July 10, 2010

Neither Harbhajan nor anyone else can emulate magician Murali


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

I don’t know in which frame of mind Muttiah Muralitharan was in while having singled out Harbhajan Singh as the only bowler capable of emulating his record haul of nearly eight hundred wickets in Tests.

The legendary off-spinner, who will be retiring from Test cricket in a few days time, was quoted as saying in an interview the other day that only Harbhajan, another champion off-spinner, was most likely to have a go at his world record tally in Tests and One-day Internationals.

"I think only Harbhajan can do this. I don't know how old is he and how long he will continue. But he is the only one who can achieve this feat in Test cricket," Murali was reported to have said.

Probably it might have slipped out of his mind that Harbhajan is already 30 years old whose tally of 355 wickets in 83 Tests is far too less than his haul of 792 wickets which is likely to go further up when he calls it a day after the upcoming Galle Test.

Ideally Murali would ideally like to get at least eight more scalps in his last Test to reach the inconceivable landmark of 800 wickets. If the vulnerability of the Indian batsmen against spin bowling is taken in account I reckon he should get those wickets if he bowls well enough.

I don’t think anybody, either a spinner or a fast bowler, would be able eclipse his record haul of Test wickets in foreseeable future. It may stand for stages until and unless the cricket boards decide to shift their focus to Test cricket which is something very unlikely to happen given the fact that now even 50-overs games are being considered long enough and they might be replaced by 40-overs contest.

Harbhajan will of course become the most accomplished spin bowler in the world after the retirement of Murali but it doesn’t just not practically possible for anyone to overtake the record set by the champion Sri Lankan off-spinner.

In the same interview Murali has admitted that it would get increasingly difficult for spinners to chase his records.

"In the current scenario Test cricket is dying. One-day cricket does not have bright future. Only Twenty20 is going to survive. So it will be difficult for any slow bowler to survive so long," he said.

Harbhajan, undoubtedly, has been a class act all along but expecting him to think to go after the records set by Murali is not fair I think.

Murali and Harbhajan have remained the two top off-spinners of the world for quite sometime just as Shane Warne and Anil Kumble were the two best leg-spinners on the international scene for a long time.

With Warne and Kumble already having retired, Test cricket will become poorer with the exit of Murali. Harbhajan will be the senior most quality spin bowler on the international scene and it remains to be seen for how long he will be able to cope with the pressures of continuous cricket.

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Shahid Afridi feels confidence level can help Pakistan immensely


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Encouraged by the success in both the Twenty20 Internationals the Pakistan captain Shahid Khan Afridi has a right to believe that his team can topple Australia in the upcoming two-Test series as well.

Pakistan and Australia will renew their Test rivalry at Lord's on July 13. The Aussies have had an outstanding record against Pakistan in the recent past but who will know it better than Shahid Afridi that history and reputation can be taken for a ride very quickly.

“I think now that we have regained our winning habit we must work harder to maintain it and make winning a habit. I knew sooner or later we will win back-to-back matches because we have been performing well since the Twenty20 World Cup but missed out in close matches," the Pakistan observed in an interview.

“Test cricket indeed different to the T20s. There is indeed a marked difference and we have to be aware of this but the good thing is that a win is a win in any form of the game and this series win should serve a confidence booster for us ahead of the Tests," he added.

"Obviously we will miss their experience. I wanted them in the team for this tour and I tried my best to see they were in the team but for different reasons this couldn't happen and it is unfortunate," he responded when asked about the absence of senior batsmen, Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan.

Shahid Afridi, whose aggression in the field has been instrumental in lifting the spirits of his teammates, has backed his younger members of the side to grab the opportunity with both hands.

It remains to be seen if he manages to lift his boys in the Test matches like the way he did in the T20 matches. It’s a common belief that the shortest version of the game suits Pakistan both technically and temperamentally. Whether they would be able to improve in the Test arena is a big question mark despite the high confidence level.

The Pakistan coach, Waqar Younis, feels that his team can take a lot of confidence into the Test series.

"I think these two wins are really going to help us to get into the momentum. Test matches are a different ball game fair enough, but with victory behind you it always helps," he reckoned.

Nobody can dispute with Shahid Afridi and Waqar Younis about the confidence level being sky high but realistically Pakistan need to play much more consistently to overpower Australia in the two-Test series.

Pakistan’s bowling resources appear adequate which gives them a very good chance of bowling Australia out two times during a match but what about putting runs on the board. We have seen on numerous occasions that the Pakistani batsmen are vulnerable to balls moving in the air or off the pitch.

The youngsters, having little experience of coming to terms with high quality pace and swing bowling, would be tested and it will be a big bonus if they come good in the English conditions.

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Can Pakistan do it in Tests as well?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Well who would dare ruling Pakistan out of the Test series now after they have got the better of Australia in both the Twenty20 Internationals? Obviously there’s a world of difference between the two formats but there’s one thing called momentum which is very much with Shahid Afridi’s men at the moment.

No matter how inexperienced or shallow in strength they may look on paper I don’t think Pakistan are ever out of a contest until they are actually beaten. They have had this tendency of coming back from the dead and shocking their most fancied of rivals over the years.

Not many people back home demonstrated faith in the Pakistan team when it left the shores of the country to combat two of the strongest outfits in world cricket today, Australia and England in what was expected to be a forgettable summer.

But a lot has changed in a matter of just two days and Pakistan have suddenly come into the contention from nowhere.

“They are going to be tough opposition in the Test match. They' are going to have a very good attack, so our batters have to be at our best with the Duke ball that I'll imagine they'll get to swing, in conditions where, if it's overcast, it's going to be quite tough. I think we're in for a really good Test series,” Michael Clarke observed after his side was floored in both the T20 games at Edgbaston.

Clarke, who had led Australia to victory in the ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean just a few weeks ago, sounded a warning to his teammates for the Tests after the drubbing in the shortest version of the game.

"If it's overcast here, I think they'll swing the ball nicely and they've got some pace as well. I think the Duke will help them. Conditions play a big part in England as to how much swing there is. If it's overcast there's generally a bit of swing the whole day. Hopefully the sun's out," Clarke, who will be the vice-captain to Ricky Ponting in the Test series, stated.

The Australians have had bitter experiences with the swing of the red Duke ball having caused considerable problems for their batsmen in the English conditions. They may not easily forget the banana swing in the summer of 2005 that had cost them the Ashes after a very long time.

The Pakistan fast bowlers may not possess that kind of experience or expertise of excelling in the English conditions as the likes of Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison had to rattle the Aussies but you never know when they exceed expectations.

After the debacle in the T20 series the Australians will not make the mistake of going into the Test series half-heartedly as one might have thought given the edge they enjoyed over Pakistan.

The Australians had whitewashed Pakistan in every format of the game at home last season but that seems to be history now.

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