December 30, 2009

Hail the Warrior


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Australian cricket captains have been known for their aggression and passion for victories whenever they have had the arsenal to topple their opponents. They have lost quite a few of their legends in the recent past but Ricky Ponting has continued to lead the side with enormous confidence and self belief.

Ponting, with his positive instincts, has thoroughly deserved the records coming his way. With the massive victory Pakistan at the MCG on December 30, he now holds the records for the most wins by any Test player and the most victories for any Test captain, It was his 93rd win as a player and 42nd as captain.

Didn’t it look a stunning move when he declared Australia’s first innings so early on the second afternoon in the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan at the gigantic Melbourne Cricket Ground! With Michael Clarke going strong and the likes of Marcus North and Brad Haddin sitting in the hut he chose to close the innings at 454 for five, cosuming only 38 of the minimum of 90 overs of the day.

The cricket fans in Pakistan viewed it as a crazy decision. But little did they know that Ponting had actually assessed the conditions perfectly and he was not going to take chances. With the intent on winning the game rather than establishing total supremacy he must have desired providing more opportunity to his bowlers.

As it turned out, the early declaration took one result out of the equation. There was no way the match could have ended in a draw. Either the hosts were going to win it or if the Pakistanis played better than anticipated the match could have been in their bag.

So it wasn’t crazy stuff but a calculated risk to some extent. Ponting must have been aware of the limitations or the lack of depth in Pakistan’s batting. Yet he allowed his bowlers more time to do the job with peace of mind rather than pushing hard for it.

Ponting described the 170-run victory as one of the team's best in a long while and praised his young attack for as good a bowling effort as the side had displayed in the last two years.

"The bowling through the game has been as good as it's been in our team for the last couple of years. The way we bowled in the first innings in particular was just outstanding. The way we used the new ball and we were able to maintain our discipline and execute our skills over such a long period of time at the start of their first batting innings was a real factor in the game,” the triumphant skipper remarked at the end of the match.

"It's been a great game for us. It's one of our best Test wins in quite a while, starting right from the start of the game from the Katich and Watson partnership which really set the platform and set the foundation for a very good Test match for us," Ponting observed.

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Feroz Shah Kotla blown out of proportions


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

India are at the receiving end once more. After being robbed of a possible victory in the fifth and final One-day International against Sri Lanka at the Feroz Shah Kotla Ground in New Delhi on December 27, now efforts are being made to deny the historic venue the opportunity of hosting matches in the World Cup 2011.

The Indian cricketers did their job by winning the ODI series 3-1. They were on course of making it 4-1 when their opponents, not surprisingly, prevailed upon the match officials to call off the game in the 24th over.
Now the ball is in the court of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) who now have to deal with the International Cricket Council (ICC) over the issue of the Kotla pitch.

The BCCI, in the past, had been soft on such matters and the Indian cricketers were being taken for a ride. While all the sub-continental teams had suffered due to the dual standards carried out by the ICC match referees it were the Indians in particular penalized for offences that were ignored in the case of other countries.

Interestingly both the contestants of the game in question at the Feroz Shah Kotla were Asians. Sri Lanka’s reluctance to continue playing the game allowed the ICC match referee, Alan Hurst, to exercise his powers and he acted within his rights.

Hurst, in his statement, said the decision to abandon the match had been taken in consultation with both captains and the on-field umpires Marais Erasmus and Shavir Tarapore, after they had given it enough time to see if the pitch would settle down.

"It was clear that the pitch had extremely variable bounce and was too dangerous for further play. I'd like to commend the on-field umpires and captains for continuing as long as they did in the hope that the pitch may settle down. Unfortunately, this did not happen,” the former Australian fast bowler said.

“Before abandoning the match, consideration was given to shifting the match to a secondary pitch. However, it was deemed impractical as the secondary pitch was not adequately prepared,” Hurst added.

Meanwhile Chetan Chauhan, a foromer Indian opening batsman and Vice President, Delhi & Districts Cricket Association (DDCA), did not mince words in stating that Sri Lanka "chickened out" out of the final ODI against India after finding themselves in trouble at 83 for 5 in the 24th over.

Chauhan, who was known for his solid batting, also questioned the officials' decision to call off the game and said the pitch was neither unplayable or dangerous.

"We offered another wicket and said 'give us one hour and you would have it ready'. But Hurst decided to call it off. The match should have continued because some 45,000 people were in the ground and another 2-3 crore were glued to the television. An honest effort should have been made to save the match," he contended.

He claimed while the match at the Feroz Shah Kotla was held up, with the officials pondering whether it would be wise to carry on, the ICC match referee told him that the visitors were reluctant to carry on.

"The match referee told me unofficially that one side did not want to carry on and he could not force them It could not be India since MS Dhoni was willing to continue. Sri Lanka were at 83 for 5 and that's why they backed out... it was the Sri Lankans who chickened out,” Chauhan felt.

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December 27, 2009

Test cricket becomes poor with Bond’s exit


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The New Zealand cricket fans in particular could not have asked for a more terrible news on the eve of Christmas than the retirement of the mercurial fast bowler Shane Bond who will not be seen in action in Test matches any more.

It’s a sad news for every follower of the game all over the world. It used to be such a fascinating sight watching him test the greatest of batsmen in the business. He was a complete package and undoubtedly the best fast bowler produced by New Zealand since the great Richard Hadlee.

The 34-year-old Bond has announced his retirement from Test cricket due to a recurring battle with injury. He, however, has vowed to continue playing for his country in One-day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals.

I am not sure how many more limited overs would he be able to play for New Zealand but it was the Test arena in which his absence was felt. Test cricket needed characters like him to keep it going.

New Zealand could find a replacement for him as far as the limited overs games are concerned but they might have to wait for many years to have a champion fast bowler like Bond in their Test line-up.

He had only recently revived his Test career and made a telling impact right away in Dunedin. New Zealand could not defeat Pakistan in either of the last two Tests in which he didn’t play. No wonder they would have lost the first Test as well if Bond was not there.

It was a pity that he had to withdraw from the squad after a superlative performance in the Dunedin Test in which was rightfully adjudged Man of the Match. He was not in a position to participate in the last two Tests after tearing an abdominal muscle.

Rather predictably the loss of Bond hurt the Black Caps immensely and they had to settle with a drawn series in the end.

The latest injury turned out to be far more serious than was being anticipated and it eventually cost Bond his Test career that had remained plagued with various disorders in the past when he faced problems in back, feet and soft tissues.

"The hardest thing is that I've always considered myself a Test bowler - and it was such a great feeling to be back in the team last month and playing Test match cricket with the Black Caps,” he observed.

"I've worked really hard to get back to Test match fitness - it's what I've been working towards for the past two years - and I feel I gave as much as I could. But looking back, so many of my injuries have come during Test cricket. Unfortunately my body just won't let me continue to play at that level, given the workload and demands of Test cricket,” Bond admitted.

"I don't want to end on an injury and I am absolutely committed to playing for the Blackcaps. This way I hope I've got a better chance of continuing to play. I hope I'll be able to continue to contribute to the team and to New Zealand cricket fans for a while yet. It's been a tough call, because Test cricket remains the ultimate form of the game - but I'm comfortable I've made the right choice,” he reckoned.

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Jahangir Moghul bats for Ahmed Mustafa’s CCC


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Jahangir Moghul, Vice President, Cricket Coaching Centre (CCC), while congratulating Ahmed Mustafa on winning the ICC medal, has urged the concerned authorities to extend greater support to the institution having pioneered the concept in the country.

“Ahmed Mustafa certainly deserved the recognition from the supreme body of the game. He has served the cause of cricket immensely over the years and it’s very much in the fitness of things that the International Cricket Council (ICC) has awarded a medal to him,” Jahangir Moghul, a noted social figure and philanthropist, remarked.

“Having watched him closely giving his best to the game of cricket the ICC medal should go a long way in further energizing Ahmed Mustafa who has literally devoted his life for cricket that’s dearest to his heart,” he added.

“Now the governing bodies of the sport like the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the Karachi City Cricket Association (KCCA) should lend proactive support to the CCC in the larger interest of the game,” Jahangir Moghul, Convenor Sports, Karachi Gymkhana, suggested.

“All credit to Ahmed Mustafa, a former opening batsman, for having established and ran the CCC on self help basis for well over two decades now. He has done a great service to the game. Now it’s the responsibility of the PCB as well as the KCCA to complement his efforts for the further promotion of cricket,” he reckoned.

“What Ahmed Mustafa has done for the promotion of cricket will find a mention whenever history of the game is written. Let all the stakeholders support him overwhelmingly for the sake of the future of our young cricketers,” Jahangir Moghul proposed.

One inclines to agree with Jahangir Moghul because Ahmed Mustafa’s CCC can be of immense help in carrying out training and coaching programmes at the academies having been commissioned by the PCB.

It would be in the PCB’s own interest to extend fullest support to the CCC because their working relationship could be mutually beneficial. And most importantly it would be helpful in accomplishing the cherished goal of promoting the game at the grassroots level.

It may be recalled that General Tauqir Zia was the first head of the PCB to have recognized the services rendered by Ahmed Mustafa and it was during his tenure that the CCC was finally allowed to use the practice facilities in the outer area of the National Stadium, Karachi.

The then PCB Chairman’s decision of having accorded great respect to Ahmed Mustafa’s efforts was hailed by the cricket circles. Gen Tauqir Zia remained appreciative of the project and the CCC had got into life with its shifting of base to the NSK in May 2003.

Things went from bad to worse when Gen Tauqir Zia was succeeded by Shaheryar Khan. The days of Dr Nasim Ashraf didn’t bring any joys for the CCC either. There has not much support in the days of Ijaz Butt yet.

When the PCB has been generous in having invested so much of its resources in forming and running academies of their own it’s indeed surprising why they haven’t taken on board the hard working individuals and institutions having rendered great service to the game to fuel their passion.

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December 26, 2009

Enigmatic Sami raring to have a go


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Mohammad Sami is all set to resume his international career. The 28-year-old fast bowler has celebrated his surprise recall to national duty by bowling Karachi Blues to a spectacular 141-run victory over the fancied Habib Bank Limited (HBL) in the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy at the National Stadium, Karachi.

He could not have come up with better performance on the eve of boarding an aircraft for a long journey to Australia. It was his devastating spell on the third day that sealed the fate of the final of the premier national competition.

Sami has shown of late that he can handle the pressure well enough that indeed augurs well for his future. With Pakistan due to play so many games in the coming year he will have an ample opportunity to improve upon his ordinary record in Test cricket.

More importantly from his point of way, since Pakistan would be engaged in a lot of matches in England next summer, playing against Australia before taking on the hosts, he could be an asset for the side.

If his latest form has to serve as any indication he can be one of the stars of the Pakistan team in the near future should he not break down or succumb to the pressures of international cricket.

It was being estimated that he operated at well over 90 miles an hour in the recently concluded Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. He is a fierce competitor and he doesn’t believe in half measures even while playing club cricket.

He has been a genuinely quick bowler all along his career but in the past he was guilty of faltering in line and length once too often. His captains were not all that tactically sound either to have utilized his enormous talent.

Sami would have been a different bowler had he a skipper in the field like Imran Khan and Javed Miandad who knew the art of getting the best out of the youngsters. He could have been much more effective at the international level with proper guidance.

Lately Sami has also impressed the critics with his captaincy skills and his ability to lead by example has gladdened many hearts. Will that be able to translate into success in Test matches and One-day Internationals remains to be seen.

Right now the leadership of the team is in the hands of Mohammad Yousuf, who doesn’t look like all that proactive or inspirational in the field but reportedly Sami has been added to Pakistan's 16-man Test squad against Australia upon his request in particular.

If that indeed is the case then Sami could expect better handling from the captain this time round. It’s very important for the bowler to know that he enjoys the total support of his skipper.

Sami has got a new lease of life to an international career. He must grab the opportunity with both hands. By the look of things he is in the form of his lifetime at the moment. Better handling from Yousuf can provide Pakistan another potential match-winner.

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December 25, 2009

Delhi boys shine at Eden Gardens


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Eden Garden in Kolkata has endured some of the most painful moments in India’s cricket history. It was at this ground where the hosts were knocked over against the run of play in the semifinals of the World Cup in 1996.

Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya had played that game when the Indians, after having contained the rampaging Sri Lankans, were merrily coasting along until a sensational collapse had turned the tide in a most dramatic fashion.

There was no such drama when India successfully chased down a target of 316, doing it in a most emphatic manner at the same venue 13 years later. There were not that many people sitting at the ground to celebrate the massive victory that sealed the fate of the five-match series.

It were the boys from Delhi, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli, who stole the limelight by scoring chanceless centuries. While it was the maiden ODI ton for Kohli, a former India Under-19 captain, the left-handed Gambhir achieved the feat for the seventh time in his career.

They were involved in a magnificent 224-run third wicket stand that adequately made up for the early exit of the celebrated duo of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. Their superb effort didn’t put to test the relatively inexperienced middle-order with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh not playing the game for different reasons.

India did have a realistic chance of overtaking the highest ODI total at the Eden Gardens when Sehwag and Tendulkar came out amid thunderous applause. There was silience at the ground a few moments later when both of them perished inside four overs while trying to force Suranga Lakmal who was extracting unusual bounce off the wicket.

Sehwag was looking to extend his purple patch when undone by the one that hurried off the pitch while Tendulkar, also in sublime form, was caught at the edge of the 30-yard circle. He couldn’t keep his off-drive down and he had to pay the price.

Gambhir and Kohli didn’t waste much time in getting their eyes in and they were happy to deal in boundaries with the young Sri Lankan fast bowlers guilty of spraying the ball on both sides of the wicket.

The introduction of spinners applied the brakes as far as the rate of scoring was concerned as both the batsmen were not prepared to take risks. They kept rotating the strike at will and the asking rate was kept around run a ball all along.

They exploded only after reaching their centuries by which time the traget had come down to double digit. Kohli clipped one elgantly over deep mid wicket for the maximum but he was caught right on the fence at long on when he tried to loft a spinner.

Dinesh Karthik was content in passing the strike to the well-set Gambhir who was in complete command of the situation. He brought up his 150 with the winning stroke with 11 deliveries still remaining.

Earlier in the afternoon Sri Lanka’s left-handed over Upul Tharanga had scored his first ODI century in 53 innings and more than three years that allowed his team to post a challenging total. Their cause, however, was helped once more by the fumbling fieldsmen.

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December 24, 2009

Disjointed HBL hand over title to Karachi


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It’s a food of thought for the management of the Habib Bank Limited (HBL) to decide if they could continue compromising with the indiscipline of their cricketers bring the game as well as the department to disrepute.

The manner in which HBL crashed in the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Cricket Championship 2009-10 at the National Stadium, Karachi, brought to light the lack of commitment and motivation.

Karachi Blues emerged triumphant by a staggering margin of 141 runs in what was a low scoring affair and the game was over on the third afternoon with all 40 wickets having fallen in seven and a half session.

Theoritically the match didn’t last even half of the time it was allotted.
Set to score 208, HBL crashed to 66 all out in less than two hours of batting. Remember it was not a Twenty20 game but a five-day final of the premier event of the country known as the National Championship.

Seeing was believing as far as the HBL collpase on the third day was concerned. There was nothing wrong in the pitch whose bounce was hardly anywhere to be classified as uneven or double-paced as a few of the experts speculated after the early finish to the game.

Mohammad Sami (6-38) and Tanvir Ahmed (4-27) bowled their heart out while defending a low total. Both of them generated considerable pace besides extracting movement off the pitch. The ball had obviously not lost its shine because the HBL innings was over in a matter of 21 overs with the duo of Sami and Tanvir completing the rout.

Sami’s performance merited greater recognition because he was also captaining the side. His attacking instincts yielded results as the HBL batsmen succumbed once the 32-run opening partnership was broken.

From 32 for no wicket, with Taufiq Umar and Saleem Elahi having negotiated the early burst, they had slumped to 46 for five at lunch. Not surprisimgly it was all over during the first hour of the afternoon session with the last five wickets tumbling like pack of cards.

HBL had considerable depth and experience in their batting and it had looked a question of just one big partnership to do it for them. But the lack of application on part of the seasoned campaigners let them down and the task was beyond the late-order batsmen.

Much was expected from Younis Khan but he flopped in both outings. As something said if the national selectors had come there to assess his batting form, then he didn’t deserve to be flown to Australia.

The HBL skipper, Hasan Raza, was guilty of playing an outrageous shot. With two fielders on the boundary line behind square he still chose to take the aerial route and was easily plucked at the stroke of lunch. His decision of holding himself back to number six was also talked about as a move to slaughter an inexperienced chap for his own protection. The move didn't work either.

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December 22, 2009

India’s rare comeback victory


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The capacity crowd at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack on December 21 had the pleasure of watching the home side register a rare comeback win in any form of the game. More often than not it are the Indians themselves who let the initiative slip after being in a firm control. But for a change this time they had the Sri Lankans slide after an explosive start.

Virender Sehwag led the team admirably in place of regular skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni who had to sit out of the game due to the ban imposed by the ICC. It was in the fitness of things that the acting captain himself provided the breakthrough that turned the tide decisivly in India’s favour.

The Sri Lankans were marching on, taking full advantage of some wayward bowling and the usual sloppy fielding by the hosts. Sehwag deceived his opposite number, Kamar Sangakkara, in flight and even the fumbling Dinesh Karthik was able to complete the stumping.

It’s quite extraordinary how these Indian youngsters make so many fumbles in the field that make the task even more difficult for their bowlers on flat pitches. Karthik, keeping wickets in the absence of Dhoni, was earlier guilty of having made a mess of a run out. He very nearly let that stumping chance go abegging but Sangakkara had danced down the wicket far too ahead to return to the crease.

Karthik was again in focus for the wrong reasons when he failed to hold on to a catch running backwards when Mahela Jayawardene miscued a sweep. Any athletic and alert wicketkeeper at the international level would have grabbed that opportunity.

The Indian bowlers didn’t lose heart with the lack of support from their own fielders and there was no escape route for their opponents. It was a maginficent effort to have bowled out Sri Lanka, scoring at better than run a ball in first 30 overs, for 239 in the 45th over. At 165 for one in the 23rd over they were looking on course of a total far too big.

"With the kind of start they got, I was praying they wouldn't get 350 or 400 on the board. But we were constantly looking to take wickets and Ashish Nehra did a fantastic job during the Powerplay. The credit for this victory ought to go to the bowlers, especially Harbhajan Singh] and Ravindra Jadeja. The wicket was slow and it kept low at times and it helped the spinners a bit,” Sehwag acknowledged.

"My job is to give the team a good start and score as many as I can. I was in good form and I utilised the first 10 overs very well. Sachin Tendulkar then played right through the innings and ensured we won. Overall, this was an excellent team performance,” he commented.

After the cracking start provided by Sehwag, Tendulkar remained undefeated on 96 as India romped home in the 43rd over with seven wickets in hand. Although he missed a hundred but his knock was much more significant being a match-winning effort.

The Man of the Match award, very rightly, was secured by the promising left-arm spinner Jadeja who returned his career-best figures in difficult circumstances.

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December 19, 2009

India’s sloppy fielding lets Sri Lanka level series


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It was yet another close contest and not surprisingly its fate was decided by fielding, an area where the Indians have been found wanting for ages. They have improved in leaps and bounds in other departments of the but they have continued to disappoint in ctaching and ground field.

The Sri Lankans are no pushovers and they are always more than eager to outshine the Indians. The story was no different at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur on December 18 when they caught the hosts by the scruff of their neck once more.

Despite the brilliant hundred by Tillakaratne Dilshan and the fighting knock by the limping Angelo Mathews, playing with a runner, the match was wide open until the penultimate over when Zaheer Khan let one ball go right between his legs. At that stage eight runs were needed off nine balls and with not many wickets left it could have gone either way.

After having watched the late Sri Lankan batsmen panic under pressure in similar conditions in only the previous game, the Indians must have fancied their chances of clinching the issue once more when Ashish Nehra, the hero of Rajkot, came down to deliver the penultimate over.

A full toss from Nehra had undone Matthews in the final over in Rajkot so it did make sense to surprise the big fellow with another one. Nehra fired it in and Matthews drove in the direction of mid-on. Zaheer, who had bowled exceptionally well, made a mess of it and the resulting boundary sealed the fate of the match.

Sensing the chance to go 2-0 up in the ODI series, Mahendra Singh Dhoni took his time in setting field and advising his bowlers. But just as you cannot set a field for poor bowling you cannot come out trumps if the fielders let the ball pass between their legs no matter how sound the strategy or the plan may be.

The Indians were always expected to be tested in good batting conditions even after having recovered to post a total in the excess of 300. Remember they had barely got home while defending 414 against the same opponents just three days ago.

The Indian batting powerhouse does have the ability to generate the intensity that can undermine any team in the world. Their bowlers are skilled and fairly experienced now. In fact they have more variety in their bowling than many other countries. Yet they continue to struggle in pulling off victories because inept fielding can undo all the good work very quickly as we witnessed in Nagpur.

It’s really surprising why the Indians are not able to raise the bar in the department of fielding despite having so many brilliant athletes in their folds. They should derive inspiration from veterans like Mahela Jayawardene who move like panthers to cut off boundaries.

The manner in which he saved a certain four while running across from long off was a classic example of professionalism and commitment. Dhoni’s straight drive was nothing short of a trace of bullet but the former Sri Lankan skipper dived near the fence and kept the score down to just one.

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December 17, 2009

Inept fielding can undo Indian batsmen’s great work


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Indians came perilously close to conceding the first One-day International of their five-match series at the Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground in Rajkot on December 15 even after having posted their highest-ever ODI total.

The relief on the face of skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was obvious when he had come out to have a few words with Ravi Shastri who was conducting the presentation ceremony at the ground.

While recognizing the great spells from left-arm bowlers Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, that saved the day for India, Dhoni minced no words in stating that it wasn’t the greatest day in the field where they very nearly lost the match while defending a massive total.

You didn’t need to be an expert to assess the situation. It was Indian’s pathetic fielding that let them down and all but undid the great work of their batsmen. They would have brought the schoolboys to shame such horrible was their display in the field.

Although the Captain Cool had not spoken about the lapses in the field that day but he has come out in the open as his team prepares for the second game in Nagpur on December 18.

Dhoni has expressed concerns at the fielding and he has every reason to feel worried from the performance of his teammates who were guilty of dropping three sitters at Rajkot after having spilled a dozen or so catches in the Twenty20 Internationals besides making mess of numerous run-out opportunities.

"We were fielding well in patches and not dropping catches at the international level. You may drop the odd difficult catch but straightforward chances need to be taken. In the last three-four games we have dropped a lot of regulation catches. Of course it bothers me,” Dhoni admitted.

"At the same time it will be solved at some point because of the effort that we are putting in. We are hoping we don't drop catches in this game," he observed.

Dhoni was not shorts of words in praising the brilliant bowling at the death by the duo of Zaheer and Nehra that saved India’s blushes at Rajkot.

"It was one of the best in the past year. I have always said we had not been very consistent with the death bowling. In the last game, in the last five overs we gave away only 27 runs. It was a very good effort. Ashish Nehra bowled five overs in a row. There was a bit of reverse swing going which actually helped us a bit,” the skipper said.

"Normally you don't get wickets like that. It was not a big ground with the straight boundary not more than 60-65 yards. Since the wicket was so nice, it was easy for the batsmen to clear the field. It's important not to give easy singles," he added.

"In the last T20 game here there was good bounce. The wicket for the match looks like good and flat. I had a conversation with the curator," Dhoni concluded.

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December 15, 2009

Zaheer, Nehra bowl India to thrilling victory


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It was the day of batters at the Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground in Rajkot on December 15 where as many as 825 runs were plundered in 100 overs in the first One-day International between India and Sri Lanka but it were the bowlers who had the last laugh.

Left-arm quickies Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, who had gone for plenty in their earlier spells, returned to bowl exceptionally well under pressure to guide India to a victory that had looked extremely unlikely a short while earlier.

Both the left-armers, having leaked far too many runs in their opening overs, were right on money in the closing stages of the game to bring the crowd back to life. Remember the boundaries had rained all day and the bowlers had been belted to all parts of the ground. To bowl tightly under these circumstances of quite an accomplishment and both Zaheer and Nehra deserved the credit for rising to the occasion.

The Indians, as skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni admitted in the presentation ceremony, were guilty of not getting enough runs in their final overs despite the blistering start. They were expected to post a much higher total than what they achieved after having raised the 300 of their innings in 34.1 overs for the loss of only wicket.

India have had this tendency of not making the most of the slog overs and very rarely have they amassed the quantum of runs that’s normally expected from any other team in the final stages of the innings. How would they justify getting only 114 runs in the last 16 overs of the innings after having being 300 for one.

Virender Sehwag led the charge in the usual manner of his, blasting 146 off 102 balls. Useful contributions from Sachin Tendulkar and Dhoni laid the foundation for a gigantic total. None of the middle-order batsmen could make a significant contribution and the Sri Lankans had every reason to feel pleased after having contained India to 414 in 50 overs.

Set to score 415 on the flattest of tracks, the Sri Lankans were helped by sloppy fielding that made the bowlers suffer more than anticipated. Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga's 188-run opening stand wasn’t unexpected the manner in which the Indians were letting the ball go past them.

Kumar Sangakarra tormented the Indians with a breezy 90 off 40 balls but there was more likelihood of a comfortable Sri Lankan victory rather than the hosts pulling it back.

The drama, however, began when the Sri Lankan captain chose to take the batting powerplay. He himself became the first casualty and then Harbhajan Singh got two key wickets including that of Dilshan who made 160 off 124 balls.

The match had become wide open after the mini-collapse but the half century sixth wicket partnership between Thilina Kandamby and Angelo Mathews put Sri Lanka back on top.

The Indians fielded marginally better in the last two overs. Zaheer was literally unplayable in the penultimate over the match, yielding only four runs and resulting in two run outs. Nehra, entrusted with the job of delivering the final over with 11 needed, bowled magnificently to win the day for India.

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December 14, 2009

Well deserved ICC recognition for Ahmed Mustafa


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Ahmed Mustafa is one of the very few persons to richly deserve the ICC centenary medal awarded upon the recommendation of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). He happens to be one of the winners of the medal to be presented by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to 1000 special volunteers from all over the world in recognition for their contribution to the sport.

Ahmed Mustafa is certainly one of those people having dedicated their lifetime to develop the game at the grassroots and nurture the stars of the future. He’s credited to have produced three Test cricketers, Azam Khan, Faisal Iqbal and Owais Shah, who had not even entered their teens at the time of joining his Cricket Coaching Centre (CCC).

The CCC, his labour of love, has helped many other kids fulfill their ambition of playing first-class cricket. The likes of Ali Hussain Rizvi, Mohammad Masroor, Saad Wasim, Mohammad Javed, Maisam Hasnain and Fahad Iqbal had to be grateful to the training they received at the CCC to build their career.

Ahmed Mustafa himself was an aggressive top-order batsman who was not afraid to attack the bowling in an era when the occupation of crease used to be the name of the game. He was one of the contemporaries of the great Hanif Mohammad, whose batting technique was second to none.

Having played for Karachi and made quite an impression, he narrowly missed getting the Pakistan cap because of a tragic road accident. He was in contention for a slot in the national squad when the motorcycle he was riding crashed into a heavy vehicle that caused serious damage to his legs.

He remained associated with the game all along and created a sensation by founding the first-ever cricket academy of the country by the name of Cricket Coaching Centre (CCC) in July 1987.

What a great service to the game he did by having established the CCC! The boys from all over Karachi rushed in to avail the opportunity. Ahmed Mustafa set tough guidelines for selecting the boys for grooming and training. He didn’t believe in doing it for the purpose of public relations. Neither did he approve the idea of making money from coaching as all the services at the CCC were provided free of cost to the trainees.

The CCC has completed two decades of its existence. In fact it has been there for more than 22 years now. Its silver jubilee is not very far away. Ahmed Mustafa has managed to keep the institution afloat, with the support of his like-minded friends, despite the heaviest of odds.

Although laid low by his deteriorating health during the last couple of years, he has still been working with missionary zeal to contribute his bit in the cricket development by running the CCC with limited resources at his disposal.

Quite a few coaching academies have come into prominence in the recent past but it’s the CCC, founded by Ahmed Mustafa, meriting special mention for having pioneered the idea.

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December 13, 2009

Salahuddin reckons India’s batting too good


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan’s former chief selector and an ex-Test all-rounder, Salahuddin Ahmed, has reckoned that India happen to be the only cricket team in the world capable of winning a match at the strength of their batting.

“Yes India’s batting right now is simply too good for every format of the game. In cricket you generally need greater strength in your bowling department to engineer victories but this current Indian side has the rare capability of manufacturing wins primarily through their batsmen,” Salahuddin, respected for his clarity of thought and depth of knowledge, remarked after watching India down Sri Lanka with consummate ease in the end in the second Twenty20 International in Mohali on December 12.

“The Indian batsmen have mastered the craft. They hardly invent shots of their own. Rather they have perfected the art of dominating the bowlers by wisely executing the pure cricketing shots. Their current lot is incredibly talented and there is a fierce competition for every batting position,” he remarked.

“Look what happened in Mohali tonight. The target of 207 in 20 overs wasn’t a piece of cake. They needed to play to their potential to do it and they did exactly that to level the series,” Salahuddin pointed out.

“Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag provided them the usual bright start. Both of them have been in terrific form and they complement each other very well. When Gambhir departed, Sehwag took over. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni chipped in with a flurry of big shots that allowed India to remain on top of the game,” he commented.

“Finally it was the birthday boy Yuvraj Singh who took the responsibility of guiding his team to victory in front of his home crowd. It was yet another dashing knock from the left-hander who looks like improving with every outing. He has every shot in the book and he is not afraid to come down the wicket to loft the ball,” Salahuddin observed.

“It was a Twenty20 game, a format in which India have been least successful in the recent times. They have been more consistent in One-day Internationals and Test matches, mainly because of the accomplishments of their batsmen. They owe their success to their batters with the bowlers providing the supporting role,” he felt.

“The Indians have the most formidable batting line-up for Test matches where they have the specialists like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman who are well versed in occupying the crease for long time. With the flamboyance of Sehwag and Gambhir up the order and the dashers like Yuvraj and Dhoni to follow the big five it’s obviously a nightmare for any bowling side more often than not,” Salahuddin continued.

“Just have a look at their record in the recently concluded Test series against Sri Lanka. They were able to compile totals in the excess of 600 in the last two Tests. In fact they had crossed 600 for the loss of only four wickets or so on both occasions. Not surprisingly the Indians went on to win both games and there was not much Kumar Sangakkara could have done to prevent the inevitable,” he concluded.

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December 12, 2009

BCCI act before it’s too late


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), by requesting their South African parts to play a couple of Test matches at the expense of a few limited overs contests, have acknowledged the significance of the longest version of the game in which their own team is the best in the business.

It would have been a pity had the South Africans come all the way to India only to play One-day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals. India and South Africa occupy the first and second positions respectively in the ICC Test rankings and it would have been a great injustice for the followers of the game not to have watched them lock horns in this particular format.

The BCCI has already taken the initiative, albeit after a lot of media criticism in which they were also labeled as the killers of Test cricket. Now the ball is in the court of the Cricket South Africa (CSA) and there seems no reason why they would not meet the request of the hosts.

Some quarters had feared that the future of Test cricket was being jeopardized by the BCCI move of accommodating maximum number of ODIs and T20Is with negligible provision for Tests.

Obviously quick bucks are there for the taking in the limited overs matches but the BCCI have now been prompted to go back to the drawing room and make allowance for some Test matches as well.

Every cricket team in the world is eager to play India these days. Now it was the duty of the BCCI to strike a balance and ensure that the paying public was provided every flavour of the game.

Yes time has certainly changed and life is moving at a faster pace yet there are millions of people who derive pleasure in the real thing. Who will dispute that a Test match is the ‘real thing’ in cricket.

It had looked surprising in the first place why the BCCI functionaries were showing so much disrespect to Test cricket because India is one country that possesses the largest number of passionate fans. They constitute the biggest market for cricket that India have become of late.

Probably the movers and the shakers in the BCCI, already the richest and the most influential cricket board, wanted to cash in on the growing popularity of the T20 matches that caught the imagination of the Indian public when their team won the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007.

The BCCI should, however, not have lost sight of the fact that they do have a responsibility to take care of the people who are their actual strength. It are the big crowds at the grounds and the millions of television viewers sitting at home who have made them the most sought after entity. It’s payback time.

By having performed consistently in the limited opportunities that came their way, India have climbed to the top rankings in Test cricket. The Indian fans in particular would like to watch their heroes in action in the five-day games on a more regular basis.

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December 10, 2009

Younis out, Yousuf in


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

That’s how things stand at this point of time. Younis Khan is nowhere in the picture now, having refrained from making an appearance in the domestic circuit after having withdrawn himself from the tour of New Zealand. He has himself provided the opportunity for Mohammad Yousuf, the caretaker captain, to get an extension.

With Younis having disappeared from the scene, the stage was set for Yousuf to continue as captain for the upcoming visit to Australia. I think it made sense for the selectors not to have considered Younis for the Australian series because he was guilty of skipping the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Neither had he informed the selection committee or the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) about his availability.

As it turned out Younis, who might have had other ideas, was dropped from the Pakistan squad altogether let alone regaining the captaincy. Yousuf, as expected, was appointed captain for the Test as well as the one-day series against Australia.

Younis probably was under the illusion that he would be approached to lead the team again after Yousuf was done with the Tests in New Zealand.

There is another school of thought suggesting that Younis didn’t declare himself available purposely for the Australian series where he expects the Pakistan team to have a tough time on the bouncing pitches.

Only time will tell if Younis has made a mistake by not touring Australia. The Pakistan batsmen are expected to struggle while coming to terms with the Aussies but didn’t this mean that the senior batsman should have thought of coming to the rescue of the team.

Younis, with so much experience behind him, was more likely to fire on the Australian pitches where the youngsters could face chin-music if found wanting in handling the short-pitched deliveries.

For the sake of the team Younis should have toured Australia and helped the young guns in boosting their confidence. Here was an opportunity for him to enhance his reputation as a leader. But he has gone for the soft option of taking a rest when his team will be pitted against the strongest bowling attack of the world.

Yousuf will have a point for an even longer tenure as captain if he leads the team against Australia with some conviction and withstands the pressures with any degree of success.

Neither Younis nor Yousuf are natural leaders, unfortunately. Both of them have had to lead the side because of the lack of choice.
It will be hard for Younis to regain the captaincy if Yousuf succeeds. That must have been the understanding when Yousuf was offered the leadership during the course of the ODI series against New Zealand in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The politics had taken its toll and almost the entire team had reservations about Younis, who was probably left with no option than to quit. I don’t think it had much to do with the result of the games. Such things have been part and parcel of the Pakistan cricket for quite sometime now.

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December 9, 2009

Thoroughly deserved reward for Dhoni and company


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Indians, under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, have proved themselves as the most potent side in every form of the game in world cricket. While they have struggled for consistency in the limited overs contest, hurting their rankings, they have been a cut above the rest as far as the longest version of the sport is concerned and they richly deserved to be the top ranked Test side.

India have finally achieved moved to the top by winning the third and final Test against Sri Lanka in Mumbai. It's a just reward for an outfit possessing the most powerful batting line-up backed by a lethal bowling attack, having variety and more importantly the class and character to absorb the pressures of Test cricket.

Dhoni's proactive captaincy has been instrumental in letting the Indians translate their supremacy into convincing victories. In the past they were good to the extent of dominating their rivals but somehow lacked the finishing touch to make it count.

This Indian side with Dhoni at the helm of the affairs has been showing greater mental toughness than ever before. Sourav Ganguly and John Wright, in the capacity of captain and coach respectively, had revived the Indian cricket with their positive approach that provided them the self-belief to come good against the heaviest of odds.

Ganguly and Wright were chiefly responsible for bringing about a welcome change in the attitude of the players and there was a marked improvement in India's performance particularly in overseas games.

The combination of Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell promised a lot but the totally unexpected debacle in the Caribbean during the 2007 World Cup upset every plan of theirs and the change of guard left their mission unaccomplished.

Anil Kumble did a fine job as captain of the Test team while Dhoni's impressive captaincy in limited overs games brought them more glories than agonies.

It was a matter of time for Dhoni to take over in the Test arena and it was during the home series against Australia last season when he was appointed the leader for all forms of the game.

Dhoni's own batting performance has helped India considerably in improving their ratings in Test cricket. Coming behind six world class batters, he has proved himself an ideal number seven batsman in the mould of the great Australian wicketkeeper-batsman, Adam Gilchrist.

Dhoni obviously has to score quite a few more Test centuries to be bracketed with Gilchrist but the manner in which he has batted there's very little doubt in one's mind about his abilities.

India also owe their recent conquests to one man called Virender Sehwag. His blistering knocks have enabled his team to get a head start more and his longer stay at the crease has meant disaster for the opponents.

Sehwag had looked set to become the first batsman in Test history to score three triple hundreds but a rare half-hearted shot ended his magnificent innings in Mumbai when just a few runs away from the world record.

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December 4, 2009

Federal Minister takes note of PBSA joyrides


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Federal Sports Minister, Pir Syed Aftab Hussain Shah Jilani, has taken a note of the continued joyrides of the officials of the Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA) besides expressing his disappointment at the failure of Pakistan’s cueists in the recently concluded World Snooker Championship 2009 in the South Indian town of Hyderabad.

The Federal Minister has also categorically denied having personally requested the PBSA President, Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, to attend the board meeting of the Asian Confederation of Billiards Sports (ACBS) for pursuing Pakistan’s bid for the Asian Under-21 Billiards & Snooker Championship 2010.

“On the contrary the PBSA officials had submitted a request for a special grant to cover the costs for participation in the World Snooker Championship. Despite the financial constraints we facilitated them in the larger national interest and arranged for the payments,” Pir Aftab Jilani revealed.

“I didn’t advise any of the PBSA officials to visit India or more specifically attend a meeting for the purpose of getting hosting rights of any tournament in future. As a matter of fact we are perturbed by the reports that quite a few office-bearers of the Association have been traveling with the squad for the past one year or so,” he disclosed.

“Our Ministry is looking into the matter and the PBSA would be required to submit the utilization report of the amount of money they were paid,” the Federal Minister added.

“Like the whole nation we are also concerned about the deteriorating performance of our cueists in the international events despite being extended total support by the government,” Pir Aftab Jilani stated.

The cash starved PBSA, relying almost totally on the government grants of late, has continued to pursue policy of sending a good number of officials abroad despite the media criticism.

Two of their top functionaries, Alamgir Anwar Shaikh and Ali Asghar Valika, traveled to India on the pretext of attending the Board meeting of the ABSF. Another office-bearer of the PBSA, Munawwar Hussain Shaikh, accompanied cueists Mohammad Sajjad and Mohammad Asif as manager for the World Snooker Championship.

The President as well as the Honorary Secretary of the PBSA had also accompanied the cueists in the World Snooker Championship last year when the expenses were borne by the Pakistan Sports Trust (PST) while the Federal Sports Ministry and the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) covered the costs of their travel to China for the Asian Snooker Championship earlier this year.

The snooker circles have remained critical of the tours being undertaken by the PBSA officials particularly at a critical time when the Association is almost totally dependent on the government grants.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued in Karachi on December 3, the PBSA acknowledged the sanction of the special grant towards the Pakistan snooker squad’s participation in the World Snooker Championship.

The PBSA President, Alamgir Shaikh, who returned home earlier and didn’t attend the ACBS meeting in Hyderabad, explained that they had to forego Asian Billiards & Snooker Championship 2010 because of security concerns and the event has now been allotted to India.

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December 3, 2009

Victorious Pakistan captain, vice captain skip "Champions Again" launch


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

There was an element of disappointment but not entirely surprising to note Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi, Pakistan’s captain and vice-captain respectively in the ICC World Twenty20 Cricket Tournament held earlier this year in England, skipping the launching ceremony of the book celebrating the title triumph against the heaviest of odds.

Neither Younis Khan nor Shahid Afridi turned up in the launch of ‘Champions again’ authored by Faras Ghani, at the Defence Central Library in Karachi on December 2, despite being extended the invitation to grace the occasion.

The absence of both these celebrated cricketers looked even more stunning and disappointment when they were believed to be in town. Their presence would have brought greater life to the ceremony.

In the context of their behaviour before and after the event there was hardly any surprise in not seeing them on a spot where their own accomplishments were being eulogized and celebrated. They have always considered themselves above board, disregarding national interests and even more painfully their acts have not been worthy of heroes.

Life does move on and the book launch function remained lively anyways with the likes of Salahuddin Ahmed, a former Test all-rounder and an ex-chairman of the national selection committee, keeping the audience fully absorbed with his typically crisp speech. Very rightly, he described the 96-page book as an outstanding effort.

Jalaluddin, a former Test fast bowler and Head Coach of the Customs Cricket Academy (CCA), reckoned that such books go a long way in encouraging the youngsters to take to cricket.

The other speakers, that included seasoned journalists Qamar Ahmed, Rishad Mahmood, Mirza Iqbal Baig and Osman Samiuddin, recognized the author for bringing out a quality pictorial book complemented by precise resource material.

Rishad Mahmood conducted the proceedings nicely and his own depth of knowledge contributed in enlightening those present on the occasion.

Author Faras Ghani, having relocated in England after being born and bred in Karachi, shared with the audience his views on the ups and downs of the Pakistan cricket, recalling some of the incidents of the tournament that Pakistan won after the most uncertain of starts.

The book recaptures the excitement of the event in Pakistan had toppled fancied teams like South Africa and Sri Lanka to claim the trophy at Lord’s. It was after 17 long years when Pakistan had won an international cricket tournament.

‘Champions Again’ is a welcome addition to the list of cricket books in Pakistan and Faras Ghani was complimented for having made an invaluable contribution to cricket literature.

Besides being a wonderful writer, who is extremely passionate about the sport, he also has developed a fondness for clicking. Yes quite a few of the photographs published in his book could challenge some of the top professionals in the field.

I think he should be satisfied or even gladdened by having launched his maiden book in an impressive ceremony. Hopefully the book will bring for him further recognition and this would prove to be the first of the many to be penned and compiled by him.

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December 2, 2009

Bond’s injury gives Pakistan lifeline


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The injury to the New Zealand fast bowler, Shane Bond, who was named Man of the Match in the first Test in Dunedin, has opened the floodgates for Pakistan who could now breathe much more easily and think quite positively in terms of turning it around.

Bond, who bowled with great fire and accuracy to guide his team to a thrilling victory in his comeback Test, has now been ruled out of the rest of the series due to a torn abdominal muscle.

While Pakistan were struggling to finalize their batting line-up for the next couple of Tests following the debacle in Dunedin, the injury to Bond must have relieved them tremendously because he was the bowler most likely to continue troubling them.

There was a fierce debate back home how the batting order should be reshuffled to counter the threat of Bond and company but the ouster of the premier fast bowler has rendered all such discussions meaningless.

Neither Daryl Tuffey nor Tim Southee, the likely replacements for the injured spearhead, create that kind of psychological pressure that Bond did primarily due to his pace and the ability to lift the ball from good length.

Chris Martin and Iain O'Brien, who are most likely to retain their place in the playing eleven for the second Test, didn’t look all that menacing in Dunedin and the Pakistan batsmen didn’t have problems in negotiating them even in conditions that were not ideal for batting.

Both these fast bowlers were also among the wickets as was skipper Daniel Vettori but there cannot be two opinions about the fact that it was Bond who did the damage to create opportunities for his side.

It became evident sooner than later when Bond was done with his superb spell that rocked the top-order in first innings. Debutant Umar Akmal was extremely fortunate to get away with not one but two catches in Bond’s another sensational over.

It was a different ball game when Bond was taken out of the attack. The Akmal brothers chanced their arms and punished every bowler that Vettori tried. The big partnership revived Pakistan and it was Bond again who ensured that New Zealand still got a first innings lead.

New Zealand, not surprisingly, collapsed in their second innings after being in a position from where they could have dictated terms. In the end they were left with a modest target to defend and their fate then depended entirely on bowlers.

I think Pakistan would have easily got to the target of 251, had Bond not been there. He was the man who looked the most threatening and he rose to the occasion in what went on to become a very close contest.

It’s a pity from New Zealand’s point of view that they have been denied the services of their most lethal fast bowler for quite sometime. It’s really sad that Bond has broken down again after playing his first Test in two years.

He is reported to have suffered minor abdominal discomfort following the Dunedin Test and the scans revealed a one-centimetre tear in an abdominal muscle forcing his withdrawal from the second and third Tests as a precaution.

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December 1, 2009

Sreesanth emerges as star of India’s 100th Test win


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The magnificent centuries from the trio of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid had set the tone for India in the second Test against Sri Lanka at Green Park, Kanpur, but it was the astonishing performance from fast bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth that translated the dominance into victory. He turned out to be hero of India’s 100th win in Test cricket.

Yes of all people it was Sreesanth, returning to Test arena after about a year and a half or so, who made the difference on a pitch where batting was more or less as straightforward job as the one in the preceding game at Sardar Patel Stadium, Ahmedabad, having produced a high scoring draw.

There were two reasons why Ahmedabad was not allowed to be repeated at Kanpur. Number one India were about 175 to 200 runs short of their first target that was to post a total in the region of 600. They could have still reached there, even after having lost four wickets literally for nothing in the first hour of the game, had Dravid not perished so early on the second morning.

Secondly Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan were unable to bring the Sri Lankans under any kind of pressure. In fact they leaked far too many runs in the early overs and there was no joy for the spin duo of Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra who toiled hard without success for many hours.

Zaheer provided India the breakthrough on the very first ball of the innings in the Kanpur Test and then his new ball partner Sreesanth took over. Although no more wicket fell on the second evening but unlike the previous game, the visiting batsmen were not allowed to score freely.

Sreesanth was on fire on the third morning. He bowled exceptionally well on a docile strip, catching the tourists by surprise. He did the damage on his own, not getting frustrated by the frequent playing and missing by the batsmen. Neither did his shoulders drop at watching the edges fly past the fielders.

He had to work very hard to earn all his wickets. Most importantly he didn’t lose his cool or composure. The momentum was with him and he knew it was matter of time for him to strike again and again.

It’s not a common sight for an Indian fast bowler to do it on their soil where the pitches are tailor-made for the spinners more often than not. It was another docile track but the 26-year-old Sreesanth rose to the occasion in his comeback Test much to the delight of his captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Sreesanth used his head as much as his firepower to knockout the batsmen. "This was a wicket where the faster you bowl the easier it is to bat. It was important to make the batsman play early and make him play late and it was a mixture of lot of deliveries. It was a slow track and I had to work hard. Hitting the stumps was more important. I told myself that I might go for runs but I will make them play every ball,” he explained.

"To be honest, I never thought I will play for the country again. But God has been very kind and I got the opportunity at the right time," the lion-hearted fast bowler remarked after making a stunning return to Test cricket.

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