April 28, 2021

Sarfraz Ahmed: Scapegoat or good luck omen?

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By Naeem-ul-Haq in USA

(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Pakistan cricket authorities have devised a unique strategy to tackle Sarfraz Ahmed. The former all-format captain and a wicketkeeper-batsman, is allowed to play only when the series or the prestige is at stake and they’re being subjected to extreme criticism by media and experts over selection follies. 

This has happened for three series now. In England last summer, there was great uproar when Pakistan had lost the first couple of games and he was played in the third and final outing which Pakistan went on to win. 

The series against South Africa was hanging in balance when Sarfraz was blooded in the decisive third encounter which Pakistan managed to win and the most recently the T20 series against Zimbabwe was also locked at one-all when he was finally chosen for the do-or-die third fixture which was won by Pakistan again. 

Interestingly Sarfraz has been drafted in the playing eleven only upon the hue and cry in media and public in general. 

Obviously the cricket-loving Pakistanis get upset when the team starts losing and the selectors and the tour management committee were left with no option to play Sarfraz to silence their critics.

It’s an open secret that the present set-up is not fond of Sarfraz. Head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis have had history of victimizing him even when he was at the peak of his career. How can they be expected to support him at a time when he needed care and understanding to overcome a lean patch? 
Let me remind both these gentlemen, still holding key positions despite their controversial tenure that Sarfraz, even today, deserves to be in the playing eleven in all three formats if merit is the sole criterion for selection. He has better strike-rate than every Pakistani batsman other than Babar Azam. 

There’s absolutely no problem in picking him automatically for the white-ball outfits. Many of the international teams are fielding more than one wicketkeeper-batsman in their playing eleven these days. Australia, England, India and Sri Lanka in particular are doing it most frequently. 

Therefore hell will not break loose if Pakistan also engages two wicketkeeper-batsmen in their line-up since they are good enough to make the cut. 

Muhammad Rizwan, who has been supported generously and extravagantly by the powers that be in an effort to displace Sarfraz by hook or by crook, has become the darling of the Pakistani commentators and former Test cricketers. These same guys were playing similar tune when Sarfraz was at the peak of his career not very long ago. 

Coming to selection matters, it’s really mind boggling to find Asif Ali and Haider Ali such an extended run at the international stage after so many failures. If the policy is not corrected and the current Pakistan team is not altered then I don’t see them going anywhere in the World T20 Championship due to be held later this year. Changes are needed and time is fast running out. The concerned authorities will be advised to take remedial actions rather than using their energies in counterproductive pursuits.

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April 10, 2021

India make amends for toss losses by winning series across formats

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By Naeem-ul-Haq in USA

(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Everyone knows and understands the importance of winning tosses in sub-continental conditions where pitches in Tests tend to get slower as the match progresses while it’s much easier to set targets rather than set one in limited overs games where dew makes it difficult for bowlers and fielders. 

It’s really incredible that India, under the leadership of Virat Kohli, managed to win the series in all three formats recently at home against England despite lost 10 of the 12 tosses. The hosts pocketed the Test series 3-1 while they emerged triumphant 2-1 in both ODI as well as T20I series. 

By doing so, the Indians proved themselves as the top team not only in Tests but also in white ball segments. India’s rotten luck with the coin allowed England to win the first Test at Chennai against all odds. 

Skipper Joe Root extended his brilliant form of Sri Lankan series with yet another double hundred as England piled up the runs and agony for the home side who eventually succumbed to the scoreboard pressure to suffer an unexpected defeat after a memorable tour of Australia where they had come from behind to clinch the Test series despite losing key players to injury. 

The Indians were frustrated by injuries in the home series against England too. Ace all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja was unable to take part in any game while his replacement Axar Patel was also sidelined from the first Test. 

I have a strong feeling that India would have whitewashed their opponents in the Tests if Jadeja or Patel were available in the series opener. 

England’s poor selection strategy cost them dearly and the outrageous decision to send back Moeen Ali after just one Test was bewildering to say the least. 

Picking up three fast bowlers for the pink ball Test, dominated by spinners from the outset, was as strange as their so-called rotation policy which didn’t let them field a settled eleven. Batting or bowling on turning track is an art. 
As we witnessed in the first Test, left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem, due to lack of expertise and experience, was hit all over the place by the England batsmen. He clearly didn't have an idea where  to bowl on a pitch offering purchase. 

Ravinchandra Ashwin was brilliant but India badly missed Jadeja and Patel in the first Test because they have the desired skills set for such strips. Patel, as we saw in the next three Tests, was spot on as he was proficient in exploiting the conditions. 

Jadeja is an even better exponent of that art and England would have been clueless facing him on these pitches while the ball turned square. As a matter of fact England’s batsmen panicked with the amount of turn which was on offer and it played on their minds leading to their downfall. 

Among the Indian batsman, their wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant was outstanding. He has shown incredible promise and if he continues batting like this for a few more years, I fancy him toppling the records held by his illustrious predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni. 

India’s batting, jolted occasionally, continued to have embarrassment of riches. It’s really hard to believe that world class batters like Shikar Dhawan and K L Rahul could not be slotted in the Test line-ups and the selectors cannot be faulted for this. 

If you have the quintet of champion batsmen like Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane in your folds it’s not possible to fit someone else there. India’s batting has the potential to come good in all conditions and they continued delivering in the toughest of circumstances during the last season. 

The Indian fast bowlers were not tested in the home series against England but they had done enough in Australia to remain trump cards. The emergence of Mohammad Siraj has boosted them further with the tried and tested quartet of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav all of whom are expected to fire in the coming summer where India, besides tackling New Zealand in the final of World Test Championship, will also be taking on England in five-Test series.

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February 17, 2021

New chief selector accords importance to domestic performance

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By Naeem-ul-Haq in USA

(Pakistan News & Features Services)
Although the battle in the middle didn’t reflect this kind of total supremacy for the home side but lady luck continued smiling on Pakistan all along and they managed to whip South Africa 2-0 in the two-Test series and followed it up with 2-1 victory in the three-match series of Twenty20 Internationals. 

Both the Test matches were keenly contested and while South Africa’s big guns, notably skipper Quinton de Cock and his predecessor Faf du Plessis, failed consistently with the bat, Pakistan rallied through their tail-enders to undo the good work of the South African bowlers who continued to be troubling and testing the local batsmen. 

Already the big news has broken from South Africa with du Plessis having announced his retirement from Test cricket. He didn’t mention it but it’s obvious that his miserable failure in the Pakistan series was the reason of his sudden decision to hang his boots. He had not looked out of form or jaded in either of the two Tests in Pakistan but his inability to convert starts into something substantial cost his team both the matches. 

The newly appointed Pakistan’s chief selector, Muhammad Wasim, has every right to celebrate the victories over South Africa both series even though neither of the two conquests could be considered emphatic. The bottom line, however, was that Pakistan emerged triumphant in both the formats against a fancied outfit. 

Wasim’s policy of blooding the top performers of the domestic tournaments into the national team looks a good move and I will like to compliment him for doing it. 

The domestic events deserve to be accorded due significance in order to maintain their sanctity and allow them to be competitive. It’s heartening to watch Pakistan’s debutant left-arm spinner Nauman Ali picking up wickets in both Tests and also contributing vital runs down the order. Hasan Ali made a forceful comeback while Fawad Alam extended his brilliance to prove how wrong the national selectors were in having sidelined him for nearly a decade. 

The performance of the newcomers also remained impressive in the T20 series. Zahid Mahmood made a dream debut in the decisive third game while Usman Qadir continued to remind us of illustrious father, the great Abdul Qadir. 

The chief selector will be advised, in the larger national interest, to provide opportunities to other fringe cricketers as well in order to create a larger pool of youngsters who could be pressed into service anytime to fill vacuum created by sudden injuries or illness to the established players. Similarly those talented cricketers, who sparkled and showed promise in the limited chances coming their way, should also not be ignored or treated harshly which will be detrimental to their confidence. 

One example is that of speedster Muhammad Hasnain. He surely deserves to get more matches after having proved his mettle earlier. He had bowled so brilliantly and it was really shocking to watch him getting dropped.

New edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) is round the corner and there’s excitement all over the country. We hope to see the best players of the country engaged in highly competitive matches that would indeed be enjoyed by the spectators and television viewers. 

Wicketkeeper Muhammad Rizwan has become a star overnight. Without going to details, let me say that the kind of luck and support he’s enjoying at the moment 

I won’t be surprised if he starts picking four or five wickets in every match when choosing to bowl. He has been batting well undoubtedly and the new feather in his cap is the captaincy of Multan Sultan in the PSL, having taken over from Shan Masood.

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December 1, 2020

T20 franchises should be made to field local players compulsorily

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By Naeem-ul-Haq in USA

(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Sharjeel Khan, Babar Azam, Alex Hales, Chadwick Walton, Iftikhar Ahmed, Sherfane Rutherford, Imad Wasim, Umaid Asif, Mohammad Aamir, Waqas Masood and Arshad Iqbal. 

This was the playing eleven of Karachi Kings which overpowered Lahore Qalandars in the final of the Pakistan Super League (PSL-2020) at the National Stadium, Karachi, on November 17. 

The social media as well as the more conventional media of newspapers, radio and television hailed it as a victory for Karachi whereas there was not a single player belonging to the metropolis taking part in the final. 

The marketers, for commercial reasons, had billed it as a Karachi-Lahore final to arouse greater interest in two of the largest cities of Pakistan which also happen to be the biggest nurseries for cricket in the country. 

These two cities, undoubtedly, have produced the highest number of international cricketers and the healthy rivalry between the two powerhouses is understandable. But was the PSL 2020 title clash really a battle between Karachi and Lahore? Absolutely not! 

It was nothing more than a gimmick to be honest. It was more a case of names of the top two cities of the country were being exploited just for the sake of commercialism. 

The organizers and the promoters of the T20 leagues all over the world need to do little justice to the name of the cities which they use to make the contest a real one instead of letting it become a fake one. 

The controlling bodies like the International Cricket Council (ICC) and its member boards of respective countries should formulate a law to ensure local participation just as they regulate matters relating to restricting the number of overseas players. 

It has become a norm in every T20 league that no more than four overseas recruits are allowed to be fielded by a franchise in the playing. Similarly it should be made mandatory to have a minimum of four players belonging to the city whose name is being used. 

This will help in generating greater interest among cricket fans. It would have made a world of difference if Karachi Kings had fielded at least four cricketers from Karachi in the PSL final. 

These players will have made it look like a Karachi outfit rather being a team of mercenaries having assembled under the banner of Karachi. Isn’t it a joke that not a single player belong to the city was playing for Karachi Kings in the final which was being branded as Karachi-Lahore final? 

The administrators of the game should look into this matter instead of leaving it to the franchises themselves. And I don’t think anything less than imposing a clause in the playing rules will help do it! 

There will be multiple benefits of encouraging local participation which includes financial returns. People of the city will be much more attracted to their team if they knew it having local stars performing in the show. 

Hopefully the concerned authorities will make a note of it as they continue searching for ways and means for improvements. T20 leagues, by the look of things, are here to stay for a long time.

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November 7, 2020

Misbah led team of centurions; Sarfraz had to contend with failing prodigies

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By Naeem-ul-Haq in USA 

(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Comparisons are drawn often between Misbah-ul-Haq and Sarfraz Ahmed as captains of the Pakistan team and a few so-called pundits and pseudo experts try to glorify the achievements of Misbah and they purposely undermine the accomplishments of Sarfraz. They are guilty of either twisting the facts or presenting only the half-truth. 

Now let me shed light on some the facts which are not highlighted or even discussed publicly. In other words let me try to bring to light the hidden half-truth. Misbah and Sarfraz captained the national cricket team in different eras and the circumstances were dissimilar. 

While Misbah was extended maximum possible support by the ‘establishment’ of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Sarfraz’s leg was being continuously pulled by the movers and shakers of our system. 

When Misbah was leading the Test team in particular, the players were mostly kept in a relaxed frame of mind and the batsmen in particular benefitted a lot with the peaceful mental state of theirs. 

Misbah himself amassed runs and centuries prolifically while ace batsman Younis Khan stroked century after century and the likes of Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Muhammad Hafeez and even Sarfraz literally made centuries at will. 

The scenario changed altogether from the moment Sarfraz took over. Younis and Misbah had retired leaving a big hole in the batting line-up. 

Then uncertainties were allowed to flourish as a result of which runs and centuries dried from the bat of those who were supposed to take up the responsibility and rise to the occasion. Asad and Azhar became pedestrian as batters while the newcomers, drafted in to replace the retiring greats, took their own time in settling down. 

In this transition period Pakistan’s batting became mediocre to say the least and even Sarfraz was unable to cope with the mounting pressure in Test matches. 

During the tenure of Misbah there were tons of centuries scored by the Pakistan batsmen in the Test arena while in the times of Sarfraz there were literally none. 

When you don’t have adequate runs to play with how could you be expected to win a Test match no matter how resourceful you may be in the bowling department. Babar Azam, who has now blossomed into one of the best modern-day batsmen, was also found struggling for runs in Test matches in the period when Sarfraz was leading the forces. 

Therefore Misbah was in hugely advantageous position when captaining the Test side than Sarfraz who didn’t get the desired runs from his batters and it reflected in the results too. 

The wicketkeeper-batsman, however, made amends for his own shortfall of Test runs and centuries as well as of his more established batsmen in his side, by leading the team by example in limited overs formats which, for some reasons, has seldom been mentioned by those who derive pleasure by highlighting every chink in his armour. 

Why do people are not reminded that Sarfraz remains the only Pakistani captain to have brought home more than one ICC trophy? Under him, Pakistan triumphed in the ICC Under-19 World Cup as well as the ICC Champions Trophy. 

Why do his critics fail to remember that Pakistan remained the top ranked team in T20 Internationals for a couple of years when he was calling the shots?

Sarfraz’s own batting strike rate in Tests and One-day Internationals, despite every criticism and eyebrows, remains much better than many of his illustrious contemporaries.

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October 24, 2020

PCB manipulating to install Rizwan as captain in all formats

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By Naeem-ul-Haq in USA

(Pakistan News & Features Services)
The key officials of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) seem currently preoccupied in their manipulations to get Mohammad Rizwan installed as the captain of the national team in all three formats. 

It can’t be mere coincidence that Rizwan was handed over a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa outfit for the just concluded National T20 Cup which was a virtual Pakistan team if one added Babar Azam to it. 

Rather predictably this team won the tournament and the PCB bigwigs have gone closer to achieving their goal of appointing Rizwan as the captain of the Pakistan team which will mean, in their estimation, closing all possible routes of comeback for Sarfraz Ahmed at least in the near future. 

The axing of Sarfraz from the leadership role, despite his glorious performances in not too distant past, had always been on the cards when the likes of Misbah-ul-Haq and Waqar Younis had been given the absolute powers to manage the affairs of the team. 

It should not be forgotten that Misbah, as captain, and Waqar, as coach, had done everything they could do in keeping Sarfraz out of action from the World Cup in 2015. It was only after the intervention of the then PCB Chairman, Shaharyar Khan, which allowed a chance to Sarfraz who grabbed the opportunity with both hands. 

Sadly from cricketing point of view, Misbah and Waqar joined forces again when Ehsan Mani took over as the new PCB chief and they resumed their efforts in removing Sarfraz by hook or by crook. They succeeded in putting Sarfraz under greater pressure and the wicketkeeper-batsman from Karachi was unable to come to terms with the growing intrigues inside the dressing room. 

If removing Sarfraz was their short-term plan, the appointment of Rizwan as captain in all formats may well be their long-term plan by the look of things. Misbah and Waqar, with the obvious blessings of the PCB CEO, Wasim Khan, may accomplish their goals but it will be at the cost of national interest. 

There’s no doubt in my mind about the talents of Rizwan either as a player or as a captain but the manner in which he’s being fast-tracked in the leadership role raises a lot of questions and it may not be good even for him in the long run. 

Misbah and company had replaced Srafraz with Babar for limited overs versions while Azhar Ali was picked as the Test captain. All the moves have backfired and the stage is now set for the appointment of Rizwan as the captain in all three formats. 

Although Shan Masood should have been the obvious choice to lead Pakistan in the Test arena as Azhar Ali was likely to be removed any time because of his poor show in England, there are strong enough indications emerging that the left-handed opening batsman may not be considered for the role he so richly deserves in my opinion.

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October 23, 2020

Prof Siraj-ul-Islam Bukhari demands justice for deserving Karachi cricketers

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By Masood Sattar Khan

(Pakistan News & Features Services)
Prof Siraj-ul-Islam Bukhari, the fatherly figure of Pakistan cricket, has regretted the omission of some deserving players from Karachi in the 22-member national squad announced for the upcoming home series of One-day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals against the visiting Zimbabweans. 

Having been the longest serving Secretary of the Karachi City Cricket Association (KCCA), besides being a President for four years, Prof Siraj Bukhari, has in fact lodged a strong protest with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for ignoring the cricketers from Karachi and has appealed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is also the Patron in Chief of the PCB, to hold an enquiry for what he described as step motherly and biased action. 

He has strongly urged Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is himself one of the greatest-ever cricketers of the country besides being a highly successful captain, for including the deserving players from Karachi in the national squad for the Zimbabwe series. 

In an impassioned press statement, issued on October 23, Prof Siraj Bukhari, whose association with the KCCA lasted nearly four decades, observed that it was for the first time in the history of Pakistan cricket when such biased and prejudiced treatment has been meted out to cricketers of the city of Karachi, having a population of more than 25 million, which has given bulk of outstanding to the country. 

He pointed out that the non-inclusion of Danish Aziz, who came up with exceptional performances in the recently held National T-20 cricket tournament in which he earned Man of the Match award two times, Hassan Khan, Azam Khan and Zahid Mahmood of Dadu from the younger lot and Khurram Manzoor and Sohail Khan from the experienced hands who also performed consistently, amounted to injustice.

“I will like to make a fervent appeal to the PCB Patron in Chief to hold an enquiry and do justice to these deserving and highly talented cricketers,” Prof Siraj Bukhari concluded.

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Khost youths demand timely holding of cricket series

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By Masood Sattar Khan

(Pakistan News & Features Services)
Youths and cricket fans came out on roads in Khost city, the capital of Khost province Afghanistan, demanding the timely holding of the Million Cup Cricket League in their area. 

They also accused the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) of trying to cancel the hosting of the league in Khost province, noting that the grand Paktia zone had legal rights to host the league. 

The participants at the march also claimed that the ACB officials did not have the necessary ability and qualifications to deal with the cricket affairs in Afghanistan. 

The ACB officials, meanwhile, have stated that the league will be held after completing its legal procedures. 

The protestors urged the Afghanistan government to take action against what they described as the unprofessional dealing of the ACB officials with cricket in the country. 

“The Million Cup Cricket League should be held in Khost. All arrangements have been made, the necessary guarantees have been given,” the protestors demanded. 

According to reports, the Million Cup Cricket League, Chinar Media Consultancy Services Co. and Moby Group Afghanistan had signed an agreement earlier this month in Kabul formalizing the collaborative effort to hold the cricket league's fifth season competition and broadcast the matches. 

The league, in coordination with the ACB will, for the first time, meet international standards and follow the board’s guidelines. The matches will be broadcast live on Lemar TV and Arakozia radio. The event is scheduled to start on October 30 at the stadium in Khost province and will continue until November 13.

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