Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Can Altior take a page out of England's book?


England produced history in the summer by winning the Cricket World Cup for the first time in their history. It was a game that will live long in the memories of everyone who watch a breath-taking final between the Three Lions and New Zealand at Lord’s. Eoin Morgan’s men were triumphant on boundaries scored after the game was decided by a Super Over.

Rise To Dominance

England built a reputation of being the most dominant side in the 50-over game by winning all over the world – not just in the comfort of their own homes. That is what makes a great champion. There are examples all over the world of teams that have been able to win on the road or out of their own countries when the chips have well and truly been down or conditions have been against them. The sign of a great champion is also bouncing back when you have suffered adversity.
Morgan’s men were beaten three times in the group stage, putting their place in the semi-finals in jeopardy, losing to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia. However, they regained their form to win four-straight games to secure the crown. The resilience more than their quality was the driving force, needing to overcome huge obstacles to win the title. It is a characteristic that another one of the great competitors in the sporting world will need to define.
Victory is a fickle friend all across the sporting world. If we look to racing, our eyes fall on the great jumping horse Altior who recently suffered his first defeat since April 2015, ending an incredible run of 14-straight victories. Cyrname was the competitor to final oust Nicky Henderson’s charge from the top spot in their duel in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot. The victory was no fluke as the French thoroughbred had too much for his rival from start-to-finish. When Cyrname powered down the stretch, Altior had no answer as his opponent eased over the line to claim the victory by two-and-a-half lengths.

Can Altior Emulate England’s Exploits?

The taste of defeat will be unfamiliar to Henderson, jockey Nico de Boinville and more importantly Altior will be wondering why he’s not enjoying the delights of the winners’ circle. The result has affected the bookies’ confidence in the Irish thoroughbred, with his horse racing betting oddsdropping to 5/1 for the King George VI Chase on December 26 at Kempton Park. It is a contest full of quality runners and would take the nine-year-old on to new ground where he has not competed over three miles before in his illustrious career.
However, it would offer the perfect chance to bounce back. When England were seemingly down and out in the World Cup their next match was against one of the favourites for the competition India on a pitch that suited their opponents more than the host nation. Morgan’s men rose to the occasion and delivereda fine performance to secure a comfortable victory. The eyes of the National Hunt will be on Altior in the King George VI Chase where he could face off once against Cyrname among others including last year’s winner Clan des Obeaux. It would fitting for the great horse to prove his doubters wrong to reclaim his place in the winners’ circle at the first time of asking.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Pakistan vs Australia Test Series: Selection Decisions for Pakistan


Pakistan's T20 International series against Australia was not the kind of start that new T20 captain, Babar Azam, was looking for; however we at least witnessed Babar take charge and impose his authority with the bat in 2 of the 3 T20 games.

Suffice to say that captaincy burdens will not hamper Babar's batting ability.

Despite Pakistan suffering a 2-0 loss, there has been plenty of excitement building up among the Pakistan fans for the upcoming Test Series.

Particularly due to the video clips of Naseem Shah's bowling circulating on social media.



This boy is going to be a sensation.

Even though it was Imran Khan whose 5 wickets destroyed Australia A in the 3-day match, every Pakistani was focused solely on Naseem Shah's 8 overs, his speed, and his 1 wicket.

There is something about a free flowing express pace bowler who keeps the batsmen jumping.

Naseem Shah is the real deal and every Pakistani is hoping he is the one who will continue the legacy of Pakistan's pace bowling.

But will Misbah and Azhar Ali play him in the first test that starts in 3 days?

Here's a look at some selection decisions that Pakistan will face for the first test against Australia.

THE BOWLING
Mohammad Abbas and Yasir Shah are sure starters in the 4-man bowling attack that Pakistan will field in the first test against Australia at Brisbane.

That leaves two spots and a choice between Shaheen Afridi, Imran Khan, Naseem Shah, and Muhammad Musa.

Musa impressed in the 2-day game against Cricket Australia XI with figures of 2-32 in his 14 overs. He generated quite a but of pace too, consistently bowling in the 140s.

Shaheen has been on a comeback trail and had a good outing against Australia A, picking up 2-42 in 16 overs in the first innings and 1-22 in 9 overs in the second.

Imran Khan was the star of the first practice game with sterling figures of 5-32.

But the talk of the town has been Naseem Shah!

So who gets to play come Thursday?

It will be a tough choice for the Pakistan team management. I think Imran Khan and Shaheen Afridi would be the wise choice, but I really want to see Naseem Shah in the XI.

While Pakistan's bowling does look exciting, its ability to pick 20 Australian wickets is debatable.

THE BATTING
In fact, I believe that Pakistan's batting will shine in the upcoming test series and it will be the bowlers who will struggle against the Aussie batting.

Babar Azam has been in wonderful touch. He kicked off the T20s with two 50s and then followed that up with an unbeaten 150 odd against Australia A. He dominated an international level bowling attack and played some stunning strokes in that innings, leaving everyone in awe of his talent and form.



Iftikhar Ahmed has also been in great form since his comeback to the side in the home series against Sri Lanka. In Australia, he played a brutal unbeaten knock of 62 of only 30 odd deliveries in the last T20, and in the 3-day match against Australia A, he again played an unbeaten knock of 79. Bowlers have found it extremely difficult to dismiss him, and all his unbeaten knocks have catapulted his average in T20 Internationals to a whopping 75!



Asad Shafiq, the mainstay of Pakistan's Test batting line up for the past many years, has warmed up for the test series with centuries in each of the practice matches. He scored an unbeaten 119 against Australia A, where he was involved in an unbroken partnership of 276 with Babar Azam. He followed that up with another unbeaten knock of 101 against Cricket Australia XI, where again he put on a century partnership with Babar.

The openers Shan Masood and Imam Ul Haq have also warmed up well. Shan managed scores of 65 and 76 in the two matches, while Imam played a solitary innings of 44.

The only batsmen not to find any form were Pakistan's new Test Captain, Azhar Ali, and Haris Sohail. Azhar scored 11 and 1 in the two innings against Australia A and then sat out the match against CA XI. While Haris has scores of 18, 2, and 4 in the three innings he played in these practice games. Haris also had a very disappointing T20 series.

THE PLAYING XI
Even though Haris Sohail scored a 147 in the last test series he played for Pakistan, I feel his struggle in Australia is real and he should sit out the first test. Moreso because Iftikhar Ahmed has been in red hot form and deserves to add to his solitary test cap.

The other 5 batsmen pick themselves.

The bowling, as mentioned above is the tricky part, however I am sold on the excitement generated by Naseem Shah, and I feel Pakistan should play two bowlers who bowl in the 140s, rather than two who bowl in the 130s.

I am not convinced with Mohammad Rizwan's ability to shine in international cricket, but there is no choice really. Abid Ali, while a far superior batsman, is not an international level wicket keeper. One needs a specialist for Test matches.

Here's my XI for the first test1. Shan Masood 2. Imam Ul Haq 3. Azhar Ali 4. Babar Azam 5. Iftikhar Ahmed 6. Asad Shafiq 7. Mohammad Rizwan 8. Yasir Shah 9. Shaheen Afridi 10. Mohammad Abbas 11. Naseem Shah

Can't wait for this Test Series to start already!

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Pakistan's New Look Test Attack

With the test retirements of Mohammad Aamer and Wahab Riaz, Pakistan's selectors had to look into the trenches to find able replacements for the upcoming Test tour to Australia.

The Chief Selector, Misbah Ul Haq, surprised everyone when he named young pacers, Naseem Shah and Muhammad Musa, and the domestic spin stalwart, Kashif Bhatti in Pakistan's Test squad.

Niether of them have played international cricket yet.


Also returning to the fold was Imran Khan Snr, who has appeared in 9 tests for Pakistan but last appeared for them three years ago!

These 4 join the experienced Yasir Shah, and somewhat experienced Mohammad Abbas and Shaheen Afridi, in a 7 man attack that is part of Pakistan's Test squad for the two tests against Australia.

These 7 have played 61 tests collectively. Nathan Lyon alone has played 91!

Talk about inexperience, that too for a place like Australia.

We all are aware of what Yasir, Abbas, and Shaheen are capable of. Here is a look at what made the selectors include the other 4 in the squad.

KASHIF BHATTI
He is 33 and has been around the domestic scene for 12 years now.

A left arm finger spinner, Kashif has a very impressive domestic record, having picked up 327 wickets in 83 first class matches at an average of 22.8 and economy of 2.6. He is quite handy with the bat too averaging 24.2 in these 83 FC matches with 10 fifties and 2 hundreds.

Kashif has represented Hyderabad in the domestic circuit and in the newly revamped domestic circuit he is part of the Sindh team.

In the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Kashif has played 3 matches in which he has picked up 10 wickets at an average of 27.4 and economy of 2.04!

He not only has wicket taking ability but can also stop the flow of runs, which as we know is what Misbah likes for choking the opposition in Test cricket.

In recent times, Pakistan's spinners have started their International careers in the 30s, including legends like Saeed Ajmal and Yasir Shah. It is the same for Kashif who has finally got his chance; he would be looking forward to getting an opportunity in Australia.

NASEEM SHAH
He is the most exciting name in Pakistan's line up in my view. Naseem is only 16 and he is extremely fast!

He made his first class debut only a year ago and has played a mere 5 first class games. However the impression he has made in those games is good enough to give him a crack at International cricket in a place where the wickets are the fastest in the world.

In 5 FC matches, Naseem has picked up 17 wickets at an average of 18.7 and economy of 2.9.

In the ongiong Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, he is representing Central Punjab and he is the second highest wicket taker among pacers with 9 wickets at an average of 26.2.

Naseem is a very exciting prospect and he would relish the opportunity to have a go at the Australian batsmen in Brisbane and Adelaide.

MUHAMMAD MUSA
He is another young tearaway at 19 years old and we all saw him turn out for Islamabad United in the PSL earlier this year.

But why he is in Pakistan's test squad, I am not too sure.

For his 17 wickets, he averages 37.5 in 7 First Class matches and in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, his 5 wickets have cost him 68.4 per wicket.

I understand he is an exciting prospect and probably has a bright future ahead of him, but there are so many other pacers in the domestic circuit, who are currently doing so much better in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, who could have been considered for the Australia tour.

Just to name a few, the likes of Sameen Gul, Haris Rauf, Tabish Khan and Ehsan Adil have been quite impressive in the QeT, and definitely far better than Musa has been.

IMRAN KHAN (Snr)
I also do not understand what has resulted in a recall for Imran Khan. He has not had a good QeT with 5 wickets in 4 matches at an average of 54.8. He has not done much in the 3 years that he has been out of Pakistan's Test side. Nor does his Test average of over 30 make it seem like he was dropped unfairly.

Then why is he back when there are so many more talented pacers in Pakistan?

While Naseem and Kashif are inspired selections and both represent players with immense potential who can deliver for Pakistan; Musa and Imran Khan selections do not make much sense.

I am most excited about Naseem Shah and hope he gets a chance to play at least one of the test matches down under.

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Sunday, October 27, 2019

Why was Pakistan's T20 Squad Overhauled?

We have already discussed the unfortunate decision to replace Sarfaraz Ahmed as captain of the T20 team. A team that he had taken to the top of the ICC T20 Rankings.

Before Sarfaraz was replaced, he had to contend with the inclusion of Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal in his T20 squad for the series against Sri Lanka.

Instead of blooding fresh faces at home in conditions known to local players, Misbah Ul Haq's selection committee decided to bring in tried, tested, and failed players.

Who failed once again.

As a result, Pakistan lost the series 3-0 and Sarfaraz Ahmed was sacked!

Pakistan's two senior most cricketers - Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez - were unavailable (with the PCB's permission) for the T20 series due to their CPL commitments.

So fine you needed to replace them but why bring in Shehzad and Umar when other promising prospects are available?

What is even more disturbing is that for a tough tour to Australia, Misbah's selection committee has not only decided to change the captain of the T20 team, they have chosen to ignore Malik and Hafeez, and have selected uncapped and untried batsmen like Khushdil Shah and Imam Ul Haq respectively.

With all due respect to Imam Ul Haq, who I believe is one of Pakistan's best batsmen in Tests and ODIs, I really do not think that his game is suited to T20 cricket.

Khushdil Shah is also a promising middle order batsman with a penchant for power hitting, but he really should have been tried at home against Sri Lanka. The selectors are not doing him any favors by sending him to Australia for a first taste of international cricket.

But what have Malik and Hafeez done wrong?


Since The World T20 in 2016, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez have been Pakistan's leading batsmen in T20s, after the newly elected captain Babar Azam.

Malik is in fact the second highest run scorer, behind Babar, during this period.

Hafeez is the only other batsman from Pakistan, besides Babar and Malik, to average in the 40s.

Their performances with the bat, and the ball, and in the field, have contributed immensely towards Pakistan's number 1 ranking in the world.

Not only for Pakistan, but both Malik and Hafeez have been among the best in the world in T20s over the past 3 years.


Malik is among the top 10 run scorers in the world in T20 Internationals in the past 3 years.

His average is the third best among these batsmen, behind Babar and Maxwell. His strike rate is also the third best among these batsmen, behind Maxwell and Munro.

Besides Maxwell and Malik, there are no other batsmen in the world who average above 40 and have a strike rate above 150 in T20 Internationals in the past 3 years.

Mohammad Hafeez is among the only 9 batsmen in the world who have an average above 40 in T20 Internationals in the past 3 years (among top 8 teams with a minimum of 10 innings).

Then why were Malik and Hafeez ignored for the T20 series against Australia?

Shouldn't they be the backbone of Pakistan's World T20 campaign next year?

Should they not get some innings in the conditions where the World T20 will be played in 2020?

What are Misbah and co thinking?

There was absolutely no need to tinker with the T20 team.

Instead Misbah has overhauled a team that was the best in the world!

Unbelievable ...

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Was it Right to Sack Sarfaraz Ahmed?

Sarfaraz Ahmed is gone.

His time as captain of Pakistan's national team across all three formats is over and for now his time as a player is over too!

While I was still trying to get my head around this decision, Pakistan's new and all powerful Chief Selector announced the Test and T20 teams for the tour to Australia, which left me even more perplexed.

My head is in a cross wire over all these changes and I am still trying to make sense of them.


CAPTAINCY CONFUSION

When the announcement came, the headline read "Sarfaraz Ahmed removed as Pakistan Captain from all 3 formats".

Azhar Ali was announced Test Captain, Babar Azam was announced T20 Captain, and a decision on the ODI captain was deferred till July 2020, which is when Pakistan plays its next ODI.

Within minutes, however, the article was updated:

So which one is it?

Has Sarfaraz been retained as ODI captain or has he been removed?

I still don't know.


WAS IT RIGHT TO REMOVE SARAFRAZ?

There is no easy answer.

Pakistan won the Champions Trophy under him two years ago.

They failed to qualify for the World Cup semifinals but only because of Net Run Rate. They ended the World Cup with 4 straight wins.

Pakistan have won their last 6 ODIs under Sarfraz.

Pakistan have been the number 1 ranked T20 team for two years under Sarfaraz. No Pakistan captain had a better record in T20s than him.

Considering all this, maybe he should have been retained.

But then you think about all those losses in ODIs against the top 8 teams. Besides the wins in CT2017, Pakistan barely registered any victory against the top 8 ODI teams under Sarfaraz.

You think about losing a first ever test series in the UAE, which had become Pakistan's fortress under Misbah Ul Haq.

You think about the clean sweep in the T20 series against a second string, albeit talented, Sri Lanka.

But even then was the captaincy strip warranted?

A closer look at Sarfaraz's captaincy record reveals this:

TESTS
13 matches | 4 wins | 8 losses | 1 draw
568 runs at 25.81 with 5 fifties

He looked out of depth as test captain.

His batting suffered.

While those numbers are not bad, they are not good enough for someone who wanted to bat in the top 6. For a number 7 WK they are also strictly okay. He was far better before he took on the captaincy and was averaging in the 40s.

ODIS
50 matches | 28 wins | 20 losses | 2 NR
804 runs at 32.2 and SR of 87.3 with 5 fifties

A W:L ratio of 1.4 is not bad.

However, a closer look at the wins shows that 17 out of 28 came against the top 8 ODI sides, out of which 8 wins were against Sri Lanka.

Out of the remaining 9 wins, 3 came on the trot leading to the Champions Trophy win.

Pakistan never looked like a world beating ODI team under Sarfaraz, except for that 1 week in 2017, however it wasn't all that bad either.

His own form too was alright. An average of 32 for a wicket keeper is fine in my opinion. He probably did not fit in the top 5 but at 6 or 7 he was fine.

He perhaps could have continued as ODI captain. Maybe he will. Who knows.

T20Is
37 matches | 29 Wins | 8 losses
521 runs at 27.4 and SR of 130.6

Someone who achieved these numbers did not deserve to be sacked.

Under Sarfraz, Pakistan won 11 consecutive T20 series, beating all teams in all sorts of conditions. They beat England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies, Sri Lanka, and even a World XI.

Pakistan rose to the top of the International T20 Rankings and remained the number 1 T20 team for two years.

They still are the number 1 T20 team, despite the 3-0 loss to Sri Lanka.

Pakistan have won only 1 out of their last 6 T20 internationals, however after a string of wins across 11 successful series, the selectors should have been a bit more considerate.

While remaining as ODI captain is debatable, Sarfaraz surely did not deserve to be sacked as a T20 captain. Even his batting record was fine in T20s.

Sarfaraz was one of the most successful captains in the history of T20 cricket. The least the PCB could have done was give him a chance to lead the team in a World T20.



*                   *                    *

In my view, it was right to remove Sarfaraz as test captain and replace him with Azhar Ali. In fact, Azhar Ali should have always been test captain. It is quite unfortunate that Azhar was made ODI captain and did not get the test captaincy, after Misbah's retirement, because of his failure as an ODI captain.

Removing Sarfaraz as T20 captain is completely unjust. Sure Pakistan lost 3-0 to Sri Lanka but take a look at the 3 years before that. Does that count for nothing?

I wish Babar Azam all the success in the world - as a batsman and as Pakistan's T20 captain. But his time could have come later. Pakistan need his batting right now more than his captaincy.

Sarfaraz should have been the one to lead Pakistan in next year's World T20.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

What can we expect from new BCCI President, Sourav Ganguly?

In the year 2000, Sourav Ganguly was handed the reins of the Indian cricket team due to the match-fixing scandals by other players and the resignation of Sachin Tendulkar from the post due to his poor health. Ganguly went on to take the Indian team to new heights, the highlight being the 2003 World Cup when India reached a World Cup final after 2 decades. 19 years later, Sourav Ganguly is again at the position of responsibility with great challenges and in the center of cricket news, this time as the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Ganguly will be the first president of the BCCI since the Lodha Committee reforms were implemented.

After retiring from international cricket in 2008, Ganguly played in IPL till 2012. In the last seven years, Sourav Ganguly has been part of various organizations related to cricket He’s the president of the Cricket Association of Bengal - a post he will most likely hand over to Avishek Dalmiya. Ganguly is also the President of the Editorial Board with Wisden India. Ganguly is a member of the Technical Committee, Indian Premier League. Sourav Ganguly is also one of the four members of the Indian Premier League’s Governing Council. He was appointed at this position by the Supreme Court in 2016. Ganguly has also been the chairman of the Cricket Association of Bengal’s Cricket Development Committee.

The BCCI President elections were scheduled to be held on October 23, but as Ganguly was the lone candidate applying for the job, he was elected unopposed as the President. Ganguly will assume office on October 23, along with his team consisting of Jay Shah and others. Provided that Ganguly’s cooling-off period will begin as mentioned in the Lodha Committee recommendations, he, for the time being, is supposed to serve on the post for ten months. He will become only the second Indian cricketer to serve as the president of the BCCI. Maharaja of Vizianagaram was the first cricketer to be the BCCI president, a post which he served between 1954 and 1956. Some other cricketers like Suni Gavaskar and Shivlal Yadav have served as the interim BCCI President.

Sharing his vision, Ganguly said that First-Class cricket will remain his priority. Given that there are close to 200 matches every year in the Indian domestic cricket circuit, it is natural to have this as the top priority. Ganguly also spoke of getting India its fair share and representation at the International Cricket Council. Tackling conflict of interest and repairing BCCI’s tarnished image is also high in Saurav Ganguly’s agenda. Ganguly said that in the next few months, everything will be put in place and normalcy will be brought in Indian cricket again. There is no doubt in the fact that Ganguly is focused BCCI to the top just like the India cricket team, which is playing nothing less than a Dream11 team.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Pakistan vs Sri Lanka T20s - Over Reaction Much?

Pakistan played its first international match under the new regime of Misbah Ul Haq against Sri Lanka a couple of weeks back and convincingly won the ODI by 60 odd runs.

They posted a 300+ total on back of a Babar Azam century, a Fakhar Zaman fifty, and a late flourish from Iftikhar Ahmed who looked very promising on his return to the international fold.

Pakistan followed that win with another one, this time chasing down a 290 odd score with few balls to spare. They won it comfortably by 5 wickets and Iftikhar was there once again at the end.

The successful chase was set up by the openers - Fakhar who followed his 54 with a 76, and Abid Ali who impressed once again with a well made 74.

Abid looks like a million bucks in the middle.

ODI series won 2-0 and there was hardly any hue and cry about it. Pakistan extended its ODI winning streak to 7 and no one made any noise about it.

That's fine. It was a second string Sri Lankan team so wins were expected.

But chasing 290 odd is not something Pakistan does often, so I feel it was a great win.

Moving on to the T20s and Pakistan could not have started off on a worse footing.

The first public reaction was to the return of Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal to Pakistan's T20 squad. Just this resulted in tremendous amount of criticism for the new Chief Selector / Head Coach, Misbah Ul Haq.

How could he bring both of them back into the team?

Shehzad and Umar Akmal are tried, tested, and failed batsmen at the International level so what really resulted in them being recalled?

For starters, Pakistan's two most experienced T20 batsmen, Shoaib Malik (averaging 44 in T20s since 2016) and Mohammad Hafeez (averaging 31 since 2016) were unavailable due to their CPL commitments.

This meant, Pakistan needed 2 replacements for the squad. But no one expected the 2 replacements to be Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal.

Umar Akmal had not played a T20 for Pakistan since he was axed in September 2016, while Shehzad was dropped in June 2018.

So they must have done something during this time to warrant selection, right? Let us take a look.


AHMED SHEHZAD

In PSL 2019, Ahmed Shehzad scored 311 runs at an average of 51.83 and strike rate of 126.93. He knocked 4 fifties in 8 innings with a highest score of 99.

Shehzad was one of the only two batsmen who averaged 50+ during the PSL. The other was AB De Villiers.

This performance justifies selection in my opinion. But what I don't understand is that while Pakistan's first choice openers in T20s - Fakhar and Babar - are fit and fine and performing, what is the need of an Ahmed Shehzad? And what is the need to drop Fakhar and play Shehzad? And what is the need of playing Shehzad at #3 when all his runs have been scored while opening?

Selection might be justified, but giving him opportunities over Fakhar makes no sense.

UMAR AKMAL
Umar did not even have a great PSL 2019 like Shehzad. He scored 277 runs in 10 innings at an average of 34.62 and strike rate of 137.12.

Decent numbers, but there were many who performed better than this; for example Imam Ul Haq (who is not considered a T20 batsman) and Umar's elder brother Kamran Akmal who was the leading national run scorer in PSL 2019 (behind only Shane Watson).

In December 2018, there was a National T20 Cup played in Pakistan. Umar Akmal played 5 matches scoring 109 runs at an average of 21.8.

Surely this performance does not deserve selection. There was a plethora of local batsmen who were far more impressive than Umar Akmal.

So while Shehzad's case of being selected still holds merit, Umar Akmal's does not.

Both of them however could have proven every one wrong through their performances but their failures in the two T20 losses to Sri Lanka have made them become a laughing stock.

Especially Umar Akmal who registered a golden duck in both games!

Misbah and Sarfraz have to be blamed for selecting them, playing them over the likes of Fakhar, Haris, and Iftikhar, and then persisting with them.

But I feel the reaction from the public has been a bit overboard.

I mean there are people out there calling for Misbah's head over this.

Give the guy a break for God's sake.

Pakistan just won the ODI series 2-0. I didn't see any praise from anyone. In fact no one even discussed the matches.

But the moment Pakistan loses two games, people are out with their knives and guns.

Bit overboard I feel.

The World T20 is a year away. Pakistan will play a dozen or so T20s before that tournament. This is not enough international exposure for new blood to be inducted into the team. There isn't enough time for preparation.

I also feel that Pakistan's T20 team is well set so you don't really need new players.

Shehzad and Akmal were brought back to fill in the shoes of Malik and Hafeez and with the CPL coming to a close, Pakistan's veterans will be back and the two prodigal sons will return to the wilderness.

I really don't think such reaction is warranted over what has happened. 

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Pakistani Ramblings ...

Pakistan are playing their first series since the World Cup, and while the results in ODIs were heartening, the team has been disastrous in the format in which they have been the top ranked side for some time now.

Before I talk about the series against Sri Lanka, I also want to take note of what happened during Pakistan's off season.

Pakistan got a new chief selector, they got a new head coach who is also the chief selector, got a new bowling coach too who is also the former head coach and former bowling coach, a new domestic structure was put in place, the newly designed Quaid-e-Azam Trophy kicked off, and as always there was an unlimited supply of drama, conjecture, and memes ... 

Misbah Ul Haq at the Helm ...Again!
For 7 years he ruled Pakistan cricket as captain. During that time, Pakistan's Test team reached unprecedented heights, but ODI and T20I cricket suffered like never before.

I feel the same may happen during his time as Head Coach. He is the best person for the job when it comes to Test Cricket, and given the start of the first ever World Test Championship, the timing could not have been more ideal for Misbah to take charge of Pakistan's Test Team.

But we also have two World T20 tournaments in the next two years, and for that I fear Misbah is perhaps not the right man to be coaching the team.

We can ignore ODIs for now as that is what all nations seem to be doing for the next two years.

Head Coach is also Chief Selector
Misbah is not only Pakistan's new Head Coach, he is also the new Chief Selector. This is the first time that anyone has been given this dual responsibility and it makes Misbah the most accountable person in Pakistan Cricket.

Not to mention the most Powerful too.

Pakistan, by all means, has become Misbah's team.

Only time will tell whether this dual role works or not, but in my view this structure has more merits than flaws.

Giving Misbah this dual role has taken away the blame game that has plagued Pakistan cricket for ages. Considering the close relationship between Captain and Coach, they will always get the squad that they want - which is great for Pakistan.

Waqar Younis is Back!
Again!? After several failed stints as head coach and bowling coach, Waqar is back as the new bowling coach of Pakistan. Not sure what Azhar Mahmood did wrong, neither sure of why we had to go back to Waqar rather than bringing in someone fresh.

Waqar has not had a good past as a coach. Pakistan has not had a good time with him as coach.

The only positive out of this is that Misbah and Waqar share a good working relationship.

Hopefully this time Waqar can focus on improving Pakistan's pacers and not worry about power struggles.

The New Domestic Cricket Structure
For 3 decades, Imran Khan has been voicing his opinion on how Pakistan's domestic cricket needs to be improved in order to achieve International success.

All these years, no one implemented Imran Khan's suggestions. But now that he is the Prime Minister, he can ensure that his plans are implemented.

The Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Pakistan's premier first-class domestic competition, featuring 6 regional teams under the new structure kicked off. Imran Khan believed that this format will provide for more quality cricket and will develop better cricketers for international cricket.

I am not too sure that has happened. But what we have seen is a number of tons and big scores by batsmen!

On the opening day, Sami Aslam and Abid Ali cracked unbeaten double centuries. Salman Butt even followed it up with one. Ashfaq Ahmed from KPK has already hit 3 centuries in as many matches, including a 173! International Azhar Ali, Kamran Akmal, and Mohammad Rizwan have both knocked two centuries each. And a number of others have scored tons too including Imam Ul Haq, Shan Masood, Khurram Manzoor, Mohammad Nawaz, Asif Ali, Fawad Alam, Adnan Akmal, and several others.

No bowler has really stood out. Yasir Shah is leading the wicket tally, but he has leaked so many runs resulting in a 40+ average, which at domestic level is quite mediocre. The finger spinners, Zafar Gohar and Bilal Asif have better returns and are a wicket behind Yasir.

Rahat Ali is the only pacer with some decent returns, but I refuse to mention any thing more about him.

While batsmen continue to make merry in the domestic circuit, they have struggled big time against Sri Lanka - particularly in the T20s.

Series vs Sri Lanka
Pakistan's first ODI assignment after the World Cup was a cakewalk. Their main batsmen - Babar, Imam, Fakhar, and Haris - all scored runs. When Abid Ali got an opportunity, he showed why he should be a regular in the ODI XI. And Iftikhar Ahmed, who seems to be the replacement for Shoaib Malik/Mohammad Hafeez, displayed enough potential to get a longer run with the team.

Iftikhar was there at the end in both the games finishing off Pakistan's innings in style.

Pakistan put up a score and defended it, and they also chased one down. Both with quite some ease.

ODIs won 2-0. Job Done. All praise for new support staff and Pakistan who took their ODI winning streak to 7.

Considering this performance, the T20s should have been a walk in the park. After all Pakistan are the #1 T20 team in the World. They have won more T20s and more T20 series than any other team in the past 2-3 years. They have beaten all comers, easily and comprehensively.

Yet, a new look Sri Lanka side has thrashed them in the first two T20s.

Prodigal Sons Return
The T20 series started on the worst possible foot with the inclusion of Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal in the T20 squad.

I ignored it thinking that the presence of Babar, Fakhar, Haris, Asif Ali, Iftikhar, Nawaz, Imad, and the skipper Sarfraz would mean that Shehzad and Akmal will only warm the benches.

But no. They played. They played both T20s. They failed in both T20s.

What else was anyone expecting?

Shehzad and Akmal have been around for 10 years now, having made their International debut in 2009. This is enough time to realize that they will never fulfill the potential of their immense talent at this level. It is time to leave them forever in the domestic structure. It is fine, International cricket is not for them.

Had Pakistan invested this much time and  money in some other batsmen, they would be reaping the benefits by now.

I don't know what Misbah was thinking when including them in the squad and then in the playing XI. I don't know what Sarfraz was thinking when backing them. But at least we all know now that it is game over for them. Forever.

With Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez returning from the CPL and available for future T20 series, there will be no place for Shehzad and Akmal anyway.

Iftikhar is a good talent and he has shown in the 3 innings he has played so far that he is one for the long haul.

I hope Misbah has a better time when selecting and coaching the team for Australia !

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Saturday, September 7, 2019

Three Players Who Could Answer England’s Batting Problems In the Future


Although England are the number one team in the world now in the international one-day rankings, their Test performances have suffered as a result. The world champions have tried to covert explosive white-ball specialists into the Test arena and it has not worked.
Here is a look at three players England are likely to be monitoring closely and could get a call-up in the winter and beyond.

Haseeb Hameeb (Lancashire)



It was only a couple of years ago that Lancashire’s Haseeb Hameeb was seen as England’s future opening batsman. He made his debut for the Three Lions at the age of just 19 against India where he scored 82 runs in three matches before being ruled out due to a finger injury. Sadly for the youngster, he has been unable to impress the selectors enough to get a recall back into the Test team. Lancashire, who are now as short as 1/50 incricket betting for the County Championship Division Two, recently revealed that they will be releasing the batsman at the end of the current season, therefore, Hameeb will need to go elsewhere and prove himself again. There is unlikely to be a shortage of offers for the Englishman so don’t rule out him producing his best cricket again in the near future and forcing himself back into the England team.

Sam Northeast (Hampshire)

At the age of 29, Sam Northeast is now in the peak stages of his career and will feel now is the time he should be given the chance to shine in international cricket. The Hampshire batsman has scored three centuries in the Country Championship this season and is very much on course for passing 1000 runs when the campaign is over. Northeast has featured for the England Lions when they faced the West Indies A team in Antigua, so he has been on the selectors’ radar before. Given the season he has had domestically, there is a strong case to be made for him to be given an opportunity this winter when England travel to the southern hemisphere to take on New Zealand and South Africa respectively.

Dominic Sibley (Warwickshire)

No player has scored more runs in the County Championship this season than Warwickshire’s Dominic Sibley. The domestic game is there to support the England team and if statistics like that are used to help the selectors, then Sibley is surely top of the list when it comes to who will be the next man to given a chance in the Test fold. The 23-year-old has had a superb campaign so far and has really excelled since joining Warwickshire. Sibley still holds the record for the being the youngest player in County Championship history to score a double century as he did so as the age of just 18. If needed, the right-arm batsman can bowl leg-break which would give England another option with the ball in the winter.
For now, all the focus will be on the Ashes as England look to come out on top against their old foes Australia, but the selectors are sure to be thinking about what the future of this team is.

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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

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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.

Make your pitch on this post...



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