February 27, 2009

Ijaz Butt: Meeting the challenge with a smile


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

How often do you come across someone who keeps his cool and composure even when confronted with provoking remarks and that too in the media or at a public place where you are the centre of attraction?

There are very few individuals who have the capacity to absorb unkind remarks or face undue criticism for the faults of others. One needs to have nerves of steel and strength in character to cope with the hostilities hurled by people either having vested strengths or lack of knowledge about the subject.

The chairmanship of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is indeed a hot seat and it remains under the scrutiny of the media in particular and the masses in general because cricket is the most popular sport of the country by a big distance and every other person in the society considers himself or herself an expert of the game.

Ijaz Butt has taken over the leadership of the PCB only a few months ago. Having a proven record in the field of administration and management, besides being a former Test cricketer, he was supposed to be the best man for the position that had been lying vacant with the resignation of Dr Nasim Ashraf.

The cricket community heaved a sigh of relief when Ijaz Butt was appointed as the chairman because it was being demanded for a long time to have the affairs of the Board managed by a former Test cricketer.

These are still the early days in office for Ijaz Butt and one needs to wait for a year or so to draw a conclusion if he’s doing justice to the task or not. It’s very unprofessional to seek an explanation from him for the misdeeds of his predecessors or directly hold him accountable for the wrongdoings of his associates.

Since Ijaz Butt’s intentions appear positive there is more likelihood of him succeeding than not. He has those rare qualities of handling the pressure and rising to the occasion in the testing times. 

So far Ijaz Butt has fared rather well. Obviously there were challenges for him than opportunities when he took over but he has worked his way nicely and things are looking brighter than before.

It goes to his credit to have convinced the Australians to play Pakistan at a neutral venue. His initiatives have already resulted in the resumption of Test cricket in Pakistan after more than a year.

He should be commended for doing these two accomplishments in particular. Pakistan had not played a single Test in 2008, let alone hosting a game. Things looked gloomier when the Indians cancelled their tour to Pakistan for non-cricketing reasons. 

Ijaz Butt did the cause of the game a great service by persuading the Sri Lankans to tour Pakistan during the period when the Indians were due to play. There was Test cricket at last for the Pakistanis.

The Australians appeared reluctant to be engaged in a series with Pakistan in this part of the world but he managed to negotiate a successful deal as a result of which these two teams will soon be playing in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. 

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February 26, 2009

Younis Khan excels on pitch of his own choice


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It’s really childish to believe that the newly installed Pakistan captain, Younis Khan, had no say in the preparation of the pitch that very nearly produced a result on the final evening at the National Stadium, Karachi.

Equally bewildering was the statement of the Pakistan coach, Intikhab Alam, at the end of the second day in which he had blasted the curators for preparing a pitch where the Sri Lankans had piled up a huge total.

It’s an open secret that the curators had prepared the pitch in accordance with the guidelines from the Pakistan management that indeed included both Intikhab Alam as well as Younis Khan.

Obviously the home team desired a track that did not assist the spin bowling because Sri Lanka had a couple of great spinners in their folds. They didn’t dare putting their own batsmen to risk by ordering for a lively track with the procession that followed in the third One-day International at the Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore, still at the back of their minds.

When you don’t wish a pitch that doesn’t assist the spinners or fast bowlers then what else are you going to get other than a perfect batting strip. So why blame the ground staff if you yourself are short of confidence. It was Pakistan's first home Test in 16 months and they were not willing to take chances.

Intikhab Alam, it’s generally believed, had a go at the curators at the end of the second day because he was still unsure whether the home batsmen will be able to cope with the pressure after Sri Lanka had posted a mammoth total. 

Much to the satisfaction of the home batsmen, the pitch remained as docile on the last three days as it was on the first couple of days. Younis Khan was the major beneficiary, scoring a triple century. He was in fact eyeing Brian Lara’s record of 400 when play began on the final day.

The Pakistan skipper made the most of the favourable batting conditions before being finally dismissed after scoring 313, easily his highest Test score. The Sri Lankan bowlers faced greater embarrassment as wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal slogged them at will. He could have a gone on to score a triple century had the innings not been declared. 

Sri Lanka would not have hoped for conceding a first innings lead of 123 after having rattled 644 for 7. Pakistan declared at 765 for 6 and more drama was to follow in the afternoon. The visitors could have become the first team to lose a Test match after having 600 runs in the first innings.

Sri Lanka faced defeat after losing fifth wicket when still in the red. Pakistan were still in with a chance of pushing for a victory but the visitors played out the final overs to earn a draw. 

The lackluster captaincy of Mahela Jayawardene passed the impression that he had made a correct decision of giving up the leadership at the end of the tour. He did score a double century in the first innings but his body language in the field was not all that positive and his soft dismissal in the second outing didn’t help the cause of his team either.

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February 25, 2009

History repeats itself as India mauled at Christchurch


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Indians have done it again. They have surrendered once more to New Zealand when they were least expected to be at the receiving end. There was hardly any comparison between the two teams but the India lived to the reputation of gifting matches to New Zealand and the hosts emerged triumphant in the first Twenty20 International at the AMI Stadium, Christchurch.

Cricket is an unpredictable game and its shortest version can produce unexpected results. Yet the manner in which the Indians were outplayed in Christchurch suggested that even Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s boys are not prepared to bring about a change for the better yet.

Yes the Indian teams have struggled in New Zealand in the past as well. But did India ever possess such a dynamic set of cricketers who could win matches on their own. Without any shadow of doubt it’s the strongest-ever Indian outfit to have arrived in New Zealand. It had looked extremely unlikely that they would also suffer similar fate as the past Indian teams.

The Indians had escaped disaster in the one-off Twenty20 International in Colombo earlier in the month when they were rescued by the Pathan brothers after a horrible middle-order collapse.

The middle-order succumbed once more after a glorious start. One couldn’t have expected a brighter start as Virender Sehwag smashed three successive sixes in the opening over of the game. He had announced his arrival in New Zealand with his trademark aggressive instincts and his teammates should have derived inspiration from him.

India have been one team that relies heavily on their openers and the top-order batsmen because they cannot trust their luck of having a go in the death overs and getting away with it. More often than not they have scored briskly in the earlier part of the innings in the limited overs games only to be restrained in the final phase.

The failure of Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and skipper Dhoni derailed India’s progress and the Pathan brothers could not repeat their heroics of Colombo. It was left to number three Suresh Raina to anchor the innings and he did the job to the best of his abilities.

Not surprisingly once more the Indians were undone by a spinner. The New Zealand skipper, Daniel Vettori, must to hoping to more frequently to play against India to improve his own personal record. Isn’t it funny that the Indian batsmen, who grow up back home playing spinners of the highest quality, struggle against the foreign spinners in nearly every part of the world.

The Indians were always going to be tested while defending 162 at a ground having short boundaries. Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan, acclaimed as the best new-ball pair in the world, bowled with venom but they could not produce spells that could have brought their team back into the game. 

The New Zealanders, not having any big names to create pressure on the bowlers, were not overawed by the occasion went about their task in a clinical manner. The victory came without any trouble in the end.

It remains to be seen if the same pattern will follow throughout India’s tour of New Zealand or the visitors will try to do justice with their talents.

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February 21, 2009

Jayawardene skips launch of Fiasco


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It was unfortunate but not entirely surprising to watch the Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene skipping the launching ceremony of a book that was highlighting his own accomplishments in particular and that of his team in general.

Ehsan Qureshi, whose book Fiasco: An Eyewitness Account of World Cup 2007 was launched at the Karachi Club on February 20 with great fanfare, had set the date for the ceremony with the consultation of the Sri Lankan skipper as well as their manager Brendon Kuruppu.

But neither of the two turned up at the function and needless to say no member of the Sri Lankan squad was there. The only Sri Lankan representation was that of their Deputy High Commissioner in Karachi, Sidath Kumar, and his wife.

The diplomat was requested to take up the issue of the non-attendance of their cricket captain and manager with the authorities in his home country. Jayawardene was also to be one of the speakers in the ceremony.

Jayawardene and Kuruppu had agreed in principle to be a part of the function when the author had presented a copy of his book to both the gentlemen when they were in Karachi for the ODI series against Pakistan last month.

Jayawardene, a smart guy that he is, had not only gone through the book in a flash but he also drew the attention of the author towards a printing error that only he could have found out. The reason was simple. The match report he was talking about concerned him directly and it was the game he had won for his country.

The author took the trouble of getting the copies of his book reprinted primarily to ensure that the Sri Lankan skipper was completely happy. A copy of the reprinted book was delivered to Kuruppu when Ehsan visited them upon their return from Sri Lanka for the Test series.

Jayawardene and Kuruppu had also been extended the invitation of the launching ceremony in writing well in advance in order to let them seek permission from their authorities back home, if it was needed.

Kuruppu, whom Ehsan has known for over a couple of decades, was personally handed over the invitation cards of the ceremony for each and every member of the Sri Lankan squad having arrived for the Test series. But none of them made an appearance at the function that was being held a day prior to the Test match in order to facilitate their participation.

The book launching ceremony turned out to be extremely successful even in the absence of the Sri Lankans. The presence of the Federal Sports Minister, Pir Aftab Hussain Shah Jilani and the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Ijaz Butt, besides current and former Pakistan cricketers made the occasion a memorable one.

It was very heartening to find Pakistan’s captain Younis Khan and vice-captain Misbah-ul-Haq gracing the ceremony alongwith teammates Shoaib Malik, Faisal Iqbal and Danish Kaneria. Their coach, Intikhab Alam, and manager, Yawar Saeed, were also in attendance.

The 272-page book, titled Fiasco, has been published by Jumbo Publishing, who have brought out books on sports in the past as well.

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February 20, 2009

West Indies save Antigua Test with skin of their teeth


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The West Indians, under fire in the recent past for having succumbed to defeats from position of strength, have starting showing great resilience lately and a great batting performance earned them a draw in the third Test against England at the Antigua Recreation Ground in St John’s, Antigua.

If it was the sensational spell of fast bowling of Jerome Taylor that enlivened the proceedings on the fourth afternoon of the first Test at the Sabina Park, Kingston, as England crashed to 51 all out giving the West Indies an innings victory, it was the last pair of Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell who bravely resisted the England bowlers for over half an hour to secure a draw for the hosts.

Although it may still be premature to say with conviction if the present West Indian team will continue coming off consistently but their performance against England certainly augurs well for the future.

It’s not often that the West Indians have applied themselves and displayed the level of commitment that we have witnessed recently. Chris Gayle doesn’t have the resources Clive Lloyd or Vivian Richards had had at their disposal but the credit goes to the present team management for having got the best out of the boys.

By saving the game, the West Indies have inched closer to recording a rare Test series win. With two games still to be played, England are not out of it yet but they might find it very difficult to floor the home side whose fierce determination in the field must have gladdened the hearts of their supporters all over the Caribbean islands.

Andrew Strauss, having taken over the captaincy following the resignation of Kevin Pietersen in controversial circumstances, must be wondering where he went wrong in allowing the West Indies to escape with a draw in a Test match that looked in England’s grasp from the day one.

The decision of Strauss not to enforce the follow-on on the third evening looked debatable. He probably misjudged the state of the wicket or may be he was not fully satisfied with the fitness of his key bowlers. His counterpart was also guilty of misreading the pitch when he opted to field first after winning the toss. 

The odd ball was certainly keeping low from the first day but the pitch didn’t break up as much as was being anticipated on the following days. The pitch didn’t deteriorate that badly and even the West Indian tail-enders managed to hang on.

Strauss may also face criticism for having delayed the declaration on the fourth day but the fact remains that he didn’t desire giving the West Indies any chance whatsoever of getting to the target. After all it was at the same ground where the hosts had successfully chased down a world-record target of against Australia about six years ago.

But the England skipper also deserves accolades for having preferred off-spinner Graeme Swann over left-arm spinner Monty Panesar. Same was the case of Owais Shah who replaced the struggling Ian Bell. Both Swann and Shah rose to the occasion and they are likely to be part of the playing eleven in both the remaining Tests.

Strauss himself batted exceptionally well and his magnificent knock of 169 helped England post a commanding first innings total. 

Talking of batting, Ramnaresh Sarwan played a couple of fabulous knocks in the game. He narrowly missed the rare feat of scoring a century in each innings of the match. He batted fluently in both the outings.  

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February 19, 2009

Intikhab confident of giving Sri Lankans tough time in Tests


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam appeared very confident ahead of the two-Test series against Sri Lanka starting at the National Stadium, Karachi, on February 21.

In a brief chat, soon after having checked in at Hotel Pearl Continental, Karachi, on February 18, Intikhab expressed the hope that his boys would come up with improved performance in the Test series.

“Our team is in a very positive frame of mind right now and the sessions we have had at the Steel Township during the past few days have helped greatly in boosting their confidence for the upcoming battle,” Intikhab stated.

“Our boys are fully prepared mentally and physically to take on the Sri Lankans. They feel motivated and eager to play to their potential. They have realized that whatever had happened in the ODI series was history. They are looking forward to the Test series with renewed confidence and greater self-belief,” Intikhab reckoned. 

“We know the Sri Lankans are a world-class side but we are confident to give them a run for their money in the two Tests that we are going to play in the home series. Our team is very well balanced having a combination of youth of experience,” he added. 

Intikhab was particularly happy with the results of the recent stint at the Steel Township. “We had a wonderful short training camp at the Steel Township where boys had the opportunity of gelling together,” he noted.

He dispelled the impression that there were any negative thoughts involved behind having the camp at a distant location.

“It was just the desire of the newly appointed Pakistan captain, Younis Khan, to spend some time together with the boys without any external pressures,” Intikhab said.

Putting his weight behind Younis Khan, the Pakistan coach believed that the change of guard has helped and the team is appearing mentally tougher.

“Younis is a fighter to the core and whole team is right behind him. He has the quality of inspiring his colleagues to rise to the occasion,” Intikhab, who was also the coach of Pakistan’s World Cup winning squad in 1992, thought. 

The coach was satisfied with the squad chosen for the first Test stating that the selectors have picked the best available lot with several good options in batting and bowling department. 
Intikhab Alam did not mince words in stating his team was not in position to afford the luxury of entering a Test match with five specialist bowlers. 

“I don’t think that we can dare taking that kind of risk. Most probably we would be entering the first Test with three fast bowlers and a specialist leg-spinner in Danish Kaneria. The off-spin of Shoaib Malik will be a bonus,” he acknowledged.

“We have considerable depth in our batting with the experienced hands like Salman Butt, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Shoaib Malik in the ranks. Plus we have some very talented youngsters all of whom have the capacity to score heavily,” Intikhab remarked.

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February 18, 2009

KCCA President puts his weight behind Younis Khan


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The President of the Karachi City Cricket Association (KCCA), Dr Mohammad Ali Shah, reckons that the newly installed skipper Younis Khan has the temperament and the skills to come good in the hot heat.

“Having known him closely for a number of years, I firmly believe that he has the potential to rise to the occasion. Captaining the Pakistan team presents a very big challenge to anyone but Younis is one man who has the capability to deliver,” Dr Shah stated in a recent conversation.

Dr Shah, who is also the Minister of Sports in the province of Sindh besides being the President of the Sindh Olympic Association (SOA), appeared convinced that Younis will handle the demanding situation pretty well.

“I don’t think that his batting will be affected or he will feel burdened by captaincy. He knows how to handle the pressure. A truly gifted batsman, having scored heavily for the past many years, he seems to be possessing the leadership qualities to motivate the national team whose morale is on the lower side after the defeat in the recent ODI series against Sri Lanka,” Dr Shah, who is himself an iconic figure in the field of medicine and surgery, observed.

“Younis has had very time little time at his disposal because the Sri Lankans have now returned for the two-Test series. He was appointed the national skipper soon after the debacle in the ODI series. Here is an opportunity for him to lead by example and turn it around,” he believed.

“Younis is basically an enterprising cricketer. He has batted well in all parts of the world, having scored consistently against the strongest of bowling attacks. He has been rated as one of the best number three batsmen in the business. He needs to continue scoring heavily because his team would be looking forward to him. He is the senior most batsman in the side and he will need to bring all his experience into play to lead from the front,” Dr Shah stated.

The words of encouragement from Dr Shah should be a source of inspiration for Younis, who was appointed as captain of Pakistan soon after Shoaib Malik had stepped down following 234-run defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in the third ODI at the Qaddafi Stadium.

Younis was indeed the automatic choice to take over provided he was willing to accept the job. He had been offered the national captaincy in the past as well but he had made a mess of the opportunity that came his way.

It was described as a collective decision of the PCB to appoint Younis as the skipper once Shoaib Malik was out of the way. 

Younis was playing the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy match for his employers Habib Bank Limited (HBL) at the Qaddafi Stadium when he was summoned for a meeting with the PCB chairman, Ijaz Butt. According to the reports the meeting didn’t last more than 15 minutes and the middle-order batsman consented to lead the national team without having a second thought.

Probably in order to make the new skipper a little more comfortable, the PCB Chairman, had ruled out the possibility of having separate captains for Tests and One-day Internationals as Younis was installed as captain for Tests as well as ODIs for an indefinite period. 

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February 17, 2009

Mushtaq Mohammad considers Younis Khan better captain than Shoaib Malik


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Mushtaq Mohammad, acclaimed as the greatest cricket captain produced by Pakistan, has no doubts in his mind that Younis Khan, having been recently appointed the skipper of the national team, is far more suited to the job than his predecessor Shoaib Malik.

“Younis does have the leadership qualities that are so essential in getting the best out of the team. When you are the captain of the side you to inspire the members of your team, lift their spirits and back them,” Mushtaq remarked in a one-to-one chat at the Customs Cricket Academy in Karachi on February 16.

Having arrived from England only the other day, Mushtaq reckoned that the appointment of Younis as captain could help Pakistan in becoming a major force in world cricket once more.

“To be honest, Shoaib Malik never impressed me as a captain. In my book he wasn’t the right candidate to be offered the job. May be the cricket board had no other choice at that moment but this didn’t help the cause of the team,” Mushtaq believed.

“But let me add here that Shoaib Malik is an exceptionally gifted batsman who is capable of playing big knocks. He has already scored a few centuries and there seems no reason why he should not be scoring many more in future,” he asserted.

He dispelled the impression that Pakistan would be at any disadvantage in the upcoming home series against Sri Lanka for not having played Test cricket for over a year.

“I don’t think this would matter when the two teams take the field. As professionals every cricketer is expected to deliver in all sorts of situation. It’s a new series and the Pakistan team should think positively,” Mushtaq remarked.

“I do sincerely hope that our team doesn’t use this as an excuse if they are unable to perform in the two-Test series. Our boys would be advised to forget about the layoff and concentrate on the job in their hands instead,” he advised.

Mushtaq, who is remembered for having galvanized a bunch of high-profile individuals into a world beating outfit in the 1970s, remains convinced that Pakistan could give the Sri Lankans a run for their money in the Test series if they played to their potential.

Having led the team to victories in Tests in Australia and the West Indies during the 1976-77 season he regretted that Pakistan were not playing enough international cricket for the past few years.

“One can understand that the conditions in Pakistan might not have been entirely to the satisfaction of the visiting teams in the last few years but why haven’t Pakistan toured other countries more regularly than before to make up for the cancelled home engagements,” he questioned.

“I think the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) needs to be more proactive in their approach and they should look for the ways and the means to meet the challenge. Everyone knows that the situation is not ideal but you know one has to work harder for creating opportunities,” Mushtaq observed.

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February 16, 2009

Spotlight on rival captains in Pakistan-Sri Lanka Test series


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, is a mentally tough man who mostly hides his feelings well be it in the field or in the media sessions. He is cool, calm and composed most of the time. He negotiates the trickiest of the questions as comfortably as he handles the quickest of bowlers.

The newly installed Pakistan captain, Younis Khan, should look to his counterpart and try to learn those traits that could come handy for him. The last Test series for Jayawardene as captain will be the first for Younis in the hot seat.

As Jayawadene will vouch, the national captaincy in the sub-continent presents tougher challenge than say in Australia, England or New Zealand. In this part of the world there are greater expectations from the team irrespective of its strength or the lack of it.

Jayawardene, who has been his country’s most successful skipper, had announced only recently the decision to quit the captaincy after the two-Test series against Pakistan starting on February 21.

Jayawardene is optimistic that his teammates will help him end his tenure on a winning note. He has faith in his team and there’s likelihood that the commander will be given a worthy sendoff by his troops.

The Sri Lankans certainly enjoy an edge over their rivals in every department of the game, going into the series with very high hopes of winning it handsomely. If they play to their potential the home side will be struggling for survival.

The one area where the difference between the two sides would be most obvious is captaincy. On one hand there will be an inspirational leader, having proved his mettle in every corner of the world while his counterpart will need to dispel the impression that he’s not been chosen only because there was no other candidate for the job.

Jayawardene has the potential to extract the best from the guiles of Murali Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, the two outstanding spin bowlers in the Sri Lankan line-up but what about Younis. He has the tougher job up his sleeves of motivating a team that has not played Test cricket for a long time.

Jayawardene has more options and the bowling attack at his disposal is quite lethal on paper. The situation is not pleasing enough for Younis as Pakistan will once again be without its two most potent bowlers, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, for different reasons.

The Sri Lankans have more depth and experience in batting whereas Pakistan will be looking forward to their skipper to do the bulk of the scoring in the longer version of the game.
Younis will be missing Mohammad Yousuf, who had anchored the Pakistan batting for so long before joining the Indian Cricket League (ICL).

The only factor that is in favour of Younis is that it’s going to be a home series where the curators can bring some relief to them. Obviously he would like to have pitches prepared that don’t assist the spinners.

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February 13, 2009

India need to do away with old habits to rule cricket world


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Indians have fielded stronger outfits in the cricket field and have had bigger names in their folds in the past but for some reason or the other they were unable to produce the desired results. 

The present Indian side, led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and coached by Gary Kirsten, has come up trumps and it has demonstrated the kind of spirit and intent that has caught their opponents on the wrong foot more often than not.

Never before have they combined so well to accomplish their mutual objective of putting India among the top teams of the world. The present lot, a blend of youth and experience, has taken the world by storm in all forms of the game.

But there are still a few tendencies which the Indians need to overcome if they desire to become the number one team in the world. They will have to decide whether they are contented to be ranked as one of the best teams in the business or they are indeed interested in aiming for the top slot.

They will have to abandon some of their old habits if they are eager to be the top ranked cricketing nation. In the past as well some of the Indian outfits have had the capabilities of claiming the honours but for reasons better known to them and their concerned stake-holders they were guilty of dropping the intensity at the wrong time.

Sourav Ganguly was an inspirational leader and he had raised a team that succeeded in taming every opponent. It can’t be mere coincidence that the Indians kept qualifying for the final of almost every tournament they played and choked at the last hurdle. 

The present Indian line-up has fresh legs and it has set high standards in the field. The youngsters have brought energy that has helped them become even more competitive than their predecessors but they won’t be able to conquer the world if they modeled themselves on the same lines.

Dhoni will have to stand up and tell his boys that no half measurers are needed in any international game irrespective of the fact that the rubber is dead or it’s the final of a tournament. They need to perform consistently and there should never be doubts of anyone under-performing for any reason.

It was really a shame that the Indians didn’t complete a whitewash in the recent ODI series in Sri Lanka. The hosts were demoralized after having lost the first four games but the Indians let them in by picking their weakest possible side.

It’s always a good idea to try out the newcomers after the series has been decided but resting the top three bowlers from the same match didn’t make sense. The weakened Indian attack was taken for aplenty and then their own batters didn’t do justice while chasing a challenging target.

It looked as if the Indians didn’t mind losing the last game and they were more than satisfied having pocketed the series 4-1. What they had conveniently ignored was the fact that it’s not easy to stage a comeback after conceding the initiative. 

They very nearly had to pay the price for the adventure in the fifth and final ODI when they were pushed into a tight corner in the one-off Twenty20 International at the same venue. It was only the genius of the Pathan brothers, Irfan and Yousuf, allowing them to win the tie they seemed to have lost for all practical purposes five overs ago.

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February 12, 2009

Jayawardene’s abrupt resignation could ruin Sri Lankan cricket


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

I was really stunned to hear the news about the decision of Mahela Jayawardene to resign as the Sri Lankan captain. More shocking was the response from the Sri Lanka Cricket who announced that the resignation has been confirmed.

The timing and the manner in which Jayawardene has done this leave little doubt in one’s mind that all is not well in the Sri Lankan cricket affairs. 

There must have been a combination of factors that compelled Jayawardene, the most successful captain in the Sri Lankan history, to give up captaincy on the eve of the two-Test series against Pakistan. 

One doesn’t need to be an expert to determine the fact that Jayawardene’s resignation has been prompted by non-cricketing reasons.

On the field his record was awesome, both as a captain and a batsman .He led his country to 15 wins in 26 matches in which averaged 64.70. More remarkably he scored as many as 11 centuries in these games, highlighting the fact that he excelled in the challenging times unlike the ordinary mortals.

He led by example and helped his team perform better on the foreign soils than in the past. Under his captaincy Sri Lanka managed drew Test series in England, New Zealand and the West Indies. 

His record as the one-day skipper was not all that impressive, given the unpredictable nature of the game, but he had more victories in the game that defeats. He led Sri Lanka in 94 One-day Internationals, with his team winning 54 games and losing 35.

Jayawardene was chiefly responsible for guiding his team to the final of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean where the other Asian giants, Pakistan and India, had made first round exit. He confirmed Sri Lanka’s supremacy at the continental level by annexing the Asia Cup in Pakistan last July.

The Sri Lankans were generally performing very well indeed in all forms of the game and Jayawardene was looking in total command of the situation in the field. There were odd mishaps as well like the unexpected defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the first ODI of the recent series at the National Stadium, Karachi, but such things do happen with every team once in a while.

There should be no complaints about the result of the just concluded ODI home series against India in which the tourists were streets ahead in all departments of the game. The Indians appeared to have done their homework against the spinners against whom they were most vulnerable when they toured the island earlier in the season. 

Jayawardene’s resignation as captain is most likely to hurt the Sri Lankan cricket because they needed his cool head during the phase in which they might be losing some of their key players. 

It looks absolutely clear now that Jayawardene ran out of steam in overcoming the pressures off the field and he deemed it proper to part ways gracefully rather than getting engaged in politics.

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February 11, 2009

A day of brothers in international cricket


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Quite remarkably it was the set of brothers who engineered victories for their respective countries the same day. The Hussey brothers did it for Australia in Brisbane and the Pathan brothers excelled for India in Colombo.

What a night it was at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo where Sri Lanka and India were engaged in the cracker of a match. The first-ever Twenty20 International on the Sri Lankan soil had nearly all the ingredients of a dream game that kept the audience on the toes until the very end.

The spectators could not have wished for a more dramatic encounter. They got full value for their money as 345 runs were scored off only 39.2 overs and they had the pleasure of watching 11 sixes and 32 fours.

The Indians, the reigning world champions in the shortest version of the game, were the overwhelming favourites to win the one-off tie but they were in all sorts of trouble in the middle overs while chasing a not too formidable target of 172.

The pendulum had swung Sri Lanka’s way when the Pathan brothers, Yousuf and Irfan, were joined at the crease. The ball was turning and the runs were hard to come by. The asking rate had gone into double digit and there were only fast bowlers Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma padded up in the hut.

With seven down at 115, the faces of the Indians in the dressing room and those sitting elsewhere in the crowd told the story. It were the Sri Lankan flags that were being waved and it was the turn of their supporters to sing and dance. Little did these cheering fellows know that the complexion of the game would be changed during the course of the next few overs.

It was Yousuf who took the initiative by going after leg-spinner Malinga Bandara who was threatening to look unplayable. The move paid dividends as the Sri Lankan skipper, Tillakaratne Dilshan, was forced to take measures that he probably had not anticipated. In the rush he made the fatal mistake of not pressing into service the known India-killer, Sanath Jayasuriya, who still had one over left.

Jayasuriya has had the tendency of delivering against all odds when the Indians are his opponents. Probably his new skipper was unaware of history. His decision to turn to fast bowlers allowed the Pathan brothers to use the pace of the ball in finding boundaries that had dried up during the spells of Bandara and Jayasuriya.

The Pathan brothers played with a cool head, not showing any signs of nerves and their 59-run partnership off 25 balls helped India to complete the win with four balls to spare. But the Indian think-thank should be worried about the manner in which Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja tackled the spinners.

The youthful Sri Lankan side gave a very fine account of themselves and their intensity remained high until the very end. They deserved the credit for having staged a forceful comeback after having put runs on the board.

Earlier in the day it were the Hussey brothers, Michael and David, who stole the limelight helping Australia level the ODI series against New Zealand in Brisbane. The hosts were struggling at 101 for three at the halfway stage of their innings with the asking rate touching nearly run a ball. It needed a career best effort from David Hussey to put them back on track and fittingly it was a hit for the maximum from his brother Michael that settled the issue in the penultimate over.

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February 10, 2009

Florida Cricket Academy being set up with Customs Academy’s collaboration


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Karachi-based Customs Cricket Academy (CCA) has agreed to extend its total support to the Florida Cricket Academy (FCA) being set up in Fort Lauderdale. 

Naeem-ul-Haq, a former first-class cricketer from Karachi now having relocated in the town Orlando in the United States of America (USA), has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the CCA, who have offered them every possible support in spreading the game of cricket.

“It’s very heartening to note that Naeem, one of our former colleagues at the Pakistan Customs, has worked his way to setting up an academy in Florida. We have gladly joined hands with the FCA, offering them all kind of technical assistance that they may be needing from time to time,” Jalaluddin, a former Test fast bowler and the Head Coach of the CCA, said in a recent conversation.

“Spreading the game of cricket is our mission. We have set an example in Pakistan by developing state of the art coaching facilities at the CCA. It’s must be quite exciting to develop similar coaching facilities in USA,” Jalaluddin, the first man to record a hat-trick in One-day Internationals, remarked.

Naeem-ul-Haq, having played first-class cricket for Pakistan Customs, Karachi and Pak PWD before his emigration to the USA, has had the dream to set up a cricket academy in his adopted country for quite sometime.

Naeem’s dream is now about to be fulfilled as he has already formed a not-for-profit organization that’s registered with the local authorities. He has acquired a piece of land in Fort Lauderdale located on the outskirts of the famous town of Miami.

“We have acquired on lease a portion in a park. We are in the process of laying artificial practice pitches for cricket and we plan to make the Academy functional this summer. We are confident of launching the FCA during the month of June or July,” Naeem disclosed during his recent visit to Karachi.

“At the FCA we would be offering training and coaching facilities to the youngsters in the age group of 12 to 17 years. We would be offering our services free of cost and we would even provide complimentary kit to the trainees. The FCA will run throughout the year with the weekly classes every Saturday while there will be sessions on Saturdays as well as Sundays during the summer vacations,” Naeem explained.

Naeem-ul-Haq will be the Head Coach of the FCA who will be assisted by former cricketers Rizwan-uz-Zaman, Ahad Masood and Waqar Malik while Raza Jafri of USA Grocers would be the main sponsor of the project.
Naeem, a qualified Level-II coach, felt that the establishment of the FCA could be helpful in turning things around in the USA for the development of the game.

“We would be coordinating with the educational institutions, schools in particular, for making our academy work. No sport can flourish until the educational institutions get into it by all means. We need to convince the institutions that cricket is a game hugely beneficial in character-building of youngsters,” the former cricketer said.

“There are a lot of people living in the USA who love cricket. Quite a few exhibition matches have been organized here over the years that proved successful as well. I think the opportunity is there. We need to work very hard indeed to get the ball rolling in the right direction. There are willing people across the country but we need to put our acts together if we are to make an impression in a big way,” he reckoned.

Naeem, whose elder brother Anwar-ul-Haq met with greater success in first-class cricket, was of the opinion that the Pakistan community in particular could be greatly interested in the promotion of cricket in USA.

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February 9, 2009

Sania Mirza foresees no problems in playing in Pakistan


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The tennis star Sania Mirza has recently rewritten history by becoming the first Indian woman to annex a Grand Slam title. Partnered with Mahesh Bhupathi, she won the mixed doubles event of the Australian Open 2003 by overpowering the duo of Nathalie Dechy and Andy Ram 6-3, 6-1 in the final in Melbourne.

Indeed winning the Australian Open mixed doubles title with Mahesh Bhupathi was the best way she could have made a comeback in the international circuit after having been out of action for quite a while due to a wrist injury. 

"It is very special to win your first Grand Slam. After the injury it is a great way to come back. I am just living in the moment for now," the 22-year-old Sania Mirza was quoted as saying upon her return to India.

Sania Mirza, laid low by the wrist injury for the better part of the last year, has begun the new year on a high note and she looks determined to make it count. What a great start she has had to 2009, winning her maiden Grand Slam title in the very first outing.
Last year the wrist injury had forced her to withdraw from several matches and the Roland Garros and US Open Grand Slams.

She represented India at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, in the women's singles and doubles events. In singles, she retired in the round of 64, while she was trailing 1-6, 1-2 against Iveta Benešová of Czech Republic. She teamed up with Sunitha Rao for the doubles event. They got a walk-over in the round of 32, but lost to Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina by 4-6, 4-6, in the round of 16.

Talking to a group of covering journalists from Pakistan, she had remarked during the Beijing Olympics that she would like to play in Pakistan where she has also great fan following. She didn’t foresee any problem if invited to participate in any tennis event in Pakistan. She spoke very highly of the talents of Aisam-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s premier tennis player of the recent times.

Hailing from the historic town of Hyderabad, Sania Mirza had started playing tennis at the age of six, turning professional at the age of 16. She made her debut in the India Fed Cup team, winning all three singles matches. She won the 2003 Wimbledon Championships Girls' Doubles title, in the company of Alisa Kleybanova of Russia.

She is the highest ranked female tennis player ever from India, with a career high ranking of 27 in singles and 18 in doubles. She holds the distinction of being the first Indian woman to be seeded in a Grand Slam tennis tournament. 

She had become the first Indian woman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament at the 2005 U.S. Open, defeating Mashona Washington, Maria Elena Camerin and Marion Bartoli. In 2004, she had finished runner-up at the Asian Tennis Championship.

In 2005, Sania Mirza reached the third round of the Australian Open, losing to eventual champion Serena Williams. She became the first Indian woman to win a WTA singles title, defeating Alyona Bondarenko of Ukraine in the Hyderabad Open Finals. 

She won the silver in the women's singles category and the gold in the mixed doubles partnering Leander Paes in the 2006 Asian Games at Doha.

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February 8, 2009

Jerome Taylor’s sensational spell revives cricket in Caribbean


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

A superb exhibition of fast bowling from Jerome Taylor sent England crashing to 51 all out on the fourth afternoon of the first Test at the Sabina Park, Kingston, which the West Indies managed to win by an innings and 23 runs.

It was one of the greatest bowling spells of all time that changed the complexion of the game within a matter of minutes. It prompted an extraordinary buzz at the ground that had been non-existent on the Caribbean islands for such a long time.

Cricket came alive during the course of that magnificent spell of nine overs from Taylor during which he claimed five wickets for 11 runs. At 26 for seven England were in danger of being bowled out for the lowest-ever score in Test history. The last three wickets could have tumbled within the next few deliveries had Taylor retained some more energy to go for the kill.

The withdrawal of Taylor from the attack enabled England to very nearly double their score with Andrew Flintoff delaying the inevitable.

There was hardly any hint of any such drama to follow when England had gone to lunch at 11 for two in their second innings, adrift by only 63 runs.

But what happened after the resumption was truly sensational. The crowd at the Sabina Park that had been quiet for the past three days when they mostly watched absorbing stuff suddenly came to life when Jerone Taylor sent the off-stump of Kevin Peitersen for a walk.

Having topscored in England’s first innings with 97, Pieterson was beaten by pace when he missed the attempted flick and had to watch his off-stump cart wheeling for the next few moments.

It was the defining moment of the game. The celebrations began with his dismissal and they continued unabated until the final wicket was taken. There was tremendous excitement with every ball and one was reminded of the 1980s when the West Indian cricket team ruled the world.

The memories of the good old days of the West Indian cricket were revived. It was after ages that they had played such aggressive cricket to force their opponents to submission so decisively.

The spectators, as they used to do in those glorious years, were completely involved in the proceedings, expecting something to happen every ball. They were dancing, cheering and gossiping as England kept losing wickets at regular intervals to add fuel to the fire.

Jerone Taylor was the man of the moment. Operating at around 90 miles an hour his every ball was bang on target, attacking the stumps and giving the batsman no respite. He hardly bowled a loose ball in the spell, not giving any width nor pitched anything on the leg-stump. It was superb exhibition of sustained fast bowling.

The credit was also richly deserved by the young left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn who did a great backup work while Taylor was busy castling the batsmen. The left-armer not only dried the runs but also picked up wickets to create more pressure on the batting side. He picked up four wickets in each innings to emerge as the joint highest wicket-taker in the game alongwith Taylor.

Cricket after all is a team sport. It was an incredible victory and the West Indians may not forget it for a long time.

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February 7, 2009

Pakistan cricket to come alive with Australian series


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Ijaz Butt, having just returned from Australia, has expressed the confidence that the Australians would indeed honour their commitment of playing the ODI series against Pakistan in the Middle East.
Ijaz Butt reckons that he has had a fruitful meeting with the officials of Cricket Australia (CA) in Melbourne earlier in the week. Upon his arrival in Pakistan he has confirmed that the Australians have committed to play in Abu Dhabi and Dubai during the months of April and May.  
The PCB Chairman is shortly expected to announce the dates of the five-match ODI series besides a couple of Twenty20 Internationals after consulting the local authorities in the UAE. 
The weather in the UAE would not be ideal for cricket in April and May but the PCB will not mind doing it because the Australians don’t have alternate dates to squeeze a series against Pakistan.

Pakistan desperately needs more cricket and the PCB, for obvious reasons, is very eager to host the Australians. The cricket enthusiasts in Pakistan are keenly awaiting the series between Pakistan and Australia.

Cricket in Pakistan would certainly come alive with the series of ODIs and T20 Internationals. It would have been a bigger treat watching the Aussies perform on the grounds in Pakistan but in the prevailing circumstances the contests between the two sides would be welcomed even on neutral venues.

It’s not going to be the first when Pakistan would be hosting Australia in neutral territories. The bilateral Test series between the two countries in 2002 was played in Colombo and Sharjah. 
A large number of Pakistani expatriates living in the UAE would certainly be most delighted with the news of the series between Pakistan and Australia taking place there. It will be a source of great entertainment for them as it would be for the millions of Pakistanis who would be following the action on television.

The upcoming series with Pakistan would certainly limit the availability of Australia's one-day players from participating in the second edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) but one should not forget the fact that the cancellation of the series between Pakistan and Australia around the same time last year had provided them the opportunity to take part in the inaugural IPL.

Pakistan’s performance in the recently held ODI series at home against Sri Lanka was not very encouraging but they would sense greater chance of scaring the Australians who themselves have had a very poor run in the ODIs of late.

The Australians have been struggling in the ODIs in particular, having gone down to the third place in the ICC rankings after having been at the top for the last many years. The recent slump in form of the Aussies opens a window of opportunity for Pakistan, also in the rebuilding phase.

On the basis of their current form, or the lack of it, there should be some fierce contests between Pakistan and Australia particularly on neutral venues where the ball may not be bouncing as much as it does on the Australian pitches.

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February 6, 2009

Indian juggernauts too good for Sri Lanka


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Even the absence of Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan and the failures of Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh couldn’t stop India from dominating the fourth One-day International and more importantly inching closer to a rare whitewash over Sri Lanka.

Any other team in the world at the moment, including Australia and South Africa, could have been derailed in the non-presence and non-performance of their key players but not this Indian side that has far too many match-winners in its ranks.

Gautam Gambhir made the most of the opportunity of opening the innings once more and his knock of 150 was the highest on the Sri Lankan soil in ODIs. The left-hander, however, was picked up soon after reaching the landmark.

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was unlucky to have missed out on a hundred which was there for the taking. He looked every inch a top-order batsman having the capacity to change gears according to the situation.

It was for the first time when Dhoni had promoted himself in the batting order, a move that paid rich dividends. He arrived at the crease when Sehwag was removed cheaply soon after having escaped narrowly only the previous ball. It looked for a moment that the pitch might be a little different in character but the big partnership between Gambhir and Dhoni dispelled all such apprehensions.

The Indians lost three wickets in quick succession against the run of play and they had to rebuild through Gambhir and Suresh Raina. They did score briskly but there was no late flourish as usual and the Indians had to settle with a score of 332 whereas 350 was always in sight. 
It took Muttiah Muralitharan 9.1 overs to finally take the wicket that finally put him at the top of the tree in the history of ODIs as well. It was wicket number 503 for the champion off-spinner who went past Wasim Akram’s record of 502 scalps.

Gambhir was the victim that earned Muralitharan the record. Although the wicket didn’t matter much in the context of the game for India had already posted a big enough score that looked perfectly defendable with a potent bowling attack at their disposal.

But it was a moment to cherish for Muralitharan and his supporters present at the Premadasa Stadium. It was yet another memorable moment in the career of the great off-spin bowler who has been the architect of many Sri Lankan victories in the past.

Muralitharan has now become the leading wicket-taker in Tests as well as ODIs. Besides his outstanding skills with the ball his mental strength is an object lesson to the youngsters watching him. 

Muralitharan’s world record certainly gladdened the hearts of the local fans but they must have been disappointed to find their team falling apart in the run chase once more under the floodlights. 

The Sri Lankans got off to a flying start but they lost the momentum with the fall of wickets and there was not much the middle-order could have done to turn the tables against a disciplined bowling attack that was backed by agile fielders. 

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February 4, 2009

Tendulkar’s victimization continues as does India’s dominance


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Sachin Tendulkar must be wondering if he would be granted the opportunity of getting some runs in the ongoing ODI series which India has pocketed in style with two games to spare. The hat-trick of his victimization was completed at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on February 3 during the course of India’s 147-run win over Sri Lanka.

Tendulkar has been wrongly or mischievously given out by the umpires of different countries on numerous occasions in his two-decade long illustrious career but it’s probably only for the second time in his career when he has been meted out unfair treatment on a trot.

One series that comes to my mind in which Tendulkar was singularly targeted was in Australia in 1999-2000 when he was also the captain of the team. India relied so heavily on him in those days and the tough umpiring calls cost his team all three Tests that summer.

Things have changed now. Tendulkar indeed remains Tendulkar even today, having lost none of his passion or zeal to score, but presently he is one of the stars in the side that is studded with match-winners.

For the third time running Tendulkar was given out lbw to a delivery that was drifting past leg stump. It’s incredible really that he had been declared lbw in dubious fashion in the earlier two games as well. I am not sure why the umpires are not following the law of giving the benefit of doubt to the batsman whenever they are not completely sure if the ball would be hitting the stumps.

Tendulkar must be feeling frustrated because he’s in such great form and raring to have a go at the bowlers. We could only see a glimpse of it when he smashed a six off a free hit because that was his only scoring shot of the day. Who would blame him for getting only 18 runs in three matches when he has been sent back to the dressing room rather controversially every time.

Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag more than adequately made up for the early loss of Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir. The double-century third wicket stand broke the hearts of the Sri Lankan bowlers and a record total was always on the cards.

Both Yuvraj and Sehwag mauled the bowlers at will and their spectacular centuries put India in a commanding position. Left-handed Yuvraj hammered 117 off 95 balls before becoming the victim number 502 for Muttiah Muralitharan enabling the great off-spinner to equall Wasim Akram's world record of one-day wickets.

Sehwag was no less explosive while scoring 116 off 90 balls. India were poised for a total in the region of 400 when he was run out in the 35th over at the total of 265. But skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni looked out of sorts and even Yousuf Pathan’s 33-ball half-century could not take the score beyond 363 in 50 overs.

Sri Lanka hardly stood any chance of reaching the target of 364 although stranger things have happened against India in the past. With three lively fast bowlers at their service the visitors had no cause to panic while defending the huge total.

As expected the pace trio of Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma sealed the fate of the match by rising to the occasion in the first 20 overs of the Sri Lankan innings. The stage was set for the young left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha to make an impression when he was handed over the ball after the powerplay overs. He bowled superbly to grab four wickets including that of Kumar Sangakkara, who topscored for the hosts with 83.

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February 3, 2009

Media-shy Younis Khan in the hot seat


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Reportedly it took the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Ijaz Butt, only a few minutes to convince the reluctant leader Younis Khan to take up the national captaincy unconditionally.

The PCB was certainly in a spot of bother after the heavy loss to Sri Lanka in the third and final One-day International at the Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore, and as we have so often seen in the past the captain was made the scapegoat.

Shoaib Malik, who was granted a fresh vote of confidence by the PCB not so long ago, was axed and they obviously needed a new skipper to do the job for the team, starting with the upcoming Test series against Sri Lanka.

The point to be noted here is that the captaincy was offered to Younis Khan because he seemed the only player having a secured position in the team. He was not chosen for the job because of his leadership skills or anything like that. 

The PCB didn’t have any other option at this stage. With Shoaib Akhtar battling injuries Mohammad Asif engaged in tribunal hearings and Mohammad Yousuf having joined the Indian Cricket League (ICL) there was no high profile cricketer available to take up the leadership of the national team.

By agreeing to lead the team without having any second thoughts apparently, Younis has saved the PCB from any further embarrassment because there could have been another crisis in case of his refusal.

Younis has been one of the most successful number three batsmen of the recent times. Although his up and down approach doesn’t always give the impression of him being as rock solid as Rahul Dravid or as enterprising as Ricky Ponting, believe me he has a record that would make anyone proud.

He has scored nearly 5,000 runs in less than 60 Tests at an average of almost 50. Most notably he has also scored 15 centuries in 58 Tests, besides 20 half-centuries. It’s an outstanding record by all means.

His stats in the ODIs are impressive as well with over 5,000 runs under his belt and he has been the architect of many famous victories registered by Pakistan over the years.

He was considered a future Pakistan captain when appointed the deputy to Inzamam-ul-Haq during the 2005-06 season. He also impressed many with his captaincy skills whenever pressed into service in the absence of the imposing figure of Inzamam.

But Younis could not handle the pressures of captaincy when he was offered the job in the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy. He resigned abruptly before agreeing to take up the assignment the following day. It had become clear that he was not the man for the job and the ensuing debacle in the Champions Trophy didn’t come as a surprise.

Younis declined to lead the team when the post became vacant following the exit of Inzamam in 2007. He didn’t win many friends at home by having turned down the captaincy to concentrate on his county cricket engagements with Yorkshire.

Having had a controversial run as a captain, Younis had to face queries of all sorts from the media. He was found wanting in tackling the ticklish questions and his response didn’t impress many. He has been observed running short of ideas once too soon and it remains to be seen if he has improved in this area. 

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February 2, 2009

India overcome umpiring blunders to go two up


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
The standard of umpiring may have improved in general over the years but the Indians have continued to be at the receiving end more often than any other team. What a pity that Sachin Tendulkar became the victim of a dubious umpiring decision for the second match running.

Even more disgusting was the dismissal of Yuvraj Singh. He was in complete command of the situation, having done all the hard work against the champion spinners. Just when he was readying himself for the onslaught he got a shocker of a decision that signaled the end of his innings against the run of play.

The credit goes to the Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni who kept his boys motivated despite having 50 to 75 runs short of the total they would have posted in normal circumstances.

India’s total of 256 still proved good enough to win the day for them primarily due to two reasons. Their bowlers remained charged up during the entire length of the Sri Lankan innings displaying self-belief and strength in character. Then the home batters were found struggling in coming to terms with the quality bowling.

The inconsistency of the Sri Lankan top-order batsmen must have been at the back of Dhoni’s minds when he came out to defend a not too formidable total. The Indian fast bowlers, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan, went hard at the home batsmen and the fancied trio of Sanath Jayasuriya, Tillekartne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara was back in the dressing room with very little on the board.

The fourth wicket century partnership between skipper Mahela Jayawardene and Thilina Kandamby revived the Sri Lankan hopes but the Indians bounced back in the final overs to deny the hosts the chance of squaring the series.

The ever-improving Ishant Sharma was at his best when his team needed him most. So was Zaheer Khan, who had an ordinary opening spell. The two Indian fast bowlers rose to the occasion in the closing stages of the game and even the gutsy Kandamby, returning undefeated on 93, could not change the course of the game.

The youthful Indian side once again proved the point that they have mastered the art of handling the pressure, an area their predecessors were found wanting it. The resilience of the present lot keeps their opponents under stress.

Talking about stress, it were the umpires rather than the bowlers who were instrumental in limiting India to 256 in 50 overs. The Indians showed remarkable improvement in their technique while negotiating the spin duo of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis but they were undone by a couple of umpiring blunders.

The early loss of Sachin Tendulkar, declared lbw on a ball heading down leg, was covered up by the duo of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir who set up the platform for a huge total.

Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina led the recovery after the dismissals of Sehwag and Gambhir in quick succession. Skipper Dhoni kept the momentum going in the company of Yuvraj and India were sight in a total well over 300. But Yuvraj was given lbw when he actually got a big inside edge onto his pads. This decision completely derailed India’s progress and Sri Lanka cashed in on the opportunity by drying up the runs in the last 12 overs that yielded little over 50 runs.

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