Monday, May 2, 2011

Cricket Diplomacy or Cricket vs Diplomacy

Afridi does his worst effort
 Earlier publihsed on my blog
  The word cricket diplomacy is not new for Pakistanis and Indians; it is the cricket which has always paved the new paths for both countries in testing times. Pakistanis made their first tour to India in 1952 which was also the first ever overseas tour of Pakistani cricket team. They wrote the history and won their first test in the series thanks to magical Fazal Mahmood. Afterwards both countries never played continuous cricket due to tense diplomatic ties. India visited Pakistan in 1978 after a long wait of 18 years and in return Pakistan toured India in 1979. The same pattern remained intact in mid eighties when both countries played on each other’s soil but the goal always was not to play cricket but to pave the path for dialogues with each other to find new possibilities of mutual relationships. Pakistan’s historical tour to India in 1999 was a part of the efforts to diffuse tensions between two countries created after the nuclear detonations which followed by Lahore declaration 1999. An analysis of results of all test and ODI series confirms the theory of diplomacy through cricket and confirms my suspicion over India-Pakistan cricket rivalry. I will give only one example of such suspicious matches played over the years.

 It was the first test of Pakistan’s tour to India in 1999; Pakistan gave India a target of 271. India was winning that test comfortably till the score of 253/6 with Tendular on 136* but they collapsed and got all out for 258 and Pakistan won the test match by a narrow margin of 12 runs. Shahid Khan Afridi played a great inning in that match and scored 141 runs in first inning. But to everyone’s surprise Sachin Tendulkar was judged man of the match for his 136 in a loosing cause although he got out for 0 in first innings. This was one of the many friendly gestures made during diplomatic cricket matches.

I will go that way soon

Coming to the recent encounter of semi-final between both teams, I was very confused to conclude a result. The match created confusions and later developments have again given rise to suspicion in minds of the cricket crazy fans. In 1996 Pakistan lost a similar match in Bangalore where India thrashed Pakistan in much hyped quarterfinal of the world cup 1996. That match is astonishingly similar to the recent semi final but the reaction is totally different. In 1996 Pakistan was in match but last two overs went for 40 runs to give Pakistan a difficult target of 287. Pakistan was cruising with 113/1 in less than 15 overs but collapsed and lost the match by 39 runs. Pakistani nation was shell shocked after that loss and the reaction was bitter. Protesters protested in almost all major cities and player’s houses were stoned. Waseem Akram was specially targeted for withdrawing at the last moment. Players returned one by one and some disguised themselves as common men to avoid the public outrage.

This time the match was bigger and hype was more, Prime Minister was there to watch our team winning. Pakistan managed to get India out on their lowest total in the tournament and the game was in the bag, stage was set to beat India and give Pakistan the biggest ever win in the sports history. Indian commentators and experts were criticizing their team’s performance, Bishan Singh bedi (on CNNIBN) was angry with Tendulkar and he was advising him to retire citing his poorest innings of 85 and inability to handle Ajmal. Our cricket genious IMran Khan and Waseem Akram were more than happy and proud. But we succumbed tamely and lost the chance to earn glory and happiness. How Pakistanis batted was a shameful sight for millions of the fans, when Hafeez was trying to get out, a commentator yelled “ ohh he is getting anxious to get out, what is he doing?”. Looking with a fan’s eye I found every change, every shot, every single decision made by our captain as suspicious. Taking the powerplay when all of the recognized batsmen were gone, giving Umar Gul the last overs when ball was reverse swinging and Razzaq had bowled only 2 overs (he is the best option when ball getting reverse swing), Sticking with the same poor batting order, do not pressing to get Indian tail enders out. These all decisions were poorest and ultimately suspicious. In the field our players dropped 4 catches of Tendulkar (God forbid), during batting none of the batsmen (except one or two) got out on a good bowl or with an effort of bowler/fielder. They all played horrible shots, Misbah and Younis Khan were looking jokers out there. Shahid Afridi got out on full toss ball from a spinner, Hafeez introduced the strangest shot of the tournament, Umar Akmal as usual played his part and got out and rest did what they have been doing for the last two years (Baray mian to baray mian chotay mian subhan Allah).

Shoaib Akhtar saga is alse very depressing part of the whole campaign; thanks God Wahab did a brilliant job otherwise? He played a great match versus Sri Lanka. Against New Zealand Kamran Akmal droped two crucial catches in his over to give Taylor lives to carry on. He gave away over 20 runs in his last over, looked completely out of gears, 5 out of his last six deliveries were full tosses then He was dropped. On his return Shahid Afridi targeted him by saying that he should not have announced the retirement during the tournament but If I am not wrong Shahid Afridi did the same thing as a captains in the middle of a test series in England. Was there any cold war going on between Juniors and Seniors in team? It is a million dollar’s question. Shoaib may have the answer and some secrets to share let us wait for some time.     

What happened afterwards is more suspicious; I mean I do not remember when any of the Pakistani governments and two provincial governments bestowed the cash prizes and dinner receptions to a team loosing to India in India in such a poor way. Even the teams winning the global tournaments had very rare receptions at Prime Minister House in the history. Adding fuel to fire Indian foreign office has announced that they are ready to send their team to Pakistan in near future. Last night Shahid Afridi in an interview with Geo made some stupid statements like, Tendulkar had done a black magic, Misbah was doing the job given to him, Kamran Akmal is one of the most talented players in Pakistan, Hafeez always gave me good advices (he is professor). He should keep his mouth shut and look forward to create some sense and a cricketer instead of making joke of the whole nation. (I missed, an sms campaign and a media campaign was launched to hail Afridi for making excuse, who initiated this campaign?)

Media has played its role as usual, first they created such a hype and made a match a holy war for the whole nation to earn money, and when we lost they started advising us to compete India in other fields. If they knew we can not beat India then why did they play with the public sentiments? Moreover why the government officials are getting anxious to meet a miserably loosing team on dinners and luncheons? I admit that Pakistani team exceeded the expectations of many but it does mean that they play in the manner they played their last match. We may have very difficult times in Pakistan fro cricket but they were not beaten by a superior performance but by their own efforts. No one might have questioned if they had played to their potentials and put up a fight but they did not. Cricket diplomacy might be successful but I think we should not mix the sports with the bloody politics, if we keep doing that then no Pakistani would idealize Sachin Tendulkar, no Indian would love Inzamam and I would have no reason to love West Indian cricket. Then we would have only Akmals ,Umars andYouniss left to love, inspire and idealize.

I may be too negative in my analysis but I have the questions and would love to have answers.


Cricket World Cup 2011: 5 Villains of Competitive Cricket

Earlier publihsed on my blog

Recent thrashing of Australia and New Zealand in world cup warm up games is some indication of the kind of pitches and playing conditions in the upcoming matches of world cup. Cricket is considered to be a by-chance game by cricket analysts and pundits, but it needs techniques, quality, execution and more importantly luck to create a chance of winning. In Subcontinent where cricket has more followers than any other continent, people worship the heroes and seldom tolerate them loosing. Both India and Pakistan are good examples of this cricket craze, which often turns into hate. Apart from player’s commitment, application and hard work there are number of factors which decide the winner. These factors can not be ignored as they will be crucial in deciding the possible world cup winners, some of them are dew, bad pitches, injuries, rains and possibly early exits of big names.

Cold Evenings and Dew Factor

Imran Khan has recently pointed out that dew will play a decisive role during WC 2011. Dew is one of the greatest problems of day night games in cricket especially in subcontinent. Historically looking, dew has played significant role in spoiling thrilling contests and producing one sided contests. For example Sri Lanka was far less favorites for the 1996 cricket world cup winner but she went on to win it. First they were aided by West Indies and Australia, as they refused to play in Sri Lanka sighting the security threats. Taking heart from Indian’s collapse at Calcutta, they beat Australia in a one sided game in Final. Great bowlers like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Fleming were made to look like club cricketers as dew spoilt the possibility of any contest and Sri Lanka easily won by Seven Wickets with four overs to go. So one should think a lot before putting money on any of favorites as Bangladesh may also be a great threat if conditions helped them. But at the other hand we should not expect that each D/N game would be affected by dew as there are many venues where weather is expected to be quite hot killing any possibility of dew. Subcontinent pitches usually produce high scoring encounters, so if dew stayed away the teams with better batting would have the better chance of winning otherwise captains winning toss in D/N games would love to bowl first.

Brothers Duckworth and Lewis

When they designed the notorious D/L system for rain effected matches they might never have imagined how much hate it would bring to them. No team can understand the contribution of D/L system in WC’s better than South Africa as they have been victims of it more than once in the world cup history. They can be asked to chase 22 in 1 ball again or their miscalculation can again haunt them to hand them an early exit in the upcoming WC but let’s not speculate. Recently Sri Lanka-West Indies series had been washed out in December 2010 due to heavy rains, rescheduled series was not completed either sighting the same reason. Thus Pakistanis team should pray for not being a possible victim of Brothers Duckworth and Lewis as they were nearly exited in 1992 by this non-sense system. ICC should find an alternative for this useless and horrible calculator immediately before it spoils more matches.

Newly prepared and spinning tracks

Australian thrashing in two warm up games in India has forced Rickey Ponting to complain about the under-prepared pitches in warm up games. England survived the humiliation at the hands of Canada by a slim margin. South African Captain Graeme Smith has also complained about the quality of pitch used for SA-Zimbabwe warm-up match. Quality of pitches refers to two different aspects; first there are many newly prepared pitches un-tested and unchecked. Secondly, two best spin bowling line ups India and Sri Lanka are the hosts of WC this year; this is why we should believe that India will look to use the home advantage to cash the best possible chance of winning a world cup. This fact is evident from Ind-NZ warm up game, the quality of pitch suggested as it was a spin paradise; India went for the match with three specialist spinners what does it mean? Simple, given the quality of pace bowler they have and the inability of their batsmen to coup with fast bowling they will definitely trap Australia, South Africa and England with spinning wickets.
Some people argue that ICC has officially prepared the pitches for the event but it is not hundred percent right as some of the stadiums are still under construction. Which clearly indicates how hastily this all has been done? in these circumstance we can not expect everything to be official and up to standards. Moreover ICC has totally been hijacked by Indian money market so we should not expect them to be independent in this regard. Some examples of low-quality pitches and their impact in past world cups are West Indies thrashing at the hands of Kenya in 1996, Pakistan loosing to Ireland and Indian humiliation at the hands of Bangladesh in 2007 WC. This year pitches are expected to be either metallic roads or extra-spinning nightmares for teams like West Indies and Australia. Under-prepared grounds and pitches may also be expected as many stadiums are still under construction while Kolkatta losing the hosting rights for incompleteness.

Injuries to Potential Stars

The biggest problem facing world cup is a series of injuries to few potential stars of world cup. English cricket team had been playing like a champion till their win in ashes but they were beaten 6-1 by Australian team in Australia. The main reason was the injuries to their main players like, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Eoin Morgan and Tim Bresnan. Exit of Michael Hussey (their best batsman) and Michael Hauritz (only spin hope) has greatly damaged already weakened Australian Squad. West Indies is facing injuries to their new batting sensation Adrian Barath and the only wicket keeper in squad Carlton Baugh. South Africa is also facing some tough decisions on Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Jacques Kallis both in an injury scare. This list may get longer and longer as the world cup progresses as conditions in subcontinent may not suit most of the foreign players.

Boring mis-matches and early exits:

Cricket world cup 2007 was probably the worst ever cricket world, as some of the big teams were forced to early exits, others in later stage. Final game looked like a street game children playing in the dark for the sake of giving big brother mandatory batting practice. It was a tournament filled with many one sided and boring games, rubbish scheduling and off the field distractions. Another example of boredom in world cups is Kenya playing semi-final of 2003 World cup. This time ICC has taken a wise decision by giving each team an easy opportunity to at-least reach quarter finals in a bid to avoid boring matches and fed up spectators but who can guarantee that big eight will easily get through to quarter finals?

ICC Cricket World Cup 2011: Pakistan's chances

Earlier publihsed on my blog
Cricket is one of the few things which unite Pakistani as a nation. The ICC mega event is just to start in a few days, cricket lovers are getting crazy about the possible winners. I read some articles claiming Pakistan as the favorites for the world cup. As a Pakistani, I too support Pakistani cricket team and pray for its success but with some logic.
Pakistan won 1992 world due to some luck and some excellent bowling performance coupled with amazing captaincy skills. This time the cricket board has exposed it incompetence by announcing a team without captain, it means the captain would have no say in the team selection. The indecision of cricket board is affecting the chances of Pakistani cricket team badly, and if Pakistan lost the main reason behind it would be the board itself. Shahid Khan Afridi should immediately be announced the captain to stop further confusion in teams and to enable players focus on their preparation for the mega event. Misbah ul Haq is in excellent touch but one should remember that the innings he played against South Africa were on dead pitches where the world class bowler like Morkel and Steyn looked miserable. And other useful innings he played were against the weakest teams in the cricket circle New Zealand. So to me Misbah has to play more ODI cricket to cement his place and become a captain of the team.
Pakistan has been included in group A with Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya, the pool is easier as compared to the pool B which includes giants like India, England, South Africa and West Indies. Pakistan has to beat at least three minnows to progress to the quarter finals. The main battle will start from quarter final stage.
The squad announced for cup includes the most talented players from the country, who have already shown their credential at the international level (with a few exceptions). Let’s have a look at the batting and bowling separately.
Pakistani batting line is the best among the ODIs with Younus Khan, Misbah, Umer Akmal, Hafeez, Afridi, Razzaq and Kamran Akmal. Mohammad Hafeez has proved his abilities with both bat and ball in the limited overs in the recent ODI's although he looked miserable in the past, as his stats show bat av. 22.91 and bow av. 34.82. He is an automatic selection for the first opener unless he gets injured. Second opener Kamran Akmal is a good wicketkeeper batsman in the world. He has scored 5 centuries in wins for Pakistan; his batting in the power plays can be handful for Pakistan. But if he fails the opener Ahmed Shahzad should be given a chance and Umer Akmal should be given the responsibility of wicketkeeper. Younus Khan is the strongest contender of third place; he has an ability to play long innings giving the late order batsmen an opportunity to cut loose at the end. He has scored at an average of 32 which is not very good as compared to other one down batsmen in the world but Pakistan needs his experience. He has shown some good form in the recent test series; let’s hope he can make it count in the mega event. If Misbah plays, he should be tried at 4th place, as he can play for long and gets other players play around him. He is a powerful striker of the ball and a reliable batsman. He should bat like he did today winning the match for Pakistan.
Then comes the most talented and aggressive player in the world cricket, Umer Akmal. He is a natural stroke player and a powerful striker of the cricket ball. He has scored his maiden ODI ton in Sri Lanka so he can be a hero. He has wasted his talent so far, if he showed some responsibility then he can be a star of the world cup. Then it is boom boom Afridi, he is the most dangerous player in the world of cricket. He can destroy any bowling attack on his day, he has scored the fastest ODI hundred and second fastest fifty in ODI twice, has hit more sixes than anyone. An article at espncricinfo analyzed him as the best attacker in the final overs along with Abdul Razzaq in last two years. If Pakistan has a real chance of winning the world cup it rests in the hands of Shahid Khan Afridi. Although he has achieved a lot, but i feel he is still the biggest underachiever of all time with bat. He can do better than what he has done, he has a real opportunity to make a name for him and his country. Abdul Razzaq is a victim of the conspiracies in the past when he was young. We should not forget that he was the most consistent performer with ball and bat in the 1999 world cup when Pakistan lost in Finals to Australia in a controversial manner. He can be a destroyer with bat at any surface, but his bowling looks toothless in the recent past. If he could improve his bowling then it would an added advantage for Pakistan. Pakistan should opt for an extra bowler to strengthen the weak bowling against best batting sides in second half If he did not bowl well in the first half of tournament .
The other important indicator to measure the chances of Pakistan is the perfromance of its batsmen and bowlers in the recent past. Let's have a look at the numbers now.
Regardless of the abilities Pakistani batsmen posses their performance during the last two years is below par. Bangleshi’s have performed far better than Pakistani with one of their bowler in top Three and their captain in the best all rounder’s list. Tamim made a place in the best batsmen of the world. But given the state of cricket affairs in Pakistan they should not be blamed for underperformance.

 Performance of Pakistani batsmen since January 2009.
Player                       Matches            Runs                Bat Av            H.Score           100

Umer Akmal                28                   838                  34.91                  102*                  1
Shahid Afridi               42                   998                  26.97                  124                   2
Misbah Ul Haq             19                   509                  39.15                    93*                 0
Hafeez                         14                   501                  38.53                  115                   1
Abdul Razzaq               21                   490                  35.00                  109*                 1
Kamran Akmal            36                   900                  28.12                  116                   1
Younus Khan               33                   713                  22.28                    89                   0

 The performance in last two years tell the story of pathetic situation of Paksitani cricket since Lahore attack. The reason behind the poor statistics of batsmen is largely the cricket outside Pakistan in alien conditions. But the batsmen have the ability to win matches for our team but they would need to perform better than they have done during last two years.
The possible ouster of Pakistani duo of Mohamamd Asif and Mohammad Aamir has put Pakistani bowling to knees as they were the best seem bowling pair in the world. ICC is going to announce the verdict on Feb 5th, I hope Mohammad Aamir would be released to play cricket as the reports suggest. If he is released Pakistan board can ask ICC for his inclusion which would be a great sign for Pakistan, let’s hope. In his absence the impotent bowling would be the main area of concern for Pakistan in the world cup. On the dry and batting pitches of Sri the bowler will need extra skills to win matches. Although there is a lot of raining in Sri Lanka, so swing bowler would find some assistance in wet conditions. Shoaib AKhtar is a match winning bowler but the fragile body is a hurdle in his success, we can not expect a miracle from him given the state of affairs. He is not playing all matches of the much needed practice series of New Zealand; I guess administrators want him to remain fit for world cup. But how would he manage the loads of responsibility in world cup in this condition? I suggest the management to use him only for the major encounters (but who can decide the major encounters given IRE-Pak match in 2007).Umer Gul is the main bowler in the line-up with an ability to win matches on his own. But he has a weakness in using the new ball which will haunt him. He needs to polish his skills and learn to use new ball. Pakistan should use him after 15 overs to make best use of him. Wahab Riaz is a new addition to the hopes of Pakistani cricket; he has already shown some good skills .He can be good option in the death overs for the captain along with Umer Gull. Sohail Tanvir was a surprise package when he announced his arrival at international level but soon the batsmen picked his action and he was made to look like a club cricketer. He can bowl very well at time but his bowling abilities are limited and captain would be confused a lot before including him in final Eleven against big teams like India and England. Selectors should have picked Rana Naveed instead of Sohail Tanvir for the world cup. Spinner will play the decisive role in the world cup as wickets may suit them in some areas. Pakistan has two frontline spinners in their squad, Abdul rehman and Saeed Ajmal. Both are identical in their capabilities but Saeed has some edge on Rehman for his vast experience and his ability to bowl doosra, if he had got out of Hussy's after shocks. Captain should not experiment a lot, both spinners should be given chances against weaker teams in the first round but in second round they should carry on with the better performer.

Bowling performance since January 2009.

Bowler                      Matches        Wickets        Bow.Av         Best Bowling    5 wickets in match

Shoaib Akhtar              20                  23               38.95                3/39                       0
Abdul Razzaq               21                  14               45.85                2/33                       0
Wahab Riaz                   7                  10                30.80                3/51                      0
Umer Gul                      27                  44               27.45                6/42                       1
Saeed Ajmal                 31                  40               30.10                4/33                       0
Shahid Afridi                 42                  48               36.60                6/38                      1
Sohail Tanvir                8                    4                79.00                2/56                       0
Abdul Rehman              4                  00                    ----                 ---                    ---

The above statistics clearly show the credentials and performance of our bowlers in last two years, which is evident that our bowling department is toothless without Aamir and Asif. But it is a fact that our team never depended on a single player to win matches instead whenever they won they won as a team. The recent victories against England and New Zealand show the fact clearly. We should keep hope that our team will get through at least to the Finals of the world cup. May God help our team to win and more importantly win over India in India.

Note: All data is correct till 01-02-2011                                                   Data Source: