Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Get to know your Captain

As was widely expected, Azhar Ali was announced captain of Pakistan's ODI team yesterday. He was also announced as the Vice Captain of the test team, which means that he is most likely to take over as captain once Misbah retires.

Though this is Pakistan and anything can happen, this is the most likely scenario.

Azhar's elevation to ODI captain has come with scathing criticism from the public. A large proportion of the public has been criticizing Azhar Ali's strike rate, which at 39.56 in tests and 64.84 in ODIs makes for dismal reading. He averages 41 in both forms of the game, which means he can score, but the main problem seems to be with the way he scores. It is too slow for ODIs according to most people.

Azhar Ali himself knows that. He is not ignorant.

In the press conference where PCB Chairman, Shaharyar Khan, announced Azhar Ali as ODI captain, Azhar was asked the question about his strike rate. His response was:

"I am aware that my strike rate is not good. I have worked on this problem and have improved it in domestic cricket. Insha'Allah I will be able to do the same in international cricket and results will be for all to see."

Now there is a trait of a captain. To take the answer head on and respond with the confidence that he did showed to me at least that he knew what he was talking about.

Coming back to why he was selected as ODI captain.

Shaharyar Khan said "I know he hasn't played ODI cricket for 2 years. But in the Pentangular Cup that we conducted he was very impressive. His batting and captaincy were both impressive and we felt he was the best man for the job."

Whether you agree with the choice or not you cannot take away the reasoning that has been provided by Shaharyar Khan. It is honest, according to him the right decision, and he made sure he let everyone know that.

Rarely do we see such confidence and honesty in Pakistani press conferences.

Now let's take a look at whether Azhar's and Shaharyar Sb's statements hold any weight or not.

Pentangular Cup

The tournament was held in January this year and according to the PCB at the time it was a trial period for all cricketers in preparation for the World Cup.

Azhar Ali captained Baluchistan Warriors in that tournament. Baluchistan reached the final of the Pentangular Cup, and even though they lost to KPK in the final, the fact that they reached there instead of the more fancied Sindh and Punjab means that Azhar Ali did play some role. You can't take that away from him.

With 302 runs in 5 innings at an average of 60.4 and a strike rate of 86.3, Azhar Ali was also the leading run scorer of the Pentangular Cup.

No one should have any complaints with that strike rate.

Azhar's 5 innings in the Pentangular Cup shows that he scored:

17 off 42 vs KPK
117 off 133 vs Sindh
75 off 92 vs Federal United
72 off 56 vs Punjab
21 off 27 vs KPK

Besides that first game, his strike rate was not an issue in any of the other matches. The innings of 72 off 56 deliveries came in a game where Baluchistan had to chase a target of 316 in 42 overs to qualify for the final and Azhar led from the front with that knock against a bowling attack that included international players like Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Talha, and Raza Hasan.

President's Gold One Day Cup

Following the Pentangular Cup there was the President's Gold One Day Cup where Azhar Ali represented his domestic department, Sui-Northern Gas.

Even in that tournament, Azhar Ali was among the runs with 234 runs in 4 innings at an average of 58.5 and a strike rate of 87.0!

Once again, no one can have any complaints with that strike rate!

Azhar's 4 innings in the Gold One Day Cup were:

0 off 7 vs Karachi Dolphins
40 off 63 vs Peshawar Panthers
57 off 81 vs National Bank of Pakistan
128 off 118 vs ZTBL

Not as impressive as in the Pentangular but impressive enough.

Azhar Ali said that he worked on his strike rate and improved it in domestic cricket and his performance in Pakistan's last two domestic tournaments pretty much proved that he has.

Shaharyar Khan said that they were impressed with Azhar's batting and captaincy in the Pentangular Cup and this also shows that they had to be.

Now the only question that remains is, will Azhar Ali be able to replicate the same form in international cricket?

For that, we will just have to wait and see.

I will be the first to admit that I am not in favour of this decision. But I will also say that now that he is at the helm, we can only get behind him and support him.

And hope that he can live up to people's expectations and bat at a better strike rate, otherwise there will be a massive trolling campaign against him, which will hold him at the pedestal that was once only for Misbah.

I don't think there are any doubts over his test credentials, but if there are just read this.

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , , , ,

ICC World Cup 2015: Our Best XI

The ICC World Cup 2015 is over and it is that time again where everyone comes out with their best XI comprising the top performing players of the World Cup.

Martin Guptill, AB De Villiers, Kumar Sangakkara, Mitchell Starc, Trent Boult are the favourites that have featured in every World Cup Best XI out there. Surely we would have picked them too, but we felt that their were some performers that were better than them.

So here it is. Our Best XI of the ICC World Cup 2015.

1. Big NAS

Matin Guptill and Shikhar Dhawan were undoubtedly the best openers in the World Cup. They collectively scored almost a 1,000 runs and both of them knocked two centuries each. But there was one batsman who did better than both of them. Big NAS tweeted over a 1,000 runs single handedly and more than half of those runs came with a tweet that was easily hit out of the park. He was undoubtedly the most in form batsman throughout the World Cup.

Big NAS will open the batting for our World Cup Best XI.

2. Mauka Mauka Man

The Star Sports #mauka ad campaign was such a huge hit during the World Cup that the man in the ad became the most popular household name during the tournament. While Sarfraz, Sangakkara, Dhawan, Boult, Guptill, and ABD all had two Man of the Match Awards each during this World Cup, the Mauka Mauka Man produced a match winning performance in every single ad that came out during the World Cup. That's about 8-9 man of the match awards alone.

We could not deny him the opportunity to open alongside Big NAS in our World Cup Best XI.

3. Mauka Mauka Spoof Man

For every #mauka ad released by Star Sports there was an equally powerful spoof released by Pakistani fans. While there were various contenders for our number 3 batsman, we put our faith in the one who hit last and who hit hardest with Ponka Ponka. For every opener like Amla, Guptill, Dhawan, Warner, Dilshan there is an equally effective one down batsman in Faf, Williamson, Kohli, Smith, and Sangakkara.

Similarly we believe that the best man to come at one down in our World Cup Best XI is the man behind Ponka Ponka, equally effective as our Mauka Mauka Man.

4. Hashtag #LetsRedo92 Inventor

#LetsRedo trended all over social media in the build up to  and throughout the World Cup. Similarities from the birthplace of Pakistan's captain to the prime minister of the country were used to state that this would be Pakistan's World Cup. Sangakkara hit 4 centuries in this World Cup, while there were 5 other batsmen who hit two each. Overall there were 38 centuries scored in this world cup, which was more centuries than in any other World Cup.

#LetsRedo92 alone came up with more similarities than 38 during this tournament. I reckon the number was double but it was probably close to a 100, challenging Sachin's international record of 100 centuries across formats.

Any batsman that can challenge Sachin Tendulkar's record is worth his weight in gold and hence the inventor of #LetsRedo92 is the one for the all important number 4 position in our batting line up.

5. Drop-In Pitch Doctor

Gone are the days when batting in Australia was a challenge. 300 was regularly scored during the World Cup. 300 was also chased. There were 3 scores of over 400. 38 centuries were scored, which included 2 double centuries. 463 sixes were hit during the tournament. No other World Cup has seen such dominance with the bat.

There was only one man behind all these batting wonders - the Drop-In Pitch Doctor, who ensured batsman friendly pitches and a feast of runs. Anyone who can ensure such a feast with the bat cannot be left out of any batting order and he finds a spot at number 5 in our World Cup Best XI.

6. Selfie Creator

Ahmed Shehzad is popularly known as selfie. In the build up to this World Cup the internet was abuzz with various Shehzad and Afridi selfies. They made selfies such a craze that the ICC decided that every Man of the Match during the course of the tournament will post for a selfie in their Twitter Mirror.

There were 463 sixes hit during the World Cup. Gayle alone hit 25 of those, while ABD hit 21. The number of selfies clicked in this World Cup was more than the sixes hit by Gayle and ABD combined! Such a hard hitter is a must have in our World Cup Best XI and the number 6 spot is his.

7. The Man who cried "That wasn't a No Ball"

Only one decision came in between Bangladesh winning the World Cup and getting knocked out in the Quarterfinals. The No Ball that wasn't! Everyone including the ICC President cried foul and maintained that the No Ball that wasn't is what caused Bangladesh's defeat in the Quarterfinal. We are sure that it wasn't a no ball but the man who cried most and maintained that Bangladesh would have gone on to win the World Cup if wasn't given a no ball stumped more people than Brad Haddin, MS Dhoni, and Luke Ronchi combined.

The man who cried "that wasn't a no ball" will be the wicketkeeper of our Best XI.

8. Anushka Sharma

There were several single handed performances that took teams to victory in games during the World Cup. Wahab Riaz vs Zimbabwe, Trent Boult vs Australia, Tim Southee vs England to name a few. But none of these bowlers manage to bowl anyone over the way Anushka Sharma did. She was so effective that she was considered the main reason Australia qualified for the Final of the World Cup. She made only one appearance in the World Cup and that was enough to shatter the dreams of a billion people around the world.

She will be our team's main strike bowler and due to her ability to hit big blows with the bat she is the best option for number 8.

9. BioMechanics Expert

We can't have a complete XI without a spinner in the team. Daniel Vettori and Imran Tahir were the most successful spinners in the World Cup, while Ashwin also fared well. A slow left armer, a leg spinner, and an off spinner - they don't come in more variety than these three but the one who performed better than all these three was the one who was responsible for taking out varieties from the art of spin bowling. 

The Biomechanics Expert ensured that the likes of Saeed Ajmal, Sunil Narine, and Mohammad Hafeez take no part in this World Cup. He spinned out more batsmen than Vettori, Tahir, and Ashwin combined; hence we had no choice but to include him in our World Cup Best XI as our lone spinner.

10. The Left Arm

Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult were the leading wicket takers in the World Cup. Mitchell Johnson showed in the semi final and final why he is arguably the best fast bowler in the world. Wahab's one spell against Australia resulted in an entire country wanting him to be the next captain of Pakistan. James Faulkner was the man of the match of the World Cup Final. The one thing common among these bowlers is their left arm, which produced magically unplayable deliveries for batsmen. Ask Shane Watson.

We could not pick any single one so we just went for The Left Arm to open the bowling for our World Cup Best XI alongside Anushka Sharma. Anyone who does not succumb to the charm of Ms. Sharma will surely fall prey to the left arm.

11. Hashtag #wontgiveitback Inventor

Defending champions India did not want to give the World Cup back. Their entire campaign was based on #wontgiveitback. TV ads, social media posts, public statements, memes, everything came with #wontgiveitback. It was the Indian equivalent of Pakistan's #LetsRedo92.

While Anushka Sharma and The Left Arm will attack with the new ball, we believe the man behind #wontgiveitback is the best option as third seamer given his ability to rile up the entire world with one hashtag.

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, March 29, 2015

ICC World Cup 2015: At the end it was like 1992 after all! Only for Australia.

There was a time when host nations just could not win the ICC World Cup. That trend was disrupted by India who held aloft the World Cup trophy in Mumbai in 2011, and now Australia have joined them after doing the same at the MCG in 2015. And while doing so, Australia also achieved numerous other remarkable distinctions

It is an unprecedented 5th ICC World Cup win for Australia. They have now won the World Cup in every continent that has hosted one, and probably every continent that will ever host an ICC World Cup.

They have appeared in an ICC World Cup Final in every decade since the inception of the World Cup in the 70s and have won at least 1 World Cup in every decade besides the 70s.

11 World Cups. 7 Finals. 5 Titles. Talk about dominating a sport. There is absolutely no cricketing nation like Australia.

Interestingly however, Australia is the only ICC World Cup Champion that did not win the World Cup in their first ever appearance in a Final. All the other champions - West Indies, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka - won the World Cup when they appeared in the Final for the first time.

There was an achievement for Darren Lehmann too, who became the first person to win an ICC World Cup as a player (1999) and as a coach (2015). Given the number of World Cups Australia wins, there might be some more players who will join Lehmann in achieving this feat in the future.

The build up to this World Cup for Pakistan fans was all about repeating the feat of 1992, the last time the World Cup was held in Australia & New Zealand when Imran Khan led Pakistan to an unlikely first ever win.

The hashtag #LetsRedo92 trended all over social media networks and fans went crazy citing similarities between 1992 and 2015.

What they probably forgot was that other teams may also be looking to do the same! i.e. #Redo92 !

Now that the ICC World Cup 2015 is over, one can easily look back and see why in fact it was like 1992 all over again.

1. In 1992, 89,000+ spectators at the MCG for the final broke the world record for attendance on a single day of cricket in Australia. In 2015, 93,000+ spectators at the MCG for the final broke the world record for attendance on a single day of cricket in Australia.

2. In 1992, Pakistan's captain Imran Khan top scored for his team with 72 and led Pakistan to victory in the World Cup Final in his last ever ODI appearance. In 2015, Australia's captain Michael Clarke top scored for his team with 74 and led Australia to victory in the World Cup Final in his last ever ODI appearance.

3. In 1992, Wasim Akram, a left arm paceman, picked up 3 wickets in the Final and was declared Man of the Match. In 2015, James Faulkner, a left arm paceman, picked up 3 wickets in the Final and was declared Man of the Match.

4. In 1992, Javed Miandad was Pakistan's top scorer in the World Cup with 437 runs at an average of 62.42 and he scored a 50 in the Final. In 2015, Steve Smith was Australia's top scorer in the World Cup with 402 runs at an average of 67.00 and he scored a 50 in the Final.

5. In 1992, New Zealand's Martin Crowe was the leading run scorer in the World Cup. In 2015, New Zealand's Martin Guptill was the leading run scorer in the World Cup.

6. In 1992, Wasim Akram, a left arm fast bowler and part of the World Cup winning team, was the leading wicket taker of the World Cup. In 2015, Mitchell Starc, a left arm fast bowler and part of the World Cup winning team, was the leading wicket taker of the World Cup.

7. In 1992, New Zealand dominated the World Cup beating every opposition except the eventual World Cup Champions, Pakistan. In 2015, New Zealand dominated the World Cup beating every opposition except the eventual World Cup Champions, Australia.

8. In 1992, Wasim Akram, Pakistan's left armer, came back for another spell in the middle of the innings and took two wickets in one over to take Pakistan ahead in the Final. In 2015, James Faulkner, Australia's left armer, came back for another spell in the middle of the innings and took two wickets in one over to take Australia ahead in the Final.

9. In 1992, Pakistan's Captain and Vice Captain were involved in a century partnership for the 3rd wicket. In 2015, Australia's Captain and Vice Captain were involved in a century partnership for the 3rd wicket.

10. In 1992, the 3rd highest run scorer of the World Cup was Peter Kirsten of South Africa. In 2015, the 3rd highest run scorer of the World Cup was AB De Villiers of South Africa.

11. In 1992, South Africa lost in the Semi Final to England who lost the Final. In 2015, South Africa lost in the Semi Final to New Zealand who lost in the Final.

12. In 1992, Pakistan reached their first ever World Cup Final after completing an improbable chase in the Semi Final at Eden Park. In 2015, New Zealand reached their first ever World Cup Final after completing an improbable chase in the Semi Final at Eden Park.

I'm sure we can find many more similarities if we keep looking, but it wasn't like 1992 the way we wanted it for Pakistan. It sure was for Australia, who are absolutely the best cricket nation this world has seen.

I don't think any other team has dominated a sport the way Australia has dominated cricket. Brazil comes to mind. They have also played in 7 FIFA World Cup titles, won 5 of them, and won them across 4 continents. However, that has come over 20 tournaments, as compared to 11 for Australia. If anything, Australia has been twice as dominant in cricket than Brazil has in Football. Australia's run also includes three consecutive World Cup wins, something Brazil has not managed.

Talk about dominating a sport. Salute to Australia!

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Who will be Pakistan's next ODI captain?

While Misbah Ul Haq and Shahid Afridi, the two men who have retired from ODIs following the World Cup, will continue to lead the test and T20 teams respectively, the PCB is in a fix regarding who will be Pakistan's next ODI captain.

Several names have been doing the rounds and everyone from Mohammad Hafeez to Shoaib Malik, Azhar Ali, Sohaib Maqsood, Wahab Riaz, and Sarfraz Ahmed have been named to be in some sort of contention for the post.

Pakistan's next series is against Bangladesh on 15th April so there isn't much time and a decision needs to be taken in the next 2 weeks or so.

It is not an easy decision by any means. No one was really groomed under Misbah as Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez served as deputies at different times under him. Afridi is gone, while Hafeez, who missed the World Cup due to injury, may only be a short term solution.

Here's our attempt at weighing the candidates and assessing their potential to captain Pakistan's ODI team.

Shoaib Malik

It is amazing how his name never seems to leave Pakistan's cricket circles despite having done absolutely nothing of note for 5 years now. Malik's previous captaincy stint was a disaster as he alienated senior players in his team and became a yes man to the then PCB Chairman. In my view, Malik is spineless and will do no good to the team by being a part of it. I believe he should be kept away from Pakistan cricket for good.

If the selectors feel that he deserves to be brought back then maybe, just maybe, a comeback to the middle order would be acceptable. But as captain? Absolutely not.

Wahab Riaz

He is the flavour of the month in Pakistan. He is Pakistan's new superstar, Pakistan's new poster boy. After 19 years of holding on to that mantle, Shahid Afridi finally passed on the baton in his last ever ODI.

Wahab Riaz had an outstanding World Cup. He won games single handedly, scripted victories for Pakistan with the ball, and gave Australia a scare like no one has. His stocks have risen tremendously after this World Cup, but a decision to make him captain will be an emotional one.

Between his 5-for in Mohali in 2011 and this World Cup, does anyone remember where Wahab was? He barely played for Pakistan during these 4 years as he was either out of favour or injured. Even when he played he was thrashed around like a school bowler. There were stories of him being a 'sifarshi', a 'parchi'; someone no one wanted in Pakistan's team. So much so that his inclusion in Pakistan's World Cup squad was also criticized.

A few good games does not make one a captain. Pakistan may have just found their next attacking weapon with the ball; there is no need to burden him with the captaincy. Let us and the cricket world get joy from his bowling while it lasts.

Sohaib Maqsood

I was surprised to hear that he was being considered. In fact his name had come up before the World Cup as well. He doesn't even captain in domestic cricket, hence my surprise. I doubt he is being considered seriously at this point given his below par World Cup performance. He still needs to work on his batting before he can be considered captaincy material in my opinion.

Azhar Ali

Once again I am not sure why his name is doing the rounds. He doesn't even play ODI cricket for Pakistan. The World Cup showed how far behind Pakistan's batting is compared to the rest of the world. At a time when Pakistan needs to find modern aggressive ODI batsmen, they can't go calling for Azhar Ali's inclusion in ODI cricket.

He is a valuable member of the test team and maybe even a future captain there, but he has no future as an ODI batsman, let alone a captain.

This brings me to the final two candidates - Mohammad Hafeez and Sarfraz Ahmed.

Hafeez has captained Pakistan already, as a full time captain of the T20 team and a stand in for ODIs and Tests. He was Misbah's deputy for the longest time and also captains in the domestic circuit. So he's got ample captaincy experience and he will be back to play ODIs for Pakistan as it was only the injury that kept him out.

Sarfraz Ahmed has captained Pakistan at the U19 level and has a successful U19 World Cup campaign on his CV. He has had a magnificent year in international cricket across all formats and has solidified his position as Pakistan's premier wicketkeeper batsman in tests, ODIs, and T20s. But is he ready to take over the team as captain?

This is what I think should be the plan.

Misbah will lead the test team for probably another year. Pakistan's next few scheduled test series include a tour to Bangladesh in April, a tour to Sri Lanka in july, a series against England and India in the UAE between October and January, and a tour to New Zealand in February. That is how far Misbah is probably looking at and that is how long he should be at the helm of test cricket for Pakistan.

Afridi has already announced that he will captain Pakistan's T20 team till next year's World T20, which will be played in India in March next year.

What this means is that in a year's time, Pakistan will be looking for a test and T20 captain as well.

There are only two cricketers in Pakistan that play all three formats with some sort of success - Sarfraz Ahmed and Ahmed Shehzad. And one of them should be captain across all those formats. No prizes for guess who it should be.

What I would urge PCB's Chairman to do is the following:

1. Call Misbah, Afridi, Hafeez, and Sarfraz in for a meeting.
2. Tell them that he is looking to appoint Sarfraz as captain for Pakistan's test, ODI, and T20 teams.
3. Tell Hafeez that he should captain the ODI team for that 1 year with Sarfraz as his deputy.
4. Tell Misbah and Afridi that Sarfraz will be their deputy as well in Tests and T20s.
5. Tell them all to support Sarfraz and groom him under their captaincy to the best of their abilities.

What this will do is that it would give Sarfraz some more time to learn the ropes under the best captains Pakistan has had in the past 5 years without putting any undue pressure on him. It will then give Pakistan a captain who can probably serve them for the best part of a decade.

That is the best way forward in my opinion.

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

ICC World Cup 2015 Review: A Pakistan Perspective

By Osama Siddiqui
With Pakistan’s World Cup campaign now over courtesy of a QF exit on par with pre-tournament expectations, its time to take a look back at the players’ performance and the future outlook.
Player Stock – Biggest Gainers
Wahab Riaz
Pakistan’s player of the tournament without any question, and that was before The Spell against Australia. From the very first game he was quick, fearsome and had batsmen deep in their crease. All the pre-tournament talk about speed centered around Steyn, Starc and Milne, but Wahab’s 154 kph thunderbolt in Pakistan’s opening game against India remains the tournament’s fastest delivery. Since his comeback against Sri Lanka last year he’s finally consistently stringing together the kind of performances that he’s been hinting at since his Test debut and his semi final performance at the last World Cup. Tellingly there have been no discussions about fixing his wrist position or release points. He’s been entrusted to run in and bowl fast, and he’s repaid the faith. His bowling has now become must watch theater for cricket fans around the globe. The only question right now is how long he can continue on this new found run of pace and consistency. He’ll be 34 by the time the next World Cup comes around, and if he wants to ensure he remains effective into his 30s he needs to work on his yorker and the ball that comes back into the right handers.
Sarfraz Ahmed
Came into the World Cup on the back of a record breaking year in whites in 2014, firmly cementing himself in both the Test team and the hearts of the nation. Recalled to the limited overs setup on the back of his Test form, he performed well as a makeshift opener in the absence of Mohammad Hafeez and was selected for the World Cup as first choice gloveman and backup opener. A couple of poor performances both in front of and behind the stumps in the leadup matches to the World Cup, meant that all of a sudden he found himself both out of the playing XI, and with his ability to open the innings completely and suddenly disregarded by the team management. Injuries and the form of the other openers meant that he did finally get a chance in the World Cup, in a must win match against South Africa no less. 3 matches, 160 runs, and a century later, there is no longer room for any questions. His approach of backing himself to play his natural game, constantly looking to rotate the strike and remain proactive throughout his innings showed that talk of his technique not being suited to the conditions was just that, talk. Just as refreshing as his own batting was the visible effect he had on his partners, even pushing and cajoling Ahmed Shahzad to reach a half century at a run a ball against Ireland. Although doubts about both his glovework and his ability to be a long term solution to the opener problem remain, he has undoubtedly shown that he deserves the extended opportunity to make both roles his own.
Player Stock – Non Movers
Misbah ul Haq
As expected he scored runs, and as expected he was criticized and lauded in equal parts for the manner in which he scored them. Despite having a few opportunities he couldn’t sign off his ODI career with the century that would have brought immense pleasure to him and his fans. As captain he started the tournament in conservative fashion, but starting from the Zimbabwe game with the dropping of Younis Khan, and in his demeanor in the field he showed a new and hitherto unseen attacking streak. With 4 quick bowlers at his disposal he looked for wickets throughout the innings in a manner in which he has not when Pakistan has had 3 and at times even 4 spinners in their ODI attack. There remained the feeling however that this new found approach came a little too late, and only when there was no other option. Ultimately as captain he is judged by the team’s performance, and a 3rd place finish in the Group stages and a Quarter Final exit was on par with pre-tournament expectations.
Mohammad Irfan
Came into the World Cup with his workload and fragile body carefully managed, and expected to lead the attack in Ajmal’s absence, but fitness doubts still lingered. Ultimately the fitness doubts were confirmed as he suffered another stress fracture and took no part in Pakistan’s last 2 games. Despite his limited appearances he left some lasting memories both good and bad. He looked completely out of sorts against India, but bounced back with some incisive and quick spells, especially against Zimbabwe and South Africa. Although there have been no such signs from team sources, one gets the feeling that this latest injury could mark the end of Irfan’s career. If this is the end of the road for him, he will be fondly remembered for his brief spell in international cricket in which he challenged top order batsmen with his unique combination of pace, steeping bounce off a good length and the left armer’s natural angle. Equally he should be remembered for the remarkable improvement he made both as a bowler and a fielder between his international debut in 2010 and his recall in December 2012.
Haris Sohail
His selection came about as a result of being in the right place at the right time. A member of the Test squads against Australia and New Zealand when doubts about Hafeez’s action first surfaced, the management decided to work on his bowling and quickly decided that he had done enough to fill in as 5th bowler in the ODI arena. He replaced Fawad Alam for the ODIs against New Zealand, made a few decent scores and even bowled with decent results. Eventually come the World Cup, his bowling was hardly required and although he performed better than most of his middle order counterparts that’s not saying much. Nothing we’ve seen so far suggests that he’s a misfit in the ODI arena, but tellingly his List A performances have been average where he’s yet to score a century and it’s his First Class record that’s exemplary. A definite long term prospect in whites, the jury’s still out on his long term prospects in colors.
Sohail Khan
Made pre-tournament headlines by calling out Kohl and then backed up his words by being the man to dismiss him. His last over against India was brilliant and he missed out on a hat trick by the narrowest of margins. Looked impressive in parts, but very ordinary in other parts, often moving between the 2 extremes within the same spell, and ended the World Cup as Pakistan’s most expensive front line bowler. He probably hasn’t done enough to cement a regular place in Pakistan’s limited overs squads for the upcoming series. Unfortunately he’s also one of the players who needs to work hard on his fitness and fielding standards.
Rahat Ali
A surprise late call up to the squad as an injury replacement for Junaid Khan, he made the squad more for his work horse performances in the Test team than for his recent List A performances. He repaid the faith with some good performances once he was brought into the playing XI. Tall, strong, the ability to bowl long spells, moves the ball both ways, he has all the tools that a fast bowler requires. He is missing the spark that is necessary to be the leader of the bowling unit, but he can be an excellent second or third seamer for Pakistan for many years to come. He would have been higher on this list if not for his poor fielding standards and That Drop. Even if he had held on to it 213 was probably not going to be enough, but with Wahab in that mood you never know. It will remain the What If? moment of Pakistan’s campaign.
Ehsan Adil
Picked up a wicket in both matches that he played, and although he certainly didn’t look out of his depth at this level, he failed to impress as well. His domestic stats are impressive, and the management it appears thinks highly of him and are likely to give him extended chances to cement a place in the team. If that does indeed happen, he must improve his fielding. The days of tolerating shoddy fielding from a fast bowler are long gone.
Yasir Shah
No less a player than Shane Warne has branded Yasir as his favorite player and the best legspinnner in the world. He only got the one opportunity in this World Cup against India, and was thoroughly unimpressive, he would have perhaps been better suited making his World Cup debut against West Indies in the next match. He’s on as a non mover because that performance can be put down to nerves, and he’ll certainly get extended chances to prove himself in colored clothing as we look to build a new team. Although he is an able fielder he will be remembered for his mistakes in this World Cup. He couldn’t hold on to the potentially game changing tough chance offered up by Kohli off Afridi’s bowling in Pakistan’s opening game, and who can forget the moment when he pantsed himself attempting to stop a boundary in the deep.
Player Stock – Biggest Losers
Nasir Jamshed
There once was a talented left handed Pakistani opener named Nasir Jamshed, now there is just a left handed Pakistani named Nasir Jamshed. He was perhaps unfairly thrust into the team, but as a member of the World Cup probables and ODI squads leading up to the World Cup, the call up shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise. Getting out is excusable, getting out for consecutive single digit scores can even be excused. But what is completely inexcusable is, being dismissed in the exact same manner each time, and setting new lows in international fielding and fitness standards. It is worth investing time and effort in him still, for the chance of rediscovering his early promise and potential. But regardless of how many runs he may score in the future to push for a possible recall, unless he significantly improves his fielding and fitness standards he should not be allowed anywhere near the international setup.
Younis Khan
Came back into the ODI team on the back of a record breaking Test run against Australia and New Zealand, he cemented his place for the World Cup with a scratchy hundred in the last ODI in the UAE just as it looked it he wouldn’t make the flight to Australia. Ultimately he was completely unable to translate his Test form to the ODI arena and seemed to lose the ability to score altogether. His dismissal against India was not befitting a player of his Test stature and record, and although he looked fluent in his brief stay at the crease against South Africa, he will want to forget these last few months. The hope is that the public does too, and does not let the narrative of ‘a selfish plea to play in the World Cup’ overshadow his significant and ongoing contributions to Pakistan Cricket in the Test arena. Despite expressing a desire to play on and even to captain the ODI outfit if the opportunity were to present itself this is almost certainly the end of Younis Khan’s ODI career. Should the selectors discuss their intentions with him in person this time and hopefully not following a family tragedy, I am certain he will take their decision with grace and humility.
Shahid Afridi
The stage was set for a final hurrah, the moment had arrived, the hour had come, but the man was nowhere to be found. With the ball he was expected to enjoy the conditions, but dropped catches off his bowling and an unfamiliar role as sole spinner meant he never settled and only picked up 2 wickets in the tournament. With bat he could only manage a highest score of 28, lacking even the solitary whirlwind innings he has so enthralled us with over the years. Most surprisingly he appeared listless in the field. The spark, the booming voice, the sign that he was always in the game, were all missing. His stellar form with the bat in the lead up to the World Cup had many believing his retirement was premature, but his performances in this World Cup have shown that the timing was right. The great Brian Lara himself said that when he played cricket, he played to entertain, he considered himself an entertainer. You may scoff at Afridi’s numbers, or curse him for his inconsistency and failure to mature as a batsman, but you must admit that in the ODI arena, few have ever entertained quite like Shahid Afridi.
Umar Akmal
Between the last edition of the World Cup and the current one, only MS Dhoni and Angelo Mathews had scored more runs than Umar Akmal at the number 6 spot in ODIs, and only Dhoni had done it a better average. Despite this there was a sense that Umar Akmal needed to prove himself once again. He had always done well at the ICC events and the general expectation was for more of the same, but it was not to be. There were no signature innings but plenty of what are becoming signature brainless moments. He seems to have developed a new habit of hitting a bad ball straight to a waiting fielder. In 6 innings in this World Cup, he got one bad decision, one great delivery and 4 dismissals off poor balls hit straight to fielders after looking fluent and set for a big score. Worryingly, over the last year, in 17 innings he averages less than 20 with just a solitary 50 plus score. He still has all the tools to be a modern great, but the chances of him putting it all together are far less than they were 4 years ago after the conclusion of the last World Cup. Unlike a Sarfraz Ahmed, Umar Akmal does not seem to thrive under pressure, when the chips are down, when there is something to prove. His career is now at a crucial juncture, and where it goes from here will depend firmly on how he goes about using what is between his two ears.
Ahmad Shahzad
227 runs, an average of 32, the numbers belie how poor his performances really were. Scored some easy runs against Ireland and the UAE, the 2 weakest bowling attacks in the World Cup, but did nothing else of note. Worryingly he is continually praised by the management despite his repeated inability to construct innings and his frequent disciplinary issues. It is premature to call this the end of his international career, especially given Pakistan’s historic inability to develop openers, but other options must be explored.
Sohaib Maqsood
Entered the World Cup with a growing reputation as a solid ODI batsman and a potential future captain, he leaves the tournament with his future in the team under a heavy cloud of uncertainty. Displaying a previously unseen streak of irresponsibility, he was often dismissed as the result of a poor shot. Although I believe he is a long term ODI prospect, I would not be surprised at all if he was dropped from the team for Pakistan’s next tour.
Future Outlook
With the retirements of Misbah ul Haq and Shahid Afridi, the likely end of Younis Khan’s ODI career and continued concerns surrounding the batting, the fielding, and the overall approach to ODI cricket, the selectors and think tank have a lot of work to do and a lot of questions to answer. With Pakistan’s next assignment around the corner, we won’t have to wait long to see which way the wind blows.
The Captaincy
There seems to be no right answer for this, there are however a lot of wrong ones. Any of Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Asad Shafiq, Ahmad Shahzad, and Umar Akmal must be avoided. Ideally the captain should be someone with enough cricket still left in them to be able to lead the team for the next 5 to 7 years at a minimum. He should be someone with a clear vision of how to go about the game, someone who can gain the trust of all the players, the coach and the selectors, and someone with the courage to say no when it matters. With no clear candidate, and a team with potentially no players over the age of 30, the selectors must ensure they don’t fall into the trap of the revolving door captaincy of the 90s. As long as they avoid the obvious wrong candidates, the most important thing will be to give the new captain the time, space, and the long term support to suffer through some growing pains.
The Batting
Pakistan’s ODI batting has long been a concern, the time is right to take a fresh look and overhaul its method and approach, if not all the parts. The fear is that Pakistan’s stellar bowling performances in this World Cup will lead to calls to ‘just bat out the 50 overs’, or ‘leave the aggression to the bowling attack’. Must we be reminded that this is the exact approach we have adopted over the last 4 years, with the spin trio of Ajmal, Hafeez and Afridi along with the fast bowlers putting in stellar performances with the ball? It’s an approach that has seen us challenge for none of the ICC ODI silverware in that time period, and an approach that has seen our ODI ranking fall to 7. Part of the solution lies perhaps in changing the kind of wickets that Pakistan plays most of its ODI cricket on in the UAE. In the UAE the ball often keeps low and stays slow, and there is little reward for stroke makers. Although the natural characteristics of the pitch such as grip for spinners, or abrasiveness to encourage reverse swing should remain, the pitches should also be ones where the ball comes onto the bat nicely and stroke-play is rewarded.
Kohli, Amla and AB may indeed be transcendental talents, the likes of which cannot be replicated, but there are many successful batsmen in the ODI circuit these days who are not lauded for their technical brilliance and were even disregarded as ‘T20 batsmen’ earlier in their careers. No one can disregard basic tenets such as footwork, hand eye coordination and shot selection, but they must go hand in hand with an aim to score first, with an aim to keep the scoreboard ticking, and with an aim to transmit rather than absorb pressure. There are plenty of batsmen that deserve a look, names such as Babar Azam, Sami Aslam, Mohammad Rizwan, and once again Fawad Alam. Although there is no doubt that new faces need to come in, the existing crop of batsmen must be given one last extended chance to prove themselves. A year with greater responsibility and specific targets, they must be told to shape up or shape out.
The Allrounder Slot
It is not difficult to take a look at Afridi’s statistics and dismiss his career, easier still perhaps to think that Pakistan will replace him easily. But for all his maddening inconsistency with the bat, his ability with both bat and ball has made finding the right balance in the team selection an easier job whenever he’s played. Case in point, 4 years on since the last world cup and Abdul Razzaq (who admittedly was the superior all rounder) is yet to be replaced. If Pakistan is unable to find a number 7 batsman that can bowl, (or a bowler than can bat at 7) it will likely ensure the return of Mohammad Hafeez, and unfortunately at the top of the order. One look at the recently concluded domestic season, and its apparent that all rounders are a rare commodity in Pakistan these days. Hammad Azam has been around for a while now, but between continually being overlooked by the selectors, injury concerns and stellar performances in the domestic circuit, unfortunately it looks like he won’t be getting a chance. Anwar Ali and Bilawal Bhatti showed some early promise but neither can consistently give you 10 quality overs with the ball or 30 runs with the bat. Zafar Gohar is another young name that comes up, but his batting is still very raw. One thing’s for sure, whoever does come into the team will have some very large shoes to fill. If not in terms of consistent all round performances, than certainly in terms of sheer entertainment value.
The Spinners
This is one area where Pakistan have multiple answers at their disposal. Ajmal for all his services to Pakistan Cricket and his obvious quality, deserves a recall without a doubt. If his action holds up, and his bowling retains its mystery and accuracy, he will be an asset for at least the next couple of years. Yasir Shah will likely get an extended run in Pakistan’s upcoming series, and then there’s Raza Hassan waiting in the wings. Given that Pakistan’s next series is in Bangladesh, I would expect all three of them to make the ODI squad.
The Pacers
Another area where Pakistan have multiple answers at their disposal, answers that weren’t apparent as recently as even 6 months ago. Wahab is finally ready to lead the attack, Rahat is ready to ably support him, and Junaid will certainly slot in once he has regained full fitness. It remains to bee seen whether Irfan can recover from his latest injury, but if this is the end of the road for him, his loss will not be felt as deeply as it may have been a year ago.
Fielding and Fitness
This is an area of huge concern for the Pakistan Team. Their fielding standards remain below par, and in some cases completely unacceptable. Much was made of Pakistan’s push last year towards improving fitness and fielding standards and of Waqar’s reputation as a taskmaster. For a period of time following the training camp last summer, results were visible. Any gains though have been wiped out now. If a fast bowler can’t bowl 6 overs on the trot, and if any player can’t make a diving stop in the field or hold on to a simple chance, he shouldn’t be allowed in the team. If this means that new talent coming up from the domestic circuit need a couple of months work before they make the cut at the national level, so be it. It’s an investment that will pay dividends.
Misbah ul Haq’s Legacy
Without any obvious improvement in the team since he took over, and without mounting a serious challenge for ICC silverware under his stewardship, his legacy as captain remains up for debate. Ultimately it will be decided in his absence, by where the Pakistan team goes from here. If in 2 years the team has moved up the rankings and mounts a serious challenge for the Champions Trophy, Misbah’s detractors will feel vindicated that Misbah was the man standing between the Pakistan team and progress. If however the team continues to slide down the rankings, Misbah’s supporters will feel vindicated that Misbah was the man standing between Pakistan and ignominy. If still, the status quo is maintained, the debate will rage on endlessly.
Pakistan are currently a long way from consistently challenging for ICC silverware. The future however, looks bright as always. The bowling resources look well stocked for the first time in a couple of years, and the batting although troublesome looks set to turn a corner. The onus however is squarely on the batsmen. For Pakistan to win and win consistently, the batsmen must figure out a way to consistently post large scores and put their talent to good use.

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Misbah the ODI Captain: Average; Misbah the ODI Batsman: a Giant

Misbah the ODI captain and Misbah the ODI batsman are two very different people.

While the captain was timid, defensive, weak, and lacked imagination; the batsman was calculated, strong in both defence and attack, imaginative, and a giant of the game.

If only he had translated the latter into his captaincy, he might not have as many critics as he does.

Despite ODI series wins in India and South Africa and an Asia Cup title under his belt, Misbah was just an average ODI captain. Some say that he didn't have the right resources and a captain is just as good as his team; I argue that men like Imran Khan and Shahid Afridi inspired average teams to do great things. Misbah just could not.

Misbah has won more ODIs as captain than he has lost, but his Win % is far less than most of Pakistan's ODI captains.

Purely as a batsman, however, Misbah is a giant of the ODI game. Despite never scoring an ODI century, he ended his ODI career with a higher average than Inzamam, Yousuf, Miandad, and Anwar.

Only Zaheer Abbas had an ODI average higher than Misbah. For those who criticize his slow approach, popularly known as tuk tuk all over Pakistan, there isn't much difference in Misbah's ODI strike rate when compared to those of Inzamam and Yousuf. In fact the only Pakistan batsmen who stand out in terms of strike rate are Zaheer Abbas, Saeed Anwar, and Umar Akmal - the only three Pakistan batsmen with an ODI average north of 34 and strike rate north of 80.

Even when captain, Misbah's batting did not suffer. He was by far Pakistan's best ODI batsmen during his captaincy tenure. He is second only to Imran Khan in terms of runs scored as Pakistan captain, while he has the best average. His 27 fifties as Pakistan captain are far more than 50+ scores for Pakistan captains in ODIs.

Despite that amazing record as a batsman, Misbah failed in inspiring his team to ODI wins. He has a phenomenal record as an ODI batsman in matches won by Pakistan; however as captain that record doesn't look as phenomenal.

Misbah averages almost 50 in ODIs won by Pakistan, however Yousuf, Miandad, Anwar, and Inzamam have superior records. Not only in terms of average but also the volume of runs scored in ODI victories. Even Saleem Malik and Ijaz Ahmed scored more centuries and fifties in ODI wins for Pakistan.

Misbah's average decline by about 3 runs when we look at his performance in matches that Pakistan won under his captaincy.

Javed Miandad and Inzamam Ul Haq average over 10 more runs per innings than Misbah is matches that they captained and won for Pakistan. Thus further highlighting the fact that despite his greatness as an ODI batsman, Misbah was not as good a captain and just didn't win enough games for Pakistan.

Misbah's prowess as an ODI batsman is highlighted to a greater extent when one assesses his performance in matches played away from home. His record is extremely impressive and he stands head and shoulders above all other Pakistan batsmen.

It should be noted that the record above does not include ODIs played in the UAE. No one even comes close to Misbah's average of 48.6, which is a good 10 runs higher than the next batsman on the list. What is even more interesting is that Misbah's strike rate in ODIs played away from home is bettered by only Yousuf, U Akmal, Razzaq, and Hafeez. In matches played away from home, Misbah has striked at a better rate than Inzamam!

This record for Misbah is not exclusive to Pakistan. Among all Asian batsmen, Misbah is just at another level when it comes to ODIs played in foreign countries.

Misbah averages a significant 16 more runs than the next batsman on the list in ODIs played in Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand, and West Indies. In fact, he and Zaheer Abbas are the only two Pakistanis among the seven Asian batsmen who average above 40 in ODIs played in these countries.

For perspective, Anwar and Inzamam average only 27.9 and 29.8 respectively in ODIs played in these countries; while Miandad and Yousuf average 37.7 and 35.3 respectively.

While I agree with the criticism about his captaincy, there is no way anyone can criticize Misbah the batsman. He is an ODI batting giant and one of the best produced by Pakistan. One can only wonder what he could have achieved had he played during his younger years when he was amassing runs in the domestic circuit.

A strong Pakistan middle order comprising of Younis, Yousuf, and Inzamam meant that Misbah could not find many opportunities till after Inzamam left in 2007, following which he found himself often dragging Pakistan out of trouble. Misbah rarely had the opportunity to play with the freedom he would have liked. Again one can only wonder what he could have achieved had he consistently featured in a middle order comprising of Inzamam and Yousuf.

Misbah leaves the ODI game as one of the only 27 ODI batsmen in the world with an average north of 40. He leaves it with a better average than all Pakistani greats and other world class batsmen such as Ponting, Sangakkara, Lara, Haynes, Kirsten, and Ganguly.

Being talked about in the same breath as Inzamam, Yousuf, Miandad, and Anwar in Pakistan's batting chronicles is an achievement and a half. Considering that Misbah did better than them as an ODI batsman and one realizes his true worth.

I will be the first to admit that I was not a fan of his captaincy, or his ability to suck the life of Pakistan's batting while at the crease. But I will also say that often he had no other choice. Misbah's performance is a classic case of a realization that comes too late; his value as an ODI batsman was rarely recognized, however, it will be now like never before once he has left the game for good.

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, March 21, 2015

I am a Convert

I have always been a Misbah Ul Haq critic.

I have always maintained that the biggest mistake in Pakistan's recent cricket history has been replacing Shahid Afridi as ODI captain with Misbah shortly after Afridi led his team to the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup.

I still stick by that statement, but I hate Misbah a little less than I hated him after Mohali. In fact I don't hate him at all.

He captained Pakistan in 87 ODIs, as many as Inzamam Ul Haq, the third highest in Pakistan's history after Imran Khan and Wasim Akram. He didn't win as many ODIs as captain as Imran, Wasim, and Inzamam, but he still won more games than he lost: 45 to 39 with a win % of 53.5.

I have always been a big supporter of Misbah the captain in Tests. He has been one of our best ever, if not the best. But his ODI captaincy always left a lot to be desired. However, this World Cup changed my perception at least.

The biggest criticism of Misbah was his defensive approach. His defensive batting and his defensive captaincy. Misbah defended his tactics by talking about his limited resources and how his statements reflected the performance of Pakistan in this World Cup. Misbah's slow go approach didn't seem as slow any more considering that the team in fact struggled to bat its quota of 50 overs whenever Misbah fell early.

The irony however, would always be that the one day Pakistan required him to go slow and play out overs, he fell holing out to the boundary in his last ever ODI.

I always felt that Misbah's batting in many an ODI resulted in Pakistan scoring less than what they could have or in Pakistan not being able to close a match. However, in more recent games, I started feeling that Misbah was always right. He had no option but to bat that way.

This World Cup was a testament to that fact, Against India, he was the lone man fighting in a chase of 300. Against West Indies, Pakistan folded to 160 as Misbah went early. Against Zimbabwe, Misbah was unable to accelerate as wickets kept tumbling around him as Pakistan struggled to 235. Against South Africa, it was the same story as Misbah was just not allowed to step up the scoring rate with constant wickets falling around him. Against the UAE, he played a free flowing knock since the other batsmen easily scored against weak bowling. Against Ireland, he again played freely as Pakistan were always in charge of the chase. Against Australia, in his final ODI innings, he looked good till he holed out. He should have gone on I felt, but you can't really blame him for playing the stroke that had fetched him two sixes earlier in the innings.

I believe the value of Misbah the batsman will be realized now that he is no longer part of the ODI set up. Someone else will need to take the responsibility to play through the innings. Someone else will be required to anchor the innings. Someone else will need to step up and bail Pakistan out every time they are 2 down for very little.

I don't know who that someone will be, but whoever it is, will really miss having Misbah at the other end.

Misbah's captaincy also shone during this World Cup, especially in the two must win pressure games against Zimbabwe and South Africa. Sure Misbah did not have any option but to attack to win those two games, but he was their instilling the belief in the team. Those two win was redemption in my eyes for Misbah the ODI captain.

There are many sweet memories associated with Misbah's captaincy in ODI cricket. the Asia Cup win in 2012, the series win over India in India, and the first ever series win by an Asian team in South Africa. Those three series will always be remembered by fans and will always be talked about how they were achieved under Misbah.

Moin Khan and Inzamam Ul Haq have also achieved the first two wins in the past for Pakistan. However the win in South Africa is Misbah's alone.

I was a critic in the past, but now that he's left ODI cricket, I am already feeling his absence. I truly believe his value will be realized in our next ODI series. And many more after that too.

Misbah leaves the ODI game without ever scoring an ODI hundred. That will remain the only blemish on his otherwise outstanding record. He retired from ODIs having scored the most runs ever by a batsman without a century. He retired with a batting average of 43.4, which is second only to Zaheer Abbas for all Pakistan batsman with at least 1,000 runs. His batting average was better than Inzamam's, Anwar's, Yousuf's, and Miandad's. He averaged more than Ponting, Lara, Sangakkara, Lloyd, Ganguly, Haynes, Crowe, Waugh, and many other illustrious ODI batsmen. He scored over 3,000 runs as Pakistan captain, second only to the great Imran Khan.

Those are great numbers for a man who was forever criticized for the way he batted.

From being a harsh Misbah critic, I am now a Misbah supporter. Yes I am a convert. He will be missed.

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: ,

We Will miss you Shahid Afridi...

Shahid Afridi, popularly known as Lala or Boom Boom, is one of the most popular cricketers to have ever played for Pakistan. He is undoubtedly the biggest name to have played for the country in the 2000s. Throughout his 16-year international career, Shahid Afridi played the game with unparalleled pride and passion. As his career draws to a close, he remains the heartbeat of the nation and the biggest limited overs match winner ever produced by Pakistan.

His Cricinfo profile at one time used to state that “Afridi is the maddest of all mad maxes”. He himself has publicly stated that he would like to be remembered as “the craziest cricketer to have ever played for Pakistan”. Those are strange words to describe a cricketer, but probably apt for someone like Shahid Afridi.

There have been plenty of mad moments and crazy antics that have been a part of Afridi’s international career such as roughing up a pitch with his spikes, biting the ball, several international retirements and comebacks, punching a fan, and speaking openly about issues with the board and management. Yet these are not the reasons why Afridi will be remembered by the world.

For the cricket loving nation of Pakistan, Shahid Afridi is a hero. He is a proven match winner who single handedly won matches for Pakistan with the bat, with the ball, and even through his fielding. His 32 man-of-the-match awards in ODIs, the highest ever among all Pakistan cricketers and third highest in the world, is a testament to Afridi’s match winning ability. His 9 man-of-the-match awards in T20Is is the highest number of awards in the history of the T20 format.

Afridi will be remembered as Pakistan’s most valuable ODI player and a giant of the T20 game. He captained an average team to the semifinal of the World Cup in 2011 where he was the joint leading wicket taker of the tournament; he was the player of the tournament of the World T20 in 2007 where Pakistan ended as runners up; he was the main architect of Pakistan’s victorious World T20 campaign in 2009 where he was the man-of-the-match in both the semifinal and final.

His test career, however, remained unfulfilled despite a debut 5 wicket haul against Australia and a magnificent century in his second test (against India). His figures suggest that he was a much better test cricketer than he was an ODI or T20 one, but his temperament got the better of him in the longer format of the game. Under better guidance and management, Afridi would have had a much more illustrious test career; he definitely demonstrated the potential for one in the 27 tests that he played.

Afridi’s international career began in 1996 when he was touring the West Indies with the Pakistan under-19 team and he received an SOS from the PCB to take the next flight out and join the senior team in Kenya for a quadrangular tournament where Mushtaq Ahmed had become injured and the team required a leg spinner. In less than a year prior to that, Afridi had developed a reputation of being a dangerous leg spinner in domestic and U19 cricket. With less than a year of first class experience, Afridi had donned the Pakistan cap.

Afridi made his debut against Kenya bowling 10 overs for only 32 runs without picking up a wicket. He was slated to bat at number 9 in that match but his turn never came. During a net session before Pakistan’s next match, Saeed Anwar witnessed a side of Afridi that probably no one else had ever seen. Waqar Younis, Azhar Mahmood, Shahid Nazir, and Saqlain Mushtaq were deposited to all corners of the ground as Afridi threw his bat around in the nets. On seeing the carnage first hand, Saeed Anwar, who was captaining Pakistan in Wasim Akram and Aamir Sohail’s absence, took the decision to send Afridi as a pinch hitter in their next match against Sri Lanka.

The rest, as they say, is history.

History was made when Afridi walked out to bat at number 3 in his first ever international innings. Afridi was at the crease for a total of 50 minutes, during which he produced the most destructive ODI innings ever played at the time. He smashed Chaminda Vaas, Muralitharan, and Jayasuriya to all corners of the Nairobi Gymkhana Club Ground and smashed 102 runs of 40 deliveries. His century, which came off only 37 deliveries, remained an ODI record for 18 years till it was broken by Corey Andersen, and then again by AB De Villiers.

Pakistan had to put up a big total and defeat Sri Lanka with a heavy margin to make it to the final of the quadrangular tournament, and it did just that thanks to Afridi’s belligerent knock. Pakistan’s total of 371 in that match was their highest ever total in ODIs, till it was over taken by their 385 against Bangladesh in 2010, which was also due to an Afridi century.

Afridi created records from the moment he stepped on to the field as an international cricketer, and he continued making records throughout his career. He has had an illustrious career, but nobody knows what it could have been like had he not been mismanaged at the start.

Afridi was a regular leg spinner when he hit that fastest ODI hundred, following which he became Pakistan’s regular opener. His coaches, captains, colleagues, and their mothers wanted him to smash the leather around every time he walked out to bat. Soon everyone forgot that he was essentially a leg spinner and the PCB employed the likes of Javed Miandad and Geoffrey Boycott to help Afridi become a proper batsman.

Unrealistic expectations, due to one magical innings, changed Afridi’s life forever. After a while he himself did not know whether he was a bowler who could bat a bit, or a batsman who could bowl a bit. He never became a proper batsman and his bowling suffered due to a lack of attention.

If it were anyone else, their career would have ended a long time ago given the sort of pressure Afridi used to be under. But it was Afridi, a man made of steel, a man with more pride than a whole nation combined, a man who gave it his all every single time he stepped out in his green colors. Despite the failures, the pressure, and the constant speculation about his place in the team, Afridi went back to his roots and mastered the art with which he began his career – leg spin.

For the period between January 2008 and December 2012, Afridi was the highest ODI wicket taker in the world. Since January 2007, Afridi has the third highest number of wickets in ODIs and is one of the only three bowlers in the world with 200 ODI wickets since then. With 395 ODI wickets, Afridi is the 5th highest ODI wicket taker of all time, 3rd highest ODI wicket taker for Pakistan behind Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, 2nd highest ODI wicket taker among spinners behind Muttiah Muralitharan, and the highest ODI wicket taker among leg spinners.

For a long time Afridi was the leading wicket taker in T20 internationals; currently he is at third spot behind two of his countrymen – Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul.

Afridi is the only cricketer in the world with over 8,000 runs and over 350 wickets in ODIs.

His critics say that he is the slowest to 8,000 runs in ODIs. In terms of average, he surely is. Far slower than the rest. But everyone forgets that he is also the fastest to 8,000 runs, in terms of Strike Rate. Far faster than everyone else.

Afridi is at the end of the road of his international career. He gave up test cricket in 2010, and after 19 years he has left the ODI game as well. He will continue to play T20 cricket for Pakistan till the World T20 in 2016, and we will still be treated to some more of Afridi for another year. And then he will be gone forever.

Pakistan will never have another Shahid Afridi. The fans will never cheer again the way they cheered for Shahid Afridi.

Afridi will always be remembered as one of the best produced by Pakistan, by far the most popular cricketer to play for Pakistan, and the biggest limited overs match winner ever produced by Pakistan.

Shahid Khan Afridi, you will be missed!

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: ,