Monday, January 26, 2015

Those on their Last Attempt at World Cup Glory

With every ICC World Cup, one witnesses high profile retirements with big names leaving the game. World Cup glory is one of the most prestigious honours for a cricketer so with those who are nearing retirement age choose to play one last mega event before hanging up their boots.

Post the World Cup in 1992, we witnessed stalwarts and the best allrounders of their time, Imran Khan, Ian Botham, and Kapil Dev end their careers; while 1996 was the swansong for one of the best batsmen of his time, Javed Miandad.

The World Cup in 1999 saw Sri Lanka's long standing captain and vice captain Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda De Silva appear in their last World Cup in the hope to defend the title they had won in 1996.

In 2003 we witnessed the mass exodus of Pakistani greats Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, and Saeed Anwar; 2007 was the swansong for Aussie greats Adam Gilchrist and Glenn McGrath; and 2011 was the Sachin Tendulkar's 6th and final attempt at World Cup glory, the only prize that had eluded him during his 24 year cricket career.

The upcoming ICC World Cup 2015 is no different and will also see some high profile cricketers leave the game for good. While a few have already announced their retirements following the World Cup, there are various others who I believe are on their final attempts at World Cup glory. What a delight it would be to watch these stalwarts in action for one final time; so grab your cricket tickets and watch these men battle it out for one last time in an ICC World Cup!

Australia: Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson, Brad Haddin

All four of them were part of the 2007 squad that won the ICC World Cup; and 8 years later they are part of what will probably be their last attempt at World Cup glory. Clarke, Watson, and Johnson will be 37, while Haddin will be 41, by the time the next edition comes around in 2019.

With Clarke already battling injuries, and Smith emerging as a capable replacement as Australia's captain, it looks highly doubtful that Clarke will be part of another World Cup campaign. Watson has also been injury prone and with the emergence of young allrounders in Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, and James Faulkner, Watson's days as an international cricketer are numbered. Johnson has been Australia's spearhead for the past few years and will remain so for another couple of years surely; but another World Cup seems too far off for him to remain at the top of his game.

As for Haddin, this might be his last year an international cricketer.

None of them have said it but it is very likely that all these four Aussies will be playing their last ICC World Cup.

India: MS Dhoni

He is the only surviving captain from the 2011 World Cup and will be defending the title that he and his team won for Sachin Tendulkar in 2011.

He is 33 and has recently retired from Test Cricket. Though there has been no indication on how much longer he will play ODIs, I highly doubt that he will be around playing ODIs for India 4 years down the road.

I believe this will be Dhoni's last appearance in an ICC World Cup and in 2019 he will most likely only be a franchise T20 player.

New Zealand: The McCullum Brothers, Daniel Vettori, Kyle Mills

Vettori has already announced that this World Cup will be his swansong. He left test cricket some time ago and had been saving himself for a last attempt at World Cup glory.

New Zealand captain, Brendon McCullum is 33 and at the top of his game in both tests and ODIs. He will surely continue to lead New Zealand for another couple of years, but it is quite unlikely that he will be leading the Kiwis at another World Cup campaign four years from now.

His brother, Nathan, is 34, and is also likely to retire before the next World Cup in 2019. While veteran pacer Kyle Mills, who is 35, is probably on his swansong as well.

Pakistan: Misbah Ul Haq, Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan, Mohammad Hafeez

Pakistan captain Misbah, and Vice Captain Afridi have both announced their retirements from ODIs following the World Cup. Misbah will continue to lead Pakistan in tests; while Afridi will be doing the same in T20Is; but neither will appear in any more ODIs after this World Cup campaign.

While Younis Khan has questioned why people are thinking that this his last World Cup, I highly doubt that at 41 he will be around in Pakistan colours in England in 2019. He has already gone past his welcome within the ODI squad and I find it very hard to see him a part of Pakistan's ODI plans after this World Cup.

Mohammad Hafeez, at 34, is also likely to be playing his last World Cup. He will be 38 by the time the next edition comes around and unless he can defy age the way Misbah and Younis have, I don't see him being a part of Pakistan's plans four years from now.

Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Tilekaratne Dilshan, Rangana Herath

Jayawardene and Sangakkara have announced their retirements from ODIs and this World Cup will be their swansong and their final attempt at World Cup glory. Both of them are quite determined to leave the game with Sri Lanka at the top, especially after their respective failed attempts as captains in 2007 and 2011; both times Sri Lanka finished as runners up.

Dilshan and Herath will both be well past 40 in 2019 and even though they haven't announced their ODI retirements, they probably will before 2019.

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It is every cricketer's dream to win the World Cup but not everyone gets to live that dream. Jacques Kallis had a distinguished career but never saw his team win a World Cup. He was desperate to be a part of South Africa's World Cup plans this year and over the past two years took all measures that he could to be fit and ready, but it was just not meant to be as he announced his retirement 8 months before the mega event in the larger interest of the team.

Besides the Australians and the Indian mentioned above, no one on this list has ever won the World Cup and with this being their final attempt, they will surely be extra motivated to do so. Misbah, Afridi, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, and Vettori; all of whom have announced their retirements have left it no secret that they want to end their career by winning the World Cup.

Not all of them will get to live that dream.

But what a story it would be for those who do!

Make your pitch on this post...

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Of Fastest ODI 100s & AB De Villiers, Anderson, and Afridi...

He is the number 1 ranked ODI batsman in the world and the number 2 ranked test batsman in the world. Besides compatriot Hashim Amla, he is the only batsman in the world to average above 50 in both ODIs and Tests. And Adam Gilchrist recently said he is the most valuable cricketer in the world.

AB De Villiers is a complete freakshow!

What AB De Villiers did yesterday was purely phenomenal.

To come out to bat in the 39th over of an ODI and out score someone who batted for the entire 50 overs is just out of this world.

No one in this world has come out to bat after the 30th over of an ODI innings and score a century. AB De Villiers has now done that twice!

There is absolutely no comparison to AB's level; yet I am still going to sin a little bit and compare the only three ODI centuries that have been scored in less than 40 deliveries.

There is no doubt that AB's record century yesterday was special. It wasn't special because he scored the fastest ton in ODI history; it was special because of the kind of shots he played and the fact that he racked up 149 off only 44 deliveries.

AB walked out to bat in the 39th over and got out in the 50th; Hashim Amla batted for the entire 50 overs and scored just 4 more runs than AB did... one can't even dream of playing such innings; think about actually doing it.

Corey Anderson's innings was special in its own way. The match had been reduced to 21 overs a side and Jesse Ryder, who had opened the innings for New Zealand, was already smashing the West Indians around. Anderson walked in and took the attack to another level. His innings was special because he broke a record that had stood the test of time for 18 long years!

Imagine what Shahid Afridi must be thinking. He played international cricket for 19 years, held a world record for 18 of those years, and then saw it broken twice in his final year of ODI cricket.

Afridi's innings, despite being the slowest of the three centuries, was special because it was the first ever ODI hundred scored in less than 40 deliveries. But what was even more extraordinary about Afridi's century was the fact that it was his first ever innings in an international cricket match.

He was in the team as a mere leg spinner and overnight shot to fame because of one of the most brutal attacks to be ever witnessed in ODIs.

Arguably, Afridi also faced a tougher bowling attack than the one faced by Anderson and AB. Think Chaminda Vaas, Muralitharan, and Dharmasena. And he also had to deal with 5 fielders on the boundary, as compared to only 4 fielders in today's times that Anderson and AB had to deal with.

It could also be argued that Afridi came in to bat in the 11th over the innings and was under significantly more pressure than Anderson and AB were when they came out to bat.

Anderson was in the middle of an ODI that had been reduced to a 21 over hitathon. While AB walked out in the 39th over with South Africa cruising at 247-1. They both had the license to destroy the bowling without worrying about losing their wicket.

Both Anderson and AB had to sustain the momentum that had been built by the batsmen before them; Afridi, on the other hand, had to start building the momentum that Pakistan desperately required in order to qualify for the final of the quadrangular tournament.

Pakistan not only had to win the game against Sri Lanka, they had to do it with a significant margin in order to qualify for the final. It was a pressure game.

For Afridi to do it in these circumstances in his first ever international innings was truly special.

Even though all three fastest centuries are special in their own way, AB De Villiers innings is the best of all in my opinion for its sheer brutality and entertainment.

I have never seen anyone demolish a bowling attack the way AB did yesterday. It was quite unbelievable.

I really do think that AB played the best ever ODI innings ever to be played in the history of ODIs.

Afridi's record stood for 18 years; AB's might never be broken.

Make your pitch on this post...

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Inzamam Ul-Haq - Pakistan's Greatest Ever Batsman?

Of course a subject such as this is always going to be rife with subjective opinion, because everyone has a favourite and a stance. Sometimes those opinions can cloud real judgement in terms of the facts, but at the same time statistics don't always tell the whole story. Numbers on a page can give us a lot of information on the end game, but can they tell us about the shot choice, excitement, or pure spectacle that a batsman created on the pitch? Not really.

Admittedly it's a combination of statistics and opinion that leads me to this conclusion – Inzamam-ul-Haq is the greatest batsman Pakistan has seen. I won't pretend there's no debate on this one but I'll stay the course and show why this is a more than a sound position, even if it's not the only option!

Via junaidrao on Flickr

Firstly, the numbers. Inzamam is in an excruciatingly close second in total Test match runs scored to legendary Javed Miandad, with 8830 to the latter’s 8832. Realistically, with three runs in it, that was a single innings' work, or even a single ball's work. You'd have to think, if he wanted, it was a record he could have yanked some strings to get past. In his final innings he needed just six runs to match it, and ended up with three. The moment itself will go down in history, but he stuck to his guns and went out when he said he would. He was a player who could have carried on and made more runs for his country, but he'd made his decision and that was that.

That final choice kept the consistent air of selflessness that 'Inzy' always had about him; he was a team player, and it wasn't his personal achievements that meant so much to him. A more conceited player would have gone out again to reach the top, but he was happy in his career and the runs he had posted to date. It was a noble thing, and that's why he was consistently a fan favourite. His laidback attitude hardly makes you think he'd have batted an eyelid at not reaching the total in front of him, although there would undoubtedly have been real pressure.

Of the top ten Pakistan runscorers, he had the third best average with an exceptional 50.16. Only Younis Khan (53.37), Miandad (52.57) and Mohammad Yousuf (52.29) bested him on that score. 
Centuries? He's second with 25, only behind Younis’ 28. He has the highest amount of fifties with 46, and comes in at second on the highest score, hitting a mammoth 329, not too far behind Hanif Mohammad's 337.

In One Day Internationals of course there is only one king, and that is Inzamam. His 11,701 runs in the shorter format have him head and shoulders above Yousuf in second with 9,554. A 39.53 average over 348 innings is a great total for any batsman, although there are a couple that managed to narrowly usurp him on that score. Saeed Anwar and Yousuf's centuries were more plentiful, too, but the reliable big man always led from the front. Again, his consistent fifties (83) are the most captivating, boasting 21 more than his nearest rival in Yousuf.

All of these achievements show why he was such a colossal figure for Pakistan during his time at the crease, and give plenty of ammunition to the argument of why he'll always be heralded as one of the greats. He's not at the top of every table, but he's never too far away either. 

The numbers don't unequivocally place him as the top choice, though, so why, I hear you ask, is he? 

Well, there's a few reasons I can put together to illustrate my point here. 

World Cup 1992
As a young and fresh-faced 22-year-old, Inzamam was a wildcard choice for the team. En-route to picking up the winner's trophy that year, he put in some spellbinding performances that endeared him to cricket fans the world over. That 60 from 37 against New Zealand was a vital innings, and a rapid 42 from 35 in the final contributed to their 249 total. It was very much needed from Inzamam and his team-mate Saleem Malik, who put in great run rates to up the ante after a shaky start. He says this was his proudest moment, and it's easy to see why. Even though not many knew who he was when he first entered the tournament, he left it as a part of cricketing history. With Pakistan at a particularly low ebb at the moment, as betfair have them just seventh favourites at 10/1 for the upcoming World Cup, memories of more successful days will always linger with the fans.

A big man, with big heart
Inzamam was a stoic figure and held together many Pakistan batting orders when things were crumbling around him. Unlikely to be fazed by anything, he had an innate ability to keep his cool, steady the ship and collect the runs when the going wasn't great. You'd never rush the man - in fact he couldn't be rushed as a famously bad runner between the wickets - but often that was his best quality. Standing solid as a rock, anchoring the Pakistan batting line-up and showing you there was always somebody you could rely on. 

His size was part character, part attribute, and part frustration for fans, whether bettors or supporters. He was never an out-and-out athlete and at times he seemed like he needed an extra push to motivate him. But as with most great talents there's always something imperfect and human about what they bring to the table. There's no doubt if Inzamam had more enthusiasm between the wickets at some points in his career he'd be the top runscorer by far, but such was his demeanour that it isn't the case. Many have commented on how he could have been one of the world's greatest, including his captain, Imran Khan, who noted, "He did not realise his true potential and he could have done better than he did."

His style
He was a big man, but he was also deft. The technicality of his shots was something to admire, it wasn't forced or muscled, but often subtle. That was all due to his timing. He had a true eye for the game and this let him see the ball early and therefore position himself and give himself time to play his strokes. This was why, in particular, he was such a great player against fast bowlers. A nerve you couldn't break and a cricketing brain that gave him time to play - it was a lethal combination. Playing off his legs and with one of the greatest pulls the game has ever seen, his seemingly effortless run-building is one of the real reasons he ranks at the top.

Inzamam-ul-Haq will now be a part of creating some of Pakistan's future batsmen who could learn a lot from this all-time great. He can talk about the shots and play the ball without ever having to pick up his stride. Though the prospects aren't looking the best, hopefully the work with start to pay off in the coming years if a batsman with Inzy's skill combines that with a real work ethic. Scary.

Make your pitch on this post...

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pakistan's Performers Shine in 2014 - Not once but TWICE...

In terms of results, Pakistan had a disastrous 2014. They lost all their ODI series (against Sri Lanka, Australia, and New Zealand), lost the final of the Asia Cup, lost a test series to Sri Lanka, drew another test series against Sri Lanka, and drew a test series against New Zealand.

What a disaster.

Despite that, there was will some silver lining in their performances; none more than their first test series win over Australia in 20 years!

We will talk about that, and more, in a look at Pakistan cricket over the past one year, which included record run chases, record breaking feats by Younis Khan and Misbah Ul Haq, and some phenomenal performances by the one and only Shahid Afridi and Pakistan's new find, Sarfraz Ahmed.

1. Record Run Chase - Not once but TWICE...

Pakistan were 1-0 down going into the third and final match of the test series against Sri Lanka at the start of the year; and they were set an improbable target of 302 in 60 overs on the final day of the test.

With nothing to lose and a test series at stake, Pakistan went all out and chased down the target in 57.3 overs. It was Pakistan's second highest chase in test matches, and it was the fastest chase in a test match ever by any team for a target in excess of 210 runs. Pakistan reached their target at a run rate of 5.25.

Two months later Pakistan faced a similar chase, but this time in an ODI. Bangladesh posted a mammoth 326-3, their highest total ever in ODIs.

Faced with this gigantic chase, it looked unlikely that Pakistan would get there, but they did, and how! Pakistan posted their highest chase ever in ODIs winning the game by 3 wickets and 1 ball to spare.

It is quite fitting that the heroes of those two chases were Misbah Ul Haq and Shahid Afridi respectively. Two polar opposite characters, two captains, two stars in their own right, two cricketers that divide an entire fan base like no others, and the two pillars of the Pakistan cricket team.

2. Misbah Ul Haq sheds his Inhibitions - Not once but TWICE...

Popularly or infamously referred to as "Tuk Tuk" and criticized by a large section of the crowd for his slow approach to batting, Misbah came out, shed his inhibitions, and shut the critics up not once but twice this year.

What was even more ironic that both these innings came in test matches.

The first one was in the record chase mentioned above. Misbah came to the crease with the score 186-4 in 36.4 overs. 116 runs were still required in 23.2 overs at a run rate of 4.97 on a 5th day pitch. The last man anyone wants to see at the crease in such a situation is Misbah.

Yet, Pakistan's skipper stood tall and remained unbeaten on 68 off only 72 deliveries ensuring Pakistan's series levelling victory. Fittingly, he hit the winning runs as well!

If that strike rate of 94.44 in a test match innings was not enough to quieten Misbah's critics, he went far and beyond with a test century scored at an astounding strike rate of 177.2!

Misbah, in scoring an unbeaten 101 off 57 deliveries in the second test against Australia, equalled Sir Viv Richards' record of scoring the fastest 100 in test matches off 56 deliveries.

Ironic, yet fitting, for the man known as Tuk Tuk!

3. Shahid Afridi the Remarkable Match Winner - Not once but TWICE...

When Shahid Afridi walked out to bat in that record chase against Bangladesh, Pakistan required another 102 runs in 8.4 overs (52 deliveries), with 5 wickets in hand.

If there was ever a man who could successfully chase this, it was Shahid Afridi. And he did! When he departed, Pakistan required only 33 runs off 19 delivers, a mere formality following the scathing and remorseless attack by Afridi who smased 59 runs off only 25 deliveries with 7 sixes and 4 fours!

That wasn't the only game that Afridi won for Pakistan with his bat this year. In fact, in this game against Bangladesh, Afridi just picked up where he left off after successfully leading Pakistan to victory over India two days ago.

Chasing a target of 246, Pakistan floundered in what should have been an easy chase, and were staring at defeat when they were reduced to 203-6 in 45 overs. Pakistan still required another 43 runs in 5 overs and only the tail was left to support Afridi.

Afridi brought Pakistan back into the game and it seemed that he, along with Umar Gul, would guide Pakistan home. But Pakistan being Pakistan, they  lost two wickets in the 49th over and another off the first ball of the final over.

5 balls to go. 10 runs still needed to win. 1 wicket left. Junaid Khan on strike. Afridi stranded at the non striker's end.

The next 3 deliveries were pure magic.

Junaid Khan took an all important single off the second delivery off the final over, which brought Shahid Afridi on strike.

With 9 needed to win off 4 deliveries, what does Shahid Afridi do?

He smashes the next two deliveries for 6 and takes Pakistan home to a history repeating 1 wicket victory over India.

Oh what brilliance!

4. Sarfraz Ahmed stars for Pakistan - Not once, not TWICE, but many times over...

Kamran Akmal has 6 test centuries. Moin Khan has 4. Imtiaz Ahmed has 3.

Those three are the highest run scorers among Pakistan wicket keepers in tests.

Sarfraz Ahmed smashed three test hundreds this year alone; where he will end up by the time he calls an end to his career is open to debate, but if this year is anything to go by, I will say that Pakistan have discovered a gem, "a game changer" in Misbah's own words, and Pakistan's best wicket keeper batsman ever.

Sarfraz' played a number of instrumental innings this year for Pakistan. It all started with an aggressive 40 odd in Pakistan's record chase against Sri Lanka, and he followed that up with test centuries against Sri Lanka, Australia, and New Zealand - all teams he came up against.

He averages 44 with the bat in tests, which is 14 runs better than the next best for anyone who has kept wickets in at least 10 tests for Pakistan.

5. Younis Khan makes his bat talk - Not once, not TWICE, but many times over...

Dropped from the ODI side and a public spat with the PCB where he stated that he will not play any format of the game for Pakistan were bygones as Younis Khan went on a purposeful run spree in Pakistan's 2 match test series against Australia.

After those two test matches, Younis Khan became Pakistan's highest test centurion, the only batsman from Pakistan to score a century against all other 9 test playing nations, the first batsman in 40 years to score a century in each innings of a test match against Australia, and the first batsman in 90 years to score three consecutive test centuries against Australia.

Talk about making one's bat do the talking. Talk about making a statement. Talk about breaking records.

None have done it better than Younis Khan.

6. Pakistan's test batsmen shine - Not once, not TWICE, but many times over...

To say that Pakistan's test batsmen had an outstanding year would be an understatement.

Pakistan's Test top 7 - Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah Ul Haq, Asad Shafiq, and Sarfraz Ahmed - all averaged above 40 in test matches this year; with 5 of them averaging above 50.

Three of them scored three test centuries each, one of them scored four, and King Khan scored six. Many of them had record breaking years, and many of them had their best years in test cricket yet.

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While Pakistan's performances this year, especially in ODIs, are not much to talk about; yet there still are plenty of performances to smile about and be in awe of.

Here's hoping for more and better in 2015...

Make your pitch on this post...

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The ICC World Cup Format is Quite Pointless!

The 1992 ICC World Cup was the best ever World Cup in my opinion, and not because Pakistan won it, but because it was the best format ever used for a World Cup Tournament. It pitted all teams against each other in a round robin format before the top four contested the semi finals.

That is really the ideal format for a tournament that calls itself the "World Cup".

What better way is there to determine the best team in the world besides making them play against each other at least once.

Despite the success of the World Cup in 1992, the ICC for reasons best known to them, decided to change the round robin format and instead introduced the Quarter Finals for the next edition of the ICC World Cup in 1996.

Quarter Finals in a cricket World Cup are as pointless as sunscreen on a cloudy day!

Introducing the Quarter Finals meant that the entire month of group games was a useless exercise to determine which one of the top 8 teams would play the other in a knock out game.

Why not just start the World Cup with the Quarter Finals instead? Everyone knows which 8 teams will make the Quarter Finals, so why make them go through a month of meaningless group games?

The ICC were quick to realize that Quarter Finals did not make sense in a cricket World Cup and corrected the format in the following edition in 1999 with the introduction of the Super Sixes.

That was a really smart format. It ensured that the top 4 teams that qualified for the semi finals did so after playing against the teams in their initial group and the top 3 teams from the other group. It was pretty much a round robin format with the teams playing against (almost) all the other teams.

The same format was used in 2003 and then extended to 8 teams, i.e. the Super Eights, for the 2007 edition of the ICC World Cup.

But then again, for some bizarre reason, the Quarter Finals made a reappearance in 2011.

What a round robin format like the one in 1992, and the Super Sixes or Eights of 1999, 2003, and 2007 ensure is that every single group game holds relevance, and the best 4 teams make it to the semi finals.

The Quarter Finals on the other hand guarantee none of that!

The 2015 edition of the ICC World Cup is also based on the Quarter Finals format, with the top 4 teams from each group qualifying for the quarters.

For an entire month the top 8 ODI sides will take part in meaningless games, which will decide who faces who in the Quarter Finals.

And I can tell you from now, and in fact bet my last dollar on the fact that the 8 teams that will qualify for the Quarter Finals will be Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and West Indies.

Those were the same 8 teams that played the Quarter Finals in 1996 and in 2011.

That in no way ensures that the best 4 teams will play the Semi Finals. Like it happened in 1996, South Africa were by far the best team in the tournament winning every single game in the group stages only to see themselves knocked out in a Quarter Final against a mediocre West Indies team only due to the brilliance of one Brian Lara.

Any team can face such a fate when it comes to the Quarters. They could win every single one of their 6 group games and yet have an off day and see themselves knocked out.

On the other hand, lesser teams, could reach the Quarter Finals by only beating the minnows, and then have their best day and find themselves a match away from the Final.

How unfair and meaningless is that.

Lets talk about Pakistan. They are ranked number 7 in ODIs. We all know that they have a pathetic ODI team, and if they had to go through a World Cup that was based on a round robin format, there would be no way that they would be one of the top 4 sides of the tournament. They would be out of the tournament well before the Semi Finals.

But the way the 2015 World Cup format is, all Pakistan needs to ensure to play the Quarter Finals is a victory against Zimbabwe, UAE, and Ireland.

Easy much?

In fact, Pakistan could use the other games as practice matches to figure out their combination and balance and all that shit.

What a pointless exercise!

From there on, all the would require is some magnificence from a Shahid Afridi or an Ahmed Shehzad and they could find themselves in the Semis or even the Final!

Optimistic much?

Even though.. it holds true for every single one of the top 8 ODI sides.

The ICC might as well ask the top 8 sides to compete in the Quarter Finals and take it from there. What is the point of the month long group games?

Does anyone really think that Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, UAE, Ireland, Afghanistan, or Scotland have any chance of qualifying for the Quarter Finals?

Pakistan's ODI team is so bad that if they play 15 ODI games on the trot, they will highly likely lose 10-12 of those matches.

But in the upcoming World Cup, all they need to do is win two games of cricket and they will be playing the Final.

And they really need to win only one of those because Shahid Afridi will handle the other one by himself.

For Pakistan, the format might be ideal; as a World Cup, the format is pathetic honestly.

Make your pitch on this post...

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Pakistan's ODI team is Absolute Rubbish...

Yet another ODI series bit the dust when Pakistan lost the series decider against New Zealand on Friday in Abu Dhabi, and found themselves at number 7 in the ODI ranking.

Number Seven!????

Yes, Pakistan. At number 7!

I don't remember Pakistan ever having such a bad ODI team. 

During the 80s and 90s, Pakistan had their strongest ever team in ODIs, which played the semi finals of the 1983 and 1987 World Cups and the finals of the 1992 and 1999 World Cups.

During the first decade of this century however, the team went through a decline after high profile retirements and probably had their worst ever decade in ODI cricket. For the first time in their history, Pakistan failed to qualify to the second round of a World Cup in 2003. They repeated that feat in 2007 as well!

Things seemed to look brighter in this second decade of the 2000s as Shahid Afridi led a young Pakistan team into the semi finals of the 2011 World Cup. However, soon after the World Cup, the ever so dynamic and shrewd management of the PCB and the team decided that Afridi was no good to captain and replaced him with Misbah Ul Haq.

Only in Pakistan will a captain who leads his team to the semi final of a World Cup find himself axed for someone who was partly responsible for Pakistan losing that semi final.

Since then, Pakistan's ODI cricket has been absolutely pathetic!

It doesn't take a genius to realize that Pakistan's ODI team has the worst record among the top 8 ODI teams, barring West Indies, over the past 4-year period since the 2011 ICC World Cup.

In all ODIs played among the top 8 teams since the last World Cup, Pakistan's W:L ratio of 0.71 is better than only that of the West Indies.

The problem is not that Pakistan has performed badly; the problem is that everyone knows that it has, yet neither the Board, nor the Management, has done anything about it!

The same culprits continue to play for Pakistan losing game after game, series after series, yet no one brings about changes in personnel.

Does anyone remember the XI that Pakistan played in semi final of the World Cup in 2011?

Let me list it here:

1. Kamran Akmal
2. Mohammad Hafeez
3. Younis Khan
4. Asad Shafiq
5. Misbah Ul Haq
6. Umar Akmal
7. Abdul Razzaq
8. Shahid Afridi
9. Wahab Riaz
10. Umar Gul
11. Saeed Ajmal

See any familiarity?

8 of those 11 players from Pakistan played in the just concluded ODI series against New Zealand.

Of the 3 that missed it, one is banned, while the other two have been dropped, with one of them standing a good chance of being back for the upcoming ICC World Cup 2015.

What rubbish really.

On the other hand, the team that won that World Cup in 2011, have dropped as many as 5 of the players who played that Semi Final against Pakistan and the Final against Sri Lanka. 

Now I know that what applies to one team does not necessarily apply to other teams, but bad form must be equally weighed across all teams. 

Yet for some reason, Pakistan has no accountability whatsoever!

Since the 2011 World Cup:

Asad Shafiq has played 37 ODIs for Pakistan scoring 804 runs at an average of 22.97.

Younis Khan has played 38 ODIs scoring 964 runs at an average of 29.21.

Wahab Riaz has played 29 ODIs and has taken 30 wickets at an average of 41.3.

Umar Gul has played 37 ODIs and has taken 40 wickets at an average of 37.1.

And these players continue to be a part of Pakistan's ODI plans for the upcoming World Cup!

Where is the planning? Where is the management? Who is taking these decisions?

Does no one realize that they are severely hampering Pakistan's ODI cricket?

It is not that Pakistan does not have the talent to play ODI cricket. They have found some seriously talented batsmen in the past 4 years.

Since the 2011 World Cup:

Ahmed Shehzad has played 42 ODIs, scoring 1577 runs at an average of 37.5.

Fawad Alam has played 8 ODIs, scoring 345 runs at an average of 69.

Sohaib Maqsood has played 18 ODIs, scoring 572 runs at an average of 35.8.

Umar Akmal has played 65 ODIs, scoring 1614 runs at an average of 35.9.

Nasir Jamshed has played 33 ODIs, scoring 1060 runs at an average of 33.1.

Azhar Ali has played 14 ODIs, scoring 452 runs at an average of 41.1.

And believe it or not, but only two, or at max three, of these batsmen will be on that plane to Australia in January for the ICC World Cup 2015. Actually, knowing Pakistan's management, maybe only one of these batsmen will be going to Australia.

Isn't it amazing?

For fours years the World has seen the likes of Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq fail in ODIs repeatedly. For four years the World has seen Hafeez struggle against top quality fast bowling repeatedly. For fours years the World has seen Misbah grind it out without converting his starts into anything substantial repeatedly. 

Yet our Board and Management continue to keep their faith in these legends of ODI cricket and continue to play them game after game, series after series.

It was unfortunate that Sohaib Maqsood got injured. But is there any justification for any batsman to be playing an ODI for Pakistan ahead of Umar Akmal and Fawad Alam?

Is there any justification for Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq to be a part of ODI plans ahead of Azhar Ali?

Pakistan's ODI cricket is in the worst stages of its history and the only people to blame here are the people responsible for managing it.

The Board has done a disastrous job.

There has been very little thought process. In an era where teams attack from the get go and pile on the runs at 5-6 an over, Pakistan has continued to play a long forgotten form of ODI cricket where they score at 3 runs an over and keep wickets in hand for the end.

Someone needs to tell them that this form of ODI cricket does not work for them any more. While it may work when batting first, it definitely does not work when chasing a total, because Pakistani batsmen easily buckle under the pressure, and they don't have many players who can chase at 6-7 per over.

Let me rephrase.

They don't play the players who can chase at 6-7 runs per over.

Pakistan will announce the team for the World Cup by January 12th after the conclusion of the domestic ODI tournament, which the selectors are saying will be watched carefully in order to decide the best 15 players for the World Cup.

You know what will happen in this domestic ODI tournament? Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik will score heaps of runs and the selectors will decide to include them in their 15 for the World Cup. One as a reserve opener and the other as a batsman who can bowl, due to the ban on Mohammad Hafeez.

I can tell you right now that the batsmen that Pakistan should take to the World Cup should be (assuming the ban on Hafeez remains):

Misbah Ul Haq, Ahmed Shehzad, Nasir Jamshed, Fawad Alam, Umar Akmal, Haris Sohail, Sohaib Maqsood, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shahid Afridi...

But the ones that will go will be:

Misbah Ul Haq, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, Haris Sohail, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shahid Afridi...

And Pakistan's ODI team will continue to remain Absolute Rubbish!

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Despite this win, Pakistan's ODI team needs a FIX

After losing 5 successive ODIs, Pakistan finally broke their losing streak yesterday by beating New Zealand in the first ODI in Dubai.

Despite this victory, Pakistan has a lot to think about leading up to the World Cup, which is just 2 months away now.

Saeed Ajmal's ban did not hamper Pakistan's preparations as much as Mohammad Hafeez' ban has. Pakistan have coped well without Saeed Ajmal, both in tests and ODIs, however without Hafeez' bowling, Pakistan will struggle more often than not.

With Hafeez not being able to bowl, Pakistan's entire balance and make up of the ODI team is impacted. Hafeez' presence in the top order and ability to bowl 10 economical overs with a wicket or two has been a luxury that Pakistan has enjoyed over the past 4 years.

However, now, in the span of just 7 ODIs, Pakistan has to come up with a viable alternative strategy for the World Cup.

The first solution was Haris Sohail. A prolific scorer in domestic First Class cricket, Sohail had played only 4 ODIs and 3 T20s for Pakistan before yesterday. He had not produced much with the bat in those 7 outings, and he had not delivered a single ball.

In his entire cricket career, Sohail had bowled 80 deliveries before the first ODI against New Zealand. Yesterday, Sohail bowled 75% of his entire career's deliveries in a single ODI!

There is no doubt that he did a great job. 10-0-39-0 are returns that Hafeez regularly produces for Pakistan. Sohail made sure that Pakistan does not miss Hafeez' services with the ball; however it remains to be seen if he can do it regularly or not.

Sohail came on to bowl when New Zealand were already on the back foot. Irfan and Wahab had provided vital breakthroughs and Sohail benefited from a batting unit that was under pressure.It will be a different situation when the batting team is on top or when a team is chasing a target against Pakistan.

I'm taking nothing away from Sohail's performance yesterday. He was superb. With both bat and ball and played an instrumental role in ensuring victory for Pakistan.

But, there is still a lot to think about. Three key things to think about:

1. The Professor's Dilemma

The biggest question that needs to be answered is the one regarding Mohammad Hafeez' place in the side. Does he still warrant an automatic selection given that he cannot bowl?

Nasir Jamshed is waiting in the wings. Sarfraz Ahmed can open the batting. There are middle order batsmen who deserve to be playing but are not.

Given all this, does Hafeez make the cut solely as a batsman?

Probably not in my opinion. He was severely exposed in South Africa, and majority of his good innings have come in the subcontinent; so to persist with him solely as a batsman for the World Cup in Australia might not be the best idea for Pakistan.

2. Keep Shoaib Malik OUT!

I could not believe my ears when I heard Rameez Raja mention Shoaib Malik, not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times during the entire match.

You got to be kidding me Rameez. Shoaib Malik is your answer for a batting allrounder? What has the man done in the past 5 years to warrant selection?

Just because he can bowl off spin makes him an option for Pakistan?


Fawad Alam, who happens to be Pakistan's best ODI batsman this year, and Sohaib Maqsood, who has had a tremendous start to his ODI career, can both bowl.

These are your batsmen, along with the newly found Haris Sohail, who can collectively contribute 10 overs in an ODI game for Pakistan.

Shoaib Malik needs to be kept in the wilderness. Or even beyond that if possible.

3. Fix the Middle Order

I still can't get over the fact that Pakistan went into this ODI with the middle order reading Asad Shafiq, Younis Khan, Haris Sohail, Misbah Ul Haq.

I wondered whether Misbah had confused the format of the game because that middle order sounds like one for a test match!

Asad (Test Ave: 40.2; ODI Ave: 25.9); Younis (Test Ave: 53.4; ODI Ave: 31.6); Haris (FC Ave: 52.0; List A Ave: 35.4) are proven performers in the longer version of the game. Anyone with some sense can tell you that the difference between those averages is too significant for them to be considered good for ODIs.

Once again, Haris showed immense potential and won the game for Pakistan, but would he have been able to do the same if Pakistan were chasing a score in the vicinity of 300?

Maybe he would have. I won't take any thing away from him after yesterday's knock. But what in the world are Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan doing playing at 3 and 4 for Pakistan's ODI team!!!?

That too with Umar Akmal and Nasir Jamshed on the bench, and Fawad Alam all the way in Pakistan.


This middle order needs a fix and it needs a fix soon.

Pakistan is running out of time and persisting with Hafeez when he can't bowl, thinking about Shoaib Malik when he can't bat nor bowl, keeping Umar Akmal and Fawad Alam out of the XI when they happen to be your two best batsmen in ODIs, and paying heed to someone's twisted demands to play Asad and Younis will not help their cause at all.

The World Cup is only 2 months away and everything seems to be in disarray.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Sarfraz is right up there among the best Wicketkeeper Batsman in the World

He made his debut in 2010 in Australia in the test that followed the infamous Sydney test. He played just that one test due to the immense public pressure to oust Kamran Akmal, and then disappeared from the international scene for 3 years before returning again in 2013 for the 3 tests in South Africa.

He played those 3 tests, on wickets where most Pakistani batsmen failed, and managed a top score of 40 in his 6 innings leaving question marks over his batting abilities. He was axed again and didn't play for another year, till he was recalled to replace an injured Adnan Akmal in the second test of the series against Sri Lanka in the UAE earlier this year.

Since then, Sarfraz Ahmed has not looked back.

It has been a marvellous year for him and he has marched on like a man on a mission.

For a man whose batting was doubted by everyone around the world, Sarfraz made one hell of a turnaround to notch up scores of 7, 74, 5, 48, 55, 52*, 103, 55, 109, 15*, 19*, 13*, 112, 24* in 8 test matches in 2014.

This year, Sarfraz has scored 691 runs at an average of 76.77 and a strike rate of 73.12 in 8 tests!

Those figures include feats like the fastest century ever scored by a Pakistani wicketkeeper, the second fastest century ever scored by a wicketkeeper, and the only Pakistani wicketkeeper to score three centuries in a calendar year.

Only AB De Villiers has scored more centuries (4) in a calendar year as the designated wicketkeeper of the team.

Sarfraz' batting has been a revelation and he has been a major factor towards Pakistan's success in test cricket this year.

He is only 12 tests old, yet he has already left a mark on the cricketing map and is fast gaining the reputation of being Pakistan's best wicketkeeper-batsman ever.

There are 8 wicketkeepers who have played at least 10 tests for Pakistan in the history of their test cricket; and as far as their batting prowess is concerned, there haven't been any better than Kamran Akmal and Moin Khan.

Kamran and Moin lead the runs rally for Pakistani wicketkeepers in tests and both have a similar average as well. It can be argued that Kamran was slightly better considering he has 6 test centuries (no wicketkeeper from Pakistan has scored more), with some match winning ones.

Sarfraz, with 3 test centuries is already half way there; and the way he is batting, he could well be above Kamran in just another year.

Sarfraz' test average of 45.88, which is 15 runs better than Pakistan's best ever, already shows his superiority with the bat.

No one among all test wicketkeepers in the world comes close to making the impact that Adam Gilchrist and Andy Flower made with the bat. Sangakkara and AB De Villiers could have had they continued to keep in test cricket; however if Sarfraz can sustain his current form in the long term, he will undoubtedly be remembered among the greatest wicketkeeper batsmen in test cricket ever.

Among his global peers, Sarfraz is right up there in terms of his batting average in tests, among all wicketkeepers who have played at least 10 tests.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

The Extraordinary Achievements of Pakistani Batsmen against Australia

It is extremely rare that Pakistan plays a test series and comes out of it with its batsmen breaking record after record. The Pakistani batsmen have played so well in this series against Australia and have broken so many records that one wonders what woke up these sleeping giants.

I believe that in this series we have seen the best ever performance by Pakistani batsmen ever in a test series. At least in my lifetime.

And I am not buying any excuses regarding flat pitches because it is the same pitches where the Australian batsmen have fallen like nine pins. Besides a David Warner century in the first test and a Mitchell Marsh 87 in the second, the Aussies have had no answer to Pakistan's pace, reverse swing, and spin.

So many records have tumbled in this series, that its become hard to keep a tab on all of them. If you take a look at the best betting apps out there, each one of them will tell you that the Pakistanis achieved all this against the odds!

Here is what the Pakistani batsmen have achieved in the two tests against Australia.

1. Most Test Centuries by a Pakistani Batsman

The record was held by Inzamam Ul Haq with 25 centuries. Younis Khan started this test series with 24 hundreds, equal with Yousuf and one behind Inzamam, and he ended the test series with 27 centuries, an all time Pakistan record.

2. Century in both Innings of a Test vs Australia

Glen Turner scored 101 and 110* in the same test against Australia in 1974. Since then, Australia played 425 tests over 40 years and no one ever achieved the feat of twin centuries against them. The Australians were known to roll over opposition batsmen, and if any one scored big against them, he wouldn't a second time around because the Aussie bowlers were well prepared for him.

This test series witnessed three Pakistani batsmen score centuries in both innings of a test! Younis Khan did it in the first test with 106 and 103*, while Azhar Ali (109 & 100*) and Misbah Ul Haq (101 & 101*) did it in the second test.

Something that was not managed over 40 years and 425 tests was achieved by 3 Pakistanis in just 10 days and 2 tests!

3. Three Consecutive Test Centuries vs Australia

It was in December 1924 - January 1925 when Herbert Sutcliffe scored 115, 176, and 127 in three consecutive innings against Australia. No one managed that feat for another 90 years till the Australians came up against Younis Khan in the UAE. With scores of 106, 103*, and 213 Younis Khan became only the second batsman to score three consecutive centuries against Australia in tests.

You can look at that another way - Younis Khan is the only batsman in the world to score 2 centuries and 1 double century in 3 consecutive test innings against Australia. Additionally, Younis Khan's 422 runs in 3 consecutive innings is the highest aggregate for any batsman against Australia in 3 consecutive test innings, beating Sutcliffe's 418 scored 90 years ago.

4. Highest Aggregate in a 2-test series vs Australia

Sachin Tendulkar scored 403 runs in 4 innings in India's 2-test series against Australia in 2010-11. That was the highest aggregate in a 2-test series against Australia. Younis Khan aggregated 468 runs in his 4 innings in this series against Australia, taking the record away from Sachin Tendulkar.

Just for the record, the highest aggregate in a 3-test series against Australia is also held by a Pakistani - Salim Malik, who scored 557 runs in 6 innings in the series in 1994-95. Interestingly that was the last time Pakistan beat Australia in a test series.

5. Highest Aggregate by a Pakistani Batsman in a 2-test series

Javed Miandad held the record for the highest aggregate by a Pakistani batsman in a 2-test series. He had scored 389 runs in only 2 innings, including a cracking 271, against New Zealand in 1988-89.

Younis Khan now holds that record with his record run spree against Australia.

6. Fastest Fifty in Test Matches

Jacques Kallis held the world record with a fifty off only 24 deliveries against Zimbabwe in 2004-05. The Pakistani record was held by Shahid Afridi who had managed it in 26 deliveries against India, also in 2004-05.

Misbah broke the world and Pakistani records by getting his fifty off only 21 deliveries against Australia in the second test of the series.

7. Fastest Century in Test Matches

Sir Vivian Richards was the owner of the record for the fastest 100 in test matches. He had reached his 100 off only 56 deliveries against England in the summer of 1986. For 28 years he was the sole owner of the record. However, now, Sir Viv shares the record with Misbah who smashed a 100 off 56 deliveries against Australia in the second test of the series.

Sir Viv's innings was 110* off 58 deliveries with 7 sixes and 7 fours. Misbah's was 101* off 57 deliveries with 5 sixes and 11 fours.

8. Centuries against all Test Playing Nations

Prior to this series between Pakistan and Australia, there were 11 batsmen who had scored centuries against all the other 9 test playing nations, but none of them were from Pakistan. Younis Khan became the first batsman from Pakistan to join that esteemed club of centurions.

9. Pakistan's Highest Scorer in Test Wins away from Home

Inzamam Ul Haq, with 2,707 runs, was Pakistan's highest scorer in test wins away from home before Pakistan started this series against Australia. After the first test that Pakistan won, Younis Khan went past Inzamam's tally and is now Pakistan's leading run scorer in test wins away from home with 2,847 runs.

If Pakistan wins the second test against Australia, which looks likely by tomorrow, Younis Khan will extend that runs tally to 3,106. That will leave only Ricky Ponting ahead of him in the list of highest run scorers in test wins away from home.

10. Average of 50 in Each of the 4 Innings of a Test

Sir Don Bradman and Herbert Sutcliffe were the only batsmen in the world who boasted an average of 50 or more in each of the 4 innings of a test match (with a minimum of 10 knocks in each innings).

With his exploits in this series against Australia, Younis Khan now ranks alongside the two greats and averages over 50 in each of the 4 innings of tests.

11. Century in both Innings of a Test by two Batsmen

This feat was achieved only once before when Ian Chappell and Greg Chappell, both scored centuries in both innings of the test between Australia and New Zealand in 1974.

Today, Misbah Ul Haq and Azhar Ali joined them and became the second pair of batsmen in the world to score centuries in both innings of the same test.


I'm sure there are a few more records that I missed out on, but these are 11 grandiose facts regarding batsmen from a team that is not known for its batting. It is a team that has historically perished in font of quality bowling and a team that has often collapsed for no good reason. Yet, here they are, scoring heaps of runs against the world's number 2 test team and arguably the best bowling attack in the world.

Another interesting fact is that five Pakistani batsmen, Younis Khan, Misbah Ul Haq, Azhar Ali, Ahmed Shehzad, and Sarfaraz Ahmed, scored 9 centuries against Australia in the two tests. All of them scored their first ever test century against Australia in this series.

Those are some amazing achievements by Pakistani batsmen. They look even greater when one hears the names of batsmen whose records were broken or equalled by these Pakistani batsmen.

Sir Don Bradman, Herbert Sutcliffe, Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, Glen Turner, Sir Viv Richards, Javed Miandad, Inzamam Ul Haq, Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, Mohammad Yousuf, Steve Waugh, Brian Lara, Kumar Sangakkara, Ricky Ponting, and Rahul Dravid were all bettered or equalled by the Pakistani batsmen during the course of this test series against Australia!

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Rare Success for Pakistan's Leadership

This 2-0 series win over Australia was sweet. Extremely sweet! There are so many stories within this 2-test series that I don't really know where to begin; but they all need to be told, for this series win is right up there as Pakistan's best test series victory, in my lifetime, if not ever.

When I think of Pakistan's victories in test series that I have witnessed, the greatest ones that come to mind are the ones against England '92, Australia '94, Asian Test Championship '99, South Africa '03, England '05, India '06, England '12, and this one Australia '14.

It will take time for this win to sink in and to realize how this one compares with past victories; and time will also tell the role this victory plays in shaping the future of Pakistan's test team.

However, one thing is quite clear. I don't think Pakistan has ever dominated a series the way they did this one. And that too against expectations considering that Pakistan were ranked number 6 in the world and they were up against the world's number 2 side, which was the top ranked side till a few months ago! Those lucky punters who believed in us with the bookies like Paddy Power will be rubbing their hands excitedly now too!

Pakistan completely outplayed the Australians and how.

I think that the greatest story of this 2-0 test series victory over Australia lies in the rare success of the PCB and the team management. No one could have even thought of a result like this considering that barely a few weeks ago Younis Khan had threatened to quit tests due to his sacking from ODIs and Misbah Ul Haq had stepped down from the team for the 3rd ODI against Australia due to losing all his confidence in himself.

In a situation like this with Pakistan's senior most cricketers down and out, it was PCB Chairman Shaharyar Khan' years of diplomatic service experience that came to the rescue. You can't give enough credit to Shaharyar sahab for convincing Younis to continue his test career and also for putting his weight behind Misbah at a time when the skipper was at an all time confidence low.

For a cricket board that has had leadership problems and management issues for as long as I have known it, this series will go down in history as the rare occurrence where true leadership was demonstrated by the Board. I salute you Shaharyar Sahab.

As for the new team management, this was their second series in charge. Moin Khan, Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed, and Grant Flower had got off to the worst possible start in their first series in charge in Sri Lanka a couple of months ago. The T20 and ODIs against Australia were also nothing to write home about.

The tests against Australia however were a different story altogether. Younis Khan has publicly acknowledged the effort that Grant Flower put in with him. The success of Pakistan's batting line up, in a series where Australia's world beating batsmen failed, also lies in the work that Grant Flower has put in.

Sarfraz Ahmed has had a marvellous year with the gloves and the bat. Moin Khan deserves a lot of credit for not only Sarfraz' inclusion in the team, but also for the confidence Moin has had in his abilities for a long time now.

Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah combined to take 28 Australian wickets in the 2 tests. Prior to this series, Babar had played all of 2 tests for Pakistan, while Yasir had played none. They did have tonnes of first class experience, but this series was no domestic game, it was against the mighty Australians and both the spinners exploited the Aussie weakness against spin to great effect.

It was a big ask in the absence of the more experienced Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, yet both Zulfiqar and Yasir stood up and performed like champions, and I believe some credit must go to the spin consultant, Mushtaq Ahmed, who has been working behind the scenes with Pakistan's spinners.

While Pakistan's batsmen and spinners dominated the series, the pacers, Imran Khan and Rahat Ali, both with very little international experience, also performed their role to great effect. Both of them provided crucial breakthroughs in both the tests and their reverse swing was noteworthy, especially compared to the Australian pacers, who were pedestrian at best.

Every time Waqar Younis gets involved with the Pakistan team, the pacers tend to pick up their performance. Whether it is as bowling coach, or head coach, Waqar has always had a positive impact on the team, and more so, on the fast bowlers. This time is no different. He made a difference when Rana Naveed was part of the team; he did it with Umar Gul, Mohammad Aamer, and Mohammad Asif; and now he has done it with Imran Khan and Rahat Ali.

I know that everything looks good when the team performs. It makes the captain look good, it makes the team management look good, and it makes the board look like a professional unit. There may be little chunks here and there that need ironing out, but for Pakistan, this leadership and management seems to be coming together well, and at the right time considering that the World Cup is right round the corner.

Praising the leadership will be incomplete without a word or two about Misbah Ul Haq. Anyone in power is prone to criticism and being Pakistan's captain makes you even more vulnerable. Every single move is scrutinized and every little mistake is admonished as if one has committed a grave sin. With Misbah, it is no different.

For the past 3 years, Misbah has been criticized by former players, his own players, and the large fan base of Pakistan cricket. He has had supporters too, but he has heard his fair share of criticism for a number of things - for the way he bats, for the way he leads, for the players he supports, and for really everything he does on the field.

The pressure on Misbah, particularly during this year, has been immense. The losses have hurt, and the loss of his own form has hurt even more. One of Misbah's great strengths has been his performances under pressure. Hell, he took over the team when they were going through the worst crisis in their history; if that is not absorbing pressure and leading then I don't know what is.

The pressure never really did get to Misbah. Or so I thought. He seemed to soak it all in, ignore the critics, and continue in the way he thought best. But he finally crumbled. He buckled under pressure after a number of losses for Pakistan and batting failures for him, and he decided to sit out of the last ODI of the series against Australia.

For a captain to sit out of a match because he has no confidence left and he feels the team will be better off without him should result in the end of a captaincy career.

Not for Misbah though.

To come back from that to lead the team to its first test series win over Australia in 20 years, whitewash the Aussies and dominate them like they were some minnow, score twin centuries in the same test, and smash the fastest century ever in test cricket is nothing short of remarkable!

Misbah came back from the ditch and at the end of the series stood tall as the most successful captain in Pakistan's test history, along with Imran Khan and Javed Miandad.

The series win over Australia and the largest ever win for Pakistan in terms of runs was a rare occurrence, but so was the success of Pakistan cricket's leadership.

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