Wednesday, February 3, 2016

World T20 2016: Pakistan Selectors need to focus on Continuity

A 2-1 series loss to New Zealand and the preceding 3-0 loss to England resulted in Pakistan falling in the ICC T20 rankings from number 2 to number 7. With the World T20 just over a month away, Pakistan's preparation has been far from ideal. Till a few years ago, the popular perception was that the shorter the game, the better Pakistan is; however this cannot be further away from the truth. Since the turn of the decade, Pakistan has been a superior test team compared to an ODI and T20 team. The disparity between results is clear.

This disparity becomes even more glaring when you consider results among the top 8 teams; i.e. excluding matches against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the past 5 years.

Pakistan has maintained a strong performance in test matches over the past 5 years, winning more than they have lost; however in the limited overs formats, the green shirts have been found wanting. One apparent reason for this stark difference is the continuity factor.

While Misbah has been at the helm of the test team throughout this period, Pakistan has seen the ODI and T20 captaincy change hands several times. From Afridi to Misbah to Azhar in ODIs and from Afridi to Misbah to Hafeez and back to Afridi in T20Is. This is never settling for a team. Moreover, Pakistan’s test team has had a stable batting line up for a long time now, unlike the ODI and T20 teams that have witnessed a lot of chopping and changing.

The difference between the number of players tried by Pakistan at each batting position across formats is also quite evident. Sure one should be more flexible in limited overs games; however the number of different batsmen used by Pakistan in each position over the past 5 years also shows that not many batsmen were provided with an opportunity to settle down in any one position.

What is difficult to understand is why hasn't the same board, selection committee, and team management followed the same formula of success across formats? When continuity was key in ensuring positive results in tests, why was it not used for the limited overs formats?

With the World T20 round the corner, the biggest dilemma facing Pakistan is that of selection. By this time, majority of the squad should have been decided; but that does not seem to be the case. Especially when the captain himself gives comments like "time is running out for Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal".

The most shocking part about that statement, which resonates the feelings of majority of the fans, is that Shehzad and Akmal are two of Pakistan's best batsmen in the shortest format of the game. Not only are both of them among the leading run scorers for Pakistan in T20Is over the past 5 years, they also have outstanding averages and strike rates. I am really not sure what more they need to do to prove their abilities, but both are definitely two key members of Pakistan's T20 team.

There is no reason why any of these 5 batsmen should not be on the plane to India in March.

While the above 5 batsmen have displayed consistent form, there have been a few batsmen that have been extremely disappointing. Sohaib Maqsood has always looked out of sorts in T20Is; and it was no different in the recent series against New Zealand and England. Mohammad Rizwan has also been a disappointment in T20s. Haris Sohail and Rafatullah Mohmand have also not displayed anything extraordinary in the few T20s that they have played for Pakistan to consider them.

A name that has been doing the rounds with respect to World T20 selection is Kamran Akmal. His recent domestic form has been remarkable and he was the leading run scorer in the recently completed domestic one-day competition. Kamran has always been a prolific scorer in the domestic circuit and I can understand the urge for the selectors to include him in their World T20 plans; however his T20I record over the past 5 years is mediocre at best.

I do not see any reason why any of these batsmen should be a part of Pakistan's World T20 squad.

While Sohaib and Rizwan seem to have got plenty of chances in recent times, I fail to understand what wrong Mukhtar Ahmed, Sherjeel Khan, and Nauman Anwar did for Pakistan to discard them after only a handful number of games.

Looking at those averages and strike rates absolutely bewilders me why neither of them have played more T20s for Pakistan. Forget about being selected in the playing eleven, these three have not even been a part of Pakistan's T20 squads for the recent series.

Another batsman that should be a no-brainer selection for the World T20 is Babar Azam. He is yet to make his T20I debut for Pakistan, however if his ODI innings are anything to go by then one can easily see why he is a must have in the T20 side. He has demonstrated immense character in his short career thus far, and his wide range of strokes shows his potential for the T20 format.

Then wicketkeeper position does not require much debate. Sarfraz Ahmed has done nothing wrong to be dropped and has easily been the pick of the wicketkeepers that Pakistan has tried in T20Is in the past 5 years.

Pakistan’s bowling squad for the World T20 squad, in my opinion, should comprise 4 pacers and 2 spinners. Mohammad Aamer, Wahab Riaz, and Imad Wasim pick themselves given their recent performances. Even though Aamer was not at his best in the T20 series against New Zealand, he showed improvement with every international outing. Wahab has been carrying the attack on his shoulders for some time now, while Imad has been a revelation in the limited overs formats.

The other 3 members could be anyone from Mohammad Irfan, Umar Gul, Anwar Ali, Sohail Tanvir, Zafar Gohar, Yasir Shah (if cleared), and Saeed Ajmal who recently announced that he is aiming to be a part of Pakistan’s World T20 plans.

Surely the Pakistan Super League will allow the selectors to judge all the players; however I believe that Pakistan should seek continuity rather than stop-gap solutions. It is about time that Pakistan adopts an effective selection strategy for the World T20, similar to what they have done for the test team. While the Pakistan Super League performances can help selectors finalize candidates for the two or three vacant positions, majority of the squad should be in their mind right now.

This is the 15 I would go with: Shahid Afridi (C), Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Mukhtar Ahmed, Sherjeel Khan, Sarfraz Ahmed (WK), Imad Wasim, Mohammad Aamer, Wahab Riaz, Umar Gul, Anwar Ali, Yasir Shah (if cleared) or Zafar Gohar.

Whoever the selectors decide on, they should ensure that they select the same 15 for the Asia Cup T20 and the World T20. Ensure continuity and provide the players to settle down as a team ahead of the T20 championship.

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Let Shahid Afridi shine, one final time!

The above table has been doing the rounds of social media since Pakistan’s T20 series loss to New Zealand. It has been shared all over Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp with the statement “Shahid Afridi is Pakistan’s worst T20 captain ever”. Ofcourse stats don’t lie and I will be the first person to support any argument with Stats, however one also needs to assess them objectively.

In the above table, Inzamam, Younis, and Misbah can be taken out of the reckoning considering that they have not captained in enough games. Shoaib Malik’s record is largely skewed considering that 7 out of his 12 wins were in matches against Bangladesh (3), Zimbabwe (1), Scotland (1), Canada (1), and Kenya (1). Mohammad Hafeez was definitely a very good captain; arguably the best T20 captain Pakistan has had. He should have continued for longer. His resignation following Pakistan’s exit from the World T20 in 2014 was one of the most selfless acts we have witnessed in Pakistan cricket.

Sure Shahid Afridi has not been as good a captain. But his figures are also not as bad as they are being made out to be. Under his captaincy, Pakistan has won as much as they have lost; alright lost a bit more but just very slightly. When compared to international captains who have captained in at least 10 T20 Internationals, Afridi’s record is better than many including Ricky Ponting, Chris Gayle, and Stuart Broad. It is also not very different from the record of AB De Villiers, George Bailey, Brendon McCullum, and the one and only MS Dhoni!

Before jumping to conclusions like “Afridi is Pakistan’s worst T20 captain”, one must also realize that T20s are very different from ODIs and Tests. While an astute captain with a strong team will win ODIs and Tests frequently, the same is not the case with T20s. The game is so short that a few deliveries change the course of the entire match. That is why one witnesses so many upsets in T20s, as compared to ODIs and Tests. The format is extremely unpredictable and over the longer term majority of the teams have Win:Loss records close to 1:1.

The same is the case with captains who have led their teams in the shortest format for a long time. Because the format has not been around for too long, there are only 21 captains among the 10 test playing nations who have led in at least 15 T20 Internationals. Many of these captains, including MS Dhoni, Bailey, McCullum, Vettori, AB De Villiers, and Afridi have a win percentage in the 47% - 53% range. There are less than a handful of captains who have led in more than 25 T20s and have win percentages significantly higher than 50% - Graeme Smith, Paul Collingwood, Mohammad Hafeez, and Darren Sammy.

This clearly indicates that over the longer term, a team and a captain, will have a win:loss ratio in the vicinity of 1:1. One can take a look at betting sites offers also and they will show similar odds at the beginning of most T20 Internationals.

Then why are so many people eager to have Afridi removed as Pakistan’s T20 captain before the World T20?

He played an instrumental role in the only World T20 that Pakistan won. He was Man of the Match in the semifinal and the final of that tournament. He also played an instrumental role in the only other World T20 that Pakistan reached the final of. He was the Player of the Tournament then. Moreover, the only other time Pakistan were close to playing another World T20 final before Hussey happened, Afridi was the captain.

He has always been a major force in T20 cricket.

He is the leading wicket taker in the world in T20 Internationals. He has one of the best economy rates among the leading wicket takers in T20s. He has won the most man of the match awards in T20s in the history of the format.

Afridi is a T20 King.

Let us also not forget that it is never wise to change the captain so close to a World Cup. Pakistan did not sack Waqar Younis before the 2003 World Cup despite Pakistan going through a continuous rut in ODIs under him. They did not sack Misbah before the 2015 World Cup even though Pakistan went through their worst ever phase in their ODI history under him.

So yes. It will be Afridi who will captain Pakistan in the World T20.

He has already announced that the World T20 will be his last international outing; having already retired from ODIs, Afridi will wave goodbye to international cricket once and for all. He has had an illustrious career spanning two decades and the World T20 is his last chance to shine.

And it is our last chance to have faith in him for one final time.

Let us believe that Afridi can do it again, for one final time. Let the man who has ruled the nation’s heartbeat for 20 years, continue to do what he does best, for one final time. Let Boom Boom resonate throughout the stadiums in India, for one final time. Let us all witness the arms raised aloft wicket celebrations, for one final time.

So don’t let all those stats about his T20 captaincy bog you down. He has led Pakistan to many memorable victories and he still has it in him to lead them to many more. One final time! 

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sri Lanka Cricket Coach Suspended over Match Fixing Allegations

Sri Lanka Cricket’s (SLC) bowling coach, Anusha Samaranayake, was banned for 2 months on Monday 18th January over allegations of attempted match fixing. These allegations centre on the first Test match against the West Indies last October, a match that was won by Sri Lanka for an innings and six runs.

Samaranayake has been accused of introducing the main suspect of the investigation, net bowler Gayan Vishwajith, to the team. Vishwajith, who used to participate in training sessions, approached team members to intentionally underperform in matches.

The country’s cricket board recently declared that "SLC has received several complaints regarding a close relationship between Anusha Samaranayake and Gayan Vishwajith, who approached several players for the alleged illegal activities”.

It is suspected that the wicketkeeper Kusal Perera, who was suspended provisionally from the New Zealand tour after testing positive for steroids, and bowler Rangana Herath were offered around 10 million Sri Lanka rupees (around £48,600) to throw the game. The players rejected the offer, alerted officials and went on to win the match against the West Indies.

Vishwajith has been banned for life from any Sri Lankan cricketing grounds and events. Additionally, Perera is facing a possible four-year ban after failing the anti-doping test last October.

However, this is not a reason to stop betting on you favourite cricket team, scandals of match fixing have become a common topic lately but nothing will beat the feeling of watching your team play and betting on them with this bonus code.

Angelo Matthews, captain of SLC, stated that the goal is to have a fair and clean game and that “whoever has done something wrong, we want to bring them before the courts and take certain measures; as captain I have to mention that the cricketers felt really uncomfortable the last few days because they are the ones who came forward and reported this to the International Cricket Council.”

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How Can India be the Number One Ranked Test Team? How?

England bowling South Africa out for 83 and going on to win the third test, and with that the series, was the final nail in South Africa’s coffin that had been building throughout 2015. South Africa’s capitulation comes as no surprise considering that the last time they won a test match was over a year ago during the first week of January 2015, when they beat West Indies. That was also the last time they won a test series.

South Africa played 8 tests matches in 2015, winning only that one. They could not register a win in Bangladesh where they drew both tests. They could not beat India despite significant verbal volleys before the start of the series. India beat them 3-0. And then England happened.

This England vs South Africa series was supposed to be closely fought. It was anything but. England’s wins have been easy – one by 241 runs and the other by 7 wickets, which could have very easily been by 10 wickets had some of the batsmen not tried to finish the game with big hits. England have dominated.

South Africa’s fall from number one also comes as no surprise as that is what usually happens when the number of world class batsmen in your line up reduces by half. There once used to be Smith, Amla, Kallis, and ABD – a lineup that used to send jitters to attacks all around the world. Only Amla and ABD are not enough. And they have not been enough. Not even for Bangladesh.

The same happened to Australia when Hayden, Lander, Hussey, Gilchrist left Ponting and Clarke alone in the middle. The Aussies however, thanks to their highly competitive club and state cricket are now finding their feet back towards dominance with Warner, Khwajah, Smith, and Voges right up there among the best batsmen in the business.

Anyhow, moving back to South Africa.

They are no longer number one in the test rankings. If they win the last test against England, they will be second; if they draw they will be third; if they lose they will be fourth. Surprisingly it will not be England, nor Australia, who take over as the newly ranked number one test team when the rankings are updated at the end of the England vs South Africa series.

It will be India!

Yes, India!

Sure they beat South Africa 3-0 and also registered series win in Sri Lanka (2-1), but the 5 series before those included a draw against Bangladesh and losses to Australia, New Zealand, England, and South Africa!

So 4 losses, 1 draw, and 2 wins in their last 7 test series and they are ranked number one!

How does that work?

Cricinfo have an “Understandingthe ICC Ranking System” article up on their home page. It is an article from May last year, which has probably been put up now again to explain the same question everyone has been asking since last night – How is India the number 1 test team?

Only 6 points separate India (110) at the top and England (104) at number 5. Australia (109) is a very close second and Pakistan (106) is also only a series win away from being number 1. South Africa will fit in between 109 and 106 points depending on the result of their last test against England.

There is no doubt that there is little gap between these five test teams; however it still does not explain how India is above them all, when it fact it should be below the rest.

Take a look at the series results for the past 3 years, i.e. results of all test series played since January 2013. I’m analyzing this period because Cricinfo explains that results of the past 36 months are the ones that matter.

So how can a team that has won the least number of test series and lost the highest number of test series during the past 36 months be ranked number one?

Any ranking system that provides that result has to be flawed.

Delving deeper into India’s results during this period and one can see that they do not really have impressive results. While they have won series against South Africa and Australia during this period, they have also lost to both them. They have also lost to England and New Zealand, whom they have not beaten at all. They have drawn against lowly ranked Bangladesh. So the only teams they have beaten, whom they have not lost against are Sri Lanka and West Indies.

And that makes them number 1?

What a joke!

On the other hand, a team like South Africa has lost to only India, Australia, and England during this period and suddenly they are no longer number 1 despite series wins against New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Zimbabwe, and West Indies during this period.

Even Pakistan for that matter have done better than India has. They have lost only to South Africa and Sri Lanka during this period. They have lost the least number of series during the past 3 years and have beaten Australia, England, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh during this period.

Surely the ranking system needs some sort of reorganization. Not only because of the way it calculates rankings but also because of another factor. The fact that it does not take into account home and away wins!

According to the Cricinfo article, whether a team wins at home or in foreign conditions has no bearing on the number of points earned. That has to change. Surely India winning at home is not the same as India winning in England or Australia. The latter definitely deserves more points.

There is absolutely no reasoning that can convince me that India is the current number one ranked test team!

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , ,

How can you stop Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif from playing for Pakistan?

The bans are over and Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Aamer are back; the latter in international colors and the former two for their domestic team. Considering that they did not play any competitive cricket for 5 years and have now come out of the wilderness to get their first taste of cricket, it has been quite a remarkable comeback!

Let us take Aamer out of this equation given the support he was provided throughout his ban by the PCB, ICC, and current and former cricketers. Butt and Asif were condemned by all. They did not get the kind of sympathy Aamer did; not from the administrators, nor from the fans. The PCB did not provide them the same kind of support, nor did the board do them any favors by delaying the rehabilitation process till it was completely necessary.

So in a situation like this when one knows that the entire world is aware of the wrong they have done, how does one motivate themselves? Think about it. Butt and Asif went through jail terms. They served a ban for cheating their team, their sport, their country. They were not provided support by officials in the same manner that another player was. Everyone wrote and spoke about how it was the end of their careers. They were not allowed inside the academies nor did they have access to practice facilities. Butt was condemned by everyone for being the architect of the fix, while Asif had struck the final nail in his coffin full of offenses.

Everyone including me thought that their careers were over! We all knew that Aamer will be back, but none of us ever thought that Butt and Asif would be able to make a comeback. Age was not on their side. A 5-year layoff from any sort of profession is as good as an end of a career, let alone sport where mental strength and fitness play such a major role.

Ignoring what they did and only thinking purely about the mental strength and fitness required to compete at the highest level after a gap of 5 years, their comeback has been nothing short of remarkable. Butt’s 135 and 99* in his first two innings and Asif’s 2-22 and 0-29 are phenomenal achievements given how they spent their past five years.

There was always this remote possibility that they would perform at the domestic level, but now that they have (particularly Butt), what will the PCB do? They have allowed Aamer to come back and don the green; will they be as welcoming to Butt and Asif if both continue to perform in domestic games? It will be highly unfair if both are ignored despite building their cases considering that a fellow player who was accused and convicted for the same crime has been welcomed back.

In fact, the PCB has had to intervene and coerce a couple of players to accept Aamer’s presence in national colors. What will they do in Butt’s and Asif’s case?

I understand that everyone from the administrators to the players and fans believe that Butt and Asif are more guilty than Aamer was. Their respective jail terms also imply that. However, like Aamer, the other two also went through their terms and fulfilled all obligations that were required of them for the ban to be completed. Now that they have been allowed to compete domestically, how can anyone stop them from competing internationally? 

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, December 18, 2015

Cricket’s Impact on the Gaming Industry – Cricket Starts Spinning

In the eyes of a common sports fan cricket may not seem like a sport that has an impact on the society and the media in general. Although the origins of this bat and ball sport dates back few centuries ago only a rather distinctive fan base revolves around it. That being said, it didn’t manage to become a popular sport in general. Nonetheless, over the course of history cricket maintained a top-tier status as an elite sport.

Cricket has an undisputed presence in several regions like India, the UK, Australia and Pakistan. It’s still in the hearts of passionate fans and players as well. In the mentioned countries there are prominent domestic competitions. The respected cricket associations eventually agreed to form bigger competitions which spread around the globe and include all interested parties in this matter.

As the popularity grows from time to time few superstars will emerge from the player pool, currently players like Kumar Sangakkara, Martin Guptil, Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc. Due to their exceptional performance they rise and stand out from the rest. They are the heroes of the cricket community.

This strong presence of cricket manifested itself in other areas which are not even remotely related to sports in general. Cricket fans just adore this success of this sport so to speak. That is a testament that the sport gains recognition and hopefully one day it will be neck a neck with mega present sports like football and basketball.

With the advent of technology came a variety of games which are trendy among passionate electronic game players and the casual type who prefer to play on smartphones and tablets. We can’t deny the existence of games which are designed carefully to meet the needs of a targeted player group, one of which is the cricket fan base. The latest games on the market feature crispy clear graphics and software engines which mimic the gameplay on the pitch flawlessly. These games allow us to enjoy in cricket even if we are not on the pitch or in front of the TV. There’s a plethora of games which follow a theme based on cricket. We can enjoy in first person cricket games, arcade, simple smartphone cricket games and a rather distinctive type of games which can be found only at online casinos called slots.

This time around we take a look at the game called Cricket Star. Not only that cricket fans will find it amusing, but it’s also rather lucrative. Cricket Star is the perfect blend of cricket and slot games. It’s in the interest of the cricket community to say that Cricket Invades Slots, that it’s not the other way around.

Cricket Star clearly depicts the thrill and the excitement amongst the audience and the players. On the spinning reels players can see brief animations which show some of the action caught on the pitch and in the stands. It’s rich in terms of content and slots features offering a lot of paths that lead to one end destination only where profit and adrenaline can be found.

If you’re hesitant to give this type of games a shot you have nothing to worry about. There are opportunities which allow you to get a taste of the excitement. These opportunities are called bonuses and free spins. It shouldn’t be difficult finding one of these which will allow you to enjoy in game of your own interest. Who knows? Maybe you’ve been missing this all the long. In the meantime take a look at the featured game called Cricket Star. We’ll let you be the judge if it’s worthy of your attention or not. We’re 100% positive that the first will turn out to be true.

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Will the India-Pakistan series happen in December?

In December this year the India-Pakistan cricket series is planned to take place, but the tension between the rival countries has put a spanner in the works. Now it remains to be seen if a decision on where the series will be played can be reached within a month, or if the whole event will have to be called off.

The past couple of months the planned bilateral series has run into some trouble due to political tensions between the two competing countries. The main issue is where the series will take place, where ‘Hindustan’ opposes to play anywhere but in India even though it is Pakistan’s turn to host the series. The Indian Cricket board BCCI claims they:

·         Cannot play in Pakistan for safety reasons and threat of terror attacks;
·         Nor can they play on neutral ground in UAE (for reasons yet unknown).

Pakistan, who’s hosting the event, is reluctant to play a third home series on away ground. They already did in 2007 and 2012 on Indian soil. The Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shahryar Khan was quoted saying “It is our series and we will play at our home venue, which is the UAE."

India has yet not responded to why they can’t play in the UAE, but the BCCI president Shashank Manohar made a clear statement in an interview with The Hindu that they are committed to playing Pakistan in December. He continued: “since it's not possible to play them in Pakistan or the UAE, we have to look at playing the series in Northern India in December."

With India’s cricket legacy and political power, you’re better off wasting your money on online bingo than betting on this series to be played anywhere else but in India.

The controversial matter has now gone up all the way to Indian government level, where BCCI awaits advice on what to do. Whether or not the cricket boards of both countries will reach an agreement is still uncertain. All the while Pakistan has made their stance clear, they won’t host on away soil. Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan also revealed that Pakistan will boycott the World Twenty20 in India next year if the December series doesn’t go through.

The eloquent brawl between the arch rivals continues and the future of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by both as of last year, could be in the danger zone.

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, November 6, 2015

Former cricket player Chris Cairns repeatedly denies match fixing

Chris Cairns, the former cricket captain of New Zealand has been repeatedly questioned regarding the allegations of match fixing.  Cairns has repeatedly denied his involvement, and once again had to defend himself in front the Southwark Crown Court in London.

Suspicions started in 2010 when former Indian Premier League Commissioner Lalit Modi posted a tweet accusing Cairns of match fixing. Cairns sued Modi for libel and declared under oath he was innocent, winning the case in 2010. He received £90,000 for costs and damages. It didn’t end there. In December 2013 he was yet again the subject of allegations when ICC (International Cricket Council) initiated an investigation of match fixing. He is suspected to have attempted to manipulate cricket games in the Indian Cricket League while he was playing for Chandigarh Lions. Cairns has denied and rejected these claims.

Cairns countryman and former teammate Lou Vincent admitted to partaking in match fixing in a video testimonial in July 2014. Vincent’s apology for cheating got him banned for life from cricket, but also put Cairns on the spot. Although Cairns won the libel trial and denied his involvement in any match fixing, the Metropolitan Police declared in September 2014 that they would bring Cairns in for perjury in conjunction with the Modi libel trial.

More evidence was brought forward in the still ongoing perjury trial, when Vincent witnessed saying: “I was under direct orders from Chris Cairns to be involved in match-fixing.” Vincent was first approached by an Indian businessman Varun Gandhi believing it was a sponsorship deal. Vincent was offered £32,000 per game and a prostitute, who he later confessed to have slept with. In return he had to under perform in fixed games and got his orders from Cairns. “There were four games I fixed for Cairns in the April/May tournament 2008. I played between eight and 12 games. In three or the four games I was instructed either on the bus or at breakfast. Maybe score 15 runs off twenty balls and get out. “, said Vincent regretfully.

With Vincent‘s vivid testimonial among others, Cairns is now cornered. With evidence ranging from cheating, prostitutes, diamond deals, drug-taking and large payments from bookies it was highly anticipated that Cairns would appear on the witness stand in an attempt to exonerate himself. Cairns is also flanked by his former legal adviser Andrew Fitch-Holland who is charged for perverting the course of justice in regard to the libel trial in 2012 and evidence points to their guilt. The trial is still ongoing and Cairns continues to deny his involvement in match fixing. He claims to never have been approached by bookies to stage the games in order for punters to win on their betting. Therefore it was interesting to read the news recently of Cairns getting up on the stand to defend himself.

The former New Zealand captain claimed that Lou Vincent never told him about the prostitute “gifted” to Vincent back in 2008. Cairns also denied he ever asked his teammate to under perform in fixed games for payment during their time in the Indian Cricket League or that he never suggested such thing. It was an exhibition in no-saying and Cairns seemed composed and confident during the whole questioning.

Whether or not he will be found guilty future will tell, but his reputation as one of cricket’s best all rounders, has unquestionably  been dragged in the dirt for a foreseeable time to come.

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Curious Case of Shoaib Malik

Shoaib Malik has had one of the most intriguing cricket careers. He made his debut in 1999; in 16 years of international cricket, we still don't really know what his role exactly is. He is one of the very few cricketers who has played in every position from 1 to 10 in ODIs. Is he a batsman? Is he a bowler? Is he an allrounder? He is definitely one of the best fielders in the Pakistan team; no one makes a catch in the outfield look as easy as Malik does. But what his role exactly is in the Pakistan team will probably be defined during the last phase of his career that started with his international comeback earlier this year.

I first remember watching a young 14 year old Shoaib Malik play in the Lombard U15 Challenge in 1996. He was part of the Pakistan U15 team in that tournament and played as an up and coming off spinner. I remember watching him deceive batsmen with spin that turned outrageously, similar to the turn that the great Muralitharan used to extract. At that time, Saqlain Mushtaq had recently made his debut for Pakistan and watching Malik was like watching a young Saqlain. He had a similar action and bowled just as well as the inventor of the doosra. I wondered when I would see him play for Pakistan.

It has been 16 years since Malik made his international debut. In those 16 years, despite periods of greatness, he is yet to define his established role as a Pakistan cricketer. His ODI career can be divided into 9 distinct phases, including the current one, which might as well be the one that really defines him.

Debuts for Pakistan as an off spinner

Malik got his first international call three years later in 1999, when he was selected to replace an injured Saqlain, as part of Pakistan's ODI squad for the triangular series against West Indies and Sri Lanka in Sharjah. He played 5 games in that series and was the second highest wicket taker for Pakistan with 9 wickets at an outstanding average of 18.11 and an excellent economy of 4.16. If it wasn't for Azhar Mahmood's 6 wicket haul in one of the matches, Malik would have been Pakistan's highest wicket taker in his debut series.

Malik made sure that no one missed Saqlain during that series, and in 1999 that was an achievement and a half as Saqlain had already made his mark as a world class off spinner and was touted as one of the best in the business along with Muralitharan.

For the next two years, Malik continued to play as an off spinner, but sparingly, filling in for Saqlain when required. But he never really lived up to the expectation that he had created after his debut series. After playing 20 ODIs in 2 years, his record was 19 wickets at an average of 36.1; hardly the numbers of a successful spinner.

First Stint as a Top Order Batsman / The Allrounder

As Malik's stock as an off spinner dipped, someone realized that he has potential as a batsman. In his first 20 ODIs, Malik continuously batted at 8, 9, or 10 and didn't show much signs of being a good enough batsman to bat in the top order. He got an inning at 6 and another at 7 also, but without much success. His 11 innings in his first 20 ODIs yielded 145 runs at an average of 18.1.

However, under Waqar's captaincy, in the series against the West Indies in Sharjah in 2002, he batted at number 4, and in his first innings in the top order he scored an unbeaten 111. He followed that up with another century two ODIs later, this time as an opener. He enjoyed a decent run in the top order mustering 369 runs, including two centuries, in 10 innings at an average of 41.00. Despite this performance, he did not make it to Pakistan's squad for the World Cup in 2003.

He returned to the squad following the World Cup under the captaincy of Rashid Latif and slotted at number 6. For the next year he remained in the lower order, fluctuating between 6, 7 and 8, and played the role of an off spinning all rounder. His batting exploits in those positions were just about average as he notched up 750 runs in 34 innings at an average of 25. He managed 4 fifty plus scores during this time, however his bowling was not much to talk about as he managed to pick up 33 wickets at a mediocre average of 40.

Golden Period in the Top Order

In the course of that year, Inzamam Ul Haq had taken over as captain of the team, and Bob Woolmer has joined as head coach. Realizing that Malik's talent was being wasted in the lower order, they decided to move Malik back up the order again, where he had briefly displayed his ability under Waqar Younis. Malik got this chance at number 3 during the Asia Cup in 2004 and immediately repaid the faith of the leadership with scores of 118 and 143 during the tournament.

For the next two years under Inzamam, Malik remained Pakistan's permanent number 3 in ODIs. In 44 innings during this period, with all of them at 3 besides a couple at 4 and 6, he smashed 1,713 runs at an average of 41.8. His runs tally included three centuries and 14 fifty plus scores including two 90s and an unbeaten 86.

During these two years Malik showed the world that he belonged among the best ODI batsmen in the business. His bowling took a back seat during this period as he concentrated on delivering as a batsman and he did it extremely successfully.

Short Stint as Opener

After a successful stint at number 3, Inzamam and Woolmer now decided to use Malik as an opener to fit Younis Khan in at 3 whose ODI stocks were also increasing and being wasted at 5 or 6. For the next 6 months, Malik opened for Pakistan, albeit with limited success. In 7 innings as an opener, he managed only 141 runs with a top score of 46.

Back to the Allrounder Position

Realizing that the experiment had not worked, Malik moved back to number 6 since Younis had firmly made the number 3 spot his own. Back in the lower order, Malik rediscovered his form and shone as a batsman again. In these 6 months, including the World Cup in 2007, Malik batted in 15 innings at number 6 and notched up 406 runs at an average of 40.6, including 3 fifty plus scores and as many quickfire forties.

Malik had truly flourished as a batsman under the leadership of Inzamam and Woolmer. The former had also identified him as a future captain given his rise as a batsman with a sound head over his shoulders. Following Woolmer's tragic death and Inzamam's retirement after the World Cup 2007, Malik was chosen to lead Pakistan.

Golden Run as Captain

For the next two years he captained Pakistan and further flourished as a batsman. Preferring to bat at number 5 as captain of the team, Malik shone as a middle order batsman for Pakistan. In 33 innings as captain, mostly at 5 with a few as an opener, Malik notched up 1,225 runs at an average of 43.75. He scored one century and 10 fifties during this period.

His captaincy period however was filled with team politics and controversies. Somewhere down the line he lost trust of the seniors, namely Yousuf, Younis, Afridi, Akhtar, and Razzaq, all of whom felt that one of them should have been leading the team. Despite a reasonably successful stint as captain, and even moreso as a batsman, Malik's run as captain was cut short in 2009 due to team politics.

Younis Khan, who would have been captain instead of Malik in 2007 had he not turned it down after the World Cup, was now given the captaincy.

Years of Turmoil

For the next two years, Pakistan went through several captains, namely Younis, Yousuf, and Afridi as team politics ran rampant and Pakistan remained largely unsettled. And so did Malik. Team politics hampered Pakistan's former captain and main ODI batsman the most as he failed to find a settled spot in the XI and remained in and out of the team.

Even when Pakistan finally settled to some extent under Misbah from 2011, Malik was not a permanent feature of the team. He faced several axes and several recalls to the team and batted in all positions between 3 and 8 during the 4 years between 2009 and 2013. Such inconsistency can bog down the best of them and Malik never recovered his old touch. In 39 ODI innings during this period, Malik managed to score only 741 runs at an average of 21.17. This was easily his worst phase as a batsman and in 2013 he found himself out of the team for good.

The Remarkable Comeback

It had been six years since a team had toured Pakistan for an international cricket series. That last time an ODI series was played in Pakistan, Malik was captain. So earlier this year when Zimbabwe decided to tour Pakistan for three ODIs, the selectors decided to plug the experience gap in the middle order created by Misbah's ODI retirement and Younis' lack of ODI form. Their answer was Shoaib Malik who had not played ODI cricket for Pakistan for two years.

Malik earned yet another recall to the side under the captaincy of Azhar Ali, and in his first ODI in two years he smashed 112, his first ODI century, in fact his first score above 43 in 6 years! In his comeback ODI, he batted at 3; however since then Malik has slotted into the number 5 position and has smashed 500 runs in 11 innings at an even average of 100! His remarkable comeback to the ODI team has yielded scores of 112, 26*, 55*, 51, 42*, 96*, and 34*, among others.

In a team that was lacking middle order experience, Malik has taken over the responsibility like never before and is looking like the great ODI batsman he once was. His run of form has not been restricted to ODIs only and he has continued in the same vein in T20s also, a format of the game in which he is a giant in leagues all around the world. His comeback to the team has been so remarkable that he has picked up the Man of the Series Award in two of the three series he has been involved in this year.

This rich vein of form with the bat resulted in the selectors picking him for the test series against England. Even though Malik had shown glimpses of being a great test cricketer during his unbeaten 148 against Sri Lanka in 2006 where he batted for over 8 hours to help save a test match, he never really made it as a test batsman. An average of 33 across 32 tests does not make a world class test batsman, and Malik's test career went down the same road as Shahid Afridi's and Abdul Razzaq's who also showed traces but never really made it in tests the way they did in limited overs cricket.

Malik was brought back into the Pakistan test squad after a gap of 5 years. He probably would not have played the first test against England had Azhar Ali been fit, however Malik was given an opportunity at number 3 and he grabbed it with both hands and feet. In his first test knock in 5 years, Malik played a monumental knock of 245, breaking several records on the way:

  • Not only was it his first double century in a test, it was his first every double century in first class cricket.
  • It is the highest score by a Pakistan batsman in tests in Abu Dhabi, and second highest score in a test in Abu Dhabi.
  • It is the second highest score by a Pakistan number 3 in tests against England, and the fourth highest score by a Pakistan number 3 in all tests.
  • He was involved in Pakistan's fourth highest partnership ever, and the highest in tests against England, for the 5th wicket.

Malik has been playing international cricket for 16 years and even though he had periods that defined his role in the team, he never really established his position for an elongated period. After his comeback in 2015, however, in what is the final phase of his career, Malik has taken it upon himself to define the type of cricketer he would like to be remembered as.

For as long as I have been watching cricket, I have rarely witnessed the sort of comeback Malik has made to international cricket this year. 2015 has been a remarkable year for him and for him to do it after 15 years of international cricket baggage, it is nothing short of phenomenal.

Make your pitch on this post...

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pakistan, England, and DRAMA!

Pakistan vs England test series always provide entertainment, on the field and off it as well! Rarely does a series against England go by without one controversy or the other. While the cricket between the two sides has been extremely entertaining, there has been plenty of drama dished at us as well in the past.

Arguments with umpires, ball tampering allegations, forfeited tests, spot fixing, pitch tampering, court cases, you name it and we have seen it in a series involving Pakistan and England.

With yet another test series between the two sides starting tomorrow, here’s a look at some of the controversies we have witnessed in the past in Pakistan vs England tests.

Umpiring Altercation: GATTING vs RANA

Back in 1987 when there was limited TV coverage and barely any cameras covering the action on the ground, the naked eye of Shakoor Rana spotted England captain Mike Gatting moving a fielder while a bowler was in his run up (during the 2nd Test at Faisalabad). Rana immediately halted play and reprimanded Gatting for breaking the rules, and with it the spirit of the game. Gatting waving his finger at Rana is an image that has been played repeatedly on Pakistan television and the internet.

Umpiring Altercation: AAQUIB VS PALMER

During England’s tour of 1992, Pakistan’s pace attack was arguably at its best and England’s batsmen had little answers for them. During the 3rd test at Old Trafford, Roy Palmer warned Aaqib Javed about intimidating bowling to number XI Devon Malcolm. Aaqib had bowled a couple of bouncers and Palmer was not too impressed. Aaqib bowled another short one but it was not a bouncer from any stretch of the imagination. Malcolm ducked and the ball hit his helmet smack in front of the stumps. Palmer called it a no ball! At the end of the over Aaqib snatched his sweater and cap back from Palmer in anger and Miandad had to intervene to calm things down and also give Palmer a piece of his mind.

Umpiring Altercation: INZAMAM VS HAIR

Who can forget the episode with Darrel Hair who accused the Pakistanis of ball tampering and docked them 5 penalty runs during the 4th test at the Oval in 2006. Pakistan’s captain, Inzamam Ul Haq, took this so personally that he decided not to take the field after tea and forfeited the test match. The first such instance in the history of test cricket. Administrators from both sides and ICC officials failed to convince first Inzamam, and then Darrel Hair, to restart the game and an exciting test match ended midway during day 4 with the first forfeiture ever in test cricket history.

Ball Tampering Allegations

That wasn’t the first time the Pakistanis were accused of ball tampering; though it was the first time that they were docked 5 penalty runs because of it. No Pakistan tour to England is complete without ball tampering allegations.

It all started in 1992 when Wasim and Waqar swung the old ball so late into the batsmen that the English had no idea what hit them. They were so confused by what was happening that they termed it cheating and accused the Pakistan pacers of tampering with the ball. The British Tabloids were full of stories about Pakistani bowlers running their nails into the ball and lifting the seam with their fingers. Accusations were passed left, right, and center as the English batsmen continued to fall like nine pins.

The allegations continued during Pakistan’s tour to England in 1996 and 2001; and then finally culminated in that forfeited test in 2006.

The Spot Fixing Saga

Arguably the worst scandal to hit Pakistan cricket. Despite all the match fixing allegations levelled against Pakistani cricketers throughout the 90s, surprisingly tours to England remained devoid of such accusations. Besides one-off rumors about ODIs during the tour in 1992 and 1996.

Pakistan’s last tour to England in 2010 has got to be their worst tour there ever. In Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir, Pakistan had found a potent new ball pair that was right up there with the very best. Finally, Pakistan boasted a new ball attack as lethal as Wasim and Waqar. What could have been is a question that still lingers around the minds of cricket fans as we all witnessed the downfall of the two best bowling talents produced by Pakistan in the past decade.

The 4th and final test of the series was underway at Lord’s when the News of the World broke the news about a spot fix that Asif and Aamir has been involved in along with their captain Salman Butt. Pakistan’s cricketers had been caught in a sting conducted by the now defunct investigative British tabloid.

Every tour of England has been full of drama for Pakistan’s cricketers but there was none that had been as embarrassing as the one in 2010.

There are several more off-the-field stories like British tabloids reporting Imran Khan’s affairs during tours to England, Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi partying at Soho on nights before matches, and the famous pitch tampering that Afridi got involved in during England’s tour to Pakistan in 2005 that have added extra spice to Pakistan vs England contests over the years.

With Pakistan’s current test squad largely subdued compared to their predecessors, one doubts that we will witness drama of this kind in the test series that gets underway tomorrow. But then again, one thought the same about the Inzamam led team.

Make your pitch on this post...

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