Monday, September 26, 2022

A very Pakistani Win, But still so many Questions

Last night in Karachi, Pakistan levelled the 7-match T20I series against England, in a win that was completely Pakistani in nature.

Defending a middling 166, Hasnain got Pakistan to just the start they needed, as he had England reeling at 14-3 in 2 overs.

When England's new white ball stars - Ben Duckett and Harry Brook - built a partnership and got going, it seemed England will canter to a win. Even after Duckett got out, Moeen Ali continued the charge and England were well on their way.

But the two Mohammads - Nawaz and Wasim - struck in the space of 6 deliveries to dismiss both Moeen and Brook.

England were 6 down and still 54 runs away from the target with 34 deliveries left.

Pakistan were in the driver's seat and they remained there till the end of 17 overs when England needed 33 off 18 with only 3 wickets left.

Just when all looked good, Hasnain, who had made Pakistan's defense possible to start with, was targeted by Liam Dawson.

Dawson smashed Hasnain, who had so far given only 16 runs in his 3 overs, for 24 runs and it seemed all was lost for Pakistan with England needing only 9 runs off the final 12 deliveries with Dawson in fine form.

Enter Haris Rauf to bowl the 19th over of the innings.

6 deliveries. 5 runs. 2 wickets!

Haris, with his 150 kmh+ thunderbolts, brought Pakistan right back into it.

England who had stumbled, and then were cruising, before stumbling and cruising again, were left to get 4 runs off the final over with their final pair at the crease.

A run out, which was caused due to the panic that Haris Rauf had created in the penultimate over, meant that Pakistan had just snatched victory form the jaws of defeat!

It was a magical win. One that only Pakistan can produce, out of no where. Pakistan lost its grip on the match twice during England's chase, yet somehow still managed to pull off a thrilling victory when Cricinfo's predictor had them at 1.5% chance of a win!

Only Pakistan can do the impossible.

Only Pakistan can create such drama and entertainment in a cricket match.

And to steal a line shared by a friend:

"Only Pakistan can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and victory from the jaws of defeat, in a matter of minutes"

That truly is Pakistan for you.

There was another meme that I just loved.


Poor Bhuvi thought, a trusted death bowler at one time, he is just having a horrid time at the death lately. 

But it is ok, we can all laugh a little at India's expense, especially when Pakistan has provided some heroics.

Haris Rauf was truly exceptional.

It really was a great win, and all Pakistan fans were back to cheering the greens on, just 1.5 hours after they had volleyed wide range of abuse on the batsmen who slugged their way to a middling 166.

The criticism, even though harsh, was not unjustified.

Babar and Rizwan, as always, had provided Pakistan a great start, having put on 53 in the powerplay.

The next 4 overs produced only 29 runs, and the critics were out with swords!

82-0 after 10 overs is a score I will happily take every single game. It was a solid platform that had been laid by the best batsmen in the business, who do this more often then not.

What happened after that is the problem.

From 82-0, a score of 180 should be no problem at all.

Yet, Pakistan ended on only 166, that too due to Asif Ali's two 6s in the final over. 

When Babar fell trying to up the tempo in the 12th over, Shan Masood walked out with 8 overs still remaining. 

Pakistan could have been more flexible by sending in a Nawaz or Asif Ali at that point, but given how Shan had batted in the 3rd T20I, it was a fair call in my opinion.

But Shan could not middle a single delivery during his stay at the crease. It was a painful innings from the "saviour" of Pakistan's middle order.

Rizwan also seemed to have lost his touch after Babar's departure.

Shan fell with 9 deliveries left in the innings.

Khushdil Shah, who has been the worst of the lot among Pakistan's middle order of rabbits, walked out and I was shocked!

Only 9 deliveries to go and you don't send out Asif Ali???

WHY!?

Why does Khushdil keep getting game after game?

How is he higher in the pecking order than Asif Ali?

It makes no sense to me.

Why is Pakistan's management not showing more flexibility? Where is the think tank that sent Nawaz up the order against India, and Shadab up the order against Afghanistan, during the Asia Cup?

That flexibility gave Pakistan the desired results, so why not do more of it?

Iftikhar bowled a great spell last night. Why doesn't he bowl more often? There have been previous games where Pakistan could have used additional overs of spin, so why wasn't Iftikhar used?

Despite this great win by Pakistan, there are still a number of questions to ponder on.

One can only hope that in future games Pakistan will be more flexible with their batting options, they will stop relying on Khushdil Shah, and they will utilize more spin.

It is about time!

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Friday, September 23, 2022

Babar & Rizwan: The Undisputed Champions of T20 Cricket


Last night, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan gave the world the answer to that question.

Exactly that.

SO WHAT!?

The two stalwarts of Pakistan's T20 team did not leave anything for Pakistan's unreliable middle order batsmen and completed a record chase of 200, against England in the second T20 International, all by themselves. 

They completely destroyed England's bowling attack and romped home with a thumping 10 wicket victory, unlike any other in all T20 cricket.

When Babar and Rizwan bat the way they did in Karachi last night, Pakistan don't need a middle order.

Babar and Rizwan shut down all critics questioning their presence as openers for Pakistan, their strike rate, their ability to utilize the powerplay to full potential, the pressure they were placing on the middle order, and all such garbage that was being said by experts and fans.

Last night in Karachi, the two champion batsmen showed the world why they are the best opening pair for Pakistan and why they are the best batsmen in T20 cricket in the world!

During the epic chase, Pakistan, along with Babar and Rizwan, created a number of records.

PAKISTAN CREATE HISTORY

1. Pakistan successfully completed the highest run chase without losing a wicket in the history of all T20 cricket

Yes, the feat has not even been achieved in franchise T20 cricket, let alone internationals.

Pakistan now have two entries in the list of highest scores chased without losing a wicket in T20Is.

2. Pakistan became the first team to successfully chase 200 against England in T20Is.

3. Pakistan also became the first team in T20Is to defeat England by 10 wickets!


BABAR AZAM & MOHAMMAD RIZWAN - SIMPLY THE BEST

Not too long back they were ranked number 1 and number 2 in T20Is. The latest rankings have them at 1 and 4. I think when the rankings are updated next week, they will be number 1 and 2 again.

Undoubtedly, these two are simply the best in the world. What they achieved last night was quite unbelievable.

Having said that, if anyone had asked me before last night about which opening pair was the most likely to chase a score of over 200 without being dismissed in a T20I, I would have named these two!

Their ability to chase big totals in T20Is is quite unparalleled.

1. Their unbroken 203 run partnership is now the second highest partnership in all T20Is.

Babar and Rizwan now hold the record for 2 of the highest 5 partnerships in T20Is.

2. Babar and Rizwan are a part of all of the highest 5 partnerships for Pakistan in T20Is.

The partnership of 203* was their 5th partnership of 150 or more. No other pair in T20Is even comes close to that many 150+ partnerships.

3. Their partnership of 203* is now the highest partnership in T20Is while chasing.

Babar and Rizwan broke their own record of 197, which they had put on against South Africa last year.

4. Babar and Rizwan, during their partnership of 203 last night, over took T20Is most prolific opening partners - Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.

Babar and Rizwan now have the highest partnership runs, most number of centuries, and the best partnership average in all T20Is.

5. Babar and Rizwan are the best openers in the world in T20Is in terms of Impact.

Yes you heard that right. Anyone who has any reservations about their strike rates or their impact at the top of the innings is only delusional.

Not only do they have the top two averages among openers in T20Is, they also have strike rates as good as other openers around the world.

When measuring their impact, I used an adjusted average metric (Average x Strike Rate / 100) to determine the overall impact made by an opener in T20Is.

The result is here for everyone to see and wonder.


BABAR AZAM: THE UNDISPUTED KING

Anything I say about him will not be enough praise, nor will it do full justice, to the absolute talent that he is as a batsman.

Babar Azam is the best batsman in the world across formats.

Here is what he achieved last night with his epic unbeaten knock of 110.

1. Babar became the only batsman from Pakistan to score two T20I centuries.

2. Babar joined Faf Du Plessis and David Warner as the only three batsmen in this world who have scored a century in each format at the same ground - Karachi, the Wanderers, and Adelaide Oval, respectively.

3. Babar is now level with Rohit Sharma with the most (2) centuries in T20Is as captain.

He also has the third most runs in T20Is as captain; is only behind Virat Kohli in terms of average as captain; and is ahead of everyone else with 16 50s as captain.

4. During his knock last night, Babar raced past 8,000 runs in all T20 cricket, getting there faster than all batsmen, barring one.

He got there in only 218 innings, 5 more than the Universe Boss - Chris Gayle.

5. Babar's 110* last night was his 10th century as captain of Pakistan across formats, beating the legendary Inzamam Ul Haq's record of 9 centuries as Pakistan captain.

6. Babar Azam won his 30th T20I last night, beating Sarfraz Ahmed's record of 29 T20I victories as captain of Pakistan.

I am still in awe of what Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan achieved last night.

And I am still in shock at experts and fans who have been harping on about how Pakistan needs to change their opening combination.

Last night was a good reminder about previous chases of 208, 201, and 189. Of previous wins set up by Babar and Rizwan. Of the so many platforms that these two have provided this team.

It is not their fault that the middle order is not good enough. It is surely their fault that the middle order does not get enough chances to bat, but certainly not their fault if the middle order can't finish games.

Babar and Rizwan will not always do what they did against England in the second T20I of the 7 match series.

They can't be expected to set up a platform as well as finish games. At times they will do both, at times they will just do their part and leave it to the rest to finish, at times they will fail.

Pakistan has two champions at the top of their order who need to be cherished by one and all. Such batsmen are produced once in generations. Savor their performances!

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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

What is Babar's Aversion with Utilizing Spin?

It has now happened way too many times for it to be a lapse of judgement.

Babar Azam has some aversion to fully utilizing his spin resources in T20Is, especially after the 14th over an innings.

EXHIBIT 1: Pakistan vs Australia, T20 World Cup 2021 Semi Final


The first time I noticed it was in the Semi Final of the T20 World Cup in 2021.

Pakistan had imposed a challenging 176 and had Australia in a precarious situation at 103-5 in 13 overs. 7 overs to go with 74 runs to get.

Imad Wasim had bowled his 3rd and the innings' 12th over giving away only 3 runs. Shadab bowled the final over of his spell and the innings' 13th over, where he gave away 8 runs and picked up a wicket.

Imad should have bowled the next over, i.e. the 14th, and finished off his spell. Especially considering a new batsman on the crease and Imad's previous 3-run over.

However, Babar turned to pace and handed the ball to Haris Rauf. It was a decent over and went for only 6 runs.

Still time to bring Imad back to finish off his spell.

But no, Babar went to Shaheen. Still a decent over with only 6 runs conceded.

Continue with Haris would be the wise choice, or even Imad; but Babar handed the ball to Hasan and that opened the flood gates.

Each of the next overs was a double figure one and Australia raced home with an over to spare.

Why didn't Imad complete his spell?

EXHIBIT 2: Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, Asia Cup 2022 Final


In the Asia Cup Final, Babar brought on Shadab and Iftikhar right after the Power Play, as they bowled the 7th and 8th overs of the innings.

The reason he went with Iftikhar, and not Nawaz, was because the left handed Rajapaksa was at the crease.

Fair.

Both Shadab and Iftikhar bowled beautifully and had Sri Lanka by the throat on 62-5 after 9 overs.

At the end of 12 overs, Sri Lanka were 85-5, and Shadab and Iftikhar had bowled 3 overs each, giving away less than 7 runs an over.

For the 13th over, Babar went back to pace, and Hasnain leaked 14 runs!

Shadab bowled the 14th over for 7 runs and completed his spell.

The 15th was bowled by Haris and it went for 11 runs.

Why not let Iftikhar finish his 4 overs?

Instead of letting Iftikhar complete his spell, Babar turned to Nawaz for the 16th over, whom he had not bowled at all till now due to Rajapaksa's presence. Yet he still brought him on while Rajapaksa was smashing it around.

Nawaz gave only 3 runs in his over.

Now, with 4 overs left in the innings, Babar had the option to bowl Iftikhar for 1 over, and Nawaz for another 2!

But no! 

He went with pace and in the next 4 overs, Rajapaksa and Sri Lanka raced away and smashed 50 runs!!!

Why Babar Why?

Where is it written that your pacers need to complete their 4 overs? Where is it written that you cannot utilize spin in the death overs?

Clearly the Lankans were liking the pace and the spinners had kept them quiet.

Could Babar not read the game the way we did?

EXHIBIT 3: Pakistan vs England, first T20I


Pakistan's pacers bowled 11.2 overs and gave away 102 runs at a run rate of 9 runs per over.

Pakistan's spinners bowled 8 overs and gave away 56 runs at a run rate of 7 runs per over.

England's required rate at the start of the innings was 8 runs an over.

It was clear that England's batsmen were comfortable against pace, but struggled a bit against spin.

A few more overs of spin from Iftikhar or Khushdil could have pushed the asking rate a bit higher making it a difficult chase for England.

But no, Babar will never think of spin to win.

I find it really strange why he keeps repeating the same mistake in every match.

Has the coaching team not advised him on this?

Is there no one in the whole Pakistan set up that sees this?

Pakistan has world class spinners that can win them games...

... but why doesn't Babar utilize them more?

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Why Shan Masood Batted at 4

We all know Shan Masood the opener as that is what he has been for the most part of his career.

Even the international cricket he has played for Pakistan has been as an opener in Tests and in ODIs.

An average of 29 in Tests and 22 in ODIs suggests that he has been mediocre in international cricket, despite turning it on in domestic cricket for the past few years.

He was never regarded as a T20 batsman. So much so that he did not even make it to the XI at times for his PSL franchise, the Multan Sultans.

However, in 2022, Shan Masood transformed his game. He has had a fine year in T20 cricket in 2022 and he has credited Mickey Arthur for this success.


In yesterday's first T20I between Pakistan and England, Shan Masood walked out to bat at 4 and the commentators, particularly Wasim Akram and Urooj Mumtaz, went on about how Shan is an opener and that he would find it difficult to adjust to batting at number 4.

I wondered why both commentators were so clueless when making those statements. I also wondered why no one in the combox corrected them.

The thing is that Shan Masood has not only transformed his game to become an attacking batsman suited to all formats of the game, he has also shifted to playing at number 4 in T20 cricket.

I believe he made this switch considering that Pakistan currently possess solid opening pairs in all three formats. With no opening position up for grabs in the Pakistan team, Shan likely wanted to create his space in the middle order.

And this is how he did it.

In the just completed National T20 Cup, Pakistan's domestic T20 competition, Shan Masood played 9 matches for Balochistan, and he batted at number 4 in all of those 9 matches.

In these 9 innings, he scored 215 runs at an average of 31 and a strike rate of 128.

Decent returns that definitely made a case for his presence in Pakistan's abysmal middle order.

Here's a breakdown of his 9 innings at number 4 for Balochistan in the National T20 Cup:


So no, Shan Masood was not new to batting at 4, nor did the Pakistan team management make it difficult for him by making him bat at an unfamiliar position.

Shan Masood batted at 4 in the Pakistan's T20 competition with some success, which resulted in his selection for Pakistan, who were looking to shore up their middle order after the consistent failures in the Asia Cup.

Shan Masood batted for Pakistan in the same position that he batted in Pakistan's most recent T20 competition.

Would be good if the commentators had a bit more knowledge.

Anyhow, not that it makes any difference to Pakistan's middle order though - they are all damn rabbits!

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Monday, September 12, 2022

Pakistan doesn't have a Middle Order - So what?

Leading up to the Asia Cup, there was an article about how Pakistan's middle order was not getting enough time in the middle to showcase their ability. The prolific form of the top order was the culprit, who were facing too many deliveries and scoring at less than an ideal strike rate.

Now that the Asia Cup is over, one can look back and see that Pakistan's middle order got ample chances and they failed miserably. Every. Single. Game.

Babar Azam was not at his best. I would say grossly unlucky rather than woefully out of form, but considering he was back in the pavilion within the powerplay every game (barring one), the likes of Fakhar, Iftikhar, Khushdil, and Asif got plenty of chances.

And they all collectively showed the world how useless they are.

FAKHAR ZAMAN
Asia Cup Scores: 10, 15, 5, 13, 0. Yes, I am not counting the 50 odd against Hong Kong.

Even leading up to the Asia Cup, Fakhar had scores of 10, 10, 12, 0. 

Add to that the fact that he dropped Kohli second ball, and that his misfields gave India 8 valuable extra runs. He is lucky Pakistan chased down 180 odd and didn't lose by 5 runs or so.

It is time Pakistan move on from Fakhar the T20 batsman.

IFTIKHAR AHMED
I am sorry but we do not need batsmen who score run a ball 30 odds. What is the point?

In a team that has openers that are accumulators, you don't need another batsman who does the same.

Please look elsewhere.

KHUSHDIL SHAH
Why is he even in the T20 team?

In 18 T20I innings, he has a highest score of 36. Against Zimbabwe.

His next highest is 35. Against Hong Kong.

He also has a 34. Against Bangladesh.

In the remaining 15 innings he has not crossed 20.

Why is he in the team?

ASIF ALI
He is way too over rated. 

He has played 45 T20 Internationals now, and the only game that he has actually won for Pakistan is the one against Afghanistan at the T20 World Cup last year.

Besides that, if all what you want is 16 off 8, your bowlers can get you that. You do not need Asif Ali.

Haris Rauf - 13* off 7 vs India
Shahnawaz Dahani - 16 off 6 vs India
Naseem Shah - 14* off 4 vs Afghanistan

These are actually better returns than Asif. 

Please move on from this over rated slogger.


Is blaming the top order fair? 

Now that it is established that Pakistan does not have a middle order, I feel the blame given to the top order for not giving other batsmen enough chances was unfounded.

Pakistan's T20I top order gave us successful chases of 208/3 vs WI, 205/1 vs SA, and 189/6 vs SA in the last 12 months.

Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, despite their "below par" strike rates and low risk approach in the powerplay led Pakistan to 3 record chases in 12 months.

Not to mention all the other chases of scores between 120 and 170.

It has worked in the past. It will work again in the future.

Unfortunately Babar did not score this Asia Cup. If he did, it may have been a different story.

What do we do about the middle order then?

I don't see any replacements to be honest.

Yes there is Haider Ali, who was in the Asia Cup squad, but did not get a single game.

In my view, he is better than the 4 batsmen mentioned above.

Shan Masood has been in the runs in domestic and county cricket. He has a strong case for inclusion in this side.

Even if you bring in these two, Pakistan will be left with two passengers. 

And honestly, I do not think it will make a difference.

Whether you have Fakhar, Iftikhar, Khushdil, Asif or you have Shan, Haider, Khushdil, Asif. Whether you bring in Shoaib Malik. Or even if you bring in Javed Miandad.

It will make no difference whatsoever. You can play rabbits in the middle order for all I care.

Pakistan's T20 success has been achieved on the back of great knocks by Babar and Rizwan, and some outstanding pace and spin bowling.

That is your team right there - Babar, Rizwan, Shadab, Nawaz, and any 3 out of Shaheen, Naseem, Haris, Hasnain, Dhahani, Waseem Jr.

The middle order is just a formality. Whoever is there, however they play. Unless Babar Azam scores, Pakistan will not win consistently in my view.

T20 World Cup Squad

With the 15-man squad for the T20 World Cup to be announced by 15 September, it seems unlikely that there will be any major changes.

You can't go into a World Cup with inexperienced players, and the current crop are the ones Pakistan has banked on for the past year.

Perhaps Shan Masood may get a look in. Any of Fakhar, Iftikhar, Khushdil, and Asif can be dropped for Shan really.

Haider should find a place in the constantly failing middle order. I don't get why he wasn't given a chance especially considering that he has scores of 45, 68, and 31 in his last three T20Is.

Having said all this, I would also like everyone to note that this Pakistan team under Babar is a very good team.

They reached the semi finals of the T20 World Cup in 2021, after not qualifying for the knock outs in 2014 and 2016.

They reached the final of the Asia Cup 2022, which they did not qualify for in 2018 and 2016.

So something is right about this team. They are moving in the right direction.

With some tweaks, they will win a tournament too, in the not so distant future.

This is what I think Pakistan's 15-man squad will look like:

Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Khushdil Shah, Haider Ali, Shan Masood, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Waseem, Mohammad Hasnain, Shahnawaz Dahani

And Pakistan's first XI should be:

1. Babar Azam 2. Mohd. Rizwan 3. Shan Masood 4. Haider Ali 5. Mohd. Nawaz 6. Shadab Khan 7. Asif Ali 8. Haris Rauf 9. Mohd. Waseem 10. Naseem Shah 11. Shaheen Afridi 

A strong bowling line up with 4 pacers and 2 spinners will be ideal for Australia I believe.

And there is enough batting there for 20 overs.

After all, Pakistan only need Babar Azam and Rizwan!

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Thursday, August 25, 2022

The Asia Cup Confusion ...

The Asia Cup 2022, scheduled to kick-off on 27th August in Dubai, was originally to be hosted in Sri Lanka. However, due to the many issues in the island, the Sri Lanka Cricket Board decided to host it in the UAE.

While it was being speculated for a while that the tournament will take place in the UAE, the official announcement came on 28 July.

Soon after, the ACC released the following schedule.


Everyone's focus was on 28 August! Pakistan and India to meet again in Dubai, the same venue where Pakistan romped to a 10 wicket demolition job less than a year ago during the T20 World Cup.

Those who paid a little more attention realized that the match on 4 September would also be Pakistan vs India, barring the littlest of chances that a qualifier, who we now know is Hong Kong, goes ahead to the Super Fours, instead of Pakistan or India.

The wait for the tickets was a never ending one.

There was no news anywhere about when the tickets would launch. Everyone had an idea that they would launch on Platinum List, but no idea when.

The launch of hospitality packages by Dnata and some other tour and travel operators threw some people off and news of tickets being launched spread like wildfire.

But no, match tickets were not available. Only travel packages (flight and hotel) with tickets were.

On 11 August, Platinum List posted the following on their Instagram page.


The tickets were coming soon, but still there was no date announced!

On 13 August, Khaleej Times broke the news that the ACC has announced that Asia Cup tickets will be released on 15 August!

Finally the tickets were going on sale, less than 2 weeks before the Asia Cup!

But there was still no announcement from Platinum List who had asked everyone to follow their Instagram page to know when tickets go on sale.

As the clock hit midnight and the date changed to 15 August on Sunday night, Whatsapp groups went frantic with the news that Platinum List had launched the tickets and that there was a massive queue online.

We all logged on to Platinum List and found ourselves in a queue with a wait time of more than an hour.

Once the wait time ended, nothing happened, and the site crashed.

There were no tickets.

Just millions of fans in the UAE and the subcontinent logging on to Platinum List looking for tickets that had not been launched. 

Come Monday afternoon on 15 August, and Platinum List posted this on their Instagram page.


6:00PM! Everyone was ready!

At 6PM began the usual practice of queues, wait times, errors when making payments, payment not going through, to finally payments going through and tickets being purchased successfully.

We managed to get the tickets we wanted. 

But there was one problem that was bugging me.

For the 7th September match between A2 and B2, Platinum List was selling tickets for Sharjah.

The original schedule released by ACC (scroll up) had that match scheduled in Dubai.

I checked cricket's most trusted website, cricinfo, and even their schedule showed the match was to be played in Dubai. 

I checked ACC's website, and there it showed Dubai also.

Check these sites now and you will see the same now as well. Dubai.

Clearly the organizers, i.e. SLC / ACC, told Platinum List that the 7th September match is scheduled for Sharjah but no one seemed to communicate this to other platforms.

And I am not really sure why the other platforms have not changed this in their schedules despite the information being out there since 15 August.

Now I was under another dilemma.

The tournament format said the top two teams from each group will qualify for the Super Four stage where each team will play the other three.

With the 7 September Super Four game between A2 and B2 scheduled for Sharjah, does this mean that the A1, A2, B1, B2 seedings were predetermined?

Only for the simple reason that India does not play in Sharjah. 

Which meant that India cannot be A2 under any circumstance.

To me this meant that no matter in which position India qualified to the Super Four, they would be A1 and the other team, i.e. Pakistan, would be A2.

But this information was no where. 

Not on the ACC website. Not on Cricinfo. Not on any cricket website or forum. I kept searching, I kept asking, but no one gave me a satisfactory answer.

Except for one senior editor at Cricinfo, who agreed that A1, A2, etc. were pre determined.

It made sense also as this practice is decades old and used in World Cups where there have been Super 6 ad Super 8 rounds.

But still there was no clarity on why no platform was reporting that the 7 September match was in Sharjah and why there was no information on A1, A2, B1, B2.

Till this morning!

Finally, the ACC released a schedule that showed that the 7 September match was to be played in Sharjah, and also explained which teams would be A1 and B1.

Here you go.


Finally, some official clarity!

Why did it take so long to get this out, I don't know.

For some of us, it was clear when the tickets launched on Platinum List, given the prices of the tickets.

But such information should be made public as soon as tickets go on sale to make it clearer for fans and ticket buyers.

Despite this confirmation, websites are still reporting that on 7 September there is an Asia Cup match in Dubai, and one can't find this clarity regarding India being A1 anywhere else.

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A Meeting of the Kings

Babar Azam and Virat Kohli sent the media into a frenzy yesterday as they shook hands during the teams' practice session yesterday at the ICC Academy.

The BCCI's official Twitter account posted a 35 second video showing the team's first practice session in Dubai.

Within that clip was the handshake, which has since become viral across social media!


The Asia Cup 2022 gets underway in Dubai on Saturday, 27th August, with the hosts Sri Lanka taking on Afghanistan.

But it is the following day, Sunday 28 August, that everyone seems to be waiting for.

That is the day of Pakistan vs India. The teams will be meeting for the first time since Pakistan's 10 wicket romp at the same venue a year ago.

We are certainly ready for the Asia Cup!

Are you?

See you at Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

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Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Curious Cases of Azhar Ali, Fawad Alam, Shan Masood, and Agha Salman

Even though Pakistan won the first test against Sri Lanka, there are a number of questions that remain unanswered. Surely the captain and the team management can provide more insight on these queries, but no one has spoken about them yet.

Why is Azhar Ali still in the team?
Why was Fawad Alam dropped?
Why isn't Shan Masood getting a game?
Why was Agha Salman preferred over Fawad Alam?


Babar Azam, Saqlain Mushtaq, and Mohammad Yousuf are surely more adept at selecting the playing XI and they probably know the right answers to the above, but I will attempt answering them anyway.

AZHAR ALI
In both innings of the first test, he looked out of sorts, with scores of 3 off 41 deliveries and 6 off 32 deliveries. 

Pakistan fans generally have very short memories. Their daggers were out immediately after Azhar's two sluggish failures, and no one remembered that in Pakistan's last test series, against Australia, he amassed 300 runs in 5 innings, including a solid knock of 185.

"oh but that was scored at home, he does nothing away from home"

Hellooo, who scored a double ton at the MCG? Surely the fans have forgotten that too.

Azhar has been one of Pakistan's most dependable test batters in the past decade. 19 test centuries is no joke, neither are 7,000 test runs. The only Pakistan batters who have got more are the big 4 - Younis Khan, Javed Miandad, Inzamam Ul Haq, and Mohammad Yousuf.

He is not in the same league as the big 4 but his test average is at par with the likes of Misbah, Saeed Anwar, Hanif Mohammad, Saleem Malik, and Zaheer Abbas.

For those who think that he scores only on flat UAE decks need a reminder that Azhar has scored a test century in every country he has played except for New Zealand and South Africa. And he has scored a test ton against all opposition except for South Africa.

Azhar may not be a test great, but he has given his fair share of great test knocks, and totally deserves his place in the side.

FAWAD ALAM
What the current and past team managements think of him will forever remain a mystery. Despite being the most prolific first class batter in Pakistan he was kept out of the side for 10 years. That too after scoring a debut test century.

When he eventually made a come back in 2020, he showed what Pakistan was missing by hitting test hundreds against New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and the West Indies.

In 12 tests since his comeback, he scored 703 runs at an average of 50. In this period, he had more centuries than anyone else from Pakistan, was one of the only three batters to average 50, and was one of the mainstays of their batting line up.

Then he had one bad series against Australia and found himself on the bench for the first test against Sri Lanka.

Why?

I have no answer for this, and I hope someone can explain this with some level of reasoning.

SHAN MASOOD
For the past 5 years, Shan Masood has been plundering runs in domestic cricket in Pakistan. This year, he did the same in county cricket, which is why there have been many a cry from fans to include him in the playing XI.

Shan has had a start-stop career with Pakistan. Having made his test debut in 2013, he has played test matches every year for Pakistan since then, with the last one in January 2021.

After 25 tests, he has an average under 30. Despite scoring some match winning centuries, he is too inconsistent for Pakistan as an opener.

The last time he was dropped from the team it was after scores of 0,1, 4, 18, 10, 0, 0, 0 across 5 test matches. That is 4 ducks in 8 innings for an opener.

He has had his fair share of international cricket and shown that he is not consistent enough to be a regular Pakistan test opener.

Even when he had a record domestic season in 2018-19 in List A cricket, he was given a run in Pakistan's ODI team and in 5 consecutive ODIs he managed only 111 runs at an average of 22.

While a prolific domestic runs scorer, I am afraid he cannot replace Pakistan's current top order in any format.

AGHA SALMAN
How does someone with a first class average of 37 make it to Pakistan's test squad in the first place is beyond me. How he makes it to a starting XI ahead of the likes of Fawad Alam (Test Ave 41, FC Ave 55) and Saud Shakeel (FC Ave 50) is just mind boggling.

The only reason I could think of was that he bowls handy off spin, which would be beneficial against the left handers in Sri Lanka's line up.

But to sacrifice proper test batters for that, I am not too sure.

Are there no good off spinners in Pakistan that they could have, and probably should have, included in the squad?

Or play Nauman Ali instead of one of the pacers. Surely you don't require 3 pacers at Galle.

NEXT TEST
Yes, Pakistan won the test, but the team selection was far from ideal.

With the next test also in Galle, I think Pakistan should put things right and bring back Fawad Alam in place of Agha Salman, and also bring in Nauman Ali in place of either one of the three pacers that played the first test.

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Babar Azam - Great Batter, Greater Captain

There is no doubt that Babar Azam is the best white ball batter in the world currently. He is ranked 1 in both ODIs and T20Is.

There is also no doubt that Babar is also the best batter in the world across formats. He is the only batter ranked in the top 4 of each format.

I have no doubt that Babar Azam will become the first batter in the world to be ranked 1 in each of the three formats at the same time!

Virat Kohli, Ricky Ponting, and Matthew Hayden are the only ones who have achieved the number 1 ranking in each format; however none of them have held that ranking at the same time.

Babar soon will. You wait and watch.

Besides being a great batsman, Babar is also an impeccable captain. He has grown in stature with every game over the past two years, and he is fast becoming one of the best captains in the game.

Under Babar, Pakistan currently have a win percentage of over 60% in each of the three formats. They have pulled off some amazing victories during this time in T20Is, in ODIs, and even in Tests. The team has a new found belief under him and one can only imagine the great heights this team can reach.

TEST MATCHES
Among the current crop of Test captains, Babar has the second best W:L ratio, behind only Pat Cummins. And his win percentage of 66.7% is behind only that of Ben Stokes and Dean Elgar.

Babar is also one of the only two Test captains in the past 2 years who are averaging over 50 with the bat.

ONE DAY INTERNATIONALS
In ODIs, Babar sits second on the list of captains with the best W:L ratio and win percentage, behind Rohit Sharma.

As a batter, Babar has been phenomenal in ODIs. He has the most runs, highest average, highest strike rate, and most centuries as captain in ODIs since the start of 2020.

His average of 83.3 as captain is miles ahead of the next best.

That strike rate of 101.7 is a slap on so many faces, I can't even begin to count.

T20 INTERNATIONALS
Even in T20Is, Babar sits second in the list behind Rohit Sharma in terms of W:L ratio.

As a captain in T20Is, Babar also dominates the T20I runs tally over the past 3 years with almost 300 more runs than the next best - Aaron Finch. He also has the second best average among captains, behind Kohli, and has the most number of 50s as captain - more than double of the next best.

A true white ball maestro, Babar's career is moving rapidly towards greatness. He is ruling in all three formats as a captain and as a batter. To think that he has at least another decade of cricket left in him, one can't even begin to imagine where he will end up if he keeps continuing in the same vein.

We have not had a Pakistan team in a while that has been in the running for all three ICC trophies - the WTC, T20 WC, and the ODI WC. 

At least one of those will be in Pakistan's hands before the end of 2023.

If anyone can make it happen, it is the current best cricketer in the world - the one Babar Azam!

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Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Abdullah Shafique is the Real Deal


He is only 22 years old and has played only 6 Test Matches, yet today he produced one of the finest test innings of all time.

Abdullah Shafique's unbeaten 160 off 408 deliveries was a monumental effort that led Pakistan to their second highest run chase ever in Test cricket.

His 160* in a successful chase in the 4th innings of a test is:

- The eighth highest score by a batter.

- The third highest in Asia.

- The third highest by an opener.

- The second highest by a Pakistan batter.

- The second highest against Sri Lanka.

- The highest at Galle.

- The highest by a Pakistan opener.

In his short test career, Shafique has already played two epic fourth innings knocks:

- The 96 off 305 deliveries in Karachi that helped Pakistan save the test against Australia.

- Today's 160* to secure a historic win for Pakistan.

Shafique also became only the 5th batter in the history of test cricket to face over 400 deliveries in the fourth innings of a Test. He faced a total of 408 deliveries, which is the second highest number of deliveries faced in the 4th innings during a successful run chase.

And the first ever batter in the history of test cricket to bat for over 500 minutes in the 4th innings of a test in a successful run chase! He batted for 524 minutes, which is also the third longest innings by minutes in the 4th innings of a test.

His current test batting average of 80.00 is behind only Sir Donald Bradman's average.

He has accumulated 720 runs in his first 6 Tests. Only Sunil Gavaskar, Sir Don Bradman, and George Headley scored more than this in their first 6 Tests.

It has been a while since Pakistan had a consistent opener in Test cricket so about time we have found the Real Deal in Abdullah Shafique.

May he have a long and prosperous career and break many more records!

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This Pakistan Team is Different!

This is a different Pakistan team under Babar Azam.

They have turned a corner and have the kind of belief in themselves that past Pakistan teams have not had.

For three decades Pakistan fans have been scarred by many a chase in Tests and ODIs where they have looked like winning the match, only to falter during the final lap.

Not this Pakistan team!

While the team seems to have moved forward from the scars of the past; for Pakistan fans it will take time for these scars to heal. We are probably the most nervous cricket fans in the world. Anyone will favor the team that requires 50 odd runs to win with 6 wickets in hand. Not Pakistani fans though!

I think it is time for us fans to start believing in this team as well. Us fan should also have the kind of belief that Babar has instilled in his players.

Babar's overall record as captain across formats is extremely impressive. He has a win percentage of over 60% in all three formats.


What is even more impressive is Pakistan's record under Babar while chasing totals. No other Pakistan team has looked as comfortable as this one while chasing totals.


Yes there have been impressive run chases in the past, especially the ones in Tests against Sri Lanka in 2014 and 2015, which were Pakistan's only two successful run chases of targets above 300. 

But those were one-off.

Babar Azam's team has pulled off record run chases in each of the three formats in the past 1 year!

T20 Internationals
It all started in April 2021 when Pakistan chased down 188 against South Africa in Johannesburg. It was their highest successful chase in T20Is.

That record remained intact for just 3 days as Pakistan easily chased down a record target of 204 in only 18 overs, while losing only 1 wicket, against South Africa at Centurion.

8 months later, Pakistan were at it again successfully chasing down 208 against the West Indies in Karachi; again easily winning by 7 wickets with 7 deliveries to spare.

Pakistan created 3 T20I records within a year!

One Day Internationals
In March of this year, Pakistan broke the record of their highest ever successful chase in ODIs when they chased down Australia's 348 and won the match by 6 wickets with an over to spare.

Test Matches
Today, Pakistan completed a successful chase of their second highest total in Tests - 342. This is the highest ever total chased at Galle, the fourth highest ever chased in Sri Lanka and the second highest ever chased against Sri Lanka.

This Pakistan team has been breaking record after record, and it is just starting off. We are only in the second year of Babar Azam's captaincy and his team has reached unprecedented heights.

The best part about these chases is that they have been completed confidently, without many stutters. There haven't been nervy last wicket scrapes. Just pure confident batting, pure confident chasing.

Babar has grown in stature with every passing day.

From being the best white ball batsman in the world, he is today the best batsman in the world across formats, and well on his way to being the best cricket captain in the world too!

Under Babar, Pakistan is a force to reckon with.

I do not even remember the last time Pakistan were this consistent across formats.

And I hope that soon there comes a time where I remember only this Pakistan. The world beating Pakistan!

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