Archive for December, 2009

POOR LUCK AND POOR BATTING

Pakistan went into the 1st Test with some hope. The Akmal brothers were in great batting form and there were high expectations from Mohammad Aamer and Asif. There were talks about Pakistan potentially winning this match or at least putting up a decent fight. It is arguable Pakistan put up a decent fight, but Ponting helped making Pakistan look better because of his adventurous (some would say, “premature”) declaration decisions.

Mediocre Misbah has again cemented his place in the side and earned admiration from fans

Pakistan managed about 250 in their 2 innings, which is a poor score on this type of track. So, from that perspective, there was nothing amazing about the batting. Misbah earned respect of some fans by making a 50 in the 1st innings, although somehow Faisal Iqbal did not earn the same respect by almost making a 50 in Pakistan’s 2nd innings, batting at no 3? It seems that the only batsman Pakistan ought to replace would be Imran Farhat, since he is the only one who scored measly in both innings.

The way Misbah got out in the 2nd innings was unforgivable. Not only did he show he is not able to handle quality bowling, he also showed that he cannot handle pressure. Johnson is a good bowler, but Misbah got out in an identical fashion to the previous batsman, Umer Akmal. One can say Misbah could not get settled, but with such poor technique and inability to handle pressure, how can one have the ability to settle down in the first place? You settle down when you have the ability to take pressure on and confront good bowling, which Misbah has shown plenty of times he does not.

A lot of fans commented that fielding is the reason why Pakistan lost, referring to the 2 dropped

Fielding has been Pakistan's perennial problem, so why does it become the focal point now?

 catches on the first day- one by Misbah and the other by Umer Akmal. This is the height of ignorance, because when was it ever normal or expected by Pakistani fielders to take their catches? When did Pakistan become an excellent or reliable fielding side? It was unlucky that Kaneria got injured and it was an error in judgement by the team management to choose Rauf over Gul (or even Sami). So, luck contributed in Pakistan losing this Test but it is laughable to make more than a mere passing remark about the fielding, because no matter who the opposition is or what ground it is, Pakistan will drop plenty of catches. One can be upset at Misbah ul Haq for firstly dropping a sitter off Ajmal and then secondly, grinning shamelessly about it because Misbah has proven to be a mediocre performer so far in his career. But, overall one can’t expect Pakistan to field like South Africa. Even Australia dropped a catch or two in the Test.

Salman Butt- undisputed king of flat tracks

This Melbourne track is probably as flat a track as a team can get in Australia and it is a significant cause for concern that Pakistan could only manage about 250 in both their innings. Players like Butt, Iqbal and Misbah may have made about 50-60 runs each in this Test, but how will they survive on a pacier and bouncier wicket? How will they play Johnson? In my opinion there is no glory in this so-called “fightback” by Pakistan, because on this type of track, a minnow side can score 200. Plus, the pitch was not assisting Johnson, Bollinger and Siddle as much as a normal Australian pitch does. So, there is no hope basking in glory because if the Sydney and Hobart tracks are more bowler friendly, then Pakistan can suffer innings defeats.

Bowling wise, the fans are almost unanimous that Kaneria and Gul

Younis Khan is not very consistent, but he is classy. And he is Pakistan's best hope against Australia

 should replace Rauf and Ajmal. Batting wise, Younis Khan should replace Imran Farhat, however the team management is double minded about this. What is the confusion about? It is clear that Farhat ought to be dropped, so why not replace him with one of Pakistan’s best ever batsmen? Faisal Iqbal has redeemed himself by making a fighting near-fifty in the 2nd innings, and Misbah will not be dropped for 6 months because of his 65 in the 1st innings, so is there any argument about who ought to replace Imran Farhat?

A combination of poor luck and poor batting made Pakistan lose this Test, where they could have performed better. The fact that Ponting made those adventurous declarations confirms that the Aussies know Pakistan’s weaknesses very well; they know this team can’t handle pressure. Players like Malik, Misbah, Butt, Farhat, Iqbal etc must never have been selected for Pakistan in the first place and the sooner they are removed, the better. This is not just about changing a few faces in the dressing room, this is something more substantial. This is about changing a culture, a mindset. Our job as commentators is to bring these problems to light and recommend changes. But the lazy, corrupt, biased and stupid decision makers don’t budge.

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SLEDGING IS NOT PAKISTAN’S MAIN WORRY

Pakistan take on Australia in a few hours which will commence a series of paramount significance to the Pakistanis. Firstly, Pakistan has barely played any Test cricket in the past 3 years and this series will provide a change of culture, although it is arguable that Pakistan ought to be well prepared having just played a Test series in New Zealand. Secondly, Australia is still a tough team to beat despite not being invincible anymore. Thirdly, this is a high profile series as Pakistan is playing Australia in Australia. So, let there be no doubts about how crucial this series is from Pakistan’s perspective.

The Australians do use sledging to their advantage and many critics are claiming their main weapon against Pakistan will be sledging. However, is it really Pakistan’s major worry? Batting, as always, seems to be the main worry for Pakistan and the batsmen barely performed up to mark against New Zealand. In fact, had it not been for Mohammad Asif, Pakistan could have been beaten comprehensively in all the Tests.

Make no mistake about it- Pakistan's bowling is their only saving grace

Mitchell Johnson and Sidde both feature in the top 25

Australia has a strong pace attack which can rattle the Pakistan top order easily

 Test bowlers in the world, and although this statement is perhaps not as impressive as one might consider it to be, Australia also have Bollinger who has 15 wickets in 3 Tests so far. He is a left armer which means the change of angle might unnerve Pakistan to some degree. Even though Australia does not have Clark and Lee to complement Johnson, Siddle and Bollinger can take Pakistani wickets. Yousuf has commented that Pakistanis will need to show patience, and he cannot be more right. It seems futile stating the obvious given that Pakistani openers never learn from their mistakes, but both Butt and Farhat will have to wait until the new ball stops swinging before going for their shots.

Malik and Misbah are indispensable for some reason

Due to politics Faisal Iqbal, Malik and Misbah will definitely get more chances to play than Fawad Alam, but Pakistan must not persist with these players if they make mistakes in the first Test. It is thought Malik will not play in the first Test since he is out of form and since Faisal Iqbal made a 50 in his last Test, but Yousuf has commented recently that he has high hopes with Malik and Misbah. In fact, if any of Butt, Farhat, Iqbal, Malik or Misbah make their usual mistakes, Alam must replace that player in the second Test. It goes without saying that neither Malik nor Misbah deserve to be playing for Pakistan. One can say the same for Faisal Iqbal, but he has been in and out for many years unlike Malik and Misbah who have been selected in pretty much all Test, ODI and T20 squads despite being mediocre players.

Pakistan is counting on the batting form of the Akmal brothers and Yousuf to counter the Australian bowling attack. If Umer Akmal can score runs in this series, it will be another feather in his cap and he will probably be promoted to a Category A contract. The youngster has shown he can handle pressure and he must not falter at this stage, otherwise critics will start questioning his calibre.

Bowling wise, Pakistan has some fascinating options to ponder. The pace attack consists of

It is difficult considering Ajmal as an attacking option, but he will get a chance to play if Kaneria is injured

 Aamer, Asif, Gul, Rauf and (now) Sami. There are rumours the Pakistani management might play both Kaneria and Ajmal, and there are also rumours that Kaneria has injured his finger which means he might not play. In the first Test I believe Pakistan should go for the attacking option and play Asif, Aamer and Gul. Kaneria should be the spin option. It is always best to go in the first Test using the best XI on paper. If there is need for a 5th bowling option, Yousuf can opt for Butt, Farhat or Alam- depending on who is playing.

The rest of the line up should be as follows: Butt, Farhat, Yousuf, Iqbal/Alam, Umer Akmal, Misbah/Alam, Kamran Akmal…

The toss of course plays a major part; if the pitch shows some life and Ponting decides to bowl first, then Pakistan will probably lose this Boxing Day test. If Yousuf wins however, he should bowl first- simply because Pakistanis are inexperienced in Australia and he is the only world class batsman in the team. In any event, Asif, Aamer and Gul in full slow can do damage to the Australians if the pitch is offering seam and swing. Once the ball stops swining, Kaneria can attack the middle or lower order batsmen. This is of course wishful thinking- it all depends on how the pitch is like and how the players perform on the day itself. Rest assured, though, that sledging is not Pakistan’s main worry and the batsmen need to support the bowlers and play intelligently. Otherwise, this series will end as yet another nightmare for Pakistan cricket fans, and Pakistan will see the frightening possibility of being compared with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in Tests.

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SEHWAG THE ENIGMA

Sehwag The Enigma

Sehwag The Enigma

“No power of genius has ever yet had the smallest success in explaining existence. The perfect enigma remains.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you look at Virender Sehwag’s profile and his averages as a batsman, there are plenty of other players who have more runs, more hundreds than Sehwag has, yet Sehwag is unique for the double and triple hundreds that he has scored and at the strike rate that he goes on scoring.

He is known to be a raw talent whose footwork and his hand-eye coordination has been discussed by many commentators which they describe it as the least appealing characteristics of his stroke making, yet his strokes with the blunt wooden brush that he uses by standing still on the green canvas and makes the strokes flow like a maestro playing flute. The way he flashes his bat at the speed of light causes thunder and lightening and the crowd starts roaring. Sehwag, Sehwag, Sehwag.

When he started opening for India alongside Tendulkar, as usual the media started comparing him with that genius by saying he is another Tendulkar in the making. Like some people say it may be “half true.”  But, Sehwag is original as Tendulkar is and when it comes to power he is way ahead of Tendulkar.

He is seldom afraid of reaching milestones, au contraire to Tendulkar who gets stuck before reaching a milestone, Sehwag crosses them with ease like some great men say: “we will cross the bridge when we will come to the bridge.” In fact he burn the bridges after crossing them.

The first time I saw Sehwag with some attention was, when he opened the innings with Tendulkar in South Africa during the ICC World Cup and within the first 6 overs the pair produced a 50 partnership and Sehwag was the dominant force and that was not the reason to remember him.

It was then Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus were playing along with Shoaib Akhtar and they all were whacked and Sehwaged for sixes and fours. It was then, I said to some of my friends that this stocky built unassuming character is going to pose more problems for Pakistan than any other player.

He scored his first 300 against Pakistan in Multan in 2004 and his fans started calling him “The Sultan of Multan.” Whereas, the real Sultan of Multan was on the receiving end in that match. Again in 2007 he scored 250 odd in Lahore. And, he is the only player from the sub-continent to score a triple hundred twice.

And the second triple hundred he scored was in Chennai against South Africa, his highest score 319. It is known to be the fastest triple hundred, only in 278 balls. Recently against Sri Lanka he came so close to create a world record of scoring three triple hundreds and was out on 293, once again the strike rate was amazing, he made those 293 in about 240 odd balls.

I don’t see any other Indian batsman besides Tendulkar and Dravid who is maintaining anaverage of 50 plus in test cricket, perhaps there are a few like Gambhir or even Gavaskar.  But, Sehwag’s aggressiveness and strike rate cannot be matched for such long and sustainable period of time and that makes him a unique player.

He is a crowd puller and an entertainer he shapes his shots on the anvil of emotions with such power and ferocity that even the most fearsome of bowlers are afraid to bowl at him when he is on song. It is then they sing together The Sound of Music. “What can you do with a problem like, Veru”?

Now that Sehwag shall be leading the Indian team for the next two ODI’s against Sri Lanka in the absence of Dhoni, let us see if he takes the burden of captaincy on his shoulders or releases the pressure with ease as he always does? He needs to prove that Dhoni was missed for his ‘keeping’ but, not in stopping Sehwag from scoring. Go Sehwag go.

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