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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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.

>ICC Farce Awards 2009

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It is disappointing to say the least. And each year my passion for following them weakens and desire to write a review disappear. Next year, I may not even comment about the ICC Cricket Awards.
It seems you have to be an Australian or an Indian to have an impact at the award ceremony. All other players will be ignored even if they perform extraordinarily. Umar Gul, has been a master in the death overs for many years. His performance has twice taken Pakistan to the final of World 20/20 and winning many other crucial matches. Shahid Afridi’s leg spin, in all forms of the game, is now the most lethal among all currently playing spinners. Greme Smith has led his team to a Test #1 spot and many great victories during the preceding year. Yet, all these and more such great players do not find themselves ranked among the best. Or even worthy of any awards.
Dhoni being named captain of Test and One-day eleven is nothing but a farce! Chosen over Greme Smith, Ricky Ponting and even Yunus Khan! I mean, all three captains performed far better than Dhoni in the preceding year and yet they were left out. If it were Ricky Ponting or Greme Smith, I could have understood. But please, Dhoni! He is worthless when they play outside India and against great teams.
Gautham Gambhir as the best test cricketer! Really, he cant even be a regular in the team and keeps getting dropped and yet he is awarded with the Test Player of the Year! Whatever happened to all other great stars during this time? What happened to greats like Kevin Peterson, Kumar Sangakara, Jayawardene, Greme Smith, AB DeVillears, Yunus Khan, who are regulars and perform well in all conditions. What wrong did they do for not being chosen!
As regards, the Test team of the year. It does not feature anyone from Pakistan or South Africa. It’s a shame not to include anyone from there especially when Greme Smith, Yunus Khan and Muhammad Yusuf are currently ranked among the top 10 batsmen in the world. It seems, stats count for nothing and performance is secondary when it comes to ICC annual awards in cricket.
ICC seems to only reward Indians and Australians more so over the rest of the world. It not only belittles the world’s contribution to the game of cricket, it actually makes the award biased. If the award does not get balanced soon, it will loose its charm and will only be remembered as a ICC Farce award!

IPL – A beginning of an end

IPL League

IPL League

For the past many years, BCCI (Board for Control of Cricket in India) has used strong arm tactics to dictate its terms and vision to the rest of the cricket playing nations. There have been lots of complaints from organizers, respective cricket boards and even the die-hard fans. But ICC (International Cricket Council) has done nothing to control the growing, at times, abusive power of the BCCI.

BCCI’s latest venture, IPL (Indian Premier League) is just another attempt by which the world of cricket is kept hostage to the Indian Board’s whims. The idea of a premier league was originally borrowed from ICL (Indian Cricket League) which the BCCI banned for no apparent reason. ICL, led by former Indian Captain and legend Kapil Dev, has been clamoring for recognition from BCCI as well as ICC, but to no avail. ICC keeps referring them back to BCCI which in turn keeps refusing them audience.

IPL Cheer Leaders

IPL Cheer Leaders

It is no co-incidence that IPL has copied many elements from the hugely successful ICL, including foreign players mixed in with Indian greats. There is also a requirement to play a few juniors in each team. There are even cheer leaders with each team  to get fans into a frenzy, not unlike the cheerleaders in America’s NBA or NFL. These and other innovations to the game have been blatantly copied by IPL from ICL. The reward for ICL so far has been, that it has not been recognized at any level. And all  stars who play in the league get an automatic suspension from representing at the international level for their respective home countries. Hence, cricket greats like, Abdul Razzaq (Pak), Brian Lara (West Indies), Shane Bond (New Zealand), Damien Martin (Australia) have been outrightly banned from national duties.

Quite recently, their under arm tactics have lost them many fans even in Pakistan. Their recent one-sided decision to drop all Pakistanis from their league is another blatant attempt to show their hegemony over the sport. Players like Sohail Tanveer (highest wicket taker in the inaugural tournament), Shoaib Akhtar (the media show man and a crowd puller), Shahid Afridi (The fans favorite) are left in the cold while the next edition of the tournament gets underway this weekend in South Africa. In fact, even the Pakistani umpires (who actually represent ICC and not their respective countries) have been dropped without any logical reason.

The players from Pakistan are beginning to get together to sue the league for damages as the league owes them close to 4 million dollars and according to the contract they cannot take one sided decision.

And oh, the world media is also boycotting this year’s IPL in South Africa as the terms and conditions enforced by the BCCI are considered unsuitable for open and impartial journalism. Therefore, this year’s event will not be covered by the media as a whole.

This ugly situation by BCCI is enough to get any fan to turn away. Already, there is a huge disappointment in Pakistan (one of the world’s most cricket crazy nation) and chances are the TV viewership will plummet drastically as a whole in South Asia.

There are some growing concerns among the fans of cricket as well. We wonder who actually manages cricket? Is it BCCI or ICC? Why is ICC letting BCCI dictate its terms? Just because BCCI can throw a few dollars here and there, should we actually forget our morals and ethics to appease them? Would such tactics bring in more fans or will just turn them away?

I for one see it as the beginning of an end. Such tactics and many others will only result in fans turning away to other sports. BCCI should heed to the cliché, what goes around, comes around. The dangerous game that they are playing will one day come to bite them and bite hard it will!

Bring on ICL franchise to Pakistan

Indian Cricket League

Indian Cricket League

The cricket community generally belonging to the Australian and the European continent are reluctant to travel to Pakistan due to their absurd security concerns (as discussed earlier in my blog). Thus, depriving the fans here in Pakistan of much sought after cricket extravaganza. In fact, 2008 will go down in history as one of the “dead” years when no Test Cricket is played in Pakistan. Barring a few one day matches, the year has been a barren for Pakistan Cricket and a game-less season for the fans.

Meanwhile, just across the border, in India, a rebel cricket league is keeping the fans here in Pakistan glued to the Television screens. Indian Cricket League, or ICL is currently playing 20/20 style of cricket with some of the best talent from across the world  led by some of the greats of International cricket including Inzimam ul Haq, Abdul Razak, Saqlain Mushtaq (Pakistan), Damien Martin, Jason Gillespie (Australia), Brian Lara (West Indies), Marvin Attaputu (Sri Lanka), Murray Goodwin (Zimbabwe), Andrew Hall (South Africa) among many others. In fact, there is now a team from Pakistan called Lahore Badshahs and one from Bangladesh as well.

Now here is an idea. Let’s invite the teams from ICL to come and play competitive cricket here in Pakistan. In fact, let’s extend the tournament to include venues in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi among other cities and give us fans the chance to see some of the biggest cricket stars slug it out in the middle. Just because ICC sanctioned teams do not want to play cricket in Pakistan does not mean the ICL teams will not travel here. I bet, all of them will be here the moment they get a chance.

So let’s not wait and make this request immediately to Kapil Dev, the foremost Indian cricketer of yester-years and now CEO of ICL. So Mr. Kapil Dev, if you ever get to read this blog, then make it a point to discuss this option with the players and teams and expand your franchise right here inside Pakistan. We will welcome you with open arms. Heck, I am even ready to help organize it. Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) may raise a few objections to such an event, but then again, when did ICL ever needed to ask anyone for permission to organize matches. Besides, PCB has failed to organize any serious cricket this year in Pakistan so their objections have no meat.

The second question is whether the sponsors will join in the bandwagon to make it a financial success? Of course! Already, Lahore Badshahs have Telenor (Pakistan’s second largest mobile operator) splattered all across their jerseys. And almost all major brands are advertising heavily on television (and any other medium possible) during the tournament as they all know and understand quite clearly, that Pakistani cricket fans love cricket and ICL is providing them with the a great opportunity to watch some competitive matches.

Cricket a great spectator sport with a following of over a billion worldwide. Every living person has a right to organize, play and watch this great game as they please regardless of any board, any country or any person.

Can Anyone Monopolize Cricket?

ICC might be the governing body, but do they really control everything that is cricket? Do Country Boards like PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board), BCCI (Board for Control of Cricket in India), ACB (Australian Cricket Board) and others have monopoly over cricket in their respective countries? Or do they “perceive” they have such powers? It is quite disheartening to note that ICL has been construed as a rebel league and that most of the players who play in that league have been banned by their respective boards (barring probably England) from all forms of cricket, first class inclusive.

Now, say Roger Federer, the great tennis star, plays in a match that is not sanctioned by ITF, would he be banned from playing in Wimbledon tournaments? Does ITF have monopoly over it? Or if Tiger Woods decides to play for a little known golf tournament or league in China not sanctioned by the official body, would he be banned from all Golf tournaments? Does anyone monopolize Golf?

ICL or Indian Cricket League is a revolutionary concept to take hold in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. For the first time, in the history of the South Asian cricket, there is a league that offers competitive salaries for playing matches of first class cricket quality. It also is probably the first time when large crowds are actually going to the stadiums to watch competitive cricket other than international matches. Yes, local leagues and first class matches have never really garnered any spectators in South Asia. However, since it is not sanctioned by BCCI in India or ICC (International Cricket Council) internationally, most of the cricket boards decided to ban their players (first class inclusive) from participating. Despite such punitive measures, giants of Cricket including Inzimam ul Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Brian Lara opted to quit International cricket and play in the league. Now even some lesser known players from around the world have joined the league including Taufiq Umar, Imran Farhat from Pakistan and Andrew Hall (South Africa) and Franklin Rose (West Indies) and many others.

The Pakistan first class cricket structure is so badly designed that there are just a few quality matches in a year and the salaries for professional cricketers is nothing short of pittance. Hence, when ICL came along, many potentially good cricketers decided to sign up to make those extra dollars and thus forgoing a chance to represent Pakistan at national level. Take the example of fine cricketers like Taufiq Umar, Imran Farhat who have played test cricket for Pakistan in the past, but don’t seem to find a regular place within the Test team these days. The salary of a professional cricket who does not play for Pakistan is probably not much higher than a clerk’s monthly income. Therefore, these talented youth opted to make some extra money by joining the ICL in India this year and played the whole season. However, our board reacted sharply against it and have already moved to ban all players who play in ICL from not only from the national team, but also from the first class matches within the country.

It just does not add up. The Board does not pay well and makes them live on a frugal salary. Yet if they find a league to make some extra money on their own time, they are banned from representing the national team and playing competitive cricket in their country. The punishment is so severe that it is worse than the punishment one gets for taking illegal substance to enhance their performance. It is totally bizarre!

The concept of control and punishment is as old as the colonial mindset. In today’s world, it has no place. The boards should be enablers and supporters of promoting sports in this era and age. Cricket is a spectator sport with fans now in billions. We do not like to see the boards tell us what we can see and what we cannot. So step back and let us all enjoy the game and if someone wants us to see better cricket, be it ICL, embrace it, not ban it like some maniac dictator.