Monday, May 25, 2015

Pakistan welcomes cricket back with a BANG! The right kind of BANG!

Pakistan's highest successful chase in a T20 International came during the World T20 in 2012 against Bangladesh when they chased down a target of 176 with ease and won the match by 8 wickets. Pakistan equaled that record chase of 176 in a T20 International in the second T20 against Zimbabwe on Sunday; and just two days prior to that, Pakistan successfully chased a target of 173 against the same opposition.

Essentially, Pakistan recorded its highest and second highest chase in T20 Internationals in the last two T20s played in Lahore! What a way to welcome cricket back into your country. If someone was given the task to script a movie on the return of cricket to Pakistan, they will not need to shift much from the events of Lahore between Friday and Sunday.

It was purely majestic; all the way from welcoming of Zimbabwe's cricketers at the airport and at hotel to the hunt for tickets, queuing outside Gaddafi for hours in sweltering heat, cheering for the teams as they walked on to the field amidst mini fireworks, singing along the loudest sung Pakistani national anthem ever, cheering at the sight of the screen that spelled out that this was the first ever T20 International to be played in Lahore, raising sound levels by various decibels at Sami's twin strikes, being entertained by Ahmed Shehzad's imaginary selfie, witnessing two imposing innings by Mukhtar Ahmed that involved some audacious shots, screaming at the top of our lungs when Afridi walked out to bat, being pleased at Afridi hitting the winning runs off the only delivery he faced on Friday and the towering six he smashed on Sunday, watching Umar Akmal finally play an international match at home, guffawing at the all familiar batting collapse on Friday and Sunday, biting our nails at the close finishes, and jumping in cheer as Pakistan closed off two good chases!

No scriptwriter could have written it better.

It is debatable whether Pakistan would have managed to chase down the same targets if they were playing anywhere else, but the likely answer to that is no. Being perennial bad chasers, Pakistan's batting has been found desperately wanting in recent times. In its entire history, Pakistan had successfully chased a total of 150 or above only 3 times prior to these two T20s against Zimbabwe in Lahore. In its past 4 T20s, Pakistan managed scores of 141-5 (20), 127 (20), 140-3 (19.1), and 96-9 (20). None of them were obviously played at home.

Mukhtar Ahmed had a lot to do with Pakistan winning those games despite facing stiff targets; however, I believe it also had a lot to do with the venue. Batting in home conditions seems to bring out the best out of majority of the batsmen. All records will show that. It definitely has something to do with the familiarity of the conditions, but it also has a lot to do with the confidence derived from knowing your conditions and the adrenaline from the supportive crowd. Confidence and adrenaline does wonders to a batsmen's mind.
Mukhtar struggled to a dogged 30 odd in his debut T20 in Bangladesh last month. In contrast, his two innings in Lahore were commanding and dominating. Ahmed Shehzad had struggled to even rotate strike effectively in the past 6-8 months, yet he played a free flowing innings in the first T20 in Lahore, his hometown, his home ground. For too long the world has seen the likes of Virat Kohli, Hashim Amla, and Steve Smith dominate bowling attacks in their backyards and for too long Pakistanis have been denied of watching their batsmen do the same.

Finally cricket came back home. Finally Pakistan's batsmen looked dominant again!

Here's hoping for more dominance in the upcoming ODIs and continued international cricket in Pakistan.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pakistan welcomes back International Cricket

I was in Lahore on 2nd March 2009. It was my brother's wedding. The baraat had driven down from Rawal Pindi to Lahore in the morning and we drove back the same evening after the wedding festivities.

The next day, 3rd March 2009, was my brother's valima in Rawal Pindi. I woke up early morning to catch the third day's play of the 2nd test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but I was in for a rude shock.

Sri Lanka's team bus, on route from the hotel to Gaddafi Stadium, had been attacked by militants. The unfathomable event had happened. Teams like Australia were already apprehensive to tour Pakistan, but after this, no team wanted to.

By the afternoon a number of our guests who were supposed to drive from Lahore to Pindi started cancelling due to a blocked motorway.

Having never lived in Pakistan, I happened to be in Pakistan on that tragic day when international cricket disappeared from Pakistan forever.

6 years on, I happen to be in Pakistan once again for yet another wedding and coincidentally it is the day when international cricket returns to Pakistan!

That is quite a coincidence considering that my visits to Pakistan are usually only for weddings. But completely apt as well. Somehow, nothing unites us Pakistanis more than shaadis and cricket!

Having been personally affected by the shooting on Sri Lanka's team bus 6 years ago, it was an absolute delight to see Lahore prepare for the arrival of the Zimbabwe cricket team.

What has been even more pleasing is the excitement resulting from this home series for Pakistan.

Gaddafi stadium was sold out in the matter of minutes.

Social media is abuzz with #cricketcomeshome and #thankyouzimbabwe trending all over twitter and facebook. is shipping tickets all over the country.

Pepsi and Boys in Green are giving away 2 FREE tickets for each match.

For the next 10 days, Lahore is going to be in a cricket frenzy.

One that it has not experienced since 2004 when India came to town.

Finally cricket is back home and we hope that it is here to stay with other teams following suit in the near future.

Pakistanis celebrate a number of days like 23rd March, 14th August, 25th December, among others. 22nd May is another day that will be celebrated in the years to come as the day international cricket returned to Pakistan!

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pakistan, what a fall from grace for the once upon a time KINGS of ODIs

My first few memories of watching cricket on TV or at the stadium involve Pakistan winning tournament after tournament in Sharjah. Aaqib Javed taking a hatrick of LBWs against India, Waqar Younis clean bowling Ian Bishop off the final ball of an ODI to lead Pakistan to a 1 run, Wasim Akram clean bowling Hughes, Rackemann, and Alderman off successive deliveries, are some of my first memories watching cricket on TV or at the stadium in Sharjah.

Pakistan were unbeatable in Sharjah. They always beat India, they won every tournament that took place there, they were the Kings of the Desert! They were the best team in the world and Imran Khan was everyone's hero even before 1992 happened.

Then Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992 and they were officially the best team in the World. It was a time when Indian commentators like Sunil Gavaskar would publicly talk about the danger posed by Pakistan and kept saying not to count them out when every newspaper carried headlines of Pakistan's disastrous World Cup campaign.

There were more victories after that World Cup win. More Sharjah tophies were won, there were bilateral series wins, a tri series win in Singapore, a tri series win in Australia, and there was another World Cup final.

The 90s was a dream era for every Pakistan cricket fan. Not only did Pakistan win a lot of ODIs, they had a team full of match winners and they held a lot of ODI records.

Highest team total against a test playing nation, highest individual score, best bowling figures, most individual hatricks, team with most bowlers to take a hatrick, most number of wickets, fastest century, highest partnership for any wicket. Individual and team brilliance shone like never before for Pakistan.

If you grew up watching Pakistan dominate ODI cricket in the 90s, you must be feeling sick in the stomach after their 3-0 loss to Bangladesh. To witness Pakistan fall to 9th in ODI rankings and also watch each and every single one of those ODI records broken over the years has been nothing short of a heartbreak.

Where did it all go wrong for Pakistan? What happened? Where are all the heroes?

Typical talk of a bad domestic structure, board level politics, player politics is mere talk. All that existed back then as well. Player rivalries have been part and parcel of Pakistan cricket for as long as it has existed. There have been no bigger rivalries in Pakistan cricket than Imran-Javed and Wasim-Waqar, yet Pakistan rose above all that and dominated opponents on the field.

The domestic structure and the board was just as dis-functional in the 90s as well. Yet Pakistan was a great team on the field. Pakistan changed more captains and coaches in the 90s than they ever have in their history. Yet they played two World Cup finals and won other ODI tournaments.

All the problems one discusses today existed two decades ago as well so it can't be just that.

Pakistan were so good back then that despite a mediocre decade in ODIs, they still have the third best overall record in ODIs. However, they are such a bad ODI team now that they are on the verge of missing out participation in the Champions Trophy 2017 and face the potential shame of having to play a qualifying round to take part in the World Cup 2019!

What a damning fall from grace!

Names like Javed Miandad, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam Ul Haq, Ijaz Ahmed used to give bowlers sleepless nights. While Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain Mushtaq have given the same sleepless nights to opposition batsmen. Yet now opposing batsmen and bowlers lick their lips at prospects of improving their career figures when playing against Pakistan.

There is not a single name in Pakistan that would spell fear in the mind of any cricketer from any team. That includes the eternal minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and even associates like Ireland and UAE who have all fancied their chances against Pakistan in recent clashes.

What I fail to understand is that during this same period, Pakistan have taken great strides in test cricket. There was a test win over Australia after 15 years. There was a test series win over Australia after 20 years, and that too a clean sweep. There was a clean sweep of the world number 1 test team as well. Forced to make UAE their home, Pakistan have created a fortress there and have not lost a test series in the UAE for as long as that has been their "home"; over half a decade.

Batsmen like Younis Khan, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, and even their captain Misbah have exelled in tests at home and away. Many have managed what greats like Inzamam could not; like scoring test centuries in South Africa. Even batsmen that have been tried in tests over the past 5 years but have not played too regularly like Taufeeq Umar, Khurram Manzoor, and Shan Masood have done brilliantly.

The same names however, have been utter failures in ODIs.

It is the same system, the same board, the same management, and the same players who have done exceedingly well in tests. Yet when it has come to ODIs they have failed miserably.

Pakistan is fast becoming England but the problem is that they don't play as many tests as England do. It is not that tests have been given a higher priority resulting in Pakistan's relative success in the format as compared to ODIs.

It is complete chance that Pakistan has become a team that has done well in test cricket but failed to do the same in ODIs.

The problems they face in ODIs, i.e. strike rotation, big hitting, and constant mistakes on the field, are not really problems in test cricket. Hafeez and Shehzad can manage to hit a boundary in every over without rotating the strike in tests; they can do that all day if they wish to. Doing the same in ODIs is what causes problems.

I don't know when Pakistan will come out of this rut. Surely it can't get worse after losing to Bangladesh 3-0. Or can it with Zimbabwe coming home?

Pakistan have been trying to revive international cricket at home for as long as it was taken away from them. It has been 6 years since Pakistan has hosted an international cricket match on its land, and they have finally managed to convince Zimbabwe to come over. But an ODI series between the 9th and 11th ranked teams is definitely not what the PCB would have hoped for.

Not many watched the series against Bangladesh. After the 3-0 loss to them, Pakistan cricket has lost more fans. I am not sure if the TV rights have been secured for the Pakistan vs Zimbabwe ODIs but I highly doubt any channel would want to get their hands on that. Even though cricket is coming back to Pakistan after 6 years, I really do not know if they will be able to fill the stadiums in this heat for a team that has been appalling in ODIs.

In the 90s, we used to drive for 4 hours to reach Sharjah to watch Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam Ul Haq. Even Aamer Sohail, Ijaz Ahmed, and Saleem Malik had fans. Flash in the pan players like Basit Ali, Zahid Fazal, and Mohammad Zahid also made fans flock the Sharjah stadium.

Who would fans go for now? There is not a single name in Pakistan's ODI line up that one can wish to watch. There are no great players. There is no superstar. There is absolutely no one.

It is great for Pakistan and world cricket that the sport is returning to Pakistan's land. But the timing could not have been worse for Pakistan.

I know this whole rant is all over the place. But that is what I feel like at the moment as Pakistan cricket fan. All over the place!

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Will James Anderson go down as an all-time England great after breaking record?

What a week it’s been for James Anderson. Not content with just celebrating his 100th test appearance for England against the West Indies, Jimmy broke Sir Ian Botham’s long-standing record to become the country’s leading wicket-taker in history.

He’d already claimed wicket numbers 382 and 383, and as he roared into bowl at Denesh Ramdin – in that typical, languid style of his – he did something that he’s been doing for England for over a decade now; pitching the ball up, swinging it away a little and inducing the edge from the batsmen.

Fittingly, it was his good friend Alistair Cook that pouched the catch at first slip, and the relief on Anderson’s face – rather than unbridled joy – was telling. He’s a family man, a quiet bloke off the pitch, and he’d found the increased pressure and media scrutiny something of an unwanted distraction.

So what now for the ‘Burnley Express’? Has he secured his place as an all-time great of the game? And will we one day be calling him Sir Jimmy?

Swing King

The rise and rise of James Anderson has coincided with a reversal in fortunes of English cricket. Once upon a time the Three Lions were very much in the doldrums, but the early 2000s saw a sea change – with the likes of Anderson, Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss all bursting onto the scene.

Fast forward a decade and a bit and Jimmy has secured his position as a legend of English – and world – cricket. He’s played a key part in three Ashes victories for his country, and was part of the side that in 2011 rose to the top of the ICC World Rankings.

But perhaps his greatest legacy is his unique reinvention of swing bowling. The great art had, by and large, died a death following the retirements of the Pakistan pair Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Those two were absolute masters of getting the ball to hoop around – and Anderson became their unlikely successor.

In typically English conditions, where the cloud is thick and the air is heavy, Anderson is at times completely unplayable.

Far From Finished

But Jimmy’s career is far from over. In fact, this summer could be one of his most important in an England shirt. There’s another Ashes battle on the horizon, and a tricky couple of dates against the fast-improving New Zealand to negotiate.

And of course there is the current test series in the Caribbean. Anderson will be hoping to add a few more scalps to his record when his turn to bowl comes, and he will know that his team mates Ballance and Bell must maintain their brilliant batting for second test .

If they can, then they will give Jimmy a great opportunity to put a bit of distance between himself and Sir Ian in the record books.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pakistan was ahead of its time... before it hit rock bottom!

Pakistan's ODI cricket has never been in such a sad state as it is in right now. They are ranked 7 in the world, are currently trailing Bangladesh 2-0, and if they lose the series 3-0 then they will drop down to number 8.

Where did it all go wrong for them?

If we consider the entire 45-year history of ODI cricket, Pakistan has the third best overall record in ODIs. Only Australia and South Africa have won a higher percentage of ODIs than Pakistan in this time. Despite this record, we are going through a period where Pakistan has not won an ODI series for over a year.

I fail to understand how they have fallen so far behind other teams. There was a time in the 90s when Pakistan was one of the best ODI teams, if not the best, in the world. They played two World Cup finals in that decade, winning one, and created a number of ODI records, which stood for a long time.

They were well ahead of other teams, but the turn of the century has witnessed a significant transformation, which is hard to understand.

Pakistan and its cricketers created 5 ODI records in the previous century, which at the time were the sort of records that one felt would never be broken. However, since the turn of the century, those records have fallen multiple times and it shows how other teams have not only caught up with Pakistan but have also marched ahead tremendously, leaving Pakistan far far behind.

1. Fastest Century in ODIs

In October 1996, one innings changed Shahid Afridi's life forever. He smashed a century off only 37 deliveries while slaughtering Sri Lanka's bowling in Nairobi and held the record for the fastest century ever scored in an ODI for 17 years! No one came close to breaking that record besides Afridi himself, who also held the record for the second fastest ODI century ever scored (45 deliveries) when he smashed India's bowlers to all parts of Kanpur in 2005.

Even though Mark Boucher bettered the second fastest ODI 100 in 2006, it was not until 2014 that Afridi's fastest 100 record was broken. Corey Anderson broke that record by 1 delivery when he sprinted to an ODI ton off only 36 deliveries against the West Indies. That record was broken again by AB De Villiers earlier this year when he further tormented the West Indies by destroying their bowlers and reaching an ODI century off only 31 deliveries.

In the 90s, one could easily say that no one can hit the ball the way Afridi does. He was well ahead of his time and gave many a bowling attack nightmares for some time.

The way the game is played today, however, there are many who can hit the ball better than Afridi ever did. The fastest 100 record has been broken twice already, and maybe ABD's 31 ball century will never be bettered, however it is easy to imagine many more centuries scored of 30 odd deliveries in the year to come.

2. Highest Team Score in ODIs

Back in the day, a team scoring 400 was unheard of in ODIs. In fact even 350 was a score that was rarely achieved by teams even when an innings used to be 60 overs long. In fact in the first two decades of ODI cricket, 350 was crossed only twice - by the West Indies in 1987 (360-4) and by England in 1992 (363-7). Sri Lanka were the only team that threatened the barrier of 400 when they managed the highest score by a team in ODIs in 1996 against Kenya when they amassed 398-5.

In that same game where Afridi hit the fastest century, Pakistan scored a daunting 371-9 in their 50 overs. That was the highest score by a team in an ODI between two test playing nations. That stood for 3 years before India scored 373 and 376 in 1999 against Sri Lanka and New Zealand respectively.

The game has changed so much that in the past decade or so, teams have crossed 400 in an ODI innings on as many as 15 occasions. Pakistan have managed it exactly zero times.

It is ironic that the three teams that posted the highest ODI totals in the 80s and 90s - West Indies, England, and Pakistan - are the only teams among the top 8 ODI sides who have not posted a score of 400 in an ODI yet.

3. Highest Individual Score in ODIs

Like a team score of 400, to think that a batsman will ever score 200 in an ODI was unfathomable. Viv Richards's 189* against England in May 1984 remained the highest score ever in an ODI for 13 years before Saeed Anwar smashed India's bowlers for a magnificent 194. That was the closest anyone ever got to scoring a double century in an ODI. Saeed Anwar could have easily become the first man to do so had he not perished as there were still a few overs left in Pakistan's innings.

At the time many felt that Saeed Anwar's record will never be broken. It took 12 years for someone to equal the record as  Charles Coventry of Zimbabwe scored 194 in an ODI against Bangladesh.

But then came Sachin Tendulkar's epic unbeaten 200 against South Africa in 2010. Saeed Anwar's record stood strong for 13 years, like Sir Viv Richards', before Sachin became the first ever batsman to score a double century in ODIs. In the past 5 years since then, we have witnessed 5 more double centuries in ODIs, and with the way the game is played today we will definitely see many many more.

4. Most Sixes in an ODI innings

In 1987 and 1988, Viv Richards played two innings in which he hit 7 sixes each. That was the most number of sixes anyone had hit in an ODI innings at the time. 7. In 1989, Sir Viv's compatriot, Gordon Greenidge bettered him by 1 and held the record for most 6s hit in an ODI innings - 8!

In 1996, Sanath Jayasuriya and Shahid Afridi, during their respective record breaking fastest ODI hundreds, hit 11 sixes each. 11 sixes in an ODI innings was unbelievable, and it remained so for more than a decade before Xavier Marshall smashed Canada for 12 sixes in 2008.

However, the past 5 years has seen even that mark crossed on 5 different occasions. Rohit Sharma, AB De Villiers, and Chris Gayle jointly hold the record for most sixes in an ODI innings - 16! Shane Watson has hit 15, while Corey Anderson has hit 14.

It is not long before we will witness someone smash 20 sixes in an ODI innings.

5. Highest Partnership in ODIs

In 1994, Aamer Sohail and Inzamam Ul Haq got together and pummelled New Zealand for 263 runs for the second wicket. Back then, not only was that the highest partnership for any wicket in ODIs, it was the only time that a 250 run partnership was witnessed in an ODI.

Even though that record was broken before the turn of the century, this century alone has seen over 15 partnerships of 250 or more in ODIs, with the most recent one being Warner and Smith's 260 against Afghanistan, and the highest being Gayle and Samuel's record 372 against Zimbabwe.

*                    *                     *

Pakistan's ODI batting is currently the worst in the world. However there was a time when it was one of the best. In fact, as the above records show, Pakistan's ODI batting was well ahead of other teams, and definitely far far ahead of its times.

To think how far down the barrel we have fallen; it is just sad. It is unbelievable. And it is quite incomprehensible.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Pakistan Cricketers Parody Twitter Accounts

Nasir Jamshed may not have done much as batsman besides scoring three ODI centuries against India, but he has definitely started a trend in Pakistan. He is the showstopper of Pakistan Cricket Parody accounts on Twitter. There are so many parody accounts on Twitter now that it has become hard to keep a track of all of them. I don't know which one of them came first but they are all doing a fine job. None better than BIG NAS however.

Here are some of the prominent ones:

1. BIG NAS @NasirJamshed_

Overview: The account has been around for over a year but it truly gained popularity during the World Cup and with close to 60,000 followers is easily the most popular parody account in Pakistan. He is absolutely hilarious and borderline racist (ask the Bangladeshis). Every single tweet from that account leaves you in splits.

Pet Tweets: about his buffalo, his love of food, the love affair brewing between Shahid Afridi and Ahmed Shehzad, and a take on everything related to Pakistan cricket.

Funny Scale: 9.5/10

2. Javed Miandad @SirJavedMiandad

Overview: The account has been around for a while and is an extremely funny take on the great batsman's accent. Ith all aboul la way he thpeaks. Almost as funny as BIG NAS.

Pet Tweets: about everything from cricket to football, bollywood, and politics. He doesn't hide his love for the fairer skin either.

Funny Scale: 9/10

3. Mohammad Yousuf @MoyoTalks

Overview: This one is not as funny as the above two but he surely packs a punch like the batsman. This is a brilliant take on the bitter man that MoYo is and leaves no stone unturned in criticizing Afridi, Misbah, and the entire PCB establishment. Much like MoYo the cricketer.

Pet Tweets: about Pakistan cricket news and his take on it, bashes the entire Pakistan cricket establishment, and he also gets involved in educated discussions on the game. This is one of the few parody accounts that you can have an actual discussion with. Expect a lot of sarcasm.

Funny Scale: 8/10

4. Misbah Ul Haq @MisbahulSkipper

Overview: Even though this one does not claim to be a parody account, it is. For a long period many people actually followed it thinking it was Misbah Ul Haq. The account has been around for quite some time and is very popular.

Pet Tweets: mostly about Misbah's grievances with his critics as well as his own team. Bashes Sikandar Bakht, MoYo, Shoaib Akhtar, and his team members. Funny at most times, but not always.

Funny Scale: 6/10

5. Azhar Ali @AzharAliSkipper

Overview: This one seems to be a fairly new one. Going by the name it probably came into being once Azhar Ali was announced as ODI captain. The account hasn't yet gained as much popularity as the other ones but has the potential to be quite popular.

Pet Tweets: about his kaala til (black mole), calls his team the spirited leopards, and keeps no secret about his love for Sarfraz, Asad, and selfies.

Funny Scale: 7.5/10

6. Shahid Afridi @SAfridi0fficial

Overview: This one is not really a parody account per se, but it is a sneakily smart take on Shahid Afridi's official twitter handle. He is not funny but he tweets acting as if he is actually Shahid Afridi. There are plenty of people out there who have fallen for him thinking that its actually Afridi tweeting.

Pet Tweets: about Afridi, his lover Shehzad, and all other activities related to them. Speaks to other cricketers as if he's Afridi.

Funny Scale: 5.10

7. Fawad Alam @SirFawadAlamm

Overview: Another account that claims to be a parody account and has no affiliation to the real Fawad Alam. Came into being during the time Fawad was dropped from the team. Funny at times only.

Pet Tweets: about bringing Fawad Alam back, support for his Pakistan team mates, and digging at the Indians.

Funny Scale: 5/10

8. Umar Akmal @UmarAkmalNot

Overview: Like the cricketer, this account has been inactive for quite some time, but when it was around it had people in fits in short bursts, like his innings.

Pet Tweets: about his talent, potential, Misbah's tuk tuk, and hafeez' sideburns.

Funny Scale: 6.5/10

There might be more of these parody accounts out there. There are several under the name of Shoaib Akhtar and Inzamam Ul Haq, which don't have the Twitter verified tick nor do they claim to be a parody account. They aren't funny however.

If you know any others from Pakistan, please do share with us!

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Get to know your Captain

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

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

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

Azhar Ali himself knows that. He is not ignorant.

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

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

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

Coming back to why he was selected as ODI captain.

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

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

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

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

Pentangular Cup

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

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

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

No one should have any complaints with that strike rate.

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

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

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

President's Gold One Day Cup

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

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

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

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

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

Not as impressive as in the Pentangular but impressive enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ICC World Cup 2015: Our Best XI

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

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

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

1. Big NAS

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

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

2. Mauka Mauka Man

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

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

3. Mauka Mauka Spoof Man

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

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

4. Hashtag #LetsRedo92 Inventor

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

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

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

5. Drop-In Pitch Doctor

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

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

6. Selfie Creator

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

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

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

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

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

8. Anushka Sharma

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

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

9. BioMechanics Expert

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

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

10. The Left Arm

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

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

11. Hashtag #wontgiveitback Inventor

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

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

Make your pitch on this post...

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about dominating a sport. Salute to Australia!

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Who will be Pakistan's next ODI captain?

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

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

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

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

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

Shoaib Malik

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

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

Wahab Riaz

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

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

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

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

Sohaib Maqsood

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

Azhar Ali

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

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

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

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

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

This is what I think should be the plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the best way forward in my opinion.

Make your pitch on this post...

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