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Saturday, October 6, 2012

World T20 2012: What went wrong for Pakistan?

So the storm has passed over and there is now a semblance of gloomy tranquility around. Pakistan Cricket Team reached Colombo with a reputation of a mercurial bunch that could surprise any team on their day. They did surprise on a number of occasions, at time outdid themselves too.

 It is, perhaps, not surprising that they managed to make the semi-finals, but it is also a fact that they did not deserve to go beyond either. The necessary ingredients to win a major tournament were, perhaps, not lacking, but the planning and will to utilize those ingredients were clearly missing. We lacked how to implement a plan B when a preset plan failed.

A T20 team needs a good mixture of old and young and a captain who could lead from the front while utilizing his resources intelligently. The situation in a T20 can change in a blink of an eye as a good over or a cameo from a batsman can turn the tables. But the team which usually comes out on top is the one which has more cricketing sense. We lacked the cricketing intelligence.

Big tournaments are won when you show a brave face. If you are willing to adapt to a situation, keep the team above your personal likes and dislikes, and you are brave enough to go against the tide, you invariably come on top. It is usually horses for courses in cricket. If you are scared of dropping yourself down the order, despite the obvious arguments favouring the move, for whatever reason, then you do not deserve to sit on top. We lacked the unselfish approach.

 If you are reluctant to drop a player having a star value, who has become a liability to the team, just to evade the wrath of fans and a section of media, you do not deserve to be champions. It is no harm to support a struggling player but ignoring the bigger picture and ditching the main objective is the height of shortsightedness. We lacked courage; we could not make bold decisions.

The problems started with the selection process. Selection based on sort of a virtual quota system, nepotism, and for appeasing different quarters do not produce good results. It is baffling to see Junaid Khan being ignored for a habitual let-downer like Mohammad Sami. It is beyond comprehension to see both Yasir Arafat, a mediocre cosmopolitan T20 specialist and all-rounder, and Abdul Razzaq, a proven match-winner, in the same team. Abdul Razzaq, inexplicably, again failed to win the confidence of another World Cup captain. We lacked reasoning.

 There were definitely few positives. The emergence of Raza Hasan and re-incarnation of Nasir Jamshed are bright spots on our failed campaign. Although Mohammad Hafeez as captain was disappointing, his ability to rally his troops and keep everyone along has been quite impressive. With more support and good results, he has the ability to become a good captain. The day he dismisses the fear of losing his job from his system he would become a brave captain, and of course you need not listen to distracting voices. Our captain lacked backing of the fans and the board by and large.

Now is the time to look into the future. We should build our team around youngsters like Nasir Jamshed, Umar Akmal and Raza Hasan. Although Kamran Akmal fills the void of a keeper batsman, but his below-par wicket-keeping nullifies his exploits with the bat. Imran Nazir cannot handle world class bowling. Asad Shafiq is being wasted – he is a good batsman who can adapt to any format and has a big heart.

Shoaib Malik seems to be in no man’s land. He is a good T20 player and can be a match-winner but he is a misfit in the team unless he is made captain again. But handing him the reigns will only ruin our team’s growth away from the ghosts of the past. Umar Gul needs rest. He has lost the pinpoint accuracy in the death overs which made him a lethal bowler. He needs to come back strong. It is time that we do not put extra pressure on Saeed Ajmal. He is a match-winner but needs support especially from the quicks. Sohail Tanvir was sent considering the ball might swing, but unidirectional and predictable swing at medium pace can never pose a threat. We missed Junaid Khan.

Boom boom Shahid Afridi has past his prime, if ever there was any. His reflexes have slowed down and there are doubts over his contribution to the team. If any other player had failed like Afridi, he would have been shown the door, but it is Lala of course. He needs to decide himself.

The world has not fallen with this loss. Our cricket is growing albeit sluggishly. It is remarkable that with no cricket on our soil for the last four years, we have managed to reach semi-final of every ICC tournament since 2007. There is no reason to lose hope for Team Green.

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World T20, Super Eights: Marks out of 10, so far

After a sedate start, the World T20 tournament, 4th in five years, has lit up. At the half-way stage of the Super-Eights, we have seen the best and the worst of almost every team in the tournament. Lets us analyze each team by giving marks out of 10 and see which team has the mettle to lift the coveted trophy.

1- Sri Lanka:

Starting with the hosts, we come across a team determined to break the jinx that no host nation has won the World T20 so far.

They have a strong but top-heavy line-up. The openers, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan make a formidable opening partnership. Kumar Sangakkara’s presence at one-down is reassuring one as he can adapt to the situation as easily as fish to the water.

The middle order looks inexperienced but goes very deep into the batting order with two quality all-rounders in Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera capable of turning the match on their own. The bowling relies heavily on dangerous Lasith Malinga and inform Ajantha Mendis, but they have reliable back-up in Nuwan Kulasekara who can strike with a swinging new ball.

Batting – 7/10

Bowling – 6/10

Boon factor – Home advantage 7/10

Cumulative – 6.6/10

2- West Indies:

They are the neutral’s favourite. Despite their recent progress, they are still a shadow of their past. The T20 format suits them better, especially when you have most-sought-after players like Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard in your ranks. Their batting is explosive albeit brittle at times.

Gayle is the best in the business in this format and his captain Darren Sammy would bank on him to give his side flying starts. Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and Pollard can all go berserk with their range of shots. The main concern for them may be a lack of temperament at times but still they possess a real threat.

The bowling has been boosted by the presence of mystery spinner, Sunil Narine. No one has yet picked which way his deliveries go so he will be difficult to hit, even negotiate. Ravi Rampaul and Fidel Edwards are pacy and can make early inroads but discipline will be the key for the bowling line up.

Batting – 6.5/10

Bowling – 5/10

Boon factor – Chris Gayle 6.5/10

Cumulative – 6/10

3- India:

India are a formidable T20 unit. As usual they will bank on their batsmen to deliver but possess a threatening bowling line-up as well. Captain Mahindra Singh Dhoni has already led his team to a World Cup win last year in the 50-over format, so the confidence level must be unmatched. He was also the man to lift the first-ever World T20 Cup in 2007.

In Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, they have experienced T20 players who can accumulate as well as hit with equal adeptness. Then they have Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni and Suresh Raina who can launch an assault on the opposition bowlers and are great finishers. Virender Sehwag, though out of form, is a match-winner on his day.

India’s bowling strength is their spin department. Harbhajan Singh has come back with a bang as he demonstrated against England the other day, but the real threat would be unorthodox Ravichandran Ashwin. They both might play which means Piyush Chawla has to sit out.

Irfan Pathan too has made his comeback worthwhile, as his speed and swing both seem to return. Zaheer Khan is not in form but there is no doubt about what is capable of. India lacks a genuine fast bowler that may be a concern especially in case if the opposition goes on a run feast. But the way wickets have changed over the course of the tournament, as shown by their thrashing of Pakistan yesterday, they stand a good chance.

Batting – 7.5/10

Bowling – 6/10

Boon factor – They are able to chase anything 6.5/10

Cumulative – 6.6/10

4- England:

The Englishmen are the defending champions. They have packed their side with youth and T20 specialists. So far in the tournament they have shown tendency to falter whenever they were pushed to the wall. The batting looks solid as well as destructive on their day. If they get a good start, which they haven’t yet achieved, they can destroy any attack barring quality unorthodox spinners. Eoin Morgan, Alex Hales and Luke Write are in good form. Wright has already played a couple of stunning knocks but the ghosts of Kevin Pietersen are still hanging about.

The bowling is one dimensional. Graeme Swann has been steady so far but his team needs wickets from him. Steven With Finn nipping out the top order and Broad, Dernbach and Swann strangling the middle order would be the perfect recipe for England. Their fate is hanging in the balance at the moment.

Batting – 6/10

Bowling – 6/10

Boon factor – Good pace attack 5/10

Cumulative – 5.66/10

5- Australia:

The Australians are now taking T20 seriously. After a year of experimenting with different combinations and captains, they seem to assemble a right bunch.

In Shane Watson and David Warner, they have the most destructive and consistent opening pair. Watson has grabbed man of the match awards in each of the matches he has played in the tournament so far. The middle order is steady but has not been stretched so far.

Australia has unearthed two bright young guns, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, who can bowl at 90 miles per hour consistently. The back-up bowling is not brilliant but their fielding and discipline make up for that handicap. Watch out for the Aussies as their craving to lift the T20 Cup may get answered this time. Their form in the tournament is testament to that.

Batting – 7/10

Bowling – 7/10

Boon factor – Determination to win and Shane Watson 7/10

Cumulative – 7/10

6- South Africa:

AB de Villiers has shrugged off the chokers tag saying they have come with a clear mind and have devised different strategy for each match. So far their performance has been short of that of a champion but they have a formidable team and have all bases covered.

They bat deep but the batting order is a concern. They will bank on Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and de Villiers to score big with Richard Levi, JP Duminy and Albie Morkel all are capable of using the long handle.

They have the best pace bowing attack in Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel backed up well by all-rounders Kallis and Albie. The spinners, Johan Botha and Robin Petersen are steady. They are the number one T20 side in the world so it was thought they should be able to get past the semi-final stage this time. Their captain AB de Villiers thinks so but only time will tell. They are on the brink of elimination as they have to beat India with a big margin.

Batting – 6/10

Bowling – 7/10

Boon factor – Ranked number one 7/10

Cumulative – 6.6/10

7- Pakistan:

Mercurial Pakistan are oozing confidence after winning a T20 series against Australia in UAE. Quite surprisingly their batsmen are outperforming their bowling which is the most varied and productive attack in the world. The openers, Imran Nazir and captain Mohammad Hafeez, have provided good starts so far. 

They have found a gem in Nasir Jamshed who is in form and can score quickly without looking in a hurry.

The middle order is good with Umar Akmal, inform Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik all capable of scoring big knocks. Shahid Afridi is a worry as he is woefully out of form as a batsman but with Abdul Razzaq waiting on the bench he must be itching to perform. The recent performance against India must have shattered their confidence and the recovery depends on how they gather themselves and tackle resurgent Australia.

With world’s top three wicket takers in the format in their team, they are a formidable bowling unit. The ‘jadugar’ Saeed Ajmal takes wickets and chokes runs at the same time. Afridi and rookie Raza Hasan are pretty good spinners too. Umar Gul has lost his radar badly and Pakistan need him to find his Yorker-bowling ability sooner rather than later if they are to have their sights at the Cup. The second, and third, seamer slots are a worry but if all other fire, it may not matter much in the end.

Batting – 7/10

Bowling – 7/10

Boon factor – Unpredictability 6/10

Cumulative – 6.6/10

8- New Zealand:

The Black Caps have always performed beyond their ability in the world Cups. Their batting relies heavily on the exploits of Brendan McCullum. If he fails, they have a problem, especially chasing big scores.

The bowling lacks depth but in Vettori and Tim Southee they have squeezers who are difficult to hit. Kyle Mills’ experience and excellent fielding to back up are other trademarks which New Zealand would love to bank on. Ross Taylor needs to fire as a leader and a batsman if they are to touch the silverware but that looks extremely unlikely now as they need a minor miracle to come back in contention with only one match to play against New Zealand.

Batting – 6/10

Bowling – 5.5/10

Boon factor – Vettori and McCullum 5.5/10

Cumulative – 5.6/10

Image Credit: Associated Press

World T20, Super Eights: Don’t blink please!

The world T20 has come to life. The Super Eights stage has begun with a bang. Those yawning fans, who watched the first, and boring, phase of the tournament marked by one-sided matches, are now abuzz with the prospect of jaw-dropping action.

For the first time in the history of World T20 no minnow has managed to upset a major team. This means that every match promises to be a spectacle. What else one wants!

The ICC has been criticized for scheduling the tournament during monsoon as well as planning of fixtures, as the early part of the tournament witnessed minnows being hammered one after another. The pre-tournament standings meant we have unbalanced groupings in the Super Eights. Group 2 is packed with stronger teams like Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan, while the other group has favorites Sri Lanka slotted with mercurial West Indies, unsure England and dark horses New Zealand.

T20 cricket has drawn marginal fans into the limelight. While purists wait for the moments to fill their desires, a T20 fanatic dance on every four hit, each six smoked and every wicket taken.

Who would blink an eye when Chris Gayle is at the crease? Who would dare to switch channels when David Warner is on song? Who would gulp his lunch or supper when Kohli and Raina are having a run feast? You might have to keep your bladders on hold when Imran Nazir and Umar Akmal come out to play a Super Over.

How can you ignore Lasith Malinga as he runs in to bowl and go to see whether the pizza boy has arrived at the door or not? Let the mobile phone keep ringing but do not miss the sight of Dale Steyn steaming in. How can you not cherish the moment when Shahid Afridi lifts his arms in the air after dismissing a batsman and you realize that your hands are in the air too!

The prospect of a McCullum onslaught makes the attendance sheets empty and you cancel your excursion trip to watch Eoin Morgan play a blinder. There is no better sight in cricket than watching batsmen dance to the tunes of ‘jadugar’ Saeed Ajmal.

The Yorkers of Gul and Malinga, the bouncers of Morne Morkel and Fidel Edwards, the swing of Irfan Pathan and Dale Steyn, the slow bouncers of Shane Watson and Tim Southee, the aggression of Mitchel Starc, Pat Cummins and Steven Finn, the peculiar action of Sohail Tanvir, the spin craft of Sunil Narine, R Ashwin and Ajantha Mendis, the crispy cover drives of Hashim Amla and Nasir Jamshed, the dancing-down-the-track lofts of Virat Kohli and Shane Watson, the scoops of Dilshan and McCullum, the pulls and cuts of Jacques Kallis, Ross Taylor and Michael Hussey, the blind-folded hoists of Imran Nazir, Richard Levi and David Warner, the helicopter shot of MS Dhoni, the sweeps and reverse sweeps of Umar Akmal, Mahela Jayawardene, and de Villiers, the celebration styles of Boom Boom, Bhajji and Gayle, the youthful exuberance of Glenn Maxwell, Alex Hales and Pat Cummings , the precocious talents of Raza Hasan, Adam Milne and Akila Dananjaya, the cricket-first-love-second passion of Danny Briggs, and the absence of Kevin Pietersen from this extravaganza is nothing more but enthralling.

So fasten your seat belts and be ready for heart-pumping action-thriller called World T20!

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