Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Simon Taufel Reminisces about the past and talks about umpiring

"The best way I can describe it is that umpiring chose me. I didn't choose it."

- Simon Taufel, renowned former international cricket umpire and former member of ICC's elite panel of umpires.

Having spent over a decade as an ICC umpire, Simon Taufel is now semi-retired and recently spoke to Betway, over Skype from Australia, about his career, what he is up to currently, and how he feels umpiring has changed and can be improved going forward.

Taufel stood in 74 tests, 174 ODIs and 34 T20Is resulting in the best part of his life spent on the road. This trip to Australia however, is for pleasure as he is there to watch is daughter compete in an Under 12s regional tournament.

“When I pulled the pin on my international career," he says, "I sort of thought that I'd lost a lot of my two boys growing up, and I didn't want to lose my daughter."

Taufel was just 29 when he umpired his first Test in December 2000 between the West Indies and Australia.

He estimates that, for each of his 13-and-a-half years as an umpire, he spent an average of between 60 and 70 days officiating, and another three days away for every one that he was on the field. That is about 180-210 days a year!

That is a total of over five years spent away from family.

"It's not easy and it's not for everyone," he admits.

Taufel was only looking for some "handy pocket money" when he took up a friend's invitation to enroll in an umpire's course before starting university in June 1990.

His friend, Dave, failed to achieve the 85% required to pass, but Taufel, managed it.

"If anything, I was always probably a little guilty of over-preparing," he says. "I'm a bit of a checklist freak."

By the time Taufel reached International level, he was reviewing and summarizing six different laws every day to refresh his memory of the cricket rule book. He studied bowlers and batsmen, he reviewed previous series, and he attended net sessions to watch teams train.

He also prepared for contingency by reading up on local airports and alternative hotels in case of emergencies.

All this was before the cricket had even started!

"I think I probably went further than most, simply because I wouldn't describe myself as a natural umpire," he says.

"I had to work harder at my game to feel that I was ready and that I deserved to have a good day out there, rather than just turn up and it be OK."

Such dedication saw Taufel win the ICC David Shepherd Umpire of the Year award for the first five years since the award's inception, though he's since given all but one of the trophies to people that supported him along the way.

"I did feel embarrassed and uncomfortable with those awards," he says, "because umpiring is a team sport and we were singling out one person."

Talking to Taufel, the importance of teamwork between umpires is a recurring theme.

After retiring from umpiring in 2012, he moved to the head office to work as the ICC Umpire Performance and Training Manager, where he supervised the development and implementation of additional resources to support umpires on the field and in the television booth, including the deployment of umpire coaches to all international matches.

“If I did my career again, I would probably want to talk more about my mistakes," he says.

"To share my shortcomings more with my colleagues after a day's play, rather than keep them to myself and have to deal with them on your own in your hotel room."

One would think that DRS would have helped ease the burden on umpires but Taufel, who experienced only 4 years, out of his 13.5 year career, with technology thinks otherwise.

“I don't think DRS has necessarily made umpiring easier or more difficult," he says. "It's just made it different."

“Pre-DRS, you'd deal with the error later. With DRS, you've got to deal with it at the time.You hear your decision dissected in your ear piece, in front of millions of people, and then, after 90 seconds, two minutes, you have to publicly change your decision and somehow regather your thoughts. You can feel a bit embarrassed and humiliated. It's really tough to move on and focus on that next delivery.”

As was made clear in March this year, when Australian batsman Cameron Bancroft was caught using sandpaper to alter the condition of the ball in a Test match in South Africa, technology has become increasingly important not only in aiding decision-making, but also in helping to manage player behaviour.

"The third umpire, quite easily, has got the toughest job out of the whole umpiring team," explains Taufel.

"Their job is to watch the TV as their primary focus. There should be nothing that goes out to people in their lounge rooms that is missed by the third umpire.”

But, the sandpaper gate, which led to Bancroft, his captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner all being banned, proved that this is not always possible.

"I think it's fair to say that nobody would have expected what happened in Cape Town to unfold before our eyes as it did. As much as you try to simulate different scenarios in a training environment, sometimes there are things that you just think: 'Wow, is this really happening?'"

Taufel was working for Cricket Australia, in charge of umpire selection and match referee management, at the time, and has sympathy for officials that are put in that position.

"The game of cricket is now more commercialised. It's a different type of animal at Test and international level. There are a lot of people who push the envelope to try to get the result to go their own way. I've got no problem with players playing the game hard, no problem at all," says Taufel.

Not many know that Taufel also played some cricket before he went on to become an umpire. He captained his first team at secondary school before going on to play for New South Wales Schoolboys Under-19s alongside Adam Gilchrist and Michael Slater.

He laughs “I played the game pretty hard. I appealed for just about everything I could. I don't think I ever got into trouble with the umpires, but I do remember getting a bit of a bollocking from my coach for swearing on the field. For me, behaviour is a captain, a coach and a team issue. At the moment, people seem to abrogate that responsibility of managing player behaviour through code of conduct or umpires.”

Yet Taufel, who remains the only umpire to have ever been invited to give the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture, believes that the episode can serve as a turning point for the game as a whole.

“I hold the spirit of cricket close to my heart. Results come and go, but who we are and how we play really defines us. We are guardians of the game of cricket. We have to leave it in good shape for the next generation. The only way that we can do that is through adherence to the laws and to the spirit of that game." 

This is where Taufel believes that players and coaches can learn from umpires.

“You can't change what's already happened, it's part of history now. But, like a cricket umpire who can't change the ball that’s already gone, you can certainly do your best to get the next decision right,” he says.

“That's what I would say to Australian cricket and that's what I would say to the global game: learn from what's happened and use the opportunity to make the game stronger than it's ever been before. That's something that everyone can look at. Not just one country or one player or one captain, it's up to everyone to play their role."

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Babar Azam comes of age in Tests

For the Pakistan fans and the cricketing world in general, Babar Azam has been an enigma.

Till recently he was even criticized for not being "test material".

For some, rightly so, considering he had played 16 tests, batted in 31 innings, and had not scored a century. To top it off, his test average was below 30.

At the same time, he was totally rocking white ball cricket as the only batsman in the world with a 50+ average in both ODIs and T20Is.

In a career that is 3 years old, Babar started his 17th test having smashed 8 ODI centuries, 9 ODI fifties, 8 T20I fifties, and 8 Test fifties.

Despite a 99 in the series against Australia and an unbeaten 90 in New Zealand, Babar was criticized heavily for not converting starts in tests and for not being a test batsman.

It all changed during his 32nd test inning.

As Pakistan added to New Zealand's agony in the field over two days during the second test, Babar was instrumental in taking Pakistan past 400 as he knocked his first test ton.

Babar's unbeaten 127 was a coming of age innings.

He finally crossed the barrier of the nervous nineties and he finally showed the world that he can bat in whites too.

No doubt that he has been extremely prolific in limited overs cricket and has not been able to extend that form to test cricket, but at least now he has brought up the coveted first test century.

From hereon, there should be no looking back for Babar Azam, who is Pakistan's first true all format batsman since the days of Inzamam Ul Haq.

Even though Babar had not scored a test ton, I feel the criticism he received was a bit unfair.

If one is to look at his test scores before the 100, then this season against Australia and New Zealand, he had scores of 4, 28*, 0, 99, 62, 13. Not mind blowing but also not worthy of criticism.

Even prior to that he scored 68 against England in Pakistan's victory at Lord's an innings that was cut short due to injury. He really looked like scoring a century during that innings.

What is even more interesting is that for all batsmen that have batted in at least 10 test innings in 2018, Babar Azam has the best average!

Even better than Virat Kohli's!

Look at the batsmen he is performing better than - ABD, Root - both modern legends of the game.

Now that Babar has reached his first test ton, I don't think he will ever look back. The runs will flow from his bat in tests and there is no doubt in my mind that he will become one of the best, if not the best, batsman to ever play for Pakistan.

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Yasir Shah - The Best Leg Spinner in the World

Pakistanis love to criticize and I am guilty of it too.

Azhar Ali bats too slowly. What is Haris Sohail doing out there? Yasir Shah is not the same bowler any more. Babar Azam is only suitable for white ball cricket. Where did that declaration come from? Why didn't they accelerate before declaring out of the blue? Why did they enforce the follow on? If New Zealand set a target of 120 or so, Pakistan will lose.

This and a whole lot more was said during the second test between Pakistan and New Zealand and none of it mattered at the end as Pakistan raced home to a win by an innings and 16 runs to level the test series and set it up for a decider next week.

Azhar Ali, who bats way too slowly, scored 81.

Haris Sohail, who seemed all at sea out there, top scored in the match with 147.

Yasir Shah, who is not the same bowler any more, returned career best match figures of 14-184.

Babar Azam, who is only suitable for limited overs cricket, scored his maiden test century - an unbeaten 127.

And the declaration, which seemed unplanned and out of the blue, was perfectly timed. Mickey Arthur and Sarfraz felt that 418 was more than enough on that pitch to bowl New Zealand out twice, and they were spot on!

Yasir Shah, who was overshadowed in the test series against Australia by Bilal Asif, Mohammad Abbas, and even the touring spinner Nathan Lyon, showed the world why he is the best leg spinner in the game currently.

His 14-184 are the second best bowling figures in a test match by a Pakistani, after Imran Khan's 14-116.

His 8-41 in the first innings, which included a triple wicket maiden over, are the third best bowling figures in an innings by a Pakistan, after Abdul Qadir's 9-56 and Sarfraz Nawaz's 9-86.

Yasir's 14 wickets in the match took his test wickets tally to 195 in only 32 test matches. He is well on his way to break the record of being the quickest in the world to reach 200 test wickets.

Yasir's innings haul of 8-41 and match hail of 14-184 are both the best figures in an innings and in a match in all tests played in the UAE.

No bowler had taken more than 11 wickets in a test in the UAE before Yasir's heroics, and he is only the second bowler to take an 8 wicket haul in an innings in the UAE.

Yasir's innings and match hauls are also the best figures by any bowler in the history of test cricket against New Zealand!

He is the 5th bowler to take 8 wickets in an innings and the first ever to take 14 wickets in a match against New Zealand.

Yasir's match haul is third best ever for a leg spinner in the history of test cricket, behind Narendra Hirwani's 16-136 and Anil Kumble's 14-149.

Yasir Shah now has 195 wickets in just 32 tests at an average of 28.2 and a phenomenal strike rate of 54.4, which is the third best strike rate among all spinners, and second best among leg spinners in tests (those who have bowled in at least 50 innings).

It won't be long before Yasir reaches 200 test wickets and creates a new record of reaching the mark in quickest time. With the way he is bowling right now (22 wickets in 2 tests vs New Zealand), I reckon he will achieve this feat in the next test against New Zealand, which starts next week on Monday in Abu Dhabi.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Ways to Appreciate the Team

Training, practicing, and playing are all key components of a victorious team. However, showing your appreciation (and this goes for both teammates and captains) is also an important tool to a team’s success. By implementing a few bonus strategies to keep up everyone’s spirits and continue giving your all.

Environmental Impact
Appreciation doesn’t always have to be a verbal exchange. A pitch can evoke one’s initial spirit for the sport, but your surrounding facilities and training space should also reflect you and your team’s passion for the game. This can be as simple as upgrading some equipment that’s on its last leg, or adorning some of your gear with decals of your team’s logo or personalized names and numbers. This creates an environment of motivation and can emphasize healthy competition.

Focus In On Fun
Another way to highlight appreciation is to not forget the emphasis of fun. It may seem obvious but it’s easy to forget that the fun and enjoyment of playing and watching the sport is at the core of even the most competitive player’s motivation. Creating an atmosphere that ensures everyone’s goals are not just to win, but being engaged and working together to achieve that victory as well, can put a successful focus on both fun and appreciation. 

Don’t Focus On Failure
At the height of any practice or match, things can go awry in an instant. Sometimes plays don’t work out as planned, and having an off-day or lapse in concentration can spontaneously occur.  The trick is here to not fixate on the failures or mistakes others make that might have been out of their control. It’s normal to feel disappointed, especially if personal goals aren’t met and this can cause a huge mental blockade for some. Instead anyone’s failures can be a lesson in encouraging growth, improvement, and personal triumph.

Cause For Celebration
It is of course beneficial to encourage victory, however empty praise can sometimes be a deterrent when it comes to appreciation. Focusing on smaller victories and celebrating personal achievements can make a big impact on morale and be a confidence booster.

Always Be Empowering
The most beneficial way to show your appreciation for fellow players or captains is simply by empowering them and the team. Letting others know that your confident in their abilities, and maintaining the mindset that you’re all there to achieve a common goal.  It may be corny, but simply believing in others, and recognizing when others are around to uplift you can create a huge appreciative boost. Appreciating the team doesn’t have to be difficult, with a simple mindset and framework, any goal is an achievable one.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Shaheen & Usman - Tremendous Finds with Huge Potential

Shaheen Shah Afridi ended the ODI series against New Zealand with 9 wickets, behind only Lockie Ferguson's 11 wickets, but at a better average and strike rate.

Shaheen's 9 wickets consisted of two 4-wicket hauls in each of the first two ODIs and before rain spoiled the match last night, he had already got rid of Colin Munro. Who knows how many more he would have got had the match been completed.

Deservedly so, the 18 year old left arm pacer was adjudged Man of the Series.

Shaheen has been a great find for Pakistan.

Only 6 ODIs old, his bowling stats are astonishing, more so because he has played all his ODIs in the UAE, where pitches favor either the batsmen or the spinners.

Shaheen's 13 ODI wickets in 6 games have come at an average of 17.61, an economy rate of 4.88, and a strike rate of 21.6 - that is a wicket every 4th over he bowls in ODIs!

Even in T20Is, Shaheen has been quite effective picking up 11 wickets in 7 games at an average of 18.45.

I really want to say "ek Afridi gaya, ek aur aa gaya" but this is more about the pace talent that Pakistan keeps on churning out.

Just when Pakistan is feeling that they may have lost their star left armer Mohammad Aamir, they have found Shaheen Afridi who seems to improve with every match he plays.

He has just made it to Pakistan's test squad for the series against New Zealand and the prospect of seeing him bowl with the red cherry is even more exciting.

Another exciting left armer with a bright future for Pakistan is Usman Khan Shinwari.

Why he did not play a single ODI against New Zealand is beyond me. Especially at a time when Hasan Ali was struggling for form.

Usman's ODI record is even better than Shaheen's!

In 9 ODIs, Usman has picked up 18 wickets at an average of 15.27, economy rate of 4.66, and strike rate of 19.6 - better than Shaheen in all three areas.

Which makes it really strange that he was on the bench against New Zealand.

Among all pacers that have taken at least 10 wickets in ODIs in 2018, Usman and Shaheen are right up there in terms of their averages.

Both of them are among the only 5 pacers in the world with an average under 20 this year.

Plus, Shaheen's strike rate is among the absolute best, right up there with Dale Steyn's.

Together, Usman and Shaheen can form a potent new ball attack, which can be extremely dangerous in South Africa early next year and then in England during the World Cup.

Both of them have tremendous potential and have made it much easier for Pakistan to not miss a struggling Mohammad Aamer.

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Monday, November 5, 2018

Pakistan Continue their T20 Dominance

The Pakistan team and fans thought that New Zealand were going to provide a stronger fight than Australia, which was probably a first for the Kiwis to be considered more dangerous than their antipodean neighbors.

The first T20I showed just that as Pakistan scraped home with a 2 run win.

The next one, even though it seems like an easy win on paper, also went to the last over as Pakistan hit the winning runs with only 2 balls to spare.

With their 11th consecutive T20I series win under the belt, Pakistan could have become complacent and taken the third match lightly.

Not this Pakistan though.

They were ruthless and turned out at their best, posting their highest T20I total of this season beating New Zealand comprehensively by 47 runs.

No one could have predicted such a dominant season in T20 cricket for Pakistan. As some experts put it aptly - the most unpredictable team is the most consistent in the sport's most unpredictable format.

Fathom that.

Take a look at online cricket betting sites too, such as www.onlinecricketbettingsites.com, and you will realize that while Pakistan were termed favorites for the T20s against Australia and New Zealand, the odds were not too stacked up in their favor.

Here's a look at some of the record breaking feats of the team, its batsmen, and its bowlers.


After their win last night, Pakistan became the first team to clean sweep New Zealand in a T20I series.

In the process, Pakistan became the only team to win 11 consecutive T20I series.

Pakistan have also become the only team, besides Afghanistan, to win 9 consecutive T20Is.

And with 17 T20I wins in 2018 they have won more T20Is in a year than any other team!

This has improved Pakistan's W:L ratio under Sarfraz Ahmed even further taking it to an unprecedented 7.25!


Pakistan's batsmen continue to smash T20 records as well.

Babar Azam scored his 1000th T20I run on his way to 79 last night, becoming the quickest batsman to achieve that feat in 26 innings, breaking Virat Kohli's record of 27 innings.

That is something we will not hear too much of in our lifetime - breaking a Virat Kohli batting record.

Babar has been ever so consistent in T20Is, which is extremely impressive considering he is not a big hitter of the ball. He bats traditionally and plays the ball on the ground, yet is effective and scores at a fair pace without getting bogged down.

He rotates the strike and pierces the gaps in the field with utmost ease.

His consistency has enabled him to stretch his lead over other batsmen - he remains the only batsman in the world with a batting average in excess of 50 in T20 internationals.

Once again, ahead of the great Virat Kohli.

There is one Kohli record, however, that Babar was unable to break - 641 runs in a calendar year in T20 internationals.

Yet, Babar and Fakhar are right up there as the two leading run scorers in T20 Internationals in 2018.

Actually, Babar was never really in the running to break that record considering he missed 7 of Pakistan's T20 Internationals in 2018.

However, Fakhar Zaman had the record in sight.

But injury, which made him miss a T20I each against Australia and New Zealand, coupled with indifferent form, resulted in him falling short of the 641.


On the bowling front, Shadab Khan has continued to raise his stock in T20 Internationals.

His 3 wickets last night took his tally to 28 wickets in 2018, the highest in the year, and the joint highest in a calendar year ever.

Shadab's 2018 wickets tally is equal to Bumrah's; however Shadab has managed it in fewer matches, at the same economy, and at a better average and strike rate.

Shadab is also the second highest wicket taker in T20 Internationals in the period starting from Sarfraz Ahmed's captaincy in the format.

Two other Pakistani bowlers feature in this list as well - Hasan Ali and Imad Wasim.

Hasan is among the few pacers in the list and has the most T20I wickets in this period among pacers.

The bowlers are firing, the batsmen are piling on the runs, the team is winning rolling on like a T20 juggernaut - happy times for Pakistan's T20 cricket!

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Pakistan's T20 Dominance

Last night Pakistan completed their 10th consecutive series win in T20 Internationals.

This run includes wins against England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Australia, West Indies, a World XI team, and a tri-series involving Australia and Zimbabwe. The streak dates back to September 2016; since then, in over two years, Pakistan have lost only 4 T20  internationals.

I don't know of any team that has had such an outstanding run in T20s.

It is quite remarkable!

Here is a look at the team, the captain, the batsmen, and the bowlers who have made such dominance possible.

No surprise that Pakistan is the number 1 ranked T20 team in the world, with quite a margin.

They have a whopping win loss ratio of 6.5 over the past 2 years!

I have never seen such a W:L ratio in any form of the game for a period this long. It is miles ahead of all other teams, barring Afghanistan (who largely play the associate nations), making the difference between Pakistan and rest of the teams quite significant.

Pakistan have not only dominated T20 cricket over the past two years; they have been dominating the game since its inception.

Pakistan have the best W:L ratio in T20 Internationals since the format began (barring Afghanistan). Considering Pakistan have played more T20 Internationals than any other team, that fact is even more impressive.

September 2016 was when Pakistan played their first T20 International under Sarfraz Ahmed, and despite all the flak and criticism he has faced recently, he has been a star skipper in the shortest format of the game.

Pakistan's remarkable streak in T20 cricket coincides with Sarfraz Ahmed's T20 captaincy and it has made him the most successful T20 captain in the history of the format.

No other captain comes even close to Sarfraz's Win % and W:L ratio in T20Is.

During this period, since September 2016, Babar Azam is the leading run scorer in all T20 Internationals.

In fact, Babar made his T20 debut during this period and he has been miles ahead of all other batsmen since then.

Shoaib Malik and Fakhar Zaman, who also made his T20 debut during this period, are both among the top 5 runs scorers in T20 Internationals since September 2016.

Babar and Malik, along with Glenn Maxwell, are the only batsmen in T20 Internationals who are averaging above 50 in this golden period of T20 cricket for Pakistan.

Babar Azam has had an amazing run in T20 Internationals. His past 5 scores are:


If it wasn't for that 45, he would have become the first batsman to have 5 consecutive scores of 50 or more in T20Is.

Babar is also on the verge of breaking Virat Kohli's record of reaching a 1,000 runs in 27 T20 innings.

Babar requires another 95 runs in 3 innings to break the record, an opportunity that he will have during the three T20Is against New Zealand over the next one week.

There is another Kohli record that can potentially be broken over the next week.

Fakhar Zaman requires another 101 runs to go past Kohli's record of 641 T20I runs in a calendar year, and he has another 3 innings left in 2018 to make this happen.

Coming back to Babar Azam; he is the only batsman in the world with a batting average of over 50 in T20 Internationals.

That is quite a feat by Babar considering the kind of batsmen he is ahead of.

Each match of this just concluded T20I series between Pakistan and Australia had a similar pattern. Pakistan got off to a flying start, stuttered in the middle order ending 20-30 runs short of what they should have got, and bowled and fielded exceptionally to keep Australia well away from the target.

Pakistan's bowling in the shortest format of the game has been outstanding.

Shahid Afridi, who hasn't played the format in two years, is still the leading wicket taker in all T20Is. While Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal, who haven't played T20Is for two and three years respectively, are among the top 4 wicket takers in the history of T20Is.

As for the current crop, during the period since September 2016, Pakistan have 3 bowlers among the top 10 wicket takers in T20 Internationals, with leg spinning allrounder Shadab Khan leading the way.

Pakistan's bowling attack is full of variety comprising left arm pacers, right arm pacers, leg spinners, off spinners, left arm spinners, and the works.

Undoubtedly that makes it quite tough for the opposition.

Pakistan have bowled out teams 30 times in T20Is, which is the most by any team in T20 Internationals.

Quite a record that!

PAKISTAN are no doubt the Kings of T20 cricket and their run over the past two years has been nothing short of phenomenal! They have got the top order, they have got the bowling, and now if they can only find some consistent middle and late order batting they can truly become an invincible T20 Force.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Chanderpaul on the Unique Art of Batting

Most sports people get the chance to immediately put their mistakes right.

Nobody remembers, for example, that Andy Murray surrendered a 40-0 lead as he served for his first Wimbledon title in 2013 before eventually overcoming Novak Djokovic.

Nor is it now relevant that Sergio Aguero squandered two good goal scoring chances against QPR before stealing the Premier League title in stoppage time for Manchester City in 2012.

Similarly, when Andrew Flintoff dismissed Ricky Ponting with the seventh ball of his ‘Greatest Over’ in the second Ashes Test of 2005, there weren’t many in the feverish Edgbaston crowd ruing the earlier no ball that had forced him to run in again.

Yet had Murray, Aguero, Flintoff or countless others made such telling errors as batsmen – when one faulty piece of footwork, lapse in concentration or slight misjudgement can prove terminal – they might never have had the chance to atone.

It is why, according to Steve Bull, who was the England men’s team psychologist between 1997 and 2014, batting as a sporting discipline is “as close to unique as you can get”.

Bull formed part of the backroom team for the famous Ashes victories in 2005 and 2010/11, but was also present for lows such as the 5-0 reversal Down Under in 2006/07. He knows the intricacies of the game, having witnessed first-hand the effect that they can have on world-class players.

“A slight error of technique and you are out,” says Bull. “One mistake. The margin is so ridiculously small, and the consequences of a mistake are so huge.

“The knock-on effect is that after two or three low scores, the rest of the mechanisms kick in and the confidence starts to go.

“It can take you into the abyss.”

This is not news to Shiv Chanderpaul, a West Indies legend at international level, where flaws are exposed most brutally and scrutiny is most intense.

Chanderpaul is the fifth-most capped player in Test-match history, scoring 11,867 in 164 Tests at an average of 51.37, putting him eighth on the list of all-time top run scorers.

Yet he was still a victim of those same demons.

Chanderpaul spoke to Betway and here are some excerpts from that interview.

“He’s perfectly spot on there,” says Chanderpaul, when asked whether he agrees with Bull’s assertion.

“These days bowlers study you more – it’s not that easy. Bowlers can tell when you’re struggling.

“In difficult conditions, you might be able to leave a few, but one or two you might nick off. It depends how long you’re able to stay out there, if you can get lucky and miss those balls.”

Luck is an element of the game that the standard observer can struggle to compute: it is intangible and incompatible with the narrative of failure that comes to define cricket teams. 

As Bull explains, a batsman can do “everything absolutely right” and still end up back in the hutch, an arbitrary feature of the game that can dictate the trajectory of a player’s career.

“There are many walks of life where, if you take control, if you’re confident, resilient and conscientious, it will take you far,” he says.

“In cricket, you can get that piece of bad luck, and that hard work comes to nothing.

“Conversely, if you’re in bad form and get dropped at second slip, then things go your way and you score a hundred: bingo. If that catch had gone to hand, that’s another failure.”

Cashing in when things are going your way was perhaps the key to Chanderpaul’s exceptional longevity.

“I would always go out and play a bit harder if my place wasn’t on the line,” he says.

“I would just fight as hard as I could, try and bat as much as I could. You don’t want to be in that situation when you’re being put under pressure.

“You feel a little more relaxed, but you dig in.”

Chanderpaul’s record meant that his place in the team was rarely at risk, though not everybody was convinced at first. His unusual technique – standing square-on to the bowler before shuffling into a sideways position as the ball is delivered – was long treated with suspicion and, in theory, gave bowlers a better chance of dismissing him.

“There wasn’t a coach telling me what I have to do, or where I have to be,” he says.

“But you still have to remember the basics – eventually getting into a side-on position. Remember these things, and go out there and try and use them to help you through whatever period you have to go through.”

The challenge is for batsmen who don’t yet have the statistics of a distinguished career to back them up to show the same mental strength.

“You can’t have a situation where your confidence is dictated by how many runs you’ve scored,“ says Bull. “That’s not a good state of affairs.

“That means that if you’re scoring well, you’re confident, and if you’re not, you’re not.

“Better players are resilient and tough players. They say: ‘I’m taking control of this. I’m going to feel confident. I’m feeling good in the nets, hitting the ball well, moving my feet.’

“That’s good psychology. If you are more of a worrier, very negative and very analytical, it can take you deeper into trouble.”

That is why Bull encourages several of his clients just to relax – “it’s a cliché, but sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break and switch off” – by going out for a drink or a day out.

“It is very much player-dependant,” he says.

“There were some players who liked structured thought and process-orientated strategy to get ready. With other players, the best they could do was to forget it.

“It takes you to a sports psychologists’ favourite maxim: control the controllable.

“When a player is worrying about whether they are going to get picked or not, they have no control. You’ve got to come to the next session completely refreshed and start again.”

Chanderpaul managed to combine that approach with avoiding the desire to step away from the game when unhappy with his form.

“If I was struggling, I would be in the nets, hitting some balls,” he says. “If I don’t feel good about it, I’ll do the work until I start feeling good.

“If I feel OK, I’ll ease off, take a breath, and not stress about it.”

That last point, according to Bull, is the key.

“Don’t let that voice in your head take over,” he says.

“Every day: start afresh, control the controllable, here we go.”

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Mazher bhai - Stat is not Damning, it is Meaningless

Mazher Arshad, Pakistan's Superstar Statistician, tweeted a damning stat about Pakistan cricket yesterday.

That really is quite damning, but it also got me thinking.

If you look at the Pakistan test XI that is currently playing against Australia in Abu Dhabi, 5 out of the top 7 have test centuries, and most of them have multiple centuries.

Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail, and Sarfraz Ahmed all made their debut before 2010.

Out of the two who do not have a test hundred, both made their test debuts after 2010.

But one of them is Fakhar Zaman, who made his test debut 3 days ago and has had an incredible first test.

He was unfortunate to miss a debut test hundred in the first innings, but 160 runs across two innings in one's first test is remarkable in my view.

The other, Babar Azam, has been playing tests for two years now and in 14 tests he should have got a few test hundreds, but an unbeaten 90 and a 99 shows that he too has been unfortunate.

He surely has had a slow start to his test career, especially when compared to his limited overs performance, but I have no doubt that he will catch up.

So a Test XI with only two batsmen out of the top seven who do not have a test century made their test debuts after 2010.

That is not really damning.

Just shows that Pakistan have a stable batting line up with batsmen who have many years of first class cricket experience.

When you look at the bowling line up in the current test, you will see that 3 of them - Mohammad Abbas, Yasir Shah, and Bilal Asif - have 5 wicket hauls.

In fact Abbas and Yasir have shown that they can win tests single handedly, and Bilal Asif just made his test debut and had one of the best bowling figures in an innings by a debutant.

All 3 of them made their first class debuts before 2010.

Actually, Bilal Asif made his first class debut in 2011, but I just realized that in his tweet, Mazher mentioned pacers and not spinners.

The fourth bowler in this test, Mir Hamza, is currently playing his debut test, so surely he can't be counted among this "damning" list.

Still not damning I say.

It is a great thing that Pakistan's test cricketers have been around the first class cricket scene for a decade or more.

So who are these cricketers who made their first class debuts after 2010 and have not yet scored a test century or taken a 5-wicket haul for Pakistan?

Imam Ul Haq?

Well he made his test debut this year, has played 4 tests, and in his debut test he scored an unbeaten 74 to guide Pakistan to a successful chase of 160 against Ireland after they were precariously placed at 14-3.

A match winner no doubt.

He also had a good test against Australia in Dubai with a 76 and 48, and I have no doubt that he will be churning out test centuries very soon.

Shadab Khan? Faheem Ashraf?

They too made their test debuts this year and have already played some match winning and match saving knocks in test cricket.

That too in English conditions over the summer, where main Indian batsmen struggled to score.

Plus considering the positions that Shadab and Faheem bat in, they will not be scoring many test hundreds, but they will definitely continue to win and save tests for Pakistan.

If we dig a little further and look at all the test centurions for Pakistan since 2010 (besides the ones playing the current test), the names you see are the usual suspects Younis Khan and Misbah Ul Haq, along with Taufeeq Umar, Salman Butt, Shan Masood, Khurram Manzoor, Ahmed Shehzad, and Shoaib Malik.

All of them made their first class debuts before 2010.

If you think about it, Pakistan's test cricket batting since 2010 has really been about Misbah, Younis, Azhar, Asad, Hafeez, and Sarfraz.

Stable lot who have been around first class cricket since the early 2000s or earlier.

Besides the three names mentioned above, the only batsmen I can think of who made their first class debut after 2010, played test cricket for Pakistan, and have not scored a test hundred are:

Sami Aslam and Iftikhar Ahmed.

Iftikhar Ahmed played only one test. Not enough chances. So can't be judged.

Sami Aslam was around for 13 tests and given his domestic record he should have reached a test century. He did manage 7 fifties in his 13 tests and perhaps was not persisted with enough.

So the only two batsmen that Mazher's tweet is referring to out of the 620 first class debutants since 2010 are Babar Azam and Sami Aslam. I really don't think this stat is damning. Just misleading!

As for pacers, there is only Hasan Ali and Ehsan Adil besides the one mentioned above who made their first class debuts after 2010 and have played test cricket for Pakistan.

Hasan has played 4 tests and has been in and out of the team. There is still a question mark over whether he is test material or just a limited overs format champion.

Ehsan Adil played three tests and was a disappointment.

So again there is really just a couple of batsmen and bowlers who Mazher is judging.

620 players is a lot of cricketers, but hardly any of them have played test cricket. So if they haven't played how will they score a hundred or take a 5 wickets haul or win a man of the match award?

It does not mean Pakistan does not have world class cricketing talent.

It just means they have a stable test team, which not too long ago was number 1 in the test rankings. They have a young test team that drew a series in England this summer, a team that is on the verge of winning a test series against Australia.

Don't damn it with irrelevant and misleading stats like these please.

Why not talk about the great stuff that Pakistan's test cricketers have done since 2010!

Like Azhar Ali, who is one of the leading run scorers in test cricket since 2010.

And Asad Shafiq, who has scored more test centuries at number 6, not only since 2010, but since the time test cricket started! He is also has the world's leading run scorer at number 6 in test cricket since 2010. Well ahead of Ben Stokes who is mentioned in the tweet.

What about Yasir Shah, who is the world's leading wicket taker among leg spinners in tests since 2010, the world's 6th highest wicket taker among all spinners in tests since 2010, and the world's 16th highest wicket taker in tests since 2010.

Have you forgotten Mohammad Abbas? Forget since 2010, he has the best test bowling average in over a 100 years for all test bowlers with at least 50 wickets!

Pakistan's current test captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, is the 5th highest run scorer among wicketkeepers since 2010 - behind only the England duo, Prior and Bairstow, Dhoni, and Rahim.

Younis Khan and Misbah Ul Haq have been retired for over a year now, but even then YK's 18 test centuries since 2010 are bettered by only Kohli, Cook, Amla, Warner, and Smith; while only Cook and Kohli have scored more test runs than Misbah as captain since 2010.

There is so much success that Pakistan have had in tests since 2010 and we should really focus on highlighting that rather than meaningless stats like 620 first class cricketers since 2010 who haven't done this or that - ofcourse they haven't because they haven't even played test cricket!

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Finally, The Perfect Test Debut for Fakhar Zaman!

Following several successful domestic seasons, Fakhar Zaman finally made it to Pakistan's ODI squad for the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017.

The little I had seen of him, I was quite excited to see this potentially explosive batsman open for Pakistan.

However, Pakistan's squad already had Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali, and Ahmed Shehzad as openers, which made most people wonder what was the need for another opener.

I remember at the time a number of people said "Fakhar is a mere slogger, nai chalega".

Not many believed he was international standard. But I really wanted to see him open for Pakistan.

The Pakistan team management probably did not have much faith either as they went with Azhar and Shehzad as the openers for their first Champions Trophy game against India.

An embarrassing loss against India and loss of patience with Shehzad resulted in Fakhar finally getting the nod for Pakistan's next match against South Africa.

I could not wait to see this left hander in greens.

Fakhar impressed everyone with a 22 ball attacking 31, which was laced with 6 hits to the fence.

Fakhar looked every bit the international batsman, but even then there were questions.

"He just lasted 20 odd deliveries"

"He's just a T20 batsman, shouldn't play ODIs"

All sorts of judgments were passed.

But Fakhar would have none of it as he marched on and improved with every outing in the Champions Trophy.

His next three innings were 50, 57, and 114, with the last one coming in the Final against India.

Fakhar Zaman had arrived!

He continued to dominate the bowling in ODIs and T20Is.

He scored against all sides and in all conditions.

He was so good in limited overs that even Babar Azam was over shadowed.

With an average of 59 and a strike rate of 99 in ODIs, coupled with an average of 31 and a strike rate of 143 in T20Is, there is no longer any doubt in anyone's mind that Fakhar is every bit an international opener and a world class batsman.

His success in the shorter format earned him a call to the Test squad for the one-off test against Ireland and the two tests against England this summer.

I thought that was a great idea and just what Pakistan needed - someone who could take the attack to the opposition early on.

Since Saeed Anwar, Pakistan really hasn't had a dominating opening batsman in tests.

Fakhar was a great prospect and once again I was excited to see him don the whites for Pakistan.

But throughout the UK tour, the team management preferred to open with Azhar Ali and Imam Ul Haq. Fakhar did not get a chance to display his talent in whites.

I had thought that it would have been ideal to open with Fakhar with Imam with Azhar at 3, but the Pakistan team management opted to play 5 batsmen, with Sarfraz at 6, followed by a couple of allrounders.

That combination worked no doubt, but I feel Pakistan missed a great opportunity to test Fakhar.

Especially in the tour games and the test against Ireland. That would have been an ideal start to Fakhar's test career.

It didn't bog Fakhar down however as he continued to destroy bowling attacks in ODIs and in the process became the first batsman from Pakistan to score an ODI double hundred.

When Pakistan's test squad for Australia was announced, Fakhar was in there again, as the third opener alongside the first choice pair of Azhar Ali and Imam Ul Haq.

If Fakhar had any chance of making his test debut, it was all dispelled when Pakistan's selectors decided to include Mohammad Hafeez in the test squad at the last minute.

A fourth opener meant that Fakhar had moved even further down the pekking order.

For the first test, the team management moved Azhar Ali back to number 3 with Hafeez and Imam opening.

Hafeez, coming back to the side after two years, celebrated his comeback with a hundred.

Imam continued to show why he will be opening for Pakistan for the next decade and a half.

Both were also involved in a 200 run opening partnership, which meant that Fakhar will have to wait a while.

I wondered whether Fakhar will ever play test cricket.

Some even thought it was best he doesn't because his game is only suited to white ball cricket.

I always thought otherwise. Look at the impact the likes of Virender Sehwag, Matthew Hayden, and Chris Gayle have had while opening in tests. They all have triple centuries against their names.

Then Imam injured his hand and was ruled out of the second test.

This was Fakhar's chance I thought. He will finally make his debut.

A few days away from the second test against Australia, I started hearing that Sarfraz and Arthur will move Azhar back to open the innings and slot Usman Salahuddin in the middle order.

Meaning Fakhar will not get his chance in whites yet again.

On the eve of the second test however, Sarfraz Ahmed confirmed that Fakhar will play.

That was it. I couldn't wait for the debut.

All of Pakistan was excited to see Fakhar make his debut, see Fakhar take Australia's bowling apart.

While some skeptics continued to say that it was a mistake and Usman Salahuddin was once again hard done by.

Maybe Usman was, actually I think he was, because he truly deserves to play test cricket for Pakistan, but the prospect of Fakhar Zaman opening in test cricket is too good to ignore.

Pakistan won the toss and out walked Fakhar Zaman in whites making his test debut.

While I had thought that he will play his natural attacking game, Fakhar not only surprised me, but also silenced all those skeptics who had wondered whether he was good enough for test cricket or not.

Fakhar was sedate and cautious.

Maybe it was the nerves of a test debut, or maybe it was the fact that he saw three batsmen fall for ducks while he looked on from the non-striker's end.

Fakhar was out there when Pakistan collapsed from 57-1 to 57-5 in the span of 10 deliveries.

While an experienced campaigner might have been used to this, for a debutant that would have been nerve wrecking.

Not for Fakhar though.

He continued to bat cautiously and started to rebuild Pakistan's innings together with Sarfraz Ahmed.

A batsman who was used to batting at a strike rate of over a 100, was batting at a strike rate in the 40s.

It wasn't the same Fakhar I, or anyone else, was used to.

He was really unfortunate to miss a debut century, but Fakhar's 94 scored of 198 deliveries at a strike rate of 47 was a test innings par excellence.

It was one of the best debut innings played by a Pakistani batsman under pressure.

Forget the skeptics, even I did not think that Fakhar could curb his natural instinct and play sedately.

It was an outstanding debut innings.

Fakhar wasn't done yet.

He walked out for the second innings, with a lot less pressure as Pakistan was already leading by 137 runs, and he took the attack to Australia's bowling.

He raced to a run a ball fifty becoming the first opener from Pakistan to score a 50 in each innings of his debut test.

His second knock ended on 66, scored at a strike rate of 80.

This one was more a Fakhar innings, but more importantly what Fakhar showed in his debut test was that he can bat according to the situation.

If caution was required he can easily rein himself in and play like he did in the first innings. If aggression was required he can easily smash the bowling around like he did in the second innings.

It was the perfect debut for Fakhar Zaman and I can't wait to see more!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Trip Down Memory Lane Reminiscing Pakistan's unlikely Test Victories

This morning, with Australia at 91-7, a friend on Whatsapp commented that this has got to be the mother of all comebacks after Pakistan were 57-5 on the first morning of the test.

That discussion led to more examples of Pakistan coming from behind to win a test.

Here are five of Pakistan's great test wins that came after they had their backs against the wall.

On a green top, a typical surface in New Zealand, Pakistan were put in by the Kiwis and in no time were reduced to 12-3. A customary captain's innings of 92 from Javed Miandad saved Pakistan from complete disaster as they managed a somewhat respectable 216 in the first innings.

Mark Greatbatch played a magnificent knock of 133, but Wasim, Waqar, and Mushtaq ensured that New Zealand do not bat Pakistan out of the game. The rest of the Kiwi batsmen could not do much and New Zealand took a modest 48 run lead.

Pakistan's woes against seam and swing continued in the second innings as they were bundled out for 174 with the only saving grace being Inzamam's 75.

Set a target of 127, it should have been a walk in the park for New Zealand.

But Pakistan's deadly Ws duo had other things in mind.

Wasim Akram bowled unchanged for 22 overs and dismissed half the New Zealand side, with Waqar Younis running through the other half, leaving the Kiwis in tatters.

The greatest pacers to play for Pakistan destroyed New Zealand giving Pakistan an unlikely 33 run win.

Having just drawn the test series 1-1 with India, Pakistan took on India again in Kolkata in the first match of the Asian Test Championship.

After winning the toss and batting first, within 45 minutes of the game, Srinath and Prasad had Pakistan reeling at 26-6.

The entire batting line up, barring Saleem Malik (32), had succumbed to the seam and swing of India's opening bowlers. Moin Khan played a valuable knock of 70 and with support from Malik and Wasim Akram (38), managed to give Pakistan a total of 185.

India could not capitalize on this as they also folded for 223 in the first innings as Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar shared 7 wickets, including Shoaib's two scalps of successive yorkers to Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar.

Pakistan's second innings was a one man masterclass from Saeed Anwar as he carried his bat with a magnificent career best 188 off 259 deliveries, which was laced with 23 boundaries and a six. He found some support from Mohammad Yousuf (56) with the rest of the Pakistan batting not doing much.

Javagal Srinath, Pakistan's first innings tormentor, took 8 wickets in the second innings, giving him career best match figures of 13-132.

Thanks to Saeed Anwar, Pakistan managed to post 316, giving India a target of 279 to win. In response, India managed only 232, and Pakistan won by 46 runs.

No one expected Pakistan to win after they were 26-6 inside 9 overs on the first morning of the test.

This test match started in similar fashion to the one in Kolkata. After winning the toss, Indian put Pakistan into bat on a breezy Karachi morning on a damp wicket.

At the end of the first over, Pakistan were 0-3 having lost Salman Butt, Younis Khan, and Mohammad Yousuf to an Irfan Pathan hatrick!

By the 10th over, Pakistan were reeling at 39-6.

Kamran Akmal then played the innings of his life as he smashed 18 boundaries in a classy 113 where he shared a 115 run 7th wicket partnership with Abdul Razzak (45) and a 82 run 8th wicket partnership with Shoaib Akhtar (45) to take Pakistan to a respectable 245.

Pakistan wrested the initiative away from India once again as Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif, and Abdul Razzaq combined to bowl India out for 238.

In the 2nd innings, Pakistan just smashed their way to 599-7 declared. Faisal Iqbal hit 139 and every other batsman that batted got 50+, including a couple of 90s from Mohammad Yousuf and Abdul Razzaq.

India managed only 265 in their improbable chase of 607, giving Pakistan their largest win ever by 341 runs (which was later broken in 2014 when Pakistan beat Australia by 356 runs).

Who would have thought that Pakistan will manage a record breaking win after they were 0-3 on the first morning!

This was the second test of the series against England and Pakistan were behind in the entire game except for the final 30 overs of the match.

On day 1, Pakistan collapsed from 203-4 to 257 all out as Broad, Anderson, and Panesar proved too much for Pakistan's lower order. In response England posted 327 taking a 70 run first innings lead.

In the second innings, Pakistan again could not handle Monty Panesar as he picked up 6 wickets to bowl Pakistan out for 214.

Needing only 145 runs to win, England began their chase cautiously putting on 20 runs in 14 overs. They lost Alastair Cook to Hafeez off the final delivery of the 15th over to make it 21-1.

Then the carnage began.

From there it went to 26-2, 37-4, 68-7, and then 72 ALL OUT !

Abdur Rehman's 6-25 and Saeed Ajmal's 3-22 gave Pakistan one of their most improbable wins ever.

No one gave Pakistan a chance to defend 145, but they did and how. It was a great escape and a wonderful win! 

DUBAI 2012
After winning the series following the great escape in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan should have been confident going into bat after winning the toss in the third test against England.

However, within 45 minutes of the morning, Pakistan found themselves at 21-5, with Broad and Anderson ripping through the batting. Panesar further added to their woes and Pakistan were bowled out for 99.

England should have run away with the match but their Abu Dhabi tormentors, Rehman (5-40) and Ajmal (3-59), combined again to restrict England's lead to only 42 runs.

In the second innings, Azhar Ali (157) and Younis Khan (127) combined in a 200 run partnership to give Pakistan a 300 plus run lead.

Pakistan set England a target of 324, which at the end proved too much for them.

No one thought Pakistan will end up winning the test by 71 runs after they were bowled out for 99 in the first innings.

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