April 30, 2011

Munaf Patel indeed was unsung hero of India's World Cup triumph


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Munaf Patel indeed was unsung hero of India's recent World Cup triumph as pointed out by their bowling coach Eric Simons. He was the bowler who stood tall in the pressure-cooker situations in the friendliest of batting conditions.

The Indian batters were flashed prominently on the front pages of the newspapers for making the runs but there was little mention of their bowlers who stuck to their task and delivered at the right times.

The Indian bowlers, in fact, were being targeted by the media for leaking far too many runs in the earlier part of the competition without realizing that the pitches were flat with no margin of error whatsoever.

India’s problems were compounded when their leg-spinner Piyush Chawla, drafted in the team as a secret weapon, was unable to perform beyond the warm-up games and Shantikumaran Sreesanth, the liveliest of their medium-pacers, was all over the place. The fitness of injury-prone Ashish Nehra remained an issue as ever.

There were not too many options up their sleeves and the pressure was on Patel to stop the flow of runs from his end to allow Zaheer Khan to attack with the new ball. Both these bowlers put in great effort to let the spinners play their part according to the plan.

While the success of Zaheer Khan was not unexpected for he has been the spearhead of the attack for a long time, the performance of Patel, who might not have even played the World Cup if Praveen Kumar was fit, exceeded expectations. With a tally of 11 scalps, he was India's third-highest wicket-taker in the World Cup.

Simons made the right observation that the high degree of technical skills that India's bowling attack possessed made up for its lack of express pace all through the tournament.

"We had singled out the bowlers for the last 3-4 series and Praveen's injury had been a setback for us as he was part of our plans,” the Indian bowling coach stated, adding that it was Patel who had given the bowling unit reassurance when he arrived, with both an awareness of his own skills and his ability to adapt.

"Munaf is one of the unsung heroes of the World Cup for us - he stepped in and played a vital part for us, after we lost Praveen and Ashish suffered from injuries during the tournament. Munaf has learnt to understand his bowling and stuck to his game plan taking some crucial wickets," he complimented.

"Munaf never once doubted himself or what he could offer the team. His work ethic is enormous; he has a very strong and steady head on his shoulders and calmness in any situation. He gave Zaheer the freedom to bowl very freely and aggressively." Simons acknowledged.

The terrific performance in the World Cup opens the floodgates for Patel, who was once rated as the fastest bowler in India. He used to generate tremendous pace at the start of his career but he lost his radar and momentum resulting in his disappearance from the scene far too quickly than anticipated.

He has staged a very forceful comeback in international cricket and he should now be deemed a certainty for India’s tours to the West Indies, England and Australia later this year.

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April 28, 2011

Ghias, Kashif come out trumps in Dilshad bridge tourney


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The youthful duo of Ghias Khan and Kashif Shah emerged triumphant in the inaugural Dilshad Open Pairs Bridge Championship, organized by the Mind Sports Association of Pakistan (MSAP), at the Aslam Bridge Hall, housed in the National Stadium, Karachi, on April 23.

Youth dominated over experience on a day that saw quite a few seasoned campaigners taking the backseat and the stage was dominated by the young guns. Ghias Khan and Kashif Shah had the satisfaction of going past some of the big names of the mind sport in the country.

According to the official results released by the MSAP, Ghias Khan-Kashif Shah won the trophy by securing 62% points while Azwerul Haq-Ishaq Subhani (59.74%) and Tanvir Mazahir-Anwar Kazilbash (58.91%) finished second and third respectively among the 49 participating pairs in the tournament dedicated to the late Masud Saleem, acclaimed as one of the legends of the game.

Shahab Serki-Anisur Rahman came fourth their aggregate of 58.27% while Farhat Abbas-Syed Anwar Kamal ended fifth with their tally of 56.68%.

The championship named after Dilshad Ahmed, one of the popular bridge figures, offered a purse Rs 50,000 in prize money whereas it was originally planned to disburse Rs 30,000 among the top performers.

The one-day event was dedicated to the legendary Masud Saleem, who used to partner the great Zia Mahmood in what was Pakistan’s golden era in international bridge arena.

The venue of the event was changed in view of the tremendous response it received from the moment it was announced by the organizers. Originally it was announced to hold it at the DHA Creek Club but it was moved to the centrally accessible Aslam Hall, the hub of bridge activities in the metropolis, having the capacity to host more than 60 pairs at a time.

Rehana Saigol and Tariq Rasheed Khan, two of the former Presidents of the Pakistan Bridge Federation (PBF), added grace to the event by having participated in the championship.

Dilshad Ahmed, a veteran bridge player, who sponsored the championship, used to captain Deuces, one of the famed teams of the yesteryears. Nicknamed ‘Dillo’ he has remained popular in the bridge circles for a long time.

He has had the honour of having spent long hours at bridge table with the likes of Zia Mahmood, Masud Saleem, Jane-Alam Fazli, Nisar Ahmed Khan and Munir Ataullah. He has fond memories of the Nazimabad Club where he spent innumerable nights playing with his friends Shamsuz Zaman, Waheed Bux Quadri, Ismail, Quadri, Asghar Naqvi, Shehenshah, Jamal Nizami, Hasan Akhtar Zaidi and Syed Ameer Hasan.

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April 24, 2011

Life may not be same for India after Kirsten


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

What a fascinating sight it was to watch Gary Kirsten, a South African, lifted on their shoulders by the young Indian brigade while celebrating the World Cup triumph at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on April 2!

It was a clear reflection of the huge impact Kirsten had made in grooming and trusting the promising youngsters like Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, who benefited tremendously with the vision and consistency of their coach.

People come and go that’s indeed the story of life. But there are certain individuals who are hard, if not impossible, to replace and a huge vacuum is created after their departure from the scene. They are missed and remembered.

I think the history of Indian cricket will remain incomplete without a mention of Kirsten, whose contribution in transforming an unpredictable lot into world beaters has to be classified as legendary.

Wasn’t it in the fitness of things that his tenure as the Indian coach came with the World Cup trophy in the hands of his boys? He was instrumental in taking India to the top of the tree in Test cricket and more importantly keeping them in this position for so long.

Kirsten had the desired attributes that were needed to take the team through. He nearly had every quality that allowed him to enjoy the position that could have brought tension and agony to many others in same position.

Remember Kirsten was not the first foreigner to have coached Team India. John Wright of New Zealand was the first one, having taken over in 2000. Then it was Greg Chappell, the celebrated Australian top-order batsman, who took the command in 2005.

Kirsten must have studied a lot of things beyond cricket while taking up the most challenging task of his career in 2008. It was his knowledge about the Indian culture which helped him run the show smoothly.

While Wright had enjoyed success as the Indian coach because of his mild temperament, Chappell encountered all sorts of problems when he decided to take on the ‘system’ instead of finding ways and means to implement his plans in the given circumstances.

Wright had helped India reach the final of the World Cup in 2003 but the team suffered the most embarrassing of first-round exits four year later under Chappell.

Kirsten has had better record Wright because the team has now regained the trophy after 28 years. In fact the former South African opener has proved to be the most successful of all coaches to have been associated with the Indian team.

Obviously it’s not going to be easy to replace a man like Kirsten and it’s no surprise that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is in no hurry to appoint a new coach even though their international commitments resume with the tour of the West Indies in a few weeks time.

Andy Flower, Duncan Fletcher and Stephen Fleming are being tipped as the front-runners for the job. All of them do have the coaching skills but it may not be easy to pick up from where Kirsten has left. With so much high expectations all around, whoever gets the nod as the coach, will need to have nerves of steel to deliver.

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April 9, 2011

Imran Khan hails Dhoni’s brilliance as batsman and captain


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It’s not often when Imran Khan, arguably the greatest-ever cricketer to be produced by Pakistan who remained one of the leading all-rounders of the world for quite sometime, pays tribute so generously. That’s why he is revered as one of the topmost analysts and experts of the game.

One person who seems to have impressed Imran thoroughly, and very rightly so, is none other than the Indian captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whom he described as the most assured, relaxed and confident captain going into the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011.

Before the start of the mega event, Imran, who had led Pakistan to title victory in 1992, had singled out Dhoni as India's biggest strength being their captain having the respect of his players.

"He is the most assured and relaxed captain in this tournament and he has the respect of his players. He is also a very astute tactician and a match-winner on his day," Imran had was quoted as saying in a television interview.

Dhoni has proved Imran absolutely correct. If the legendary Pakistan all-rounder was dead right in his assessment, the present Indian captain has delivered to live up to the huge expectations.

Dhoni played the match-winning knock in the final to steer India to a very comfortable win in the end against the dangerous Sri Lankans at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on April 2.

Although the target wasn’t very stiff when Dhoni went out to bat, ahead of Yuvraj Singh, but there was enormous pressure considering the fact that it was the final of the tournament and no hosts had ever did it before. I think he played the innings of his life to control the game and win it for his team without any hassles.

Dhoni has remained an impressive captain and a batsman throughout his career and Imran, of all people, had indicated it at the outset. “Dhoni is a dynamic captain. A captain evolves and he must have a few basics in him to excel. A good leader must have courage. He must be able to lead from the front. Dhoni does that," Imran had remarked around three years ago.

"A good captain must believe in taking risky decisions; something Dhoni does seem to have; and a captain must lead by example; when a captain puts in his 100 per cent, the team follows. When I saw Dhoni for the first time as captain, I thought he had all the qualities, but he will evolve tactically with experience," Imran assessed.

"India have some of the qualities that a great team needs. There are two bright sparks in Indian cricket right now. One is Mahendra Singh Dhoni (both as a captain and as a player) and the other is fast bowler Ishant Sharma. They also have depth in their team. Just imagine someone like Yuvraj Singh not able to get into the Test squad. Of course I would pick Yuvraj Singh into the Test squad first, and then look at filling the remaining slots, simply because he is a 'match-winner'," Imran had elaborated.

Now don’t be surprised that Dhoni was the Man of the Match in the final of the CWC 2011 and Yuvraj was Man of the Tournament. Imran’s assessment skills need to be complimented.

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April 5, 2011

Dhoni does it for India to recapture crown after 28 years


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Yes it took close to 28 years for India to repeat their act of winning the Cricket World Cup. They had done so in 1983, having entered the competition as rank outsiders. Now they have done it in 2011 after being installed as pre-tournament favourites.

There is one thing common, however, in the two title triumphs. The role of the captain was significant on both occasions. Kapil Dev had led by example in 1983 and Mahendra Singh Dhoni has proved again in 2011 how much difference could be made by leading from the front.

While Kapil Dev was credited for having inspired his team throughout the event with his terrific all-round performance in that glorious summer of 1983, Dhoni had reserved his best for the final battle.

Kapil Dev was more consistent and resilient. In fact the team rallied around him in all the matches. Dhoni was fortunate to be the leader of an outfit that possessed far more talents and experience than their competitors.

But Dhoni was under no less pressure to deliver because of the media hype and so many non-cricketing factors involved. He was captaining the side alright throughout the tournament but his own batting form was leaving much to be desired.

For someone having been rated as the top ODI batsman in the world only a short while ago the quantum of runs was far too less as the expectations remained very high whenever he went out to bat irrespective of the situation.

India had to chase down a target of 275 in the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on April 2, after having leaked too many runs in the death overs. It didn’t look a challenging proposition for their star-studded batting line-up with short boundaries and quick outfield offering value for shots.

But there was a hush around the stadium when speedster Lasith Malinga removed both the openers, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, in quick succession to bring Sri Lanka right back into the contest. Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir tried to repair the damage but the job was half done when the former departed.

Then Dhoni’s master-stroke came into play. He promoted himself in the batting order and came ahead of left-handed Yuvraj Singh, who has bagged as many as four Man of the Match awards during the competition.

The skipper trusted his own ability to cope with the pressure and came out trumps. He played the innings of his lifetime to ensure that the initiative never slipped out of his team’s hands.

Wasn’t it in the fitness of things that Dhoni himself executed the shot that brought home the World Cup! The winning stroke said it all. The manner in which the Indian captain clobbered Nuwan Kulasekara, a fast bowler, straight over the fence was reflective of his authority and control.

He showed to the world that he was in complete command of the situation. Rather befittingly Dhoni was declared Man of the Match for the innings that decided the fate of the final. He silenced his critics and proved the pseudo-experts horribly wrong with the power of his bat.

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