July 29, 2012

Vital Five Cricket Tournament in full swing


By Syed Khalid Mahmood 

The second edition of the Vital Five Ramazan Festival Twenty20 Cricket Tournament 2012 for the State Life Trophy, having been inaugurated on the first day of the Holy month of Ramazan, is in full swing. It seems to be having all the ingredients of becoming the most sought-after festival event in town.

Being organized by the Vital Five Club, another brainchild of Jalaluddin, a former Test fast bowler and now a qualified coach, the tournament is offering lucrative prizes to the outstanding performers. 

Three grounds, instead of just one last year, are being used for league matches to have a cushion for rains which are likely to come down sometime in August. 

Besides the Vital Five Cricket Ground housed in Khayaban-e-Rahat, DHA, a few games have also been staged at the Rashid Latif Cricket Academy Ground in Korangi and the Landhi Gymkhana Ground in Landhi. 

The Vital Five Cricket Ground has been upgraded with the commissioning of a brand new pitch besides a couple of practice pitches at two different corners of the arena. Proper maintenance and watering have allowed the outfield to remain lush green even without any rainfall during the year so far.

Both the pitches, being used for the State Life Trophy matches, are sporting in nature with the batsmen getting full value for their shots and the bowlers having plenty of encouragement too. 

It’s one of those rare grounds where fast bowlers as well as spinners have been getting wickets. Some exciting matches have already been witnessed in the tournament and surely there are many more in store with the knockout games coming up shortly. 

The total number of the participating teams, as last year, remains 16 and they have been divided equally in four groups in the first round. Top two teams from each of the four groups will be advancing to the knockout phase, starting with the quarter-finals.

Defending champions Vital Five Cricket Club has been placed in Group C alongwith Medicam CC, Brothers CC Dadu and Eaton CC while Omar CC, who went down fighting in the final, is drawn in Group A in the company of Mohammad Hussain CC, United Sports, Dubai Islamic Bank. 

The Group C comprises of Khyber Greens FATA, Sindh Police, Mulakatiar CC Hyderabad and Dawood Sports while Group D contains Advance Telecom, Dollar East, Qasmi Sports and Karachi Port Trust (KPT). 

Two teams from each group will be qualifying for the quarter-finals. There’s a galore of prizes on offer. Every day the Man of the Match walks away with a couple of expensive gifts and there are a couple of presents for the other outstanding performers as well. 

But all eyes are on the jackpot of Rs 400,000 which will be collected by the winners while the runners-up will be getting Rs 200,000 in the presentation ceremony on the last day of the tournament in which the cash prizes to be disbursed would be in the excess of Rs 700,000.

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July 23, 2012

Hunain, Majid crash at first knockout hurdle in World Under-21 Snooker Championship


By Syed Khalid Mahmood 

Pakistan’s most promising youngsters, Hunain Aamir and Mohammad Majid Ali, after having given fine account of themselves in the league matches, crashed at the first hurdle in the knockout phase of the IBSF World Under-21 Snooker Championship 2012 in Wuxi, China.  

Zhou Yuelong of China outsmarted Hunain 5-2 with the frame scores of 14-81, 87-21, 69-42, 31-65, 56-48, 81-0, 80-47 while Noppon Saengkham of Thailand overwhelmed Majid 5-1 with the frame scores of 71-33, 61-18, 39-68,78-29, 95-6, 76-33 in their round of 32 matches.

Hunain and Majid, having been trained and coached by former world champion, Mohammad Yousuf, on the eve of their departure to China, had done extremely well to force their way into the knockout round on their maiden appearance in an international event but neither of them succeeded in sustaining the momentum of league matches and got eliminated before the pre-quarter-finals.

Pakistan’s national junior champion, Hunain, reached the last 32 by whacking Rhys Clark of Scotland 4-1 in the do-or-die encounter with the frame scores of 10-69, 85-5, 68-57, 78-44, 68-8.  

Majid, who ended runner-up the Jubilee Insurance National Junior Championship 2012 staged in Lahore in February, had booked his place in the last 32 by winning four of his first five matches before his last league outing against Alexander Gauss of Austria, who defeating him 4-2 with the frame scores of 47-64, 62-46, 70-44, 68-1, 55-64, 90-11.

Hunain finished fourth in Group G by winning and losing three matches each. He had emerged triumphant in the first couple of outings rather comfortably but lost the plot afterwards, succumbing to defeats in his next three games. He regrouped to win the last league fixture to stay afloat in the event.  

Lu Ning of China emerged the Group G champion with six wins in as many games while Alireza Khodaparast of Iran and Jurian Heusdens of Belgium finished second and third respectively in the points table.

Majid remained more consistent of the two, winning four of his six matches and finishing third in the points in Group C behind Zhu Yinghui of China and Mitchell Mann of England. Lalrina Rentheli of India, who came fourth, also qualified for the last 32.

A total of 63 cueists, divided in eight groups, entered the championship with 32 of them making it to the knockout stage.  

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July 20, 2012

Is bilateral cricket series between Pakistan and India really needed?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood 

That’s a million dollar or rather a billion rupee question! Do we really need bilateral cricket series between Pakistan and India? We can come to a logical conclusion only if we look at the situation professionally and realistically rather than sentimentally.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has ‘allocated’ three One-day Internationals and two Twenty20 Internationals to Pakistan in the coming winter during a period when the England cricketers will be vacationing for a couple of weeks between Test and limited overs series in India. 

It very clearly indicates that even the short series with Pakistan was not in the list of priorities of the Indian cricket authorities. 

There’s likelihood of them having been ‘advised’ by New Delhi to squeeze time for a few matches against their traditional rivals. 

The tour could be another diplomatic ploy of India who will be sending the message across that they don’t oppose anyone whether they like them or not. In this way they will also be obliging the Government of Pakistan with whom they don’t always have cordial relations.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is not in a position to pick and choose. They would not mind playing India anywhere in the world at anytime. 

They have no problems even if the tour is sandwiched between the England series. Pakistan and India have had this habit of uneven frequency when it comes to bilateral series. 

Sometimes they are unable to hold it at designated time due to ‘political’ tension and the gap has also gone into decades. Conversely when their ties improve they overdo it to the extent of diluting the trademark charm associated with Indo-Pak matches. 

The two neighbouring countries were engaged in three full Test series between 1952-53 and 1960-61 but it took 18 seasons to have the next series. India toured Pakistan in 1978-79 and the reciprocal visit took place the very next season. India came to Pakistan again in 1982-83 and Pakistan crossed the border in 1983-84. 

There was another Indo-Pak series in Pakistan in 1984-85 followed by one in India in 1986-87. India came over in 1989-90 after which there was big pause. The ice melted in 1998-99 but there was again a yawning gap.

The ties resumed in 2003-04 and then the tours came every year which didn’t please many enthusiasts who felt it was being overdone for commercial reasons. 

The last series was staged in India in 2007-08 and since then there has been no bilateral series between them despite having played each other in the World Cup, Champions Trophy and Asia Cup. 

Now the BCCI has decided to revive Indo-Pak bilateral series, albeit in a hurried and to some extent unusual manner. They have offered to hold three ODIs in Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata, and the Twenty20 matches in Ahmedabad and Bangalore. 

The Indian cricketers would obviously feel burdened by playing Pakistan at a time when they must have hoped to be given a break when England fly back to enjoy Christmas and New Year at home. 

"We are professional cricketers. The series will have to be played and we have to get ready for it. Sentiment does not play any part since we are taught to be professionals on field,” skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni had reacted cautiously after the BCCI decision.

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July 13, 2012

Williamson’s captaincy, brilliant fielding revives New Zealand in Caribbean


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It was neither New Zealand’s batting nor bowling which earned them an unlikely 88-run victory, against the run of play, over the West Indies in the third One-day International at the Warner Park in Basseterre, St Kitts, on July 11.

It was the outstanding ground fielding and the imaginative captaincy of the caretaker skipper, Kane Williamson, which led the turnaround and opened up the five-match series which seemed in the bag of the home side, boosted by the return of Chris Gayle. The visitors clinched their maiden win of the tour by effecting three run-outs bringing off a spectacular catch. 

The West Indians were the firm favourites to seal the series when they came out to chase a modest target of 250 on an easy paced pitch with short boundaries and quick outfield allowing no margin of error to the bowlers. 

With the victories in both the Twenty20 Internationals and the previous two ODIs, the home side was expected to race to the target rather leisurely in ideal batting conditions. The injury-hit New Zealanders were low in confidence but they demonstrated the virtues of athletic fielding and sensible leadership.

All credit to the 21-year-old Williamson to have displayed maturity beyond his age while setting the fields and making the bowling changes. 

It was quite extraordinary how intelligently he marshaled his troops when defending a low total. His decision to hand over the new ball to debutant Trent Boult was a bold move and it almost paid immediate dividends with Gayle just about getting yorked first ball. 

The pressure built on the explosive left-handed opener who was scalped by Tim Southee soon afterwards. Southee was also instrumental in sending back the dangerous Dwayne Bravo with a brilliant flat throw from the deep. 

But the most sensational piece of fielding was witnessed when Martin Guptill stopped a full-blooded cover drive and threw the stumps down within the blink of eye to find the striker Marlon Samuel well short of his crease.

The match was not over yet because the West Indian tail-enders were enjoying themselves with powerful slogs and it needed yet another brilliant fielding effort to break the threatening ninth wicket partnership. 

Now it was the skipper Williamson himself who made a diving stop at cover to cause a fatal misunderstanding that resulted in Sunil Narine getting run out by miles. 

Williamson’s captaincy skills are not limited to setting the field or incorporating the bowling changes. He also talks sense off the field and his post-match comments don’t seem to be coming from someone who will be turning 22 in a few weeks time. 
"It's a great shift in momentum, hopefully. Putting a few things into practice, lessons from the other games. It's nice to get a win in such a crucial game. I think the bowling performance was a little bit better executed in terms of the plans and what we wanted to achieve,” he remarked after completing the 88-run win. 

“Things went our way and hopefully that's the momentum shift we needed in the series. This was a sort of match where you must win and we showed that fight today which was really important. It was nice to step up and win this match and keep the series alive through a really strong fielding and bowling effort,” he noted.

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July 5, 2012

Dravid’s warning should open cash-hungry BCCI’s eyes


By Syed Khalid Mahmood 

The gentleman cricketer that Rahul Dravid has been all along, he rarely speaks anything silly or senseless. He stayed away from controversies despite being in the thick of things for around 15 years primarily because of his total commitment to the cause of his team.

Dravid, who always believed in giving more than cent percent to the team, has served a warning to the all-powerful Board of Control for Cricket in Indian (BCCI) whose officials have been under fire for having compromised on the future of the game by engaging in activities purely for commercial reasons.  

A team man to the core all his life, Dravid’s observations during the launch of his book ‘Timeless Steel’ in Mumbai on July 4 would not only caution the young breed of Indian cricketers but more importantly they should open the eyes of the movers and shakers in the BCCI, who often tend to forget their responsibilities of administering the game in a balanced manner. 

Dravid felt that there is no match for the satisfaction that can be derived from playing Test cricket adding that he didn't want to judge the youngsters on or blame them for their choices but that he wanted to challenge them to give Test cricket a fair go.

"There are more options now. It’s very hard for me to be judgemental about kids of today. Unfair. I had gone through a commerce degree in college, and not very successfully. When I grew up, if I wanted to be a successful professional cricketer - and making a living out of the sport became a part of that - the only option for me was to be a successful Test cricketer. There was no other way in which you could make a professional living out of the sport. I would have still played it, but I would have probably looked to do something else professionally if I wasn't good enough," he remarked. 

"People now have the option of not necessarily playing Test cricket but making a living out of the game. And, you know, who's to blame kids for taking that option? Who's to blame kids for using that opportunity if they feel they are not good enough for Test cricket? If they are not good enough for Test cricket, I am sure they will feel. Look at least I needn't make a living out of this game. Let me at least play this, which is giving me money,” Dravid said. 

"I won't like to judge them on that, but I will like to challenge them. What I'll like to tell young kids is that the greatest satisfaction you are going to get is by playing Test cricket and playing in some of these great stadiums of the world. That will give you the greatest personal satisfaction, so don't sell yourself short. Try and achieve. It is possible. It can be done. There might be kids in this era who will take that soft option. Some won't. We will be able to see in time. Every era there have been people who have fallen by the wayside," he reckoned.

"People like Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Manoj Tiwary, or whoever the youngsters are, have grown up watching and idolising Test cricket. It's the kids like Samit (his own son aged 7) who will have grown up watching the IPL. That will be the challenge. What will those kids want? I don't see this as an immediate problem. I see it as a long-term issue,” he warned. 

"By long term I mean ten years, when those kind of kids grow up, what will their aspirations be? If one of the young kinds wants to play, will he want to play for a franchise? You have to understand that at the end of the day players are also performers, and they want to perform. When you look at the IPL, it's a great stage to perform. Played in front of full stadiums, there is a great viewership on television, you are playing with some of the best players in the world, you are playing at some of the greatest stadiums in the country. It's a great stage to perform. That challenge is going to arise in ten years' time, and I think we have got to address it right now," the former Indian captain cautioned.

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