February 29, 2012

Has Tendulkar been selected for Asia Cup to bring up his 100th ton?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

In normal circumstances Sachin Tendulkar would have surely missed the upcoming edition of the Asia Cup, starting in Bangladesh on March 11. Either he would have been rested by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) or the master batsman would have sought another break on his own.

But the situation seems different right now and the BCCI, by selecting him in India's one-day squad for the Asia Cup, has proved that Tendulkar’s 100th international ton is also in their mind.

The master batsman will be getting at least three more chances during the course of the tournament to get to the landmark which has eluded him for very nearly a year now.

In theory he could also get more than one opportunity to do it in Australia if India advance to the final of the ongoing CB series. India’s fate depends on the result of the Australia-Sri Lanka game to be held on March 2. If the hosts continue their winning streak, India would sneak into the best of three finals.

So there’s very much a possibility of Tendulkar arriving Bangladesh with 100 international centuries under his belt instead of chasing it there. Hopefully he will not disappoint the Bangladesh fans by dropping out at the eleventh hour if he reaches the most talked about milestone in Australia.

The BCCI has dropped or, more respectfully, rested Virender Sehwag for the Asia Cup, a move which was more or less expected following his horrible batting performance in Australia.

Unlike Tendulkar, he struggled for runs throughout the tour, having looked a mere shadow of his own self. His timing alongwith the hand-eye coordination deserted him on the bouncy tracks where he had scored heavily on the earlier visits to Australia.

Sehwag’s omission created a vacancy for vice-captain and not surprisingly the job has been assigned to India’s man of the moment, Virat Kohli, who played a magnificent innings in Hobart just a day earlier. Literally he has received his reward for the momentous knock within no time.

All-rounder Yusuf Pathan, known for his rollicking stroke-play, makes a comeback in the Indian squad as does Bengal fast bowler Ashok Dinda, who was the second-highest wicket-taker in Ranji Trophy with 37 scalps in six matches.

There’s no place for the injury-prone left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan but the exclusion of Umesh Yadav, easily the fastest Indian bowler in memory looks surprising particularly when the other promising speedster Varun Aaron is still recovering from injuries.

India, having won the Asia Cup a record five times, are also the defending champions. Hosts Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the other contestants in the event to be held from March 11 to 22. All the matches, to be day-night affairs, will be played at Shere Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur.

Following is the schedule of matches:

March 11: Bangladesh v Pakistan

March 13: India v Sri Lanka

March 15: Pakistan v Sri Lanka

March 16: Bangladesh v India

March 18: India v Pakistan

March 20: Bangladesh v Sri Lanka

March 22: Final

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Bahrain’s induction makes Jubilee Insurance snooker 7-Nation contest


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Bahrain have been included in what has now become Jubilee Insurance 7-Nation International Snooker Championship 2012, scheduled to be held at Hotel Pearl Continental, Karachi, from March 4.

The media launch of the six-day individual event, carrying cash awards of US$ 3,100, was organized at its venue on February 28 in which details were unveiled by Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, President, Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), and Tahir Ahmed, Managing Director, Jubilee General Insurance Company Limited.

It was disclosed that Bahrain, approached at the eleventh hour, have accepted the invitation right away and their cueists have confirmed participation. Besides hosts Pakistan and Bahrain, the cueists from Iran, Egypt, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be taking part in the championship.

The focus will be on Iran’s Hossein Vafaei, who had clinched the world crown last December in Bangalore, India, by defeating Lee Walker of Wales in the final. The league matches, to be best of seven-frame encounters, will be followed by the knockout games, starting from quarter-finals.

“It’s going to be a fulfillment of a dream. The return of international snooker in Pakistan augurs very well for the future of Pakistan sports. We look forward to making it a biannual feature,” Tahir Ahmed remarked.

“It’s very heartening to note that the top cueists of the world will be coming down to Karachi. The contests will provide high quality entertainment to the snooker fans of our country,” he noted.

Alamgir Shaikh was also expressed his delight and hoped that the 7-nation snooker championship could go a long way in reopening the floodgates as far as international sports events are concerned.
“We invited Bahrain because we were not sure about participation from India. But earlier today we have been assured that the Indians will also be issued NOC by Ministry of Interior within a couple of days to let obtain the visas in time before their flight to Karachi,” the PBSA President revealed.

“Originally we had made draws of 24 cueists, who were divided equally in four groups. Now with two cueists adding up from Bahrain we have decided to include two more local cueists, Sharjeel Mahmood and Vishan Gir, to raise the number of participants to 28,” he added.

“The winner of the championship will be getting a purse of US$2,000 while the runner-up will be receiving US$1,000 and the highest break carries a cash award of US$100. The total staging cost on the event is estimated to be Rs 3.2 million while the sponsorship fee being paid by Jubilee Insurance is Rs 3.5 million,” Alamgir Shaikh stated.

He confirmed that Pascal Guillaum, President, International Billiards & Snooker Federation (IBSF) and Mohamed Elkammah, Secretary General, IBSF, belonging to France and Egypt respectively, will be coming over to Karachi alongwith Hashem Eskandarirad, President, Billiards & Snooker Federation of Iran, in accordance with their original travel plans.

Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed and Yasir Ahmed Mohamed Elsherbiny (Egypt), Yasin Raza Merchant and Mohammad Faisal Khan (India), Hossein Vafaei Ayouri and Syed Abooyesani (Iran), Noppon Saengkham and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Thailand), Mohammad Al Joaker and Mohammad Mustafa Shehab (UAE) alongwith two cueists from Bahrain will be competing with Pakistan’s top eight cueists Mohammad Asif, Sultan Mohammad, Mohammad Sajjad, Naveen Kumar Perwani, Abdul Sattar, Sohail Shahzad, Sharjeel Mahmood and Vishan Gir.

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February 15, 2012

Indians unable to revive Ponting’s ODI career


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Ricky Ponting, whose Test career was given a new lease of life by the Indians earlier this season, couldn’t find as much luck in the ongoing tri-nation ODI series, and he has been dropped for the remainder of the matches.

The Australian right-hander, famous for taking the attack to the opposition for so many years, appeared to have lost his magical touch and found it difficult to sustain the kind of consistency that made him one of the leading batsmen of the world.

His ouster had seemed a matter of time but he somehow discovered a way to score heavily against India at times when he couldn’t even dominate the minnows. It’s quite extraordinary, yet not surprising, that he got runs against India.

It had happened during the 2011 World Cup when he scored a century against India in the quarter-finals without ever looking on top of the bowling. He lost the captaincy but retained a place in the side for the post World Cup era.

He was not in the best of form either in the recent Test series against the same opponents but somehow he got far too many runs than anticipated. Probably he would not have got away with so many close shaves and still be there as he finds more often than not while playing against India.

There were indications that he might do it again because the tri-series also featured India. He was surely at sea and he needed far too many chances than he actually got during his brief knocks.

After being dismissed five times in a row in single digits he has finally been dropped which does serve as an indication that the days of the former Australian batsman in international cricket are limited and his retirement is just round the corner. The scores of 2, 1, 6, 2 and 7 didn’t help his cause although he served as stand-in captain for the injured Michael Clarke in the last two of those matches.

John Inverarity and his fellow selectors, including skipper Clarke, are adamant that Ponting should go on as a Test batsman.

"He made a double-century in his last Test match and we are hoping he remains available for Test cricket, but there can be no guarantees. Ricky is going to consider his future over the next couple of days and talk it over with his family and with his manager. He's wondering whether he retires completely from ODI cricket and then of course there are the implications for Test cricket.” Inverarity was quoted as saying.

"For a man who plays cricket like Ricky has over the last 15 or more years, he has been an integral part of the team in ODIs and Test matches. If he drops out of the ODIs then there is a possible lack of momentum there. There are three Tests in the West Indies, then as I understand it no more Test matches until October-November," he added.

"I spoke with Ricky this morning, I think how he took the news is a measure of the man. He was disappointed and understandably so, but he took it on the chin. He is a gem of a human being, a wonderful bloke, and he takes everything in his stride. He was under enormous pressure two or three months ago, and he never wavered from his dedication. He's a very resilient and wonderful human being,” Inverarity disclosed.

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February 6, 2012

England cricket dead and buried in UAE


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

This is probably the most astonishing of all results in the recent times. The top ranked Test team, England, has been whitewashed by an outfit, Pakistan, under the command of an ‘interim’ coach (Mohsin Khan) and a ‘compromise’ captain (Misbah-ul-Haq).

For second time in the series England let the game slip away from them after being in total control of the situation. They had lost the second Test at Abu Dhabi after being set a modest target of 145 for victory as they were bowled out for 72 in the most stunning fashion.

The story was not much different in the third and final Test at Dubai where Pakistan had been reduced to 44 for seven in the first session of the game. England could have easily settled the issue by forcing a decisive first innings lead after routing their opponents for 99. England dug their own grave by not managing more than 141 in their first outing.

I don’t know what Andy Flower, under whose coaching England became world-beaters, would be thinking at the outcome of the series. The former Zimbabwean batting great must be wondering how they lost two Tests in a row after being in the driving seat. England could have won the series 2-1 instead of losing it 0-3 on any other occasion.

I think England have worse cricket than this and have achieved much better results. I reckon science will fail if we look at the finer points. England were blown away just at the time they were close to closing the deal.

The England cricket stands dead and buried in the desert of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It has hit the lowest ebb with the current lot who had passion and skills to rule the world. They had done exceptionally well against all teams in the recent past, only to be laid low by a Pakistan outfit which itself had clouds of uncertainty.

In normal circumstances the analysis tells you a lot of stories. But in certain cases like this one you are clueless because you don’t know how you finished as the second best team even after having dominated the duel.

England’s middle-order, with the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, must be double-minded whether they were out of form or out of luck throughout the series. Openers Andrew Strauss and Aliastar Cook also performed below par. How often would you see all the top six batsmen flop so miserably in every outing?

Somebody said the Pakistan spin duo of Saeed Ajmal and Abdul Rahman was too good for them. But that’s half the story. The English batsmen also struggled and gifted wickets to Umar Gul, a fast bowler, and Mohammad Hafeez, a part-time spinner, at regular intervals. I am sure even wicketkeeper Adnan Akmal would have chipped in with a few wickets, had skipper Misbah asked him to bowl.

You can’t recall so many soft dismissals during the course of a single series. The half-trackers, meant to be hit at will, produced wickets. The England batsmen, who should not have been short of confidence with loads of runs under their belt in the past few seasons, self-destructed themselves one after another.

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Gutsy Yuvraj Singh expected to win battle against cancer to stage another forceful comeback


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

These have been the most turbulent days in Indian cricket. Not only their team is getting hammered in Australia in every format of the game but one of the most vibrant characters, Yuvraj Singh, is laid low with cancer and currently undergoing chemotherapy in the United States of America (USA).

Yuvraj, who was adjudged Man of the Tournament in the last year’s World Cup, having helped his team recapture the crown after 28 years will now be watching his teammates so dearly miss him in the ongoing ODI series against Australia and Sri Lanka.

His mere presence could have lifted the spirits of the demoralized outfit in the One-day Internationals after the unexpected whitewash in the Test series against Australia.

Although the Indians used to talk about their bench strength with awe, particularly in the batting department, it appears a thing of the past and they badly need committed and courageous batters who could do the business.

In this context the return of Yuvraj becomes all the more important. India would have to live without him for the next few months but he should be walking straight back in the side the moment he passes the fitness test.

It’s indeed unfortunate that he has been diagnosed with cancer with his condition being described "mediastinal seminoma," a germ-cell tumour located between his two lungs. The condition, according to the doctor, is neither lung cancer nor a tumour that had spread into the lungs. Mediastinal seminoma is a rare tumour which forms less than 1% of cancers on the whole.

"We are very lucky to know that this is a seminoma variety of germ-cell tumour which are mostly curable with therapy and moreover would be unlikely to cause any detriment to Yuvraj's career in the long term," the doctor was quoted as saying.

Yuvraj, reportedly, will begin the third of his nine weeks of chemotherapy in the USA. "In the first few days Yuvi may not feel very good. He may feel nauseous, but starting this week he will be on the mend and may even do a bit of training as he improves, under the guidance of a specialist physiotherapist from the BCCI,” the doctor was quoted as saying.

“The chemotherapy has been planned with the aim of ensuring Yuvraj can return to full fitness and readiness for cricket. Yuvraj should be able to start active training in about ten weeks. If I was asked: will Yuvraj Singh the person be cured, I will say very likely yes. If you ask: will we see the return of Yuvraj Singh the cricketer, I would say most likely yes and he will return with the same fervour that he had when he left. In all likelihood, he should be on the field on May 1," he added.

The examples of Simon O'Donnell and Dave Callaghan having resumed their international cricket career after successful treatment of cancer should gladden the followers of Yuvraj and the man himself.

The Australian all-rounder, O'Donnell, had a lump on his rib was found to be cancerous soon after he helped his win the 1987 World Cup. He underwent chemotherapy and made a strong comeback to international cricket in 1988-89.

Callaghan, a South Africa all-rounder, was treated for cancer in 1991. He returned to full health and earned a place in the national squad the following year, going on to play 29 ODIs before retirement in 2003.

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