The Year of the West Indies

‘6 6 6 6! Carlos Braithwaite! Remember that name’

Just can’t get over the emotion with which Ian Bishop was commentating when in a 4 balls West Indies turned the nail biter final of the World T20 2016 on its head. It was quite literally amazing. The young all rounder in question made the 19 required off the last over seem like a paltry sum. 4 hits and done. It was actually more or less done in the first 2 hits but he chose to hit 2 more of the same for good measure.

As a Pakistani fan and for a majority of the other Pakistani fans our World T20 triumph pretty much came when India were defeated in the semi-finals. That West Indies went on to beat England as well and clinch the title was more of a brotherly (in cricketing terms) happiness for the Caribbean team.

There is always something likeable, at least for me, when it comes to two teams – the West Indies and the Kiwis. So personally I am happy they won. And they deserved every bit of it. Starting from uncertainty and a complete lack of support from their cricket board this team literally scrapped everything together, every member of it to achieve the success they did. They triumphed against unbelievable odds off the field. On the field they banded together and played as a unit. They tried their best to cover whatever they were lacking. And they triumphed. It will make for an unbelievable story for years to come – h–w the West Indies won the 2016 World T20. And it was not just a one man show throughout the tournament. Everyone delivered in different games. There was a different hero in each game. And there were contributions here and there by everyone.

It was Gayle in the group game against England with a hammering century. It was Simmons, Charles and Russel against India in the semi-final. It was mostly Samuels against England in the final and of course the 4 ball demolition from Braithwaite.

Darren Sammy’s men also capped off with their title an overall great year for the West Indies. As it stands they are the Under 19 World ODI champions (January), the Women’s World T20 champions and the Men’s World T20 Champions. The men’s team also became the first country to lift a second World T20 title. England, SL, India and Pakistan have 1 each.

They played like a united team from a situation where the cricket board’s actions and relationship with the players would be deemed anything other than unity. They played with heart. They played with spirit. They played in a way where no one can say they didn’t deserve it. I think every neutral would have been supporting them.

The world as it is in this day and age has moved on from that euphoria on to the more current happenings of the IPL and the post world cup soul searching of certain countries’ performance at the tournament. Pakistan for one has gone into full gear of heads rolling and overhauls and calls for change. Afridi has resigned from captaincy but not opted for retirement just yet. Waqar Younis after much love hate drama with the PCB has resigned as coach. Aaqib Javed has refused to become the coach after what he deemed was the PCB going back on their word and their handling of Waqar Younis and much more. Oh and Inzi is our new head selector.

So yes all this will go on and much more. However we must not easily take away from this being the year of the Caribbean’s cricketers. Youngsters, Women and Men. The Calypso kings have truly marked 2016 as their year and in style. 6,6,6,6.

ICC World Cup 2015 – Knockout Predictions

As a nation of 180 Million Pakistanis breathed a huge sigh of relief on Sunday, the World Cup 2015 bid farewell to the group stages of the tournament.

Knockouts ICC

A couple of surprises, some strong performances and late inspirational starters have all been part and parcel so far. Runs have been a plenty, in fact I would say by the end of this tournament it would probably rank as perhaps the highest in terms of total runs scored in the history of the competition. The par scores have been beyond 300 with 3 instances of the 400 mark being reached already. Twice by the Proteas and once by the Aussies although only one of those instances was against a test playing nation (South Africa versus West Indies). It has actually been ridiculous and mundane in some instances the ease with which run  s have been pummeled so far. A little too much of the T20 nature combined with smaller grounds and new age rules to make the ODI format more fast and happening is the main reasoning for this.

However it has not been batting traffic all the way. We have seen some exceptional bowling as well especially from the pace batteries of New Zealand, Australia and Pakistan. While the attacks of the co-hosts have successfully destroyed lineups front up, the late party joiners of Pakistan have shown a separate class altogether when it comes to the batting power play and death overs bowling. Where the likes of Boult, Southee, Starc and Johnson have ripped up the batting the bowlers from Pakistan have induced a slower death – much in line with the resources they have had after losing key bowlers to injuries and suspensions. Where the hosts have been clinical, the mercurial boys in green have been surgical. In short the attacks of these three teams have kept the bowlers in this tournament.

England is not part of the quarter finals and Bangladesh successfully usurped them in Group A. The English will no doubt be gutted, distraught and left reeling from this. Their performance overall had been dismal with the bat and ball and hence this was coming their way. They lacked that edge and didn’t seem at all inspired. Pakistan started in the same fashion but thankfully rallied themselves in time to reach the quarterfinals.

The Quarterfinals:

South Africa vs Sri Lanka – Prediction: Whoever bats first will win

If South Africa Bat first I would pick them to make it to the semis ahead of the Sri Lankans. While Sangakarra has been outstanding (4 consecutive tons) along with the good form of Dilshan and Mathews I feel their bowling lacks the required cutting edge. The Proteas are suspect to a chase but if they bat first they can very well dominate the Sri Lankan attack and post a total maybe just slightly out of the reach of Sanga and company. The toss will be important and may decide the tie.Sanga DE Vil ICC

India vs Bangladesh – Prediction: India to win with perhaps a good fight from Bangladesh

India should by all counts get through this getting the easiest of the quarter final ties. However given that Bangladesh defended against England to qualify instead of them and also almost carved out a win against the Kiwis will give them a lot of confidence coming into this tie. They will play with nothing to lose and then you never know! I would still say the Indians will win thou. But wouldn’t that be something if they went out against Bangladesh. Would love to see the fireworks ads on Star Sports after that!!

Australia vs Pakistan – Prediction: Depends on which Pakistan side shows up

The clinical aggression of a somewhat efficient Australian Unit vs the quintessential art of the mercurial Pakistanis. You will hear a lot of optimism buzzing about amongst Pakistanis these days of how ‘it is quite possible for us to beat Australia’ ‘The game is in Adelaide which will help us more than the Australian bowling attack’ ‘Pakistan has the universe conspiring for it now’. While all that is great the fact of the matter is that it may very well be evenly poised or it may very well be a one sided show. It all depends really on which Pakistani side shows up. The one that choked South Africa to defend a low total or the one that capitulated against the West Indies to be 4 down on 1 run.

Sarfaraz ICC

New Zealand vs West Indies – Prediction: New Zealand to win

While New Zealand’s batting is not impenetrable it is at the moment hard for me to see West Indies manage a fight against their lethal attack. The likes of Boult, Southee and Vettori all being in top form should ensure a Kiwi victory and a spot in the semis. The Gayle factor is always there but of late I feel it has been less frequent. And also there is an injury concern which could keep him out of the tie altogether.

The Semis:

New Zealand vs South Africa / Sri Lanka – New Zealand to win if it’s South Africa otherwise Sri Lanka to go through to their 3rd Consecutive final. South Africa have a habit of choking on the big stage and I feel it will be against the Kiwis (has happened before) and since it will be the semis. The Kiwis would show more mental strength then the Proteas during the crunch time. However the same will not be the case if Sri Lanka are their opponents. Sri Lanka’s start was poor against the Kiwis however the same will not be the case if the two sides meet again and I would pick Sri Lanka’s batting to see off the Kiwi attack.

India vs Australia / Pakistan – Just on principle I would say in either case India will lose. My gut says this is not going to be their cup. My brain says it might. But let’s stick to the gut as we have been doing so far. Australia will be efficient and a much more difficult test for India then they have had so far in the tournament. An imploded South African performance in their match granted a somewhat easy life for the Indians during the group stages. Even with Pakistan they will face a more confident side which has gotten into its groove and would be on a high after beating South Africa in the group and then Australia in the quarters should they make it till here. Hard to call but again on principle I would say India to lose.

The final would then be an open book as per the above permutations! My gut says it will be an all Tasman Clash – Australia vs New Zealand. And unfortunately Australia will win the 5th. However that’s just my gut and it could all go quite differently from all that I am saying. It is an open tournament with no clear all out favorite. Fantastic and exciting stuff ahead!

So happy viewing to all cricket fans! Go Team Green! Pakistan all the way! 😀

On Cricket

Over the past couple of years due to varying circumstances I have sensed a decline in my ‘interest’ level in cricket. Yes… cricket. The sport that may not be our national sport in Pakistan but certainly the one which is given every honor and importance of being that national sport of the country. Almost being a monopoly in terms of commercialism of sports in Pakistan. Cricket is king. Yes… it is this cricket for which I find my interest level declining.

Long gone are the glory days of being the ‘Unpredictable’ Pakistan side. Long gone are the days of having prolific players in our side. Long gone are the days of having some of the giants of the game. The modern day cricket of Pakistan is nothing like its predecessor and unfortunately is not all that endearing.

It is a combination of on the field and off the field controversies as well as performances and results and overall attitude/character of the side. They lack the confidence that should normally come with being one of the ‘Big’ teams of the sport.

Don’t get me wrong – I would still follow and watch Pakistan and its exploits on the pitch. I will still be roaring come the 2015 World Cup or the 2016 Twenty20 World Cup. But it won’t be the same roar that was there perhaps up till the 2011 World Cup. Cricket for all intents and purposes is losing its whole charm-of-being-an-emotional-birth-right-and-national-team-fan thing. Previously I would look forward to various series and tours as well. Now probably not so much – for example the recently concluded Pakistan vs Sri Lanka series which took place in the UAE was one in which I perhaps just saw …….2 live overs..maximum. Over the entire length of the series – all tests, ODIs, T20s included.

The reason for this as I said is a combination of on and off the field issues. It is the controversies – one after the other. The constant state of chaos that PCB loves shrouding itself in. The repeat situations where our team has inexplicably collapsed or succumbed or been toothless. It has been the lack of any confidence inspiring new talents. Afridi isn’t the same he was in 2011. He still tries to be dangerous and consistent as a bowler. But he is still the worst person to rely on as a batsman who will bail the team out from 5 or 6 down at low scores. Saeed Ajmal has been our most threatening bowler and now his action has been challenged and he is likely to miss the world cup. We haven’t had an out and out pace threat – like a dominating, soul crushing pace attack like the days of yore since the unfortunate bans on Asif and Aamir. We haven’t had a decent opening pair let alone an explosive one since the days of Saeed Anwer and Aamir Sohail. Pakistan cricket has been in a state of sluggishness which is leading towards a steady decline of the overall team. And that there doesn’t seem to be a positive outlook in place to try to fix the fundamentals because of which this is happening. The fact that international cricket doesn’t look any closer to returning on Pakistan soil is a contributing factor to all of the above.

I love cricket. My memories of cricket will always be very fond. Imran Khan lifting the 92 world cup being one of my first conscious memories. But yes … I am not as interested in every game as I used to be once for Pakistan. And that’s a little sad.

Asia Cup: Triumphant Lankans, Sorrowful India and Quintessential Pakistan

So a good Asia Cup comes to a close. There were wickets, sixes and close chases and not so close ones. In then end Sri Lanka triumphed in very much the same manner as they played through out the tournament. India’s sorrows continued from their trip to Kiwi Land (which they would have wanted to forget soon). Pakistan were what they are best – Pakistan. Mercurial and flat at the same time, in the same tournament, in the space of 2-3 days.

Shahid Khan Afridi a.k.a Lala. You can dump on him for the string of lousy performances with the bat in 15 consecutive matches. You can curse him. You can continue saying 17 years! Still no responsibility. You can all that you want but on the day when he blasts sixes all over the ground to hit an 18 ball match winning 50 you forget all of the rest. You love him. He is quintessentially Afridi. More so since in the previous match he took you over the finish line against India of all teams. Love for Lala sealed. Adoration pouring.

In many ways Afridi is the perfect embodiment of Pakistani Cricket. He represents that special ‘Pakistani kind of hero’ as Osman Samiuddin noted on cricinfo (link: http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/724937.html )

Pakistan for all intents and purposes have always been best when they have a persona of unpredictability about them. On their day they can make you truly realize exactly why you love this sport. And Afridi is exactly the same. On his day – its one of those innings that you are forever thankful for having witnessed.

Pakistan as a unit impressed in the way they contained India’s batting juggernaut and then chased down the score. And far more in the chase of Bangaldesh’s 326! Pakistan’s highest ever chase in ODI history. And that fantastic turnaround from horrific starts in both games against Afghanistan and the final against Sri Lanka. In fact all in all the batting has been the higher performing part of Pakistan in an entire series which is not at all the norm. The balling didn’t quite hit the spot really. But in all fairness the pitches were more in favor of the bat then the ball. Still. All in all – a lot to take heart from this tournament going into the World T20 (strange as it might be given they are two completely different formats). Continued positive batting, enough proven talent and experience in balling and perhaps better catching can provide for a good World T20 outing.

India – after a fine and wonderful Kiwi tour (fine and wonderful from my point of view Open-mouthed smile , and well most fans this side of the border) managed wins only against the minnows. They missed out on close wins against both Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The latter defeat always being more painful then anything else. Especially from the-fans-on-that-side-of-the-border’s point of view. I am surprised no houses or effigies were burned this time. To be fair they were missing some of their key players and their captain. But Kohli is supposed to be the crown prince to the Indian Team Raj so really would have wanted to deliver.

Sri Lanka were finally able to break their finals jinx and picked up a trophy. They performed well throughout the tournament and did their job. So definitely a threat going into the World T20. Mathews will be quite delighted with how his unit has performed – experienced and new players alike.

Afghanistan should take heart in showing glimpses of potential of being part of the big boys. They certainly did well in upstaging their minnow seniors and rejected them to winless tournament. Bangladesh for all their gains over the years need to start hitting more results now. At least I feel they should. I genuinely believe that given the same amount of time as Bangladesh, Afghanistan would be ahead on the achievements curve. Far ahead. I mean they almost embarrassed Pakistan.

So again – all in all not a bad Asia Cup. We were runners up. We beat India. Afridi smashed several sixes in consecutive matches. And did what lala does best! Be quintessentially lala. And Pakistan did what they do best, be quintessentially Pakistan.

Go Greens for the World T20!! Bring it on! ‘GRRRRR’ (bit much? Smile with tongue out)

Farewell Tendulkar

For India, cricket is religion – and Sachin Tendulkar for them was a God of cricket. And after 24 years, 664 international matches (tests, ODIs and T20), 34,000+ runs, a ton of tons, 200 odd wickets, a first ever ODI double century and a World Cup victory later the little master at the age of 40 has said now said good bye to the international world of cricket. For one last time he bowed out at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, the same place it all began for him. 

My life, between 22 yards for 24 years, it is hard to believe that that wonderful journey has come to an end

A visibly emotional Tendulkar put it in the best way possible. His life between the 22 yards of the cricket pitch for the last 24 years.  And they really have been wonderful for the game, the player, the team, the nation and world over fans of cricket. It has been honor for Tendulkar to have been able to serve and represent India for 24 years at the highest level – but it has been a greater honor for everyone else to have witnessed those 24 years (as a fan and team mate both). The farewell party, the adoration of the fans, the tributes paid, the emotions shown are all evident of this. The globe celebrated a glistering 24 year career of cricketing legend.

His final words were truly reflective of what Tendulkar has been throughout his career for the game. Genuine, sincere, humble and great. While there have definitely been greats of the game from a different time and era altogether and while some may say that comparisons made to Bradman are unwarranted – there is still no doubt in anyone’s mind nor there should be that Sachin Tendulkar truly stands out as a great and as a legend of the modern day cricket. Surely he will go down in cricketing folklore well beyond the borders of India. The stats alone are proof enough of that. As a relative of mine put it ‘We are very likely not going to witness another one like Tendulkar; someone who started as early as he did and then who played for as long as he did – breaking and setting records and winning millions of hearts along the way’.

There is absolutely no denying of the fact that it was an honor to have been able to witness ‘The Little Master’ in our time. A lot of the cricketing greats that we hear of today is  history that we would always only be told about. Tendulkar’s is one that we have had the pleasure of watching first hand. For long stretches in his career he made batting look very easy. 34000+ runs certainly would have that factor.

Retirement is certainly a huge moment for anyone. For it is the ending of one part and the beginning of another in one’s life. But very few retire from a passion that they have pursued for periods like 24 years like Tendulkar. And a sportsman’s retirement is even more harder. Regardless of whether it is cricket, football or any other game – it is hard to imagine leaving that passion behind, leaving it’s big stage. Leaving the 22 yards in this case.

Yes there have been many moments while watching Sachin bat that I had wished for a duck or for him simply to get out but then that is only natural for Pakistani Cricket fan (And most of them were in Pakistan India matches or in tournaments where India’s result would affect Pakistan in some way). However it has still truly been a remarkable sight watching him bat, watching him on the field. He has entertained millions, he has won millions of hearts.

Cricket says farewell to one of its most favorite sons, but I reckon that we will see Tendulkar staying involved with the Indian team in one capacity or the other. Sporting legends may retire, but the sport in them never dies. The passion stays ignited within always.

So long Sachin, it has been a pleasure.