January 30, 2012

Pakistan spoil England’s party once more


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

England must have realized it now, if they didn’t do it earlier, that coming to terms with Pakistan present a much different kind of challenge than taking on any other outfit anywhere in the world. They dominated the second Test of the ongoing three-match series at Abu Dhabi only to lose it in the unlikeliest of circumstances at the fag end.

After having succumbed to a three-day drubbing in the first Test at Dubai, England held all cards in their pocket right from the outset in the second Test until a dramatic collapse saw them routed for 72 while chasing a modest 145.

It was a game in which England held the upper hand in every session barring the last one which proved decisive in the end. The series has already been decided and Andrew Strauss must be wondering if he has any tricks left up his sleeves to avoid being whitewashed.

Strauss and company had come to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as the number one ranked Test team of the world, a status they achieved by humbling India at home last summer. Little did they know that they would be mauled by a Pakistan outfit that had a compromise captain in Misbah-ul-Haq and an interim coach in Mohsin Khan!

People often have short memory hence they tend to forget the past instances little too quickly. Well the treatment meted out to England by Pakistan is nothing new. It had happened in 2005-06 as well when Michael Vaughan’s men had descended in this part of the world after having regained ‘The Ashes’ by overpowering the all-conquering Australia.

England were brought down to earth by Pakistan at a time when Vaughan’s hopes and confidence level was sky high. The same has happened again. Now it’s time for Strauss for bite the dust.

From Pakistan’s point of view they had nothing to lose going into the series. And they have shocked their most ardent of supporters by taming the top ranked side of the world as if they were toying with the minnows.

England collapsed against Pakistan in their second innings at Abu Dhabi on January 28 not much differently than Zimbabwe had done earlier in the day in their first innings against New Zealand at Napier.

In fact, had England scored as much as the Zimbabweans did in their second innings, after following on, they would have emerged triumphant in the Abu Dhabi Test.

It’s time for Misbah and Mohsin to celebrate again. They are being lifted on the shoulders by their teammates. I don’t know what Chaudhary Zaka Ashraf, the newly appointed Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), now thinks about Mohsin, whom he tried to ridicule in a bid to accommodate Dav Whatmore.

He might be thinking differently now. He must be wondering if Pakistan do need a ‘qualified ‘coach or a ‘natural’ captain if Misbah and Mohsin continue producing stunning results as they have done during the past few months in which the lady luck has been with them all along.

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January 28, 2012

The end of an era for sure


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Although cricket is a game of uncertainty and nothing could be predicted or assessed surely but when it comes to the Indians going downhill everything becomes very clearly predictable.

When the Indians are not on top of their game it means catastrophe for them for all practical purposes because nothing comes to save them. When Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side was whitewashed in England last summer there was a feeling that the injuries to key players contributed decisively to their downfall.

But the manner in which their full strength has been bulldozed in Australia now the message is loud and clear that their batting stalwarts are over the hill and the trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman needs to be shown the door.

The greatness of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman can never be doubted but they have done enough disservice to their team by not being able to save a single Test match in last eight attempts overseas.

Call it shameful or disgraceful losing eight Tests on a trot away from home is a blot for what used to be the top ranked side before. The team which used to win Test matches at the strength of its batters in every corner of the world is now unable to force even a draw on the most placid of pitches.

The trio of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman served the cause of the Indian cricket in their heydays but they have been under the hammer for the past eight months. They have failed miserably in the challenging conditions of England and Australia where they used to score freely in the past.

The Indian selectors as well as their think-tank seemed to have missed a trick by not having taken the preventive measures. Another factor to have contributed in their downward journey appears to be the absence of Garry Kirsten, who had excelled in the role of a coach.

Duncan Fletcher must be having credentials to be a competent coach but he’s nowhere near to the class of the brainy Kirsten who suited the Indians in many ways and was chiefly responsible for taking them to the top of the ladder.

Obviously in a country like India where cricket is much more than just a sport, it’s never easy or even practical to make tough calls. That’s why the Greg Chappell theory of institutionalization didn’t work in his stint as the Indian coach.

Some other countries might have dumped Tendulkar and Laxman right away after the disastrous tour of England but it might not have been possible doing it in India as the matter could easily have been taken to the parliament or people would turned to streets in protest.

If India had to lose all four Tests in Australia, they would have been better off doing it with a young brigade. Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma could have scored more than Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman as Virat Kohli proved.

Kohli’s start to Test career wasn’t an impressive one but he has improved in leaps and bounds lately. Sharma and Raina, both of them natural stroke-makers, could have also benefited greatly if given a chance there.

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January 20, 2012

Pakistan make mockery of top-ranked yet chicken-hearted England


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

England climbed to the top position in Test rankings after humbling India at home last summer but their capitulation inside three days in their very first outing since then has suggested that they didn’t deserve this honour.

Officially England may be the number one team in the world but they proved once again in the first Test against Pakistan in Dubai that they still remain vulnerable away from the comfort of home.

England, more like New Zealand, have had the tendency of getting disheartened much more quickly while playing in challenging conditions. Australia and South Africa, on the other hand, have had rough and tough characters guiding them through without too many hassles.

England have lacked resilience and the mental toughness. It was an extension of the same story in the Dubai Test where they paid the price of losing the intensity far too early and throwing away the game without offering a fight of any kind.

"It's a big victory for us against the No. 1 side in the world, a confidence-building win. We can expect a tough time from England in the next Test. That is something that makes you No. 1. They have quality cricketers. Their bowling attack has fighters and they will come back hard," Pakistan’s skipper Misbah-ul-Haq reckoned after the sensational 10-wicket win.

That’s Misbah’s observation. He is doing the right thing by not under-estimating his opponents but I don’t think England have the firepower to stage a forceful comeback in the remaining two Tests.

How will England find a clue to tackle off-spinner Saeed Ajmal who destroyed them with the figures of 10 for 97? How will they score heavily if they are unable to take care of the other bowlers like Umar Gul, Abdul Rahman, Aizaz Cheema and Mohammad Hafeez, who snared the remaining 10 wickets without giving much away?

England, under Andrew Strauss, had recovered after their 267-run loss to Australia in Perth in December 2010. It looks extremely unlikely, however, to find them regrouping against Pakistan after the debacle in the first Test at Dubai.

"In both innings we didn't apply ourselves as well as we should have done with the bat. You can scratch your head and ask why and come up with so many recriminations and questions. The most important thing is that the batsmen are very clear about their method and that they use that feeling of disappointment as motivation to make sure it doesn't happen again,” Strauss was quoted as saying in the post-match media briefing.

"It won't be a huge challenge to pick the team up. There will be a huge feeling that we haven't given a good an account of ourselves, and that will give us good motivation to come back in the second Test. We're a really tight unit. We win and lose together, you move on and it's a chance for us to show our resilience and character. I know we have those in abundance but we have to show that. Nobody likes losing that is for sure,” he conceded.

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January 19, 2012

Tendulkar’s long awaited 100th ton hurting India immensely


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

There’s no element of doubt in anyone’s mind about Sachin Tendulkar being the most prolific run-getter in Tests as well as One-day Internationals. He holds the record for the highest number of runs and centuries in both the formats of the game which is indeed commendable.

But what has remained questionable on many occasions is his commitment to the cause of the team. He has been guilty of letting India down on numerous occasions in an otherwise glittering career.

His world records certainly bring joys to the millions of his fans all over the planet but his ‘consistent’ failures in crunch situations make many believe that he’s more into personal glories than team’s interests.

For nearly a year now his anticipated 100th ton in international cricket has been hurting India very dearly. It has cost them seven successive Test defeats overseas with the eighth one expected at Adelaide.

It has been said and written on numerous occasions that the historic milestone was just a matter of time for the master batsman. Who will ever argue about it? Anyone having scored 99 centuries will definitely be expected to complete a century of centuries.

But so much hype has been created about it ever since he scored his 99th century against South Africa during the World Cup last year. He has had innumerable opportunities of getting it but for some reason or the other the landmark has eluded him so far.

In normal circumstances it should not have mattered how many innings he took to do it finally but the consecutive defeats have led many ordinary mortals to believe that there’s something wrong somewhere.

I think now it’s a matter of time when the cricket crazy Indian fans will realize finally that the heroes they worshipped were probably not thinking of them all the time.

Only history will tell, provided somebody dares to investigate and analyze with open frame of mind, whether Tendulkar served the Indian cause or damaged it more often.

It’s really deplorable that he has not been delivering in this period when he looked in the form of his lifetime. He had been scoring so freely and naturally in the 2011 World Cup until that century against South Africa.

What has happened since then? The form has not deserted him. Injuries have not bothered him. Then why has he not been able to score any century yet? Isn’t it a food of thought for the investigative cricket reporters?

At a time when the likes of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have lost their magical touch to tear apart the bowling, India needed real big knocks from their illustrious middle-order to pile up the runs.

Rahul Dravid, a team man to the core, delivered in England by scoring three Test centuries. What about Tendulkar. Didn’t he have a responsibility towards the team that has accorded him unstinted and unprecedented support?

He has deserted India yet again, this time in Australia when even Dravid has been unable to contribute significantly. With V V S Laxman and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni also struggling for runs, the Indians needed a double century or triple century from Tendulkar to stem the rot.

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January 2, 2012

Not so happy birthday Rahul Dravid!


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Rahul Dravid is turning 39. In fact he will be reaching this ‘milestone’ of sorts a few hours earlier on January 11, 2012 by virtue of being in Australia rather than in India.

He is at the stage of life when the increase in the number of burning candles in birthday is not a welcome sign. He is in the 40th year of his life now, already the oldest international cricketer on show with even Sachin Tendulkar being three months younger to him.

Dravid, very appropriately titled ‘The Wall’ for his grit, determination and character, has done enough to be remembered as one of the legends of the game. His accomplishments are far too many to be summarized in a single write-up.

Cricketers like him are born once in lifetime. A team man to the core, he has had the mental strength to withstand the quickest of bowlers with minimum of fuss. While the ordinary mortals would have struggled to do it, he has succeeded in rising to the occasion more often than not.

The single greatest quality of his has been to contribute substantially when the chips are down. He’s the batsman most likely to turn the tide if the pitch has uneven bounce and the ball is doing all sorts of tricks.

Dravid’s international career spans over 15 years now. More than the quantum of runs and centuries it’s the manner and the circumstances in which he got them has immortalized him.

2011 was yet another golden year for him. Wasn’t it quite extraordinary that he continued compiling runs when the others failed in demanding conditions? He scored prolifically in the West Indies where the balls kept terribly low on most of the surfaces. Then he stood up against the England bowlers in conditions that were different altogether.

The tour of Australia, starting with the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, was surely going to test the high-profile Indian batsmen and Dravid was most likely to be the leading run-getter once more.

That has not happened yet and the Indians are in shambles, having lost the first two Tests and not much hope going into the last two. The scenario is not alien to them. They were in similar situation in Australia four years ago too.

It was Dravid who had led the turnaround in 2008 by topscoring in the Perth Test where India registered a famous victory against the heaviest odds.

Perth is again the venue. The Indians appear down and out. Will Dravid, in his 40th year, come up with another magical performance to prove the so-called experts wrong who are predicting another whitewash?

Dravid may not be in the ideal frame of mind at this stage, having been undone by the young Australian speedsters but he has the knack of bouncing back with vengeance. He holds the key to India’s fortunes today. If he gets a couple of big scores things could change dramatically.He certainly has the skill, patience and will power to deliver once.

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