Monday, November 22, 2021

Kevin Pietersen's Team of the T20 World Cup 2021

Kevin Pietersen, the Betway Ambassador has selected his World XI comprising the best performers from the T20 World Cup 2021, that recently concluded in the UAE.

The Openers

MOHAMMAD RIZWAN, 281 Runs at an average of 70.25, with 3 fifties
Rizwan was the third highest run scorer in the T20 World Cup and had the second best average among all batsmen. He was a consistent run scorer at the top of Pakistan's line up and did brilliantly through the group stages and in the Semi Final, where he battled illness to score 67 against Australia.

JOS BUTTLER, 269 runs at an average of 89.66, with 1 century and 1 fifty
Buttler as the 4th highest run scorer of the T20 World Cup and had the best average among all batsmen. He was the only batsman to score a hundred in the tournament, when he lit up Sharjah, with a magnificent unbeaten knock of 101 off 67 deliveries, against Sri Lanka.

The Middle Order

BABAR AZAM, 303 runs at an average of 60.60, with 4 fifties
Babar was the leading run scorer of the T20 World Cup and showed the world why he is best and number 1 ranked T20 batsman in the world. He scored fifties in 4 out of his 6 innings, and was a model of consistency for Pakistan at the top of the order.

CHARITH ASALANKA, 231 runs at an average of 46.20 and a strike rate if 147.13, with 2 fifties
More than the number of runs scored, it was the way he scored them that caught the eye of everyone at the T20 World Cup. He was one of the finds of the tournament and has a very bright future for Sri Lanka. He was the 5th highest run scorer at the tournament, and only Buttler had a higher strike rate than him among all batsmen who scored at least 175 runs.

AIDEN MARKRAM, 162 runs at an average of 54.00, with 2 fifties
Markram played a solid role for South Africa in the middle order and was the mainstay of their batting. He bowled some useful overs as well, at times with the new ball.

The Allrounders

MOEEN ALI, 92 runs at an average of 46.00 and strike rate of 131.42; 7 wickets at an average of 11.00 and economy of 5.50
Moeen Ali impressed with the bat when he was sent higher up the order, and was brilliant with the ball for England. He remains an important member of England's white ball teams.

WANINDU HASARANGA, 119 runs at a strike rate of 148.75; 16 wickets at an average of 9.75 and economy of 5.20
Hasaranga was the leading wicket taker of the tournament, and showed immense potential with the bat too. His wickets included a hatrick and he was THE find of the T20 World Cup. He is a future superstar in the making.

The Bowlers

ADAM ZAMPA, 13 wickets at an average of 12.07 and economy of 5.81
Zampa was the second highest wicket taker of the T20 World Cup; and the highest if you consider only the Super 12s stage. His wicket taking ability in the middle overs, coupled with keeping the run flow in check, was one of the key reasons why Australia won the tournament.

TRENT BOULT, 13 wickets at an average of 13.30 and economy of 6.25
Boult was the leading wicket taker among pacers in the T20 World Cup and proved his worth to New Zealand with a string of timely and important wickets in every match.

ANRICH NORTJE, 9 wickets at an average of 11.55 and economy of 5.37
The only pacers to take more wickets than him were Hazlewood and Boult. Nortje impressed with his pace and his economy was better than all pacers in the T20 World Cup, barring Bumrah.

SHAHEEN AFRIDI, 7 wickets at an average of 24.14 and economy of 7.04
Shaheen single handedly derailed India's campaign and set the tone for Pakistan's with two of the best deliveries of the T20 World Cup. No one swung the new ball like he did in the entire tournament.

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Monday, November 15, 2021

Babar Azam - The Real Player of the T20 World Cup 2021

Yes I know that David Warner played crucial knocks in the Semi Final and the Final of the T20 World Cup, leading Australia to a first time T20 title.

But so did Shahid Afridi in 2009. 

Do you know who was the Player of the Tournament in 2009? 

Tilakaratne Dilshan.

Because he was the leading run scorer of the tournament.

Sri Lanka did not win the T20 World Cup in 2009; Pakistan did.

Similarly, in 2007, India won the T20 World Cup, but the Player of the Tournament was Shahid Afridi. He was the second highest wicket taker and scored his runs at a strike rate of 200!

In 2010, England won the T20 World Cup, and Kevin Pietersen was Player of the Tournament. He was the second highest run scorer and had a better average than the highest run scorer.

In 2012, West Indies won the T20 World Cup, but the Player of the Tournament was Shane Watson. Australia did not even play the Final! But Watson was the leading run scorer of the tournament. Please note that Watson scored 6 more runs than Jayawardene and 19 more runs than Samuels - two batsmen who played in the final.

In 2014 and 2016, Sri Lanka and the West Indies won the T20 World Cup respectively; however Virat Kohli was the Player of the Tournament both times. In 2014, Kohli played the final and was the leading run scorer; however in 2016, Kohli did not play the final and he was the second highest run scorer; however he had the best average.

Then why did Babar Azam not get the Player of the Tournament award in 2021?

Babar was the leading run scorer of the T20 World Cup 2021; he had the most number of fifty plus scores among all batsmen; and he had a better average than David Warner - 12 runs better than Warner's!

Babar was the best performing captain in the T20 World Cup, both in terms of runs scored, as well as, matches won. He was by far the finest captain on show.

For me, Babar Azam was the Player of the Tournament of the T20 World Cup 2021.

Don't really care what the ICC says.

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Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Beginning of something special for Pakistan Cricket

It is not the morning after, two days have passed, and it still doesn't feel right that Pakistan's T20 World Cup campaign is over.

This World Cup seemed like it was ours, and that is why it hurts even more.

One could have been angry had the team played badly, had the batting collapsed, had Pakistan just not turned up. But they did, and they did everything right for the most part. The match seemed to be in the bag; till some brilliance from the other side that just took it away, leaving us in shock and disbelief.

While the disappointment remains, the past two days have allowed us to heal and reflect. There are plenty of positives, both for the team and its future, as well as, the fans of Pakistan Cricket.

Pakistan played this T20 World Cup like champions and were the only team that remained unbeaten in the group stages. Overall, they played 6 matches and won 5 of them - the same number as the two finalists; unfortunately the game we lost was the Semi Final.

The team looked united, played very spirited cricket, and were at the top of their game. This is surely not the end, but the beginning of something very special from this set of truly exceptional cricketers.

The cricket these boys played reminded me of the 90s. The difference; however is that this time the sum seems to be greater than the parts.

I have no doubt in my mind that this lot of players, under the leadership of Babar Azam, have a very bright future, and there is an ICC trophy waiting for them just around the corner. 


SHAHEEN AFRIDI single handedly ended India's campaign in two deliveries. India never really recovered from those two bolts. His deliveries to Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, and then Aaron Finch were by far the best balls delivered in this T20 World Cup. As this team's pace spearhead, he will win Pakistan many more matches in the future.

ASIF ALI & HARIS RAUF were the two most criticized players of the squad. Their lack of performance leading up to the T20 World Cup was a worry for everyone. Credit must be given to the captain and the management team who kept their faith in them. Both Asif and Haris completely repaid this faith with some exceptional performances.

Asif could not have chosen a better time to display his firepower, which we have all seen in the PSL, than at the grandest stage of T20 cricket. He will finish many more games for Pakistan in the future, like he did against New Zealand and Afghanistan.

Haris bowled some fiery spells against India and New Zealand, and he maintained his strong form throughout the tournament. 

Similarly, FAKHAR ZAMAN and HASAN ALI, also had their fair share of critics. Both continued to fail in the group stages but Babar Azam maintained his faith in their abilities.

Fakhar was not even part of the initial squad of 15 that was announced and was included later at the insistence of Babar. Throughout the group stages, Babar kept saying that Fakhar is a big match player and he will deliver. He truly did by tearing apart Australia's pace spearhead in the semi final!

Hasan, however, failed to perform as per expectations, but one can't blame anyone for persisting with him considering his performance over the past 12 months. All sportsmen go through tough times, and Hasan will surely bounce back!

All those who believe that T20 is a young man's format need to rethink their stance. The experience brought by the presence of MOHAMMAD HAFEEZ and SHOAIB  MALIK was invaluable. Hafeez was superb in the field and with the ball when required. His positive intent with the bat was a reminder to everyone of how this game must be played.

Malik's calm presence in the middle against New Zealand helped finish the game and his ruthless attack on Scotland got him the record of the fastest 50 in T20Is for Pakistan.

I don't know what they have decided for the future, but with the next T20 World Cup just a year away, maybe they will still be around.

SHADAB KHAN was not in the best of forms leading up to the T20 World Cup, but he is a proven match winner and he showed all of us why Babar had so much faith in him. He was fabulous with the ball in all the matches, picking up wickets regularly, and keeping the runs in check as well. With Shadab back at his best, Pakistan truly has the best bowling line up in T20Is.

IMAD WASIM is invaluable for Pakistan with the new ball. He was one of the most economical bowlers in the entire T20 World Cup with an economy rate of 5.7. He completes Pakistan's all round bowling attack, which has more variety than any other bowling line up in T20 cricket.

MOHAMMAD RIZWAN is the Superman of Pakistan cricket, a true man of steel. I am still quite shaken by the fact that Rizwan spent 30 odd hours in the ICU before being declared fit on the day of the semi final. What a champion!

Since his transformation into Pakistan's T20 opener, he has been simply sublime. During the T20 World Cup he became the first batsman to score 1,000 T20I runs in a calendar year.

He also surpassed Chris Gayle's tally of 1,665 runs in all T20 cricket in a calendar year, and now has 1,743 runs in 2021. With still some T20Is left for Pakistan this year, Rizwan will take his lead at the top even further, and will likely remain there for a long time.

BABAR AZAM has been the best batsman in white ball cricket for some time now. In this tournament, he also grew in stature as a captain. The way he marshaled his troops, the way he united the team, the way he ensured everyone remains united even after defeat, are all traits of a great leader. He has a bright future ahead as captain and I for sure think that this team under him will reach even greater heights.

Babar ended his T20 World Cup campaign as the leading run scorer of the tournament.

Babar's tally of 303 runs in this T20 World Cup is the highest number of runs by a batsman in his first T20 World Cup. It is also the most runs scored by a captain in any T20 World Cup and it is the third highest tally by a batsman in any T20 World Cup, behind Kohli's 319 in 2014 and Dilshan's 317 in 2009.

I believe he is well on his way to becoming one of Pakistan's and the world's finest cricket captains.

Pakistan has never had a better opening pair in cricket than Babar and Rizwan. Together, they have scripted so many Pakistan victories in T20Is, and I am sure they will continue to do so. They are now 6th in the list of most partnership runs in T20Is, but their average of 62 and 5 century partnerships are unparalleled. We can look forward to many more T20I wins scripted by these two.

Pakistan's performance in the group stages was truly fabulous and exceeded all our expectations. Yes, the semifinal loss was disappointing, moreso because we all felt this was Pakistan's World Cup. They were the best team on show and the triumphant run was just glorious. This is definitely just the beginning for this special lot of cricketers.

For us, the World Cup came home to the UAE, which made it all the more special.

For the past decade we have traveled the world supporting the boys in green. From ODI World Cups in Australia and England, to T20 World Cups in Sri Lanka, to ICC Champions Trophies in the UK, we were everywhere.

This time, we were with the team from the start till the end, from Dubai to Abu Dhabi to Sharjah, from defeating India for the first time in a World Cup to coming so close to reaching the final.

It was a really memorable World Cup for all of us.

The best part was that Pakistan's campaign reignited the passion for cricket among the youth in Pakistan. All the Pakistani kids were connected to the team and cheered them on throughout the World Cup. What this will do for cricket in Pakistan is immeasurable.

The cameramen in Dubai and Sharjah ensured that we will cherish memories of this World Cup forever. These cameramen are responsible for creating the Hulk Glove Guy and the Hulk Glove Crew. Thank you for that!

Even for this crew, this is definitely not the end. The Hulk Gloves will be back again.

The road to Australia 2022 begins now. Rest assured, we will be there, in all our greens, cheering on this champion team once again!

The Beginning ...

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Monday, November 8, 2021

A Rant for the Cynics & Pessimists

WARNING: This is purely a rant.

I just wanted to document everything that I had been saying on whatsapp over the past week to all the cycnical conspiracy theorists and pessimists.

A week ago, India's T20 World Cup was done and dusted, despite an outside chance. A chance so outside that in my view it did not exist in this world.

Some people however thought otherwise.

Firstly there were the cynical conspiracy theorists. 

Those who believed that the BCCI would flex its muscles and buy out players, teams, and the entire T20 World Cup. Those who believed that BCCI paid off Afghanistan. Those who believed that BCCI incentivized the Kiwis with more lucrative IPL contracts.

The way Afghanistan played against India further fueled such cynical theories. What I don't get is how else was Afghanistan expected to play?

There was one misfield in particular that did the rounds on social media.

The most laughable one was the video of the toss with cynics saying Kohli asked Nabi to bowl first.

If this had been the first match of the tournament, no one would have raised any sort of concern.

On the other side of these cynics were the pessimists who actually believed that Afghanistan stood a chance against New Zealand.

I fail to understand how.

And I am talking about educated, knowledgeable people who know a thing or two about cricket. They felt Afghanistan had a genuine chance.

I felt like banging my head somewhere.

There really was no basis for such confidence in Afghanistan's abilities.

That too against a side that had played the last two ODI World Cup finals, had recently won the Test Championship Final, and is currently considered the best all format team in cricket (not by me, but by the likes of Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain).

What is a tad bit disturbing is that both these cynics and pessimists were Pakistanis. 

None of the Indians I interacted with believed any of it. They were sure their campaign was over and were selling their tickets. Many left Dubai earlier than planned also. They made their decision based on cricketing logic.

Which was missing from the Pakistanis' thoughts.

Maybe it was the fact that Afghanistan always puts up a brave fight against Pakistan. However, despite that fight, they have never beaten Pakistan in a T20I.

Like they have never beaten any of the top ranked teams.

Sure, they have a great T20I record, but they are minnow bashers. 

Not a single T20I win over England, Australia, India, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, or Sri Lanka.

They beat the lower ranked teams, including West Indies and Bangladesh, regularly, but not the top 8 ranked teams.

Sure Afghanistan is a strong emerging cricketing nation. Yes, they have two world class spinners. But that is about it. The rest of their bowling is average; their batting is unreliable; and their fielding is atrocious.

Their star performers like Rashid, Mujeeb, Nabi, Zazai have tremendous records against associate nations. Against the top teams, their records pale in comparison.

So what made all these Pakistanis think that Afghanistan were capable of beating New Zealand?

Beats me really.

When the fixing logic was defied, these pessimists were under some sort of spell thinking Afghanistan would beat New Zealand.

The sadder part was that instead of being fixated with Pakistan's triumphant run in the T20 World Cup and wondering who Pakistan may face in the semifinal, these Pakistanis were fixated on India and how they may qualify.

Javed Miandad's six in Sharjah in the mid 80s scarred an entire generation of Indians who believed they could never beat Pakistan, especially in Sharjah, and especially on a Friday. That Indian generation was psychologically scarred by Pakistan.

It took a whole new generation of Indian cricketers to emerge and start beating Pakistan regularly.

Similarly, I feel, an entire generation of Pakistanis has been scarred by India's stronghold on Pakistan in World Cup matches.

Thankfully, that jinx was broken by Pakistan two weeks ago.

The scars, however, remain.

I know it is easy to say all this in hindsight, after New Zealand has brushed aside Afghanistan, and India has been sent packing.

But all this is what I was saying in those endless arguments with the cynics and pessimists over the past week.

I was called an idealist. Someone living in a fantasy world. Someone who was so naive who didn't understand how this murky dark world of cricket operates.


This rant is for all of you.

I hope you are all at peace now; and with all sincerity, I hope that you all now believe, to a certain extent, that not everything is a conspiracy, not every cricket tournament is bought by India, and not everything that happens is to screw you over.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Mohammad Rizwan's Golden Run in T20 Cricket

Pakistan's phenomenal opening pair of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan posted their 5th century partnership yesterday, helping Pakistan to 189 off their 20 overs, defeating Namibia by 45 runs.

With their 5th century partnership, the pair now has more century partnerships in T20Is than any other pair, surpassing the 4 partnerships posted by Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, and by Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson.

Babar and Rizwan now have the 6th highest partnership runs in T20Is and they have got there in only 19 innings.

The pair's average of 63 is far beyond any other pair's average.

Their highest partnership of 197 is the 4th highest partnership in all T20Is.

Babar and Rizwan truly are a golden pair and together they have taken Pakistan's T20 cricket to new heights.

Everyone knows that Babar Azam is a superstar and currently one of the best all format batsman in the game. He, along with Virat Kohli, are the only two batsmen in the world that are among the top 7 of the ICC batsmen rankings for each format.

And Babar is number 1 in both T20Is and ODIs.

Babar is the most consistent batsman in the T20 format; however, it is Mohammad Rizwan, who is going through a dream run currently.

In 2021, Rizwan has scored more T20I runs than any other batsman in a calendar year, and that too at a bradmanesque average, which has only been matched by Kohli (in 2016).

No other batsman has even averaged 50 in T20Is in a calendar year (min 500 runs).

Yesterday against Namibia, Rizwan posted his 9th fifty in T20Is this year, which is also the most fifties any batsman has hit in this format in a calendar year.

Before 2021 ends, Rizwan will undoubtedly become the first batsman in history to knock 1,000 runs in T20Is in a single year!

With an unbeaten knock of 79 last night, Rizwan created another T20I record - he now has the highest T20I batting average in the world.

Rizwan is on the verge of another world record.

He needs 4 more runs to equal Chris Gayle's record of scoring the most runs in all T20 Cricket in a calendar year!

He went past the run tallies of Babar and Kohli during his knock yesterday.

A year, in which, Rizwan is breaking records held by legends like Kohli and Gayle, is nothing short of a phenomenal dream.

Rizwan is truly living the dream and he is growing with stature with every match. With Babar he has created a magnificent opening partnership for Pakistan, and individually he is undoubtedly the key man for Pakistan in T20Is currently!

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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Pakistan were Magical in Sharjah once again!

Growing up in the UAE, I spent many days at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium watching the great Pakistan cricketers of the 80s and 90s. 

Sharjah has been a happy hunting ground for Pakistan where I have witnessed some blistering centuries, fiery bowling spells, hatricks, match winning performances, and magical Pakistan wins.

The last time I was at Sharjah Stadium was in 2003 when Rashid Latif's Pakistan played a quadrangular series against Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, and Kenya right after the ODI World Cup. 

It was a new look Pakistan team and Mohammad Hafeez was making his ODI debut.

18 and a half years later, it is the T20 World Cup, Pakistan is playing a match in Sharjah, and Mohammad Hafeez is still around.

and so am I!

* * *

The high of Pakistan's first ever win over India in a World Cup was still not over and Pakistan's next match, against New Zealand, was upon us.

The partying after the victory over India had still not ended, but we were ready once again!

While majority Pakistan fans look forward to Pakistan vs India with more excitement than any other match; this time around the match against New Zealand was also awaited anxiously.

Only due to the abandonment that all Pakistanis felt when New Zealand flew out of Pakistan on the morning of the T20I series, citing security concerns.

Pakistanis had a grudge to settle.

And what better way to do that, than on the cricket field.

* * *

Riding high with confidence after defeating India, Pakistan were on top once again in Sharjah with an even better bowling performance that restricted New Zealand to 134.

However, unlike the clinical and professional chase that Pakistan produced on Sunday, this time around, the chase was more Pakistani!

Rizwan and Babar began in typical fashion, dominating the proceedings, however Babar fell to a rash stroke, which was totally unlike him.

The target was small, so there was no panic as Fakhar, who had been in great form in the warm ups, walked out for his first hit in the T20 World Cup.

Fakhar struggled to get going. There was some relief when he struck a ball right out of the stadium; however he fell soon after.

Mohammad Hafeez walked out and smashed his first delivery for a 6!

The chase seemed under control, till Hafeez fell to one of the best catches I have ever witnessed in a cricket ground.

Still no major worries as the experienced Shoaib Malik joined the trustworthy Mohammad Rizwan.

Soon after though, there was a stutter, some panic, and a lot of tense faces in the crowd.

Rizwan fell. Imad Wasim came and went.

Half of Pakistan's side was back in the pavilion and 48 runs were still required off 31 deliveries.

Asif Ali smashed a boundary of his first delivery leaving Pakistan to get 44 off 30.

It was close. Closer than most of us expected, following the 10 wicket thrashing of India. Though it was not something out of the ordinary.

As Pakistani fans, we have witnessed a number of botched chases and there were plenty of anxious fans around. Including me.

The worry, however, soon turned into jubilation as Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali upped the tempo.

Asif smashed Southee for two 6s in one over, Malik hit Santner for a 4 and a 6 in another and all was under control once again.

Asif sent another ball sailing into the stands of Trent Boult, and Pakistan finished off the chase successfully in the 19th over.

* * *

The Sharjah crowd was just awesome.

One friend pointed out after the match that there is something about matches against New Zealand. 

The Birmingham crowd in 2019 was outstanding. It still stands as my best crowd experience ever at a cricket match.

This crowd in Sharjah was not too far off. 

There were mexican waves, there was some great music bringing out a lot of dance moves, the cheering was just amazing, and the sledging with taunts about "security" was just hilarious. The flourish with which Asif Ali and Shoaib Malik finished off the game sent the crowd into a massive frenzy.

Our group was caught on camera multiple times during Pakistan's chase. From our tense faces to our nervous clapping to my hulk gloves fist bumps after those 6s from Asif and Malik - it was all caught by the camera man in Sharjah.

My phone was on fire every time we came on TV.

I had messages from all over the world from people who had seen me on screen. I had messages from people who I had not heard from in over a decade. My wife and friends had messages from people who have never met me but just seen my pictures on social media.

Thank you to each and everyone of you who captured images and videos on their TV screens and shared them.

It was quite something to witness this chase by Pakistan, and to be captured several times by the camera man.

It was truly an unforgettable experience.

* * *

After these wins against India and New Zealand, the two toughest teams in their group, Pakistan are looking really dangerous in this T20 World Cup.

The best part about the win against New Zealand was that Pakistan's two most criticized cricketers - Haris Rauf and Asif Ali - produced match winning performances.

While the win against India was a result of the dominance shown by Pakistan's biggest stars - Babar, Rizwan, and Shaheen; this win against New Zealand came on the back of super efforts from the rest.

Haris produced a blistering spell of fast bowling, Asif smashed the bowling around like he has done so often in the PSL, Hafeez and Malik showed how valuable experience is, and Hasan, Shadab, and Imad were super with the ball.

This bodes really well for Pakistan for the rest of the tournament. With one foot in the semi finals, they are surely one of the favorites to win this T20 World Cup!


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Monday, October 25, 2021

Magical to Witness Pakistan Create History in Dubai

The morning after and it still feels surreal. The euphoria of Pakistan's dominating victory over India is still fresh; it is slowly sinking in.

I am finding it hard to find words to describe how every single Pakistani must be feeling right now, but I am going to try anyway.

After all the heartbreaks in 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2019, in both ODI and T20 World Cups, this win was a long time coming.

It has taken 3 decades, but the jinx has finally been broken!

* * *

The build up to this epic clash between Pakistan and India started 4 months ago when it was announced that the T20 World Cup will shift from India to the UAE.

For all of us who live in Dubai, who had traveled to different parts of the world from Bangalore to Mohali, Colombo, Birmingham, Adelaide, and Manchester over the years to watch Pakistan battle India in a World Cup game, the daddy of all cricket matches was now coming home to us.

The schedule of the T20 World Cup was announced and 24th October 2021 was marked in everyone's calendar. 

And the wait for the tickets started.

When the first batch of tickets was launched, there was some disappointment. Five of us were on a conference call, all trying to buy tickets for Pakistan vs India, and after 2 hours of waiting and clicking we were left empty handed.

When the second batch of tickets was released, we were at it again.

And we struck gold, thanks to one friend, who spent a tireless hour and a half clicking on "buy tickets", till his transactions finally went through!

We had 6 tickets for the match.

We managed 4 more tickets through another friend's contact in Pakistan. 

But all tickets were spread out in different sections of the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

Excitement and anxiety for the game was increasing by the day.

And then with a day to go, all chaos hit the roof! What time will we leave. Who will go in which car. Where will we park. Who will sit on which seats. Who will find others to swap seats with. There were too many logistical challenges.

A million phone calls, conference calls, and whatsapp messages later, on the day itself, it all just fell into place.

We were all at the stadium well before the match started, with the majority of us seated together!

* * *
The night before the Pakistan vs India clash was a sleepless night.

After a long time, I had experienced the excitement of a cricket match similar to the 90s when we would be up all night and drive early morning to Sharjah for the many Pakistan vs India matches.

Come 24th October and about 25 of us gathered at a friend's place right opposite the Dubai Cricket Stadium, well before game time.

The cars were parked there, lunch was served at the friend's place (whose delicious catering you must try by the way), and excitement was at just an unreal level.

From there we made our way to the stadium by foot and within 15 minutes we were inside.

* * *
The last match all of us had watched together in a stadium was the World Cup 2019 clash between Pakistan and New Zealand in Birmingham.

Back then, Mohammad Aamir had set up the game with his first delivery by bowling out Martin Guptill.

Similarly, in Dubai, another Pakistan left arm pacer - Shaheen Afridi - set up the game by rocking India with his 4th delivery as he sent the dangerous Rohit Sharma back to the pavilion for a golden duck!

In his next over, Shaheen, knocked over KL Rahul's middle stump, and the stadium erupted.

Pakistan was on top and there was no looking back now.

Shaheen Afridi had totally validated the warning that Osman Samiuddin had given to all openers at this T20 World Cup.

While Kohli and Pant provided some resistance, Pakistan's bowling and fielding were of top quality, and India ended their innings at a below par 151.

Historically, Pakistan have been nervous chasers, however the opening pair of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan have changed this in recent times; particularly in T20 internationals.

Babar and Rizwan are the best pair of opening batsmen in the world in T20Is at the moment.

(Excluding yesterday's match)

They further enhanced their already brilliant record with another master partnership that remained unbroken as Pakistan sailed home with a 10 wicket victory.

This is the first time that Pakistan has won a T20I by 10 wickets. It is also the first time that India has lost a T20I by 10 wickets.

It was the second highest chase ever in T20Is without losing a wicket.

Babar and Rizwan's unbroken partnership of 152 is now the highest ever opening partnership in a T20 World Cup, and the second highest ever for any wicket.

This was Babar and Rizwan's 3rd partnership of over 150 runs. They stand over and above all other pairs that have put on 150-run partnerships in T20Is.

* * *

Even the most optimistic Pakistani fans did not expect a 10 wicket romp. 

It was a clinical chase by Pakistan's two premier batsmen, the captain and the vice captain, comprehensively dominating and schooling one of the best bowling attacks in T20 cricket.

Pakistan were home with 13 deliveries to spare - that is how convincing the chase was by Babar and Rizwan.

It is all quite surreal. Being at the stadium to witness this historical moment was magical, phenomenal, and truly quite unbelievable.

Some of us made it to the billion TV screens around the world.

Some of us made it to the official T20 World Cup instagram page and from there to several blogger insta pages.

The celebrations continued well into the early hours of the morning.

Pakistan delivered a power packed punch yesterday and they have announced their intentions for this T20 World Cup in a manner no other team has.

There is still a long way to go, with 4 more group matches, with another one tomorrow!

Rest assured, we will be there again, this time in Sharjah, cheering on the boys in green.


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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Why Pakistan are one of the favorites at the World T20

The ICC World T20 kicked off yesterday with Round 1 in Oman. The tournament is set to move to the UAE for the second round from Saturday, 23 October, where the big guns will take on each other leading up to crowning a new WT20 Champion on 14 November.

England are currently the world's number one ranked side in T20 Internationals, followed by India, Pakistan, and New Zealand.

This is reflected in the performance of these teams over the past 22 months as well.

Only India and England have a better record than Pakistan in T20 Internationals since the start of 2020; and no team has won as many T20Is as Pakistan has during this period.

Clearly these three teams are among the favorites for the WT20 title, even though I feel the England batsmen will struggle on UAE pitches. Pakistan and India both, should flourish in this tournament.

Pakistan's premier batsmen have dominated T20 Internationals since January 2020, with both their captain, Babar Azam, and Vice Captain, Mohammad Rizwan, sitting at the top of the run chart.

Babar and Rizwan are the only two batsmen who have a T20I century during this period, besides Ireland's Paul Stirling. Both of them also lead the way in terms of 50s in T20Is, and Rizwan's average is miles ahead of other batsmen.

Both of them have also struck their runs at an excellent strike rate.

Their opening combination in T20Is has done wonders for Pakistan and currently they are world leaders in partnership runs among all batsmen in T20Is since January 2020.

No one has scored more runs, or has put together more 100 run partnerships in T20Is since January 2020 than the pair of Babar and Rizwan.

During this time they have also been involved in a record opening partnership of 197, which is the highest partnership for any wicket for Pakistan, the fourth highest partnership in all T20I cricket, and the highest ever partnership in T20I cricket while chasing.

That monumental partnership helped Pakistan successfully chase 204 in a record breaking victory over South Africa.

While Pakistan's top two batsmen have been fabulous during the past 22 months, the bowling has also been pretty good.

This might come as a surprise to most people, but Haris Rauf is the leading wicket taker among fast bowlers in T20Is since January 2020; and second highest among all bowlers, behind only South Africa's Tabraiz Shamsi.

While his average and strike rate are the worst among the leading 10 wicket takers during this period, which is consistent with the general perception about his expensiveness.

Nevertheless, he is a consistent wicket taker.

Given the squad at their disposal and their recent track record, I believe Pakistan stand a great chance in this World T20.

For me, they are one of the semi finalists along with India from Group 2. From Group 1, I believe it would be England and the reigning champions West Indies.

Thereon, it should be anybody's game, but definitely Pakistan are one of the favorites!

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Feelings of a dejected fan of Pakistan Cricket

By Dua Moqeem

Enraged, dejected, frustrated, betrayed, humiliated. Words alone cannot describe what I, along with 220 million Pakistanis, have been feeling over the span of these past few days. As I sit here today, I have only one question. Why always us, God? Why always us? Why is it always us against the world? I, now, pour my heart out to the world, hoping that they realise the callousness shown to my country by countless people.

Friday, 17th September 2021.

“The Pindi boys and the Pindi girls” flocked to the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium for New Zealand was finally touring Pakistan after 18 years. The ebullience, exuberance and ecstasy it had brought Pakistani cricket fans was unparalleled, for international cricket was well and truly back. Then, half an hour before the match was scheduled to start, the New Zealand cricket board abandoned the entire series citing a “security threat”. Despite being assured by our Prime Minister, our Intelligence Agencies, our Security Forces, despite the team being provided with “Presidential Level Security”, they pulled out, without thinking of the ramifications of their actions on Pakistan Cricket. Upon being asked about the threat, both the Kiwi Government as well as the Cricket Board, refused to say anything. If, and that is a big if, there was a threat, weren’t Pakistani lives at stake? The hotel staff, Pakistani players, the management, the broadcast crew – everybody’s lives were at risk. Or are the Kiwi lives the only lives that matter? Why isn’t the threat being disclosed to Pakistani authorities? Are you really telling us that an island, 1000 miles away from Pakistan, knows our dynamics better than we do? No matter how legitimate the threat, we can’t be expected to empathise with the New Zealanders because, refusing to disclose the threat makes it even more evident that there was no threat. It took the Blackcaps only thirty minutes, to undo everything Pakistan had done over the period of 10 years. An entire generation was deprived of seeing its stars and heroes play in front of their eyes. However, that had started to change over these past few years. But politicisation of this beautiful sport and the unequal playing grounds in international cricket has ruined it all. The Blackcaps forgot what Pakistan Cricket has done for them over. We toured them despite that horrific Christchurch incident, raised no security objections because we didn’t want any country to go through what he been through. Unfortunately, this is a cruel world we live in, one where the good isn’t ever really appreciated.

Monday, 20th September 2021.

With the Blackcaps pulling out, it was almost inevitable that England would pull out as well. It was just one abandoned tour for New Zealand, but for Pakistan, it was the annihilation of 10 years’ worth of security efforts. With England refusing, not only have we had to bear millions in loss but my country’s honour and pride is hurt. My people are hurt. England has cited “mental fatigue” as a major reason for not touring, which is a valid reason. But I must ask, is this “mental fatigue” for the English players only? The Pakistani players toured England twice when this pandemic was at its peak, stuck to strict bio-secure bubble rules, weren’t they mentally fatigued as well? Or is the well-being of the English players all that matters? Another question that comes to mind – does the “mental fatigue” vanish when playing the IPL? Or does the money compensate for it?

Pakistan and its cricket fans have millions of questions that are unanswered because the world has no answer. Cricket has become a game where money is preferred over international duties, over bilateral ties and bilateral cricket. This beautiful sport will die if it is just the “Big Three” that get their way while others are treated with blatant disregard.

To my people, I must say this: We are Pakistanis. We have seen worse and been through worse. But we have emerged victorious before and will, once again. Our spirits are not so easily dampened. We will fight this. And to my dear Pakistan Cricket Team: We are behind you. Pakistan Cricket will emerge from the ashes because Pakistan Cricket is inevitable. Babar Azam and co, fight your heart out at the World T20 and bring the trophy home! Pakistan Zindabad.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Pakistan's T20 World Cup Squad is not all bad ...

Pakistan isn't playing any cricket at the moment, but the past two days have been quite happening for Pakistan cricket.

These resignations have Rameez Raja written all over them.

Rameez does not assume the PCB Chairman role till September 13; however he has been involved with the PCB from the day his appointment was announced.

His input was taken for the WT20 squad, and he had made his intentions clear regarding the future of Misbah and Waqar.

And then, this morning, a statement was released by the PCB CEO, Wasim Khan, refuting all speculations being made in the media.

No dull day in Pakistan cricket!

Let us now get back to the most contentious subject - Pakistan's squad for the WT20.

At first glance, I was disappointed with some of the selections. The inclusion of Asif Ali, Khushdil Shah, and Azam Khan did not make sense to me. The exclusion of Fakhar Zaman disappointed me. Even the sacking of Sharjeel Khan and Haider Ali could be argued.

And why does Haris Rauf keep getting selected?

Here is Pakistan's 15-man squad: Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Sohaib Maqsood, Mohammad Hafeez, Asif Ali, Khushdil Shah, Azam Khan, Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Wasim Jr., Haris Rauf, Mohammad Nawaz

The more I look at it, the more it makes sense to me, barring a few selections.

The Batting
Pakistan's opening combination of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan in T20Is has done wonders for the team. In setting up totals and in chasing them down, including a recent record partnership and run chase, the two have been brilliant.

Babar and Rizwan are not only the best opening combination in Pakistan, but in the world. Their partnership is not only the best among all opening partnerships, but it is the best partnership in the world for any wicket in T20Is over the past two years!

The inclusion of both Fakhar and Sharjeel in recent T20I squads only caused confusion in my opinion. Both are openers and do not really fit any where else in the batting order. Whoever made the call, made the right call, and made the captain's and management's life easier. 

Barring Babar, Rizwan, and Hafeez, no other batsman was an automatic selection. 

Neither the ones selected, nor the ones dropped, made any case for themselves over the past two years.

Among all batsmen that have played T20Is for Pakistan in the past two years, all have similar mediocre records. 

Fakhar, Haider, Khushdil, Iftikhar, Maqsood, Sharjeel - none of them did any wonders to be selected. One can pick any three out of these and with Pakistan requiring middle / late order batsmen rather than openers, it probably made sense to pick Khushdil and Maqsood over the rest.

What doesn't make sense though is the inclusion of Asif Ali and exclusion of Shoaib Malik. For the latter, it seems that the selectors believe his time is up.  

I really do not understand why Asif keeps getting selected after failing over and over again at the international level.

Sure the PSL counts for something, but international performance should definitely be given more weight than PSL performance.

As for a reserve wicket keeper - Azam or Sarfraz - it really is a toss up. Go for the future, I guess; but is Azam Khan really the future?

All said and done, I feel that a batting order that reads Babar, Rizwan, Maqsood, Hafeez, Khushdil, Asif looks really strong on paper. 

I would have definitely liked Shoaib Malik in place of Asif (actually even a rabbit is better than Asif), but all one can do now is hope that Asif replicates his PSL form in international cricket.

The Spinners
Pakistan has gone for 3 spinners in Shadab, Imad, and Nawaz. All three are decent batsmen as well, giving Pakistan's lower order a good aggressive look.

However, the exclusion of Usman Qadir has raised some eyebrows, given that he has been Pakistan's best spinner in the past two years; that too by some distance.

Qadir's numbers are not easy to ignore. But I also understand that Shadab, when 100% and in full flow, is irreplaceable and playing two leg spinners is not really ideal. 

I'm sure it was a difficult decision to choose between the two, but there is no reason why both of them could not be in the squad. Qadir should have been in there in place of Nawaz in my opinion, as Imad is a sure starter.

The Pacers
We all love to hate Haris Rauf, but the fact is that he has been Pakistan's best bowler in T20Is for the past two years.

There is no difference in Rauf's and Shaheen's economy rate. And Wahab's is worse. Plus Rauf has a better average than both of them.

Not only has he been the best pacer for Pakistan in T20Is, he has also been the best pacer in the world in T20Is during this period.

Then why do we hate Haris Rauf? Maybe it is because of his ODI performance, which is quite poor. 

I think he deserves to play T20Is. He takes wickets and his economy rate is no different from some of the best pacers in the game.

So overall the squad is not all that bad.

The only change I would make is replacing Asif Ali with Shoaib Malik. However if the management believe his time is up, then replace Asif with Fakhar or Haider Ali. Either will be more effective.

Usman Qadir is a good to have, but if Shadab can regain his form then he will be just as potent as Qadir; not to mention the impact Shadab can make with the bat and in the field.

Pakistan plays 7 T20Is in the lead up to the WT20; 5 against New Zealand and 2 against England. That should give this squad enough time together in middle and should prepare them well for the big tournament.

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Friday, September 3, 2021

Kevin Pietersen's Memorable Times at the Oval

The 4th test of the exhilarating Test Series between England and India gets underway today at the Kia Oval.

Just ahead of the Test, Kevin Pietersen, the Betway ambassador, returned to the Oval and reminisced about his favorite moments at the ground.

Check out his memories in the video below.

KP talked about his 158 against Australia in only the 5th test of his career that helped England draw the final test of the 2005 Ashes series resulting in England's first ever Ashes win in 18 years!

In the video, KP points out to the spot at the ground where he celebrated his first ever test century.

He also reminisced about the 4-0 series win over India in 2011 that led England to the number 1 ranking in test matches. 

The 4th win came at the Oval and KP scored 175 in that test.

He remembers how England celebrated with the Test Mace around the Oval.

Check out the video for more KP memories about the Oval! 

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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Using Numbers to Redefine T20 Cricket

When it was launched in 2003, T20 cricket was considered no more than a more commercial format of the sport, which was a bit of fun, and provided a quick result for maximum entertainment.

It seemed like it was more entertainment, than sport. It was not cricket as we had known it to be.

The game's traditional format - Test Cricket - is far more meticulous with the better team almost always triumphing after five days of good competitive cricket. While, the middle format - ODIs - is somewhere in between.

The longer the format, the more exposed one's skill is and the likelihood of an upset is very low. Which is why T20 cricket provides for more intense and competitive games. It is the most random of the three formats of the game and in a shorter period of time any team can come out on top.

As the balance of power within cricket has swung towards T20, money and research has poured in to work out how to be successful in T20 cricket.

The T20 format has prompted a significant increase in the use of data analysis to improve recruitment, selection, and tactics, in a way that has never been used previously. Mumbai Indians, who are favorites to win the IPL as per the latest IPL betting, have used this to drive home huge success.

There is a weird paradoxthere,” says Tim Wigmore, journalist for The Independent and co-author of Cricket 2.0, a book about the T20 revolution.

“T20 is the most random format in that it takes the smallest number of deliveries to swing the course of a match, but it can also be planned. It gives you a far better opportunity to use data to plot your path to victory.”

The best managed T20 teams have learned how to use data to gain an edge in all departments of the game.

Teams are able to access averages, strike-rates, boundary percentages and much more in every phase of the innings at the click of a button.

If a team requires a batsman who hits at a strike-rate of 200 in the last five overs, for example, they can find out who has a track record of doing so.

Data is also used far more regularly to determine weaknesses in oppositions and to deploy tactics for specific matches.

Technological improvements have also coincided with the rise of T20 cricket, but that is not the only reason why this format has been most influenced by data analysis.

“There is so much more data to work with in T20 cricket,” says Wigmore. “The scenarios repeat themselves so much more often.

“You have so many variables in Test cricket. If you’re batting on a day-five pitch that is turning a certain amount, you might only have come across that scenario once or twice a year because of the number of things that need to take place in a Test match to get there.

“T20 scenarios do repeat themselves. You can plan for the 15th over when a certain batsman is well set because it happens so often.

“There are so many more top-level T20 matches. A top T20 player might play 50 matches per year, while a top Test player might play 12 or 13. It actually gives you a proper sample size to work with.”

The driving force behind the popularity of T20 cricket has been franchise leagues - the IPL, PSL, Big Bash, CPL - almost all nations have a league of their own. Salary caps and restrictions on number of overseas players allowed maintain the balance of the sides making the league more competitive.

Due to such restrictions, smart use of technology and data provide teams with a significant competitive edge.

The Mumbai Indians, who have won the IPL more times than any other team, have utilized data analysis the best among all T20 teams around the world.

“Mumbai Indians’ success has been rooted in out-thinking their opponents,” says Wigmore. “They are excellent at doing it before they even get to the auction able.

“They’ve got a very good idea of how to assemble a team because they’ve used data to establish the best strategy. Then they have a really strong scouting system that allows them to chase all of the most undervalued domestic talent.

“It’s a bit of a myth that you want to get the best overseas players – you actually want the players that add the most value to the team, which is dependent on which local players are available.

“For example, there is a relative shortage of power-hitters at the death in India, so they’ve used an overseas slot on Kieron Pollard, who’s a brilliant hitter.

“They’ve honed their strategy.”

Teams that have nailed their recruitment have placed themselves in the best position to master their tactical approach, too.

‘Match-ups’ has become an increasingly popular buzz term around T20 cricket over the last few years. Teams use data to identify the weaknesses of individual opponents and work out how players within their squad can exploit them.

Exposing a rival’s weakness is not new, but the use of numbers legitimizes the tactics.

“A lot of analysis for me is about knowing what the bowlers have in their armoury,” says South Africa and Rajasthan Royals batsman David Miller. “Their strengths and weaknesses.

“I want to know what they do when they are under pressure. Whether they go to the yorker or the slower ball, for example.

“Having that information definitely helps swing the odds in your favour.”

Wigmore explains that there are different ways that teams can use analysis of their opposition.

“You can plan it to a really deep degree,” says Wigmore. “You can plan when you want to bowl specific bowlers – I know Ricky Ponting says you can basically map out the entire bowling innings – but another way is to plan which bowlers you want to bowl to specific batsmen.

“For example, if your opening bowler has a really good match-up against their number three batsman, you might give them a third over with the new ball.

“A great example was the World T20 final in 2016 when Joe Root opened the bowling against Chris Gayle. England had worked out that Gayle against off-spin is not nearly as good as against other types of bowling, and Root got him out.

“We saw in the South Africa v England T20 series last year the England data analyst Nathan Leamon holding signs up with codes that reminded Eoin Morgan of the various match-ups that had been planned. That’s the degree to which players are working now.”

Morgan is a data enthusiast who believes in that way of working, but studying the numbers does not work for all players.

“I was never looking to take down certain bowlers that suited me – I didn’t look at things in that way,” says Kevin Pietersen, 2010 World T20 champion and one of the IPL’s greatest overseas players.

“If I decided during the match that a bowler had to go, then it didn’t matter who it was. It was game-based, so I didn’t plan it with analysis beforehand.

“I knew what my areas were, though. As my career went on I became more aware of which balls I could hit and begun to train my brain to recognise them early.”

Wigmore has spoken to players on both ends of the spectrum.

“There are players who have really embraced it,” he says.

“Look at Morgan and Pollard over the last few years – they have looked at their numbers, worked out how they can improve and have begun to start their innings much quicker.

“Quite a few of the West Indies team that won that final in 2016 look into numbers, too. Carlos Brathwaite second-guessed that Ben Stokes would bowl the yorker length in that last over because the long boundary was on the leg-side. That was a brilliant example.

“But most players don’t spend a long time looking at the numbers. They can talk to analysts about improvements they can make without even knowing the numbers behind it.”

An apparent divide between data sceptics, cast as stuffy and old-fashioned in their views, and data enthusiasts, forward-thinking and progressive, has emerged among cricket supporters over the last few years.

While there is no denying that teams using a data-driven approach enjoy lots of success, Wigmore argues that there is still a place for gut feel, instinct and an innate understanding of the game.

“Data can’t measure everything,” he says. “There will always be something that the model can’t account for on the day.

“It maybe can’t account for the wind or the dew or an injury, or whatever. I don’t think anybody is actually trying to say that gut feel is being replaced. I don’t think that’s how it’s being sold, and rightly so.

“But data can be used as a way of challenging and improving your decision-making. It is a really useful tool and increasingly important.”

While the analytics revolution gathers pace, you can be sure that those who are most open-minded to it will continue to flourish.

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