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.

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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)