August 18, 2012

Laxman’s dramatic decision to call it a day


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Classy Indian batsman V V S Laxman, whose stroke-play was considered by many as poetry in motion, has announced his retirement from international cricket on August 18 rather dramatically in his hometown of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

Although his retirement from international cricket was very much on cards following his dismal performance during the successive tours of England and Australia, where India got thrashed in all eight Test matches, Laxman chose to do it after being picked in the squad for the upcoming home series against New Zealand starting in less than a week’s time. 

With Rahul Dravid already having quit earlier this year, the selectors had provided him another opportunity to Laxman probably to lend stability to a middle-order which has been far from inconsistent in the recent past. 

There was an added incentive for Laxman to keep playing for a few more weeks with the first Test against New Zealand being played at his home turf and the second Test scheduled to be staged in another South Indian city of Bangalore. 

But he has opted to pull out of the squad after being selected. May he’s trying to pass an impression that he called it a day when still in demand. Certainly he has done it before being axed from the Indian team of which he has been a pivot for a decade and a half.

"It's been 16 years since I have made my international debut for India and I think it is the right time to move on," an emotional Laxman stated while announcing his retirement in Hyderabad. 

 "As a youngster it was dream to represent India and it took lot of pride to wear India cap. I would like to give youngsters an opportunity to prove themselves. I am grateful to Almighty for blessing me to live my dream of playing cricket," he added. 

"I have always felt that I have got the opportunity to serve my country and have played the best cricket not only in India but overseas as well. I think it is time to give youngsters a chance at home ahead of a tough season. I have always kept the country's success ahead of personal aspirations," Laxman felt. 

"I communicated my decision to BCCI earlier in the day that I am not going to continue playing cricket and would hang my boots with immediate effect," he declared.

"It was emotional during the past 4-5 hours while talking to my colleagues with whom I've shared the dressing room. I have not been able to get in touch with 'MS' as he is very hard to reach,” he disclosed.  

"Any innings that saves a match is very special. There are a lot of innings and matches that are very close to me and I will cherish all of them. Durban 2010 (96 against South Africa) was one of those knocks that I would cherish. Winning that match in the fashion that we did will be very memorable to me," Laxman recalled. 

"I will be very satisfied with the decision that I have taken and I will never regret this decision. Even in my exit, I will be following and living my ideals, which would be to keep the country before my personal needs," he asserted. 

"It was my privilege to play with the some of the legends of the game like Sachin, Rahul, Kumble, Sehwag, Saurav and a lot of other players as well. All of them inspired me because everyone had one single goal - to do well for country and to work for the progress of Indian cricket. They were all role models for me," the modest right-hander stated.

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August 13, 2012

Aziz Memon pledges Polio-free Pakistan


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

“What greater gift we can give to our community on Independence Day than a polio-free Pakistan? Let’s continue mobilizing all our resources in wiping out this disease as soon as possible.”

This was the message given by Aziz Memon, National Chair for Rotary Polio Plus Committee, on the eve of the 65th Independence Day of Pakistan falling on August 14. 

“Our efforts are yielding results. There were 77 cases of polio on August 14, 2011 which has now been brought down to 28. We have been working with missionary zeal and will work even harder to accomplish our cherished goal of completely wiping out polio from Pakistan,” Aziz Memon, who has been the Governor of Rotary International’s District 3270 covering Pakistan and Afghanistan, stated. 

“Out of the 28 polio cases at present, as many as 20 relate to the regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) while three each are in Sindh and Balochistan and two in Punjab. No case has been reported from Karachi for the last year and a half,” he disclosed.

“Pakistan is making real progress towards eradication of polio. And we have been supported by the celebrities of the highest stature in order to boost interest in the campaigns aimed at ensuring that every child in Pakistan is vaccinated,” Aziz Memon believed. 

He hailed the appointment of Shahid Afridi as Goodwill Ambassador of Rotary, saying that the immense popularity of the celebrated cricketer already worked wonders in the Polio Eradication Campaign. 

“The popularity of enterprising all-round cricketer Shahid Afridi, our Goodwill Ambassador, has proved greatly helpful in raising awareness about the disease of polio in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA in particular,” the Rotary leader remarked. 

“Shahid Afridi has proved helpful in two ways. On the international front he has received more tweets and likes on the social media than any other celebrity associated with Rotary during the past one month while his massive appeal in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, where polio cases are the highest in the number, has enabled us to raise awareness about polio in these particular areas,” Aziz Memon revealed.

Shahid Afridi, hailing from the Khyber Agency of FATA, had formally joined hands the Rotary International’s National Polio Plus Committee last month, proved instrumental in influencing high-risk groups in the regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA in the July polio vaccination rounds. 

“By joining hands in a noble cause Shahid Afridi has once again proved that he cares for the community. He brings smiles on their faces with his aggressive intent in the cricket field. Now he is proving a real hero by saving the lives of the children,” Aziz Memon reckoned. 

“Shahid Afridi, famous with his nickname of Boom Boom among cricket fans, has given his message in Urdu as well as Pushto, urging the people to cooperate with the vaccination teams so that every child could be administered polio drops without hassles,” the Rotary functionary added. 

“His appearance in the polio ads has earned huge mileage because of immense popularity, particularly in the Pushto-speaking areas. Last year 79% of the polio cases came from Pushtoon families. We are confident that his cricketing credentials will continue coming handy in eradicating polio from this region,” Aziz Memon concluded.

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August 10, 2012

Yuvraj defeats cancer, ready to fire in World Twenty20


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Flamboyant all-rounder Yuvraj Singh, as widely expected, has been included in India's T20 squad for the upcoming home series against New Zealand and the ICC World Twenty20 2012 to be staged in Sri Lanka. He is returning to international cricket after having successfully battled against cancer.

It was really stunning to know, through media reports, that India’s selection committee, headed by Krishnamachari Srikkanth, debated it for a loge time to arrive at the decision of naming Yuvraj in the squad for ICC World Twenty20 in particular. 

Like any other cricket follower, I also found it astonishing about the opinion being divided on the recall of Yuvraj. It was being reported that the chief selector had no reservations about it but a few ‘worthy’ members of his panel had some other ideas. 

How on earth did they comprehend leaving out Yuvraj when he was declared fit? Obviously he would not have been considered if he was not fit enough. I think it was a shameful act having deliberated it over more than one session. 

Obviously as Yuvraj, who last played for India during the home Tests against West Indies, had indicated during his recovery from cancer, Twenty20 would be ideal format to mark his return to competitive cricket.

"We have picked the best possible Test team. We looked at the conditions (in Sri Lanka) for the World T20. We feel that we have picked a team that will win us the World Cup. We are very happy Yuvi (Yuvraj) has been declared fit. In 2011 World Cup, he was the Man of the Series. He is a crucial factor from India's point of view,” Srikkanth made the point after chairing his last meeting as chief selector in Mumbai on August 10. 

Yuvraj, once declared fit, walks into the Indian team automatically. His absence was being felt more because of the inconsistency of players like Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Yusuf Pathan during the interim period. 

His return marks the end of a long and traumatic period. His problems had begun with breathing difficulties, nausea and bouts of vomiting blood during India's successful run through the 2011 World Cup, which he ended as the player of the tournament.

Six months later he was diagnosed with a rare for of cancer, mediastinal seminoma, and subsequently underwent chemotherapy in the United States of America (USA). He returned to India in April and commenced training at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore in June. 

“I had told myself that one day I would come back and play for India again. I was determined to do that. However much I had to go through with the cancer, I kept the faith because I wanted to step on the field again one day. Today I've got the news that I am going to be stepping on the field again. I am ecstatic. I can't wait to step on the field and wave the Indian flag!" Yuvraj reacted to his recall in the national team. 

"Everyone was talking about whether I should be picked or not, so I wasn't sure. I heard the news of my selection on the TV. It is as if I was being picked for India again- that same feeling that I can't explain," the explosive cricketer felt.

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August 7, 2012

Indian batsmen troubled by short balls even in Sri Lanka


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The vulnerability against short balls of the young Indian batsmen, who have scored heavily on their home turfs where the bounce generally is on the lower side, has been brought to light once more during the just concluded ODI series in Sri Lanka.

Although India emerged triumphant 4-1 in the five-match series and regained their second position in the ICC rankings, the cause of concern to them must have been the continuous failure of their young guns while tackling the short-pitched stuff. 

Speedster Lasith Malinga’s spell in the batting powerplay overs during the fifth and final ODI at a time when the Indians were pushing along very nicely exposed their shortcomings rather brutally once more. 

Manoj Tiwary, having done all the hard work of rotating the strike for the last 20 overs or so, was looking set for his second ODI hundred when he took eyes off the ball when it was dug in short by Malinga. It looked like schoolboy stuff. It wasn’t a cracking or unplayable delivery that rose awkwardly.

It was just am ordinary well directed bouncer which he could have easy hooked or pulled. Tiwary passed the impression that he was just not prepared for such a ball which looked ridiculous. 

In the end he played a nothing shot and the resulting edge was plucked at short third man. Even worse was to follow on the very next ball, if you were an Indian supporter. 

Suresh Raina, with three match-winning half-centuries in the series under his belt, could not have arrived at the crease at a more appropriate time with the field restrictions of powerplay overs encouraging him to go over the top from the outset. 

Knowing the left-hander Raina’s weaknesses against short and rising deliveries, the caretaker Sri Lankan captain, Angelo Matthews, brought in a fielder to the first slip position. Malinga fired in a half-tracker and Raina obliged by guiding it straight into the hands of the slip fieldsman. Raina’s movement suggested that he was indeed expecting a short ball first-up but he was found wanting in tackling it once more.

Two wickets in as many balls, Malinga, having leaked far too many runs in the previous games against India when keeping his length full most of the time, had his tails up when he steamed in for the hat-trick delivery which was to be faced by the Indian captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. 

It was yet another rising delivery which Dhoni negotiated very well by coming into line instead of moving sideways. 

Malinga tested him again with a bouncer and this time he had even Dhoni clueless about the ball which raced to the boundary off his helmet for four leg-byes. One Malinga over said it all. The pitch had some bounce and he possessed the pace and skills to test the batsmen. 

If the likes of Tiwary and Raina are blown like this then the future of the Indian batting looks in doubt. Raina has proved himself an outstanding batsman for limited-overs cricket but he has not been able to overcome his problems against balls gaining some height. 

Every fast bowler or even a medium-pacer is encouraged to pitch the ball short whenever he’s at the crease. On lively pitches he gets himself into trouble more often than not.

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August 6, 2012

Resumption of international cricket in Pakistan delayed further


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The proposed Twenty20 games between a Pakistan XI and a World XI, which were rescheduled to be held at the National Stadium, Karachi, on August 4 and 5, had to be postponed again and the new dates will be announced at a later stage.

The Sindh Sports Minister, Dr Syed Mohammad Ali Shah, who planned to organize back to back matches over the weekend, announced the decision, adding that the fresh dates will be worked out with the consultation of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). 

These matches were originally planned to be staged in Karachi in the last week of May.

“The decision to postpone the series Pakistan XI and World XI was taken in an emergent meeting of the Asghar Ali Shah Foundation as it was practically not possible to bring in the overseas players at such a short notice,” Dr Shah revealed. 

“I am in touch on a regular basis with Sanath Jayasuriya, the legendary Sri Lankan all-rounder, who will be leading the World XI in the series against Pakistan. He has assured me on numerous occasions that neither he nor any of his teammates have security concerns playing in Pakistan,” the Sindh Sports Minister stated.

“We also have the whole-hearted blessings of the government. Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, and the Governor of Sindh, Dr Ishrat-ul-Ebad Khan, have pledged fool-proof security arrangements for the visiting cricketers and we are fully geared to meet the challenge,” Dr Shah asserted. 

“It’s our endeavour that the full-strength Pakistan side should be fielded against the World XI which features some very experienced hands which would make the matches competitive as well as entertaining,” he thought. 

 “Any thing other than the national team won’t be befitting the occasion. The international cricket is returning to Pakistan and the moment has to be celebrated. We are confident that this series will open the doors to the resumption of Test matches and One-day Internationals in Pakistan which have not been held since 2009,” Dr Shah emphasized.

There were some positive indicators having suggested that the international cricket in Pakistan may finally be resumed following an understanding reached between Dr Shah and the PCB Chairman, Chaudhary Zaka Ashraf. 

The PCB had initially refused to cooperate with Dr Shah when the Asghar Ali Shah Foundation, with the collaboration of the Government of Sindh, desired holding the two matches during the month of May. 

The situation changed following the lengthy meeting between Dr Shah and Zaka Ashraf in London but the bureaucratic hurdles or the red-tape of the PCB didn’t allow things to be worked out on a fast track. 

Dr Shah also offered to extend the Twenty20 series between World XI and Pakistan XI to three matches instead of the originally planned two. They were also willing to have the matches in Karachi, Lahore or any other venue the PCB deemed proper. 

The response from the PCB was lukewarm and the bottom-line seemed to be discouraging the Asghar Ali Shah Foundation to do something the Board had not been able to do on their own. The PCB had failed in persuading Bangladesh to tour Pakistan even briefly for a few matches and their egos might have got hurt if Dr Shah, on his own, succeeded in roping in a bunch of international cricketers to play in Karachi.

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