Sunday, June 28, 2015

Special Performances in Landmark 100th Test

Not enough foreign tours, no international cricket at home, no international cricket against India, not enough tests in a calendar year; despite all this, if a Pakistani cricketer manages to appear in 100 tests, it is an achievement like no other. Definitely a bigger achievement than it is for cricketers from other test playing nations. Especially the ones from the so called "Big 3".

Only 62 cricketers have appeared in at least 100 tests, with Younis Khan being the 62nd. England (13) has the most cricketers who have played at least 100 tests, followed by Australia (12), India (10), and West Indies (9). That is no surprise considering the amount of test cricket England and Australia have played, and the amount of test cricket that India has been playing since the turn of the century. In contrast, South Africa (6), Pakistan and Sri Lanka (5), and New Zealand (2) have far less contributions to the 100-test club.

For Pakistanis it is even more special considering that only 4 cricketers before Younis played in 100 tests - Javed Miandad, Salim Malik, Wasim Akram, and Inzamam Ul Haq. Even the iconic Imran Khan (88 tests), despite a career that spanned 21 years, did not manage to play 100 tests. Whereas two other legendary cricketers, Mohammad Yousuf (90) and Waqar Younis (87), could have easily played 100 tests for Pakistan if it wasn't for injuries and team politics.

Where it has taken cricketers like Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Andrew Strauss, and Michael Clarke around 8 years to play 100 tests, Younis Khan achieved the landmark after 15 years of test cricket! Almost double the time. Players like Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen, who debuted after Younis and have left the game several years ago even played 100 tests.

Younis Khan's test record is phenomenal. Not many batsmen have scored as many runs as Younis has after 100 tests. Only Brian Lara scored more. It is so unfortunate that Pakistan do not play enough test cricket. While Younis could not make his 100th test more special, there have been other cricketers who have made this special occasion even better by producing a special performance.

Here are some of these special performances in 100th Tests:

Javed Miandad
He celebrated his 100th Test by scoring 145 against his favorite opposition - India - and also became the first cricketer in the history of test cricket to score a century in his debut test and his 100th test.

Gordon Greenigde
Missed a 150 by only 1 run against England, but a score of 149 ensured a win for West Indies and placed Greenidge alongside Miandad as the only two batsmen in the world to score centuries in their debut and 100th tests.

It has been 25 years since Miandad and Greenidge managed this special feat; but no other debut centurion has joined their ranks yet.

Ricky Ponting
To date, Ponting remains the only batsman in the world to score centuries in each innings of his 100th test. He truly made his 100th test special by scoring 120 and 143* against South Africa and leading Australia to a test win. He was also captaining his team.

Inzamam Ul Haq
Inzamam was also captaining Pakistan in his 100th test, which was against India. He produced a remarkable performance by scoring 184, which remains the highest score by any batsman in their 100th test. His inning also ensured victory for Pakistan in a test in India. It doesn't get more special than that.

Greame Smith, Alec Stewart, and Colin Cowdrey are the other 3 batsmen who have scored a century in their 100th test.

The spin trio - Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, and Muttiah Muralitharan - are the only bowlers who delivered special performances in their 100th tests. While Murali picked up 9 wickets against Bangladesh including a second innings haul of 6-54 leading Sri Lanka to victory, Kumble picked up 5-89 vs Sri Lanka in the second innings to lead India to a test win. Warne not only managed wickets but scored some runs as well on his special occasion. Against South Africa, he picked up 2-70 in the first innings and then scored 63 while batting; he followed that up with 6-161 in the second innings and remained unbeaten on 15 as Australia chased down the target successfully.

While these 10 cricketers will always be part of history for their performances in their 100th tests, there are some cricketers who would want to forget their 100th test appearance forever.

Allan Border (b Ambrose), Dilip Vengsarkar (b Bracewell), Alastair Cook (b Ryan Harris), Stephen Fleming (c&b Ntini), and Mark Taylor (b Cork) were all dismissed for a duck in their 100th Test. Alastair Cook has the unfortunate distinction of being dismissed of the first ball of the innings. Interestingly, all 5, were also captaining their respective teams.

Another batsman who would like to forget his 100th test is Justin Langer. He faced the first delivery of Australia's innings, like he had done for most past of his career as a test opener, from Makhaya Nitini. The ball was pitched short. While trying to duck, Langer got hit on the back of the helmet and collapsed to the ground. He was taken to the hospital for a check-up and did not bat again in the match.

100 test matches are indeed a special achievement, however only a few cricketers have made their special achievements memorable by producing performances that will remain etched in memory forever. While Pakistan has produced only 5 cricketers who have appeared in 100 tests, 2 of those cricketers hold records for 100th Test Match appearances that may never be broken.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Yasir Shah has made World Cricket better!

Pakistan has had a strong track record of producing world class leg spinners. In fact, besides Australia, Pakistan is the only cricket nation that has given cricket a constant stream of leg spinners that have gone on to become match winners.

While Australia have had the likes of Richie Benaud, Bill O'Reilly, Arthur Mailey, Clarie Grimmet, Stuart Macgill, and the best ever Shane Warne, Pakistan have produced Intikhab Alam, Mushtaq Ahmed, Shahid Afridi, Danish Kaneria, and the master of the googly Abdul Qadir.

The newest leg spinner in town, Pakistan's Yasir Shah, is another one of the same breed - a world class match winning leg spinner!

Yasir's 7 wicket haul in the second innings against Sri Lanka ensured a win for Pakistan in a test that was looking to meander towards a draw. His 7-76 is now a record for the best bowling figures ever by an overseas bowler in a test in Sri Lanka.

What is even better is that Yasir broke a record (7-94), which was previously held by the best leg spinner ever to play the game - Shane Warne. 

Warne has publicly praised Yasir a number of times, He has tweeted a lot of praise and also spoken on TV about how he believes that Yasir is the best leg spinner in the world today. There aren't many around these days, but the two that are prominent are both from Pakistan - Yasir Shah and Imran Tahir.

And Yasir Shah, with every game, is proving Shane Warne correct and showing the world why he is really the best leggie in the business.

Surely he has a long way to go, but the start of his test career has been phenomenal! With 46 wickets in only 8 tests, Yasir is on the verge of creating a Pakistan record. With only 4 wickets in the next test, he will become the fastest bowler to 50 test wickets for Pakistan. Not only faster than any spinner to play for Pakistan, but faster than all of our bowling legends.

There are only 18 bowlers in this world who have picked up 50 wickets in 9 tests or less; and only 3 bowlers have achieved that in the past 40 years - Macgill, Philander, and Ashwin. The record feat for a leg spinner is also 9 tests - jointly held by Australia's Arthur Mailey and Stuart Macgill. 

Yasir Shah is all set to join the legendary leagues of the best.

Yasir has not only achieved personal milestones in his short career; his bowling efforts have resulted in historic test wins for Pakistan.

He made his debut against Australia in the UAE last year and his 12 wickets in the 2 tests at an average of only 17 were instrumental in Pakistan beating Australia in a test series for the first time in 20 years.

He was among the wickets again in test wins over New Zealand and Bangladesh.

And now, he has become the chief architect of Pakistan's first test win in Sri Lanka for 9 years.

If he continues in the same vein, Pakistan will win a lot more tests and will surely climb higher in the test rankings. A series win over Sri Lanka will put them at 3rd, behind only Australia and South Africa.

Leg spin bowling was never the same since Shane Warne retired. It had been a long time since cricket had seen a bowler mesmerizing batsmen with leggies, googlies, and faster ones. So thank God for the emergence of Yasir Shah for there are few better sights than seeing a batsman troubled by the wiles of a leg spinner.

Pakistan and world cricket are definitely richer with a bowler like Yasir Shah.

He will go on to create Pakistan records, maybe even world records, but the best part will always be that the world once again has someone who can spin it at good pace past the batsmen, dip it alarmingly fast, get it to zip through at pace, and turn it back into them deceivingly well!

Above all, he can do all this all day long with a smile on his face!

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pakistan vs Sri Lanka - Major Personal Milestones Around the Corner

This post first appeared on DAWN.

Pakistan vs Sri Lanka has become an all too familiar sight for the cricket watching public. This is Pakistan's third visit to the Island for a full tour in the past 4 years. To put it into context, Pakistan has not toured Australia, England, New Zealand, or the West Indies during this period. Moreover, Pakistan has also played Sri Lanka in the UAE twice during this time, making this the 5th test series between the two sides since October 2011.

During this period, the two teams have played 11 tests with Sri Lanka holding a slight edge with 4 wins to Pakistan's 2. Both of Pakistan's wins have come in the UAE. In fact, it has been 9 years since Pakistan won a test match in Sri Lanka; that was the last time that Pakistan won a test series in the Island as well.

Besides turning around their test performance in Sri Lanka, Pakistan's test cricketers will also be eyeing some personal achievements during this test series.

Pakistan's absolute test legend will play his 100th test during this series, fitness permitting of course. This will be a significant feather in his cap making him only the 5th player from Pakistan to play 100 tests (the others are Javed Miandad, Inzamam Ul Haq, Wasim Akram, and Salim Malik).

Younis Khan also has some more achievements to look forward to. He needs only 286 runs to go past Javed Miandad and become Pakistan's leading run scorer in test cricket; only 453 runs to become the first Pakistani to score 9,000 test runs; only 1 century to become the first Pakistani batsman to hit 30 test centuries.

Given the form Younis has been in recently, there is every likelihood that he will achieve all these feats during the upcoming 3-test series against Sri Lanka.
Ahmed Shehzad
Pakistan's talented young opener has had a fabulous start to his test career scoring 718 runs, including 3 centuries, in only 15 test innings. He needs another 282 runs to reach a 1,000 test runs and he has the opportunity to create a Pakistan record of becoming the fastest batsman to reach 1,000 test runs. The record right now is held by Saeed Ahmed who required 20 innings to complete 1,000 test runs. 

Shehzad is also in the running for a Pakistan record in terms of time required to score 1,000 test runs. Having made his test debut on 31st December 2013, it had been 1 year and 164 days since his test debut. The Pakistani selectors denied him a good opportunity to create this record by unfairly dropping him from the test squad against Bangladesh, but good on them to correct this mistake and bring the talented opener back into the fold. 

Misbah Ul Haq
Pakistan's test captain has already achieved so much while captaining the team that there doesn't seem much left for him to do. He has taken Pakistan to number 3 in the test rankings, he has won more tests as captain than any other Pakistan captain, he has scored more runs as captain than any other Pakistan captain, and he has led Pakistan more times than everyone else, except for the great Imran Khan.

So what else is left for Misbah to make his own? Well, he needs 1 more century to equal and two more to break Inzamam Ul Haq's record of 7 test centuries scored as Pakistan captain.
Yasir Shah
Pakistan's newest leg spinner has been a revelation in test cricket. He has taken over from Saeed Ajmal in the best possible way and has plenty of wickets to show for his tenacity and perseverance. Rated by Shane Warne as the best leg spinner in the world today, Yasir Shah has so far picked up 37 wickets in only 7 tests.

He has the opportunity to complete 50 test wickets faster than any bowler from Pakistan if he can pick up another 13 wickets in the next 2 tests. The Pakistan record for fastest to reach 50 test wickets is jointly held by Waqar Younis, Mohammad Asif, and Shabbir Ahmed, who managed it in 10 tests. For spinners, the Pakistan record is held by Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman who required 11 tests.
Yasir Shah also has time on his side as it has only been 235 days since his Test debut against Australia in October last year. No one has achieved the feat of picking up 50 test wickets for Pakistan within a year of his debut.

While the overall international record for fastest 50 test wickets is 6 tests, held by Charlie Turner from Australia, the record among spinners is held by Alfred Valentine, the slow left armer from West Indies, who managed the feat in 8 tests. Yasir can't break that record but he definitely has the opportunity to equal it.
While Pakistan will be looking to improve its test record in Sri Lanka, and its cricketers will have their eyes firmly on their personal goals, Pakistan's two biggest nemeses will be licking their lips at the prospect of playing against their favorite opposition once again. Kumar Sangakkara and Rangana Herath have been the two biggest hurdles that Pakistan has not been able to overcome.

No one has scored more test runs or test centuries against Pakistan than Sangakkara has.

Moreover, Sangakkara will be looking to add to his 2,809 runs against Pakistan and become the first batsman in the world to score 3,000 test runs against them. That will make him the first cricketer to score 3,000 test runs against an opposition besides Australia and England. The feat has been achieved only 7 times before - by Bradman, Border, Sobers, and Steve Waugh vs England; and Tendulkar, Hobbs, and Gower vs Australia.

Rangana Herath has also been very successful in tests against Pakistan picking up 88 wickets in only 17 matches, making him the third most successful bowler against Pakistan. He needs only 3 more wickets to surpass Shane Warne, and only 12 more wickets to become the first bowler in the world to pick up 100 wickets in tests against Pakistan.

So then, even though the upcoming test series may reek of too much familiarity, there is plenty at stake for the players taking part. It will definitely make for interesting viewing to witness experienced campaigners like Younis, Misbah, Sangakkara, and Herath achieve the above mentioned milestones near the end of their careers; as it would be to witness upcoming talent like Shehzad and Yasir to achieve their feats so early in their careers.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

The return Of Jack Brooks Proves To Be Crucial To Yorkshire by

Finally, Yorkshire gave the performance everyone has been expecting from them, especially after a narrow escape when they secured a draw in Somerset a while back.

Their bowling was top class, characterized by discipline and control as they limited Middlesex, the Division One leaders to only one batting point. Overall, this shows us how surprising the games can be week in week out. The entire betting platform comes to life every time as no one really knows what to expect and you can find out more information on betting odds for your cricket predictions here.

James Franklin surely showed up for the party this time round. However, the man of the moment at Yorkshire this time round was Jack Brooks, who, after coming out wicketless in Taunton, made his return from a ten-day break. His passion and desire to make his mark is evident as he still celebrates his every wicket like his first, despite this being his third season at Headingley since leaving Northamptonshire.

Jack was absolutely superb with his deliveries the entire time. No one seemed to stand in his path as he took out the Australian opener, Joe Burns before dismissing Sam Robson with his ninth and fifth ball respectively. This put Yorkshire on the driving foot as they came back for the afternoon session which ended with Middlesex all out for 212. 

Middlesex had their plan set for a recovery as they replied by reducing Yorkshire to 52 for 4 with Jack Leaning and Jonny Bairstow leading the recovery battle. The emphasis on all this was the three and a half hour 70 from Compton. The 31 year old proved once again that he is the right person to hold the team together whenever they are in a tough situation and his influence can never be overlooked.

The morning session saw Jack Brooks perform at his best and Steve Patterson bowled consistently from the end at the expense of Compton, who did not score a single run for an agonizing 40 minutes.

However, this did not seem to bother him as he said in a conference, adding that he knows very well that he still has his chance as long as he is in the game. He believes that, going all in for it in a wicket can make a player over commit and end up in trouble. Compton’s patience on the pitch does not translate to his patience in relation to his career in England. He admits that he is desperate to get back in the squad and believes that he will cause the Australian side big problems if he is to be picked.

The only negative note for Yorkshire in the game was Ryan Sidebottom, who seemed uncomfortable shaking off a calf injury he sustained in the opening fixture. He was supposed to make his comeback in this game, but pulled out as he was warming up.

Will Rhodes benefited from this as it meant that he gets to keep his position at least for the next couple of weeks as Ryan makes his recovery.

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Younis Khan - The Best Test Batsman Produced by Pakistan. Maybe the World.

Pakistan rarely plays a Test Series where Younis Khan does not make an impact and their most recent test series against Bangladesh was no different as Younis played yet another instrumental innings to set up a Pakistan win in the second test. Pakistan's senior most batsman has been an absolute legend in Tests, something he has not been able to replicate in ODIs where he finds himself out of favor with the selectors and the public. When it comes to tests, however, Younis Khan is a giant of the game and arguably the best batsman produced by Pakistan in the format. Maybe even the world.

As the Pakistan test team departs for a 3-match test series against Sri Lanka, where Younis Khan will play his 100th test (fitness permitting ofcourse), here we tell you why Younis is in fact the absolute test best!

Last year, in the test series against Australia, Younis Khan became the first batsman from Pakistan to score a century against every test playing opposition. He is one of the only 12 batsmen in the world who have achieved the same feat. Younis Khan is also Pakistan's leading test centurion with 4 more centuries than the next best 25 of Inzamam Ul Haq; Younis Khan's most recent test century against Bangladesh was his 29th. Moreover, currently at third, he is only 285 runs away from becoming the leading run scorer for Pakistan in tests.

Best in the World in Past Decade
While there is little doubt that he is one of the best produced by Pakistan, his performances over the years demonstrate that he is among the best in the world as well. He has performed far better than most of the modern day greats that the world media is always vocal about. In a number of ways he has given remarkable performances that out shine those of Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, and Rahul Dravid.

Not only has Younis scored more runs than all of them after 98 tests, he has averaged more than all of them in the past decade of test cricket.

Only Kumar Sangakkara averages more than Younis in tests played since 1st January 2005, and only Sangakkara and Kallis have more centuries than Younis does during this period. What is even more eye opening is that Younis has the same number of centuries as Hashim Amla does during these 10 years in 15 fewer innings.

Exceptional away from home
Those who are quick to call Younis good on only subcontinental wickets must be pleasantly surprised to note that Younis has scored runs all over the world and against all opposition. He is the third highest run scorer in tests played away from home; behind only Tendulkar and Dravid. Additionally, only Tendulkar has scored more centuries away from home than Younis has. Younis is also one of the few batsmen in this world who average over 50 in tests played away from home.

An Absolute Match Winner
Sachin Tendulkar is often criticized by his own countrymen for scoring tons of runs that don't matter. Critics claim that Tendulkar hardly ever scored when it mattered and that he does not have as many match winning innings as someone like Dravid or Inzamam. There is absolutely no doubt in that statement when one takes a look at the batsmen that have the highest averages in tests won by their team.

Younis Khan is right up there, over and above all, except Inzamam and Sir Gary Sobers. Younis has a phenomenal average of 75.4 in tests won by Pakistan and 15 of his test hundreds have come in winning causes. Younis' contribution to Pakistan's wins has been remarkable and significantly better than that of the 'popular' modern day greats that are still playing such as AB De Villiers, Hashim Amla, Micheal Clarke, and Alastair Cook.

A Match Winner away from home
Younis has not only contributed to test wins for Pakistan, he has done so for tests won away from home as well, which has been a task and a half for subcontinent teams in the recent past. Younis is the leading run scorer in the world in tests won away from home, and his Bradmenesque average of 90 in those tests is the third best in the world, behind only two Englishmen - Cook and Wally Hammond. Younis also has the most centuries in tests won away from home and is equal on that front with another legend, Steve Waugh.

A King of the 4th Innings
Younis' true testament to being a batsman for all conditions comes forth in the fact that he is among the only 8 batsmen in this world who average above 50 in the 4th innings of test matches, and among the only 4 batsmen in this world who have scored 4 test centuries in 4th innings of tests. It doesn't take a genius to know that such centuries can only be match winning or match saving efforts.

A More Frequent Century Maker
It is a shame that Pakistan does not play enough test cricket for if Younis Khan played as much as Tendulkar, Kallis, Ponting, Sangakkara, and other great batsmen did he would have more runs and more centuries than all of them. Younis has been around for 15 years and in this time he has played only 98 tests. Others like Sangakkara, Cook, KP, Graeme Smith, Clarke who debuted around the same time or after Younis have gone to play well above a 100 test matches. Younis' average and the number of innings he takes to score a test 100 demonstrate that he would have scored far more runs than any of the above mentioned batsmen (barring Sangakkara) had Pakistan played more tests than the other countries.

So for all those who talk about Tendulkar, Dravid, Ponting, Lara, Kallis, and Sangakkara as the modern day greats and mention Cook, Clarke, KP, ABD, and Amla as the current generation of great test batsmen must not forget Younis Khan who stands over and above all these batsmen. He is a test legend no less and the best this world has seen. Fortunately for all of us, he is not done yet and his fitness levels are good enough to keep him going for some more years at least.

The intangible effect that Younis Khan has had is also a feat for the great batsmen. All his captains have spoken highly of him being a true team man. While the younger generation of Pakistani batsmen have publicly praised Younis for helping the out on and off the field. Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Fawad Alam, and Umar Akmal claim that Younis was the guiding force towards them scoring their first, and in some cases many more, test centuries.

Younis' contribution to Pakistan's test success is nothing short of phenomenal and the man will go down in history as the best test batsman ever produced by Pakistan. 

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Pakistan welcomes cricket back with a BANG! The right kind of BANG!

Pakistan's highest successful chase in a T20 International came during the World T20 in 2012 against Bangladesh when they chased down a target of 176 with ease and won the match by 8 wickets. Pakistan equaled that record chase of 176 in a T20 International in the second T20 against Zimbabwe on Sunday; and just two days prior to that, Pakistan successfully chased a target of 173 against the same opposition.

Essentially, Pakistan recorded its highest and second highest chase in T20 Internationals in the last two T20s played in Lahore! What a way to welcome cricket back into your country. If someone was given the task to script a movie on the return of cricket to Pakistan, they will not need to shift much from the events of Lahore between Friday and Sunday.

It was purely majestic; all the way from welcoming of Zimbabwe's cricketers at the airport and at hotel to the hunt for tickets, queuing outside Gaddafi for hours in sweltering heat, cheering for the teams as they walked on to the field amidst mini fireworks, singing along the loudest sung Pakistani national anthem ever, cheering at the sight of the screen that spelled out that this was the first ever T20 International to be played in Lahore, raising sound levels by various decibels at Sami's twin strikes, being entertained by Ahmed Shehzad's imaginary selfie, witnessing two imposing innings by Mukhtar Ahmed that involved some audacious shots, screaming at the top of our lungs when Afridi walked out to bat, being pleased at Afridi hitting the winning runs off the only delivery he faced on Friday and the towering six he smashed on Sunday, watching Umar Akmal finally play an international match at home, guffawing at the all familiar batting collapse on Friday and Sunday, biting our nails at the close finishes, and jumping in cheer as Pakistan closed off two good chases!

No scriptwriter could have written it better.

It is debatable whether Pakistan would have managed to chase down the same targets if they were playing anywhere else, but the likely answer to that is no. Being perennial bad chasers, Pakistan's batting has been found desperately wanting in recent times. In its entire history, Pakistan had successfully chased a total of 150 or above only 3 times prior to these two T20s against Zimbabwe in Lahore. In its past 4 T20s, Pakistan managed scores of 141-5 (20), 127 (20), 140-3 (19.1), and 96-9 (20). None of them were obviously played at home.

Mukhtar Ahmed had a lot to do with Pakistan winning those games despite facing stiff targets; however, I believe it also had a lot to do with the venue. Batting in home conditions seems to bring out the best out of majority of the batsmen. All records will show that. It definitely has something to do with the familiarity of the conditions, but it also has a lot to do with the confidence derived from knowing your conditions and the adrenaline from the supportive crowd. Confidence and adrenaline does wonders to a batsmen's mind.
Mukhtar struggled to a dogged 30 odd in his debut T20 in Bangladesh last month. In contrast, his two innings in Lahore were commanding and dominating. Ahmed Shehzad had struggled to even rotate strike effectively in the past 6-8 months, yet he played a free flowing innings in the first T20 in Lahore, his hometown, his home ground. For too long the world has seen the likes of Virat Kohli, Hashim Amla, and Steve Smith dominate bowling attacks in their backyards and for too long Pakistanis have been denied of watching their batsmen do the same.

Finally cricket came back home. Finally Pakistan's batsmen looked dominant again!

Here's hoping for more dominance in the upcoming ODIs and continued international cricket in Pakistan.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pakistan welcomes back International Cricket

I was in Lahore on 2nd March 2009. It was my brother's wedding. The baraat had driven down from Rawal Pindi to Lahore in the morning and we drove back the same evening after the wedding festivities.

The next day, 3rd March 2009, was my brother's valima in Rawal Pindi. I woke up early morning to catch the third day's play of the 2nd test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but I was in for a rude shock.

Sri Lanka's team bus, on route from the hotel to Gaddafi Stadium, had been attacked by militants. The unfathomable event had happened. Teams like Australia were already apprehensive to tour Pakistan, but after this, no team wanted to.

By the afternoon a number of our guests who were supposed to drive from Lahore to Pindi started cancelling due to a blocked motorway.

Having never lived in Pakistan, I happened to be in Pakistan on that tragic day when international cricket disappeared from Pakistan forever.

6 years on, I happen to be in Pakistan once again for yet another wedding and coincidentally it is the day when international cricket returns to Pakistan!

That is quite a coincidence considering that my visits to Pakistan are usually only for weddings. But completely apt as well. Somehow, nothing unites us Pakistanis more than shaadis and cricket!

Having been personally affected by the shooting on Sri Lanka's team bus 6 years ago, it was an absolute delight to see Lahore prepare for the arrival of the Zimbabwe cricket team.

What has been even more pleasing is the excitement resulting from this home series for Pakistan.

Gaddafi stadium was sold out in the matter of minutes.

Social media is abuzz with #cricketcomeshome and #thankyouzimbabwe trending all over twitter and facebook. is shipping tickets all over the country.

Pepsi and Boys in Green are giving away 2 FREE tickets for each match.

For the next 10 days, Lahore is going to be in a cricket frenzy.

One that it has not experienced since 2004 when India came to town.

Finally cricket is back home and we hope that it is here to stay with other teams following suit in the near future.

Pakistanis celebrate a number of days like 23rd March, 14th August, 25th December, among others. 22nd May is another day that will be celebrated in the years to come as the day international cricket returned to Pakistan!

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pakistan, what a fall from grace for the once upon a time KINGS of ODIs

My first few memories of watching cricket on TV or at the stadium involve Pakistan winning tournament after tournament in Sharjah. Aaqib Javed taking a hatrick of LBWs against India, Waqar Younis clean bowling Ian Bishop off the final ball of an ODI to lead Pakistan to a 1 run, Wasim Akram clean bowling Hughes, Rackemann, and Alderman off successive deliveries, are some of my first memories watching cricket on TV or at the stadium in Sharjah.

Pakistan were unbeatable in Sharjah. They always beat India, they won every tournament that took place there, they were the Kings of the Desert! They were the best team in the world and Imran Khan was everyone's hero even before 1992 happened.

Then Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992 and they were officially the best team in the World. It was a time when Indian commentators like Sunil Gavaskar would publicly talk about the danger posed by Pakistan and kept saying not to count them out when every newspaper carried headlines of Pakistan's disastrous World Cup campaign.

There were more victories after that World Cup win. More Sharjah tophies were won, there were bilateral series wins, a tri series win in Singapore, a tri series win in Australia, and there was another World Cup final.

The 90s was a dream era for every Pakistan cricket fan. Not only did Pakistan win a lot of ODIs, they had a team full of match winners and they held a lot of ODI records.

Highest team total against a test playing nation, highest individual score, best bowling figures, most individual hatricks, team with most bowlers to take a hatrick, most number of wickets, fastest century, highest partnership for any wicket. Individual and team brilliance shone like never before for Pakistan.

If you grew up watching Pakistan dominate ODI cricket in the 90s, you must be feeling sick in the stomach after their 3-0 loss to Bangladesh. To witness Pakistan fall to 9th in ODI rankings and also watch each and every single one of those ODI records broken over the years has been nothing short of a heartbreak.

Where did it all go wrong for Pakistan? What happened? Where are all the heroes?

Typical talk of a bad domestic structure, board level politics, player politics is mere talk. All that existed back then as well. Player rivalries have been part and parcel of Pakistan cricket for as long as it has existed. There have been no bigger rivalries in Pakistan cricket than Imran-Javed and Wasim-Waqar, yet Pakistan rose above all that and dominated opponents on the field.

The domestic structure and the board was just as dis-functional in the 90s as well. Yet Pakistan was a great team on the field. Pakistan changed more captains and coaches in the 90s than they ever have in their history. Yet they played two World Cup finals and won other ODI tournaments.

All the problems one discusses today existed two decades ago as well so it can't be just that.

Pakistan were so good back then that despite a mediocre decade in ODIs, they still have the third best overall record in ODIs. However, they are such a bad ODI team now that they are on the verge of missing out participation in the Champions Trophy 2017 and face the potential shame of having to play a qualifying round to take part in the World Cup 2019!

What a damning fall from grace!

Names like Javed Miandad, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam Ul Haq, Ijaz Ahmed used to give bowlers sleepless nights. While Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain Mushtaq have given the same sleepless nights to opposition batsmen. Yet now opposing batsmen and bowlers lick their lips at prospects of improving their career figures when playing against Pakistan.

There is not a single name in Pakistan that would spell fear in the mind of any cricketer from any team. That includes the eternal minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and even associates like Ireland and UAE who have all fancied their chances against Pakistan in recent clashes.

What I fail to understand is that during this same period, Pakistan have taken great strides in test cricket. There was a test win over Australia after 15 years. There was a test series win over Australia after 20 years, and that too a clean sweep. There was a clean sweep of the world number 1 test team as well. Forced to make UAE their home, Pakistan have created a fortress there and have not lost a test series in the UAE for as long as that has been their "home"; over half a decade.

Batsmen like Younis Khan, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, and even their captain Misbah have exelled in tests at home and away. Many have managed what greats like Inzamam could not; like scoring test centuries in South Africa. Even batsmen that have been tried in tests over the past 5 years but have not played too regularly like Taufeeq Umar, Khurram Manzoor, and Shan Masood have done brilliantly.

The same names however, have been utter failures in ODIs.

It is the same system, the same board, the same management, and the same players who have done exceedingly well in tests. Yet when it has come to ODIs they have failed miserably.

Pakistan is fast becoming England but the problem is that they don't play as many tests as England do. It is not that tests have been given a higher priority resulting in Pakistan's relative success in the format as compared to ODIs.

It is complete chance that Pakistan has become a team that has done well in test cricket but failed to do the same in ODIs.

The problems they face in ODIs, i.e. strike rotation, big hitting, and constant mistakes on the field, are not really problems in test cricket. Hafeez and Shehzad can manage to hit a boundary in every over without rotating the strike in tests; they can do that all day if they wish to. Doing the same in ODIs is what causes problems.

I don't know when Pakistan will come out of this rut. Surely it can't get worse after losing to Bangladesh 3-0. Or can it with Zimbabwe coming home?

Pakistan have been trying to revive international cricket at home for as long as it was taken away from them. It has been 6 years since Pakistan has hosted an international cricket match on its land, and they have finally managed to convince Zimbabwe to come over. But an ODI series between the 9th and 11th ranked teams is definitely not what the PCB would have hoped for.

Not many watched the series against Bangladesh. After the 3-0 loss to them, Pakistan cricket has lost more fans. I am not sure if the TV rights have been secured for the Pakistan vs Zimbabwe ODIs but I highly doubt any channel would want to get their hands on that. Even though cricket is coming back to Pakistan after 6 years, I really do not know if they will be able to fill the stadiums in this heat for a team that has been appalling in ODIs.

In the 90s, we used to drive for 4 hours to reach Sharjah to watch Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam Ul Haq. Even Aamer Sohail, Ijaz Ahmed, and Saleem Malik had fans. Flash in the pan players like Basit Ali, Zahid Fazal, and Mohammad Zahid also made fans flock the Sharjah stadium.

Who would fans go for now? There is not a single name in Pakistan's ODI line up that one can wish to watch. There are no great players. There is no superstar. There is absolutely no one.

It is great for Pakistan and world cricket that the sport is returning to Pakistan's land. But the timing could not have been worse for Pakistan.

I know this whole rant is all over the place. But that is what I feel like at the moment as Pakistan cricket fan. All over the place!

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Will James Anderson go down as an all-time England great after breaking record?

What a week it’s been for James Anderson. Not content with just celebrating his 100th test appearance for England against the West Indies, Jimmy broke Sir Ian Botham’s long-standing record to become the country’s leading wicket-taker in history.

He’d already claimed wicket numbers 382 and 383, and as he roared into bowl at Denesh Ramdin – in that typical, languid style of his – he did something that he’s been doing for England for over a decade now; pitching the ball up, swinging it away a little and inducing the edge from the batsmen.

Fittingly, it was his good friend Alistair Cook that pouched the catch at first slip, and the relief on Anderson’s face – rather than unbridled joy – was telling. He’s a family man, a quiet bloke off the pitch, and he’d found the increased pressure and media scrutiny something of an unwanted distraction.

So what now for the ‘Burnley Express’? Has he secured his place as an all-time great of the game? And will we one day be calling him Sir Jimmy?

Swing King

The rise and rise of James Anderson has coincided with a reversal in fortunes of English cricket. Once upon a time the Three Lions were very much in the doldrums, but the early 2000s saw a sea change – with the likes of Anderson, Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss all bursting onto the scene.

Fast forward a decade and a bit and Jimmy has secured his position as a legend of English – and world – cricket. He’s played a key part in three Ashes victories for his country, and was part of the side that in 2011 rose to the top of the ICC World Rankings.

But perhaps his greatest legacy is his unique reinvention of swing bowling. The great art had, by and large, died a death following the retirements of the Pakistan pair Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Those two were absolute masters of getting the ball to hoop around – and Anderson became their unlikely successor.

In typically English conditions, where the cloud is thick and the air is heavy, Anderson is at times completely unplayable.

Far From Finished

But Jimmy’s career is far from over. In fact, this summer could be one of his most important in an England shirt. There’s another Ashes battle on the horizon, and a tricky couple of dates against the fast-improving New Zealand to negotiate.

And of course there is the current test series in the Caribbean. Anderson will be hoping to add a few more scalps to his record when his turn to bowl comes, and he will know that his team mates Ballance and Bell must maintain their brilliant batting for second test .

If they can, then they will give Jimmy a great opportunity to put a bit of distance between himself and Sir Ian in the record books.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pakistan was ahead of its time... before it hit rock bottom!

Pakistan's ODI cricket has never been in such a sad state as it is in right now. They are ranked 7 in the world, are currently trailing Bangladesh 2-0, and if they lose the series 3-0 then they will drop down to number 8.

Where did it all go wrong for them?

If we consider the entire 45-year history of ODI cricket, Pakistan has the third best overall record in ODIs. Only Australia and South Africa have won a higher percentage of ODIs than Pakistan in this time. Despite this record, we are going through a period where Pakistan has not won an ODI series for over a year.

I fail to understand how they have fallen so far behind other teams. There was a time in the 90s when Pakistan was one of the best ODI teams, if not the best, in the world. They played two World Cup finals in that decade, winning one, and created a number of ODI records, which stood for a long time.

They were well ahead of other teams, but the turn of the century has witnessed a significant transformation, which is hard to understand.

Pakistan and its cricketers created 5 ODI records in the previous century, which at the time were the sort of records that one felt would never be broken. However, since the turn of the century, those records have fallen multiple times and it shows how other teams have not only caught up with Pakistan but have also marched ahead tremendously, leaving Pakistan far far behind.

1. Fastest Century in ODIs

In October 1996, one innings changed Shahid Afridi's life forever. He smashed a century off only 37 deliveries while slaughtering Sri Lanka's bowling in Nairobi and held the record for the fastest century ever scored in an ODI for 17 years! No one came close to breaking that record besides Afridi himself, who also held the record for the second fastest ODI century ever scored (45 deliveries) when he smashed India's bowlers to all parts of Kanpur in 2005.

Even though Mark Boucher bettered the second fastest ODI 100 in 2006, it was not until 2014 that Afridi's fastest 100 record was broken. Corey Anderson broke that record by 1 delivery when he sprinted to an ODI ton off only 36 deliveries against the West Indies. That record was broken again by AB De Villiers earlier this year when he further tormented the West Indies by destroying their bowlers and reaching an ODI century off only 31 deliveries.

In the 90s, one could easily say that no one can hit the ball the way Afridi does. He was well ahead of his time and gave many a bowling attack nightmares for some time.

The way the game is played today, however, there are many who can hit the ball better than Afridi ever did. The fastest 100 record has been broken twice already, and maybe ABD's 31 ball century will never be bettered, however it is easy to imagine many more centuries scored of 30 odd deliveries in the year to come.

2. Highest Team Score in ODIs

Back in the day, a team scoring 400 was unheard of in ODIs. In fact even 350 was a score that was rarely achieved by teams even when an innings used to be 60 overs long. In fact in the first two decades of ODI cricket, 350 was crossed only twice - by the West Indies in 1987 (360-4) and by England in 1992 (363-7). Sri Lanka were the only team that threatened the barrier of 400 when they managed the highest score by a team in ODIs in 1996 against Kenya when they amassed 398-5.

In that same game where Afridi hit the fastest century, Pakistan scored a daunting 371-9 in their 50 overs. That was the highest score by a team in an ODI between two test playing nations. That stood for 3 years before India scored 373 and 376 in 1999 against Sri Lanka and New Zealand respectively.

The game has changed so much that in the past decade or so, teams have crossed 400 in an ODI innings on as many as 15 occasions. Pakistan have managed it exactly zero times.

It is ironic that the three teams that posted the highest ODI totals in the 80s and 90s - West Indies, England, and Pakistan - are the only teams among the top 8 ODI sides who have not posted a score of 400 in an ODI yet.

3. Highest Individual Score in ODIs

Like a team score of 400, to think that a batsman will ever score 200 in an ODI was unfathomable. Viv Richards's 189* against England in May 1984 remained the highest score ever in an ODI for 13 years before Saeed Anwar smashed India's bowlers for a magnificent 194. That was the closest anyone ever got to scoring a double century in an ODI. Saeed Anwar could have easily become the first man to do so had he not perished as there were still a few overs left in Pakistan's innings.

At the time many felt that Saeed Anwar's record will never be broken. It took 12 years for someone to equal the record as  Charles Coventry of Zimbabwe scored 194 in an ODI against Bangladesh.

But then came Sachin Tendulkar's epic unbeaten 200 against South Africa in 2010. Saeed Anwar's record stood strong for 13 years, like Sir Viv Richards', before Sachin became the first ever batsman to score a double century in ODIs. In the past 5 years since then, we have witnessed 5 more double centuries in ODIs, and with the way the game is played today we will definitely see many many more.

4. Most Sixes in an ODI innings

In 1987 and 1988, Viv Richards played two innings in which he hit 7 sixes each. That was the most number of sixes anyone had hit in an ODI innings at the time. 7. In 1989, Sir Viv's compatriot, Gordon Greenidge bettered him by 1 and held the record for most 6s hit in an ODI innings - 8!

In 1996, Sanath Jayasuriya and Shahid Afridi, during their respective record breaking fastest ODI hundreds, hit 11 sixes each. 11 sixes in an ODI innings was unbelievable, and it remained so for more than a decade before Xavier Marshall smashed Canada for 12 sixes in 2008.

However, the past 5 years has seen even that mark crossed on 5 different occasions. Rohit Sharma, AB De Villiers, and Chris Gayle jointly hold the record for most sixes in an ODI innings - 16! Shane Watson has hit 15, while Corey Anderson has hit 14.

It is not long before we will witness someone smash 20 sixes in an ODI innings.

5. Highest Partnership in ODIs

In 1994, Aamer Sohail and Inzamam Ul Haq got together and pummelled New Zealand for 263 runs for the second wicket. Back then, not only was that the highest partnership for any wicket in ODIs, it was the only time that a 250 run partnership was witnessed in an ODI.

Even though that record was broken before the turn of the century, this century alone has seen over 15 partnerships of 250 or more in ODIs, with the most recent one being Warner and Smith's 260 against Afghanistan, and the highest being Gayle and Samuel's record 372 against Zimbabwe.

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Pakistan's ODI batting is currently the worst in the world. However there was a time when it was one of the best. In fact, as the above records show, Pakistan's ODI batting was well ahead of other teams, and definitely far far ahead of its times.

To think how far down the barrel we have fallen; it is just sad. It is unbelievable. And it is quite incomprehensible.

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