December 29, 2011

India fail to overcome traditional weaknesses to lose yet another Boxing Day Test


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

India succeeded in fielding their full strength playing eleven in the first Test against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground but could not overcome the traditional weaknesses to lose yet another Boxing Day Test.

With the pace trio of Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav firing on all cylinders and all their world-class batsmen very much there, India had the best chance to topple the Aussies in their own den. Despite having the game in control for the better part of four days, India lost it by 122 runs.

This was a rare occasion when India didn’t have a pedestrian seam bowler to support the new-ball operators. In fact it was after very long time when they were in possession of a potent pace attack that possessed the capacity to rattle the opponents.

Zaheer, Sharma and Yadav bowled their heart out on the responsive track and they had the Australian batsmen guessing and fending. It was an unusual sight watching the Indian speedsters clocking 150 kilometers per hour consistently.

The Australian batsmen were themselves short of confidence and they were tested by the cracking deliveries that were being hurled at them. The Indian fast bowlers broke the back of Australian batting in both innings. But as we have seen more often than not, the tail-enders spoiled their party.

Starting from the first-ever Test that Indian had played at Lord’s in 1932 they have had a history of letting the opposition off the hook after holding them hostage for a while. The history now repeated itself at Melbourne in 2011.

In both the innings the Australian tail-enders put together crucial runs that proved decisive in the low-scoring game.

India also have had the habit of collapsing against the run of play. They were in complete command of the situation on the second evening when Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar had brought up 200 of the innings for the loss of only two wickets. Who would have believed them getting bowled out for well below 300 from such strong position and confronting inexperienced bowlers.

It was yet another Test match which India dominated but failed to win it. They had themselves to blame for not having exercised total control when they were in a position to do so.

"We thought with a 230-odd runs lead, if we could get them for 240 or 250, that's a very gettable score. But I felt 290-odd was also a score we should have achieved. The wicket was good. It was not like there was too much wear and tear on the wicket. I think the batting line-up flopped in both the innings,” skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni reckoned.

"First innings, we got off to a decent start. We had a kind of a partnership going, after that we needed to capitalize on it. We were not really able to do that, because of which we were close to 50 runs short. In the second innings, wickets kept falling at regular intervals, which meant getting close to 300-odd runs was more and more difficult. Just that we need to get consistent with our batting,” he believed.

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December 26, 2011

International sports returns to Pakistan with hockey series against China


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

China are not a superpower in the hockey arena yet but their recent tour to Pakistan attained great significance because it announced the revival of international sports activities in the country which seemed to have become ‘out of bounds’ for the visitors since early 2009.

The Chinese hockey team opened their tour with the first couple of Test matches at the Hockey Club of Pakistan Stadium, Karachi, before moving on to Faisalabad and Lahore for the last two Tests against the Green-shirts.

The hockey Test series between the two nations could open the gate for resumption of other sporting events in Pakistan as well. Already there are indications that Bangladesh’s cricket team would be arriving here early next year.

So there’s every possibility of Pakistan playing host to quite a few nations in hockey and cricket in particular in the coming year. The entertainment-starved people of Pakistan are crazy about sports and they eagerly await revival of international contests in their own backyard.

International hockey resumed in Pakistan after a staggering gap of seven years when the Green-shirts took the field against China at the Hockey Club of Pakistan Stadium, Karachi, on December 21. The hosts celebrated the occasion by winning the first Test by three goals to nil. It was the first international hockey game to be staged in Pakistan after the 2004 Champions Trophy at Lahore.

Although the Chinese showed flashes of brilliance in all the four Tests they were unable to stop the Asian Games Champions from completing a clean sweep.

But more important than the result was the return of international sports action in Pakistan. The Federal Interior Minister, Rahman Malik, who was chief guest in the opening game, expressed his pleasure over the resumption of international sports activity in the country with the arrival of Chinese team for a four-match hockey Test series.

The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) President, Qasim Zia, its Secretary Asif Bajwa, Chief Selector Hanif Khan, Olympians Hasan Sardar, Danish Kaleem, Salim Sherwani, Ahmed Alam and Secretary of Karachi Hockey Association (KHA) Farooq Khan, were also present in the glittering opening ceremony.

“It’s a historic day for Pakistani sports and I hope in coming years more foreign teams of cricket, hockey and other sports will be visiting Pakistan without any security issue,” Rahman Malik told the media corps after shaking hands with players of Chinese and Pakistani teams and officials.

“We are grateful to brotherly country China for sending their hockey team to Pakistan to resume international sporting activities here,” he commented.

The Interior Minister, who was appointed Patron of the PHF earlier this year, said that the government was very keen and making all-out efforts to bring international sports back to Pakistan after 2009 attacks on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.

Meanwhile the Sindh Governor Dr. Ishrat Ul Ebad Khan, during his visit to Hockey Club of Pakistan Stadium the following day, announced the laying of a new blue astro-turf at the stadium to further boost the national sport.

"The Sindh Government will be providing funding for the new turf at the HCP replacing the current green turf which was laid here in 2004," he said after watching the second Test between Pakistan and China on December 22.

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December 17, 2011

Pakistan’s greatest sports administrator Nur Khan is no more


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

In my estimation Air Marshal Nur Khan was Pakistan’s greatest-ever sports administrator whose era was full of accomplishments and glories. His leadership qualities were second to none but even more inspirational were his traits of bravery and fortitude. He was a dynamic person who believed in innovation and bright new ideas.

His contribution to sports as well as the armed forces has been legendary. He was widely respected his integrity besides his razor-sharp intelligence and outstanding management abilities. He passed away quietly at the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi on December 15 where he had been admitted just three days ago when suffering from chest infection. He was 88.

Air Marshal Nur Khan served with distinction as the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Air Force from July 1965 to July 1969. He later was appointed Governor of West Pakistan in August 1969.

He was instrumental in the take-off of the country’s national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), during his tenure as Managing Director from 1959 to 1965. Upon the special request of the government, he was reappointed as head of PIA in 1973.

He turned around the destiny of Pakistan sports with his visionary approach. He headed the controlling bodies of hockey, cricket and squash and brought about revolution of sorts by introducing policies that yielded results.

Pakistan won the Olympic hockey gold in 1968 and 1984, when he was at the helm of the affairs in the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF). He conceived the World Cup as well as the Champions Trophy. Pakistan remained a superpower in hockey until he was there.

The Air Marshal led the cricket board from 1980 to 1984. The World Cup, whose first three editions were held in England, came to the sub-continent mainly due to his initiatives. He also pioneered the idea of neutral umpiring.

Pakistan reigned supreme in squash as well during his era. He was chiefly responsible for developing infrastructure that produced world champions Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan.

He commanded awesome respect from all quarters even after retirement and we same its glimpses during a reception that was organized in his honour by the Brotherhood Sports Society of Pakistan (BSSP) in Karachi in March 2007.

I have attended and covered innumerable receptions over the years but this was one unforgettable evening on many counts. The Darbar Hall of Hotel Sheraton was packed to capacity as the session of speeches, in which glowing tributes were paid to Air Marshal Nur Khan, lasted more than two hours.

There was a long list of dignitaries who desired complimenting the Air Marshal but the organizers had to curtail it due to time constraints. Those sitting in the audience were luminaries of their respective fields. Hardly would one find so many living legends under one roof.

Hosts Waqar Hasan, himself a dashing cricketer of Pakistan’s early years, and General Tauqir Zia, a former Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), showered Air Marshal Nur Khan with the kind of praise that he so richly deserved.

During the entire length of the programme not a single soul was observed making any movement. Everyone was glued to his or her seat. The Air Marshal was the last speaker and what a speech he delivered. The applause he received had reflected his immense popularity and unmatched respect.

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December 15, 2011

Will India thunder Down Under to rewrite history?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

As expected there’s great buzz and excitement on the eve of another Australia-India series. The battle is set to resume with the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne which will be followed by three more Tests before the series of One-day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals.

The majority of the contests between the two sides, particularly Test matches, have been fiercely fought ever since India turned it around in Kolkata in 2001. They have been engaged in the most awesome of duels during the last 10 years or so.

What’s in the store for the enthusiasts in both the countries and rest of the cricket fraternity during the next few months? Will we watch another classic series with packed houses in Australia and glued television audience in India?

Will the embattled Aussies, having far too many chinks in their armour, survive the rejuvenated Indians, who have redeemed themselves with consistent performance in their own backyard after having suffered a whitewash in England earlier in the year?

Will India register their first-ever Test series win on the Australian soil? Will the energetic Indian speedsters, possessing venom and accuracy but lacking in experience, bend their backs to make life miserable for the home batsmen? Will the potent but inexperienced spinners come good on their maiden overseas assignment?

These are some of the questions that must be baffling the cricket buffs. On paper the Indians have a formidable batting line-up which has skills, temperament, expertise and most importantly the hunger to pile on the runs. With established batsmen like Virender Sehwag, Gautum Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in their ranks India should not be short of runs during the Test series.

All of them are class acts with proven record in every corner of the world. I don’t think anybody will doubt their capability to get heaps of runs. Even on the Australian tracks where the ball will bounce much more than it does in India, they are expected to be scoring freely. All of them, including Dravid of late, believe in taking the attack to the opposition.

The new crop of Australian fast bowlers looks as sharp and as dangerous to what one is used to watching there but they might be taught a few lessons by the accomplished Indian batsmen, who do have the rare ability to graft. With no Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne to face the Indian batter should be fancying their chances of posting big scores without much hassle.

India would be banking on their batsmen to put them in positions of strength. Their bowlers will obviously stand a greater chance of picking up wickets if they operate with attacking fields rather than been assigned the task of just choking up the runs.

The Australian batting has looked fragile during the ongoing season and they could be put to severe examination by the Indian bowlers on the lively pitches which produce results more often than not. The hosts may still be in trouble if the surfaces assist the spinners. Well India do have probably the best chance ever to rewrite history.

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December 12, 2011

Double-centurion Sehwag can do it again and again


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

No matter what the experts might say or irrespective of what the stats tell you Virender Sehwag happens to be one batsman whose solo on any given day can upstage any band anywhere.

The pitch on which he is playing or the quality of bowling he is confronting become secondary when he is on song. When his hand-eye coordination gets right he will plunder any attack of the world with minimum of fuss.

He’s not one of those cricketers who have to depend on footwork or technique. He has every shot in the book. He is not afraid to walk down the wicket to heave what would be a decent ball for other batsmen.

Sehwag lives dangerously for he continues to chance his arms until he gets out. While every batsman needs time to get his eyes in before stroking the balls powerfully he gets into top gear from the moment he takes guard from the umpire.

I don’t think anyone would have been surprised with his recent double-century against the West Indies at Indore which eclipsed Sachin Tendulkar’s highest score of 200 in One-day Internationals. Now Sehwag holds the OID record of highest individual score by smashing 219 off 149 balls on December 8, 2011.

In fact it was another case of missed opportunity. He had enough time at his disposal to become the first batsman ever to score 250 in an ODI innings but he couldn’t stay there until the end.

Tendulkar, who holds virtually every conceivable batting record in Tests as well as ODIs, may find it rather difficult to reclaim this one from Sehwag, who has the capacity to score more briskly than any contemporary batsman.

I think Sehwag, who has a couple of triple centuries in Test cricket, can score a few more of those besides recording more double-hundreds in ODIs. He has the rare skill as well as the temperament to keep doing it again and again.

"I am happy to have broken my role model Sachin Tendulkar's record. It won't be easy for people to score double hundreds. Over the last so many years only two have done it. This opportunity will come only once in a lifetime and I am happy I have taken it. I dedicate this knock to my father who is no longer with us,” Sehwag was quoted as saying after his swashbuckling knock.

"It is one of my very best innings. Unlike in Test cricket when one can bat longer, in one-dayers you have to keep an eye on the run-rate. The wicket was very good for batting but the bowlers are also trying to get you out,” he added.

"It was a true batting wicket. Whenever I hit the ball into the gaps, it would go for four. Whenever I decided to hit a six, I would hit with a straight bat and it would go for six. The first time the double-century crossed my mind was during the batting Powerplay between the 35th and 40th overs,” Sehwag disclosed.

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November 29, 2011

Revisiting living legend Jamsheed Marker


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

I did have the honour of interacting with the legendary cricket commentator-turned diplomat, Jamsheed Marker, on a few occasions in the past but my first-ever one-to-one meeting with him took place on November 29, 2011.

Although he has quietly celebrated his 89th birthday a week ago he’s still full of energy and he has a very sharp memory. He keeps himself busy all day in scholastic activities. He hasn’t lost the passion to walk daily, despite problems in his back, which restrict his movement otherwise.

It was more of a privilege than just pleasure having shared views with him for over an hour at his Bath Island residence in Karachi. The beautiful house itself holds a place in history for it was constructed way back in 1865. It’s the home built by his grandfather.

There is a hardly any mention of cricket in his autobiography ‘Quiet Diplomacy’ a copy of which he was kind enough to sign for me but Jamshed Marker continues to have a love affair with sport that had made him a household name in the 1950s and 1960s.

The great Omar Kureishi, with whom he had formed a formidable duo, used to describe cricket as his first love. It doesn’t seem much different to Jamsheed Marker, who has remained a keen follower of the game all along.

Jamsheed Marker and Omer Kureishi, both of whom were buddies, were credited to have made radio commentary an art. They ruled the hearts of the cricket enthusiasts with their voice and depth of knowledge.

While Omer Kureishi continued to do cricket commentary for a long time, Jamsheed Marker had to abandon doing it at the start of his diplomatic career in 1965 when he was posted as Pakistan's ambassador to Ghana. And what a career he has had. Truly fabulous to say the least!

He is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as having been ambassador to more countries than any other person. After Ghana he represented Pakistan in Romania, Bulgaria, USSR, Finland, Canada, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, East Germany, Iceland, Japan, West Germany, France, the United States and finally the United Nations in New York City. He served as Ambassador of Pakistan continually for 30 years, in 10 different capitals, and nine further concurrent accreditation.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz appointed Jamsheed Marker as ambassador-at-large for his years of service in September 2004 while he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Forman Christian College University, Lahore, in June 2011.

He has been acclaimed as one of the most respected diplomats on the international circuit. He had a long and colorful innings as a diplomat following a brilliant stint as a cricket commentator.

Interestingly, during the majority of years in his long diplomatic career, he was posted in countries where cricket wasn’t the number one sport.

He has fond memories of a reunion with the Pakistan cricket team, with Omer Kureishi being manager, when they toured England in the summer of 1974. He vividly remembers watching the Lord’s Test with his great friend.

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November 24, 2011

Was the 1996 World Cup semifinal really fixed?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Vinod Kambli, who was left stranded in that infamous semifinal encounter which referee Clive Lloyd had to award to Sri Lanka against India at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, in March 1996, has come up an interesting observation or if you call it an allegation more than 15 years later.

Left-handed Kambli, who watched from the non-striker’s end his illustrious colleagues fall in a heap in the most dramatic of fashions, has expressed suspicion over that particular game being fixed. It’s entirely up to you whether you disregard it as a publicity stunt or get some feeling in mind that indeed there was something terribly wrong.

The fierce reaction of the Indian captain, Mohammad Azharduddin, that has followed has probably alerted more people than it could have been if the charges were ignored. May be he thought of defending himself in the media because he holds a public office but that might also backfire.

But Kambli is talking about an era when every other match appeared to have been fixed. He has probably chosen to target the 1996 World Cup semifinal because he was there until the end, having broken into tears as well.

Azharduddin, who was known for his artistic stroke-play, has clarified his position by blasting Kambli and passing a few unkind remarks that were hardly needed.

It doesn’t matter if you believe in Kambli or Azhardduin but there had been instances in the past as well and not surprisingly they happened afterwards too when a few of the high-profile World Cup matches seemed to have been victimized or influenced by the outside forces.

Both the semifinals of the 1987 World Cup, in which co-hosts Pakistan and India got eliminated against the heaviest of odds, were alleged to have been fixed. The final of the 1999 World Cup at Lord’s also remained a subject of discussion for the wrong reasons for a long time.

Kambli’s specific allegations about the 1996 World Cup semifinal between Indian and Sri Lanka make some sense because of the presence of the some ‘suspicious’ elements in the ground and whose movement remained unchecked.

Not much could be done now. Neither the Scotland Yard nor the Police authorities of any other country can investigate in such matters having taking place some 15 years ago. It’s going to be next to impossible to discover any solid evidence to book a case against the culprits.

I am sure the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have more important things to do than to probe the matches of the past. They may loathe the idea of investigating a recent foul play, let alone an incident that occurred so many years ago.

It’s an open secret that match-fixing and spot-fixing have remained rampant in international cricket for ages and there are a number of matches that have appeared to have been manipulated in illegal manner.

There’s very little hope for the practice to be stopped but yes some strict measures can prevent the sport from becoming a farce.

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November 21, 2011

Mohammad Asif wins Del Monte snooker title, Imran Shahzad’s contract renewed


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Seventh seed Mohammad Asif clinched the Del Monte 4th Ranking Snooker Championship 2011 by hammering unseeded Sharjeel Mahmood in the final at the Southend Club in Karachi on November 20.

Asif, hailing from Faisalabad, faced no problems in overcoming Sharjeel, giant-killer from Hairpur, in the best of 13-frame final, winning it 7-2 with the scores of 99-24, 83-25, 65-50, 73-29, 97-22, 42-78, 63-39, 51-77, 107-1.

The prize distribution ceremony, in which cash awards of Rs 130,000 were disbursed, was held at the same venue later in the afternoon in which Anjum Nisar, Managing Director, Anjum Asif (Pvt) Ltd, was the chief guest.

During his speech, he announced the renewal of contract for another year for Imran Shahzad, who was been employed by Anjum Asif Ltd, for the last couple of years.

Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, President, Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), described the six-day Championship as a big success with some of the youngsters playing really smartly to clinch top positions.

Mohammad Asif collected a purse of Rs 60,000 for winning the title while runner-up Sharjeel Mahmood was presented Rs 35,000. Imran Shahzad and Mohammad Sajjad received Rs 15,000 each for the being the losing semifinalists while a further reward of Rs 5,000 for the former for recording the highest break of the competition (103).

After some grueling matches on the past five days, the final, being telecast live, didn’t produce turn to be a tough contest with the more experienced Asif proving simply too good for Sharjeel.

Asif, who had captured the national crown in 2009, picked up from where he had left when he had toppled top seed and defending champion, Imran Shahzad, in the semifinals, less than 24 hours ago.

Sharjeel, on the other hand, after having eliminated the dangerous Mohammad Sajjad in the semifinals, could not extend glorious run in his maiden appearance in the final of a national ranking event.

Asif was in total command of the situation in the final from the word go and he didn’t let his fancied opponent settle down. He ran into 2-0 lead rather comfortably. He faced some resistance in the third frame but won it in the end. He pocketed the next couple of frames as well to make it 5-0.

Sharjeel prevented a whitewash by taking the sixth frame but Asif recovered quickly to win the seventh frame. Sharjeel showed glimpses of his top form when he made a clearance to win the eighth frame but Asif closed the matter by grabbing the ninth frame.

It was the fourth and final national ranking tournament of the current year. In fact it was first time in fours that the cash-starved PBSA was able to revive this tradition.

With the willing sponsors like Jubilee Insurance and Del Monte prepared to extend greater support to the sport of snooker, the PBSA has indicated holding more competitions in the coming year.

The immediate cause of concern of the PBSA, however, was the first round exit of second seed Asif Toba, who has been selected to represent the country in the IBSF World Snooker Championship 2011, starting in the Indian city of Bangalore later this month.

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November 5, 2011

Ijaz Butt should also be tried for criminal negligence


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Ijaz Butt has caused the greatest damage to Pakistan cricket. Never before did anyone destroy the game as severely as he did it for three years. Thankfully his three-year tenure has gone by and a new Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Chaudhary Zaka Ashraf, has already taken over.

But his predecessor has done irreparable harm to Pakistan cricket and it will be very difficult to get out of the mess in the near future. Although Ijaz Butt is no more in office, the spot-fixing case, resulting in sentence of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir, has a direct relation to him and he has to be blamed for letting them interact with dubious people.

As Chairman of the PCB, Ijaz Butt had the absolute authority. He took all the key decisions himself, the majority of them without consulting the so many highly paid full-time staffers. Neither was he known for taking the members of the Governing Board in confidence on critical issues.

He made all the appointments of managers and assistant managers on tours with nepotism and favouritism being the order of the day. People handpicked to perform these duties were hardly well versed with ABC of modern-day management. Neither did they command the respect of the high-flying cricketers having certain star value.

It was a cruel joke with the nation to have sent people like Yawar Saeed and Shafqat Rana as manager and assistant manager respectively on that crucial and demanding tour England in 2010. Instead of keeping an eye on the players and their movements they were reportedly enjoying hospitality from those very elements ultimately causing the greatest humiliation to Pakistan cricket yet.

How can Ijaz Butt be spared? He was guilty of facilitating the joy-riders who enjoyed all-paid trips of nearly every continent of the world. He was there to oblige his cronies without caring the interest of the national team.

The spot-fixing incidents in England could have been avoided if there was a proper PCB setup in place and no one there to dictate terms like Ijaz Butt. It was a case of completely anarchy and the cricketers were free to do as they pleased.

The cricketers found guilty by the London court and the International Cricket Council (ICC) are serving their sentence. But what about Ijaz Butt? Shouldn’t he be tried also for having done so much damage to the cause of cricket which remains the binding force in the country?

Cricket is not just another sport in Pakistan. It’s the game of the masses in this part of the world and people are emotionally associated with it. Hasn’t Ijaz Butt betrayed the nation with his barbaric acts? Hasn’t he caused loss of billions of Rupees to the national exchequer?

There is a court of law in Pakistan as well. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary, has become legendary by taking so many suo motto actions for the larger interest of the people.

The present government is unlikely to try Ijaz Butt for obvious reasons but all eyes are on the Chief Justice who can summon him to the court to explain how he compromised on national interests for three years running.

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Pakistan’s tainted trio get away with token punishments


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan’s former cricketers, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir, have been jailed for two and a half years, one year and six months respectively by London’s Crown Court on November 3.

It has been described as a Black Day for Pakistan as it’s for the first time than any cricketer has been sent to prison after being proven guilty of spot-fixing/match-fixing. It was a high profile cricket corruption whose proceedings lasted for 18 days in the London court.

The judgment didn’t come as any surprise and it had seemed a matter of time for these cricketers to be dispatched behind the bars at the strength of high quality of evidence that was believed to be available with the court. In fact many people reckon that these players have been given a let-off with a token punishment.

It’s quite extraordinary to learn that at least two of these cricketers, Salman and Asif, have planned to appeal against the decision. This move looks like asking for a review when a batsman has been clean bowled.

The cricket community in Pakistan is not surprised but certainly disturbed. The people who were misled into believing that these ‘naughty’ cricketers were falsely implicated in a criminal case have also realized that they were oblivious of the facts.

It’s amazing that the family members of these cricketers are coming up with strange comments, offering excuses and explanations that are not being taken seriously because they lack conviction. Neither of these cricketers were babies or kids. All of them, on the contrary, have had very stormy career and their ambitious nature was known openly.

Salman’s sister came on the air. Then we saw his father. Aamir’s mother also gave an interview claiming that her son was implicated or influenced. Either these family members are indeed unaware of the realities or they are making an attempt to gain public sympathy with such emotional statements.

They should know that their ‘worthy’ sons and brothers have harmed the national interest, brought the game to disrepute and broken the hearts of millions of people who certainly can’t be fooled any more.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), who had already banned these cricketers, is likely to come into action to examine the case again in light of the evidences produced in the London court.

It remains to be seen what the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) or the Government of Pakistan would decide once these cricketers return to the country, after their sentence in England.

There will be pressure on the PCB to impose life ban on all of them in order to prevent them from getting another chance of compromising on national interests. It would indeed be a criminal negligence if any of them is allowed to don the Pakistan blazer again.

The government can also move in and these cricketers could be tried for the criminal offence that hurt the sentiments of the people of Pakistan.

Whatever the family members of these cricketers might have to say the cricket circles are furious and they won’t let these guys stage a comeback in international cricket, even if they are pardoned by the official bodies at any stage.

No matter how young or uneducated Aamir may be, he’s also unlikely to play for Pakistan again while the careers of Asif and Salman already seem over.

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October 29, 2011

Imran Shahzad stages magnificent comeback to win Jubilee Snooker tourney


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Top seeded Imran Shahzad lived up to the billing and came up with sensational performance to edge out unseeded Asif Toba in an epic final to win the Jubilee General Insurance 3rd Ranking Snooker Championship 2011 at the Karachi Gymkhana on October 29.

Recovering from an attack of dengue, Imran staged a magnificent comeback after being 3-6 down to win it 8-7 with the frame scores of 1-70, 78-21,119-0, 47-60, 40-88, 13-85, 25-58, 68-14, 25-96, 89-19, 87-18, 29-72, 92-0, 65-13, 115-25.

The prize distribution ceremony was held soon after the conclusion of the final which lasted five and a half hours. Tahir Ahmed, Managing Director, Jubilee Insurance Company, was the chief guest of the evening as a total of Rs 150,000 was disbursed among the outstanding performers.

Speaking on the occasion, Tahir Ahmed expressed his delight at the growth of snooker activities in the country, hoping that Pakistan would be producing world champions in the future as well.

Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, President, Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), confirmed that Imran Shahzad, by retaining his number one position in the national rankings, became the automatic qualifier for the upcoming World Snooker Championship.

Talking to the media, after claiming the trophy, the Lahore-based Imran observed that he had been laid low by the dengue virus and was advised bed rest by the doctors for this particular period.

“I played the tournament primarily because I didn’t wish to miss the chance of playing in the World Championship. Thankfully I managed to win the title which has allowed me to retain my top ranking and accomplish my goal,” he remarked.

Asif, a promising youngster from Toba Tek Singh, admitted that he was overawed by the occasion and he committed unforced errors in the decisive frame only because he was feeling the heat of the moment.

“Yes I as tense and nervous in the last frame which made the difference between winning and losing. In normal circumstances I would have definitely potted those easy red balls which missed target in the 15th frame,” he said.

Asif had his moments in the final which he could have won comfortably, had he not got carried away in the last half an hour or so.

He had entered the game in a positive frame of winning as he registered a break of 51 to draw first blood. Imran hit back by taking the second frame and then moved ahead with the help of a break of 119 in the third frame.

Asif then stepped up and took the next four frames on a trot to go into 5-2 lead. Imran narrowed the deficit by taking the eighth frame but Asif regained three-frame lead quickly. Imran won the next two frames but Asif became the favourite again when he ran into 7-5 lead.

Imran had to bring all his expertise into play to stay in the game. He drew level by winning the 14th frame and there was everything to play for in the 15th frame which produced lot of drama and excitement.

Imran was guilty of committing as many as four fouls before opening his account which meant 16 bonus points for his opponent. Asif was found wanting in potting easy red balls more than once which allowed Imran to do the business. He recorded breaks of 60 and 39 in successive visits to the table to settle the issue.

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October 26, 2011

Dhoni’s exemplary leadership helps India whitewash England in payback ODI series


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

With his brilliant batting, agile wicket-keeping and shrewd captaincy, Mahendra Singh Dhoni played the decisive role in guiding India to 5-0 victory over England in the series of One-day Internationals that concluded at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on October 25.

He was the deserved winner of the Man of the Series award which was presented to him by Jagmohan Dalmiya, a former President of the International Cricket Council (ICC), who also headed the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and still leads the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB).

Obviously Dhoni was under immense pressure from all quarters after having returned empty handed from England on a tour where nothing seemed going right for his team. The injuries to key players still haunted him but he knew things won’t be as bad at home in what was being billed as the payback series.

As expected there were quite a few changes in the line-up and the emphasis was on youth when the squad was selected for the first couple of games. The youngsters were given an extended run as the team regained its winning habit.

The ice melted in the first ODI when India finally defeated England at Hyderabad, apparently after ages. Mind you India, the eventual winners of the trophy, were not able to beat England even after having posted a huge total in their World Cup encounter which ended in a tie.

India didn’t look back after hammering England in the series opener. They chased down substantial totals successfully in the next three games with only the one at Mohali giving them a run for their money.

Although Dhoni never talked big and didn’t ever make a mention of whitewash in any of his interviews the whole of India urged him to go for the kill. The Captain Cool that he is, he just believed in taking every game seriously and concentrating wholly to get the result in his team’s favour.

He was the driving force behind the rejuvenated side that showed true grit under pressure. The home conditions certainly suited his boys but in the past hardly any Indian team, having so many big names, succeeded in registering a whitewash.

England were on a high when they landed in India. They would have certainly expected tougher cricket in India but I don’t think they would have ever imagined getting blanked by more or less the same combination whom they had crushed whole summer.

Dhoni’s acts showed that he was focused on winning each and every match of the series. There was not a single unnecessary change in the team on one pretext or the other. He had a definite plan in his mind and he executed it to perfection.

He desired an express fast bowler to complement the duo of Praveen Kumar and Vinay Kumar. Umesh Yadav filled that role and delivered in the first three games. Varun Aaron replaced Yadav only when the latter was injured in the third match. Parthiv Patel was played in first four games and was dropped for not doing well with Manoj Tiwary coming into the eleven in the final ODI.

He displayed great faith in the combination of left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja and off-spinner Ravichandaran Ashwin, both of whom rose to the occasion every time the skipper tossed the ball to them. Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina got the runs with Dhoni himself controlling the innings without getting dismissed even once.

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October 21, 2011

Jubilee General Insurance announce greater support to snooker


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Jubilee General Insurance Company Limited, formerly New Jubilee Insurance Company Limited, has announced to extend greater support to snooker after the change in the corporate identity.

Tahir Ahmed, Managing Director, Jubilee General Insurance, made the announcement during the media launch of the Jubilee General Insurance 3rd Ranking Snooker Championship 2011 at the Banquet Hall of Karachi Gymkhana on October 20. The tournament will be played at the Gymkhana’s Billiards Hall from October 23 to 29.

“We have been supporting snooker for the last few years and now we are in an even better position to expand our relationship. We have been strengthened financially by becoming a part of the worldwide group,” he observed.

“Jubilee General Insurance has decided to sponsor the inaugural 6-Reds National Snooker Championship to be launched by the Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA) later this year,” Tahir Ahmed disclosed.

He urged the officials of the PBSA to turn their attention to the development of Under-15 snooker circuit in order to find talent from the grassroots level.

“While we appreciate the efforts of the PBSA in carrying out regular activities it’s our wish that more and more youngsters could be groomed to earn laurels for the country. We have been sponsoring the Under-21 national events and now we offer to support the Under-15 programmes as well,” the Jubilee Insurance chief declared.

As usual he acknowledged the role of all the stake-holders in the promotion and development of cue sports, making a special mention of print and electronic media.

Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, President, PBSA, unveiled the details of the seven-day Championship, which will be contested by 32 cueists, divided equally in eight groups. The Karachi Gymkhana's Managing Committee members, Jahangir Moghul and Amin Noor were present on the occasion alongwith Billiads Secretary, Fawad Shaikh.

The PBSA President hinted at raising prizemoney for the national ranking tournaments from the next year, adding that the daily allowance of the participating cueists has already been enhanced from Rs 500 to Rs 1,500.

He pointed out that an added incentive to the participants of the upcoming event was earning a spot in the World Snooker Championship to be staged in Bangalore, India next month. The top ranked cueist will automatically earn a berth while the PBSA Executive will select the other cueist.

The league matches of the Jubilee General Insurance 3rd Ranking Snooker Championship 2011, to start from October 23, will continue for three days before the commencement of the knockout games, starting from the pre-quarter-finals, from October 26.

The quarter-finals will be held on October 27 to be followed by the semifinals on October 28 and while the final and the prize distribution ceremony would be organized on October 29.

The total prizemony at stake will be Rs 150,000 with the winner to collect a purse of Rs 60,000 and the runner-up to take home Rs 35,000. Both the losing semifinalists will be receiving Rs 15,000 each while all the four losing quarter-finalists will be compensated with Rs 5,000 each. The highest break (100 or above) will earn a reward of Rs 5,000.

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October 6, 2011

Myra Nur Lakdawala could become Pakistan’s next athletics sensation


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Myra Nur Lakdawala, a young and hard-working middle-distance runner from Karachi, has shown the promise to make it big in the years to come. The 17-year-old slim girl already holds the junior national record for 1,500 meters and 3,000 meters besides being in possession of every track record in school.

Recently, on September 28, she broke 5 minutes for 1,500 meters by running 4:56.4. This historic feat, recorded on video, should provide her more encouragement. She trains two times a day and runs about 65 kilometers every week.

Myra seems to be having the potential as well as passion to accomplish her cherished goals on the track. She has starting attracting the sponsors with her immense talent and performance. PIA and Nike generously contribute towards her clothing and travel needs. Not surprisingly she is receiving letters of interest for scholarships from universities in the USA.

Her story is indeed an interesting one which could inspire the young ladies folks of Pakistan. She is probably the first-ever for a school girl of the country to have entered into athletics record books. She is the only female track and field athlete that is aspiring to receive a scholarship from a university in the USA for athletics. She has already been contacted by one in California that is interested in her.

I recently had the opportunity of having a session with Myra and her school athletics coach, Scott Johnson. Their fierce determination and professional approach left very little doubt in my mind about the future being very bright indeed.

What make Myra unique other than her abilities are her ambitions. Her confidence level is sky high and she has faith in her talent. She is not afraid to train hard day in and day out and she has set high goals for herself.

Myra is looking forward to compete in the upcoming National Athletics Championship due to be held in her hometown, Karachi, next month. She then plans to travel to Scotland with the aim of breaking the all time indoor national record for 3000 meters for Pakistani women.

Syed Zahid Ali Rizvi, President, Sindh Athletics Association (SAA) described Myra as a potential national champion who could also earn laurels for the country when I approached him for his assessment about the youngster.

He seconded me that Myra possessed exceptional talents as a middle distance runner and her stint with the school athletics coach, Scott Johnson, will help the cause of the teenager immensely.

“I have seen her run in a junior meet and she was thoroughly impressive. She will surely emerge as the champion at the provincial level right now but she is likely to be tested at the national level where she would come across a few other talented girls from upcountry regions and departments,” Zahid Rizvi stated.

“Myra, however, is fortunate to be blessed with a professional coach at the school where she receives regular training under his supervision. A top class coach like Scott Johnson can make a lot of difference and this puts her at tremendous advantage. The youngster has the potential which would blossom with high-class coaching and guidance,” the SAA President remarked.

“We are confident that Myra will bring glories for the province in the very near future and if she continues working hard there’s no reason why she should not earn laurels for the country in future,” Zahid Rizvi hoped.

The SAA President agreed that athletics needed more role models and champions to inspire the young students to take it seriously rather than just going through the motions.

“We have Nasim Hameed who became the fastest women of South Asia only last year. She belongs to Karachi having learnt all the basics here. She possessed the talent and came up to make the entire nation proud. Her accomplishment should be a source of inspiration for all the emerging athletes of our country,” Zahid Rizvi concluded.

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October 1, 2011

IPL/CL syndrome now deeply hurting South Africa


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The hand injury sustained by South Africa’s premier batsman AB de Villiers, during the ongoing Champions League tourney in India, has ruled him out of cricket for a period of four to six weeks.

He will surely miss South Africa's upcoming T20 and ODI series against Australia. He was due to make his captaincy debut for the country in the T20 encounter but his dreams were shattered after breaking the third finger on his left hand during fielding practice with the Royal Challengers Bangalore on September 28.

The injury indeed serves as a setback to South Africa's plans of starting a new era, with former opening batsman Gary Kirsten as head coach and de Villiers as captain in limited-overs version. Instead they find themselves pushed to a corner to work out a contingency plan right at the beginning.

The South African selectors or the management have not lashed out at the Champions League for obvious reasons but they certainly are feeling betrayed by this uncalled for and unnecessary exposure of their top guns at a time they should have been relaxing to prepare for the battle against Australia.

“We debated that at length and we will release the information around the captaincy at the same time as we release the squads, which will be early next week," Convenor of Selectors, Andrew Hudson, remarked in a diplomatic tone after chairing a meeting at the Wanderers.

“The Champions League hasn't been kind to us. Last year we lost Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis and Albie Morkel and we can only hope we don't suffer more. What we are realising is that T20 is hard on players, it's intense. We're going to have accept that we will get injuries,” he added.

Well the South African chief selector at least expressed his concerns and recorded his apprehensions. The Indians, who have suffered the most due to the Indian Premier League as well as the Champions League, prefer not to open their mouth on this critical subject.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will not be speaking on the ills of the IPL or the CL because these are their babies and they have already done enough to suggest that international cricket or national glories come far below in their list of priorities. But I don’t think the other Boards will keep silent on this issue if the national interest would be compromised.

The South African cricket authorities have a responsibility to answer whether it was proper to let their players take part in the IPL or the CL instead of concentrating on national duties. Their reaction on the absence of de Villiers for the Australian series would be interesting to note.

Some of Australia’s top stars like Mike Hussey, Brad Haddin and Brett Lee are also being seen in action for their respective franchises in the CL. What would happen if they also get injured in some of the matches? Will Cricket Australia not stand up and explain what prompted them to let their star performers go there?

The only Board that remains above board at all times will be the BCCI because they seem to have been granted the license to play with the national interests. Nobody dared questioning them why the cricketers who were injured during the disastrous tour of England were allowed to play the CL. The follies of the BCCI will mainly hurt the cause of the Indian cricket for sure.

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September 26, 2011

Getting associated with IPL appeared Tiger Pataudi’s greatest mistake


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, a former Indian captain, is no more. Although he was indisposed for a few weeks there didn’t seem even slightest danger to his life that’s why his death came as a shock to the cricket fraternity.

‘Tiger Pataudi’ didn’t have an exceptional batting or captaincy record but he was revered for his fortitude, courage, leadership and never-say die approach. He was hailed as one character who redefined Indian cricket with his bold tactics.

Wasn’t it quite remarkable that a man, having lost one of his eyes in a freakish road accident, was able to come to terms with the fastest of bowlers of the world? Wasn’t it incredible that he managed to lead from the front even with one eye?

How much respect he commanded from his teammates was beyond words. He was a mentor of so many individuals who went on to make big. He had prevailed over the selectors to have a young guy by the name of Gundappa Vishwanath for the home series against Australia in 1969-70.

‘Vishy’ scored a century on Test debut and didn’t look back. He became the premier batsman of the country rather soon and Pataudi was credited to have fast tracked his entry in international cricket.

Pataudi was just 21 when he had to take up the Indian captaincy during the ill-fated tour of the West Indies. He was then the youngest-ever Test captain. He led India in 40 of the 46 Tests that he played. He could have played more but politics came into his way too.

It was Pataudi’s vision to play the spinners in attacking role when India struggled to find decent medium-pacers. Syed Abid Ali seemed the only available seamer to him with no support from the other end.

The famed spin quartet of Eripalli Prassana, Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinavas Venkataraghwan owed its monumental success to the leadership of skipper Pataudi who gave them the confidence and set the kind of fields that yielded wickets.

Pataudi was a practical person, who perfected the art of motivating his teammates and got the best out of them. He was shrewd in marshalling his troops and making the most of the available resources.

He led an honourable life all along. He was respected by the cricket community at the international. His association with the project of the Indian Premier League (IPL), however, seemed to have dented an otherwise clean career. It was probably his single greatest mistake to have been a party to the IPL whose founder Lalit Modi had to quit controversially.

My only meeting with Tiger Pataudi took place at a five-star hotel of Karachi when he had descended here for a veterans’ series in the late 1980s. Not surprisingly he was the captain of the Indian Veterans squad.

I had a nice and frank chat with him for about an hour as he spoke his mind candidly. The cricket conversation was enlightening for me as I was thoroughly impressed with his wealth of knowledge and the observations he made on some intriguing issues.

The only point where I dared having a difference of opinion from His Highness was when I discussed about remuneration for my articles getting published in Weekly Sports World of which he was the Editor. I had mustered the courage to enquire if I deserved to be paid for my articles. He couldn’t give me a convincing answer.

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Did Dravid need to retire from ODIs?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Rahul Dravid has indeed celebrated his 38th birthday. In fact he will be turning 39 in little over three months time from now. But did it mean that he needed to retire ‘officially’ from limited overs games at this point of time when runs were flowing as naturally from his blade as in the past.

I don’t understand the logic behind this particular decision of his. Did someone in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) or anyone of the selectors prompt him to announce his retirement or was it a personal move to conserve energy and extend his Test career?

Dravid was not playing One-day Internationals or Twenty20 Internationals all that regularly during the last few years when Mahendra Singh Dhoni appeared more comfortable leading a bunch of youngsters who were sharper in the field for sure.

India used to turn to Dravid in ODIs only in case of emergency when the pitches were livelier and the conditions were tougher for batting. That was a fair enough tactic, selecting him only for those matches where he was needed most.

After having scored three centuries in the four-Test series he was an automatic choice for the ODIs against England. In fact he was also selected for the one-off T20I. His announcement to retire from the limited overs cricket at the end of the ODIs was shocking to say the least.

May be someone from the BCCI or the selection committee approached him to declare his retirement plan in advance so that they didn’t face criticism for ignoring him in the event of the youngsters failing to deliver.

Obviously the BCCI officials were under enormous pressure after the debacle in the Test series and they were looking into ways and means of damage control. Dravid was the only batsman to get going in Test matches and he could not have been dropped from the ODIs if available.

As the whole world saw Dravid has lost none of his batting prowess. His continued success highlights the point that cricket is a game of technique and mind power. Even in ODIs and T20s skills are needed to score consistently. A slogger or a dasher can score heavily on a given day but he can’t be expected to do it in every outing.

Dravid still has the hunger and passion to score runs. If the Indians are finding it difficult to get high quality young batsmen then they should persist with those having proven record and whose capacity is beyond doubt.

Dravid’s decision to quit means he won’t be considered for the upcoming ODI series at home against England. More importantly he won’t be in action, until he reverses his decision to quit, in the one-dayers during India’s demanding tour of Australia where the pitches will have bounce and carry. Will the youngsters having accumulated heaps of runs at will on docile Indian tracks will come good in the more challenging environment or will they succumb again?

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