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.

The Mother of all Rivalries

Sports competitions and battles have long kept us glued to our seats or on the edge of them across the globe since forever. The adrenaline, the competition and the heroism of our warriors on field is something that never fails to attract. And all of this gets ever more exciting when it is between rivals. Whether you are the player or the fan a match or game against a rival is just as important as the entirety of the competition itself. Such rivalries tend to be larger in fact then the competition itself at times. And we have had examples of it across almost all sports since almost forever.

Formula 1 had the Niki Lauda vs James Hunt rivalry in the 76-77, Mikka Hakkinen vs Micheal Schumacher in the late 90’s and Ferrari vs the rest of the constructs since forever to name a couple of them.

Tennis had Jimmy Connors vs John McEnroe, Steffi Graff vs Monica Seles, Andre Aggasi vs Pete Sampras from the yesteryears. And at present who has not heard of Nadal vs Federer.

Football – All club football Derby Matches (Manchester United vs Manchester City, Arsenal vs Tottenham, Chelsea vs Arsenal, Liverpool vs Everton, Athletico Madrid vs Real Madrid, Inter Milan vs AC Milan etc) and then of course El Classico (Barca vs Real) or the United vs Arsenal rivalry in the early 2000’s. Rangers vs Celtic in Scotland. Roy Keane vs Patrick Vierra, Messi vs Ronaldo. There are many. And all of these were/are just that big. They are bigger than the competition.

Cricket – England vs Australia, one of the oldest rivalries of all times further characterized by the Ashes series played between the two sides.

And then there is Pakistan vs India. The mother of all rivalries. A rivalry which is so famous that even people with limited interest in the sport would know about it even if they are from neither India nor Pakistan as long as they are from a cricket playing nation (minnows included). *the above being said more so because of being a Pakistani and a cricket fan

There is never any love lost between the two sides whenever or wherever they meet. Regardless of the competition, regardless of the consequence or inconsequence – your team needs to win. The feeling is mutual on either side of the border. History adds to this rivalry of course. It further fuels it. Even thou there is plenty of on field history and excitement and drama over the decades of cricket – it never really is just about the cricket. This rivalry has always been beyond even the sport itself. It’s just that mammoth.

And it has been mammoth over the decades. Miandad’s last ball six at Sharjah. Prasad’s vital 3 wickets in the 96 quarter final. The sultans of swing Waqar and Wasim. The little master Sachin. Imran Khan. Gavaskar. Saeed Anwer. Anil Kumble. All names that have had their time in this mammoth rivalry.

And on the biggest stage of ODI cricket these two teams will be starting off their respective world cup campaigns against each other come Sunday. They will be resuming their rivalry. Familiar foes meet again. What a way for the 2015 World Cup to start.

As a Pakistani of course my heart is beating and screaming for the boys in green to emerge victors. As I am sure would be my counterparts across the border. Till Sunday the barbs (oh and the Indians have come up with a  good one *reference to the firecracker ad), the conspiracies, the predictions, the experts, the seasonal fans, the specific to Pakistan vs India fans etc etc will all be buzzing, talking and dissecting everything there is to. Come Sunday of course everyone will be glued to their television sets in the anticipation of this every so mammoth clash.

I will again as a Pakistani of course be glued as well and will hope beyond hope that we defeat the Indians (if for nothing else at least so that we can give them a fitting reply to that ridiculously stinging ad). Who unfortunately we don’t have a single win against in World Cup matches. Yep. Even thou we have a superior record against them in overall ODIs – we still haven’t defeated them in World Cup encounters. The first time being in 1992 and the last one being the Semi Final in Mohali in 2011. It’s like a jinx. And they have been a better one day side over the past year or so (albeit more so at home – they have been lousy away from home as well). And they have had more time in Australia thanks to the big three keeping a triangular between themselves (all hail the powers that be at ICC – bravo on ensuring fair play for everyone). And they have a stronger batting side while our bowling is suffering from some major absentees due to injuries and suspensions (ICC please read previous line again… excellent timing on the clampdown btw).  All the logical factors point to another win for the men in blue.

But in comes the heart. This is the first world cup meet between the two sides without Tendulkar. Their perfect record against us cannot go on forever – it has to give sometime. And now seems like as good a time as any. Pakistan won its solitary world cup in Australia when the competition was held here last almost 23 years ago. Pakistan can be unpredictable on their day. And let’s not forget. We have LALA!!! AFRIDI!! (Wishful thinking I know but still you never know).

So the predictions, the logic, the wishful thinking, the heart and all of the above will go on an on till Sunday. But one thing is for sure which I will repeat again. Regardless of the bigger consequence of Sunday’s match on the remaining world cup campaign – it is a match that needs to be won. That feeling is mutual on either side of the border. Pakistan vs India is always bigger than the tournament, the rest of the competition. It’s for glory, for pride. It’s for the green and white of our flag. For Pakistan!

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Good Bye 2013, Hello 2014

First of all a Happy New Year to all those reading this blog. May 2014 bring wonderful eventualities to all your lives and to those of your loved ones. Right now that the pleasantries are done with – on with the blog.

2013 has certainly been an eventful year – personally and non-personally both. In the good sense and in the bad both. The only common factor throughout was change. There was change on the personal front, change on the professional front, change in Pakistan, change in the Global scheme of things. There was change everywhere. It almost seemed as if 2013 was singing belatedly to the tune of Obama’s first presidential election campaign back in 2008.

On the personal fronts there were downs, and then there were extreme downs. But then there were some ups and thankfully the ups have succeeded in mostly negating the earlier downs if not entirely. Obviously those close to me know that this was perhaps one of the most difficult years for me personally and emotionally. But at the same time a good turning point professionally and for that I am happy. The personal pain and emotional stuff has mostly passed and I am fairly certain I am ok. My grandmother (amani) passed away as well this year. She was my last grandparent and the one I have spent the most time with. She was truly one of the most awesome people I have ever known. But she was in pain and her suffering has ended. Time heals as they say. To add to the painful bits a fun fact in all of this has been that I have travelled more in 2013 and 2012 combined (2 international trips and 2 domestic in 2013 and 4 domestic in 2012) then I had travelled in the 12 years preceding. I saw the beautiful, peaceful and entertaining city (albeit expensive – thank goodness for elder siblings Open-mouthed smile) of Singapore. Wonderful place really. Good family vacation. Universal Studio and Sentosa Island on the whole is fantastic and plenty to do in the city otherwise as well. So as you can guess the word change certainly did carry a lot of meaning in my individual life in 2013. Changed jobs , changed circumstances, changed holiday routines, changed spending habits – oh yes. Really did changed spending habits a lot. Along with the ups and downs in 2013 my wallet certainly fell a whole lot lighter. Certainly was a demanding year in terms of budget exhaustion. Took a step towards pursuing one ‘shauq’. Photography. And so far I am really glad I did. Canon is fantastic.

Moving away from the personal front – from a more non individualistic vantage point – there was change at home in Pakistan and change on the global scope as well.

Let’s start from Pakistan. This time last year i.e. December – January, one Tahir ul Qadri seemed all set to ride the success of the then wavering Tsunami of the PTI.  He was blowing and thundering and getting long marches and sit in protests done in the biting cold of Islamabad. He seemed to be the walk part of PTI’s talk. He ruffled enough feathers in the power brokers dens that a negotiation party was sent to him to make peace. And then after that it seemed as if TuQ was forgotten. Nobody cared anymore. Election time was at hand. History was to be made. Pakistan was to achieve its first successful democratic transition of power from one government to the next. Despite all the odds Zardari and PPP had managed that. All ho to the change. Democratic process achieved. Change! And of course as a result PPP was wiped off the map except for in Sindh and a new player, after almost 2-3 decades of the same musical chair playing participants – a new face and player had risen. PTI’s had arrived. And they had arrived to stay. For good or for bad was still to be seen but the fact is that on number of votes they were the second most popular party. They may not be the leaders of the opposition in the National Assembly but they are certainly the noisy neighbors that Mian Sb would probably have liked to do without. But that wasn’t happening. Imran Khan and PTI were/are here to stay. They got KP. They got the popular votes. The got the noise of the youth behind them. Change! The elections had the most voter turnout in the history of the country. Change! The president completed his term and a new president was elected. Change! General Kiyani completed his term as Chief and despite the rumors and all there was no controversy or extension. He left. Plain and simple. Yes the appointment of the next chief was rather delayed but has now been done with. Similarly was the case with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The court of Chaudry has come to a close after 6 years of “glorious” judicial activism. The appointment of the next chief has been done again without any controversy or extensions despite the rumor mills. Change!

See so much change has taken place in Pakistan in 2013! Makes one all excited and hopeful about the future doesn’t it? Well the future will just have to wait and take a back seat. Again. For the time being. The thing is that while there has been all this wonderful change the results haven’t really come in. Regardless of the time span. Mian sb has been a largely MIA prime minister. He has hardly said anything since getting into office. Imran Khan continues to create noise over things which should not be getting precedence over delivering on the tsunami of PTI’s change that got them in provincial power in KPK. Instead he has just intensified his “Taliban-Khan” colors. There has been no real win post elections for the process or for the common man who voted for Pakistan. There has been no win for the youth and first time voters who were mobilized for the elections. There has been no real win for those who hoped for change, real change. For me the only thing to be clinging on to is that the system is being allowed to take its own course. There is no interference for now. Yes the system will disappoint for now and for some time to come but will eventually start correcting itself. This government must also complete its term without being overthrown. Eventually the right leaders will start coming out. But for that to happen first we will also need to start changing. When we change ourselves then real change should automatically follow. We need to change our mindsets, our actions, our approach towards even the littlest of things. Take for example Malala Yousufzai. The fact is that the she is a teenage girl who was attacked. Commend her for her bravery. Don’t attack her for a game that is being played on the geo political level. That she is being used as a pawn is not her fault. Perhaps not. But at least let’s just appreciate the fact that a girl from Pakistan has been able to address the UN, has made some of the right headlines. That she has largely been used as a tool is not her fault and maybe the ones using her should be attacked instead of her.

In less intense subjects, the cricket team has seen a pretty dismal year overall. However there have been two standouts – Misbah has been the highest run scorer for 2013 in the ODI format. He has beat the likes of Kohli, AB De Villiers, Dhawan etc and that too without having scored a century. Also he led Pakistan to their first ever series win in South Africa. Also Saeed Ajmal was the highest wicket taker in the ODI format. Also Waqar Younis has been inducted into the ICC hall of fame Some positives.

Theatre has certainly gained momentum and that much can be made out from some of my previous posts. The partnership of Anwar Maqsood and Dawar Mehmood’s KopyKat Productions has delivered 3 outstanding plays for the year. Islamabad finally has a mall!

On the global scope – the first thing that comes to mind is the number of disasters (natural and otherwise) have increased this year. Earthquakes, airline crashes, train wrecks, hurricanes etc have take a number of lives and prayers must go out to those who lost their loved ones. There was also a meteor that exploded over a Russian city early in the year which claimed the lives of over a 1,000 people. The most recent one was the hurricane in Philippines which claimed the lives of over 10,000 people and left all in ruin. Floods in India had also claimed over 5,000 lives. Signs of the world changing or warnings from the Almighty?

The world has a new Pope. The US and Iran seem to have adopted a difference approach towards their relationship which in turn has irked some Saudis and perhaps some Jews. How that will turn out in the long run is yet to be seen especially given the US will be pulling out of Afghanistan (as per their plan) in 2014.

The Syrian conflict has continued raging on and has continued taking more and more lives. The UN being more persistent and vocal when chemical weapons were being used. The fact that conventional weapons are also taking lives was perhaps not a touching point for them. As it has not been in many places of conflict before. Egypt saw disturbances again this year as Morsi’s government was overthrown. Protests and clashes followed claiming hundreds of lives.

Jullian Assuange was old news – this year was all Snowden. The United States certainly seems to have a lot of people pissed off out there because there seems to be no dearth of them trying to blow the whistle on some of their covert operations, exercises and all the intelligence activity on the public and common man.

In the end a tribute to some notable figures who have departed in 2013 – Nelson Mandela being the most influential and inspiring person to leave. Paul Walker (fast and furious fame) died in a car accident. James Gandolfini (The Sopranos fame) died sometime in May, June. British correspondent David Frost who achieved fame for his Nixon interview died in August.

For a complete list of global events and notable people who have died this year you can always visit Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013

2013 has been up and down. It has been the best of years and also the worst of them. In the end one must not forget that we are being governed by laws and forces that are beyond our control and complete understanding. For this one must always pray to Almighty Allah to always do what is better for us and we must always strive to be better ourselves.

The world is changing at a dramatic pace. The way things are dealt with is changing. The geo-political scope is changing. The world is changing and 2013 was proof of it. We must hope for the change to be positive and pray.

Good bye 2013, hello 2014.