16 June 2010

Still life in the old dog

My rant about the futility of the Asia Cup seems to have been ill-timed. Certainly the performances of the Srilanka-Pakistan match bordered on the brilliant. Afridi hitting Murali for five sixes. Afridi hitting 109 of 76 balls. Slinger-in-chief Malinga picking five wickets and the return of the original bad boy - Shoaib Akthar. But, the stand-out moment was Sangakkara producing a moment of magic to catch Afridi of Murali.
Even on off days, Champions have their say and atleast on yesterday's evidence "The Asia Cup is Magic"

15 June 2010

The Return of the Redundant

Nearly two years ago, on this very same blogspot, I had written about the Asia Cup http://islandexpress.blogspot.com/2008/06/significance-of-insignificant.html. Strange how two years later, each and every word I wrote still retain its significance.
The redundant tournament tries to justify its existence. A meaningless tournament or an important milestone. My vote is still for the former.

16 February 2010

One all!

Unless god intervenes, either by reincarnating himself in the form of one or more of the South African batsmen, or more simply, be letting torrents of rain wash away Indian dreams, the result of the second test between India and South Africa is a foregone conclusion at the end of day 3.

Yet again, the epic battle for world domination between these two great warriors, fought on grounds that conjure Mahabharat like visions of thunderbolts flying through the air and dust rising high from the stomping of brave foot soldiers, ends with a whimper, rather than a bang. The senseless mandarins of the BCCI and the puppets of Zuma that allowed this travesty (of a two test series between the top two sides) to pass, should be lined up and tortured by being made to watch videos of the 3 test series between India and Sri Lanka for atleast 8 consecutive days.

Why 8? Because in revenge too, there must be justice. And since 8 days of riveting test match cricket is what they gave us (game over tomorrow?), it is our responsibility, nay our moral duty, to give these power mongering, public hating monsters, 8 days of watching Indian batsmen ground the Sri Lankan tigers to dust (as a complete aside, would it not have been great fun if the Dhoni saving 1,411 tigers ad was aired at the same time as the Indian batsmen were pummelling the Sri Lankan tigers? Also, how does one arrive at this exact number of 1,411 - is there a roll call every morning, a prediction from a forest official who fancies himself to be somewhat of a nostradamus, or some other form of the great Indian rope trick???)

And despite previous predictions going horribly wrong, I yet again dare a prediction - this game will be over by the end of the day tomorrow, with the Indian spinners ripping through South Africa after Khan has finished de-energizing his bunny Smith.

08 February 2010

The Fast and the Furious

As expected, Pakistan, through a combination of ineptitude, infighting and ball biting madness, connived to leave Australian shores without a single win in a tour spread over the three formats of the game. In three tests, 5 one dayers and 1 t-20 game, Pakistan were consistently competitive for exactly two days (during the second test) and mostly abysmal for the rest of the tour. Well and truly, a tour DOWN UNDER.

On Friday, despite the superheroic acts of the bowling unit and some very un-Pakistan like fielding, the supporting cast that has become the batting unit, put in performances that could, in a parallel universe where more than movies were taken into account, have provided for the nomination of a fair few of the Pakistani batsman for the Razzies this year.

For batsmen that play the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Aamer and Gul regularly and presumably comfortably, the inability to play the pace of Tait, Nannes and Johnson was inexplicable. But for Kamran's fearless attack, the world champions of T20 were likely to be humbled by margins that would truly have been a reflection of the difference in quality between the two sides.

A special mention for Tait's bowling on Friday is in order. His slowest ball was clocked at well over 150 KMPH and his fastest at 162 KMPH. For the mathematically challenged, that gives the batsman, standing about 19 yards away, approximately 0.4 seconds to spot the ball, judge where it is going to land, get his foot in position and get the bat swinging in time! And they say that this is a batsman's game...

Misery loves company goes the famous saying and how that was true of Friday. With Shaun Tait making life miserable at one end through raw pace, agression and remarkable accuracy, Pakistan was forced to take on the slower offerings from Nannes and Johnson, both of whom were bowling well into the high 140's throughout their spells... the pressure told and Pakistan crumbled like a biscuit held too long in a cup of tea. Pakistan needs to introspect long and hard about what went wrong on the tour if they hope to remain competitive on the international scene - the time for giving delusional media bytes about being competitive, trying hard and improving every day is over, as hopefully is Yousuf's captaincy.

01 February 2010

The Whitewash

Well, as expected, Australia did go on to duly complete the whitewash and claimed the series 5-0.

Despite the predictable result, there were enough interesting events that transpired during the game yesterday, and strangely enough, each and every one that comes to my mind relates to the Pakistan team. The first of the lot is ofcourse Shahid Afridi's captaincy and the manner in which the rest of the Pakistani team reacts to his leadership. For the first time this series, Pakistan looked like a side that was switched on - their energy and chirpiness while fielding was not that of a side that had not won a game in 2 months, but of one that had not lost for as long as they could remember. In complete contrast to their reputations, they ran well between the wickets while they batted and their was intent in every run (a lot of the strokes still left a lot to be desired, but perhaps those too can be put down to the injection of Afridinile) and more importantly, unlike their performance this entire tour, they fielded remarkably well (and to my recollection, did not drop a catch!). Like all great leaders, Afridi leads by example and the rest of the Pakistani team seems to draw from his intensity and fire. The PCB could do worse than ask Yousuf to step down and make Afridi the captain in ODI's in addition to the T-20's.

Which brings me to the second point. If news reports are to be believed, the PCB and its minions did get Yousuf to step down from captaincy yesterday so that Afridi could be given an opportunity. If that is indeed the case (and the sore knee is nothing but a shabby excuse), then I must congratulate the PCB for their imagination. Yousuf, on the other hand, deserves a spanking on his back-side if he refused to play because he was not captain. It is high time Yousuf accepts that he is not a great leader (or even if he is, he is not the type of leader that the Pakistani cricket team needs) and instead concentrates on his role as the best batsman in the side, atleast for the few years that he has left.

The third interesting development was ofcourse Afridi's ball tampering. For someone who has been playing internationl cricket for a decade, it was the silliest stupidest thing to do on a cricket field, where get this, 26 cameras were focussed on the action. Now, if its someone like Younis khan attempting this, there is a miniscule chance that no camera would be focussed on him at that point in time - but the chances of no camera being focussed at the captain of the defending team during a tense run chase are about as good as Rohit Sharma's chances of learning to deal with the short ball. And then he goes out and says that he was in fact ball tampering - not that he was cleaning the ball, but that he was ball tampering... sigh....

Punishment has been swift and Afridi has been banned for 2 T-20's, including the one against Australia. With Pakistan's most potent T-20 weapon defused, it now seems extremely unlikely that the world cahmpions of T-20 will be able to put one across Australia before leaving those shores.

30 January 2010

Winning the Break-Up

Have you heard of Ted's (of How I Met Your Mother fame) concept of winning a break up? Ted theorizes that in any break up, both individuals do what they can to portray the appearance that the break up was their choice, i.e. to win the break up (do watch this particular episode, its quite funny).

I would not have thought it, but the machinations of the Pakistan Cricket Board yesterday do lead me to believe that How I Met Your Mother has a significant fan base in the PCB as well. Yesterday, the Pakistan Cricket Board tried to win their break up with Mr. Modi's IPL by stating that they were revoking the NOC's of all Pakistani players - this after each franchisee individually and the IPL as a whole had made it clear that they were not interested in Pakistan at this time!!!

It would be interesting to see whether the PCB would continue to deny Pakistani players a NOC if the IPL did in fact want them to participate. Would the Pakistani cricketers continue to sing in harmony with the PCB if they could see millions of rupees (and fame) disappearing in the blink of an eye? Would the politics of this battle between two very unequal forces result in the Pakistani soldiers deserting the PCB army and going the Flintoff way? In my experience, principles and egos do often fall by the wayside in the hunt for money - what do you think?

29 January 2010

The 4th hammering

I would not have thought it possible, but Pakistan seems to have found a way to lose by bigger and badder margins as the series has gone on. A 5-0 whitewash seems very likely and Pakistan's only hope of redemption on this entire tour will lie in the single T-20 game that they are scheduled to play.

Since enough has been said about Pakistan's ability to make the slightest impression in this one-day series, I will instead concentrate on one of the outstanding features of today's game - Ryan Harris's bowling. From what I saw today, he seems to be a faster, better and smarter version of Hilfenhaus, and bowled some absolutely superb Andersonesque outswingers to unsettle and destroy an increasingly vulnerable Pakistani top order. For those who did follow the previous edition of the IPL, you will remember a certain Ryan James Harris (or Rhyno as he is affectionately called) - the person who opened the bowling for the Deccan Chargers for a few matches. I have no idea what has changed in the meanwhile, but the 30 years old Ryan Harris that is now tormenting Pakistan seems a very different person from the 28-29 year old Ryan Harris that got mauled in the IPL.

Given the quality of his bowling over the last two matches, perhaps he too deserves a place in the Australian test line up and Siddle deserves a rest. Though I hate the Australian cricket team for the way they have dominated cricket, you have got to hand it to them for the rabbits that they pull out of their yellow hats all so often. And Nathan Hauritz take a bow for your batting today...

The Great Snub

Please read the transcript (here) of Andy Zaltzman’s podcast on the IPL auction and his description of the selection of ‘horses’ for the particular course that is the IPL.

Much ink has flowed in the Indian, Pakistani and international media over the non-selection of a single world champion Pakistani cricketer by any of the franchisees and as seems typical for a reaction on anything slightly controversial in cricket, the reactions range from passive (including in the Pakistani publication, the Dawn) to outright fanatical (pretty much everything else in the Pakistani media). Should Pakistan somehow manage to win a single one-day game (or god forbid, the T-20 match against Australia), it seems certain that journalists and bloggers across the world will have a lot more fire to breathe and venom to spew on Pakistan’s ability as a limited overs side, and I want to jump on to this bandwagon too!

Personally, I believe that justice has been done. The very unofficial embargo on the franchisees selecting Pakistani cricketers is somewhat like the West imposing economic sanctions on Iraq. It is a political snub, it is invariably backed by the government (despite what Mr. Modi and Mr. Krishna might say), it is very symbolic of the history of evolution where might is indeed right and it is occasioned by the aggressive intent of the other.

As far as cricket is concerned, while it would have been nice to see some of the Pakistani cricketers in the various line-ups, I for one cannot imagine anyone saying ‘but if only Afridi/Aamer/Gul was here’. When the IPL juggernaut begins to roll again, most of the audience outside Pakistan is going to forget this ‘snub’ and enjoy the cricket like they have over the past 2 seasons. Viewership may draw in Pakistan to begin with, but it is almost certain that as the season moves into its closing stages, all of the cricket addicts will come running back to the broadcasters for their shot of adrenalin fuelled excitement.

In so far as politics goes, there may have been a more elegant ways to extend this ‘snub’, but sometimes the brutal political lesson is more effective than the diplomatic sugar quoted one (after 50 years of trying diplomacy, I am certain that a lot of my countrymen would agree). Generally, I would say that politics and sports do not mix well, but in this particular instance, especially after the attacks on Mumbai and the Indian parliament, I am more than willing to make an exception. For those who disagree, let me ask you this – would you do business with your enemy (perceived or real) if at that very same time that person was trying his best to destabilize your daily existence??

22 January 2010

So much for Predictions

I think the title says it all

Update on the first one dayer

As it happens, Afridi did have one of 'those days' and has powered (literally) Pakistan to 274.

With the pitch offering pace and bounce, Pakistan promises to be a handful. Prediction stays - narrow Pakistan win. Shahid Afridi man of the match.

The First One Dayer

Here's hoping that writing this post will go some way in breathing new life into this comatose blog, even in the absence of John, and hopefully with the all other contributors once again contributing their thoughts.

I woke up early this morning (which, given the cold in Delhi was a lot more difficult than it sounds!) to watch Pakistan yet again take on Australia - this time in a format where they actually have a chance to beat Australia.

As I write this piece, the game is interestingly poised, though Pakistan has somehow managed to start the slide that I have been waiting for since early this morning. Despite the early fireworks from Kamran Akmal and then Salman Butt, and lots of energy and intent from Umar Akmal (how good is he???), Younis Khan has single handedly managed to anchor this innings - and I mean that literally and not in a good way.

I am all for comebacks and I do think Younis is an extremely good bat (especially against India) who deserves his place in the side, but should Pakistan lose this game, he must be held singularly responsible for protecting his wicket rather than getting on with it. So far, he has cost Salman Butt, Umar Akmal and Shoaib Malik their wickets and unless Afridi has one of 'those days', he has put Pakistan in a position where getting 270 will be an achievment rather than the certainty it was 20 overs go.

That said, Pakistan probably possesses the bowling firepower to defend 270 on this pitch, especially with Boom Boom and his ten overs of mesmerizing leg spin waiting in the wings. Add to this the pace of Aamer, the seam of Asif, the off spin of Ajmal and perhaps Malik, and you have the most well balanced bowling line up playing in Australia today.

My prediction - a nail biting Pakistan win (provided they can hold their catches), with Afridi claiming three.