October 31, 2021

Asif Ali: Now a hero


By Ehsan Qureshi in Dubai 

(Pakistan News & Features Services)

This is the story of Pakistan cricket. Starting from nowhere (zero) and going to become the hot-favourites (super hero). This is story of the ICC T20 World Cup 2021 as far as Pakistan and their latest six-hitting sensation Asif Ali are concerned. 

Not long ago, there was hue and cry from all quarters when Asif was selected in the Pakistan squad for T20 World Cup. The criticism appeared justified because the highly talented middle-order batsman had failed to live up to expectations the in Pakistan Super League (PSL) as well as in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). 

Despite all the pressure to drop him, the chief selector, Muhammad Wasim, other members of the selection committee and skipper Babar Azam kept faith in him. Now finally Asif has delivered at the biggest stage to silence his critics. 

With Pakistan thrashing India by a record margin of 10 wickets in the opening game, the morale of the whole team was boosted and every member of the team felt motivated. The confidence level of the whole team got sky-rocketed and Pakistan, all of a sudden, became the team to watch out for. 

The expectations were on the higher side when Pakistan took the field against New Zealand, after having bulldozed India. But as we have watched on numerous occasions in the past, the Blackcaps, led by Kane Williamson, refused to give up even while defending a low total and the match looked in their grasp when they picked up a few quick wickets. 

Just as the Pakistani supporters were beginning to get tense and worried, Asif entered the arena and changed the complexion of the game with his flurry of sixes. 

In the company of the vastly experienced Shoaib Malik, he steered Pakistan to a dazzling win which boosted their hopes to qualify for the semifinals round. It literally changed the mood of the nation because India and Blackcaps were favorites to progress into the knock out round. 

The story was repeated in the following game which was played in a rather charged atmosphere against Afghanistan. It was Asif again who took Pakistan home when chips were down at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium 

The Afghanistan section of the crowd was preparing to celebrate victory as Pakistan lost Fakhar Zaman, Muhammad Hafeez and captain Babar Azam in quick succession. But at the othe end, Asif was thinking differently. Pakistan needed 24 off 12 balls. 

It was a tall order for Pakistan as Bangladesh had lost narrowly to the West Indies in similar situation just a few hours ago. Then what people watched at the ground was unbelievable and amazing. 

Asif banged Afghanistan’s medium pacer Karim Janat for four towering sixes to make hell for him and the Pakistan supporters were jubilant and ecstatic with celebrations having erupted across the globe. 

Now Pakistan feature among the favourites for the crown. But you cannot depend on only Asif because this is team and each and every player has to contribute vigorously to ensure they repeat 2009 history to add a new feather in their cap. 

On a personal note, Asif may be looking forward to replicate his own efforts of winning the trophy in the same manner as he had enabled Islamabad United to win the PSL in 2018 with his towering sixes in the final.

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October 29, 2021

Pakistan wins tension packed encounter to move closer T20 World Cup semis


By Ehsan Qureshi in Dubai 

(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Pakistan inched closer towards claiming spot in the semifinal rounds of ICC T20 World Cup with tension and drama packed five-wicket victory over Afghanistan at Dubai International Cricket Stadium on October 29. 

For the second match running, Asif Ali emerged as the hero when he hoisted Karim Janat for four sixes in the 19th over to seal the fate of the dramatic match in front of an enthusiastic and vociferous crowd. They shouted Pakistan Zindabad and Pakistan Aa Gaya Maidan Main as Pakistan completed their win after a few hiccups. 

The new finisher Asif smashed an unbeaten 25, under pressure, after facing just seven balls in blink of an eye. Pakistan had lost Fakhar Zaman (30), Muhammad Hafeez (10) and Shoaib Malik (19) as the asking rate kept mounting. 

The Pakistan captain, Babar Azam, played a decent knock of fifty but he could not finish the game. Having successfully reviewed leg-before decision which had gone against him, he was cleaned by the same bowler, Rashid Khan, while attempting a cross-batted swipe. 

Earlier Afghanistan staged a grand recovery, after having been reduced to 35 for four at the end of six-over power play, to post a competitive total of 147 for seven in their 20 overs. Skipper Muhammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran lifted them from a precarious 76 for six in 13th over with a fighting unbroken 71-runs stand off 43 balls. 

The Afghanistan contingent, which outnumbered Pakistanis in the stands, was silenced by brilliant performance of Imad Wasim, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf. They removed the dangerous power hitter Hazratullah Zazai for five-ball duck and Muhammad Shahzad for only eight in first 16 balls to put them under pressure. When Rehmanullah Gulbaz and Gulbadin Naib went for ten runs apiece, the Afghanistan batting was in tatters. But experienced Nabi and Gulbadin stood firm against spin cum peace attack to keep them in the contest. 

Due to the intense rivalry between two neighboring countries, the UAE Police remained on high alert in order to avoid any untoward incident. The match was contested in a tense atmosphere as supporters of both teams expected their respective countries to run away with the game.

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Babar eyes T20 World Cup semis berth by blasting Afghanistan


By Ehsan Qureshi in Dubai

(Pakistan News & Features Services)

High-flying Team Pakistan will be aiming semifinal berth of the ongoing ICC T20 World Cup by blasting Afghanistan in the third round match at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on October 29.

Skipper Babar Azam and his team have made a great impact and stamped authority by overwhelming favorites India and New Zealand in their first couple of matches to catch the attention of cricketing world. 

Pakistan, it may be recalled, had suffered huge setback when New Zealand, captained by Tim Latham, abruptly deserted the tour on September 13 on account of mysterious security threat and England followed suit. 

Pakistan’s preparations for the T20 World Cup were disrupted by the cancellation of both their home series and they were not being rated among the favorites for winning the trophy. But, as always, they lived to the reputation of producing the goods when least expected of them. 

They re-emerged on the horizon from nowhere to give India a heavy dose followed by teaching the Black Caps a security threat lesson by Haris Rauf with sizzling bombing of their powerful batting line up. 

However Pakistan’s match with Afghanistan remains of prime importance because of unpredictable nature of their opponents who are known and feared for performing giant-killing acts. 

Containing or getting rid of the big-hitting Hazratullah Zazai, Muhammad Shahzad and captain Muhammad Nabi early on and smart handling of top spinners Najibullah Zadran Mujeeb-ur-Rahman will also be crucial in Pakistan’s bid to progress to the knockout rounds. 
Keeping in view the confidence level and the current form of the green shirts, Pakistan appear firmly placed to retain their top place in the points table with another crushing victory on October 29.

 Pakistan’s resounding victory over India is still echoing in the nook and corner of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and everyone remained full of praise for Babar, Muhammad Rizwan, Shaheen Shah Afridi who brought to an end the supremacy of their fancied arch-rivals. 

The electronic media in particular with some former cricketers and analysts have been under fire for underestimating and even ridiculing the Pakistan team. However the Indian captain, Virat Kohli, won the hearts of cricket lovers across the globe with his sporting gesture of smiling and hugging Muhammad Rizwan who hit the winning runs. Kohli was widely hailed as a sporting giant. 

With Pakistan on song, Kane Williamson’s New Zealand team and Kohli’s India would now be left battling for second semifinal. One of these two teams is certain to be eliminated before the knockout rounds and much will depend on the fate of their clash on October 31.  

In the meantime, Australia, having never won a T20 World Cup title, brightened their chances for the semifinals when they thrashed Sri Lanka by seven wickets at Dubai International Stadium on October 28.    

The 2010 champions England stayed at the top of the points table in the Group-II with two emphatic wins, followed by Australia who have also won both their matches. Explosive left-hander David Warner returned to form with a dazzling 68 off 42 balls studded with ten fours as Australia chased down 155 for three in 17 overs. Skipper Aaron Finch smashed a rapid 37 off 23 deliveries spiced with five fours and brace of sixes. Steve Smith returned undefeated to ensure a cakewalk victory 

Earlier sent to bat, Sri Lanka were restricted to 154 for six in the allotted 20 overs. Kausal Perera and Charith Asalanka both hit 35. Leg-spinner Adam Zampa brought the Aussies on top with his spell of four overs, returning the impressive figures of two for 12 while left-arm speedster Mitchell Starc also snapped up a couple of scalps.

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October 15, 2021

Pakistan off to Dubai for ICC T20 World Cup with optimism


By Ehsan Qureshi

(Pakistan News & Features Services)
Captained by star batsman Babar Azam, Team Pakistan left for Dubai on October 15 with fair degree of optimism for the ICC T20 World Cup Cricket Tournament whose Super 12 round is due to commence from October 23. 

Before flying to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Babar dispelled the impression that Fakhar will be used as an opener, as he himself would continue to be opening the innings with Muhammad Rizwan. 

The continued downpour of hue and cry by former cricketers, media and others had finally compelled chief selector Muhammad Wasim to induct left-handed explosive opener Fakhar and former Pakistan captains, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Shoaib Malik, in the 15-member squad. 

Green shirts now look a balanced and potent combination. The whole nation and millions of Pakistani supporters are looking at the vastly experienced trio of Shoaib, Sarfaraz and Muhammad Hafeez alongwith the talented youngsters, Babar, Fakhar and Rizwan to inspire rest of the team to show their firepower in warm up matches and the main event to gladden their hearts. 

Short format specialist Shoaib will now be playing his sixth consecutive T20 World Cup and he is being expected to come up flying colors to bid farewell by bringing glory and honour for Pakistan. 

Australia will clash South Africa at Abu Dhabi and two-time champions West Indies take on England at Dubai on October 23. However the showpiece contest will be held the following day when the 2009 champions Pakistan will start their campaign against arch-rivals India, led by the flamboyant Virat Kohli. 

Although not many are rating Pakistan team very highly but their unpredictability makes them the most dangerous outfit and the Indians, who had won the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, will not commit the blunder of taking them lightly. 

Pakistan must win at least four matches of the group to have any realistic hope for a place in the semifinal. Besides India, New Zealand and Afghanistan may also prove to be hard nuts to crack but Pakistan will still be having a fair chance of moving ahead if they play to their potential. 

The qualifying phase of the event commence at Amert Stadium Oman from October 17 with eight teams in fray for four qualifying berths. Besides former champions Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland, Papua New Guinea, Namibia and hosts Oman will be battling it out in qualifiers. Oman will clash Papua New Guinea and Bangladesh will be up against Scotland on coming Sunday. 

In the meantime Pakistan hired fast bowling consultant Vernon Philander of South Africa, who has extensive training pace bowlers. The pundits, however, have expressed apprehension about immediate success due to limited time at his disposal. 

Pakistan’s newly appointed batting consultant and former Australia batting great Matthew Hayden, who is currently engaged in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL), will join the team in Dubai. With chief coach Misbah-ul-Haq and fast bowling coach Waqar Younis have stepped down, 

Pakistan’s cricketers have to adjust quickly to the methods pursued by interim coach Saqlain Mushtaq, to be assisted by Philander and Hayden.

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October 8, 2021

Fakhar, Haider and Sarfaraz finally inducted in Pakistan T20 World Cup squad


By Ehsan Qureshi 

(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Media pressure and public voice finally yielded results as the deserving trio of Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali and Sarfaraz Ahmed was belatedly inducted in 15-member Pakistan squad for T20 World Cup starting in United Arab Emirates from October 23. 

It had seemed that career of the 2017 Champions Trophy winning captain Sarfaraz Ahmed was over. But fortunes have fluctuated dramatically and he has forced his way back into the team in place of the much criticized Azam Khan. 

Fast bowler Muhammad Hasnain was axed from 18-member which also included three travelling reserve players Shahnawaz Dahani, Usman Qadir and now Khushdil Shah. Haider came into the team in place of Hasnain. 

Chief selector Muhammad Wasim, who named the controversial squad a couple of weeks ago, was facing wrath of media in particular and public in general. He must, however, be complimented for finally having bowed down to pressure and selecting a balanced squad. 

Some questions still remained unanswered as to why Wasim had named the national squad long ago when Ramiz Raja was waiting in the wings to take over leadership of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). 

Interestingly Wasim had blamed the cancellation of New Zealand and England tours, stating that it caused problems in analyzing the performances of the players. 

Poor performances of Azam Khan as a batter and wicketkeeper in National T20 Cup was reason of his ouster. While his Quetta Gladiators captain Sarfaraz Ahmed’s fine batting and keeping resurrected his career. 

Highly talented Haider Ali, who was hailed by English media after blazing debut half century, was out of the team due to his inconsistent performances. A couple of classy knocks in T20 Cup have earned his place in national team. 

The veterans, Shoaib Malik and Wahab Riaz, however, have failed to secure a place in the team as was being predicted by some quarters. 

In the meantime the T20 World Cup-bound Pakistan squad will hold a seven-day training and conditioning camp under bio-secure protocols at the National High Performance Centre and LCCA ground, Lahore, from October 10. 

The squad members, along with their family members, will join the bio-secure and undergo Covid-19 testing upon arrival. After returning negative tests, the players will be allowed to commence their preparations with the gym sessions at NHPC, the PCB announced in a news release. 

The players will hold training sessions at the LCCA Ground at 1:30 pm on October 11 and 12 while they are scheduled to play a practice match under the lights on October 14 which will start at 6 pm. No training activity has been scheduled for October 13.

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