Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Summer of 96

I'm not sure how many of you remember the Lombard Challenge from 1996, but those of you who do will remember it as the U-15 cricket world cup that was held in England during the summer of 96. Called the Lombard Challenge U-15 Cup, the competition was contested by 10 teams including all the 9 test playing nations at the time and Canada.

I was in Pakistan for my summer holidays at the time when the tournament was being played and I remember watching all the games Live on Star Sports. It was quite interesting to watch the potential future Pakistan stars competing at a global stage. What made it even more exciting was that the Pakistan team was quite dominant and from what I recall, it won most, if not all, of its matches.

The final of the tournament was played between Pakistan and India, which gave the entire tournament a totally different edge.

I wonder why It has never been held again.

But that is not what I wonder the most about. I really wonder what went wrong during the summer of 96 that none of the players from Pakistan's Lombard Challenge squad that represented Pakistan in international cricket managed to become a permanent feature in the team.

There were 7 players in Pakistan's Lombard Challenge squad that made it to the top level - Faisal Iqbal, Bazid Khan, Shoaib Malik, Hasan Raza, Taufeeq Umar, Yasir Arafat, and Kamran Akmal.

Something must have happened during that summer of 96 that none of these players have lived up to their "potential".

The international careers of Bazid Khan and Hasan Raza seem over. Although with the way the recent selections happened, one can't rule out a comeback for anyone! One can argue that neither of them were given a decent stint with the international team to establish themselves - Bazid played only 1 test and 5 ODIs, while Hasan played 7 tests and 16 ODIs.

Bazid's last ODI innings was a half century against Bangladesh in 2008, so it does seem unfortunate that he wasn't selected again.

Hasan was dropped from the test team in 2002 after scoring fifties in both innings in a test against Australia, only to make a comeback in the series against England in 2005, which wasn't too successful for him. His international appearances are dispersed over a long period and he was never really allowed to settle into the team. Maybe if he was given a proper run he could have translated his domestic success to international cricket as well.

Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal had long stints with the international team with both of them being regulars for almost a decade. At present though, one of them is barely hanging on to a place in one format, while the other is completely out of favor.

Shoaib Malik captained Pakistan in all three formats of the game before he was removed following major dressing room politics. He got involved in spats with senior players, never came across as a confident leader, and was regularly accused of being a puppet of then PCB Chairman, Nasim Ashraf. Malik did make it as a successful limited overs batsman and won many ODIs and T20s for Pakistan, but today he is not even a shadow of what he used to be. He was never considered a test player, and now finds himself out of the ODI side as well. He is still part of the Pakistan T20 squad, yet it might be his last few days unless he produces something magical.

Kamran was the preferred wicket keeper for best part of the last 10 years in all forms of the game, however for the last year or so he has been on the sidelines with the PCB trying out various new players behind the stumps. Being constantly embroiled in spot fixing allegations and bad form behind the stumps seem to have ended Kamran's career a lot earlier than he would have liked.

Taufeeq Umar had a very promising start to his test career and forged a strong opening partnership with Imran Farhat during their early days in international cricket. Even though he was averaging above 40 in tests, a string of low scores led to his ouster from the team in 2005. He made a comeback at the end of 2010 against South Africa and since then has been a permanent feature in the test team.

For how long though?

Afaq Raheem, a prolific domestic opener, has just been selected in the test squad, and there have been increasing calls for Azhar Ali to open in place of Taufeeq to fit in another middle order batsman. So it might not be long before Taufeeq finds himself on the sidelines like the rest of his 1996 compatriots.

Faisal Iqbal and Yasir Arafat have just made comebacks to the test and T20 squads respectively.

Faisal, like the rest of his team mates from 1996, had a very promising start to his international career. Always considered a test specialist, he showed his potential with half centuries in his debut series. His real worth came to light in an innings of 80 odd against Australia against an attack that comprised of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. The way he took the attack to Warne demonstrated what a great batsman he could have become, before poor scores resulted in his axing.

He made a comeback to the team in 2006 in the series against India after a very successful domestic season and proved the selectors right scoring a century in his first game back in the test in Karachi. He remained a permanent feature in the test team till 2010, before being dropped again after some low scores. Now, two years later, he is back in favor and has made yet another comeback after a successful domestic season.

Why Yasir Arafat is back in the team is beyond my understanding. He has constantly failed for Pakistan and has never been able to translate his domestic or county cricket success to international cricket.

There must be something about that summer of 96 that all the players who made it from that Lombard Challenge squad to representing Pakistan at the international level have still not been able to cement their places in the team. Barring Yasir Arafat, all of them made reasonably sound starts to their international careers, faltered and got sacked at certain points of their career, and made several comebacks. While some of them may have played their last international cricket match, some are still on their comeback trail.

With all of them around the age of 30, some of them have unfortunately faced premature ends to their international careers; while those that are part of the team are still not considered established international cricketers.

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  1. Abdullah said...

    Interesting to see how many of them actually went on to play for the senior side.

    It’s actually been held in 2000 & 2008 as well with Pakistan losing both finals to the West Indies. In fact Pakistan although lost to the West Indies in 2000 at the U15 WC final they met again 4 years later to win the U19 WC final against the West Indies in 2004. I attended one of the games at the 2000 U15 WC. Zulqarnain Haider was the Pakistan wicket keeper. Azhar Ali was Pakistan’s leg spinner & used to bat at number 9 or 10. Shahid Yousuf was also in the team which will be a familiar name to those who follow Pakistan domestic cricket, plays for Sialkot & has been in the Pakistan squad before. Other than that, it’s nothing compared to the players of the 96 team in terms of players who have gone on to play at the highest level.

    As far as 2008 U15s is concerned Babar Azam (captain of current U19 team & cousin of the Akmal’s) & Usman Qadir (son of the great leg spinner) are the recognised names that have gone on to play for Pakistan U19s & have been part of the Pakistan “A” or Pakistan Academy side.

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