a day, keeps the batsmen away!
Pakistan are likely play the series opener with an all spin attack and even play
two specialist left-arm spinners in a Test for the first time since 1959
By Sohaib Alvi
Will somebody remind me again what the objective was of the three-day match against the touring South Africans? From what I remember, and what was my obvious assumption, it was to check out which among Ahmed Shahzad, Shan Masood and Faisal Iqbal has the right temperament and technique to play in the first Test. If the two openers were found to be short, then perhaps Azhar Ali could be asked to open, Younis, Misbah, Asad move up a notch and Faisal comes in at No. 6 if he showed his mettle against international bowlers.
up the opener’s debate!
Pakistan are likely play the series opener with an all spin attack and even play
two specialist left-arm spinners in a Test for the first time since 1959
By Sohaib Alvi
remind me again what the objective was of the three-day match against
the touring South Africans? From what I remember, and what was my
obvious assumption, it was to check out which among Ahmed Shahzad, Shan
Masood and Faisal Iqbal has the right temperament and technique to play
in the first Test. If the two openers were found to be short, then
perhaps Azhar Ali could be asked to open, Younis, Misbah, Asad move up a
notch and Faisal comes in at No. 6 if he showed his mettle against
Or to see which one
from Asad Shafiq, Faisal Iqbal or Sohaib Maqsood takes the one spot up
for consideration in the middle-order as well. Well, then what’s
better than to have two opportunities to judge the contestants for the
selectors? What’s better than to get the South African bowlers toil in
the sun for two days instead of one?
From what I assumed,
as a logical person would do, Pakistan will go in with an all spin
attack in the first Test, and even play two specialist left-arm spinners
in a Test for the first time since 1959 when the late Col. Shujauddin
and Nasim-ul-Ghani bowled in tandem in a Test or two.
So if we have Ajmal,
Zulfiqar Babar and Abdul Rehman tossing them up at Smith & Co.,
leaving only one from Junaid Khan or Mohammad Irfan taking up the new
ball in a throwback to the Indian teams some five decades back, when
someone like Abid Ali would trundle in for a few overs and then Bedi,
Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkatraghavan would bowl all through the
And even if the
selectors have left the option open of going in with two spinners, is it
more important to see the more viable options that can strengthen our
wafer thin batting? Or whether to judge which medium pacer can we be
throw in should Irfan or Rahat Ali be unfit?
It is a question that
can well be asked in the show ‘Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?’
And believe me, my kid would go for testing the choices in batting
rather than bowling. So would the contesting adult, unless he happens to
be one of the decision makers in the team management.
I mean, you win the
toss and you decide to bowl! Give only one outing in the middle for the
contestants for the openers slot and No.6?
Where is the noise raised by the Pakistan team management and
selectors? It is never only the captain who has a say in whether the
team bats or fields if it wins the toss. And Umar Amin is not in a
position to pull his weight at the team meeting or with the think tank
(or sink tank, whichever applies better). Or is he? Nothing can surprise
me when it comes to managing our cricket.
Note that Umar Amin
has a conflict of interest too. He’d already been named in the twelve
and his place can be justified at No.6 since he can bowl medium pace and
can act as second seamer if Pakistan go in with three spinners. That
maneuver would have been a problem if he had failed twice. Despite being
dismissed cheaply, he can still get the vote ahead of Asad based on the
fact that he can also bowl.
So in the end maybe
both the three hopefuls may lose out to Umar just because they got only
one chance. Sohaib Maqsood batted with some aplomb and had Faisal Iqbal
done the same, the two could have edged out Umar Amin.
Notice also that Umar bowled only three overs, to show himself
potentially a bowling option rather than bowl 10 or more and be
thrashed. Even if he’s not selected for the first Test, he’s got
grounds now to come in for the second in case No 6 fails twice in Abu
Seeing how desperate
everyone was to continue with Hafeez as they gave him another chance in
the trial match knowing it would prove nothing except a reason to
continue with him if he scores, I’m sure somebody tried their best to
give only one chance to Ahmed Shahzad and Shan Masood with the outside
hope that both may fail in the one chance given to them. Azhar could
then be tasked with the temporary responsibility, keeping the gates open
for Hafeez to come back against Sri Lanka. Well, the move didn’t come
off. Both the openers impressed, even though the South African pacers
bowled well inside their normal pace to avoid exhaustion and injury a
few days before the first Test. Nevertheless even at a controlled pace
both Steyn and Morkel can still be pretty tough customers to handle,
flat pitch and brutal heat notwithstanding.
From among the two
Ahmed Shahzad looks likely to step out with Khurram. (The fact that a
comeback opener is our only confirmed choice from the two shows the
depth of the pit we have been taken into). Shahzad has the experience
and may not be as overawed as Shan. It is also advisable that unless the
talent and temperament is absolutely brilliant youngsters should be
exposed in the lesser of the tougher test. He will still have to earn
his stripes against the top guns but at least he would have got the feel
I feel sorry for
Faisal Iqbal. He is unlikely to take the place of Asad Shafiq, not that
I would have ever given my vote if it meant standing down Asad. He has
possibly the best temperament after Misbah among our current batsmen and
has proved himself against Steyn and Philander on the fast South African
pitches, not to mention some fine knocks in his short career so far. He
has had his bad run and really should have stood firm against Zimbabwe
considering his skill and cool mind, but he has what it takes at the
Had the mastermind
(whoever he was) opted to bat first on winning the toss, (I’m sure
Smith would not have fielded had he called correctly), we would be
having a second look at Fasial and which of the two openers performed
better in both innings rather than in one. Mind you Shan was not
dismissed but retired to give the middle-order contenders more time.
I would still open
with Azhar in this series and strengthen the middle-order were it not
that it would be taken as a move to keep other openers from showing
their steel to challenge Hafeez. I don’t care if he gets a double
hundred against Sri Lanka should he return. If you can’t take your
chest out when the chips are down, don’t fake it against the small
stuff. Pakistan should put him back in the first-class circuit which I
understand he criticised recently saying it’s not competitive enough.
Someone who has written on cricket posted on Facebook whether he should
be pulled up by the PCB for saying that. But my comment was that rather
than being sent a show cause notice, he should be sent back to the
domestic circuit as living proof that yes, it isn’t working. If this
is what we are getting as opener and captaincy material, PCB is another
institution that should be on the privatisation list of the government.
It seems that even when they try to take a step forward the PCB find a rock to stub their toe into
By Hassan Cheema
The start of
Pakistan’s domestic 2013/14 season brings with it something even more
predictable than Pakistanis whining about
fictitious conspiracies: a change in the first-class scene. Much like
any other PCB decision (especially ones that don’t involve the
national team) it split opinions in that small percentage of people that
actually noticed it. And yet, despite the opprobrium, the decision was
more good than bad.
Thankfully, the format
of the competitions was not changed. The PCB has found, more by trial
and error than by design, a competition that works in the shape of the
President’s Trophy. Around 200 of the contracted department (and
therefore best) players in the country taking part in a competition that
provides them with at least nine first-class games is something works.
Of course you could argue that the number of matches could be more, and
the number of teams (especially considering the performance of UBL)
should be less, but the glass is definitely half full.
The decision to have
the President’s Trophy take place together with the Quaid-e-Azam
Trophy is a good one as well. Far too often last season players, many of
who failed in the President’s Trophy, went down to the QeA, against
lesser opposition, and inflated their numbers for the year. I have
nothing against Adnan Akmal, but he should never be averaging 80 in
first-class cricket — as he did in the QeA last year. So, in essence,
Pakistan would have two competitions representing the two tiers of
cricket that is being played.
And now the negative
aspects of it; the fact that the QeA is still considered first-class
cricket is just plain wrong. It is pretty bleeding obvious that it’s a
standard below the President’s Trophy, but above club cricket, so it
should be considered the equivalent of 2nd XI matches in England, or
Minor League Baseball in the United States. Instead, as per the official
statistics, the numbers in the QeA will count the same as they do in the
President’s Trophy (which they did last season too); that is something
I find very hard to stomach. As someone
who believes in the power of numbers, this distortion will only
misrepresent what goes on this season.
practically it makes sense that the departments (which can pay the
players far more) are of a higher standard than the regions, and
therefore have the better competition, it is still disturbing that the
regional tournaments will be 2nd tier by default. It’s a shame that
the PCB has never actively tried, as far as I know, to amalgamate the
different sectors of Pakistani cricket. In an ideal world, the
corporations would partner with the regional cricket authorities and the
clubs of the region to form the sort of sporting organisation that exist
in North America. In the real world, outside of the big four or five
centers of cricket, it is difficult to sell to corporations such an
altruistic idea. But the fact that this has come about during PCB’s
decentralization — something sports journalist Osman Samiuddin
reported on a couple of weeks ago — is proof of the slightly confused
thinking that goes on in Gaddafi.
Finally, the most
disturbing aspect of this is how it values quantity over quality. The
number of teams in President’s Trophy, if not the QeA, is already far
too much — the fact that almost 400 players will play
“first-class” cricket this year is a bit of a joke. And this utopian
socialism exists in the shorter formats too, with 11 department teams
and the 17 regional teams both having their own T20 tournaments.
From what little I
understand of sports one of the more universal aspects of it is that the
better players you play with and/or against, the better player you’ll
become; in fact if the answer you have is a dilution of talent, then you
have to scrap the question you have in the first place.
It seems that even
when they try to take a step forward the PCB find a rock to stub their
cricket team is gearing up to face the mighty South Africans in the
United Arab Emirates. The first Test starts on Monday (tomorrow) when
Misbah-ul-Haq’s men take on the visitors with the aim of taking
revenge for the humiliating loss earlier this year. Pakistan may have
the bowlers, the batsmen and even a stable gloveman (Adnan Akmal is the
best Akmal of all!) to give Graeme Smith’s XI a run for their money,
but is it enough? What is keeping Pakistan away from becoming a world
beater side in the first place? World class openers!
Ever since Saeed Anwar
and Aamer Sohail left the scene, Pakistan has been struggling to find
good opening pair that can blast through the opposition. Who can forget
the Indian bashing at Bangalore in 1996 World Cup quarter-final (in a
match that Pakistan lost due to the middle-order collapse) or their
sensational batting in various Sharjah tournament where Pakistan always
came out as victors due to their classy stroke making.
Gone are the days when
the Greenshirts had two batsmen in the top order who were not afraid of
getting dropped, because they were the best in business. In the last 10
years, Pakistan has used so many opening batsmen that compiling a list
would become a headache for statisticians, a torture for the readers and
an embarrassment for those who are part of the selection process. From
Shahid Afridi to Nasir Jamshed, from Mohammad Hafeez to Shoaib Malik and
from Imran Farhat to Taufeeq Umar, all have had their chance at opening
the batting and while some have excelled at the job, some have failed
but maintained a place in the squad because of the right connections.
It was heartening to
see that the selectors finally dropped Mohammad Hafeez from the Test
squad as he could ‘neither bat, nor ball’ when in whites, but who
will take his place in the team? Khurram Manzoor seems to be the
preferred opener for the series but will Shan Masood be ready to take on
the might of Dale Steyn on his Test debut? Will Ahmed Shehzad’s
limited-overs style of batting prevail in the Test arena where he
hasn’t been tried and tested yet?
How will the selectors
solve the issue of openers when they don’t seem to have any answer?
Improvise. Asad Shafiq can be used as an opening batsman in Tests
because he has done the job in one-dayers. Azhar Ali, who usually comes
in after the fall of the first wicket and that too very early in the
innings, is a sort of opener for the side anyway. And yes, Faisal Iqbal
has scored a century in one-dayers as an opener and if he is given the
chance to do his duty for the side rather than sit on the bench, who
knows he might get the job done. Even Pakistan’s highest first wicket
partnership in Test cricket — 298 runs against the West Indies at
Karachi in 1997 — featured one non regular opener Ijaz Ahmed alongside
Aamer Sohail who was on a roll, scoring back to back centuries in the
And before we conclude
the argument, let’s take a look at the best opening pairs produced by
Pakistan on the basis of runs scored. Despite Aishwariya Rai’s
character mentioning Saeed Anwar and Aamer Sohail in Dhoom 2 as the
‘best’, they are Pakistan’s second in line. Pakistan’s most
successful Test batting pair comprised of Mohsin Khan and Mudassar Nazar
who opened the innings together on 54 occasions, scored over 2000 runs
at an average of nearly 40 runs per innings. They were part of as many
as 3 century partnerships during 1981 and 1986. Saeed Anwar and Aamer
Sohail did the honours of starting the innings 37 times and took the
score past 100 five times, but during their 6 years between 1994 and
2000, managed a little less than 1600 runs at nearly 45 runs per
innings. Mohammad Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar scored 1438 runs in their 39
innings as openers at an average of 39 runs per innings with the help of
5 century partnerships. And finally, we have the legendary Majid Khan
and Sadiq Mohammad who were together for 26 innings, scored 1391 runs at
an astounding average of over 60 runs per innings with the help of 4
partnerships of over 100.
It is up to the
selectors to decide the fate of who opens the innings for Pakistan
against South Africa in what can be another entertaining ‘home’
series away from home for the Green-shirts. Whatever they decide, one
hopes that their decision is taken for the future rather than on the
performances of the past, because the future is what Pakistan must be
looking forward to. You can’t move ahead if you look into the rear
view mirror all the time, can you?
It is well
past midnight. It has been more than ten hours since Sachin Tendulkar
announced his intention to retire following his 200th Test next month.
ESPNcricinfo has gone into what can only be called its tsunami mode. Its
forces have gathered, scattered out emails, made dozens of phone calls,
scoured through the archive, and presented you, the beloved reader, with
a Himalayan range of words, pictures and numbers to mull over. Every arm
of social media has been shaken. We’ve been through more than 90
minutes of talk about Tendulkar for our video features and material is
still coming in.
Along with other
cricketers, writers and cricketer-writers, ESPNcricinfo staff — a
clear-eyed, hard-nosed, pragmatic bunch — have sent in accounts of
their favourite Tendulkar memory. It is these accounts from my
colleagues that I have found most revealing and reflective of the day
we’re having. Those reflections have come from a place we must
necessarily turn away from whenever on professional duty. Today, though,
it was as if the news of Tendulkar has set us free — in heart, mind,
In the time Tendulkar
has played for India, we’ve all grown up, grown old, but never grown
apart from cricket. Maybe it was him, maybe it was his time. Maybe
we’re just a bunch of sentimental fogeys between the ages of 20 and
infinity. Throughout his career, Tendulkar has kept reaffirming the
faith and belief that no matter what, there was much in cricket that
could be uplifting, exceptional, clean.
News of his impending
retirement was not unexpected — over the last 18 months much has
unravelled around Tendulkar at a somewhat dismaying speed. In the
context of an unrelenting 24-year career, however, what is remarkable is
that the tailspin did not take place earlier.
To many, our 40s are
when we finally secure our place in the world and find the discipline
needed to keep middle-aged maladies at bay. To cricketers it is the time
the mind becomes quicksilver sharp to the game’s demands, but the body
falls half a step behind. For driven, competitive creatures like
Tendulkar, who are seekers and finders of sustained excellence,
accepting the march of time must be tougher than we can imagine.
batting has dipped and his struggles have mounted, we have wrung our
hands in misery and helplessness. Our worries have been about
“legacy” and “timing” and “appropriateness”, our anxiety
centred around the notion of a Tendulkar “legend”.
We’ve probably got
it all wrong. To Tendulkar, perhaps the legend or the idea of legacy
does not exist. All that existed was a fresh set of difficulties, to
which he responded with the only method he had ever practised: by
looking for yet another new route to adapt to a rapidly changing inner
He flung himself at
the problem, like he always had with other problems — more practice,
more hits, more nets, more training. It was his way of rattling the
gates of the cricketing gods, and it had always worked.
When the announcement
came, the first response was a tumult, a cascade. Tendulkar had made up
his mind, he had bitten the bullet. It was done, and maybe like us he
feels free too. Now it means we, like thousands of others, don’t have
to worry about him and for him anymore.
Then his career
flashed past in the mind’s eye and all of us found ourselves in it. It
contained the past 24 years of our own lives, tagged on somewhere as we
watched, applauded, cursed, celebrated, whirling around in suspense,
joy, mortification, gratitude. As this was on, India played Australia in
a T20 international in Rajkot, an old titan signalling the moment to say
goodbye, as a new game moved on at its own clip.
offices, we’ve kept working with the left brain and right brain
tussling throughout. Following this news, there is one last issue to be
resolved but it’s not one you need to deal with right now. There’s
at least a month left to go before we must work out what to fill into
the Tendulkar-sized hole that will be left in our game.
Sharda Ugra is senior
editor at ESPNcricinfo
A lot has been
written and said about Rafael Nadal’s epoch-making season that still
has a month or so to go before it culminates. He’s won two majors,
five ATP Masters 1000 titles, guided Spain back to Davis Cup World Group
and last week became the top ranked player in the world as well, for the
first time since July 2011. While there is unanimous veneration for one
of sports’ greatest comebacks of all time, the praise also has had a
seemingly mandatory asterisk, which is designed to boost up Nadal’s
achievements by adding, “despite a 7-month injury layoff”, to his
accomplishments in 2013. No one’s paused for a moment to acknowledge
the fact that while the Spaniard’s comeback has been enough to
redefine the term “Herculean task”, those seven months off actually
helped him find his way back to the top.
After Nadal lost to
Lukas Rosol in the second round of Wimbledon last year, he’d played
enough tennis over the previous 15 months to give him six major titles
and ATP Masters titles in double figures. The fact that he’d lost to
Novak Djokovic in seven consecutive finals — including three major
finals — meant that he didn’t actually win most of those titles.
But his body was
exhausted. And while it must have been tough to remain away from the
game for those seven months, it did give him some time to rest his body
and solve a crucial puzzle.
When Nadal and
Djokovic slugged it out for nearly 6 hours in Melbourne for the
Australian Open title in 2012, the Spaniard lost, but it wasn’t as
comprehensive a defeat as he’d suffered over the previous few matchups.
This is why despite the loss Nadal was confident that he was closer to
figuring out how to beat Djokovic as the Serb got the stranglehold over
their rivalry. Of course Nadal did go on to beat Djokovic twice before
his injury layoff as well, but that was on clay. For the time he was out
of the game Rafael Nadal was putting the proverbial jigsaw together to
overcome the Serbian challenge on hard courts.
While Djokovic had
raised the bar to unparalleled heights in 2011, the answer to overcoming
him was there for Nadal to see in the 12 months that preceded the
Serb’s golden year. Nadal became the only man in the history of tennis
to win three majors on three different surfaces, and hold three
different surface majors at the same time, in 2010 by playing aggressive
tennis. Whether the Nadal of 2010 would’ve beaten the Djokovic of 2011
is debatable, but the Nadal of 2013 has played the best hard court
tennis of the 13-time major champion’s career that saw him win 26
consecutive matches on hard courts, till his loss against Djokovic in
the China Open in Beijing last Sunday. Those are the sort of numbers
we’re used to seeing him post on clay.
By playing more
aggressively not only has Nadal managed to break Djokovic’s
stranglehold, he’s also managed to keep points, and in turn games,
sets and matches, short. This reduces the fatigue factor and the burden
that long matchups put on Nadal’s fragile knees. Nadal’s hard court
slam (winning the Canadian Open, Cincinnati and the US Open in one year)
owes a lot to spending less time on court and of course to the
additional rest he got because of the first round exit at Wimbledon this
At 27, most athletes
are within the realm of peak shape, but with Nadal one can’t quite say
that. How he’s adjusted his game has helped him conquer the present
and might also have helped him prolong his career. Even so, with Nadal
there’s always the prospect of burn out or exacerbation of his knee
injury, around the corner. This is precisely why everyone’s getting
carried away by suggesting that Nadal can now go on to beat Roger
Federer’s all-time high tally of 17 major titles. While one wouldn’t
suggest that he won’t, or can’t, do it, we must realise that Nadal
has never in his career, managed to consistently play all noteworthy
tournaments. And as he gets older, he’ll miss out on them through
injury or fatigue with even more frequency. This, as suggested above,
can also work in the Spaniard’s favour.
might help Nadal increase his stay at the summit of men’s tennis, and
might also help him prolong his career. He should now focus on the
majors, the ATP Masters 1000 events he hasn’t won, and maybe reduce
his clay schedule in particular, since he’s nothing left to achieve
over there. Not only should Nadal play fewer tournaments, he should
spread them out so that he can get breaks within a season as well,
that’s the only way he can stay competitive even after the 30-year
mark, and then he might have a tilt at Federer’s all-time tally.
No matter what happens
in the future, Nadal has cemented himself in the upper echelons of
all-time greats. He’s proven that he’ll contender for the greatest
player of all time, even if he doesn’t win another match in his
career. And most of all Rafael Nadal has proven that his biggest
nemesis, his only greatest rival is his own body. He’s conquered
home series against South Africa is being played away from home in the
UAE due to security reasons. Veteran Misbah-ul-Haq will lead Pakistan in
the Test and ODI series. Pakistan’s chances of winning the Test series
against South Africa are very slim. They will mostly depend on their
batting performance, especially by the top-order.
Pakistan will mainly
depend on the seasoned Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. There are lots of
hopes from Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq in the middle-order. Younis once
again proved his worth with a century against the UAE in a two-day
practice match before the first Test.
On the other hand in a
three-day practice match against South Africa, Pakistan A openers Ahmed
Shehzad (66) and Shan Masood (50) pressed their claims for being the
second opener with Khurram Manzoor, the only regular opener in the
12-men squad announced earlier.
performance in the practice match against the UAE was not impressive as
he batted twice in an innings, but managed only 1 and 26 runs against
Now the management has
the option to provide the opportunity to the Pakistan A openers in the
first Test. No player can develop himself until he gets a fair chance to
show his skills. Therefore, if the management wants to go with Khurram
they also can go with Ahmed Shehzad and Shan Masood as they have already
played against the same South African bowling attack which will play in
the Test matches.
Mohammad Hafeez has
been dropped for the series after a poor show in the longest version of
the game, especially against Zimbabwe where he scored only 59 runs in
four Test innings. He has managed only 102 runs in last ten Test
failed miserably in the series against Zimbabwe. Against the strong
South African bowling, Misbah will need 100 percent from their batsmen.
Pakistan’s bowling, especially their pace attack, has very little
international experience. Junaid Khan (11 Tests, 38 wickets), Mohammad
Irfan (two Tests, three wickets) and Rahat Ali (four Tests, 14 wickets)
can hardly match the South African pace attack as Dale Steyn alone has
taken 332 Test wickets in 65 matches.
But the positive side
for Pakistan is that they have top class spinners in Saeed Ajmal, Abdur
Rehman and Zulfiqar Babar, who will test South Africa’s strong and
experienced batting line. At the same venue in 2012, Pakistan beat
England 3-0, although the visitors were No 1 Test side before the
South Africa have not
lost a Test series in seven years — since they were beaten in Sri
Lanka in 2006.
In the previous nine
Test series played between the two teams, South Africa have had a clear
edge over Pakistan with six series wins. Pakistan were successful only
once, in 2003-04 home series.
South Africa have won
11 of the 21 Tests matches played between the two countries so far.
Pakistan have remained victorious on only three occasions.
South Africa’s 620-7
at Cape Town in 2002-03 is the highest score in their bilateral Test
series so far. For Pakistan 456 in 1997 at Rawalpindi is the highest
Pakistan were bowled
out for just 49 runs at Johannesburg in February 2013, which is the
lowest completed innings total in their bilateral Test series.
lowest score (124) came at Port Elizabeth in 2007. South African
all-rounder Jacques Kallis is the top scorer from both sides with 1552
runs in 17 Tests, which include six centuries and eight fifties, scored
at an average of 59.69.
For Pakistan, Younis
Khan has scored 934 runs in 12 Tests at an average of 42.45 with four
hundreds and two fifties.
Former South African
captain Shaun Pollock has taken the most (45) wickets in 12 matches at
an average of 21.35.
Danish Kaneria is the most successful Pakistan bowler against South
Africa with 36 wickets in seven Tests, taken at an average of 30.44.
Proteas ODI skipper AB
de Villiers made the highest score (278 not out) for South Africa, while
Azhar Mahmood’s 136 runs in Johannesburg in 1997-98 tour is still the
highest score from any Pakistani batsman against South Africa.
Abdur Rehman (left)
and Saeed Ajmal