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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World T20 2016: Pakistan’s batting woes

Pakistan’s cricket team has been on a rotten run in the limited overs format. Yes the PSL was a good reprieve in between and certainly did warm the heart to see something Pakistan with the potential of becoming big in the years to come however fact is fact. In the ODI and T20 format our team has simply been awful. The results are there for all to see. And with the World T20 main round just around the corner and on the back of an extremely disastrous Asia Cup, a major overhaul is the only thing that seems to be the cure.

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From the batting to the captaincy to the management and coaching and maybe a tweak or two in bowling – a major overhaul is required. There are no two ways about it. Our batsmen made a hash of things in the Asia Cup and even before that against the Kiwis. They have repeatedly shown that this batting lineup lacks any solidity, character or consistency. The biggest culprits have been the openers and the middle order. Pakistan’s opening problem is quite old. Not since the days of Saeed Anwar have we found a single, consistent and world class opening batsman. And not since his partnership with Aamir Sohail have we found a consistent pair at the top of the order. There have been numerous openers and numerous pairing options with not a single consistent and world class pair or player emerging. The middle order has taken hits since the decline of Younis Khan in the shorter format of the game and afterwards the retirement of Misbah. Prior to that the departures of Inzimam and Yousuf did the same but we had Misbah and Younis. Now we don’t. Azhar is not a Misbah. There is no Inzi in sight to bank on for even 7 out 10 times. Simply put – batting has been our biggest area of churning out losses and bad performances. Even with a strong and completely fit line up our bowling has not been able to do anything about inept and schoolboy batting displays. The most recent example being the Asia Cup match against India in which we were shot out for 83. Our bowlers tried but just didn’t have a realistic enough target to defend. Senior players like Umar Akmal and Hafeez have to take more responsibility. They have to be more consistent and deliver. Sarfaraz also has to ensure that he continues to be a responsible player with the bat more often than not. He has done that somewhat in the past and will have to up it in the tournament.

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Captaincy is another issue. While Afridi has served Pakistan for a long time and has definitely provided in the past, it just keeps looking like he is running out of steam. Batting has never really been something that I have ever put Afridi on onus for but even his bowling is in decline. And with leadership comes responsibility. You need to inspire somehow on the field through bowling, batting or fielding the rest of the team. To galvanize them. To get them out of the slumber. However that really has been missing. Nor has there been a sacrificing rescue act to stabilize the ship. Something that was often the feature of Misbah’s captaincy and for which he was often given the stick by people left, right and center. I would again ask them – what else could he have done. And had he not done that the shambles that are the batting right now would have been the shambles then as well. Afridi’s captaincy of late has been neither inspiring nor the self-sacrificing for stability nor the leading from the front sort. His captaincy has neither been Misbah nor has it been anywhere near the heights he reached as captain in the 2011 world cup. We badly need that inspiration or leading from the front. And we need it now to have any sort of respectability at the World T20.

Including a batting coach now may very well be having left it too late. And not just any batting coach but an established, respected and accomplished figure. But it may just bring a little bit of semblance in the approach that our batsmen use. Khurram Manzoor was always going to be a disaster and recalling Ahmed Shehzad to the squad was all but inevitable. Even if it doesn’t really guarantee immediate success or consistency, it will at least add some experience. How far is that experience used by Ahmed Shehzad with the bat rather than social media is left to be seen.

The bowling department, yet again seems to be our only ray of hope. With the return of Amir to the team the attack has gotten a spearhead for attack even thou I was opposed to him returning on principle. I still maintain it but this is more of a practical assessment of the team more than anything else. And technically his inclusion is after due process of being banned and having served his time. Coming back to the assessment, with Amir the spearhead and having Irfan and Wahab Riaz in support our bowling will have the required bite. I would definitely keep Wahab Riaz ahead of Sami because he can give that required intensity more than Sami and can contribute a little with the bat as well. Irfan will remain an asset with his height. Spin is something that we are hurting in no longer having someone like Saeed Ajmal in the side nor Yasir Shah for that matter. Afridi as mentioned earlier is no longer the bowler he used to be. Hafeez cannot bowl due to his action being termed as illegal. Shoaib Malik can be useful, but that’s about it, he can just be useful.

Keeping all of the above in mind and given that our group has India, New Zealand, Australia and one qualifier from the initial rounds (most likely Bangladesh) it will be nothing short of a miracle if we qualify from the group. Australia are perhaps the only team we can be more confident of beating given their T20 side is not that good. India has a curse on us in tournaments and will most likely be victors against us especially in front of their home crowd. The Kiwis are a strong unit. Bangladesh (if they qualify) are going to use their recent victory against us in the Asia Cup as an inspiration to repeat that victory and can achieve that.

So as usual prayers for team Pakistan but doesn’t seem like it is going to be a very good cup for us. Sad to see Afridi sign off from international cricket in what looks more and more likely to be the above scenario. He has been a great asset for the team in the past and has had an interesting, part glorious part chaotic career in the green shirt and one would have hoped for him to depart on a high.

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.

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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)

Pakistan’s South African Blushes

We have lost the test series already. The last one should have been for pride. To consolidate. However as the stumps were called on the 2nd day of the Centurion test, Pakistan lost 11 wickets, are playing after follow on was enforced and have started their second innings in roughly the same manner they finished their first. We trail the Proteas by over 200 runs and have already lost an opener in the 2nd innings. Should we press the panic button, call for the downfall of Misbah and blame everything on the brothers Akmal? I don’t think so.

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For one things the Akmals aren’t even part of the squad in SA so the management really hacked it’s own feet in terms of coming up with or having a ready made excuse in front of them for the disaster. Downfall of Misbah? As an individual player… maybe … as a captain … only to the point where he is batting himself and should be leading by example …. but that takes it back to his own individual performance as a player. But as a captain on the field… well I think as a captain on the field he hasn’t done too badly.

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Yes there is plenty of room for criticism in terms of perhaps taking the foot of the pedal when it was required to finish of innings in the last match and what not. But the captain is not really in any position to be blamed when the team goes out to bat. The captain doesn’t have the liberty of being on the field constantly to talk to the batsmen on the pitch. So the batsmen have to be held responsible themselves for extremely poor technique and lack of ability to negotiate the bounce and movement of the new ball on these pitches. Some part of that blame can be given to the management in terms of not planning the tour well enough to give team more preparation time in SA before the start of the official tour. One 4 day game before the first test is not good enough when you haven’t played a test in SA in the last 5 – 6 years. Nor is it a good idea when you are going up against the number 1 test side on their own home turf. Also I think they really needed to go with a wicket keeper who can bat. Sarfaraz Ahmed isn’t an exceptional keeper and his batting prowess is absolutely horrible. There is no technique whatsoever. In the 2nd test the manner in which he got bowled by Peterson is evidence to this.

Panic Button need not be hit.. but certainly a call to action to examine all that has gone wrong and why. The third test as things stand seems to be in the South African’s hands so that’s that really for the test part of our long tour of SA. There are the ODIs and T20s to follow. Which brings us to the recall of Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi to the ODI team. Why? Is it a panic response to the poor showing in the tests? If so how is it going to be helpful to recall Afridi? He has been extremely out of form for over a year now and well hasn’t really done anything on the domestic or even friendly matches front to merit a recall. Feels more like a last chance saloon situation for him. I have been a hardcore Afridi Fan for the last 6-7 years and I think the man deserves a lot of respect for all that he has achieved in his cricket career for Pakistan.

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However the time has come for him to call it quits… at least in the ODIs. T20s maybe he can evaluate after the SA series. But even in that department I feel now is the time from when we need to start building for the next world cup and I don’t see Afridi being around till then. Not because of age or fitness… but I genuinely feel his talent pool is in a decline and he will be done within this year. So why not give the future players a chance to start showing what they are capable of. Let them prove themselves for regular selection and then allow the team balance to get settled in and gel over the next 3-4 years till the time of the T20 world cup.

I was hoping that the test encounters will be much more intense and daunting, you know in the way that great test battles can be. That it will be a match up between a scientific, efficient approach (SA) versus the instinctive, raw talent approach (PAK). The scientists handed us our asses, the batsmen anyway. Graeme Smith and his men have performed to show a gulf of difference and a continued summer of success. 

Oh well … here’s to hoping for redemption in the shorter formats!