top of the world
table tennis potential
long couple of months
Mohsin and Misbah have teamed up to put Pakistan on the right track. The best thing to do now is to capitalise on recent successes
By Khalid Hussain
There is somebody in this Pakistan team with
the Midas touch. Is it Misbah-ul-Haq? Or is it Mohsin Hasan Khan. May be
Whatever these two are doing is certainly working.
Since last October, when Mohsin took over from Waqar Younis to become
the national team’s interim coach for the series against Sri Lanka,
Pakistan have quickly garnered an aura of invincibility. They have
beaten Sri Lanka comprehensively and later swept aside Bangladesh
without much fuss. Those were good results from a previously
under-achieving team which many thought was not good enough for top-tier
oppositions like England, Australia, South Africa or even old rivals
Their critics, who rejected Pakistan’s accent as
one of the most successful teams in 2011 as a bubble, were predicting
ahead of the series against England that Misbah and Co were in for a
thrashing in the UAE. Well, they will have to eat their words.
However, not even the most die-hard of their fans
would have expected Pakistan to crush England the way they did in Dubai
last week. A ten-wicket triumph inside three days on a flat wicket at
the Dubai Sports City is incredible. Having won the toss on what looked
like a pretty good batting track, England were bowled out for 192 in the
first innings and later skittled for just 160 in their second outing.
Pakistan’s response didn’t include any
three-figure knock but impressive fifties from openers Mohammad Hafeez
and Taufeeq Umar provided them with a wonderful platform. Later skipper
Misbah and wicketkeeper-batsman Adnan Akmal also scored valuable fifties
to make it sure that Pakistan post 338 for a sizeable lead.
“This is just the beginning,” Mohsin, still
Pakistan’s interim coach, told ‘The News on Sunday’ in a
telephonic interview from Dubai. “The boys have played wonderfully
well against a team that is ranked number one in the world,” added
Mohsin, a former Test batsman.
“I rate England as the strongest team in the world
because they have the best balance and to beat them by ten wickets is
something that has really made all of us proud,” said Mohsin.
“The credit goes to all the players because they
have gelled well as a team and have been performing with a lot of
responsibility in all departments of the game.”
Mohsin said that Pakistan are well aware of the fact
that with their egos hurt, England will try to bounce back with a
vengeance in Abu Dhabi where the second Test gets underway from January
“We know that they (England) will try to come back
hard at us in the next Test,” said Mohsin. “But inshaallah, we will
be ready for them because won’t get complacent. Our aim will be to
play even better.”
Unlike many who were stunned at the comprehensive
margin of Pakistan’s Dubai win, Mohsin isn’t “surprised at all”.
“I’ve been saying that for a long time that if
our players performed to their potential, they can beat the best teams
in the world. In Dubai, the boys just proved me right.”
It is widely anticipated that Mohsin will make way
for Dav Whatmore after the tour of UAE next month even if Pakistan go on
to win the series against the world’s top team. Even though Mohsin has
shown his keenness to take up a long-term stint, Pakistan’s cricket
authorities are more interested in roping in Whatmore — the former
Australia Test player — as the country’s next full-time coach.
However, Mohsin has made it clear that he remains
fully focused. “At this point in time, I’m completely focused at the
task at hand. I believe that we are in a position to create history and
I’m not going to allow anything to distract me or the team.”
Mohsin is confident that Pakistan have what is takes
to become of the top-three teams in Tests by the end of this year.
“The way we are playing I’m sure that we will finish this year among
the top-three teams in the world.”
Though the coach is all praise of all of his
charges, the one player, who received the most accolades is Saeed Ajmal,
who finished the Dubai Test as the Man of the Match.
What Mohsin like best in Ajmal is the player’s
aggressive streak. “Saeed has the aggression of a match-winner,”
said Mohsin, who is aware that England will make all possible efforts to
learn to tackle the off-spinner ahead of the second Test.
“England will be much careful against him in the
coming matches. But I must say that he (Ajmal) is a very strong
personality. He is a brave man and challenges bring the best out of him
which is why I’m confident that he will continue taking wickets
By thrashing England in the opening Test, Pakistan
have given themselves a perfect start in a series that includes two more
Tests, four One-day Internationals and three Twenty20 games. In Dubai,
they showed little respect to the world’s number one team and that’s
the sort of attitude they will have to maintain in the coming matches.
Pakistan has always had some dependable
middle order batsmen. But reliable opening pairs have been few and far
between: Sadiq Muhammad and Majid Khan, Mudassir Nazar and Mohsin Hasan
Khan, Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwer.
Throughout the 2000s, Pakistan failed to produce a
consistent opening pair. A number of batsmen opened the innings for
Pakistan in the decade: Saeed Anwer, Shahid Afridi, Salman Butt, Yasir
Hameed, Taufeeq Umar, Shoaib Malik, Imran Farhat and Kamran Akmal. None
of them could make a good, consistent pair.
But the beginning of the new decade has been very
encouraging in that we have finally had a year without any change in the
opening pair for Test matches. Taufeeq Umar and Mohammad Hafeez provided
some very good starts throughout the year. And where one of them failed,
the other excelled.
Taufeeq produced 831 runs from ten matches at a
healthy average of 46. He claimed the sixth position in the list of
leading run scorers during the year.
Hafeez was good too with 647 runs from as many
matches at an average of 40. Hafeez’s position in 2011 highest scorers
In the first match of the year, against England,
too, they provided a fine opening stand of 114 runs to the team in the
first inning. In the second inning, only fifteen were required to win,
which Hafeez single-handedly achieved.
The only question about them that now remains is:
will they be able to play so well on English, Australian and South
Africa soils whenever Pakistan visit these countries? Most of the
matches last year were played in batting friendly conditions: West
Indies, Zimbabwe, UAE, Bangladesh. One should not worry much about
Tuafeeq as he has on his record some good innings against South Africa
and Australia in the beginning of his career. Now, eleven years after he
made his debut, we can expect him to be even more solid against
top-class attacks on bouncy pitches.
Hafeez though needs to bring some more maturity in
his approach. He sometimes goes for unnecessary shots, which costs him
his wickets. He will have to be more patient against aggressive fast
One should hope that the recent consistent form of
these two batsmen will encourage them to bat similarly in more difficult
batting conditions than the ones they faced during the last year.
In one day cricket, Pakistan has to find a good
partner for Hafeez. Taufeeq cannot succeed there since his style of
batting is suited only to Test cricket. He scored just 23 off 62 balls
against Ireland in May.
Pakistan last year tried Ahmed Shehzad who made two
centuries, one in New Zealand and the other in West Indies, but failed
to do much on most other occasions and was, therefore, dropped.
Asad Shafiq was also pushed up the batting order,
but that was a foolish idea. He is a middle order batsman. He should be
Imran Farhat has performed well on a few occasions.
But he needs to be more consistent. If he manages to do that, Pakistan
will have an opening pair to serve them until at least the next World
Cup. Hafeez and Imran are both in their early thirties. Let’s hope for
When Pakistan landed in the UAE earlier this
month for their three-match Test series against England, not many gave
them much chance of beating the world’s number one team in the longest
format of the game. Having thrashed top rivals like Australia and India
with an enviable ease in recent times, England were seen as hands down
favourite to win the series against Pakistan.
However three days of play in Dubai have completely
changed the scenario. The way Pakistan have thrashed England (by ten
wickets) in the opening Test has forced experts to concede that
Misbah-ul-Haq and his boys were a force to reckon with. Pakistan’s
supporters, meanwhile, are talking about a 3-0 whitewash against
Things have certainly changed pretty quickly and the
one man who can take the most credit for it is Saeed Ajmal. The
off-spinner took ten wickets in the match including a stunning
seven-wicket haul in the first innings to emerge as the architect behind
what is easily one of the greatest Test triumphs for Pakistan. Even
before the series started, Ajmal was seen as the one bowler who had the
skills and guts to tilt the competition towards Pakistan. Ajmal had
already proven himself as the best spinner in the one-day format in 2011
when he also finished as the highest wicket-taker in Tests.
After his match-winning performance against England
in Dubai, Ajmal has also ascended as the highest-ranking spinner in
Tests following figures of 7-55 and 3-42 in the first Test against
“It’s a great honour to be the best spinner in
the world but performing in my team’s win is always more important for
me than anything else,” Ajmal said in an interview after topping the
list of spinners in the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings
Ajmal earned 117 ratings points from his Dubai
heroics and now has England’s second-ranked James Anderson firmly
within his sights, who has 37 more ratings points.
According to the ICC, Ajmal is still in a
qualification period for bowlers, it is likely that he will move even
further up the ladder depending on how he performs in the second Test
which starts in Abu Dhabi on January 25.
South African paceman Dale Steyn remains at the top
of the bowlers’ charts with 896 rating points.
Ajmal has overtaken England’s off-spinner Graeme Swann who has
slipped one position to fourth, while Ajmal’s spin partner Abdul
Rehman has also leapfrogged five places which has put him in a career
best 14th position.
The one thing that makes Ajmal so successful is his
aggression. On the field he is like an express fast bowler, always
threatening rival batsmen. Another quality that sets him apart is that
Ajmal never hesitates in trying out something new every now and then.
“For me Ajmal is the best bowler in the world
today,” says Pakistan coach Mohsin Khan. “He is a match-winner
because he’s got variety and the sort of hunger that makes you give
your best against any kind of opposition,” adds the former Pakistan
Mohsin is expecting Ajmal to do even better in the
rest of the matches against England in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. “I’m
sure Ajmal will keep getting better,” he stresses.
Pakistan can actually start thinking about a 3-0
whitewash if he does!
Pakistan’s boxing, which enjoyed healthy
reputation in international circuit in the era of former AIBA and
Pakistan Boxing Federation’s (PBF) chief late Professor Anwar Chowdhry,
has been passing through the most difficult phase of its history for the
last few years.
The authorities after Chowdhry have failed to raise
the standard of the game. They don’t have any plan and even don’t
know how to revive the lost glory of the country in this sport. There is
no working on building nursery. The selection for international events
is being made from among a few pugilists, majority of whom donít
deserve to represent the country at international level any longer.
Pakistan won a bronze medal in Olympics through
Hussain Shah in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But the country has been
struggling to see even one of its boxers in the London Olympics to be
held in July-August this year. But the dream may not be realised as PBF
is not serious to provide good training platform to its pugilists ahead
of the Asian Qualifying round for Olympics to be held in Astana from
April 4 to 13.
The authorities have no control over boxing affairs
and the irregularities in the selection of the probables for the camp
for the Asian Qualifying round are a testimony to the fact.
Only a single coach from Punjab picked the 13
probables for the camp at the end of the international event in
Islamabad last year, without consulting the other coaches. No one in the
top hierarchy in the PBF is even ready to admit this blunder.
After all Pakistani boxers failed to click in the
World Championship in Baku in September-October last year, the Asian
Qualifying round is the last chance for the national pugilists to earn a
ticket for the Olympics. Pakistan also missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics
as no boxer managed to qualify. In the 2004 Athens games, Mehrullah
Lassi (the Asian gold medalist), Sohail Baloch, Asghar Ali Shah, Faisal
Karim and Ahmad Ali Khan participated, but failed to advance beyond the
The treatment meted out to the country’s star
boxer Mohammad Waseem with regard to weight category ahead of the World
Championship in Baku last year showed that the PBF is not sincere with
its top boxer. Even when the Quetta-born lad lifted gold medal in the
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto International Boxing tournament in the federal
capital, a top official of the PBF said that Waseem won gold owing to
home advantage. This shows that the authorities are not ready even now
to acknowledge his effort.
Although Pakistan intends to send around half a
dozen boxers to the Asian Qualifying round, realistically speaking
Waseem is the only boxer in the available lot who can achieve anything.
Waseem says he cannot promise that he will be able
to qualify for the Olympics. “I will try my best but with the type of
training we are undergoing I am not sure to click in the continental
qualifiers,” he said in an interview with ‘The News on Sunday’.
“Other countries are spending millions of dollars on the preparation
of their boxers while the Asian Quailing round is just two months away
and I am practising in my club in Quetta. We needed sparring for long
time with the Russian boxers who have a say in the world’s boxing.
Sparring with tough boxers improve your level of game.” Waseem, who
has claimed eight medals at international level during the last three
years, said Syrian boxers, after participating in the Shaheed Benazir
Bhutto International Boxing tournament, were first schedule to tour
China for training and then Russia. “From there they will go for the
Olympic Qualifiers,” he said. “We needed at least three months
training on foreign soil but it is disappointing that we are still
waiting for that,” said Waseem, who made his international debut
during the President’s Cup in Azerbaijan in 2006 without playing at
“The World Championship in Baku was a realistic
chance of qualifying for the Olympics. But I did not click because you
know that I did not know even before departure that I will play. Because
I was told that I will have to feature in the 49kg although I had not
reduced my weight. I was confused. After reaching Azerbaijan I was told
that my entry was sent in the 49kg and that Haroon will appear in the
52kg. I am thankful to AIBA that I was given a chance to appear in the
52kg after Haroon was stopped by the world’s boxing body from
representing Pakistan in the Olympics. Had I been properly supported and
left with the weight of my choice and imparted training in Russia or
Kazakhstan I would have qualified,” recalled Waseem, also the bronze
medalist of the Commonwealth Games. “In the current lot, Qadir Khan
(60kg) is the one who has enormous talent and if properly groomed can
perform at international level,” said Waseem, who plays for WAPDA.
“I am very happy that I have been picked for AIBA’s professional
boxing. I have great craving for professional boxing and I am determined
to feature in such competitions with great zeal,” the boxer said.
The Russians must be cursing the day when
their rulers banned the sport of table tennis, nicknamed Ping Pong or
“Gossima”, in the belief that playing the game had an adverse effect
on players’ eyesight.
Contrary to Russian beliefs, the Chinese well
understood the benefits of the fast-paced exciting game that took birth
in England in the 1880s, but achieved its zenith in the highlands. Most of us have had the experience of playing table tennis at
home or school by placing a row of books along the center of a table or
a bench as a net with two more books serving as rackets to hit the ball.
The early rackets were often pieces of parchment
stretched upon a frame, and the sound generated during the game gave it
a nick name of “wiff-waff”. London
hosted the first table tennis world championship in 1927 and the game
was introduced to Asian Games in Tokyo in 1958. Organised table tennis
in Pakistan began in ‘50s and the Pakistan Table Tennis Federation was
formed in 1951 in Lahore that held the first National Championship at
Burt Institute, Lahore.
Initially the game was considered slow and a
post-dinner entertainment by the elites. In the 1950s, the introduction
of sponge layer under the rubber sheet of the bat and use of specialised
speed glues changed the game dramatically, giving greater spin and speed
to the game.
Pakistan produced some outstanding table tennis
players like Arif Nakhudaw and Nazo sisters in the past, but the game
witnessed consistent decline in Pakistan when PIA and commercial banks
took a back seat in supporting the game due to reasons better known to
them. Pakistan now has a few well-known table tennis players that
include Asim Qureshi a 43 years old national champion, Ali Faisal, Yasir
Iqbal, Ghalia Mohsin, Sadia Falak Shair, Raheela Anjum and Shabnam Bilal.
According to an estimate, some 900 million people
watch and play this absorbing sport which is striving hard to survive in
Pakistan because of the inability and non professional approach of the
federation, which failed to capitalise on good offers like free supply
of equipment and coaching assistance from a leading Indian firm STAG in
Sept 2006, said Afsheen Akhtar Abassi, a leading university table tennis
player who is now employed at Higher Education Commission (HEC)
Maliha Khursheed, Pakistan’s national junior
champion and an emerging table tennis star, is also displeased with
PTTF’s attitude. She says that instead of improving marketing and
promotional strategies, the federation has been demanding money from
players to send them abroad for international competitions.
However, Afsheen Akhtar had a different stance.
Instead of wasting her time in finding clearance from the officials, she
carved her own destiny and managed to secure a place in an important
course-cum-seminar on “table tennis coaches from developing
countries” sponsored by Academy for International Business Officials (AIOB),
Ministry of Commerce in China.
Twenty other participants from Mongolia, Iraq,
Lebanon, Jordan, Cambodia, India, Jamaica, Burundi, Zambia, Cameron and
Rwanda attended the course.
Afsheen has won various women titles at school,
college and university level. She was awarded first position in PSB
youth summer championship in 2010. She represented Islamabad as team
captain in 48th national table tennis championship. She remains the
coach of IIUI women table tennis team.
Afsheen is very serious in promoting the sport among
girls of all ages not just as a competitive sport, but also as a tool of
peace and social and economic empowerment for them.
While talking about the limitations and problems
faced by the Pakistani women players, she mentioned the lack of safe
playing areas and non-availability of reliable and trustworthy coaches
under whom girls can play the game with devotion.
She said that in Rawalpindi- Islamabad the game can
only be played at Liaqat Bagh, ZTBL and Iqbal Hall whereas doors of
Hamidi Hall remain closed for table tennis.
Afsheen said that her visit to China was a great
learning curve where table tennis has a status of religion. The Chinese
focus very hard on improving personal skills and physical fitness, which
improves players’ consistency, accuracy, power and hit ratio.
She said that the Chinese team has more depth than
any other team in the world as most of the players spend six to seven
hours in rigorous training.
The training includes both regular practice with
partner and multi-ball training with coach and robot.
She said that the Chinese national team meets at
least once a week with sport psychologist to improve their mental
fitness. The tactical support staff develops the operational strategy
for individual players.
In China, the children are trained in both table
tennis and badminton when they are between 5 and 12. They go for
specialisation in either sport from age 12 onwards.
Afsheen concluded by saying that table Tennis needs
to be revived in school and colleges. “Our players must improve
offensive side of the game and master the art of corkspin and sidespin
as it is employed in offensive rally strokes, often from greater
distance, as an adjunct to topspin or backspin,” she said.
She said that if given an opportunity she would
impart her knowledge to all those girls who like to take up the game
The table tennis Federation must focus on promoting
the sport at grass roots and facilitate and use qualified women coaches
like Afsheen Akhtar who have the passion to promote the game.
It was the stuff legends are made of;
Thierry Henry comes off the bench to score the solitary goal that proved
the difference between Arsenal and Leeds United in the FA Cup. That he
was brought on as a substitute for the continually ineffectual Marouane
Chamakh only further highlights the plight of an Arsenal team whose run
of form has hinged on a single player, Robin Van Persie.
In the end, it took the man with the all-time
highest goal tally in Arsenal colours to provide a moment of class that
belied an otherwise poor showing by the London outfit. Arsene Wenger was
not left to rue his decision to give Van Persie a well deserved rest,
but it was a close call. The positive to take out from this showing was
that Henry’s eye for goal is no less sharp, and his time in the
relative backwaters of league football has not dulled his instincts in
and around the penalty area. With teams higher up in the league table
than Arsenal likely to suffer from their players’ departures on
international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, January and February
may be the time for Arsenal to stake a claim in the fight for a
Champions League place. Of course their cause as not helped by the
shocking loss to Swansea. Henry could not secure any winner in that
game, and Arsenal were undone by defending that is unpredictable as
One such side is Manchester City. The only real loss
to international duty would have been Yaya Toure, but given the four
match suspension of club captain Vincent Kompany, even Kolo Toure’s
departure counts as a blow. This was proven in the loss to Liverpool in
the league cup, where, given the unavailability of both Toure and
Kompany, Stefan Savic had to step into the centre of defence alongside
Joleon Lescott, who himself looked unsettled next to the 21 year old.
The warning signs were there early on as Savic got himself on the wrong
side of Carroll, and had to be bailed out by a speedy charge from Joe
Hart to block the Liverpool striker’s shot. Ultimately, it was an
error from Savic that gave Liverpool the penalty and the goal to win
this game. City will consider this loss in light of the fact that they
were without Toure, Kompany and Silva, the latter currently nursing an
ankle injury. However, the luxury of such excuses cannot be afforded to
a squad that cost upwards of Ł300 million to assemble. Further cause
for concern at City is that their decline in form cannot be blamed on
the recent suspension, injury or international duty stint. City romped
to 7 wins and 1 draw out of 8 games prior to their exit from the
Champions League. In the 8 games played since then, City have won only 3
and lost 4. Clearly the narrowing down of their ‘options’ of
silverware has harried a squad who will not be forgiven for failing to
secure a trophy come the end of the season. The period all the way
through February is going to decide if Mancini’s squad still find
themselves in contention for silverware, or if their dreams of
silverware were not founded on solid ground. A crushing victory over a
Liverpool side ineffectual as ever in attack is a good start to this
time of the season, but City’s ambitions will be put to the test as
the season nears its end, and the pressure piles on.
Such is the nature of the Premier League this season
that Chelsea, who were only as recently as last season contending for
all major honours, now pass under the radar for the most part, except on
the occasions where they either perform abysmally, or when they ride
their luck to victory. The Blues have been let down in their quest for
glory this season by the poor form of what is a menagerie of attacking
talent that houses Drogba, Kalou, Torres, Sturridge and Anelka. Of these
five, Drogba and Kalou are going to contend in the Africa Cup of
Nations, Sturridge is unavailable due to injury, Anelka sought greener
pastures at China’s Shanghai Shenhua, and Torres is a pale imitation
of the striker he once was. The resources available to Vilas Boas to
lead the line then are a youthful striker who has been the most prolific
of his front men this season, and a record signing who is dangerously
teetering on the brink between ‘comeback’ and ‘has been’. With
Sturridge out of the equation for the time being as he deals with a hip
injury, the only answer available for Chelsea, barring any new arrivals
in the transfer window, is Torres. The manager has been unwavering in
his faith in the Spaniard, and will hope that faith is now rewarded
richly by the striker who set a club record at Liverpool by becoming the
fastest man to score fifty goals. This is as crucial a time for Torres
as it is for the club overall, as he has a clear chance, with the club
having to rely on him, of showing that he is the man for the job.
Chelsea’s winning goal against Sunderland may have been claimed by
Lampard, but it was Torres’s shot that crashed off the bar and into
the former Chelsea lynchpin’s path. There have been glimpses of his
past excellence, with a quick turn here or a sharp assist there, but not
enough to convince this writer that he has shaken off whatever demons
have been haunting him for so long now. Chelsea will hope that Torres
makes the most of the opportunity fate has presented him now, both for
his sake and the club’s.
Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool will not
suffer from losing any players to international duty this term, and
Liverpool especially will be hoping that Newcastle, who will have to
make do without Demba Ba and Chiek Tiote, feel the duo’s absence
severely and drop some points, allowing the Reds some breathing space.
Bear in mind that there is still the transfer market, and teams could
make loan signings to bolster their squad as we get to the business end
of the season. However, it would take some absurdly special buying to
match the profligacy of last season. Newcastle have already swooped for
Freiburg’s Papiss Demba Cisse, but the Senegalese is already on duty
at the Africa Cup of Nations. Leon Best has done his bit to fill in for
the prolific Demba Ba so far, but it will be a question of how long that
can last against teams who are not struggling to make it through the
Premier League season.