Archive for January, 2012

Rolling Back the Years with The Left Arm of God: A Candid Interview with Wasim Akram

The sight of Wasim’s celebration in the nineties is imprinted on almost every Cricket fan’s memory

The Interview originally appeared at Dawn.com, this is the unedited version. 

Audio-Part 1 & 2

When you started playing Cricket, how much of it was tape ball growing up?

 A lot. A lot of tape ball, a lot of plain tennis ball. I remember six a side had started in Lahore and I was living with my grandmother in Inner Lahore at the time. This is around 83’ I think, I was about fifteen. Used to be a tape ball “professional” and would take Rs10/game to win sides matches.

It was only after 83’ then, that I started to play with a Cricket ball… Uss say pehley tau har jaga tennis ball tournaments hi khele..sarkon pai tournamnets ho rahay hain, ya chatoon pay, ya School ki lightonkay neechayn…Ramzan of course you used to have a tournament every night, so yes that’s how it started.

So what do you think of tape ball as the stepping stone for budding fast bowlers?

 I think the idea is really to just play Cricket at the age. Get your muscles going and just getting used to fast bowling. Then when you have hit the age of fourteen you can make the transition to a Cricket ball. So when I started bowling with a Cricket ball, I was quite nippy, because with tape ball you are already used to exerting more energy, which means I had strengthened my shoulders before I had made the switch to the Cricket ball.

Because it’s a common theory that does the rounds that since Pakistan has tape ball we have a lot of fast bowlers, and India who play with the heavier MRF ball they don’t produce as many….

 Maybe…..it’s a good observation but I have never thought about it in that regard. It could be the reason but I think the biggest factor is the difference in psyche…India main meray khial say fast bowlers aatay hain..,magar aik aik saal baad saaray ghaib ho jaatay hain bajay is kay ke aur taiz hoon.

Look at Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Munaf I can keep on going with the list. Now they have found another in Yadav but let’s hope he can keep on going instead of fading away like the rest. So by phyche I mean they often lack the hunger and drive to keep going after hitting the biggest stage, they need to push themselves more and need good mentors to work with.

You don’t think it has any technical drawbacks for a fast bowler to grow up on tape ball and then suddenly make the switch to hard ball?

 No not suddenly…aahista aahista. I went to a proper Cricket net the first time in ’83 when. A guy in my neighborhood Khalid Mahmood, a first class Cricketer, told me to go practice in the nets when he saw me bowling with tape ball on the streets. I was in class ten, didn’t really heed to his advice said “Nahi mujhe net pai nahi jaana”…so he basically forced and carried me there on the back of his bike to Ludhiana Gymkhana. That’s when I slowly left tape ball and switched to the Cricket ball.

You got a five-wicket haul in your first first-class match against N.Z, did you realize it then that “Yes I am made to do this” ?

 No I didn’t. I thought while playing that game that if I don’t get any wickets I will be gone. Wo to saath out ho gaye…but I don’t know how. I remember getting Martin Crowe, John Wright, Edgar, Reid and all and got seven in the first and two in the second innings.

But after that I got good mentors. Javed Miandad who was my captain and he really groomed me in the Cricket camp, how to play, how to put in the hard yards. Mudassar Nazar was there and then I met Imran on the Australian tour in the mini World Cup.

So when did that feeling actually sink in?

 I think when I got ten in my second test I realized…actually was told by Javed bhai “Tum ne mahnat karni hai…You can play long for Pakistan.” Mudassar Nazar insisted as well told me how to work hard. Tareeka bhi to hota hai na mehnat karnay ka, paaglon ki tarah thori bhaagay jaatay hain. So I am grateful that I had very good people surrounding me at the beginning of my career that helped me to become the bowler I was.

The story goes that you actually weren’t going to go to the open-net camp after not getting a turn in the nets…tell us a bit about that.

 It was my coach Sabih Khan and fast bowler Saud Khan, a first class cricketer as well. I had gone up to them exasperated, “Mujhe bowling nahi mili teen chaar din, tau main nahi jaa raha”. But they insisted that I go, and they will call the people up and make sure I get a turn.

So the fifth day I went and got a turn with an old ball late in the day. I looked good…Agha Saadat Ali, a test-cricketer was the camp commandant and the next day he tossed me a new ball. I have never looked back since.

You had a small bustling run up not common to fast bowlers at the time, how did that come about?

 It was the 87’ tour of England if I recall, before that I had a long run up. Imran told me why don’t you try a shorter run up, you will be able to play longer. And I said what about the pace? Imran bhai lai gaye mujhe saath apne and measured out a run up. And that’s where I ran in from and bowled at the same pace. So he said agar chotay run up say utni hee taiz kartey ho to faida kia lamba bhaagnay ka…and he was right…

How much was it Marshall’s influence ?

 Marshall also did it later on in his career. I talked to him through out and kept picking his brains whenever I could because I always thought and it still remains the same that Marshall was the most complete fast bowler Cricket had ever seen.

I played against him and with him a lot. Always used to bugger him with questions, but he always gave me time and listened to me. And of course Imran, all of fast bowling’s technicalities, your psyche and reading the batsmen’s mind every thing I learnt from him.

So Imran was to you what Terry Jenner was to Warne?

 Definitley. Fast bowling for sure. More generally I had two, him and Miandad.

 Imran always used to stand at mid-on whispering in your ear, tell us a bit about that and if you can recall specific instances following or not following his advice.

I always used to follow his advice because I needed somebody to guide me, to give me confidence in the ball I was about to bowl. And Imran say behtar to koi bowler tha hi nahi confidence bharanay kai liyay.

 With the new-ball we usually did the normal of bringing the ball in, but with the old ball he used to tell me to change it up. Kabhi bahar nikal lo, kabhi andar lay aao, kabhi bouncer kar do…

 

Imran say behtar tau koi bowler tha hi nahi confiedence denay kai liyay

Did it ever happen that Imran was saying something else and you thought otherwise?

 No I never did that, because he was Imran Khan. By 89’ I had become confident and knew what I was doing. Had played a few seasons in county and polished off my game.

Same with Waqar, we usually stood at mid-off or mid-on when the other was bowling. Aik doosray sai baat kartay rehtay the…laray hotay the magar baat kartay rehtay thay. What to do. What not to do. What should be done.

And it’s very important for young and experienced fast bowlers. I mean you only have to look at the Indian bowlers here in Australia to know that. They get hit around, they are lost, no body talks to them. At least I had people telling me what fields to set.

Laray hotay the magar baat kartay rehtay thay

Your action if one sees footage of you through the years went through a lot of modifications. Who did you work with for that?

 Mostly I just worked it out myself. Going around the wicket, going over. Sometimes front-arm over, sometimes open-chested. The idea is to distract the batsman, wo aik rat ki tarah moon utha kai bowling nahi karni. Sochna nahi, bas aa kar ball kar dena, that I didn’t want to become. Mudassar Nazar helped me a lot with these little things.

You see all these bowlers, Zaheer Khan now, Vaas earlier emulating you in the yorker they bowl. The arm goes more round arm before the action starts…

 Yes the hand goes up and it’s a much higher release, the trajectory is better with ball dropping sharply to the base of the stumps…

Did you see someone doing that? Where did that come from?

 I wasn’t told but was inspired by the great West Indian Joel Garner’s action. I gained confidence knowing I was emulating his action aur phir yorker sahi paka lagta tha.

 Unfortunately I had to abandon that later on, because the cleverer batsmen figured out when the yorker was coming, so I started bowling bouncers with that change up.

Did you bowl the slower ball much?

 Slower ball I learnt after ’92. Watching the West Indian Franklin Stevenson playing county cricket in England. In the nets I started practicing, hitting people on the head, having the ball go fly over the nets, only got it right after a lot of practice.

Uptill ’92 it was all about pace, but after the World Cup I started realizing that variations were necessary in the One-Day game. In county we would play up to three limited over competitions at a time so it became really useful once I started bowling it in actual games and picked up a few wickets with it.

In the Hampshire stint at the end of your career you said you practiced with the slower ball bouncer, no body was bowling that at the time…

Yes it wasn’t a variation used back then, but it was really at the end of my career that I started experimenting with that. I liked trying new things, was really the first that started using the left arm around the wicket angle consistently as a wicket-taking ploy.

How important is the left arm angle…

Very important, it is a very difficult angle for the batsman. When a left-armer comes round the wicket to a right hand batsman he is will always going to think the ball is going to tail in. Tau us nay khelna hi khelna hai wo ball, agar wo seedha reh jaye ya bahar nikal jaye tau edge hai.

 Later on for some reason the mind set of umpires changed a bit and the lbws were not given from that angle, but early on when I started using it I even got lbws with the fuller length deliveries.

When did you consider yourself at the top of your game?

After 89’ playing the Australian series there. After that till the end I always felt in control. The county experience had really shone through by that time and I think that had a lot to do with it. Even my batting improved a lot after that and I felt I could compete…

Not just compete but actually feel that no one could really stand up to you?

 Yes by compete I meant that I felt like I could get any one out. Kay daroon ga nahi kisi say, na darta tha as a bowler…

 So was there no one you feared bowling to?

 In that regard there have been many greats that have passed. Viv Richards, Martin Crowe, Allan Border, Mark Taylor…where there have been phases that some times they have won and sometimes I won, but was never intimidated by any one. Doosron ko intimidate kia hai, kabhi hoa nahi hoon. I knew how to tackle them, where to bowl what to them, bouncer, yorker I knew by 90’ how to get on top of a batsman.

Any spells that you remember in that regard.

 There are many spells like that but where it started was in 89/90. The Australian tour, in Melbourne specifically where I picked up eleven wickets. Wickets with the new ball, then with the old ball, reverse swinging it both in and out… even bowling batsmen off low swinging full tosses.

You have said that you considered King Viv to be the greatest batsmen you have bowled to. Tell us a bit about how it felt like bowling to him?

 Viv was a very different breed; it wasn’t just his batting but the whole aura that surrounded him. Over six feet tall, itnay itnay muscles, no sign of any protection, forget the arm or chest guard not even a helmet. So that whole aura was intimidating for a young skinny lad that I was at the time.

But I got him out a few times, because at that point he had started to come downhill and his greatest days were behind him, and I am glad I faced him then and not before.

The young skinny lad that was over awed by the sheer aura of Sir Vivian Richards

How do you rate him with the modern greats?

 His record is of course not the same in terms of numbers but he was the most devastating I have bowled to. It’s hard to rate him and compare him to the newer guys because I caught him so late in his career, but growing up I watched and admired him a lot. There was one name only and that was Vivian Richards.

But as a player playing against the best always gave me inspiration. Main kehta tha iss kay khilaf performance zaroor karni hai…Botham khel raha ho tau ussay girana hai…same with Viv and all the top guys.

And how would you rate them amongst themselves; Tendulkar, Lara, Ponting, Kallis, Inzi, Dravid?

 Man it’s very difficult. They all have such amazing records, it’s difficult to pick one out of them…

Bowling at them who did you feel like was the hardest to bowl at?

 Got Ponting out multiple times, without getting smacked around much. Tendulkar I didn’t play a test against in my peak for ten years. Also have gotten Lara out, but think he was the most difficult to bowl to. He was very unusual to a bowler’s eye…the bat coming down from up high at an awkward angle. Kabhi yahan jump karna kabhi wahan jump karna…so he was some one very different and difficult to bowl to.

Two Modern Greats of the ODI Era; unfortunately Wasim never faced up to the Little Master in Tests during his peak years

So no batsman worried or intimidated you ever…

 If I had to pick someone it would have to be Gilchrist in ODIs…

You say that, but at the same time have some amazing dismissals against him…

 Yes, but he has hit me quite a bit as well man. He wasn’t like an Afridi type pinch hitter. Kai pata hai kai Afridi sahib nay 100 main say aik match main chalna hai baaqi ka pata nahi…he was a proper batsman and could hit you at any time…

You also bowled to Sehwag. Was he comparable?

 I have bowled very little to Sehwag and didn’t feel the same way. In 98/99 he came down at five or six in the Pepsi Cup in India and Akhtar and Razzaq got him I think. And the only other time was the 03’ World Cup where he had gotten off to a great start thanks to our “premium” fast-bowler Shoaib Akhtar.

So I wouldn’t say any one intimidated me. With Gilchrist though I was a bit weary when bowling

Pace is everything to a fast bowler, but there comes a time over a long career when you start losing it. When did that happen to you? And what were your feelings at the time, is there a sense of denial at all?

 No I didn’t go through denial. After 97’ I think I realized that I had lost a bit of pace. Was always nippy, but I had mastered the swinging ball by then. There is no room for denial… Pata hona chiyay aap ko apnay khial main…a lot more to fast bowling than just pace.

Tell me a bit about defending that 125 against N.Z in 92/93 with Waqar?

 It was a long time ago, but we had decided that ball haath say chorna nahi hai, because if we had left it then the match was gone…

Was there a tiff going on at the time as well?

 No, Javed was captain at the time and Waqar was also new to the team. Javed bhai gave us the ball and told us what ever you can do you will have to do with the new ball. Tab tau thaktay bhi nahi thay hum…and it started to reverse a tiny bit at the end which gave us more hope, because N.Z never really learnt to tackle reverse swing, none of their batsmen really had a clue apart from Martin Crowe.

Your records in both Tests and ODIs are amazing but you got the feeling as a viewer that you especially enjoyed bowling with the white ball in your hand.

Yes early on, but later they changed the rules. The two new balls disappeared; the bouncers were banned which made it really difficult with one white ball. But I really enjoyed bowling in the death more than any thing else.

But as much fun as all that was, Test Cricket was the ultimate. In ODIs you knew  that at end you bowl in the block hole, with the batsmen are hitting out, you will pick up wickets. Magar  mazaa tau Test Cricket ka hee hai na phir.

 So you agree with the two new balls coming back into ODIs?

 Yes I do. I mean just look at Cricket today, every thing is tilted in the batsman’s favor. Especially on the Sub-Continent tracks where the ball deteriorates quickly and you started to lose sight of it after the 12th Over!  So Thank god ICC had the brains to bring in some change.

Two deliveries. One is to Dravid in Chennai where you take the top of off after a loud lbw shout turned down, and the other is one to Croft in England where it defies physics and hits him infront only to be turned down. Both have created quite a furor on YouTube amongst the fans, can you tell us a bit about them.

 I do remember them both being reverse swing. Croft I went round the wicket aur sahi zoor laga kar bowling kar raha tha. I bowled really fast on the Oval wicket, this was 96’I think. I remember somebody gave me a picture where Alec Stewart is ducking me and both his feet are airborne and over the wickets as he is swaying out of the way.

The second one… I had brought two balls into Dravid earlier. In this day and age he would have been given out with out a doubt. Magar nahi out diya….and before that in the previous over I had also just worked on bringing it in, and then I said ab main is ki laat say bahar nikaalta hoon ball and that’s what I did. And what I had visualized in my mind…that this is where I am going to pitch the ball and this is what is going to happen… thankfully exactly that happened.

So you are saying you had complete control over those miraculous deliveries?

 Definitely yes. Tukkay main aisee ball nahi ho sakti. You can bowl a bouncer and get a top edge or the batsman gifts you a wicket off a fluke ball, but you can’t get wickets like those, with the old ball to boot off a fluke.

The 1999 WC loss, of course a low point in your career…

 Very low man. Forget even the fact that we lost the final, the way we lost that match and the performance we gave…spineless.

The way we lost is what hurt the most…..spineless!

How much did it hurt compared to 1996?

 The feeling was very different. In 1996 it was more on the attitude of the players. We had players like Amir Sohail etc, I was injured, they knew I was injured and wouldn’t and couldn’t play the quarterfinal. And match sey pehle hi mood nazar aa rahay thay kay haar jaien gay, kiunke paata tha kay jeet gaye tau Wasim ka naam ho jaye ga.

 You see these Cricketers have spent their entire careers trying to bring me down instead of focusing on their play. Iss liye apni performance bhi nahi kar paaye sahi tarah. They have always been distracted.

Back to ‘99 then, tell us a bit about the mood in the dressing room before the final, what was going through your mind.

We were very confident. The entire tournament we had been performing well. We had an excellent bowling attack in Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain, Azhar, Razzaq and myself. We were batting down till no9….

In hindsight do you think the decision was right to bat first?

 Always, I have always thought it was the right decision. We were batting first on seaming tracks through out the tournament and it had been working for us.

Relating to that, we saw a lot of highs during your captaincy, but one thing that also came to the fore was the chasing problem. Why?

 I think it is more psychological more than any thing else. The Pakistan team still on most occasions falters when chasing, even scores like 220-230. A sense of fear creeps in and they are confused about the approach instead of just trying to get there sensibly with rotations of strike.

This fear doesn’t go with the team of the time, I mean starting from Imran and then you, Waqar as a bowler…Shoaib Akhtar all very aggressive players. Moin Khan another very aggressive cricketer, then why were you guys so defensive in chasing and had this “bakri” like approach?

 It was always in the head, I think fear of losing becomes too much. Log kya kahain gay agar haar gaaye…the batsmen already start thinking of that instead of concentrating at the score. We did try to get rid of this mental stigma but in the end it depends on the batsmen and how good they are as players and more importantly how mentality strong they are. I mean you have to play out the fifty overs to chase 250 in the end either way you look at it.

Would you agree to the notion that Inzi, the great talent that he was, always shielded himself for his entire career by coming down at no5 ?

 Of course, if Inzi had come at one or two down he would have been a different player. He would have had over 10 000 runs in Test Cricket, and would have had much more than Miandad even, who he wasn’t far behind when he ended.

But he always use to go on the back foot, because he didn’t believe in himself fully, that’s where Inzi’s problems always lied.

Quick…five wickets that come to your mind.

Hmmm…(long pause) I’ll have to think about them…

Just whatever is coming to your mind first

 Nahi koi bhi nahi aa rahi abhi tau yaar

 Kitni 500 wicketain lee hain…

 Yes 500 ODI over 1000 first class wickets…I have to think about them… Is tarah nahi aa rahi agala sawal pooch lo beta

 How was it playing under Waqar? What did you think of Waqar as a bowler? And as a captain?

 As a bowler…great bowler, a great sight to watch, one of the greatest bowlers of all time.

As a captain he had no brains, no strategy and was always on the back foot.

But as a bowler he was one of the most pleasant sights and I don’t think I saw or will see a bowler like him ever again.

And as a coach?

I think Waqar did well for Pakistan, but I think he and other people in Pakistan should realize that once you have stopped playing that’s it for you, it is the players who will remain in the limelight not the coach. In our part of the world who ever is coach, wants power first then the job. Tum nay power kia karni hai bhai, tum ho kaptaan kay peechay, kaptaan aur players ki madad karnay kai liyay bas. Descion making is the captain’s job and he has the final say.

This is the wrong mentality that Waqar had and Miandad for that matter. Kay mujhay power day do saari, I mean I coach KKR and all I want is for the guys to listen to my advice and show up at the nets on time. Just make a strategy and give it to them and then it is up to them. Stay away from the limelight, like Gary Kirsten did. If any body wants to know how a coach should behave they should look at Kirsten’s model and how he remained in the shadow.

For most people growing up in the nineties the sight of you running in at Sharjah is imprinted in memory…how do you rate Sharjah and what are your other favorite venues.

Sharjah was good fun. I loved playing there because of the crowd (half Indian, half Pakistani), the noise levels, and the attention we got as players. The facilities were nice too, but the tension and the pleasure that tension brought when you got a wicket is what made that place so special.

But if I had to pick a ground it will have to be Melbourne because of the pace and bounce and because every time I bowled there I got wickets. In Pakistan I would pick Karachi and bowling in the evenings with the sea breeze coming in. It used to swing three, three feet some time, making it even hard to control some times in that breeze.

Any other bowler you would exchange your career for?

 Malcolm Marshall.

You will exchange it, just like that…

 Haaaan! Araam say.

 Not Imran Khan?

 Nahi as a bowler Marshall,  as a leader Imran Khan of course.

When you played your last match in the 2003 WC, you were the highest wicket taker in the competition at the time. Do you think you could have gone on for longer?

Of course I could have played on. At least ODIs I would have like to carry on in. But for some reason the chairman at the time, Gen Tauqir Zia thought he knew more Cricket than me kiunke main khela hoon 100 Test, 400 One Day aur wo khela go shaaid aik club ka game. So it was more ego than any thing else.

When chairmans come in Pakistan Cricket their ego for some reason goes through the roof. They start thinking they are god…NouzibillAllah. And so I retired and thank god I did..kiunke un kai under main khelna bhi nahi chahta tha. Waqar ka bhi kaafi satya naas kia hai un sub nay…

 Because there are a lot of fans who cling onto the hope that one fine morning they will wake up to a Wasim bhai come back, we heard you bowled recently in the KKR nets and were still troubling all the batsman…

 Haan shooro main tau main bore hoa hoon wahan magar baad main ki hai bolwing sub ko. It was coming out fine and the batsman were troubled, swing ho rahi thi bowl

So what do you say about a comeback?

 No there is a time for every thing and I have had my time. Not like most Cricketers in our part of the world… jo coaching hi karay jaa rahay hain peechlay assi saal say, and don’t give any chance to the new people. I am not taking any names but you know what I mean.

Wasim’s blistering performance with the bat, and sheer artistry with the ball, won Pakistan the 1992 WC Final. It remains the country’s biggest sporting achievement to date.

Your memory is unfortunately fading and you are allowed to have one ball either the Alan Lamb or Chris Lewis ball remain intact. Which one?

Definitely Alan Lamb. It’s an unplayable delivery which was planned. I asked Imran what to do and he said do this. Fairbrother was there who told Lamb what was going to happen, that I was going to go around the wicket, because we played for Lancashire together. Magar Allan Lamb ko pata nahi tha kai around the wicket koi aisee ball bhi kar sakta hai. It was a very difficult ball.

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Walking the Talk: When Silence is Golden

Originally for Dawn.com, this is the unedited version

Ajmals performance should have been enough to shut the English Media up (Image Getty)

As the Pakistanis are savoring their majestic all-round effort to send the English packing with in three days, the tourists especially the English media contingent are licking their wounds and thinking of novel ways to further malign Ajmal’s action while teeing of on the luxurious golf courses in Dubai.

Controversy has never been far from a Pakistan England encounter, but nobody expected it to begin in the record time it did this week in the UAE. Pakistan, through Ajmal’s artistry, had barely finished delivering the early one two-sucker punch on the morning of the first day that muted calls of foul play and doubtful actions had started ringing in from London. Surprisingly it wasn’t the usually below-par English print dailies doing the whining but the highly reputable Sky headquarters, chock-a-block with some distinguished past Cricketing luminaries in Willis and Gower that started the rot.

“The off-spinner has a conventional round arm, and that doesn’t seem to be a threat but the doosra is the delivery that the batsmen are all struggling with. The authorities are now allowing these mystery spinners, unorthodox off-spinners, to bend their elbow.” complained an irked Bob Willis in one of his lighter rants.

It got worse a couple of hours and wickets later during the tea break when Willis went on to accuse Ajmal of wearing a long sleeve shirt to conceal a kink, completely disregarding the fact that play was being held in the middle of winter, and that eight others were dressed similarly on the field. Matters weren’t helped either when Swann came on to ball later the same day in exactly the same attire.

All respect to the “critics” losing their heads over the still photographs off Ajmal circulating the web, but a little composure and perspective is in order. As already well known, Ajmal has been cleared by an independent ICC approved specialist. Dr. Bruce Elliot a Professor of Bio-Mechanics, Motor Learning and Development at the University of Western Australia cleared the smiling assassin back in 2009 when the Australians were having a hard time deconstructing Ajmal’s mystery. He revealed then that, “during a comprehensive analysis it was apparent that the amount of elbow extension in Saeed Ajmal’s bowling action for all deliveries was within the 15-degree level of tolerance permitted in the ICC regulations”.

If that’s not satisfactory enough for the likes of Bob Willis, maybe he should try this on for size. The ICC’s chief Biomechanics analyst and consultant, Dr Paul Hurrion recently went into some detail about how these tests were conducted so that to remove any lingering doubts on whether the “conniving” spinner had in fact sneaked his way through the trials. “We use synchronized footage of the player bowling in a match to check that they are not just going through the motions or altering their style. They have to replicate the speed of a delivery from a match, the deviation and the revolutions of the ball. When being tested, the bowler is topless and has reflective markers all over his bowling arm, so the 3D, high-speed cameras can film him from every angle” explained the expert.

Really all this would have been unnecessary though if spin and its nuances were given the proper study and credit deserving of the art. For those who have spent a bit of time delving into the deeply enriched nature of spin bowling will know how oversimplified it has been through the years. It is this generalization and viewing of the skill from a very convex lens that has lead to the tirade against innovation seen today.

Spinners for ages have been classified into two broad categories, wrist and finger, with the leggies in the former and the off-break slotting into the later. Nothing could be further from the truth, as many spinners seen on the international circuit today are highly varied and incomparable.

First thing first, the misconception of wrist and finger spin. There is no form of conventional spin that isn’t aided by the wrist; the reason why leg spin is wrist spin while conventional off-spin is not depends on the timing of the wrist action. In normal off-spin the wrist plays its part first only to hand the ball to the fingers, while the opposite applies to leg spin. The only true finger-spinner in the game is Mendis or Ashwin’s much hyped up Sudoku ball.

The only true “finger” spinners in International Cricket (Images:TenSports, Reuters)

Most conventional off-spinners, are forearm spinners. It is in the turning of their forearm in the delivery action, from the palm side facing downwards to it facing upwards (a position medically termed supination) that they derive most of their spin. Lyon, Swann, Huaritz, Ojha, Vettori are all examples of these conventional forearm spinners playing the international game.

Then there is Murali, the greatest conjurer of them all. To call him a finger spinner would be nothing short of travesty. His entire array of deliveries was dependent on an insane amount of work to be done by the shoulder joint, and was more a shoulder spinner than any thing else.

Murali –A Shoulder Spinner, Swann --A Forearm Spinner (Images: Reuters, AP)

The man in the limelight this past week however, Ajmal, is another anomaly. He is not a shoulder, finger, or forearm spinner, but instead has dug up the buried art of wrist-spin normally confined to just legspinners and given it a most exciting twist. Most of his spin is not dependent on the fingers, or shoulder but the wrist acting in the opposite manner to which it would for a conventional leggie.

So Ajmal instead of just using his wrist to pass on the ball to the fingers (as Swann, or any conventional offie would do), uses his wrist as the major body part imparting the spin. Getting the wrist in position for an off-break takes that extra fraction of a second, which in tum means he has the delayed, jerky action that is so hotly debated.

Ajmal Wrist Spinning action requires time for the wrist to get into position leading to the Jerkier Action (Image -AP)

This novel wrist spinning style is also the reason why Ajmal has been able to stock up his bowling arsenal with a skiddy straighter one, or what he likes to term the teesra. Nothing new, it has been part of a leg spinners bag of tricks for generations, Warne liked to call it the slider, but with the off-spinner’s action it will take time for the batsman to adjust to the newest variation. Really the English batsman should be focusing on picking the doosra, instead of getting ahead of them selves and getting tangled up in the teesra talk.

As Trott and Prior exhibited in their short stable innings, it was the patience and assured footwork, that the England batsmen were actually missing. Their failure to read Ajmal’s length more than any thing else is their biggest cause for concern. Of course it would serve the team better if the English media and T.V pundits were focused on offering some positive criticism on this front instead of resorting to their age old tactics of griping and digging up a scandal.

This is not the first time Ajmal is bowling to the English batsmen. He was there in the 2010 tour, and has bowled to them quite frequently in county Cricket as well. The only difference of course, this time the off-spinner is the major threat instead of a mere clean-up act behind Asif and Amir. Let’s hope that unlike the recent English tours he decides to take the lead from the Dark Art tour back in the summer of ‘92, when the two Ws vented out their entire anger and a barrage of banana reverse-swingers to go with it at the clueless English batsmen.

It was the Dark-Art in 1992, but reverse swing in 2005. Wonder how long it will take for the doosra and bowlers like Ajmal to get the credit they deserve? Surely not till an English off-spinner well practiced in the art comes along, but until then the Pakistanis have the virtuosity of their wonder off-spinner to relish in.

Previewing Pak v Eng with The Two Chucks

Got to hang out with the two chucks to discuss the Pakistan England series just about to commence.

This is an unedited (slightly censored) version and viewers who mind swearing etc are asked to wait for a family friendly version that should go up on PP soon. Think no point having the Chucks on if we were going to be uptight about it, and this has very little to do with my laziness and shoddy editing abilities. It’s in two parts hope you guys like it and thanks a lot to the Chucks for giving their time, and don’t forget to check out their upcoming documentary on Test Cricket at deathofagentlemanfilm.wordpress.com/

From Chemistry to Cricket: A Candid Chat with Harsha Bhogle

I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down and having a chat with renowned Cricket Broadcaster Harsha Bhogle. Harsha, who commentated in his first international in 1985, is now a household name in the Subcontinent. Here I talk to him in an interview for Pakpassion about commentary, Indian Cricket and life in general. 

A Chemistry college major and a Management grad student Harsha against the odds found his niche in Cricket Broadcasting

We know Harsha the commentator through listening to your commentary for the past so many years, but tell us a bit about Harsha the man before he got to where he is today…surely that is a story in itself?

I don’t know…I don’t actually know whether it’s worth recounting it was such a long time ago. I went to school and played Cricket there, then played for the University lower division for two years, then seniors for three and got picked to represent my University side in the all India University Competition. So that’s the level of Cricket I have played.

I always say if you have played enough Cricket to understand the pain and joys that come with the game and know how it feels to be out there in the field then you are good to go. You won’t see me commenting on pitches for instance, because I don’t understand them but stuff you are able to understand you are fine commenting on. I did Chemical Engineering and it was a very busy time for me. Did an Advance Diploma in French and believe that age between 18 and 24 is a blessing for people that they shouldn’t let go. Was fortunate enough to get into India’s top management school after that, and things happened from there.

So how did you take the step towards Commentary?

I used to do radio commentary on Ranji trophy games which is a story in itself. I was batting at 6 or 7 one day and decided to record some commentary on my University’s side openers. So i got those big cassette players that you had at the time and pressed play and record at the same time. Wouldn’t have been a wink over nineteen at the time. My University side loved it and wanted me to send it to All India Radio. But they would have none of it.

So my father talked to a Professor of Urdu, a very nice lady by the name of Zeenat Sajida at the University whose son I studied with. She said “Aisay kaisy bahcay ki tape nahi sun rahe hain, main baat karti hoon Station Master say, humaray parosi hain.” And so she had the Station Master Mr J.D Baweja over for lunch one day. The man turned out to be a very jovial ,  larger than life character from Lahore, who loved sharing his stories of growing up there before ’47.  He decided to give me a run on some Ranji Trophy games and so that’s how it started . There are always good people in the world.

Your favorite commentators growing up and if you hinged on to one liners like the Youtube generation does?

Naah..l read growing up about the aura around Arlott and all. But as I came into this business I realized that a lot of it had to do with archiving and the Westerners’ love of recording.  No one catalogues their stuff like the British do, and no one let’s gold go through like we in the Sub-Continent do. They promoted their own people and we sadly don’t give ours the same attention.

I met Ted Baxter, the producer of Test Match Special years later and he told me how often Arlott’s best “off-the-cuff” lines were also the most rehearsed. And I said “hmm I am learning some thing new I didn’t know before“, but they were all great commentators no doubt about that.

Another great thing was the fact that there was no television to distract the radio commentator. All the great broadcasters, you look at Arlott and Jhonston in England, McGill Ray here in Australia, Charles Fortune in S.A, Bobby Talyar Khan in India, Omar Qureshi in Pakistan, all made their name in the pre-television era. So I wasn’t influenced much growing up except for this great Indian Radio commentator by the name of Anand Setalwad who had a great cadence to his voice. But I didn’t follow or imitate expressions and lines, maybe it helped actually, because if you copy some one you only turn out becoming second best.

Differences you felt doing Radio and T.V commentary ?

Radio is easier, and definitely much more fun than T.V can ever dream of becoming. If you look at Cricket it’s a stop start game, and t.v is a stop start medium. More in the sub-continent where you are constantly going into commercial breaks, but increasingly all over the world now. When there is no play you don’t actually need to say any thing as the pictures are telling the story for you. In T.V you only have that 20 second period where you have to commentate going in and out of breaks, and with teams like Ch9 and Sky introducing three commentators at a time that time is reducing even more to around 10-12 seconds. So T.V is a lot more restricted, where as Radio takes a stop-start game and gives it continuity. It’s the story teller’s medium.

Every one who does broadcasting will love doing Radio more, but will do T.V because it gives you fame, exposure, money. People know you more and you feel good about that, so it has its benefits.

You mentioned to me earlier that doing Radio Commentary for ABC was the most pleasurable experiences in your broadcasting career, can you expand  a bit on that?

It’s the only place I would do Radio Commentary now, the last time I did it was four years ago here, and before that it was another four years prior to that. ABC are willing to adjust their roster according to my schedule and that helps a lot. Ever since I landed in Australia back in ’91, I have taken to this country like it’s my own. I love the attitude of people here, they always have a strong point of view and not shy of sharing it, but they are always receptive of yours in return.

I came here as a thirty-year old and got accepted really quickly, and to be accepted in another country as a broadcaster is a exciting and an honor. The ABC have always been very nice to me, so it’s almost like I regard it as my second broadcasting home after ESPNSTAR. We in the Sub-Continent are sentimental people and don’t like to forget these things easily.

Any funny/memorable moments that might come to mind in the booth, that don’t get out to the public?

Funny will come more in Radio, but I remember the good old Sahara Cup Days. Geoffrey (Boycott) was so funny. We were on top of the Toronto Skating and Curling Club once trying to record, and it was so cold that we had to borrow the camera man’s clothes. Geoffrey had covered himself up to the nose and with his hat also there, his eyes were the only part of his body visible. He tried recording through all that and we couldn’t get any of it done because none of us could stop laughing at the sight of him. Radio you will get a lot more funny moments just because of the nature of the medium and these last few weeks with Kerry O’Keeffe have been especially memorable.

The most memorable experience in my entire career without a shadow of doubt however was the India-Pakistan Test match in Chennai. It had been a security tour more than any thing else, but Chennai is a great city from that point. It’s not a provocative city, it’s a Cricket loving city and really they couldn’t have cared less about what was going around. The north of India is bothered much more about what’s happening at the border and all, the South not that much. It was a very close game, Sachin played one his best ever knocks and Pakistan in the end won by twelve runs I think.

And Wasim took his team on a victory lap…can you imagine coming to India under such pressure and taking your side on a victory lap, would be unheard of today, but could only happen in Chennai. I was about to hang my boots up after the presentation “Thank you ladies and gentlemen, will see you in Delhi….” when suddenly the producer’s voice popped in my ear and told me to keep talking. “Keep talking and I will give you live pictures in a few seconds….just keep talking over them…”. And it still makes my hair stand up as I recall and see it. As Wasim took the team round, it was almost like if it was a giant Mexican wave, everybody stood up and started clapping and I remember saying that, “Today sports and followers of sports have shown that it transcends every thing else, that in sports the community transcends and fits in with another community perfectly.” I talked to Wasim about it years later and he said he couldn’t believe what was happening.

Your thoughts on what’s going wrong with the Indian team here in Australia…

India always struggle overseas. We tend to lose the first test match every where we go, S.A when we went their just over a year ago, England in the summer, over here in 07/08….

There is something more than just that, don’t you think ? Given their performances in England and now here…

Well what that does is, it puts you on the back foot from the start, and once you are on the back foot you need some thing remarkable to pull you back. What was happening in the past was that Laxman, Tendulkar, Dravid were able to pull off that something remarkable. You had a very strong captain in Anil Kumble who had a big part to play as well. Now it’s the younger generation’s turn, by now I would have loved to see Dravid and Laxman in support roles, maybe even bat at five and six and would have had the youngsters breaking open the door open and stake their claim….

You think they have been given the appropriate opportunities…

Every time a youngster has been given the opportunity he hasn’t taken it. Yuvraj had many, Raina had a few and Virat has now played six test matches. Chetashwara Pujara, in the eyes of some our next greatest batting prospect, got a brilliant 72 against Australia in India, went to South Africa and struggled. So then the captain has to decide at all times what is his best chance, is Laxman his best chance, is Rohit his best chance or Kohli his best chance. So I am a little bit concerned with our young guys at not having kicked off one of the seniors by now and at least keeping the other two on tenterhooks…

…And we have never been a great bowling side to boot. Kumble and Srinath bore the burden for years, but most of the times we have played without even having a genuine third bowling option let alone four. Which is why India always struggled abroad and did well at home, because in the sub-continent the new ball doesn’t matter that much.

What do you think of Dhoni’s Captaincy?

I like him as Captain because the game looks simple from a hundred yards and even easier thousands of kilometers away… when it isn’t. And I don’t go much into captaincy because you have to trust the man on the job and back his instincts. And over a career Dhoni’s instincts have been right more often than wrong. There is a feeling he is a better ODI Captain than Test but that may also be because India have a better ODI team than a Test team currently.

You must also see the people he has available, in England who would he attack with. Zaheer Khan was gone, Sharma was running in all day and getting nothing and Parveen Kumar, not an Anderson or Dale Steyn to begin with did his best…

But over here they seem to have a reasonably good attack…

It seems that way, if it was a good bowling attack Australia would not have gotten over six hundred from being three down at fifty…

But surely the field placements had some thing to do with that…

It’s easy to say…maybe Dhoni was a bit more defensive than he needed to be and there is some thing in his mind. Maybe he doesn’t trust his bowlers much, or the wounds of England are too strong but I tend to think you have appointed a captain and you should trust him. As I said it’s an easy game from a hundred yards away and 8000 km away a very easy game. Saurav Ganguly once told me that he used to get 5 out of 10 decisions right when Captain and he turned out to be a fine leader.

You see questions being raised and tough calls being made if India are inflicted with another 4-0 drubbing?

Of course and I see nothing wrong with questions being raised and tough calls being made because India now have about eight months before a test tour….

And about two years before an overseas tour… 

Which is the damaging part of it all that’s glossed over. Ashwin and Ojha can win you a test series in India, they can never win it for you in England or South Africa. Laxman and Ishant Sharma can win you a test match against Australia in India, can they do it in Australia? Two years here, you can say lets keep winning in India with Laxman, Dravid scoring the runs or you can say great time to blood these youngsters and give them the full opportunity. But you will never know if they can do it abroad given the itineraries which is the sad part of it all.

Clearly you seem irked by the administrators…

My concern is the other team that plays for India, which is indeed the administration. You should never allow South Africa, England, Australia to follow in quick succession, but sadly we don’t spend too much time thinking of itineraries and how to make the best out of a tour. In 2008 we came here with only forty-eight overs of Cricket under our belts before the first Test, if I was the Australian captain I would have died laughing. So I think in the Sub-Continent we lose the administrative war.

I mean look at Pakistan for another example. We look at Pakistan and marvel at the players coming through but laugh at the administration constantly. Pakistan should be in the top three Test playing countries of the world constantly for the type of players they produce, but the administration doesn’t allow for that. Sri Lanka is broke and Bangladesh Cricket hasn’t grown in fifteen years.

What are your views  on the decline of commentating standards? And the fact that almost all commentators coming through are past players….who more often than not are almost painful to hear.

It’s a tricky one for me, my views on this are very strong, but if i express them I project myself almost as a loser. I didn’t play international Cricket, I played University Cricket, which is good enough for me. But whatever I say will always be covered by that fact.

But I have seen far too many Cricketers not understand their audience and not understand their medium. Cricket broadcasting is about two things, it’s about knowing the game and being able to communicate yourself to the people listening. If you don’t know the game inside out but are able to communicate it’s only half bad. By that I mean it is not as bad as sitting in a thermodynamics exam after studying English Literature all your life.

But if you don’t know how to communicate than it is just so much worse. And I think a lot of the boards these days and the producers these days are focusing on the knowing bit and not so much the communication bit. Which is why frankly commentators these days are getting boring. The bar for Cricketers, especially in the Sub-Continent to make that switch to commentating is set very small, while for a non-cricketer it is very high.

I count myself very lucky that I started when I did, today it is much harder, I wouldn’t even get a first class game today. There is of course the flip side. I don’t think a television commentary panel, or any commentary panel can be made exclusively of non-international players. Because there is a certain gravitas, a certain credibility that a Cricketer brings in. If a Cricketer can communicate, that’s the best combination there is no doubt in my mind at all.

But you need a combination of the two, one two keep the continuity in the story going and two to understand the fan. If you are a Cricketer, you tend to have lived in a bubble for quite a time and some time you forget what a fan feels like. Sometimes the player is so distant and so into the game that he would feel like “Yeh kia cheez hain kehne wali“, it’s almost beneath him…

Magar jo fan hota hai, ussay har cheez samajh nahi aati. Tau jaisey main aksar kheta hoon chauda saal kay larkay ko Test player nahi seekha sakta Cricket, Test player ussi ko seekha sakta hai jo U-19 ya first class khela ho. Tau uss larkay ko ussi level ka hee coach chaiyay.

So you need two kinds of people, in a commentary box to reach out to the audience.

How are schedules come up with in the commentator’s box…

It’s the producers call, he makes the rosters at the start of the day…

Because you get the feeling that Gavaskar and Shastri are always on  whenever some big milestone is around the corner.

I don’t know, I never worry about that. I mean I come in the morning and look at the roster and see who I am with and get my self ready. By that I prepare myself, because I have worked with Ravi, Gavaskar, Wasim, Chappelli so much that I know how to  make them comfortable…

So it’s not like Tendulkar is getting a 200, let these two just slide in…

I don’t know if it’s like that, but honestly I won’t lose sleep over it. That is the producer’s call, if a commentator is trying to influence a producer that is not a great way to live. At the end of the day I want to have fun, and if I am looking at conspiracy theories then I won’t have fun, and if that’s the case then my career is not worth it. The roster does change sometimes but that is the producer’s call and I don’t lose sleep over it.

A commentary moment you weren’t there and would have loved to be on air?

I wish I was on air when India won the 2011 World Cup. And it is also my perennial regret that when India won the 2007 T20 WC an Indian wasn’t on air…

Ravi was on air if I recall…  

Only for a very short while, he had to leave for the presentation, and Bumble was on the air. Now David Lloyd is as fine a commentator  as there is but to truly understand and communicate what the moment meant to the team and the majority of the audience you needed an Indian to be talking about it.

I don’t know how old you were at the time when Pakistan won the world cup in 1992. But you needed a Pakistani there to understand what it meant for a twelve, thirteen year old kid in Lahore or Karachi to win the World Cup. And nobody could understand that unless they have been that twelve year old kid growing up in Lahore or Karachi. So I think it was a broadcasting blunder in 2007, if the English team was winning the World Cup, I would have moved out and let an Englishman take over and that happens throughout the world. So yes I would have loved to be on air on those two occasions, but that’s ok…I have gained so much more than I have lost….why am I complaining like an old man?

I get a feeling that a lot of commentary is based on who you are surrounded by…if you have a good team you come off much better  individually. Is there any truth to this?

I’ll tell you what the secret is. A good pitch and you will get a good match, similarly a good producer means a good telecast. The producer will handle every thing and see to it that things are going smoothly. He will make sure the little things are just right. There is a work ethic to broadcasting that in the Sub-Continent we take too many liberties with, and that work ethic is paramount.

But specifically speaking about just the commentary part, do you feed off people you are commentating with?

Always…always. Each commentator feeds of his partner or partners. There is no doubt about that at all. Also if a commentator doesn’t rate the other you can sense it straight away.

Your thoughts on Ganguly as a commentator. I think after a long time here is a commentator from the Sub-Continent that has great insight and can communicate as you put it.

I’ll tell you what I want for Saurav, I want him to work with a good producer. What I like about him is the fact the he doesn’t sit on the fence. A commentator who says you can do this and can do that, you don’t really need an expert for that, you and I can do that. He speaks his mind. He understands what the players psyche is, because he is from the same generation. He understands what it feels to be insecure and what it feels to be confident, but is not afraid of saying it.

At the moment all I would tell him is to take a little breather. He is a bit too eager, like a child with his new found toys, but that happens. In the course of time he will find the right mean on how much to talk, but at the moment he has been a breath of fresh air.

Do you see the forced commercialization coming into commentary with the Citi moment’s of success and DLF maximums as defacing the art? 

I can see why they are coming in, but the reason I don’t like it is because of the fundamental bond that exists between the commentator and the listener. The bond of trust. The moment I am listening to a broadcaster I must trust that he is impartial. I must trust that he is speaking his mind, and I must know the broadcaster is not tainted by other considerations.

So the moment you have that commercializations coming out that bond is attacked. How far you let that go is a sign of the times but I see the Karbon Kamal catch and DLF maximums as the lesser of the two evils, evils none the less. Where I drew the line was when doing product promotions. When I had to say stuff like “What a great car this is, it does this and this…” No.  I am not a brand spokesman. They are a separate category of people, I am merely a sports broadcaster.

When I say DLF maximum it is the lesser of the two evils because I am not saying DLF is the best housing contractor in India or that MRF produces the best tires. Ideally I would like this to not be there as well, as that bond of trust weakens. I think Indian Cricket makes enough money to do without it and squeeze some from these gimmicks as well. The public doesn’t like it and in the end you have to give the public what it wants.

Originally for Pakpassion.net

Pakistan Dream To Be Contenders Again

Expect a controversy free series with Misbah in charge

Team Misbah’s sternest test is almost upon them as England, the world’s premier test side, begins it’s campaign to justify the coveted tag. The Poms are an extremely balanced outfit, and despite the inept performances in the ODI series following the summer romp, Andrew Strauss’s men in whites are the genuine force to be reckoned with in the Cricket World.

The Pakistani captain has already gone on record to indicate that he is pleased with the brand of Cricket being exhibited by his team off-late. Not perturbed by the ultra-defensive show put out by the batsmen against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Misbah seems fine with a safety first approach. What does this thinking exactly mean for the Green shirts?

Are we about to experience another dead encounter like the S.A tour from last year?

Or do the two M’s have a trick  or two up their sleeve to outfox Strauss and Flower, the wisest coach/captain combo going around. Here’s a look at what we can expect from these two not so friendly of foes.

The Table:

The  fans must be pleased that two of the test matches are being held at Dubai. The most feisty of the Emirates tracks, Dubai offers much more chance at a result than the pan-cake wickets on offer at Abu Dhabi (Second Test) or Sharjah. Under the tutelage of the GCA groundsman Tony Hemming and a courtesy Pakistani whisper in his ear from seasoned head curator Agha Zahid, the Dubai tracks should offer bounce for the spinner and seamer. Unlike the S.A series where the UAE groundsmen admitted “they had over prepared the surfaces“, the Sri Lanka series offered quality Cricket with a much more even contest between bat and ball.

Expect the Dubai Pitch to be more prone to results

More so than even perhaps surfaces back home, the wickets in the Emirates play favorably into the hands of the hosts and their newly adapted style of going along at the speed of milk floats.The pitches here in the UAE (comprised of Pakistani soil) don’t offer the fluent stroke play on offer in the Sub-Continent. The bounce not as true, and the pace not as dependable, the batsmen can’t afford to be expansive in their stroke play.

Whether pre-intended or not Pakistan’s batting strategy is extremely suited to these surfaces. And the odds tilt slightly more in their favor when they come up against sides like England who have notably base their winning game plan at consistently scoring near four an over.

The Green Apple :

Pakistan need to consider these facts and make the Poms dance to their tunes. The fact that Misbah has spoken out so strongly in defense of his tactics means the leadership is clear on it’s goal and the path to achieve it. The dead bat strokes and slow run rates might not make for the most enticing show on t.v, but provide the hosts the oppurtunity to wither away the English in unfriendly conditions, and then pounce when the time is right.

How the top-order holds up is key to Pakistan’s hopes. It’s all well and good to plunder runs against ailing oppositions but let there be no doubt that the real test for the batsmen lies here against England. In conditions suited for batting, where their mental game more than their techniques will be under the scanner, the likes of Taufeeq Umar who claim to have “reinvented” their batting will be tested by the formidable English pacers. The least expected of him and the others is to perform in friendly conditions against good attacks. They might never be equipped enough to handle the harsh conditions else where but failure here against England will mean all the good work put in the last year has mounted to nothing.

How far has the Pakistani top order actually come?

Spin of course will be Pakistan’s major weapon. Saeed Ajmal proved his metal in England in 2010 and will act as the spearhead this time round. What really matters of course is what combination Pakistan decide to play around their star bowler. Going in with Rehman from the get-go must be considered a viable option given the older hands knack of picking up the crucial wicket.

It was also only after Pakistan decided to play the extra spinner in the series against Sri Lanka that the hosts were able to taste victory. This means of course that one of the fast bowlers will need to sit out. With Cheema off-late being Pakistan’s best seamer, and Junaid’s left hand angle and expertise with the old ball desperately needed against a team packed with left handers, Gul who is yet to set the Test World on fire should be the logical omission.

The hosts also benefit a lot when the three spinners play together, but expecting Pakistan to make the bold move of resting the veteran without tasting defeat first is asking to much of the Pakistani camp.

The English Muffin:

Andrew Strauss’s side will look to dominate from the start. If the visitor’s are able to make solid in roads early on, and get on top of the Pakistanis in the first Test, the hosts will be hard-fought to make their way back given the conservatie psyche of team Misbah.

Strauss will hope the tourist keep their excellent batting form going and his opening partner Cook (a.k.a Bradman) keeps piling on the runs. They will have to watch out for Hafeez though who likes taking the newer ball against left handers.

Pietersen (elated at not having to face Asif) and Bell however, being the best players of spin in the team will hold they key for the tourist in the batting department.

In bowling it will be Broad that the Pakistanis must fear. Coming of the defining season of his career, the Nottinghamshire man will test every batsman with the extra bounce and nip he gets. Asad Shafiq who struggled against the shorter stuff against the likes of Bangladesh will have his work cut out.

Swan although a threat will be made much more potent if the Poms decide to go in with Monty as well. Pakistan traditionally horrible against left arm spin have suffered at the hands of Panesar before, and given their recent failings against Shakib-ul-Hassan in Bangladesh those ghosts are far from being put to rest.

Broad and Swann will both worry the hosts, but will Monty get the chance to expose Pakistan's frailties against Left-arm spin

The English tail and how it copes will also prove crucial. If the lower order batsmen like Prior, Swann and Broad can handle the guile of Ajmal & Co they are capable of taking the game away from the hosts in quick time. Since Pakistan lack the destructive pace to rip through tail enders,  the extra runs the English are able to add coming lower down may indeed turn out to be the defining factor in the end.The last thing Pakistani fans need to see is the dreaded, but now familiar sight of Strauss signaling yet another declaration from the dressing room.

Of course controversy is never far away from a Pakistan, England encounter and Pakistan should prepare themselves for a barrage of accusations and reminders from the English media contingent. Don’t be surprised if Saeed Ajmal’s bowling action is yet again brought to the fore as he, and not the fast bowlers (like Asif and Amir last time), is Pakistan’s main bowling strike force.

The Sweetener:

The two teams meet on the back of being the most successful sides in 2011. Both will look to keep that record unblemished, but where Pakistan will target safety first, England will not be happy with any thing less than a convincing margin of victory at the end of the three tests. And there in lies Misbah’s opportunity. If Pakistan are able to catch the English by surprise early, weather the English storm and then take the series deep into the third test there is every likelihood they can snatch an upset series victory, to gain revenge for the most dreadful of away tours in 2010.

Dubai 1st Test : Pakistan win to lead series 1-0

Abu Dhabi 2nd Test: Draw

Dubai 3rd Test: Pakistan hang on for a draw

Originally for Pakpassion


The Ġam-bhir Question

Is Gautam answering the right questions

Gambhir’s lack of runs has been one of the biggest problems plaguing the Indian batting for a long time. Both over the nightmarish tour to England, and the first half of the test-leg here in Australia, their failures to cross the 300 run mark can be traced back to the openers fall from form. In England he caught one early on the elbow and if that wasn’t bad enough, he returned soon after to get clonked on the head. Add to that the scarcity of noteworthy scores and one doesn’t need a brain surgeon to figure out the past year hasn’t been one of Gautam’s best.

The problem with the left-handed opener, for good or for worse is not a mental one. His toughness and aptitude to play at the International level were never in question, and that for many young cricketers hitting the International arena is an enviable trait. Mental toughness does not come with correction or practice. It is not some thing you wake up in the morning and work on in the nets. It comes for some, Tendulkar being the biggest example, very naturally. For others less gifted, it is a case of spending time playing at the highest level getting used to the constant stress. How one copes with the latter varies from individual to individual, but if the World Cup Final knock was any indication, Gambhir seems to handle pressure quite well.

Where the opener stumbles in fact is his technical game. Looking desperately out of sorts on bouncy tracks, Gambhir is reduced to groping and fishing at balls slanting across at chest level. Bad habits from the limited over format creeping into his Test game don’t help either. The shimmy down the track dab to third man, his bread and butter shot in ODIs and T20s, is equivalent to signing the death sentence in the longer version of the game. In India where the ball rarely rises over waist height, the top-order bat can afford to keep playing his favorite shot, but in foreign conditions the same effort often results in regular catching practice for the slips and gully fieldsmen.

Duncan Fletcher the Indian coach, when asked about the opener’s problems emphasized on how he was “working on Gautam being more positive. He is too tentative at the crease at the moment and we are trying to get him into an aggressive mindset. Playing his natural game is the best way for Gauti to strike back”. This to most would sound a risky ploy where leaving the ball outside off and showing patience would be the most natural correction.

Tom Moody however, who knows a thing or two about coaching and encountered similar problems with the Sri Lankan opener Parnavitarna agrees. “When Fletcher talks about positive intent he is not just talking about Gambhir’s stroke play but his whole approach. When you are out of form, like Gambhir is, a batsman’s first instinct is to survive. You move across in your crease a lot instead of getting a good stride forward or back. It is only when you feel good about your form that you look to score runs…. what Gambhir needs is that positive intent back.”

The Indian opener’s batting in the second innings in the post lunch and tea sessions at the SCG today seemed to justify both Fletcher and Moody. Gambhir instead of the usual poke started off with a full flourish outside off mistiming one to the backward point boundary. Getting the feet moving the batsman also showed the positive intent under question, driving exquisitely through cover and mid-on. Racing to an almost run-a-ball fifty, he  fulfilled Fletcher’s prophecy word for word by managing to edge the ball again as soon as he took the foot off the pedal. Luckily for him the Cricket gods had decided they had inflicted enough misery on the tourists for one day, the first edge not carrying to first slip while the next one slipping through a fumbling Haddin .

Gambhir may have exhibited signs of returning to the form he brandished in his first outing here four years ago, but jumping the gun would be a fool’s errand. The knock just like his previous notable scores abroad comes on the flattest of Sydney tracks, where his nemesis, good old Mr. Bounce, vanished from sight after the first few hours of the first day.

A big score here, just like the left-handers monumental effort in Napier almost three years ago, would come with the Indians’ back to the wall. It will  be a gritty knock and it will be a commendable effort given the pressure the thirty year old is under. But pressure has never been the question Gambhir needs to answer. His actual test will come again at Perth and only time will tell if Fletcher’s simplistic approach will bear fruit under the real scanner. If history and sheer gut feeling is any measure to go by, India would not be worse off re-thinking the openers position in the batting order.

Originally for Pakpassion

The Return of the Punter

Ponting down but never out

Yes…No…YES!…a lunging dive and a cloud of dirt bellowing up in the air. A man fragile but not broken, a man down but certainly not out, a man jubilant… a man victorious. The scene as Punter finally managed to break the shackles and score the Test hundred eluding him for two years.

The celebrations saying it all. The pressure, the criticism, the relentless hard work had taken its toll. Missing was the leap of joy from Adelaide 04, or the punch in the air last witnessed in Hobart 09. This was a man acknowledging his weakness, accepting the burdens of the past twenty months and how they had made him lose his ground. How he had stuttered, stumbled often even erred during the most testing days of his career and stood now a batsman reformed, a man corrected and a cricketer rejuvenated.

The seeds had been sown in the last match and it was inevitable after the Melbourne knocks. “I told a lot of people close to me after Melbourne that I thought a big score was just round the corner” said the Australian captain referring to those knocks. After a long time the feet were moving properly, the pull was under control and the flowing freshness, trademark of a Ponting master-class was back. Helped immensely on the other end by his captain, Punter finally allowed himself to release the frustration of the past few months. “Getting low scores is not the frustrating bit, as a batsman you know those are part of the game. What bothered me the most were the forties, fifties and sixties. That’s when you know you should be cashing in, instead of getting out. All the great batsman make those runs count, and that is why the last year had been so hard.”

The pitch offering no demons, the old pro dug deep in the first few minutes of each session. Making sure to let the pitched up ball outside off settle in Dhoni’s gloves, the tough Tasmanian gave himself the best opportunity to make this one count. Short periods after every little break were spent getting the eye back in. The big shots were put away for these sessions with in the session and a concentrated effort to play the ball straight was evident. The harnessed Ponting pull was effective but what really stood out was the flick.

A shot that must have given him nightmares recently was played with the greatest of authority. Too many times off-late had the veteran shifted across to the off-side and played the flick a bit too square, missing straight balls to be caught plumb in front. Not today, the patience and perseverance paying off, Punter allowed himself to play the flick straighter through mid-on presenting the full face instead of the angled bat. “I have worked hard on a lot of the technical aspects of my game, taken it apart and put it back together. Not a single day has passed where I have looked at myself in the mirror and thought I can’t improve my batting”.  These little improvements along with the return of the sweep and dab around the corner were not only refreshing to watch, but also the reason behind the ex-captain’s success.

It helps immensely of course  that Ponting is enjoying playing under the new captain. Lavishing praise on Clarke he acknowledged how “Pup played the best I have ever seen him play, he certainly looks like he is enjoying the extra pressure of captaincy.  Seeing him bat this way has been an inspiation for the entire team.”

No words of course can aptly describe the gem Clarke played today, his maiden double-ton hitting all sorts of deliciousness levels was admittedly better in terms stroke play and fluency.  The day however, as the three minute standing ovation pointed out, belonged to Pontings’ hundred. Given the stress and denunciation the old hand has  endured, this knock as Punter always believed “had to come”. Whether to give the tale of one of the greatest bats of our generation a golden final chapter, or to breath new life into the Tasmanian Tiger is a question only time will answer.

Originally for Pakpassion