Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Can we find one thing about Pakistan's Cricket that we all agree on?

"Sarfraz is our reserve opener" - Moin Khan

"Sarfraz career will be at risk if he opens" - Waqar Younis

"If there is one thing that can possibly be agreed upon in Pakistan cricket, it is that nobody agrees with anyone. And some will disagree with that." - George Dobell

That pretty much describes Pakistan cricket in a nutshell.

In this cricket crazy country, everyone is an analyst, everyone has an opinion, and everyone believes their opinion is right.

You go to Australia and everyone will tell you that Sir Don Bradman was the best batsman ever to play for Australia. Indians will say Sachin Tendulkar. West Indies' would say Sir Viv Richards.

What about the best batsman to ever play for Pakistan?

You go to Pakistan and you will be greeted to an endless debate about Javed Miandad and Inzamam Ul Haq. Some will throw in Mohammad Yousuf's name, while some will even mention Younis Khan! And then there will be that generation, which will dreamily talk about the era of Hanif Mohammad, Sadiq Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas et al.

Same story if you ask them about the best fast bowler to ever play for their country.

Glenn McGrath for Australia. Kapil Dev for India. Courtney Walsh for West Indies.

What about Pakistan? You'll hear something like this:

"Wasim Akram was the best"

"He tried to sabotage Waqar's career who was far better. If Waqar had not missed those years he would have more wickets than Wasim Akram"

"Imran Khan taught both of them what they knew. They were not better bowlers than Imran"

"Sarfraz Nawaz was the true inventor of reverse swing. Even Imran learned it from. Sarfraz was by far the best"

"You guys were not even born when Fazal Mahmood was putting Pakistan on the cricket map. There is no comparison"

"No one was faster than Shoaib Akhtar. Have you seen anyone clean bowl Sachin like that? Shoaib was the best ever"

"If Asif and Aamer did not listen to Salman Butt, they would have been better than Wasim and Waqar. Aamir will come back and show that hes the best ever"

"Sab choro yaar, Aaqib Javed sab se behtar tha!"

Hell, the debate will be endless even if you discuss wicketkeepers!

Rashid Latif and Moin Khan will be debated and then there will be some who will talk of Kamran Akmal having more catches and more hundreds than either of them. Oh and Wasim Bari for the ones who always talk about that era.

I don't think I can find a single statement that Pakistan's cricket management, experts, and fans will agree on.

Maybe that Imran Khan was the best captain the country ever had?

Not really. I have heard arguments that Javed Miandad was a better captain, and that Abdul Hafeez Kardar was the best one, and some even say that Misbah is better than both Imran and Miandad!

Maybe that Shahid Afridi is the best allrounder to play for the country?

Ha! Forget what the numbers say. Imran Khan, Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood have their backers. Even Wasim Akram has a few for that status!

What about Pakistan's team of the 90s being the best Pakistan team ever?

Nah, Imran Khan's team of the 80s was superior say many.

Oh wait I have found one I think. 

1992 was the best World Cup ever for Pakistan!

That can't be disputed can it?

Ofcourse it can! 1999! So what if we lost the final? The team was stronger than the one in 1992. Yes, you will hear that!

Saeed Anwar is the best ever opener produced by Pakistan!

I think that might be it. The one statement that everyone will agree on.

Or do we have people who believe that Hanif Mohammad, Sadiq Mohammad, or Mohsin Khan were better?

Someone please find me one statement regarding our cricket that we can agree on. 

Just one!

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

ICC World Cup 2015: What is the 'Par Score'?

This article first appeared on DAWN.
When Pakistan completed its innings against Zimbabwe on Sunday, the popular opinion was that 235 was not enough. Social media was abuzz with predictions of Zimbabwe's triumph and how many overs they would take to complete the task.
However, what transpired was expected by very few. It was a tremendous effort by Pakistan's bowlers, despite sloppy their fielding, to overcome the odds and defend a sub-par total against a team which had scores of 277, 286 and 289 which chasing against South Africa, UAE and the West Indies, respectively.
But was 235 really a sub-par total? Everyone from commentators to TV experts and fans have been stating that the par total in this World Cup is 300. I don't think that is true. I think 300 is a winning total, not a par one; more often than not teams scoring 300 will defend it successfully.
I did some digging to figure out whether this hypothesis is true or not, and the results are quite interesting. The analysis considers ODIs played in Australia and New Zealand in past 5 years, starting from 1st January 2010, and breaks down the results for day matches and day/night matches.
ODI Matches in Australia
In all ODI games played in Australia in the past five years, the team batting first has won 37 times, while the team fielding first has won 33 times.
Out of those 37 wins, a team scored 300 or more 14 times and won the match. There are only four instances of a team successfully chasing 300 or more, with the most recent one being Australia's chase of 304 against England in January 2010. Australia has managed three out of those four successful chases of above 300, with the other one managed by India against Sri Lanka in February 2012.
Those four chases came in Hobart, Sydney, and Brisbane. A total of 300 or more has never been chased in Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, or Canberra in the past five years. Every time a team has scored 300 in any of those grounds, they have won.
Out of those 37 wins by teams batting first, a total between 200 and 300 was defended successfully as many as 23 times; that is a success rate of over 60 per cent. Additionally, almost 60 per cent of the wins by teams chasing targets (19 out of 33), was when the target was below 270.
It is interesting to note that all of the four successful run chases of 300 or more were in day/night games. A total of 300 or more has never been chased in a day game in Australia in the past five years. In fact the highest successful run chase in a day game in Australia is 262.
Therefore, I do not think that 300 is a par score in Australia. It is a winning score. A par score is more around 260 to 270. A total of 270 or more has been defended successfully 22 times, and chased successfully 10 times.




















ODI Matches in New Zealand
In New Zealand, the numbers tell a different story. In all ODIs since January 1, 2010, teams batting first have won 26 matches, while the team fielding first have won 31 matches. In day games, the results are more even with 14 wins for teams batting first and 13 wins for teams fielding first. However, in day/night matches, it is interesting to note that teams fielding first have won more games (18) than teams batting first (12).
In every single one of the 26 matches that the teams won while batting first, they posted a total of above 240. In all but two matches, the total was above 265, while in 14 matches a team scored 300 or more and won. That is a success rate of more than 50 per cent for teams scoring 300 or more.
A total of 300 or more has been chased successfully only twice in New Zealand in the past five years, with both instances witnessed during this World Cup - Ireland's win against West Indies and Sri Lanka's win against England. In fact, the three highest successful run chases in New Zealand in the past five years have taken place during this World Cup - the above mentioned matches and Zimbabwe's win against the UAE. Two of those successful run chases took place in Nelson, while one was in Wellington. Such totals have not been chased successfully in Dunedin, Auckland, or Christchurch.
It is also imperative to point out that these three run chases of 310, 305, and 286 by Sri Lanka, Ireland, and Zimbabwe respectively came in day games. Of the 13 successful run chases in day games in New Zealand, only six have been of scores of 240 or more.
Out of the 18 successful run chases in day/night matches in New Zealand, nine were of targets in excess of 240, but all were well below 300. A total of 300 or more has never been chased in New Zealand in a day/night match in the past five years. The highest-ever successful run chase in a day/night match in New Zealand is 276, which was also the highest successful run chase in New Zealand prior to this World Cup, achieved by the Kiwis against Australia in March 2010.
A total of above 240 has been chased successfully only 15 times in New Zealand with nine of them of scores between 240 and 270. A score of 240 and above has been defended successfully as many as 26 times. That is a significant difference; teams batting first and scoring 240 or more win 63 per cent of the matches in New Zealand.
240 is definitely a good score in New Zealand, while 270 can be considered a par one. 300 is undoubtedly a winning total in New Zealand, especially in day/night games.
Significance for Pakistan
Coming back to Pakistan, taking note of these numbers is important for their next two matches against the UAE and South Africa. Both the matches will be played in New Zealand and both will be day/night games.
One must remember that the highest successful run chase in a day/night game in New Zealand in the past five years is 276. The par score in a day/night game in New Zealand is around 270. If Pakistan can bat first and post a total in the range of 260 to 280, its chances of winning will be very high. Even if they are up against AB De Villiers. If Pakistan end up bowling first against South Africa then they need to somehow restrict the Proteas to below 240, otherwise their chances will diminish.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Absolute CARNAGE at Eden Park!

Everyone was waiting for the Australia vs New Zealand match with bated breath. The two host nations and the two favourites to win the World Cup were expected to put on a breathtaking show.

Scores above 300 have become the norm in this World Cup. With the firepower in the Australian and New Zealand batting line ups, coupled with the extremely small boundaries of Eden Park, 300 was expected to be easily reached. Moreover, finally there was a game where people expected the side chasing the total to give a fight unlike the way it has been in previous games.

But, what happened out there was not what anyone expected.

The way Finch and Warner started the attack on New Zealand's opening bowlers, it seemed like 400 was on the cards! Warner and Watson continued in the same manner once Finch departed to a brute of a delivery from Southee.

But then a key move by Brendon McCullum, who is fast becoming the best captain in the game, in the 5th over of the innings, changed everything.

With Australia cruising at 51-1 after 6 overs, McCullum handed the ball to his most experienced campaigner, Daniel Vettori.

It was a huge gamble to give a spinner a go inside the powerplay.

Vettori, however, like the champion he is, delivered beautifully and put the brakes on and then finally removed Watson in the 13th over, and then Smith in the 17th over. In the middle, Southee removed Warner as well.

From 80-1, Australia has slid down to 96-4 after 17 overs. Some damage had been done, but it was still a decent platform with Clarke and Maxwell at the crease and Marsh and Haddin to follow.

But what followed was absolute carnage!

Boult, after an opening spell of 0-24 in 5 overs, returned for his second spell in the 18th over and in the span of 18 deliveries removed Maxwell, Marsh, Clarke, Johnson, and Starc to leave Australia reeling at 106-9!

18 deliveries. 5 wickets. 1 run.

No one could have seen that coming. I wonder what the betters went through. Betbind.com are a site where you to keep track of your betting history. For anyone who bets often, record-keeping is imperative. Without accurate tracking of wins and losses, it is impossible to understand what works and what doesn’t. 

That was the most devastating spell of fast bowling this World Cup has seen. Even better than Tim Southee's demolition of England.

Forget 300, Australia were struggling to go far beyond a 100.

Australia's last wicket pair of Haddin and Cummins tried their best to repair the damage and managed to take Australia to 151.

The Aussies, the best batting line up of the tournament, one of the favourites to win, had been bowled out inside 33 overs!

New Zealand's chase was expected to be a cakewalk but it was anything but that!

Their innings began much like Australia's, with Guptill smashing 10 runs of the first delivery thanks to a Mitchell Johnson no ball.

The kiwis were off to a flier, and despite losing Guptill early, McCullum kept going the way he knows best smashing Johnson to all parts of the ground! In 4 overs, Johnson has been carted away for 52 runs!

McCullum reached his 50 off only 21 deliveries, but then departed soon after with New Zealand at an absolutely smashing 79-2 in 8 overs.

Starc began the 9th over and removed Ross Tayor and Grant Elliot of the first two deliveries, either side of the break, in what would be the first of two times that he would be on a hatrick in the match.

New Zealand were 79-4 when Anderson joined Williamson in the middle, and both went about their task quite easily, before Maxwell struck to remover Anderson in the 20th over. New Zealand were 131-5 and needed only 21 runs to win, which should have been like a walk in the park.

But then Starc returned to cause havoc once more.

In the space of 5 deliveries, Starc removed Ronchi, Milne, and Southee. Cummins added the scalp of Vettori, and New Zealand found themselves 9 down with 6 runs still needed for victory.

New Zealand's number 11 survived two deliveries, and off the first ball of the next over, Williamson finished the game with a six!

In what was supposed to be a high scoring thriller, the match turned out to be one entertaining roller coaster ride.

The match barely lasted a total of 56 overs, but it was one of the craziest games of cricket I have ever seen.

Never have a I seen the battle of dominance between bat and ball to such an extent as I witnessed in this game.

When the bat dominated, the ball disappeared to all parts of the crowd at Eden Park. When the ball dominated, the stumps lay shattered!

There were 26 boundaries and 11 sixes in the entire match; meaning that 170 off the 303 runs that both teams scored collectively came through fours and sixes.

There were as many as 8 batsmen who got bowled in the match.

If there was ever a match that defined the word CARNAGE, this was it.

What a game!

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ICC World Cup 2015: Pakistan must recognize they are the better side against Zimbabwe & Associates

This article first appeared on DAWN.

After a break of over a week, Pakistan will take the field once again in this World Cup on Sunday, which will be the start of a crucial week for Misbah-ul-Haq's side, one that will decide its fate.

In a period of seven days from March 1 to March 7, Pakistan will play against Zimbabwe, UAE, and South Africa. After two big losses, Pakistan could not have asked for a better schedule. The matches against Zimbabwe and UAE are ideal for Pakistan to find some form and rhythm and finally open their account.
However it will be no easy ride given the way Zimbabwe and UAE have so far performed in the World Cup. The coaches of both the sides, Dav Whatmore and Aaqib Javed respectively, are well versed with the strengths and weaknesses of Pakistan; therefore, one can expect Zimbabwe and UAE to be more prepared for Pakistan than they have been for other teams.
Pakistan will also have to contend with Ireland on March 15, in their last group game. The first round exit at the 2007 World Cup, courtesy the Irish, will play on Misbah's mind for sure.
Pakistan's players and fans, though, need to also take inspiration from the past. Their record against the likes of Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and associate nations in World Cup matches has been largely horror-free. Since 1996, Pakistan have played 12 matches against these countries and have lost only twice.
The key to Pakistan's success against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and the associates has been their bowlers' dominance.
While Pakistan have typically batted well in these matches, always posting a total in excess of 250 (except for two instances), it has always been their bowling that has enabled them to dominate the relatively weaker teams in World Cups.
Here are some interesting statistics for these matches, barring the two games that Pakistan lost to Bangladesh in 1999 and Ireland in 2007.
167 The highest score by an associate nation in a World Cup match against Pakistan.

130 The average score for associate nations in World Cup matches against Pakistan.

151 The highest score by Zimbabwe in a World Cup match against Pakistan.

130 The average score for Zimbabwe in World Cup matches against Pakistan.

The number of wins Pakistan has against Zimbabwe in as many completed matches in World Cups.

There is no doubt that bowling is going to be the key for Pakistan in their upcoming matches against Zimbabwe, UAE, and Ireland. The attack has conceded over 300 runs in both their World Cup matches and they will have to improve significantly starting this Sunday. We have already discussed how this is Pakistan's most inexperienced pace attack ever in a World Cup, but Mohammad Irfan, Sohail Khan, and Wahab Riaz have looked good in bursts. They will just need to sustain their performance over the duration of 50 overs.
Shahid Afridi, who was supposed to be Pakistan's strike bowler, has struggled and he will definitely need to pick himself up and be the potent force with the ball that he has been in the past. In hindsight, it was a mistake leaving Yasir Shah out against the West Indies, considering the damage Imran Tahir caused against them. He must play in Pakistan's remaining games as he can undoubtedly be the key with the ball against teams who will most certainly struggle against quality leg spin bowling.
Pakistan have dominated Zimbabwe and associate nations in World Cups thus far, and there is no reason why they can't repeat the dose.
The players can get on to the field on Sunday with some degree of confidence knowing that the Zimbabweans have never beaten them in a World Cup match. They should look to seek momentum with good wins over Zimbabwe and the UAE, which they can then take into the all important encounter against South Africa.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ICC World Cup 2015: A contest between top brands


As with many top sporting events, the Cricket World Cup is an opportunity for top brands to fight their way to key exposure. With over 1 billion viewers, it is no wonder that the Cricket World Cup is a top target for advertisers, brands and media groups. If you are wondering whether 1 billion viewers is a lot relative to other sporting events, remember that the Super Bowl typically has around 115 million viewers.

A recent article in the Australian reminded us that this phenomenon is not as new as we would think. In fact, back in 1996, Marqusee commented on what he described as the “subsuming of individuals into corporate identities”. Marxist comments aside, 10 years later, corporations are still fighting to align themselves with the world’s top cricket players.

Who is winning the battle of the sponsorship this year? Well Nike wins the battle of the brands in every domain when it comes to sports. Back in 2005 they chose to sponsor the Indian team exclusively. 10 years later, they have stuck to their guns and the iconic Nike swoosh continues to be exposed proudly on their kit. As Forbes put it, even though India may not be the favourite this year, they are still a brilliant choice because “no nation is more cricket-crazy than India, making the team a veritable goldmine of exposure for any associated brand”. This goes to show that the battle of the brands is not solely based on the sporting abilities of the team; other factors come into play such as the popularity of the sports in that country. In other news, Adidas snapped up England and South Africa, whilst favourite, Australia, was nabbed by Asics.

Beyond sponsorship, although brands have been capitalizing on cricket since the 90’s, what Marqusee did not foresee is the dominance of digital media. Indeed, this year, Facebook has added a specific ad-targeting option so that advertisers can pay to reach an audience of world cup cricket fans. This allows brands to tailor their messages to more precisely than ever before. The Twitter hash tag CWC15 also allows advertising to regroup conversations happening globally in order to better understand what cricket fans want.

Despite the rise of social media however, TV advertising continues to be a very important player. An Indian tech publication valued the advertising slots during matches at around RS1200 to RS 1500 crore. They have predicted that these prices will rise even further for the semi-final and final. This definitely goes to show that these are precious slot on Indian TV and brands are willing to pay millions of rupees to captivate the large audience watching.

Yet, another dimension of battle of the brands is the fight between TV channels to cover the event or gain exclusivity over a specific match. There was a lot of coverage around the UK struggle between BT Sport and Sky Sports over the rights for the ICC’s major tournaments. In the end, Sky Sports came out victor. For the exorbitant price of approx $2.5 billion they were able to secure the rights to 18 major ICC events between 2015 and 2023 (including the 2016 Cricket World Cup). This goes to show that big TV outlets are projecting themselves years in advance when it comes to budgeting for cricket coverage. This type of deal truly proves the prestige and weight of the cricketing industry on a global level.

Lastly, it is no surprise that the Cricket World cup provides a very important commercial platform for betting websites or any associated betting advice forums. At this time of the year, top betting brands like William Hill, Ladbrokes and Betfair are all competing to provide their members with the very best odds, deals and options. Whilst bets on the outcome of each match are offered all year around, large tournaments give more scope to niche wagers. For instance, bets can be placed on the best bowlers or batters, the worst teams or the best team within each group.

All in all, the Cricket World Cup 2015 provides a period of tremendous opportunity for sports brands, social media platforms, TV outlets and betting brands alike.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

ICC World Cup 2015: All Pakistanis, just wait for March!

The worst ever start to an innings in the history of ODI cricket. 1-4.

The largest defeat to the West Indies in the history of ODI cricket between the two teams. 150 Runs.

The largest defeat to any team in a World Cup match in the history of the ODI World Cup. 150 Runs.

Pakistan's worst ever ODI team has hit the bottom of the pit!

There is absolutely no lower they can go than this. Unless ofcourse they lose to UAE, Zimbabwe, and Ireland as well.

But that is not going to happen.

No way sir.

This is Pakistan we are talking about. This is the team that never starts well on foreign tours. This is the team that always takes time to settle into their best XI. This is the team that after hitting the lowest of lows picks itself up and turns into world beaters overnight.

After all, it is the same team that beat South Africa in an ODI series in South Africa for the first ever time in Pakistan's history. Barely a year ago!

So believe you me that this is what is going to happen from hereon...

1. Younis Khan will be dropped and his ODI career will end with a Golden Duck.
2. Nasir Jamshed will also be dropped and we will continue to enjoy his tweets.
3. Sarfraz Ahmed and Yasir Shah will be brought in.
4. Pakistan will beat Zimbabwe in a close encounter on 1st March.
5. They will then steamroll over the UAE on 4th March.
6. Against South Africa on 7th March, they will look like a complete professional unit and will win the game giving their confidence a tremendous boost.
7. They will beat Ireland and qualify for the Quarterfinals on 15th March.
8. They will beat whoever they face in the Quarterfinals. Pakistan will look full off purpose and no one would remember what happened against India and West Indies a month ago.

...

The rest you can finish.

Its no Bollywood story, it is Pakistan cricket. They have done it before and they can do it again. Sorry, they will do it again.

And no, not because they did it in 1992. When everyone was singing praises of #letsredo92 and talking about similarities with 1992, I was the only one who was trying to get people out of their warped timezones.

But I don't understand one thing. When every single fan of Pakistan asked for a repeat of 1992, why are they upset now when that is exactly what they are getting?

It is not 1992. It is 2015. It is the year you will see a major turnaround come March.

Wait for it!

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

There's a secret to chasing, and Pakistan knows it

This article first appeared on DAWN.
When India posted 300, the match was as good as over for a majority of people considering how little confidence any of us have in Pakistan's ability to successfully chase totals in ODIs.
But for some, the hope lingered on. It was a flat pitch, the boundaries were short, and Pakistan's 'big hitters' had shown some form ahead of the match. The hope, though, remained just that; hope. Pakistan surrendered meekly, losing their way in the middle, like in so many other chases.
Looking at Pakistan's record while chasing in ODIs since January 1, 2010, there isn't much that one can conclude about their ability to chase. They have won almost as many games as they have lost while chasing in the past five years of ODI cricket. The record reads:
30 Wins

33 Losses

The problem is truly spelt out when one takes a look at ODIs in which Pakistan has been set a target of 250 or more. The record for that since January 1, 2010 is not a good reading. In the past five years, Pakistan has won less than 20% of the ODIs in which their bowlers conceded 250 or more runs. This record reads:
5 Wins

24 Losses

These 5 wins in the past 5 years include:

• Beat Sri Lanka by 4 wickets in Hambantota, August 2014 (Target: 275 in 45 overs [rain-shortened match])
• Beat Bangladesh by 3 wickets in Dhaka, March 2014 (Target: 327 in 50 overs)
• Beat New Zealand by 2 wickets in Napier, February 2011 (Target: 263 in 50 overs)
• Beat South Africa by 1 wicket in Dubai, November 2010 (Target: 275 in 50 overs)
• Beat South Africa by 1 wicket in Abu Dhabi, October 2010 (Target: 287 in 50 overs)
There's an interesting fact about these wins. Except for the win against New Zealand, where the total was chased down in 49 overs, all the other wins were achieved with just one ball to spare. This highlights one very important lesson in chasing: take the game till the end.
There are three key underlying trends in each of these successful run chases that Pakistan can pay attention to in future games.
1. Strong Contribution from an Opening Batsman
Ahmed Shehzad has been an instrumental figure in Pakistan's successful run chases of 250 and above. He played in three of these five ODIs against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and New Zealand and knocked scores of 49, 103, and 42 respectively. Mohammad Hafeez also featured in a couple of these five wins with scores of 52 and 42 against Bangladesh and South Africa respectively.
While Ahmed Shehzad scored 47 in the loss against India, he got bogged down in the latter half of his innings. Additionally, the other factors that I discuss below did not feature prominently for Pakistan in their unsuccessful chase of 300.
There is no doubt that Shehzad will have to play a key role for Pakistan if they are to have a successful World Cup campaign.
2. Continuously Ticking Scoreboard
Fawad Alam is a proven match-winner for Pakistan, and his absence from the World Cup squad raised eyebrows everywhere. He played an instrumental role in three of these five ODI wins by ensuring that he kept rotating the strike in the middle overs, which has been Pakistan's biggest problem in run chases. Fawad did it brilliantly against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and South Africa with scores of 62, 74, and 48 respectively. In each of these games he came in to bat between the 16th and the 23rd over and stayed at the crease till between the 42nd and 50th overs.
In the other two games, against New Zealand and South Africa, it was surprisingly Younis Khan who played the same role in the middle overs with scores of 42 and 73 respectively. Younis is the reason why Fawad is not in the squad, and if Pakistan expects him to play the same role in the World Cup then they need to play him at the right spot and not make him open the innings.
If not Younis, then Pakistan will have to find someone else, maybe Haris Sohail, to play the same role if they are to successfully chase down totals that teams are putting up in this World Cup.
3. Sustained Aggression
In one of the matches against South Africa, Pakistan required a run rate of 8 or more in the last 10 overs of their innings to win the match. Such a scenario is only possible if a team has wickets in hand, or someone plays a blinder at the end of the innings. For Pakistan, it has usually been the latter case, however in each of these five games there have been batsmen who have played scintillating knocks with quickfire finishes, and they have been well supported with aggressive late order hitting.
Against Sri Lanka, it was Sohaib Maqsood's unbeaten 89 off 73 deliveries with support coming from Shahid Afridi who remained unbeaten on 14 off 10 deliveries. Against Bangladesh, it was Shahid Afridi's blazing 59 off 25 deliveries and the support came from Umar Akmal who remained unbeaten on 14 off 9 deliveries. Against New Zealand, it was Misbah-ul-Haq who remained unbeaten on 93 off 91 deliveries and his support came from Sohail Tanvir who was unbeaten on 14 off 6 deliveries. Against South Africa it was Abdul Razzaq (33 off 38), Wahab Riaz (18 off 10), and Zulqarnain Haider (19* off 22) who collectively took Pakistan over the finish line. And in that memorable game against South Africa, it was Abdul Razzaq's blinder unbeaten 109 off only 72 deliveries. He didn't need any support!

It doesn't require much science to figure out that a successful run chase is scripted by a strong opening, a constant flow of runs in the middle overs, and a late flurry. In fact, the same is required when setting up good totals. In Ahmed Shehzad, Haris Sohail, Misbah-ul-Haq, Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Akmal, and Shahid Afridi, Pakistan have the personnel to assume those roles, but they need to be defined appropriately.

Pakistan's management and captain need to put their heads down and come up with the right combination that can provide them with desired results. Accommodating Younis Khan in the playing XI will not achieve that. Level headed decisions are the need of the hour and Pakistan cannot afford to be emotional about their senior players. If Shahid Afridi could take the decision to drop Shoaib Akhtar during the World Cup in 2011, there is no reason why Misbah cannot take the decision to leave Younis Khan out.
Ireland demonstrated the other day that totals in excess of 300 are chaseable. Their script was also very similar to what I described above. Paul Stirling provided the strong opening, Ed Joyce kept the scoreboard moving in the middle overs, and Niall O'Brien finished the game off.
If Pakistan are found in the middle of a 'Gayle-storm' on February 21, they will need to all of this and a bit more. But there is still plenty of cricket left in this World Cup and Pakistan has time on their hands to get their act together.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ICC World Cup 2015: Pakistan vs India Post Match Thoughts

Another World Cup. Another match against India. Another loss. A 5-0 record that had been spoken about endlessly before Pakistan's opening game of this World Cup now reads India 6, Pakistan 0. It is not a good reading for Pakistan fans, even though they can smile about the fact that Pakistan has won significantly more games than India in the history of ODI cricket between the two sides. For some reason, when it comes to World Cups, it just doesn't work for the Greens.

300 might be a daunting total, but on a flat Adelaide pitch with smallish boundaries, it was definitely chaseable. Pakistan lost the game when they lost 3 wickets for 1 run in 8 deliveries during the middle of their chase. Good catching by the Indians and misfortune combined to end a million Pakistani dreams. Yet Pakistan fans must not lose heart, for this is just the start of the World Cup and it has been proven in the past that a loss to India means nothing in the grander scheme of things. 

The bookmakers though remain unfazed by the result of this first game with Pakistan still remaining at 22/1 to win the tournament outright and India sticking at 8/1, which are the same prices as when the tournament began. Things are likely to change in the market after the second round of matches (especially if Pakistan fail to beat the West Indies).

Odds taken from Bet365 - if you're planning to join read this review to find out what's on offer.

Here are my 5 key post match thoughts.

1. Sohail Khan lived up to his word and proved everyone wrong

The biggest silver lining for Pakistan was Sohail Khan's heartening performance. Sohail received plenty of criticism due to his performances, or rather the lack of, in the matches leading up to this World Cup. The general perception had become that the pace bowler from Karachi was all talk and no action.

However, he was the pick of the Pakistan bowlers against India, and lived up to his word of attacking the Indian batsmen and picking up the coveted wicket of Virat Kohli, whom Sohail had openly targeted before the match.

Sohail Khan became the first Pakistani bowler to pick up a 5 wicket haul in his first World Cup match, and only the third bowler to pick up a 5 wicket haul in a Pakistan vs India World Cup match.


2. Virat Kohli Proves why he is one of the best

The difference between the two teams in my opinion was Virat Kohli. He played a completely unnatural innings and held it together for India. It was not a typical all guns blazing Kohli innings but a more sedate and responsible innings, which was the need of the hour in a crunch game for India. One must remember that Kohli was woefully out of form going into this game and he had not performed at all in the ODIs India played in Australia for their World Cup build up.

But Kohli showed why he is India's and the world's best and brought his best to open India's World Cup campaign with a bang.

Kohli became the first Indian batsman to score a century in a World Cup game against Pakistan. Prior to this game, India's best individual score was Sachin Tendulkar's 98 at Centurion in 2003. Kohli's 107 is now also the highest individual score by any batsman from either side in a Pakistan vs India World Cup match.


3. Pakistan's Spin Twins Fail

Pakistan had high hopes from Yasir Shah who has been in wicket taking form since the beginning of the season. There is definitely something about Yasir, who is regarded by Shane Warne as the best leg spinner in the world currently; but he failed to deliver today. He was Pakistan's most expensive bowler in the game with his 8 overs going for 60 runs. Much was expected from Shahid Afridi as well who was supposed to be Pakistan's ace given the lack of experience of Pakistan's pacers. But he too failed with the ball.

Perhaps, everyone forgot how good Indian batsmen are against spin. Pakistan's 20 overs of spin, 8 each from Yasir and Afridi and 4 from Haris, cost them 136 runs and got them no wickets. While their 30 overs of pace resulted in 6 wickets for just 162 runs.


4. How long will Pakistan persist with Younis Khan?

I fail to understand what Pakistan's fascination with Younis Khan is. Everyone knows that he is a world class test batsman. The world's best in my opinion. But everyone one also knows that he is an utter failure as an ODI batsman. He was not supposed to be a part of Pakistan's World Cup plans, yet a public outburst and a significant amount of test runs, resulted in his inclusion at the completely unfair expense of Fawad Alam.

Fine, he made it into the squad, but why is Pakistan persisting with him in the playing XI when he is continuously failing. Pakistan's middle order of Haris Sohail, Misbah Ul Haq, Sohaib Maqsood, and Umar Akmal pretty much selected themselves. Yet Pakistan were so desperate to include Younis Khan in the XI that he was asked to open, a role that he has never done internationally or domestically. That too in a World Cup match.

I wonder what Pakistan would have done if Hafeez was still around. How would they have fit in Younis Khan then?

With Sarfraz Ahmed and Nasir Jamshed, two batsman who have opened for Pakistan, on the bench, it made absolutely no sense to open with Younis Khan. The reason given for dropping Sarfraz from the XI was that he has been unable to score runs in NZ and Australia in the build up to the World Cup. Well how many runs has Younis Khan scored?


Opting for Younis over Sarfraz meant that not only were Pakistan already playing with one wicket down, they also lost their specialist wicket keeper. Sure Sarfraz has lost a bit of form in new conditions, but he is a valuable player. He can take the attack to the opposition, and is also a safer bet behind the stumps than Umar Akmal.

If Pakistan are serious about this World Cup then they need to get their XI right and they need to stop reeling under the pressure from a senior player who insists on playing with total disregard to what is good for the team. If Shahid Afridi could drop Shoaib Akhtar during the World Cup in 2011, there is no reason why Misbah Ul Haq cannot do the same to Younis Khan.

5. Umar Akmal does not deserve criticism

Umar Akmal was the last of the three wickets that Pakistan lost in the span of 8 deliveries and he has been severely criticized; not only for getting out for a duck, but also for dropping Virat Kohli when he was on 76. I don't think Kohli's drop at that stage made much of a difference; India would have still got to 300 had they lost Kohli then.

Regarding U Akmal's batting; I have said it before and I will say it again, he is a proven performer. He played crucial knocks, 39 off 41 and 65 off 66, in both of Pakistan's successful chases in the warm up matches against Bangladesh and England respectively. He has consistently scored runs for Pakistan in limited overs cricket, and he will continue to do so.

On top of all that, I also believe that he got a harsh decision. The snicko hardly moved from its baseline. I am not sure what Steve Davis saw and how he thought that the evidence on screen was conclusive enough to overturn the on field umpire's decision. When the big screen showed "OUT", it shocked not only the viewers, but also the commentators. It was a shocking decision in my opinion.

As I mentioned in the beginning, a loss to India means nothing in the grander scheme of things. Pakistan lost to them in 1992 yet won the World Cup. They lost to them in 1999 yet played the Final. They lost to them in the Asia Cup in 2012 yet won the Asia Cup title. They beat them in the Asia Cup in 2014 but lost the Asia Cup Final.

The tournament has just begun and Pakistan's campaign has a long road ahead. With a little bit of tweaking of the XI, the Greens can rise again. 

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Who is Australia's next great all-rounder - James Faulkner or Mitchell Marsh?

By Patrick Gibson

With Shane Watson struggling for form with both bat and ball, the arguments will have already started around water coolers across the country about who our next all-rounder will be to play Test, One Day International (ODI) and Twenty20 cricket for the next decade.

It’s hard to compare all-rounders of the modern era with those of the past such as Richie Benaud, Jack Gregory and Keith Miller due to the enormous amount of 50-over and Tweny20 cricket played around the world today. But given Australia has produced only one truly great all-rounder in Miller, and we’ve enjoyed considerable success in all forms of the game throughout history, there’s an argument to suggest we don’t even need a great all-rounder, just a very good one.

We also happened to be blessed with a wonderful fast bowler who can bat a bit, so do we even need a very good all-rounder to fill the hole that will be eventually left by Watson in the short term? Mitchell Johnson has scored almost 2,000 Test runs (including a century) and almost taken 300 Test wickets, a feat, when achieved, that will put him in rare company. In the shorter forms of the game, his batting average is obviously much less, but he has scored many handy lower order runs at about a run a ball. But he is 33, and surely time isn’t on his side either.

In the shorter versions of the game, the requirement for a genuinely excellent all-rounder or two in the line-up in obvious, and Australia have an embarrassment of riches. Shane Watson, James Faulkner and Mitchell Marsh are three outstanding talents at varying points of their cricket careers, and no country comes close to having this sort of depth in this World Cup. And that’s without mentioning Glenn Maxwell who can bowl some handy spin and has 28 wickets at an average of 38.03 in ODIs.

Shane Watson is almost 34, has a checkered history with injury, which admittedly has been less frequent in his later years, and his light is slowly dimming on what has been an excellent international career. If he doesn’t have long to go, and all indications are he’s near the end, which of Faulkner or Marsh could step into the all-rounder role in all forms of the game?

Faulkner is just a year older than Marsh at 24, but it seems like he’s been around the state and international scene for a lot longer than his main rival. He has been Tasmania’s best player during their recent wonderful period of success, winning the Sheffield Shield competition in 2010/11 and 2012/13. During those three seasons, which included a losing Shield Final in 2011/12, he won three consecutive Ricky Ponting Medals.

He made his international debuts in both ODI and Twenty20 formats in 2013 and has been ever-present since. He has played 38 ODIs, with a batting average of 48.12 at a strike rate of 111.11, and has 50 wickets at 32.36. By anyone’s standards, they are quite simply remarkable figures. He has only played the one Test match, making 23 and 22 runs while taking six wickets, including 4-51, at an average of 16.33. It’s obviously early days in the longer form of the game, but that is a very good start.

From a young age Marsh was destined for the Australian team. His father was an Australian opening batsmen, playing 50 Tests and 117 ODIs, before coaching the national team to the 1999 World Cup title. Mitch grew up in the Australian dressing room, and went on to captain the Australian under-19 team to victory in the 2010 World Cup in New Zealand. He played state cricket for the first time at 17-years-of-age, the youngest player ever to play domestic one-day cricket in Australia. He made his Twenty20 international debut as a 19-year-old in 2011, before making his Test debut in 2014 against Pakistan in the UAE, making 47 and 87.

At 23, Marsh has a long time ahead of him in the game. In 15 ODIs, he averages 36.91, and has taken 11 wickets, while his Test and Twenty20 international careers have only just begun having played just four and three games respectively. He is young and raw, but with an incredible amount of talent and the world at his feet. In the first game of this World Cup he smashed 23 runs off just 20 balls, and then took 5-33 to send England packing in an ominous warning to the rest of the competition.

Given his experience you’d have to think James Faulkner is the heir apparent to Shane Watson’s title of Australian cricket’s number one all-rounder, if he isn’t there already. But in Mitchell Marsh he has an understudy who has the talent to forge his own long and successful international career in all forms of the game. It’s going to be interesting, and a lot of fun, to see which of these two young, exciting all-rounders emerges as the number one over the next 10 years.

This article is a guest post by Patrick Gibson, a freelance writer and avid sports fan currently working for Betfair. He covers a variety of sports related topics ranging from soccer, cricket, and rugby.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

ICC World Cup 2015: Why Pakistan will finally turn the tables on India

This article first appeared on DAWN.

Pakistan versus India is not just a game. It is an event of epic proportions keenly watched by over a billion people around the world.
The battle between the two teams is always anxiously anticipated, and when it happens in a World Cup, the stakes are at another level altogether. On February 15, 2015, Pakistan and India will take the field once again and open their World Cup campaigns on the back of a less than ideal build up.
Both teams have been under significant pressure entering the tournament. India have had a horrendous two and a half months during which they have lost all their international matches in Australia. Pakistan, on the other hand, have had a disastrous year of ODI cricket where they have not been able to win a single series.
India, ranked number two in ODIs, despite their less than favorable run up to the World Cup, will enter the field on the 15th as firm favorites. On paper, India's team is significantly stronger; man for man each one of their top 6 batsmen is arguably better than Pakistan's. The Indians have been playing in Australia and are accustomed to the conditions; Pakistan's entire squad comprises of only three players (Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi, and Umar Akmal) who have previously played an ODI in Australia.
And above all, the mother of all statistics, the dreaded number 5. Pakistan have never beaten India in the five times they've faced off in World Cup encounters.
Despite all this, there are enough reasons to believe that this time round, Pakistan will finally turn the tables.
1. The last time a Pakistani batsman hit a 6 in the final over against India to win the game by one wicket, it scarred an entire generation in India, which could not recover for a decade and a half. I don't need to remind anyone what happened in the last ODI played between these two teams. Two words: BOOM BOOM.
2. It might be 5-0 in India's favor but it is 3-3 in the past four years since the last World Cup. Pakistan just need to hone in on the fact that India is winless in Australia, apart from their warm up win against Afghanistan, for about 10 weeks and keep reminding them about that.
3. India's mighty batsmen don't look all that mighty when the play in Australia, or against Pakistan. MS Dhoni is the only one who has maintained some level of consistency across all three: Career, in Australia, and against Pakistan.
4. Sohail Khan said the famous words "Kohli wohli hoga woh apne ghar me" (Kohli is a champion only in his backyard). That may sound like an empty threat considering that a relatively unknown pacer is sledging one of the world's best batsman. But it really isn't that empty a threat.

5. Pakistan's pace attack is the most inexperienced in this World Cup with their five fast men combining for an ODI experience of 97 matches. In terms of combined average, economy rate, and strike rate, they rank pretty low low as well. But the only team in this World Cup that ranks just above them is India.

6. SHAHID AFRIDI. Not only is he Pakistan's biggest match winner ever in ODIs (32 man of the match awards), he is also the team's key bowler in this world cup given the inexperience of the pace attack and absence of Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez. Afridi has always performed exceptionally well with the ball in ICC tournaments and the bounce he will get in Australia will make him even more dangerous.

7. Nasir Jamshed is back for Pakistan, and even though he has not had a good time in international matches of late, he has absolutely dominated India every single time he has played against them. India will be wary of him at the top of the order.

8. Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi were at the wrong end of the result in the final of the World T20 in 2007. They were on the losing side again in the semi-final of the World Cup in 2011. This is their last chance to redeem themselves and give the Pakistani fans what they have been waiting for for 23 years!

It is going to be a gargantuan task but the Green shirts are up for it. They are more determined than they have ever been before and we all know what the Pakistanis are capable of when they have their backs well and truly to the wall.

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