Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pakistan to Manchester

Manchester was home for me between 2009 and 2011 and while I spent two magnificent years in the city, I was quite disappointed when England did not schedule a test, or for that matter neither an ODI or a T20I, at Old Trafford during Pakistan's tour in 2010.

I did manage to watch a couple of T20 games between England and Australia at Old Trafford and also made my way down to London on the weekends to catch a few days play at Lords and Oval in 2010, I feel like I missed out not watching Pakistan play in Manchester during my two years there.

Pakistan have pretty good memories associated with Manchester, however with mixed results.

1992

The test played there in 1992 is fondly remembered because of Aamer Sohail's belligerent knock of 205. It was an unbelievable knock that came in very quick time with the Pakistan opener posting a double century that included 32 hits to the fence.

Despite that fabulous knock and a 5 wicket haul from Wasim Akram, rain robbed Pakistan of time to press for a win and the match ended in a draw.


2001

In 1996, there was no test at Old Trafford, but Pakistan returned to the venue in 2001 for the final test of a 2-test series after being comprehensively beaten in the first test. Pakistan needed to win the test to maintain their undefeated run in England that stretched back 14 years to 1987.

Looking to maintain their record on England soil, Pakistan posted 400 in the first innings on the back of a classic century by Inzamam Ul Haq who was well supported by Younis Khan (65) and Rashid Latif (71). England's response was emphatic with both Vaughan and Thorpe posting centuries, however once their 267 run partnership was broken, Saqlain and Razzaq combined to send England's next 7 wickets crashing for 75 runs giving Pakistan a 50 run lead.

Another Inzamam classic innings of 85 in the second innings helped Pakistan set an improbably 370 run target, which proved too much for England, even though Trescothick (117) and Atherton (51) set up the chase with a 146 run opening partnership.

Not many teams lose tests after three of their batsmen score centuries, but the two Ws along with Saqlain and Razzaq were a handful for the remaining batsmen.

2006

Pakistan returned to Manchester in 2006 with the series level 0-0 after a draw in the first test. Unlike the tests in 1992 and 2001, which went the distance into the final session of day 5, England finished the game inside 3 days in 2006.

Rather, it was Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar who dashed Pakistani hopes at Old Trafford. The two combined to take 19 Pakistani wickets, which would have been all 20 had Danish Kaneria not run himself out to give England a win by an innings.

2016

Much like 1992, Pakistan will reach Manchester 1-0 up in the series. Back then they had also won the previous test at Lord's. While Manchester's weather is always unpredictable and typical overcast conditions will create seaming conditions, the word is that Old Trafford has become quite a batsman friendly pitch in recent years.

There are also whispers of the pitch suiting Yasir Shah more than the one at Lord's, which will prove to be quite dangerous for England's batsmen.

England have already strengthened their squad by recalling Anderson, Stokes, and Rashid. They are contemplating playing two spinners; whatever XI they pick for Old Trafford, Pakistan will face a much tougher challenge in this test from a hurt English team. But have no doubt that Pakistan will be ready.

It is still arguable whether this is Pakistan's strongest team team or not, however what is clear is that this Pakistan team mean serious business.

They are well prepared, more than any Pakistani outfit before them; they are hungry for success; they are determined to prove their detractors wrong; they are motivated to bring honors to the green and white flag; and they can't wait to bring out the push ups and the salute once again.


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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Victory at Lord’s is Sweet

This article first appeared on DAWN.

I distinctly remember 1992, the one year that no Pakistani cricket fan can erase from memory. The year when Pakistan won the World Cup was also the year of a great test series win in England. I was back in Pakistan for the traditional summer holidays and I remember spending my entire day in front of PTV and then glued to the radio at times of load shedding and the Khabarnama. After a dull draw in the first test of the 1992 series at Edgbaston, Pakistan won a thrilling encounter at Lord’s to go 1-0 up in the series. It was a memorable victory scripted by the 2 Ws, with both the bat and the ball.

Pakistan’s next tour to England in 1996 was quite similar with Pakistan taking the lead in the first test at Lord’s. Then the victory came on the back of flamboyant innings from Inzamam Ul Haq and Saeed Anwar, coupled with the destructive bowling of the 2 Ws and Mushtaq Ahmed.

20 years later, Pakistan have done it again. They have gone 1-0 up against England with a resounding victory at Lord’s. While this team does not boast of the flair and flamboyance of the Pakistan team of 90s, their grit and determination is second to none. Misbah’s captaincy, his batting along with that of Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed, Yasir Shah’s skillful bowling, and the three pronged left arm threat collectively scripted the downfall of England. Unlike the individual brilliance that reigned supreme in 92 and 96, it was a combined team effort that did it this time; and the victory celebration showed as much.

I have written several times about how I believe that over the past 5 years, we have witnessed the best test cricket Pakistan have ever played. The exploits of Pakistan’s solid middle order comprising Azhar, Younis, Misbah, Asad, and Sarfraz has been well documented. When I wrote about how this 2016 tour is Pakistan’s best chance of a series victory in England for the first time in 20 years, critics responded with the same statements that they have been making for the past 5 years.

“This team can’t win outside the UAE.”

“Pakistan’s batting is good for only UAE surfaces.”

“Yasir Shah will not be able to do what he did to England in the UAE.”

“Misbah’s technique is not good enough for pitches in England.”

“Sarfraz won’t be able to counter attack in England the way he has done in the UAE.”

At Lord’s over the past 4 days, Pakistan and each one of its players showed everyone that they are one of the best test teams in the world currently; and that they can not only do it in the UAE, they can do it all around the world.

Before the series, we looked at the players who would make a difference. Here’s a look at those who did.

Misbah Ul Haq
Captain Fantastic is truly just that. If his previous 20 test victories as captain did not give him the title of Pakistan’s best test captain ever, this win at Lord’s has surely pushed him further towards that mark. He led with aplomb and achieved what only three previous captains (Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, and Wasim Akram) had achieved – a win at Lord’s.

It was Misbah’s first innings century that made all the difference. The fact that his century came in a match where only two other batsmen crossed 50 shows the true value of his innings. He already had the most test wins and the most rest runs as Pakistan captain; this century also gave him the record of most test centuries as Pakistan captain, beating Inzamam’s record of 7, which he had equaled last year.


His century at Lord’s created a number of other records also:

At 42, He became the oldest captain to hit a test century, breaking Bob Simpson’s record who was 41 when he scored his last test century as captain.

It was only the 3rd test century by a Pakistan captain at Lord’s, after Hanif Mohammad and Javed Burki.

It was the 1st test century by a Pakistan captain in England in 24 years, after Javed Miandad’s century in 1992.

It was the 3rd instance of a Pakistan captain scoring a test century in his first innings in England, after Hanif Mohammad and Javed Miandad.

This win at Lord’s was Misbah’s 21st test victory as captain, which places him in elite company of captains with over 20 test wins. It also gives Misbah the best W:L ratio and best Win % among all captains from the subcontinent.


Yasir Shah
If anyone had any doubts whatsoever about Yasir Shah’s greatness, they were dispelled with his outstanding performance at Lord’s. It was Yasir’s first 10 wicket haul in a match and he became the first bowler from the subcontinent to achieve this feat at Lord’s.


Yasir created a number of other records through his bowling performance at Lord’s:

10-141 are the second best figures by a spinner from a touring side at Lord’s, after Sonny Ramadhin’s 11-152 for the West Indies in 1950.

His 5 wicket haul in the first innings was the first time a leg spinner took a 5 wicket haul at Lord’s in the first innings in almost 50 years. The last time it happened was in 1967 when Bhagwath Chandrashekar took 5-127.

Yasir Shah now has 86 wickets after 13 tests, which is the most number of wickets for any bowler after 13 tests in the 139-year history of the game. With his 82nd wicket, which came in the first innings, Yasir broke Charlie Turner’s record of 81 wickets after 13 tests, which had been standing for 123 years!

He sure is a special bowler. If Pakistan thought that they would not be able find someone as good as Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq, or Saeed Ajmal, they were so wrong. They have discovered a rare gem in Yasir.

He is now on the verge of breaking another record that has stood for over a century. George Lohmann picked up his 100th test wicket in his 16th test in 1896. No bowler has reached the 100-wicket mark that quickly since then with the next best managed in the 17th test by Charlie Turner, Sydney Barnes, and Clarrie Grimmet. The fastest spinner to 100 test wickets is also Grimmet, followed by Ashwin who reached their in his 18th test. The Pakistan record is held by Saeed Ajmal who raced to 100 wickets in his 19th test. Yasir Shah is on the verge of breaking all these records. Based on his current form and England’s ineptness against leg spin, he should get there in his 15th test; if not then he will surely equal Lohmann’s 120-year old feat.


Asad Shafiq
So far he has been called the best number 6 batsman Pakistan have ever had. I would go even further in stating that he is arguably the best number 6 test batsman the word has ever seen. Asad’s 122 runs in both innings was the highest contribution by a batsman in the Lord’s test; in both innings he played a crucial role in ensuring that Pakistan does not collapse.

Asad was already among the top 10 run scorers of all time at number 6 in tests. With another 122 runs added to his tally, he has now moved past Chanderpaul. By the end of this series, he could well be among the top three runs scorers at number 6.


While these three definitely stood out for Pakistan, it was a true team effort with Sarfraz Ahmed, Rahat Ali, Mohammad Aamer, and Wahab Riaz also chipping in with valuable contributions. Sarfraz’ 45 in the 2nd innings ensured Pakistan set a target in excess of 250; Rahat’s 3 early wickets in the 2nd innings set up the stage for a Pakistan victory; Wahab’s few spells were outstanding and kept the pressure on England - he was really unlucky not to get more wickets; and Aamer who ended the game cleaning up the tail finally sought some redemption and created new (and better) memories at Lords.

With Anderson and Stokes returning, England will be stronger at Old Trafford. Their batting and bowling will both be strengthened and they will come hard at Pakistan. What they don’t realize however is that this Pakistan team is arguably the best test team and surely the best prepared test team that Pakistan has sent to their land.

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Yasir continues Pakistan's Special Time at Lord's

At the end of day 1 of the first test, Misbah became the first Pakistan captain to score a century at Lord's in 24 years.

On day 2, Yasir Shah became the first Pakistani leg spinner to take a 5 wicket haul at Lord's in 20 years.

Such is the class act that this Pakistan team is.

Both Misbah and Yasir were realizing their dreams playing their first test in England at Lord's; both of them had to prove to their critics that their recent success had not been only due to helpful conditions in the UAE but due to their own determination; both of them managed to do this and more forever engraving their names on the Lord's honors board.

Yasir not only became the first leg spinner from Pakistan since Mushtaq Ahmed in 1996 to pick up 5 wickets at Lord's; he became the first leg spinner from anywhere in the world to do so!

Only the second leg spinner in 20 years to achieve this feat.

Yasir now finds himself on an honors board that does not have the names of Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Muttiah Muralitharan. The best leg spinners / spinners in the world never managed 5 wickets at the home of cricket.

Yasir's achievement is even more impressive considering that the last time a leg spinner picked up 5 wickets in the first innings at Lord's was in 1967! Almost half a century ago!

That is how special Yasir Shah is.



He was the fastest bowler from Pakistan to reach 50 test wickets; took him only 9 tests.

Now in only 13 tests, he has 82 wickets, which is the most any bowler has ever had after 13 test matches.

He is well on his way in becoming the fastest bowler from Pakistan to reach 100 test wickets; the current record is 19 tests held by Saeed Ajmal.

If Yasir can manage 18 wickets in the next innings at Lord's and the following 3 test matches, which is extremely likely considering the way he bowled in the first inning at Lord's, Yasir will equal a record that has been standing strong for 120 years now!

In 1896, George Lohmann reached 100 test wickets in only his 16th test. Since then, no one has managed it that quickly.

Given Yasir's current form and England's ability against leg spin, I reckon Yasir can get there in 15.

We all might just see history in the making in Birmingham during the first week of August.

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Movement of Odds at Lord's

The first test between Pakistan and England at Lord's started with England as firm favorites; the odds said 4.25 on Pakistan and 1.75 on England.

At the end of day 1, the odds were still in favor of England despite a memorable hundred by the Pakistan captain and a decent score on the board by Pakistan; Pakistan 3.75, England 1.50.

On the second morning of the test, Pakistan lost their last 4 wickets very quickly. They lost their last 6 wickets for the addition of only 57 runs. Pakistan should have got more than 339; they were certainly poised to get further, however they have a long tail and Chris Woakes made sure that they don't even get to 350, a number Misbah had spoken about a day earlier.

At this time, the odds were still in favor of England; Pakistan 4.00, England 1.50.

You can take a look at the odds of this cricket match and other cricket matches by picking a site from Gamblingsites.net.

Pakistan got an early breakthrough in England's first innings, but then for the next 2 hours it was the Cook-Root show. Their partnership threatened to take the game away from Pakistan in very quick time with Pakistan's fielders further helping their cause.

They put on 110 runs in only 25 overs before Root had a brain freeze and slogged one right up in the air. The fielder this time helped his own team.

While Cook and Root were running rampant, the odds moved more in favor of England; Pakistan 4.33, England 1.33.

England firm favorites.

Root's wicket however changed the proceedings and Yasir Shah ripped through England's middle order. No other batsman managed to dominate the innings and Pakistan looked right on top at the end of the second day with England trailing by 86 runs with 3 wickets remaining.

At this stage one would think that the odds would have moved in Pakistan's favor. But that was not the case as day 2 ended with Pakistan 2.40, England 1.90.

The bookmakers really think highly of England despite seeing what Yasir Shah has done to them; and this was only the first innings. Just imagine what Yasir will do in the 4th innings in more helpful conditions.

Surely Pakistan are favorites at this stage.

Any lead in the first innings will be a bonus. All those runs that Pakistan score in the second innings will pile on the pressure on England.

I reckon a target of 300 will be well defendable by this Pakistan attack.

Yet the bookmakers are still favoring England.

Surely they must know something we dont!

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Special Special Misbah

At 42 most cricketers have passed over half a decade in retirement and are either serving their cricket boards or television broadcasters. Especially these days when the riches of T20 leagues around the world have driven cricketers to retire even earlier.

Misbah, however, is still playing. He is still batting. He is still captaining his country in the purest form of the game. Misbah, at 42, is scoring centuries and breaking records.

His test average as a captain is 58.54; just a bit behind Hanif Mohammad's 58.73. But there aren't many captaincy records that Misbah will not hold by the time he hangs up his boots.

When Misbah led Pakistan to a 15th test victory as captain, he broke the record for most test wins for a Pakistan captain, which was jointly held by Imran Khan and Javed Miandad. He now has 20 test wins.

When Misbah scored his 2,409th run as captain in tests, he broke the record for most test runs as Pakistan captain, going past Imran Khan. Just a bit before that he had surpassed the runs tally of Inzamam Ul Haq and Javed Miandad as well. He now has a 1,000 more test runs as Pakistan captain than the next best.

When Misbah scored a century at Lord's yesterday, his 8th as Pakistan captain, he broke the record for most centuries by a Pakistan captain, beating Inzamam's record of 7. Who knows how many he will end up with.

The hundred at Lord's was really special considering it came in England, where many thought that Misbah will struggle. Like so many other times, Misbah stood tall and gave a fitting reply to all the skeptics.



It was the first century by a Pakistan captain in England for 24 years with the last one scored by Javed Miandad in 1992!

It was only the third century by a Pakistan captain at Lord's; the previous two were scored by Hanif Mohammad and Javed Burki.

It was only the third instance of a Pakistan captain scoring a century in his first innings as captain in England; previously it was achieved by Hanif Mohammad and Javed Miandad.

He became the oldest captain to score a test century, breaking Bob Simpson's record who had scored a ton at 41.

It was already special when the day started with Misbah, at the twilight of his career, playing a test match and leading Pakistan for the first time in England; that too at Lord's. The fact that the day ended with Misbah's name forever engraved on the honors' board at Lord's is the stuff of dreams.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Lord's - a dream come true

In less than an hour, Pakistan and England will start the first test of their series at the home of cricket, Lord's.

For all cricketers, it is a dream to play at Lord's. Some realize this dream early in their careers, while others at the twilight.

For Pakistan's 42-year old captain, Misbah Ul Haq, this will be his first test at Lord's. His first in England.

Unfortunately, Pakistan don't schedule international test tours as frequently as other Asian teams like India and Sri Lanka. It is unfortunate that in a test career that began in 2001 and has spanned 60 odd test matches, with the majority since 2007, Misbah has not played a single test in England or Australia.

However, at the same time, it is a dream come true for him. This tour marks a full circle of Misbah's captaincy tenure, which started after the demoralizing tour to England in 2010. Since then he has led Pakistan's team in whites with aplomb and is today the most successful captain in Pakistan's test history.

Many cricketers dream of playing a test at Lord's; Misbah would not have thought that he would realize it at 42. 

Another cricketer who probably thought that he would never play cricket again, let alone play at Lord's, is Mohammad Aamer.

Lord's is the scene of his crime that almost ended his career way too prematurely. Having served his punishment and returned to white ball cricket for Pakistan since the start of the year, Aamer is all geared up for his return to test cricket at the venue where he lost 5 years of a promising career.

The build up to Aamer's return has been as expected with a number of current and former England cricketers and the British media reminding the world of what he did in 2010. The England captain has also warned Aamer about the possible abuse he may receive from the crowd at Lord's.

Pakistan's cricketers have been supportive like a bunch of elder brothers looking to protect the problem child. While other supporters, like myself, cannot wait to see Aamer back in action.

Aamer might have dreamed of playing for Pakistan again, but he would have never thought that he would resume his career at Lord's!

Shan Masood recently spoke about living in St. John's Wood, walking and jogging around the neighborhood, and thinking about playing at Lord's every time he passed by the gates. That is quite some story for this opener who has gradually cemented his place in Pakistan's Test XI.

For Shan, stepping into Lord's as a Pakistan test cricketer, is a very filmy story. I can just picture this Pakistani kid standing outside the Lord's gates and imagining himself playing a cover drive before continuing on his jog and dreaming about playing cricket for Pakistan.

Shan dreamed about playing for Pakistan, he dreamed about playing at Lord's, and today he will realize that dream is Pakistan's first choice test opener.

Besides Younis Khan, Azhar Ali, Wahab Riaz, and Mohammad Aamer none of the players from Pakistan's test squad have played at Lord's.

Today is going to be a dream come for all of them, however it will be a bit more special for Misbah, Aamer, and Shan.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pakistan's Real Chance in England for the First Time in 20 years...

This article first appeared on DAWN

“Ghar ki murghi daal barabar”

That is a very common saying among Pakistanis. In the literal sense it means “chicken made at home is equivalent to lentil” and I don’t need to get into what it implies. What I will get into is that the same term of ‘endearment’ can also be applied to Pakistan’s test team.

Ranked number 3 in the world, unbeaten in the UAE, second best W:L record among all test teams since October 2010, second best W:L record among all test teams at home since October 2010, second best W:L record among test teams away since October 2010. All of this without playing a single test in Pakistan.


Yet for a lot of the fans and critics, it is not enough because Pakistan win at home, which really isn’t home but it is the UAE. For some illogical reason a win in Australia or England is superior to a win in the UAE.

Pakistan’s test team under Misbah has done what no other test team from Pakistan has done. They have won more tests under Misbah than under any other captain. They have beaten all nations that have toured the UAE. They have climbed the rankings like never before. And their batsmen and bowlers have created records like never before.

The one thing that has been missing from this great test team is victories in Australia and in England. It is unfortunate that the team has not toured either nation in the past 6 years. However, it makes for a great story - the final frontier for a team that has achieved so much in what could be Misbah’s final year in international cricket.

The past 6 years has seen Pakistan become one of the best test teams in the world. Under Misbah they have conquered all. What remains is series wins in England, something that no one has achieved since Wasim Akram’s team 20 years ago, and in Australia, something that no one has achieved ever. It truly is the final frontier for Misbah.

Australia will happen later in the year; right now it is all about England.

Pakistan are back in England after 6 years since that ill-fated tour in 2010, because of which Misbah became test captain. Little did we know that 6 years later he would be the most successful test captain in Pakistan’s history. Back then it seemed like a stop-gap arrangement for a team that had lost captains, senior players, and all of its integrity. Now he is the leader that has given Pakistan a serious chance to beat England in their back yard for the first time since 1996.

England have been playing great cricket but don’t forget that Pakistan has won 5 out of the 6 tests against England in the past 4 years, Pakistan are ranked higher than England, and Pakistan have the following:

Yasir Shah
Over the years the wickets at Lord’s, Oval, and Old Trafford have become conducive to batting. High scores have been posted here regularly and spinners have played a bigger role in matches than seamers, especially in the later stages of the matches. Three of Pakistan’s four tests this summer will be at those venues, and one can count on Yasir Shah to be a handful.

Since the fall of Saeed Ajmal, Yasir has fast become Pakistan’s leading spin option. Yasir has been exceptional against all teams and his wicket taking ability resulted in the record of reaching 50 test wickets faster than any bowler ever for Pakistan. Yasir is among the few bowlers who have managed to capture 50 wickets in less than 10 tests; he is among the only 6 spinners who have achieved this feat; and he is the fastest leg spinner to the feat equaling the achievements of Arthur Mailey and Stuart MacGill. In terms of time, no one has done it faster than Yasir.












Yasir has shown why Shane Warne keeps saying that he is the best leg spinner in the world today. Since his debut for Pakistan in October 2014, he is among the leading wicket takers in the world; behind only Nathan Lyon and Stuart Broad, both of whom have played far more tests than Yasir has.


While Pakistan’s series victories in England in 1992 and 1996 are more popular for Wasim and Waqar’s toe crushing yorkers and the havoc they ran among England’s batsmen, the guile of Mushtaq Ahmed played as big a role in those wins as the 2 W’s lethal bowling. Yasir will undoubtedly play a major role in the upcoming series and he, along with Aamer, can potentially recreate the bowling and the eventual series wins of 1992 and 1996.

Sarfraz Ahmed
He has been a revelation for Pakistan at number 7 and a key driver of the team’s success in tests for the past 2-3 years. Not only has he transformed into the best wicketkeeper batsman Pakistan have ever had, he has been the leading wicketkeeper batsman in test cricket for the past 2-3 years. He has scored more runs, more centuries, and more fifties than all other wicketkeepers during this period.


One of the main reasons why Sarfraz has been able to make such a big positive impact is his strike rate. Not only does he score more runs than other wicketkeepers, he scores them faster. His numbers in tests are just mind blowing. Sarfraz has taken full advantage of bowling attacks that have been tired out by Azhar, Younis, Misbah, and Asad to drive home the advantage for Pakistan. He possesses all the tools required to take the game away from the opposition very quickly and is a game changer that England will need to be wary of.

Mohammad Aamer
Hailed better than Wasim Akram at the same age, Mohammad Aamer is undoubtedly one of the best pacers to be produced by Pakistan. Unfortunately, his career hit a roadblock 6 years ago at Lord’s; however in less than 2 weeks, Aamer will resume his career at the same venue. Call it karma, call it irony, call it what you may, no one can deny the fact that Aamer is the most skillful fast bowler in cricket at the moment.

Last time Aamer was in England he picked up 19 wickets in 4 tests and won the Man of the Series award for Pakistan. Before those 4 tests, he had tormented the Australians over 2 tests in England. Those spells during that summer in 2010 were one of the best fast bowling spells I have ever witnessed in test cricket. If Aamer can produce anything similar then Alastair Cook and company are going to have a very torrid time at the crease.

Misbah Ul Haq
The most successful captain in Pakistan’s history has also scored the most number of runs as a Pakistan captain. Not only that, but in the past 6 years he is among the leading run scorers as a test captain and also boasts one of the highest batting averages as test captain. His 7 test centuries during this period includes the fastest century ever scored in a test match, a record that he jointly holds with Sir Viv Richards.

If anyone can lead Pakistan to their first test series win in England in 20 years, it is Misbah. He has done it already, marshalling his troops to 5 spectacular test wins over England in the past 4 years, so he knows what is required. The venues might be different, but the tactical nous that Misbah possesses and the advantage he has over his counterpart is stronger than many think.


Younis Khan
He has scored more runs and centuries for Pakistan in test cricket than anyone else. Not only has he arguably become the best test batsman produced by Pakistan, he is also among the best test batsmen in the world at the moment. In the past 6 years, since Misbah has been at the helm, the world has seen Younis at his peak. Pakistan’s batting mainstays, Younis and Misbah, have been among the best test batsmen in the world during this period.


The last time Younis was in England, the world witnessed a monumental innings of 170 odd. He has the backbone of Pakistan’s batting in every test series he has played in and it will be no different this time. Becoming Pakistan’s highest run scorer and his march towards becoming the first Pakistani to score 10,000 test runs have added more fuel to Younis’ already burning desire to be the best. He is at his peak and England are going to find it very tough to remove him from the crease.

Azhar Ali
A batting average of 43 is dwarfed in front of the numbers that Misbah and Younis have mustered over the past 6 years; however Azhar Ali has more often than not proven that he is among one of the best number 3 batsmen Pakistan have ever had in tests. Since Azhar’s debut in England in 2010, he is Pakistan’s second highest run scorer in tests, behind only Younis. During this period he has hit 9 test centuries; only Younis has hit more for Pakistan in this time.



Just because he had a mediocre tour of South Africa a number of skeptics believe that Azhar will be a sitting duck in England. These skeptics have probably forgotten that Azhar’s debut series was in England and his 50’s against Australia and Lord’s and Leeds coupled with his unbeaten 92 vs England at the Oval showed his mettle. He is a far more accomplished batsman today than he was 6 years ago. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be the tour that will transform Azhar from a good test batsman to a world class one.

Asad Shafiq
Along with Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq has also been a key component of Pakistan’s middle order in tests that has transformed the team into world beaters. Not only is Asad the most prolific number 6 Pakistan has ever had in tests, he is also one of the most prolific number 6 the world has seen. Asad’s 8 centuries at number 6 equaled a record held by Sir Gary Sobers for over 40 years; one more ton and Asad will have the most centuries at number 6 in tests in the history of the game.

Skeptics again will say that Asad has played mostly in batting paradises of the UAE and is yet to be tested in seaming conditions. For all of them, I will only ask to refresh their memory and rewind back to Cape Town, February 2013 and remind themselves of that magnificent century against the world’s best bowling attack of Steyn, Philander, and Morkel.

*                                              *                                              *

The series gets underway in two weeks and Pakistan have their best chance to win a series in England for 20 years. They also have the added advantage of playing 3 of the tests on batting friendly pitches and a 4th one at a venue (Birmingham) that will have more Pakistanis cheering in the stands than the British. Pakistan’s test team has created a fortress in the UAE; ironically enough they will find more support at the grounds in England than they have in the empty stadiums of the UAE. Just this fact will further motivate this lot, who have been starved of home crowd support for over 7 years now.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Pakistan vs England: What does 2016 have in store for Pakistan?

Since I have been watching cricket, every single time Pakistan tours England, something goes wrong. Irrespective of what happens on the field, off the field the Pakistanis get embroiled in controversy after controversy.

In 1992, ball tampering took center stage as clueless England batsmen resorted to calling the lethal Wasim and Waqar cheats and accused them of tampering with the ball. Only because their batsmen were not good enough to face them and their bowlers were not good enough to bowl them.

Besides this, there was also an ugly incident between Aquib Javed and umpire Roy Palmer (or was it Ken Palmer?) in one of the tests where the umpire felt Aaquib was intimidating number XI Devon Malcolm with repeated bouncers; which was clearly not what was happening.

In 1996, the ball tampering allegations continued as England's batsmen remained clueless against Wasim and Waqar. A court case regarding ball tampering involving Ian Botham and Imran Khan was ongoing during this series.

Drama!

Thankfully the World Cup in 1999 and the tour in 2001 did not involve any cheating claims; however the tabloids carried numerous stories on the night life that Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi, Saqlain Mushtaq, Ijaz Ahmed and others enjoyed during their visits to the UK. Nightclubs, bars, casinos - the stories made Pakistan's cricketers sound like rockstars!

In 2006, ball tampering returned once again! But this time it wasn't the players who accused the Pakistanis. It was Darrell Hair. He gave 5 penalty runs to England (or docked Pakistan of 5 runs) because he believed that the Pakistanis were tampering with the balls. In protest, Inzamam did not lead his team out to the field after the Tea break.

Pakistan refused to continue the test match and for the first time in the history of test cricket, a match had been forfeited.

In 2010, Pakistan sent quite a young team to England following the after math of the disastrous tour to Australia that resulted in almost all of Pakistan's senior players banned  by the PCB. The result was yet another disastrous tour as three of Pakistan's cricketers had been caught red handed spotfixing through a newspaper's sting operation.

Pakistan cricket was never the same again.

6 years on, Pakistan will play its first test of 2016 at Lord's, the same ground where the 3 cricketers got their hands (or should I say feet?) dirty!

One of the banned cricketers has returned to international cricket and he will play his first test since the ban, his first test in 6 years, at the same scene as his crime!

If that isn't Tabloid headline worthy, I don't know what is.

I can already see it.

Aamer returns to the scene of his crime.
Once Upon a Time at Lord's.
Aamer at Lord's again. No Ball?

It is going to happen sooner or later. The English media will leave no stone unturned to pile on the pressure on the Pakistanis.

For Misbah's men in white, the tour will be a stern test. Having beaten all opposition in their fortress known as the UAE, this is Pakistan's chance to truly stamp their authority in tests, a format that they have been very successful in since that ill fated tour to England in 2010.

It has been 20 years since Pakistan won a test series in England, with their last win (2-0) coming in 1996. Even though Pakistan has beaten England in 5 tests of the 6 they have played in the past 4 years, all those wins have come in the UAE. In England, it will be quite different.

However, this is also probably their best chance to shine. It will be interesting to see the odds the bookmakers will provide for the series given that Pakistan is ranked higher than England, however the latter seem to be favorites at home. Take a look at My Betting Sites Interactive Tool.

In Younis, Misbah, Azhar, Asad, and Sarfraz Pakistan have one of the strongest batting line ups they have ever had in tests. In Aamer and Yasir they have two genuine match winning bowlers. On their day, they can run through entire batting line ups single handedly.

In 1992 and 1996 it was the magic of the 2 Ws combined with the guile of Mushtaq Ahmed that led Pakistan to series wins. This time, Pakistan have a similar bowling combination.

Pakistan are currently ranked number 3 in tests. A series win can make them very serious challengers for the number 1 spot!

We don't know what 2016 has in store for Pakistan, but one would be a fool to expect a tour without any controversy.

Having said that, one would also be a fool to expect an easy win for England!

Make your pitch on this post...



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Monday, May 30, 2016

Mustafizur Rahman - A Rare Exceptional Talent

Barring the final last night, I did not watch a single match of the IPL. I did follow the news and read up on the match results, which was enough evidence for me to realize that Mustafizur Rahman has been absolutely exceptional in the IPL.

With 17 wickets he ended the IPL as the 5th highest wicket taker; but what was most remarkable was his economy rate of 6.9, which was the best among all fast bowlers that bowled at least 10 overs in the tournament. The only bowler that bettered that economy rate was Adam Zampa with 6.76.

It is quite rare for a fast bowler from Bangladesh to be considered a global threat. There have been a number of spinners from Bangladesh that have shone in international cricket, but rarely a fast bowler.

Mustafizur Rahman however is a rare case. The boys is extremely good and arguably the best left arm pacer in the world today.

His international career is its nascent stages having played only 2 tests, 9 ODIs, and 13 T20Is. The numbers though that he has stacked up in his short career are commendable to say the least.

In 9 ODIs he has 26 wickets at an average of 12.34, a strike rate of 17.3 and an economy of 4.26.

In 13 T20Is he has 22 wickets at an average of 13.95, a strike rate of 14.0, and an economy of 5.98.

Boys his age dream of playing international cricket, let alone about achieving such a start to their international careers.

Mustafizur has been exceptional.

Those numbers suggest that if he can manage to remain fit, he will break a number of bowling records.

This is what those numbers mean right now:

Best Average ever in ODIs
Mustafizur has bowled 452 deliveries in ODIs and has picked up 26 wickets. For anyone who has bowled that many deliveries and picked up that many wickets, he has the BEST Average ever. No one even comes close to his 12.3. The next best averages among all bowlers that have bowled at least 450 deliveries or taken at least 25 wickets are 17.8, 18.2, and 18.3 - Geoff Arnold, Richard Hadlee, and Otis Gibson respectively.

Incredible beyond words!

Best Strike Rate ever in ODIs
Mustafizur has bowled 452 deliveries in ODIs and has picked up 26 wickets. For anyone who has bowled that many deliveries and picked up that many wickets, he has the BEST Strike Rate ever. No one even comes close to his 17.3. The next best strike rates among all bowlers that have bowled at least 450 deliveries or taken at least 25 wickets are 21.7, 23.4, and 24.2 - Otis Gibson, Ryan Harris, Corey Anderson and Mitchell Starc respectively.

To put it in layman terms, Mustafizur picks up an ODI wicket in every 3rd over he bowls. That is beyond SUPER!

Best Average ever in T20Is
No one, absolutely no one has a better average than Mustafizur's in T20Is. That 13.95 average is the best in the world for anyone who has taken at least 10 wickets in T20Is.

Mustafizur has bowled over 50 overs and taken over 20 wickets in T20Is. Among all bowlers who have done at least one of those in T20Is, the next best averages are 14.4 (Ajantha Mendis), 14.7 (Samuel Badree), and 15.2 (Al Amin Hossain).

*                    *                   * 

Mustafizur is an exceptional and rare talent. The world has not seen any like him. While the world has been raving about another 20 odd year old fast bowler, Mohammad Aamer, Mustafizur has been working wonders with the ball and wowing everyone.

He has impressed in the IPL, he has impressed in international cricket, and he has a long long way to go.

Sure the career has been a short one. But his ability has demonstrated that batsmen will not find him to be easy picking any time soon.

This 20 year old boy deserves all the applause he has been getting and more.

Expect him to go a long way and break many records.

Make your pitch on this post...



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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Azhar fools the public... AGAIN!!!

Besides being a huge cricket fan, I am also a big Bollywood buff. I absolutely love Bollywood and enjoy the masala entertainers dished out every Friday. Unlike cricket, Bollywood rarely disappoints me. I don't mind the protagonist walking around in a crisply ironed white shirt after a long action sequence or that the main stars break out into an impromptu dance routine, along with the rest of city, to proclaim their love for each other.

I find all this thoroughly entertaining.

When a movie like Azhar hits the screens, it is a double whammy for a person like me. Cricket and Bollywood in one! Its like having the perfect combo meal - KFC with McDonalds' fries and a biscuit from Popeye's!

Azhar's life - an arranged marriage, an affair with a Bollywood actress, a dream cricket debut, rise to the Indian captaincy, and the match fixing scandal - had it all to muster up a true blue bollywood masala entertainer.

Yet it was such a major disappointment!

My biggest problem with Azhar (the movie) is that it goes out of its way to show Azharuddin's innocence that it leaves a bad taste. A real bad taste.

In fact it attempts to fool the viewers and glorifies Azharuddin as an innocent man. One should have expected this considering Azharuddin was involved in training Emraan Hashmi and heavily involved in helping with the storyline.

Here's how Azhar fooled the public, AGAIN!

CBI and all available public reports state that Azharuddin was investigated for fixing the following three ODIs:

1. India vs South Africa, first match of the Titan Cup, 1996
2. India vs Sri Lanka, Pepsi Asia Cup, 1997
3. India vs Pakistan, Pepsi Cup, 1999

CBI also claimed that Azharuddin confessed to fixing these 3 ODIs; however Azharuddin has denied this in an interview.

The movie starts well by stating that Azharuddin is being investigated for these 3 matches.

But then, in a sour attempt to fool the public, the movie ignores these actual ODIs and uses results of different ODIs to portray Azhar's innocence.

Did Tony and Azhar actually think they would get away with shit like this!!?

India vs South Africa
In the actual match, India lost by 47 runs. Azhar scored 32 off 55 balls and was caught by Cullinan of Crookes.

The movie shows that Azhar was out LBW to a wrong decision (off the inside edge) and the crowd caused disruption because of this, with Azhar's lawyer arguing how could he have fixed the game if he was wrongly given out.

In reality, this occurred in the India vs Australia match of the Titan Cup where Azharuddin was wrongly given out LBW to Jason Gillespie and crowd disruption stopped play for 20 minutes.

Please don't miss the "Match Notes" at the end of that scorecard:


How sad and pathetic is it that the movie chooses an event that took place in an ODI between India and Australia, and makes it look like that it occurred in the India vs South Africa match that was allegedly fixed by Azhar.

I am disgusted!

India vs Sri Lanka
In the Pepsi Asia Cup in 1997, India played Sri Lanka twice: a group game that Sri Lanka won by 6 wickets and then the Final that Sri Lanka won by 8 wickets. In both games, Azhar scored 80 odd runs with the rest of India's batting failing. Another key fact of this tournament is that India's captain was Sachin Tendulkar and not Azharuddin.

The movie, however, ignores these matches and the Pepsi Asia Cup altogether and instead shows an India vs Sri Lanka ODI played in London in 1998. This fictional match was a Final of a Jubilee Cup, Azhar was captain, and Azhar single handedly won India a match they looked like losing while chasing a target of 280 odd as the bookie and the underworld Don looked on in disbelief from the stands.

HA!

Firstly, neither India nor Sri Lanka toured England in 1998. Secondly, the Jubilee Cup that was played in 1998 involved India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh; there was no Sri Lanka.

Thirdly, the match showed in the movie picks up events that took place in an India vs Sri Lanka ODI played in the Champions Trophy in Sharjah in 1998, where Sachin and Ganguly got out early and Azharuddin's 94 helped successfully chase a target of 245.

Again the movie showcases events from another ODI and attempts to mislead the public into believing that they are from the allegedly fixed ODI.

Come on, seriously!?

If it wasn't enough that Azhar screwed India in the 90s that he has come out to do it once again!

Did they think cricket fans will not be able to tell the difference between the matches?

What Bullshit.

Oh and that India vs Pakistan match was completely ignored by the way.

Can't even say that Tony Dsouza took liberties as a director and re-created ODIs considering that the events were blatantly copied from other ODIs. To top it all the ODI vs West Indies that Manoj Prabhakar allegedly fixed was shown in the movie exactly how it played out in reality!

So while one ODI is replicated to show that Prabhakar was a fixer, other matches were recreated with events from other different ODIs to show that Azharuddin was innocent.

WHAT UTTER BULLSHIT !

Seems like Azharuddin ne chay banane ka thaika liya hua hai. Pehle cricket se, ab Bollywood se.

Make your pitch on this post...



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