cricket
Decent start for young Shoaib Malik as skipper
Muhammad Yousuf did not have a prolific series although on batting-friendly tracks he had an excellent opportunity to score some runs. Surprisingly, he could not
By Imran Farooqi

Shoaib Malik has cleared his first hurdle as national skipper without too much fuss, and has made a good beginning by all standards. The 2-1 scoreline against the team that only last month figured in the World Cup final is certainly something that has helped lift the spirits, specially in the wake of Pakistan's demoralising exit from the game's showpiece event in the West Indies.

Something to cheer about for Pakistan cricket fans
There was no need to replace five players in one go as we all know that the team is going through a rebuilding phase and barring some senior players almost all others are trying hard to cement their places
By Mohammad Akram Chohan

At last cricket-lovers in Pakistan have something to cheer about after witnessing one controversy unfold after the other. The team which was selected for the series against Sri Lanka was by no means an ideal one, but in the end Pakistan emerged victorious amid some unpleasant moments as vice-captain Muhammad Asif was reprimanded by match referee Javagal Srinath for violating the ICC Code of Conduct.

Some respectability returns after travails of World Cup 
Apart from all good work and the weaknesses it was a reasonable performance by the Pakistan team, but it was not a real test for the new captain and the team
By Khurram Mahmood

Finally Pakistan's demoralised side has found some respectibility after beating World Cup finalists Sri Lanka in a three-match ODI series by 2-1 in Abu Dhabi last week.

cricket
Is Inzamam being made the
scapegoat?
Why is a committee not formed when a team does well and tributes are paid to those who performed well?
By Muhammad Asif Khan

At last the nation has come to know about the 'causes' of the Pakistan cricket team's disgraceful exit from the recent World Cup in the Caribbean as the Performance Evaluation Committee (PEC) submitted its report after a "thorough" investigation into the debacle.

Hang on tight because here comes the evaluation
'Our batsmen failed to set an imposing total against Ireland besides failing to chase an achievable target set by the West Indies'. Wow!

It is now the past that we feared would affect our cricket team's future so much. Pakistan's miserable World Cup campaign is now a part of the history which people don't even bring into consideration now as they are tired of discussing that pathetic and unlikely journey which the team made to the Caribbean and returned empty-handed.

Victory at last as the desert is on fire again!
In the first match Shahid Afridi smashed four sixes and two fours in an over from Malinga Bandara, the Sri Lanka leg-spinner, and henceforth snatched 32 runs

Cricket has always shone in the desert. Right from its inception in Sharjah, when the pioneering Abdul Rahman Bukhatir introduced this very discipline of sports in the desert way back in 1981, down to cricket in Abu Dhabi almost all encounters have produced exciting moments that have gone into the annals of the game.

 



cricket
Decent start for young Shoaib Malik as skipper

Shoaib Malik has cleared his first hurdle as national skipper without too much fuss, and has made a good beginning by all standards. The 2-1 scoreline against the team that only last month figured in the World Cup final is certainly something that has helped lift the spirits, specially in the wake of Pakistan's demoralising exit from the game's showpiece event in the West Indies.

Had Pakistan not opted to go in with a new-look side in the last game -- where five new players, who had not got a chance in the first two games, took the field -- the outcome of the series could have been even more convincing.

Blooding young players is an essential requirement that cannot be overlooked and has to go on in order to maintain a balanced outfit and to discourage complacency from setting in. To achieve that one needs to identify and create proper opportunities regularly to test the upcoming talent. But this exercise should not be conducted at the expense of those players who're themselves returning to top-notch cricket after lay-offs.

Although Pakistan had clinched the rubber after winning the second game, there was no need to make changes on such a large scale just to give all players a chance. The absence of Shahid Afridi, Imran Nazir, and Abdul Razzaq did make a lot of difference in the last game. We all know Pakistan's batting is not their forte, and by resting the three -- of whom two are genuine all-rounders -- the team management indulged in unnecessary adventure that eventually backfired and cost Pakistan the match.

Abdul Razzaq had missed the World Cup, and was thus playing after staying away from the field for almost three months. He looked out of sorts and was clearly struggling to regain his form. The best way to build his confidence would have been to give him a long and uninterrupted run that would have helped him prepare himself for the tough season that awaits Pakistan.

Similarly, Muhammad Sami and Umar Gul's absence did not help either as Muhammad Asif looked rusty and did not bowl with a lot of fire. But that was understandable considering the fact that he, too, had returned after an injury-enforced holiday. He gave away too many runs and lacked control over the ball that used to be his hallmark. But in all probability he will get better as he gets more chances to bowl. The conditions in the UAE capital did not have anything for bowlers anyway.

Ironically, debutants Najaf Shah and Fawad Alam had a terrible game -- something they would not like to remember for the rest of their lives. All-rounder Fawad did not get a chance to bowl, and went for a first-ball duck when he batted. Najaf gave away 59 runs without getting a wicket. But both are proven performers at domestic level and are likely to get their chances in due course of time.

The Pakistan team and selectors, however, deserve full credit for this much-needed triumph that could not have arrived at a better time. The loss in Abu Dhabi must have come as a sickening blow to the Sri Lankans, who were on the moon following their marvelous show in the Caribbean. They badly missed the experienced trio of Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas and Kumar Sangakkara, but still Mahela Jayawardene had a pretty strong outfit at his disposal to fight with.

One must bear in mind that Pakistan, too, missed the services of recently-retired skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younis Khan and Shoaib Akhtar. And, above all, they were being led by a pretty young captain who had no experience of the job at this level.

The opening problem still exists, but three games aren't enough for making a fair judgment. The selectors need to persist with Imran Nazir, Salman Butt and Mohammad Hafeez. Sooner or later they are bound to deliver. All of them are young, highly-talented, and enthusiastic.

The two things they probably need are self-belief and the captain and selectors' confidence. They are among the best this country has for the job. Anybody who has seen them playing would not argue with that, but talent alone is not enough. One needs to translate his potential into runs to make a strong claim for a spot on the national team.

Pakistan's middle-order sans Inzamam and Younis appeared vulnerable, but with Yasir Hameed getting some runs against the Sri Lankans prospects look bright and encouraging. In Abu Dhabi, the middle-order did not fire well enough with no batsman getting good scores on a consistent basis. Afridi, Kamran Akmal and Malik all played one good innings each.

It will be interesting to see who is left out when Younis returns to the team. Yasir's runs in Abu Dhabi will come in handy when the selectors will sit down to pick the team for the coming assignments.

Muhammad Yousuf did not have a prolific series although on batting-friendly tracks he had an excellent opportunity to score some runs. Surprisingly, he could not. But that should not worry anybody as he's a class player who knows his trade well. He's too good a player to remain out of form for too long. For the last two years, he is Pakistan's premier batsman and his contribution in Test as well as one-day cricket will form the basis for the team's progress in the years to come.

With Sami, Umar Gul, Asif and Rao Iftikhar Anjum all fit and raring to go Pakistan's pace reserves seem promising. Shoaib Akhtar and Shabbir Ahmed's return will pave the way for a healthy competition among them.

Overall it was an impressive performance by Pakistan against a very organised and strong unit. Malik seems to have a cool head over his shoulders, and more importantly he enjoys the support of the players. Pakistan's future engagements include series against South Africa, Australia, and India -- all very tough calls. Leading a team against these nations is no joke. It's too early to make any prediction about Malik's credentials as captain. Let us hope Pakistan make an early and quick recovery under him.

Something to cheer about for Pakistan cricket fans

At last cricket-lovers in Pakistan have something to cheer about after witnessing one controversy unfold after the other. The team which was selected for the series against Sri Lanka was by no means an ideal one, but in the end Pakistan emerged victorious amid some unpleasant moments as vice-captain Muhammad Asif was reprimanded by match referee Javagal Srinath for violating the ICC Code of Conduct.

Asif should not indulge in unnecessary acts as he has the potential to bring that era back along with his companions when we used to see the collapse of the opponents' batting line-up by our two Sultans of Swing Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

The Sri Lankans were under the impression that after their first-round exit which Pakistan suffered during World Cup, they will not be able to offer any serious challenge to Jayawardene's men. Maybe that was the reason they allowed three of their superstars to fulfill their county commitments, but once again Pakistan proved that they are the most unpredictable team in world cricket as they thrashed their opponents quite easily, who played splendidly during the World Cup, in the series which was played in the UAE capital. But in the end too much experimentation cost Pakistan the third match.

There was no need to replace five players in one go as we all know that the team is going through a rebuilding phase and barring some senior players and captain Shoaib Malik almost all the players are trying hard to cement their places. So what was the point in indulging in too much experimentation.

Anyhow captain Shoaib Malik deserves words of praise as he is leading a team which is plagued by too many problems and one that requires careful handling. He will also have to show great amount of patience and tolerance with senior players and the selection committee while implementing his decisions in team matters.

Another thing which requires a great deal of attention from the PCB top brass is that they must stop criticising Inzamam-ul-Haq as this is of no use. The World Cup is over and Inzamam has resigned from captaincy, but the PCB officials are making desperate attempt to make Inzamam a scapegoat and he alone be held responsible for World Cup debacle. This is not fair as they seem to settling old personal scores, and this not the way we should treat our national hero who helped Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup and played some of the finest innings the world of cricket has ever witnessed.

But the PCB committee, which was formed to identify the actual reasons behind the World Cup fiasco, is doing nothing except blaming Inzamam. If Inzamam was a dictator and did not give importance to their suggestions why they were silent till today? Were they waiting for the right time? They are just making an attempt to tarnish Inzi's image and by defaming him they have made a laughing stock of Pakistan cricket in world community and the youngsters who have started playing cricket by watching our national heroes in action would get frustrated as we have made our national heroes controversial figures one after another.

Be sincere with Pakistan and its cricket. Inzamam has taken the entire responsibility and we should respect his achievements and services which he has rendered not only as a player but skipper. Take lesson from your neighboring country. When their team left for the World Cup there was a lot of fanfare, but when they met the same fate as we did they very tactfully played down the whole affair and their team is now enjoying their cricket putting World Cup miseries behind them.

But here is a totally changed scenario where a person like Inzamam is confronting the conspiracies hatched against him at the behest of someone who will love to see once again the burning of Inzamam's effigies across the country.

The series which Pakistan clinched 2-1 saw a variety of things. Prolific batsman Muhammad Yousuf could gather only 54 runs in three outings while the fans back home were expecting a scintillating performance from the bearded maestro in the absence of Inzamam and Younis Khan. Abdul Razzaq was off-colour both with the bat and ball and if we closely observe his body language during the series it is evident that he distanced himself from the squad. He better knows the reasons for this, but one can hope and pray that this would not last for long as he is a worthy player and it will be a great loss if he does not find any sort of enthusiasm and joy while representing his country.

But Shahid Afridi took advantage of this opportunity as he had played just one match in the World Cup against Zimbabwe because he was under suspension. He played a heart-warming knock in the first one-dayer, but kept his reputation of being inconsistent intact. The batting line-up put up an average show including skipper Shoaib Malik, while in the bowling department Rao Iftikhar bowled with sheer aggression claiming three top-order scalps in the final one-dayer.

Other bowlers turned up mixed performances but one thing which is of big concern. Muhammad Asif is spearheading the Pakistan pace attack and has become vice-captain. One was of the view that this youngster will bowl with his heart out but he could manage just four wickets giving away 161 runs from his quota of 30 overs in the series.

But wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal showed some of his touch with the bat by scoring 51 and 38 in the initial two ODIs, but it was the duo of Fawad Alam and Najaf Shah who failed to make an impact despite the high hopes of cricket pundits. But guys here is a piece of advice for you: don't lose heart, and never take too much pressure of opponents as the upcoming assignment of Pakistani team requires great amount of concentration, dedication, hardwork and mental and physical fitness to reach the ultimate goal of dethroning the Australians as the No.1 team.

The Pakistan team has completed its first assignment quite successfully, but one thing which the board, selection committee and the boys should be wary of is that they should not get overjoyed and complacent. Keep focus on coming assignment/training in the off season as the coming year of international cricket is bringing a lot of challenges and we do hope that our chief selector will be able to give the same statement like the one which we have in the national dailies after the conclusion of South African rubber.

 

Some respectability returns after travails of World Cup 

Finally Pakistan's demoralised side has found some respectibility after beating World Cup finalists Sri Lanka in a three-match ODI series by 2-1 in Abu Dhabi last week.

After being eliminated in the first round of the World Cup two months back, the Pakistan team faced criticism from everywhere. The World Cup debacle forced Inzamam-ul-Haq to resign as captain and from One-day Internationals. Shoaib Malik was given the responsibility to lead the national side and he guided his team to a series win in his first assignment.

Under a new captain, the young Pakistan team performed satisfactorily by winning the first two games, but in the third match Pakistan showed their usual inconsistency and lost the match by 115 runs, but won the series by 2-1. Pakistan rested their experienced players in the third ODI and the inexperienced young players given a chance to show their skills failed to capitalise on the opportunity.

Left-arm medium-fast bowler Najaf Shah and Fawad Alam, an extremely useful batsman and left-arm slow orthodox bowler, made their debut in the third One-day International. Najaf Shah failed to take his first international wicket after conceding 59 runs but overall he bowled impressively.

Fawad Alam's bowling ability was not tested by his skipper while in batting he got a golden duck on his debut, but only one match can't be enough to judge the talent of any youngster. They should get more chances in the future so that a strong backup side can be prepared to replace their seniors when required.

No doubt the joint Man of the Series Shahid Afridi played a vital role for the Pakistan series win. In the first match his match winning knock of 73 give Pakistan a 1-0 lead in the series. In the second game he failed to repeat his batting performance but his bowling played an important role for a second Pakistan victory.

But after having been around for 12 years and being experienced enough he should show more responsibility in the batting and shouldn't try to hit every ball on public demand. He can fulfill the public demand on a flat pitch like Abu Dhabi or Sharjah where ball does not swing sufficiently but where the conditions do not favour the batsmen he can be in trouble as he has been in the past.

Two areas need more attention for the Pakistan team, the first is fielding, availing half chances and direct hits to the stumps make a vital difference in modern cricket.

One more problem which is being faced mostly by all Pakistan batsman is playing a pull shot. The weakness was also exposed in the last World Cup when regularly batsmen tried to play pull shots on short pitched deliveries and throw their wickets easily. Chasing outside the off stump deliveries and trying to pull every short ball without checking their length and speed are the major problems for both senior and junior batsmen. These problems are exposed against each opposition and a sensible captain and bowler now know how to trap Pakistani batsman.

Apart from all good work and the weaknesses it was a reasonable performance by the Pakistan team, but it was not a real test for the new captain and the team. No doubt Sri Lanka was the finalist of the last World Cup but against Pakistan they rested their key players like Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas, Kumar Sangakkara, Russel Arnold etc. Sri Lanka provided a chance to their youngsters to show their skill. But their performance proved that there is no alternate for experience, specially in the bowling department without Murali and Vaas they looked very ordinary except in the last match.

Pakistan's actual test will be in the home series against South Africa and Australia later this year and on the Indian tour early next year. But now the management and skipper have enough time to make plans separately against each opponent according to their strength. Against South Africa and Australia spinners can played a decisive role for Pakistan.

In the presence of Danish Kaneria, Abdul Rehman, Shahid Afridi and others Pakistan have an advantage against South Africa. If the conditions favour the spinners they can win the series for Pakistan.

Pakistan's main striker Muhammad Asif received an official warning from the match referee Javagal Srinath for misconduct during the second ODI. Asif showed an aggressive reaction after dismissing Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene, his over response was noted by the field umpires and spectators on the screen. He was found guilty of violating the ICC conduct rule C1. Asif accepted the charges and promised to keep the sportsmen sprit in the future. If he was found responsible of the same offence within the next 12 months, the penalty will become a Level 2 offence.

Normally fast bowlers do show their aggression during matches, but Muhammad Asif who was appointed vice-captain recently, should be more responsible and his behaviour should be an example for the other team members.

Sri Lanka gave a jubilant farewell to their coach Tom Moody who has resigned from his job and is going back to Australia. But in a short term of around two years Tom Moody prepared a Sri Lankan side who can challenge any side in the world.

In the three-match series Mahela Jayawardene was the highest run-getter with 162 runs at an average of 54 with the help of two fifties. From Pakistan skipper Shoaib Malik scored 117 runs averaging 58.50 with the help of one fifty.

In the bowling department Farveez Maharoof took six wickets at an average of 25.83 while Umar Gul was the most successful bowler from Pakistan with five scalps at an average of 19.80. No century was scored in the series from any side.

 

The writer works in the art department at 'The News on Sunday' in Karachi

[email protected]

 

Pakistan-Sri Lanka Cricket Series 2007 Averages

Pakistan Batting averages

Player     Mat                Inns                NO                Runs                HS                Ave                SR                100                50

Shahid Afridi                2                2                1                74                73*                74.00                189.74                0                1

Shoaib Malik                3                3                1                117                79*                58.50                90.00                0                1

Kamran Akmal                3                3                1                91                51*                45.50                91.00                0                1

Salman Butt                3                3                0                110                74                36.66                69.62                0                1

Mohammad Hafeez    1                1                0                34                34                34.00                79.06                0                0

Imran Nazir                2                2                0                55                38                27.50                144.73                0                0

Yasir Hameed                3                3                0                82                50                27.33                75.92                0                1

Mohammad Sami                2                1                0                22                22                22.00                183.33                0                0

Mohammad Yousuf   3                3                0                54                37                18.00                68.35                0                0

Rao Iftikhar                1                1                0                18                18                18.00                48.64                0                0

Abdul Razzaq                2                1                0                16                16                16.00                64.00                0                0

Abdul Rehman                1                1                0                10                10                10.00                24.39                0                0

Mohammad Asif                3                2                1                8                5*                8.00                88.88                0                0

Fawad Alam                1                1                0                0                0                0.00                0.00                0                0

Najaf Shah                1                1                0                0                0                0.00                0.00                0                0

Umar Gul                2                1                1                0                0*                                                0                0

 

Bowling averages

Player     Mat                Overs                Mdns                Runs                Wkts                BBI                Ave                Econ                SR                4w                Ct                St

Shahid Afridi                2                20.0                0                80                3                3/37                26.66                4.00                40.0                0                0                0

Abdul Rehman                1                10.0                0                44                1                1/44                44.00                4.40                60.0                0                0                0

Shoaib Malik                3                10.0                0                46                1                1/46                46.00                4.60                60.0                0                0                0

Mohammad Sami                2                16.0                1                76                3                2/27                25.33                4.75                32.0                0                0                0

Abdul Razzaq                2                10.0                0                52                1                1/52                52.00                5.20                60.0                0                1                0

Rao Iftikhar                1                10.0                0                53                3                3/53                17.66                5.30                20.0                0                0                0

Mohammad Asif                3                30.0                2                161                4                2/59                40.25                5.36                45.0                0                0                0

Mohammad Hafeez    1                10.0                0                55                2                2/55                27.50                5.50                30.0                0                1                0

Najaf Shah                1                10.0                1                59                0                -                -                5.90                -                0                0                0

Umar Gul                2                13.5                0                99                5                3/61                19.80                7.15                16.6                0                1                0

SRI LANKA Batting averages 

Player     Mat                Inns                NO                Runs                HS                Ave                SR                100                50

DPMD Jayawardene                3                3                0                162                83                54.00                91.52                0                2

MF Maharoof                3                3                1                96                69*                48.00                118.51                0                1

LPC Silva                3                3                0                132                64                44.00                72.13                0                1

WU Tharanga                3                3                0                105                48                35.00                82.67                0                0

TM Dilshan                3                3                1                52                28*                26.00                96.29                0                0

CK Kapugedera                3                3                0                63                28                21.00                73.25                0                0

ST Jayasuriya                2                2                0                20                19                10.00                54.05                0                0

CM Bandara                2                2                0                17                11                8.50                53.12                0                0

HAPW Jayawardene                3                3                0                23                20                7.66                65.71                0                0

SL Malinga                2                2                0                14                11                7.00                82.35                0                0

BSM Warnapura                1                1                0                5                5                5.00                35.71                0                0

KS Lokuarachchi                1                1                0                2                2                2.00                40.00                0                0

PDRL Perera                1                1                0                0                0                0.00                0.00                0                0

CRD Fernando                2                1                1                2                2*                -                50.00                0                0

MKDI Amerasinghe                1                1                1                1                1*                -                50.00                0                0

 

Bowling averages

Player     Mat                Overs                Mdns                Runs                Wkts                BBI                Ave                Econ                SR                4w                Ct                St

KS Lokuarachchi                1                10.0                1                32                2                2/32                16.00                3.20                30.0                0                0                0

MKDI Amerasinghe                1                7.0                2                31                0                -                -                4.42                -                0                0                0

TM Dilshan                3                17.0                0                77                0                -                -                4.52                -                0                1                0

SL Malinga                2                17.0                1                86                0                -                -                5.05                -                0                0                0

CRD Fernando                2                17.0                1                91                5                3/20                18.20                5.35                20.4                0                1                0

MF Maharoof                3                26.5                1                155                6                3/65                25.83                5.77                26.8                0                0                0

ST Jayasuriya                2                10.0                0                62                0                -                -                6.20                -                0                0                0

CM Bandara                2                20.0                1                125                4                3/56                31.25                6.25                30.0                0                3                0

PDRL Perera                1                10.0                2                67                0                -                -                6.70                -                0                0                0

 

cricket
Is Inzamam being made the
scapegoat?

At last the nation has come to know about the 'causes' of the Pakistan cricket team's disgraceful exit from the recent World Cup in the Caribbean as the Performance Evaluation Committee (PEC) submitted its report after a "thorough" investigation into the debacle.

Keeping aside the findings let's first look into the composition of the committee which comprised former Test players Ijaz Butt, Salahuddin Ahmed and Saleem Altaf. Many people believe that Salahuddin Ahmed and Saleem Altaf were paid employees of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and had no right to be part of the committee, because they cannot give any verdict against a serving PCB employee or employees. Therefore doubts were raised over the impartiality of the report.

But the question is, do we really need such inquiries after a defeat? Such an inquiry team was also constituted after the 2003 World Cup in which Pakistan were knocked out of the first round, it blamed Waqar Younis, the captain, for the debacle but what did Pakistan cricket learn from that report? Nothing is the shortest possible answer.

Apart from criticising the former captain and a few recommendations, the review committee in 2003 also advised that the new captain should be based on the following:

1.                Leadership qualities

2.             Should be a firm part of the playing XI

3.                Aggressive personality

4.             Leading from the front

5.             Should command the respect from the team members and officials

 

Were all the recommendations taken into consideration while appointing the captain after the 2003 World Cup? By going through the above mentioned recommendations the answer is no, then was it the sole responsibility of Inzamam-ul-Haq?

After the World Cup disaster, the history of Pakistan cricket has repeated itself as everyone is after Inzamam-ul-Haq by forgetting his services for Pakistan cricket. The former Pakistan skipper is still regarded as the best batsman under pressure therefore I am very hopeful that the great Inzamam would steadily go through this tough phase of his life as he did many times when Pakistan team was in trouble.

Inzamam is considered as the most powerful captain in the history of Pakistan Cricket but was he really the one? People might have forgotten the era of Imran Khan where dictatorship was of the highest order as it was reported that he even used to draft the playing eleven on his own, but he was delivering therefore not criticised that much.

Going back to the ICC Champions Trophy in India where Inzamam because of the ban in the wake of the Oval fiasco was ruled out and the vice-captain Younis Khan refused to lead the side by saying that he did not want to be a dummy captain. Why did Younis feel that he would be a dummy skipper although there was no Inzamam in his way, means someone else in the board was not willing to give Younis the authority. On the other hand, if Inzamam was powerful then the board should be held responsible to give him that liberty, what Mr Saleem Altaf had been doing because he has been the director cricket operations since more than two years why did not he intervene if Inzamam was trying to run the show alone?

In the past it was reported that Inzamam and Saleem Altaf were not on good terms because Saleem Altaf reportedly wanted to appoint a friend of his as Manager but Inzamam put his foot down. This was not the only occasion when Inzamam showed defiance, during the recent South African trip, Inzamam reportedly asked Chairman Nasim Ashraf to stay outside the dressing room as the boys got nervous in his presence.

The above two instances were reported by the press and if a captain is blamed for exercising his due rights and tagged as "dictator" then this is simply unjust. Talking about the Oval controversy, where Inzamam refused to take the field hence faced a ban. How only Inzamam could impose his will when the whole battalion of the PCB was at the Oval including the chairman. What were they doing there, why did not they either force Inzamam to go in or sent a team to the ground without him?

The fact of the matter is that one cannot become a dictator overnight, he must have been provided with the freedom by succumbing to the players power, hence, the Pakistan cricket structure has come out as an ultimate loser. This setup should be overhauled rather than shifting blame upon others and the practice of constituting review committees after a defeat should be shunned. Why a committee is not formed when a team does well and tributes are not paid to those performed well?

The task of the Performance Evaluation Committee was pretty simple because finding the causes of defeats in the World Cup did not require rocket science, we actually had lost half the battle when Muhammad Asif and Shoaib Akhtar were left behind as they were supposedly not fit, why the cricket setup of the country was not able enough to provide the national team with an appropriate replacements of Asif and Shoaib?

Was Inzamam responsible for that? I think not, but the cricket administration should be held responsible because they have not been able to prepare backup players, then why the review committee did not take them to the task? We went for the World Cup with a new opening pair after tried some 20 combinations since the 2003 World Cup, whose responsibility was that and had any board official was asked about this deficiency of the Cricket setup?

Moving to the match against Ireland which was humiliating no doubt, but the wicket was blamed for the defeat, again the question arises that who is responsible for not preparing difficult tracks at home to keep the boys prepared for challenging situations? The committee should have concentrated upon other aspects then Inzamam to find out the real cause of Pakistan cricket's downfall.

 

The writer is a freelance contributor

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Hang on tight because here comes the evaluation

It is now the past that we feared would affect our cricket team's future so much. Pakistan's miserable World Cup campaign is now a part of the history which people don't even bring into consideration now as they are tired of discussing that pathetic and unlikely journey which the team made to the Caribbean and returned empty-handed.

When Pakistan bowed out of the quadrennial tournament in March this year, there were speculations that there would be major change of plans in the team's structure, the cricket board, team's line-up and coaching staff. Hmmm. There weren't many changes in the team's structure I assume. The cricket board? Same old faces are there who have been harshly criticised over the past year.

Team's line-up? Shoaib Akhtar was as usual injured; Inzamam-ul-Haq retired after the World Cup so no question of him being present in the line-up; Younis Khan opted to play for Yorkshire instead of Pakistan so he couldn't have possibly been named in the team's line-up; Danish Kaneria, himself, is playing for Essex these days and there was no chance of him getting back in the team, at least in the one-day squad; Rana Naved-ul-Hasan deserved to be kicked out of the national squad according to me though. The rest of the squad is same with the exception of few players who were brought back into the team after not being considered for the World Cup and obviously somebody had to replace Inzamam, Younis, Kaneria and Naved-ul-Hasan.

Only two new faces -- Fawad Alam and Najaf Shah -- were included in the Pakistan squad for the recently-concluded three-match One-day International (ODI) series against Sri Lanka which Pakistan won 2-1 at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Kamran Akmal, in spite of his miserable performances behind the stumps, was still seen in the squad; the changes in the opening slot were seen once again though the openers this time proved their selection worthy and provided good early starts against under-strength Sri Lankan bowling line-up.

And about the coaching staff, the cricket board is still pondering over the decision to select a new coach after Bob Woolmer, the previous coach, died in Kingston back in March during Pakistan's World Cup campaign.

Coming back to the coach's hiring, the cricket board also advertised on their website to find a new face for the role. There were quite a few names pencilled in to take up the post. Bangladesh's present coach Dav Whatmore, who will leave the subcontinent team after their Test series against India, was the most quoted one to take up Pakistan post as their new national coach but he didn't show much interest in that offer. Former New Zealand player John Wright, who has also coached India previously, was also under consideration. And recently, Tim Boon, Leicestershire's coach, has emerged as a strong candidate to take over as the next coach in June. There were suggestions too that a Pakistani, preferably a former team player, should be appointed new national coach but that doesn't seem to happen likely.

Although the national team played well under new captain Shoaib Malik in Abu Dhabi and without a permanent coach with Talat Ali, the team manager, acting as an acting coach, there is no doubt that the team needs a coach sooner rather than later.

Besides all that, when Pakistan lost the World Cup, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) made a team, the Performance Evaluation Committee (PEC), to probe into Pakistan's World Cup debacle. And what did they find out? What the players, officials and team management said? These were some important questions which were clarified and spoken out a few days back and there was only one thing that could be seen in those discussions and meetings, the blame game was on!

The PEC started probing early in April. The first person to appear before the committee was Pakistan's assistant coach at that time and former leg-spinner, Mushtaq Ahmed. Many people said that Mushtaq was a part of the team coaching staff because Inzamam favoured him a lot. Exactly, that was the case I agree. He sometime back had come to take part in the team's training camp as a bowler and suddenly was announced as the team's assistant coach. How in the world can that happen?

Mushtaq, in front of the PEC, said "there is no excuse for the poor performance and I can only apologise to the public for that". Thanks Mushtaq. Thanks for your apology. We never needed you in the team any way.

Two days later, the next person to appear before the PEC was media manager PJ Mir. And boy didn't he slam the players for their 'involvement' in religious activities instead of concentrating on cricket. He, after appearing before the PEC, said he "could not disclose the fact before that most of the members had no focus on cricket. Their fixation was on preaching which affected the team's preparations".

I wouldn't disagree with him. Though religious activities are of utmost importance rather practising religion has the highest priority than any other thing in the world but when you have a job on your hand you have got to keep both the things in balance and practise your job activities and religious ones simultaneously. One has got to concentrate and give their hundred percent to what they are known for and as cricket was Pakistan players' image-setter, they should have realised that there were huge expectations from them back home and around the world and not only religion but cricket was as important for them.

PJ Mir argued that the religious influence had gone 'beyond limits'. "I told the committee that Pakistani players, rather than pray privately, tried to make it a public spectacle," he said.

The PEC continued its designated job and now it was the players' turn to appear before the committee. After appearing before the committee, the Pakistan wicket-keeper, Kamran Akmal, strongly denied reports that the team's over-indulgence in religious activities was the reason behind its early exit from the World Cup. His statement came as a contradiction to one what PJ Mir said.

But Akmal accepted that the team performed poorly and rued his team's below-par performance in spite of what he claimed were extraordinary preparations. The biggest reason, according to some, that Pakistan lost their starting two matches of the World Cup and made an early exit was because of match-fixing issue. But Kamran strongly denied them. He said: "I have no idea why some of the senior cricketers are levelling such allegations".

Intikhab Alam, former captain and coach of Pakistan when they won their only World Cup title in 1992, was also questioned at the committee hearing. Intikhab blamed the performance on poor team selection, a lack of discipline in the team and the players' fitness levels as the major causes behind the dismal performance. Why was everyone blaming the poor team selection after Pakistan were knocked out of the World Cup? Why didn't they stand up before the World Cup had started and the team was selected for the quadrennial event and said "Why have you selected this group of people?" Where were their opinions then? If Pakistan would have won the World Cup, I am sure Alam would have praised the team selection then.

Former PCB chairman, Shaharyar Khan, also had to appear before the committee and he was likely to be asked some 'tough' questions about his tenure as that was the time when the Pakistan team started falling apart and he (Shaharyar) was left seen as a spectator doing nothing but making lame excuses. But he never appeared before the committee leaving many questions unanswered that only he could have answered.

Afterwards, Talat Ali, Pakistan's present interim coach and manager, was also asked to give his view about the team's performances in the World Cup and he blamed the team's miserable performance on the paucity of their batting displays. Talat, who like all the players, coaching staff and administrative people gave his statement before the committee which was headed by Ijaz Butt, Salahuddin Ahmed and Saleem Altaf, said: "Our batsmen failed to set an imposing total against Ireland besides failing to chase an achievable target set by the West Indies". Wow! Good going Mr Talat. Tell us something that we don't know. Even a kid would know what happened at the World Cup and why Pakistan lost those matches. Besides that, Talat said the last-minute withdrawals of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif didn't help their cause and they lacked firepower in their bowling line-up. Not really Mr Talat. What are you trying to say? At one time you say that poor batting was the cause for team's defeat and now you say that absence of Shoaib and Asif in the bowling line-up was the reason. If the latter is the reason you give, you are wrong. Because Pakistan didn't bowl badly in any of the matches with the exception of one bowler, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, who was poor throughout the tournament and had faced criticism for his selection in the World Cup squad because of his poor economy rate.

Another former chairman of PCB, Tauqir Zia, also appeared before the PEC and seconded Talat Ali's remarks that the issue of Shoaib and Asif created problems during preparations. Sir, with due respect, I would like to say that although Shoaib and Asif are important assets for the country, why don't you have good backups for your important players.Shoaib was in and mostly out of the team because of injuries so you can't bring him into the equation. Secondly, if Asif was unavailable and as he was the most important member of the team and had contributed immensely over the last year or so for the team winning them many matches, why wasn't their any other bowler to take up his place. And as I said that bowlers aren't to be blamed for the team's World Cup exit, why is everyone pointing out Shoaib and Asif's absence.

The committee continued its performance evaluation of the team and after their brief stint in Lahore, they came to Karachi. Here, they questioned Wasim Bari, former chief selector, Younis Khan, Danish Kaneria, Mohammad Sami, as well as former selector Iqbal Qasim.

Fast bowler Sami, after his session with the committee, told reporters that the team lacked application in the West Indies. He said: "Our batting, bowling and fielding, all were miserable and all the team members are responsible". That's the way to go my friend. One should only tell the truth. Although bowling wasn't that bad but still, who is to be blamed for all this? We all know, don't we?

Danish Kaneria, however, spoke about the failure of Pakistan's batsmen, while also expressing surprise over his exclusion for the Ireland game. He was right. Minnows Ireland have batsmen who have poor techniques playing against spinners and against a world class spinner of Kaneria's calibre they surely would have struggled. But the inclusion of Azhar Mahmood instead of Kaneria once again showed Inzamam's favourism for his supportive and liked players and condemned them to World Cup history's most shocking defeat.

The players continued to appear before the PEC and Mohammad Yousuf was soon brought into the questioning arena. He shrugged aside reports that over-indulgence in religious activities was to blame for early Cup exit. Yousuf said it was lack of teamwork that was responsible for the debacle instead of religious preaching or focus on offering prayers as cited by Pakistan's media manager earlier. My brother Yousuf, we have heard that the team was preparing for the World Cup for the last two to three years and were a strong unit. If the team was that united, how did they lack teamwork in the World Cup? Were there differences suddenly created among players? Did the players said 'no' to performing well in the tournament? Did they start arguing with Inzamam over team selection and other issues? What was the reason man, tell us.

Star pacer Shoaib Akhtar, who reportedly missed the World Cup because of an injury, said it was Pakistan's dismal performance ever and a fresh start had to be taken soon. He said: I believe with better planning and strategy, Pakistan can beat Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and other teams in the next five months". Really Shoaib?

His new-ball partner Mohammad Asif, meanwhile, blamed a seaming track for the loss against Ireland. He (Asif) was surprised at the kind of pitch the organisers had prepared for that match and added that nothing of that sort was seen anywhere else in the World Cup. Dear Asif, the pitch was same for Ireland as well. And why did Pakistan lose to West Indies, you forgot to tell us.

The PEC then finally completed its inquiry into finding out the reasons. After interviewing nearly 40 players, officials and retired PCB functionaries during its two-week hearing, they blamed Inzamam-ul-Haq for Pakistan's surprise first-round exit from the World Cup. They further went to the extent of calling him (Inzamam) a "dictator".

One member of the committee, Ijaz Butt, said: "Inzamam's attitude was haughty and that of a dictator and more than one incident proved that. Inzamam should have been removed from the captaincy. As a player he was world-class but his attitude was haughty during and before the tournament." Ijaz also revealed that the committee took exception to Inzamam's attitude, particularly regarding the policy of having a selector on tour.

The committee also highlighted other grey areas such as poor planning and management and were critical of the fact that the board did not send a delegation to the West Indies to get a feel of the conditions and pitches before the World Cup. They also pointed out the poor handling of the doping cases involving fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif. The bans on both players were overturned and were named in the World Cup squad initially but had to pull out on fitness grounds.

But most importantly Ijaz ruled out allegations of match-fixing or targeted fixing, when players fix small elements of the game, such as the numbers of extras. He said: "There was no evidence of match-fixing against the team or any targeted match-fixing, and we invited former PCB chief Shaharyar Khan to corroborate what he said in the press about targeted fixing (that it happened regularly), but he didn't come."

Although Inzamam has hit back at committee reports' findings, most of the things are clear by now. Reasons for Pakistan's World Cup debacle according to different players, PEC itself and other officials -- dictatorship of Inzamam; poor team selection; pathetic batting performances; over-indulgence in religious activities; lack of teamwork; lack of discipline in the team and players' fitness levels.

 

The writer is a staff member at 'The News' Karachi

[email protected]

 

Victory at last as the desert is on fire again!

Cricket has always shone in the desert. Right from its inception in Sharjah, when the pioneering Abdul Rahman Bukhatir introduced this very discipline of sports in the desert way back in 1981, down to cricket in Abu Dhabi almost all encounters have produced exciting moments that have gone into the annals of the game.

There has always been something thrilling and sometime even extraordinary about the game in these spectacular desert venues. Records and milestones always come under threats whenever cricket giants clash here before the multi-dimensional spectators. 

A last over hat-trick, a last ball six by Javed Miandad, and several nail-biting and exciting finishes are the hallmark of Sharjah cricket. The same was anticipated when the off-shore Al-Warid series featuring two Asian giants got underway in Abu Dhabi last week. 

On the one hand, Pakistan broke a victory drought in the offshore series while on the other, the individual statistics updates were accelerated. The striking all-rounder Shahid Afridi's trick of 32 runs in an over is the latest addition to exciting moments of cricket in this particular region.

All the three ODIs were good scoring matches with flashes of exciting moments sparking off and on during the entire tournament. Yes, after the disappointing World Cup performance, Pakistan took a satisfactory start against Sri Lanka at the Shaikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi on May 18. Pakistan won the first ODI by five wickets.

The match certainly belonged to Shahid Afridi. He became the most successful Pakistani all-rounder in One-day International cricket. Shahid Afridi who had already taken 201 ODI wickets before the series, also reached the milestone of 5000 runs, which earned him the honour of being the third player in ODIs after Sanath Jaysuriya (12006 runs and 292 wickets) and South African Jacques Kallis (9005 runs and 230 wickets) to have done so.

Shahid Afridi flaunted his unique batting style and scored a quickfire 73 runs on just 34 balls, which enabled Pakistan to reach the target of 2236 runs in only 42 overs. Afridi who needed only two runs to get 5000 ODI runs before this match, took his aggregate to 5071 runs. He is the eighth Pakistani to do so after Inzamam (11739), Saeed Anwar (8823), Muhammad Yousuf (7920), Javed Miandad (7381), Saleem Malik (7170), Ijaz Ahmed (6564) and Rameez Raja (5841).

It was again revealed that on his particular day Afridi can become the world's most dangerous batsman, and he can pierce any bowling attack. Many bowlers have considered him as a most dangerous batsman.

In 240 ODIs so far, his 5072 runs with the help of four hundreds and 29 fifties is evident of his greatness. He is among the six bowlers who have taken more than two hundred wickets in ODIs.

Wasim Akram is the leading wicket taker in ODI cricket with 502 wickets, followed by Waqar Younis (416). Saqlain Mushtaq (288), Abdul Razzaq (246) and Shoaib Akhtar (202) also having completed the double century of ODI wickets.

In the first match of the recent series Shahid Afridi smashed four sixes and two fours in an over from Malinga Bandara, the Sri Lanka leg-spinner and henceforth snatched 32 runs, which is the second highest runs in an over conceded by a bowler in ODI cricket. South African Herschelle Gibbs holds the honour of scoring 36 runs through hitting sixes on every ball of the over sent down by Netherlands' Daan van Bunge in the recent World Cup in the West Indies.

The second ODI of the series was dominated by the Pakistan opening duo of Salman Butt and Yasir Hameed, who hit half-centuries as Pakistan beat World Cup runners-up by 98 runs to claim the series. Butt and Hameed sparked Pakistan with an entertaining 98-run stand for the second wicket off 100 deliveries before both fell in successive overs to leg-spinner Bandara.

Pakistan posted an imposing 313 for nine in the allotted 50 overs, and then dismissed Sri Lanka for 215 in 39.5 overs to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

The third and final match between the two sides was dominated by Sri Lanka. Thanks mainly to a 124-run partnership between captain Mahela Jayawardene and Chamara Silva. The duo mixed aggression with caution aptly as they penalised the poor bowling with excellent shots all around the wicket. The aggression was clearly on display from the start of the innings as Upul Tharanga and Sanath Jayasuriya displayed lofted on-drives.

And last but not the least, the 18 runs that came off the last over bowled by the otherwise impressive Rao Ifitkhar meant that Pakistan needed to reach a target of 297.

Overall it was a good show by Pakistan in the wake of their nightmare participation in the World Cup with their shocking exit in the preliminary stage before their one-day series loss in South Africa, England and in Champions Trophy in India.

In one-day cricket Pakistan were a constant failure in recent months and we are happy that Pakistan have finally overcome it in Abu Dhabi. One hopes now that the team has left behind the sour memories of past to certain extent and have put collective efforts to win a series will certainly help them regain their lost confidence. They can proceed into their next assignment i.e. Twety20 World Cup with a bit of positive frame of mind.

The series is Abu Dhabi was also the first test of leadership qualities of newly-appointed captain Shoaib Malik. A lot of apprehensions were being expressed after the appointment of this relatively inexperienced and young man as captain of the team, but now that the team has played  like a well-knit unit under his leadership, all such speculations, rumours of rifts within the team and formation of a block by senior members against the captain will be set aside.

The return of pace bowler Muhammad Asif, who is the vice captain now, was a plus point in Abu Dhabi and surely added fire to the pace battery. He could not tame the Lankan batsmen in the third and final match though. Asif like his elder fellow pacer Shoaib Akhtar seems to be prone to controversy as is evident from his being apprehended by match referee.

The victory in Abu Dhabi is also significant in the backdrop that Sri Lanka were the ultimate finalists of the Cup and they were in high spirits. The absence of their three key players was an advantage for the new lot in the team. Overall both the teams were equally poised because Pakistan too did not have Younis Khan, Danish Kaneria and most importantly former captain Inzamam-ul-Haq who has retired from one-dayers after World Cup.

The Pakistan team enjoys a good track record against Sri Lanka and the team endeavoured for maintaining the flow of victories against their rivals by putting in collective efforts and greater coordination.

Some circles have been critical of the team's not-so-good show in the final match but since the team is going through rebuilding process with the induction of fresh talent in a bid to get experience with youth, we should not bully the young ones into severe criticism.

As we saw, in the third ODI, which was marked by an enhanced participation of the young ones, the team could repeat their earlier show in the three-match series, but we should not get panicky as these youngsters definitely need some time to adjust to their new propositions.

One would agree with the new selector Salahuddin alias Sallu who was quoted to have said: "It is a slow process we cannot chop the entire team in one go and to have a brand new playing eleven as it is not possible to do so because the presence of experience is a big way of learning for the newcomers".

 

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