Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

It’s only Test Cricket when England, Australia or India play

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These aren’t the only Test caps you know…

Three Test series have been wiped clean of the FTP this year and it seems no body (the ICC especially) could care less. West Indies and SriLanka mutually called off their Test series in the Caribbean in April, allowing there players safe passage through the entirety of the IPL.

The Sri Lankan officials realizing nobody really gave a hoot, then went ahead and  also postponed (read: scrapped) their home test series against S.A. The West Indian Cricket authorities not to be left behind, saw and raised the SLC’s move by dumping the Pakistan home tests from their calendars. Both of these last two test series were rubbished due to the scheduling of a more alluring short ODI (7 matches) tri-series to be played between India, W.I and Sri Lanka. Apparently the riches to be earned through this mini-venture were enough for the Sri Lankan’s to give the world’s number one test side the boot, as well as lure the West Indies to shift away from their once long-time sporting rivals, Pakistan. The men in Green, due to the intense rivalry they enjoyed with the Windies through much of the 80s & early 90s, remain a local favorite touring side.

It isn’t as much the action of these two boards as the lack of discourse and sheer disregard of these cancellations amongst the Cricket community that is disturbing. Apart from the obligatory report summarizing the press releases from the respective boards, not much else has been written on the matter. The Cricket media and pundits who are usually out with their sharp knives and daggers if a similar scenario arises with the English or Australian Cricket teams (or worse, if India, god-forbid schedule another limited over series) have remained conspicuously silent. The “Test Cricket is Dying” brigade alarmingly seems to only  notice blows to the five-day format, in regions where there isn’t actually any threat to Test Cricket at all. As long as fat helpings of Ashes pudding are there to keep these Test Cricket “sympathizers” well fed, they couldn’t care less about what’s happening with the remaining countries.

Often their wrath is wrongly directed towards India or more specifically the BCCI, especially when the board schedules another meaningless T20 series, or squeezes a couple of ODIs in its home schedule. But to be fair the BCCI has always kept itself up to pace with a healthy dose of Test Cricket spread through its calendar year. The dwindling Test crowds in the country are less to do with the death of the Test game and more to do with modern day lifestyle changes, a preference for limited over Cricket (which is nothing new, and has been building ever since the 80s), and most importantly the perceived shift of Test Cricket in the Indian consumer’s mind from a spectator to a T.V sport. This coupled with the lack of marketing strategy or coherent thought process by the Asian boards (and the ICC as a whole) to stopper the shift and reverse this trend back in favor of spectators, means these countries have lost their in-stadium Test audience.

Test Cricket is not a three, sometimes four, if you count S.A (but they too are quickly turning victims), member sport. The lack of attention, the suspension of these three series, has gotten is alarming and unfortunately points to a clear divide which has now filtered down from administrative to media circles. The raising of such issues by the informed mainstream Cricket media is essential to getting the point-of-view of fans across to the ICC and other relevant administrative bodies.

It doesn’t matter that such criticism has never really amounted to much or changed the views of those governing the game. Just having that outlet, on a major platform, shedding light on all sides of the coin is important enough. Test Cricket fans in countries like the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Pakistan cannot afford the media dropping the ball on this matter. For it is in these countries  (and not the three that often occupy most of the space on this discourse) that Test Cricket is truly on its deathbed. The West Indies are about to go through their first home season with just two scheduled Tests (those too against Zimbabwe). They will not play a Test at home for over a year! This should be big news, but has barely caused a ripple in the Cricket fraternity.

South Africa are the recent holders of the Test Mace. As with all their non-Asian predecessors of the title before them, they are not truly deserving of the crown until they prove their mantle against spin in the Subcontinent. The tour to Sri Lanka would have served as a great litmus test for measuring their batsmen’s capability to cope with spin in helpful conditions, as well as a true challenge for the likes of Philander and Morkel to prove themselves on less friendlier surfaces. Thanks to the ICC we won’t get to savor this challenge any time soon. Pakistan has never won a test series in the W.I. With Misbah at the helm and the test side much more settled than when he captained them to the Caribbean shores two years ago, this might have been that historic tour. Thanks to the ICC again we will never find out.

I blame the ICC, and not the respective boards because these decisions, as excruciating as they might be for Test Cricket fans, are understandable when seen through the lens of these cash-strapped boards. Both SLC and WICB are perpetually in need of money, and one cannot really blame them for milking the cash cow that is T20 and Indian ODI Cricket. The ICC however (as rich as this will sound), apart from the usual revenue generating obligations, is also the custodian of the international game, and so bestowed with the responsibility of the safeguarding of Test Cricket. It is then up to them ultimately to make sure the FTP is abided by, and that proper disciplinary measures are taken if it is not.

The ICC allots a significant amont of money each year to all its member Test nations for the development and running of the game. Maybe it is time they made sure the FTP and all its Test requirements were being met before this money found its way in the exchequer of the respective boards. It is also not that far fetched that more money be designated to some of the countries suffering from greater symptoms of Test Cricket withdrawal than others.

The smaller boards (Pak, S.A, Sri, S.A, N.Z) themselves of course also need to come to the realization that they are already scraping at the bottom of the barrel in terms of FTP Test allocations. Instead of canceling each others tours, and taking a bite out of the others apple, they need to sit down and collectively come to agreements where they can increase Test as well as ODI commitments. The FTP of all these countries are nowhere near as packed as the other three, and allow plenty of room for maneuverability. Yes, the money won’t be as easy as with an Indian tour, but long-term commitments, repeat tours, and proper marketing can lead to the generation of new rivalries that can create new revenue streams.

The India-England and India-Australia rivalries, so prevalent in Cricket today due to their billable nature, are not like the Pakistan-India and Ashes where there is a historic context to them. These are modern-day manufactured rivalries that have taken their current forms through some expert T.V marketing. With the aid of narratives, stories and symbols along with an excess dose of these contests, the rivalries have been force fed and developed (mainly as revenue generating tools) before our eyes in the last decade and half. Instead of fighting over crumbs, the smaller boards should find opportunity in there current squalor and look to forge similar strong alliances.

The current situation, if  allowed to prevail, is eventually heading to a stage where it might become essential to have either India, England or Australia be one of the sides competing in a Test series. But given how much we care from the current levels of discussion on the matter, it’s highly likely we’ll not even notice when this “begins”.


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