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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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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The Ancient Civilization’s Contribution to Modern World

AstroglobeI get miffed when a Western historian credits Europe for bringing the world out of dark ages with their Renaissance. I get miffed not because Europe is the savior, but because, there were no dark ages for most of the known world. Middle East, India, Persia and China were enjoying a period of great discovery, inventions, free thinking and open communications among distant lands.

Whenever you read classical Western history, it is usually summed up with “civilized” culture and literacy taking roots with Greeks, polished during Roman times and then after a long and bleak dark ages resurrected by the Europeans during Renaissance. Well, that could be the historical roots of Europe but certainly a wrong representation of the world.

The fact is that Science, literature, language, learning and culture is far older than any Romans or Greeks civilizations. And there were no dark ages sans Europe. The rest of the world led by the Arabs, Chinese and Indians were developing new engineering methods, laying the roots for mathematics, developing financial models of business including the first banks and cheques and building huge trade routes (Silk road) that span the whole of the then known world.

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Moin Akhter – Greatest Comedy Act of our Times

Moin AkhterThe greatest comedian ever to have been born in South Asia (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) played his last act today. Moin Akhter died today in Karachi, Pakistan when he suffered his second heart attack. He was 61.

I still remember with fond memories, when as a kid, I used to hear audio tapes of stand up comedy acts of Moin Akhter. Even to an 7 year old, he was funny. Really funny. My mom would put on the tapes to amuse us all. Not just the kids, but even 70 year olds could not stop but laugh at his jokes.

He was a big hit across the Indo-Pak subcontinent drawing in large audiences wherever he performed. Even some of his memorable  jokes made their way into Bollywood cinema and acted in the films by the greats like Amitabachan and Dharmindara.

He made it big on stage, as a stand up comedian traveling worldwide and entertaining people of all ages. His jokes were always family friendly and never crossed the border into what one may consider “Adult only” audience.

He respected his peers and elders and encouraged youngsters to make a name for himself. Moin Akhter was a truly gifted person. And he used it to perfection in every field he worked.

I share here a link to one of his memorable program on PTV in 1980s where we see him take on a banter with some of the greatest contemporaries of their time.

http://youtu.be/aT7enljEJsE

Comedy cannot be the same without him.

May Allah rest his soul in peace.

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.

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.

>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!

>Pakistan one up against India

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Pakistan 302 for 9 (Malik 128, Yousuf 87, Nehra 4-55) vs India 248 (Dravid 76, Gambhir 57, Ajmal 2-31, Afridi 2-39). Pakistan beat India by 54 runs.

Pakistan’s encounter with India at Centurian Park today could be dubbed as the final before the final of the ICC Champions Trophy tournament. Today, 1.2 billion people around the world were glued to their TV screens (and in some cases their Computer Screens) watching and tracking every bowl and every shot as if the world’s survival depended upon it.

There was tremendous pressure on players on both sides to perform beyond their natural capabilities. There was no room for error and every shot had to be perfect and every bowl, a wicket taking delivery. It was as if, cricketers were born and groomed to play today’s encounter.

When Pakistan batted, India’s bowlers went from being ordinary to being really “lifeless”. Even though they had made early inroads into Pakistani lineup by snaring the openers, yet Ishant Sharma, RP Singh or even Harbajan Singh were not really masters of their game. Spraying runs in boundaries and leaking singles regularly, they let the subdued batsmen come out of their shell and break free into a run fest rarely seen. With the result, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yusuf milked the Indian bowlers to their advantage. Scoring well over 200 runs in a better than run a ball partnership to lay the foundations for a big score for Pakistan.

While Afridi and Ajmal proved once again why Pakistan considers their spin duo as the most dangerous in the world, Harbajan Singh and Yusuf Pathan struggled to control their line and length. Pakistani spinners not only checked the run flow but took crucial wickets at critical junctures to break India’s back. Where Indian spinners found no spin and help from what seemed like a lifeless track, Afridi and Ajmal were able to outfox Indian batsmen, including Dravid, who is probably one of the best players of spin, into false strokes with regular intervals.

India had their moments though. Gautham Gambhir and Suresh Raina breaking out of their shell to score some quick runs in fours and sixes. Yet there was no method to their madness. It seemed, every bowl was there to be hit and every stroke had to be a six and that it was not a 50 over game but a T20 encounter. Contrast to that, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yusuf constructed their innings not on stupendously huge sixes, but on singles and doubles that were readily available through out the game. While Dravid, who played a well crafted 70,  never came out of his shell and nor really threatened to take the game away from Pakistan,  yet Malik, who took over 70 deliveries (Dravid like) to score his first 50, took half of that to score his next. His acceleration was not only Afridi like, but it really took India out of contention of ever getting back into the game.

There were some memorable moments in the game for Pakistan. Mohammad Aamir, Pakistan’s teen sensation was able to snare the wicket of Tendulkar (twice his age) early in his innings. And Shoaib Malik bettered his top score to 128 and probably played an innings of his lifetime. A quiet and subdued player, he has delivered more for Pakistan than he is credited for. It was also great to see Mohammad Yusuf playing one of his iconic knocks and steering Pakistan out of trouble into a comfortable victory seat.

It still needs to be seen if Pakistan can keep this winning streak going any longer. Three more games to win in a row (Australia, Semi Final and Final) before they can safely lift the Champions  trophy. Three more sensational matches to play. And if they played like they did earlier this year to lift the World T20 title, then they are truly the worthy Champions.

ICC can keep tournament out of Pakistan, but can the world keep the trophy away from Pakistan? Three more matches we will all know the truth.

Who will win Cricket Champions Trophy 2009?

ICC Champions Trophy Cricket

ICC Champions Trophy Cricket

Champions Trophy has always produced topsy turvy results. Giants have always crashed out early, while relative minnows seem to get to the top fairly regularly. There was even an instance when Sri Lanka and India shared the title rather than any single team declared victor (2002). And by the way, this is one tournament that South Africa actually has won. Yes, the inaugural tournament held in Dhaka (Bangladesh) in 1998 and a young and upbeat South Africa coached by Bob Woolmer beat out West Indies in the final. And West Indies, who are never ranked among the top 4 in one day cricket won it themselves in 2004.

This year the event is being held in South Africa. Based on the form of the teams and the unpredictable nature of the tournament, it is difficult to predict who will win it. Having said that, I will still predict the semi-finalists for this tournament.  Based on the consistent performance put up by the teams, I believe, the following four teams shall reach the semi-final

Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Pakistan

Sri Lanka is probably the most consistent side of them all. They have the most number of match winners whom one can rely on and therefore, their chances of not only making it to the semi-final but going beyond it are good. Their weakness will be batting on bouncy South African tracks. In the last T20 world cup final, Pakistan exposed this kink in their armor. All great teams get over their weaknesses, and if they did, then Sri Lanka may go on to win it again.

South Africa has begun to shape up like a team possessed for some greatness. They have started to win crucial matches with more consistency and therefore, with current form, it is likely they will reach the semi-final stages of the tournament. Their only weakness will be if their batsmen are able to keep the consistency going throughout the tournament. If not, then early curtains for them.

Australia after a complete drubbing of England (in one day matches) are poised to reach the semi-final. The team is learning fast and new boys are settling in. Most of the players have it in them to make the difference and therefore, it is easy to see them make it to the final four. Their only weakness would be if their batsmen fail to fire at the right times. If that happens, then early curtains for them.

I chose Pakistan as the fourth team over India and New Zealand. India, having just defeated both New Zealand and Sri Lanka in Columbo put up a strong case, but one reason for my dropping them is that they are not consistent enough outside of the subcontinent. Their fielding is weak and at times laughable. And in big tournaments like the Champions Trophy, it counts a lot. Hence, they are not likely to get among the top 4.

New Zealand have an outside chance but nothing more. Their team is suffering from lack of quality cricketers. They lack bowlers who can take wickets at crucial junctures and batsmen who can win them all on their own on a consistent manner. They have sparks of brilliance but nothing to write about.

And now why Pakistan? I must admit they are an outside chance. Only because, they now play the least amount of cricket among all the Test playing nations. Heck, Bangladesh gets away with playing more matches than them in a year. Pakistan’s lack of international cricket is what hides their true strength. They have superb match winning bowlers in Umer Gul and Mohammad Asif. Their batsmen like Yunus Khan and Mohammad Yusuf can win matches all on their own. With able support from Afridi and Ajmal in spin, Pakistan currently has a far balanced squad than either New Zealand or India.

Their lack of Cricket is also one of their strengths. The team is extremely well rested and hungry for victory. So they might seem rusty, but once they get going, boy it will be a treat to watch. T20 World cup a few months back showed their class and their strength. They demolished their opponents so consistently and with such finesse that cricket seemed like a child’s play.

I will not be surprised if Pakistan comes home with the Champions Trophy.

Win us the T20 World Cup Cricket

Go Pakistan Go and win the World T20 Cup

Go Pakistan Go and win the World T20 Cup

Watching Pakistan beat South Africa in the semifinal of the World Cricket T20 Championship last night was like watching a soaring eagle make a swift swoop from its perch to capture an unsuspecting prey with its claws. Throughout the match, South Africa struggled to loosen the stranglehold which Pakistan had placed around their neck, but in vain. In the end, they were agony filled short by seven runs from the penultimate target of 150 which many pundits had predicted would be easy pickings for South Africa. While the streets of Karachi and Lahore erupted with euphoria over reaching another World Cup final by the Pakistan team, Johannesburg and Capetown had deserted and dejected fans pouring out of pubs  as their team once again failed to reach the final of a major cricket tournament.

This time round, it was not the weak or choking South Africa, rather an extremely determined and strong Pakistan side that made the difference. True, Pakistan started this tournament as one of the also rans and no one predicted they would go beyond the Super 8s let alone reach the final. Of course, on the way, they had lost to Sri Lanka and England making them as one of the weaker sides to compete. But Pakistan, as we all have learn to love and predict, is well, quite unpredictable. It has the talent to bounce back from any situation and the team has a never die attitude which makes the games extra special.

The transformation of Pakistan began somewhere in the middle of the the game against Sri Lanka. The initial 10 overs that they bowled to Sri Lanka were well, something nothing to be written about. Starting with conceding 18 runs in the first over, the combination of extras, rudementary fielding and half vollies let Sri Lanka race to over 80 runs within the first 8 overs.  But as soon as the spinners were brought in to bowl,  the match turned as Sri Lankan batsmen failed to cope with the spin and the run rate slowed down to a halt.  Pakistan did eventually lose the game by 19 runs  but the game could have easily swung in their favor had they controlled their line and length in the initial overs.

From then on, they did not let any team take any advantage of them, beating New Zealand, Ireland and now South Africa in quick succession and each time more convincingly than before. Their bowling, fielding and even batting began to click. Players like Afridi, Yunus, Kamran Akmal began to contribute with the bat while Ajmal, Afridi and Gul continued to mesmerize the batsmen with their bowling.

It is ironic that the best and most talked about teams have not made it the final. Heck, Australia was knocked out in the preliminary stages and well India, the tournament favorites, never seemed like winning a game in the Super 8s.

This year, BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) prevented Pakistani cricketers from playing in the IPL (Indian Premier League) hoping to score a few political points against their arch rival neighbor. Hence, Pakistani cricketers were the only ones not to feature this May in the IPL, while the best of the world competed out and honed their skills for the upcoming T20 World Cup in June. The world expected Pakistani players will be too rusty and too out of shape to even make any impact during the world cup.

Rather the opposite happened. The very lack of competitive cricket has made Pakistani team even more hungry for victory. While Dhoni and his men seemed lethargic and tired,  Pakistani cricketers seem to have a new spring in their feet and a vigor to win from any situation. South Africa and New Zealand have found that out the hard way. True they were rusty in the beginning but once the shine returned, all that is glittering is gold. Pure gold.

Go Pakistan Go! Win us this World Cup. This nation deserves a few tears of joy as it has shed plenty of them for sorrow that has besieged it these past many years. We are praying for you.