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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September 22, 2011

India’s ill-fated tour of England finally over


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It was one tour which every member of the Indian team, originally in the squad or summoned there as a replacement, would like to forget quickly. It was the most nightmarish of all their outings in the recent past. It was the summer, not much different in terms of results, to the ones of 1959 and 1974 when they had been whitewashed in England.

It would certainly be unfair to hold the Indian Premier League (IPL) wholly and solely responsible to the recent debacle. There were a few other factors as well, beyond the much-criticized Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which contributed to the downfall of the Indians on a tour where literally each and every thing went against them right from the first day of the tour to the very last day.

India’s solitary warm-up match before the first Test at Lord’s was hit by weather, limiting their practicing opportunity. Rains kept chasing them at the wrong time throughout the ill-fated tour. Even in their final outing where they posted a massive total, rains intervened to ensure England didn’t need an arduous task of overhauling 300-plus target at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.

This could lead one to believe that it was a very wet summer. If that was the case how did India lose all the four Test matches?

It’s not often that the spin of the coin follows the same trajectory on successive days. India lost all the tosses in the limited overs games and batted first on all occasions. Almost every time their batsmen put runs on the board in bowler-friendly conditions. Yet that side was blanked in all games quite extraordinary to say the least.

Whenever and wherever India scored heavily and then stuck early blows the rains arrived to rescue England. The Indian bowlers and fielders put up brave show in conditions when the late evening dew made it exceedingly hard to grip the ball. They could have only tried their level best which they did. But they didn’t possess the awesome power to win a game.

England must be wondering if their side was good enough to win all eight matches that produced results. Their fringe players, having struggled in the past and likely to do the same in future, came up with performance of lifetime. The ordinary mortals became champions, outshining the seasoned campaigners in the opposing team.

Injuries are part and parcel of modern day game but you can never expect the top eight players getting sidelined. The Indian team has had the tendency of falling apart whenever their heavyweights are missing. They were severely jolted by the absence of the star performers and they didn’t have the luck to escape punishment.

Who would have imagined India, having been crowned as the world champions only a few months ago, would return from England empty-handed? Who could have thought of the top-ranked Test side for the last three years getting whacked in every game?

Probably the only saving grace for India was the ‘safe’ return of skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who braved everything with a smile on his face until the final day. He may not have scored the quantum of runs expected of his blade but there was hardly anything to complain about his captaincy with the limited arsenal at his disposal. That he kept himself fit, physically and mentally, throughout the tour spoke volumes of his mental toughness.

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September 19, 2011

Aleem Dar adjudged best umpire for third year running


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Gone are the days when umpiring in cricket was condemned to be a thankless job. In the past, when the home umpires used to supervise Tests and One-day Internationals, it was a real tough job at hand with the administrators as well as the spectators expecting decisions of their choice.

The likes of Aleem Dar and Simon Taufel, representatives of the new crop of umpires, are fortunate to be standing in an era when they have to act neutrally and that too under the umbrella of a powerful match referee, designated by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Cricket umpiring no more is just another profession with the men in white coat getting peanuts for braving so much pressure for five days on a trot during a Test match. It has become a very rewarding job, particularly for those having made it to the top.

The umpires in the ICC elite panel are in high demand throughout the year with so much international cricket going on of late. They are not only financially rewarded but also earn recognition for their performance in the different corners of the world, which is monitored closely.

The modern umpires, however, are challenged if not threatened by the excessive use of technology which has been experimented with mixed results during the last years. It goes to the credit of the top umpires who have kept performing day in and day out.

Pakistan’s Aleem Dar remains a picture of confidence all along in the cricket field and his decision-making has been spot on most of the times. It came as no surprise to me when he was handed over the David Shepherd Trophy for the Umpire of the Year for third year running in the ICC Awards ceremony held recently in London.

He outshined Australia’s Simon Taufel, who holds the record of winning the award five times, once more. If he continues to deliver in the manner he has been doing, there’s very little doubt in anyone’s mind about him overtaking this record in not too distant future.

Aleem Dar is only 43 at the moment and in all likelihood he should be standing in the middle for many more years. He looks the fittest of all umpires and his grace and poise in the field are second to none. He may take an extra second or two before making a judgment but mostly they are perfect.

Taufel was alright in the list of top umpires, nominated for the award, but there looked an element of surprise in the selection of Ian Gould and Steve Davis. The nomination of Davis seemed staggering for he had given two horrible leg-before decisions on successive deliveries in an India-New Zealand Test match last season.

If my memory serves me right VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan were at the receiving end with the then New Zealand skipper, Daniel Vettori, being the beneficiary on both occasions.

Thankfully Davis was not chosen for the award, which was deservedly won by Aleem Dar, voted by the 10 Full Member captains as well as eight-man elite panel of ICC match referees.

Aleem Dar has had to spend eight months away from his family, based in Lahore, but he has certainly made them and the entire nation proud by his accomplishments.

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September 15, 2011

NJI to sponsor first-ever 6-Reds Snooker in December


Syed Khalid Mahmood

New Jubilee Insurance (NJI), the major sponsors of cue sports in the country, will also support the Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA) in holding the first-ever 6-Reds National Snooker Tournament later this year.

Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, President, PBSA, has announced that the inaugural 6-Reds National Tournament, to be sponsored by NJI, will be held in December.

“We had been working on this for quite sometime and finally it has been decided to launch the event this year. The growing popularity of 6-Reds version of the game has prompted this move as we desire to have our cueists well versed with this format as well,” the PBSA President remarked.

“We are in the process of finalizing the number of participants for the inaugural tourney. We are yet to decide whether to limit to the participation to the top eight of the country or let the top 16 contest it in view of providing exposure to a larger pool of cueists,” Alamgir Shaikh added.

The PBSA President reckoned that the 6-Reds format designed to revive the popularity of snooker as a spectator sport, in the same way Twenty20 has done to cricket was here to stay.

He acknowledged the support of the sponsors over the years, having helped enormously in taking snooker to its present level in Pakistan.

NJI has emerged as the lead sponsors of the Pakistan snooker after the withdrawal of Lakson Tobacco Company, whose brand Red & White remained famously associated with snooker for over a decade.

The 6-Reds snooker has gained immense popularity over a short period of time and this television friendly format is likely to stay here for a long time. The PBSA has acted in the right direction by introducing it at the national level and there are possibilities of taking to the provinces as well.

The six-red snooker, also called six-reds, 6-red, and super 6s, is a cue sport based on snooker but with only six red balls on the table as opposed to the standard fifteen. All other rules are unchanged and the table is also of the same size as in the traditional 15-red game. The format was designed to feature shorter frames, due to fewer red balls.

The first international tournament in this format was contested in July 2008. A six-red tournament was held during the 2009 World Snooker Championship as a sideshow, involving one-frame knockout matches. The first 6-Reds World Championship was held in Ireland in December 2009.

Meanwhile, the first-ever edition of 6-Reds Snooker Men’s State Ranking Tournament in India, was organized by the Karnataka State Billiards Association (KSBA) in Bangalore last month.

A total of 97 entries were received and the matches were played on a knockout basis to decide the top 16, who then formed four leagues to compete for quarter finals.

The top two cueists were selected represent the state in the forthcoming 6-Red Snooker Nationals to be staged in Chandigarh from September 17 to 25.

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