February 28, 2010

Will Waqar be able to deliver in chaotic environment?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

There is no doubt about the abilities of Waqar Younis whose toe-crushing yorkers are still remembered with awe. He was one of the greatest fast bowlers of his generation, having engineered innumerable triumphs for Pakistan.

He has also been blessed with communication skills that have enabled him to be in the game even after retirement. He has done commentary of international matches for various television networks. In fact he remains one of the very few former Pakistan cricketers who can express themselves comfortably in the English language.

Waqar was in the news of late as the front-runner for the job of the national coach. Now it has finally been confirmed that the mercurial fast bowlers of the 1990s has indeed been offered the assignment.

It’s quite extraordinary how things work in this part of the world. It’s all down to one person calling the shots in the organizations as huge as the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) that has rather been under the proprietorship of Ijaz Butt for nearly year and a half now.

Earlier there were reports, confirmed by the former Australian captain himself, that Greg Chappell was approached for having a coaching stint with the Pakistan team. Yet the PCB denied having contacted Chappell.

Well to an extent the clarification made sense as well because in all those reports it was mentioned that Wasim Bari, the so-called Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the PCB, had spoken to Chappell in this regard.

Obviously Wasim Bari is nobody when it comes to making decisions irrespective of the big portfolio he’s holding or the huge salary he is drawing. It’s Ijaz Butt holds the key in all matters.

Now since Ijaz Butt has confirmed about Waqar Younis being offered the contract one has to take it as official.

Reportedly has been offered a contract by Ijaz Butt to coach the Pakistan side until December 2011. Waqar, currently in Australia, has confirmed having received the contract.

"I would like Waqar to join the Pakistan team. We are awaiting a reply as we have offered him to take over as our head coach," Ijaz Butt was quoted as saying.

I think it’s a matter of time for the former fast bowler to sign it. He must have held negotiations with Ijaz Butt before agreeing to become Pakistan's fourth coach in the last three years.

Waqar faces a very tough challenge because working in the present chaotic environment would be quite a task. Coaching a national team is something else. Becoming a personal servant to the boss is an entirely different proposition.

I am not sure if Waqar does possess the diplomatic skills of Wasim Bari, whom his critics also call as Wasim ‘Darbari’ a clear indication of the latter’s proficiency in blindly toeing the line of the boss.

Coming to terms with Ijaz Butt, notorious for unpredictability, might be a bigger issue for Waqar than coaching the boys.

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February 25, 2010

NJI offers to sponsor international snooker tournament in Pakistan


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The New Jubilee Insurance (NJI), having become the major sponsors of the national cue sports tournaments, have offered to take care of an international snooker event later this year.

Tahir Ahmed, Managing Director, NJI, made the offer to the cash-starved Pakistan Billiards Snooker Association (PBSA), during the launching ceremony of the NJI 35th National Snooker Championship 2010 held at the Karachi Gymkhana Banquet Hall on February 25.

“It’s very heartening to note that NJI and snooker have become synonymous and we are encouraged to extend greater support to cue sports. We are prepared to sponsor an international snooker tournament in the second half of the current year whenever the PBSA is ready,” he offered.

The generous offer of Tahir Ahmed was certainly music to the ears of the officials of the PBSA and it was promptly acknowledged by their President, Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, who briefed the media about the Nationals 2010 to be staged here at the Karachi Gymkhana from March 2 to 8.

He announced the return of Mohammad Yousuf and Shehram Changezi to the national circuit. “Shehram, a former Pakistan number one, has qualified for the National Championship by winning the recently concluded Punjab Cup in Lahore while Yousuf, a former world champion, has made it through the Sindh Cup quota,” the PBSA President disclosed.

Alamgir Shaikh, however, could not come up with a convincing answer when asked if the decision of the Sindh Billiards & Snooker Association (SBSA), an affiliated unit of the PBSA, to allow direct entry to the veteran Yousuf without asking him to play in the Sindh Cup was in accordance with their constitution.

Yousuf, having won the National Championship on the highest number of occasions, was eliminated from the circuit following his inconsistent performance in successive ranking tournaments. He had to miss all the four national ranking tournaments last year after being denied wild card entry by the PBSA.

Alamgir Shaikh, having succeeded Ali Asghar Valika as the chief of the Association in 2008, regretted the recent decline in the governmental support to the game of snooker as he showed a comparison in which the lesser known games received much higher grants than the PBSA.

On the positive note the PBSA President disclosed that they have facilitated the participation of the finalists of the National Junior Championship, Muhammad Ahsan Javed of Punjab and Muhammad Ishtiaq of Sindh, in order to let compete with the top cueists of the country in the National Championship

“They will make it to the main draw automatically if there were two dropouts. They will still be included in the line-up if all the cueists do turn up in which case the number of participants in the National Championship will rise to 34,” Alamgir Shaikh explained.

Top four cueists from each of the four provinces, Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan, earned the right to appear in the National Championship besides the top 16 cueists in the last national ranking chart.

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Tendulkar seals series


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Yet another magnificent knock from Sachin Tendulkar powered India to a series triumph over South Africa, one of the best teams in the business at the moment in every format of the game.

India could not win the two-Test series, managing to square it after losing the first one by the heaviest of margins, but they have come up with better performance in the One-day Internationals closing the three-match series at the Captain Roop Singh Stadium in Gwalior that has remained their happy hunting ground.

Unlike the first ODI in which the South African tail-enders frustrated India against all odds there was no such drama in the second game where the hosts were able to dictate terms until the very end.

There was no guarantee for success for India even after they had posted a total of 401 for three in the allotted 50 overs. They had to come out hard against the South Africans and they did exactly that to prevent anything unusual close to one in the previous game.

In the end 153 runs separated the two sides that looked a fair reflection of the dominance of the home side. With their tidy bowling, the Indians didn’t let the visitors come up with anything extravagant to upstage them.

The limelight was very much on Tendulkar for having set up the monumental triumph but overall it was the team effort that allowed the hosts to remain in the driving seat all along on a day they might not forget for a very long time indeed.

It was one of those days when they were able to bulldoze their fancied rivals in every department of the game. Tendulkar stood out with his magnificent double century but the likes of Dinesh Karthik, Yousuf Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni also made significant contribution with the bat to ensure a massive total.

The trio of Karthik, Pathan and Dhoni kept the score moving at brisk pace to let Tendulkar play his natural game. It could have been a different story to relate if the runs had choked at the other end that would have definitely brought pressure even on the Master Blaster in full cry.

Dhoni’s captaincy, as usual, was spot it. His decision to promote Pathan and opt for the batting powerplay soon after his arrival turned out to be masterstrokes. Then the skipper himself fired on all cylinders in the death overs to let Tendulkar relax a bit in the 190s.

The disappointment of losing Virender Sehwag, who was caught at third man, early in the innings was not allowed to be felt because Karthik built a marathon partnership with Tendulkar and then the stage was set for Pathan and Dhoni to push the score past 400.

India had reasons not to feel complacent even while defending the monumental score because South Africa had successfully chased down 434 against Australia at the Wanderers not very long ago.

The Indians removed the danger man Herschelle Gibbs cheaply and then wickets kept on tumbling at regular internals. AB de Villiers scored a century without threatening to change the complexion of the game.

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No one deserved it more than Tendulkar


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

I am sure now very few people would argue about Sachin Tendulkar being the most accomplished batsman of all time. He has overcome injuries, lean patches and media trials at regular basis to prove himself as the greatest exponent of the art of batting.

The latest feathers in his cap are the highest individual score and the first-ever double century in One-day Internationals. His innings at the Captain Roop Singh Stadium in Gwalior on February 24 would be remembered for a very long time.

His record-breaking knock against one of the best bowling attacks of the world was a treat to watch and even the South Africans must have known that they were watching something well and truly special.

The manner in which he was dominating the bowling it appeared a matter of time for him to overtake Saeed Anwar and Charles Coventry, who held the record jointly for the highest ODI score. So was the case of his double hundred that seemed always on the cards if he batted for entire 50 overs.

"It feels good that I lasted for 50 overs, a good test of my fitness. I'd like to bat another 50 overs at some stage and see that the fitness level doesn't drop. The ball was coming onto the bat and I was striking the ball well. So when everything falls into its place, it feels nice. It was one of the innings where I felt I was moving well. Since I was timing the ball well, I could be more aggressive and put pressure on the bowlers,” the great man remarked at the end of the epic knock.

He dedicated his feat to the people of India and credited coach Gary Kirsten for the team's success in both forms of the game after the debacle in the World Cup about three years ago.

"I have enjoyed various challenges; after the 2007 World Cup things have looked different and I'm enjoying the game. The credit also goes to Gary Kirsten who has really held the team beautifully. It's about togetherness and playing for each other. You see during the practice sessions that Gary himself trains as hard as anyone else or probably harder than anyone else as he's the one giving us practice all the time,” Tendulkar remarked.

"When I was near 175-180, I thought I could get a 200 as there were quite a few overs left. I don't play for records. I play for enjoyment and play with lots of passion. That's how cricket started. I didn't start playing cricket to break all the records; it's happened along the way. The dream was to play for India and do my best,” he added.

"I don't think any record is unbreakable. Records are made to be broken. I hope that if this record is broke, it's done by an Indian," Tendulkar wished.

Well the records are indeed breakable but some of them are likely to stand for lifetime like the one Tendulkar is fast approaching. He is not very far away from becoming first batsman to score a century of centuries in international cricket, a record that may never be broken.

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February 24, 2010

Shahid Afridi believes ball biting issue blown out of proportions


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan's flamboyant all-rounder Shahid Khan Afridi has felt deeply hurt and disappointed the way the smearing campaign was launched against him following the ball biting incident during the fifth and final One-day International against Australia at Perth on January 31.

"I did commit a blunder in frustration by biting the ball and subsequently faced the punishment for the offence," he told APP Sports Correspondent Ehsan
Qureshi in an exclusive interview in Karachi on February 22 upon his return from Dubai
after the just concluded two-match Twenty20 International series against England.

"Our team was on a losing streak and in the heat of the moment I did a wrong thing in
in the state of frustration," he regretted in what probably was his first media interview in Pakistan after that controversial incident.

"In the past so many extraordinarily controversial incidents had taken place on and off the field in cricket but they had gone unnoticed because the media was not so strong in that era," he pointed out.

"I am really stunned at the manner in which the odd mistake of mine has been so much highlighted It’s very strange indeed to find the matter being blown out of proportions,” Shahid Afridi observed.

"I have already served the two-match ban imposed by the ICC and could face a bigger sentence if I do commit any other mistake,” he said.

"I once again apologize to the whole nation and my followers across
the globe for the wrong I committed. I have served the country to the best of my abilities and will continue to do so as long as required by PCB and the selectors," he

"Look at the golf superstar Tiger Woods. He had made a mistake and he apologized to his followers and chapter may shortly be closed. That’s all. The life has to go on,” the dashing all-rounder opined.

Well Shahid Afridi is a smart guy, having lived his life in Karachi. He has been one of the popular cricketers of the country despite his inconsistent record at the international level. A crowd puller in every part of the country he has had massive following abroad too.

He, however, has had his own share of problems. He’s not new to controversies. He was in the news for the wrong reasons when he was found guilty of attempting to damage a cricket pitch a few years ago.

Having been in and out of the team, he is also accused of being one of the leading characters in the plot to oust skipper Younis Khan at a time when he should have been his right hand man being the vice-captain.

Some observers feel that instead of helping out Younis Khan, the dashing all-rounder aligned with the intriguers in the team after being assured that he would be captaining the national team in the World Cup 2011.

Did he commit the blunder of his lifetime by deserting Younis Khan and joining hands with the forces that eventually succeeded in their designs or was it another big ‘six’ by the master blaster only time will tell.

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Tail-enders frustrate and humiliate India yet again


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Any other team would have been considered victorious if they dismissed Jacques Kallis at that stage when the asking rate was in the double digits and two tail-enders were crease for the last seven or eight overs. Not India.

India for ages have had this tendency of losing their way in the end after being in the driving seat for the better part of the match. That’s why while the others thought it was all over for South Africa I considered ‘Game on’ even after the dismissal of Kallis and didn’t miss a single delivery.

People around me wondered how I was anticipating a close contest when it was appearing a one-sided affair for all practical purposes. My reply was simple. You never know with India. Trust me I would have given it up too if South Africa’s opponents were Bangladesh or Zimbabwe.

The record books will show that India emerged triumphant in the first One-day International against South Africa at Jaipur. What these score sheets might not be able to tell how much frustration and humiliation the hosts had to endure after having dominated the day.

India should have been well and truly home after removing Kallis, who had earlier been missed by skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni of all people. The lapse didn’t prove costly but Yousuf Pathan was denied a wicket he so richly deserved after bowling an outstanding spell with the dew factor taking its toll.

But the tail-enders Wayne Parnell and Dale Steyn came up with their career-best knocks. Not only did they score far too many but they also got them very quickly against an attack whose discipline had made life miserable even for the top-order.

Parnell and Steyn had fun with the Indian bowlers and the crowd that had been shouting all day was brought to silence in a matter of few overs. The festive mood of the spectators turned tense and there was more of disbelief and amusement at what really was going on in the field of play.

It was complete chaos for India. The bowlers started getting punished by the tail-enders. Initially it was being believed that a few hits here and there would have little bearing on the outcome but Dhoni was alive to the situation and he was not taking any chances. He immediately took off part-timer Suresh Raina after being clobbered for two straight sixes in three balls.

Ashish Nehra is probably India’s best bowler in the death overs after Zaheer Khan, who was not playing due to injury. Nehra did stem the flow of runs by bowling a superb penultimate over but what followed in his final over was nothing short of a nightmare for the tall left-arm quickie.

Dhoni’s problems were compounded because of the lack of control over line and length on part of Shantikumaran Sreesanth, the replacement of Zaheer Khan. Sreesanth did take two key wickets but he was far too expensive to be risked for the final over.

Dhoni made the right decision to entrust Praveen Kumar the job of sending the last over from which South Africa needed only 10 to complete the unlikeliest of victories. Kumar somehow kept his cool and didn’t let his team down. The dramatic over, that also included an off-side wide, yielded eight runs that ensured India at least won the match.

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February 22, 2010

Sohail Abbas optimistic about Pakistan’s chances of reclaiming trophy


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan’s drag-flick specialist Sohail Abbas very rightly believed that Pakistan should not be ruled out of the World Cup Hockey Tournament 2010 starting in the Indian capital, New Delhi, on February 28.

Talking to the media corps during his recent visit to the Karachi Press Club, he made the point that the present lot of hockey players was adequately geared and motivated enough to improve the rankings and win laurels for the country.

“Currently we are not ranked among the top teams of the world. But boys do have the capacity and talent to accomplish something special if they play to their potential,” he remarked.

“The manner in which our team performed recently against the Netherlands in Qatar gives us a lot of boost and self-belief. Our fancied opponent had to come from behind to earn a draw after we had gained the early advantage. Remember the Dutch are a formidable team and playing out a draw against them was very encouraging for us,” he reckoned.

Sohail, looking forward to enhancing his world record tally of 306 goals but more importantly he desired playing his part by contributing substantially in the success of the team.

“I am playing my fourth World Cup after making my debut in Utrecht and it\s my ultimate wish to serve the country to the best of my abilities. Ideally I would like to see our team become the world champions,” he wished.

The 33-year-old Sohail didn’t mince word in stating that every league match was crucial for Pakistan having been placed in the Group B with Australia, England, India, Spain and South Africa.

“Mind you all these teams are very dangerous and we cannot afford to relax even for a while against any of them. We begin our campaign with the game against arch-rivals India. A victory in this match will really boost our morale,” he observed.

He credited the team management for having developed new armory and weapons with variations in penalty corner drills that should help the cause of the team immensely.

He opined that hockey has changed in the past few years and whole team has to be involved in defence and attack at the same time.
“We have had problems in defence but we worked very hard in the camps and we are confident to come up with an improved performance in New Delhi. The tournament presents a great opportunity to us to fulfill the dreams of the nation in front of the Indian crowd and put national game back on track,” he remarked.

Sohail and the rest of the squad crossing the border are very much aware of the fact that Pakistan have had excellent record while playing on the Indian soil and they would like to come good again.

1982 in particular was the most memorable year for the Pakistan hockey. They had outplayed India in the Asian Games final to clinch the gold in style at New Delhi while they won the World Cup in Bombay the same year.

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February 20, 2010

Karachi Press Club honours Sohail Abbas, Mahmood Lodhi


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

As they say many great things happen by chance. Ehsan Qureshi and I had an appointment with hockey stalwart Sohail Abbas and we were preparing to leave for his residence.

Just before packing up Ehsan telephoned Sohail who picked up the call while having some spicy stuff in the nearby Burns Road whose dishes are famous worldwide for the taste and variety.

Sohail, who holds the world record of scoring the highest number of goals in international matches, promptly agreed to the idea of having our meeting at the Karachi Press Club that’s hardly 10-minute drive from the Food Street where he was dining with his friend.

Chess champion Mahmood Ahmed Lodhi and one of the respected media personalities, Ibrahim Khan, was with us when we decided to reschedule the venue of our meeting with Sohail and neither of them could muster the courage to turn down our unexpected request of accompanying us to the Press Club.

We had only 10 minutes at our disposal because that was the time Sohail needed to reach there. In this period I called Alauddin Khanzada, more famous as A H Khanzada, Honorary Secretary, Karachi Press Club, to make quick arrangements. He consumed probably less time than Sohail takes for hitting a short corner in giving his consent.

As the luck would have it our car and that of Sohail arrived the Press Club around the same time. The hockey legend and the chess champion were accorded the respect and protocol they thoroughly deserved.

The members of the Press Club present on the occasion were thrilled to meet two of the leading sportsmen of the country. The informal session in the dining room was followed by a formal presentation ceremony in the Committee Room upstairs.

It was quite extraordinary how swiftly A H Khanzada had made the arrangements. Quite a few senior journalists, office bearers of the club and the Karachi Union of Journalists sat around the two sports icons.

Sports is not been the beat or forte of A H Khanzada but the manner in which he introduced both the sporting legends reflected his depth of general knowledge. In his welcome speech he showered them with praise for their accomplishments.

On behalf of the Karachi Press Club he wished the national hockey team the best of luck in the upcoming World Cup Tournament to be held in New Delhi from February 28. He expressed the hope that Sohail will reproduce his Midas touch to win the laurels for the country.

A H Khanzada also appreciated the achievements of International Master Mahmood in the field of chess, congratulating him on being the national champion for a record number of times.

Veteran sports journalist, A.Majid Khan, presented the Ajrak, a traditional gift from the people of Sindh, to Sohail Abbas while another seasoned journalist, Arshad Shami, did the honours to Mahmood Lodhi.

Both Sohail Abbas and Mahmood Lodhi acknowledged the recognition from the Karachi Press Club and they looked forward to the support of the media in accomplishing the mutual objective of promoting sporting culture in the society.

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ICC recognizes Asoka de Silva’s century of ODIs


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Asoka de Silva of Sri Lanka was recognized by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for having become only the 12th umpire to reach the milestone of standing in 100 One-day Internationals (ODIs).

He had completed his century when he stood in the fifth ODI between Australia and Pakistan in Perth on January 31. His feat, however, was acknowledged officially on February 19 when the ICC Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat presented him a crystal plaque before the start of the Twenty20 International between Pakistan and England at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium in Dubai Sports City.

“I am humbled and honoured to have completed a century of ODIs as an umpire. When I look at the umpires who are on this list, it makes me really proud as the group includes some of the most iconic names of this noble profession,” de Silva, having played international cricket for seven years, remarked.

He appeared in 10 Tests and 28 One-day Internationals but he had ordinary record as a leg-spinner and a lower-order batsman. He could claim only eight Tests at a very high cost and his performance in the ODIs was only marginally better. But he has made it big as an umpire.

“It would have been nice to have played more and therefore been more successful at international cricket but umpiring is another way of experiencing our great game while my cricketing background has helped me immensely in my umpiring career,” he observed.

“It has been a fascinating journey so far as I have been privileged to be part of a very strong, committed and professional group of umpires. And to stand in matches that feature the best cricketers of this era, is something I love and thoroughly enjoy,” the Sri Lankan umpire added.

He was inducted into the elite panel along with Steve Davis of Australia in April 2008 after having previously served on the panel between 2002 and 2004. While de Silva has umpired in 12 Tests and 24 ODIs since his return to the panel, Davis is just six ODIs away from becoming the fourth Australian and 13th overall to stand in 100 ODIs.

Rudi Koertsen of South Africa holds the distinction of having umpired in the highest number of ODIs (202) while Steve Bucknor of the West Indies stood in 181 ODIs. The late David Shepherd of England is next on the list having umpired in 172 games.

The Australian duo of Daryl Harper (161) and Simon Taufel (147) is expected to complete double century in not distant future as does Billy Bowden of New Zealand having already stood in 141 ODIs.

Australia’s Darrell Hair performed duties in 139 ODIs with Pakistan’s Aleem Dar not very far behind having umpired in 127 one-dayers. Russell Tiffin of Zimbabwe (111), David Orchard of South Africa (107) and Steve Dunn of New Zealand (100) had also completed century of ODIs as an umpire before de Silva did it earlier this year.

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February 19, 2010

Laxman’s elegance simply enchanting


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

What a joy it is to watch VVS Laxman bat! His stroke-play is truly poetry in motion. He is a pure artist. He has been the most elegant batsman in the game for quite sometime now.

He hasn’t lost any of his touch as we witnessed it at the Eden Garden in Kolkata where he plundered his first Test century against South Africa. It was a magnificent knock that delighted his large number of fans at what has been his favourite ground.

It’s not mere coincidence that he has completed 1,000 runs in just nine Tests at the Eden Gardens. He has played a few of the most memorable knocks of his career here with the epic 281 against Australia in 2001 being the standout effort.

India had missed him so much in the previous game in which he couldn’t take part due to injury. His return to the side immensely bolstered the batting line-up that had cracked at Nagpur primarily due to inexperience that had allowed the South African bowlers to get on top of them.

There was plenty of buzz with Laxman coming back into the side in the second Test that India needed to win in order to retain their top ranking. More significantly they also had to prove the point that the odd failure in the Nagpur Test was more due to the non-presence of their stalwarts than any other factor.

There was greater pressure on Laxman to deliver because Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh were still unavailable and he had to fill the vacuum with the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

There were suggestions to promote Laxman to the number three position in the absence of Dravid, having made the one down position his own for a number of years now.

John Wright, the former Indian coach, firmly believed that sending Laxman at number three would help the cause of the team immensely. After all he and skipper Sourav Ganguly were instrumental in sending him up the order when the team was in dire straits at the same venue against the mighty Aussies nine years ago.

It had proved to be a master stroke with the Hyderabad touch artist rewriting history with a colossal knock of 281 that led the turnaround and India went on to win the Test match from the brink of disaster.

The present Indian think-tank, however, had different ideas and they probably had the conviction that Laxman was to come good at any position. They were proved right.
Murali Vijay, not surprisingly, failed again at number three but by holding Laxman back they had ensured that there was not a big hole in the middle-order. The tactics worked very well once more.

India had very nearly surrendered the initiative by losing three quick wickets in the closing stages of the second day’s play and South Africa were very much in the game at the start of the third day’s proceedings.

It was Laxman’s fluency that tormented the charged up bowlers and their shoulders dropped when the balls were dispatched merrily to every part of the ground. Dhoni kept his company all the way and together they built a magnificent partnership that entertained the big crowd and consolidated India’s position.

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Incredible India somehow overcome all obstacles to retain top ranking


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

I incline to agree with all those experts and critics who believe that India won’t be able to retain the number one ranking in Test cricket. Not because the Indian team carries any real weakness or lacks depth and character.

The reason why they would find it tough to be top ranked side is simple. They have to overcome far too many obstacles than any other team to continue their winning streak despite being in the possession of the best outfit in business.

We have already witnessed how difficult it has been for them to register victories even after dominating the rivals. They were threatened more by the weather in Bangladesh than the team they were confronting.

The weather very nearly ruined their chances of squaring the just concluded Test series against South Africa. It’s quite extraordinary how the Nature comes to halt the Indian progress so frequently. No other team has to be wary of such factors.

Yes only weather could have saved South Africa in the Kolkata Test after they had a conceded a monumental first innings lead with over two days to spare. Obviously Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra were to be deadlier with men round the bat on a pitch offering them more assistance than in the first innings.

There was only one result possible, unless outside factors intervened, once Mahendra Singh Dhoni had declared the innings in the closing stages of the third day’s play.

The first sign of the outside factors came into the equation right away as the light faded dramatically after just five deliveries of the South African innings and the Indian bowlers were deprived of the opportunity of a crack at the batsmen who must have been fatigued after having done leather chasing for almost two days.

Then the heavens opened and considerable amount of time was lost on the fourth day. There had not been any signs of rain in the earlier part of the series but it just came when the South Africans needed to get some relief.

India had to take seven wickets on the fifth and final day to translate their dominance into victory. The morning was bright and sunny but the injury to their spearhead Zaheer Khan meant the quarter of their bowling power had been lost before taking the field.

Not surprisingly the Indians were frustrated by each and every player who came into bat. Even last man Morne Morkel batted with the steely determination of Geoff Boycott while Hashim Amla appeared to be in greater control of the situation than even Don Bradman would have been at any point of his career.

History is witness to the fact that the oddest things have happened against India. It would have had come as no surprise if the South Africans had escaped with a draw even after having been outplayed in every department of the game.

Well India just managed to take the last wicket that helped them win the Test, level the series and retain the number one rank. Dhoni was obviously a very relieved man when Harbhajan took the final wicket with barely a few minutes play remaining.

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February 18, 2010

Mahmood Lodhi retains Friendship crown


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The reigning national champion and International Master, Mahmood Ahmed Lodhi, has retained his crown by emerging triumphant in the 31st Friendship House Chess Festival 2010, held under the auspices of the Mind Sports Association of Pakistan (MSAP) at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture (RCSC) in Karachi.

The Gujrranwala-based Mahmood Lodhi, lived up to the billing in the Open Category event in which there were a total of 24 contestants competing in seven rounds. The International Master won all his games to score a maximum of seven points. Aziz Farooqui finished second with 5.5 points and Rahat Ali came third 5 points.

The three-day chess championships, contested in open, non-ranking and students categories, concluded with the prize distribution ceremony, presided over Tariq Rasheed Khan, Director, MSAP, and President, Pakistan Bridge Federation (PBF). The Consul General of the Russian Federation, Andrey Vladimirovich Demidov, was the chief guest of the evening.

Mohammad Aslam ran away with the top position in the non-Ranking Category which also had 24 participants trying their luck in seven rounds. Aslam won the contest with 6.5 points while Shakeel Ahmed and Makhdoom Hammad shared second position with five points each.

As many as 30 students from Beacon House School, Karachi Grammar School, St Patrick School and Foundation Public School took part in the ‘O’ & ‘A’ Level category in which a total of six rounds were played.

Mohammad Hunaid of St Patrick School won the ‘O’ Level contest by securing six points while Abdul Rashid Siddiqui, also from St Patrick School and Syed Hur Hasan of Beacon House School shared the second position with 4.5 points each.

The students of St Patrick School dominated the ‘A’ Level competition as well with Wahaj Ahmed winning it and Taha Javed sharing the runner-up spot with Jawwad Naimat of Beacon House School.

The Russian Centre of Science and Culture (RCSC) in Karachi, more famous as the Friendship House, has been holding a chess tournament every year for quite sometime but the event has come alive with the proactive support of the Mind Sports Association of Pakistan (MSAP).

The MSAP, with their professional approach, has given a new lease of life to chess during the last year and a half or so. They have adequately made up for the lethargy and red tape culture of the Chess Federation of Pakistan (CFP) whose office-bearers have often remained inaccessible even for their own game.

The advent of the MSAP has already helped the cause of chess immensely and their consistent support augurs very well for its future. It’s very heartening to note that some of the active chess players have joined hands with them and together they have started making a different.

The MSAP has been working for the promotion of bridge, chess and scrabble but they must have found out by now that chess merits greater attention of theirs because of its tremendous potential.

The MSAP would be doing a great service to the nation if they continue supporting the game of chess with the current passion and enthusiasm because this is one sport which catches the imagination of the young generation.

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February 17, 2010

Ijaz Butt urged by parliamentarians to punish Shahid Afridi


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Yes it’s Ijaz Butt, not the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), having been asked to take action against ‘Boom Boom Afridi’ for bringing the nation to shame with his ball-biting action in Australia recently.

There has been no such entity as the PCB ever since Ijaz Butt, a former Test cricketer, was nominated as its chairman in what has been the single greatest blunder committed by the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, during his term as President of the country.

Ijaz Butt has probably disgraced the nation more than any other person during the past one year and expecting him to take any ‘fair’ decision is more like living in a paradise of fools.

How can he punish any individual when he himself has remained engulfed in controversies of all sorts? He informed the parliamentary sports committee that the PCB could not punish Shahid Afridi further.

"The International Cricket Council (ICC) has told us clearly that you can't punish a player twice for one offence. Their lawyer has also suggested that if we handed more punishment to Afridi, and he challenges it in court, it will run the PCB into trouble," he was quoted as saying.

It was a rare straight-bat stroke by the PCB Chairman who is infamous for his agricultural shot selection not caring for anyone.

He certainly had no answer when Senator Tariq Azeem pointed out to the learned chairman that selecting a player was at the PCB's discretion.

"The ICC can't question you if you don't pick him up in the national team. You should not compromise the integrity of the nation. No player is indispensable. We should tell the world that we are not cheaters and we know how to deal with the indiscipline,” the Senator explained.

The parliamentary sports committee has desired Shahid Afridi to be punished further for tampering with the ball during the fifth One-day International against Australia in Perth last month.

The committee didn’t mince words in conveying to the PCB Chairman that Shahid Afridi had maligned the country's reputation and such an offence warranted a harsher penalty than just a ban of two Twenty20 Internationals.

"If he bites the ball like an apple, there are lots of problems behind it. If you don't take action this will happen again. The team lacks discipline and you got to rectify the problem,” Senator Haroon Akhtar felt.

It may be recalled that Shahid Afridi, leading the team in the absence of Mohammad Yousuf in the fifth and final One-day International against Australia, was caught by TV cameras biting the ball on a couple of occasions.

The matter, viewed by the global audience, was reported by the TV umpire to the on-field umpires who changed the ball. Shahid Afridi pleaded guilty to the charge at a hearing with the match referee Ranjan Madugalle immediately after the game. He did apologize and regretted his action.

He was banned for two Twenty20 Internationals that prevented him from taking the field in the one-off game against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in which he was due to lead the team.

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February 15, 2010

Gulzar, Sarfaraz shine Down Under


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Two of Pakistan’s top players, Gulzar Bilal and Sarfaraz Ahmed Khan, have returned home after having performed impressively in the recently concluded 2010 Canberra Summer Festival of Bridge staged in the Australia capital.

Their superb performance came around the same time when Pakistan’s cricket team was being blanked by the Aussies. Remember Pakistan were beaten in every Test match and One-day International besides the one-off Twenty20 International during their most unforgettable cricket tour ever.

It was very gladdening to find Gulzar and Sarfaraz, members of the reigning national champions in Pakistan, combining brilliantly with the Australians to make it to the semifinals of the team championship where they went down fighting to a spirited local outfit.

Teaming up with the Aussie trio of Seamus Browne, Khokhan Bagchi and Michael Smart, they finished fourth among 178 participating teams in the mega event held under the auspices of the Australian Bridge Federation (ABF).

The tournament, held at the Canberra’s National Convention Centre every year, is regarded as the biggest bridge event in the Australian calendar with many of the international bridge stars participating.

The 2010 edition brought the summer festival into the electronic age of bridge with the introduction of bridgemates in all events. The innovation allowed the players to see contracts, leads and results of boards from all other tables and matches. Each table was equipped with an electronic unit that was user-friendly for the participants as well.

De Livera, featuring Arjuna De Livera, Ian Robinson, Ian Thomson, Richard Brightling, Matthew McManus and Michael Ware, won the team contest by overpowering Milne, having Liam Milne, Michael Whibley, Nabil Edgtton, Andy Hung, Adam Edgtton and Alex Smirnov, 141-101 in the final with the segment wises scores being 28-32, 52-17, 30-36, 31-16.

In the semifinals the eventual champions De Livera had prevailed over Lilley, containing
D Lilley, Z Nagy, B Haughie, A Braithwaite, N Griffiths and J Williams, 142-116. De Livera took the first round 50-32 while their opponents grabbed the next one 44-25. They, however, ensured their passage into the final by winning the last two rounds 24-16, 43-24.

Milne outplayed Bilal, having Gulzal Bilal, Sarafraz Khan, Seamus Browne, Khokhan Bagchi and Michael Smart, in the other semfinal 145-77. Milne emerged triumphant in the first three rounds with the scores of 38-27, 64-11, 20-6 to gain an unassailable lead. Bilal had the consolation of winning the fourth round 33-23 that could only reduce the margin of their defeat.

Both Gulzar and Sarfaraz, two of the leading bridge players of the country, were very happy with their recent performance in Australia and they hoped to do even better in future.

“Yes it was very frightening to bear the agony of defeat after defeat of our cricketers at the same time when we were focusing hard on doing well on the table. Away from the bridge table as well the horrible performance of Pakistan’s cricket team was a much talked about subject in the social gatherings,” Sarfaraz recalled.

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February 13, 2010

Nation has a new hero in Naseem Hameed


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Pakistan sports in general has been undergoing a lean patch for quite sometime and under the circumstances it’s not surprising to find the nation getting overjoyed with the rare moment of triumph.

Now it’s Naseem Hameed having become a folk hero after becoming South Asia’s fastest woman by winning the 100-metre race in the regional games held recently in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

She had clocked 11.81 seconds to clinch the gold medal in the race in the 11th South Asian Games to become Pakistan’s first female athlete to win the sprint in the history of the regional competition launched quarter of a century ago.

The 22-year-old Naseem was accorded hero’s welcome upon her return to hometown Karachi and there has been no dull moment for her since then. The life has changed completely for the youngster and she has been elevated to the status of celebrity as quickly as she had covered the distance of those 100 meters.

It’s quite remarkable how life could change within a matter of less than 12 seconds. She was just another athlete before starting the race totally unaware of the fame and fortune to come her way seconds later.

That’s the beauty of life. You can make it big more quickly that you could ever imagine. One can understand her feelings when she was mobbed by hundreds of fans and relatives at the Jinnah Internation Airport in Karachi before the provincial sports minister, Dr Syed Mohammad Ali Shah, drove her to the Governor’s House.

The Sindh Governor Ishraul Ibaad greeted the beaming Naseem with the announcement that she would receive Rupees one million from the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, and another half a million rupees from his own office.

“You have made the nation proud. We are very happy and honoured by your tremendous win and hope that you will not sit on this laurel and win more medals at higher level like Olympics,” the Governor complimented.

“I am on cloud nine. I had forgotten the world for six months and trained really very, very hard under my coach Maqsood Ahmed to achieve this. It is a great moment for me to have brought glory to the country in my event since our athletics standards have been poor of late. And I will do my best to compete and win at higher levels like the Commonwealth Games and Olympics,” Naseem Hameed told the media.

Though, I did expect a welcome on my arrival after extending a good performance in Dhaka but in reality what I saw here was something different and more than my expectations and for this I am very thankful to all, including media,” she added.

“I had left for Dhaka to perform better but what God bestowed on me is more than my aspirations and I am at a loss for words when it comes to express my happiness,” Naseem observed.

“It would be different now altogether. Before this no one knew me and even did not give me any lift but now it would be something different and I would feel proud of it,” she reckoned.

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February 11, 2010

Traditional sports come alive in Sindh


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

There has been a flurry of activities of late as far as the traditional sports are concerned in the province of Sindh. After having organized the spectacle of Donkey Cart Race in Karachi, the Sindh Sports Board (SSB), an organ of the Ministry of Sports, Government of Sindh, has held quite a few other events in the interior regions to bring smiles on the faces of the people who generally don’t have the access to healthy and recreational activities.

It’s indeed very heartening to note that besides patronizing the Olympic sports, SSB has also been laying emphasis on promoting traditional sports like kodi kodi, malakhro and wanjwatti.

The provincial government’s sports department, headed by their versatile and visionary Secretary, Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, has been doing a fantastic job by engaging the youth in healthy competitions. It has been the policy of the Sindh Sports Minister, Dr Mohammad Ali Shah, to ensure sports events throughout the year.

After all it was his brave decision to hold the last Sindh Games during the month of May in Larkana, a move that had pleasantly surprised even the Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, who was the guest of honour in the closing ceremony.

Not surprisingly the malhs from the interior of the province dominated the Inter-District Malakhro Championship 2010 organised by the SSB in the town of Hala recent where the contests were held in three weight categories, heavy, medium and light and cash awards of Rs 40,000 were disbursed in the prize distribution ceremony in which Mohammad Hanif Mirchiwala, Director Sports, Government of Sindh, was the chief guest.

Rahat Pahgon, Ali Nawaz Methlo, Muslim Solangi, Maula Bakhsh, Safdar Almani and Mantha Bugti turned out to be the outstanding performers in the latest Malh contest staged by the SSB as part of their efforts to promote traditional sports.

The malhs from Khairpur and Nawabshah stole the limelight in an Inter-District Malakhro Championship 2010 organized by the SSB in the town of Panno Aaqil the following day.

Mohammad Phalpoto of Khairpur stood first in the heavyweight category with Qurban Halepoto and Haji Haepoto, both of them from Nawabshah, grabbed second and third position respectively.

The contests were held in three weight categories, heavy, medium and light and cash awards of Rs 45,000 were disbursed among the top three performers in the prize distribution ceremony in which Syed Sumair Ahmed, EDO, CDD, Sukkur, was the chief guest.

It was revealed than more than 10,000 people turned up to witness the latest Malh contest staged by the SSB much to the delight of the enthusiasts of the traditional sports.

Then hosts Ghotki emerged triumphant in the Inter-Taluka Kodi Kodi Tournament 2010, organized by the SSB as part of their plans to revitalize the traditional sports.

Once more thousands of area people turned to witness the spectacle in which the team from Ghotki took the first position and Mir Mathelo stood second while the next two slots were shared by Sarkand and Dehri.

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February 10, 2010

Tendulkar should forget retirement


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

After watching the first Test of the ongoing series between India and South Africa there’s very little doubt in my mind that the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid have done greater service to their country than being thought of generally.

India owe their success in the recent past to their world class batsmen, having proven record against all teams. Their bowlers have also come up with improved performance particularly abroad but everyone knows that it were their own batsmen to have laid the strong foundation more often than not.

India started winning overseas games more frequently when they had the strongest-ever batting line-up in the world. That allowed their bowlers the luxury of attacking the opponents with purpose.

Take the example of Anil Kumble. Why did he have an ordinary record abroad by his own high standards at a time when he was considered only a match-winner at home in the 1990s? It was the time when the Indians didn’t possess a settled or consistent batting-order that could put huge totals on the board in the challenging conditions abroad. That meant Kumble and others didn’t get the opportunity to have a go at their opponents.

Things changed from the moment India found the most charismatic middle-order with Tendulkar and Dravid getting the support of Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. The emergence of the master blaster Virender Sehwag at the top of the order made their batting the most formidable in the game.

While Sehwag and his opening partner Gautam Gambhir have fired in every format of the game the stalwarts like Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman have had far greater utility in Test matches where the occupation of crease remains paramount.

India, who won the inaugural ICC Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007, have produced quite a few outstanding dashers of late but the performance their raw youngsters in the Nagpur Test brought to light the fact that they lack in the backup talent for the longest version of the game.

The failure of the trio of Murali Vijay, Subramaniam Badrinath and Wriddhiman Saha, must have served as a warning bell for the Indian think tank. None of the three young batsmen could make it count.

Vijay had played in the past as well but he used to be drafted in a side packed with stars all around him. This time he himself was senior to two debutants in the playing eleven. It presented a golden opportunity of making a big impression to all of them but they just couldn’t deliver.

With the youngsters not showing the application needed to stay afloat against a high quality bowling attack it has become increasingly important for the seasoned campaigners to extend their career. They should forget about retirement for a long time.

Tendulkar and Dravid are still the backbone of the Indian batting in Test matches with Laxman not too far behind. These three batsmen need to take fresh guard and continue performing with the same passion that has been the hallmark of their illustrious careers.

Tendulkar obviously remains the most important component because of his versatility even in his 20th season in international cricket. Having 46 in his bag already the golden figure of 50 Test hundreds must have started crossing his mind.

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Dhoni’s boys whipped by Smith’s men


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Who would have believed after watching the first hour of the Test match that the hosts India were to lose it so decisively inside four days. That was the story of the Nagpur Test where South Africa overcame a nightmarish start on the opening day to record their most emphatic of victories in the recent times.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni would have dearly loved to bat first too, had he won the toss on a dry pitch that was to be full of runs on the first couple of days before breaking up gradually.

But Dhoni must have considered it a blessing in disguise when Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma bowled with fire to have the South Africans on the back foot from the outset. Zaheer in particular was truly outstanding to the extent of being unplayable at times. His opening spell accounted for the opening pair of Graeme Smith and Ashwell Prince in quick succession.

Prince was touch unlucky because the replays were not conclusive in determining any contact of the ball with bat or glove but what a delivery it was. Zaheer got it to lift from the good length spot and the left-handed opener was in all sorts of trouble in saving his skull.

The one that got through Smith was another beauty. Zaheer was moving the ball both ways and none of the South African batsmen were confident against him. Both Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis were not off the mark yet and the pressure was on the visitors to see off the new ball.

Not for the first though India surrendered the initiative far too quickly and the field had to be spread out to stem the flow of runs instead. Amla and Kallis were allowed to build a partnership that in fact was the highest for any wicket in the South African history.

Harbhajan Singh failed to provide the breakthrough that denied Amit Mishra the opportunity of attacking the batsmen. Neither of the two spinners bowled anywhere near to their best and Dhoni had a tough task up his sleeves.

The ineffectiveness of Ishant Sharma compounded India’s problems and they were forced to play the waiting game. Their bowlers were milked and the runs kept on coming almost effortlessly. They somehow prevented Kallis from reaching his career best score but they had no clue how to get rid of Amla who played the innings of his lifetime.

The inexperienced Indian batting line-up was to be put to more stern examination after South Africa, by posting a huge first innings score, had more or less ensured that they were not going to lose the match.

The fancied quartet of Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendukar and M S Dhoni, had greater responsibility to come good because they had to cover up for the lack of experience of as many as three newcomers in their side with two of them making their debut.

It could have been a different story to relate in the presence of Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman and Yuvraj Singh but they were not there. Sehwag and Tendulkar did score a century each but that they needed to score many more under the circumstances.

As Dhoni admitted in the post-match ceremony, India were well and truly outplayed with Dale Steyn being the standout bowler, returning a haul of 10 wickets to power South Africa to an innings victory.

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February 7, 2010

Gul Hameed Bhatti’s death creates huge vacuum in sports journalism


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Death, we all know, is inevitable. In the case of Gul Hameed Bhatti, who expired at Karachi’s Liaquat National Hospital on the evening of February 4, it was not entirely unexpected because his health continued to deteriorate after the stroke suffered nearly a year ago.

He was a courageous man, having successfully fought a battle against the oft fatal disease of cancer about a decade or so ago. Although he was in his early 60s he couldn’t recover after being laid low by what had appeared to be a combination of heart attack and paralysis. The attack was so severe and it caused him considerable harm.

The physiotherapy and medication continued with his son (Kamil), daughter (Sara) and daughter-in-law (Samra) taking every possible measure to prevent the inevitable. Alas even their care and love could only delay it.

Gul Hameed Bhatti, who was Gul to friends and Bhatti Sahib to colleagues, associates and a large number of his followers, will be remembered for a very long time. His death has certainly created a huge vacuum in the arena of sports journalism in Pakistan in particular.

Having known and worked with him closely for no less than three decades, I have had no doubt in mind that his commitment to the profession was legendary. He distinguished himself by working with the missionary zeal without worrying for the monetary benefits or rewards.

He was a workaholic person to whom meeting and beating deadlines was a matter of life and death. He had his own style of doing things, the most notable being maintaining a register to update the records besides doing it to the computer. He was engaged in so much of paperwork because he was passionate about being absolutely sure about everything.

Gul Hameed Bhatti was a great all-rounder, using the sporting term. His forte was cricket statistics but he was equally versatile in writing reports and articles on all sports. The icing on the cake was his ability to produce those catchy headlines that made the sports pages of ‘The News’ most sought after ones.

He is credited to have revolutionized the sports journalism in Pakistan. He added a new dimension to the profession by bringing out three to four high quality sports pages day in and day out for close to two decades.

The Jang Group certainly provided him the machines and the infrastructure but he’s the man chiefly responsible for having turned it on. It was a master stroke on part of the Editor-in-Chief, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, to have appointed the Sports Editor right from the planning stage of the newspaper.

Gul Hameed Bhatti was a perfectionist in terms of his work. Quite a few of his write-ups are worthy to be recognized as masterpieces of Pakistan’s sports literature. His thoroughly researched articles often served as guidelines for the sports administrators who just wondered how this gentleman possessed so much depth in knowledge and insight about so many games. They used to turn to him for verifying records and seeking advice as well.

He was the most complete sports journalist of the country. Nobody could lay claim for coming a close second. He will be greatly missed in the sports circles.

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Ijaz Butt’s squad mauled Down Under


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Who said it was Pakistan’s outfit humbled in all three Tests, five One-day Internationals and the one-off Twenty20 International during the just concluded tour of Australia? In all fairness it was the Ijaz Butt squad that had to bite the dust.

Yes there has been no such entity as the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) since October 2008 when the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, being the Patron of the Board, had nominated Ijaz Butt for the post of its chairmanship.

Now the pressure is on the PCB Patron from all the concerned quarters to bring about the change that has become long overdue. Ijaz Butt has not only failed miserably on all fronts but he has set the worst example of dictatorship in cricket administration yet.

More than anything Ijaz Butt was preferred for the coveted job because of the muscles and the political clout of his brother-in-law, Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, Federal Minister for Defence, believed to be enjoying the closest of terms with President Asif Ali Zardari as well as Prime Minister, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Ijaz Butt’s nomination as the Chairman of the PCB was generally welcomed because besides being a former Test cricket, he also had the experience of cricket administration having served the Board as its Secretary in the 1980s.

But he has proved to be a complete failure, having adopted policies that are unethical, unprofessional, undemocratic and uncalled for. May be it’s the age factor or he has obtained a license to kill from his powerful brother-in-law he continues to harm the cricket affairs and his stay in office is likely to make things even more pathetic.

Ijaz Butt has gone from bad to worse and he continues to slide further. He has been guilty of making decisions arbitrarily, totally disregarding the fact that the PCB is a national sport body, not his proprietorship concern.

I don’t think he would have been playing around in this manner even if he considered the PCB his own company. Can anyone imagine his brothers-in-law tolerate such adventures in the Service Industries where he works for them? Certainly not!

Ijaz Butt is solely responsible for the mess the Pakistan cricket finds itself in at the moment. His dictatorship has ruined the game and it’s time to send him back the quicker the better in the national interest.

He doesn’t believe in delegating powers or may be he doesn’t trust anyone. He thinks ‘promises’ or ‘commitments’ as a piece of paper, not bothering to honour his own words. Neither does he care for anyone else except himself. Obviously he’s not sincere even to his masters otherwise he would not have put them in such awkward situation.

Now the ball is very much in the court of the Patron of the PCB once more. He has to make the final decision. Despite his preoccupations, hopefully he will not take more time now in order to spare the nation from further embarrassment.

Ijaz Butt should also be tried for having brought the country to shame and exemplary punishment be given to him, if found guilty, to set an example for future.

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