May 31, 2009

12th Sindh Games revive sporting culture in Larkana


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The 12th edition of the Sindh Games concluded with a colourful ceremony at the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Sports Complex in Larkana on May 31 with the Chief Minister, Syed Qaim Ali Shah declaring the Games closed.

He paid rich tributes to the Provincial Sports Minister, Dr Syed Mohammad Ali Shah, to have dared holding the Games in the month of May, that’s generally considered hot from the sports point of view.

“We have known that the outdoor sports events in our country are staged in the season of winter or spring. But Dr Shah deserves credit to have given us the concept that the Games could also be held successfully in summer. The success of the 12th Sindh Games proved the point that every season is suited to sports if the events are managed professionally,” he observed.

The Chief Minister, while congratulating Karachi Region for clinching the trophy once more, urged the athletes of the other four regions to continue working hard for improving their performance in the future events.

He presented the winners trophy to Dr Frahan Essa Abdullah, chef de mission of the Karachi Region who was then carried on shoulders by the elated members of the victorious contingent.
Syed Qaim Ali Shah announced that the next edition of the Sindh Games will be staged in Karachi. He announced a grant of Rupees five million for the sports department for holding the 12th Sindh Games in a splendid manner.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Shah observed that his mission was to spread the flame of sports in every nook and corner of the province and he needed the support of the provincial government in fulfilling his ambition.

“I was advised by certain quarters to postpone the 12th Sindh Games or move it to any other venue in view of the weather conditions here. But it was my commitment to the people of Larkana to hold the Games here and we were able to organize it successfully despite all odds being stacked against us,” he said.

Dr Shah believed that the interior regions of the province deserved greater attention as they lacked the infrastructure facilities that didn’t allow their athletes to progress beyond a certain level.

The Provincial Minister for Local Government, Agha Siraj Durrani, who himself holds a black belt in karate, was highly appreciative of the efforts of Dr Shah and his team for having braved the hot weather and organized the Sindh Games so successfully in Larkana.

Ahmed Ali Rajput, Secretary, Sindh Olympic Association (SOA), in his speech, highlighted the various challenges that had to be met in holding the Games.

The welcome address was delivered by Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, Secretary Sports and Youth Affairs, Government of Sindh, in which he acknowledged the support of the concerned quarters in accomplishing the task of holding the Sindh Games.

“According to the directives of the government we are working tirelessly to develop sports culture in the province. It’s our desire to engage the youth in healthy activities with sports being on top in the list of our priorities,” Shoaib Siddiqui said.

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May 30, 2009

Yousuf, Razzaq set to return to Pakistan team shortly


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) may be prompted to recall early the duo of Mohammad Yousuf and Abdul Razzaq whose resignations have reportedly been accepted by the Indian Cricket League (ICL).

Both Yousuf as well as Razzaq can still be drafted in the Pakistan line-up because the batting simply has lacked the consistency in the recent past. It will come as so surprise if both of them make it to squad for Pakistan's upcoming tour of Sri Lanka.

The Pakistan cricket has certainly missed Yousuf’s anchoring role in the middle order and the enterprise of all-rounder Abdul Razzaq as their replacements have failed to deliver on a regular basis.

Since Yousuf and Razzaq are desperately needed to boost the struggling Pakistan side, it looks extremely likely that they might have been approached by the PCB officials with the solid offer of an immediate return to the national team if they distanced themselves from the ICL.

It’s debatable whether the PCB should have been so lenient in pardoning them for having compromised on national interests. Both of them, and all other who joined the ICL, knew that they were ruling themselves out of international arena since the ICC did not recognize the League.

The ‘rebel’ cricketers received astronomical sums for having ditched their national boards that’s why some of them have not welcomed players associated the ICL right away.

The PCB could have also waited for sometime before recalling the ICL contracted cricketers, even though they had resigned from the League.

Drafting them back into international cricket from the moment they have resigned from the ICL doesn’t reflect wisdom. The cricketers, who benefited so much financially for having abandoned the national team, should have been made to wait for some time before recalling them.

But the officials of the PCB must be having their logic that may not look logical to the ordinary mortals. They were issuing public statements that they were willing to take them back even when they were engaged in the ICL.

“Mohammad Yousuf and Abdul Razzaq are available for selection now and that is a good thing. Cooling period doesn't come into it,” Wasim Bari, a former Pakistan, now Director Human Resources at the PCB, was quoted as saying.

Wasim Bari obviously conveyed the sentiments of the people at the helm of the affairs in the PCB, who displayed so much of fondness for Yousuf out in the open despite his controversial moves during the past few years.

Yousuf, high in demand after accomplishing the record of highest number of Test runs in a calendar year, had signed a contract with the ICL in 2007. Then came the news of him ditching the ICL and getting a hefty fee from the PCB for doing the same.

Yousuf was eager to play IPL, after his ‘deal’ with the PCB, but legal complications didn’t allow him to fulfill this particular desire and he rejoined the ICL instead in late 2008.

Everyone believed that Yousuf’s career with Pakistan was over once he was back at the ICL. But he has been granted a new lease of life lately and his international career is likely to resume soon.

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May 29, 2009

Games last a few days, memories last a lifetime


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Sindh Minister for Sports, Dr. Mohammed Ali Shah, declared the 12th Sindh Games open at the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Sports Complex in Larkana on May 28, as originally scheduled.

Speaking on the occasion Dr Shah, the famous orthopedic surgeon, who is also the President of the Sindh Olympic Association (SOA), remarked that sports was a more than useful tool in combating crimes.

“The promotion of sports is actually a fight against crime. We have been working on the strategy of building infrastructure projects all over the province so that our people could have the access to better sporting facilities,” Dr Shah observed.

Earlier in the day the provincial minister had performed the inauguration of astrotruf at the Khuhro Complex, having fulfilled his promise that he had made very long ago.

“This is a gift for the hockey players in Larkana. Now they have the opportunity to fine tune their skills and take their game to another level,” he said.

There was more good news for the sports enthusiasts in Larkana as Dr Shah announced that Rs 400 million would be spent on projects to develop the hockey grounds in the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Sports Complex as well as the Khuhro Sports Complex.

He reckoned that there’s much sporting talent in Sindh in general Larkana in particular and greater efforts were needed to provide them the platform to unfold their skills.

He pointed out that the events like the Sindh Games go a long way in promoting sports from the grassroots level and he was eager to have it on a regular basis.

The 12th Sindh Games, being organized by the Sindh Sports Board (SSB), an organ of the Government of Sindh, with the collaboration of the Sindh Olympic Association (SOA), would certainly test the participating athletes.

The contests are being held in 24 disciplines for men and 10 by women besides the four indigenous games and the exhibition event tug of war.

The men athletes are in action in athletics, badminton, baseball, basketball, bodybuilding, boxing, cycling, football, gymnastics, handball, hockey, judo, karate, netball, squash, swimming, table tennis, tae kwendo, tennis, throwball, volleyball, weightlifting, wrestling and wushu while the female athletes are engaged in the disciplines of athletics, badminton, basketball, hockey, karate, netball, softball, table tennis, throwball and volleyball.

Meanwhile thanks to the efforts of Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, Secretary, Sports and Youth Affairs, to the Government of Sindh, the athletes and officials of the 12th Sindh Games have been provided the insurance cover.

“Injuries and hospitalization are also covered besides the accidental death. This is probably for the first time in the country when the athletes are being provided with the insurance cover during a sporting event. In fact the athletes as well as the officials will be covered for a period of one month, from May 27 to June 26,” Shoaib Siddiqui revealed.

The Sindh Games has returned to Larkana after 16 years. The first-ever Sindh Games were held in this town in 1986 and then the fifth edition was staged in 1993.

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India’s performance in ICC World Twenty20 could suffer due to IPL


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

As they say excess of anything is bad. The Indian cricketers have undoubtedly been in huge demand over the last few years in particular and their authorities have kept them engaged literally round the clock.

The excessive workload can have negative impact that there’s every possibility of India’s performance suffering in the upcoming ICC World Twenty20 in England because their cricketers have had very little time to relax after the grueling second edition of the high-profile Indian Premier League (IPL) that lasted over a month in South Africa.

All the 15 members of the Indian squad, who are preparing to board the flight to England, were engaged in the IPL 2009 and they had returned home just a few days ago. They certainly deserved a reasonable break after having been in action in the most demanding format of the game for well over a month.

The present lot of Indian cricketers is indeed immensely talented and incredibly tough mentally but they are after all human beings and not machines. With the added pressure of having to defend the title they won in South Africa a couple of years ago, they will have to come up with something extraordinary to do the business once more.

The Indians certainly appear the strongest team in the world for the Twenty20 games on paper but extending their top form on a continuous basis could be a very tall order even for them.

By scheduling the IPL 2009 so close to the second ICC World Twenty20 the Indian cricket administrators have also passed the impression that they hardly cared for the global event.

But what they forgot was the fact that the Twenty20 cricket had exploded in India only after their team had won the inaugural World Cup in 2007. It was the triumph that led a turnaround. 

The Indian Cricket League (ICL) was born soon after India had been crowned as the world champions in Twenty20 cricket. There was an unprecedented boom and cricket had come alive in the country that had gone into a state of mourning following the debacle of their fancied team in the Caribbean just a few months ago.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), for some reasons, didn’t own the ICL and the International Cricket Council (ICC) was not left with any other option than to lend support to the Indian Board.

The movers and shakers in the BCCI came out with their own brand of Twenty20 cricket that led to the creation of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

They mobilized all their resources to produce something that was nothing short of sensational. The game of cricket was taken to another level by the IPL.

The IPL has indeed done a favour to the Indian cricket as it has provided a solid platform for their upcoming as well as established campaigners to showcase their talents to an international audience. 

But it’s up to the BCCI to decide whether they could also compromise their national interests by promoting the IPL. Hosting the tournament so close to the ICC World Twenty20 looked a debatable move. 

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May 28, 2009

Joyrides by PBSA officials to hurt Pakistan snooker


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA) earned goodwill and recognition over the past couple of decades for having worked with transparency and missionary zeal.

The dynamic leadership of Ali Asghar Valika took the Pakistan snooker to new heights and the game progressed in leaps and bounds over the years. At times snooker was even considered as the most popular sport of the country after cricket of course.

Snooker earned laurels and medals for Pakistan. Mohammad Yousuf won the World Amateur Championship in 1994. Shaukat Ali captured the gold medal when snooker was included in the Asian Games for the first time in 1998. Earlier the same year Yousuf had annexed the Asian title. Pakistan’s cueists went on to bring home medals in the 2002 Asian Games as well.

Asghar Valika had to quit the PBSA in controversial circumstances last September and the new set of office-bearers were left with a daunting task of putting things back in order.

Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, who succeeded Asghar Valika, displayed tremendous enthusiasm and energy to come to grips with the challenges but he has come under fire of late for having promoted joyrides.

He was found wanting in coming up with a convincing answer to justify the presence of two officials with as many cueists during the recently concluded 25th Asian Snooker Championship 2009 staged in China.

During the media launch of the NBP Ranking Snooker Championship 2009 at the Karachi Club, Alamgir Shaikh was asked how their Association, which was unable to hold the Latif Masters due to the shortage of funds last year, became so rich overnight that it could afford sending as many as two officials with the two cueists.

The PBSA President was also in a spot of bother when questioned about the wisdom behind sending two officials and not allowing the young duo of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Sajjad to have the facility of a coach to turn to during the course of the Asian Championship.

“Bilal Mughal, whose services were acquired to conduct a three-week training camp on the eve of the departure to China, is basically a coach only for the beginners. That’s why we didn’t deem it proper to take him for the Asian Championship,” Alamgir Shaikh opined.

The PBSA President, however, looked towards the heavens when reminded that the same Bilal Moghul was appointed coach for the national team during the Asian Championship last year in Dubai.

The snooker circles have pointed fingers at the policy of the present PBSA office-bearers, accusing them of being engaged in joyrides at the expense of the game.

Alamgir Shaikh conceded that the performance of the Pakistan’s cueists in the recently concluded Asian Championship was the worst-ever for a long time. “Yes it’s true that our youngsters were unable to deliver. Debutant Asif fared a little better, forcing his way into the knockout stage of the competition but Sajjad was a big disappointment throughout the event,” the PBSA President admitted.

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May 26, 2009

Wooden spoonists of yesterday, champions of today


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The curtain has fallen to the second edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) that had to be staged in South Africa instead of India where it was launched with great fanfare last year.

The IPL 2009 produced far too many upsets and it was more about the tales of unexpected rather than anything else. Cricket is indeed a very uncertain sport but the manner in which some of the matches took place in the competition took many people by surprise.

Wtth the upset results being the order of the day there was absolutely no element of surprise in watching the wooden spoonists of the inagural IPL going on to play the final of the IPL 2. Yes it were Deccan Chargers and Royal Challengers Bangalore, who shared the last two positions last year, contested the final this time round.

Rajasthan Royals, who were the defending champions, were not even able to make the cut in the semifinals that was really astonishing. Delhi Daredevils, who were looking the most formidable of all outfits in the league matches, crashed in the semifinals against the run of play.

Who would have believed at the start of the tournament that Deccan Chargers and Royal Challengers Bangalore will be the contestants of the final. But with the unlikeliest of things happening throughout the month nothing could have been ruled out either.

The final was not spared of the unexpected drama as well. Bangalore appeared to have all cards in their pocket when Rahul Dravid and Ross Taylor proceeded to the dug out at the stretegic timeout.

But as the trend had been throughout the tournament, the complexion of the game changed after the resumption of play. Not sure what strategy the Bangalore team discussed, they lost the plot so quickly much to the disappointment of their large number of fans.

One would have expected the likes of Dravid and Taylor to take the responsibility and take their team to the finishing line without any hassle because the asking rate was quite manageable and there wasn’t anything wrong with the pitch either.

But it was IPL and there had to be twists and turns. Deccan Chargers came back from the dead to win the final and it was Adam Gilchrist, not Anil Kumble, who got the privilege of lifting the sensational trophy.

Kumble, who had bowled exceptionally well, was let down by his batsmen and it must have been very frustrating for him to end up on the losing side despite having dominated the proceedings for so long.

Gilchrist had it the other way round. He had perished without scoring on the second ball of the innings, having been foxed by the wily Kumble. The former Australian wicketkeeper-batsman knew he had very little runs to play with when he led his team out on the park. The match was still in the Bangalore’s bag at the halfway stage of their innings.

But a dramatic collapse earned Gilchrist a new lease of life and he was all smiles by the time his team had completed a remarkable comeback victory.

Kumble had the consolation of picking up the Man of the Match award in the final but he would certainly preferred to grab the trophy that was collected by Gilchrist.

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May 21, 2009

Yuvraj’s self-destruction hurts Kings XI Punjab


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The sequence of unexpected results continued as the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2009 entered in the final phase of its league matches. Both the games on May 20, the penultimate day of the first round, followed unusual patterns and produced amusing results.

The pitch at the Kingsmead in Durban was not very conducive to stroke-play and the conditions were indeed tough for batting. Yet one expected more number of runs to be scored since it was a Twenty20 contest and the participating teams had quite a few masters in their folds. Such has been the trend in the tournament that anything cannot be taken for granted and the unlikeliest of things could happen any moment.

Obviously one would have thought Kings XI Punjab would chase down the target of 117 in 20 overs against Chennai Super Kings. But for one more time the Punjab batsmen were guilty of not doing justice with their big reputation and the match was thrown.

Under the circumstances one can’t be sure if Kings XI Punjab felt bad or dejected at having lost the game in pursuit of a modest total that virtually meant the end of the road for them as far as this tournament is concerned.

It’s quite extraordinary how Yuvraj Singh, who can so quickly change the complexion of the game single-handedly, was found wanting in his role of a finisher in this particular. He has earned India some famous victories with his awesome hitting but he was somehow unable to do the job for Kings XI Punjab.

Nobody can believe that Yuvraj actually consumed 19 deliveries for scoring just six runs. The dasher, everyone knows, has the capaiblity of smashimg a half-century of these many balls. But he chose to play the Twenty20 game as if playing out time to draw a Test match.

Yuvraj’s tactics must have shocked the millions of his fans all over the world who must be wondering what actually had gone wrong with him.

Obviously it can only be desribed as a mystery that a batsman of the class of Yuvraj would look live novice while facing the spin bowlers in conditions that were more suited to seam and swing bowling.

In the other game of the day the defending champions, Rajasthan Royals were knocked over by Kolkata Knight Riders, languishing at the bottom of the points table.

The result meant the journey was also over for Rajasthan Royals, who had come up with stunning performance last year to capture the trophy. Shane Warne’s boys have not been able to make it to the semifinals this time round.

They fought back gallantly after having been skittled for 101. The match had come alive when Kolkata slumped to 45 for six in the 12th over. A fine partnernership between Laxmi Shukla and Charl Langeveldt ended whatever hopes Rajasthan had of sneaking a win. It was a consolation victory for Kolkata who had been very disappointing in the earlier part of the competition.

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May 20, 2009

Great Kumble leading from the front


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Watching Anil Kumble move with so much of energy around the South African grounds who would believe that he has actually retired from international cricket. He has been in great form with the ball and most significantly he has come up trumps in the shortest version of the game.

The champion leg-spinner, who is India's leading wicket-taker in Test cricket, has bowled brilliantly for Royal Challengers Bangalore and his side is on verge of qualifying for the semifinals of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2009.

Bangalore were one of the big disappointments in the inaugural IPL last year but they have performed much better this time round and one of the star performers for them has been none other than the former Indian captain Kumble.

He has been in terrific form and Bangalore are now benefitting from his leadership skills too as Kevin Peitersen handed over the captaincy to him while rushing to England for the Test series against the West Indies.

In the first place a very surprising move on part of the management of the Royal Challnegers Bangalore to have installed Pietersen as their captain after Rahul Dravid, who led them last year, had decided not to continue in order to concentrate on his batting. 

Kumble should have been the automatic choice but he was ignored for the post and it was not until Pietersen had left when he finally got the opportunity he so richly deserved. He was the far better choice to lead Bangalore than Pietersen.

Pietersen might have been preferred because of his enterprising approach towards the game but what the movers and shakers of the Bangalore team had so conveniently forgotten that the nerves of steel are as handy as anything else.

Kumble has led the turnaround for Bangalore and even coach Ray Jennings has acknowledged that Kumble's tenacity and hunger to win have greatly helped in lifting the morale of the side.

Kumble's bowling and field placing have been spot on and it would come as no surprise if his team go on to win the glittering trophy that was clinched by another legendary leg-spinner, Shane Warne.

Kumble was streets ahead to his counterpart Virender Sehwag in every respect of the game when Bangalore overpowered Delhi Daredevils, having already qualified for the semifinals, at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on May 19.

While Kumble was in total command of the situation from the word go, the usually flamboyant Sehwag was unable to regain his top form. The master blaster has been short of runs throughout the tournament and his team needs him to fire in the more important matches coming on. 

Kumble's bowling was as accurate and deadly as ever. He was right on money from the first ball he delivered. The only blemish was proably the couple of leg side wides he bowled in his last over but he made up adequately by picking up another wicket to prevent any late onslaught from Delhi.

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May 19, 2009

Sir Syed Club lift Ejaz Farooqui Trophy


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

“Besides promoting cricket in the far flung areas of the zone, we have also made a point to increase the number of clubs to generate more activities at the club level.”

This was announced by Prof Ejaz Ahmed Farooqui, Chairman, Karachi City Cricket Association (KCCA) Zone II, during his speech in the prize distribution ceremony of the invitation cricket tournament named after him. Sir Syed Club annexed the title by overpowering United Gymkhana in the final.

“The registration of the Taisar Town Cricket Club augurs well for the development of the game. We will leave no stone unturned in promoting the sport in every nook and corner of the zone,” he added.

Prof Ejaz Farooqui expressed his satisfaction with the fact that their zone was throwing talent for the national competitions, firmly believing that the boys have the potential to rise to the next level.

Jamil Ahmed, Secretary, KCCA Zone II, revealed that as many as 32 teams took part in Prof Ejaz Ahmed Farooqui Invitation Tournament contested on knockout basis. He further disclosed that there was no entry fee for the tournament and even the balls used for the matches were provided by the organizing committee.

He noted with pride that all the matches of the tournament were staged on turf pitches in order to let the talented young cricketers get the maximum benefit by playing for their respective teams.

He acknowledged the support of the zonal chief, Prof Ejaz Ahmed Farooqui, who personally took care of all the expenses that occurred during the course of the tournament.

“Prof Ejaz Farooqui has been doing a great service to the game by patronizing the tournaments and other healthy activities. We are grateful to him for devoting his time and energy, besides arranging funds for the events that we have been able to organize from time to time during the last couple of years in particular,” Jamil Ahmed reckoned.

Sir Syed Club proved too good for United Gymkhana in the final to run away with the title. Batting first, United Gymkhana rattled up a challenging total of 242 in the allotted 40 overs with Shoaib Akhtar (78), Shoaib Jaffer (40) and Ahsan Khan (30) doing the bulk of the scoring.

United Gymkhana could have posted an even bigger total, had their innings not been derailed by off-spinner Owais Aslam, who returned the figures of 4 for 56. There were two wickets each for Ali Raza and Irfan Ali.

Brilliant batting from Azhar Ali and Waqas Mahboob helped Sir Syed Club reach the stiff target quite comfortably in the end. Azhar left after scoring an even hundred but Waqas remained undefeated with 83 to guide his team home with full two overs remaining.

Shoaib Lodhi, Zohaib Shera and Muzaffar Hussain were the successful bowlers for United Gymkhana but neither of them could do much to contain the free flowing pair of Azhar Ali and Waqas Mahboob.

Azhar Ali, for his superb century, was adjudged Man of the Match and he received the award with an added cash bonus of Rs 1,000 from chief guest Prof Ejaz Ahmed Farooqui.

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May 18, 2009

Pakistan exceed expectations, India falter and Korea complete Asia double


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

South Korea proved themselves the best team of the continent by regaining the Asia Cup hockey title at the Kuantan Hockey Stadium in Malaysia. Having claimed the gold medal in the Asian Games in Doha a couple of years ago they now have completed a rare double. They have also secured their place in the 2010 World Cup to be staged in India.

The Koreans were made to work extremely hard to earn a 1-0 victory over three-time champions Pakistan in the final with the winning goal coming just five minutes before the scheduled closing time of 70 minutes. Obviously the match would have gone into extra time, had that goal not be scored or for that matter if Pakistan equalized in the last five minutes which they couldn’t.

Not surprisingly the goal that settled the issue was scored by drag flick specialist and the man of the moment Kim Byung-hoon, who also finished as the tournament’s top scorer with six goals. 
The Player of the Tournament award, however, was clinched by his teammate You Hyo-sik while another Korean, Hon Eun-seong, was declared Man-of-the-Match in the final.

The tournament brought glories for the Koreans and their coach Cho Myung-ju could not have desired a better start to his stint. 

“Our team's superior attacking in the second half proved decisive. We were confident and expected a close match. The win will spur us for further success in the coming year," the new Korean coach remarked at the end of the final.

The Pakistan coach, Shahid Ali Khan, reckoned that his team's defeat coincided with their best performance of the tournament.

"We had good control of the match and ample chances to score. We are on the right track and we have improved with each match. We will only get better from here," he was quoted as saying.

There was no cause of disappointment for Pakistan as far as the end result was concerned. They in fact exceeded expectations by having made it to the final after having overpowered teams like India and Malaysia and holding China, who eventually claimed the bronze medal, to a draw.

While the forwards came up with awesome display the performance of penalty corner specialist, Sohail Abbas, left a lot to be desired. The world record holder for the highest number of goals in international matches could score only one goal in the tournament and failed to capitalise on the three penalties that Pakistan earned in the final.

The defeat in the final now forces Pakistan to compete in the World Cup qualifiers to be held in November with China, Malaysia and Japan also in the fray.
India, having failed to qualify for the last year’s Olympic Games in Beijing, are assured of a spot in the next year’s World Cup by virtue of being of the hosts but they had yet another forgettable outing.

The defending champions were not even able to make it to the semifinals after failing to deliver in the league matches against Pakistan and China. They still have a long way to go to regain their position as one of the top teams in the hockey arena.

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May 15, 2009

Rajasthan, Bangalore sneak home in IPL thrillers


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

What an exciting couple of matches in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2009 were witnessed at the Kingsmead in Durban on May 14! Rajasthan Royals recorded a thrilling two-run victory over Mumbai Indians after Royal Challengers Bangalore had edged out Chennai Super Kings by two wickets earlier in the evening.

Nothing could be more recreational for a cricket fan than close contests that go to the wire, be it the any form of the game. Even the Twenty20 matches become boring for a while if the side batting first is bundled out cheaply or the team batting second loses far too many early wickets in pursuit of a substantial total.

But there was a spectacle in store for the lovers of the game in Durban and the millions of them watching the action live in different parts of the world. Both the matches turned out to be thrillers. In fact they could also be classified as nail-biters with the body language of the players in the middle and those in the hut reflecting the tension and anxiety.

Two of the all-time greats of the game, Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne, were up against each other in the Mumbai-Rajasthan game with both of them leading their respective outfits.

What a contest it turned out to be between the two! Warne knew he didn’t have many runs in the bank after his side had been restricted to 145 for seven in the allotted 20 overs. He needed early wickets to stay in the game and his bowlers responded by reducing their rivals to 23 for three.

Tendulkar, having demoted himself in the batting-order, joined master blaster Sanath Jayasuriya with their team in dire straits. Both the seasoned campaigners opted to rebuild by cutting out the risk element and their approach looked a bit unconventional for the shortest version of the game.

With the asking rate hovering around nine an over, Jayasuriya perished when he attempted to break the shackles. Tendulkar lived longer and counter-attacked with purpose to bring the target within striking distance.

Abhishek Nayar’s cameo put Mumbai in front and they looked certain to wrap up the issue with just six runs needed off the nine balls. But a sensational final over from Munaf Patel won the day for Rajasthan instead. Warne’s captaincy, besides his bowling, was spot on and Patel’s composure under pressure was truly outstanding.

Earlier in the day Royal Bangalore Challengers had overcome some nervous moments to defeat Chennai Super Kings by two wickets with just two balls to spare. Bangalore made heavy weather of a modest target of 130, cruising home only after some good work by their lower-order batsmen.Ross Taylor and Virat Kohli revived Bangalore after a disastrous start. With the asking rate not that high, the situation was ideal for Rahul Dravid to have gone on to bat in his typically assured fashion but this was not his day.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s proactive captaincy kept Bangalore under pressure as they kept losing wickets at regular intervals. The match was wide open until the 19th over in which 12 runs came including of a six from Praveen Kumar.

With only five runs needed off the last over, Dhoni threw the ball to the tall New Zealander Jacob Oram who obliged the skipper by removing his compatriot Taylor on the very first ball to open up the contest once more. There could have been more drama had Laxmipatty Balaji not misfielded in the deep.

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May 14, 2009

PCB and ICC on a collision course


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has issued a legal notice to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and by the look of things the chances of an out of court settlement are remote at the moment.

The notice was issued to the ICC President, David Morgan, through Mark Gay of DLA Piper, London, an experienced hand in the field of sports legal issues, having previously represented PCB as well. 

In the legal notice the ICC has been asked to rescind the decision of the Executive Board being ultra vires and void. 

The PCB has also informed the ICC that they would be shortly referring the matter for determination by an arbitral tribunal appointed in accordance with the Rules of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland under the ICC Dispute Resolution Committee. 

The PCB officials feel hard done by the ICC decision taken by its Executive Board on April 17. The PCB has contended that the views of the Sri Lankan captain, Mahela Jayawerdene, and ICC match referee, Chris Broad, were presented but the interview CD of the bus driver of Sri Lanka team that PCB had sent to ICC was never presented at the meeting and its transcript was circulated by e-mail to members after the meeting instead. 

The PCB functionaries have complained that they were not provided with an opportunity to explain their position and in a slip shod manner, a decision was passed by at the Executive Board meeting whereby PCB was stripped off its right to co-host the 2011 World Cup with the safety and security concerns being the basis of this decision.
“It’s very surprising that this decision was passed in a meeting which was not even authorized to do so. As per procedure, it is the IDI Board and not the Executive Board that is only authorized to make recommendation to the Meeting of Members of ICC which is the Annual Conference and which is alone authorized to take decision on it. The ICC Executive Board in which this decision was made on April 17, has purposed to exercise a power which vests only in IDI,” the PCB Chairman claimed.

"The PCB has not yet received the minutes of the said meeting of Executive Board, therefore the exact tenure of the decision is not known. But in reality, the decision of ICC is actually being acted upon. We can see that the Central Organizing Committee (which originally comprised of representatives of all four co-hosts) convened its meeting in Mumbai wherein PCB was not invited,” he added.

The PCB chief did not mince words in stating that the ICC Executive Board, while taking this decision, completely failed to take into account that the law and order situation in the entire sub-continent is not exemplary; 

He pointed out that Bangladesh recently faced mutiny by its armed forces and refused to host Pakistan on accounts of security concerns which resulted in cancellation of Pakistan Series in Bangladesh in March 2009. 

“Sri Lanka is embroiled in a long standing civil war. India due to law and order situation had to relocate IPL Series to South Africa although the official reason given is IPL schedule clash with the national elections. Recently Australia refused to send its Tennis Team to India for Davis Cup which was due to be held in Chennai, India. If security and safety was the only reason, no security assessment of the other three co-hosts has been done,” he added.

Ijaz Butt reckoned that under the host agreement, prior to taking any decision on relocation of matches, the PCB should first have been given an option to remedy the situation which was never done. 

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May 13, 2009

PCB organize offshore ODI series successfully


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

With the reluctance of the foreign teams to tour Pakistan on one pretext or the other, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has been left with no option but to stage their ‘home’ matches outside the country.

The Australians in particular had not been willing to play in Pakistan for quite a while now. In the same period many teams toured Pakistan and expressed their satisfaction with the conditions but the Aussies refused to budge an inch.

It was quite an effort on part of the PCB Chairman, Ijaz Butt, to have convinced the Australian cricket authorities to play the earlier postponed series against Pakistan. The Australians were originally due to tour Pakistan the previous season but they had expressed their inability to come to this part of the world.

It was during Ijaz Butt’s visit to Australia earlier this season when he persuaded the Cricket Australia (CA) to play the series of five One-day Internationals alongwith a Twenty20 International in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during the months of April and May.

Ijaz Butt, having taken over as the chief of the PCB only a few months before his visit to Australia, did a commendable job because Pakistan was desperately short of international cricket in the recent past. In fact Pakistan had not played a single Test match in the year of 2008 at a time when every nation had a crowded calendar.

The home series against Sri Lanka was also an accomplishment of the present Board, after the Indians had cancelled their tour to Pakistan this winter. 

It was a pity, however, that the Sri Lankan cricket team came under an attack at the fag end of their tour. They had played the series of three One-day Internationals as well as the first Test at the National Stadium, Karachi. It was during the second and final Test match at the Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore, when the bus carrying the visiting team was fired upon leading to immediate termination of the series.

The pressure was once more on the PCB as the foreign teams were unlikely to play in Pakistan in the near future. In fact the Australians were reportedly having second thoughts about playing the series against Pakistan in UAE.

It went to the credit of the PCB officials not to have allowed Australia run away. The PCB took the measures to ensure that the security arrangements for the matches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were to the satisfaction of the Australians. 

The additional security costs certainly hurt the PCB as it reduced their profits substantially but the shrewd handling of the financial affairs by their Honorary Treasurer, Mohammad Naeem, enabled them to stay afloat despite heavily burdened.

Mohammad Naeem, Honorary Treasurer, PCB, may be a man of few words but he’s believed to be having a proven record as a financial wizard. The Pakistan cricket needs his wisdom more at a time when the chips are downs and the revenues have dropped. 

He has done a great service to the game of cricket by having stationed himself in the UAE for the period of time when the series was being played. His financial administration helped the PCB in saving some bucks.

The services of Mohammad Naeem will be needed for a few more offshore series because Pakistan may have to play host to quite a few ‘home’ matches abroad in the near future. 

All in all the PCB has done a fabulous job by staging the series against Australia successfully in the UAE. There are a few indications that the PCB might be more interested in staging in staging their future games in the UAE than at any other neutral venue.

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May 11, 2009

PCB’s belated move to challenge ICC


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

As they say better late than never. The Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Ijaz Butt, has stood up to challenge a decision of the International Cricket Council (ICC) taken  a few weeks ago. It appears as if the PCB took their time in assessing the pros and cons before finally deciding to act.

The ICC, in their board meeting in Dubai on April 17, had decided to strip Pakistan of hosting rights for the next World Cup because of the uncertain security situation in the country.

"It is a regrettable decision but our number one priority is to create certainty and deliver a safe, secure and successful event and the uncertainty created by events within Pakistan created a huge question mark over our ability to do just that,." the ICC President, David Morgan, had said in the statement issued after the meeting.

Now the PCB Chairman, after having spent some time in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has changed his tone and is using a different language against the governing body of the tone.

Ijaz Butt, in a media briefing at the Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore, the headquarters of Pakistan, upon his return from the UAE, came down hard at the ICC decision.

He was highly critical of the manner in which the ICC decision was taken describing it as "legally flawed...unfair and discriminatory" announcing that Pakistan intended to fight for its right as co-hosts for the mega event. The PCB has also issued a legal notice to the ICC.

"We are most concerned about the manner in which the ICC took this decision, There was no notice prior to the meeting that a decision of this nature would be taken. There was neither proper security assessment of Pakistan nor of the other co-hosts of the 2011 Tournament. We believe that more could and should have been done to review the actual situation to deal with the matter on a non-discriminatory basis. We will push for the matter to be expedited," Ijaz Butt announced.

The PCB Chairman claimed that the status of the 2011 World Cup was not on the original agenda of the ICC Board meeting on April 17 and 18 implying that Pakistan wasn't given a fair opportunity to defend its case as a co-host. 

"This issue was not on the agenda. There was a discussion of the Sri Lankan attacks on the agenda and this topic came up. They never gave us notice and it was not on the agenda. We want to revoke the decision full stop," he added.

The PCB Chairman was of the opinion that there was also uncertain security environments in the other co-hosts, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and that provisions were in place for such decisions to be taken as late as 18 months before an ICC event, something that would have given the board time to prepare a security plan and for inspections to be carried out. 

Talking about the legal notice, Ijaz Butt clarified that it has been sent to the ICC President David Morgan and was in accordance with the ICC's constitution as the PCB was asking for the matter to be referred to the disputes resolution committee. 

"The matter has been submitted to the President of the ICC's dispute resolution committee. He can either refer the matter to the dispute resolution committee which is made up of ICC's officials or to the independent arbitration before the court of arbitration sport court. The PCB preferred impartial arbitration in the interest of justice, equity and fairplay," Ijaz Butt remarked.

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May 9, 2009

Pakistan enter Asia Cup with high hopes


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan, who ruled the world of hockey for a long time, start their campaign in the Asia Cup with a game against the super fit China, having improved in leaps and bounds in the recent past.

History, however, is on Pakistan’s side, having annexed the trophy in the first three editions of the continental competition in 1982, 1985 and 1989. They are being billed as one of the favourites again even though they have had a rough ride in the hockey arena during the last few years.

The enigmatic Pakistan side had plunged into their lowest ebb by failing to win any medal in the last edition of the Asia Cup held in Chennai in 2007 where hosts India, South Korea and Malaysia had shared glories.

This tournament provides an opportunity to revive the country's hockey fortunes as Pakistan would be spared of appearing in the qualifying event for the next year’s World Cup if they win the title here.

Pakistan will be relying heavily on its veteran quartet of custodian Salman Akbar, full back Sohail Abbas, half back Waseem Ahmed and forward Rehan Butt who are staging a comeback in the team after enjoying rich experience in Dutch league.

With the return of the vastly experienced players and in the presence of talented forwards Tariq Aziz, Akhtar, Waqas Sharif and Waqas Akbar, Pakistan look the most formidable side to have entered the eight-nation tournament.

Pakistan, having struggled in the recent past as they finished a disappointing eighth in the Beijing Olympics last August, would be needed to get into their grooves to regain their lost glories in the field of hockey.

Pakistan, who finished a poor fourth in the five-nation contest in Ipoh last month, must come up with improved performance here to build the momentum for the major events ahead. The return of the seasoned campaigners boosts their chances and they are expected to rise to the occasion for the revival of national sport in the country.

Pakistan have been drawn in the tough Pool B with arch-rivals and defending champions India, China and Bangladesh while the Pool A contains South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka and hosts Malaysia.
Pakistan must win at least a couple of league matches in their bid to advance in semifinal knock-out stage that indeed is their first target. Then they would be just two more wins away from the title.

On the other hand, the eight-time Olympic champions India, who failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games staged in Beijing, would also be aspiring to make amends by retaining the Asia Cup they won at home a couple of years ago.

The Indians, however, are on a high of late after having finished runners-up in four-nation Punjab Gold Cup and then the title win in the Azlan Shah after a lapse of 13 years. 

Besides Pakistan and India, South Korea and Malaysia can also fancy their chances of clinching the trophy with China being the dark horses. Unlike the past an Indo-Pak final, however, could not be guaranteed in the prevailing circumstances with the other teams also possessing the credentials go the distance.

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May 8, 2009

Australia unable to break T20 jinx against Pakistan


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) have witnessed quite a few famous conquests of the Pakistan cricket team over the years. After Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, it was the turn of Dubai to provide the perfect settings for them.

No wonder the Pakistan cricket authorities would desire hosting their ‘home’ Tests also in the UAE where they could find the environment more homely than anywhere else.

The one-off Twenty20 International between Pakistan and Australia at the Dubai Sports City Stadium on May 7 was yet another example of a fancied team biting the dust against all odds.
The Australians were whacked by seven wickets which was their second successive defeat against Pakistan in T20 International, after having suffered fate in inaugural the World Twenty20 in 2007.

Generally you don’t expect a team having collected 40 runs in the first four overs without losing any wicket to be bowled out for little over 100. Similarly there are very few examples when the change bowlers do the business after the premier bowlers have been hit out of the attack.

The Australians have been known for their grit and determination. They have been the team to beat in any form of the game for the past many years. The manner in which they collapsed was, therefore, mind-boggling to say the least.

It was not the way the Aussies play their cricket. Their state outfits are supposed to be so well-knit and trained but their national team passed the impression that they were a bunch of novices.

Shane Watson and Brad Haddin, who opened the innings, had provided Australia the start they needed to build a formidable total. The score was 42 without loss at the end of four over and one thought that the foundation had been laid for an onslaught by the efficient middle-order, well versed with the demands of T20 cricket.

A total in the region of 180 to 200 was being talked about after Shoaib Akhtar and Sohail Tanvir, the new ball operators, had been put to sword in their first couple of overs. Enter Umar Gul and the complexion of the game started changing. He took a wicket with his first ball to break the threatening opening partnership.

Shahid Afridi sliced through their middle-order as he picked wickets two wickets with his first two balls. The double wicket maiden over rocked the Australians and suddenly they were in danger of being bowled out. The lower-order was unable to get going either and they were routed for 108 their second lowest total in the T20 Internationals.

Umar Gul returned the dream figures of 4 for 8 while Shahid Afridi returned no less sensational figures of 3 for 14. They were the perfect presents for the stand-in skipper Misbah-ul-Haq who had to take over the leadership after Younis Khan was ruled out of the game due to illness.

The absence of Younis was not felt either in the field or when Pakistan came out to chase the modest total. Kamran Akmal picked up from where he had left in the fifth and final One-day Internationals. It was all too easy for Pakistan in the end.

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May 7, 2009

Asia Cup gold vital for Indian hockey revival


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Once the superpowers in the field of hockey, the Indians have endured a very lean over patch over the past few decades and the eight-time champions were not even able to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games staged in Beijing, China.

The country, having pocketed the Olympic gold in 1928, 1932, 1936, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1964 and 1980, rather stunningly couldn’t force its way in the line-up of 2008. The hockey authorities in India had their work cut out since then and by the look of things they have been successful in regrouping.

India are high on confidence after their Azlan Shah triumph and they are realistically aiming for the gold medal in the Asia Cup, starting in the Malaysian town of Kuantan on May 9. They are the defending champions in the Asia Cup, having annexed the title at home in 2007 after overpowering South Korea in the final. 

The Indians are on a comeback trail after having finished runners-up in four-nation Punjab Gold Cup and then the title win in the Azlan Shah after a lapse of 13 years. Their officials reckon that winning the gold in Asia Cup will complete the first phase of their revival plans for Indian hockey. 

“We are successfully working towards our plan to revive Indian hockey. Asia Cup victory is crucial to that plan. We are the defending champions and we will be satisfied with nothing less than the gold. The team has worked very hard in past couple of months and the boys are upbeat about their performance,” the Indian coach Harendra Singh was quoted as saying.

“Everything has gone according to the plan of reaching among the top six nations by the end of this year. Asia Cup gold will complete the first phase of our revival plan. The competition will be tough. We have to be consistent throughout the tournament. We will take one match at a time,” he added.

“We focussed on our weaknesses during the practice and we are confident that we will eradicate them in Asia Cup. If we win the Asia Cup, we will get a push in the world ranking and that will be our motivation. There will be a long break after the Asia Cup, so we want to give our best and return with the trophy,” Harendra Singh said.

The Indian coach agreed that Asia Cup will be a bigger test for the team because the field in Azlan Shah was not so strong with top European nations staying away. 

Although he emphasized that the team had worked hard in their camp training in Bhopal but it remains to be seen if they show improvement in blocking goals in the closing stages of the match. It has been the weakness of the past Indian teams too, conceding late goals to undo their own good work.

India have placed in the tougher of two groups alongside Pakistan, China and Bangladesh and they could be tested in accomplishing their task of qualifying for the semifinals. The other group comprises of South Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. 

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May 5, 2009

Shadab Jakati spins Chennai Super Kings to top


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The spinners continue to dominate the second edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) being held in South Africa and it was the turn of the left-armer Shadab Jakati to steal the limelight for the second time running in a matter of three days.

He has spun Chennai Super Kings to the top of the points table, having returned his second successive four-wicket haul, something that’s rather unusual in the shortest version of the game. He had earlier engineered the victory for his team over Delhi Daredevils with the magnificent figures of 4 for 24.

His superb bowling earned third consecutive win for Chennai on May 4 as they overwhelmed Deccan Chargers by a wide margin of 78 runs at the Buffalo Park in East London. He returned the exceptional figures of 4 for 22 to win the day for his side.

Jakati was pressed into service by skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni at a critical when Dwayne Smith and Rohit Sharma were in the process of literally sending every ball to the spectators.

Smith and Sharma had brought Deccan back in the game after a nightmarish start when their top three batsmen perished without troubling the scorers. The game was on as they were whacking the ball with awesome power.

The likes of Albie Morkel and Laxmipatty Balaji had gone for plenty and Dhoni had to take them off earlier than he would have planned. Obviously one couldn’t have expected Balaji to be denied a second over.

Things began to happen from the moment Jakati arrived at the bowling crease. He was smashed for a six in his first over by the rampaging Smith but a certain element of doubt was created in the mind of the batsmen when the ball started to turn sharply.

Sharma was the first to go, in Jakati’s second over. It was a huge breakthrough because the partnership had grown into dangerous proportions and the match could have swung Deccan’s way had it lasted for a few more overs.

Then came the turning point of the match as Jakati bamboozled Smith, who had scored 49 off only 23 balls. The match was well and truly in the bag of Chennai after the departure of Smith.

Jakati captured a couple of more wickets to seal the fate of the match before the senior spinner in the side, Mutiah Muralitharan, joined the party. Both the spinners bowled exceptionally well, giving nothing away to their opponents.

Deccan had fought back through Smith and Sharman after their fancied top three was blown away in a matter of minutes. Mind you Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs and VVS Laxman, all of them world-class batsmen, were their up the order and neither of them could score a single run.

Earlier, batting first Chennai had posted an impressive score of 178 for three in 20 overs with Dhoni, having promoted himself to number three, playing gem of a knock. Matthew Hayden also contributed his bit as did Suresh Raina.

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May 4, 2009

Touch of Sharjah at Abu Dhabi


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Many people watching the fifth and final One-day International between Pakistan and Australia at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, on May 3 were reminded of Sharjah that had become famous for producing the most unexpected of results.

Australia, with the series in their bag, posted the highest score of five games but failed to defend it successfully. The Aussies had appeared on the verge of a 4-1 victory when Pakistan crashed to 56 for three before the record partnership between Kamran Akmal and Misbah-ul-Haq turned the tide decisively.

Some of the events of the game were as strange as they used to be in Sharjah where the strongest of teams used to be blown away on a given day. The most amazing part was the reluctance of the Australian batsmen to go after the bowling in the death overs.

How often would you see a team add only 64 runs to its total in the last 10 overs of the innings in a limited overs game and that too without having lost a single wicket during the period? 

The platform was set for a final onslaught. Having reached a total of 186 for four at the end of 40 overs Australia were ideally placed to extract something around 80 to 90 from the final 10 overs that would have taken their total in the vicinity of 275.

Shane Watson and Callum Ferguson had the credentials to tear apart the bowling on a pitch that was as flat as one would have imagined. But what they did in the final phase of the innings amounted to making a mockery of the game.

Their dead-batting in the 48th and 49th overs must have caught everyone by surprise. They were only helped by some wayward bowling and pathetic fielding that earned 10 runs in the final over to raise the total to 250.

Watson and Ferguson didn’t make serious efforts to hit boundaries. That’s what one would have expected from the two well-set batsmen in the closing stages of the innings. They were keen only in rotating the strike when even the tail-enders attempt to hit out to the best of their abilities. They made a mess of the batting powerplay overs as well.

By limiting themselves to 250, Australia kept the game open. By the look of things they didn’t desire the match to become one-sided that could have been the case had they got to somewhere around 275.

That Pakistan would make heavy weather of target of 251 is another matter. The early wickets pegged them back and there was a feeling that the Aussies will seal the fate of the match.

Enter Kamran Akmal and the complexion of the game changed. The wicketkeeper-batsman needed just 115 balls to register his fifth ODI century and Pakistan, against all odds, were successful in chasing down the big target. Misbah-ul-Haq kept his company till the end and their unbroken stand of 198 was a new record for the fourth wicket against Australia. 

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May 3, 2009

Clarke leads by example to clinch series


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The acting Australian captain Michael Clarke led by example and his brilliant unbeaten century powered his team to an emphatic eight-wicket win in the fourth One-day International against Pakistan at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

The victory in the fourth ODI also enabled the Aussies to clinch the series with a game to spare. They should be a relieved side now, after having been shaken in the first outing. They have taken their time to acclimatize and by the look of things they have done it much better than their opponents.

The Australians have lifted their game after the debacle in the opening fixture where a horrible batting collapse cost them the match. They were not all that convincing though in the following games but one could sense their key players taking the responsibilities.

Clarke, who has been entrusted with the task of leading the team in the absence of Ricky Ponting, has done a fantastic job. He couldn’t get going in the first game but he has applied himself and led by example.

It’s always very important for the captain to deliver. It’s more so when you are leading a young side. Clarke had to rise to the occasion to motivate his boys, the majority of whom lacked international experience.

Australia were in dire straits even while chasing a modest target of 198 when Shoaib Akhtar removed Brad Haddin and Marcus North very early to make them three for two. The skipper walked in to join Shane Watson with his team under pressure once more.
While Watson struggled to get on top of the bowling it was Clarke who made a statement by going hard at the loose balls. Their unbroken 197-run partnership for the third wicket closed all escape routes for Pakistan.

Clarke completed his well deserved century with an imperious drive off Shoaib Akhtar who looked ordinary in his last few overs. It was the best knock of the Australian skipper in the series in which he has delivered consistently. He looked in complete control while playing the aggressive shots and even Watson grew in confidence in the company of his captain.

Watson, although finished unbeaten on 85 off 140 balls, needs to improve his technique against the slow bowlers if he has to retain his place in the side for a long time. He will have to find a way out to tackle the spinners.

It was basically his inability to come to terms with the slow bowlers that put his captain in a spot of bother occasionally. An attacking team like Australia is not expected to get bogged down against any quality of bowling and it was shocking to find Watson playing so loosely against the likes of Saeed Ajmal.

While the spotlight was stolen by Clarke and Watson with their match-winning partnership, the victory was set up the left-arm quickie Doug Bollinger whose five-wicket haul sent Pakistan crashing to 197 all out.

There were stages in the Pakistan innings where they threatened a much bigger total but the Australians were rewarded for trusting their fast bowlers who kept on taking wickets to contain the rate of scoring.

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