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‘Sporting’ wickets?! 4 December 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Howzzat!! (aka the 'Honourable Game').
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It’s a well known and accepted fact that pitches in Australia, with the exception of WACA (Perth), are generally excellent for batting, in general – just check out Ponting, Hayden and Gilchrist’s average over the years! Or for that matter, Dravid, Tendulkar and Sehwag’s exploits a few seasons back. :-)  Sure, the SCG track (Sydney) helps the odd twirler later on, the Gabba (Brisbane) gets some cracks sometimes, but in general, these are pitches with true, consistent bounce and batting is generally as easy as at St John’s (Antigua) or Qaddafi (Lahore).

So do the Aussies get half the flak for these pitches that the curators and administrators (eg Mr. Bashir and the PCB) in the sub-continent get for very similar tracks? Of course not. Just as Australian players can get away with harrassing and insulting the umpire, abusing and sledging their opponents and even cheating without drawing any sanctions, it seems their curators and groundsmen are similary ‘above’ the law. I don’t  hear any calls for “sporting” tracks for the Ashes, or pitches that help both the batsmen and the bowlers.

A flat-track in Australia, such as the one for the current Adelaide Test (and also at the Gabba for the first Test) is accepted without an eyebrow being raised. Dull attritional cricket apparently makes for intriguing viewing, we are told, whilst the same stuff in Pakistan or India is called boring! Idiots like Sanjay Manjrekar couldn’t shut up about the current Karachi test pitch (Pak v WI), even though we had an exciting, interesting and conclusive match there – what about the Adelaide pitch then, Sanjay? Care to check out the scorecards for South Australia’s home matches for the last few seasons?!

hmm… is this a case of double-standards? Or just the usual bare-faced hypocrisy? :-)

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Hey, quit this Pommie Bashing! 25 November 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Howzzat!! (aka the 'Honourable Game').
5 comments

Hmmm seems ’tis the season for England bashing! In reality, some of the bashing is excessively harsh on England – the series is only two days old so a long way to go. In any case, Australia are the better team, playing in conditions well suited to them, so of course they should, and will, win. England are accused of being obsessed by the Ashes, but are they really? Hardly, they had a very good summer against Pakistan when they comfortably won the Tests and drew the ODIs – yes, the Ashes is the most important cricket trophy for them, but they still managed to turn out a very credible Test performance against the Pakistanis!

In any case, England’s Ashes obsession is nothing close to the Australians – in England, Ashes ranks way below other “key sporting events” in the public consciousness, whether it be the Soccer World Cup, the European Championships, the FA Cup, the UEFA Champions League, Royal Ascot, Rugby Union World Cup, Wimbledon, even the Boat Race. Ashes is not even available on normal, terrestrial TV – all of the others I have listed are, and many have blanket wall-to-wall coverage on all times whereas for cricket, even for most important cricket like the Ashes, only some in England can see delayed and very brief highlights whilst the rest can’t even see that without stumping up a fat wad of cash for good ole Uncle Rupert.

Compare this with the Aussies’ Ashes obsession – where that is undoubtedly the most important sporting event in their most important sport – this in a country which is perhaps, per capita, the most successful in the most number of sports, yet is still fixated on a two inch urn. The Ashes has a very special place in their culture, and everyone, from the Prime Minister in Canberra down to the road-sweeper outside the Wolloongabba will be focused on one thing, and one thing only, for the next few weeks, and that will be Pommie bashing – that’s how it was in Douglas Jardine’s days and that is how it still is.  It would be a national calamity there if home Ashes were ever taken off Channel 9 and free-to-air terrestrial TV there and a tragedy of unprecedented proportions if Ricky actually managed to lose the Ashes twice in a row, given the personnel at his disposal. In national surveys, overwhelming majorities of Australians always confirm the Ashes as being the single-most important sporting event for them, in any sport, anywhere. Hence, if anyone is obsessed with the Ashes, its the Aussies – and frankly, why ever not – its a free world!

As for the oft-repeated mantra that England “don’t have bottle” or “are simply no good”, then, I am not so sure. After all, this same England side did beat us Pakistanis fair and square in the summer in the Tests, and to the surprise of many, even managed to draw the ODIs, this despite Pakistan having full use of its fabled and famed first-choice pace attack. Of course, us neutrals can prattle on for hours or even days about how England are woeful or the Aussies are past-it, but probably better to rely on the views of someone who is actually there.

I quote below from two posts by Seamer on WAT – this chap’s an experienced cricket follower. And he was at the Gabba for both of the first two days. He is a Queensland local, and as is the wont for residents of that state, is a staunch Aussie in every way, shape and form. He is also not someone who is averse to a bit of Pommie bashing. The views quoted below thus have added relevance, coming as they do from a strong Aussie supporter:

Post 1

A great two days for an Aussie fan. Glad i was there for them. I am not too keen to make series predictions yet though – i still think the series will be close, though there is little doubt Aus will go 1-0 up at the Gabba.

It was really bad toss for England to lose. A dry hard wicket that is already starting to crack up both down and across the wicket. There is still plenty of runs there, but batting will get progressively harder each hour the test goes on.

Anderson and Harmison failed to put the ball in the right spots and consistantly bowled too short or too full. Flintoff of course was superb and contrary to what others are saying, so was Hoggard. Giles tossed it up and to his credit bowled in a quite attacking fashion but he, Panaser or any other finger spinner was always destined to struggle on the Gabba

Flintoff is tactically inept IMO. So is Ponting too i suppose, so both teams cancel each other out in the captaincy stakes at least.

The hot, humid weather was brutal, but i was surprised at the level of England fitness. They bowled and fielded well for the entire innings. Hoggart’s effort to nail both Ponting and Gilchrist in his 29th over is an example of the tenacity showed by most of the English team (with the exception of Harmison – i would be absolutely ashamed of myself if i was him)

My conclusion is England are definately up for the challenge – England teams from bygone years would have broken but this lot did not. Despite the seemingly one sided state of affairs, England actually looked good from my perspective from the sidelines. Australia can be well pleased of their efforts too and there can be no doubt they are hungry and keen for revenge.

This series might well live up to the hype yet.

Post 2

Yes there are many reasons why the Aussies will be highly motivated. Revenge for sure, all the barbs at there age, and home ground advantage. They will take some beating.

But i am just saying that while on the surface England look like they are playing poorly, they are not. They were generally sharp in the field, and Flintoff, Hoggard and to a lesser degree Giles, bowled really well through the entire innings under very difficult conditions. Jones was awesome behind the stumps too.

I have been watching Gabba test for over a decade and this was the first time in ages that the opposition did’nt get mentally broken. They were bested, but not broken. They have earned my respect after watching them the last two days in any case. Drop Anderson, have Harmison find form and win some tosses and game on IMO.

So all in all, yes, England will probably lose the Ashes this time. But not because they are woeful, but because this is a truly special Australian team, playing together perhaps for the last time, in its own back-yard. These southern hemisphere types generally don’t need any additional motivation, but here, we can add in the sheer humiliation of being the first team to lose the Ashes for 18 odd years – the “Dad’s Army” of Antipodean cricketers would like to set the record straight. Two of them in particular: Warne & McGrath. All-time greats, both of them; would they really even countenance ending their glorious careers by losing to the Poms twice in a row, and this time, in their own back-yard?

Think about it.

Super Pak? 30 May 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Howzzat!! (aka the 'Honourable Game'), Land of the pure...and the not so pure.
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Trust Niamat (aka AE) to come up with something rather heart-warming even whilst dissecting Muralitharan's action and the ongoing Eng v SL series:

Finally, I want to bring attention to Umpiring. In current times, with hundreds of cameras, amazing slow high-definition that shows the most incredible details, and then all this 'hawk-eye' technology that tells us exactly where the ball would hit the stumps in LBW decisions, the pressure on the Umpires to continually get it right is incredible.

Step up Super Pak.

Aleem Dar has taken the Umpiring world by storm – it's almost as if he has cameras showing him replays in his eyes! The amount of decisions that he has got right has been phenomenal, not to say that the other umpires are not being equally proficient, but it's great to know that Dar Saab is now the greatest Umpire in the game, and for a country that doesn't have a clue about justice, impartiality, equality and respect for the law, the world's greatest judge in cricket is our very own Aleem Dar.

I found the last sentence wonderfully poignant.

  • A Laptop – $ XX
  • An internet connection and card – $ YY
  • Reading Abu Eesa after a gap of 4 weeks – priceless.

I have been travelling (just work) for the past few weeks, and been snowed under with various other things – hence the paucity of activity here, which I am sure was noticed by both of my 2.4 readers. :-) Back now, so both of you can expect some serious updates over the next few days, Insha Allah.

Indian domination of cricket (off-field that is – we all know they can’t dominate on it!) 1 May 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Howzzat!! (aka the 'Honourable Game'), Saaray jahan se acha...?! eh?.
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The recent award of the 2011 Cricket World Cup to a joint bid from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh has received some flak in the usual quarters. Australia and New Zealand had a very good bid already on the table; did an excellent job when they last staged the tournament (1992 was the best-ever World Cup – that is the general consensus the world over); and should have staged 2011 if there was any 'rotation' policy. In any case, theirs was the only bid on the table and they met all the requirements – the ICC had to bend its own rules to even accommodate the Asian bid.

However, the big bucks offered by the sub-continent proved too alluring for the ICC members and money carried the day. What does this mean for cricket administration? Are we going to see an era of Indian-dominance? Controlling and managing cricket was once the exclusive remit of the MCC in Lord's and the Imperial Cricket Conference. Have we, after decades of the 'gora sahab' lording over us natives, finally replaced one tyranny with another? Many think so, including some sensible cricket followers on this excellent cricket forum.

I beg to differ. We are not entering an era of Indian domination over cricket; all we are seeing is that in cricket, as in most other things in our 'wonderful' capitalist and money-grubbing society, money talks. The main concern, of one country riding rough-shod over the wishes of everyone else, a la the old MCC/TCCB/ICC combine, is somewhat misplaced; the current scenario is one where 'money is king', and marketing diktat rules cricket. So whatever their colour, creed or nationality, it's the sponsors and the money men who call the shots. India just happens to have more money and more sponsors than any other country, but certainly not a majority of either; hence, its decisions have to be mutually beneficial for other countries and boards too, otherwise they will not accept them. The ECB, CA, PCB, etc only play ball with India because it is in their own financial interest to do so – the moment there is a better deal on the table, all these other boards are at complete liberty to go seek it, unlike the old system where everyone had no choice, theoretical or practical, of going against the ingrained institutional racism of the MCC.

Yes, if India/BCCI had unbridled power, where they forced everyone against their will to play by their rules, it would be a concern. That is not the case, however. The President of the ICC is not Indian, he is a Pakistani; the all-powerful ICC Chief Executive has been an Aussie for a very long time indeed; there are ten members on the Elite panels of umpires – not one is an Indian; there is no Indian Match Referee; and from chucking to sponsorships, there are a whole host of issues where the Indians would feel they have been getting a very raw deal indeed. I don't really see an all-encompassing Indian influence here, malign or otherwise. All this is far cry from 30/40 years ago, when the umpires, the administrators, the decision makers, the money men, the rule makers and the arbitrators were all from a very narrow strata of English society – those guys did not even represent England, let alone represent or speak for the whole world. Hence, the current situation is not comparable. It is a democracy, where like all other capitalist democracies, self-interest rules.

The World Cup issue also proves that India is powerless to act on its own; it needed the support of other South Asian boards even to bid for this World Cup; and if you know anything about South Asian politics, you will know that supporting India does not come naturally to Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis! In fact, they would only do so when offered some very substantial incentives indeed, such as the case here. PCB supported India because this was a good, nay a very good, deal for them. India cannot make decisions to the detriment of other countries, it needs their support; the key difference is that unlike in the dim and distant past, we have a democracy now.  

I am also not sure what this concern with the "late submission" of the Asian bid is – a red herring, if ever there was one. The World Cup is in 2011, ie over six years away! That's 2,200 days (almost) – what difference does late submission by 10 or 15 or 23 days make? It is completely irrelevant. There was only one bid on the table – it may have been excellent, it may have been atrocious – surely a fair appraisal could only be made once that bid was compared to another. As long as the decision was based on the merits of the bid, I see no issue.

And as far as we know, the decision was made on the merits. It would be a concern if the poorer bid won, or if the second bid missed out many key requirements; but if the only gripe against it is that some paperwork was delayed, then I am afraid that is just bureaucratic piffle.

So is there no cause for concern? Not quite. The influence of money or TV-men or corporate marketing is certainly not wholly benign; far from it. However, this influence is global and all-pervasive, and the BCCI is almost incidental to it. I do agree though that there are certain elements in the BCCI who would like to exercise such influence over global cricket, and such elements must be resisted and ridiculed; anyone got any good Lalit Modi/BCCI jokes? :-)

The Story of Two Pathans . . . 29 March 2005

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Howzzat!! (aka the 'Honourable Game').
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After the epic fightback at Mohali, Pakistan have pulled another rabbit out of the hat and actaully won the Bangalore Test . This performance definitely has shades of the 1987 Bangalore victory; whilst 1987 was probably the greatest Pakistani win of all time, the current one is special too – it was certainly achieved against greater odds and with a 'weaker' team. How many of us actually believed we could draw this series against India? Come on, be honest! :-)

Yes, this was a herculean team effort, and everyone, even Sami and Yasir Hameed, did their bit very well.. they are all heroes and deserve plaudits, but maybe, the real heroes of this match, apart from the obvious Inzamam, are two Pathans, with vastly different styles, approaches and mindsets: Younis Khan and Shahid Khan Afridi. One a sensible, level-headed, intelligent, hard-working vice-captain from Mardan…. the other a hot-headed, tempetuous, street-fighting die-hard from the Khyber Agency. One grew up in cosmopolitan Karachi, and is the team's glamour boy and its hearththrob, complete with the ludicrous hair-do… whilst the other has his roots in the harsh surrounds of the Frontier regions, still plays some of his domestic cricket in the Frontier and is almost as modest and self-effacing as Inzi; in short, a gentleman who plays the game as it should be played… definitely not a glamour boy!

But both played with great heart, achieving everything for their country, and outplaying India's best ever team in its own backyard. Credit also to Inzi and Woolmer, for allowing both of them to play the second Test. After the epic face-saving draw at Mohali, they could have opted to play it safe and continue with Butt, but they opted to bring in some fire-power in the shape of Afridi. They could also have given in to loud public pressure to drop YK after Mohali, but they stuck to their guns and look how handsomely they have been rewarded.

Afridi's bowling was excellent in patches in the two Tests he played, though ordinary at other times. On the fifth day though, he was as close to unplayable as you can get on a relatively benign track. In four innings during this series, he snapped up the biggest wicket of all, that of Sachin Tendulkar, three times. Alongwith the peerless Glenn McGrath, a certain Pathan from Karachi can now also rightly say that the world's greatest batsman is his bunny! He bowled with great intelligence, using his variety, and some clever deceptions…if only he batted with so much brains!

And so to his batting…well what can I say that has not been already said.. The only reason Pakistan made such an excellent start on Day 4, was thanks to that man Afridi. He really batted like no one else can, especially against the Indian pace bowlers. No one, not even Kumble, was shown any respect by the man from Karachi and Khyber, despite facing some very negative bowling. Pathan's first five overs went for 45; Balaji's three for 26. Ganguly had to try something different and so SRT was given the ball in the 11th over. Both Kumble and Tendulkar resorted to bowling leg spin aiming for the rough well outside the batsmen's legs, just to nullify the Afridi effect!

Well done Affers.

And Younis Khan… over 500 runs in the series, at an average in excess of 100! When was the last time one of our guys got 500 in one series, and that too in a three Test series? 350 runs in the last Test alone. 2 excellent catches on the very last day. 100% commitment in the field, every minute of every day. Excellent support to Inzi as the vice-captain. Great perspective on life, so not getting too serious about what is still just a game. Tremendous levels of fitness, to still be running so hard for singles when on 260 odd… staggering levels of stamina to appear to be the most agile fielder on the 5th day today, after he has been in the field for almost 29 hours!* Astonishing really, this man is more defatigueable than the Duracell bunny….

The complete team player too, happy to do whatever his team wants. Open? Yes sir, I will. Come in at number three? Of course. Bat at no.7 with the tail? Sure, why not. Field at first slip the whole day? With pleasure. Catch at short-leg? Would love to. Be the v/c and run the show with Inzi? For the team, yes. Keep wickets even though you are not a keeper? Yes, of course I would. YK, for me, personifies the team ethic, and has done for a while, but I was never convinced about his batting technique and longevity till now. It is a pleasure to see that finally he merits a place in the side as a batsman too! An FPC** without a doubt ….

Two cricketing heroes to salute today…!

* He was in the dressing room only for the first 6 mins and the last 2 mins of our first innings, and then the first 62 mins of our second innings. That makes 70 mins in the dressing room over the full five days, and so the remaining time, he was out there in the field for over 29 hours, giving 100%. Astonishing….

** Future Pakistan Captain

Is this finally a sign of better things to come? 13 March 2005

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Howzzat!! (aka the 'Honourable Game').
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So Pakistan have achieved what we all thought was impossible, and managed to draw the first Test at Chandigarh/Mohali (scorecard). Sure, we may not win the current series, or even another Test, but this one draw feels better than many of the wins we have had, and that is purely due to the manner in which parity was achieved.

For the first time in a long, long while, the Pakistan team has finally shown some fight, some backbone during this Test. Of course, the greatest exhibition of this fightback was the much maligned Mr. Abdul Razzaq – perhaps the only guy from either side who totally curbed his natural game, in fact went against every single instinct in his body, his mind and his soul, and exhibited monastic abstinence. Eventually, Abdul Razzaq's marathon effort was worth more than many a Test hundred and double hundred. He ended up facing more deliveries than anyone else from either side in the whole Test, even Sehwag, Tendulkar, Inzi or Dravid.

But the fightback was by no means a one-man show. It was epitomised and personified by Razzy, yes, but it was a team-effort, and everyone, or almost everyone at least, contributed manfully, led by the brilliance of Kamran Akmal on Saturday (Day 5). In fact, yesterdday's (Day 5's) fightback was made possible first and foremost by the resolute displays in the field on Day 3. Make no mistake about it; Pakistan came back strongly on that day after Sehwag's dismissal, and hence I believe it is incorrect to say we played well on one out of five days only – we had two good days, and three relatively poor ones.

According to most journalists covering the match, Day 3 belonged to Pakistan. We were seriously under the cosh after Day 2, but to come back with grit in the second part of Day 3, and take 5 wickets for 265 runs over the three sessions, was pretty good. Showed that the boys could bounce back; Inzamam provided indications that he could act interested on the field sometimes, instead of his usual lethargy; the pacers, Sami in particular, showed they can learn, and wonder of wonders, actually bowl to a field! Woolmer showed that his laptop is not just for visiting dubious websites, and he can actually perform meaningful analysis through it; to be fair, I am sure he performs meaningful analysis everyday, but today, the analysis was actually implemented by Inzi, Sami, Kaneria and others.

After the lunch on Day 3, Pakistan were able to completely dry up India's scoring, so much so that India made only 129 runs in the 60 overs between lunch and close of play. This at a stage when India were right on top, Pakistan's backs were to the wall and there could be only one winner in the Test! For Pakistan to have fought back so strongly, when they restricted India to 59 runs from 29 overs in the afternoon session, was remarkable, and not something I was expecting.

This is the significance of that display in the field; it was so unexpected, and so out of character, if we keep in mind our repeated failures of the past 6-7 years. After the mauling on Day 2 from Sehwag and Gambhir, we were all fearing more of the same, similar to Multan and Pindi last year, when India went in front and drove home the advantage. But did Pakistan wave the white flag on Day 3, as we were all expecting? Did they surrender tamely? Heck, no! This time around, Inzi, Woolmer and the boys actually showed some spirit, some pride in wearing the star, and a lot of common sense in the field.

The greatest Pakistan teams, of 1987/88, and of 1992, were great not due to the galaxy of stars they had – the 1987/88 side, to my mind our best ever, did not have that many stars, but had an enviable team ethic. In its professionalism, its fighting spirit, and its never-say-die attitude, that team is unique amongst all sub-continental cricket teams, heads and shoulders above anything else from these shores. Do the twin fightbacks of Day 3, and then Day 5, mean we have finally found some spine, some fightback, the ability to play as a team? We shall see!

Of course, it is quite possible for Pakistan to have at least one staggering batting collapse in their remaining four innings in the series, where the whole team spectacularly self-implodes for 100 or 150 or 200. But maybe, just maybe, this Test was a turning point, a sign of better things to come, a watershed in post-Imran Khan Pakistan? I am not talking about winning meaningless ODIs, or one-off Test wins off the back of Shoaib's or Kaneria's heroics with the ball. I am talking about a team, beginning to finally fight and work as a team, and make the most of its limited talents. We all know that for the past 6-7 years, both our bowling and batting have been at their weakest ever, but if we begin to play as a team, and have some backbone, some fight to our game, all of us would be happier, I am sure!

This draw actually makes me happier than the last four ODI wins over India combined, as it shows we actually have some fighting spirit… after a loong loong while, the team played like Imran's cornered tigers and exhibited some pride, and a never-say-die attitude!

I was certainly not expecting Saturday's epic events, and the fantastic rearguard action. I am as delighted as everyone else here, so well done boys…. now let's see whether this is a new beginning, or yet another false dawn!