Friday, September 11, 2015

Cricket, or where you get to defeat the impossible

One hundred years of top-class records and unforgettable matches. Cricket has always been one of those sports that knew how to hit the headlines. Every single one of The Ashes episodes is responsible, in a way, to this sport’s tour de force. In the same time, various players made quite a name for themselves. All the more so to say that cricket is not just an ordinary sport on ESPN, Saturday night. It’s a living legend.

One hundred years and still counting.

I. Power is a quality. Mind power - a privilege.

Just before you jump to a conclusion, I must clarify something. All sorts of sports have the ability to generate adrenaline, to make teams unbreakable. They all know how to gather a group of thousands or, why not, millions of fans ready to support them, under the rainiest circumstances. But, in my opinion, cricket comprises a power that no other activity does. It engages your entire being.

A Test match cricket can be enjoyed over a 5-day period, in a short session perhaps, or in a rough encounter between a batsman and a bowler. It can go down in a couple of seconds too. Yes, in cricket you can invest it all in a second to none second.

The Nobel-prize winner, Harold Pinter, described cricket as being extremely dramatic. Batsmen view that ball as the biggest threat or the rarest joy in life. Players’ wits are squeezed to their last droplet in order to test their patience. Only chess and golf challenge your concentration as harder as cricket does.

II. Being taken by surprise is no surprise at all.

Players need to be athletic material. Reflexes ought to be polished regularly. Elegance is a prerequisite. Cricket is a game where the rational decisions are somehow fighting against the body’s willingness to rebel.

At this year’s Ashes tournament, England was the one that sang victory in a 5-match series where they won with 3-2. 169 runs during the First Test. Joe Root made that match worth it. But who knows what will happen in 2017? Rain poked its nose into the 2015 series, causing delays and postponing in playing, but for 2017 gambling guides such as Betoclock say that there are more chances for Australia to win, and less for England.

III. You set your own deadlines. And records.

Cricket is a sport made for the individual, not for the team. It highlights the persons’ smarts and talent, bringing it the forward, in the spotlight. And there is no end: individuals are allowed to keep the balls flying till they’re in their 40s or even 60s. For example, in the ICC World Cup 2015, there were exactly 17 players aged over 35, and three of them were above the age of 40. Age can be a blessing in this kind of world.

Now, if I couldn’t argue you into the values of cricket, then these batsmen will. Jacques Kallis, Sachin Tendulkar, Chris Gayle, Adam Gilchrist.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Are Butt, Aamer, and Asif really worth it?

Five years have passed since Pakistan cricket was rocked by the worst scandal ever in its history -then Test captain Salman Butt and Pakistan's two premier fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer were accused of spot fixing.

It seems like yesterday when they were handed 5-year bans from the game and jail terms for their role in spot fixing during the summer of 2010. There is some irony in the fact that they are once again eligible to play international cricket when Pakistan is gearing up for a series against England, the same opposition they played against last.

Noise has already been made by all three players about resurrecting their international careers.

Aamer's return is most likely considering that his return-path was paved for him 6 months ago when the ICC allowed him to return to domestic cricket, enabling him to play some competitive cricket before making a fully fledged international return. For Butt and Asif, it will be harder. They haven't played any competitive cricket for 5 years and both players are not as young as Aamer, who at 23 has a full career ahead of him.

I would place my money on them returning. Would be interesting to see what the odds are on betting sites regarding the return of these three cricketers.

Whether they will return to the Pakistan team or not is all together another question. Should they return is the more pertinent question really.

It seems a little unfair that Butt, Aamer, and Asif are now allowed to play international cricket again after disgracing their country and the sport on the international stage, while a player like Danish Kaneria is banned for life for coercing a domestic cricketer to accept money for fixing in a domestic game. What this means is that wrong doing in international cricket can be forgiven, while the same in domestic cricket cannot be? That is a bit perplexing for me.

And what about all the players who have represented Pakistan during the past 5 years with integrity and success? Is it fair for Aamer and Asif to come back into the team at the expense of Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz, Imran Khan, or Rahat Ali? Is it fair for Salman Butt to make a return at the expense of Ahmed Shehzad, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez, Mukhtar Ahmed, Nauman Anwar, Sami Aslam, or Babar Azam? Definitely not.

These are arguments based on moral grounds.

Here's a look at how these three faired in the three formats before their bans, and whether their return is warranted on a statistical basis or not.

The records that stand out are Salman Butt and Mohammad Aamer in ODIs, and Mohammad Asif in Tests. In T20Is, all three had below par figures. While in tests Butt and Aamer were just about average, and likewise for Asif in ODIs.

I can probably shed more light on these three after comparing their figures with those of the players who replaced them in the past 5 years.

In test matches, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, and Taufeeq Umar have all performed far better than Salman Butt ever did in his career. Even Shan Masood, who is just finding his feet in test cricket, seems like a better test opener than Salman Butt. 

Azhar Ali and Sarfraz Ahmed have been a revelation at the top for Pakistan, and have performed better than most openers. Even Shehzad has a solid record that is comparable to Salman Butt's. 

Salman Butt was never an opener in the T20 mould and Pakistan have far better batsmen to do that job. Shehzad and Mukhtar have both performed better than Butt did, while all the batsmen in the table above, barring Nasir Jamshed, have a better T20 strike rate than Butt's.

It is quite clear from all this that Salman Butt has no place in Pakistan's international team for any format.

On the bowling front, however, the story is a bit different. 

In tests, there has been no fast bowler for Pakistan who has performed as well as Asif. Not even one who has done so as well as Aamer either, besides Tanvir Ahmed who appeared for a short time and then fell out of favor for reasons best known to selectors. In fact, besides Tanvir, only Imran Khan averages under 30 among the pacers that have played for Pakistan in the past 5 years since Aamer and Asif got banned. 

While there have been several bowlers for Pakistan who have done far better than Asif in ODIs; such as Sohail Khan, Rahat Ali, Aizaz Cheema, Mohammad Irfan, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, and Junaid Khan; there has been not a single one who has performed at the level of Mohammad Aamer.

Pakistan's pace bowling has definitely not been the same during the absence of Aamer and Asif, who together created arguably the best attacking pair Pakistan has had since Wasim and Waqar. It is unfortunate that they played together for less than a year and that their best years were taken away from them due to their own grave mistakes.

Once can only sit and wonder what could have been had these two not succumbed to greed and had continued to share the new ball for Pakistan over the past 5 years.

While statistically there is no argument about whether Aamer and Asif should return to Pakistan's colors; however on moral ground there is still plenty of debate.

On Salman Butt however, there should be no debate. Pakistan has far better resources at the moment to go back to a dead weight like Butt.

Butt might have served his 5-year ban from cricket and his jail term, but the damage he has done to Pakistan cricket deserves more punishment in my opinion. He was the captain of the team when all this drama ensued. That only means that he needs to accept more responsibility than both Aamer and Asif who were in a way coerced by Butt to bowl those no balls. Butt was in control of the bowers on the field. He was the sole decision maker regarding who to throw the ball to. He was the one who ensured that Aamer and Asif bowled those particular overs and the no balls on those specific deliveries. The control was all in Butt's hands. He was critical to the whole spotfix. Without him, it would not have been possible.

Just this fact that it was Butt who enable the whole fix should ensure that he never plays for Pakistan again. Ban or no ban, Salman Butt should never be allowed to don the Pakistan cap.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

2015 Cricket Betting Tips From Jon Price

Jon Price one of the worlds most renowned sports bettors has tipped his hat to let the minority of Cricket Bettors that he has his eye on the popular Indian sport. With over 1 million bettors vying to make money off of cricket it is hard to distinguish and to turn a big profit because certain sportsbooks limit the amount you can wager on a cricket matchup.

Some online sportsbooks based in the United Kingdom only allow wagers up to 10,000 Pounds and some whales like to wager a lot more than that to ensure their success. Some of the different options that you can wager on are the following:

Who is going to win the match. For example the Birmingham Bears playing the Essex Eagles will have different payouts based on who wins the matchup. There is also a chance to do proposition bets like Who will be the Man of the match and the top scorer also labeled at most offshore sportsbooks as the Top Batsman. We like to bet on the Top Bowler which is also known as the bowler who takes the most wickets in any given match. 

The more difficult wagers that tend to get bettors in trouble are the next batsman out and the leading wicket taker. The coin flip is similar to the proposition bets on the Super Bowl for Football as well as who will bat first and the next batsman to strike out.  

 is one of the most popular books where people place wagers at for Cricket. 

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Friday, August 14, 2015

The Best Test Batsmen among the New Generation

Soon after England secured the Ashes to seal their decade long dominance over Australia at home, they were met with some more positive news.

Joe Root was the new world number 1 ranked test batsman, overtaking AB De Villiers.

Root has been magnificent for England in both limited overs and tests since his debut about two and a half years ago. So much so, that he is now not only England's most reliable batsman but among the best in the world.

We have seen a number of great batsmen in test cricket. Each decade has provided us with some of the game's greats like Border, Gavaskar, Miandad, and Richards in the 80s; Waugh, Sachin, Lara, and Inzamam in the 90s, Ponting, Dravid, Sangakkara, and Kallis during the first decade of the new century; and also Younis Khan, De Villiers, Amla, Clarke, Cook, and KP over the past decade.

Similarly, the past 5 years has seen the rise of a new generation of batsmen.

Like Joe Root for England, there have been a few others who have emerged to become their team's most reliable batsmen in the recent few years.

There has been Virat Kohli for India, Steven Smith for Australia, Azhar Ali for Pakistan, Kane Williamson for New Zealand, and Angelo Matthews for Sri Lanka.

Each one of them has performed at an exceptional level in international cricket and has fast become the mainstay of their respective batting line up. Their success has also been recognized with all of them, barring Root, captaining their national side in at least one format (Kane Williamson as a stand in).

There is no doubt in my mind that these are the next set of batting greats that will shine for the next 7-10 years in test cricket. These are the names that will dominate batting charts going forward.

But who among them is the best out of the lot?

Like Border and Gavaskar, Sachin and Lara, Ponting and Kallis, and Sangakkara and Younis were the best during their respective decades, which two out of the current lot are the best right now?

Here's a look at some numbers.

(For the purpose of this analysis, only those batsmen who have played at least 30 tests and made their debut since July 2009 have been assessed)

Leading Averages

It is no surprise that each one of the above mentioned batsmen are among those with the current highest test averages, with Root and Smith right at the top.

Most Frequent Century Makers

Four of these batsmen have scored at least 10 test centuries already, but no one scores them more often than Virat Kohli who scores a ton after every 5 innings or so.

Biggest Match Winners

The most prominent sign of great test batsmen is how often they produce match winnings knocks. Most batsmen can score a lot of runs, but scoring meaningful runs that help win matches is what makes these batsmen great.

Warner and Azhar have been involved in most test wins among these batsmen; both of them are the leading run scorers in test wins as well; Root, Smith, and Williamson have exceptional averages in test wins; while Warner and Smith have the most centuries in test wins.

If it doesn't get better for India, Kohli would well become the Tendulkar of his generation. Lots of runs and centuries, but not enough match winning ones.

Best Away from Home

Everyone knows that it is much easier to bat at home than in foreign conditions. In this regard, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq must be given a lot more credit than the other batsmen considering that they have not played a single test at home.

Having said that, here's how these batsmen perform in foreign locations.

Foreign locations have been determined as outside Indian subcontinent and UAE for Azhar, Asad, Kohli, Matthews; outside Australia and South Africa for Warner and Smith; outside England and New Zealand for Root, Williamson and Watling; outside West Indies for Bravo.

Only Bravo and Root average above 50 in foreign conditions; while Kohli's and Williamson's century hitting ability in foreign conditions is exceptional. Bravo's is a rare case; he averages more away from home than he does at home, and 5 of his 6 test centuries have also come away from home.

The rest of the batsmen seem to have decent records away from home, except for Warner, Azhar, and Asad - while away. they are not even half the batsmen that they are at home.

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While all these batsmen are special in their own way, there are only two names that are repeatedly at the top of the pile in the tables above.

Joe Root and Steven Smith.

They have the best average among these batsmen, they score test centuries as frequently as the greats did, they are the leading performers in test match wins, and they have outstanding away records.

The other 8 batsmen have a lot of catching up to do.

Warner, Azhar, and Asad need to significantly improve their away records, while Kohli has to put in more match winning performances. Williamson is not far behind Root and Smith, however to be considered one of the greats he needs to push his average closer to that 50 mark; same goes for Bravo and Watling. As for Mathews; he has established himself as the premier Sri Lankan batsman following the retirements of Sangakkara and Jayawardene. However, to be one of the greats he needs more test centuries and improved performances outside the subcontinent.

While Root and Smith are ahead of the rest right now, all these batsmen are 30 or under, which means their best years are still ahead of them.

There is a lot more for all of them to achieve. With the kind of start they have had to their test careers, they are well placed to reach even greater heights to be considered among the best in the world to ever play the game.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Playing at home, the biggest advantage ever?

We have all witnessed how England changed its cricket history. Since 1896, this is the first time the world could see a new, refreshed team that was able to do their best and beat Australia in 4 consecutive series. 2015, one heck of a year.

In 2015, The Ashes matches were hosted by England, therefore I cannot help but wonder how important was the home advantage in helping them win. It’s been 14 years since the British won a title during the Ashes cricket championship. To sum it up: Australia won 32 series, and England 32, in the past. But now, the last-mentioned has raised the bar. How come?

Over the last couple of weeks, Cardiff was the only setting to receive everyone’s attention: fans and cricket players, altogether. Alastair Cook really proved worthy of his name, I daresay, but the fact that the competition took place in England had a huge influence on making the team win the trophy, wouldn’t you agree?

Even the Australian coach admitted that his team is not very strong when playing away from home. British players are already used to the country’s weather conditions: constant showers, chilly, and somewhat breezy winds. Not the same thing can be applied to Australia. The team had to adapt.

It seems irrelevant at the first sight, but trying to adjust oneself to different conditions overseas is something I’d take into consideration if I were to be a cricket player. Nonetheless, the audience plays an important role for the team’s spirit. Cheering and applauding can make all the difference in the world.

But can we give it a long shot and place a bet on the host team? Winning at home is a must? Always? Well, let’s do the math. 2001 was the year when Australia won in England, and since 2002, there have been 25 Ashes won by the host team, and other 7 by the guest. Here, I am talking about a win/loss ratio of 3.57.

Things were quite different before that, because back then more than half of the series were won by the touring team. Before 2002, for example, the win/loss ratio was at around 1.19, with 117 cups won by the home team, and 98 by the guest.

Of course, of course, I know it will take some time till the cricket world will resolve this huge gap between playing at home and playing away. Teams have to learn how to play on various surfaces: Aussie wickets no longer have their own character, so that’s a good start. A good start for new records, I mean.

I guess the idea is to give all of them the chance to play a fair game, without any extra details that can influence their performance. Nonetheless, if a team can overcome those disadvantages when playing away, it means they are really great players, don’t they? Even James Sutherland wants to train a team that can play away as good as they can play at home.

Being able to win anywhere is the goal, isn’t it?

As a short reminder for those who didn’t turn on the TV this weekend: during this short Ashes test (the shortest one since 1950), England set the bar high with an innings and 78 runs, throwing only 1059 balls on home soil.

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Rejoicing Pakistan's Super Successful Tour to Sri Lanka

The last time Pakistan won the Test, ODI, and T20I series on the same tour was during the 2011-12 season when they defeated Sri Lanka in the UAE, and then Zimbabwe and Bangladesh on tour. It took four years for Pakistan to repeat the feat and notch up a rare successful tour of Sri Lanka, after 9 years, winning a total of 7 international games - 2 Tests, 3 ODIs, and 2 T20Is.

Another rare achievement for Pakistan was winning the three bilateral series under different captains. Pakistan is not accustomed to having different captains for different formats, yet it seemed to be no hindrance to team spirit as Misbah, Azhar Ali, and Afridi led Pakistan's outfits to historical wins across the three formats in Sri Lanka.

One more interesting fact from this tour is that Pakistan sealed each series with a SIX! Misbah launched Jehan Mubarak over long on to complete Pakistan's record chase in the 3rd test; Shoaib Malik hoicked Sriwardana over midwicket in the 4th ODI to take Pakistan to an unassailable 3-1 lead in the ODI series; Imad Wasim smashed Binura Fernando over long on to complete Pakistan's dramatic 1 wicket win in the second T20I.

I wonder if that has ever happened before.

I also wonder when was the last time that Pakistan's batting, bowling, and fielding all fired collectively in a series. Probably not since the 1992 World Cup Final! ;)


Before coming to Pakistan's batting and bowling, their fielding deserves a mention.

The way the Pakistanis picked up their fielding on this tour was a revelation. Never before has Pakistan looked like the better fielding unit in any series. Runs were defended and catches were taken, with some so good that it was hard to believe that it was a Pakistani fielder athletically diving across the turf and getting his hands wrapped around the ball.

It was a sight!

Anwar Ali and Mohammad Rizwan have shown that they right up their with the best fielders in the world at the moment.


The batting on this tour also shone like it hasn't in the recent past.

There was the record chase in the 3rd test; a 300+ total in the 3rd ODI; successful chases of 250+ in the 1st and 4th ODIs; a 175 run total in the 1st T20I; and a record chase of a 170+ target in the 2nd T20I.

Where there was a classic match winning inning from the experienced Younis Khan in the 3rd test, there was also a maiden century in a match winning cause from a novice like Shan Masood. Where there was strengthening of test credentials by Azhar Ali with yet another test hundred, there were monumental knocks by Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed that won Pakistan a match after a familiar batting collapse.

ODI openers, Azhar Ali and Ahmed Shehzad, fired more often than not; and when they didn't the middle order comprising Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed, and Mohammad Rizwan cruised the ship comfortably.

Anwar Ali finally came of age and showed that he has the abilities of being an allrounder in both ODIs and the T20s. Shoaib Malik ensured that his comeback was not a flash in the pan and made his presence count in the middle order in every innings in the ODIs and T20s. Umar Akmal also repaid the faith his T20 captain had in him by showing the world his range of shots and ability in the 1st T20I. Imad Wasim also displayed allround abilities.

And then there was Shahid Afridi, doubted by so many, who led the charge in the second T20 and showed the world that he still has it in him to smash the ball to all parts of the park.


While Yasir Shah single handedly destroyed Sri Lanka in the Tests and mesmerized viewers by bringing back the shining art of leg spin to Pakistan's test ranks after half a decade, Imran Khan and Rahat Ali also produced some awe inspiring spells.

Rahat Ali translated his test success to ODIs by displaying wicket taking ability, while Anwar Ali produced economical spells with the new ball and also picked up wickets, which he was failing to do in the past. Imad Wasim showed composure with his left arm spin and was the most difficult bowler to get away.

Both Anwar and Imad are valuable additions to Pakistan's limited overs attack, particularly because of their ability to strengthen the lower order batting.

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Rarely does a tour end with Pakistan achieving all the goals it set out to achieve.

Misbah wanted a test series win in Sri Lanka to take Pakistan back to number 3. Azhar wanted an ODI series win to ensure Pakistan a place in the Champions Trophy. He also stated that Pakistan would sweep Sri Lanka 2-0 in the T20s with Afridi wanting a strong showing leading up to his swansong in India next year.

There is much to rejoice about Pakistan's performance on this tour to Sri Lanka. It has been one of their most successful tours in recent history. Their Test and T20 performances resulted in a rise in the rankings where Pakistan now sit pretty at number 3 in both formats, while their ODI performance ensured a place in the Champions Trophy.

It doesn't always happen like this, so enjoy it while it lasts!

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Ashes is set up for a Thrilling Finish

Just before the Ashes series got underway, I felt that England stood no chance. I thought Australia will sweep the series and finally win an Ashes series in England, which they haven't done since 2001. Yes, Steve Waugh was captaining Australia the last time they won an Ashes series in England!

It has been 15 years and this had to be Australia's best chance given England's recent torrid run and Australia's rise.

But then at Cardiff, we witnessed England rise to the challenge and beat Australia by a whopping 169 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

What that also did was reopen some old wounds for Australia. They were reminded that prior to the Cardiff test, they had won only 3 out of their previous 17 tests in England and had lost 8 of them. After the first test of this Ashes series, that record looks like:

Played 18 Won 3 Lost 9.

For a team that is ranked number 2 in the world test rankings, that is quite sad really.

Needless to say, I was quite surprised that it was England who took the lead after the first test.

It wasn't long before we were back to business as usual with Australia bouncing back at Lord's and stamping their authority all over England with a massive 405 run win in the second Ashes test. It was almost as if the Aussies wanted to punish England for winning the first test.

After such a dominating performance, I was sure that the rest of the series would be a cakewalk for Australia.

How wrong was I!

The third test saw Australia in tatters and so unlike their dominant self, which we had seen in the second test.

England won comfortably by 8 wickets to take a 2-1 lead.

England surprised, not once but twice during this Ashes series and they now look like firm favorites to regain the Ashes and continue their decade long dominance over Australia at home.

However, I will run shy of expecting that considering how wrong I have been with all the results so far. If I were using William Hill cricket betting during the Ashes, I would have lost quite some money so far.

The series has swung both ways right now, and there is every chance that Australia will bounce back once again to set up a thrilling finale at the Oval. That will be quite some game if we witness an Australia win at Nottingham next week.
William Hill cricket betting
With James Andersen most likely missing out on the 4th test, it will probably be Australia's best chance to level series. However, Steven Finn's comeback match showed that he could potentially shoulder the responsibility in Andersen's absence. Broad has also been good with the ball for England.

Both teams have failed to find consistent performances with the bat. Only Rogers and Smith from Australia, and Root and Bell from England have looked like in some kind of form, with all other batsmen showing only flashes of brilliance.

There is no doubt that the last 2 tests will be hard fought and the Ashes is set up for an exciting finish, unlike the previous one sided series the two teams have played.

I wouldn't miss these two tests for anything; and neither should you!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pakistan must be applauded for their ODI series win over Sri Lanka

This article first appeared on DAWN.

Pakistan were well and truly hammered in the 5th ODI against Sri Lanka but it must not overshadow what was a remarkable series win in the Island after 9 years.

This was also Pakistan's first ODI series win against a top eight side since December 2013. Yes, Pakistan had gone on for a year and a half without winning a bilateral ODI series against a what can be termed a ‘top tier’ team.

There is no reason why the players and fans should not rejoice this victory. For a long time we had been witnessing an under achieving Pakistan ODI team. During this series we all witnessed some of the best ODI cricket Pakistan has played in the past few years. At least in terms of their batting.

With the series won 3-2 and the Zimbabwe tri-series not going ahead as proposed earlier, Pakistan has also sealed a berth in the Champions Trophy 2017 (assuming West Indies don't play any ODIs till 30th September). After being whitewashed 3-0 at the hands of Bangladesh and facing potential exclusion from the Champions Trophy, this ODI series win could not have come at a better time for Pakistan.

Despite the convincing run, there has been plenty of noise from some skeptical fans who are under the illusion that Pakistan won this series only because they were up against a significantly weakened Sri Lankan team.

These fans could not be more wrong.

Surely the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene has left a massive hole in the Sri Lankan team, but the team that took on Pakistan in the ODI series was not inexperienced. Definitely not when compared to the Pakistan ODI team.

Compare the batting line ups of the two teams and you will realise that Sri Lanka's top 7 have played almost double the number ODIs and scored almost double the number of runs than Pakistan's top 7. In fact, Tillakaratne Dilshan alone has scored 75% of the runs that Pakistan's top 7 have scored on a collective basis! 

Similarly, comparing the bowling line ups of both the teams shows that Lasith Malinga and Thisara Perera, individually, have played more ODIs and picked up more wickets than Pakistan's entire bowling attack. There is no comparison between the experience of the two bowling attacks. It is quite clear which team was the inexperienced one out there.

If Sri Lanka were hampered due to the absence of their two batting stalwarts, what about Pakistan? Were they not hampered by the absence of Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi, their two most experienced ODI cricketers of recent times?

Moreover, do not forget that Angelo Matthews has captained Sri Lanka in thrice as many ODIs than Azhar Ali has even played in his career.

Azhar Ali entered the series having lost his two premier pacers to injury and his premier spinner to a changed and ineffective action. Furthermore, he even lost the bowling services of Mohammad Hafeez, one of Pakistan's most effective limited overs bowler, to a ban on his action in the middle of the series.

Sri Lanka was clearly the more ‘stable’ but in the end it boiled down to better execution of plans and skills.

Pakistan excelled in batting and fielding, two facets of their ODI cricket that had constantly failed them over the past few years. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Pakistan played some of their best and most consistent ODI cricket in five years to win a series that not many gave them a chance to.

The effort cannot be discounted by illogical reasons like “Sri Lanka was playing their most inexperienced side ever”. If anyone was playing an inexperienced side, it was Pakistan.

Another reason being cited for Sri Lanka's loss is their players' sudden drop in form. 

Does anyone think that Pakistan won their ODI series in India (2012) and South Africa (2013), the only two ODI achievements in Misbah's 4-year tenure as captain, were achieved because Kohli, Gambhir, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Raina, Amla, Smith, AB, and Kallis were out of form? Not at all. Those victories were achieved because Junaid and Irfan bowled beautifully and made those batsmen look like rabbits for the most part of each series.

Similarly, Pakistan's batsmen, namely Hafeez, Shehzad, Malik, Rizwan, Sarfraz, and Azhar himself batted brilliantly in this series against Sri Lanka and made their bowling attack look pedestrian. Pakistan have not batted in this manner in an ODI series for a long time; and definitely never this consistently in any series under Misbah.

Impressed with Pakistan's ODI batting resurgence, I wrote an article after the 3rd ODI between Pakistan and Sri Lanka comparing Pakistan's batting under Misbah's captaincy to that under Azhar Ali's. Following that, several other articles also came up during the series that analyzed possible reasons for Pakistan's unexpected batting form.

While I agree that any comparison between the ODI captaincies of Misbah and Azhar Ali is premature given that Azhar has only captained in 11 ODIs, I am also absolutely certain that Azhar's leadership has brought about a change in mindset and approach that had been missing from Pakistan's ODI cricket for the past 4 years.

No one expected Azhar Ali to be an aggressive leader. No one expected Azhar Ali to change his style of batting for ODI cricket. Everyone expected Azhar Ali to be another Misbah-like batting anchor who would occupy the crease endlessly and meaninglessly.

How Azhar has defied all such expectations!

Not only has he adopted a more aggressive style play, he has instilled the same sense of urgency in his batsmen. Following his match winning knock in the 4th ODI, Ahmed Shehzad spoke about how he and the other batsmen were looking to change the way they had been batting in ODIs in the past.

There will always be arguments for and against Misbah's approach to ODIs, but one thing is absolutely clear - there is a conscious effort being made by every single batsmen in Pakistan's ODI line up to play a more aggressive brand of cricket and that effort is being led by their new ODI captain.

And there is no one who can deny that it is this brand of cricket that Pakistan was always known for and that it was dearly missed during the 4 year tenure of Misbah.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Misbah vs Azhar - Appreciation, Retaliation, and a Response

Two weeks ago, we witnessed my article on Younis Khan become one of the most read and shared post on social media.

Now, over the past two days, we have received an unprecedented reaction to my article that compares the ODI era under Misbah and Azhar. The reaction, however, has been quite varied. We have been ridiculed by some who stand strongly (and blindly) by Misbah the ODI captain, while at the same time we have been appreciated by two of the most respected sports journalists of our time - Ahmer Naqvi and Emmad Hameed - who have followed up with articles of their own regarding Pakistan's recent ODI resurgence.
While Ahmer has followed up with a brilliant statistical piece highlighting the differences between Misbah's and Azhar's ODI teams, Emmad fondly writes about the last time Pakistan's batting was so dominant and how this team is shaping up so well.
I can't thank these two, and many others who have read, shared, and commented on the article, enough for the mentions and appreciation.
Besides this appreciation, there was also some retaliation as I mentioned.
Instead of replying to each one individually, which I tried to do yesterday but failed in getting the message across and in process got called all sorts of inventive names like "a well documented Afridiot", I thought it best to reiterate some points in one place.
1. The entire article is an analysis of the performance of batsmen in ODIs. There is no mention of bowling performance. The fact the Misbah was excellent in how he used bowlers in ODIs holds no bearing on how he crippled our batting in ODIs.
2. Being a critic of Misbah does not automatically make one a Afridi fan, and vice versa. It is quite humanly possible to love both, hate both, appreciate certain qualities of both, and criticize other things about both. "Humanly" being the key word.
3. While openly blaming Misbah for destroying our ODI batting over 4 years, I have also publicly hailed his test leadership, talked of how he is the best thing to happen to Pakistan test cricket, and appreciated his utilization of bowlers in ODIs. It does not make me a Misbah hater when I say that he was the single reason for our regression in ODIs between 2011 and 2015.
4. If the same Misbah fans can praise him for taking Pakistan to number 3 in the test rankings, shouldn't they also criticize him for taking Pakistan to number 8 in the ODI rankings? Just common sense, isn't it?
5. It is interesting how so many people blame Afridi, Malik, and Hafeez for having captaincy aspirations and under performing under Misbah. Isn't it so ironic that despite that, Hafeez is Pakistan's leading run scorer under Misbah, and that besides some outstanding bowling efforts, most of Pakistan's ODI victories under Misbah were a result of outstanding performances from Hafeez and Afridi. In fact Afridi's numbers in ODI wins under Misbah's captaincy are exceptional!
6. The problem I have was never the sacking of Afridi as captain of the ODI team. The problem was appointing Misbah as ODI captain. The person he replaced and alternative options are irrelevant. Misbah was the wrong choice as ODI captain.
7. When Misbah took over the Test team in 2010, it was in turmoil. Yes, it was facing the worst scandal in its history. When Misbah took over the ODI team in 2011, they were World Cup Semi Finalists, had won their last two ODI series vs NZ (3-2) and vs WI (3-2), and lost the two ODI series prior to that vs SA (3-2) and vs Eng (3-2). The ODI team was NOT in any turmoil.
8. The argument against sample size is something that is partially accurate. I say partially because I can agree to revisit the performances of Hafeez, Malik, Haris, and Azhar after a year or two when they have faced tougher opposition in tougher conditions, and when they have played more ODIs under Azhar's captaincy. I also say partially because the sample size in no way changes the fact that in 4 years under Misbah, Pakistan scored > 280 only 5 times and chased > 250 only twice, yet Pakistan has done the same in only 4 months under Azhar Ali.
In fact, last night they just completed a third successful chase above 250, making it more times than they ever managed under Misbah.
Why is it so difficult to understand that in 4 years under Misbah, Pakistan also played in batting paradises, they also faced Bangladesh and Zimbabwe (in fact more times than they have done now), they played against even weaker opposition like Afghanistan, Ireland, Scotland, and yet they managed a score above 280 only 5 times.
9. For those saying that beating Sri Lanka is no big deal because they are a team in transition with the retirements of Sangakkara and Jayawardene, what about our team? Aren't we also a new team with the retirements of Misbah and Afridi, the absence of Saeed Ajmal, and the ban on Hafeez?
Moreover, it is our batting that is winning the matches and the presence of Sanga and Mahela would not have had much of an impact on our batting.
10. Last night's win further strengthened my argument regarding a changing mindset within the Pakistan camp. In his post match interview, Ahmed Shehzad clearly said "we are trying to change the way we used to bat", highlighting that he and other batsmen are making a conscious effort to bat more in line with the requirements of modern day ODI cricket. Shehzad's innings was testament to that fact.
I believe I have addressed all the arguments that were raised by some people. While I understand that I cannot change certain opinions, I am a firm believer of presenting arguments with evidence and there is ample evidence that suggests that under Misbah's captaincy, Pakistan witnessed its worst era of ODI cricket ever. That in no way takes away the fact that under Misbah's captaincy, Pakistan has also witnessed one of its best, if not the best, era of Test cricket ever.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How Pakistan wasted 4 years of ODI Cricket under Misbah

The third ODI between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was one of those ODIs where everything went according to plan. It happens rarely for Pakistan but when it does it feels like there is no team better than them.

The openers gave Pakistan a solid start. The middle order consolidated the platform. The late order accelerated and ended the innings on a high note. The new ball bowlers got early breakthroughs. The spinners choked the middle order. The fielders caught well. The wicketkeeper took some breathtaking catches.

Everyone clicked. Everything worked. Pakistan won comprehensively.

When they perform like this it makes you wonder why they can't do it more consistently. However, despite being notorious for playing like champions one day and like clowns the other, some semblance of consistency has definitely crept into this ODI team.

Since the 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Bangladesh, Pakistan has played 6 ODIs - 3 vs Zimbabwe and 3 vs Sri Lanka. In 4 of the ODIs, Pakistan batted first and posted a total in excess of 280; in the other 2 ODIs, they successfully chased targets above 250 comfortably.

Does anyone remember the last time Pakistan played 6 ODIs with this level of consistency?

Does anyone remember how many times Pakistan posted a total above 280 in the 4 years they played under Misbah?

Does anyone remember how many times Pakistan successfully chased a target above 250 under Misbah?

Lets answer these questions.

Batting First under Misbah
In the 4 years between 2011 and 2015, while Misbah was captain of the ODI team, Pakistan batted first in 40 ODIs (barring ODIs vs Associates). In those 40 ODIs, Pakistan scored over 280 a mere 5 times.

Moreover, Pakistan's average score in those 40 ODIs was 235.

Chasing under Misbah
In the 4 years between 2011 and 2015, while Misbah was captain of the ODI team, Pakistan chased targets in 37 ODIs (barring ODIs vs Associates). In these 37 ODIs, Pakistan successfully chased a target of 250 or above only twice!

So basically, what Pakistan achieved in 4 years and 77 ODIs under Misbah, is pretty much what Pakistan has managed to achieve in 4 months and 9 ODIs under Azhar Ali.

What a joke! What a waste of 4 years.

Batting First & Chasing under Azhar Ali

In 9 ODIs under Azhar Ali, whether batting first or second, Pakistan have failed to cross 250 only once.

So what has changed for Pakistan? What are they doing differently now? What were they missing under Misbah?

I can think of a few reasons.

1. The Captain's Attitude

It is no secret that Misbah had a defensive mindset and Pakistan never adopted the modern approach to ODIs under him. Not losing wickets was the order of the day instead of trying to take risks and bat with a high run rate. Misbah himself never tried to play his natural game and instead built a game that focused on blocking endlessly and cutting loose only near the end of the innings and losing his wicket while doing so. The entire batting order played defensively and as a result Pakistan hardly scored enough runs to win ODIs.

Misbah's approach to batting was so outdated that instead of progressing, Pakistan's ODI cricket actually regressed during his 4-year tenure, which ended with Pakistan languishing at number 8 in ODI rankings.

Azhar Ali, on the other hand, started his ODI captaincy career by accepting the fact that ODI cricket can no longer be played the way Pakistan had been playing it for the past 4 years. He showed awareness of his own game and focused on improving his own strike rate and asking the same of his team mates.

While Misbah mostly played at number 5 and blocked away his time at the crease, Azhar Ali took on the responsibility of opening the innings and taking charge from the get go. Misbah was happy blocking the ball back to the bowlers, Azhar Ali charges down and clubs the ball over the bowlers' heads.

Talk about taking responsibility head on and leading from the front.

While Misbah the batsman did alright as captain, it was never enough. He also pales in comparison to Azhar Ali the batsman in the short period that Azhar has been captain.

2. Utilization of Key Players

Mohammad Hafeez is a key batsman in Pakistan's line up and he was key under Misbah as well. However, under Misbah, Hafeez was entrusted with playing the anchor role and his instructions were largely to keep one end intact. Not only did that curb the scoring rate but also denied Pakistan of aggressive starts considering that Hafeez either opens or plays at number 3.

Under Azhar Ali however, Hafeez has shown more aggression. The change is apparent and it is quite visible that the instructions from the captain and the dressing room are quite different from what they used to be with Misbah in charge.

The difference is highlighted by Hafeez' significantly higher strike rate under Azhar Ali as compared to under Misbah.

Shoaib Malik is a player who suffered a lot under Misbah. He lost his touch around the same time that he lost his captaincy to Younis Khan in 2009, however under Misbah he was constantly in and out of the team and did not seem to have a permanent position in the batting order.

Every time Malik would make a comeback to the team on the back of his prolific domestic form, Misbah would use him sparingly at 6 or 7. Malik was never able to translate his domestic form on the international stage and finally was out of favor with the selectors.

Out of the 21 innings that Malik batted in under Misbah, 15 of them were at 6 or 7. It makes you wonder why you would use him there considering that he bats at 4 in domestic cricket and that majority of his international success has also come at numbers 3 and 4.

The difference between his performance under Misbah and under Azhar Ali is drastic!

Under Azhar, Malik has comfortably slotted at number 5 from where he has successfully finished games for Pakistan while chasing, and he has taken advantage of solid platforms and played aggressively to give Pakistan strong finishes while batting first.

We finally have the Malik of the mid-2000s back. Unfortunately, Misbah never utilized him to his full potential.

Haris Sohail made his debut under Misbah after several successful domestic seasons. He displayed his prowess soon enough, yet for some reason he too had to curb his natural aggressive instinct under Misbah. Just take a look at the drastic difference between his strike rates under the different captains he has played under thus far in his short career.

Umar Akmal is another player who was wasted under Misbah. The junior Akmal played 67 ODIs under Misbah and batted in 59 of those. In 15 innings he batted at number 5, while in 35 innings he batted at number 6. Umar averaged 35 and had a strike rate of 86.6 under Misbah, which is similar to his career stats. He is one of the only 3 batsmen from Pakistan who average above 35 with a strike rate above 80 (other two being Saeed Anwar and Zaheer Abbas).

Umar is by far the most talented batsman to come out of Pakistan in the past decade, yet today he finds himself out of the international scene. Under Misbah, he was used as merely a slogger, despite various requests from him to play up the order. A batsman with his ability and stats to match should have been playing at 3 or 4, yet Misbah continuously played him at 6 while persisting with the likes of Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan in the top order.

Even Azhar Ali has been performing far better as captain than he did in his initial ODIs under Misbah. He had a pretty good average back then, but look at the difference in strike rates, which clearly highlights the changing mindset and approach.

3. Persistence with Non-Performers

I will never understand Misbah's fascination with the likes of Asad Shafiq. It is obvious to everyone that Asad is an absolutely magnificent test batsmen, yet at the same time he is a total misfit and atrocious in ODIs. I never understood why Misbah persisted with him for so long and that too at number 3 or 4 while the likes of Azhar Ali, Fawad Alam, Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, and Mohammad Rizwan either warmed the benches or languished lower down the order.

It really makes you wonder why Misbah never fought hard for Fawad Alam's inclusion the way he did for Asad Shafiq's.

*               *              *

While Misbah has been a brilliant captain in tests and has even gone on to win more matches as test captain than any other captain in the history of Pakistan cricket, he was completely rubbish as an ODI captain. He has been the driving force behind Pakistan's rise to number 3 in the test rankings, while at the same time he has been the sole reason behind Pakistan's fall to number 8 in the ODI rankings.

Not only did Misbah cramp Pakistan's batting in ODIs, he made the batsmen around him play defensively as well. It is the same players who are now flourishing under Azhar Ali, which goes to show what Pakistan has been missing in ODIs for 4 years.

With Haris Sohail and Sohaib Maqsood out with injury and the likes of Sami Aslam and Babar Azam warming the benches, it augurs well for Pakistan's batting bench strength.

The future looks bright, yet it could have looked this way had the PCB not sacked Afridi and replaced him with Misbah at the helm 4 years ago. Probably the biggest mistake ever in Pakistan's ODI history.

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