December 31, 2013

Anwar Ahmad Khan: Hockey’s greatest-ever centre-half


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Olympian Anwar Ahmad Khan has been acclaimed as the greatest-ever centre-half to be have set his feet in the hockey arena. He had been acknowledged as the best in the Indo-Pak sub-continent in the 1950s and he continued to rule the world for the better part of two decades. 

He was the architect of Pakistan’s most famous conquests. He was the pivot around whom the team revolved in its golden era. He played the lead role in winning gold medals for the country in three successive events. 

He had made his international debut during the 1956 Olympics at Melbourne where Pakistan made it to the final for the first time, as they had been eliminated in the semifinals on both the previous Olympic Games at London (1948) and Helsinki (1956). 

Anwar Ahmad Khan’s extraordinary skills, which he learned right from his early days in Bhopal, in the middle of the pitch contained the mighty Indian forwards in the 1958 Asian Games at Tokyo where Pakistan clinched the goal medal ahead of their arch-rivals, after having overwhelmed the obdurate Koreans by a huge margin which proved decisive in earning the first-ever trophy.

He played even bigger role in Pakistan’s sensational title triumph in the 1960 Olympic Games at Rome where they finally brought India down to earth. The momentum was sustained in the 1962 Asian Games at Jakarta where Pakistan clinched their third successive gold in the presence of their  traditional rivals, who had earlier been dominating the hockey world since 1928. 

Ahmad Khan was regarded as the greatest centre-half the world of hockey for being an impossibly-gifted all-round player who didn't let the opposition beat him. His inspirational brilliance is still remembered by his colleagues and contemporaries. 

According to Munir Dar, himself one of the greats of his era, Anwar Ahmad Khan’s anticipation was splendid and his stick work was brilliant. His stoppage was accurate and his distribution could not be intercepted. He used to move all the time with his forwards and whenever the inners were blocked he used to open the game through the wingers. 

He was credited to have played in his corridor and used to cover both the full backs whenever they were beaten. 

He used to deceive the opponents’ defence with his body while feeding his forwards. If he had to pass the ball to the inside-left on top of the circle, he used to move towards his right and after drawing the opposing right-back to cover the gap between the left-back and centre-half, he used to give a goal-labelled pass to his inside-left and similarly to his inside-right. 

He never lost his temper whenever any of his colleagues committed any mistake. He was rated as a great team man and penetrated packed defences with the help of his supporting half-backs. He was a treat to watch all along. 

He has often been described as the pillar on which the Pakistan hockey rested when they were in the process of transforming into a world beating unit. Many experts have rated him as the most valuable player that Pakistan had in 1950s and 1960s. 

Anwar Ahmad Khan was originally chosen vice-captain of the Pakistan squad for the 1964 Olympic Games at Tokyo but he had to lead the team in most of the matches which skipper Manzoor Hussain Atif had to miss because of injuries. Pakistan claimed silver medal at Tokyo. 

He had a remarkably successful international career. He was a member of the Pakistan outfit in three Olympic Games and two Asiads, in which three golds and two silvers were won, an incredible record 

He captained Pakistan in quite a few international matches with great success but his career was cut short due to petty politics and intrigues that plagued the national sport and deprived the country of more glories. 

Upon quitting the game, Anwar Ahmad Khan made history of sorts by bringing out his autobiography 'Anwar' in 1990. It was the first autobiography by a Pakistan hockey player. He later produced another book titled 'Hikayat-e-Hockey' which was published in 2002.

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December 30, 2013

Naya Nazimabad’s Lawai Stadium ready to stage first-class cricket


By Syed Khalid Mahmood  
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The magnificent Lawai Stadium, located in Naya Nazimabad, Karachi, seems to be having all the ingredients of becoming a world-class venue in future. No wonder it’s ready to host first-class cricket matches as well as limited overs games under floodlights. 

Mohammad Iqbal, Director Sports, Naya Nazimabad, has informed that they would shortly be writing to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to allocate them some matches during the upcoming 2014-15 cricket season. 

“Having acquired all the necessary equipments after developing a stadium of the highest class we are ready to host the matches of the national competitions. We would be writing to the PCB Chairman, Najam Sethi, to let us stage the matches in the coming season,” Iqbal, who headed the MCB Bank’s Sports Division with distinction for a number of years, revealed. 

“The Lawai Stadium houses dressing rooms besides dugouts for participating teams. We have third-umpire room as well as brand new sightscreens. We have got hold of auto roller as well as the auto grass cutting machine. We have re-laid our pitches having a lot of grassy stuff. The floodlights are already there. So we have adequate facilities to hold day games as well as day-nighters,” he remarked. 

“We are confident about the PCB including our stadium in its list of venues for national tournaments next season because we fulfill nearly every condition needed to host first-class games,” Iqbal, himself a former cricketer, added. 

The Lawai Stadium is an initiative of Arif Habib, one of the leading entrepreneurs of the country, who was instrumental in developing a cricket ground of international standard in Naya Nazimabad City, a 2,100-acre housing scheme in the northern area of Karachi. He is credited to have masterminded the development of the cricket stadium on a fast track, earning huge goodwill to the mega project. 

The picturesque cricket stadium has been named after Hussain Lawai, President, Summit Bank Limited, in recognition and honour of his support and passion for cricket. Besides being a seasoned banker, he has remained a great promoter of sports over the years. 

The Lawai Stadium is first thing one comes across after entering the main gate of the Naya Nazimabad project. 

With hills on one side and the Manghopir Lake on the other, the scheme is well guarded and gated. It’s just a few minutes drive from the Sakhi Hasan roundabout in North Nazimabad. 

The construction work in the housing scheme is in full flow, much to the delight and satisfaction of the allottees, and the developed cricket stadium has ensured plenty of life in the arena much before people start residing there upon the completion of the project by the end of 2015. 

The credit for turning Arif Habib’s dream of the Naya Nazimabad Lawai Stadium into reality goes to Mohammad Iqbal, whose expertise and skills for sports administration are well known. 

He had represented the organization in the various committees as well as the Council of the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP), now the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). 

The Naya Nazimabad Lawai Stadium has already hosted a major tournament recently in which Omar Cricket Club emerged triumphant in the final of the Peace Cup Twenty20 Cricket Tournament 2013 at as they overpowered Qasmi Cricket Club in the final.

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Nadeem Omar reckons Karachi can produce high-quality fast bowlers


By Syed Khalid Mahmood  
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Nadeem Omar, a Presidential candidate in the upcoming elections of the Karachi City Cricket Association (KCCA), has dispelled the impression that Karachi didn’t possess the capability to produce high quality fast bowlers for the top level. 

“The ethnic cultural mix puts Karachi at a huge advantage and here we do have quite a few potentially good fast bowlers. Their misfortune, however, is the quality of pitches which don’t offer them any sort of encouragement. I am convinced that Karachi will produce many fast bowlers of international quality if the pitches were made lively,” he contended during the media briefing of the Pace Bowlers Training Programme, being organized by the Customs Cricket Academy (CCA). 

He had no doubts in his mind whatsoever about the Karachi fast bowlers being capable enough to compete at the national level. “Yes I am absolutely sure that we do possess enormous talent in the fast bowling department as well. It’s just the question of polishing their skills and providing them the right kind of environment,” Nadeem Omar emphasized. 

Meanwhile a total of 16 promising youngsters, in the age group of 17 to 22 years, are being imparted one-month coaching under the guidance of the CCA Head Coach, Mr Jalaluddin. The programme, having commenced on December 15, will continue until January 14. 

The details were unveiled in a media briefing by Jalaluddin at the Karachi Gymkhana Banquet Hall. Nadeem Omar, Managing Director, Omar Associates, and Khalil Masood, former Collector of Customs, also shared their thoughts on the occasion. 

Besides the participating young cricketers, their coaches and trainers as well as some former cricketers like Abdul Raquib, Anwar Khan and Anwar-ul-Haq were also in attendance in the gathering. 

“The Pace Bowlers Training Programme is being conducted to provide an opportunity to the young and upcoming fast bowlers who have talent and capacity to graduate to the higher level. Qualified coaches feel that the raw talent should develop with the knowledge of basic bio-mechanics, physiology and attributes of physical fitness that help them in their self-development. Our programme has been designed to keep focus on these aspects,” Jalaluddin, acclaimed as the highest qualified cricket coach in the country, observed in his opening remarks. 

“The trainees have been picked in the age groups of Under-17 and Under-22 but neither of these youngsters has played much cricket yet and they are considered raw pace bowling talent. In the limited time period and also because of the resource constraints we could not hold open trials. We have selected these youngsters upon the recommendation of the various clubs of Karachi,” he revealed. 

“Although the programme is aimed at boosting the fast bowling resources of Karachi, the ultimate beneficiary will be the Pakistan cricket. A few of these bowlers, when developed perfectly, could go on to represent the country in future,” Jalaluddin felt. 

Khalil Masood, Patron of the CCA, remarked that Pakistan Customs, as a department, had a moral obligation to serve the community and it was exactly doing that by engaging the youth in such healthy activities. 

The cricketers selected for the Pace Bowlers Training Programme, being sponsored by Omar Associates, are Waqar Anwar, Nawaz Khan, Basit Ali, Noor Khan, Ihsan Afridi, Usman Ghani, Noman Saleem, Minhaj Kamal, Ahsan Iqbal, Khurram Shahzad, Sameed Qadri, Abdullah Aziz, Hammad Raza, Ahad Ali and Mohammad Raheel. A women cricketer, Maham Tariq, is also taking part in the training programme. 

The CCA will be spending around Rs 65,000 on each participant as it includes the cost of training, equipment, resource material and hospitality.

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December 24, 2013

Jahangir Moghul’s glowing tribute to Grand Master Ashraf Tai


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Renowned social figure and philanthropist, Jahangir Moghul, has paid glowing tribute to the iconic figure of Grand Master Mohammad Ashraf Tai, acclaimed as a living legend of martial arts.

Jahangir Moghul, having headed the Sports Coordination Committee of the Karachi Gymkhana with distinction for a number of years, has reckoned that the accomplishments of Grand Master Ashraf Tai serve as a source of inspiration to the people in general and the youngsters in particular.

Grand Master Ashraf Tai had introduced Bando, the Burmese style of martial arts, in Pakistan way back in 1971. 

His awesome performances against the top martial artists of the world earned him greater fame and recognition at a young age. He didn’t look back and went from strength to strength as the years went by.

“He has been synonymous with karate for more than four decades now. He has not only excelled himself but more significantly he has spread the flame with his continued coaching to the trainees at the Tai’s Karate Centre. He must be eulogized for his untiring efforts in training thousands of young boys and girls over the years many of whom are now themselves engaged in teaching the game to new students,” Jahangir Moghul, also a famous Rotarian, remarked.

He complimented the Grand Master for continuing to do the job with the same intensity for more than four decades, overcoming various issues with bravery and fortitude.

“It’s quite remarkable that Grand Master Ashraf Tai remains as passionate about the sport of karate as he was at the time of setting up his centre in 1971. He has lost none of his intensity and even today he teaches his trainees with the same level of dedication and commitment as decades ago,” Jahangir Moghul, added.

“Such personalities, who are role models for the society, should be promoted and highlighted at every forum. Let the others derive motivation from the likes of him. He thoroughly deserves the accolades coming his way,” the sports patron observed.

It may be recalled Grand Master Ashraf Tai had created a sensation by overpowering Stanley Michael of Malaysia in the final of the Afro-Asia Championship in 1978. He had confirmed his superiority in the continent by outwitting Japan's KohaYash a year later.

After having emerged triumphant in a tournament staged in Sri Lanka in 1980, he had dared fighting the reigning world champion, Don Wilson of the United States of America (USA), in 1981. The creditable performance against the world champion elevated his ranking to the ninth place in the world.

The Grand Master then founded the Pakistan Karate Federation (PKF) and succeeded in having the body affiliated to the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) as well as the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB).

Having received numerous awards in various continents of the world during his illustrious career, he was declared the International Grand Master of the Year in 2000 by an institution based in the USA. He was also conferred the coveted Pride of Performance award by the President of Pakistan.

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December 11, 2013

Bridge legend Zia Mahmood to partner Ameer Hasan in Super Bowl


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Zia Mahmood, regarded as the greatest-ever bridge player to have emerged from Pakistan, will team up with Syed Ameer Hasan in the Super Bowl bridge contest being organized in the latter’s honour by the Mind Sports Association of Pakistan (MSAP) early next month.

Tariq Rasheed Khan, Director, MSAP, has confirmed that the legendary Zia, who took Pakistan all the way to the final of the Bermuda Bowl World Championship two times during the 1980s, has confirmed his participation in the upcoming Super Bowl scheduled to be staged at the Aslam Bridge Hall, housed in the National Stadium Karachi, on January 2. 

Zia, who was declared as the Bridge Player of the Decade in the United States of America (USA), has lived abroad for a number of years but he has remained a regular visitor to the home country. 

“Zia is scheduled to arrive in Karachi in the New Year Day and besides taking part in the Syed Ameer Hasan Benefit Match and Super Bowl, he will also be involved in other ceremonies during the first week of January,” Tariq Rasheed disclosed. 

“The Super Bowl concept was introduced to acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of bridge personalities. After having honoured 26 outstanding players and four organizers we have now decided to recognize Syed Ameer Hasan, a pioneer of bridge journalism in Pakistan. He has been a dedicated worker and committed player whose role in the promotion of bridge deserves to be eulogized,” the MSAP official stated.

Ameer Hasan had served the Pakistan Bridge Federation (PBF) as its Executive Secretary for more than a decade before having joined the MSAP three years ago. 

“His services were acquired by the MSAP immediately after he left the PBF in 2010. He has worked for the cause of bridge non-stop for a number of years and we felt it’s high time to honour him befittingly,” Tariq Rasheed observed. 

“The MSAP Chairman, Khurshid Hadi, had approved the Syed Ameer Hasan Benefit Match and Super Bowl about six months ago and Data Steel, the major sponsors of mind sports in the country, promptly agreed to support it. The date of January 2, 2014 was finalized in consultation with Zia Mahmood who was very eager to participate in the event,” he added. 

The MSAP Director didn’t deem it proper to disclose the exact amount Ameer Hasan was likely to be presented at the Super Bowl but assured that it would be a handsome purse.

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November 30, 2013

Hakimuddin Sadiq Gold Cup revives Karachi Club’s golden status in snooker


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Karachi Club, as an institution, has played the most significant role in taking snooker where it stands today in Pakistan. It remained the virtual headquarters of the controlling body of cue sports in the country for a number of years. 

Sadly, however, the Karachi Club and the Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA) have had sour relationship during the last few years. The gulf has only widened following the gold trophy episode. The worst sufferer has been the sport itself and the tournament as prestigious as the Latif Masters has not been staged for more than five years. It used to be the fourth and final national ranking event to be contested by only the top cueists of the country. 

The clash of personalities and the differences in opinion on both sides have deprived the country of the tournament which was instituted in the memory of the legendary Latif Amir Bakhsh, who died young. 

While the PBSA has staged its national ranking tournaments at different other venues of Karachi, from commercial parlours to five-star hotels, the Karachi Club has had to restrict itself to intra-club snooker activities. 

But the Karachi Club, lately, has shown the eagerness to revive snooker activities on a bigger scale and the renovated Amir Bakhsh Billiards Hall has been buzzing with competitive events its more.

A grand concluding ceremony was held on November 28 to celebrate the successful hosting of the 2nd KC Hakimuddin Sadiq Gold Cup Team Event Snooker Tournament 2013 which was clinched by quintet of Vishan Gir, Shahid Yaqoob, Ashok Kumar, Salman Qasmani and Ovais Mian Noor, having played by the name of A-1.

In the finals, A-1 overcame D-2 after a grim six-frame battle which the former won 4-2. Vishan Gir’s outfit managed to overcome Aneel Bherwani’s side, also having Shahid Dhehdi, Azhar Dawra, Zohaib Haroon and Saad Munaf.

The club’s President, Ashfaq Yousuf Tola, and Honorary Secretary, Jawed H Karim, both of them having rich background of sports, were the guests of honour in the prize distribution ceremony held soon after the conclusion of the final.

The winning team, captained by Vishan Gir, who has been among the leading cueists of the country for a number of years, received a cash award of Rs 25,000 while the runner-up side D-2, led by Aneel Bherwani, a former Pakistan number two, got a purse of Rs 15,000.

The losing semifinalists C-1 and C-4, skippered by Asim Ghani and Dilip Perwani respectively, was presented Rs 10,000 each while the losing quarter-finalists B-1, D-3, B-3 and A-3, captained by Farhan Idrees, Rizwan Jumbo, Zeeshan Merchant and Imran Meghani respectively, were compensated with Rs 5,000 each.

Vishan Gir also received a special prize for having registered the highest break of 54, with Abdul Ghaffar, Ovais Mian Noor and Umair Idrees being the next highest scorers. The 11-day tournament, which started on November 18, was contested by a total of 14 teams who were divided in four groups. There were four cueists each in the Groups A and B while there were three each in the Groups C and D.

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November 24, 2013

Record 17 century breaks chalked up as Asif retains Langnese Snooker Cup


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

World champion Mohammad Asif lived upto his big reputation and succeeded in retaining the Langnese Snooker Cup by overpowering surprise packet in the final at the Karachi Sheraton Hotel on November 24.

He didn’t look back after suffering a shock defeat in the opening match of the six-day event. He went on to conquer his other six opponents in the league matches before winning both the knockout games. 

In the best of 15-frame final he outgunned Mohammad Bilal, hailing from the town of Mandi Bahauddin, 8-4 with the frame scores of 37-96, 71-34, 71-29, 120-0, 71-50, 122-10, 72-22, 81-45, 5-84, 13-104, 27-67, 98-0. He followed a break of 71 in the fourth frame with an even better one of 116 in the fifth frame. 

The final, unlike some of the league matches, was played at a brisk pace with both the contestants in pursuit of potting consistently instead of going for safety. As a result the 12 frames were completed in a matter of just three hours and 45 minutes. 

At the end of the match the reigning world champion suggested that his rival Bilal, playing his maiden final of a national ranking tournament, did show sign of nerves at crucial stages of the title clash which was not surprising.

“It happens with everyone when playing in front of the television cameras for the first time. He must have been under pressure which didn’t allow him to play the way he would have liked in the final,” Asif felt. 

The 28-year-old Bilal, however, was credited to have a staged a fine comeback in the session, after having been blanked 1-7 in the morning session, despite having claimed the opening frame. 

He did take some positives from the final despite losing it 4-8 eventually. He chalked up a break of 55 in the first frame, one of 61 in the ninth frame and another one of 75 in the tenth frame. 

Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui, Commissioner, Karachi, was the chief guest in the prize distribution ceremony which was presided over by Saquib Riaz, Chief Executive Officer, Anjum Asif Limited. Ahmed Chinoy, Chairman, Citizen-Police Liaison Committee, and Sikander Mahmood, Chairman, Pakistan Hotels Association, were also present on the occasion.

Shoaib Siddiqui, in his brief speech, acknowledged the rising standard of snooker in the country and pledged to facilitate the government support for its further promotion and development. He urged the corporate sector to come forward to patronize the sport. 

Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, President, Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), in his welcome address, praised the cueists for registering as many as 17 century breaks during the tournament. 

Shoaib Siddiqui and Saquib Riaz presented Mohammad Asif a purse of Rs 70,000 for winning the Ranking Cup while runner-up Mohammad Bilal received a cash award of Rs 40,000. Top seeded Shahid Aftab, who couldn’t make it to the semifinals, picked up a prize of Rs 10,000 for registering the highest break of the tournament (140) while second seed Imran Shahzad and unseeded Babar Masih, the losing semifinalists, were compensated with Rs 15,000 each.

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November 17, 2013

Recalling Tendulkar’s Test debut at National Stadium Karachi


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

While the recent farewell of the Indian batting great Sachin Tendulkar is reported to have brought tears in many eyes, it’s the mention of his Test debut which continues to shake me even though more than 24 years have lapsed now.

My childhood friend, Ali Rizwan, who was a Tendulkar in his own right in many ways, died in a tragic road accident less than a week before the much talked 16-year-old from India was set to make his debut against Pakistan at the National Stadium, Karachi. 

Rizwan remained my closest friend all along and we had played a lot of cricket together, besides having started writing on cricket and doing detailed scoring at the same time. We were into cricket by all means. Together we used to visit the National Stadium, initially to do the ball-to-ball scoring and then to cover the matches, for a number of years. 

We were very excited at the prospect of accompanying each other for the coverage of the first Test of a new series between Pakistan and India in which talented youngsters from both sides were expected to make their debut. For Pakistan it was going to be fast bowler Waqar Younis, besides all-rounder Shahid Saeed, while for India, schoolboy Tendulkar and medium-pacer Salil Ankola were to receive a Test cap. 

Little did we know that I would be left ‘alone’ for good and it was a very painful exercise for me personally to go to the National Stadium for the whole week with Rizwan having quietly left this mortal world just four days before the start of the Test match. In normal circumstances I would have stayed back but a daily visit to the ground was necessitated to fulfill my reporting commitments with The Frontier Post, a national daily published from Peshawar.

Tendulkar’s name featured in India’s playing eleven which was announced on the evening before the match. But there was no mention of Mohammad Azharuddin in it and Raman Lamba was due to bat at number four. The Indian team, presumably with instructions from back home, was changed overnight and Azharuddin was drafted in place of Lamba, on the eve of the toss which left the commentators and the covering journalists stunned.

Tendulkar’s first day in Test cricket was on November 15, 1989 but he came into bat for the first time the following day. There was a lot of buzz at the stadium as the youngster walked out to the middle with his team reeling on the second afternoon. 

Pakistan’s speedsters, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, were firing on all cylinders and the Indian top-order was getting blown away. Four of their top batters, including Sanjay Manjrekar, were back in the dressing when he arrived at the fall of the Manoj Prabhakar’s wicket, with total on 41. 

Tendulkar’s maiden innings lasted little less than half an hour but it did show flashes of brilliance. He was castled by Waqar, after scoring 15 off 24 balls. His 32-run fifth wicket partnership with Azharuddin came at better than run a minute and it did help in releasing the pressure. India avoided the follow-on and he was not required to bat a second time with Manjrekar’s unbeaten hundred saving the game on the fifth day.

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November 16, 2013

Tendulkar’s farewell speech


Pakistan News & Features Services

“All my friends settle down let me talk. I will get more and more emotional. My life, between 22 yards for 24 years, it is hard to believe that that wonderful journey has come to an end, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank people who have played an important role in my life. Also, for the first time in my life I am carrying this list, to remember all the names in case I forget someone. I hope you understand. It's getting a little bit difficult to talk but I will manage.” 

“The most important person in my life, and I have missed him a lot since 1999 when he passed away, my father. Without his guidance, I don't think I would have been standing here in front of you. He gave me freedom at the age of 11, and told me that I should chase my dreams, but make sure you do not find short cuts. The path might be difficult, but don't give up, and I have simply followed his instructions. Above all, he told me to be a nice human being, which I will continue to do and try my best. Every time I have done something special [and] showed my bat, it was for my father.” 

“My mother, I don't know how she dealt with such a naughty child like me. I was not easy to manage. She must be extremely patient. For a mother, the most important thing is that her child remains safe and healthy and fit. That was what she was most bothered and worried about. She took care of me for the last 24 years that I have played for India, but even before that she started praying for me the day I started playing cricket. She just prayed and prayed and I think her prayers and blessings have given me the strength to go out and perform so a big thank you to my mother for all the sacrifices.” 

“In my school days, for four years, I stayed with my uncle and aunt because my school was quite far from my home, and they treated me like their son. My aunt, after having had a hard day's play, I would be half asleep and she would be feeding me food so I could go again and play tomorrow. I can't forget these moments. I am like their son and I am glad it has continued to be the same way.” 

“My eldest brother, Nitin, and his family, have always encouraged me. My eldest brother doesn't like to talk much, but the one thing he always told me is that whatever you do, I know you will always give it 100%, and that I have full faith and confidence in you. His encouragement meant a lot to me. My sister, Savita, and her family, were no different. The first cricket bat of my life was presented to me by my sister. It was a Kashmir willow bat. But that is where the journey began. She is one of those many who still continue to fast when I bat, so thank you very much.” 

 “Ajit, my brother, now what do I talk about him? I don't know. We have lived this dream together. He was the one who sacrificed his career for my cricket. He spotted the spark in me. And it all started from the age of 11 when he took me to Archrekar sir, my coach, and from there on my life changed. You will find this hard to believe but even last night he called to discuss my dismissal, knowing that there was a remote chance of batting again, but just the habit we have developed, the rapport we have developed, since my birth, has continued and it will continue. Maybe when I'm not playing cricket we will still be discussing technique.” 

“Various things we agreed upon, my technique and so many technical things which I didn't agree with him, we have had arguments and disagreements, but when I look back at all these things in my life, I would have been a lesser cricketer.” “he most beautiful thing happened to me in 1990 when I met my wife, Anjali. Those were special years and it has continued and will always continue that way. I know Anjali, being a doctor; there was a wonderful career in front of her. When we decided to have a family, Anjali took the initiative to step back and say that 'you continue with your cricket and I will take the responsibility of the family.” 

“Without that, I don't think I would have been able to play cricket freely and without stress. Thanks for bearing with all my fuss and all my frustrations, and all sorts of rubbish that I have spoken. Thanks for bearing with me and always staying by my side through all the ups and downs. You are the best partnership I've had in my life.” 

“Then, the two precious diamonds of my life: Sara and Arjun. They have already grown up. My daughter is 16, my son is 14. Time has flown by. I wanted to spend so much time with them on special occasions like their birthdays, their annual days, their sports day, going on holidays, whatever. I have missed out on all those things. Thanks for your understanding. Both of you have been so, so special to me you cannot imagine. I promise you [that] for 14 and 16 years I have not spent enough time with both of you, but the next 16 years or even beyond that, everything is for you.” 

“My in-laws, Anand Mehta and Annabelle, both have been so, so supportive [and] loving and caring. I have discussed on various things in life, generally with them, and have taken their advice. You know, it's so important to have a strong family who is always with you and who are guiding you. Before you start clapping, the most important thing they did was allowing me to marry Anjali, so thank you very much.” 

"In the last 24 years that I have played for India I have made new friends, and before that I have had friends from my childhood. They have all had a terrific contribution. As and when I have called them to come and bowl to me at the nets, they have left their work aside to come and help me. Be it joining me on holidays and having discussions with me on cricket, or how I was a little stressed and wanting to find a solution so I can perform better". 

“All those moments my friends were with me. Even for when I was injured, I would wake up in the morning because I couldn't sleep and thought that my career was over because of injuries, that is when my friends have woken up at 3 o'clock in the morning to drive with me and make me believe that my career was not over. Life would be incomplete without all those friends. Thanks for being there for me.” 

“My cricket career started when I was 11. The turning point of my career was when my brother Ajit took me to Achrekar sir. I was extremely delighted to see him up in the stands. Normally he sits in front of the television and he watches all the games that I play. When I was 11/12, those were the days when I used to hop back on his scooter and play a couple of practice matches a day. The first half the innings I would be batting at Shivaji Park, the second half, at some other match in Azad Maidan. He would take me all over Mumbai to make sure I got match practice.” 

“On a lighter note, in the last 29 years, sir has never ever said 'well played' to me because he thought I would get complacent and I would stop working hard. Maybe he can push his luck and wish me now, well done on my career, because there are no more matches, sir, in my life. I will be witnessing cricket, and cricket will always stay in my heart, but you have had an immense contribution in my life, so thank you very much.” 

“My cricket for Mumbai started right here on this ground, the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), which is so dear to me. I remember landing from New Zealand at four o'clock in the morning, and turning up for a game here at eight o'clock just because I wanted to be a part of Mumbai cricket, and not that somebody forced me. That was for the love of Mumbai cricket, and thank you very much. The president is here so thank you very much, along with your team, for taking care of me and looking after my cricket.” 

“The dream was obviously to play for India, and that is where my association with BCCI started. BCCI was fantastic, right from my debut they believed in my ability and selecting me into the squad at the age of 16 was a big step, so thanks to all the selectors for having faith in me and the BCCI for giving me the freedom to express myself out in the middle. Things would have been different if you had not been behind me, and I really appreciate your support. Especially when I was injured, you were right with me and making sure that all the treatments were taken care of and that I got fit and fine and playing right back for India.” 

“The journey has been special, the last 24 years, I have played with many senior cricketers, and even before that there were many senior cricketers with whom I watched on television. They inspired me to play cricket, and to play in the right way. Thanks to all those senior cricketers, and unfortunately I have not been able to play with them, but I have high regards for all their achievements and all their contributions.” 

“We see it on the mega-screen, Rahul, Laxman, Sourav, and Anil, who is not here, and my team-mates right here in front me. You are like my family away from home. I have had some wonderful times with you. It is going to be difficult to not be part of the dressing room, sharing those special moments. All the coaches for their guidance, it has been special for me. I know when MS Dhoni presented me the 200th Test match cap on day one morning. I had a brief message for the team. I would like to repeat that. I just feel that all of us are so, so fortunate and proud to be part of the Indian cricket team and serving the nation.” 

“Knowing all of you guys, I know you will continue to serve the nation in the right spirit and right values. I believe we have been the lucky ones to be chosen by the Almighty to serve this sport. Each generation gets this opportunity to take care of this sport and serve it to the best of our ability. I have full faith in you to continue to serve the nation in the right spirit and to the best of your ability, to bring all the laurels to the country. All the very best.” 

“I would be failing in my duties if I did not thank all the doctors, the physios, the trainers, who have put this difficult body together to go back on the field and be able to play. The amount of injuries that I have had in my career, I don't know how you have managed to keep me fit, but without your special efforts, it would never have happened. The doctors have met me at weird hours. I mean I have called them from Mumbai to Chennai, Mumbai to Delhi, I mean wherever. They have just taken the next flight and left their work and families to be with me, which has allowed me to play. So a big thank you to all three of you for keeping me in good shape.” 

“My dear friend, late Mark Mascarenhas, my first manager. We unfortunately lost him in a car accident in 2001, but he was such a well-wisher of cricket, my cricket, and especially Indian cricket. He was so passionate. He understood what it takes to represent a nation and gave me all the space to go out and express myself, and never pressurized me to do this ad or promotion or whatever the sponsors demanded. He took care of that and today I miss him, so thank you Mark for all your contribution.” 

“My current management team, WSG, for repeating what Mark has done, because when I signed the contract I exactly told them what I want from them, and what it requires to represent me. They have done that and respected that.”

“Someone who has worked closely with me for 14 years is my manager, Vinod Nayudu. He is more like my family and all the sacrifices, spending time away from his family for my work, has been special, so big thank you to his family as well for giving up so much time for my work with Vinod.” 

“In my school days, when I performed well, the media backed me a lot. They continue to do that till this morning. Thank you so much to the media for supporting and appreciating my performances. It surely had a positive effect on me. Thank you so much to all the photographers as well for those wonderfully captured moments that will stay with me for the rest of my life, so a big thank you to all the photographers.” 

“I know my speech is getting a bit too long but this is the last thing I want to say. I want to thank all the people here who have flown in from various parts of the world, and have supported me endlessly, whether I scored a 0 or a 100-plus. Your support was so dear to me and meant a lot to me. Whatever you have done for me.” 

“I know I have met so many guys who have fasted for me, prayed for me, done so much for me. Without that life wouldn't have been like this for me. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, and also say that time has flown by rather quickly, but the memories you have left with me will always be with me forever and ever, especially "Sachin, Sachin" which will reverberate in my ears till I stop breathing. Thank you very much. If I have missed out on saying something, I hope you understand. Goodbye.”

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November 9, 2013

Fantastic debutants, not retiring legend, set Eden Gardens alight


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Not surprisingly the young guns, not the retiring maestro, ruled at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, where India flattened the West Indies by an innings and 51 runs inside three days in the first of the hurriedly-arranged two Test matches.

In fact it were two debutants, Mohammed Shami and Rohit Sharma, who stole the limelight in the game which the hosts won very comfortably after being in dire straits on the second morning. 

As we have seen often during the latter half of the great Sachin Tendulkar’s career, he was unable to contribute anything of note when the team needed him. 

Although Sharma, extending his brilliant ODI form, was declared Man of the Match for his game-changing knock of 177 but there were many who thought that the award should have gone to the young fast-medium bowler Shami instead for claiming as many as nine wickets on a pitch tailor-made for spinners. 

The performance of both the debutants was fantastic and they could be considered as new shining lights of Indian cricket. Their immediate objective would be to cement their place in the side and their efforts at Kolkata make them more or less guarantee their spots in the squad that will be touring South Africa in a few weeks of time.

If Sharma and Shami are able to sustain the form they are in at the moment, there’s very little doubt in one’s mind that they would return from South Africa with their reputation enhanced. 

Sharma is regarded as the most daring of all Indian batsmen, whose forte is cutting and pulling. He has demonstrated his prowess in ODIs. It seems a matter of time for him to make his presence felt in the Test arena as well. 

Shami, who also started his international career with limited overs contests, looks a much improved bowler now and he should be picking up wickets regularly on the South African pitches that are more conducive to swing and seam bowling than the ones at home. He does have the pace to make it count. 

The Indian skipper, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was quick in acknowledging the superlative performances of Sharma and Shami on debut.

"I think it was a disciplined bowling performance. Shami was fantastic. Most of the fast bowlers got reverse swing, but his line and length was the key. He got the right length and that's why I think he got nine wickets in this game,” Dhoni complimented. 

"You need a bit of pace to dominate. You can get a bit of reverse swing, and he's got very good seam positioning which means he can reverse the ball away from the right-handed batsmen. So on wickets that have a bit more bounce, I think he will be even more effective with the ball going both ways. We're all very happy with the performance," he added. 

Dhoni was equally generous in praising Sharma. "Well, you have to believe in destiny. I remember in Nagpur, there was a game he was supposed to play, but during the warm-up he injured his ankle and missed the Test. So I think it's good to see him bat the way he has batted. He is very talented, but now that it is reflecting on the field, he's really enjoying his cricket. Hopefully he'll go ahead and take more responsibility," the skipper reckoned.

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October 31, 2013

Shahram Changezi seeks departmental support to boost snooker in Pakistan


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Shahram Changezi, a former national champion and one of the most accomplished cueists of the country, firmly believes that snooker can’t rise phenomenally in Pakistan until the departments lend the kind of support they do to other games.

““The departments hold the key to the future of snooker in Pakistan. The financial constraints would be overcome and the game will stand of its feet once they are on board. The Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA) should get affiliated to the legitimate Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) which would pave the way for the key departments to help the game in a big way,” the winner of bronze medal in the 2010 Asian Games snooker team event remarked in an interview. 

“Another factor having hindered the growth of snooker has been the lack of representation of as many as three provinces in the governing body of cue sports which is supposed to be a national federation of all four provincial units,” the Islamabad-based Shahram pointed out. 

Arguably the most educated of all the cueists in the national circuit, he has had difference of opinion with the functionaries of the PBSA on several occasions but he has not been afraid to call a spade a spade.

He has repeatedly reiterated the demand of sending a manager-cum-coach, having technical expertise, to accompany the cueists on every foreign trip rather than promoting joyriders.

“The cueists must not be allowed to leave the shores of the country until they are being accompanied by a manager-cum-coach, who should be a former international player himself. It will be great support to the cueists on and off the table. We don’t need more than one official on any tour,” he stressed.

Shahram regretted that the best available snooker facilities of the country, housed in Islamabad, was not been adequately utilized.

“I have spoken to the PBSA officials about it on a quite a few occasions and they cited the unwillingness of the sponsors to support any event as the reason for not availing the facility available in the federal capital. With better planning and far-sighted approach we could have had more snooker tournaments here,” he believed.

He looked unaware of the issues having plagued the PBSA lately but he expressed his concern over the resignations of top office-bearers. 

“I have read in the newspapers about the resignations but don’t know the details. To be honest I have been out of touch with the PBSA for quite sometime but as a cueist I am sad to learn about all this. All I can say is that let’s think big and dream high irrespective of the existing realities,” Shahram opined. 

 He did not mince words in stating that Pakistan’s Mohammad Asif, the reigning world amateur champion, should have tried his luck in the professionals’ circuit. 

“Asif, after having received financial rewards from the various quarters, appeared to have enough resources besides the opportunity to enter the professional arena but I am not sure why he didn’t go there. I would have advised him to turn professional as there are no Pakistanis in the circuit. His presence there would have been a boost for the country,” Shahram concluded.

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October 27, 2013

Hosts Bangladesh to contest ICC World T20 2014 qualifiers


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Hosts Bangladesh will be needed to appear in the first round, serving as the qualifiers for the Super 10 stage, in the next year's ICC World Twenty20 to be staged there from March 16 and April 6.

According to the details announced by the International Cricket Council (ICC) on October 27, Bangladesh will be grouped with three other Associate and Affiliate nations who will come through the qualifying tournament due to be staged in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from November 15 to 30. 

The format for the World T20 2014 has been modified in order to accommodate 16 teams this time round as compared to 12 in the last edition. The top eight sides of the ICC's T20 team rankings as on October 8, 2012 have been given direct entry into the Super 10 stage. 

Unsurprisingly Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies are the eight teams having directly qualified for the Super 10 stage by virtue of being the top eight sides in the ICC rankings on the cut-off date. 

Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, who have finished outside the top eight, will now have compete with six other qualifying teams in the first round from March 16 to 21 for the remaining two places in the Super 10 groups.

The six qualifying teams to join the first round will be decided at the end of the World T20 qualifiers next month. If hosts Bangladesh do qualify they will play all Super 10 matches in Mirpur. 

Bangladesh will begin their campaign in the qualifying rounds, also in Mirpur, on March 16, against one of the Associate or Affiliate qualifiers. They will play the other two first-round matches, in Chittagong, on March 18 and 20. 

The Super 10 stage will kickoff with a Group 2 match between the arch rivals and former World T20 champions, Pakistan and India, in Mirpur, on March 21 while holders West Indies will get into action on March 23 against India in Mirpur and will play the rest of their group matches against Pakistan, Australia and a qualifying team. 

The Group 1 in the Super 10 stage will comprise of Sri Lanka, England, South Africa and New Zealand with one of the qualifiers.

Meanwhile Cox's Bazaar has been dropped as a venue for the 2014 World T20 to be held in Bangladesh between Sylhet, another venue considered doubtful due to ongoing work at the stadium, has been retained. 

The ICC has announced that Sylhet would host all first-round fixtures of the Women's World T20 and a few group matches of the World T20, along with Mirpur and Chittagong while all the six knockout matches will be played in Mirpur. 

Sylhet and Cox's Bazaar had been in doubt because of ongoing development works being carried out at the stadiums and were granted an extension until November 30 by the ICC upon a request by the Bangladesh Cricket Board as the original deadline for the completion of the stadiums was September 30.

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October 18, 2013

Pakistan make mockery of ICC rankings by routing South Africa in Abu Dhabi


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

A young cricket correspondent of a leading weekly newsmagazine had interviewed me soon after Pakistan’s defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe in a Test match barely a few months ago.

Maaz Ahmed of MAG Weekly was stunned to the extent that he switched on his tape-recorder to record my comments when I informed him that the result of Harare will have no impact whatsoever when Pakistan would be facing the top-ranked South Africa in their next assignment in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

Obviously he was curious enough to know how it would be possible for Pakistan to challenge the mighty South Africa when they had struggled in both the Test matches against the lowly-rated Zimbabwe. 

The young journalist asked probing questions because he was finding it hard to swallow how in the world any team in obvious shambles will rise so dramatically in a few months to confront or even tame the toppers.

Like a trained professional he hadn’t argued, however, but the strong disbelief on his face indicated that he was not entirely satisfied with my assessment of the Pakistan-South Africa series becoming a close affair. 

What I had stated, on record, a couple of months ago, has now been proved correct in the very first Test match, from the very first day of the series to be precise. You can never write off Pakistan no matter whatever the circumstances. 

Don’t be misled by the ICC rankings. They do have their meaning and purpose but Pakistan can’t be covered by it. No matter where they may be placed or what kind of resources they may be possessing if the rub of the green starts going their way the word ‘logic’ takes a backseat. 

We have seen it happening in many parts of the world but it’s more frequent in the UAE where they have had every aspect to their liking. Be it the weather, the pitch or any other factor, controllable or uncontrollable.

The Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi has witnessed another huge upset. South Africa, having ruled the world, have been brought down to earth by Misbah-ul-Haq’s Pakistan team, which was forced to make changes following the tour of Zimbabwe. The unbeaten run of Graeme Smith’s men has ended after 15 Tests. 

Pakistan fielded a new pair of openers in Khurram Manzoor and Shan Masood and both of them came good beyond expectations. They scored far too many runs in the first innings than their most ardent supporters would have imagined. 

Shan Masood had a dream debut against the most formidable bowling attack of the world, having the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel who can demolish any opposition within matter of minutes. He could have even got to a hundred in his maiden outing but it was not to be. 

Left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar might also be considering international cricket much easier than domestic or even local cricket. He must be feeling at top of the world. That’s called charmed life.

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October 17, 2013

Indian batters cover up follies of bowlers


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The trio of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli came up with awesome batting performance at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur on October 16 to script a historic ODI win over Australia.

Left-handed Dhawan batted in his usual dominating style, Sharma didn’t throw his wicket for a change and returned undefeated while Kohli came up with another standout cameo to prove the world is at his feet. 

They made a mockery of the huge Australian total of 359 and the impossible-looking target was achieved with nine wickets and 6.3 overs in the bag. 

Not surprisingly it was India’s highest-ever successful chase in ODI history, making up for quite a few near-misses in the past.

Kohli broke the record for the fastest ODI hundred by an Indian, which belonged previously to Virender Sehwag, who has not even been selected for this series due to emergence of the shining young stars and a dip in his own form.

Sharma, under fire despite performing well in the role of an opener, silenced his critics with a phenomenal knock that should also relieve the team management who have continued backing him all along. 

"It was very important for me to play the big innings. It took a long time coming, but I would like to say that the hardwork never stopped. I wanted to bat throughout the innings, I agree that I have played some stupid shots to get out, but this was much needed. Both Shikhar and I understood the pitch and managed the chase, and Virat came and played a strong innings and his innings needs a mention as much as any," Sharma remarked after receiving the Man of the Match award, ahead of Kohli, now the fastest Indian ODI centurion. 

"I think this is one of the best you can see, irrespective of the field restrictions and the pitch, it was still a tall chase. I told them not to look at the target and just go and play. Shikhar batted very well, Kohli was amazing, Rohit got a big knock. It was an ideal pitch, fast outfield, but you need to keep the shape as a batsman, that's what they did well," skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni summed up.

Our batting is looking good, but it's unfair to assume the batsmen are going to chase a 300-plus target every time. Most of our guys have played international cricket, but most of them don't have the experience of a Yuvraj Singh who has played over 250 matches, what you have to do is to be aggressive, but what is important is that you don't have to slog, you have to maintain good shape,”he added. 

The Indian captain, however, remained concerned with his bowlers, having leaked in the excess of 300 on both occasions so far. 

“Bowling, we need to improve. The reason is that if you attempt a yorker and it becomes a low full toss its fine, but if it becomes a waist-high full toss, then the margin is too much. It's one area we are looking to improve," he pointed out.

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