November 3, 2008

What role new coach Intikhab Alam has to play?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The recent appointment of Intikhab Alam as the coach of the Pakistan cricket team has drawn mixed reaction. He has replaced Geoff Lawson, a former Australian fast bowler, whose contract was terminated abruptly by the new management in the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

Intikhab’s success or failure will depend on what kind of role he is assigned by the new PCB chief, Ijaz Butt. The buzz is that Shoaib Malik’s days as the captain are also numbered and that Intikhab may elevate someone else of his own choice to that position.

Obviously the captain plays the major role in implementing the policies of the coach in the field of play in the game of cricket. It’s the captain who has to take the decisions during the course of action. So it becomes vitally important to have the captain and the coach on the same wavelength.

Intikhab, if given the right to select his own captain, is more likely to replace Shoaib Malik rather than to retain him.

There is also a possibility that the PCB might not authorize the coach to have a captain of his own choice appointed at this moment. This is Pakistan cricket where everything and anything is possible. Shoaib Malik may lose the captaincy shortly or he may even continue for the next many years. Nobody knows. Nor can anyone predict.
Coming to Intikhab, he was known to be a defensive captain. Or in other words attack was never his forte while leading the team.

Only Ijaz Butt and his advisors in the PCB could know it best why a man of defensive mindset has been appointed the national coach at a time when the Pakistan team has been under fire for not playing positive cricket in the recent past.

Shoaib Malik has often been criticized for not having led from the front and not playing aggressive cricket. If aggression has to return to the Pakistan cricket there is very little chance of getting it with Intikhab Alam-Shoaib Malik combination.

Intikhab was certainly the coach of the national team that won the World Cup in 1992 under the inspiring leadership of Imran Khan. The entire world knows, however, what marginal role Intikhab was playing when Imran was at the helm of the affairs.

Imran used to call the shots throughout his stint as captain and the people he turned to for advice were believed to be Javed Miandad and Mudassar Nazar. Intikhab hardly ever came in the picture in matters relating to strategic plan.

Intikhab’s appointment as the coach has been greeted in some quarters more because of the exit of a foreigner than any cricket reason.

Lawson’s tenure didn’t last long. He had taken over at a difficult time for the team as well as the country. There was very little cricket played in his days and there was hardly an opportunity for him to unfold his talents. He had every reason to feel hard done by the PCB decision of not letting him complete the contractual period.

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ICL-IPL cooperation in India’s interest


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

In the boom that followed the triumph of Team India in the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup Cricket Tournament in South Africa last year, the Indian Cricket League (ICL) was launched to further promote the newest and the fastest version of the sport.

The ICL did not have the blessings of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and hence it was condemned as a ‘rebel’ affair. The International Cricket Council (ICC) took the word of the BCCI and the ICL was denied the official recognition. The other cricket boards were not in a position to annoy the BCCI either and the players participating in the ICL had to compromise on their international careers.

Only a few months later the BCCI came out with their own Twenty20 tournament by the name of the Indian Premier League (IPL) on the similar lines as the ICL.
If the ICL had proved a big success story despite the lack of support of the BCCI, the official IPL turned out to be a blockbuster.

What a season it had turned out for the Indian cricketers and their supporters. It was the perfect tonic to revitalize the game after the World Cup disaster in the Caribbean in early 2007.

The monumental success of both the ICL as well as the IPL from the outset made it clear that both these events were there to stay. The innovative idea of having Twenty20 leagues caught the imagination of the cricket-crazy India and their future looked secured.

It was being anticipated that the movers and shakers of the ICL and the IPL will settle their differences in the larger interest of the game in their own country but the same has not happened yet despite the mediation by the ICC.

The promoters of the ICL have been trying to convince the ICC to recognize their tournament but the governing body of the body has found itself in a very awkward situation.

The ICC, passing the impression of being an impartial supreme body, passed on the matter to the BCCI who were advised to get in touch with the ICL. From whatever little that has appeared in the media, the officials of the BCCI and the ICL remained deadlocked over the issue.

The cricketers contracted by the ICL are obviously concerned with the bans that have been imposed by their respective countries. These players can only be reconsidered for selection in their state or national outfits if the tournament is recognized by the ICC.

The BCCI, the IPL and the ICL have been doing a fantastic job for the promotion of the game. Their efforts have revived the game in India and the standard of cricket is improving every passing day.

It will be in their own interest to resolve the issue and let anyone promoting the game be encouraged not discouraged. The ICL is not organizing any baseball or rugby event. It’s cricket after all that’s benefiting. The lovers of the game are passionate about the Twenty20 League. Does it matter if it’s the IPL or the ICL.

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India let Australia off the hook at Delhi


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

How often we have watched India coming hard at their rivals in the cricket field and then letting them get away with it. This has been a regular feature of the Indian cricket. They have dominated the games without accomplishing the desired result.

India had done exceedingly well to post a total in the excess of 600 in their first innings, after having lost Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid very early. In fact both of them were back in the dressing room within the first hour and there were fears of the hosts getting bowled out for a low total after having opted to bat first at the Feroz Shah Kotla Ground, Delhi.

Double centuries from Gautam Gambhir and VVS Laxman allowed India to get on top of the bowling and a little cameo near the end from Mahendra Singh Dhoni ensured that the total of 600 was reached well before the close of play on the second day.

India, having knocked Australia over by a record margin in the second Test at Mohali, found themselves in position to seal the series in the third Test. The batsmen had set the platform and the bowlers, having looked so good in the previous game, were left to complete the job.

But history repeated itself over the next three days and India lost the grip on the match. In fact they had to battle it hard in the end to save the game. It’s not often that a team having amassed over 600 in the first innings found itself in danger of defeat. But nothing could be ruled out when it comes to the Indian cricket.

Not that the pitch was a graveyard for the bowlers on the Indians didn’t possess the resources to bowl Australia out twice on the last three days of the game. Speedsters Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, both of having bowled their heart out in the first two games, suddenly lost the venom and the intensity.

It was quite extraordinary to find the Indians bowling and fielding so leisurely. Coach Gary Kirsten had to concede that the dropped catches contributed as much as the unimpressive bowling in letting Australia off the hook.

Mind you the team India was playing against was Australia. They are a great side in all forms of the game even after the retirement of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist. They availed the chances that came their way and they must have been mighty pleased by the generosity of their hosts.

The Aussies, unlike the Indians, were proactive and they deserved the credit for having turned it around. Their batsmen applied themselves and their bowlers were bang on target. They did have a hole in the spin bowling department but the part-timers contributed their bit and skipper Ricky Ponting should not have any to reason to complain.

It’s staggering to note that Michael Clarke and Simon Katich, who bowl rarely at the international level, often find a way to run away with the prized Indian scalps.

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Champion leggie Kumble bows out on a high


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Many eyes witnessing the fifth and final day of the third Test between India and Australia at Feroz Shah Kotla Ground, Delhi, had to shed tears when Anil Kumble came out to lead the home side for the last time in his career.

The news about the retirement of Kumble was broken only when India had inched closer to safety. And from the moment the news was confirmed all eyes and cameras were focused on the champion leg-spinner who had done his country proud with his exploits on and off the field for the past 18 years.

With the emergence of outstanding young leg-spinners like Piyush Chawla and Amit Mishra it was being speculated that the master would be considering calling it a day sooner or later. But nobody had expected the decision to arrive during the course of a Test match.

It didn’t look a hasty decision, however. Kumble, in fact, has made a wise move in the larger interest of Indian cricket. With his left hand stitched around there was hardly any chance left for him to regain fitness before the start of the fourth and final Test in Nagpur in just a few days time.

His decision to quit makes life easier for the team management who can still stick to the combination of two fast bowlers and as many specialist spinners with Harbhajan Singh looking fit to play again.

But no praise could be too high for Kumble, whose record as the highest wicket-taker for India in Test matches should remain intact for the next many years. It was an emotional moment to see him bowl his last few overs in international arena.
He was as accurate as ever, extracting uneven bounce and keeping the batsmen guessing. No wonder he didn’t pick up any wicket in that brief spell despite beating the bat on a few occasions.

The Indian cricket will certainly miss Kumble. He was one of the toughest characters around. He didn’t turn the ball as much as the legendary Shane Warne or Mutiah Muralitharan but he was no less effective. He was a fierce competitor whose never-say-die approach helped considerably in lifting the morale of the team whenever it was down.

One criticism on Kumble has been his performance rather the lack of it in overseas matches. It’s unfair to blame him for the inconsistency of the Indians abroad. He certainly made the most of the favourable conditions on home pitches but he was hardly ever found wanting anywhere.

Kumble, like any other spin bowler, became more lethal when attacking. He obviously didn’t get the opportunity of testing the batsmen when the Indians didn’t have enough runs in the bank. He did prove less effective in games where India had to adopt defensive approach but he was one weapon trusted the most by his captains.

Kumble looked a gutsy captain but he refrained from taking undue risks. He handled the team very well on that demanding tour of Australia last season. He has left the scene on a high note with India leading 1-0 in the home series and looking confident for regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

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Pakistan’s glorious performance in Asian Beach Games


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan’s haul of seven medals in the recently held inaugural Asian Beach Games in Bali, Indonesia, has gladdened the hearts of the sports administrators of the country in particular. It has come as a very pleasant surprise for the Pakistan sports fraternity in general. The tally of medals included two gold, two silver and three bronze.

The wrestlers in particular have made the country proud by bringing home as many as four medals. Ghulam Haider captured the gold in the 65-kg weight category by overpowering Pahmi Pami Ginawan of Indonesia in the final.

Mohammad Ali had to settle with the silver after losing to Yun Seok Lee of South Korea in the 75-kg final while bronze medals were clinched by Usman Majeed and Mohammad Taseen in the 85-kg and the over 85-kg weight categories.
Pakistan’s other gold came in the handball event when they edged out Kuwait 2-1 in the final. In the earlier games they had registered victories over Japan, Indonesia and Qatar.

Pakistan also featured in the gold-medal kabaddi match but they were downed by arch-rivals India and had to be content with the silver.
Mohammad Imran Qureshi earned a bronze medal for the country in the 75-kg bodybuilding event after Khalid Ali had failed to advance in the finals of the 70-kg event.

The heartening performance of the Pakistan’s athletes in the Beach Games has provided the joy to the country’s sports fans that had not been coming their way for years.

The Pakistan Olympic Association (POA), whose President, General Syed Arif Hasan, has been proactive in bringing about the changes in the ranks of sports administration since taking over its leadership in 2004, deserves the credit for the success accomplished in the Asian Beach Games.

A firm believer in professional management, he has been particularly inclined towards training and grooming of the athletes, something that was non-existent or unheard of in the era before him. He has generated funds from the platform of the Pakistan Sports Trust (PST) to keep the POA and its affiliated units afloat.

His consistent policies are paying dividends now. He has been encouraging the innovative ideas and he was instrumental in facilitating the participation of the 41-member Pakistan squad in the first-ever Asian Beach Games.

The concept of Beach Games was new and it was quite refreshing to find Pakistan’s athletes adapting themselves better than their competitors. With the second Beach Games due to be held in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, in a couple of years time there is ample time at the disposal of the POA to work out a strategy that could yield even better results than the one in Bali.

The officials of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) are delighted by the success at Bali and they have planned to hold the Beach Games after every two years. In fact the venues of the next four editions have already been announced.

After Sultanate of Oman in 2010, the third Asian Beach Games will be staged in China in 2012 to be followed by one in Philippines in 2014 and in Thailand in 2016.
With the kind of success achieved in the inaugural event, should Pakistan not be getting ready to play host to the Beach Games in 2018?

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Tendulkar looking beyond Mount Everest


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Sachin Tendulkar may have taken more time and matches than anticipated while surpassing the tally of Brian Lara to become the leading run-getter in Test cricket but the manner in which he has batted in the home series against Australia suggests that this genius will continue ruling the game for a few more years.
It’s so fascinating to note that he still has the same hunger for runs as the one he had at the time of starting what has a already become a fabulous career around a couple of decades. It’s never easy to stay motivated after all the major records have landed in your lap.

Talking about records Tendulkar richly deserves each of them having come his way. After having proven his mettle in every corner of the world and against the toughest of oppositions, he is now the worthy record holder of the highest number of runs and centuries in One-day Internationals as well as Test cricket.

His records in ODIs are expected to stand for a very long time but the same cannot be said with conviction about his two major records in Tests. The Australian skipper, Ricky Ponting, is not very far behind and by the look of things he is unlikely to be out of the game in the near future.

Tendulkar has no immediate plans for retirement either. But unlike Ponting, he has been laid low by injuries once too often in the recent past. If the Indian maestro can take care of his fitness for a couple of years Ponting may find it difficult to overtake his record of centuries or runs.

Since both Australia as well as India keep playing Test cricket more frequently than any other nation we have a good contest in sight between these two of the greatest batsmen of the modern generation.

Tendulkar, having become the first batsman in the history of the game to cross the barrier of 12,000 Test runs, looks good for at least 3,000 more runs, fitness permitting. It may not be easy for Ponting to chase something around 15,000 because the Australians won’t let him play only for the record if his magical form eludes him any time.

Tendulkar must also be aware of the fact that Ponting has the capability to overtake him sooner than later if he doesn’t set a stiffer challenge for the Australian captain who has now even scored heavily on the Indian grounds where he had failed miserably in the past.

The Ponting threat could be one of the reasons of Tendulkar’s not thinking in terms of hanging his boots yet.

Well there is no valid reason for Tendulkar to quit any form of the game at this stage. He has been scoring runs of late as well. He may have cut his attacking instincts with the passage of time but the passion to succeed in every outing keeps him going. India possesses enough attacking batsmen in their ranks to let him play his technically correct game.

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