Sunday, July 28, 2019

The First Ever World TEST Championship

The first ever World Test Championship gets underway in 4 days with the start of the first Ashes test on 1st August.

For a format that has been around for 142 years, it is about time that it gets a world championship.

Over the next 22 months, 9 teams will take part in 73 tests to crown a World Test Champion.

That is more matches than any ODI World Cup, and perhaps the longest world championship tournament for any sport ever.

Each team will play a total of 6 test series - 3 at home and 3 away as part of the World Test Championship.

England will play the most matches - 22 tests, while Pakistan and Sri Lanka will play the least - 13 tests each.

But there's no disadvantage as each of them vie for the same number of points per series.

There has been a lot of speculation over the points system considering that not all teams will play every other team, nor will they play the same number of matches. However, in my view, it is an ideal system given the economics of the game.

Here is a look at the points system, the schedule and my view on what is ideal and what is not.

THE POINTS SYSTEM

The Plus Points

The same number of points are available for each series.

No unfair advantage to teams that play more tests than others.

What can Improve?

Teams get the same points for a win at home and for a win away. Surely an away win should count for more, should it not?

It is easier to win 2 tests out of 4 or 5, than to win 2 out of 2; particularly on away tours where touring teams are still finding their feet over the first game.

England, who play the most number of tests, are playing for the same number of points as teams who play lesser games; meaning each test win for England will count for less points.

THE SCHEDULE
(click image to enlarge)

The Plus Points

Each team will play 6 other teams; 3 higher ranked ones and 3 lower ranked ones.

Each team will play 3 test series at home and 3 away.

Provides more context to every single test match this is played from hereon.

What can Improve?

India and South Africa have an unfair advantage - they play 2 more tests at home than they do away.

West Indies are at a major disadvantage - they play 3 more tests away than they do at home.

Not every team plays the other. Each team plays 6 out of the 8 possible opponents. Perhaps another two series could have been scheduled for each team, making it a 3-4 year tournament?

*              *               *

A new Test Champion every 4 years wouldn't be such a bad thing. That is how long it takes to crown a new ODI one too.

Irrespective, a World Test Championship sounds very exciting. It gives context to the test series being played and I am already looking forward to a WTC Final in 2 years' time.

That will be quite a game. At the home of cricket I believe.

Lord's has crowned an ODI World Champion on 5 occasions already; about time (well in 2 years) it crowns a Test Champion too.

Let the games begin!

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The World Cup is Over ...


It has been 60 hours since the World Cup final ended, and I am still reeling at the result. But I can't keep ranting about luck, whether bad or good, destiny, rules, karma, and all that ... I already had a good rant on Twitter.

Now it is time to take stock of what happened, get over it, and reflect on this ICC World Cup 2019.

Some thoughts, a lot of ramblings, in no particular order ...

The World Cup Overall
What a tournament! Congrats to the ICC on producing one of the best World Cups ever. For a long time I have maintained that my favorite World Cup was 1992. The fact that Pakistan won aside, it was the best format ever used and produced very exciting cricket with every result mattering.

2019 is right up there for me. Not a single dull moment (barring the washed out games with no reserve days). What fabulous entertainment. Every match mattered, every result mattered, every run mattered, every wicket mattered, and at the end even every boundary mattered!

The best!

The Final
England and New Zealand produced the best World Cup Final ever. Perhaps the best ODI match ever.

Kumar Dharmasena
I have no idea how he is among the top 2 umpires in the world. If his stats prove that he is, then he is surely like South Africa of the old, or India of the new, who perform all the time, but choke when it truly counts.

Pathetic performance in the semi final and final.

Chris Gayle
Sad to see such an icon of white ball cricket depart the World Cup stage without setting it on fire. The only time he performed perhaps kicked Pakistan out of the competition.

Shakib Al Hasan
Talk about rising to the occasion. He has forever been the world's number one allrounder in limited overs cricket. He has always performed for his team. But never has he shone like he did in this World Cup. Runs, wickets, he produced it all.

Player of the tournament for me.

India vs England
I have heard so many conspiracies about this one. India did not chase to screw Pakistan. India did not chase to make it easier for England to qualify for the semi finals. MS Dhoni did not chase to screw Pakistan because of his affiliation with the Indian army.

All bullshit in my opinion.

India is not as strong as everyone is making them out to be. Sure Dhoni's tactics seemed questionable but you know what? Even had he tried, India would not have been able to chase down that total! The semi final against New Zealand is proof of that. The entire World Cup is proof of that with only one successful 300+ chase.

Bangladesh
Quite a tournament they had. Their best World Cup to date, but still a long way to go before they become a consistent threat to the leading teams.

Afghanistan
Overrated, overzealous, overconfident, outspoken, underperformers.

Babar Azam
This was a coming of age tournament for him. He is only 24, mind you. He rose to the occasion and performed like Pakistan's most dependable batsman throughout the World Cup. That match winning century against the best bowling attack in the world was for me the innings of the World Cup.

No one else scored a 100 against New Zealand's attack like Babar did. Yes Bairstow did, but Ferguson did not play that match. No one else chased a total against New Zealand the way Babar did. He is a superstar.

ICC Rules
Require a major rethink.

Think about this: Never in the history of ODI cricket has a team been declared a winner after being bowled out in a run chase.

India
The new chokers of World Cricket? Two World Cup Semi Finals lost. Champions Trophy Final lost. World T20 Final lost. World T20 Semi Final lost. All this in the past 5 years.

This is probably outdoing South Africa's chokes!

Virat Kohli
The best batsman in the world, but his scores in the 3 ODI chokes mentioned above: 1, 1, 5. He seems out of depth as captain. Looks like he is just a shadow and Dhoni is doing all the captaining. I feel like he will struggle with captaining the side once Dhoni retires.

Jason Roy
My favorite batsman. I loved every bit of his batting this World Cup. I believe that he makes all the difference to this England team. Without him, they are not the same at all. He scores and England wins.

He failed against Pakistan; England lost.
He failed in the World Cup Final; England just about tied the match.
He did not play against Sri Lanka and Australia; England lost.

In all other games that England won comprehensively, Roy's scores: 54, 153, 66, 60, 85. It is quite remarkable that all of his 9 ODI centuries and 14 out of his 18 ODI fifties have resulted in wins for England.

South Africa
Forget choking, they just failed to arrive this time.

Mohammad Hafeez, MS Dhoni, Hashim Amla
Why didn't they announce their ODI retirements?

Lasith Malinga
Even with that belly he produced some manic fast bowling spells. Champion bowler.

Ben Stokes
What a performer! What a cricketer! This World Cup was a true redemption story for him. Dropped for World Cup 2015, taken apart by Carlos Brathwaite in World T20 Final 2016, failed against Pakistan in CT17 Semi Final, and now Man of the Match in the Final of ICC World Cup 2019.

Turnarounds can be magical! He also took the catch of the World Cup!

Australia
What does one say about a team that reaches the final four stage of a World Cup even with an average team. Eternal Champions.

Shaheen Afridi
Find of the tournament? No. He was found well before the tournament. He had a great start to his international career before he hit a stumbling block in matches leading up to the World Cup. He was quite off in his initial WC matches, but then turned it around like a champ.

He was super in Pakistan's last three matches and showed that he can be a true star for the greens!

Mitchell Starc
Almost 50 wickets in two World Cups. Bowlers have not reached that tally in 4 World Cups! He's superb and probably uses the yorker more effectively than any modern day fast bowler.

Also bowled the ball of the World Cup to Ben Stokes.

Martin Guptill
Must suck to be him right now. Poor guy had a terrible World Cup with the bat. And yet he was there needing to score 2 of the final ball of the World Cup to win it for New Zealand.

The best thing he did all World Cup was a throw that caught Dhoni out of his crease and propelled New Zealand to their second successive World Cup Final. And then in the Final, it was his throw that ... I don't even want to say it!

Sri Lanka
Performed way better than expected.

West Indies
Performed way worse than expected. To think some thought they may win this!

Trent Boult
He may have only heard that cricket can be such a leveler, till he experienced it. He caught a ball inches away from the boundary to help New Zealand beat West Indies - in hindsight that catch got New Zealand into the final four. In the World Cup Final, he caught the ball and stepped on the boundary - that lost NZ the World Cup.

He bowled at a phenomenal economy rate of 4.8 throughout the World Cup. But his last 2 overs of the World Cup went for 15 runs each!

Alex Carey
True find of the World Cup. Another champion cricketer produced by Australia. At the start of the World Cup I questioned why he was Australia's first choice wicket keeper. He answered that quite aptly with the bat on multiple occasions.

His stock rose so significantly that Australia promoted him to #5 in the Semi Final!

Pakistan
What does one say about them that hasn't already been said. Ricky Ponting put it best, it is Pakistan vs Pakistan. But undoubtedly, I reckon this was their best World Cup campaign this century and they were very unlucky not to qualify for the Semi Finals.

England vs Sri Lanka
Was it fixed like Rashid Latif alleged? Who knows. Maybe the ICC, the broadcasters and TV Channels, and ECB colluded to provide the World Cup with some impetus. Or maybe not, but games like this is why this format is the best for a World Cup. Made every match count after this one.

Mohammad Aamir
Another redemption story. Handful of wickets at an average of over 90 in the two years before the World Cup, and ended the World Cup as one of the leading wicket takers. Hopefully this is the start of some magical Aamir years with the ball.

Micheal Vaughan
Loved his tweets throughout the World Cup!

Jofra Archer
Another find of the World Cup. Never before has an England bowler shone like this at a World Cup. Only 24 and he is their leader. So much so that he was given the ball for the Final Super Over too. Superstar in the making.

Edgbaston, Birmingham
I have never experienced a crowd like that ever inside a stadium. I've been to cricket matches all over the world in the past 30 years; Edgbaston for Pakistan vs New Zealand was the absolute best!

Kane Williamson
What a Gentleman. What a Cricketer. What a Captain. What a Batsman. What a Human Being. And he is only 28! I wish he wins a World Cup. He made me question whether all that was luck or captaincy tactics that got New Zealand over the line every single time.

He deserved to lift the World Cup Trophy, and I hope that he lifts one in his career!

Sanjay Manjerekar
What a waste of space. If fan boys are allowed to be commentators, what about me? I hope I never have to listen to his voice ever again!

Lockie Ferguson
The world has a new express fast bowler!

Rishabh Pant
What was the fuss all about really? His List A average is 30. His ODI average is under 30. Why is he an ODI number 4? What was all the hype about?

New Zealand
I don't even know where to start. The Kiwis played with my emotions more than Pakistan did.

At first, I thought they did not deserve to be in the World Cup Semi Finals. I felt they were a below average side, had won against weaker teams, got lucky against average teams, lost to all the strong teams, and got lucky to get a free point against India.

Then, after they beat India in the Semi Final and the way they did it, I was turned. I was a fan. Kane Williamson had completely impressed me with his captaincy and calmness. Now I wanted them to win the World Cup.

And they would have had it not been for some really cruel shit. Forget about the rules and the super over and boundaries. That throw from Guptill ... sigh. How cruel can cricket be.

I was as sad for New Zealand as I have ever been for Pakistan. They did nothing wrong. Played the best cricket possible. Did not lose the Final, yet lost the World Cup. Tragic. Just Tragic!

England
If there is anything such as destiny, this is it. If there was ever a team destined for something, this is it. Congratulations to them for this World Cup win and for inspiring millions through their amazing turnaround story.

Kicked out of World Cup 2015 in the league phase, England planned to become team supreme in white ball cricket. The last 4 years was the build up, and this is their moment to cherish. They have been the world's leading ODI unit for over two years and now they have a World Cup trophy to show for it.

The players would be happy no doubt. But it is really the fans who will be cherishing this win more than anyone. Some of them have waited for 44 years to witness this day!

England finally have a World Cup trophy, but they still cannot say that they have won a World Cup Final!

My World Cup XI
Rohit Sharma, Jason Roy, Kane Williamson, Babar Azam, Shakib Al Hasan, Ben Stokes, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Lockie Ferguson, Jasprit Bumrah, Shaheen Afridi

Make your pitch on this post...



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Sunday, July 14, 2019

World Cup Final - England vs New Zealand: End of a 44 year wait!

In 44 years of World Cup history, neither England nor New Zealand have won an ICC World Cup.

It is quite fitting that these two teams are there in the final given that one of them is a team built by Brendon McCullum and the other is a team inspired by Brendon McCullum.

Here's a look at both ...

ENGLAND

England have played 3 finals in 1979, 1987, and 1992. Lost all three to West Indies, Australia, and Pakistan respectively.

This is their first final in 27 years. While Pakistan fans have churned out similarity after similarity with their 1992 campaign, it is in fact England who have made this their own 1992.

The kits. The Final. The hope for a different result!



Jofra Archer was not even born the last time England played a World Cup Final.

Ben Stokes was yet to turn 1! Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Joe Root, and Jos Buttler had only celebrated their 1st birthday. Mark Wood and Chris Woakes had celebrated their 2nd. Their captain, Eoin Morgan, was 5 years old.

An entire English generation has grown up without knowing what a strong ODI unit looks like.

But this World Cup was different than any other for them.

England started the World Cup as favorites; and here they are, in the final.

For the past 4 years they have set the world of white ball cricket alight. No one has batted like them, no one has attacked like them, no one has posted the kind scores they have.

For them it has been a true turnaround story after the disaster that was 2015.

A World Cup win will give their story the best ending possible.

There will be books, movies, documentaries, maybe even business school case studies on this turnaround.

For most of the tournament they have looked like the best team on show. There were hiccups on the way. A loss to Pakistan despite a wonderful chase set up by Root and Buttler, an embarrassing loss to Sri Lanka, and even one to Australia.

But like their turnaround story of the past 4 years, England turned it around in this World Cup as well.

They look like the best ODI unit on show. They are the world's number 1 ranked ODI team. They are on the brink of their first ever World Cup win!

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand, always the underdogs, but also always the team to watch out for in tournaments like the World Cup, have been a mixed bag.

They have looked like a champion team against the likes of Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. They have looked like the worst team on show against Pakistan, Australia, and England.

They have also had lucky escapes against Bangladesh, South Africa, and West Indies.

5 straight wins and then 3 losses to the 'stronger' teams, and majority of the world felt like New Zealand did not deserve to be there in the final four.

Especially when they were the only semi finalist who had not won a single game against the other semi finalists. And also because teams like Pakistan and Bangladesh looked stronger than them.

But the semi final victory over India has made everyone sit up, notice, and take back their words.

Including me.

Like England, New Zealand too have made this their own 1992. The lucky 4th team to qualify for the semi finals, then beating the team that topped the league stage in the semi final, to play England in the Final!

But were those wins against Bangladesh, South Africa, and West Indies lucky? Or were New Zealand just better at holding their nerves and handling the pressure, like they were against India in the semi final?

Against all these teams, New Zealand got themselves into a winning position, then let the game slide away with the other team in front and about to win, and then came back to snatch victory out of no where when all seemed lost.

While England have had a 4-year turnaround, New Zealand have seen multiple turnarounds in single matches.

In my view, Kane Williamson is the best captain in the cricket world today. It is he, his tactics, his collected calmness, that has brought New Zealand this far.

It will be he who will be at the forefront if New Zealand are to cross this final hurdle.


For one set of fans -  England's or New Zealand's - a 44 year wait will end tonight!

Kane Williamson is like everyone's favorite kid. Everyone is rooting for him to lift the trophy. I will too be delighted if he does.

While for England, it will be like the cherry on top of their remarkable 4-year run. One of the best 4-year turnaround story in sports. I'll be happy for them too if they win.

It is really a win-win situation.

May the best team win. And may we witness a cracker of a game!  

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

With the focus shifting to T20s, Pakistan should retain Sarfaraz Ahmed as Captain

Will Sarfaraz Ahmed remain captain of Pakistan or not?

Sarfaraz has left the decision in the hands of the PCB, and the board has some time on its hands to make this decision considering Pakistan's next series is not till October.

There is divided opinion among cricket experts and fans regarding the future of Sarfaraz' future as Pakistan captain.

I believe that PCB should let him continue for the next 15 months at the least, till the World T20 in October 2020.

My foremost reason for this decision is that over the next 15 months, Pakistan's focus is going to shift from ODIs to T20Is in preparation for the World T20. Given Pakistan's current number one ranking in T20Is, which has been achieved under Sarfaraz, there is no reason to change the captain.


And we all know that for the sake of harmony and unity in the team, Pakistan is best served by one captain across all formats.

Here's a look at the cricket that Pakistan will play over 12 months starting October 2019.

October - November 2019
vs Sri Lanka at home (UAE)
2 Tests, 3 ODIs, 3 T20Is

November - December 2019
vs Australia in Australia
2 Tests, 3 T20Is

January - February 2020
vs Bangladesh at home (UAE)
2 Tests, 3 T20Is

August 2020
vs Netherlands in Netherlands
3 ODIs

August - September 2020
vs England in England
3 Tests, 3 T20Is

September 2020
vs Ireland in Ireland
2 T20Is

September 2020
Asia Cup T20 in UAE
T20Is vs Ind, SL, BAN, AFG, UAE

October 2020
vs South Africa in South Africa
3 ODIs, 3 T20Is

October 2020
World T20 in Australia

That is a total of 9 Test Matches, 9 ODIs, and as many as 20-22 T20Is!

With the focus shifting from ODIs to T20Is, Pakistan can take a break from trying to figure out its ODI team and focus on the next big challenge ahead - The ICC World T20.

Under Sarfaraz Ahmed in T20Is, Pakistan have been on a record breaking winning streak.

There is no need to change the captain or the team in that format.

Pakistan can even think about giving Sarfaraz a break from some ODIs, for example the ones against Netherlands before the England tour, and give someone like Imad Wasim some more experience of captaining the ODI team.

But there is absolutely no need to change the captain right now.

Not till the World T20 at least.

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Please don't compare Babar with others ...

Cricinfo produced the following graphic showing the % of a team's runs scored by the team's top run scorer in this World Cup.


It shows the dependency of each team on its main batsman.

You know what else it shows? Take a look...

Kane Williamson
9 years of International Cricket
147 ODIs, 72 Tests, 57 T20Is

Rohit Sharma
12 years of International Cricket
214 ODIs, 27 Tests, 94 T20Is

Shakib Al Hasan
13 years of International Cricket
206 ODIs, 55 Tests, 72 T20Is

David Warner
10 years of International Cricket
115 ODIs, 74 Tests, 70 T20Is

Faf Du Plessis
8 years of International Cricket
143 ODIs, 58 Tests, 44 T20Is

Joe Root
7 years of International Cricket
141 ODIs, 80 Tests, 32 T20Is

Take a look at all that experience.

In comparison, here is Babar Azam's.

4 years of International Cricket
72 ODIs, 21 Tests, 30 T20Is

Exactly half the number of international matches as the least experienced player in the list above (123 vs Faf's 245).

So how is it fair that Pakistan fans ask for Babar to produce more match winning knocks? Or compare him to the batsmen in the above list?

While other teams are heavily relying on their senior and most experienced players, Pakistan's batting is heavily reliant on one of the team's youngest players.

After he has played as much cricket, he will probably be well ahead of each one of them!

Give him time and space to grow.

Wait and watch ...

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Monday, July 8, 2019

A Review of Pakistan's Cricketers' World Cup Performance & Thoughts on Their Future ...

The positive side of this ICC World Cup 2019 campaign for Pakistan is that they do not need to rebuild.

Unlike the World Cups of 2003, 2007, and 2015 that witnessed an exodus of senior players, this time Pakistan has a solid core of talented and match winning youngsters who will play many more World Cups in the future.

They have a solid core to build upon and the future looks bright.

Here's a look at each one of Pakistan's squad members, how they fared in the World Cup, and what the future holds for them.

BABAR AZAM
474 runs at an average of 67.7; 1 hundred, 3 fifties

Easily Pakistan's best batsman currently, he broke the record for most runs by a Pakistan batsman in a World Cup going ahead of Javed Miandad's 437 runs in 1992.

A match winning 100 against New Zealand, a 96 against Bangladesh, and decent knocks in every outing (barring West Indies) shows his strength and consistency as Paksitan's #3.

Also remember, he is only 24, has not even played 100 ODIs, and has been around for only 3 years. The batsmen you compare him to have been around for a decade or more. Let him grow into one of the greats, rather than demean him at this stage of his career.

Babar will lead Pakistan to many a win in the future. Maybe a World Cup win too. 

For all his critics who whine about how Babar does not finish games for Pakistan, go watch Pakistan vs New Zealand again. And you have to watch it as Osman Samiuddin said - looking at the scorecard will not tell you how good an innings it was.

IMAM UL HAQ
305 runs at an average of 38.1; 1 hundred, 1 fifty

Along with Babar Azam, he forms the backbone of Pakistan's batting line up. I feel he gets a lot of unfair criticism. He has knocked 7 ODI hundreds in 18 months and has a great future ahead of him.

He scored a match winning knock against Bangladesh and perhaps the only thing we can criticize him for is that he did not kick on after getting starts - scores of 44, 53, 44, 19, and 36 suggests that he threw at away after doing the difficult bit.

With time and experience, he will surely improve on that. Can't really criticize an ODI batting average of 54.6 in 36 matches.

That century against Bangladesh at Lord's made him the youngest Pakistani batsman to score a World Cup hundred!

He is only 23 and has a long road ahead of him. Like Babar, he will win Pakistan many games going forward.

SHAHEEN AFRIDI
16 wickets at an average of 14.6; 1 five wicket haul

He is only 19 and his figures of 6-35 in Pakistan's last match against Bangladesh got him the record of best bowling figures by a Pakistani in a World Cup match, and the youngest ever to get a 5 wicket haul in a World Cup match.

His total tally of 16 wickets in the World Cup is the most by a player under 20 years of age.

He had a slow start as he got used to bowling on English wickets. But once he got the hang of it, he was simply fabulous. Especially in Pakistan's last 3 matches against New Zealand, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh where he finished with hauls of 3, 4, and 6 wickets respectively.

He is the future of Pakistan's bowling and as Michael Vaughan said, he will play in many more World Cup semifinals.


HARIS SOHAIL
198 runs at an average of 39.6; 2 fifties

Ignored for the initial part of the World Cup, Haris returned to the side against South Africa and produced one of the best knocks by a Pakistani batsman in World Cup history.

His 89 off only 59 deliveries, with 9 fours and 3 sixes, was simply sublime. It was the first time I witnessed Haris bat in such a manner. It was refreshing to see an attacking innings by a middle order batsman from Pakistan.

He followed that up with another match winning 68 against New Zealand where he was involved in a 126 run partnership with Babar that won Pakistan the game.

He is 30 so probably has another 5-6 years of international cricket left in him, during which time he can form the core of Pakistan's batting line up along with Babar and Imam. 

His talent is unquestionable and his record since returning to the team from injury is magnificent. I think we are yet to see his best though!



MOHAMMAD AAMIR
17 wickets at an average of 21.05; 1 five wicket haul

Much had been said about Aamir leading up to the world cup. Only 3 ODI wickets since the Champions Trophy; a bowling average of 95; not picked in initial World Cup squad; missed ODI vs England due to Chicken Pox; only in team because other bowlers failed.

All that went for a toss as soon as he took the field for Pakistan in the World Cup.

He showed the world that he is still Pakistan's spearhead. He picked up wickets in every game (barring Afghanistan), and ended as Pakistan's highest wicket taker in the World Cup.

At the end of the league stage he was the joint third highest wicket taker of the World Cup, with a better economy rate than the two bowlers above him.

Aamir truly came back to life in this World Cup and at 27 he still has many years of cricket left in him. Along with Shaheen, he forms a potent new ball pace attack and I am sure we will see many more match winning spells from him in the future.

15 out of his 17 wickets in this World Cup were of top order batsmen, which goes to show that Aamir was at the top of his game!


IMAD WASIM
162 runs at an average of 54.0 and strike rate of 118.24; 2 wickets; economy rate of 4.82

Imad Wasim is a proven match winner and a grossly underrated cricketer.

He does not pick up many wickets, but bowls with the best economy rate among all Pakistan bowlers. He scores at a fast pace and finishes off Pakistan's innings better than anyone else.

He was instrumental in winning Pakistan the game against Afghanistan and this was not the first time he had done so. His strike rate in the last 10 overs of an innings is above 150 and he is just the tonic that Pakistan needs in the lower order.

His batting average of 42.7, strike rate of 109, and World Cup innings of 46*(39), 23(15), 49*(54), and 43(26) shows his value at number 7.

At 30, he has his best years ahead of him where he will undoubtedly become one of the best finishers Pakistan has had.

Imad Wasim, the saviour of Pakistan cricket!

WAHAB RIAZ
11 wickets at an average of 36.3; 88 runs at a strike rate of 127.5; 6 sixes

Wahab is a champion cricketer. A superstar. No one fought harder for Pakistan than he did in this World Cup.

There is something about Wahab and World Cups. 2011, 2015, and now 2019 - each World Cup has seen a special performance from this champ.

In between those World Cups, he has been average at best, but in those World Cups he has shone like no one else.

Match winning wickets, match winning cameos, match winning sixes, match winning catches, Wahab did it all.

He is 34, and I don't know how much more he will play. But he has done his bit and Pakistan's youngsters will not do too bad if they take a leaf out of Wahab's book on fighting spirit.

You know he hit more sixes than anyone in the Pakistan team in this World Cup?


SHADAB KHAN
9 wickets at an average of 35.5

He did not take the World Cup by storm but in bursts showed the world why he is rated so highly by Pakistanis. His match winning wickets against England (Jason Roy and Joe Root) and New Zealand (Kane Williamson) were enough to show his worth.

He may have performed at a better level had he not fallen ill before the World Cup, but even then he has done enough to show that he can be a match winner for Pakistan.

He is only 20 years old, the best limited overs leg spinner in Pakistan currently, and the best fielder in the country. He has a long road ahead and forms part of Pakistan's current core. With an improvement in his batting he can form a solid lower order along with Imad Wasim.


MOHAMMAD HAFEEZ
253 runs at an average of 31.6; 1 fifty; 2 wickets; economy rate of 5.9

He had an average world cup. Besides his 84 against England that helped Pakistan put on a match winning total of 348, he got starts in every match and then threw it all away.

Like his entire ODI career, he has got a string of beautiful knocks of 20s and 30s. Pakistan needed him to keep going but he was a major reason for many a collapse during the World Cup.

He is 38 and should have called it a day along with Shoaib Malik. Not sure what is thinking right now. Surely he is not and cannot be a part of Pakistan's future plans.

He has had a good enough career and I think he needs to move on and let Pakistan find a solid aggressive middle order batsman.


FAKHAR ZAMAN
186 runs at an average of 23.25; 1 fifty

Fakhar was a major disappointment in the World Cup. Pakistan banked on him for positive starts and he failed to give them any.

He only managed to get going against India and South Africa, but in both games he threw it all away.

He is capable of so much more. His potential is so much more than what he showed. He is immensely talented. But the rut he is in has prolonged and something needs to be done to get him out of it.

Maybe he needs some rest, maybe he needs to go back to domestic cricket to find his touch back. He can't go on like this.

He could have done more, but I do think that he will come out of it. He is too talented and dedicated not to. He has plenty of cricket left in him and once he can get his confidence back he can be back to his power hitting ways for Pakistan at the top of the order.


HASAN ALI
2 wickets at an average of 128 and economy rate of 7.75

Clearly the biggest disappointment of Pakistan's World Cup campaign. Or maybe not considering Shoaib Malik was also there.

Just 18 months ago, Hasan was the World's number 1 ODI bowler. Now he is at number 41! Such has been his decline.

Don't know what has gone wrong with him but he just can't pick up wickets any more the way he used to. And he gets smashed around as well.

He definitely needs a rest and a run in domestic cricket. If he can get back to his best, he can form a seriously dangerous pace attack along with Aamir and Shaheen, but till then he needs to find his form back in the domestic circuit.

SHOAIB MALIK, MOHAMMAD HASNAIN, and ASIF ALI

Shoaib Malik played three matches, scored 8,0, and 0, and retired from ODIs. His time was up.

I have no idea Mohammad Hasnain was even selected. Good pace sure, but too raw and needs to learn a lot still. He didn't get a single game and Pakistan may have been better served by a Junaid Khan or an Usman Khan Shinwari.

Asif Ali played only 2 matches and scored 14 and 5, before he was dropped. He has huge potential to be a long term number 6 for Pakistan, but he needs to develop a second and third gear. He needs to learn the art of building an ODI innings, and not only be a smasher. He has a future with Pakistan, but not before some hard lessons at the NCA and domestic cricket.

SARFARAZ AHMED
143 runs at an average of 28.6; 1 fifty

I'll be honest and say that I am confused about him. Should he continue as Pakistan captain or should he be sacked? Is he good enough to bat in Pakistan's top 6? Is he good enough to be Pakistan's wicket keeper?

His World Cup performance as a player was about average. His performance for a long time now has been below par and Pakistan can arguably do with a better and more aggressive wicket keeper batsman.

But are there any around in Pakistan? And no, Mohammad Rizwan is not an answer.

However, as a captain, he showcased his resilience by picking the team up following the defeats to Australia and India. After the personal attacks he was under and the barrage of criticism that the team received, it was no easy task to lift the morale of the players.

In that aspect, Sarfaraz shone and rose to the occasion.

There are players like Imad Wasim (with U19 captaincy experience) around who can take over, but I am not sure if that is the right call. Or is it?

Time will tell, which way the PCB decides to go.



I believe Pakistan has a solid ODI team, which has the potential to become world beaters. A top 4 with each batsman averaging 47+, a young pace attack with the firepower reminiscent of Pakistan's hey days, good allrounders that can become great finishers, and one of the best leg spinners in the world.

The only thing that is missing, in my opinion, are solid middle order batsmen that can play aggressive and powerful ODI cricket at numbers 5 and 6. Asif Ali is perhaps a long term solution for one of those spots, but we need more.

If Fakhar can't get back to his best form, Pakistan has the likes of Abid Ali and the returning Sharjeel Khan whose ban will be up in a couple of months.

This team can do wonders for Pakistan and they have a lot of cricket left in them. I have no doubt that they will continue to improve and win a lot of games for Pakistan going forward.

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Pakistan was better than New Zealand, and it had a Great World Cup 2019

As the ICC World Cup 2019 enters the knock-out phase, there has been endless debate over whether the deserving four teams entered the semi finals or not.

Most of this debate focused on the fact that Pakistan had a far better league phase than New Zealand did, but the latter qualified for the semi finals on the basis of a superior net run rate, after both teams were tied on 11 points with 5 wins and a rained off game each.

There was also debate on whether Net Run Rate is the best metric to decide who qualifies, and whether Pakistan could have done any thing to improve its Net Run Rate.

WAS PAKISTAN THE BETTER TEAM?

It most definitely was!

Pakistan's 5 wins were against the number 1,4,5,7, and 10 ranked ODI teams. New Zealand's 5 wins were against the number 5,7,8,9, and 10 ranked ODI teams.

Pakistan beat 3 teams ranked above them! New Zealand beat none of the teams ranked above them.

Pakistan's rained off match was against the number 8 ranked ODI team. New Zealand's was against the number 2 ranked team.

Pakistan beat two of the eventual semi finalists. New Zealand did not beat either of the semifinalists.

Pakistan beat the favorites - a team that two of the semifinalists could not beat. New Zealand did not even come close!

But, New Zealand's net run rate was better so here we are.

IS NET RUN RATE THE BEST METRIC?

No it is not.

You can read some of the detailed pieces on NRR here and here.

Yes, net run rate is utter nonsense.

You can also see what the experts are saying.




COULD PAKISTAN HAVE IMPROVED ITS NET RUN RATE?

My stance on this is that it could not have unfortunately.

What Pakistan could have done (and should have) was try and avoid a big loss against the West Indies. Once their net run rate went to -5.8 or thereabouts, there was no coming back from that.

That was the match that destroyed Pakistan's NRR and no matter that they did in the following matches, it was next to impossible to improve that.

Let me explain further.

In hindsight, and considering Pakistan's 94 run win over Bangladesh, this is what Pakistan needed to do in its matches against South Africa, New Zealand, and Afghanistan to take its NRR over New Zealand's:

Beat South Africa by 100 runs (instead of 49 runs)
Chase target against New Zealand in 37 overs (instead of 49.1)
Chase target against Afghanistan in 30 overs (instead of 49.4)

Do you think that was possible?

Against South Africa, perhaps a 100 run win was possible had Pakistan not dropped those 6 catches.

Chasing 237 against New Zealand in 37 overs was unlikely. Pakistan could have tried maybe, but the wicket was turning square and Pakistan batsmen decided to see off Santner, which was smart as Pakistan did not lose any wickets to him. What if Pakistan had failed to chase the total in an attempt to chase it quickly? The two points were more important than NRR improvement.

Chasing 228 in 30 overs is not easy. Afghanistan possess the best spin bowling attack in the world so to get them away at over 7.5 an over is quite tough.

Had Pakistan tried, they might have been in the same position they actually were in, 156-6, and it would have still required a rearguard from Imad Wasim, resulting in a last over win.

So no, NRR improvement was not an option for Pakistan.

In the losses against Australia and India, Pakistan in fact improved its NRR so the argument that they didn't try in those games is also invalid.

Against Australia, Pakistan had fallen to 160-6 and then 200-7, in a chase of 307. So getting to 266 from 160-6 was in fact NRR improvement. A 100 run loss there would have made it worse!

Against India, Pakistan scored 46 runs off the final 5 overs, in a match that they had lost well before that stage. Those 46 runs at over 9 an over improved Pakistan's NRR.

So no, there was no way Pakistan could improve its NRR, to a level that would have gotten them ahead of New Zealand's, after that hammering from the West Indies.

Let us go back to 21st June 2019. On that day, Sri Lanka beat England and provided an opening to not only itself, but also to Pakistan and Bangladesh.

For Pakistan, it was straight forward - win its last 4 matches and then hope for either of the following:

1. Australia to lose to England, New Zealand, and South Africa.
2. England to lose to two of Australia, India, and New Zealand.
3. New Zealand to lose to West Indies, Pakistan, Australia, England.
4. New Zealand to lose to three of the above with Pakistan's NRR going above New Zealand's.

Pakistan's analysts would have done the calculations and the team would have ruled out scenario 4 right away given the unrealistic numbers. Winning each game by 120 odd runs or chasing totals in 30 odd overs was never going the happen.

Winning those 4 games and gaining 2 points from each game was more important than looking to improve NRR at the same time.

Pakistan's best bet was to win its 4 remaining matches and hope for either of scenario 1,2, or 3 to play out.

Pakistan won its last 4 matches. It did its bit. It pretty much thrashed everyone, except for Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, neither of scenario 1,2, or 3 played out.

WHERE NOW FOR PAKISTAN?

It was a sad end to an excellent World Cup campaign for the Greens.

Speak to any of the journalists or personnel that was around the team for the past month and they will tell you how hard the boys worked.

To pick themselves up after losses to Australia and India, and after they were ridiculed for eating burgers and pizzas and going out for sheesha, is no small task.

Only the Pakistanis can showcase such resilience, forgive disrespectful fans, and go on to thank them.

This World Cup campaign was arguably the best one Pakistan had this century. World Cups in 2003, 2007, and 2015 were disasters and Pakistan required rebuilding after each one following an exodus of under performing seniors.

World Cup 2011 was a good one and remains the only campaign where Pakistan reached the semifinals in the 21st century.

However, I rank Pakistan's performance in 2019 above that one in 2011 as Pakistan beat higher quality opposition in 2019 and was just unlucky not to qualify for the semifinals.

There is some thinking to be done, but at least there is no need to rebuild.

Pakistan's future is bright with a core of talented and young individuals who have provided the promise of turning into superstars for Pakistan in the years to come.

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Thursday, July 4, 2019

End of the Road for Pakistan, but New Zealand? Really?

The Pakistanis are quite disappointed.

Considering the exciting cricket Pakistan played in this ICC World Cup 2019, and then seeing their chances fade away with New Zealand making the cut for the final four, disappointed is an understatement.

Unfortunately, it is the net run rate and not the level of excitement or entertainment a team brings that decides who goes through.

But even then, New Zealand!?

Really?!!!

They were trounced by Pakistan. Thumped by Australia. Destroyed by England. Didn't even play against India.

How can they be the fourth semi finalist?

Apparently that is what happens when you win two games comprehensively, and then ride your luck to win 3 games in the final over.

New Zealand has been a poor team all World Cup. They have played the tournament with 1 batsman and 2 bowlers and 8 passengers.

Yet, here they are, alongside Australia, India, and England, playing the semi finals of the World Cup.

Who knew cricket could be so cruel.


Various conspiracy theories are flying around. India refused to chase against England; England slowed down against New Zealand; New Zealand didn't even try against England; England and New Zealand ensured that the Kiwis' NRR stays in safe territory.

You know what, who cares.

Let us forget about what England, India, New Zealand did.

We have only ourselves to blame.

We should have beaten the West Indies. Or at the very least not lost so heavily. Our NRR never recovered after that defeat, and it is haunting us today.

From the position we were in against Australia, we should have won that game.

The only part where luck went against us was when the rains came down and made us share a point with Sri Lanka, and made New Zealand share a point with India.

That was just gross misfortune.

Pakistan could have beaten Sri Lanka. India would have definitely thrashed New Zealand. And the story would have been very different.

But I guess, it was not meant to be.

Where rain saved us in 1992, it screwed us in 2019.

That is where all the similarities with 1992 end I am afraid.

It was a lot of fun while it lasted though. Pakistan had quite a World Cup.

We beat two of the semifinalists.

We beat the favorites.

We beat South Africa quite easily, but then again, everyone did.

We also had a classic Pakistan-style comeback win against Afghanistan.

It was all quite entertaining, but being entertaining is not enough sadly.

Pakistan even remained in the race for the final four till the very end till England, India, and New Zealand combined to keep us out.

If you look back, it was Sri Lanka's win over England that opened up the World Cup. We would have had 20 odd dead rubbers had England won that day.

So we have Sri Lanka to thank for keeping the World Cup alive. And we have Pakistan to thank for remaining in the race against the Big 3 and their bridesmaid.

Or do we just keep it simple and thank the ICC?

It was fun Pakistan. It was a good fun ride. Very entertaining and exciting. Unfortunate that we are not there in the final four, but such is cricket. Such is life.

There will be more.

There will be another where we will not require favors from other teams.

There will be another where Pakistan will triumph.

There will be another where the only similarity with 1992 that we will talk about will be the eventual champions.

Till then, well played Pakistan!

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Monday, July 1, 2019

How could you expect India to Chase 338?

No one has chased a 300+ total successfully in this ICC World Cup 2019, besides Bangladesh against the West Indies.

No one has ever chased a total of 330 or above in the history of World Cup cricket.

The highest chase ever in a World Cup match is 329, which was successfully done by Ireland against England in World Cup 2011.

So to expect India to chase a target of 338 was unreal.

How could you expect India to chase 338?

How could a team with the services of the best chaser in world cricket chase 338?

How could a team with the best finisher the game has ever seen chase 338?


Virat Kohli is the world's number 1 ODI batsman and Rohit Sharma is the world number 2.

You can't expect such average batsmen to challenge a total of 338.

Kohli has scored 5,066 runs, including 21 centuries, in successful run chases in ODIs. That is the second highest runs tally and highest number of centuries in successful ODI run chases in the history of the game.

Such mediocrity is the last thing you need when chasing 338.

Rohit, with 3,381 runs in successful run chases, is 8th in the same list.

Rohit knocked his 25th ODI century against England. Of all of his completed ODI centuries (where he did not remain not out), Rohit's 102 against England is his lowest ever. Including not out hundreds, his 102 is the second lowest ever.

Seriously, you thought that such average players could chase 338?

MS Dhoni is at number 15 in the same list of batsmen with most runs in successful ODI chases. Dhoni has remained unbeaten in a successful run chase 47 times, which is a record - no one has finished more games than Dhoni has in the history of ODIs.

Overall while batting second, Dhoni has remained unbeaten 50 times. 47 times in wins, 1 time in a tie, and twice in a loss.

Yesterday against England was only the second time in his entire career that Dhoni remained unbeaten but did not close the game for India.

With such poor batsmen, especially while chasing, how could you expect India to chase a record total of 338 against England?

The same England whose bowlers were thrashed for 348 runs by Pakistan earlier in the World Cup.

How can you expect India to do the same?

England's innings contained 13 sixes. Jonny Bairstow alone hit 6 of them. There was a short boundary of 57m on one side and England's batsmen took full advantage of it.

You know how many sixes the Indian batsmen hit? One.

That too in the 50th over of their chase when 44 runs were required of 6 deliveries.

How could you expect these mediocre batsmen to clear a 57m boundary?

This is international cricket boss, not the damn IPL that the Pandyas and Dhonis of the world can come out and smash it from the first ball. It takes time.

How could you have expectations of players like these?

These batsmen are no modern greats.

They are mediocre batsmen who score less than 30 runs in the first 10 overs (the lowest first power play score in this World Cup) in a chase of 338; who happily take singles and doubles when the asking rate is beyond 10.

And you thought they could chase 338?

What a joke.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Imad Wasim and Wahab Riaz take Pakistan through in a Nerve Wrecker!

It is an infant rivalry, but it is a rivalry nonetheless.

It is not the same as India vs Pakistan, but the Afghanis play their matches against Pakistan with more passion than any other game they play.

There are a number of reasons for the birth of this rivalry, but none bigger than the Pakistani connection of the Afghani cricketers - they learnt their cricket in Pakistan, they played domestic cricket in Pakistan, they have homes in Pakistan.

The last two international games between the sides - in the Asia Cup in 2018 and now in the World Cup 2019 - were last over finishes, with Pakistan just scraping through.

That is how hard Afghanistan fought each time. 

In the Asia Cup it was Shoaib Malik, and last night it was Imad Wasim who took Pakistan through.

Imad initially looked clueless against the spin of Rashid and Mujeeb and played them out cautiously. He timed his inning to perfection and took charge when the pacer came on leading Pakistan to a narrow 3 wicket win.

Imad is a very under rated cricketer. He is a very good bowler, keeps the runs in check, and picks up wickets too. His economy rate in ODIs is 4.83, which in modern times is gold!

NOTE: Bowlers from the 10 World Cup Participants

In fact, Imad has the 7th best economy rate among all bowlers who have bowled at least 300 overs in the past 4 years, since Imad's debut.

The list is topped by the Afghani spin trio, which is largely due to Afghanistan playing majority of their cricket against the weaker teams.

Imad's batting average in ODIs is 42.7 and strike rate is 107.5, which is magnificent for someone who bats at number 7 or 8.

He is fast becoming Pakistan's finisher.

That average is inflated because of the number of not outs he has, 16 out of 37 innings, but each one of those not outs is a decent knock at better than run a ball at the end of an innings. His strike rate in the final 10 overs of an ODI is 150+.

He is a very valuable cricketer for Pakistan.

Wahab Riaz is also responsible for taking Pakistan over the finish line last night. He is more of an allrounder than Faheem Ashraf ever was. Wahab almost did it for Pakistan against Australia earlier in the World Cup, but last night he smashed a boundary and a six at just the right time.

Every World Cup, Wahab raises his game to another level altogether, and he showed that again last night.

What a champion he is. Especially considering that he was playing with a fractured finger.

It should have been an easy chase against Afghanistan. It was a top notch bowling effort that kept them down to 227.

But we all know that with Pakistan nothing comes easy, more so when you expect it to be.

The victories against South Africa and New Zealand were straight forward and quite easy, so anyone would expect that Pakistan would canter to a win against Afghanistan chasing down a target of 228.

But Afghanistan's spinners, Pakistan's batsmen, and Pakistan's running made life very difficult!

Having lost Fakhar without a score on the board and the top 6 batsmen for 156, Pakistan required 72 runs of 78 balls with 4 wickets in hand.

It looked really tough for Pakistan, but that is when Imad took over and ensured Pakistan got home in the final over of the match.

It was a nerve wrecker of a game, and I don't know any other team that provides the kind of drama that Pakistan provides on the cricket field.

The fightback from Pakistan after the losses to Australia and India has been remarkable and now we are 1 win away from reaching the semi finals, provided that India do us the favor of beating England today!

Every day is a nerve wrecker for the Pakistan cricket fan.

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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Blown away by Babar and Birmingham

Pakistan's win over New Zealand in Birmingham was set up by Mohammad Aamir and finished by Babar Azam. Pakistan's premier fast bowler and Pakistan's best batsman rising to the occasion when needed the most - What better way could there be to lift an entire nation than this!

Birmingham was absolutely electric!

Twenty five thousand Pakistanis at the ground made it feel like we all were in Pakistan itself. A sea of green, thousands of flags, and Dil Dil Pakistan echoing around Edgbaston turned Birmingham into Lahore for the day.

It all started with Aamir's first ball of the match. Chants of "Aamir Aamir Aamir" as he ran up to bowl made magic happen as Aamir broke through the defenses of Martin Guptill, shattered his stumps, and set up the entire day for Pakistani fans.


The euphoria that resulted from this did not die down for even a second for the next 8 hours!

Even though New Zealand fought back from 80 odd for 5, the final target was not a daunting one and we expected Pakistan to chase it down.

But as Pakistan fans, we all know better. Pakistan and chasing don't seem to go together.

Babar Azam and Haris Sohail, however, made sure that these ghosts of past chases stayed away from Birmingham.

Pakistan's victory was a shut up message to a number of Pakistan critics.

Critics who did not believe that Pakistan could chase.

Critics who did not believe that Pakistan could compete against the bigger teams.

Critics who laughed every time a reference to 1992 was made.

Critics who mocked the believers of Pakistan cricket miracles after the losses to Australia and India.

Critics who harshly criticize Babar Azam for not finishing games.

I say harsh because Babar is merely 68 ODI innings old. How can one expect someone with that little experience to be a world beater? How can one expect someone who has not even played 100 ODIs to be a Kohli or a Joe Root?

Babar is immensely talented no doubt. He is the best batsman in Pakistan currently, and the best batsman to come out of Pakistan since Inzamam, Yousuf, and Younis.

However, expectations of him need to be real and not unfair as they have been.

The Kohlis, Roots, Smiths, and Williamsons of the world did not become who they are after 60 odd ODIs. Babar's international career is only 3-4 years old and no batsman ever became a great inside their first 3-4 years.

Look at how the rest of the current 'greats' and past 'modern greats' fared in their first 68 ODI innings.


Barring Hashim Amla, Babar is well ahead of the rest of the pack after 68 ODI innings. In terms of runs, in terms of average, in terms of strike rate, and in terms of ODI centuries.

Give him time, and he will convert more 50s into 100s and win more matches for Pakistan. He has got a long road ahead of him and a lot of time too.

In Birmingham, Babar brought up his 10th ODI century and it was definitely his best ODI century till date. He walked in to bat in the 4th over and stayed there till the last. He dominated the bowling and he finished the game off for Pakistan.

Under pressure, chasing a target, Babar showed the world his best.

It was a treat to watch this knock from the stands.

Babar's celebration when he got to the hundred showed what it meant to him. And the crowd's reaction showed what it meant to them.



The Birmingham experience was one of the best in ground experiences I have had watching cricket. It was by far the best Pakistani crowd I have ever seen. It was better than Lord's, better than Old Trafford, better than Sharjah and Dubai, better than Gaddafi Stadium.

The atmosphere was just awesome.

Surely Pakistan dominating the game made it all the more exciting for Pakistan fans, but I could feel the belief and excitement among everyone on the train from London and on the walk to Edgbaston from the Birmingham train station.

It was a magnificent day out and I was totally blown away by Babar Azam and the Birmingham crowd!



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Monday, June 24, 2019

Pakistan's Victory was Special; Lord's was Magical

Pakistan can do wonders if they elect to do the right thing after winning the toss!

It was the third consecutive toss that Sarfraz Ahmed won in this ICC World Cup 2019, but it was only the first time he elected to bat, something he should have done against both Australia and India.

In the week leading up to Pakistan's match against South Africa at Lord's, the team was ridiculed and the captain was mocked endlessly. Sarfraz Ahmed's yawn memes went viral and stories of Shoaib Malik's sheesha loving sub-group spread like wildfire.

Despite all this drama and criticism, Pakistan fought back like they always do, showcasing the resilience of the team and the nation.

This Lord's win was special, and Lord's was magical!

Haris Sohail played the innings of his life. I have never seen him bat like this. He has a career strike rate of 85, at Lord's he batted at a strike rate of 150! For someone who had been left on the bench till now, to come back and bat in this manner, was quite awesome.

Aamir, Wahab, and Shadab produced some excellent bowling and ensured that South Africa were never on top. No one defends totals the way Pakistani bowlers do and to watch it live in action is arguably one of the best experiences one can have.

Pakistan's win was surely special, but Lord's was made magical by all the Pakistanis who had flown to London from all around the world.

Lord's was a sea of green and it was quite amazing meeting old friends from LUMS and Abu Dhabi, enjoying the game with my friends from Dubai and London, and making new friends!

The day started with giving an interview to Cricinfo. The passion and belief you see among us is unparalleled.

We were interviewed outside Lord's by two of my favorite cricket writers - Osman Samiuddin and Sharda Ugra.


At the Lord's gate I met two of my college friends with whom I had gone through LUMS two decades ago. One had flown in from San Francisco and the other from Karachi.



























Lord's is a magnificent stadium. It has to be, after all it is the Home of Cricket. Its beauty, the flowers in particular, was pointed out by another old friend from LUMS with whom I had experienced the heartbreak of the World Cup in 1999.


The Lord's media center is fascinating. Probably the best media center at a cricket ground. Here are two of us who flew in from Dubai and one who flew in from San Francisco, with the media center in the background.


Nothing made this Lord's win more special than to witness it with my oldest and closest friend with whom I have gone through every single World Cup since 1996!


I even met guys that I grew up with in Abu Dhabi in the 90s!


And more people that I went to LUMS with twenty years ago...


Ofcourse our London host who moved from Dubai to London just to make this trip possible was also there.


As were two little boys, a four year old and a 3-month old, both experiencing their first ever cricket match inside a stadium. What a match as their first, and what a ground to do it at!


After watching matches together at each others homes, at Dubai International Cricket Stadium, at Premadasa International Cricket Stadium, and The Oval, the Dubai boys have now added Lord's to the list as well.


It was an impressive victory for Pakistan and it was made all the more special by witnessing it together.


It was witnessed not only with old friends, but also with new ones! Here is the lost from San Francisco, the Midlife Crisis Cricket Club - whom I have been chatting away with on Whatsapp Groups and whom I met for the first time yesterday. What a passionate lot of Pakistan cricket fans.


Pakistan's victory at Lord's was special no doubt, but what made Lord's truly magical yesterday was all the Pakistan fans who believed in the team, who flew in for the match from different parts of the world, who witnessed a special knock from Haris Sohail and fiery spells from Aamir, Wahab, and Shadab.

Many said that Pakistan's World Cup will start after the match with India, and it truly has started with this win over South Africa.

We still believe that we can make it to the semifinals and we all will be there in Birmingham on Wednesday to get Pakistan one step closer to the knockout stages.

Come on PAKISTAAAAAN!

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

West Indies Could Be a Great ODI Side with a Dose of Caution and Concentration

It will be extremely pleasing to a lot of the neutral fans out there that the West Indies are beginning to look like a formidable team once more. For far too long they have just made up the numbers and been the whipping boys of the international tournaments but that looks to be changing now under the stewardship of young captain Jason Holder.

Indeed, the Windies got off to a convincing start against Pakistan as they won by seven wickets which looks an even better result now that Pakistan rolled over hosts England - but then again, the men in light green do like to blow hot and cold. For the same money, it could have been two from two, but for a lack of composure and discipline against the Australians.
The men in maroon had a mere 68 to get off 60 balls with five wickets in hand against Australia but somehow ended up losing by 15 runs. Going into the last ten overs with the run rate at a fraction above six an over and wickets in hand is a position of utmost power and really, one that teams should be winning from.

The changing room would have been a lonely place for Andre Russell in particular, after he sparked the collapse with a few very ill-advised strokes. The T20 star can’t put a foot wrong in India whilst competing in the IPL but the World Cup is a very different animal that requires big players to play sensibly in order to be revered. Russell let himself down and ultimately cost his team a memorable victory over a very decent Australian side.

That said, the West Indies look like they may sneak their way into the top four, it’s early days still but there shouldn’t be much for them to fear. Granted, at 9/1 in cricket betting to win the World Cup it looks a stretch to go all the way but semi-final qualification is very much on should they learn from their mistakes against the Aussies.
Part of the problem the Windies have and will need to find a way to tone down is that they are arguably blessed with too many talents. Some of their big-name players would walk into any team at this World Cup if it were based purely on ability. However, the opposition bowlers have by now registered that the Islanders are susceptible to falling into traps and there is a feeling in other camps that they just can’t help themselves when the ball is tossed up or bowled short of a length.

This is where the Windies need so desperately need to apply themselves, in order for them to negotiate the end of an innings safely. With a bit of concentration, they will be extremely hard to eliminate at the 2019 World Cup.

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

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

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


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

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

It is not true. It is all talk.

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

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


For the fans, it is all about bragging rights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

We coexisted throughout all those Sharjah Cup matches.

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


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

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


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

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

It was Pakistan vs India at Chennai.

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





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

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

We coexisted quite happily.

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

My flatmate was an Indian.

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

We laughed about it. We still laugh about it.


I captained our class team in the MBA Cricket League.

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

We played together happily.


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


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

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

Even today, we talk about it.

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

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

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

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

I am traveling to Manchester for the match.

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


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

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

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

To all my Indian friends - all the best!

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

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

But you know what will happen on Sunday?

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

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

PAKISTAN ZINDABAD!

Make your pitch on this post...



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