Archive for March, 2011

No Fear!

Sachin Shoaib One Last Time

Sachin Shoaib One Last Time

“Ayee nazreen ab hum aap ko Mohali liya chalte hain jahan se aap Pakistan bamuqabla BHARAT baraheraast mulahizaa farma sakein ge” 🙂 Tell me that doesn’t jangle your nerves and sends the shivers down your spine. Let there be no mistake folks this is as IT as IT can get, well IT could be the world cup final instead of the semi but then 1/7th of the world’s population would just get wiped out due to one gynormous heart attack. Trust me it ain’t gonna get bigger and better than this.

One general sentiment that I have picked up on since yesterday browsing the Pakistani fan websites and ever changing facebook statuses is the fear that is creeping in since the knock out of the four time world champions, Australia. Nerves and tension is fine but fear is not fitting for as Salman Khan and Mountain Dew have so aptly put it “Dar se mat darro, dark ke age jeet hai :)” There is some thing very different about this Pakistani side and the world cup clashes of the past that we should take heart from and go into this match up as confident as ever.

Lets look at the past world cup clashes first where I am going to try and rationalize the world cup losses. Every one knows how Pakistan is a momentum team, more so than any other side in the world, and I don’t think any one can argue with that so lets just take that as fact

1992 We were in the biggest rut possible in the early part of the competition, having been thrashed by all state sides in Australia, losing to the W.I and getting bowled out for 74 against Eng. Needless to say we were pretty much down in the dumps when we faced India and got duly thrashed. Injuries to Ramiz Raja (one of our main batsman in that WC) and Ijaz Ahmed didn’t help our cause either. But who cares we went on to win the Cup.

1996 We were stripped of our captain in the key match due to an intercostal injury. Match fixing blah blah blah say what you may losing your captain who also happens to be none other than the greatest bowler of our time (suck it Waqar) will derail any world cup campaign. Take away Loyd from 75, Dev from 83, Border from 87, Khan from 92….you get the point… one can’t win with out the captain.

1999 Again we had found ourselves in a bit of a rut. Had just lost to Bangladesh (yea that’s right Bangladesh of the nineties, that was as bad as losing to Ireland) and had gotten our asses handed to us by the Zulu and Boucher so were still nursing our wounds when we came up against India. India who were going out of the tournament and would have probably gotten man-slaughtered on their arrival back home had they lost to us too played with vigor realizing this as their only saving grace. Pakistan meanwhile from the start of the super sixes had the luxury of a final match up with Zimbabwe and didn’t have much invested in the clash. Add to that Prasad who had a horrible knack for turning it on against Pakistan in World Cups and you had a match that didn’t even live up to a Pakistan-India WC billing.

2003 The only WC encounter that has some significance on this current clash. We were still way short of any sort of momentum having lost to Aus and Eng and a squad full of legends way past their prime, where as India fielded an exuberant young side that was playing a new brand of attacking cricket. Defensive captaincy, turmoil in the camp and never getting the campaign off to a jump start Pakistan were always going to be playing catch up in the encounter. They made a match of it and if it wasn’t for Abdul Razzaq’s horrible fielding (2:45) things could have been different. Still the lack of momentum was the main culprit in my mind.

This side of 2011 is not facing the same momentum issues. It has continually been labeled as the underdog in every big match it has played and has come up trumps. It also does not suffer from the unpredictability tag that has haunted their predecessors; at least in their minds they know they are not unpredictable. Take the Eng, S.A ODI series as examples, we lost both 3-2 but in both an extremely tough fight was given not expected of the side especially taking into account the scandals and intense scrutiny the team was being put through at the time. The team has become less and less reliant on individual brilliance and more and more inclined towards delivering as a unit. It is composed of players highly varying in ability and skill but each and every one has been given a defined role in the side and thank fully every one is performing that role (yes even Kamran Akmal has gotten rid of those bloody shades and pulled his socks up). In other words there is a lot of thought and planning that is going on in the Green’s dressing room these days. They seem to have plans for every opposition they have faced and credit has to be given to Waqar who has turned out to be an exceptionally mature and astute coach. No doubt his extensive experience when it comes to Pak-Ind encounters is definitely going to be a big plus for us compared to India’s Kirsten.

Let’s come to the match it self. It’s in Mohali a favourite hunting ground for us. We have never lost to India here and it has to be as close as a home encounter for Pakistan as it can get (come on all it needed was a sneeze from Radcliff at the opportune moment and the town would have ended up on the right side of the border 🙂 ). The pitch tends to be a bit quicker and bouncier here which bodes well for both our batting and bowling. We are much stronger in the pace department and the return of Akhtar (have no doubt, he will play) will add more zing to the attack. Zaheer Khan India’s premier fast bowler won’t have much of an effect against Pakistan. Here’s why:

1) He is ok with the new ball, nothing special.

2) He is devastating with the old ball but Pakistani batsmen have a lot of practice facing reverse in domestic and in the nets.

3)The most important reason, we don’t have any left handers. Zaheer is much more lethal to left handers than right handers.

Our spin attack no matter what foolish Ponting has said is heads and shoulders above India’s which is where the conundrum lies for India. What kind of a pitch do they prepare, do they go for a spinning, low lying dry sort of track. We are no Australia, our batsmen have been brought up on such surfaces and seeing the strength of our spin and the fact that Harbhajan has almost always been taken to the cleaners by the Greens that would be unwise. Do they go for a bouncy more assistant to seamers wicket, but that gives Pakistan a clear advantage given the deadly form Umar Gul is in, not to forget Shoaib Akhtar (who playing in his last few matches will give it his absolute all and that alone should send the alarm bells ringing through the Indian camp. No matter how many times the Indians replay the six in 2003 in their heads the fact is Shoaib Akhtar does indeed get under Sachin’s skin and that is reason enough for him to play). Or do they go for an all out batsmen friendly track, where they take their batting advantage out of play and the equation just becomes India’s capabilities with the ball versus Pakistan with the bat. Our openers finally firing and all the other batsmen in decent knick I am not too worried about this scenario.

One should of course remember that Pakistan has over come two of the World Cup favorites with quite a bit of ease. True India has also beaten Australia but that match was any one’s game. Both Sri Lanka and Australia were made to play catch up from the get go and were never in the game playing against the Greens. The absolute trouncing that we handed out to the Windies, who in spite of having no Gayle, Roach or Chanderpaul gave India quite a tough time should leave no one in doubt about the form and momentum this Pakistani side is in. They are being lead by an effervescent leader who is at the top of his game and full of confidence and energy something that spreads like a parasite through the rest of the squad. Compare him to Dhoni’s current form and lack of otherwise typical tactical nuance and one must surely be looking at a major deciding factor of the match. Playing a home match of such high magnitude (probably the biggest match even Sachin has been a part of) under such intense pressure has got to leave some strain on the blues of India another factor that works to our advantage. The danger players that Pakistan have to watch out for are Sehwag (as usual he has been saving himself for us) and Ashwin. Make a good plan to tackle both of them and you have the game under control.

This is the first time Pakistan come into a World Cup clash with their arch rivals on the back of some solid performances and the magic of momentum. They are playing strategic yet aggressive cricket and all their departments are firing. Pakistani fans have every reason to be confident and geared up for this match and should see it as a golden opportunity to rid our selves of the monkey of not having beaten our friendly neighbors in a WC clash. And that too in grand style silencing their feeble retorts to having a better ODI and test record forever. I see us going on to Mumbai, it will be a cracker, but I see us prevailing. Otherwise….there ain’t another wise because Waqar and Misbah have some scores to settle 🙂 GO GREEN! PAKISTAN CRICKET ZINDABAD!

p.s How could any Pakistan-India Cricket post be complete without THIS 🙂

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The Natural and Unnatural

Rarely do we as Pakisatni fans praise the efforts of the more plain and simple in our team. We are naturally attracted towards the flamboyance of an Akhtar, the wild swings of an Afridi or the brazenness bordering on insolence of an Umar, but let their be no mistaking this, if the Pakistan team is going to go on and lift this World Cup it will be propelled as much if not more on the efforts of the unadorned in this squad as any of the others mentioned. The people who work their magic away from the spotlight and rarely get the praise they deserve from our unforgiving, and for the most part cricket illiterate fans.

Asad Shafiq probably played the most pivotal knock of his career against Zimbabwe in Pallekelle, but it is a shame that it had to come to that for him to cement a place in this brittle batting order. The guy is a complete package, has the advantage of being short so very stable at the crease and most of all has a very good cricketing brain. Any one who had watched him play his initial ODIs in the England series, a tour where the rest of the batting just kept on edging Anderson to second slip, completely at ease playing authentic cricket shots nudging and nurdling for ones and twos should have been immediately impressed by the youngsters sound head and technique. But no, like a moth naively attracted to a flame, we decided to completely sideline those efforts and instead became infatuated with the stroke play of the brash Ahmed Shehzad. “He is very naturally talented yaar” is the usual retort you get from the average fan. Why is it that we have to associate just stroke play and the abundance of boundaries with natural talent? The slow build up of an innings the single-double game to put it in gully cricket terms, is as much actually no scratch that, is more important when it comes to ODI and Test cricket. It requires the same amount of “natural” talent to score those runs, and in the end what matters are the numbers that go into the scorebook. Shehzad will cream one to the boundary and then show off his extreme lack of a brain and cricketing sense by remaining put on the striker’s end blocking out the next four five in the over because his job is apparently done. That’s a waste of more than half the over, requires much less effort and thinking to be done by the fielding side and makes you want to pull your hair out. Please don’t fool your selves into believing that Shafiq cannot play the big game and clear the field, watch the highlights of those England games and then form your opinion. The guy is equally capable of playing a fast paced knock compared to the anchor sheet role he has performed in the last two ODIs. Yes his innings was at a strike rate of around sixty in these games, but that’s because that is exactly what the situation required. The strike rate should be praised and not ridiculed and pointed out as a flaw for we shouldn’t lull ourselves into believing that the guy is not capable of more. What we should do is kick ourselves for not allowing him time out in the field and the opportunity to build his confidence ahead of the world cup. Had we played him consistently, he would have been assured of his place had the confidence of expanding his more (yet less “natural” to him) aggressive side and probably would have seen scores of much more substance from the guy. The insolent fools that we are one can easily see us jumping the gun and labeling the guy as too slow for ODI cricket if he falls playing the big shots in the immediate future. That would be a great loss for the team and a huge insult to him for the fault is entirely our own for not allowing him a consistent run.

Hafeez for me has been the most consistent one day bowler for Pakistan over the past year and a half. Yes Afridi might have taken more wickets and Gul has given us those match winning spells every now and then but both have gotten their fair share of a tap as well. Hafeez has been one who has rolled his arm over with such precise monotony and stinginess that one has been wrongly obliged into believing that there is a very nonchalance nature to his cricket. Nothing can be further from the truth, he is any thing but casual in his approach to the game and is probably the most intelligent of all the current Pakistani world cup squad (an approach that has earned him the knick name of the “Professor”). The guy has chipped in with spells of six to seven overs with an economy of four or less and has given us crucial break throughs. We tend to forget these crucial wickets because he unfortunately does not have the flashy finger pointing up Afridi celebrations to follow (which are geting very old honestly). His efforts seem to go unrecognized by the team and management itself, for even when he bowls seven overs for almost nothing (against N.Z) he is not allowed to finish of his full quota because that buddy of Afridi, Razzaq who has gone for 21 in his two overs has to come back and get whacked for another thirty runs. The beauty of it all is that his excellent economy has nothing to do with Afridi and his captaincy, for the skipper has absolutely no faith in his most consistent bowler. There are only four fielders inside the ring when Hafeez bowls, no attacking fielders (which is why he doesn’t have more wickets) and little praise for his efforts at the end of the over. What he achieves in his bowling is totally attributed to his skill and mental aptitude, for the guy knows where to bowl and knows his angles. Even with the biggest gaps in the infield he somehow manages to get top order batsmen to play straight to the fielder (three out of six times in an over). He consistently troubles the batsmen with variation in flight, and on responsive wickets gets it to turn appreciably. But still when almost sheepishly he asks Afridi to bring an extra man into the ring or have a catching position his pleading is met by deaf years and he is left to adjust the angles of the four fielders he does have saving the one reducing his role to the same as Abdul Rehmans (who basically just fires bullets in and is as capable of taking wickets as yours truly :). Afridi having the perfect field for himself comes in and picks up the spoils using the pressure built up by Hafeez to pick half the wickets that should have been deservedly his. It is time we swallowed our egos and realize that Pakisatn’s strength in ODIs is no more their fast bowling and our whole game revolves around the stingy and consistent efforts of Hafeez and Ajmal. Ajmal as I have been consistently saying should be our main spinner, having Rehman just hurts the side for his role is more aptly performed by Hafeez and takes the extremely wicket taking dimension of Ajmal out of the game. Hafeez deserves more for his consistent run as a bowler, confidence by letting him finish his ten, an attacking field and not being hesitant in trying him at the death can serve as a start.

Bring back 1992 and seeing shades of that run in this campaign are utterly baseless and stupid. The 1992 triumph was more of a fluke based much more on moments of individual brilliance. The 2011 campaign lacks players matching up ability wise and oozing that same amount of “natural” talent. This side’s success so far has been the result of the sweat and hard work put in by players like Shafiq and Hafeez and it’s high time we stop being blind and dimwitted as fans and start giving credit where it’s due.

Thora Religious Bhi Hona Parta Hai :)

I apologize for the absence and lack of posts but since the media/press box extravaganza in addition to the absolute thrashing we got at the hands of the Kiwis I decided to take it easy and remain on the down low while enjoying the rather gripping encounters coming our way from Group B. Bangladesh have added much needed fervor and color to the tournament with their extremely passionate and biased crowds (seriously it looks like every match they play is equivalent of the 96’ Bangalore Quarterfinal for them…..oh sorry I meant Bengaluru 96’ ). Nothing much has been going on in Kandy…..well up till today that is  Went to Asgiryia yesterday, the old test venue here in Kandy, to see the Pakistan team practice, a lot of fun I must say. I cannot believe that this ground was a test venue, it hardly qualifies as a ground fit enough for school cricket let alone International cricket. The ground we had in Margalla Campus could give Asgiriya a good run for it’s money. No wonder Wasim bhai was hitting the ball constantly out of the park in the 97/98 tour or was it 2000 (don’t remember correctly now) the field’s boundaries are 60 meters at their maximum. Those of you who have read the Indian Express coverage of this practice will be disappointed to know that most of it was masala and exaggerated way out of context. Yes Ahmed Shehzad was scolded by Waqar Younis but it was more like a slap on the wrist rather than the five laps he had to do around the ground with Younis Khan on his back. Shoaib Akhtar looked pumped in the practice and got Hafeez and Shehzad out (Hafeez got bowled at least three times) constantly. The Pakistani opening pair looks fragile to say the least. Razzaq, Ajmal and Gul were also given quite a work out before the team played a 7 on 8 real time match. The match didn’t go any where as the teams and combinations of bowlers and batsmen kept on changing at Waqar’s orders who was controlling the entire procedure from the umpire’s position. Tried to talk and make small chat with some of the players but the security around the field was quite tight so couldn’t get any where, did manage to wheedle out where the team was staying though from the team’s bus driver.

Some of my school friends were coming down from Pakistan today and the scene after meeting them, as it was bound to become, was to “chapaa maro” the team hotel…..and then well we would take it from there. So after a very tasty meal of chicken kotti, a Sri Lankan street food specialty basically like Kutta Kut (but with the rotti chopped up as well with the meat), we get into the good old trusty Tuk Tuk (three wheeler) and headed towards Maha Valley Ridge, the humble abode of the Pakistani and Zimbabwean team here in Kandy.

A very uncomfortable half hour ride with one person sprawled over the other three with the TukTuk’s engine groaning for mercy on the hilly terrain of Kandy ensues. Being the street smart buggers we are we make sure we got off a good two three hundred meters before the hotel’s entrance so that not to get turned away right at the entrance given the grand mode of our arrival. Confidently striding through the half barred gates (hoping against hope that the guards won’t be too perturbed by the inch think dirt on our faces, they weren’t) we enter the hotel. The first thing we see, and I know how made up this sounds is Afridi on the porch playing with his daughter with the Mrs on the side. Not wanting to be too intruding on the “family time” we just shake hands with the skipper, wish him the best of luck and walk coolly on into the lobby. Besides between just you and me Afridi has quite a stick up his ass and isn’t really the talking type. In the lobby we just sit around and make small chat while the occasional player (Hafeez, Misbah) walk by. Apparently every one has their families on tour for Hafeez had his son with him as well, but the families are not staying in the same hotel, which is good . Afridi and Wahab Riaz play a game of snooker in the billiards room while we watch Canada gallantly score 256 in reply to  N.Z’s mammoth 350+. Really though all we keep doing is  sneaking peaks through the glass door where Wahabi is apparently beating the captain quite comfortably. Not wanting to be thrown out for just idly sitting around and checking out Afridi in a tight black V-neck one of us orders an extremely expensive glass of Orange Juice, while the other three take turns at having a go in ping pong. Secretly hoping that one of the players would challenge us to a game, hopefully the Akmal brothers in a doubles encounter where the paddle would “accidentally” slip out of my hand and hit Kamran square on the face.

It’s nearing dusk now and loud bellows of Azaan can be heard in the distance. We suddenly realize that the team is gathering for Maghrib prayer as we spot Gul, Saeed Ajmal and Younis Khan sitting in a small room just across the lobby on white sheets spread on the floor on what unmistakably appear like table cloths . Excluding the once sucha musalman in our group, the rest of us haven’t been in congregation since the complimentary hazri at Eid prayer, that too is stretching it quite a bit for a couple of us. An identity crisis takes place, for about five seconds that is, and we all sprint towards the prayer room. I tell you I haven’t been this religiously awakened  since Pakistan won in Chennai in 99′. The jamaat is set up and ready to go as we ask the team if we can join….of course we can join…. who the hell are they to stop us, that’s suppose to be the beauty of prayer in congregation isn’t it …the servant stands toe to toe with the king.. and what not. None of us are in Wuzu though, and when we ask Ahmed Shehzad where to do wuzu, he first casts a nervous look towards Afridi seeing that the skipper is not looking, he signals for us to join in without wuzu any way. “Ye boy tau apney type ka nikla” is what we think in our heads…but not wanting to be complete ass**** and heretics we rush to the bathroom and back in what must have set the new all time world record for four people performing wuzu. The prayer is being lead by the team doctor (I forget his name) while the iqaamat is performed by Saeed Ajmal. It’s a total area of 75sq meter maximum, with the first row consisting of Intikhab Alam, Misbah, Younis Khan (in a chamkeeli gold Sindhi topi) and Ajmal. The second row is Hafeez, Umar, Talha (analyst), Gul, Afridi and next to him …… (no prizes for guessing) Razzaq. I am telling you kuch tau chakar hai un dono ka. Third row is Asad Shafiq, Rehman, Mr Drop Master, Ahmed Shehzad and the last row is me, Wahab Riaz, and the other three. For those interested the two Surahs recited were Surah-Nas and Surah Feel. After the prayer is done I am like damn time to go, but no it gets better apparently after every prayer the doctor reads out a couple of Hadis to the entire team and their fazayl (meaning and importance). I kid you not both the hadis narrated and the lecture that followed was related to the advantages of Halal ki Kamai (The Righteous ways of earning a livelihood)…You just can’t make this stuff up. This was too good to be true!!!!

Umar Akmal was way too infatuated with his muscles through the whole thing, he didn’t listen to s*** all he did was stare at his dolas and compared them to Rehman who was plopped next to him. Rehman was pissed for some reason and was just staring at us stone faced . Razzaq’s sallow kisaan like expression gave nothing away and he looked the same as he does on his profile picture on t.v. Younis Khan, Saeed Ajmal, Gul and Afridi listened intently to every word while Ahmed Shehzad and Kamran kept  fidgeting around in the real awkward position you have to assume while in prayer. Kamran Akmal also took his phone out a couple of times (lets just hope he was checking the time and not texting Mazhar Majeed’s cousin). I don’t even know what Intikhab Alam was wearing but it looked like a mix between an African cheetah colored chieftain’s gown and what the Oracle lady wears in the first matrix movie. The cherry on the cake of course was when the entire thing finished and every one was getting up to leave for the team meeting: Shoaib Akhtar walks in Mark Whalberg style from the front door and crosses the entirety of the prayer room without the slightest bit of guilt or even a look that suggested he had passed any thing of significance and walks on calmly into the lobby stopping to chat with a couple of people smoking and drinking at the bar. Needless to stay I found it very hard not to burst out laughing. There you have it folks, my religious awakening.

Match and weather report is that the pitch did have quite a bit of grass on it the evening before the match but will probably be shaved off before the start of play (that’s what they did for the N.Z game). It is definitely going to rain for at least 30 minutes tomorrow (expect it around the 30 over mark in the first innings) but we will have a game. There will be cloud cover though which is why we should bowl first, but given the defensive mindset we cocoon our selves in after a loss I can see easily see us batting first in bowling friendly conditions. The D/L might come into play as well in the first innings where the final score might be adjusted to what ever the team has scored in the first 30 overs which is another reason I think Pak should bowl first. Although the dew factor, the thrashing we got at the hand of the Kiwis and the fact that we just suck under lights chasing I really can’t see us bowling if we win the toss. Please remember we have gone out to Zim in the last two world cups and both times it has rained, bad omens I know which is why I am really fucking nervous for this game. Koi nahi boys seemed pump and God is on our side . Go Green!

Cleaning up the Mess-Fixes after the Kiwi Debacle

I will spare you guys a full match report for the game yesterday as I know no body really wants to read up and relive the “Overs from Hell” but will instead present an analysis of the fixable problems in the side right now and what I think are the best ways forward for the team in this world cup. The Kandy match against the Kiwis has brought out and exposed the Pakistan team playing at it’s worst. There are some extremely glaring issues staring at us in the face which we have chosen to ignore at our own peril, for now that the tournament heads into it’s most exciting and competitive phase any more ignorance will surely just lead to another early exit from the ICC’s showpiece tournament and Pakistan will once again just enter that dreaded circle of fire “ the rebuilding process” our team has been perpetually in since the 2003 first round world cup exit. All is not lost though folks, for these flaws are not irreparable but good sound judgment and clear headedness from the coaching staff, management and most importantly Shahid Afridi is the need of the hour. We have to first identify these flaws and be bold enough to make the tough choices required rather than just lying back kicking off our shoes and taking this as just a bad day at the office.

Yes it was an atrocious day in the field but there are reasons behind it that are quite simple. Let’s be honest here folks, no team in this world cup is that great, and playing smart and playing the horses for courses game is the key to success. Lets take it from the top. Why in god’s name was Abdur Rehman given the new ball? The pitch until the night before had a solid covering of grass, had good true bounce and was not expected to turn that much at all. Afridi’s decision only came because he had seen England and South Africa open with spinners and thought Hey! It worked for them, lets try it here as well. Ok give him two overs tops just for the shock factor but as that wears off and it really hasn’t worked for you take the guy off don’t give him a five over spell, that makes no sense. Umar Gul who bowled like an absolute peach and has gained in confidence was at his devastating best during the game and one has to wonder why he wasn’t given the green from the get go. Shoaib Akhtar seemed in really good rhythm despite his high economy rate and if it wasn’t for Akmal’s sieve like glove work it would have been a completely different story. That being said Akhtar, no matter how ardent a fan you are of the bloke, is a spent force and is going to cost us big time in his second and third spell at the back end of the innings especially if we bowl in the afternoon. It’s time we realize this and use him as just a strike force at the top of the innings. If he has to bowl his ten over quota it should be gotten over with before the 35 over mark. Saeed Ajmal should have been an automatic selection against the Kiwis and should be our top choice spinner for he gives us attacking options. Playing Abdur Rehman is a defensive option for it shows that Afridi is just content with saving runs without picking up wickets, why not pick Ajmal who can give you both options. Afridi’s field placements for spinners apart for himself are mind-boggling to say the least. He knows the perfect field to set for him self but when it comes to Hafeez, Ajmal and Abdur Rehman there are only four men inside the ring putting absolutely no pressure on the batsman and allowing effortless rotation of the strike. Styris and Nathan Mcullum were allowed to play them selves in at their own leisurely pace as they picked out ones and twos through gaps in the infield the size of the grand canyon. N.Z weren’t even on the offensive, they were going at a paltry 3.8 per over at the time. It was just plain defensive, tactless captaincy showing lack of confidence in the bowlers when they had not given any reason to do so. Afridi’s inhibitions with Hafeez as a bowler have to stop, the guy has been economical and has chipped in with his couple of wickets almost every time he has been called on to bowl but still only gets the complimentary four five over burst while Razzaq who every time he runs into bowl you involuntary start reciting the Aytal Kursi gets to bowl at the death. Hafeez had figures of 5 overs for 21 yesterday but due to Afridi’s obstinate mindset he didn’t get to bowl at the death. Pakistan have to swallow their pride and ego a little bit and realize that the strength in their bowling is not pace, but they do in stead have a an excellent quartet of spinners two of which are aggressive wicket taking options (Afrid, Ajmal) while the other two (Hafeez, Rehman) are very capable of stemming the run flow from the other end. It is high time that Akhtar is used in short bursts while the spinners get to bowl at the death (especially Hafeez, Ajmal) and bowl out their full quota. Razzaq, the talisman and match winner that he is, don’t get me wrong I love the guy to death and nothing pains me more in saying it, is excess baggage in the team. I know the Pakistan team is never going to be brave enough to do this but they have to drop the guy for a specialist bowler because if the top seven haven’t performed it’s highly unlikely that the 8th will perform any wonders. Miracles do happen (S.A in Abu Dhabi anyone?) but you can’t plan your team balance around miracles. His fielding, his bowling, his technique against spin are all reason’s enough for him to warm the benches while either Rehman or Wahab Riaz (depending on the conditions, Wahab in Kandy and Rehman in Colombo) play (Ajmal remember must be a default selection for me). Now that he has also chipped in with the useless “I will just bat and keep my place in the side” fifty it will be increasingly difficult for the management to take this essential step. I will not delve much into Kamran Akmal’s keeping (not taking away from the fact that it was the single most important factor in yesterday’s loss) simply because we can’t do any thing about it at this point in the tournament (and no having Umar Akmal keep is not the right option). Whether the guy is really this bad or has taken money (I personally think he is involved in some sort of spot-fixing at least and have this interesting theory that every time he wears glasses he has done some shady deal ☺, but that’s completely my opinion) who knows? What it does though is bring the whole morale of the team down and the rest of the side starts fielding like they have cork repellants sprayed on their hands. Ahmed Shehzad, the child prodigy that he is according to many posters on here (NOT!!!), has been given plenty of chances and it’s time for him and his ugly little hair streaks to start carrying in the drinks while Akmal is pushed to open and Asad Shafiq (Oh how I Love thee!! is drafted into the playing XI. In summary playing the right balance and attacking captaincy with the most emphasis on field placements designed to save runs in the inner ring when the spinners are in action on both ends is the name of the game. Pakistan have been too rigid with their game plan thus far and seemed to have no Plan B when things started to go horribly wrong in the field. Flexibility and thinking on your feet is crucial on pitches like these and giving Abdul Razzaq his already pre-match decided quota of five overs hardly counts as such. Pakistan have to wake up and smell the fresh air right now or face the consequences of a burning wood come the knock out stages (fingers crossed we can beat Zimbabwe). You’ve read the justifications for it, now here is my suggested playing XI. Enjoying Kandy and looking forward to your comments. Go Green!!!

Hafeez
Akmal
Younis
Umar
Misbah
Asad
Afridi
Wahab Riaz/Adbur Rehman (depending on conditions)
Gul
Shoaib
Ajmal

(Posted originally for Pakpassion).

Sidenote-

You guys must have noticed that there is no mention of the press box and the experience of watching the match from in there, well it’s because I handed my pass in and watched the game from the other end in the stands. Unfortunately i got carried away with my blog post  and underestimated the power of social media. By the morning that i arrived in the media box the blog post was the talk of the town and had tweeted it’s way into every journalists, ICC person’s mail box and naturally quite a few heads turned. The ICC was made aware of the security lapses in their system and were not happy with the situation at all. Brian Muragatroyd the media manager who was nothing but nice to me was in danger of losing his job and some of the journalists were worried about their reputation and working relationship with the ICC coming under fire. I am extremely sorry about  the whole situation and take the blame entirely for getting carried away in my excitement and folly. My most sincere apologies to Brian for being most understanding and nothing but helpful during the whole situation and to the journalists and the entire media contingent who were nothing but friendly and supportive. My intentions were never ill intended and i didn’t ever mean to cause any harm by it. So despite Brian’s insistence that i cover the match from the Press Box, it just didn’t feel right and I handed in the media pass. Needless to say it was has been a great and steep learning curve.

Scarface-WC post#2

I have to start this post by thanking all friends, family and most of all total strangers from Pakpassion and Twitter that have read the previous blog post and “Saharaaoed” me with their generous comments. It’s really appreciated guys, hope all of you could be here joining in the fun. Well not all of you but “kehney main kia harj hai”. So as I mentioned in the previous post my adventurous self had totally given in to my inner desiness/laziness/jet lag call it whatever you may and I slept a whopping 16 hours on my second day. But not to worry today was the big match, the clash of the titans to say the least. I didn’t expect there to be so much hype about this game but apparently Aus and Sri games are freakin huge here on the Island. I guess it makes sense, both teams having faced each other twice on the world cup final stage (sharing the spoils so far) plus what with all the Murali/Daryl Harper controversies the Lankans really have it in for the Aussies. Who can blame them?

Tickets for this match were sold out way before I had planned this trip a month ago and my plan was to get one in black. I had heard that the Rs 50 ticket was going for Rs 2000 in the neighborhood adjacent to the Premedesa (which of course had to be a muslim neighbourhood and a “garh” for the Islamic Jamaat). A local dhabaa owner, a brother of course 😉 had guaranteed me a ticket before the Pak-Can game for the big clash and I intended to visit the same guy to get my hands on any thing possible. Found out that the best beaches in Colombo were like a five-minute walk from the Aurora guesthouse and made the compulsory walk to check the scene out. It was more of a forced endeavor really, as the sole purpose of the trip is cricket and given the extreme lack of (excuse me ladies) poondi during the first two days here not attracted that much to the beach anyway. The scene as it turned out was a bunch of nice Srilankan lads playing a game of Kabbadi while stray dogs lazed in the shade of the palm trees.  I could imagine the place being all happening at night with all the restaurant shacks lined up on the coast but right now all I got was a galore of quizzical…mmmm….wtf…looks from the locals. They did well to hide it I must say but I know when some one is giving me the “look at this ass**** strutting around in his shorts and banyan listening to music on his headphones look” when I see one. So the excursion lasted like ten minutes and I went and ate at a local dhabba on the main street which served excellent chai in a glass Dil Se style http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03TJMIpEEWA (sorry I just had to put that in there, what a scene!!!, also I know more than half of you who watched that went on to see the Chayiaan Chayiaan scene, come on admit it 🙂

(Kabbadi at the beach)


Caught the 100 from Mt Lavinia to Colombo Fort station , as sweaty and smelling of urine as ever. The purpose of public transport in Colombo just like other major cities in the Subcontinent is not to provide transportation to the general public from one part of the city to another but to make money, which is why we are blessed with two hours of amazing nineties bollywood music when really it should only be taking twenty minutes. The CTA, which goes bankrupt habitually, should seriously take note of Colombo’s bus service financial model. Picked up my reserved tickets for the train to Kandy from the Fort (really excited about the train ride btw, haven’t ridden on a desi train in ages) and then took the bus down to the checkpoints located out side the Premedesa.

(Railway Station at Fort)

Here was the tough part. To get to the restaurant dealer I wanted to buy the tickets from, I had to clear the check points and the only way they were letting people in was by looking at their tickets first. I first tried a couple of groups (college students by the look of it) to see if they were willing to do some shady dealing, but no luck. Even worse actually as they said you won’t find any black tickets today every one wanted to go watch the game. What to do? What to do? Aha…..I know this is really evil but I stood to a corner and just observed the police walas doing the checks to see which one didn’t really know English. There was this nice plump one I gathered from a far, thick mustache who looked and was acting just the type. Luckily I had my Sri Lanka Zimbabwe game ticket in my bag pack, took it out confidently strolled up to the guy and woalaaa!! It worked. He basically just saw the Sri Lankan flag on the ticket and let me in. If only the snobbish ICC weren’t such a pain in the butt and had not planted their literate workers on the stadium gates this might have worked through and through. So a kilometer walk and into the dhabba for my well earned ticket in black. Man this is going to be good! The atmosphere was electrifying to say the least, every one was dressed in the Lion’s blue even the Aussies I think were hard pressed to support the Lankans today. But yea things weren’t as rosy as expected, got a big time jhandi from the dhaaba guy (he was probably pissed that I didn’t join him for the afternoon prayer the other day) but no seriously though no body was selling any thing. Asked around from countless shady looking characters and there are plenty of then around in this neighborhood let me tell you but nope nothing doing. I was getting a bit down I must admit the constant roar emitting from the stands not helping the mood. Suddenly one of the college student groups I asked pointed at this skinny little man in a dhoti. He knew two words of English probably ticket and 2000 and that’s all he had to know really. He directed me to follow him and took some narrow lanes that lead us away from the stadium and the police. This was looking increasingly fishy but I really wanted the ticket and so decided to keep on following him. Then he zipped into this little shack of a house and shouted for one of his friends. I was on the verge of pissing myself as I followed in and his friend appeared out of thin air. I kid you not guys this guy had a huge scar splashed across his right check and eye. I must have passed out some amount of urine by now in my pants. Any moment now this guy was going to reach under his lungi and take out his dagger and that was going to be it. Bye bye world cup, bye bye Pakistan-India final :p………he did reach under his lungi but to my and more so my bladder’s extreme comfort those jagged hands only reappeared with a stash of 50 rupee tickets. He took one out and gave it to me and just as suddenly as he had appeared Scarface disappeared into one of the countless dark alleys. I could have just run away with the ticket you know, there was no way the skinny little guy could do any thing about it, but then I had a vision of Scarface and reluctantly slipped the guy the money and “kultied” my way out of there.

(The Mahol Inside)


I had the most awesome view in the general stand right behind the bowlers arm at long offish from Lee’s end. Watching the Sri Lankans practice I realized why they are by far they are the most brilliant of fielding sides. Simple….they put in a heck of a lot of effort into it. The team was out their warming up and doing fielding drills for a good hour and a half two hours before the game, compared to the 15 minutes gentle “tahalna” our boys enjoyed before the Canada game. Unforgivable really, in such a close competition the big games are going to come down to brilliance in fielding and teams will ignore the importance of this facet of the game at their own peril. Steven Smith (aka Suar ka bacha) basically changed the game with his catch and run out, Sri Lanka were always going to be chasing the game after that. Not that it amounted to much, out of a clear blue sky appeared the most murkiest of clouds, and although it’s really early for monsoon it certainly came down as if their was no tomorrow. The size and amounts of covering that Sri Lanka has along with the quantity of ground staff is quite breath taking. There were at least 150-200 people working on the field at one point. It’s a real shame really Sanga was looking in awesome nick and it was turning out to be a fantastic game of cat and mouse, plus not to mention my frustration at acquiring the ticket through such travail for no avail.

(Raiiiiinnnnnnnnnn)



Basically just made my way back home after that, oh…ate the ground stall KFC and I don’t know if they have the chicken fried rice back in Pakistan but they should definitely add it to their menu. Well not the rice itself so much but the delicious chutni they serve with it should definitely be given out free to the world. Getting absolutely drenched in the thunderous rain was awesome btw and yes Ammi I made sure I don’t catch pneumonia. It’s off to Kandy tomorrow morning in the TRAIN!! will keep you guys posted. Much more on Pakistan Cricket next time round hopefully will have access to Internet.

Also Pakpassion has asked to me officially cover the SL leg of the world cup which is awesome news and I am grateful for the opportunity. Thanks a lot guys.

Sanga Goes to fifty

Predictions-India pummel Ireland (Sachin, Sehwag both firing)

S.A beat Eng in close encounter expect Pietersen to fire.

World Cup-Colombo Travels

The flight from Chicago to Colombo was long to say the least, I didn’t help my cause by taking connections through New York, London and Bahrain but hey you can’t beat the price ($900!!!). The flights from New York and London were surprisingly empty and I got to spread my self over three seats while watching snippets of one horrible movie after the other….RED (which stands for Retired & Extremely Dangerous for any one interested)….Lucky A (at least I think that was the name)….Karthik calling Karthik (seriously enough of these wannabe Hip Indian films with stupid titles, we get it Farhan Akhtar…India is hip now, every young guy has a job, a cool scooter and wants to go on dates it’s time you came out of your Dil Chahta Hai faze and dealt with some real issues).
I of course managed to lose my wallet once on the flight to London, but wasn’t really worried as it always comes back. I am not even kidding about this one, I have lost it at least twenty times, including in a Cricket Stadium in St Lucia and THE Obama rally in Millennium Park when the entire five million strong of Chicago was there (that was really epic btw!!!! Suck it Feroze :P). So all in all it was quite smooth until the flight from Bahrain to Colombo. The airport it self was a horrible mix of Hey we are just like Dubai, so we will park a Lamborghini in between the clutter of bus terminals we are trying to pass of as an airport. Got seated next to the annoying crying baby on the flight (never fails to disappoint) and I know this sounds really bad but I just wanted to slap her really hard once

Colombo Airport was nice and simple, what the Islamabad airport should be like. As soon as you enter you know you are in a cricket mad city, every single ad poster is either about the world cup or has Sangakkara etched on it or both. Seriously this guy endorses every thing in Sri Lanka, Pepsi, cars, shirts, real estate companies, toilet paper…you name it Sanga’s got it covered. Was really nervous about the airport pick up and where I was staying to be honest, as I had booked with this really shady guesthouse listing by the name of Keerthi Perera (come on the name of the place was Aurora Guesthouse for $10 a night with WiFi and “smart and comfrtible stay” how can you not book that), but as it turned out my alarm bells were ringing for no reason. The pick up was in a nice Toyota Corolla with (to my extreme annoyance Keisha and “Baby I’ll catch a grenade for you”) playing in the car. My first impressions of Colombo was of an over populated Rawlapindi. There was quite a bit of traffic on the streets for four in the morning, and almost every other shop or business was still open). The main mode of transport is buses and to a lesser extent Rikshaws (or Autos as they are called here). Couldn’t tell much else about the place in the thick of night. It turned out Keerthi Perera was a high ranking official in Mobitel (the biggest phone company in Sri Lanka), and had sent his driver for the pick up. The driver much too my extreme jealousy had a Word Cup free pass around his neck, and as you can imagine the entirely justified thought of choking him, cutting him up in pieces and running away with the car did for a fleeting instant cross my mind.

The place I am staying at is very comfortable for the price, granted the sheets and pillows are very hospital like, but there’s running water and electricity 24/7 plus surprisingly as promised free high speed Internet, you can’t ask for much more. Tried to sleep a bit to make sure I didn’t pass out during the Pak-Canada game but that turned out to be a massive fail, so decided to go exploring a bit. I had to pick up my tickets from the SLC office for all the games I was watching and the plan was to get there and then go to the Premedesa for the match. Four hours till the game I was at least going to be sitting in the stadium for a couple. Going Ghetto is the theme for this trip and trust me it doesn’t get more ghetto than the public buses in Colombo. (Yes I know what you are thinking Abbas bhai and Asad bhai I haven’t had much public bus experience in Pakistan) but those buses and Suzukis are a joy ride compared to these. Imagine the worst possible rickety piece of sh** bus possible, pack in the most hideous looking male species on the planet and some really tacky bollywood music, (Yea for some reason all the buses I have traveled on have had Hindi songs like my new all time favourite “Nazrain mili, dil dhadka Love you Rajaaaa” playing in the background. I think the Sky Ways genre just redefined itself). And when I mean packed I mean packed in like Sardines, I mean packed in like the guy next to you is dozing while standing up and drooling on your arm and you don’t have space to move it packed. What I must add here though is how nice the people here are, it has to do with being an Island country. They are way too chill for the sub-continent. The biggest surprise are the police-walas, they actually try to help you out instead of sniffling out a 500 ruppee note from you at every possible instant. The same goes for the administrative officials, I was actually in and out of the SLC office with my tickets in twenty minutes, what ever mishaps the BCCI is carrying out with tickets have not filtered down to there Southern neighbors thankfully.

(View of Galle Road in Colombo during one of the more pleasant bus rides)

I reached the stadium with about an hour and half before the match and ran into this really annoying Phatan guy from Bannu who works for the Pakistan embassy. Seriously never sit with a Phatan when Afridi is playing in a match. This guy would have done unthinkable NC-17 rated things with Afridi if given the opportunity. I mean for God’s sake we are 184 all out against Canada and the only thing you can talk about is how Afridi should have been made captain after his 37 ball hundred on debut. (Imagine Feroze’s blind obsession/sexual infatuation with Afrid times a hundred, or Tarika on crack and talking about Sachin, or me and Asad bhai just having a chat about Wasim bhai :). The support for Pakistan cricket amongst the locals is quite amazing, this is one thing that I have noticed both in the Windies and here, countries that play unorthodox cricket and have flare in the way they play the game love the Pakistan cricket team.

After eating some tasty fish and daal from a dhaaba that would have made Ammi go SHOAAAAIIIBBB SUAAAARRR KI ULAAAD!! I managed to sneak myself into the nets area and was lucky enough to watch Younis Khan and Misbah (the last two batsmen in the team right now that need it) hitting out volleys dished out by Asad Shafiq and Junaid Khan. Even got to talk a little with Misbah (the guy is pure muscle I tell you) and get an autograph from Younis on a placard. Also I had the side on view while Junaid Khan was bowling and for all concerned his action seemed just fine. The team looked way to relaxed and for a lack of a better word “dheela” during the warm ups and one got the feeling that shit was about to hit the fan. Sure enough the annoying Canadians made quite a match of it and if it wasn’t for the perfect conditions for Afridi’s skiddy spin we would have been staring down another coach killer of a defeat. The decision to bat first was a real poor one given the over cast conditions, heavy chance of rain at the back end of the match and the fact that the team needs some real chasing practice as it would come in really handy with teams like India.

(Catching Junaid Khan’s action Side On)

The bus rides back were the most painful of all, got a nice egg/chicken/roti/rice stir fry thingy from an eatery near the guesthouse to go but didn’t manage to eat it as I just dozed off. It had been a long 48 hours. I woke up at seven in the morning with grand ambitions to go to the beach and explore a bit more of Colombo after having conquered my jet lag successfully the first night back but alas! that was all a bit to premtature as the body clock gave in to another 10 hours of sleep and I woke up at 9 in the evening! Basically SHIT ho gayee hai. Tomorrows match has been sold out for ages, but I have heard that tickets are available in black and I am also pulling some strings with Perera to get me a spot. It should be a cracker of a game, hope the Lankans can come out all guns balzing. It’s off to Kandy in what’s suppose to be a wonderful train ride next. Will keep in touch. All comments are welcome. GO GREEN!