Archive for February, 2011

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The miracle of Shahid Afridi

Pakistan cricket cannot be explained without references to miracles, madness and unpredictability. Perhaps these three words signify Shahid Afridi the most.

This blog has done exclusive threads on many players before- Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Asif, Tendulkar, Sehwag etc but never on Afridi. Shahid Afridi’s journey in international cricket has been fraught with various accomplishments but some controversies as well. He enjoys immense fan following but divides immense opinion amongst fans and critics.

Those who saw Afridi's debut fastest century against Sri Lanka realised that Pakistan had discovered something very special

At Nairobi in 1996 the Pakistani team management decided to take a gamble by sending a leg spinner by the name of Shahid Khan Afridi to bat in the top order. Afridi was known at domestic level for an occasional pinch hitter but primarily as a bowler. And what a gamble it turned out to be. As Afridi hit Muralitharan and other bowlers for sixes, people realised the effect of clean, fearless hitting.

This type of hitting was never seen before in international cricket. People speak of players who make batting look easy and who change trends in cricket. There are many Pakistani players who have accomplished heroic and unprecedented deeds and have found their way in history books. Imran Khan for captaincy, Miandad for his tenacity and last ball six, Wasim and Waqar for their reverse swing, Saqlain for his doosra and so on and forth. Yet, we rarely ever discuss that Afridi has played such a significant part in the way cricket has eventually become a batsman’s game. Adam Gilchrist, Chris Cairns, Imran Nazir, Dhoni, Sehwag etc, these players started making their presence felt and hitting the ball cleanly in attempts to hit all the way for six. I believe Shahid Afridi has played a monumental

Inconsistent he can be, incapable he is not

role in certainly influencing, if not changing the art of modern batting.

In fact when it comes to quick runs Afridi is better than the abovementioned players because of his strike rate. Afridi’s strike rate is 114 in ODI’s compared to Dhoni’s 88 and Sehwag’s 104. One must not forget he has played 314 ODI’s and his playing style has largely remained the same in this 15 year career. Afridi has 6 centuries in ODI cricket and 31 fifties; this is for those critics who think he can only score big by fluke. Speaking of flukes, Afridi proved that the Nairobi 37 ball 100 was not a fluke when he scored the 2nd fastest century in ODI’s against India in India.

Afridi the dangerous bowler

2007 saw the rise of Afridi the expert bowler. Since 2007 Afridi has been world class. Recently I divulged that Afridi’s bowling statistics since 2007 are better than Harbhajan’s and Vettori’s career statistics. Recently Harsha Bhogle commented that Afridi is arguably the best spinner of the world. It is the transition from being an ordinary legspinner to being the best ODI spinner that speaks in volumes of the talent this man possesses.

Normally bowlers become batsmen as they reach towards the end of their careers. This happened with Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Saqlain, and this has also happened with players like Gillespie, Warne, Harbhajan and Zaheer Khan. However with Afridi the reverse seems to have happened. Although Afridi started off as a legspinner, it was

Afridi has also taken some of the most memorable catches taken by Pakistanis. This is his catch which arguably made Pakistan believe they could win the T20 World Cup

obvious that his batting was the more commendable aspect of his attributes, not least because he broke a few batting records. However Afridi has become a wicket taking bowler as time has progressed. This is something that has cemented his place in the ODI team. In my opinion Afridi was born to play cricket. That he has diversified from being an ordinary bowler, to a pinch hitting specialist to a world class bowler shows that he was born for this sport. It also shows the range of his talent.

Yet, his bowling and batting are not the only admirable traits of his. Afridi is also a charismatic leader. He does know of any alternatives to playing except with

Afridi can be stupid and emotional but he has never been accused or found guilty of match fixing

patriotism and passion. He may have scuffed a pitch, eaten a ball or pointed his bat towards an aggressive spectator, but he has never been involved in bribery or spot or match fixing. The former acts can be attributed to stupidity as they have not by themselves been committed outside the public gaze. However, the latter acts are done outside the public domain with a deliberate scheme to change the outcome of a match. A wrongdoer who commits a shameful act in front of the world has a different mindset to one who does it in hiding or worse still, one who does it in hiding with the intention of underperforming for his country. This is the difference between players like Wasim Akram, Saleem Malik, Salman Butt etc and Afridi.

In this World Cup Afridi has breathed life into the team which is high on morale. There were plenty of hurdles Pakistan had to go through but they have conquered all of them yet. Pakistan’s challenge is now solely the danger that Australian and South African pacemen pose. Whatever the outcome of Pakistan’s campaign in this Cup, this victorious start will long be remembered. Shahid Afridi’s team is one that was being laughed at before the Cup for its controversies and disorganisation but one week into the World Cup and Pakistan are being hailed as favourites. This is the magic of Afridi.

In conclusion, Afridi is the pulse of Pakistan cricket. He embodies Pakistan’s unpredictability, the excitement, the fairy-tale glories and I cautiously say, the genius. He has hit the most sixes in international cricket, he is only the 2nd ODI player to have made 6000 runs and taken 300 wickets, but his greatness is neither limited to nor is evident by numbers. His greatness is the effect his energy and his passion has on the opposition. His talent is evident in the way he has played some of the most stunning limited overs’ knocks, taken some miraculous catches and his uncanny but dangerous legspin. He is a seriously under rated cricketer and we would not support him so much on this blog if he was rated fairly. His critics do not look beyond his average of 23-24 in ODI’s. With this cricketer, you need to look at the overall picture and not one statistic.

He will not retire as the highest wicket taker or the highest run scorer. However, he will retire as a damn good contender to be one of the most influential and iconic cricketers the world has ever seen.

 

The pulse of Pakistan cricket, and one of its most iconic cricketers

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GO AFRIDI GO

GO AFRIDI GO

GO AFRIDI GO

Pakistan has won the crucial match against Sri Lanka who were tipped not only as favourites but, as potential world cup winners. Whereas, Pakistan were not only underdogs but, they are not even a full side, yet they won. The irony is the so-called ex-greats of Pakistan cricket, starting from Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Rameez Raja, Zaheer Abbass are all criticizing Afridi for one reason or the other.  The most venomous comments came from Wasim Akram during the match, as a commentator he is not supposed to criticize his own team captain. Who the hell he think he is? A commentator needs to be liberal and fair not biased and prejudiced against a certain players owing to jingoism.

Afridi is not only an aggressive captain but, he is also a good communicator with his players, he was constantly talking to his bowlers, fielders all the time. Wasim Akram doesn’t like that, he said this at least 3 times that, Afridi should leave the bowlers alone and not talk to them. If Afridi, leaves them alone and if the bowlers are not bowling in the right spot or not according to the field, then these very people will say, Afridi must talk to his bowlers and tell them to bowl in the right spot and arrange the field accordingly.  In other words their job is to criticize either way. And, the main reason is they don’t like him. It would be very blunt to say this, but it is a fact, if Afridi was from Punjab they would have left no stone unturned in showering praise and accolades. The other reason is Afridi does not listen to them, he may say OK Wasim Bhai, but he will do what he thinks is best and that is his nature. You cannot take away stripes from a tiger or spots from a leopard.

Besides, Wasim is such a hypocrite and a big liar that he doesn’t remember what he blabbed a few days ago?  Along with Rameez he was boasting about the dressing room atmosphere and the camaraderie of the 1992 squad under Imran Khan’s leadership.  Knowing that Imran is politically an important figure in Pakistan now, Wasim was trying to butter him by saying, Imran Bhai is such a great leader that when we were playing in the 1992 WC, in the absence of Waqar Younus he relied solely on me as a bowler and he used to guide me on and off the field.  And, on the field he used to give me tips after every ball that I used to bowl.  Now, he negates his own statement and finds Afridi as a culprit for talking to his teammates.

My word of advise to Afridi is not to pay any heed to these oldies, because they are attention seekers and they want to be in the limelight and keep giving stupid statements to the press or keep blabbering controversies on the TV programmes and while they are commentating only to gain cheap popularity.

As regards the team Pakistan there is nothing much one can do in changing the players from the squad, if the same players are shuffled in batting order, they can be utilized better.  For example, Abdul Razzaq and or, Umar Akmal must come at number 4 so that they get more overs to play and make use of the first 15 overs power play i.e., in case of early wicket loss. Misbah and Younus Khan are so far doing a reasonably good job but, they need to accelerate the run rate a little more otherwise, there is no use scoring 50 odd runs each and playing till the 45-46th over and putting up a total of only 210-215 runs. By the time they reach the 45th over the total must at least be 260 and it is possible if, the top order plays aggressively by using the power hitters up the order. Then the final total can be over 300.

The batting power play is generally delayed because most teams are afraid of losing the momentum if they take it early.  For e.g., Pakistan took it late and scored 36 runs in 5 overs.  Today, India took it early and they not only lost the momentum but scored only 32 runs in 5 overs. And that is because Tendulkar got out during the power play and thereafter wickets started falling at regular intervals. England too had a disastrous batting power play.  It is a kinda double edged sword which may or may not work in favour of the batting side.  Because, it definitely restricts the singles as all the fielders are within the circle and the bowling team brings on their best bowlers and when the batsmen cannot take singles, they get under pressure and play airy shots assuming they have to simply place it over the in-fielder’s heads but, they end up giving simple catches.  Therefore, the batting power play must be chosen according to the situation, I would definitely like to chose it early and advise the players not to get frustrated or under pressure and play erratic shots. But, play according to the merit of the ball.

Afridi you are doing a great job by keeping the team united, don’t pay any attention to these so called greats, because they aren’t anymore, once upon a time they were and with time the game has changed. Gone are the days when a total of 240-250 was defend-able and considered as a match winning total. Or, when batting second keep scoring in singles and doubles and keep wickets in hand and then slog in the last 10 overs. These days a total of 340 is not defend-able.  Therefore, don’t be defensive the best defense is offense but, not the way you hit every ball, play sensibly and don’t try to hit six on every ball. Your bowling form is great don’t let it slip from your hand, GO AFRIDI GO.

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WORLD CUP 2011 PAKISTANI PERSPECTIVE

Pakistan cricket team has never been great, but definitely they are the greatest unpredictable side in the world. Having won one World Cup in 1992 under Imran Khan’s captaincy they have proclaimed themselves as, “The Cornered Tigers.” I would say they were lucky to have escaped from the jaws of defeat in the earlier round matches and managed to win a couple of crucial games before reaching the semi-final.  I am not sure how many of  our bloggers have watched that entire 1992 WC live or even seen it on video. Perhaps most of our bloggers were either toddlers (it is 19 years now) or, they were not big enough to remember it very well. Therefore, I would like to recap some of the facts for our readers which will help them in understanding the Pakistani perspective about this 2011 ICC WC.

Imran Khan Niazi - The 1992 WC winner

Imran Khan Niazi - The 1992 WC winner

During the 1992 WC, one of the most crucial matches that earned Pakistan a single point was against England in which they were all out for 74 in forty overs. Lucky for them, the rain gods saved them from a certain defeat, the match was abandoned and both teams got a point each.  Pakistan lost a few other matches against India, (so far Pakistan has never beaten India in any of the world cups) South Africa and West Indies. Against WI, despite Ramiz Raja’s pathetic 102 runs they were comprehensively beaten rather butchered by Haynes and Lara who won the match by 10 wickets.

Pakistan beat Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka during those days were not so fearsome as they are today but, that WC did a lot of good to that team that the next WC in 1996 was won by them. Zimbabwe were considered as minnows 20 years ago and they are still minnows. The only other well known top team that Pakistan beat in the 1992 WC was Australia.  But, Australia in that WC despite having the Waughs, Boons, Jones, Healys, Marshs and Borders were off colour and out of form and the Kangaroos lost most of their matches except for the most crucial match from Pakistan’s perspective and that was against their arch rivals West Indies.  The result of that match was so important for Pakistan that their loss against the West Indies meant, Pakistan the so-called cornered or wounded tigers would have been caged and dispatched back home.

New Zealand played all their round matches at home and they won every single match against every single team that they played in that tournament except for the last round match that they played against Pakistan. And, Pakistan were fortunate not to play against New Zealand earlier on because, they were unsettled which is so typical of them to start as losers.  The last round match they played was with some authority and conviction. First they undid the New Zealand aggression plan by getting them out for only 166 and then, despite playing a slow innings Ramiz Raja’s second hundred of the tournament and Javed Miandad’s crafty innings they won the match easily.

The win against New Zealand worked like a tonic for the team and New Zealand had to play the semifinal at home. And in the semifinal it was Inzamam ul Haq who announced his arrival in the world with a swashbuckling 60 and Miandad once again played the anchor role with a fifty plus and remained not out. And, Moin Khan’s couple of sixes did the rest to end New Zealand’s short lived euphoria of beating almost all the teams at home and losing against Pakistan and exiting out of the tournament.

England was one of the most consistent sides in that tournament and they were beating their opponents with ease except for the shocking defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe but, they had more wins to reach to the semis and in the final they started on a very solid note with Pringle sending back both the openers, Amir Sohail and Ramiz Raja (between the two of them they scored 3 centuries in the tournament) and suddenly Pakistan were facing an uphill task with 2 wickets down for only 24 runs.  It was Imran Khan who took the initiative and came at number 3 and Miandad at number 4 and between the two of them they took the total to 163 before Miandad getting out after scoring another solid 50 plus and Imran remained top scorer of the match with his priceless 70 runs and exceptional batting at the time when it was needed most.

The partnership of Imran and Miandad was indeed very slow, first 100 runs were scored in 30 overs and the next 149 runs the team scored came only in 20 overs. The effect of the solid partnership resulted in boosting the confidence of Inzamam and Wasim Akram, between the two of them 52 runs were scored in the last 5 overs. A total of 249 doesn’t appear as a dependable or a total to defend but, in those days it was just about average.  (The highest total of the tournament was by Sri Lanka against Zimbabwe, the later scored 312 and set a target of 313 to win and Sri Lanka won that match. England had earlier scored 280 against Sri Lanka and beat them by 106 runs.)

After setting a target of 250 for England, the biggest dent that Pakistan made on England’s psyche was getting Ian Botham out on a duck in the second over that put England on the defensive. Hick, Stewart and Gooch also departed early and Pakistan were on the top but, Neil Fairbrother and Allan Lamb were threatening and only to be outsmarted by Wasim Akram who got Lamb and Lewis on two consecutive balls which are the hallmark of Wasim Akram’s bowling. Not only him, but the whole nation remembers the two beauties that he produced.

The summary of 1992 may sound like the summer of 1942 the only difference is Pakistan had a lot to talk about it even 2 decades after it happened whereas the poor kid of the movie may not have talked about the soldier’s wife who left him behind abruptly and all of a sudden by making his dream a reality and then leaving him to crash for the rest of his life in memories that only he can cherish. But, that is only a movie.

Coming back to the 2011 World Cup in the sub-continent and talking about the game of cricket from Pakistan’s perspective, it would be a folly to expect an encore or a repeat performance from the team with so many combination and permutations at stake.  Pakistan’s best chance to win the WC for the second time was when they were in the final in 2003 but, they threw away the match and, whatever the reasons may be I do not want to discuss them here now. So, expecting Shahid Afridi’s team to surprise all other teams is a “fishful” thinking.

AFRIDI MUST THINK BEFORE HE BLABS

AFRIDI MUST THINK BEFORE HE BLABS

Afridi is boasting about his side as, dark horses or “the most dangerous side in the world” is another example of brainless blabbering and a complete braggadocio.  At a time when he has to keep his mouth shut and display humility by under playing with words in front of the media, he is boasting about the unpredictable future. Everyone knows that Pakistan are underdogs and they should keep that to their advantage and surprise the teams rather than claiming to be dangerous and capable of winning the cup. He can talk whatever he wants to in the dressing room to raise the morale of his team but, not in front of the media. If Pakistan fails like they did against Ireland in 2007 they will be a laughing stock once again. This time the format is different but, the team is just the same they are capable of losing two or three matches in succession to find an easy way to exit out.

My suggestion to Pakistani fans is, DO NOT keep any hopes from Pakistan winning the world cup, just hope that they take each match seriously and try to win it, take the first step and then the second and so on rather than trying to take a leap all at once. They must consider every match,  be it against the minnows very seriously and win with a big margin. They can achieve this if they do not lose their focus from the game. Improve their fielding, play aggressive cricket and play their natural game.

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