was his death, absolutely unheard off. He knew how to express while batting and was never afraid of hooking or pulling a genuine fast bowler.

However, it was on 25th Nov 2014, when he tried it one time too many and he never got another chance, to dig it or to leave it.

He missed a short ball while pulling Sean Abbott, his close friend. That ball hit the exposed area around his neck, which caused his death.

Hughes has a number of not out records to his name. He had the highest ODI score of 138*, highest first class score of 243*, highest List A score of 202* and highest T20 score of 87*. His last innings was of 63*, which was again an effort to ensure the selectors and the captain, that he is ready to go for the first Test of the summer, but unfortunately, his time ran out and he remained “Not Out”, forever.

 

 

Richie Benaud reveals fight against Cancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coulter-Nile stars as Australia see off Proteas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isco could be the missing piece for Real Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pakistan Need Shoaib Malik, the Player, Not the Ex – Skipper

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Pakistan batting lineup recently proves itself as a house of cards, revolving around Misbah. If Misbah scored for Pakistan, the batting looked nearly decent, but if he flopped, everything looked miserable. Now his good time with the bat seems to all but over and things look more than just shaky for the team prior to the World Cup. Pakistan are less than 10 matches away from the World Cup, and are yet to find a batting lineup which is an automatic choice on the paper. There have been too many chops and changes in the batting order and things look more uncertain as they were 4 years back. As cricket’s biggest party is just few months away from beginning in full prime, I as a Pakistan Cricket supporter believes that Shoaib Malik might be the one who can give answers for a lot of questions for the Team Pakistan, come February 2015.

Pakistan have tried number of youngsters over the past 4 years from the last World cup, some of them even played in the last World Cup as the emerging players and sadly, they are still “Emerging” players.  Many of them are in their late 20’s, and their failures after failure are yet to give them a spot in the starting lineup. Pakistan after Amir Sohail and Saeed Anwar, always had issues at the top and it was their middle order who gave them the way out in difficult times. First it was Inzamam, Ejaz and Salim Malik, then it was Yousuf, Younis and Inzamam and later on it was Malik and Misbah along with Umer Akmal and Younis Khan who gave Pakistan the needed steel in the middle to take on the giants of International Cricket. That was one of the prime reasons why Pakistan were able to reach 4 consecutive Semi Final of World T20, 2 World T20 Finals, a World T20 Championship & one Semi – Final of the Champions Trophy and World Cup 2011 even after the World Cup debacle of 2007.

If one would look into all of this closely, you would find Malik in the middle of most of those achievements, and when Malik failed, Pakistan somehow failed as well. He was the 2nd highest scorer for Pakistan and 4th highest scorer in World T20 Championship in South Africa, where he led the team as a young Captain to the final against arch rival India. In 2009 World T20 Championship in England, he was involved in 2 crucial partnerships with Shahid Afridi in Semi Final and Final, which led Pakistan becoming the World T20 Champions. Later that year, in Champions trophy, Malik scored amazing century against arch rival India in the group match which made Pakistan qualify for the semi-finals, eventually losing to New Zealand. Pakistan toured South Africa in 2012, where they lost 3-0 in test matches. However, in the One – dayers, Pakistan were able to chase down twice which is not Pakistan’s strength, and both time Malik played a sensible hand in chasing down both targets.

Many would argue that Malik was given enough chances and that he should not include in the team again. However, I would like to argue in a different direction. YES! He was given a lot of chances since his comeback to the National team back in 2011. In fact, his average is mere 20 since his comeback in the national team after 2011 World Cup. But I believe, that was due to the fact that he has not played at the position where he was best played at. His average at the International and Domestic level is best at when he comes 2 down. He has an impressive average of 42.68 batting at No.4 in 22 innings while playing for Pakistan, which is definitely better than his overall average of 32.67. Batting at 4, Malik have 3 hundreds and 3 fifties under his belt in 22 innings which should at least be acceptable for Pakistan Cricket standard. Comparing Malik’s average while playing at no.4, it doesn’t surprise me that he performed a lot better than Younis Khan (average 36 at No.4), Umer Akmal (average 14 at No.4), Fawad Alam (average 19 at no.4), Sohaib Maqsood (average 28 at no.4) and Asad Shafiq (average 26 at No.4). Only Misbah have better average than Malik (average 46 at No.4), but to his credit, Misbah has better average playing at no.5 (average 48) than playing at no.4 (average 46). Yet, under the Captaincy of Misbah, he was mostly played at 6, and sometimes at 7, where his average comes down to 27 and 32.  He was never utilized as a part-time bowler, which he is more than just capable of and that he proves over and over again in Domestic cricket and in T20 Tournaments all over the world, which added more pressure on him to deliver from the bat a number on which he is not comfortable on.

Many would argue that he is a Professional and that he should play at the position where the team needs him, but I would ask them the same question in a different way “How would the likes of Mohammad Yousuf, Dravid, Virat Kohli or Damien Martyn, careers be like, if they were ask to play at no. 7 in the Batting Order”? The answer is known to most of the people who are out there and have watched Cricket regularly.

Malik is not the sort of player who you would want at the crease when the team needs 45 in last 4 overs. Instead, Malik is the sort of player who you would want to play the sheet anchors role, and make the team play around him. He is better than Misbah and better than Fawad Alam for sure in doing this. He has 7 centuries in ODI for goodness sake, and still have an average (32.67) even after poor performance in the last 3 years, than the likes of Younis Khan (31.75), Mohammad Hafeez(30.98), Kamran Akmal (26.18) and Shahid Afridi (23.27).

Looking at the replacements of Malik who have used so far, have yet to impress any one really. Umer Amin who plays purely as batsmen have an average of less than 20 in 15 matches, and Asad Shafiq who is nearing his 2nd World Cup and also plays as a batsmen only, has an average of 26 in 49 ODI’s with a strike rate of less than 70. Compare that to a strike rate of Malik and anyone would want to have him in the side.

Looking at Malik’s recent performances in the T20 tournaments in the Caribean and in the Champions League T20, one wonder’s why he was not included in the Pakistan Team? Especially after exclusion of a senior pro like Hafeez. He was the 2nd highest run getter (426) in the Caribean Premier League (CPL) and were the back bone of Barbados Tridents and helped them win the tournament. In the Champions League T20, he along with Blizzard made Hobart Hurricanes the only team outside the sub – continent to have reached the semi – final. He had the highest average in the tournament, with 86 and just got out twice in 5 matches.

In a major tournament like World Cup, teams need senior heads in the dressing room and especially in a team like Pakistan, who haven’t played a single match on the Home Soil since last 6 years, it becomes even more mandatory. With Pakistan loosing Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf in the middle order, it is evitable to have someone like Malik who has the ability to play a sheet anchor role in the team and let Misbah, Umer Akmal and Shahid Afridi to take advantage of in the last few overs. Misbah need to bat lower in the batting order because he has the ability to hit big shots and have cooler mind to make Umer Akmal and Shahid Afridi bat around him. With senior player like Malik in the team, it gives Misbah the luxury to be expressive as well and not feel overly burdened, plus it will give him an extra bowling option too. Pakistan only have few months to get their act straight and make sure we have the right balance on the field when the World Cup will begin in few months’ time. Malik also need to realize that he is a player representing Pakistan and his ex – skipper tag won’t help him stay in the team. He needs to lead by example on the field and make sure that Pakistan will get benefitted by his performance.

‘Same Heights Where They Were’ – Real Madrid

Real Madrid season so far is nothing but a story of a horse, who somehow find a way to come first but was not satisfied with it, and then find a way to come lower in the ranks and now is wondering where have I gone wrong?. Los Blancos for all the last season looked like a team who could have won Treble at one point.

They were leading the league table and were already in the semi-final of Champions league 4th season running, and already clinched the Copa del Rey title as well.

It looked all likely that Ancellotti’s men will be able to win an unprecedented treble, but they had to content with two trophies after a list of injuries haunt their season somewhat.

Even then, the much-awaited La Decima was an icing on the cake for Ancellotti’s men last season.

However, this season Madrid’s hierarchy somehow found a way to unsettle the squad and so far have already lost the Spanish super cup, along with first two league games as well.

Having dominated the whole of last season, the real question is what went wrong for the 10-times European Champion?

To begin with, first and foremost, Madrid set their priority completely wrong compared to last season.

Their problem last season was their defensive line, as it is hard to trust Pepe, while Varane had some fitness issue to deal with.

One good center back would have helped Madrid in strengthening their defense & a player like Hummels would be an ideal fit for the team alongside club captain Sergio Ramos, and it would have been one of the best center-back partnership in the world, but Madrid seemingly missed the bus.

The other issue was in the midfield, where Los Blancos had issues last season with Luka Modrid injuries, where they had to rely heavily on ageing Xabi Alonso.

However, Ancellotti find perfect player to add to that bunch in Germany’s Toni Kroos, but with his arrival, Madrid hierarchy let Alonso leave, which weakend the midfield once again.

With Xabi leaving immediately, it didn’t give Kroos much needed time to settle in quickly.

Another blunder that Madrid made was signing Jamas Rodriguez at the cost of Los Blancos player of the last season Angel Di Maria.

Rodriguez was undoubtedly the player who took all the lime light in the recently concluded FIFA World Cup, but was he the only man Madrid needed? The answer is clearly no.

The former AS Monaco striker is an amazing kid to have around, but is he the right man to replace the likes of settled Di Maria? The answer is once again no.

He needed time to develop into a player on which Madrid can depend on so that he can develop into a product who can perform under an immense pressure of playing at the Bernabue.

Di Maria, on the other hand, was the spark that took Real Madrid back to the days of glory with a double in the last season. He was the player of the season for the Los Blanco’s beyond any doubt.

Letting him go, as in the case of letting Xabi go after signing Kroos, again took away the chance for Rodriguez to settle into this squad, & might prove a problem in the time to come for Ancellotti.

Real Madrid lost the initiative they had over their rivals last season with flaws in their system of transfer policy which cannot be over looked and they would do really well in overcoming their flaws and reach any way near the same heights where they were last season.

 

Demise of Australian Cricket

Why Australia is where they are today, is the question that every Australian cricket fan is asking right now.

Not many can answer as to what exactly happened to the “GREAT” Australian side, which ruled the cricketing world with complete dominance.

However, the real question is what have happen to a team that looked unbeatable for over a decade, but eventually fallen apart so easily in just 3 years?

It was all hunky dory till 2007, when Australia regains the World Cup title for the 2nd time in a row.

Everything was looking perfect from the team to the captain, from the players to the management, & from the backup to the over all system.

People used to say that this regime will not fall apart that easily, and for good generation to come.

But in just 3 years, that’s all it takes to destroy the power house of the  cricketing world.

As far as I can understand, my perception is different from the rest, and I can briefly mention some very important points that I believe that led to the downfall of the mighty Aussies.

No 1 – Lack of respect for players

No 2 – “Favoritism”

No 3 – Lack of respect for backup as well

No 4 – Lack of patience for backup

Point Number 1: Lack of Respect for Players

Well a lot of people can disagree on this, or they would at least argue about it that this is not the case, but I will disagree with that mindset.

For every successful team, one would have to find a balance of things to begin with.

I mean, how can any team afford to kick out player with the likes of Michel Bevan, Andy Bichel who never ever caused any trouble in the team, and who was on the top of their game?

Michel Bevan and Andy Bichel were two of the main players because of whom Australia won the 2003 World Cup.

Michel Bevan to be precise, who was tagged as the “GOD” of finishing matches for turning a lost cause into a winning one, was pivotal to the successful defense of the World Cup.

Andy Bichel, on the other hand was in his prime form in 2003, when he along with Bevan and many other, played a crucial part in winning the 2003 World Cup.

Yet Cricket Australia (CA) did not renew their Central Contracts in 2004. There is every reason to believe that no matter how big you are as a cricketing nation, you cannot just let the players go like this when they have been a part of some great achievements.

It’s not right morally and this is not how people treat their Hero’s. The same mistake they did with Damien Martyn as well, where they pressurized him to the extent that even with a very decent record, he retired eventually before time.

Point Number 2: Too much favouritism

Well as we have heard about the word of “Favouritism” in South Asian cricket, apparently, they are not the only ones that have this problem, as it happens to be a problem in Australia as well.

May be not as much as in India, Pakistan or West Indies, but it is there for sure. The prime example of that was Brad Hodge and David Hussey.

They both were the prime performers in Australian domestic cricket for seasons after season, and as well as abroad, but they were given very little chance or let’s just say that no chance to show their metal at the highest level.

Brad Hodge was and is the best middle order player in Australia, and that too without a shadow of doubt, but yet they include Marcus North and then Steve Smith in their test line up to bat at No 6, and left Brad Hodge out of the equation who have an average of 58 Runs per inning in 6 tests.

Point Number 3: Lack of Respect for backups

Cricket Australia did not only shown disrespect to their great players, but to their backup as well.

The likes of Nathan Bracken, Stuart Clarke, Brad Hodge, Nathan Hauritz were all ignored way too quickly than one expected it to be.

Nathan Bracken was the No.1 bowler in ODI when he got injured, but he never came back to the side.

Stuart Clarke was called to be the nearest replacement in Test cricket at least for Glenn Macgrath, due to his immaculate line and length, but he got injured and never came back for unknown reasons.

Nathan Hauritz had a bad patch and he was ignored forever while Brad Hodge never had a bad patch but even then he was ignored.

Such things, which shows that you think way ahead than the actual future, can sometimes make you think as to where you are actually going.

Point Number 4: Lack of Patience for backup

Cricket Australia did not show patience with their backup as well.

They shuffled their players way too quickly and that’s not clearly the way to go about it.

Some time back, England used to do the same thing, which was shuffle, shuffle and more shuffle.

Now they have learned the art of keeping the basics straight. Not Every player can be Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath, Shoaib Akhtar, Murlitharan, Alan Donald, Sachin Tendulkar or Brain Lara, so everyone should never be treated equally.

Not everyone can produce the results like these legends of the game did, and one would have to acknowledge this fact and go on with their job.

But unfortunately, it was exactly opposite way around in Australian cricket arena. They expected the results of Warne, Gilchrist and McGrath from Hauritz, Brad Haddin and Stuart Clarke.

For all the logical reasons, those players were LEGENDS of the GAME and they will be easily fitted into any World XI of all time.

So there is no point in expecting their kind of results from any other player so easily.

Conclusion:

The solution to the Australian cricket problem is very easy and they can be back and become a force very soon.

What they need to do now is to realize first of all that they don’t have the services of great’s of the game, so they have to be realistic and patient about the results and the outcome of different events.

They have to be realistic that since they literally ruined their quite good backup themselves, they are now left with not a good team, nor a good backup.

This means that CA will have to become patient and realistic about their approach and stick with the players and give them time and space to perform.

They have to stop giving players the red signal that they will not play for Australia again at the age of 28-29, just like they did to Nathan Hauritz who is just 29 and as a spinner he still has at least 5-6 years left in him.

They also have to stop avoiding players who performed for them in the recent past just because they got injured just like they did with Nathan Bracken and Stuart Clarke. With these kinds of efforts, they have to build up a good team and a good bench strength sooner than later, and it will be absolutely no surprise that we will Australia, back on the top, and that too within no time.