March 30, 2009

India’s shameful performance in Napier Test


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It’s very difficult to comment on any sporting contest that’s under the cloud of the outside factors. India, not for the first time, fared so miserably to keep their underdogs opponents, New Zealand, interested until the end.

The Napier Test of the 2008-09 series turned out to be another occasion where the logic was defied. An element of uncertainty had come into the game even before the first ball was bowled. Hardly did anyone know until the toss that the Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was unfit for the game.

Dhoni’s pullout from the game at the eleventh hour was mysterious. The mystery grew into suspicion when acting captain Virender Sehwag allowed New Zealand to post a total in the excess of 600 after having rattled their top-order in the first hour.

It was simply amazing. The most lethal new-ball attack of the world was blunted by a few young cavaliers who treated them disdainfully. One of the best off-spinners of the game looked like a pedestrian while the support bowlers appeared novices.

The team that was the firm favourite to close the series at the McLean Park, after having pocketed the previous Test so emphatically, was in shambles all of a sudden. The outfit that should have actually dictated terms was at the receiving end instead.

By letting New Zealand post a gigantic total, India had probably ensured that they should not be chasing another win in this game. With the pitch as flat as you can expect and the outfield lightening quick and the boundaries far too short, India had the guns to surpass the total of 619 if they so desired.

They collapsed quite dramatically in their first innings to make absolutely sure that a victory for them went out of the equation. There were only results possible once Daniel Vettori had enforced follow-on. The Indians could have either lost the game or at best they could have gone for a draw.

There was nothing in the pitch for the bowlers and the Indians themselves proved it by playing out 180 overs in their second innings losing only four wickets in the process, two of them to horribly wrong umpiring decisions. Rahul David was given out caught when the ball had only touched his pads while Gautam Gambhir was declared leg before on a ball going well down the leg side.

The Indians occupied the crease for more than two days in their second outing against a New Zealand attack that was enthusiastic and disciplined without ever looking threatening.

Gambir and VVS Laxman scored centuries in contrasting styles while there were half centuries for Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh. The only man, having failed to deliver in both innings, was none other than Sehwag.

Why the Indians didn’t show application in their first innings in ideal batting conditions is a million-dollar question? Was it necessary to keep the home side excited and interested until the final session of the game?

Isn’t it a shame that the most powerful batting line-up of the world was dominated by an ordinary bowling attack for the best part of three days? The world-beaters are not expected to play like this. That was quite uncharacteristic of a team that is rated as the most balanced as well as the strongest of all outfits in the business.

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March 28, 2009

Shoaib Akhtar eager to return on international stage


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Shoaib Akhtar is mobilizing all the resources at his disposal to facilitate his comeback in the national team. He has this habit of creating this kind of situation on the eve of every major series. He knows that he has certain news value. He wants to make the most of it by issuing statements that could keep in the reckoning and prolong his international career.

Shoaib is hitting the headlines yet again, passing the impression that he is fully fit to take on the Australians in the upcoming series to be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

It remains to be seen if the present selectors will take another chance with the speedster. Abdul Qadir and company will have to think twice because they had gambled with him in Sri Lankan series not very long ago and faced humiliation.

The selectors will have to decide whether they can still rely on Shoaib or they can move forward by trying out a promising young fast bowler in his place. The series of One-day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals against Australia is fast approaching and it’s not going to be an easy decision.

Shoaib Akhtar, clocked as the fastest bowler of the world, has had an outstanding record at the international in all forms of the game but his level of fitness and commitment both have often been questioned. He has not been able to keep himself fit for a long duration of time much to the disappointment of the while nation.

He’s such a gifted cricketer. Known as the ‘Rawalpindi Express’ he has demolished the strongest of batting line-ups. In just 46 Test matches he has bagged 178 wickets at an average of 25.69 while he has scalped 220 batsmen in 140 ODIs at an average of 23.49. He has fared impressively in the shortest version of the game too, having taken eight wickets in six games at 20.62 apiece.

He, however, is not that far away from his 34th birthday and being a fast bowler one can’t expect much cricket left in him. He may be able regain his full fitness and form in near future but for how long one never knows.
He has become notorious for breaking down during the course of a series, a tendency that hurts the team spirit. One can only hope he would last the entire length of the series, if selected.

Shoaib Akhtar appears in high spirits of late and with skipper Younis Khan and chief selector Abdul Qadir both having great admiration for the mercurial fast bowler, he may once more find his way into the team.

"I have been working very hard and gearing up to play against Australia. I will play more domestic matches so that I can prove my fitness to the selectors and the rest is with them. I am feeling better and have bowled 20 overs in the two matches. So I will be up to my full fitness and rhythm when we play Australia.," he was recently quoted as saying.

Having himself spearheaded Pakistan’s conquests over stronger Australian outfits in the not too distant past, he believes that Pakistan do have a very good chance of beating Australia in the upcoming series.

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March 26, 2009

McGain would have wished debut against India for better Test returns


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Australian leg-spinner Bryce McGain must have been regretting having made his Test debut against South Africa in which he was taken for 149 runs in a matter of 18 overs. Besides leaking far too many runs by the Test standards, he was unable to get any wicket in the only innings that South Africa needed to bat.

His would go down as one of the most nightmarish debut performance or the lack of it of all times. The 36-year-old vastly experienced campaigner was not allowed to settle down by the South African batsmen, who kept attacking him throughout.

McGain, who was certified by a leg-spinning wizard called Shane Warne, lost his radar in the Cape Town Test and the home batsmen went hard at him. After all it was Test cricket and the batsmen were eager to cash in on every single opportunity. Yet it’s rare for any bowler to suffer that kind of humiliation.

Having conceded 149 runs in just 18 overs, McGain simply had no luck. Mind you going at 8.27 runs per over will be considered expensive even in a Twenty20 game, let alone the 50-overs one-dayers. He couldn’t put his acts together and he was belted mercilessly and fearlessly during the course of a Test match.

McGain must have regretted the injury that forced him to return early from the tour of India at the start of the season. He would have been much better off debuting against India no matter how big reputation the home batsmen had.

He would know that he stood a chance of returning much better figures in India. Having become a professional at the age of 35, he was chosen as the chosen as the premier spinner for Australia's tour to India. He was being talked about as a long-term prospect despite his advanced age.

He was certain to make his debut Test debut in India when a rather unusual injury to the tendons in his right armpit forced him to return home for a surgery. He didn’t lose heart and returned to play for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield after recovering completely. He bowled well to be selected for the tour of South Africa.

After being overlooked for the first couple of Tests, both of which were won by Australia, he was finally included in the playing eleven in the third and final Test in Cape Town.

McGain might have felt that it’s easier to capture wickets against India or at least get away with it even when bowling not too well. He has the most example of Jason Krejza in front of him.
Krejza had been taken for 199 runs in 31 overs in the warm-up game but the team management gambled with him in the deciding fourth and final Test in Nagpur. He was adjudged Man of the Match after having claimed exactly a dozen wickets on his debut.

Krejza, as McGain must be wondering, had not bowled so well but the Indian batsmen accorded him the same kind of respect as if encountering Shane Warne or Mutiah Muralitharan. That’s the special quality of the Indian batsmen who have their own unique methods of going about their business.

Krejza picked up as many as eight wickets in the first innings and took four more in the second outing. It was dream debut, just the opposite of McGain a few months later.

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March 25, 2009

IPL moved to South Africa


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It has now been officially announced that South Africa will host the Indian Premier League (IPL) to be held during April and May. The decision was taken on March 24 ending the speculation whether South Africa or England would earn the right to host the second edition of the Twenty20 tournament.

South Africa has been confirmed as the venue after the talks between the IPL commissioner, Lalit Modi, and the Cricket South Africa (CSA) chief executive, Gerald Majola, held in Johannesburg.

England was being considered as the alternate venue but by the look of things Modi had such a fruitful meeting with Majola that closed the deal promptly. Modi was not even required to visit London where he was scheduled to discuss the IPL with the officials of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

Modi and Majola informed the media corps at the Wanderers Club in the Johannesburg that the second edition of the IPL would now be staged from April 18 into May, probably at six venues Cape Town, Centurion, Durban, East London, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.

The ECB officials, in true sporting spirit, have welcomed the decision recognizing the fact that the IPL organizers had gone for the practical option.

The high-profile tournament having attracted the majority of the biggest names in the game has been moved from India because the dates clashed with the general elections and the government was unwilling to allow it in view of security concerns.

"To move the event outside India has been one of the hardest decisions that
the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has had to take, but I'm equally
confident that staging it in South Africa will be a major success," Modi was quoted as saying.
"We extend a huge gratitude to our friends at Cricket South Africa for agreeing to host the Indian Premier League in such a short time. I am sure all South African cricket fans are looking forward to the spectacle of seeing the world's best players compete against each other in this tournament,” he observed.

"The South African public loves Twenty2O cricket and CSA successfully
hosted the inaugural World Twenty20. Both these factors weighed heavily in favour of South Africa, and we look forward to a successful and exciting tournament being held at venues throughout the country," he added.

The CSA, determined to meet the challenge, has willingly offered to extend their total support to the BCCI in holding the IPL with all its flavours.

"The organisers can be assured they have the full support of

CSA structures and the South African public to stage a successful tournament. This will strengthen the ties even further between South African and Indian cricket, as well as binding our nations even closer together. We are looking forward to hosting some of the world's best cricketers, and we can assure them they will be provided with the very best facilities to show their skills." Majola stated.

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March 24, 2009

Pakistan’s participation still doubtful in IPL


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The second edition of the high-profile Indian Premier League (IPL) has finally been moved out of India, primarily due to security concerns. Since the dates had been reserved for the IPL, taking into account international activity those days, the event will now be staged outside of India.

Therefore it’s just the change of venue for the second IPL. Either it will be now hosted by South Africa that looks more likely presently with England being the alternate.

The shifting of the IPL opened the door for the cricketers from Pakistan, who had earlier been advised by the government not to visit India in the prevailing circumstances. Apparently there should be no problem from the government side if these players seek permission to compete in the IPL in South Africa or England.

But there are another reasons that could prevent or limit the participation of Pakistan’s top performers in the upcoming IPL. A series of One-day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals is to be played between Pakistan and Australia in the Middle around the same period.

The Pakistan-Australia series to be staged in Abu Dhabi and Dubai was confirmed only last month and with the limited amount of international cricket on offer for Pakistan of late there is absolutely no chance whatsoever of the authorities allowing them to skip the national duty.

Another factor that could go against the Pakistan cricketers is the fact that the action in IPL is just about a couple of weeks away and the participating teams might have finalized their squads already.

There is a remote possibility that the Pakistan-Australia series might be postponed in which case the Pakistan cricketers would be available for the IPL. That their franchisees would include them in their line-up at the eleventh hour is another matter.

The Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Ijaz Butt, has remarked that the request of the players interested in playing the ICL will be considered once they receive it. He has obviously clarified that the national duty would be paramount.

The Pakistan cricketers had encountered mixed fortunes in the inaugural edition of the IPL last year. Sohail Tanvir was the outstanding bowler, having helped his team Rajhastan Royals in clinching the trophy. His left-arm swing bowling created sensation and he became one of the most valuable players on the circuit.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Kamran Akmal also made his presence felt in the limited opportunities that came his way. He used the long handle to very good effect and the experience he gained in the IPL came handy later while playing for Pakistan.

The mercurial fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar showed the glimpses of his top form for Kolkata Knight Riders. Umar Gul, Salman Butt and Mohammad Hafeez also played for this team.

The one Pakistan cricketer who could not do justice to his talents in the IPL was the flamboyant all-rounder Shahid Khan Afridi, who just didn’t get going while playing for Deccan Chargers. He did pluck a couple of spectacular catches in the outfield besides capturing odd wickets but he could not set the grounds on fire with his stroke-play.

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March 21, 2009

India’s first Test victory in New Zealand after 33 years


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Indian cricketers played to their potential in the first Test of the ongoing series in New Zealand and finally they were able to accomplish something their predecessors had somehow failed to do.

Yes it has taken India 33 more than years to defeat New Zealand in a Test match on their soil. It’s a generation gap. I was 12 years old, studying in Class VIII at Cadet College Petaro, when India had overpowered New Zealand by eight wickets in the first Test at the Eden Park, Auckland, in January 1976.

Now my eldest daughter, Javeria, having celebrated her 12th birthday just a couple of months ago, is preparing to move to Class VIII, when India has again beaten New Zealand in the first Test at the Seddon Park, Hamilton, in March 2009.

It’s not that India didn’t visit New Zealand often in the 33-year period. There were regular tours after the 1975-76 series but for some reason or the other India could not put their acts together to win a Test match there for over three decades.

Acting skipper Sunil Gavaskar and debutant left-hander Surinder Amarnath were India’s batting heroes in the Auckland Test of the 1975-76 in which their famed spin trio of Eripalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chadrasekhar and Srinavas Ventakraghawan had bowled superbly to engineer the famous win.

They could not have even imagined that it would remain their only Test win in New Zealand for 33 as many as years. How could have they known that India would be returning empty handed from New Zealand even while having far too stronger outfits.

India toured New Zealand again in 1980-81 and looked set to start the Test series on a winning note when they routed the hosts for 100 in their second innings. With two days play to go all they needed was to get 253 on a pretty nice surface of the Basin Reserve in Wellington.

Having given a very impressive account of themselves in earlier series in Australia, the Indians, captained by Sunil Gavaskar, appeared the firm favourites to win the Wellington Test while chasing the modest target. But they made a heavy weather of it and crashed to a disappointing 190 all out to lose the game by 62 runs instead. With the home umpires refusing to raise their fingers, India could not square the series.

India was humbled again in the first Test on their next tour of New Zealand in 1989-90 under newly installed skipper Mohammad Azharduddin. All their efforts of leveling the series were foiled once again.

India failed to drive home the advantage in the only Test during their tour in 1993-94 while their first Test of the 1998-99 tour was abandoned without a ball being bowled. They were narrowly beaten in the second Test and the third and final game was drawn.

India’s tour to New Zealand in 2002-03 was so horrible from their point of view that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) didn’t risk send their team again in 2006-07 on the eve of another World Cup. The Indians had their moments in both the Test matches but they couldn’t force the result in their favour on either them and for the first India they lost more one Test in a series in New Zealand.

Here is the opportunity to set the record straight. After having won the first Test so comprehensively, India should be aiming to close the series in the very next game. Although the history is not on their Indian side, the present lot has the depth and the character to rewrite it.

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March 20, 2009

Tendulkar produces yet another classic knock


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Sachin Tendulkar’s century number 42 in Test cricket on March 20 was yet another masterly knock from the Grand Master. Even though it was scored against an opposition not having big guns the conditions were quite difficult for batting and it was his sheer class that saw him dominate the bowling for the better part of his stay at the crease.

Tendulkar was unconquered on 70 when the stumps were drawn on the second evening, a few overs before the scheduled close of play due to the fading light, in the first Test against New Zealand at the Seddon Park in Hamilton.

Although the number of spectators at the ground was not all that high from the sub-continent standards when the play started on the third morning it’s believed that the majority of the one billion people back home in India are believed to have set an early morning alarm in anticipation of another Tendulkar hundred.

The occasion was worth compromising the sound sleep. The manner in which Tendulkar resumed his innings gave an indication that he was aware of the fact that his every movement was being followed at home.

What a cracking start he had to the day. The backfoot punches were a treat to watch as were the classic cover drives. He penetrated the field without taking risk and the score kept ticking over at a brisk pace.

He had moved from 70 to 99 in no time but there was a pause when he was just a single away from the landmark. In fact he was rather unlucky not to have completed his hundred with the cover drive that fetched him three runs instead of a boundary as Daniel Vettori made a spectacular save.

There were anxious moments with a few maiden overs on a trot. Tendulkar’s problems were compounded by the lack of support from the other end as skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was struggling to rotate the strike.

Since he has been dismissed so many times in the 90s during the past few years, it always is a relief whenever he reaches the magical three-figure mark. He was mighty pleased when he got the single to his 42nd hundred in Test matches.

He needed only 168 balls to reach his century as he had remained positive from the moment he set his feet in the ground a day earlier. He was in complete control of the situation and he was not in any mood to give it away.

His stroke-play continued even after he had brought up his hundred as he kept punishing the loose balls at will. He was equal to the task while defending the good balls, hardly giving the bowlers any chance.

He completed his 150 in the afternoon session but he didn’t last long after that. Iain O’ Brien, looking the most threatening of the New Zealand bowlers, ended the majestic innings by having the master batsman caught in the slips by Ross Taylor for 160.

Tendulkar occupied the crease for exactly 400 minutes on a pitch that always kept the bowlers interested. The overcast conditions encouraged the seam bowlers but he dominated them in a fashion only he could have done.

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March 19, 2009

Postponement of Bangladesh tour to hurt Pakistan cricket


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Yes the Pakistan cricket has come to a stage where even the postponement of the tour to Bangladesh is hurting. In normal circumstances it wouldn’t have mattered much but as things stand today it means more agony.

Pakistan have played so little international cricket of late that the upcoming tour of Bangladesh was being regarded as quite an event. It had assumed even greater significance after the home series against Sri Lanka had to be called off in tragic circumstances.

But as it turned out the cricket authorities in Bangladesh have expressed their inability to host the series against Pakistan in immediate future due to the security concerns in their country.

Pakistan were originally scheduled to play two Twenty20 internationals and five ODIs between March 10 and March 22. The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) had initially desired postponing the event for a few weeks but they finally made the announcement on March 17 ruling out the series indefinitely.

Although officially the tour has been postponed not cancelled and hints have been dropped by the BCB officials for the series to take place but Pakistan have reasons to feel disappointed because they desperately needed the Bangladesh series at this point of time.

Pakistan would not have netted any astronomical profits from the tour of Bangladesh. Neither would have their rankings improved much even if they had whitewashed the hosts. It was more about taking the field.

Pakistan are short of international cricket. They are desirous of play matches to keep the cricketers engaged in competitive games. The people in general in Pakistan are crazy about cricket that has more entertainment value than any other thing.

Obviously people in Pakistan have been saddened by the events that took place in the Sri Lankan series. The attack on the visiting cricketers was the last thing the Pakistanis wanted to see. Unfortunately the Sri Lankan cricketers came under fire and everybody forgot about the game for the time being.

The tour to Bangladesh would have been helpful in reviving the Pakistan cricket. Skipper Younis Khan has not minced words in stating that the indefinite postponement of the tour to Bangladesh will harm his team's growth in general and affect preparations for the ODI series against Australia next month in particular. 

"The decision has deprived us of some valuable cricket once again. It is a great setback especially when we needed practice for the Australia series. We had some newcomers in the team for Bangladesh whom we wanted to try out before that but now that the tour is off we have lost that opportunity and it is demoralising for a captain. Our team is unfortunately very short on cricket and if mishaps like this happen, our performance will decline in important series," Younis Khan was quoted as saying.

"We have suffered a lot from tour cancellations, mainly the India and Australia series, so we badly need cricket. I hope we get some good cricket later in the year," he hoped. 

Pakistan’s next assignment is to take on Australia in five ODIs and one Twenty20 International in Dubai and Abu Dhabi between April 22 and May 7. Then they have to undertake a tour of England to participate in the Twenty20 World Cup during the month of June. 

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March 18, 2009

Time difference could limit viewership of New Zealand-India Test series


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The time difference between New Zealand and India is such that the matches starting at the standard local time of 11 am in New Zealand means a 3.30 am start in India. 

The timings of the Twenty20 Internationals suited the Indian viewers and even the One-day Internationals were day-night affairs that allowed the cricket followers in India to watch them after having completed sound sleep overnight.

The situation is different for the Test series and the broadcasters, more than anyone else, are concerned about it. If the broadcasters had a say in these matters, they could have prompted day-night sessions of the Test matches too. 

Test cricket has its traditions and they are being followed even today. May be in future even the Test matches might start late in the afternoon and include a dinner break instead of the conventional lunch interval.

With nearly every major international venue having the facility of floodlights the possibilities of day-night Test matches in future could not be ruled out.

But for the time being there is an issue and the New Zealand board has reportedly declined an Indian broadcaster's request to start the Test in Hamilton at noon instead of the traditional 11 am.

According to the reports the Sony Entertainment Television, with the blessings of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), had approached the New Zealand Cricket with the request to alter the playing hours in order to maximise its viewership in India. 

The New Zealand Cricket had accommodated the request of the same broadcasters earlier this summer during the two-Test series against the West Indies that had started at the unusual time of midday.

But that was the peak of the summer and the days were longer in that part of the world. Now the natural light could fade in the closing session if the Test matches against India also start at midday.

The light has held well until 7 pm over the past couple of days in Hamilton but the weather forecast during the first couple of days indicated a cloud cover that could be one factor the New Zealand cricket authorities were not willing to take a chance.

The Seddon Park in Hamilton and the McLean Park in Napier, where the first and second Tests are to be held, are equipped with floodlights but there is no such facility available at the venue of the third and final Test to be held at the Basin Reserve in Wellington.

The timings for the second and third Tests have not been announced yet but it’s going to be quite a tricky decision. If they are unwilling to incorporate changes in the playing hours of the first Test, it’s very unlikely that they would be in a position to do it later with the days becoming shorter.

It’s understandably a very difficult situation. Besides providing financial benefit to the broadcasters, the cricket lovers in the sub-continent will have the chance of watching more action live if the Test matches started an hour later than originally scheduled.

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March 17, 2009

India hold advantage over New Zealand going into Test series


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

After having come up with below-par performance in the preceding series of Twenty20 Internationals and One-day Internationals, will India continue obliging the New Zealanders in the Tests as well starting from March 18?

The Indians were the overwhelming favorites to dominate all the three versions of the game but their inability or to some extent unwillingness to complete the rout has kept their supporters guessing.

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni appeared a bit apologetic to the fans having come from all parts of Auckland to the Eden Park to watch their icons in motion. But what they got in return was a shameful performance from the bunch of cricketers who have loads of talent and who are better than the best.

Looking at the two outfits for the Test series, there is hardly any comparison. While the Indians are on a high having performed exceptionally well, despite the odd below-par showing, of late the hosts have generally struggled.

Let me start with the batting department. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are considered to be the best opening pair in all forms of the game. Both of them like to attack but they are adequately skilled to make big hundreds.

The Indian middle-order is second to none in terms of experience and class. In Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh they have the depth and character. Add skipper Dhoni to this list and you have a group of seven batsmen all of whom can win the match on their own.

The New Zealanders have just too many newcomers in their folds who must be having the talents but lack in experience. Test cricket is one area where the bits and pieces cricketers are often exposed. It remains to be seen if the hosts do have some potentially fine Test batsmen.

Turning towards the area of bowling, for the first time in many years, India are in a possession of a new-ball attack that has been acclaimed as the best in the business. In Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan they have most potent fast bowlers who have been successful even on the flattest of tracks.

India may not have a world-class first change bowler in the present squad, as the selectors didn’t deem it to proper to pick Sreesanth or R P Singh for this particular tour, but they are well served in the spin department in the presence of Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra.

New Zealand can only match the tourists in the spin department because their skipper Daniel Vettori, a champion left-arm spinner, has had success against all teams particularly India.

It will be interesting to find out what kind of pitches would be there for the three-Test series. The New Zealanders may opt for green tops to unsettle India’s formidable batting line-up but they could land themselves land in greater trouble because the visitors are much more resourceful in the pace bowling department than before.

India would be the favorites on all kind of surfaces going into the Test series against this New Zealand side. That the Indians would like to dictate terms for considerable time or will they go about the business as softly as they did in both the T20Is and the fifth and final ODI remains to be seen.

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March 14, 2009

India’s typical self destruction at Auckland lifts New Zealand


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

India did exactly what was being feared. They surrendered in the fifth and final One-day International at the Eden Park, Auckland, almost in the same fashion as their predecessors used to do when least expected to be at the receiving end.

New Zealand, besides other less fancied oppositions, have been the beneficiaries whenever the Indians have opted to be in this mode and they benefited once more when Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men decided to emulate their predecessors.

India’s shocking display, after having dominated the earlier four ODIs, must have broken the hearts of the large number of their supporters who had gathered at the Eden Park in anticipation of another cracking performance from them.

The Eden Park in Auckland was presenting the look of Little India as there were more Indian supporters at the ground than the local ones. They had braved the weather for quite sometime and they were delighted when the match finally got underway.

But their happiness didn’t last long. Virender Sehwag treated them with a few of his trademark shots but all others, with the sole exception of Rohit Sharma, failed to deliver against a bowling attack that was short of confidence after the hammering it was subjected to in the earlier games.

The Indians have had the habit of obliging the non-entities and this time Jesse Ryder of all people was allowed to become the bowling hero for New Zealand. It must have stunned the followers of the game generally but there was hardly any element of surprise for those who have been familiar with the Indian cricket.

There was nothing in the pitch to cause an alarm for the champion Indian batsmen. The ball was doing a bit but that is quite usual on the New Zealand pitches. The form in which the Indian batsmen were in, all they needed was to get their eyes in and resume business.

It has been a common sight in Indian cricket over the years. They have passed the impression of throwing away matches against weaker oppositions. They have done it once more.

Even Dhoni’s men who are being compared with the great West Indian team of the 1980s for possessing enormous depth in every department of the game have failed to immunize themselves from this disease. They have been doing it less frequently than what one had seen in the past but they need to do away with this practice if they have to accomplish the goal of becoming the number one team in the world.

The movers and shakers of the Indian cricket, it seems, don’t feel hurt or concerned by the shocking results. By the look of things they don’t mind their team losing a few games once in a while.

What they fail to take into the account is the fact that the Indian cricket team has the biggest fan following in the world who feel down and shaken by the heartbreaking performance of their stars.

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Former world champion Yousuf not to feature in Snooker Nationals 2009


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
Mohammad Yousuf, a former world champion, will not be taking part in the NJI 34th National Snooker Championship 2009, to be held at the historic Karachi Gymkhana from March 16 to 21.

The President of the Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, has confirmed that Yousuf was not considered for a wild card entry because he didn’t submit any such request in writing to take part in the upcoming National Championship.

“Yousuf was not an automatic qualifier for this year’s Nationals since he had lost his place in the top 16 last year. He could have re-entered the national circuit by playing the provincial cup that he didn’t do. We would have certainly considered his request for a wild card entry if he had approached us,” the PBSA President said.

“We have awarded wild card entries in the national ranking tournaments in the past as well to the leading cueists like Saleh Mohammad, Naveen Perwani and Farhan Mirza,” he added.

Alamgir Shaikh, having taken over the leadership of the PBSA only last year, clarified that the Association did not hold any grudge against Yousuf or any other cueist. 

Having won the national snooker title on the highest number of occasions, Yousuf will be missing the National Championship only for the second time in his long career.

The only Pakistani to have won the World Championship as well as the Asian Championship, Yousuf, acclaimed as a master craftsman, had last absented in 1999 when he had been banned for the whole year by the PBSA on disciplinary grounds. 

It was the same year when Saleh Mohammad had completed a grand slam by winning all the four national ranking tournaments.

Yousuf had bounced back in style and regained the national title after the layoff. He then went on to annex World Seniors Snooker title. It remains to be seen if he will make another comeback. 

Meanwhile the winner of the NJI 34th National Snooker Championship 2009 will be collecting a handsome purse of Rs 90,000 alongwith a glittering trophy. The details about the six-day event, being sponsored by the New Jubilee Insurance (NJI) having become the major sponsors for snooker events, were unveiled in a media briefing here at the Karachi Gymkhana on March 12.

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March 13, 2009

Younis optimistic about early return of international cricket in Pakistan


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Pakistan captain Younis Khan remains convinced that the international cricket will be returning to the country in not too distant future while urging all the stakeholders to play their part in a proactive manner.

“At the moment the foreign teams appear hesitant to play in Pakistan. Even the governing body of the game, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has some reservations on this issue. But this perception can change quickly and we could be having more action than before,” the skipper said in a one-to-one chat with this scribe just before leaving for Faisalabad to lead his employers Habib Bank Limited (HBL) in the One-day National Tournament.

“To make things happen we need a collective effort at all fronts. Our former cricket greats should visit the various Test playing nations to convince their movers and shakers to come to Pakistan where cricket is the passion of the masses,” he suggested.

 “We have to convince the international community that the attack on the visiting Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore was an odd incident and our nation was peaceful and cricket loving by nature. Our great cricketers and diplomats should join hands in lobbying for Pakistan at all fronts,” Younis, having moved to the top slot in the ICC Test rankings after his triple century in the recent home series against Sri Lanka, added.

He believed that the ICC has a positive outlook and their officials could be helpful in reviving international cricket in Pakistan.

“In every ICC meeting we are advised not to do anything that would send a negative image to the youngsters in particular. In the same spirit the ICC should be considerate towards Pakistan’s case as cricket is the passion of the youngsters in Pakistan who may take up other habits if they are not encouraged to pick up their bats and balls,” Younis pointed out. 

“The ICC should also take into account the fact that cricket is the unifying force and it’s a more than useful tool in promoting peace and harmony. The ICC should play its role in persuading its member countries to tour Pakistan,” he urged.

“If international cricket is not played in Pakistan for sometime it might have very negative affects on the youth of the country. The ICC and its member countries must help in saving our youth from going into unhealthy activities,” Younis said.  

“Pakistan has been one of the most active members of the ICC for a number of years. Our cricketers enjoy iconic status in many countries of the world. A friend in need is a friend indeed. It’s the time for the ICC to come to Pakistan’s rescue,” he pleaded. 

He did not mince words in stating that the attack on the Sri Lanka team on March 3 while proceeding to Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore, was a very unfortunate one.
“It was indeed the saddest day of our sports history. But things have to move forward and the show has to go on. The international cricket must return to Pakistan the sooner the better,” Younis concluded.

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March 12, 2009

Sehwag powers India to maiden ODI series victory in New Zealand


100th Article on this Blog

By Syed Khalid Mahmood

India managed to overcome the inconsistent weather and the unpredictable hosts at the Seddon Park in Hamilton to record their maiden win in a series of One-day Internationals in New Zealand.

As on so many occasions in the past, India had to keep an eye on the external factors besides controlling the game in the field. They had been defeated by the weather in the second game after having dictated terms in whatever cricket that could be played.

Well there’s no doubt in one’s mind about this Indian side being far too superior to the hosts, who continue making life more miserable for themselves by sticking to their policy of fielding uncapped players.

The current Indian outfit hardly has any faults therefore it’s extremely unlikely to be floored and that too by an inexperienced and unsettled combination like the New Zealanders have at the moment.

The Indians, after having been scared for a few moments in the previous ODI where they just lost the focus for no rhyme or reason while defending a mammoth total, didn’t commit that many mistakes and their victory march was only threatened by rains.

Virender Sehwag batted in the same manner as he has done throughout his career. This charismatic opener is mentally so strong that he’s not afraid of the reputation of the bowlers or the state of the pitch. He has only one word in his vocabulary. That is to dominate from the moment he sets his feet on the ground.

Sehwag is so immensely gifted that he rarely has to change the gears. If the ball lands in his zone he will go for it. His hand-eye coordination is exemplary and there is no more exciting sight in world cricket than watching him on song. He toys with the bowling literally every time he goes out with the bat in his hand.

No record appears out of his reach when he is on song. The New Zealanders can only hope that he himself would commit mistake early in his innings otherwise they should be prepared for another hammering in the field.

There is no element of surprise in watching him post India's fastest ODI hundred reaching the magical three figures off only 60 balls. If anybody has the capacity and the talent to break Shahid Afridi’s world record of fastest hundred it’s Sehwag.

His opening partner Gautam Gambhir also contributed his bit in the unbeaten double century stand that broke all hopes the hosts had of making a match of it even with the D/L system.

Earlier in the day New Zealand got off to a decent start once again through the opening pair of Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum but the rate of scoring dipped with the arrival of the spinners.

Yuvraj Singh and Yousuf Pathan offered little width to the batsmen who got frustrated and threw away their wickets. Harbhajan Singh was also very economical in his earlier overs and New Zealand had to take the batting powerplay earlier than anticipated to lift the tempo.

The move backfired as the pace duo of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma were bang on target and their wicket-taking abilities allowed India to gain control. It was a wonderful exhibition of quality fast bowling from both ends.

India, however, had to pay dearly for the let off to Peter McGlashan, who was dropped first ball by Mahendra Singh Dhoni off Ishant Sharma. He rode his luck as did Grant Elliott as they somehow gathered 95 runs off the last 10 overs. 

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March 11, 2009

New look Australia whip South Africa and West Indies finally clinch a Test series


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

March 10, 2009 will go down as one of the most dramatic days in the history of the game when as many as two Test series were decided. Having won the first Test comprehensively, the Australians pocketed the second game by even bigger margin at the Kingsmead, Durban, to reclaim the series before the third and final encounter. 

The story was different altogether at the Queens Park Oval in Port of Spain where the West Indies had to battle it out grimly to save the game against England that enabled them to retain the 1-0 lead and win a Test series for the first time in five years.

Starting from Durban, the pair of Jacques Kallis and A B de Villiers had given the South Africans some hope after grinding the Australian bowlers on the penultimate day of the match. The hosts had eight wickets in hand entering the final day and although the task of getting a further 302 to win the fixture looked extremely unlikely there were realistic hopes of them drawing the game that would have kept the series alive.

But the Australians exerted more pressure on the final morning and the South African batsmen succumbed. Skipper Ricky Ponting led from the front as he normally does and there was no escape route available to the hosts.

Ponting deserves the credit for having delivered with an inexperienced battalion at his disposal. He marshaled his troops so well and at no stage did the Australians lose intensity.

The Australians have proved the point that they have more than adequate bench strength to cover up for the seasoned guys some of whom have retired from the international cricket recently while the others are on the injury list.

The success of the youthful Australian side augurs very well for the future. The 20-year-old opener Philip Hughes has already made history. He has become the youngest batsmen to score two centuries in a Test match, having eclipsed the record of the great George Headley of the West Indies.

Continuing with the West Indies, they have continued to improve lately after having endured testing times in the not too distant past. The present lot has been showing more grit under the leadership of Chris Gayle and it were their fighting qualities that earned them a draw in the fifth and final Test.

The pitch had started to misbehave on the final afternoon and the England spin duo of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, as expected, caused untold problems for their batsmen. With James Anderson reversing the ball so craftily the home batsmen were kept on their toes all the time.

Wickets kept on falling at regular intervals to keep the match alive which was not called off until Fidel Edwards had safely negotiated the penultimate ball. It was Edwards again who didn’t wilt under pressure to save the day for his team, a fact duly acknowledged by his captain in the presentation ceremony.

Denesh Ramdin, having hit his maiden century in the previous game, batted so responsibly in the closing overs to steer his team to safety. He handled the pressure very well while scoring an unbeaten 17 off 87 deliveries.

Andrew Strauss might be asked a few questions about the timing of the declaration but he could not be criticized for the delay because he had to ensure a decent target. He would have been probed further had he set a smaller target and the West Indies achieved it. He led the side admirably in his first assignment as captain.

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March 9, 2009

India just manage to sneak a win after compiling record total in New Zealand


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Indians were mixed bag in the third One-day International against New Zealand at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch on March 8. After compiling the highest-ever ODI total of 392 for four on the New Zealand soil, the tourists appeared to have lost the plot while defending it. 

Pathetic bowling, horrible fielding and unimaginative captaincy almost cost India the game that should have been in their bag without any frightening moments. It was amazing to find Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who was been very impressive as a leader throughout his career, commit blunders in position of strength.

Dhoni, who has always been showered with praise for being so cool and creative even when the chips are down, was guilty of making a mess of it when he should have actually closed the issue.

A higher score had been chased down successfully in the ODI history before but that was done by an exceptionally powerful South African batting line-up. The New Zealanders were not all that well equipped to cause that kind of sensation and the bowling they were confronting had the variety as well as the punch to keep them well and truly in control.

The Indians did have the history of allowing their most unfancied of rivals to do something monumental and this might have been one factor that prompted the New Zealanders to be positive when they came out in pursuit of the target of 393 in 50 overs.

Brendon McCullum, who was leading the home side in the absence of Daniel Vettori, and his opening partner Jesse Ryder must have realized within minutes that the Indians were not going hard at them and the intensity in the field was low.

It was shocking to find the Indian fielders letting the ball go between their legs straight to the boundaries. Even more horrible were the two dropped catches in successive overs. Skipper Dhoni missed a regulation catch and soon afterwards Yousuf Pathan floored a sitter in the deep.

The New Zealand openers cashed in and they started to blast the bowling fearlessly. Even the champion off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was guilty of losing the focus and the runs kept flowing. 

The 166-run opening partnership was finally broken when McCullum was found well short of his crease while attempting another risky single. Wickets started tumbling and one hoped that the Indians will force the issue quickly after a superb spell from Zaheer Khan.

Just when Indian appeared to have taken complete control of the proceedings they were again shred into pieces by Kyle Mills and Tim Southee who smashed 83 runs in a matter of seven overs. 

It was unbelievable to find the Indians getting so ragged in the field at this stage. Dhoni made some strange moves and his decision to continue with Munaf Patel reflected the pressure having gone to his head. In normal circumstances he would have never that.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for India when Munaf was ordered by the umpires to quit the bowling crease after those two high full tosses both of whom had the batsmen caught. Dhoni was prompted to toss the ball to Yousuf at last to complete that unfinished over.

Yousuf followed three dot balls with a wicket on his last ball to break the partnership that had brutally exposed chinks in India’s armour. One wondered why Dhoni had not used him earlier when all the other bowlers were being put to sword.

India were indebted to Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh for setting up the platform for a huge total. Tendulkar was simply brilliant while notching up his maiden ODI hundred in New Zealand. Skipper Dhoni and Suresh Raina also contributed their bit to take the total close to 400. 

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March 6, 2009

Chris Broad under fire for going overboard once more


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Chris Broad, the former England opening batsman turned commentator and match referee, has had the habit of hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons. It’s an open secret that it was his temperament more than form or fitness that curtailed his career as an international cricketer.

Unlike England’s cricket board, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has been generous enough to overlook Broad’s follies so far. But he may have to face the music now after the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Ijaz Butt, has accused him of lying in connection with the recent attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team and the match officials.

Broad, who was the ICC match referee for the Pakistan-Sri Lanka series, had lashed out at the security arrangements and went on to the extent of considering the attack in Lahore as a death knell for cricket in Pakistan.

The outspoken Broad appeared to have gone overboard while talking to the media upon his return in England. It would have been more appropriate if he communicated his observations directly to the ICC instead of publicly expressing his anger and dismay.

“I'm angry with the Pakistani security forces. We were promised high level security and in our hour of need that security vanished. There was not a sign of a policeman anywhere. They had clearly gone, left the scene and left us to be sitting ducks,” Broad was quoted as saying. 

"I raised my concerns with the ICC before the tour started and they passed on those concerns to the Pakistan board. They assured me through e-mail that all security would be taken care of, presidential-style security. And clearly that didn't happen,” he thought.

"When we were in the van we weren't aware of what was going on outside. But after the incident when you watch the TV pictures you can clearly see the white van we were in, next to the ambulance in the middle of a roundabout, with terrorists shooting into our van and past our van and not a sign of a policeman anywhere," he charged.

The charges, however, have been denied by the top functionary of the PCB. "It is a big lie that there were no policemen. A commando jumped over Broad and saved his life. The commando was hurt so if there was no policeman, how come Broad was saved? All his statements are false.
He has now made obnoxious comments. That a gentleman of his stature is saying this is unfortunate," Ijaz Butt, Chairman PCB, stated during the media briefing in Lahore on March 5.
 "He said that there wasn’t any policeman there. I think there could be no bigger lie than this because six policemen died and ten are injured. Our people have also been injured. We lost six policemen who were trying to protect the cricketers and the match officials. So if some one is complaining about just a scratch, then it is very sad," Ijaz Butt, known for calling a spade a spade, asserted.

He has also announced that the PCB would lodge a formal protest with the ICC against Broad, who has remained a controversial figure in the past as well. One hopes that the ICC would take some action on the matter.

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March 5, 2009

India do justice to themselves in first ODI against New Zealand


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

After having flopped in the two-match series of the Twenty20 Internationals, awesome India finally showed glimpses of their brute force in the first One-day International against New Zealand at the McLean Park, Napier.

India, the reigning world champions in the shortest version of the game, had been overpowered by the hosts in both the T20 games that made everyone unsure about the outcome of the ODI series to be spread over five matches, weather permitting.

India, standing head and shoulders above their opponents in every department of the game, had lived to the reputation of failing against New Zealand in the T20 series but they did play to their abilities in the first ODI and the result was seldom in doubt.

Thankfully from the viewpoint of the millions of their supporters and well wishers in different corners of the world the Indians did justice to their talents in the game and there was hardly any chance for the hosts to think in terms of stealing another win.

The present Indian side is so much superior to New Zealand in terms of experience as well as talent. The gap between the two teams is simply too much and only self-destruction on part of the Indians can allow the hosts to come close in any form of the game on any kind of surface.

Rains did disrupt the proceedings in the first ODI but it couldn’t prevent the Indians from controlling the game all along. One can’t expect the inexperienced and youthful New Zealand outfit to come to terms with the mighty Indians whose every member of the team is a match-winner in his own right. 

It are mainly the outside factors that derail the Indians, more so against New Zealand, so let us keep our fingers crossed about the remaining games. It remains to be seen if Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his inspired lot will continue dominating the ODI series or it will be otherwise.

There was nothing extraordinary in the first ODI where it was business as usual for the Indians. Virender Sehwag got India off to a cracking start in his typically flamboyant style. Sachin Tendulkar was happy to play the second fiddle to Sehwag and then the skipper arrived himself at number three.

Dhoni has proved many times that he has the capability to bat up the order as he has the rare ability of changing gears at will. After Sehwag’s departure there was a period when Yuvraj Singh got bogged down much to the disappointment of his fans. 

But Suresh Raina provided the skipper the kind of support that was needed to raise the total substantially and India’s final score of 273 off 38 overs gave them a very solid platform.

The New Zealanders lost early wickets and they were always behind the clock. They had moved to 111 for four in the 21st over when the rains came again. They needed 105 off 43 balls when the play resumed, a task that was beyond their reach.

The form of the champion off-spinner Harbhajan Singh must have gladdened the hearts of the Indians. Extracting appreciable turn, he grabbed three wickets in four balls after having been smashed for boundaries on first two balls by Martin Guptill who topscored for the hosts with 64.

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March 4, 2009

Sri Lankan cricketers attacked on Pakistan’s darkest hour in sports history


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

March 3, 2009 will go down in Pakistan’s sporting history as the darkest day. It was for the first time in Pakistan when the sportspersons were directly targeted. The visiting Sri Lankan cricketers were attacked when they were on their way to the Qaddafi Stadium on what was to be the third day of the second and final Test.

Half a dozen Pakistani policemen sacrificed their lives in the process of protecting the lives of the Sri Lankans, five of whom were among 19 wounded, in the daylight attack.

Skipper Mahela Jayawardene, his deputy Kumar Sangakkara and the mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis received minor injuries but star batsman Thilan Samaraweera and opener Tharanga Paravitarana were seriously injured.

The Test match was abandoned right away and the tour was called off. The Sri Lankan squad, having endured nightmarish moments earlier in the day, must have heaved a sigh of relief after safely landing in Colombo.

The Sri Lankan captain was quick to point out, upon his arrival in Colombo, that it was their own terror background that helped them in saving their lives when the bus carrying them to the stadium was ambushed.

"We have been brought up in a background of terrorist activities. We are used to hearing, seeing these things - firing, bombings. So we ducked under our seats when the firing began. It was like natural instinct," he was quoted as saying.

Jayawardene, very sportingly, also said that the attack on the team could have happened anywhere and could not be pinned down to Pakistan.

The other teams might have panicked in such circumstances that would have obviously caused greater damage. The Sri Lankans handled the situation very well during and after the attack.

Sri Lanka, after having piled up a total in the excess of 600 in the first innings for the second Test running, must have believed that they had a realistic chance of winning the game which would have also given them the series.

Thee march towards victory was in their thoughts when they boarded the bus at 8.30 am. As Sangakkara wrote in his diary they were all looking forward to the third day's play and trying to win the series. 

He added: The bus was full of the normal banter. Players traded stories, mostly about Lahore shopping, and cracked jokes. Others chatted about the cricket and the crucial first session. Then, as we approached the large roundabout before the Gaddafi Stadium, we suddenly heard a noise like a firecracker. The bus came to a halt and some of the guys jumped out of their seats to see what was happening. Then came the shout: "They are shooting at us!" 

“The truth is we owe our lives to the courageous Mohammad Khalil, the driver. I will forever be grateful to him. The tyres of the bus had been shot out and he was in grave personal danger, exposed to gunfire at the front of the bus. But he was hell-bent on getting us to safety and, somehow, he got us moving again. Had Khalil not acted with such courage and presence of mind most of us would have been killed,” Sangakkara acknowledged like a true sportsman. 

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March 2, 2009

Countdown to Detroit's Diversity Cup 2009 begins


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Detroit in Michigan has emerged as one of the most bustling cricketing centres of the United States of America (USA). The event that has brought the city of Detroit in limelight is none other than the Diversity Cup, having become an annual feature for the past few years.

In fact there are two standout tournaments in Detroit every year that catch the imagination of the cricket enthusiasts over there. One is the Big 3 Cricket Challenge tournament contested by Daimler Chrysler, GM and Ford and the other one is the Diversity Cup.

The breaking news for the cricket followers in the USA is that the dates for this year’s Diversity Cup have been announced and all is set to have its upcoming edition in Detroit from July 3 to 5.
Shahid Ahmed, who is the motivating force behind the tournament, has already started communication in this regard with the various stake-holders and he looks confident of making even more memorable than before.

He has been successful in implementing his ambitions plans gradually and there is likelihood that the Diversity Cup, already broadcast live via the internet, will go places in the years to come.

Shahid Ahmed, who is the President of the Michigan Cricket Association, besides being the CEO of the Global Sports Inc, has been very keenly working on the promotion of cricket in his country where the game still has the status of being a minority sport.

Committed and consistent efforts of individuals like him can go a long way in lifting the game in the USA. The success of the Diversity Cup augurs very well for the future of cricket in North America.
The Diversity Cup has been acclaimed as a tournament having attracted global attention and put Detroit on the world cricket map. It was an exceptional idea to have the teams named after the main cricket playing nations. 

The Diversity Cup was launched by the Global Sports in 2006. There were four teams by the name of Canada Maple Leafs, India Blues, Pakistan Greens and USA Stars who contested the inaugural tournament. There was a welcome addition of Sri Lanka Lions and West Indies Masters in 2007. 

The presence of cricket legends like Asif Iqbal, Mushtaq Mohammad and Javed Miandad has been greatly helpful in boosting the tournament in its early years. It went to the credit of the organizers to have succeeded in bringing such great names over there and the guests of honour did not mince words in having acknowledged the good work being done by the Global Sports in promoting the game.

The Diversity Cup, whose fourth edition is to be held in just a few months time, has also witnessed the participation of some renowned cricketers. With the organizers putting in greater effort and the event gaining popularity every year the upcoming venture is likely to generate more interest than ever before.

Shahid Ahmed and his team at the Global Sports deserve the support of the cricket community in order to further boost the game in the region.

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