December 30, 2010

Black Caps lose plot so quickly yet again


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

I don’t know what the New Zealanders were trying to prove in the third and final Twenty20 International against Pakistan at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch on December 30.

With the series already in their bag with resounding victories in the first couple of games all they needed was to get the basics right and complete a whitewash against their demoralized opponents.

Well experimentation does make sense if you face an embarrassment of riches like the Australians used to have a few years and the Indians have it today but doing it with marginal resources at one’s disposal is beyond imagination.

The New Zealand think-tank was also guilty of having taken Pakistan lightly on account of their performance in the previous two games. It’s never advisable to take Pakistan for granted even if they are fielding schoolboys.

New Zealand provided the opening to Pakistan and the result was a 103-run defeat for the home side which is quite shameful in any form of the game and more so in a Twenty20 contest.

John Wright, who had such a successful tenure as the coach of the Indian team, was also to be blamed for making what I would describe as senseless changes in the winning combination.

The Black Caps have had the history of distributing the prestigious ‘cap’ rather generously and that’s one of the reasons they have had to struggle in the international arena despite having plenty of talented guys in their possession.

Whether it was a blooper on part of their selectors or was it the ‘strategy’ of the team management they misfired in Christchurch and this may well prove to be yet another costly lapse.

While Pakistan have been famous for bringing about miracles with the thinnest of resources the New Zealanders have been infamous for losing the plot much too quickly and it remains to be seen if the home side would regroup before the Test matches and the One-day Internationals to follow.

Wright could also consider the debacle at the AMI Stadium as a wakeup call and there’s a possibility that he would refrain from making such an adventure at least against the unpredictable Pakistan side.

New Zealand have had terrible record in the recent past and they can’t afford any sort of experimentation with the World Cup just round the corner. Will they continue taking the chances to make the life even more miserable for themselves or will they rise to the occasion remains to be seen.

From the Pakistan’s point of view they would like their hosts to be more generous in providing them the opportunities. No matter how inexperienced or under-prepared they may be it’s never wise to write them off.

The fate of the Test series as well as the one-dayers would depend a lot on the pitches and weather as well. If the surfaces remain conducive to swing bowling it could be difficult for the visitors to dominate while it would be a different story altogether if the tracks are kept flat or grassless purposely.

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Has Ponting played his last Test?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

2010 has been a nightmarish year for Ricky Ponting and the end could not have been more traumatic. For all practical purposes he seems to have played his last Test match. It will be a miracle if he stages a comeback.

The Australians are not due to play their next series, following the Ashes, until August and there’s very little hope, if any, of the selectors persisting with him either as captain or even as an ordinary member of the side.

In many ways his injury has made the task easier for the Australian selectors who could have even gone on to the extent of dropping Ponting for the fifth and final Test against England in Sydney starting on January 2.

There’s a probability that Ponting might opt to call it a day after the conclusion of the Ashes. I think that it will make sense for him to announce his retirement instead of waiting to be axed.

He has had a distinguished career and indeed it will be a pity if he’s dropped from the side he led with distinction for so long. He cannot lose sight of the fact, however, that everyone has to quit one day.

He cannot be held entirely responsible for the dip in the fortune of his team during the past six months or so but his own batting form has deserted him that should be enough to convince his mind to hang his boot after a very long outing in the international arena.

Ponting has not been able to recover from the mistake he made of batting first after winning the toss in the second Test against Pakistan earlier this year in England. Whether it was over-confidence or a tactical blunder it has cost him his career I reckon.

He has been let down by his teammates, particularly his premier performers, who have had an extended lean patch. Take the example of Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke who have been struggling to regain their top form.

Ponting had to play far too well himself to cover up the follies of his colleagues. Unfortunately runs dried from his own blade and it was asking for too much from the ordinary mortals like Simon Katich and Shane Watson to carry the team on their shoulders.

Australia still have quite a few outstanding cricketers, both young and experienced, but they cannot be compared with the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Mattew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist all of whom retired during Ponting’s tenure as captain.
The record of Ponting of being the most successful Australian captain of all time, with 48 victories in 77 Tests, is likely to stand for a very long period. It’s hard to imagine anybody coming close to this mark.

Ponting has been a part of the Australian team in 99 Test victories which is another record unlikely to be bettered in future. He would have dearly liked to complete the century but its chances look negligible now.

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December 29, 2010

Laxman, Zaheer script the most famous of all recent conquests


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Although it would be unfair not to pass on the credit to the entire Indian cricket team for having brought off a spectacular victory over South Africa in the second Test at Kingsmead, Durban, to level the three-match series, at least two people came out with standout performance to script what must be the most famous of all their recent conquests.

VVS Laxman was very rightly adjudged Man of the Match for having topscored in India’s both innings. On a pitch where nobody else from either side could reach a half-century he very nearly scored a century of his own in the second outing.

Zaheer Khan, who had missed the first Test due to injury, returned with a bang to spearhead the attack that had lacked both venom as well as purpose. His terrific bowling lifted the morale and performance of the team which resulted in one of the greatest-ever comeback victory by any team in cricket history.

I don’t know if many people gave the Indians much chance of squaring the series in Durban after having been mauled in the first Test. But they proved themselves against the heaviest of odds to register a comprehensive 87-run win the low scoring game.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, we all know, cannot do much to change his luck with the coin. Hail the brave man for making it up with his courage and never say die approach. Any ordinary mortal would have been heartbroken after losing yet another crucial toss on a bowl first pitch. But he knew his men had the mental toughness to overcome such obstacles.

Isn’t it truly remarkable that India managed to pull off victory in the Durban Test even after being inserted by the home captain in the most teasing of conditions for batsmen? I tell you no other side in the world could have even come close to getting 200 with the ball seaming and bouncing so much on the first day.

The Indians showed that they have learned their lessons very quickly and their positive approach kept them ahead of the game. The first innings total of 205 was below par for the formidable batting line-up that they possesses but it still represented a fighting score and there was some cushion for their bowlers.

The Indian bowling attack, as expected, looked much more potent with the return of Zaheer and the South Africans were found wanting in application. The substantial first innings lead was always going to play a decisive role until the visitors were bundled out for a very low total in their second innings.

Virender Sehwag got India off to a flying start with his trademark attacking shots but the loss of four quick wickets opened up the game. It needed a brilliant knock from Laxman to put India back on top and they were the favourites when the target they set crossed the magical figure of 300.

The South Africans started their chase aggressively but the loss of Graeme Smith opened up the floodgates and with Harbhajan Singh extracting turn and bounce batting was never going to be easy.

The hosts were tested by the pace trio of Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Shantikumaran Sreesanth on the responsive pitch and the match ended with over a day to spare.

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December 28, 2010

John Wright off to winning start as New Zealand coach


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Having been whitewashed on the tours of Bangladesh and India only a few months ago, New Zealand have got off to a flying start in their home season under their new coach John Wright, who has had a big reputation.

Registering back to back victories in the Twenty20 Internationals against the unpredictable Pakistanis, the Black Caps have gained an unassailable lead in the three-match series which is already being talked about as quite an accomplishment from a team so low in confidence.

The appointment of Wright as coach was bound to make a difference for the New Zealanders and we have already found it out in the first couple of games when even a depleted side of their has won both the matches quite convincingly.

If New Zealand continue their winning streak and pocket the third and final T20I as well it would be a unique whitewash by a team which itself had suffered similar humiliation in the earlier two series.

Bangladesh and India had humbled New Zealand in nine consecutive limited overs games, all of them being One-day Internationals. I think it doesn’t matter much for them even if their conquest has come in the shortest format of the game.

The win-starved New Zealanders needed something under their belt to regain confidence that could take them to the World Cup to be held in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka only a couple of months later.

They have to take on Pakistan in a series of six ODIs after the two Tests that follow the T20Is. In normal circumstances New Zealand would have preferred playing ODIs straight after the T20 games instead of squeezing a Test series but I think this has been done to give the hosts the much needed practice of 50-overs game on the dates closest to the World Cup.

There were indications that the New Zealand cricket administrators were shaken by the debacle of their team in Bangladesh and India. Well if it served as a wake-up call and prompted them to turn to Wright then this could well prove to be a blessing in disguise for their cause.

I don’t know why did they take so long to get hold of the man who was very much there with them. Wright was the person who turned it around for India and taught them the art of winning matches away from the comfort of home.

Wright’s role as a coach in building the India team of today is phenomenal. The former New Zealand captain made a perfect combination with Sourav Ganguly and they put India on the road to glory.

The cool headed Wright instilled the confidence which was somehow missing even in the star-studded Indian line-up. He was accorded the respect he deserved and together they made things happen.

Now the New Zealand cricket needed him to lift the morale of a demoralized outfit. It has only been weeks when he was handed over the charge and the results have come instantly. This is a belated move but nevertheless one in the right direction and as they say better late than never.

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December 22, 2010

Pakistan to play snooker series in Iran


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan will be engaged in a bilateral snooker series against the neighbouring Iran on an annual basis with the inaugural event to be held in Tehran early next year.

Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, President, Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), disclosed that the decision regarding the launch of the Pakistan-Iran Test series was taken in a meeting with his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of the recently concluded IBSF World Snooker Championship 2010 in Damascus, Syria.

“The Iranian officials came up with the idea of initiating a Test series that could be held annually on reciprocal basis. It was agreed that Tehran would be the venue of the inaugural Test series Pakistan and Iran in February next while the Iranians will be paying a return visit in 2012,” the PBSA President revealed.

It may be recalled that the PBSA had launched a Test series against in 2003 that was known initially as the Peace Cup. Two more editions of the Indo-Pak series were held during the next couple of years but it has not been staged for the past five years now.

Alamgir Shaikh, who also attended the Annual General Meeting of the IBSF in Damascus, disclosed that the venues of the next two editions of the World Snooker Championship were finalized after some deliberations.

“Bahrain has been chosen as the host of the World Championship next year while Egypt will be playing host to the mega event the following year,” he said.

“It was also decided in the IBSF meeting that Thailand would be hosting the World 6-Reds Championship during the month of February 2011 besides organizing the World Team Snooker Championship in July 2011,” the PBSA President added.

Meanwhile he expressed his disappointment with the failure of the country’s top three cueists in the knockout games of the World Snooker Championship 2010, staged at the Al-Faiha Sports City in Damascus.

The PBSA President, who returned to Karachi with the trio of Mohammad Sajjad, Sohail Shahzad and Imran Shahzad, did not mince words in stating that he expected better performance from his cueists in the knockout games.

“Yes I am perturbed with the outcome. All of them had performed exceptionally well in the league matches and we were hoping for at least one of them to go the distance. Imran had started even the knockout round with a bang but he was overwhelmed in the pre-quarter-finals,” the PBSA President remarked.

“Imran couldn’t play to his potential in the pre-quarters, getting outplayed at the hands of the vastly experienced Alex Borg. Debutant Sohail was unlucky to be knocked out because his opponent, Noppadol Sangnil, got away with a couple of freakish shots that proved decisive in what had become a very absorbing contest,” Alamgir Shaikh recalled.

“The straight-frame loss of our main hope and top ranked cueist, Sajjad, to Dechawat Poomjaeng was very disturbing for us. A cueist of the caliber of Sajjad, having done well at the international stage in the past, was certainly expected to come up with much better performance,” he conceded.

The PBSA President agreed that Pakistan’s young and promising cueists have had problems in overcoming the pressures of knockout games.

“It’s true to some extent because it has happened in the past as well when our cueists have failed to deliver in the knockout games after having dominated their rivals in the earlier rounds. They need to bring about improvement in their temperament besides learning the tact of the trade,” Alamgir Shaikh reckoned.

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December 21, 2010

Tendulkar’s 50th century comes three Tests too late


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

I don’t think there was any real cause to celebrate when Sachin Tendulkar brought up his 50th Test century at the Super Sport Park in Centurion on December 19 except that he had reached the landmark.

India needed much more than just a token hundred from Tendulkar to change the course of the game in which they had been humiliated on the first three days. The damage control exercise demanded at least a double century from him but as we have witnessed so many times he failed to deliver.

What’s more important a personal landmark or glory for the team? Cricket is a team game therefore the greatness should be measured by the contribution to the cause of the team rather than the loads of runs or the heaps of wicket that don’t serve the purpose.

Getting to 50 centuries in Test cricket is no doubt a huge accomplishment. Nobody has done it before and neither anyone might be able to do it in the near future.

With the number of Test matches getting reduced with the advent of the popularity of the limited overs game it seems very unlikely that anybody would be able to get an opportunity to play so many Test matches in the years to come.

Tendulkar has been around for over two decades, having made his Test debut in November 1989. With the frequency of limited overs games on the rise the career span of cricketers is shrinking and it could be next to impossible for a starter to think in terms of surviving there in the international arena for so long.

Tendulkar’s record of the highest number of Test centuries is certain to stand for a very long time. The kind of form he has been in during the current year he can still get many more hundreds unless of course the external factors come into play.

Talking about the outside factors wasn’t it a pity that Tendulkar wasn’t able to reach this milestone in India when he had as many as three Test matches to do it against the struggling New Zealanders.

Well not many people would disgaree that Tendulkar could have got a hundred against if he so desired even by batting left-handed because the New Zealand bowling attack had no penetrative skills on the surfaces where Harbhajan Singh was able to play long innings without the slightest of discomfort.

Tendulkar was in the middle of a purple patch and there was no team in the world that could have stopped him from reaching a century in those conditions. His soft dismissals were totally against the run of play.

He batted with in his usual fluent style in both the innings of the Centurion Test but neither of his knock was big enough to take the fight to the South African camp.

It’s amazing that he made no effort to avoid an innings defeat on the final morning. His tactics of exposing the tail-enders to the genuinely quick bowlers was mind boggling to say the least. He was expected to play both ends which he didn’t for reasons best known to him.

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Hussey, Johnson present sweetest birthday gift to skipper Ponting


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Although it was the six-wicket haul by Ryan Harris that helped Australia in wrapping up the third Test at the WACA Ground in Perth within an hour on the fourth morning it was the sensational performance of Mike Hussey and Mitchell Johnson that had turned it around for the hosts from a precarious position on the first day.

How often can one expect a team to win a Test match by 267 runs after having been reduced to 69 for five in the first innings after being put into bat. The momentum was with England and they were more likely to claim an unassialble 2-0 lead rather than Australia squaring the matters before the last two games.

That’s sometimes the beauty of the game when a couple of individuals rise to the occasion to cover up for the follies of their teammates. Nobody was surprised with yet another magnificent performance from Hussey for he’s regained his devastating form and there’s no stopping him when he gets on top.

But the home supporters must have been pleasantly surprised by the feat of Johnson, who was actually making a comeback in the side after having been dropped for the previous game because of his inconsistency for the past many months.

It’s quite incredible how Johnson rose to the occasion. His half-century down the order was instrumental in reviving Australia but more importantly, as it turned out, he carried the confidence to his bowling that gladdened the heart of his skipper.

Johnson struck just when England appeared to be extending their dominance with the bat and it was his terrific spell of left-arm fast bowling that brought his team right back in the game. Australia didn’t surrender the initiative after getting a substantial first innings lead in the context of the game.

With the pitch still good for batting and England having scored heavily in the past couple of games, Australia had to set a big enough target to challenge opponents and it was ensured by yet another mercurial century by Hussey.

The momentum had shifted by the time England started their chase for 391 on the third evening. Unlike the first two Tests when the Australian bowlers had struggled putting balls in the right areas they were able to exert the pressure that made the difference in the end.

Not many people would have backed England to win the game although South Africa had successfully chased down an even bigger total at this ground just a few years ago. It became obvious very quicky that the pressure had gone to the head of the visiting batsmen and they were unable to handle it.

The top half was blown on the third evening and there was not much hope from the lower order as the innings resumed on the fourth day. Harris produced another probing spell of fast bowling to help his team complete the much needed win within 50minues.

Ponting, even with a broken finger, could not have expected a bigger gift on his 36th birthday and he acknowledged in there.

“There's no better birthday present than that, to bounce back like this. To get 270 on the board on that first day was probably the difference in the end, and then Johnson's spell on day two was probably one of the all-time greatest spells in Ashes history. I'm a bit sore today, I wanted more than anything to be able to go out there and field, but I had to err on the side of caution. Another knock on the finger could have been disastrous. I think I'm a really good chance of playing the Boxing Day Test," Ponting, at last a victorious captain, remarked.

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December 17, 2010

Rare assembly of World Cup legends


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The countdown to the ICC World Cup 2011 has already begun and the mega event is just a couple of months away now. Four of the greatest cricketers of all time, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Arjuna Ranatunga and Viv Richards, were in attendance in a ceremony held recently in India in connection with the upcoming tournament.

It’s not often when these legends have been found under one more roof and more specifically in the company of each other. Their reunion instantly brings to memory their extraordinary performance in the past editions of the World Cup.

Viv Richards (now Sir Vivian) had not exploded in the role of a master in the inaugural World Cup in 1975 but his amazing fielding in the final when he ran out quite a few dashing Australian batsmen with brilliant throws helped the cause of the West Indies immensely in getting crowned as the champions.

Richards had enhanced his reputation by the time the next World Cup was played four years later. He lived to the billing and it was his magnificent century in the final against England that allowed his team to retain the trophy rather leisurely in the end.

He was easily the most destructive batsman in the world when the West Indies came out to England in 1983 with very high hopes of completing a hat-trick of title wins. They were on course of accomplishing this feat with Richards playing another cameo in the final, this time against underdogs India.

It took a spectacular running catch from the Indian captain, Kapil Dev, to remove Richards from the scene and the complexion of the game changed soon afterwards. It was Kapil Dev, not Clive Lloyd, who received the trophy at Lord’s on June 25, 1983.

Pakistan and India, captained by Imran Khan and Kapil Dev respectively, were the overwhelming favourites to clash in the final in 1987 but neither of them could go that far. Both of them were eliminated in the semifinals much to the disappointment of the millions of their supporters.

Imran Khan, by then a veteran all-rounder at the twilight of his illustrious career, didn’t have a particularly strong team at his disposal when Pakistan took the field in the World Cup in Australia in 1992.

Pakistan were languishing near the bottom of the table at the halfway stage of the tournament but then commenced their fairytale success and they exceeded all expectations by winning the event against the heaviest of odds. Imran was instrumental in lifting the morale of the side after the depressing defeats in the earlier games.

The Sri Lankans, however, were the favourites to win the World Cup in 1996 and they did exactly that under the shrewd leadership of Arjuna Ranatunga.

They were rewarded for playing sensational cricket and they pioneered the concept of pinch hitting from the outset. Their bold tactics worked to perfection as there was not much for the bowlers on the flat sub-continental pitches.

Ranatunga was chiefly responsible for taking the risk of attacking cricket. He himself batted very well, particularly his knock in the final against Australia at Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore, ensured there were no hiccups in the closing stages.

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December 16, 2010

India hard done on opening day of high profile series


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The score of 136 for nine in 38.1 overs reflects complete dominance of the bowling side. But it wasn’t exactly the case on the opening day of the first Test between South Africa and India at the Super Sport Park in Centurion on December 16.

India finished the shortened day’s proceedings with an inadequate score but it wasn’t shameful batting performance by any means in conditions tailor-made for the home bowlers. None of their top-order batsmen were guilty of throwing away their wicket while trying anything silly or adventurous. Neither was there any indication of lack of application on their part.

On the other hand it was one of those forgettable days when almost everything went against them. It remains to be seen if they will be able to recover from this precarious position. They have the potential to stage a comeback but how quickly their luck would change to let them regroup can’t be predicted.

Everybody, not only the experts, knew about the weather and the pitch. It went to the credit of the ground staff to have made the play possible during the day even after 10 centimeters of rain in morning.

The tale of horror began from India right from the beginning. They would have been better off getting no play on the first day in order to let their spearhead Zaheer Khan get some more time to recover and assess his fitness afresh on the second morning.

As it turned out, India had to leave out their most experienced fast bowler when Mahendra Singh Dhoni went to toss. No team would have liked to bat first in such trying conditions and Graeme Smith had no hesitation in inserting the opponents.

Dhoni’s misfortune with the toss is nothing new. He has admitted it so many times that calling correctly is something beyond him. He has made up for his rotten luck with the coin by motivating his team further.

India suffered another blow, the first after the start of the innings, when Virender Sehwag, unquestionably the most destructive batsman in the world, was caught at deep third man for a duck. It’s very rare indeed for someone to be caught in that position and that too so early in the innings. As a matter of fact there’s hardly any fielder in the deep on the off side in the first few overs of a Test match.

The dismissal of Sehwag meant so much in the context of the game. He possessed the skill to score the quickly and his mere presence at the crease would have been heart breaking for the bowlers.

His opening partner, Gautam Gambhir, weathered the storm for a while but he couldn’t stay for long enough. Rahul Dravid was looking very solid but fell to his first error of the day. Sachin Tendulkar counterattacked with purpose but he paid the price of staying on the backfoot to a full pitched delivery he could have driven if standing normally.

With the top six batsmen back in the hut for only 71, skipper Dhoni found an assured partner in Harbhajan Singh who probably played the innings of his career. He looked set for a big score only to be run out in the most cruel of manners, summing up a nightmarish day for his team.

Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, who were just ordinary in the two-Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), made the most of the lucky breaks to put their side in the driving seat.

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December 15, 2010

Formidable yet unpredictable India hold slight edge in clash of Titans


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Several articles are being written and many talk shows aired already on this subject and why not. This is the series between the two top ranked Test sides and there is very little to choose between them.

Primarily because of the conditions over there the South Africans are being rated a bit higher but I have a different opinion in this matter. Gone are the days when the home advantage decided the fate of the series. With neutral umpires and extensive television coverage there’s not much disadvantage to the visiting team.

Yes I agree that the South Africans have greater experience of playing on their turf but that doesn’t mean they can’t be floored in their own backyard by a superior outfit. The current Indian team, led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, stands a very good chance of winning the Test series in South Africa.

I think the hosts could be low on confidence, no matter what their captain or coach may be saying publicly, because of their inability to win any of the two Test matches against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently.

Neither did the South Africans bat convincingly nor did they sustain pressure with their bowling. Allowing Pakistan to get away with it on both occasions was a clear reflection of their opponents lacking the firepower to close the deal.

The Pakistan team they were confronted was very short on experience, besides having a new captain. As a matter of fact the entire Pakistan team had less number of Test runs or wickets than Jacques Kallis.

Remember that Ricky Ponting’s Australians had lost a Test match to a similar Pakistan in England earlier this year. What has happened since then for the Aussies is nothing short of a nightmare.

Well the South Africans didn’t play bad enough to lose to Pakistan but they were not good enough either to overpower their inexperienced rivals. We will have to wait and see how much they get affected after the below par performance in the desert.

Graeme Smith is banking on weather and pitch to derail India. Obviously the batsmen would be tested with plenty of short stuff and there could be banana swing as well if it continues to be overcast.

In my estimation the Indian batsmen of all people are more likely to come to grips with these conditions. They can collapse once or twice but the possibilities of them to folding every time appear very remote indeed.

The Indian fast bowlers would certainly enjoying doing the job in South Africa rather than back home. The absence of Zaheer Khan will leave a big hole and the responsibility will have to be shared by the other bowlers.

But it are the Indian batsmen who hold the key.If they put runs on the board, Dhoni will have the liberty to set attacking fields for his bowlers, a factor which could bring the home batsmen under greater pressure.

The Indian supporters should, however, not lose sight of the fact that their team despite being so formidable on paper has that knack of faltering against the run of play. That’s why I think India hold just a slight edge over South Africa.

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Pakistan’s cueists fail to deliver in crunch games


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan’s campaign in the IBSF World’s Men Snooker Championship 2010, staged at the Al-Faiha Sports City in Damascus, Syria, came to a premature end with the exit of Imran Shahzad in the pre-quarter-finals on December 13

There were high hopes of the world crown returning to Pakistan after 16 long years when all the three participating cueists, Mohammad Sajjad, Sohail Shahzad and Imran Shahzad, had played remarkably well in the league matches.

While Sajjad and Sohail were eliminated in the round of 32, Imran went through to the pre-quarters where he was toppled by the veteran Alex Borg of Malta.

The vastly experienced Borg proved too much for Imran to down him 5-1 in the best of nine-frame encounter that remained one sided all the way. Borg triumphed with the frame scores of 61-24, 117-0, 78-33, 100-14, 43-62, 78-26.

Imran had stormed into the pre-quarters with an astonishing 5-1 win over Andreas Ploner of Austria with the frame scores of 102-0, 41-54, 112-32, 113-11, 79-27, 104-21 as he registered as many as two century breaks during the game in which he aggregated over 100 in two other frames as well.

The cueists from Thailand blew the whistle on the other two Pakistani youngsters, who had been in terrific form in the earlier games.

Noppadol Sangnil, who was the only cueist to have overpowered Mohammad Sajjad in the league matches, outwitted Sohail Shahzad 5-3 in their round of 32 fixture with the frame scores of 121-11, 102-8, 34-71, 70-28, 35-62, 54-62, 70-51.

It was certainly a keenly contested tie and the young Sohail, making his debut in the World Championship, had the satisfaction of having gone down fighting.

Dechawat Poomjaeng was even more ruthless while hammering Mohammad Sajjad in straight frames with the scores of 71-36, 72-71, 78-24, 83-42, 65-44. Pakistan’s premier cueist offered a challenge in each of the five frames, with the second one being the closest, but could not press home the advantage in any of them.

The failure of the Pakistan’s cueists in the knockout games once again brought to light their inability to handle the pressure. There remained question marks over their mental toughness.

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December 13, 2010

England turn tide decisively with positive display


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

England were rewarded for their positive approach as they overwhelmed Australia by a staggering margin of an innings and 71 runs in the second Test of the ongoing Ashes series at the Adelaide Oval.

It ‘s basically the change of the mindset of the English team which has led them to dominate the proceedings after an uncertain start to their campaign of retaining the Ashes. Aggression was something alien to them when it had come to taking on their arch-rivals.

England have done their homework much better this time and they have arrived Australia in a very positive frame of mind. They have already brought the hosts under enormous pressure, something that had not happened for a very long time.

Although the first Test at the Gabba in Brisbane had ended in a draw, it were Andrew Strauss and his boys who earned more points than losing. The mammoth partnership between Aliaster Cook and Jonathan Trott led the turnaround and Ricky Ponting was left pondering how things went that far.

The Australians would not have imagined claiming just one wicket for 517 runs in England’s second innings no matter how much the pitch had eased and how friendly the conditions had become for batting.

It went to the credit of England not to have gone into a shell after having conceded a substantial first innings lead. On their previous tours of Australia during the past couple of decades they were guilty of playing to save the game generally rather than possessing the self-belief to down the opponents.

England were not being expected to go so hard at the Australians while in arrears and their aggression made immediate dividends. The bowling combination that had looked potent in the first innings was looking just ordinary when attacked.

England picked up in the second Test from where they had left in the first Test. They bowled aggressively on the opening day to send the hosts crashing to 245 all out in their first innings on a perfect batting track.

It was over to the England batsmen and they were in no mood to let the opportunity go. They didn’t let the Australian bowlers settle down and the scoreboard kept ticking over far too quickly to worry Ponting.

Cook was on song again and then Kevin Pietersen, due for a big knock for sometime, took over. The setting was perfect for the dashing right-hander to force the bowlers into submission. His double century allowed England to get a huge first innings lead. More importantly they got the score of 620 for five in quick time to give their bowlers enough time to apply the pressure despite the threats of rain.

I don’t think Strauss had delayed the declaration by extending the innings on the fourth morning for he wanted to have enough runs on the board to take out the possibility of batting a second time.

Not surprisingly the Australians did offer resistance and the fourth wicket stand between Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey did raise hope of the home side running away with a draw but it was Pietersen again who broke the threatening partnership in the final over of the fourth day.

Australia had six second innings wickets in hand at the start of the fifth and final day’s play but England needed just 90 minutes or so to complete one of their most famous victories of the recent times. Off-spinner Graeme Swann turned the ball alarmingly to claim another five-wicket haul and create doubts in the minds of the home batsmen for the remainder of the summer.

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December 12, 2010

Yusuf Pathan makes himself a certainty for World Cup squad


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

There has never been any doubt about the exceptional talents of Yusuf Pathan both with the bat as well as the ball. But there were question marks about his ability to handle the pressures of international matches in the limited opportunities having come his way in an era when the Indian selectors have far too many choices than their predecessors.

Yusuf had done it in the domestic tournaments and besides having showcased his unmatched potential in the Indian Premier League (IPL). But he needed to prove himself in the international arena.

The moment has come for the enterprising all-rounder. He made the most of the opportunity he got in the fourth One-day International of the recently concluded home series against New Zealand in Bangalore. He produced the kind of all-round performance that would have made even the legends proud.

He followed his three-wicket haul with an unbeaten century under pressure to lead India’s turnaround after the home side, chasing a mammoth total of 316, had lost its top order much more quickly than anticipated generally.

It was a day to remember for Yusuf. He was given a longer bowler, although yet not his qouta of 10 overs, but he still managed to pick up three wicket without conceding too many runs when the visitors came up with their best batting performance of the series.

Yusuf carried the confidence into his batting and I am not sure what exactly was in the mind of the caretaker captain, Gautam Gambhir, promoted him in the order. He was supposed to bat at number seven but the skipper sent him in with his side was reeling at 108 for four in the 21st over with more than 200 still needed.

It was a pressure-cooker situation as far as the hosts were concerned and besides talents and skills one needed a cool head to get going. Nobody would have dared asking a regular number six if he failed to deliver but Yusuf’s career was at stake here. He needed to perform or forget about his place in the team at least for quite sometime.

The additional burden brought the best of Yusuf and he proved the point. Dead rubber it was for India but literally it was a matter of life and death for the enterprising all-rounder who didn’t let the chance go.

His match-winning unbeaten hundred (123 off 96 balls) could well be the turning point of his life and career. In the short run he becomes an automatic choice for the World Cup while in the long run he should be a permanent member of the Indian side for quite sometime not entirely on the basis of just one outstanding effort but his extraordinary talents that have already been unfolded.

"I had enough overs in hand, and I sensed an opportunity to play a long innings. With Rohit (Sharma) and Saurabh (Tiwary) we rotated the strike well and kept in touch with the run-rate. At no stage did I feel we were going to lose the game,” he remarked after leading India to triumph.

"At the rain break, Gautam (Gambhir) told me to utilise the Powerplay to good effect. He advised me not to throw my wicket away, and said if I stayed in the middle till the end, I would win the match for India. I am glad I proved him right," Yusuf recalled.

"I don't change my natural game. But of late, I am trying to spend some time in the middle before going for my strokes. But if there is an opportunity to hit the ball, I will not hesitate to do so,” he added with a smile on his face.

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December 11, 2010

India take whitewash rather reluctantly


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The New Zealanders had their moments during their tour of India. I think they fared much better than what had looked likely after their drubbing in Bangladesh not very long ago. The Indians should have won all three Test matches but they chose to be content with a 1-0 win as they had done on numerous occasions while taking on unfancied rivals in the past.

The New Zealanders consider themselves better suited for the limited overs games than the Test matches. Yet they were successful to have drawn two of the three Test matches with the top ranked side of the world and they were whitewashed by the hosts in the ODI series when they virtually fielded their ‘A’ team.

India did win all the five One-day Internationals, that followed the Test series, but the New Zealanders were allowed the kind of liberty that the mighty teams of the past like the West Indies or Australia didn’t allow when they were ruling the world.

Isn’t it a pity that the Indians have remained so reluctant to go for a clean sweep even when they had their opponents at their mercy? Isn’t it a big surprise that it’s only their second 5-0 win in a ODI series?

The last time India triumphed 5-0 was not a whitewash either. It was meant to be a seven-match series between India and England but it had to be halted abruptly due to the attacks in Mumbai. Although the Englishmen had been totally outplayed by the hosts there were many people who sensed India might not have gone for a 7-0 scoreline for the same reasons that had prevented them from doing it earlier.

So it’s actually India’s first 5-0 win in a five-match series. They have achieved it in the absence of some of their prolific performers who were rested for various reasons. This provided the fringe players an opportunity to have a go at a struggling side and most of them came out with flying colours.

Ironically India, with full strength, had lost a ODI to New Zealand by 200 runs during the triangular series in Sri Lanka only a few months ago. The manner in which India’s less experienced guys forced the Black Caps into submission throughout the five-match series only leaves more question marks about that fateful game.

The Indians could have won the ODI series even more convincingly but for the traditional inconsistency of the prolific players. The failures of Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli in the last two games was totally against the run of play. If they are not competent enough to negotiate the all spin attack of New Zealand with the new ball, I am afraid, they don’t deserve to be playing for their national team.

That has been the problem of the Indian team over the years. Despite being in possession of a large pool of talented players they have been reluctant to sustain the momentum. The reasons remain unexplained, beyond comprehension to say the least.

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December 10, 2010

Ejaz Farooqui on a mission to have lively pitches in Karachi


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Honorary Secretary of the Karachi City Cricket Association (KCCA), Prof Ejaz Ahmed Farooqui, has listed the preparation of lively pitches for the club matches as one of his top priorities.

Speaking as the chief guest in the inauguration ceremony of the Javed Khan Cricket Tournament, being organized by Dawood Sports, Prof Ejaz Farooqui announced that the KCCA was taking measures to prepare fast pitches in the metropolis.

“It’s vitally important to expose our youngsters to lively pitches from the grassroots level so that they face no problems whatsoever in coping with such surfaces when they graduate to the next level. A cricketer having grown up on faster pitches will have a greater chance of moving up the ladder when selected in the national team,” he reckoned.

“I really feel hurt to find the Pakistan opening batsmen failing again and again. This has been happening for quite a long time now. Even the middle-order batsmen struggle to put bat to ball when playing on pitches having bounce and pace,” the KCCA Secretary regretted.

“The remedy lies by having the national tournaments played on livelier pitches. Once the domestic matches are held on faster tracks I am sure every participating team will prompted to have such surfaces for the local matches as well. In this way we will produce cricketers, particularly batsmen, of higher quality,” Prof Ejaz Farooqui believed.

“We have to set an example for the others to follow to have our club tournaments played on sporting pitches rather than flat ones. We will not only start producing outstanding batsmen but we will also have a lot of fast bowlers coming into the limelight,” he felt

“This will bring about a revolution of sorts throughout the country as the technique of the cricketers will improve considerably. They will learn a great deal themselves when they play on surfaces where their skills will be tested,” he added.

“It’s my mission to have sporting pitches prepared in Karachi. I wish to make a contribution in the real sense of the word,” Prof Ejaz Farooqui, who transformed the KCCA Zone II with his dynamic and visionary leadership in a matter of three years or so, observed.

He has a burning desire that Karachi produces the legendary batsmen like Hanif Mohammad and Javed Miandad, whose awesome accomplishments are still talked about in the entire cricketing world.

Prof Ejaz Farooqui was himself showered with praise by all the speakers in the inauguration ceremony of the Javed Khan Cricket Tournament. He was recognized for having rewritten the history books by having a record number tournaments organized in the KCCA Zone II during his tenure as Chairman.

Prof Ejaz Farooqui, who was elected as the Secretary of the KCCA earlier this year, has now set his vision on transforming the whole of Karachi cricket and he has displayed the eagerness already to make things happen on a fast track.

He firmly believes that the game of cricket could be taken to another level for which an integrated approach of all the stakeholders was needed.

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December 5, 2010

National Games or money-minting exercise?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Pakistan Olympic Association (POA), having done very little to promote the cause of sports eversince its inception and whose office-bearers have mostly been in the news for the wrong reasons to say the least, has to shoulder the blame once more for not having taken the desired steps yo take care of their showpiece event, the National Games, meant to be held after every two years.

The provincial Olympic Associations look forward to hosting the National Games primarily for the loads of money that comes with the package. It’s one event they cannot imagine to lose, no matter how many times they have to postpone it.

The 31st National Games, now scheduled to be staged in Peshawar later this month, would certainly have served greater purpose had it been held prior to the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

In Pakistan the practice has been to hold the National Games in the four provinces by rotation. It’s no doubt the turn of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, formerly Northern Western Frontier Province (NWFP), to stage the event but it had to postponed due to the security concerns in capital Peshawar.

The national Olympic body, POA, don’t do anything to annoy their provincial chapters for obvious reasons. The POA Executive Council had taken the decision to postpone the 31st National Games that was to be held from March 25 to 31.

The POA President, Lt Gen (retd) Syed Arif Hasan, had stated at the time of announcing the decision on March 16 that the foreign teams were already not willing to come to Pakistan because of the security issues and they didn’t want a situation where a domestic event is also affected by some incident.

“The relevant authorities in Peshawar were not willing to give security clearance for the games at this stage. We took the prevailing situation in the country into consideration and felt the best thing at this stage was to postpone the games. There was also pressure from parents and associations to postpone the games and obviously nothing is more important to us than the safety of our athletes and officials," he was quoted as saying.

The National Games, already been postponed once before last year due to security issues, was then rescheduled for December 26 to 31.

The President of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Olympic Association (KPOA), Syed Aqil Shah, who is also the KP Sports Minister, has maintained that the 31st National Games will be held in Peshawar on its schedule amid tight security.

”We have given the mandate by the house in which the office-bearers of all the affiliated associations ensured their support. Besides they have shown more spirit and zeal to hold the Games on its schedule,” he observed in the media briefing.

“We are ready to hold the Games and the grant is there. All appropriate measures would be taken and services of Police, Frontier Corps, and even if needed, Army would be taken to provide foolproof security to the teams and officials,” Aqil Shah stated.

It may be recalled that at least three people were killed and several others were wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the main gate of Qayum Stadium after the closing ceremony of Inter-Provincial Games in Peshawar in November 2008.

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