Afridi does an Afridi!

Shahid Afridi - Asia CupI mean wow! Shahid Afridi’s two sixes in two balls sealed the fate of the Pakistan vs India’s game in favor of the defending champions, Pakistan at the Asia Cup group match. While billions of hearts sank in India, another 200 million supporting Pakistan worldwide felt a new life run through their veins.

Never have I seen Twitter, Facebook, News media and SMS flutter with so many congratulatory messages before. #Lala is a trending topic, and so is #Boomboom on Twitter. Open your Facebook timeline in Pakistan, and chances are Lala’s heroics are the only thing on it.
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Cricket Champions Trophy – Pakistan the favorites?

ICC Champions TrophyAnother major ICC tournament is up for grabs and yet again, Pakistan is ranked among the favorites to lift it.

Since crashing out of the World Cup 2007 in the first round, Pakistan has shown remarkable consistency by reaching at least the semi-final stages of all the six major ICC tournaments to date. On their way, they were able to make it to the final of two (winning one of them, World T20 2009 in England) and semi-finalist in the other four. This is remarkable, considering they are the only team to have played so many semi-finals or finals so far. The other team that comes close is Sri Lanka with 5 such appearances since 2007 World Cup Final. However, Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has not won anything yet, even though they were in the finals four times.

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IPL is nothing but a circus

Ban IPL

Photo courtesy of BBC. Ban IPL

If you (BCCI) can build a business (IPL) on greed and not Cricket, then do not cry foul if cricketers and bookies also have the same mission.

I had always contended IPL is nothing more than a circus. The recent investigations by Indian Police that spot-fixing is ripe in Indian Premier League (IPL) have made it abundantly clear that none of the matches are a reliable and taint-free day in the field.

It is not just the fringe players out to make some quick bucks, but some of the leading Indian cricketers are found guilty of the offense. To make matters worse, now even the IPL owners are under Police investigation leading one to speculate, is everything reallyCricket?

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Tour with Pakistan Cricket as a Fan

Pakistan Cricket TeamThis year (2012), Pakistan has almost exclusively played in the neighborhood. Most of their matches (barring a few) have been played England in UAE (Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Asia Cup in Bangla Desh and bilateral series in Sri Lanka. Later this year, they will take on Australia in UAE, T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka and a bilateral series with India in India.

At the same time, it is disheartening to see half empty stadiums and just a few scattered Pakistan cricket fans supporting our team against the best in the world.

Would it not be great if Pakistan Cricket Board announced a tour package for the fans. A package that includes basic amenities like:

  • Visa for the country where the games are played
  • Travel tickets through the air lines (preferably a local like PIA, Air Blue or Shaheen Air)
  • Hotel options where we can choose to stay
  • Tickets to the games (we can choose how many we want to see)
  • Pick and Drop from the airport. It could be cheaper if fans band together in one bus.
  • Local sight seeing and shopping options. Places like Sri Lanka, Dubai do offer great opportunities
  • And a chance to have a dinner (paid of course) with the team during the tour

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Can Australia, England or India lift the Cup?

It is worth a thought. But can Australia, England, India or South Africa succeed in lifting the cup? Based on the cricket played in the past one year it is clear that these teams are well placed above the rest to lift the coveted cup. Australia, having soundly beaten England in a recent one day series, while India and South Africa have triumphed over opponents have made their case for lifting the trophy very strong.

Pakistan has not shined in a worldcup since their final appearance in 1999. In fact, since that time, they have had spectacular exists in 2003 and 2007 worldcups. Making the worldcup campaign moot. This time round, they are without the services of some of their best fast bowlers (Asif and Aamir) who are sadly banned for at least two worldcups (including this one) and therefore, are limping into the tournament with not a strong bowling attack. Their openers are beginning to score runs, which is rare, but can they last the form in the tournament only time will tell. Without the top order firing, Pakistan will have a hard time even winning the quarter final.

New Zealand have had a torrid time in the recent past and therefore their chances of even making to quarterfinals are remote. While Bangladesh cannot get their act together for more than a game to even scare any of their opponents. They might win an odd game here and there but that’s where their World Cup campaign will wither away.

West Indies have not really fired since the 1983 World Cup Tournament in England. Heck, they have not made even the semi finals since that time. And that is almost 30 years. Their chances of winning quarterfinals are very remote considering that they have hardly won any matches in recent past.

Sri Lanka, is probably the only team capable of breaking into the semi final lineup by causing an upset between our favourite four (India, Australia, England and South Africa). However, it is only an outside chance. They are the finalists of the 2007 worldcup so they do have some match winners among them, but time will tell if their campaign will go beyond Quarter finals.

The teams that make it to the semi-final are going to be India, Australia, South Africa and England. All these teams have tasted victory at all levels of the game and know what it takes to win. They will be pushing each opponent to their limit and will make it harder for the rest to win this tournament. If I had a choice of a winner among them, I choose a final between England and South Africa with South Africa finally lifting the Worldcup.

But in cricket, one never knows what is going to happen till it happens. So we shall have to wait, watch and see who finally lifts the coveted trophy.

ICC New Mantra – Frying Small Fish

ICC (International Cricket Council) has once again failed to live upto the expectations. Banning Asif, Aamir and Salmat Butt over spot fixing will not rid the sports of the match fixing. These are small frys. Players who will be replaced by the next generation willing to risk it all.

For almost twenty years, when Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were caught sharing information with bookies, world cricket is plagued by the match fixing allegations. The situation, like in Warne and Waugh’s case, was quickly brushed under the carpet and forgotten while in case of India and Pakistan, some bans have occurred. However, it were always the players being banned and never the real sharks, the ones calling the shots, the bookies themselves who have never been caught.

By banning Azhar, Malik, Butt or even Cronje the world is not better off. The sport is not even close to being clean from match fixing. Heck, the fixing will go on with new faces and new methods by the big money that bookies command.

ICC under Haroon Lorgat, needs to take this matter more seriously and needs to go beyond a behind the doors closed meeting to catch the culprits. By frying small fish like Aamir and Asif, they will not get anywhere.

Alas, this world cup, I will not be tuning in to see it. Its not because it is not exciting, but because ICC is willing to do half measures to save their own skin than really save the game for its true fans. Too bad, because cricket is a great sport and due to its administration handling it poorly, it is losing its fan base.

Today, Cricket Died. Period.

Stunned. Anguish. It does not even begin to express my emotions at this time.

Watching Pakistan under perform on such regular basis is always heart wrenching. Watching them lose matches from seemingly a winning position, was depressing and incredulous. But, as die hard fans of our team, we would always come out supporting the green shirts no matter how they fared in the field. Hoping against all odds, they would eventually overcome their short comings and give us victory like yester-years. Today, all that changed.

After shocking revelations in News of the World which was lapped up by the international media  on spot match fixing in cricket, I am now not only disturbed but utterly disgusted with the players who have literally played with our emotions for such a long time.

The under cover investigation claims that this has gone on for over two and half years and possibly much longer. And that the players themselves initiated this ring is rather alarming. The investigation claims as many as seven players are fixing the outcome including the captain Salman Butt, fast bowler Asif and Aamir and wicket keeper Kamran Akmal. The other players names were not revealed, but it is safe to say they are probably all batsmen. It did mention though that Shahid Afridi is not involved and that all these seven players are ganging up against him to oust him.

Last year, Yunis Khan dropped out of the cricket world saying he has lost the confidence of his players. Or was it the same players orchestrating his ouster, like they are doing today of Shahid Afridi? All these stories of infighting among team members really revolving around the match-fixing gang? If so, then the problem is far deeper than the seven named.

This is not the first time we have heard of spot betting and match fixing. The first I heard was in early 1990s when Shane Warne, Mark Waugh, two great Australians, were caught sharing some match information with bookies. Not dissimilar to what has happened today. However, they were fined (AUS$5,000 each) and the story was not aloud to go out till leaked many years later. Similar claims were made in India for Indian team when it was failing to win critical matches. Pakistan, South Africa also suffered from those allegations. Eventually, Hanse Cronje (South African Captain), Mohammad Azharuddin (India’s Captain) and Salim Malik (Pakistan Captain) received life bans and made the scape goat of the corruption within Cricket. Sadly, Australia never banned any of its players.

What the Cricketing body, ICC, did not do is investigate thoroughly and capture the rest of the gang of players in each team. Surely, Warne, Azhar, Hansie and Malik cannot throw a game or bowl/bat badly alone to change the outcome. They need support of others. Shockingly, ICC left it for the boards to decide the course of action for them and went sleeping. Players like Shane Warne (Australia), Sachin Tendulkar (India), Wasim Akram (Pakistan), among many others were internally reprimanded but never publicaly punished. They, like many other team members, were far too big a star and cricket brand to be publicly lynched. Sadly, spot fixing survived, under closed doors till this day.

ICC has no clue what is going on out there. Today, could be a great eye opener for them. But judging from their previous conduct, they will not budge from their sleeping position and refer it back to respective boards to sort out internally.  But if they continue to turn a blind eye to such matters, it is no secret that more people, like me, will turn their eyes away from cricket. In not so near future, we will have a time when young fans will no longer come out to support their teams. They will switch to other cleaner sports and ICC, which is now banking on a billion people audience for their billions in rights, will be competing for their attention with other sports. Time has come to not only fix the game but to catch/ban all those old timers who are still playing and enjoying the protection of their boards while participating (covertly) in spot fixing.

Its no secret that we have all heard of spot fixing, and we have all heard of incidents in cricket matches for many decades. We all know that incredible collapse and that spectacular batting performance is not always genuine. Especially, if the batsmen is part-timer and the bowler has bowled his first 5-wicket haul.

Dear ICC, your fans have been jolted to the reality. It’s time that you also wake up and smell the foul stench that surrounds your sports stars. Its not just limited to Pakistan, it has roots in every major Test playing nation. Standup and clean the cricket field, before we clean the bleachers and head for other sports arenas.