cricket
An ageing team
They say old is gold. In the case of Pakistan’s one-day and T20 teams, it’s definitely not true
By Mushfiq Ahmad
Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Zaka Ashraf says he is hiring a foreign coach to build a team that can win the 2015 World Cup. That’s wonderful. It is great to have a head of our cricket body that can think long term. Perhaps he is the first PCB chairman to think of building a team for World Cup three years before it happens.

Fixed or fixing?
By Umair A. Qazi
Match/Spot-fixing has been a disease which has plagued the game of cricket in a manner which has not only killed the spirit of the game but is also largely responsible for leading towards commercialising the sport. Pakistan’s ex-captain Rashid Latif, one of the finest wicketkeepers the country has ever produced, was one of the first players to blow the whistle on match-fixing in cricket. Perhaps at that point in time, spot-fixing is something many of us could not perceive also being a form of fixing owing to the lack of finances involved in the game. However, weather we call it spot or match-fixing, Pakistan has always been at the helm of such allegations and in the recent past three Test cricketers have also been convicted confirming the involvement of Pakistani players.

Sachin of Benalla
They say no one ever remembers how you leave cricket, that the memory of you at your peak is what’s everlasting. Is that true?
By Christian Ryan
Anyone curious about whether Albertslund Under-13s or Chang-Aalborg Under-13s won the 1992 season final in Copenhagen can look it up on page 1168 of the following year’s Wisden. In those same yellow-backed pages is not a peep, let alone a score, telling us of Sachin Tendulkar’s fourth encounter with the soon-to-be-magic-wristed Shane Warne on a Sunday afternoon in Benalla. That game is gone. 

interview
Setting goals afresh
Will Arif Hassan succeed in his third term as POA chief after flopping in the first two?
By Alam Zeb Safi
Pakistan’s sport has been passing through the most critical phase of its history. Barring inconsistent laurel from our cricketers, we don’t hear any good news from our athletes. Those countries which once could not compete with the Pakistani athletes have now advanced beyond our imagination. If concrete steps were not taken to arrest the decline of sports, we would be overtaken even by the weaker sporting nations of South Asia such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Damaging mistrust
Pakistan’s already slim hopes of an Olympic medal in London suffer yet another jolt
By Bilal Hussain
The decision taken by some of the country’s leading hockey players to join a new league in India should be a huge cause for concern for the authorities running the sport.
With less than five months to go before Olympic Games 2012 in London, Pakistan cannot afford to lose any of their players.

Not the second coming
By Zain Qureshi
Liverpool ended a six-year trophy drought with victory in the Carling Cup last Sunday, and the Reds manager Kenny Dalglish reinforced his claims that his promise of a return to the trophy winning mentality of yesteryear was being fulfilled.
Dalglish led the club to multiple successes in a managerial role two decades ago, and even before that, as a player. Many will feel this piece of silverware, half a decade after Liverpool last lifted a trophy, vindicates the club owners’ decision of returning Dalglish to a post he had longed for. On closer inspection of the events as they unfolded at Wembley on Sunday evening, there is still cause for concern amidst the undoubted jubilation.

 

 

 

 

 

cricket
An ageing team
They say old is gold. In the case of Pakistan’s one-day and T20 teams, it’s definitely not true
By Mushfiq Ahmad

Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Zaka Ashraf says he is hiring a foreign coach to build a team that can win the 2015 World Cup. That’s wonderful. It is great to have a head of our cricket body that can think long term. Perhaps he is the first PCB chairman to think of building a team for World Cup three years before it happens.

But a coach does not win the World Cup. That is won by the team on the ground. And a cursory look at the current One-day International squad tells us that it is definitely not what we would like to develop for the next World Cup. A team capable of winning a World Cup is one which has a good combination of youth and experience. A young, inexperienced team cannot win a world title. Neither can a team that has experience but is very old.

It would be interesting to compare the current squad with the teams that played the 1992 and 1999 World Cups — in both events Pakistan reached the final.

Our calculation tells us that the 1992 World Cup winning squad had an average age of 25 years. It had only three over-30 players, four between 25 and 30, five between 20 and 25 and two under-20 youngsters.

The squad of 1999 that pushed us to the final had an average age of 26 years. It had four over-30 players, four between 25 and 30, five between 20 and 25 and two under-20 guys.

Now look at the current squad. It has an average age of 28 which will climb into 30s in case it is retained for the next three years. This team has as many as eight over-30 players, six between 25 and 30, only three between 20 and 25 and none below 20. Is this what we call preparation for the 2015 World Cup? If it is, then forget about winning.

Our squads for both 1992 and 1999 had youngsters who had entered the international cricket three or four years ago and had acquired enough experience to down any world class team.

Aamir Sohail had made his debut in 1990, Aaqib Javed in 1988, Ijaz Ahmed in 1986, Moin Khan in 1990 and Mushtaq Ahmad in 1989, which had given them all enough experience to excel in the most competitive tournament of the world of cricket.

Saqlain Mushtaq, who was only 22 when he played the 1999 World Cup, had been in international cricket for four years. Almost similar were the cases of Shahid Afridi and Azhar Mahmood. Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Yousuf had also gained a fair amount of experience.

The comparison makes it clear that we can’t pin our World Cup hopes on the current combination of players. We will have to replace quite a few that will become too old by 2015 to compete forcefully.

It is clear that the bodies of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan will not be able to sustain the pressure of one-day cricket in the very near future. They have to be axed. We need to find two or three solid middle order batsmen to replace them. And it has to be done now so that the new boys can gain a good degree of experience before the World Cup arrives.

By 2015, Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Farhat, Shahid Afridi, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Rehman and Shoaib Malik will all be at that stage of their careers where fitness becomes questionable. Our cricket planners must find their replacements now or we will be looking for talented players for the World Cup in an emergency-like situation two years down the road.

In the fast bowling department, we can’t do with the likes of Aizaz Cheema. He is not bad, but he is a late bloomer. He will be 35 in 2015. We should prepare an under-30 fast bowling attack for the mega event. For that we must give more opportunities to Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz or others of their age.

The sooner we begin to build a young squad for the next World Cup the better it will be for Pakistan cricket.

 

[email protected]

 

 

Fixed or fixing?
By Umair A. Qazi

Match/Spot-fixing has been a disease which has plagued the game of cricket in a manner which has not only killed the spirit of the game but is also largely responsible for leading towards commercialising the sport. Pakistan’s ex-captain Rashid Latif, one of the finest wicketkeepers the country has ever produced, was one of the first players to blow the whistle on match-fixing in cricket. Perhaps at that point in time, spot-fixing is something many of us could not perceive also being a form of fixing owing to the lack of finances involved in the game. However, weather we call it spot or match-fixing, Pakistan has always been at the helm of such allegations and in the recent past three Test cricketers have also been convicted confirming the involvement of Pakistani players. To add fuel to fire, not only has the involvement caused Pakistan much embarrassment on the international forum but the role of the media, especially the Indian media has blown the matter out of proportion and almost single-handedly declared the Indian players clear of any involvement or fixing of any kind whatsoever.

They have been allowed to create this hype owing to the Indian team’s performance over the past couple of years wherein they were crowned the number one team in the world followed by the World Cup. However, there have been instances of Indian players being suspected of wrongdoing but owing to their strong media the issue has never been highlighted or even probed.

One such example in the recent past is that of Suresh Raina, who was reported to have met bookies while on tour in Sri Lanka but the issue was never inquired into, the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit also paid no heed to it and the Indian media as always played down the issue. The purpose of this article remains the suspicious finding while following the recent India v Sri Lanka game on cricinfo. It’s interesting to note in the captioned clip attached below that while Sri Lanka were 167/1 in 34 overs some unknown person commented saying “Now tell me, in how many overs India has to chase 320 to get bonus point”. The mind boggles as to how someone could predict what India would be chasing when only 34 overs of the Lankan innings were complete. Up until now even though this clip has been flashed on Facebook and some local news channels, the authorities choose to remain quiet about it as if they are totally ignorant of its happening. Many would say that it was perhaps a bookie signaling another bookie or may be a slip on part of the authorities etc, but the point remains it is highly suspicious and points in the direction of match-fixing on first look.

In order to put force in our argument, let us briefly peruse the how the Indians have fared on this tour of Australia. Itís no hidden fact that the Indian’s have dearly struggled with their batting right from the very first Test match. It’s been a rather disappointing effort given an Indian side which boasts the top batsmen in the world very much reminiscent of their tour to England where they were equally disappointing. Let alone the Test series, they have been equally dismal in the current one day series where apart from MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli no other batsman has as such fired. Now then to expect a team which has dearly struggled for batting form to chase a target of 320 in a mere 37 overs is nothing short of a miracle. Yes, we may buy the argument that owing to T20 cricket and the large volume of it being played in India the Indian players boast such capabilities but such a chase does not happen overnight or at the stroke of dawn. Most of cricket lovers irrespective of whether we are analysts or not are smart enough to realize that such a chase has some element of suspicion linked to it. At the very least, it warrants an inquiry, and one by the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit in order to get to the bottom of it or even better an inquiry by the Australians somewhat along the lines of those who were in charge of such suspicious activities in the recently-concluded Bangladesh Premier League.

This is to clarify that by way of this article I do not mean to allege an authority or someone in particular or the ICC for that matter but I am just forced to think that such matches ought to be fixed for some saving grace back home. We are all aware of the fact that cricket is treated like religion in India and stars no less than gods and because India is such a big market with large volumes of financial investment, such an act can be staged to pacify the population at large owing to the dogmatic approach prevalent in the sub continent. If the Pakistani players can be questioned in the Bangladesh Premier League by the authorities then I suppose Cricinfo can be examined along the lines of where such a comment came from and efforts be made to trace the unknown. It’s rather unfortunate and sad that such suspicions are only linked to Pakistani players and matters relating to them are thoroughly inquired whereas anything concerning the Indians is played down or ignored by the authorities in totality.

I dearly hope the ICC looks into this suspicious matter and even if no leads are found or is untraceable, at least the effort and the inquiry will give heart to us cricket fanatics.      

 

[email protected]

 

Sachin of Benalla
They say no one ever remembers how you leave cricket, that the memory of you at your peak is what’s everlasting. Is that true?
By Christian Ryan

Anyone curious about whether Albertslund Under-13s or Chang-Aalborg Under-13s won the 1992 season final in Copenhagen can look it up on page 1168 of the following year’s Wisden. In those same yellow-backed pages is not a peep, let alone a score, telling us of Sachin Tendulkar’s fourth encounter with the soon-to-be-magic-wristed Shane Warne on a Sunday afternoon in Benalla. That game is gone.

Benalla is a town of 9000, proud of its roses. Cricket on a local ground is different. No cinema-sized replay screen — that’s everything, it means each ball has a once-only importance, so people watch with crinkled and concentrating eyes, and the players can feel their eyes, especially since the watchers are invariably leaning close-by on the fence or boundary rail. All of this, and plenty else - sightscreens that are too short, a whispering gale unimpeded by grandstands, the full-strength drink being sold out of redeployed kebab vans — has a democratising effect. Top players’ sheepish shots look more sheepish. Their good shots no longer seem so unlike ours.

“If you have ever,” the local boast goes, “been privileged enough to play on the Gardens Oval in Benalla, count yourself lucky as it is truly one of the great grounds of our time.” In 1884 Arthur Shrewsbury batted here and made 6. Frank Woolley hit 37 in 1921, Wally Hammond 53 in 1937, Viv Richards 11 in 1984. Through the mists, just once, an Indian team visited for a World Cup warm-up against Victoria. Tendulkar was teenaged and Warne 22, both puffy-cheeked still. No newspaper, country-based or city, sent a reporter along. What’s known is scant — that Tendulkar batted third-drop and made 59, that Warne’s ten overs went for 37, that Tendulkar was stumped off Warne’s bowling, that Warne getting Tendulkar out had never happened before — enough, in other words, that we know to file it in the pantheon of cricket’s lesser-watched gripping afternoons. We know as well that a boundary-leaner or two, peering at Tendulkar’s feet and hands, would have murmured: “I could do that.”

For that was the style of the man. Tendulkar batted, if not quite like us, then like us as we aspired to bat — us with swifter reflexes, softer hands, greater confidence, more talent, a functioning brain and five times the stroke repertoire. Little about this Tendulkar was exotic. Everything was textbook and explicable.

You’ll note the past tense — was — because this Australian summer nearly gone, Tendulkar’s batting has taken a Harlem Globetrotterish turn. Way back in the MCG Test, first ball after tea, he dipped down to a wicketkeeper’s bent-kneed squat and paddle-scooped Siddle over the slips for six. Beyond us in our wildest dreaming, that was; and nor was it, not really, him. Two nights ago in Hobart he painted hopscotch squares round the popping crease. Premeditating a full delivery from Maharoof, he reverse-quickstepped nearly on to his stumps, only to then hover, dropping bat on ball with a heartbeat to spare and poking it wide of deep third man for two runs. Five minutes later he tried a mirror variation off Malinga, aiming at fine leg this time, and missed, out lbw.

With exit doors beckoning for fading members of two batting line-ups, the catchphrase of the summer has gone something like this: “No one ever remembers how you leave cricket. The memory of you at your peak is what’s everlasting.”

Is that true? Think of Bradman. He was pushing 40 when he boarded his last boat to England in 1948. Certain Englishmen sensed the Don drifting dangerously close to the banks of cricketing mortality. He flat-batted that notion back over the bowlers’ heads. Sort of, anyhow: if he’d played on first ball to Alec Coxon at Lord’s, as nearly happened, and if the slip fielders had then caught him on 22 or 30 at Headingley, where he proceeded to 173, Bradman would have averaged 39 in that series — confirmation, and right on cue at the end, of mortality. That 99.94 career rate would instead read 95.87. One’s an Australian Broadcasting Corporation GPO Box in the making; the other is a (stupendously fine) batting average. Would we remember him just the same?

The decaying boxer winds up with chunks of his face on the canvas. Golfers on the slide spend whole afternoons hacking their way round the backblocks of the course. For batsmen, conversely, the more far-gone you are, the shorter your innings tends to be, but this seldom proves conclusive, it’s more likely out-and-out confusing, the shortage of visual evidence — of raw crease-bound minutes - making it tricky to second-guess where rust begins and decay sets in and pure bad luck intrudes. It’s in this emotional murk that an ever-lengthening bunch of ever-ageing batsmen find themselves today.

Tendulkar has long provoked in Australians that rarest wish: a hundred for him, whopping defeat for his team. With amazing regularity, the wish has come true. But there has been no hundred on this tour, and much inordinate fretting — not Tendulkar’s fault, though he has looked a bit harried — about the hundred that cried wolf, Tendulkar’s prospective 100th hundred. This sits uneasily with some Australians who respect Tendulkar but tell tales of Bill Lawry declaring an innings closed, for the team’s sake, when Rod Marsh was 92 not out, or of Allan Border — Adelaide, 1991-92 — vowing to declare on himself on 90.

Border: “We’ve got this over, and then we’re declaring.”

Last man Whitney: “What? You’re on 90.”

Border: “I couldn’t give a shit about that.”

Border took a single. Whitney took a slog at Venkatapathy Raju and got out. Some AB-style hard-headedness will shortly be needed in India. If Sri Lanka win today, India are out of the finals, and then it’s up to Tendulkar, or maybe it’s up to the selectors, or maybe it’s up to Tendulkar and the selectors to work out who it’s up to, to determine if he’ll be back or if his jitterbug effort in Hobart was his farewell to Australia. He’s 38.

That afternoon in Benalla in 1992 must have been some sight to see. —Cricinfo

 

 

interview
Setting goals afresh
Will Arif Hassan succeed in his third term as POA chief after flopping in the first two?
By Alam Zeb Safi

Pakistan’s sport has been passing through the most critical phase of its history. Barring inconsistent laurel from our cricketers, we don’t hear any good news from our athletes. Those countries which once could not compete with the Pakistani athletes have now advanced beyond our imagination. If concrete steps were not taken to arrest the decline of sports, we would be overtaken even by the weaker sporting nations of South Asia such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

There is no proper sports system in our country which could ensure optimum utilisation of players’ talents and prepare them effectively for the national duty.

Sport is now more scientific and has turned out to be an industry which guarantees financial security for the players. But in Pakistan, we are treading the wrong path. Due to defective system, our key hockey players have signed up for a rebel league in India to earn money although the country needs their services. Had they been assured of respect and financial security at home they would never have done so.

A female athlete told ‘The News on Sunday’ that there is no value of sportspersons in Pakistan. She was not treated the way she deserved for her services for the country.

Pakistan Olympic Association (POA), which is the strongest sports body in the country, could play an effective role in promoting sports, but unfortunately it has failed to do this during the last few years. The POA could provide expertise and advice for the formulation of an effective sports policy to the government. Because of its affiliation and relationship with the international bodies, it is in better position to bring in funds, coaches and to provide other technical assistance to players and federations. Both the POA and the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) will have to work together for sports development.

In order to discuss some issues relating to sports, ‘The News on Sunday’ recently interviewed POA president Lt Gen (retd) Syed Arif Hassan after his re-election for the third time. Following are the excerpts.

The News on Sunday: For the first time real elections were held. What is your plan to lead the Olympic family without any disruption?

Arif Hasan: Yes, the elections were held peacefully and everyone had his own support. After the elections, I told everybody that one phase had been completed and now we should join hands and work for the betterment of sports. I plan to meet Qasim Zia and Akram Sahi. No one should have any complaint as the electoral process was held through secret balloting during which the observers from International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) were present.

TNS: After getting re-elected, have you contacted the key people, particularly those of Army who have great contribution in Pakistan’s sports?

AH: I am in touch with all and I would say we should work jointly for the development of sports.

TNS: Unlike in the past why did Army not support you?

AH: As there were two Army generals in the field, Army had to support one. But results speak for themselves. Army has a role in sports but it is not that dominant. They have a say in just a few federations. It is also in the interest of Army to go with us. Because of the elections there should be no divisions among us.

TNS: Was there any pressure from the establishment?

AH: There was pressure from every side, but I was sure of my victory because I had the support of the house.

TNS: Did Army chief refuse to meet you?

AH: It was a sort of disinformation that was spread before the elections. There is no truth in it. We had requested the federations and departments for votes and the results were in our favour. Even some people had spread rumours that I would withdraw.

TNS: What were your achievements during the last eight years as POA chief and what were your mistakes?

AH: Unfortunately, the POA role is still not clear to many. And some people even say that POA selects teams. The POA’s main job is to uphold and protect the Olympic movement. We played our role in fund-raising, provision of technical and financial support. We even provided equipment to the federations. There was no mat in the country and the wrestlers had no shoes and we managed these things. I feel proud that we performed our role. We extended our advice to the government and approved a sports strategy/policy at the highest level and tried to press the government to implement it. Our failure was that we could not get it implemented. What we could do was to put pressure on the government and that we did.

TNS: On what major areas you will focus during your current tenure?

AH: In this tenure our main focus will be to create awareness about the importance of sports. The United Nations has said that sports can become a major vehicle in achieving the millennium development goals which we have to achieve till 2015. But nothing has been done by the government so far. This time we shall try to put a constant pressure on schools, colleges, and government so that they focus on development of sports. I don’t say that we should win gold medals, but firstly we should make our population healthier. According to the United Nations if your physical development is good in schools and colleges then it will reduce your medical expenditure by up to 10 percent.

We are going to hold a major national convention on sports, the first phase of which will be held in Karachi and the other in Lahore. I am negotiating with the sponsors. We have already prepared the outlines for it and most probably we would be able to hold it in May-June. The convention will have different segments. In the first step sports journalists will be invited to discuss how sports journalism can help improve sports. Then the divergent views will be brought together to make a policy. Then corporate sector will be invited to tell why they don’t sponsor sports and what their doubts are, and federations will be asked to reply. Government representatives will be invited and questioned why the sports policy was not being implemented. Similarly, sports industry will be invited. The sports industry does not even know the benefits of starting sports in schools. Pakistan’s population is 180 million which comprises 50 percent children and if 50 to 60 percent kids play football, then how many footballs they will need in a year. So it is the responsibility of sports industry to sponsor sports so that they could sell their products and raise their production. During the convention all the stakeholders will be brought under one roof. I will also request the IOC and OCA to send their speakers so that they could tell us how sport is developing in the rest of the world. We will also use the already on ground commissions to promote sports. I will try my best to work on all such issues during my current tenure.

TNS: Why did you fail to eradicate the menace of parallel bodies in Pakistan’s sports which has destroyed some disciplines?

AH: We give the decision, but when it is challenged in the court, it gets prolonged.

TNS: What do you think about the devolution of the federal sports ministry?

AH: It is a good decision as with it the provinces come in a better position to promote sports. At the federal level it is the most useless system.

TNS: Your relations with the PSB and the National Assembly and Senate standing committees on sports were not good. In your next tenure do you plan to make a patch up, particularly with the Board?

AH: I will not talk about standing committees, but as far as PSB is concerned I will tell you that unless we work jointly sports will suffer. We are always ready to give advice and expertise to the Board.

 

[email protected]

 

To be continued next week

 

 

Damaging mistrust
Pakistan’s already slim hopes of an Olympic medal in London suffer yet another jolt
By Bilal Hussain

The decision taken by some of the country’s leading hockey players to join a new league in India should be a huge cause for concern for the authorities running the sport.

With less than five months to go before Olympic Games 2012 in London, Pakistan cannot afford to lose any of their players.

But the fact that two of their most reliable and experienced forwards — Shakeel Abbasi and Rehan Butt — have snubbed Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) invitation to feature in an Olympic training camp in Lahore to play in India’s controversial World Series Hockey (WSH) aptly underlines that something is rotten in the state of Pakistan hockey.

In the list of eight Pakistanis associated with the $2 million WSH are former captains Zeeshan Ashraf and Waseem Ahmed, international Adnan Maqsood, Imran Warsi and Tariq Aziz.

Shahnaz Sheikh, a former Pakistan captain, blames PHF for the revolt ahead of the London Games. “The federation has never taken players into confidence. Sometimes the federation includes them in the team and sometimes excludes them without giving a proper reason. Players have no confidence in the federation and things like these were bound to happen,” the former Olympian told ‘The News on Sunday’ in an interview.

Shahnaz said that the players were left with no option as they have to secure something before reaching the end of their career.

“Rehan Butt was sidelined and then recently recalled. Was there any assurance for the player that he would not face the same behaviour from the federation in future? Since the players are insecure, they rushed to the first chance to earn some money before they reach the end of their careers,” he added.

Shahnaz said that Pakistan has a bleak chance of performing well in Olympics and the players, who have left for WSH, have in mind that a lowly performance in Olympics would be the last nail in the coffin of their careers. “Each player will earn around four to five million rupees in the league in around two months. This is good money for players at the twilight of their careers. If the players had seen any chance of Pakistan winning medal in Olympics, they would not have gone against the federation because a medal in Olympics guarantees a plot or something worthy from the government,” he explained.

Shahnaz further pointed out that the federation itself gave a reason to top players to defect to the rebel by saying that the preparation for Olympics is in its first phase. “So players thought they could compete in other events when the national team is in its first phase of preparation for Olympics. They could have joined the national camp for Olympics in April, after the conclusion of the league, if they had not been banned.

“So many top players of the national camp have defected for the league. The federation would be left with no option but to let them in for Olympics,” he said.

Shahnaz said that players could not be stopped from playing in a league if there were no national duties.

The federation had threatened the players of dire consequences if they joined the rebel league. But since the top brass has defected the federation has gone on the back foot.

“Other countries’ players have also defected to the league and we must see how others deal with their players. We will keep our decisions aligned with international hockey,” Asif Bajwa, secretary PHF said.

 

[email protected]

Illustration by Faraz Maqbool

 

 

Not the second coming
By Zain Qureshi

Liverpool ended a six-year trophy drought with victory in the Carling Cup last Sunday, and the Reds manager Kenny Dalglish reinforced his claims that his promise of a return to the trophy winning mentality of yesteryear was being fulfilled.

Dalglish led the club to multiple successes in a managerial role two decades ago, and even before that, as a player. Many will feel this piece of silverware, half a decade after Liverpool last lifted a trophy, vindicates the club owners’ decision of returning Dalglish to a post he had longed for. On closer inspection of the events as they unfolded at Wembley on Sunday evening, there is still cause for concern amidst the undoubted jubilation.

The match kicked off with Liverpool the clear favourites to lift the title. However, anyone too readily dismissive of Cardiff’s chances need only have looked at the result from last season’s final, where the soon to be relegated Birmingham snuck past Arsenal in the dying stages of the match. As it was, Liverpool started the game with a quick tempo, controlling the ball up and down the pitch, and camping in Cardiff’s half for a good portion of the game. This, of course, apart from the times they were caught out by some very good attacking football from a resilient Cardiff side.

Stewart Downing gave what was easily his best performance for Liverpool to date. The English winger was running past his marker, switching sides from the right flank to the left, and swinging dangerous crosses into the box. Unfortunately for him, his colleagues in the more central areas of the opposition penalty box were not as intent on scoring a goal. Carroll was more often than not a few steps short of reaching the dangerous crosses lobbed in by Downing, and this was a particular tragedy, as the lamentations on behalf of the lanky striker have always been about a lack of service from the wings.

Unlike Peter Crouch, the most easily memorable of similarly tall strikers in Liverpool colours, Carroll’s clear strength is his aerial ability. Consequently, his lack of goals since arriving from Newcastle last year has been explained away by a lack of Liverpool’s ability and/or willingness to play to this strength, Dalglish’s more pass-friendly charges such as Adam, Suarez and Bellamy happy to play their football on the ground. Downing was recruited to provide genuine width to this line-up, and when he finally did deliver, both literally and metaphorically, Carroll was not on hand to make the most of it. Carroll was somewhat guilty of taking up the position Suarez usually occupies, when he is not the one putting the pass in. In a typical big-man/little-man combination, such as Carroll and Suarez, one would expect Carroll to be vying in the air and wrestling to get headers goalwards or out of the air and into the path of his strike partner for him to take a shot at scoring. This sounds overly simplified, but sometimes it is just a matter of each player knowing the role he is meant to play, and then playing it for the benefit of the whole team.

Unfortunately, Suarez, was at his selfish best in this game. I say selfish because a lot of the choices he made inside the penalty area were horribly poor and ill thought. The one moment that perfectly encapsulate his performance was late in the second half, when, chesting an incoming ball away from goal to a narrow angle, he tried to chip it into the opposite corner of the goal with the outside of his foot, missing by a long margin. A simpler and less exotic cut back to the centre of the box would have met the onrushing Bellamy for a far more realistic chance of scoring. No doubt, Suarez was a menace to the Cardiff defenders, but not to their keeper and not to their goal.

Back in midfield, Jordan Henderson was the most notably poor performer, looking aimless at best. His replacement with Bellamy gave Liverpool must more impetus to push forward and ask questions of a tiring Cardiff defence. Gerrard, however, stands out as the more disappointing of the midfield trio deployed by Dalglish. Gerrard did have the desire to push forward and link up play with the front line, but the trademark give and go style of play just did not come up with an end product. In most cases, Gerrard was laid up to take a shot on goal, only to send it high or wide or both. Indeed, Liverpool were very poor when shooting at goal, getting a mere 19 of their 39 shots on target, and a fair few of those were meek efforts at that. The defenders did an adequate job, but for allowing the first goal of the game. Skrtel and Agger have forged a strong partnership to form a base for Liverpool’s spine, and Agger’s injury late into the game will be a concern for all involved.

On the whole, Liverpool were not worthy winners on the night. Kuyt’s goal in extra-time was a well taken strike, the chance for which was fortuitously given to him after scuffing his first effort. The goal conceded in the 119th minute was a familiar story of Liverpool not adequately covering the far post. In fact, Liverpool were fortunate enough to make it to extra time, with Kenny Miller’s shot from close range just skimming over the Reds’ goal. In the penalty shootout, Reina did not save a single shot, instead getting help from the goal posts twice and from Steven Gerrard’s cousin Anthony for Cardiff’s third missed penalty. In contrast, the more famous Gerrard’s own penalty was saved brilliantly by a well prepared Tom Heaton, while Charlie Adam sent his kick high into the stands.

Liverpool may have won a piece of silverware, but it is not from among the major titles that they will be aiming for. Winning the FA Cup will hold much more value, but at this stage of the season, and with this squad still only showing signs of performing well in all departments, it is a toss-up between focussing on winning another trophy or pushing for a Champions League place for next season. Both of those cannot be achieved. This is not the second coming of Liverpool’s glory days. Not yet.

 

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