Saturday, June 15, 2019

Of Pakistan vs India, Manchester, and Co-Existing ...

Pakistan vs India is the biggest a cricket match can get; Pakistan vs India at an ICC World Cup is the grandest stage of them all.


It is the first match to sell out, it is the first match that 90% of the cricket viewing public look out for when the schedule is released, it is the most anticipated match of any tournament (let alone a World Cup), and it is the most watched match at a Cricket World Cup.

The players always talk about how it is like any other match for them.

It is not true. It is all talk.

The pressure, the excitement, the nerves are all multiplied for the cricketers.

Performing against either team can make careers; not performing can destroy them. Ask Chetan Sharma.


For the fans, it is all about bragging rights.

"World Cup beshak har jao, India se mat haarna" - something commonly heard in Pakistan.

"Hum ne Pakistan ko haraya, hamare liye yehi World Cup ke barabar hai" - heard in India in 1992.

For fans living in India and Pakistan, it is quite different than for expats living in a place like the UAE or the UK for example.

Residents of India and Pakistan do not interact with each other (besides on social media).

For us expats, it is a totally different ball game.

Schools, offices, apartment buildings, residential communities, shopping malls, restaurants, supermarkets, cinema halls, wherever you go, Pakistanis and Indians coexist.

You have to face each other before and after the match. Sometimes even during the match!

But it never gets hostile. We coexist. Always have.


I grew up in Abu Dhabi. Had a bunch of Indian friends in school. My father had Indian colleagues. We had Indian neighbors. We studied together, we partied together, played cricket together, watched cricket together.

We coexisted throughout all those Sharjah Cup matches.

We had a school cricket team, which had Pakistanis and Indians. We used to play a lot of Pakistan vs India matches against each other, but against other schools we united as one. We were one hell of a great team.


The school team captain was Pakistani. The Vice Captain was Indian. We selected together, strategized together, played together.

The openers were a Pakistani and an Indian. Boy what an opening combination it was.


There were 4 Indians in the top 6 of the batting order. The opening pace attack was Pakistani - a left arm and a right arm pace bowler!

One fond memory of those days is of the Independence Cup played in India in 1997.

It was Pakistan vs India at Chennai.

We watched the match at an Indian friend's house. A dozen Indians and a dozen Pakistanis under one roof.





Saeed Anwar created a new world record - the highest ODI score of 194.

Pakistan won the game and our gracious Indian host treated us to KFC after the match.

We coexisted quite happily.

A decade later, I went to study at Manchester Business School. I was one of two Pakistanis in the Class of 2011. There were 30 odd Indians.

My flatmate was an Indian.

His parents were terrified that he was sharing an apartment with a Pakistani.

We laughed about it. We still laugh about it.


I captained our class team in the MBA Cricket League.

I was one of the only two Pakistanis in the squad. There were 10 Indians.

We played together happily.


A year later, I represented the MBS Cricket Team as an alumni and played under an Indian captain. Again, happily!


In another country, a decade after leaving high school, once again, we studied together, partied together, lived together, ate together, played cricket together, and watched it together.

I watched the entire ICC World Cup 2011 with Indians, including the Mohali semifinal between Pakistan and India.

Even today, we talk about it.

I am on a whatsapp group with all those Indians and the banter still hasn't stopped. It never will. But we will continue to coexist, happily.

Living and working in Dubai, I have so many more such examples of us Pakistanis and Indians coexisting.

There is no animosity. We work together. We play together. We travel together. We watch Pakistan vs India together.

Which we shall do on Sunday 16 June 2019 as well!

I am traveling to Manchester for the match.

The place I have so many fond memories of. The place I made really good friends. Including Indian friends.


The place where Pakistan will take on India at Old Trafford!

It can't get better, nor bigger, than this. Not for me at least.

This coming weekend, Manchester will be a sea of green and blue and the city will be buzzing like never before.

To all my Indian friends - all the best!

To all my Pakistan friends - jeetega bhai jeetega, PAKISTAAAN jeetega!

Pakistan has lost every single World Cup match against India. All 6 of them. Two of them knock outs.

But you know what will happen on Sunday?

Virat Kohli will become the first ever Indian captain to lose a World Cup match to Pakistan.

And after the game, we will continue to coexist. In Manchester, In Dubai, and world over. Happily!

PAKISTAN ZINDABAD!

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

This loss to Australia hurt more than the one to the West Indies

It was poor. Really really poor from Pakistan.

This loss hurt more than the loss to the West Indies, who totally outplayed Pakistan. Against Australia, Pakistan just gave it way. Multiple times.

Overcast conditions. Green top. Any international captain would have opted to bowl first. But why doesn't Pakistan's team management understand that they can't chase? Why don't they know that their only winning formula is to put runs on the board and defend.

Maybe they were scared that their batsmen would skittle out on a green top. Maybe they felt their pacers would blow Australia away.

I can live with this decision however. The way Mohammed Aamir bowled, it was a bowl first wicket.

Poor Shaheen is too inexperienced and he was playing after a long gap. Perhaps they should have given the new ball to Wahab.

The fielding didn't help. The catching let Pakistan down.

Had those two aspects of the game been perfect, Pakistan's decision to bowl first would have been justified.

But it was poor. Dropped chances, misfields, overthrows. It all let Pakistan down.

Nevertheless, restricting Australia to 307 was a tremendous comeback.

Aamir bowled his heart out. Wahab is on another level this World Cup. Shaheen redeemed himself in later spells.

307 was chaseable. Or was it? With Pakistan, no score seems chaseable really.

The chase did not start ideally. Fakhar left early. But Imam and Babar made it look really easy.

After Babar left to a shot he should not have played, Hafeez took over and made it look even easier.

136-2 in 25 overs. An 80 run partnership with Imam and Hafeez looking settled.

It should have been done.

But then, as it happens so often, Pakistan were reduced to 160-6 in no time!

Imam, like Babar, should have left the ball alone.

Hafeez should have smashed the full toss out of the park.

Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali should have been more cautious.

Yet they weren't.

Why, why do they keep doing this to us?

It was so easy!

Despite all this, Sarfraz, Hasan Ali, and Wahab Riaz fought like tigers. They got Pakistan to within 50 runs of the target at run a ball.

What could have been will always remain just that.

We didn't really expect Pakistan to beat Australia, but that was the case against England too. Had Pakistan been destroyed the way they were against West Indies, it would not have hurt so much.

They got so close, they made a match out of it, and they were in total control.

How could they let it slip?

This now leaves Pakistan with only 3 points from its 4 matches. With 5 more to go, they can't afford to lose even one. Mathematically, they can still go through if they win 4 out of the last 5, but that would require other results going Pakistan's way.

Better to do it yourself then rely on other teams. Who knows whose side fortune is on. Every year can't be 1992.

I let go of the West Indies loss very quickly, and was quietly confident against England.

But this one, against Australia, I am finding difficult to let go. I hope the players the players are not in the same boat. They need to shrug this off quickly and be geared up for the match of their lives.

Against India on Sunday!

For Sarfraz and Co., it is time to bring out the cornered tigers ... Come on Pakistan!

Make your pitch on this post...



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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Pakistan Cricket can't be Explained... It can only be Savored and Reminisced!


I am not sure why we are looking for explanations for Pakistan's performance at the ICC World Cup 2019. It is perhaps our own shortcoming of not understanding the beauty of Pakistan cricket, which defies all logic, rationale, and sense.

There is no system or management in Pakistan. There is just immense raw talent, which creates magic when it clicks in unison.

Like it did in Nottingham last night.

For a team that:

last won an ODI in January
lost 11 successive ODIs
lost a warm up match against the lowest ranked team in the World Cup (Afghanistan)
is going through its worst run in its entire ODI history
was bundled out for 105 in their World Cup opening game

... the last thing they needed was to come up against the world number one ODI team, the tournament hosts, the World Cup favorites!

A miracle was required to topple a team like England.


Maybe it was Wasim bhai's birthday that inspired Pakistan...


But most definitely it was batting first that allowed Pakistan a chance to win the game.


Had England batted first, I do not think Pakistan would have managed to chase any total north of 300. And England would have got a lot more than that.

As soon as Pakistan's openers walked out to bat, it all clicked for the boys in green.

Fakhar and Imam started confidently. Their opening partnership laid the perfect platform. Babar and Hafeez continued the good work with Hafeez in particular in his element striking it at a strike rate of 140. Sarfaraz finished it off really well despite not timing all his shots perfectly. And each one of Asif Ali's, Wahab's, Hasan's, and Shadab's swipes for 6s and 4s helped Pakistan march towards a commanding 348.

Maybe it was England's nerves, or maybe it was just Pakistan's day, but good fortune was definitely on our side while we were batting.

Jason Roy dropped a sitter, Morgan threw at the wrong end, England botched up their only review, there were overthrows and misfields, and then some.

We surely needed the luck to continue while we bowled, as 348 on the board was just half the job done.

The luck wasn't there though. Root was dropped at first slip of Aamir (story of his life), Sarfaraz dropped Moeen Ali later in the day, there was one more drop in the outfield, and a review was wasted.

There aren't many ODIs in the history of the game where a side with two centurions loses a match. It happened to Pakistan recently, and last night it happened to England.

At 118-4, Pakistan were confident, but Root and Buttler almost took it away from us. They kept the momentum going and remained within reach of the required run rate. Their partnership threatened Pakistan's chances for a long time as they put on 130 runs in just 17 overs.

Both got centuries and both fell soon after.

It was Shadab Khan once again who provided Pakistan the breakthrough, like he had done at the start of the innings.

And then 6 overs later, Mohammad Aamir sealed the deal for Pakistan as he snared Jos Buttler!

Or so we thought.

There was one more twist to come.

Aamir gave away 15 runs in the 47th over leaving England 38 to get off the final 3 overs with Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes smashing it around.

But then in the very next over, Wahab Riaz ensured victory for Pakistan as he struck twice in two deliveries sending Moeen and Woakes back to the pavilion.

Just like it is hard to understand Pakistan's cricket performances, it is hard to understand Wahab Riaz. Is he good? or is he bad? He gave away 82 runs yesterday. But he also picked up 3 crucial wickets including Johnny Bairstow.

Wahab may forever remain an enigma, but one thing I am quite sure about. Come what may, he turns up for Pakistan every World Cup!


Wahab bowled his heart out. The passion and determination showed on his face. He was part of two more dismissals besides his 3 wickets. He totally rocked it.

Aamir bowled magnificently, besides that one over at the end. He was unlucky not to have Root right at the start. He got Pakistan the much needed wicket of Buttler. Shadab was fabulous with the new ball snaring Roy early, and then followed that up later with the key wicket of Root. Hasan Ali went wicketless but his final spell at the death was a treat to watch. He bowled with pace, got it to reverse swing, and kept the pressure on.

Pakistan, in an effort to shore up their batting, had left Imad Wasim out leaving the 5th bowler duties to be shared by Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.

And boy did they deliver!

Their combined 10 overs went for 53 runs, less than the tally of each of the frontline bowlers. They picked up a wicket each too - Morgan and Stokes respectively!

Everyone contributed. It was a collective effort. A true team effort. It was magic.

There is no explaining this. This is Pakistan Cricket.

One day we get bowled out for the lowest score of this World Cup, on another we smash the highest total of this World Cup.

We lose to the two lowest ranked teams of this World Cup, the two teams that had to play a tournament to qualify for this World Cup. Then we turn up to beat the number one ranked ODI team, the tournament hosts, the World Cup favorites.

There is no explaining this. There is just savoring this (for now) and reminiscing this (later).

This is the beauty of Pakistan Cricket.

Make your pitch on this post...



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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

How do you think Pakistan will fare in the World Cup?

With each team playing the other once, the ICC World Cup 2019 will be the most competitive World Cup yet. Even teams like Afghanistan and Bangladesh have the potential to surprise the big boys on their day.

With at least 6 wins out of 9 guaranteeing a semifinal spot, barring net run rates coming into play, it will not be easy for any one team.

The competition is wide open and it gets underway in just 2 days!

Here is a look at Pakistan's chances against each team in this World Cup.

Pakistan vs West Indies
Friday 31 May
Nottingham

On paper, Pakistan look the much stronger side, but when it comes to World Cups, West Indies have typically had the better of the green caps with 7 wins to 3. I still remember the 10 wicket drubbing in Pakistan's opening match of World Cup 1992, and the 250 run massacre in World Cup 2015 is still fresh in memory as well. West Indies had Pakistan reeling at 1-4 then!

Chris Gayle is raring to go and the Windies can be really dangerous if their batting clicks. Nottingham is known for its belter of a pitch where England have already scored 444 and 481 in the past few years. The average score on this pitch is north of 340 in the past 2 years, so if the Windies get going they can bat Pakistan out of the game or chase down any total put up for them.

For Pakistan, the key will be to get Gayle early and unleash their spinners to keep it quiet. They will need to restrict the West Indies batsman to have a chance to win. Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim, with support from Hafeez, will play a key role here I feel. Pakistan's chances will rest on how well these three bowl.

My money is on Pakistan here. I believe the Pakistan spinners will win it for them.

Pakistan vs England
Monday 3 June
Nottingham

Even though England dominate the head-to-head between the two sides, in World Cup matches it is even at 4-4. England are coming fresh from a 4-0 drubbing of Pakistan, besides being the favorites to win this World Cup.

England smashed their way to 444 against Pakistan on this ground 2 years ago; however in their match 2 weeks ago, Pakistan managed to hold England till the final over in their chase of 340. That should give Pakistan some confidence but it will be very difficult to topple England.

It should be a win for England here with them totally out batting Pakistan.

Pakistan vs Sri Lanka
Friday 7 June
Bristol

In 7 World Cup matches Pakistan have never lost to Sri Lanka and I see no reason why this trend will change in 2019.

This should be a win for Pakistan.

Pakistan vs Australia
Wednesday 12 June
Taunton

There is no team that has a more dominant record over Pakistan than Australia. They have won double the number of games than Pakistan has. However, when it comes to World Cup, Pakistan have been quite competitive.

The World Cup record reads PAK 4, AUS 5.

Having whitewashed Pakistan 5-0 in an ODI series in the UAE earlier this year, Australia will be quite confident. With Smith, Warner, Starc, and Cummins in the side, they will be stronger too. Pakistan will also be stronger given most of the first choice batsmen missed the series in the UAE.

I feel Australia will beat Pakistan given Australia are out there to prove a point or too. Pakistan will find it tough against Starc & Co.

Pakistan vs India
Sunday 16 June
Manchester

The match everyone is waiting for. Every World Cup this is the most hyped game, yet every World Cup all we get is a one-sided game. Pakistan have faced India 6 times now in a World Cup and have lost every single time.

It is like a curse. Despite an overall dominant position over India, Pakistan have never been able to get the better of them in a World Cup match.

I feel it will be the same this time too with India coming out on top.

With 2 wins out of 5, Pakistan now will be placed in a precarious position having to win all of their next 4 matches to qualify for the semifinals. Ofcourse, Pakistan will know no other way but to be in a position like this. A week long break before their next match, it will give them time to regroup before coming out all guns blazing.

Pakistan vs South Africa
Sunday 23 June
London

Pakistan have beaten South Africa only once in a World Cup match and that was in the previous edition in 2015. South Africa is also the only top tier team that Pakistan have victories against in recent times.

This match will be the start of Pakistan's resurgence in the World Cup with their bowlers firing on all cylinders and the batting continuing its good run.

Pakistan to come out on top.

Pakistan vs New Zealand
Wednesday 26 June
Birmingham

Pakistan have historically dominated the Kiwis in World Cup matches with 6 wins to their name and only 2 losses. Despite being a strong tournament team, New Zealand have always found it tough against Pakistan in a World Cup. I see no reason why this time will be any different, especially when Pakistan will be looking to continue their resurgence.

Pakistan will win this setting them up for their last two must win games for a spot in the Semifinals.

Pakistan vs Afghanistan
Saturday 29 June
Leeds

Pakistan lost their warm up match against Afghanistan. And the previous time these two sides met, in the Asia Cup in the UAE last year, Pakistan just scraped through in the final over. But given the importance of the game and Pakistan's bounce back in the World Cup, Afghanistan will find it tough to get over the line again.

Pakistan will win this continuing their victory march.

Pakistan vs Bangladesh
Friday 5 July
London

They have met only once in a World Cup match, 20 years ago, also in England. Bangladesh shocked Pakistan back then. Since World Cup 2015, the sides have met on 4 occasions with Bangladesh winning every time.

These are the 5 times that Bangladesh have beaten Pakistan out of the 36 times the two sides have squared off in ODIs.

Doesn't sound all that good for Pakistan. This will be their last group match and a must win for a place in the semifinals. Pressure will be huge on the Pakistan players, but then it is situations like these that cricketers strive for.

With their backs against the wall, Pakistan are the most dangerous and on this day Bangladesh will realize that as well.

Pakistan for the win to become the 4th team to qualify for the semifinals.

My bets are on England topping the group stages, which will make it a repeat of the Champions Trophy 2017 semifinal with Pakistan taking on England at Old Trafford in Manchester.

As the saying goes, once in the final four, it is anybody's World Cup to win!

Make your pitch on this post...



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Sunday, May 26, 2019

Magical Moments that Defined Previous Cricket World Cups

The past 11 editions of the ICC World Cup have provided for extremely exciting and thrilling viewing for fans and this time it will be no different.

We have already had two warm up matches that went into the final over showing signs for things to come once the main event starts in 4 days time!

Here is a quick look at some of the magical moments that defined previous World Cups (starting 83 onwards as I have very little knowledge of the first two...)

Prudential Cup 1983
Kapil Dev's unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe after India were reeling at 9-4. He came in very early and batted through the innings. That set India up for the entire tournament and the final, which they won remarkably defending 180 odd against the mighty West Indians who were firm favorites to win their third consecutive title.

Reliance Cup 1987
Mike Gatting's reverse sweep off Allan Border that set up victory for a young Australia side by just 7 runs in what remains the most closely fought World Cup Final till date.

Benson & Hedges World Cup 1992
Pakistan's entire campaign was magical. Having lost all 7 warm up games and their first 5 World Cup matches except 1, Pakistan were written off. But then three wins including one against the unbeaten New Zealand led them to the semi final and history was created. Imran Khan's captaincy, Inzamam's blistering knocks in the semifinal and final, Aaquib Javed's slower one to Greatbatch, Moin Khan's crazy 6 sealing the semifinal vs NZ, Javed Miandad's consistent knocks, and Wasim Akram's magical two deliveries to Lamb and Lewis - it was all pure magic.

Wills World Cup 1996
Sri Lanka had risen from the ashes on the back of a power packed opening partnership between Sanath Jayasuriya and Rumesh Kaluwitharana. They pretty much created the first successful attacking opening combination that ripped apart bowling attacks amidst fielding restrictions. But the defining moment for me was Arjuna Ranatunga's potshots at Shane Warne before the final and then following those verbal shots up with action in the World Cup Final.

ICC World Cup 1999
Like Imran Khan's belief in 1992 and Arjuna Ranatunga's belief in 1996, this one was all about Steve Waugh's belief. He called it really early and said Australia have to win the next 7 matches and we will win the World Cup. And so Australia did. No one can forget that momentous semifinal against South Africa, but for me the defining moment came in the Australia vs South Africa match that preceded the semifinal. Australia had to chase 270 odd to qualify for the semifinals and they got there in the last over with Steve Waugh unbeaten on 120. Steve Waugh was dropped by Gibbs in his 50s when the famous words "you just dropped the world cup" were uttered.

ICC World Cup 2003
This was probably one of the most one-sided World Cups ever. Australia just continued from where they left off in 1999, won every single game, and lifted the trophy with utmost ease. I don't think they were challenged even for a minute during the entire tournament. Ricky Ponting's 140 in the final is arguably the best ever innings played in a World Cup Final.

ICC World Cup 2007
This was probably the most boring World Cup ever. There was no stopping the Australian juggernaut and they had another unbeaten run to the trophy. India and Pakistan were knocked out in the group stages, Bob Woolmer passed away during the World Cup, and there were barely any interesting matches. This was even more one-sided than the 2003 version.

ICC World Cup 2011
This World Cup was all about Sachin Tendulkar. It was played in India, the final was to be in Mumbai, it was the last World Cup appearance for Sachin, and everyone already knew that India were going to win. Don't ask me how we knew, but we did. Such was Sachin's fate that he was dropped 5 times against Pakistan in the semifinal and an LBW decision, which looked absolutely plumb was magically overturned by DRS. There was nothing that could stop Sachin or India that year. It even made Kumar Sangakkara resign after the World Cup.

ICC World Cup 2015
Grant Elliott's bat drop in the semifinal! There has never been more swag after hitting the winning shot than there was in Grant Elliott's bat drop after he deposited Dale Steyn into the stands (when 5 runs were needed to win off 2 deliveries) to take the Kiwis to their first ever World Cup Final.

Barring 2003 and 2007, every World Cup has had its fair share of magic and I am sure we will see a lot more of it this time around.

The ICC World Cup 2019 is set to be more competitive than any World Cup preceding it and I think we will see many nail biting finishes and some very thrilling contests.

Only 4 more days to go ...

Make your pitch on this post...



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5 take-aways from the ICC World Cup Warm Up Matches

We have now seen 4 warm-up matches over 2 days and the first thing that almost everyone has realized is that the pitches for the ICC World Cup 2019 are not going to be anything like the belters that the ECB have been producing for the past few years.

What else have you learnt from these 4 games?

Here's a list of things that have changed my perspective slightly.

1. With Afghanistan, New Zealand, and Australia beating Pakistan, India, and England respectively, we have already seen 3 upsets. Makes me think that this World Cup will be more competitive than any preceding it. Each of the 10 teams is here to fight and it won't be straight forward for any of them!

2. England and India are not as strong as it seems. For the second time in two years, India's mighty batting line up collapsed at the Oval with the top order falling to seam and swing. Australia showed that England can be vulnerable chasing down a big total if you can get through a few quick early wickets. Note: Australia did this without Starc and Cummins!

3. There will not be too many 350 scores. If the ICC continues to produce the kind of pitches we have seen so far, then 300 will be tough to chase down. Even for teams like England and India. There won't be too many 350 totals and definitely no 400 ones.

4. Spin will play a big role. We always knew this, but Rashid Khan, Imad Wasim, and Nathan Lyon showed that the pitches will take quite some grip making the leggies and finger tweakers extremely key to team's World Cup chances.

5. There will be quite a few upsets and I feel that every team will have a rollercoaster ride.

Make your pitch on this post...



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Thursday, May 23, 2019

ICC World Cup 2019 - A Competition Among the Middle Tablers ... and Pakistan's Chances!

The ICC World Cup 2019 gets underway in a week from now when hosts England square off against South Africa. The previous two World Cups were won by the host nations - India in 2011 and Australia in 2015 - and this time, it is also the host nation that goes into the 6-week tournament as firm favorites to lift the trophy for the very first time.

England have played 3 ICC World Cup finals, finishing runners up every single time. This cup is there for the taking for the world's number one ODI team.

But will they be able to?

They were firm favorites to win the ICC Champions Trophy too in 2017, but stumbled against a rampaging Pakistan in the semifinal.

The bookies have England as the favorites, followed by India and Australia.

Looking at the teams' form since the previous World Cup in 2015, it is apparent why England are favorites.


England and India are in a different league altogether. The best ODI sides around currently and I feel there will be nothing stopping them from making the semifinals of World Cup 2019.

While Australia is a third favorite of the bookies, their overall performance since 2015 has left a lot to be desired. But they have recently picked up their performances after the team settled down following the 12 month absence of Steve Smith and David Warner.

With both Smith and Warner back in the fold, Australia will be a strong contender.

South Africa and New Zealand are quite consistent as well and New Zealand had their best run ever in the previous World Cup. The black caps can never be ruled out in a tournament.

South Africa somehow win a lot of bilateral ODIs but when it comes to World Cups, they are the eternal chokers.

Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and the West Indies are not to be ignored but it does not seem like either team has it in them to win 6-7 matches consistently to vie for a semi final spot.

This leaves us with the perennial unpredictables - Pakistan.

Barring the Champions Trophy win in 2017, Pakistan have been quite atrocious in ODIs since World Cup 2015. They have not won much and more than 90% of their ODI wins over the past 4 years have come against low ranked teams like Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. When you look at ODIs against the top 5-6 sides, Pakistan have won just a handful of games.

But then, one can never rule out Pakistan in a tournament like this.

I feel England and India will go into the semifinals with a lot of one-sided victories and it will be left to the middle tablers - Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Pakistan - to fight it out for the other two semifinal spots.

And then when in the final four, it is anyone's game really.

I am backing Australia and Pakistan to join England and India in the final four of the ICC World Cup 2019.

Pakistan will likely qualify as the 4th team and play their semifinal against host England, leaving India and Australia fighting it out in the other semifinal.

That will surely make for great viewing.

As everyone keeps saying, after the semifinals it is anyone's game, but I feel it very strongly that it will be Pakistan.

Not because Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup after Australia and India won the previous two in 1987 and 1983 respectively.

Not because Pakistan won the World T20 in England and the Champions Trophy in England so its time to win the World Cup in England.

Not because the 9th year of every decade sees a Pakistan team in the final - 1999, 2009, ...

I feel it will be Pakistan because I feel Pakistan's bowling will be tough to crack. With the pitches conducive to 300+ scores, as the English summer moves forward the pitches will wear out and spin will play a big role.

Pakistan have the services of Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, and Mohammad Hafeez who can be very tough to get away.

With all teams finding it easy to score heavily, the team with good bowling will come out on top more often than not.

We all saw Pakistani bowlers get plastered by England in the recent ODI series but Mohammad Aamir and Shadab Khan were missing from that series. These two, along with Hafeez, are among the most economical bowler in ODIs.

Pakistan's batting seems to have come to terms with the requirements of modern day ODI cricket, but with their bowling in full form, the boys in green will be a force to reckon with in World Cup 2019!

Make your pitch on this post...



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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

ICC World Cup Swansongs ...

The ICC World Cup 2019 is 8 days away! It is every cricketers dream to not only represent their team at a World Cup, but to be a part of a World Cup winning team. For some, the dream comes true; but for many it remains just that... a dream.

This World Cup will be the last for a number of cricketers. Here is a look at those who will most likely be taking part in their last ever World Cup.



AUSTRALIA

Shaun Marsh
Despite making his debut in 2008, this will be Shaun Marsh's first ever World Cup; and most likely his last too considering he will be close to 40 by 2023. He has represented Australia in 70 odd ODIs in over a decade and has been in and out of the team due to indifferent form. He goes into the World Cup as part of the defending champions team.

He may not be a sure starter in Australia's first XI, but he would definitely be looking forward to making the most of this first, and probably last opportunity.

INDIA

MS Dhoni
Not only will this be Dhoni's last World Cup, at the age of 37, it may be the last we see of Dhoni as an international cricketer. He has had a distinguished career and is already a World Cup winner. This will be his 4th World Cup and from the lows of 2007 when he witnessed his house being stoned after India were knocked out of the World Cup in the group stages to the highs of 2011 when he led India to its second World Cup win, Dhoni has seen it all.

He will definitely be looking to sign off from India's international duties by adding another World Cup to his long list of achievements.

NEW ZEALAND

Ross Taylor
Also playing his 4th World Cup, Taylor will be 39 by the time of the next World Cup. He was part of the team that lost the final at the previous World Cup in 2015 and being New Zealand's most experience player, he would want to make that right the last time he represents his team in a World Cup.

PAKISTAN

Shoaib Malik
He is one of the only two cricketers who made their ODI debut in the previous century and are still playing. The other being Chris Gayle.

Despite playing for Pakistan for two decades, Malik has played only 3 World Cup matches, in 2007. For someone who has been around for so long, this would have been his 5th World Cup, but it is only his 2nd and definitely his last. He may still continue to play T20s for Pakistan, but this will be the last time he represents Pakistan in ODIs.

He will be looking to call time on his ODI career with a World Cup win, which will complete his ICC triple having been part of Pakistan's teams that won the ICC World T20 and ICC Champions Trophy.

Mohammad Hafeez
Hafeez has served Pakistan for 16 years and this World Cup is likely his last international assignment. He has been a great servant for Pakistan and has represented them in two previous World Cups in 2007 and 2011. He was part of the squad in 2015 as well but had to miss the World Cup due to injury.

Hafeez played a vital role in Pakistan's Champions Trophy win in 2017 and he will be looking to do the same during his swansong appearance for Pakistan.

SOUTH AFRICA

Faf Du Plessis, JP Duminy, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir
At the ages of 34, 35, 36, 35, and 40 respectively, these 5 are unlikely to be part of South Africa's campaign in 2023. This also makes South Africa the team with the highest average age in this World Cup.

This quintet will try to achieve what none of their predecessors could. The likes of Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Graeme Smith, AB De Villiers and many more all left the game without a World Cup win. A dream that has remained elusive to South Africa, despite being one of the best, if not the best, ODI outfit during many a World Cup.

SRI LANKA

Lasith Malinga
He is at the tail end of his international career and this will surely be his last appearance for Sri Lanka in ODIs. This will be Malinga's 4th World Cup. He has represented Sri Lanka in two World Cup finals, in 2007 and 2011, both of which Sri Lanka lost. That will not be the memory he would want to go into retirement with.

WEST INDIES

Chris Gayle
The man, the universe boss, the legend! He is one of the greatest limited overs batsman of this era and at 39 this is the last time he will represent West Indies in international cricket. With this being his 5th World Cup, Gayle will be the most experienced World Cup cricketer over the next 6 weeks in the UK.

He has already made his intentions clear and he plans to retire from the game with a bang! We should expect no less from him given his recent form. He already has two World T20 wins under his belt and would love to end his international career with a World Cup win.


As all these stars bid adieu to the game at the end of World Cup 2019, there will be new stars that will emerge and make a name for themselves. Till that happens, here's hoping that all these cricketers can entertain us for one final time on the biggest cricketing stage there is.

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Monday, May 20, 2019

Pakistan is ready for the World Cup

So the dress rehearsal for Pakistan is over and the main event starts in 10 days. A 4-0 loss to England does not read well for a Pakistan fan, especially when it follows a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Australia.

But bear in mind that Pakistan lost 4-0 to the number one ODI team in the world and had it not been for dropped catches and some misfields, the scoreline would have been quite different.

Pakistan have now lost their last 10 ODIs and have won only 2 of their last 15 ODIs with one rained out.

Despite this losing streak there are plenty of positives that Pakistan can drive from the just concluded series in England. And also answer some questions regarding the make up of their World Cup squad and first XI.

Here's a look at some of the positives from my perspective.

The Batting is Looking Really Good!
The series against England was a runathon! Pakistan became the first team to score three consecutive scores above 340. England followed suit and then did one better by becoming the first team to score four consecutive totals of above 340.

This was the highest scoring ODI series ever.

What it showed however, is that Pakistan's batsmen are right up there! Sarfraz promised before leaving for England that his team had the ability to score 350 in ODIs and they showed that in every single game.

Pakistan will now go into the World Cup with all their batsmen in form and with some confidence that they possess one of the best ODI top orders in the game.

No seriously, no other team in the world has a top four with each batsman averaging 47 or more, with three of them averaging above 50. To top that, Pakistan has the batsman with the world's highest ODI average ever at present.











































Sarfraz Ahmed has finally found his Mojo!
Pakistan captain's 97 off 80 deliveries in the final ODI was not only his first fifty and his highest score in a long long time, I reckon it was also one of the best innings of the series for Pakistan considering he walked in at 6-3 and took it to England in a valiant effort to chase down 350 odd.

Sarfraz is back!

This is what he can do when he bats higher up the order and number 5 is probably the best position for him.

In fact, it is the best position! His average and strike rate when batting at 4 or 5 is the best relative to other positions. He does not do as well lower down. At 4 or 5, he is even better than he is when opening!


An in-form and confident captain will be a blessing for Pakistan!

The Bowling is not All That Bad!
Pakistan's bowlers took a beating at the hands of England's bowlers and they received a lot of criticism from all corners too.

But was it really that bad considering the batting havens England produced for the ODIs?

I mean, even the England bowlers were thrashed! In one game, Pakistan fell short of 373 by an agonizing 12 runs; in another England chased down 340 odd with 3 balls to spare; and in the final game Pakistan's number 10 and 11 smashed 47 runs in a little over 6 overs.

I don't hear any criticism of the English bowlers.

If anything, Pakistan's Bowling is Set to Improve!
Shadab Khan is expected in England any time now, and Mohammad Aamir is expected to join the World Cup squad too.

Their inclusion will undoubtedly improve Pakistan's bowling.

Shadab is one of the best bowlers for the middle overs of an ODI. He not only keeps the scoring rate low, he also picks up wickets. His addition will be a definite boost, not only to the bowling but to the fielding as well.

Even though Aamir has not picked up any wickets over the past two years, he has been one of the most economical bowlers in ODIs during this period.

There aren't many pacers in the world with an economy rate below 5 in this day and age, and surely that will count for something during the World Cup, which will be played on the flattest pitches ever.



So despite all the ODI losses, all is not lost and this series against England has provided valuable practice to Pakistan.

Last week, I mentioned that I foresee Aamir and Asif Ali making the World Cup squad in place of Faheem Ashraf and Abid Ali. Inzamam Ul Haq is going to announce the squad this afternoon, and I believe these two changes will definitely happen.

There maybe another change as Junaid Khan does not seem like someone you want to take to the World Cup after the series he has had.

Only 10 days remain to the World Cup, and 11 days to Pakistan's opening game against the West Indies and even after 10 successive ODI losses, this Pakistan cricket fan has his hopes up really high!

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Sunday, May 12, 2019

Lots of questions still to be answered for Pakistan

The one thing that stood out for me in Pakistan's chase of 374 yesterday was that Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed's belief that his team was capable of scoring 350 in an ODI was in fact true!


No one expected Pakistan to chase down 374, but no one expected Pakistan to get to within 12 runs of that target either.

It was a spirited chase, which left the Pakistani fans stunned, and I am sure built a lot of confidence and self belief within the team.

How consistently can Pakistan churn out such totals in ODIs is uncertain but with a top 4 averaging above 48, chances are that at least one of them will get a 100 in an ODI leading Pakistan to a 300+ target.

However, Fakhar will be the difference between a total of 310 and 350. He is the only one who can push Pakistan towards such a score.

Yesterday's game may have answered a lot of questions for some people, but it sure brought up a number of questions for Pakistan's selectors.

1. How do Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik fit in this XI?

2. Who will make way for Asif Ali in Pakistan's World Cup Squad?

3. How long will Faheem Ashraf be persisted with?

4. Who is the back-up spinner if Shadab Khan does not get fit in time?

5. Who is Pakistan's finisher?

These are just some of the tough questions that need answering.

Hafeez & Malik
This is going to be really tough. There is no way that both of them will play in the same XI for Pakistan. Not unless Pakistan plans to drop both Haris Sohail and Asif Ali.

After what Asif Ali did yesterday, Pakistan need him. How they fit him in the squad and the XI is the next question, but for now I feel that both Hafeez and Malik need to be told what the management is thinking.

Communication is key!

Dropping Haris for one of them is also unfair in my view, considering he averages 48 in ODIs! But with Imam and Babar also in the team, Pakistan can't afford another batsman with a strike rate in the 80s.

Hafeez will be a better option in my opinion.

Asif Ali
Unfortunately, it may be Abid Ali who will have to make way for Asif in Pakistan's 15-man World Cup squad. There is no question that Asif is required, but there are a whole lot of questions regarding Pakistan's XI, team balance, et al when it comes to fitting Asif in the playing XI.

In a situation like yesterday, he is ideal. On a day when Pakistan's top 4 have piled on the runs and have batted for two thirds of the innings, it is perfect to send in someone like Asif Ali.

But what happens on days when Pakistan is 50-4? That is my only concern and I feel Asif Ali is best suited to number 7. Or at 6 if Sarfraz is to follow him at 7.

Both Sarfraz and Asif in the top 6 is too thin a batting line up in my view.

I guess Pakistan will need to rely more on Hafeez and Haris to fulfill the 5th bowler role.

Faheem Ashraf
He needs to be dumped right away. An ODI bowling average of 35 and batting average of 12 does not make an allrounder. He can't take wickets, he can't score runs, he can't finish games.

Basically he is useless.

Drop him. Bring Mohammad Aamir back!

Shadab Khan
There is a lot of uncertainty around his availability for the World Cup and I think a decision needs to be taken as to who will come into the squad if he remains unavailable.

Yasir Shah obviously is not the answer.

But then if we are looking to fit in Asif Ali into Pakistan's XI and have Hafeez and Haris share the 5th bowler duties, Pakistan will not require another spinner in place of Shadab.

Now questions arise if Shadab actually becomes fit for the World Cup.

Pakistan's Finisher
Let us face it, if India were chasing this total last night then a Dhoni or a Pandya or a Jadeja would have finished the game off for them. It is pretty much what they do day in day out.

For Pakistan - Sarfraz, Imad, and Faheem all failed to fulfill this role.

I feel, Imad is the one who will get Pakistan over the line more often than not, but Faheem is a total disaster.

This is probably also why Pakistan need someone like Hafeez to play around number 6.

I know I had very different thoughts around the time Pakistan's World Cup squad was being announced, but then I wouldn't be a true Pakistan fan if I wasn't a little bit fickle!

This is how I see the WC squad shaping up in the next 10 days:

Faheem will make way for Mohammad Aamir. If Shadab remains unfit, then Asif Ali will be included in his place. If Shadab is available then Asif will replace Abid Ali.

Keep watching this space, as thoughts may change again by Wednesday!

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Monday, April 8, 2019

A Data Analyst Looking to Change the Way Teams Analyze Cricketers

Dan Weston is a data analyst who is trying to break cricket's traditionalists and conformists with a numbers based approach. Here he talks about the mistakes that T20 teams make in ignoring key number based data.

Think about T20 cricket leagues around the world and what comes straight to your mind? Sixes, boundaries galore, fireworks, music, cheerleaders and dancers, cricketers mixing with celebrities, and so on. Cricket's T20 leagues around the world, and the IPL in particular, are big entertainment extravaganzas that mixes the glitz and the glamour with cricket!

Twenty years ago, it would not have even been considered cricket by the purists.

The same purists today believe that cricket should be played according to a certain tradition. And the same goes for analysis. Their ways of analyzing the game are also traditional.

Playing conditions and formats have changed over the years, and the way the game is played now is also different from how it was in the past eras. Similarly, the way the game is analyzed should also change and that is what data analyst Dan Weston is doing.

He does this for all countries where cricket is played, including India, where the IPL is currently being staged, a tournament where the Chennai Super Kings are favorites on the back of their supremacy in the league over the past decade and more.

Check out online bookmakers or try betting with Betway and you will see how highly rated the Super Kings are.

“Quite a few coaches are old school, so it’s difficult to get them to buy into what you’re offering,” says Weston. “There are just not enough fresh voices. Cricket is full of inane data like: ‘This is the slowest century by an English batsman on a Tuesday.’ It’s completely worthless.”

“If a bloke like myself can sit in an office and produce decent theories and data about T20 cricket, then I see no reason why a team with bigger resources can’t do the same,” he says.

This has resulted in Weston limiting his public data analysis.

“I wrote an analysis of 10 English players who would perform well in the subcontinent and the top five all got signed,” he says.
Weston analyzes cricketers across formats and across different playing conditions around the world. He uses his data and numbers collated through millions of ball by ball data to predict certain outcomes for players.

Weston became a cricket analyst after producing exhaustive data on tennis, which he utilized to bet on tennis matches. Once he realized that his tennis data and analysis could be transferred to cricket, he figures that he could make cricket analysis more suitable to today's times by applying his learning.

According to Weston, errors being made in the sport. He says “you name it, they’ll make that mistake, be it selection, recruitment, in-game tactics”. 

This led him to set up a data analytics business, which will support cricket teams, players, and agents by eliminating errors and providing more accurate and suitable data to make the decisions required to succeed.

Weston's model is complicated.

He analyzes each player individually by going through his recorded ball-by-ball data and makes adjustments to the players' average, strike rate, economy rate, etc. based on recency, opposition, and playing conditions. Based on this analysis, Weston determines the expected performance for each player for an upcoming tournament.

Basically, Weston produces a comprehensive assessment of how a player will perform in an upcoming competition, based on which he recommends players to teams around the world, including for the IPL, Big Bash, T20 Blast, and others.

“Cricket is a conditions-driven sport,” he says, “so a T20 Blast match at Canterbury will be a pace-orientated affair, whereas in Dhaka it’s going to be spinner-friendly and low-scoring. If a batsman performs well at Canterbury, does that really apply to a match in Dhaka? Probably not. There’s limited relevance. So I analyse how historically similar players have made the transition from one league to another. I might be asked to find a pace bowler for the T20 Blast, where an Australian will be quite highly-rated, as opposed to the IPL, where they haven’t thrived as much as their reputation would suggest because of the quality of the league.”

Weston says that what he does can easily be replicated by teams.

“Lots of high-profile players are signed based on reputation rather than current ability. Take Brendon McCullum: he’s got a poor record against spin bowling, he doesn’t keep wicket anymore, yet subcontinental teams are signing him as a marquee player. It makes no sense whatsoever."

“Then you see players signed based on reputation from another format."

“So Sam Curran played very well against India in Test matches last summer and has subsequently got a mega IPL deal despite the fact that his T20 data is not particularly impressive. I will continue to argue that he is an anti-moneyball signing.”

Weston believes that at times teams tend to cram a lot of versatile players into one team, which decreases the impact they can have on a game. Weston in fact has the data and numbers that prove the effectiveness of specialists in T20 cricket.

“You don’t want to stick an all-rounder at No. 9 because he’s just not going to bat,” he says. “The average No. 8 faces about seven balls per match, and the average No. 9 faces about four balls per match. If those guys are required to face more than the average, your top order batsmen haven’t done their job properly."

“For No. 9, 10 and 11 you just want an out-and-out specialist bowler who would perhaps then be capable of playing a five-ball cameo. If you pick too many all-rounders you end up compromising where they bowl, because often they turn out not to be very good death bowlers.”

It is quite strange that even with such brilliant insights, Weston is seeking out more work rather than turning it down. He says that he knows that teams from around the world were using his work without engaging him as a consultant.

“That includes guys like Wayne Madsen, who had never had an overseas contract before."

“A lot of the time people say they don’t have the financial capabilities to pay for my work, but I don’t buy into that theory at all. You can’t tell me that a cricket team has no financial wastage."

“If they were to use my data, they would be able to release a player and free up the money to pay for a consultant. It’s an indictment of the game at the moment.”

Weston believes that cricket coaching and analysis is starting to change. He believes that younger coaches will bring on more emphasis on data analysis, the kind that he produces.

“I think things will change in the next decade or so,” he says. “We’ll find that cricket will turn to much more of a baseball-orientated, stats-driven sport.”

When this does happen, it will lead everyone back to the efforts of one Dan Weston.

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Sunday, April 7, 2019

International Cricket Test Championship mace goes to India


While Indiancricket bettors focus on the 2019 IPL tournament, test cricket is heating up. For the third year in a row, India retains the ICC Test Championship mace.

The cutoff date for the ICC Test rankings is April 1st each year. The top teams win prizes, with a first prize of US$ 1 million going to India as the winners.

Manu Sawhey, the ICC Chief Executive, congratulated the Indian team, and commented on the importance of Test cricket.

“I congratulate India on retaining the ICC Test Championship Mace, and appreciate the passion Virat Kohli’s team has shown across formats over the past few years,” said Sawhey.

“Test cricket has been enjoying a purple patch over the last couple of years with more positive results than ever. There is a genuine competitive balance between nations.”

Top Ranked Test Teams

The past year came with excellent Test wins for team India. There was, as expected, excellent success at home with wins against Afghanistan and the West Indies. Overseas saw a loss against England, but a win against Australia. The Australia tour saw India attain their first ever Test series win Down Under.

During the past year, India stayed at the top of the rankings throughout. In addition to this, Virat Kohli reached the level of top Test batsman.

While India was the clear winner, second place went to New Zealand, receiving a US $500,000 prize. New Zealand had a good year with their team captain Kane Williamson getting the 2018 ICC Spirit of Cricket award. Kane commented on his team’s “awesome” achievement.

The somewhat disappointed South Africa came in third. For the past two years, South Africa claimed second place, falling to third place this year. South Africa receives a US $100,000 prize. Australia reached fourth place, winning US $100,000, and coming in just ahead of England.

Virat Comments

India’s national team skipper, Virat Kohli, expressed his pride in a statement. He said: “Retaining the ICC Test Championship Mace once again is something we are all really proud of. Our team has been doing well across all formats. But it gives us extra pleasure to come out on top of the Test rankings. We all know the importance of Test cricket and of how only the best can prosper in the format.”

Kohli further noted: “Our team has a lot of depth. I am sure this will stand us in good stead once the ICC World Test Championship commences later this year. That is again something we are really looking forward to as it adds more context to Test match cricket.

World Test Cricket Championship

In 2021, the World Test Championship Final takes place. Fans should expect excitement at the culmination of 71 Test matches by nine Test nations, playing in 27 series.

ICC Test Rankings 2018 - 2019:

·         1st – India – 116 points
·         2nd – New Zealand – 108 points
·         3rd – South Africa – 105 points
·         4th – Australia – 104 points
·         5th – England – 104 points
·         6th – Sri Lanka – 93 points
·         7th – Pakistan – 88 points
·         8th – West Indies – 77 points
·         9th – Bangladesh – 68 points
·         10th – Zimbabwe – 13 points


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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Who will you pick in Pakistan's 15 for the ICC World Cup 2019?

The deadline for submitting World Cup squads is 30th April 2019 and Pakistan is done with all its international assignments till then. Pakistan's 5-match ODI series against England will start on 8th May, so it is only logical that Pakistan's World Cup squad plays that series.

Considering Pakistan is planning to send the team to England by 24th April for acclimatization and practice matches against county sides, the selectors have 20 odd days to make up their mind about the 15 that will play the ICC World Cup 2019.

Several players, namely Haris Sohail, Mohammad Rizwan, Usman Khan, and Abid Ali built a solid case for inclusion during the just concluded ODI series against Australia.

Inzamam and co. have a tough job now on their hands as a number of players have demonstrated good performances.

Let us take a look at the probable World Cup Squad composition.

In my view, the 15-man squad should comprise 7 batsmen, 1 wicketkeeper batsman, 2 spinners, and 5 pace bowlers.

I believe, the following select themselves:

Batsmen: Babar Azam, Imam Ul Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Hafeez (if fit), and Shoaib Malik

Wicketkeeper: Sarfraz Ahmed

Spinners: Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan

Pacers: Shaheen Shah Afridi, Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf, and Usman Khan Shinwari

This leaves 1 batsman and 1 pacer to be selected.

The options for the 1 batsman are:

Mohammad Rizwan
Abid Ali
Umar Akmal
Shan Masood
Asif Ali

I believe the race is between Mohammad Rizwan who knocked two centuries against the Aussies and Abid Ali, the debutant centurion.

A number of experts and fans have been calling for Asif Ali's inclusion in Pakistan's ODI team. I don't understand how they think. Has everyone forgotten what a miserable failure he was in ODIs for Pakistan?

Sure, Pakistan has not seen a better six hitter since Afridi than Asif Ali, but he is at best a T20 player and does not fit into an ODI team. He cannot bat at 6 because if required to bat before the 30th over, which will be more often than not for Pakistan, Asif cannot fulfill the role. And playing him at 7 means you sacrifice a bowler, which makes no sense. At best Asif is an Afridi who cannot bowl, which basically means he is useless. Pakistan has enough lower order firepower in Imad, Faheem, and Hassan all of whom contribute with the ball as well, so really, Asif is not required.

Umar Akmal and Shan Masood had the perfect opportunity to put on some solid performances and impress the selectors during the ODI series against Australia, but neither did enough, besides looking good in spurts, to push their case.

So it will all come down to whether Pakistan want a reserve opener or a reserve middle order batsman. Both Rizwan and Abid can double up as a back-up wicketkeeper. It will be a tough choice between the two for Inzamam and co.

For me, I would go with Abid Ali for the sheer quality of his innings against Australia. The confidence, stroke play, and timing that he showcased in his debut innings puts him ahead in the race in my opinion.

If Hafeez does not recover from his injury in time, then Rizwan will make the squad as well.

Options for the 1 pacer are:

Mohammad Aamir
Junaid Khan
Mohammad Abbas
Mohammad Hasnain

Abbas could not replicate his test success in ODIs, Hasnain was far too raw despite showing some good pace, and Junaid was way too inconsistent.

Aamir's form has been lacking for a while now, but considering that he is a big match player, he should get the nod for a World Cup spot.

So here is my 15 for the ICC World Cup 2019: Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Fakhar Zaman, Imam Ul Haq, Abid Ali, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Usman Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Aamer

My first choice XI would be: 1. Imam Ul Haq 2. Fakhar Zaman 3. Babar Azam 4. Haris Sohail 5. Sarfraz Ahmed 6. Mohammad Hafeez / Shoaib Malik 7. Shadab Khan 8. Imad Wasim 9. Faheem Ashraf 10. Hasan Ali 11. Shaheen Afridi

Aamir will play in place of Shadab whenever the conditions favor seam bowling.

I believe 5 is the best position for Sarfraz and he should bat there throughout. I have also heard that he himself wants to bat at that position.

Hafeez has displayed his big hitting ability on more than one occasion and is best suited for number 6, unless he is unfit in which case Malik should assume that role.

Pakistan will play 2 ODIs against county sides, 5 ODIs vs England, 2 warm up ODIs before opening their World Cup campaign on 31st May 2019 against the West Indies.

In my opinion, it is these 15 players who should be named for all these games and the World Cup!

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Settling the Case of Imam Ul Haq and Usman Khan Shinwari

Imam Ul Haq has faced it since the day he made his debut for Pakistan, while Usman Khan Shinwari has lately got some stick as well.

It is not only the largely emotional fans but even well read ones and experts who have questioned the inclusion of Usman Khan in Pakistan's ODI team with comments like "he has off days when he is slaughtered by the batsmen".

Well I don't remember any such day in Usman's short ODI career.

In 14 ODIs, he has picked up 24 wickets at a remarkable average of 20.5, a strike rate of 25.0, and an economy rate of 4.9!

Such a record does not show any off days to me.

In fact, out of the 14 ODIs that has has played, he has gone for over 6 an over only thrice - vs India in Dubai (6.75), vs South Africa in Port Elizabeth (6.12) and vs South Africa in Cape Town (6.14).

Besides these 3 matches, his economy has been well below 6, and in most cases below 5!

The problem the general public has is with the way he gets hit around in T20 cricket. Well who doesn't get hit around in T20s?

Usman Khan in ODIs has been nothing short of spectacular!

In the period starting from the time he made his debut for Pakistan in October 2017, he has been one of Pakistan's best ODI bowlers.

Usman is Pakistan's 3rd highest wicket taker during this period, with an average and strike rate that is behind only Shaheen Afridi's !

Off days you tell me? None whatsoever!

In fact, his ODI average is among the best in the world in all matches played since he began his ODI career.

Now that this is settled, let us take a look at Imam Ul Haq's career.

For starters, for someone who made an ODI century on debut to still be called a 'parchi' is just criminal. Imam is Pakistan's most consistent and most reliable batsman after Babar Azam.

In 24 ODIs, Imam averages 55! He has hit 5 centuries and 5 fifties. Moreover, 4 of his ODI centuries and 4 of his ODI fifties have come in wins. He averages a phenomenal 84.5 in ODIs that Pakistan has won while he has been in the side.

In fact, in the period starting from when he made his ODI debut in October 2017, Imam is Pakistan's leading ODI run scorer.

In this period, he has scored more runs than Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam, and that too at a better average!

He has the most ODI centuries for Pakistan during this period as well.

And yet he is labelled a 'parchi'? WHAT A JOKE!

Even when compared with the best batsmen in ODIs over this period since October 2017, Imam is right up there among the best in the business!

I hope this settles the debate once and for all!

Imam Ul Haq is not a parchi and Usman Khan does not have off days in ODIs.

Both are the best that Pakistan have in their respective trades.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

England Bowling Attack the Key to Ashes Success



"James Anderson" by Tim Felce (CC BY-SA 2.0)
During the whole of last summer, and more than likely the whole of this summer, questions will be asked about the England batting line up, particularly the top order. England were already struggling to find a new opener before Alastair Cook retired and, without him, that has become an even tougher task.
However, despite their issues at the top of the order, it will be the bowlers that decide where the Ashes go this summer. Will England win them back on home soil, or can the Aussies retain them away from home? The latest Cricket betting has England as the 4/5 favourites to win the series on home soil, with Australia at 7/4.
What England lack in their batting, they make up for with their bowling and, at home, they are ten times better than when playing away. You can forgive them their performances in the West Indies recently - this team comes to life and tears teams apart when playing at home. It is these bowlers that will bring the urn home for England this summer.
Jimmy Anderson leads the attack at the ripe old age of 36, but there is still plenty of fight left in him yet, and more than enough for one more Ashes series. Anderson has taken the most wickets ever by a fast bowler in test cricket, after overtaking Aussie Glen McGrath recently.

"Stuart Broad" by Brian Minkoff (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Stuart Broad is 5th on the same list and, just like Anderson, he thrives on the conditions that he faces when playing at home. Broad will play this summer, but he was left out against the West Indies, showing that England have a lot of options behind him, and plenty of other faces to call upon if needed.
Perhaps the most exciting bowler in English cricket right now is Sam Curran, and he could really burst onto the scene with a big performance this summer. He loves to get the ball swinging, which makes him perfect for English conditions and you can picture him giving the Australians a lot to think about when they head out to the crease.
The final player to mention is someone trying to force his way back into the team, and that is Mark Wood. He is quicker than all three of the above-mentioned bowlers, and gives England something different in their attack. Chris Woakes is a player who could also play, but he struggles for opportunities as he is too similar to Anderson, Broad and Curran. With Wood, England have a genuine quick man, and another line of attack if the swing movement is not there for the other bowlers.
With all-rounder Ben Stokes also available to come in and bowl a few overs, the English seam attack looks to be primed and ready to take care of the Aussies this summer. The depth they have is likely to keep the likes of Stuart Broad on his toes, and that should spur everyone on to be at the top of their game, as no one wants to be left out of the Ashes.

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