Archive for June, 2010

A DIFFICULT TOUR FOR PAKISTAN

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Razzaq needs to realise that his bowling and fielding are not good enough for international standards

Pakistan faced defeat in the Asia Cup at the hands of India and Sri Lanka and as is the convention, they beat minnows Bangladesh by a substantial margin. There are whispers that the team is somehow improving under the new captain and coach. It is difficult to examine just how Pakistan improved, when their key bowlers Asif, Akhtar and Aamer failed to make a memorable impression. In terms of batting Pakistan were predictable- the openers were not up to the mark, Shoaib Malik was mediocre and Umar Akmal demonstrated his usual signs of measured competence. Pakistan’s main weakness was their fielding as usual.

Even though players like Razzaq, Butt, Ajmal, Malik etc have shown some improvement compared to how they used to field years ago, the problem Pakistan is facing is that the standard of fielding is not improving in line with how fielding has improved in countries like Sri Lanka, India and West Indies. This is sadly again due to the fact that, other teams are selecting players on the basis of their fielding ability and

Political selections such as that of Malik and Misbah have obviously prevented the selection of good players

then giving them exposure to cricket so that they can get better in other departments. At one time Pakistan could dismiss this strategy with minimal fuss because they had match winners like Anwar, Inzamam, Wasim, Waqar etc. But now for whatever reason the same calibre of players is not emerging, and therefore Pakistan needs to rethink its strategy. For example, Sri Lanka played Dilshan whose bowling was like Shoaib Malik’s when he started, and batting was like a tailender’s. But, he was in the team mainly due to his fielding and now he is one of the best batsmen in limited overs cricket. India used Suresh Raina who was also an expert fielder but then he improved his batting and has now become one of India’s most reliable players. Pakistan introduced Fawad Alam three years too late and he responded by playing some match winning knocks in T20, and an unprecedented century on a seaming track in Tests, but he has been sidelined due to politics. As a batsman and fielder both, Fawad was miles better than Dilshan and Raina (keeping in mind how they were when they started) but now his international cricket future is uncertain, simply because his countrymen would prefer to see someone like Shoaib Malik in the team rather than him.

The form of Pakistan's key bowlers is worrying

The Pakistan think tank cannot impose a system where merit is the main factor in selection, and Pakistan cricket is suffering because of this. An important tour lies ahead for this underperforming team, and if predictions are anything to go by Pakistan is likely to lose the Test series against England and Australia.

The summer weather in England so far this year has been drier than normal, and how much that would impact the pitches remains to be seen. It goes without saying that Pakistani bowlers would prefer bowling on England’s pitches compared to how they would have

Pakistan will miss the batting prowess of Yousuf and Younis

felt bowling on Sri Lankan pitches, but their batting on England’s pitches has never been satisfactory. The batting card for Pakistan on the tour of England should have read- S Butt, Yousuf, Younis, U Akmal, F Alam, S Afridi, but now three players from that card are not playing, which means that the batting has halved in strength. Naturally with drier weather, spin bowling becomes a useful option but Pakistan does not need to worry as much regarding their spin attack because Kaneria has experience in England, and Ajmal and Afridi are reliable.

Australia has shown improvement in T20 and this was clearly visible in the last T20 Cup. Pakistan showed some signs of concern in that Cup as they seemed to excel in neither bowling, batting or fielding. The signs are clearly ominous for Pakistan because they are not a force to be reckoned with in T20 anymore, they are worsening in ODI’s and they are weakest in Test cricket.

There are many challenges for Afridi- keeping the excellent batting form, uniting the team on a difficult tour, and devising some ingenious plans to produce winning results

Pakistan plays some country matches before their first T20 against Australia on 5th July. They will probably win the county matches and they may win against Australia in T20, but they need to put up a good fight in Tests. In fact they will probably be treating the Tests against Australia as a testing ground for the Tests against England.

What Pakistan should have learned for the T20 Cup and the Asia Cup, is that it needs an improvement in all areas- batting, bowling and fielding. Improvement does not come overnight, but ratings do not change overnight too and Pakistan has constantly plummeted in international ratings. After watching Pakistan lose to India in the Asia Cup, one should realise that Pakistan- India matches are not “50-50 chance” contests anymore- one team is clearly stronger than the other. Shahid Afridi will have to work some miracles to make his team put up a decent show against Australia in Tests- and to his misfortune he is pitted against the deplorable standard of fielding, political selections of undeserving players and pathetic management of the PCB of over a decade.

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ASIA CUP 2010

The Football World Cup has shifted focus from cricket to football to some extent, but the Asia Cup commencing in 2 days will redirect the interest of Asian fans towards cricket. 4 teams are competing in this Cup and it is expected to be a competitive contest as none of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have a significant advantage over the other in ODI cricket.

Key players for India- not just in bowling but also in batting

India is ranked no 3 in ODI cricket compared to Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s unimpressive rankings (6 and 7 respectively) but they are without two star players, Tendulkar and Yuvraj. Also, India’s bowling has only two consistent performers- Harbhajan and Zaheer. As expected India is carrying a strong spin attack- they have Ojha, Ashwin, Jadeja and of course the reliable Harbhajan. It seems the bowling attack could comprise of Zaheer, Nehra, Praveen, Harbhajan, Jadeja/Ojha and of course Sehwag can assist with a few overs. India is going ahead with a balanced line up- they have a decent amount of all rounders, their wicketkeeper is one of their best batsmen and they have a young, athletic side. What I consider to be a huge advantage from India’s point of view is that, Zaheer and Harbhajan can contribute with batting whereas Sehwag’s bowling form has been impressive over the past 2 years. So, unless the key players fail to perform it does not appear India will miss Tendulkar or Yuvraj.

India’s problems would be too much reliance on young players and lack of mental strength in

8 out the 15 players in the Indian squad are below the age of 25. Tiwary is a promising batsman who gets a chance to make a name in this Asia Cup

pressure situations. India still lacks reliable finishers, and one of the reasons for this has been the mastery of India’s top order with players like Gambhir, Sehwag, Dravid and Tendulkar- because these players have almost always been in decent form, the lower middle order has remained relatively underexposed to pressure situations. It is interesting to see that the average age of this Indian squad is only 25, which shows the emphasis of the BCCI on grooming youngsters and getting them ready for World Cup 2011.

Sri Lanka has proven to be an unpredictable side, much like Pakistan. Sri Lanka has often been accused of carrying players who have talent, but do not have the propensity to develop this talent into consistent match winning performances. Sri Lanka is going into this Cup with mostly experienced players; certainly the only 2 players who have played less than 15 matches are Welegedara and Randiv. However experience is a big advantage that Sri Lanka have, and it remains to be seen whether the batting prowess and experience of Sangakkara, Dilshan and Jayawerdene

Murali has not been in top bowling form, but will the Asia Cup revive his status as a leading bowler?

can dominate the Indians and Pakistanis? However, India can argue that Sehwag, Dhoni and Gambhir are no less than the Sri Lankan batting stalwarts.

In bowling, Sri Lanka appears to be the weakest of the 3 main sides. They have the experienced Murali, but everyone knows he is beyond his best. Maharoof, Samaraweera, Malinga, Kulasekara can all be effective on their day, but are prone to inconsistency. The Sri Lankan team, as always, will have to rely on a team effort as they always do when they want to win. Provided their bowlers maintain discipline and their key batsmen contribute with runs, they can win this Cup. They are probably the best fielding side in the tournament. The average age of the Sri Lankan squad is 29.

Pakistan is the most mercurial side in this Cup and they have a new captain who does not have immense captaincy experience in ODI’s. Pakistan is also without its star batsmen Yousuf and

Captain Afridi has begged his team to remain united

Younis but has been bolstered to an extent by the return of Shoaib Akhtar. I say, to an extent because if Akhtar gets injured or does not show form he can prove to be a big liability and affect the team morale badly. In fact the egregious error of selecting Akhtar and Malik has

The PCB has not been able to justify Fawad's exclusion

saddened many fans, many who were looking to the future and hoping that underperformers would be sidelined from the team. There have also been question marks over the omission of promising batsmen Fawad Alam and Hammad Azam. Politics has clearly played its part and Pakistan is not going ahead with its premier squad.

Batting wise Pakistan remain as unstable as ever. Umar Akmal, Salman Butt and Malik are going ahead has Pakistan’s main batsmen in this Cup. Whereas Malik and Butt have still not been able to convince the fans that they deserve selection to play international cricket, U Akmal is

Umar Akmal is one of the best young batsmen in the world

some cause for optimism. He is aggressive, reads the situation well and is very good at playing cross batted shots, which is often a rarity in international cricket. However, already U Akmal has been involved in controversy and this Cup will test his demeanour as to whether he can focus on his game and detract from dressing room politics. The biggest advantage that is held by Pakistan is that that their main batsmen- Malik, Butt and U Akmal have stellar records against Asian teams, particularly India.

In bowling, Pakistan is going ahead with the strongest line up on paper. Asif, Akhtar, Aamer and Ajmal are considered to be amongst the best in the world. However if one considers Akhtar’s normal fitness problems and Asif’s mediocre form over the past few months, then the Pakistani bowling appears vulnerable. Since Pakistan rarely ever plays as a team unit, they will be looking up to their potentially match winning bowlers and players like Afridi, Razzaq and U Akmal to swing matches in their favour.

In conlusion, the Asia Cup ought to be an exciting tournament with balanced teams. India can be beaten if their top order is dismissed cheaply, Sri Lanka can be beaten by performing basic tasks right, and Pakistan can be beaten by any means, by anyone at any time. Now it remains to be seen who exploits the other’s weakness best and who utilises their strengths in the best possible manner.

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A TALE OF TWO SHOAIBS

Pakistan cricket is in doldrums. Every passing day Ijaz Ahmed is plaguing Pakistan with his incompetence. One loses the will to fathom what exactly is the problem with the Patron in Chief of PCB and why there is a reluctance to change the PCB Chairman? The PCB’s stupidities are not amusing, shocking or funny anymore. They have frankly become

Critising Butt has become boring now, but what else can concerned journalists do?

boring.

The latest stupid shocker to have emerged from the PCB is the return of the 2 Shoaibs.Shoaib Akhtar is 34 on paper and not getting any younger. The last that was heard of Akhtar before he got selected for the Asia Cup was that he had participated in a domestic tournament and had apparently impressed the selectors. This is no big deal as Akhtar has a good record in domestic tournaments but somehow cannot remain fit during international matches.

One wonders if some strategy should be devised to handle the controversial Akhtar, perhaps one where he is not utilised for more than 3 overs in one spell. However this is easier said than done. Firstly, the Pakistani team management is not known for inventing effective strategies. Secondly, the whole bowling strategy would have to be centred around Akhtar and other

Watching Akhtar survive a series without fitness issues would be a miracle

bowlers may be disadvantaged as a result. Asif, Aamer, Afridi and Ajmal are good bowlers in their own right and their strengths and abilities must not be compromised insofar that Akhtar is being facilitated.

There is a saying, “If it aint broke, don’t fix it.” One fails to understand why the Pakistani management takes so much liberties with bowling, when bowling is the least of Pakistan’s worries. When Akhtar gets unfit, the team morale suffers. Plus, Akhtar has issues with teammates like Asif and Afridi. Is it worth playing Akhtar? The Pakistan management keeps playing at least one of Malik and Misbah which weakens the batting, but they are not concerned with the batting! They want to fiddle with the already capable bolwing attack but they do not want to play deserving youngsters in the places of Malik and Misbah. All cricket commentators say that there are many bolwers like Mohammad Aamer in the domestic circuit, yet the PCB wants to play Akhtar instead of giving someone else a chance.

The allegations against the other Shoaib (Malik) are grave and longstanding. Malik is accused of creating factions in the

Lao barati! Bajao band baaja! Aaye Malak saab dulhey raaja.....

team ever since the departure of Inzamam. He is also accused of selfish batting and playing only for himself, not for the team. Despite countless newspaper reports and opinions of cricketers like Abdul Qadir, Sarfraz Nawaz, Afridi and Younis Khan, most people in Pakistan favour Malik’s inclusion in the team. Not only has Malik been blamed for regional bias in the selection of players when he was captain, he also admitted fixing a high profile domestic semi final match. It has been revealed that he refused to bat in a difficult position in a match when it was realised that the pitch was supporting bowlers. Yet, the PCB has excused Malik and he is well and truly back. What kind of justice is this?

Malik’s reinclusion in the team is conclusive evidence of that fact that, in Pakistan if you have connections you can be the biggest criminal, most incompetent, useless person but you will still be able to benefit from a depraved system.

Perhaps the reason why deserving players like Fawad Alam and Hammad Azam are ignored is that the selectors do not want to take risks for fear of losing their credibility. If players like Malik and Misbah fail then the selectors have this

The talented Hammad Azam will have to wait before he gets his chance

excuse that they selected experienced players and hence the fingers get pointed towards the players more than the selectors. This has to be the reason for this inexplicable selection of at least one of Malik and Misbah in every series?

Afridi claims he has remedied his problems with Malik and Akhtar and his team is united. Even if Malik and Akhtar perform in this series this cannot wash away their misdemeanours of yesteryears. The passionate Pakistani cricket fans deserve better than to see these 2 players back in action again.

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