February 27, 2011

Sri Lanka bat for Pakistan once more


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

For the last many years the Sri Lankans have been much stronger outfit in the cricket field than Pakistan but the story has changed dramatically when these two nations were engaged in a combat.

In fact it would be unfair to call it a battle or a combat because these two countries hardly ever appear to be taking on each other with the attitude of a rival. It’s more of a friendly atmosphere whenever they come across each other.

The Sri Lankans have had a history of failing against Pakistan and they continue doing it, purposely or otherwise is anybody’s guess. May be it is sheer coincidence but having lost eight of the nine games in a global event makes people realize that there’s something missing when taking on Pakistan.

History repeated itself at R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on February 26 as Pakistan surprised even their own die-hard supporters by whipping Sri Lanka, one of the favourites to lift the trophy, in their crunch Group A game of the Cricket World Cup 2011.

People have their reasons of assessing the situation but I had ‘declared' as early as the opening overs of the Pakistan innings that Sri Lanka would not be winning this game. The so many experts around me kept arguing and they were unwilling to accept my verdict.

Nobody was ready to accept the fact that Sri Lanka, with so many batting stalwarts in their ranks, will not be able to chase down a target of 278 in 50 overs on the easiest paced track with the dew factor also on their side. My reply was simple. They could do it in 40 overs only if they so desire.

I am neither a fortune-teller nor an astrologer. Betting is not my cup of tea yet. I was being offered to place a bet when I had so emphatically and loudly started asserting that Pakistan were going to win the match.

Well let me share it with my readers and friends, particularly those who were reluctant to foresee a struggling Pakistan line-up overcome a formidable Sri Lankan side in their own den, that I had based my assessment on the basis of the chemistry as well as the history between the two teams.

The manner in which the Pakistani batsmen had a go at the Sri Lankan bowlers from the outset and the way in which Younis Khan in particular was allowed to bat had left very little doubt in my mind about the outcome of the game.

The poor Sri Lankan fans kept cheering their team at the ground until the last over but to me they were just innocent people oblivious of so many facts that determine the course of the game.

Mind you it was Sri Lanka’s first-ever defeat in a World Cup match at home. But don’t forget it was their first outing against Pakistan as well.

I don’t wish to go into the details but historically the Sri Lankans have had this habit of losing the intensity and focus when facing Pakistan. It had all started in the inaugural World Cup in 1975.

Sri Lanka, still an Associate member of the ICC, had done wonders to challenge the mighty Australian bowling attack having the likes of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee. But they fell like novices in their very next game against Pakistan.

Sri Lanka had helped the Pakistan cause immensely by their twin defeats in the league matches of the 1983 as well as the 1987 World Cup. Pakistan forced Sri Lanka to submission in 1992 again on course of winning the title.

It was Sri Lanka’s turn to clinch the title in 1996 when they didn’t need to clash with Pakistan. The Sri Lankans made it to the final again in 2007 when Pakistan was eliminated early.

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February 20, 2011

India’s 16 runs off last three overs raise doubts of spot-fixing in World Cup opener


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Cricket is indeed a funny game but it becomes funnier when external elements appear to be touching base in one form of the other. There are speculations once more about spot-fixing having taken place in the opening match of the 10th Cricket World Cup 2011 between co-hosts Bangladesh and India at Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur, on February 19.

India had mauled the Bangladesh bowling to rattle up 354 runs for the loss of only two wickets in 47 overs. With Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli in complete command and the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan padded up there was always a possibility of the eventual total going somewhere around 400.

With such a solid platform and the bowlers having lost the radar following the hammering they received, India looked set to go past 400 because the advent of T20 cricket has helped every team in going berserk in the death overs. Any team having eight wickets in hand would be expected to get a minimum of 30 to 40 in last three overs these days.

How India remained contended with just 16 runs off the last three overs of their innings after being in total control against a demoralized bowling attack surprised many fans and there was indeed suspicion of foul play in the air.

It’s beyond comprehension to get these little runs at a stage when the fielding side is more than willing to concede a single every ball. The boundaries are the order of the day in the closing stages of the innings.

You don’t need to be an expert to assess these kinds of situation when the batsmen are only supposed to go for the kill rather than push for singles or twos. As a matter of fact it needs extra effort to under-perform or do something terribly unusual. That’s where the wrongdoing becomes little obvious.

As the cricket administrators have been saying all along it’s next to impossible to eliminate the menace of spot fixing. They are dead right. The match-fixing element could be controlled but it seems beyond any authority to come to terms with spot-fixing.

The protagonists of spot-fixing might have chalked up their own strategic plans to hit an event as huge as the Cricket World Cup.

The Anti-Corruption Unit of the International Cricket Council would do the policing but they are unlikely to prevent spot-fixing and there’s an indication already on the very first day of the tournament.

I don’t think that they have any mechanism in place to curb such incidents. Neither do they seem to be having the desire or the will power to contain the immoral acts for reasons known to everyone following the game keenly.

This could be the most open World Cup as well as the most controversial one if we continue witnessing the unusual segments of this high magnitude. Doubts will be raised and the game will not remain free from malpractices if corrective measures are not taken.

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February 18, 2011

Will India sustain momentum to lift trophy?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The momentum is with India at the moment and they need to play very badly indeed in order to deny themselves the chance of lifting the trophy which has eluded them for decades now.

The Indians have had the knack of giving it away and not delivering at crucial stages but this outfit, led by Mahandra Singh Dhoni, has far too many match-winners to cope with the contingencies.

No other team going into the Cricket World Cup 2011 is as strong on paper. Neither has any of their rivals have had the ideal preparations. The pitches are going to suit them. The conditions will inspire them. In my estimation no side ever has had held this kind of advantage entering the World Cup.

There was no clear favourite in 1975 when the West Indies won the inaugural event in England. Primarily at the strength of their fast bowlers the West Indians were the favourites in 1979 and they did live up to the billing. Their invincibility was tarnished by India a few months ago before the big event in the summer of 1983 and they were dethroned at the hands of the same rivals in the final.

Co-hosts Pakistan and defending champions India were the favourites in 1987 but neither of them made it to the final with Australia being the surprise winners. Quite a few teams were rated highly in 1992 but the title was clinched by Pakistan, languishing near the bottom of the table at the halfway stage of the competition.

Sri Lanka made most of the home advantage in 1996 while experimenting with brave tactics that paid dividends on the docile sub-continental pitches. South Africa looked the strongest on paper in 1999 but they became victims of their own nerves to let Australia win the title.

Australia faced a lot of problems off the field on the eve of the World Cup in 2003 but they displayed mental toughness to defend the crown successfully. They endured frightening moments leading to the event in 2007, having been whitewashed by New Zealand in the ODI series, before conjuring up another title win.

The scenario is different this time round. Except Ricky Ponting, they have lost almost all the architects of the previous three World Cups one after another. Australia find themselves in a tough corner once more. They were boosted by a 6-1 win over England but the losses in both the warm-up games to India and South Africa have brought them down to earth again.

India have enjoyed tremendous success in both Tests as well as ODIs during the last couple of years in particular and the cool heads of skipper Dhoni and coach Garry Kirsten have worked wonders for them. They just need to extend that form for a few more weeks to regain the trophy.

Although each and every game of the tournament will be crucial for them, their real test will commence from the quarter-final stage. Their fate will be dependent on the performance of their boys in the knockout games. They do have the most potent spin attack and the most formidable batting line-up.

Will they sustain the momentum until the end? Will Sachin Tendulkar fulfill his dream in what is expected to be his last World Cup? These are the questions igniting the minds of the cricket followers all over the globe. Well all of us have to wait for another month, until the real battle starts with the quarter-finals.

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February 11, 2011

Unhearlded Shahid crowned as Pakistan’s new national snooker champion


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Mohammad Shahid, a qualifier from Punjab, stunned everyone by whipping top seeded Imran Shahzad in the final of the NJI 36th National Snooker Championship 2011 at the Banquet Hall of Karachi Gymkhana on February 10 to be crowned as Pakistan’s new national snooker champion.

The prize distribution ceremony, which was also being telecast live, started at the scheduled time of 6 pm as the best of 15-frame final lasted less than five hours. The match could have easily gone for another three hours if it went to the full distance of 15 frames.

Tahir Ahmed, Managing Director, New Jubilee Insurance, who was the chief guest of the evening, presented a cheque of Rs 60,000 to Shahid alongwith the glittering trophy while Imran had to be content with a purse of Rs 35,000.

Shahid, the man of the moment, also shared the prize for the highest break as he recorded one of 97 in the final which equaled the feat of second seed Sohail Shahzad earlier in the competition.

In his brief speech on the occasion Tahir Ahmed expressed his delight at the emergence of brilliant youngsters from every nook and corner of the country, hoping that the launch of Under-14 and Under-17 events would be even more beneficial in discovering the raw relent.

Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, President, Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), delivered the welcome address in the closing ceremony in which he acknowledged the support of all the stake-holders, making a special of the extensive media coverage.

The simple but graceful ceremony, which didn’t go beyond half an hour, was also attended by Ali Rahim, President, Karachi Gymkhana and other club officials including Amin Noor, Jahangir Moghul, Fawad Malik and Mian Azmat Hussain.

The 28-year-old Shahid, making his first-ever appearance in the final of any national ranking event, shattered Imran’s dream of winning the national crown. It was for the third time when the 35-year-old had crashed in the final of the National Championship.

The rub of the green went Shahid’s way most of the time and the Faisalabad youngster grabbed the opportunity with both hands to outclass his fancied opponent from Lahore 8-2 with the frame scores of 44-90, 97-4, 70-7, 82-1, 86-0, 80-32, 40-78, 81-42, 66-24, 67-44.

Imran had got off to business-like start by claiming the opening frame but Shahid made his intentions very clear with a massive break of 97 in the very next frame. He went into the lead by claiming the third frame and didn’t look back.

The breaks of 61, 86 and 61 during the next three frames put him in a commanding 5-1 lead, Imran halted his opponent by pocketing the seventh frame but Shahid proved too good again in the next three frames to fulfill his ambition of becoming the national champion.

The confidence with which Shahid played in his maiden appearance in the final was awesome as he was not afraid to go for the toughest of shots. Imran also stayed positive throughout but he was just not good enough on the day.

Shahid was thrilled with his maiden title win, conceding that he did feel the pressure of the live coverage in the semifinals when he had let his opponent, Sultan Mohammad take away three frames on a trot after having won the first four.

“Yes I was playing in front of the camera for the first time which did affect me and I was a bit uncomfortable when Sultan dragged me into playing slowly. It was a different ball game in the final because Imran, like me, was playing aggressively,” he added.

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February 9, 2011

Spot-fixing, match-fixing to continue despite ICC actions


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The recent decision on behalf of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to impose bans on the Pakistan trio of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir has not come as any surprise.

Michael Beloff, Chairman of the ICC Code of Conduct Commission, and his tribunal took their time before finally announcing the decision in Doha on February 5. Obviously they appeared in no hurry in arriving at any decision that would cause any embarrassment for the ICC at any point of time.

It had become quite clear that the authorities had gathered evidence in some form or the other before suspending the three Pakistani cricketers earlier last year. They took their time in framing the charges and didn’t push for any hasty verdict either.

The question in everybody’s mind right now is whether the decision of the ICC to ban Salman, Asif and Aamir for 10, 7 and 5 years respectively will make the game absolutely clean from the malpractices that have ruined the image of the game for the last many year.

Different people have different answers to this but I don’t foresee any change in trend as a result of the recent ICC actions. Those who are into it in a big way will continue doing it because they don’t do it single-handedly or individually. They have the clout and the cover in the corridors of power.

Yes there’s a possibility that the odd adventurous guys planning to do it on their own to make a fortune overnight will be discouraged because they would fear jeopardizing their career if nabbed.

Match-fixing or spot-fixing, even the law-enforcers concede, cannot be eliminated. There are numerous reasons for this. The policing to the extent of monitoring each and every move of the cricketer on and off the field during the course of a match seems practically not possible.

The Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) of the ICC has certainly succeeded in containing the number of fixed matches or there was a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s that nearly each and every other game involving certain countries raised a lot of questions.

But we can understand that even the ACU of the ICC has its own limitations. Obviously it can’t track the movement of the all the international cricketers. Neither can it expand its operations beyond certain areas.

Since spot-fixing is even more difficult to detect there’s not much the authorities could do to prevent. But yes they can bring down the number of cases by giving exemplary punishment to those found guilt.

Talking about punishment just as the ICC doesn’t have any mechanism in place to take the umpires to task when they make the most ridiculous of decisions in the field to bring the game to disrepute, I don’t think they have the authority or the will power to question the affiliated members if they appear to be a party.

There have been instances when the fingers have been pointed towards the cricket boards but the ICC has had no option but to close its eyes on such matters. In such a compromising scenario only an idiot can hope for a better future for the game.

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