Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pakistan roller-coaster on the up

Life as a Pakistan cricket supporter is like being on a roller-coaster with similar emotions suffered by fans of the proverbial ‘yo-yo’ football teams that enjoy the highs of promotion before tumbling down again the next season.

The summer’s triumph in the ICC Champions Trophy was clearly a high and one that not many people saw coming.

But a glance at history shows that the Asians have never really been a consistent side and it really should have surprised nobody that they were able to fly under the radar to pull off such a stunning tournament success.

Whether they can carry it into the 2019 World Cup only time will tell and it is unlikely they will be among the favourites, and for those who like to bet on cricket, why not take advantage of a bonus at BookmakerAdvisor.

The 1992 World Cup triumph under the leadership of the legendary Imran Khan remains the nation’s pinnacle in the sport and a success that was borne out of adversity, with the side barely making it out of the group stage.

To quote the great man himself they fought like ‘cornered tigers’ and it was a never-say-die attitude that saw them all the way to the final and past an England team tipped for glory.

The current crop of players may not quite have the talent of their compatriots from 25 years ago but they have no less fighting spirit and were simply too strong for England in the semi-finals before takingapart rivals India in the final.

Pakistan have always been tough to beat once they get on a roll but they have also shown a brittle side in recent years with some poor defeats and displays.

Form in the months leading into the Champions Trophy was patchy, with a 4-1 ODI series loss to Australia but they did manage to beat a relatively weak West Indies side 2-1 in April.

Test results have not been much to write home about with losses to Australia and New Zealand in the past 12 months but, once again, they were too good for the men from the Caribbean.

Misbah-ul-Haq must take a lot of credit for the way he led the side from the turbulent times after the 2010 England tour, and his retirement will leave a huge void in the side both in leadership and batting.

Any success that Pakistan had in the five-day game was in no small way down to the veteran, who scored runs for fun after being handed the captain’s armband.

His 26 Test victories is a Pakistan record and the new man at the helm, Sarfraz Ahmed, has big shoes to fill in all three formats of the game.

All Pakistan’s recent success has been achieved without having a home to call their own with matches played in the United Arab Emirates, and it was a welcome sight to see international cricket back in the country.

The World XI may not be the strongest side that will ever visit Lahore but it is one of the most significant for a nation starved of matches on home soil since 2009, and the hope is that it will be the forerunner of Test cricket returning to Pakistan soil in the near future.

There will doubtless be many ups and downs for the Pakistan side in the future but, when they come, the peaks are certainly worth the wait.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Which two batsmen will replace Misbah and Younis in Pakistan's Test XI?

From Javed Miandad to Inzamam Ul Haq to Mohammad Yousuf to Younis Khan, Pakistan have always had a formidable number 4 in Test matches. In most of Pakistan's Test XIs, the number four batsman is usually their primary batsman.

Javed Miandad fulfilled that role for most part of his career. He batted at number 4 in 140 out of his 189 test innings.

Once he retired, Saleem Malik took over the number four position briefly, before moving back to number five and promoting Inzamam Ul Haq up the order.

Inzamam batted at four in half of his total career innings and made that position his own before moving down the order and promoting Mohammad Yousuf to four, who was at the time at the peak of his batting prowess.

Younis Khan, who had batted at number three for most of his career and formed part of Pakistan's best test middle order with Inzamam and Yousuf, moved to the number four position after the retirements of the latter two.

Younis batted at 4 till the end of his career performing as well as he had done at three and as well as his predecessors.

As evident, all these batsmen performed admirably at number four. These 5 batsmen were always the book makers' favorites to be the top scorer for Pakistan in a match and in a series. Check out NetBet Sport for sports odds and other favorites that such book makers have.

So who is going to fill these big boots now that Younis Khan has retired?

More importantly, who is going to fill the big hole left in Pakistan's Test middle order with the retirements of both Younis and Misbah Ul Haq?

In the past 7 years since Misbah took over Pakistan's Test captaincy, he and Younis have collectively scored 30% of Pakistan's Test runs and 38% of Pakistan's Test hundreds.

How do you replace 9,000 test runs and 26 test centuries?

Just like Miandad and Malik passed on the mantle to Inzamam and Yousuf, they passed it on to Younis and Misbah. And now with these two moving on, the mantle sits firmly with Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq.

Both Azhar and Asad made their test debuts around the same time as Misbah made his test captaincy debut. During this period, Azhar and Asad have established themselves as the cornerstones of Pakistan's test batting line up.

While Azhar made his mark as a number 3 and later as an opener, Asad has made history as a number 6 test batsman.

Asad will most likely fill the vacant number 4 position, but Pakistan still require two test batsmen to bat at numbers 5 and 6.

Here is a list of potential incumbents whom I believe can take Pakistan's Test team forward.


He is 31. He has scored over 10,000 first class runs with 25 centuries and averages 56, higher than any other cricketer in Pakistan ever.

He has played 3 tests for Pakistan and even scored a debut 100. In fact he was the first batsman from Pakistan to score a test century on debut away from home.

Yet after 6 test innings, he was discarded and never played a test again.

In last season's Quaid-e-Azam trophy, he averaged 55, scoring 500 runs in 11 innings. In every first class season, he is among the leading run scorers. I have not seen a more consistent batsman in Pakistan than Fawad and it will always remain a mystery to me as to why he is constantly ignored by the selectors.


This 26 year old batsman from Lahore was picked for 2 ODIs during the tour to the West Indies in 2011. He did not appear for the international side after that, however he has been a consistent performer in domestic cricket.

In 10 first class seasons, he has piled on 6,000 runs with 19 centuries at an impressive average of 47.

He was the 4th highest run scorer in the last Quaid-e-Azam Trophy where he amassed 843 runs in 17 innings with 3 centuries and 5 fifties at an average of 70.

He has been on the verge of national selection for a while now and it is finally time he finds a permanent spot in Pakistan's Test XI.


Haris has not played a first class match in over 3 years due to injury, however he has a phenomenal record, and he has shown in ODIs that he belongs at the highest level of the game.

His career first class average of 52 and 11 centuries in 80 odd innings with a career best of 211* suggests that he is made for the long version of the game. Even in ODIs, he showed his liking for staying at the crease, and his ODI average of 43 demonstrates that he is a world class batsman.

He might be the ideal replacement for a batsman like Misbah.


He is only 21 and has been around for only 3 seasons. His overall first class average of 35 suggests that he still has to establish himself in the domestic circuit; however he has just had a breakthrough season where he notched up 848 runs in 20 innings in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and ended the tournament as its third highest run scorer.

Imam, who is the nephew of Chief Selector Inzamam Ul Haq, was extremely impressive in the QEA Trophy where he knocked 3 centuries and 3 fifties, including a career best unbeaten 200.

Some may feel that it may be too early to blood him, but I feel it might just be the right time for a young batsmen with tremendous potential to be introduced the highest level.


A veteran of the domestic circuit, Asif has been around for 15 years and at 33 he might be past the ideal age to make a test debut, but then we have all seen Misbah blossom as a test batsman after the age of 35.

Asif's overall first class record is not that impressive - 7,000 runs, 19 centuries, and average of 37. However, he was the second highest run scorer in last season's Quaid-e-Azam Trophy with 853 runs in 11 innings at an average of 85.3. He hit as many as 4 centuries during the tournament.

So there are a few options for Pakistan's selectors to consider. Pakistan's next test series is some time away so the selectors have time on their hands before making their decisions. It will be interesting to note which batsmen make it into the squad and then which two make it to the XI.

My first two choices will be Fawad Alam and Haris Sohail; however I would also like to see Usman Salahuddin and Imam Ul Haq in the squad.

With Babar Azam set at number 3, ideally Asad Shafiq should move up to number 4, with the two new batsmen fitting in at 5 and 6.

Sami Aslam should also be brought back to open with Azhar Ali. The tour to West Indies showed us that Ahmed Shehzad and Shan Masood are not in the same league as Sami, who impressed with his temperament during the tour of England.

Azhar, Sami, Babar, Asad, Haris, Fawad sounds formidable enough to me!

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Monday, July 3, 2017

What does Pakistan’s victory in the Champion’s Trophy mean for the world of cricket?

Pakistan’s victory in the Champions Trophy final is already one of the sporting stories of the year and proves once again the unpredictable nature of cricket is what makes it so great.

Nobody gave them a prayer after the way they tamely succumbed to India in their opening group game and the fact that India skipper Virat Kohi let them have first use of a belting Oval pitch suggested he did not either.

What followed was a powerhouse display of batting and bowling that Pakistan’s neighbours could not live with and a side tipped to win everything were simply annihilated.

Pakistan have always blown hot and cold and those who are slightly longer in the tooth will remember the 1992 World Cup when they fought back from near elimination to beat England in the final.

Fast forward 25 years and, once again, they refused to give in and, with fierce criticism still ringing in their ears from many ex-players after the early India defeat, turned things around to land the spoils.

Although it is somewhat of a cliché, the result was certainly good for the game as it capped an excellent tournament that began in the wet but ended in glorious sunshine with raw emotion pouring from Sarfraz Ahmed’s side.

The usual suspects were tipped to do well, with England favourites to win on home soil but dispatched with ease in the semi-finals by the eventual winners, while Australia did not even reach the last four.

Everyone loves an underdog and, with no home base and devoid of experience after the retirement of a number of veterans, Pakistan certainly fitted that bill.

The fact they were able to beat such a talented India team will give hope to others that the result is never a foregone conclusion if you have belief.

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Bangladesh were the other surprise side of the Champions Trophy and, despite the one-sided nature of their semi-final loss to India, were a credit to their nation.

The Tigers have come a long way since the days when they were the whipping boys of international cricket and the fact that commentators were not surprised to see them qualify for the semis shows the progress they have made.

They too will have been pleased to see David down Goliath on Sunday as it is a battle they have fought many times in the past and are starting to reap the rewards of their persistence.

Pakistan are unlikely ever to dominate the cricket world like the great West Indies and Australia sides of the past, as it is not in their nature to be consistent.

They always have talented and exciting players in their ranks but it is getting them to perform at the same time that has been the problem.

When it all clicks it is a joy to watch and stars such as Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali have the class to be huge players on the world stage for years to come.

Nobody expected Pakistan to win the tournament and few thought they could even get out of the group, with the result breathing life into a format that has been choked by the emergence of Twenty20 cricket.

The ecstasy written on the faces of the Pakistan supporters is evidence enough that one-day international cricket is still important and can provide just as much excitement as any T20 event around the world.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Finding Similarities to the Past in Pakistan's Champions Trophy Victory

Pakistan's victory in the Champions Trophy has brought so much joy to Pakistanis in all corners of the world that even two days later we can't stop talking about it. It is such a historic moment that everyone is talking of Ramzan miracles, making analogies to past World Cup wins and Pakistan-India encounters, and simply expressing their elation.

The final was so good that it almost felt like a dream. As Ahmer Naqvi described it, we were truly transported back to the 90s when such victories over India used to be the norm.

Rehan Ul Haq went a step further and said that this was redemption for Bangalore. It truly was!

And the best of them all, Osman Samiuddin, tried to make sense of every thing that happened. And even he admits that not much sense can be made out of what Pakistan did.

There are so many articles on the internet that it is impossible to mention all of them, but one writer that deserves a mention and an award for describing the way Pakistanis feel during their team's matches and their team's fluctuating fortunes in a tournament is Jarrod Kimber. I don't know any non-Pakistani who can describe our feelings that way Jrod does. What am I saying, he describes them better than we do ourselves!

If you have not read the master pieces by Jrod during the Champions Trophy, you can find them all here.

While all these analogies to past Pakistan vs India encounters and "Haal" are apt, the best message I received talking about similarities between the ICC Finals Pakistan has played over the years was:

1992: in Ramzan
1999: in England
2007: in Ramzan
2009: in England
2017: in Ramzan in England


For me, this victory over India wiped away all the heartbreaks, particularly Bangalore, Johannesburg, and Mohali.

It truly is redemption for all of Pakistan's fans.

1992, 2009, and 2017 will forever be engraved in our memories and for those like me who have watched each of those finals ball-by-ball, what a time to be alive!

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Pakistan are the Champions Trophy Winners and this is just the Start...

1992. 2009. 2017.

Pakistan is the 4th team in the history of international cricket to win all three ICC tournaments and only the 3rd team to hold every single ICC trophy including the Test Mace.

That is an achievement.

In 2015, Pakistan were the 9th ranked ODI team and they had to beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka to move to qualify for this Champions Trophy. Now, Pakistan are on top of the world and they have got there by beating the best in the business.

That is remarkable.

Pakistan's win in this Champions Trophy is stuff dreams are made of. It is a fairy tale ending. It is a movie where in a make believe fantasy world the underdog does the unthinkable and you leave the theater saying "this only happens in movies".

Along their glorious victorious run, Pakistan created some records and left us with some amazing memories. Here's a look back at the magic the team and its players created yesterday in the final and over the past two weeks.


Beat the Best
To be the Champions, one has to beat the best. Pakistan won this Champions Trophy by beating:

- World's number 1 ranked ODI team.
- Tournament Favorites.
- Defending Champions.

Highest Total in CT17
For a team that is not known for its aggressive batting or big hitting, a team that does not score 300 as often as it should, a team whose batsmen tend to play too cautiously, a team that is far behind global standards of modern day ODI cricket, put up the highest total of this Champions Trophy; and that too in the Final!

Highest Total in all Champions Trophies
Pakistan's 338-4 in the Final is the second highest total in a Champions Trophy match; it is the highest total against a test nation in Champions Trophy, and it is the highest total in a Champions Trophy Final.

Highest Total in Pakistan vs India ODIs
Pakistan's score was their second highest ever in ODIs against India and the highest score ever in a Pakistan vs India ODI played outside the Subcontinent and the UAE.

Largest Win in Champions Trophy
Pakistan's win the final by 180 runs is not only the largest win in a final of an ICC tournament, it is also the largest win against a test nation in all Champions Trophy matches ever.

Largest Win in Pakistan vs India ODIs
The win the final is also the largest win by runs in the history of ODIs between Pakistan and India.

This team achieved results that no one expected them to. The players did the same...

The man of the moment, Fakhar Zaman has left everyone awestruck. In his debut ODI series, he improved with every match and showed his best in the final with a scintillating knock of 114. He provided Pakistan with the much needed impetus at the start of an innings in every match and showed the world that Pakistan can also play modern day ODI cricket.

Highest Strike Rate in CT17
Fakhar had such a remarkable tournament that he not only was the highest run scorer with the best average for Pakistan, he was 6th highest run scorer in the tournament, had the second highest strike rate in the tournament (Min: 100 Runs), and had the highest strike rate rate among all openers in the tournament.

Most Boundaries in CT17
He brings to Pakistan's team the much needed explosiveness at the top of the order, which is evident from the fact that he hit the second most number of boundaries in this Champions Trophy.

Highest Strike Rate in all Champions Trophies
Among all batsmen that have scored a minimum of 150 runs in Champions Trophy matches over the years, Fakhar has the second best strike rate. Among these batsmen, Fakhar has the third best average, behind Dhawan and Wallace.

Highest Score in a Champions Trophy Final
Fakhar Zaman's 114 in the final against India is the 6th century to be scored in a Champions Trophy final, the second highest score ever in a Champions Trophy final, and the highest score ever in a winning cause in a CT final.

It was his first ever ICC tournament and he ended it with the Player of the Tournament Award and the Golden Ball Award for his 13 wickets. It has not even been a year since he made his debut for Pakistan and he has rapidly risen to become their primary spearhead. Besides the first match against India, Hasan took 3 wickets in each of the other matches and was instrumental in ensuring that Pakistan restrict South Africa, Sri Lanka, and England to chase-able totals. He continued his form in the final and played a part in India's destruction as well.

Highest Wicket Taker in CT17
Hasan's 13 wickets were the highest in this Champions Trophy. He was well ahead of the rest of the bowlers in terms of average and economy, and only behind Josh Hazlewood in terms of strike rate.

Best Average & Strike Rate in all Champions Trophies
Among all bowlers with at least 10 wickets in Champions Trophy matches, Hasan has the second best average, third best strike rate, and third best economy.

Most Wickets in a Champions Trophy
Hasan's 13 wicket haul in this Champions Trophy is the highest any bowler has taken in a single Champions Trophy. He sits equal with Jerome Taylor on this record, however at a much better average, strike rate, and economy.

Many, including me, criticized his inclusion in the ODI team. Despite his sluggish strike rate, he formed a potent opening partnership with Fakhar and gave Pakistan two successive century opening stands in the semifinal and final.

The 118 run stand in the semifinal was Pakistan's first century opening partnership in over two years. The last time Pakistan's openers put on two successive opening partnerships was 14 years ago; in 2003 when Imran Farhat and Yasir Hameed unleashed against New Zealand.

Azhar was Pakistan's second highest run scorer (and 8th overall) in this Champions Trophy. His 3 fifties in the Champions Trophy were the most by any batsman (equal with Virat Kohli).

The primary concern with Azhar opening the batting is his strike rate. He is not a naturally aggressive batsman and struggles to rotate the strike. However, he improved with every match and also took on the role of an aggressor in both matches against India when his partner was struggling.

I will be the first to admit that I am a convert and I believe Azhar has a role to play in this ODI side, especially if the aggressors around him can play theirs.

He is another player who has been heavily criticized by one and all, including me. What is his role? Is he a batsman who bowls or a bowler who can bat? Where does he fit in the batting line up? There are so many questions about his role in the team that even the team management can't probably answer.

Hafeez's ability to rotate strike is nonexistent. Against India, he scored 33 off 43. Against South Africa, he was worse - 26 off 53. Against Sri Lanka, he couldn't even get going as he went for 1 off 5 deliveries.

In the semifinal against England, he walked in to bat with only 39 left for victory. Hafeez got 31 of them in only 21 deliveries. His innings included 3 fours and 2 sixes. It was like an innings that a younger Hafeez would have played while opening.

In the final, he continued where he left off against England. His unbeaten 57 off 37 deliveries took Pakistan well beyond the 300 run mark. He batted with aggression and his stroke play was immaculate.

Hafeez's strike rates in those two innings against England and India are the 4th and 5th best strike rates for an innings by a Pakistani batsmen in Champions Trophy. His 50 in the final was the second fastest 50 by a Pakistani batsmen in Champions Trophy.

Against India, he walked in to bat with 10 overs left in the innings. After all these years, we might have just discovered the best position for him to bat on.

He has now been back in Pakistan colors for 18 months but he is not the same Aamer who left the scene in 2010. Since his return, Aamer has struggled with his swing, and wickets have been rare largely because of Pakistan's inept catching. He has been bowling well for quite some time, what was missing was the wicket taking ability.

Against India, in the Champions Trophy Final, he produced a magical spell, his best since his comeback, and had the tournament's top three run scorers back in the pavilion inside the first 9 overs. It was pure magic out there.

Not many bowlers can claim to have had the better of Virat Kohli. No bowler can claim that they got Kohli twice in two deliveries. But Aamer did just that. It was two perfect deliveries to the world's best batsman; the first one was edged and dropped at first slip; the second one had him caught at point.

Aamer's figures of 3-16 in the final are the second best bowling figures ever in Champions Trophy Finals. His average and economy being the best among these efforts.

Even though he was not Pakistan's first choice at the start of the tournament, he performed exceptionally well to end as the third highest wicket taker in this Champions Trophy. He forged a threatening new ball partnership with Aamer, and the duo combined at the death with some perfectly executed yorkers.

Junaid has a stellar record in ODIs, and despite falling behind due to injury and loss of form over the past couple of seasons, his partnership with Aamer forms a potent attack for Pakistan.

Even though he did not reach the heights that he did against the West Indies earlier in the season, his scores of 31*, 38*, and 46 against South Africa, England, and India are enough to demonstrate his immense talent.

He remains the only batsman to average above 50 for Pakistan in ODIs and the future of Pakistan's batting is in safe hands with Fakhar and him in the top order.

Even though there was no major contribution from either of these players, they did enough to complement Pakistan's batting and bowling to show the talent that they possess.

Malik failed when he got a chance but he looked sublime in his innings against India (group game) before he was run out and against South Africa before the rain interruption.

Imad displayed control with both the new and old ball and kept the run rate in check every time he came on to bowl. In the final he turned it on with the bat too in the end overs showing his value to the team's lower order.

Rumman ad Faheem got only one match each and either could have easily played more if it were not for the better form with the ball of Pakistan's first choice trio. Both made their debuts during the Champions Trophy and showed that they have the ability to compete with the best at this level. Rumman's accuracy and Faheem's utility with bat and ball will prove to be invaluable for Pakistan in the future.

Shadab Khan is a superstar in the making. His bowling is spot on, he can hit hard with the bat, and his fielding is top notch. He owned the point region for Pakistan and is arguably the best fielders in the team. This boy has a long and bright future ahead.

Last but not least, Pakistan's captain, proved to be a leader. To come back and lift the troops after the decimation against India in their opening match, would have been no easy task. The way Sarfraz, along with the coaching staff, kept this team motivated and inspired in every match after that is a phenomenal effort.

Sarfraz did not get much opportunity to showcase his batting talent in this Champions Trophy, but the one time when a captain's knock was required to take Pakistan into the semifinals, he led from the front. His unbeaten 61 against Sri Lanka ensured a Pakistan win after they were looking down the barrel after being reduced to 162-7 while chasing 237.

In that match, Sarfraz's unbroken partnership of 75 with Mohammad Aamer for the 8th wicket, created a new Champions Trophy record for the highest 8th wicket partnership.

Sarfraz is only 30 and he can captain this side for a long time to come if he can show the same level headed approach that he did in this Champions Trophy. He seems to have formed a healthy relationship with Micky Arthur; nothing can be better for a team like Pakistan than to have a united Captain and Coach to lead the charges.

They have a young team under their wings. Shadab is still a teenager; Babar is 22; Hasan and Faheem are 23; Aamer and Rumman are 25; Fakhar and Junaid are 27; Imad is 28. Only Azhar, Hafeez, and Malik are above 30.

This Champions Trophy win is just the start for this core group of players and they will play together for a long time to come. These boys can truly make Pakistan the ODI powerhouse that they once used to be.

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Champions Trophy & Pakistan's Umeedwaar Supporters

What would a fan be if he is not optimistic?

Here is a recollection of the past two weeks and how a few friends predicted the Champions Trophy proceedings right till the end!

This Champions Trophy was anxiously awaited by Pakistan's fans, particularly for the match on 4th June. It was going to be Pakistan vs India in an ODI after two years.

It was an anxious wait and a sleepless night...

The match itself was an anticlimax. There were so many emotions pouring out, which I would love to share but some of the language used is not for public viewing.

The next day was all about taking the Micky (no pun intended) out of Sarfraz' "out of the box" statement.

Nothing was right about Pakistan's start in the Champions Trophy. Bold statements, bad death bowling, inept batting. Nothing went right and everyone had lost hope; well almost everyone.

The evening of 5th June brought some good news for Pakistan's fans.

Couple of days went by, Pakistan continued to be criticized, the team was not expected to win any of its matches, but come the morning of 7th June, it was Pakistan vs South Africa, and some of us still had hope!

Some of my friends laughed at me when I said we have a chance you know. No one thought we stood a chance against the world's number 1 ODI team. Well almost no one.

At least I was not alone. One friend not only predicted a victory against South Africa, but went on to predict it correctly all the way to the final.

There were reasons presented also about why Pakistan will beat South Africa, and then there was some hope.

As rain came down and Pakistan won by being ahead on DLS, more predictions were made and some were reiterated.

The same prediction was reiterated elsewhere the next day.

Even though I had predicted one of the semi finals to be India vs New Zealand; on the morning of New Zealand's must win match against Bangladesh, I felt otherwise.

Bangladesh became the second team to qualify for the semifinals as Australia lost to England the next day, and on the morning of another knock out game, India vs South Africa, I had another feeling.

That came true when India beat South Africa.

I had already predicted a Pakistan vs England semi final earlier, and reiterated the same on the morning of 12th June.

Pakistan's win over Sri Lanka sealed it and all predictions seemed to be coming true.

The prospects of a Pakistan vs India final were truly alive.

But not many believed Pakistan could get past England... some of us though had all the hope in this world.

Once again, I was not alone. There was the same friend saying the same. He was also trying to arrange tickets for the Final on the morning of Pakistan's semifinal against England.

While the planning continued, optimistic thoughts continued and we were still a few hours away from the start of the first semifinal.

We could not hold in our excitement at the way Pakistan's bowlers dominated the proceedings.

England lost their 8th wicket at 201 and they were bowled out for 211. Everyone was on the bandwagon now. Tickets for the final were being arranged, and hotels were being booked.

The chase was all too easy for Pakistan. No one expected it. No one could believe the turnaround they had witnessed.

Now, India had to beat Bangladesh to make this Champions Trophy epic.

India obliged with even more ease as they smoothly sailed over Bangladesh setting up a first time ever Pakistan vs India final of an ICC ODI tournament.

Match tickets were arranged. Flights were booked. Hotels were booked. And the boys made their way to London to bring home the cup.

Yes, this is the same friend who had predicted a Pakistan vs India final on the morning of 7th June. He however claims that he had made this prediction in February. He might be right.

So here we are then. A rollercoaster ride that has brought us to the eve of an epic final. What are we predicting for tomorrow?

Yep, that sounds about right!


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Friday, June 16, 2017

It doesn't get bigger than Pakistan vs India in an ICC Tournament Final

In Champions Trophy 2013, Pakistan lost all their group matches. In 2015, Pakistan had to beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka in order to qualify for Champions Trophy 2015. When they lost their first group match to India, Pakistan had lost 6 successive Champions Trophy matches.

Now they are in the Final.

Only Pakistan can take you through such a rollercoaster ride.

Cricket doesn't get bigger than Pakistan vs India. When it is a final of a tournament, it is even bigger. And when it is a final of an ICC tournament, it is the biggest!

Pakistan and India have met thrice in knock out matches in an ICC tournament and all three matches have resulted in heartbreaks for Pakistan's fans. The pressure of all the heartbreaks caused in Bangalore '96, Johannesburg '07, and Mohali '11 is on Sarfraz Ahmed and his young team.

Over 100 million fans will be praying for this Pakistan team to achieve what Wasim, Waqar, Inzamam, Miandad, Misbah, Afridi, and Younis could not over the past 20 years.

The odds however are heavily in India's favor.

Even though the record reads 2-2 in ICC Champions Trophy, it is 3-0 to India in ICC knock out games, and 12-2 to India in all ICC tournaments.

On top of that, India arguably have the best batting line up, not only in this Champions Trophy, but in the world.

Moreover, they are led by the world's best ODI batsman whose last 6 innings against Pakistan in ICC tournaments look like this:

78* at WorldT20 2012
22* at Champions Trophy 2013
36* at World T20 2014
107 at World Cup 2015
55* at World T20 2016
81* at Champions Trophy 2017

How do you tame a batsman like that? How do you tame a batting line up that is leading the runs charts in the Champions Trophy? How do you tame a team that you have not beaten in any form of the game in over 3 years? How do you tame a team that trounced you by 124 runs less than two weeks ago?

Sarfraz and Micky Arthur will be pondering about the same questions.

The answers are Pakistan's bowlers. It is them who have got Pakistan this far, and it is them who can take them to the trophy.

Hasan Ali is the leading wicket taker in this Champions Trophy, while Junaid Khan, who was not played against India, is among the top 5.

In a tournament, which was billed as high scoring with 300 runs considered a par score, Pakistan has 7 bowlers who have an economy rate of below 5 in this Champions Trophy.

Three of Pakistan's bowlers have a bowling average below 20 in this Champions Trophy.

Three of Pakistan's bowlers are picking up wickets every 4 overs in this Champion Trophy.

Pakistan's bowlers have restricted teams to under 240 in three successive games in a tournament where other bowlers are being smashed around for 300+ scores.

Only India managed to thrash Pakistan's bowlers around; however the story may have been different had Pakistan played the right team (Junaid instead of Wahab) and had Pakistan not dropped two key catches.

Bowling is Pakistan's strength, it has been forever, and the way they have leveraged on this strength in this tournament has been phenomenal. Realizing their limited batting capability, Pakistan ensured their bowlers restricted oppositions to a total that gave them chaseable targets within Pakistan's range.

This is how they will tame India. It is the only way.

Junaid Khan has played 5 ODIs against India, in which he has picked up 8 wickets at an average of 20. In the series in 2012, Junaid snared Kohli in each of the 3 ODIs for single digit scores.

Makes you wonder why they preferred Wahab over him in the group game.

Junaid will be key for Pakistan. As will be Aamer and Hasan Ali.

Pakistan's only chance on Sunday is to put a brake on India's batting juggernaut. If they can do that, then Pakistan will join India, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies in an elite group of nations who have won all ICC trophies - The World Cup, World T20, and Champions Trophy.

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Pakistan's Debutants Rise to the Challenge

When it comes to major cricket tournaments like the ICC World Cup, ICC World T20, and the ICC Champions Trophy teams usually come prepared with a well settled playing XI, with a few reserve players capable of replacing the main ones.

Largely, teams go through these tournaments with the same side.

Not Pakistan.

Pakistan handed ODI debuts to three players during this Champions Trophy, 1 in each of its matches except for the first one against India.

You know how many debuts other teams had during this Champions Trophy? Zero.

Fakhar Zaman - Debut vs South Africa
Fakhar has been a consistent performer in List A cricket and he had an outstanding PSL this year. He is a hard hitting opener and averages over 50 in List A cricket with a strike rate in the mid 90s - just the right type of opener that Pakistan requires and the modern day game demands.

Opening has been a persistent problem for Pakistan for ages. If you look at the openers that Pakistan has had since the World Cup 2015, besides Sharjeel Khan, none of them fit the bill of a modern day ODI opener.

Azhar Ali has the runs to show; however his strike rate needs significant improvement if Pakistan are to stamp their authority on oppositions.

Amidst all this, Fakhar Zaman is a breath of fresh air.

Not only does Fakhar strike the ball at a better rate than all his predecessors (barring Sharjeel), his attacks on South Africa, Sri Lanka, and England have him leading the strike rate chart for openers in this Champions Trophy.

His strike rate of 117.9 is also the highest among all batsmen with a minimum of 100 runs in this champions trophy. In terms of average, 50+ scores, and boundaries he is only behind the Indian duo of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma.

And this is his debut ODI series! He started of with an enterprising 31 off 23 deliveries against South Africa. He followed that up with a maiden half century as he scored 50 off 36 deliveries against Sri Lanka. He bettered that in the semifinal against England with a 57 off 58 deliveries.

While, Pakistan's bowlers have been magical restricting the oppositions to 200 odd totals, Fakhar Zaman has led the charge with the bat setting up Pakistan's successful chases.

Faheem Ashraf - Debut vs Sri Lanka
Faheem has an impressive domestic record with the ball averaging 26 in First Class cricket and 24 in List A cricket, however it is his late order aggressive batting that he is mostly known for.

There are a number of instances in domestic cricket where he has produced swashbuckling innings lower down the order. He did the same in Pakistan's Champions Trophy warm up match against Bangladesh where he produced a scintillating 64 off only 30 deliveries to guide Pakistan home to an improbable win while chasing 341.

Despite that effort he could not break into the XI against India or South Africa. But he got his chance against Sri Lanka and he did not disappoint.

With the ball he picked up two wickets including the key wicket of Dinesh Chandimal and later with the bat he raced to 17 off 17 deliveries before he was unfortunately run out.

Faheem is the sort of player that Pakistan has not had since Abdul Razzaq. A seamer who can hit big batting lower down the order. Despite these credentials he is finding it difficult to break into Pakistan's first choice XI, which includes two spinners.

For now it seems he will only get a game when Pakistan decide to field 4 seamers; however a few more hard hitting knocks from him and he may replace one of Pakistan's premier seamers.

Rumman Raees - Debut vs England
Rumman flew to England after Wahab Riaz got injured in the match against India, and he got his first ODI match in the semifinal against England after Mohammad Aamer got injured.

A left arm pacer, Rumman's reputation has grown after two successful seasons of the PSL where he has been one of the most economical bowlers. He averages 25 in both First Class and List A cricket, but it is his economy of 3 and 4 respectively that makes him a potent bowler.

Against England he provided Pakistan their first breakthrough when he had Alex Hales caught in the covers. Then he returned for another spell near the end of the innings and picked up another wicket.

A haul of 2-44 in 9 overs on ODI debut in a tournament where teams are smashing everyone around is very impressive.

Yet Rumman is unlikely to walk in to a Pakistan XI when all three of Aamir, Junaid, and Hasan are fit.

Such has been the impact of these debutants that Pakistan find itself spoilt for riches. For a team that has struggled to field an XI that can consistently beat the top nations, Pakistan suddenly finds itself making tough choices to select an XI from a capable pool of 15 players.

Quite a turnaround in fortunes. Pakistan's debutants have surely risen to the challenge and showcased their talent on the global stage.

So much for all the talk about Pakistan's domestic structure not good enough to produce talented cricketers!

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