December 31, 2008

Bangladesh offer incredible resistance to Sri Lanka


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Not many people would have thought of the first Test between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur, entering the fifth and final day when the visitors had declared their second innings on the fourth morning setting an improbable target of 521.

The kind of cricket Bangladesh had mostly played after being pushed into the Test arena rather prematurely there was little to suggest the match going into the final day. Obviously you couldn’t have expected the team having folded for 178 in a matter of 60 overs in their first innings to do much better on a wearing pitch in their second outing.

Bangladesh surprised even their own supporters by their grit and determination in their second innings while chasing a monumental target of 521. Their top order batsmen played their natural game and they had every reason to feel delighted at having given the champion Sri Lankan bowlers a run for their money.

The hosts already had enhanced their reputation by having finished the fourth day at 254 for five, having negotiated 78 overs. Nobody expected them to go anywhere close to the target when the proceedings began on the final day but there was a hope that they might bat out the time to save the game.

Skipper Mohammad Ashraful and all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan picked up from where they had left the previous evening and by scoring freely they ensured that the pressure was also shifted on the heads of the Sri Lankan bowlers.

The home side was still 229 runs short of their target when Ashraful perished soon after having notched up another hundred. It must have been one of his greatest knocks in Test matches if not the best one.

Then came the brilliant century partnership between Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim that really opened up the game and millions of cricket lovers all over the world became interested.

South Africa had only recently successfully chased down a target of 414 in Australia and who knew Bangladesh were on the verge of rewriting history.

One knew that Murali Muritharan was capable of snaring the remaining four wickets in an over but the growing seventh wicket partnership made the contest much more absorbing than was being anticipated.

Not surprisingly Bangladesh did lose their last four wickets in a rush but not before having scared the mighty Sri Lankans. The hosts suffered a 107-run defeat but they had the satisfaction of going down fighting against a very tough opponent.

South Africa had emerged triumphant by scoring 414 in the fourth innings of the game at Perth but Bangladesh lost the encounter by 107 runs despite aggregating 413 at Mirpur. It was amazing performance by the home side and the resilience they have shown should do their confidence a world of good.

Scoring in the excess of 400 in the last innings of the game is an incredible accomplishment and the Bangladeshis should be complimented for having produced such an outstanding performance against all odds.

The magnificent batting performance by Bangladesh overshadowed another ten-wicket haul from Muttiah Muraitharan, who was chiefly responsible for preventing an embarrassing defeat for Sri Lanka.

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December 30, 2008

Steyn, Duminy help South Africa seize series at Melbourne


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

What a moment for the South African cricket! Their come from behind win in the second Test at the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground has allowed them to seize the series with a game in hand.
It’s their first-ever series win in Australia. More than anything, as the victorious skipper Graeme Smith recognized in the presentation ceremony, it was the self-belief of the South Africans that powered them to a convincing nine-wicket wicket on the final afternoon after being precariously placed just a couple of days ago.
The record ninth wicket partnership between J P Duminy and Dale Steyn on the third day led the turnaround and they didn’t look back once they had regained control. Like any other great team the South Africans went very hard at their opponents and forced them to submission.
It was quite an extraordinary Test match, befitting the occasion. It was a typical Boxing Day Test with big crowds and they were treated to cricket of the highest quality on all five days. You couldn’t have expected greater entertainment. 
There was plenty to cheer for the Australians on the first couple of days but they clearly became the second best side in the field after the rearguard action of the South African led by Duminy who got overwhelming support from the lower-order batsmen.
Continuing with the second best, South Africa find themselves at a striking distance of displacing the Aussies from the top slot in the ICC rankings. Australia would be relegated to the second position and South Africa would be crowned as the new world leaders if the result of the third and final Test at Sydney is not any different from the first couple of games.
It would come as little surprise if South Africa do complete the whitewash at Sydney. In fact they appear to be in a very good position to do some more damage to the stature and reputation of Australia.
Ricky Ponting is in all sorts of trouble. He has continued to bat well in crunch situations but his teammates have lacked the consistency to trouble the South Africans who have stamped their authority with hints of conviction.
Ponting must have learnt that it’s a different ball game against motivated sides like South Africa and India. Earlier in the season his team was whacked in the Test series in India and now South Africans have humbled them in their own backyard. The Australian skipper must have wished there was a longer series against a team like New Zealand where they could dictate terms and relax.
It would be quite a challenge for Australia to prevent a whitewash in the series in the present scenario. The South Africans have an edge over Australia in every single department of the game and they would dearly love to complete a clean sweep at Sydney.

Coming to the success of the South Africans, on verge of becoming the top ranked side in the world, they have discovered an immensely gifted middle-order batsman in the shape of the left-handed J B Duminy who has class as well as character. His magnificent century in the pressure-cooker situation in only his second Test announces the arrival of another star on the horizon.
Dale Steyn, the lion-hearted fast bowler, has performed exceptionally well throughout the year and there’s every indication to suggest that he would continue hitting headlines in the years to come. His ten-wicket haul, besides that fighting knock, has earned him the Man of the Match award in the Melbourne Test.

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December 28, 2008

Declining standards in New Zealand-West Indies series


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Watching the recent contests between New Zealand and the West Indies makes one feel little disconsolate. There was plenty of entertainment in both the Twenty20 Internationals but the inconsistency of performance would not have pleased either side.
The ground fielding as well as the catching was pathetic to say the least when the West Indies came out at Seddon Park, Hamilton, in the second game after having narrowly won the first one at Eden Park, Auckland, a couple of days ago.
The two New Zealand openers, Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum, took full advantage of the sloppy work in the field that blunted the enthusiastic West Indian bowling.
The 130-run opening stand in just eleven and a half overs between Ryder and McCullum, both of whom blasted quick half-centuries, had set the platform for a real big total.
Once the belligerent opening partnership was broken it was the turn of the New Zealand batsmen to demonstrate their lack of skills. They lost nine wickets in the 8.2 overs to finish with 191 in 20 overs.
The West Indians had pulled it back nicely after their dreaded spell in the field in the first half of the New Zealand innings. Once the fielding was lifted with Xavier Marshall’s catch the visitors looked a different side altogether and New Zealand could not cope with the pressure.
Although containing the hosts to 191 for nine represented a grand recovery, their batsmen still had a mountain to climb. The having failed to reach the target of 156 in the first game despite the heroics of skipper Chris Gayle had to do something sensational to get to 192 even against a bowling attack not so menacing.
Gayle lived upto his reputation of being Mr Inconsistent and the West Indians were in disarray even before getting started. To their credit tourists succeeded in getting past 150 once more, 155 to be precise. So for the second time running they managed to score 155 batting second and on both occasions it was not enough.
Ramnaresh Sarwan, promoted to open the innings, gave the impression of being a master blaster while hammering 53 off 36 balls but one is not sure if he would continue to deliver for long, such has been the unpredictability of the West Indians.
His team would have easily won the first game had he scored even half of these runs at a time when his captain was in full flow and the target was getting progressively easier.

The West Indians should have easily won the Boxing Day encounter after having restricted the hosts to 155. Gayle’s swashbuckling knock had provided the best possible opportunity for the middle-order to knock off the runs without worrying for the run-rate.
Their self-destruction allowed the hosts to stage a comeback from no where and the match looked wide open in the final over. An edged boundary by Sulaiman Benn had given the West Indies the upper end but he couldn’t connect properly on the last ball and the match was tied.
Since it was a Twenty20 encounter a tie-breaker was to be witnesses. A new method called ‘Eliminator’ was used according to which both the teams were allowed to bat for one over each. Gayle’s magnificent hitting won the day for the West Indies but it was a most unsatisfying win and they were beaten neck and crop in the following game.

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December 26, 2008

Gautam Gambhir comes of age


Golden Jubilee article

By Syed Khalid Mahmood

This is a special article for some reasons. Number one my niece, Sameen Tariq, who is not even eight years old yet, instantly complained to me after going through my blog for the first time the other day that why I had not written on Gautam Gambhir whom she had watched on television receiving the Man of the Match award against England only a few days ago.

I was pleasantly surprised with the depth of cricket knowledge possessed by the tiny tot and as a reward I promised her that my very next article will be on Gambhir, who has indeed come of age with his consistent performance in every form of the game during the year drawing to a close.

Another reason for treating this write-up as special is that it would be my 50th article for the blog. The Golden Jubilee of my articles has been reached here and I am really delighted about it.
The coming of age of Gautam Gambhir means a lot to the Indian cricket. This left-handed opener has provided the much needed relief to his flamboyant partner, Virender Sehwag, and together they form the most destructive opening pair in world cricket today.

Sehwag and Gambhir complement each other remarkably well. They have the best possible understanding as both of them have been playing together for Delhi for quite sometime. Their excellent running between the wickets reflects how precisely they read each other’s movements.

I think this is for the first time in India’s history that they have a pair of attacking openers. They did have a few aggressive opening batsmen in the past as well but never did they possess a set of openers who could do the business from both ends.

Sehwag has been around for quite sometime, having demonstrated his prowess literally in every corner in the world. The only cause of worry for him had seemed to be the change of partners at regular intervals. 

With Gambhir in full flow now, Sehwag has the liberty of taking the fight to the opponents from the word go being aware of the fact that his partner will carry it on after his departure something that was missing in the past.

Gambhir had made his Test debut four seasons ago but was unable to deliver and he was then considered more of a one-day specialist. He kept scoring prolifically in the limited overs games that didn’t allow the selectors to write him off at any stage.

Not surprisingly it has his phenomenal success in the limited overs fixtures that brought him in the limelight and led to his return in the Test line-up. He was one of the star performers in the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup held in South Africa last year, helping his team annex the trophy against the heaviest of odds.

The triangular series in Australia early this year saw him grow in stature with every game. His outstanding run against Sri Lanka and Australia helped India win the series for the first time in 27 years. He then excelled in the Indian Premier League, scoring consistently and heavily in the T20 games for Delhi.
Gambhir has now cemented his place in the Test team by his magnificent run of big scores in the current season. His superlative knocks have been instrumental in guiding India to victories over Australia and England. He has proved that he has the skill and the temperament to play long innings.

Early in his career he was guilty of taking too many risks. He still likes to take the aerial route but he has become wiser in shot selection and there is marked improvement in his technique in letting the ball go.

Attacking play his forte but he has shown that he can also hang around. He has the rare ability to adjust to all versions of the game and he is a welcome addition to the Indian batting line-up already studded with quality performers.

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December 24, 2008

Old India’ reminiscent in Mohali Test


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has stunned many of his staunch supporters by adopting tactics that belied his attacking instincts and positive approach. The world had recognized Dhoni as a standout captain who lifted the morale of the side with his wisdom combined with aggression.

Dhoni had entered the Mohali Test with a very good chance of making it five out of five. Having led India to victories in his first four Tests as captain the stage was set for him to extend the brilliant run.

The England team was running short of confidence after conceding the first Test from an advantageous position and there was hardly any life for the visitors to group before rushing for the second and final Test of the series.

The Indians were basking in the glory of the successful run chase in the previous game in which they had turned it around against heavy odds. The momentum was with them and they were ideally placed to double their lead at Mohali.

Dhoni did his team a favour by winning the toss. Virender Sehwag, whose whirlwind knock in the second innings of the Chennai Test had helped India’s cause immensely, perished without scoring this time and that brought in Rahul Dravid to join Gautam Gambhir.

Dravid had been struggling to get runs on the board but Gambhir was in the middle of a purple match. They did build a partnership to deny England further success for more than a day but it wasn’t the kind of stuff that would have enhanced their reputation. They added 314 for the second wicket but consumed nearly 108 overs.

If it was not enough all the batsmen following the marathon partnership also went into their shells. It was hard to believe what was happening. It was difficult to imagine why the dead-batting was carried out in such a dominating position.

Dravid faced 328 balls for his 136 and VVS Laxman made a 24-ball duck. It was the time when India needed their stroke-makers to fire after the strong base provided by Dravid and Gambhir. Even the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh refused to bat with any sense of urgency. Dhoni wasn’t an exception either. The normally free-stroking skipper was content in killing time rather than scoring runs.

India played out 158.2 overs to score 453 in their first innings. They could have easily scored over 550 after occupying the crease for so long. They were also aware of the fact that the play was to be curtailed every day in the prevailing weather conditions. They needed to score briskly in order to make up for the loss of time but their intentions caught people by surprise.

The manner in which the England batsmen scored on the third day despite losing two wickets for literally nothing it became clear that the Indians had intentionally slowed down the game on the first couple of days and there was nothing wrong in the pitch.

The Indian bowlers fought back to earn 151-run first innings lead. Still there was time to force a result but the Indian batsmen chose to bat out time instead of putting runs on the board to get England in again.

The late declaration on the fifth and final day simply confirmed that the Indians were not interested in going for a win. These were the tactics the Indian teams of the past used to adopt once they had taken an early lead in the series but it was not expected from the Indian team of modern times that has set high standards and brought glory more regularly than ever before.

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December 23, 2008

Australia at receiving end in a record chase


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

“Unlike the past, it could be the Australians at the receiving end this time round. The first Test is to be played at Perth where the pitch is known to have extra bounce and zip. With the presence of the fast bowlers like Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel in their ranks, South Africa have the edge over the hosts in the pace bowling department and they stand a very good chance of going one-up in the series.”

I had made the above observation in my write-up captioned ‘South Africa on a mission to tame Aussies’ on December 7. I have been proved right. It’s South Africa, not Australia, having drawn the first blood in the series between the top two sides of the world at the moment.

The South Africans have done it in style. They did let Australia off the hook so many times during the game but they had the last laugh. Their bowlers did the job of dismissing the hosts two times but it were their batters in the second innings who stole the limelight. They won the game so comfortably in the end even while chasing a record target of 414 on Australian soil.

It was the second highest successful run-chase in the history of the game but the highest-ever in Australia. More than anything it was the self-belief of the South Africans that helped them rewrite the history.

The record-breaking performance of the South Africans at Perth has put them in a commanding position and it would come as no surprise if they wrap up the series in the very next Test.

The Australians, still the top ranked side, has had the knack of fighting back in the recent past but one should not lose sight of the fact that they are not the team they used be in the days of Steve Waugh, Mark Waugh, Justin Langer, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Their batting still has considerable depth and experience but the same cannot be said about their bowling.

The South Africans are ideally poised to apply further pressure on the Aussies and knock them down in their own backyard. Ricky Ponting and his men would be eyeing a comeback in the series but the momentum is with Greame Smith who is leading his team by example.

It was the skipper himself who set up the record chase. His positive outlook yielded the results. He had lost his opener partner Neil McKenzie early on but he kept attacking and his brilliant hundred kept his teammates motivated. They were on a mission to accomplish something never done before.

At the start of their innings it was hard to imagine South Africa could get to the target of 414. But Smith’s 108 had brought the target down to 187 with seven wickets in hand, something that looked achievable.

A B de Villiers played the innings of his lifetime on the final day and he got the desired support from the vastly experienced Jacques Kallis and the debutant Jean-Paul Duminy. Their combined effort took South Africa to the record target and Duminy, playing in the place of the injured Ashwell Prince, had the satisfaction of hitting the winning runs.

It was quite extraordinary to find the South Africans reach the target with remarkable ease in the end. Mark Boucher looked tense padded up but he was not even required to bat. A magnificent unbeaten from the ever-improving de Villiers and an equally important half century by Duminy prevented any panic and the historic match was won so comprehensively by the visitors.

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December 18, 2008

Sehwag indeed made the difference at Chennai


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It’s not often that someone having scored an eighty is adjudged the Man of the Match ahead of two centurions. In fact England’s Andrew Strauss had scored a century in each innings and India’s Sachin Tendulkar had played probably the innings of his lifetime, scoring an unbeaten century in the second innings to guide his team to a famous victory in the first Test at the M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.

But what a great decision it was to declare Virender Sehwag as the Man of the Match because primarily it was his dazzling knock of 83 on the fourth evening that laid the foundation for an Indian win when chasing a target of 387 on a wearing track.

It was very sporting of the Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni to acknowledge in his brief chat during the presentation ceremony that it was Sehwag’s innings that prompted his team to think in terms of a victory rather than settling for a draw.

It’s hard to imagine that India would have even entertained hopes of attempting a victory when their openers went out to start the second innings. Mind you the England captain, Kevin Pietersen, had declared the innings. Obviously he must have thought that the target of 387 in the fourth innings of the game was next to impossible to attain even for the best batting side in the world.

Had Pietersen any doubt or reservations in his mind he would have instructed his lower-order batsmen to occupy the crease for a longer period of time. Ideally he might have wanted to set a target of 400 but he didn’t delay the declaration once the ninth wicket fell.

Only two results had looked possible when he took out his troops to the field in the final session of the fourth day. India could have been tipped to salvage a draw if the likes of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar spent long time at the crease to ward off the danger.

Although England had entered the game as the underdogs, they must have fancied their chances of going one-up in the series after having looked the better team on more than one count.An Indian win was theoretically possible but taking into account the ground realities it was least likely going to happen.

Everyone knew the capabilities of Virender Sehwag, who has scored not one but two triple centuries in Test cricket. He had won India numerous games in the past but was there anybody to believe that he would kickstart the big chase in such brilliant fashion.

The conditions were not ideal for batting. The England bowlers and fielders had their tails-up. They sensed victory. They would have hated to think in terms of letting India escape with a draw. The momentum was with the visitors as they thought that they had the hosts on the mat.

All it took was another Sehwag special and the mission impossible starting looking probable. He took the fight to the England camp by hammering their bowlers to all parts of the park from the outset. His flurry of boundaries made the mockery of the plans Pietersen had up his sleeves.

Sehwag’s sixes and fours changed the entire complexion of the game and by the time he was adjudged leg before, India had reasons to believe that a victory for them was now a possibility. He deserved a hundred but as we found out his 83 had done enough damage to the confidence of the England bowlers who appeared to have lost their self-belief in a matter of an hour or so.

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December 17, 2008

Tendulkar’s greatest innings yet


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It was Sachin Tendulkar’s 41st Test hundred. The great man has played many outstanding innings in his long and illustrious career nearing two decades now. But I don’t think any of his past knocks could match the greatness of one he played at the M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on the fifth and final day of the first Test against England.

Nothing succeeds like success. Tendulkar has thoroughly deserved all the records having come his way but a match-winning innings had become long overdue from him. He rose to the occasion to lead India to victory while chasing a mammoth target of 387 on a wearing pitch.

It was the kind of dominating innings that must have pleased his fans immensely all over the world. He has a global fan following and there had always been an air of disappointment whenever he perished without accomplishing the task.

What an innings he played. He was in total control of the situation from the moment he set his feet at the ground. It was not the best of starts for India on the final day with Rahul Dravid, who has been the architect of so many famous victories recorded by India in the recent past, falling cheaply for the second time in the match.

The M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai had witnessed Tendulkar play a couple of fabulous innings in the past as well. His knock of 155 against an Australian attack having Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne in the series-decider was a truly an outstanding effort. His magnificent century against Pakistan in the 1998-99 series has also been talked of very highly even though it came in a lost cause.

But the century he has scored against England surpasses all his previous accomplishments. India needed him to fire to be able to chase a target of the magnitude of 387, a feat never achieved before.

He was involved in three productive partnerships all of which had their significance in setting up the win for India. First he was associated in a third wicket stand with opener Gautam Gambhir that kept the momentum going even after the early departure of Dravid.

VVS Laxman joined Tendulkar when Gambhir was dismissed. The England bowlers were looking threatening but neither Tendulkar nor Laxman got bogged down. Their attacking instincts kept the scoreboard moving which ensured that the asking rate never became an issue.

The real test for Tendulkar came, however, when Laxman left the scene very early in the afternoon session. It was the fourth wicket to fall and India were still 163 runs away from their target.

In came Yuvraj Singh, known more for his flamboyance than patience. The presence of an assured Tendulkar at the other end allowed Yuvraj to play his natural game that prevented England from applying the pressure.

Tendulkar was as solid as a rock but he never went into a shell. The boundaries did not come all that regularly with Kevin Pietersen deploying defensive fields but the strike was rotated once too often to unsettle the bowlers.

Tendulkar played some crisp strokes off his legs without taking chances. He was equally fluent in driving anything pitched outside his off-stump. He did also take the aerial route once or twice but they were calculated risks and didn’t do any damage.

The smile on the face of Tendulkar after hitting the boundary that brought up his 41st Test hundred said it all. Most importantly it was also the stroke that took India to a famous victory.

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December 16, 2008

Dhoni’s boys rewrite history at Chennai


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

History was rewritten at M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on December 15 when India successfully chased down a target of 387 in the last session of the fifth and final day of the first Test against England.

It was a day to remember for everyone watching the action. Sachin Tendulkar probably played the innings of his lifetime and Yuvraj Singh kept his company until the end as their 163-run unbroken fifth wicket stand allowed India to win the game very comfortably in the end.

The foundation for the successful chase was, however, laid by Virender Sehwag. His whirlwind knock of 83 on the fourth evening forced England in a defensive mindset. His onslaught from the outset did not allow the bowlers to settle down and with the century of the opening partnership raised in a jiffy there was all the time in the world to knock off the remaining runs.

The contribution of Sehwag’s partner, Gautam Gambhir, was equally important. His brilliant knock of 66 allowed India to recover from the losses of the belligerent Sehwag and the struggling Rahul Dravid.

By the time Gambhir lost his wicket, Tendulkar was well set and he took the responsibility of rebuilding the innings on his shoulders. VVS Laxman looked in sublime form before perishing early in the afternoon session.

The game was wide open when Yuvraj, making a comeback in the team, joining Tendulkar with 163 still needed in nearly two sessions. With quite a few balls misbehaving and the spinners extracting appreciable turn, batting was a tricky proposition if not a nightmare on the wearing fifth day pitch.

History was not on the Indian side either. They had made better starts while chasing larger totals only to fall short at the fag end quite a few times in the past. The big chase at The Oval in 1979 came into mind when India finished nine runs short while chasing a target of 438 after being 366 for one at one stage with the duo of Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar in complete command of the situation.

Vengsarkar had spearheaded another memorable chase, against Pakistan at the Feroz Shah Kotla Ground, New Delhi in 1979, but the Indians couldn’t finish it off and settled for a draw. India had squandered golden opportunities at Chennai’s M A Chidambaram Stadium as well. Set a challenging target of 348 by Allan Border on the final day of the first Test in the 1986-87 series, the Indians appeared coasting towards a comfortable win after the good work of their top-order batsmen. But they lost their way against the unfancied Australian spinners and the end result was a tie.

Then in the first Test of the 1998-99 series against Pakistan, it was Sachin Tendulkar’s fighting hundred that brought India at a striking distance towards their target on the fifth and final day. But in one of the most dramatic turnarounds of all time India lost the match from a winning position.

Nothing of this sort happened at the M A Chidambaram Stadium on December 15, 2008 with the Indians finally able to press home the advantage. It was the fourth highest successful run chase in Test history and the highest ever on the Indian soil.

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December 14, 2008

Bangladesh fans denied pleasure of watching ‘Sensational’ Mendis


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The news of Ajantha Mendis, the Sri Lankan spinning sensation, breaking down in a domestic match that has ruled him out of the upcoming Test series in Bangladesh, must have aroused mixed feelings there.

The cricket-crazy community in Bangladesh must have felt disappointed at having been denied the pleasure of the mysterious spinner unfold his great skills in the Test matches but at the same time their team management would have heaved a sigh of relief for he was one bowler who could have tormented them the most in the two Tests.

Mendis injured his right ankle while bowling for the Army Sports Club in what was his first match of the domestic season against Tamil Union. The ankle was strained and besides undergoing treatment he has also been advised rest.

The Sri Lankan Physio, Ranjith Nanayakkarawasam, has confirmed that the injury will take at least three to four weeks to heal meaning that Mendis was out of the Bangladesh Tests starting from December 26. He, however, is expected to be fit for the ODI tri-series due to commence there on January 10.

What an impact Ajantha Mendis has made in his brief international career so far. He has an outstanding record in both forms of the game and more importantly he has provided his team another attacking option.

With the champion off-spinner Mutiah Muralitharan at the twilight of his career, Sri Lanka needed someone to stand up and show the promise to take up the challenge in the future. The start to the career of Mendis suggests that Sri Lanka would be winning matches as frequently, if not more, in the years to come as well.

Mendis has shown the capability to win matches on his own. He has remained a mystery for the batsmen, who have been confused and amused while tackling him. He turns the ball both the ways and it’s not at all easy to read his fingers at the time of the delivery.

He seems to have the potential to extend his phenomenal record in all forms of the game. With so much of variations in his bowling, he would be as lethal in Test matches as the limited overs games.

He has already proved the point that he possesses the big match temperament. He is the one who doesn’t get overawed by the big names. That’s why he succeeded in bamboozling the famed Indian batting line-up who had the reputation of encountering the greatest of spinners with ease.

But Mendis, in his maiden Test series, devastated the Indians. He took as many as 26 wickets at 18.38 in the three games and he was literally unplayable. He was chiefly responsible for scripting the series win for Sri Lanka against their fancied opponents in possession of the most formidable batting line-up in the world.

The manner in which Mendis destroyed the Indian batsmen there is little doubt in one’s mind that he would be breaking many long standing records.

The one record that is most certain to fall in his lap is the fastest 50 wickets in One-day Internationals. Having snared 48 wickets in 18 matches he has all the time in the world to erase Ajit Agarkar’s name who had done it in 23 matches.

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December 11, 2008

Will West Indies rediscover form in New Zealand?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The West Indians have arrived in New Zealand and they are currently engaged in practice sessions. It’s not an easy time for the West Indian cricket. They need to rediscover their form in order to come to terms with the hosts, who are always a force to reckon with in their own backyard.

Although the New Zealanders are currently rated behind the West Indies in the ICC Test rankings they can move up the ladder with creditable performance in the upcoming series.

If the lack of coordination and the absence of fighting spirit in the last month’s ODI series against Pakistan at Abu Dhabi are taken as indicators then the West Indies are likely to slide further. It was amazing to find them getting whitewashed in the three-match series in which the result could easily have been the other way round.

The West Indians have three immensely gifted batsmen in Chris Gayle, Shivnaraine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan who have proven track record in international cricket. Even this fancied trio could not get the West Indians off the mark in Abu Dhabi against an opponent that was itself short of quality stuff.

Let us see how they turn it around in the chilly weather conditions of New Zealand where the ball moves more appreciably than anywhere else in the world with the possible exception of England during early summer.

The West Indians, as they showed most recently in Abu Dhabi, do have a penetrative pace attack but what they lack is discipline. Fielding, specifically catching, is the area they need to improve a lot to win matches. The fast bowlers had created the chances in the one-dayers but the sloppiest of fielding let them down.

If the catches are held or rather not dropped as regularly as they were in the series against Pakistan, the West Indian fast bowlers could still make things happen. Nearly all of them are proficient in moving the ball so it will be a matter of controlling them to get the results.

The New Zealanders are themselves short of confidence after the hammering they received at the hands of Australia very recently. As usual they have incorporated changes in their line-up in a bid to start their rival.So the series between New Zealand and the West Indies is actually going to be a battle between two teams who have struggled in the recent past and both of them are eager to erase the bitter memories.

On paper the West Indians, primarily on the basis of experience, appear to be having an edge over the hosts. But one cannot ignore the home advantage that could indeed prove decisive in the contests between two struggling outfits.

The upcoming games between New Zealand and the West Indies could prove close and exciting but I am not sure if the quality of cricket would be all that high. Anyways the main cause of concern for the New Zealand administrators would be drawing big crowds and they may succeed in the presence of some big time entertainers both the teams.

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December 10, 2008

India capable of trouncing England in both Tests


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The two-Test series between India and England, whose fate was hanging in balance following the mayhem in Mumbai, is all set to get underway on its original date of December 11 with the England squad finally having set their feet in India after having practice sessions in Abu Dhabi.

The resumption of international cricket in India augurs well for the immediate future of the game with so many events lined up. Hopefully the Indians will also cross the border next month for the much-awaited tour of Pakistan.

The Indians, under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, have hit a purple patch during the ongoing season, having routed Australia 2-0 in the four-Test series to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy before whitewashing England 5-0 in the shortened series of the One-day Internationals. India were on course of a 7-0 win and it was only the abandonment of the last two ODIs that prevented them from doing it.

England appeared to have run out of ideas in the ODI series. Even their dynamic skipper Kevin Pietersen was unable to control the damage. He should not be blamed either because he clearly lacked the resources to contain the home side in the kind of form they were in. Hardly has India ever played such brilliant cricket in the past.

England would be committing a mistake if they consider India a less potent force in Test matches. The momentum at the moment is with India and it’s extremely unlikely that they could be contained with the kind of arsenal England possess at the moment.

The approach of the current Indian team looks so refreshing. With the leadership having been passed over to Dhoni in all forms of the game, their supporters can expect more fireworks from the team in the upcoming two Tests.

It would come as a big surprise if India won’t win both the matches against England. The Australians, being the number one team of the world for so long, had the guns to save two of the four Tests but this England side has to play much above its potential to cause an upset.

The kind of combination India have developed of late it has become a very tall order for any of their opponents to contain them. The intensity of this present team hardly drops and their body language remains so positive even when things are not going their way. Unlike the past they are not in the habit of losing their focus, allowing them to stage a comeback successfully after a lean spell or a barren session.

The venue of both the Test matches has been changed due to security reasons. But that shouldn’t deter the home side from extending their glorious run. They have the capacity to overwhelm England on all kind of pitches in any corner of the world, let alone doing it on their own grounds.

The Indians will be playing their first series after the retirement of Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble that provides them the opportunity of inducting a couple of exceptionally talented youngsters without losing any of their brute force.

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December 9, 2008

World hockey mourns death of Brigadier Atif


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The legendary figure of Brigadier Syed Manzoor Hussain Atif, whose name became synonymous with the Pakistan hockey due to his very long stint with the game, passed away on December 8 in Rawalpindi, the historic town neighbouring capital Islamabad. He had turned 81 only the other month.

I have come to know about his demise while in Islamabad on Eid vacations. It’s indeed a very sad day for the world hockey in general and the Pakistan hockey in particular. He’s the man around whom the Pakistan hockey revolved not only for years but for decades.

Brig Atif, however, was not actively associated with the game during the last few years of his life. He was laid low by the growing health problems that had also restricted his travel.

In fact Brig Atif had very reluctantly regretted attending the grand reception in the honour of his mentor and icon Air Marshal Nur Khan in March 2007. He was invited as one of the keynote speakers for the dinner-reception organized by the Brotherhood Sports Society of Pakistan (BSSP), whose President, Waqar Hasan, a former Test cricketer, was very keen to have all the central figures of the Air Marshal Nur Khan team there.

The night was memorable in which the likes of Anwar Ahmad Khan, Jahangir Khan, Javed Miandad and Islahuddin had recalled their experiences of working with the great Air Marshal Nur Khan. But we missed Brig Atif who, I reckon, possessed the most intimate of relationships with the Air Marshal and it was their joint action that brought so much glory for Pakistan.

Brig Atif was a strong willed man whose result-oriented approach also made him somewhat ruthless at times. But he was not afraid of undue criticism. He made some tough calls but they were generally in the larger interest of the game.

Records aside, Brig Atif’s services to the game of hockey in Pakistan cannot be adequately described in words. He stands heads and shoulders above any other individual as far as the contribution to the Pakistan hockey is concerned. He did not believe in half measures and his commitment was total.

Brig Atif had entered the hockey arena in a role of a full-back. After having played for the country in as many as four editions of the Olympic Games, he undertook the managerial responsibilities before devoting his energies to the administration. He had become the centre-forward of the Pakistan hockey affairs and remained in this position for quite sometime with remarkable success.

Obviously, like any other human being in this planet, he also committed mistakes or even blunders during his long career. But mostly they appeared to be errors of judgment and seldom did his integrity was put into doubt.

One incident I am reminded of had occurred in 1988. Pakistan had crashed to defeat in one of the Test matches at the Hockey Club of Pakistan Stadium, Karachi, and a section of the crowd was chanting slogans against the national team.

My photojournalist colleague at The Frontier Post, Morrison Bhatti, had a great sense of humour. After having shot a few snaps of the disgruntled fans he jokingly advised them to point their fingers on Brig Atif instead of targeting the players.

Morrison Bhatti, preparing to pack his lenses, was oblivious of the fact that Brig Atif was in fact standing right behind us, having overheard the conversation. Brig Atif was furious and some harsh words were exchanged. The scene could have become uglier but the interference of other media professionals helped cool down the emotions.

Morrison Bhatti, to register his protest, influenced some of the fellow photojournalists to boycott the reception the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) was hosting the same night. But Brig Atif was quick to respond and came all the way down to the media corps present ton the occasion to explain the situation that cleared the misunderstanding.

That was the great ability of Brig Atif. He knew exactly how to accomplish his goals. He tackled the pressure-cooker situations with broad smile on his face. It’s very unlikely that the Pakistan hockey will ever produce an administrator of his class and caliber.

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December 8, 2008

Experimentation can bring further misery for New Zealand


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The New Zealand cricket has been harmed endlessly by the inconsistency of their movers and shakers. Every team in the world makes minor changes in their outfit once in a while but the frequency with which their selectors keep doing is mind boggling to say the least. Even wholesale changes could be acceptable if the idea is to rebuild but to make sweeping changes after literally every series or so doesn’t make any sense at all.

I am not sure why there is a culture of experimentation rampant in the New Zealand cricket for so long. There could have been an odd brainy or visionary individual whose passion was to try out new youngsters and he might have been the motivating force in implementing such an adventurous policy. But the manner in which almost every selection committee has treated its own cricketers so shabbily makes us think that they are probably not serious about the sport.

Cricket no doubt is a sport, the gentleman’s game to be specific. But the game of cricket was revolutionized in the 1970s by a man called Kerry Packer. With the greater number of broadcasters coming into play and the limited overs games becoming more and more popular it was no longer an amateur sport. It has become one of the most rewarding professions in many parts of the world.

Apparently the New Zealand cricket administrators have yet not been able to grasp the fact that they need a more professional approach in building their teams to stay in demand globally. New Zealand certainly has some disadvantages as compared to Australia, England or South Africa due to its extreme weather and also the distant location.

Under the circumstances the New Zealanders should have been more proactive because they were competing against heavy odds. Their inconsistent selection policy has only brought more miseries for them. They are one of those visiting teams the sub-continental countries are reluctant in hosting. They don’t pull crowds because they lack the desired number of quality players in their squad. How would the quality players get the opportunity of unfolding their talents when they are discarded after just one failure.

It will be in the interests of the New Zealand cricket if their selectors take a leaf out of the book of other leading nations who have managed their affairs admirably in the given scenario. Everyone has a problem or two up their sleeves but better managers handle them skillfully to get out of the mess. Is it easy to pick up teams in countries like Australia and India who currently face embarrassment of riches. The answer is no. But they have devised means that are working with the common denominator being common sense.

There hardly seems dearth of talented cricketers in New Zealand. It’s only the questionable approach of the selectors that has prevented them from producing the stalwarts like Glenn Turner, Richard Hadlee, John Wright and Martin Crowe. Their system can produce outstanding players if their talented youngsters are provided the confidence.

There is absolutely no element of surprise in finding changes in the New Zealand line-up for the upcoming home series against the West Indies. Unlike the 1980s and early part of the 1990s the visitors from the Caribbean are themselves not in good shape but some elementary mistakes from the New Zealand selectors could give them a lifeline.

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December 7, 2008

South Africa on a mission to tame Aussies


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The upcoming three-Test series between Australia and South Africa is a mouth-watering prospect for the cricket enthusiasts. Being played in the festive season of Christmas and New Year it should generate tremendous interest Down Under and beyond.

South Africa are running high on confidence and they have every reason to belief that they have the guns to silence the Australian juggernauts who have been ruling the world for a very long time now.

The contest between the top two ranked sides of the world at present will be watched with great interest in every nook and corner of the globe. The only not so pleasant aspect of the series is that it is limited to just three Tests.

With the game’s administrators eager to sandwich more limited overs games than ever before in pursuit of quick bucks, the Test cricket is obviously the sufferer. The number of Tests is being reduced and it’s quite disappointing to find a series of just two Test matches getting wider acceptance.

What the cricket chiefs so conveniently ignore is the fact that in some cases the Test matches can create greater interest and hence bring in more revenue that is the bottom line these days.

What a pity that the Test series between the top two sides of the planet will be limited to only three Tests. It can still produce fireworks, excitement, tension and drama but it may not match the grace and dignity of a full five-Test series.

The worst part of a three-Test series is that the team drawing the first blood gets huge advantage and conversely the loser of the opening game has limited opportunity to bounce back in the series. That’s why very rarely the teams having conceded the first Test have gone on to the clinch a three-match series.

Unlike the past, it could be the Australians at the receiving end this time round. The first Test is to be played at Perth where the pitch is known to have extra bounce and zip. With the presence of the fast bowlers like Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel in their ranks, South Africa have the edge over the hosts in the pace bowling department and they stand a very good chance of going one-up in the series.

I agree with the South African skipper Graeme Smith that his side has the best chance of winning the series in Australia, a feat yet not accomplished.

Besides having a lethal pace attack, capable of destroying any batting attack, South Africa have an established opening pair and two of the world’s best all-rounders in Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher.

The Australian pace trio of Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark could have their work cut out against the experienced South African batters who are also quite used to getting runs on bouncy strips. With no Shane Warne to worry them, the South African batsmen will not mind slow or even spinning wickets either.

Similarly the likes of Mathew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds, who have scored prolifically in the recent past, may find life much tougher in the middle against South Africa’s spirited pace attack.

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December 5, 2008

Golden opportunity for Yuvraj Singh to cement place in Test side


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The resumption of England’s tour to India has gladdened the hearts of millions of cricket enthusiasts all over the world but one man to whom this could mean he most is none other than the mercurial Yuvraj Singh.

The enterprising left-hander, who has had an outstanding ODI series, has been rewarded by the selectors as he has found his way in the Test squad for the two-Test series against England starting on December 11.

It’s a golden opportunity for Yuvraj, having phenomenal record in the limited overs games, to cement a place in the Test side. He has been deemed as the natural successor to the now retired former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly.

There are quite a few similarities between Yuvraj and Ganguly. Both of them believe in taking the attack to the opposition. India certainly needs an explosive matter at number six following the grafters of the caliber of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman all of whom are experts in playing long innings.

Yuvraj hasn’t enjoyed yet the kind of consistency that was being expected from him in the limited opportunities having coming his way. To be fair with him, he was not given a long enough run to settle in the team.
Obviously it was not easy to walk into the middle-order already having four world class batsmen. He was drafted in the playing even only when one of the fabulous four was struggling for form or fitness.

With Ganguly having now retired, Yuvraj should not have the pressure of being there just for an interim period. If he fires in the Test matches in the manner he has done in One-day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals there is no reason why he should be a regular member of the Indian Test team for a number of years.

There are two major factors in Yuvraj’s favour now and he should make the most of them. Number one the retirement of Ganguly takes the press off his head. He can be assured of a place in the Test side now if he keeps scoring prolifically.

Number two he has been in exceptional form during the past few weeks. He was absolutely magnificent in the one-dayers having blasted back to back hundreds. He finds himself in a very good position now to carry this terrific form into the Test matches. He should fancy his chances of dominating the same set of England bowlers in the two Tests as well.

It’s just a matter of putting things together for Yuvraj. If he plays his natural aggressive cricket without losing his composure he looks all set for big scores in Test cricket too. He has tremendous potential and he needs to improve his Test record. He deserves better figures than 1050 runs in 23 games spread over a period of five years.

The kind of attacking cricket the Indians have been playing lately Yuvraj fits perfectly in their plans. He has a great opportunity to prove to the world that he has the talents to succeed in the longer version of the game too.

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December 3, 2008

New Zealand’s inexperience costs them dearly in Australia


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

There was hardly any element of surprise in watching New Zealand getting whacked by Australia in the just concluded two-Test series. The Aussies were as ruthless as ever in the second Test at the Adelaide Oval after having struggled a bit to put their acts together in the first Test at the Gabba, Brisbane, which they didn’t win as convincingly as they would have expected.

New Zealand had escaped punishment in the first Test primarily because the Australians were returning from a tough tour of India where they had been at the receiving for most of the time in the four Tests.

Australia entered the first Test against New Zealand without getting a proper break after that demanding tour which must have been at the back of their minds. But it was their good fortune that they were to tackle a team from New Zealand that was short of experience.

The Australians won the first Test by 149 runs on the fourth morning. By the time they moved into top gear in the second Test the margin became much wider. The inexperience of the New Zealanders was brutally exposed at the Adelaide Oval where they were hammered by an innings and 62 runs.

New Zealand have slumped to the eighth position in ICC Test rankings after losing both the Test matches in Australia. They are only ahead of only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe the two bottom ranked outfits in world cricket for quite sometime.

New Zealand’s defeat at the hands of Australia should hardly surprise anybody. Neither is there any surprise in finding them at the third last position in the ICC rankings. The New Zealand cricket has functioned in a way leaving doubts in many minds.

The most surprising aspect, however, is the statement of one of their former captains and a batting great, Martin Crowe, who has called for a complete overhaul of the way New Zealand are managed.

Changing and chopping has been the way of life in the New Zealand cricket. They have hardly ever given the desired run to their talented youngsters, putting them under undue pressure with the inconsistent selection policies.

They have discarded their players far too quickly, not allowing a team to settle down. Blooding the youngsters can be described as a move in the forward direction but they cannot justify sidelining them after just a few matches.

New Zealand, for the past many years, have produced more of bits and pieces cricketers rather than specialists. Daniel Vettori was handed over a team to combat the mighty Australians without any depth in batting. Besides the skipper only medium-pacer Chris Martin and wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum had proper experience of Test cricket.

How did their cricket authorities expect to compete with the Australians while fielding as many as eight players in the playing eleven having negligible experience.
I am not sure how influential was the outgoing coach John Bracewell in the selection matters but Martin Crowe has blasted him.

"We've put a coaching regime in place and they have got in the way of the development of these talented cricketers. The last five years have been probably the most destructive to our game in the history of our game," Crowe was quoted as saying.

Let us see how much difference their new coach, Andy Moles, who takes over ahead of this month's home series against West Indies, is able to make with the available resources.

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December 2, 2008

Brett Lee: The most lethal fast bowler in world cricket


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

What a fascinating sight it is to watch Brett Lee steaming in and deliver a thunderbolt that has the batsman ducking or swaying. And if the length is fuller and the line straighter the batsman is into a hurried shot to prevent his stumps from going to a walk.

There are very few genuine fast bowlers in the business today. Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar may have been the quickest of the lot but he has missed more matches than actually having played in the recent past for different reasons.

New Zealand’s Shane Bond was extremely lethal but he suffered injuries at regular intervals. Steve Harmison of England generated enormous pace but his inconsistency with line and length led to his ouster from the side. Fidel Edwards of the West Indies remained an awkward proposition with his fiery pace but he has also been laid low by fitness problems.

There are two young fast bowlers who appear capable and fit enough to continue for the next few years, Dale Steyn of South Africa and Ishant Sharma of India. We should be hearing a lot about them for the years to come.

The most complete fast bowler on the scene at the moment, however, is the Aussie speedster Brett Lee. It’s great to see him operating at more than 140 kilometers an hour even on most docile of tracks. His intensity is always high and it are the tough characters like him that keep the team motivated in the most demanding of situations.
Lee is a lion-hearted cricketer. He has taken the responsibility of spearheading the Australian attack after the retirement of Glenn McGrath who was a master of line and length.
Lee doesn’t possess the accuracy of McGrath but he has more pace to frighten the batsmen.

Obviously it’s not easy to intimidate the batters of the class of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid on any kind of surface but he has shown the skills to test them.
He had looked impressive in patches in the Test series in India, in the absence of real support from the other end, but he is back with his wicket-taking habits on the home turf.

The pitch at the Adelaide Oval, where the second Test against New Zealand was wrapped up inside four days, was as slow as any pitch in India but Lee and company dismissed the visitors cheaply two times.
Lee picked up four wickets in the first innings to limit the New Zealanders to a paltry 270 on a perfect batting strip where’s Australia average first innings score during the past 10 years was in the excess of 500.

It needed the heroics of wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, besides the grit of Michael Clarke, to earn a sizeable lead for Australia and the platform was set for having another crack at the New Zealanders.

Lee was taken for 17 runs in an extended first over during which he overstepped three times when New Zealand came out to negotiate nine overs on the third evening. The openers, Jamie How and Aaron Redmond, survived the fiery burst from Lee and company.

But it was a different story on the fourth morning when Lee ripped their top-order with a sensational spell. Although he was hit for a few runs by Brendon McCallum, fast running out of partners, he did pick up his fifth wickets of the innings.

Lee’s return to top form augurs well for Australia who prepare themselves for a tougher challenge against South Africa. They will need Lee to fire if they are to dominate their formidable opponents.

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December 1, 2008

Brad Haddin comes of age at the Adelaide Oval


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Sunday crowd at the Adelaide Oval could not have wished for a more entertaining holiday package. Australia’s new wicketkeeper-batsman Brad Haddin obliged them with a delightful maiden Test hundred that would go a long way in cementing his place in the star-studded side.

What a sight it was watching Adam Gilchrist stand and applaud what indeed was a very special hundred. It could be the first of the many centuries that are to flow from the blade of Haddin.

The expectations are far too high from the Haddin not only because he is representing Australia but the main reason is that he has taken over from a man called Gilchrist who is considered as the greatest-ever wicketkeeper-batsman in the history of the game.

Life could not be easy for anyone succeeding a genius like the legendary Gilchrist. Haddin has needed only nine Tests to register first Test hundred but it looks like ages if you compare it with the high standards set by Gilchrist.

Haddin had not fared all that badly with the bat in his earlier eight Tests either but a batting average of just over 26 was considered ordinary because of the exploits of his predecessor.

It was in the fitness of things that Gilchrist was right there at the Adelaide Oval to celebrate the moment of triumph for his successor. The great sportsman that Gilchrist is, he was observed applauding the hundred as passionately as any other cricket fan.

Haddin’s maiden Test century would do his confidence a world of good and this could translate into many more hundreds in the next years as Australia remain one of the busiest sides around.

Trust me if Australia ever needed Haddin to fire was when he landed at the crease on the third morning of the second Test with the inexperienced New Zealanders right on top and threatening to run away with it.

Mike Hussey and Andrew Symonds had been dismissed in one Chris Martin over with the second new ball and the Australians were still 23 behind New Zealand’s first innings score of 270.Michael Clarke was well set but there was a danger of him running out of partners if the New Zealand bowlers made the most of the shining new ball. Enter Haddin with the pendulum having swung towards Daniel Vettori’s young side.

It was Haddin who turned it around with his aggressive batting. He did it in the Gilchrist style, believing that attack was the best form of defence. He toyed with the New Zealand bowling that was beginning to look lethal. His positive approach instilled greater confidence in Clarke who also started playing his strokes more freely.

Haddin has a reputation of being a smart thinker having displaying his qualities while captaining New South Wales (NSW). His decision to go after the New Zealand bowling was a calculated move and it worked.

His 181-run sixth wicket partnership with Clarke, who reached his fourth Test century, changed the complexion of the game. Clarke perished after scoring 110 but Haddin stayed on to blast 169. With the tail-enders firmly in control, he was in sight of a double hundred when he was plucked just inside the rope.

His belligerent knock allowed Australia to lift their score to 535, giving them a handy first innings lead of 265. As it turned out, the New Zealanders could not bat well under pressure to be bowled out for 203 in their second innings.

Haddin was very rightly chosen as Man of the Match as Australia won the game by an innings and 62 runs to wrap up the two-Test series 2-0.

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November 27, 2008

Sehwag’s brilliance knocks England over at Cuttack


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Although India’s skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, credited his bowlers for engineering the win over England in the fifth One-day International at Cuttack that allowed the hosts to move into 5-0 lead but in my opinion the exhilarating knock of opener Virender Sehwag settled the issue.

270 wasn’t a modest total by any stretch of imagination on a pitch where the bounce was variable. The dew factor did create problems for the bowlers in gripping the ball but there was plenty in the wicket to keep them interested.

It would have been a different ball game altogether, had India not got off to a flying start through their tried and trusted opening pair. Sehwag in particular was in his typically devastating mood.

Sehwag’s awesome batting display overshadowed even the genius of Sachin Tendulkar who kept the scoreboard ticking over from his end too. Together they built a platform from where India could have lost only due to self-destruction.

The 136-run opening partnership meant that more than half of the target was achieved and since the runs had come at a very brisk pace there were far too many overs available for the incoming batsmen to get their eyes in.

The start becomes so vital while chasing a big target. It could have been a different story to relate if the Indian openers had consumed overs in settling down and then one of them or both of them had perished without making a worthy contribution.

When Sehwag is on song every bowling attack looks ordinary. The trio of Stuart Broad, Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison were put to sword once more. They bowled well but they were unable to prevent the belligerent opener from playing in the manner he desired.

It was another Sehwag show basically that powered India to a six-wicket triumph with more than half a dozen overs to spare. His 73-ball 91 was a treat to watch. It was perfect entertainment for the crowd.

Another century for the master blaster was there for the taking. But a cruel umpiring decision denied him the milestone he so richly deserved. He was on top of the bowling from the word go. To have done so against a decent fast bowling attack and that too on a double-paced wicket was quite an accomplishment.

Sehwag is in the middle of a purple patch and his timing of strokes is something out of this world. His hand-eye coordination is second to none and the manner in which he blasts the fastest of bowlers is a treat to watch.

Tendulkar was castled just after completed another masterful half-century. He was undone by Harmison’s change of pace after having executed a series of delightful shots on either side of the wicket.

Tendulkar’s departure brought in Yuvraj Singh to the middle and there was anticipation for more fireworks. But Yuvraj came and went quickly and when Sehwag was also given out the very next ball there was a glimmer of hope for England.

But skipper Dhoni and left-handed Suresh Raina batted very sensibly and their solid half-centuries ensured another comfortable victory for the hosts. Dhoni was at the receiving end of yet another rough decision from the umpire as he was long way out of the crease when adjudged leg before.

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November 26, 2008

Pakistan’s controversial cueist Saleh Mohammad calls it a day


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Saleh Mohammad has had a stormy career. This immensely gifted cueist has made Pakistan proud more than once but he has also been involved in uncalled for controversies.

His recent decision to call it a day rather abruptly doesn’t make sense. He has been the country’s most prolific cueist at the international level for the past many years. He was still doing well but he has decided to withdraw himself from the national snooker circuit due to personal reasons.

Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, President, Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), disclosed that the veteran cueist had verbally informed about his plans to quit the game.

“Saleh, who represented the country in the recently concluded IBSF World Snooker Championship in Wels, Austria, informed us the other day that he was not in a position to continue playing the game due to family and financial reasons. We tried to convince him to play for a few more years but he felt that his business interests might get hurt by doing so,” the PBSA President revealed.

“We advised Saleh to submit a declaration in writing in this regard or publicly announce his retirement so that his name could be removed from the national ranking chart. We are yet to hear from him despite having called him on his cell a few times,” Alamgir Shaikh added.

The PBSA President admitted that Saleh’s absence would create a vacuum as he has had the reputation of being a world-beater.“There is no doubt about the class of Saleh. He established himself as one of the leading amateur cueists of the world, having toppled some of the big guns during his illustrious career,” he noted.

He agreed that there was no lack of performance or inconsistency in form on part of Saleh even of late.The PBSA, the governing body of the game in the country, had always backed Saleh having bailed him out on numerous occasions. He should have had the courtesy to consult the administrators of the game before making such an important decision.

Saleh has had outstanding record during the current year. He rewrote history by becoming the first player to score a maximum 147-point break at the Asian Championship in Dubai earlier this year.

He extended his brilliant form in the inaugural Sangsom 6-Red Snooker International held in Bangkok, Thailand, just a few months later. He went down fighting in the pre-quarter-finals but earned the distinction of recording the maximum break of 75 in the quickest time. He did it in just two minutes and 54 seconds.

Saleh, seeded second for the knockout stage of the competition following his sterling performance in the league matches, was ironically downed by Thailand’s Noppadon Noppachorn, the only amateur to have forced his way into the quarter-finals.

His greatest accomplishment, however, had come five years ago in China when he reach the final of the World Championship 2003 by winning 14 matches on a trot. His surprise defeat in the final denied him the title that he richly deserved. 1999 was another landmark year for Saleh when he completed a grand slam by winning all four national ranking tournaments.

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November 24, 2008

Will India make unnecessary changes to let England stage a comeback in ODI series ?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Indians have sealed the seven-match ODI series against England by winning the fourth game in Bangalore. It’s not often that India have won four matches on a trot, let alone doing it during the course of a series.

The lads are making the most of the experience they have gained by playing the Indian Premier League (IPL) last season. The super-fit Indians are proving just too much for the England side lacking in class and character.

Manhendra Singh Dhoni is in the process of enhancing his reputation every day. He has turned out to be a great captain who passes the impression of having full faith in the ability of his teammates.

The boys, as well as the men in the squad, continue to deliver with smiles on their faces. The body language says it all. Their shoulders never drop even when they are being taken for runs or suffer a batting collapse. They have a settled team now that has the potential and eagerness to rule the world.

But it looks as if the Indian cricket administrators are getting ready to induct some players who have not played in the ongoing ODI series. It very clearly means that some of those players having performed exceptionally well in the earlier games will be made to sit out.

This policy could backfire because they would be taking the risk of disturbing the combination that has been clicking as a unit. One is not sure if the changes would be made to accommodate some players and please the office-bearers of their respective state associations.

Compromising on the interests of the team doesn’t sound a noble idea. The players who are delivering need not be rested unnecessarily. The inconsistency in the Indian selection can provide the window of opportunity to England who have been laid low by a highly motivated and proactive unit.

One fails to understand the wisdom behind derailing the winning combination. The changes should only be made when somebody is not fit to play or he is having a lean time in the middle. Dropping the high performers in order to accommodate some of the fringe players doesn’t make much sense.

The Indians should have learnt from history. In the past they have often been guilty of experimenting just a bit too much at home that has allowed the visiting teams to stage a comeback from nowhere.

Will England be the latest beneficiary of such a move we will have to wait and see. There is still a possibility that the Indian selectors may continue fielding more or less the same team in the remaining games to attempt a whitewash in the series.

But if the selectors are pressurized by the concerned quarters and some unnecessary mare changes are made the 4-0 scoreline could very well become 4-3 in a matter of the next few days.The momentum is with India. They have dominated the first four games decisively and the series has been pocketed. The big question however is: Will their selectors succumb to the pressures of some of their own people or better sense will prevail?

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