Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Romance with the Cricket in Australia

We are just a few days away from the first test between Australia and world No.1 South Africa. The Australian cricket summer is about to kick-off with a bang with mouth-watering top of the table clash in the ICC Test rankings table. 

Ever since Kerry Packer’s World Series, cricket in Australia always had something extra in store for the cricket lovers from all over the world. That peculiar nature of ODI cricket in Australia might have been over with the modernization and evolution of cricket but still many things are fascinating about the cricket in Australia, which makes it very special, and a treat for the cricket lovers all over the world. The wonderful settings in the grounds really make it a spectacle to relish even on the TV screens. The huge green grounds with a lot of white seagulls make it such a wonderful contrast of natural beauty. The seagulls flying to avoid the ball are always a joyous sight. The huge modern MCG, WACA and GABBA a long side the antique history of SCG are a nice blend of new and old venues. The timings of the start of play, which has made cricket in Australia very unique experience, being in Pakistan, the cricket starts very early in the morning and that experience of cricket on very early chilly winter mornings is truly matchless. 

There is no better sight in cricket that a fast bowler comes charging, hits the deck hard and keeper taking the ball with his gloves pointing up high in the air. With the pace and the bounce in the Australian wickets, you get plenty of such sights even from medium pacers hitting the goodish lengths even. The sub-continental batsmen might hate the pace and the bounce but it is a wonderful sight indeed. Other than very famous pace and bounce of Australian wickets, the silent feature is the huge versatility in the wickets throughout Australia. Everyone almost gets a chance to have his say at some point of time in Australian summer. It all starts in GABBA in Brisbane; don't the fast bowlers lick their lips watching that pitch. The ball just flies after hitting the deck. It is one of the quickest and the most bouncy wickets around the world. Then, in Adelaide Oval batsmen are the kings, a feather bed of a batting wicket even the Sub-Continentals score runs in tons there. In Hobart, there is a good true wicket for stoke play but obviously not as flat as Adelaide Oval. Now moving to the Western shores of Australia, WACA wickets in Perth liven up the pacers whole-heartedly. WACA has the quickest and the bounciest wicket of the cricketing world without a shadow of doubt, once Sabina Park, Kingston used to match it but now times have changed. In glorious MCG, it starts as good batting wicket but shapes very much into a turning track. In historic SCG, the tweeters have their say big time. Over the years Shane Warne has warmed the hearts with his mighty leg-spinners and bamboozling flippers both in MCG and SCG. 

The commentary team of channel 9 is one of my chief reasons for my special love for cricket in Australia. Never ending passion and exuberance of Tony Greg and Bill Lowry on just every wicket or boundary is simply unmatchable. The witty analysis of the two of the greatest captains of all-time Mark Taylor and Ian Chappell always makes it an intriguing watch. Taylor and Chappell combine together some very witty captaincy brains that no academy or coach can impart to the young cricketers all over the world. The ageless wonder, Richie Bernard keeps on thrilling, season after season with his splendid comments. The chirpiness of Ian Healy and Mark Slater never bores a minute. Then there is flamboyance of Mark Nicolas, which makes it, really an icing on the cake. Even if someone has the authority on all cricket commentators of the world, I doubt one could fabricate a better commentating team then this channel 9's legendary team. 

Over the years, the tri-nation World Series cricket has been the hallmark of cricket in Australia. It has produced some of the greatest moments of ODI cricket. A good long streak of games presented a very fine opportunity to the touring team to show its metal and every side in the world got that chance just after a few years. It is pretty saddening that the World Series, which had a history of 30 years, abandoned by Cricket Australia in 08’ though last years, it was putt together once more but disappointingly, it was one off event not on the regular basis as it used to be.  

Probably, I have missed the great Australian spirit of fight and never say die attitude, which has exaggerated my romance with the cricket in Australia. Australia being a great sporting nation, imparts an attitude as tough as old boots to the cricketers. At the end, it all comes to the contest in the cricket which charms the most. In Australia the battle between the ball and the bat is pretty even, as compared to Sub-Continent where just batting prevails mostly.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Afghan Cricket has made itself proud !!!

Afghan cricket has made it a long way by qualifying for another World T20, hailing from a country where the business is done in terms of guns and bombs, to do the things so efficiently with the ball and the bowl; it is truly a remarkable achievement. The country has been indulged in war for decades and has a minimum of cricket intra-structure but this has no effect on the proud Afghani side, in fact, all these factors have made them even more determined.  They made their way to the second straight World T20 after an impressive finalist finish in the qualifying round.

Afghanistan, inheriting their cricketing culture from Pakistan, has a very sound bowling attack. Even in the absence of their ace pacer Hamid Hassan, the attack had a slingy right arm pacer, Dullat. His opening-bowling partner is a lanky left armer with lively pace, Shahpoor. Shanwari is a rare leg spinner with the mix of control and variety; Nabi is a clever off-spinner with the deceptive changes of the flight and the pace. So, Afghans have all the bases covered with their bowling attack, with the return of Hamid Hassan, the bowling attack will be quite threatening one, in fact, a better attack as compared to many test nations even. The Afghan attack can give the bowling line-ups of India, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and New Zealand run for their money.
The real chance of the Afghans was against a side like India, provided they restricted them to a decent total because as we all know Indian batting can run away with the show in no time. They did exactly that in their opening game. Even after spilling so many chances, they were able to restrict the heavy artillery of Indian batting to just 159 that speaks volumes of their bowling skills. They always had a chance against the fragile Indian bowling attack. A batting side like Afghanistan will always have problems against the bounce and the short pitch stuff against the topsides. They can not do much to overcome that on the short term basis, grew-up playing on slow and low wickets after that at associate level, where there is not much pace around to disturb them. At the international level, there is a huge drift especially in the standards of bowling. Against India, they will always have the luxury of not being bounced out due to lack of the pace and the quality in the Indian fast bowling. They started the run-chase brilliantly by not getting too carried away but they were lost in the middle overs of the run chase. Having not much experience of managing the run chases in the crucial moments cost them the game. With a bit more experience, they could have easily pulled it off. It was not a bad effort by any account, they should be proud of what they have achieved against the World Champions. Against England, they were always up against it, especially due to the nature of the wickets. Against the tall fast bowlers with a bit spicy pace and bounce in the wicket, the Afghan batting line-up was a sitting duck. In bowling against the Englishmen, they started-off brilliantly, kept the pressure on but England was abled to draw out some really big overs in between plus their fielding did not do much of a favor to their bowling.

On the general account, it is buoying to see their development as a cricket nation. Surely, they will move much faster than Bangladesh solely on the basis of their bowling potential. For a long time, Bangladesh thought only left arm spin is the name of the bowling; to some extant even now they are residing in that thought. Nothing like it in the case of the Afghans, they have a perfectly varied bowling attack with some quite lively pace to work with.

The batting needs improvement; in international cricket it is not all about hitting the big boundaries. The changing of strike and working of the ball into the gaps are missing from Afghans at the moment. They will eventually improve against the bouncing ball, as they will get the experience of playing in different conditions. Likewise, the fielding needs a lot of work to be done. The fielding is not a short term thing, it has to do with infra-structure and grounds on which kids grew up playing but at least, they can learn to catch the straight forward dollies like catches safely. Even in their first appearance in the World T20 in the Caribbean the bowling showed promise but their batting has not improved since then. Agonizingly, the fielding has gone down a lot. Many of the Afghan cricketers grew up playing the club cricket in Pakistan, so nothing surprising to see the dire state of the batting and the fielding.

Looking at the quality of their bowling attack, it is just a matter of time before Afghanistan starts giving a tough time to the test playing nations like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in the limited overs format. If it happens, it will be important that people should not get ahead of themselves by calling for a test status like in the case of Bangladesh and Kenya. The test status will prove to be hazardous for Afghans themselves at this time and will hamper their growth. For the test status, Afghans must develop a good domestic cricket structure, which is not looking like happening in the near future with the presence of the foreign forces.

So, the Afghan cricket's emphasis should be on playing the ODIs and the T20s frequently against the topsides. That can be only possible with the help of ICC and the developed cricket nations. PCB can do them a great favor by letting the two sides from Afghanistan to compete in the regional first-class and limited over tournaments till the peace does not return to their land. That will give them, the all-important experience of playing the quality cricket for the extended periods and also develop a bit of bench strength.   

Friday, June 22, 2012

Exciting Prospects to Resurrect the Indian Fast Bowling Legacy

 In cricket, there is hardly a better site than genuinely quick fast bowler bowling at full throttle and tearing apart the batting orders all over the place. The stumps cartwheeling back to the keep and batsmen dancing all over the place like a hot chick on the flour against bumpers are the sites to cherish in cricket. Fast bowling is the most beautiful aspect of cricket, but at the same time it is very rare. Evolution of limited-overs cricket has been menacing for the fast bowling. Ever since the limited-overs cricket’s thrust, thanks to Kerry Packer World Series, the quality of fast bowling has dropped gradually but to considerable extent, but still there have been some really great fast bowlers few and far between in the recent times.  

  Over the years, when I look back at the history of Indian bowling, it takes ages to come up with a real fast bowler. In fact, there has been hardly any one, though there were some quality medium pacers, the likes of Srinath and legendary Kapil Dev to name a few. Genuine pace is really scarce in India. There were many young men who threatened to shatter the fast bowling block but all faded away steadily with passage of time. I can recall the names of at least a dozen Indian fast bowlers who started off their international careers with a bang and with considerable amount of pace to back them even in the last decade or so. It was Champion’s Trophy in Nairobi, Indian Cricket passing through transition period with inspirational Ganguly taking the reins. With the phase of Srinath and Prasad opening the attack for India passed away, there stepped a bright young man who shook the world up with exciting yorkers at 90mph. That young man was Zaheer, who was regularly in and out sort of guy in Indian team until ‘07 season to rescue his career. Same happened with Nehra, he just mesmerized the Englishmen with near to unplayable swing at pace and took 6 wickets in the famous World Cup encounter in Cape Town but rest was same old story again. After that Irfan and Balaji got everyone standing up on their feet with their feats in Pakistan and Australia but they too lasted as long as exciting Hollywood blockbuster’s preseason trailer does. Munaf, RP Singh and Sreesanth are also the casualties of the same outbreak. Ishant also did his best to keep the legacy continuing of flopping. Now, it has become a norm that an Indian fast bowler burst through the scenes then after a few series or a season at the max. before he fades away.

    In the middle of thrashing in England and Australia, the only good thing India has discovered is some good quality fast bowlers. Yadav and Aaron are too young with raw pace and talent. Straight away by watching them, I get a notion of something different as compared to other Indian so-called fast bowlers. They have got something about them. One of many mistakes that were made on the part of Dhoni and India was that they did not play Aaron in England. It would have been a wealth of experience had he played there. Obviously, Yadav has got much more exposure, partly because of stronger first class base than Aaron and partly because of very unfortunate injury to Aaron on the verge of breakthrough entry on the Indian side. Yadav looks like a very good steady bowler with ability to bowl over 145 kmph consistently which is quite a thing to tell about himself being an Indian, surely not many can do that on regular basis. Similarly, Aaron also has the ability to generate fair bits of gas from what I have seen of him. It’s hard to remember even a single match before these young lads, that India had, two bowlers bowling in tender over 90mph. Yes there is still work needed to be done on their bowling but pace is the basic ingredient that you see in a bowler. With Ishant to accompany them, there are seriously bright chances that India finally breaks their mental block of not producing fast bowlers. It’s a golden opportunity that India just cannot afford to miss because if someone is imagining and expecting this younger lot of batsmen to be better or as good as the one that is passing or has passed, he will be living in a fool’s paradise. It will be utterly hard to notch up batting order as good as those stalwarts that formed together over the years.  So, the only chance for India is to keep up with the revolving wheel of time to invest in the fast bowling assets which have all capabilities to take India beyond the fruits of success both away and on home turf.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Captain Misbah and Young Quickies

Ever since the sting operation of NOW against the cricket corruption back in August 2010, Pakistan has struggled to some extent in fast bowling department. Naturally, the loss of Amir and Asif was a huge setback for Pakistan. Amir was unstoppable to his way to the greatness until the scandal halted him. Amir was compared with Wasim Akram in fact; Imran Khan the master of Wasim called him better than Wasim. Asif, a cunning fox, was an artist in himself. Pakistan had no mugs in their fast bowling legacy, names like Wasim, Waqar and Imran ring through the minds but surely he is the best with new ball to ever bowled for Pakistan. Watching him bowl was truly a wonderful spectacle, like a classical choreograph in action. Personally, I think, Asif was a greater loss for Pakistan as compared to young Amir. Pakistan might get another Amir, or Amir might make a comeback himself but surely to get another Asif, it is a mighty difficulty. In Pakistan, we simply do not have the culture to produce Asifs.

It is hard to replace bowlers with such quality and ability in such short span of time, make no mistake about it. Presence of Shoaib Akthar benefited Pakistan but Shoaib at the sag end of his career was a short term solution to the problem. Quite a few youngsters made their way to the team but hardly any one sustained his place for any length of time. To me, the culprit has to be the captain for lack of their development. The role of Misbah is very disheartening for the young quickies. Pakistan might have been enjoying a highly successful run in test cricket under Misbah but his tactics will, no way be helpful in future. Of late, Pakistani success has been engineered by the spin of Ajmal and Rehman. Ajmal in his own right is a great bowler, in fact he does not lack far behind the greatness of Murali and Warne but Rehman is a good steady bowler but nothing more than it. In fact, on the away tours to South Africa, England and Australia he will not have any say what so ever. During tours to these countries Pakistan will need the services of a bunch of quality pace-men.

Right now, Pakistan has capable Umar Gul in the pace department to lead the attack but after him, there is not much to look beyond his shoulders other than mediocre Aizaz Cheema. It is not that the young fast bowlers lack ability but the matter of fact is that these bowlers are not the finished articles and they have to be groomed and polished. The captain plays a vital role in that fine tuning but Misbah’s role has been almost a discouraging one. The prime example was Rahat Ali, debuted in 2nd ODI in Sri Lanka. Rahat went for two boundaries against Dilahan who was well set at the time when Rahat was introduced into the attack. Rahat was clocking around 90 mph mark and beaten the batsman a few time but because of 16 runs in two overs, he was taken off. He did come back but this time around the boundaries came off outside edges and one inside edge which missed the stumps narrowly. In between those fours, a well set Dilshan was beaten comprehensively quite a few times but Misbah did not bother to call him to bowl after mere 4 overs which cost 34, containing three or four lucky fours. Rahat is not the first one to get this sort of treatment. In fact, it clearly appears that Misbah does not even think to give ball to a bowler who he never tried before or had confidence in. Hammad Azam, a decent medium pacer hardly bowled more than 4 overs in a game that he has played for Pakistan, till now. Wahab won Hamilton test match with his spell in New Zealand and followed it up with 5 wicket haul against India in Mohali but after that he played just two test matches on unresponsive West Indian pitches and an ODI after a year's gap in Asia Cup against India before he was dumped. Junaid another bright prospect looked to be mastering the art of reverse swing when he roughened up Sri Lankan batting line in 1st test in Abu Dhabi. He consistently remained in and out of side before he got a test match to play in Abu Dhabi against England in which he bowled mere 8 overs before he was dumped for the next test. Talha, easily the quickest going around currently in Pakistan did not get a game to play even after being selected for two tours. Misbah was so intended to continue his so called winning run that he did not muster up the courage to test out these bowlers even in Bangladesh.

Misbah might end up scoring another whitewash in Sri Lanka, keeping in mind the spin bowling resources he has up his sleeve but left alone winning, even for competing in South Africa next year, he will need a quality pace attack which looks like a distant story at the moment.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Road to World T20

    After one each white wash in tests and ODIs to both England and Pakistan, sides went into the T20 series with plenty to play for. Importance of the this series was augmented owing to fact that the eagerly awaited T20 WC in Sri Lanka is just at the length of 6 months . Each T20 game is gold dust right now for every side till the T20 WC, because as opposed to ODI WC teams did not get enough games to work out their different plans and even best playing XI. Series ended with trademark Dernbach back of hand slow ball which was missed by Misbah to ignite a wild celebration from lofty depth specialist. It would have been a real shock to know for someone who has missed the game after 15th overs of run chase but it was a kind of pitch where nobody could stand over even Pietersen had to grind it out in the middle which was proved to be the real difference in the end. Though like everyone it is still believed by me that with 36 of 30 several wickets in hand, Pakistan should have cruised back home. Like always Misbah has found he vulnerable to all the criticism but I believe it was more Umar Akmal’s useless swings across the line against Broad and Dernbach that caused damage. It has become fashion in Pakistan to hate Misbah though I, I very critical of inappropriate captaincy but I think Misbah has been criticized unduly on his batting. In every plenty of matches, he finds himself in middle of batting collapse and he has to bat with responsibility to dig the side out of hole unlike others who come in their flair, hit a few and get out. Once Broad bowled excellent penultimate over, game was done and dusted, 13 off Dernbach is too stiffer task with his change of pace and good Yorker for any batsman especially when you are just walking as particularly Afridi was.
   Both England and Pakistan has to address many grey areas if they want to make something out of this year’s World T20. Batting of both sides looked anything but ordinary; many will argue that both batting orders were up against the best bowling attacks in T20. Pakistan without the slightest doubt is the best bowling attack at T20. With Ajmal in his form of life, he would dearly like to make amends to last T20 WC over that he used to bowl. Gull might have been tabbed a bit in last two games but everyone knows, he would be roaring back with reversing Yorkers. Pakistan needs Afridi to be in his element once the tournament kicks off; he looked below par surprisingly, dishing up half volleys and juicy full tosses every now and then. Hilarious Hafez is in an excellent option to have in the armory but weak link is 2nd fast bowler, Cheema looked good yesterday but on good pitch he can go a distance. I think both Junaid and Wahab can be better bid considering their Yorker length ability. Hammad provides another option, so bowling looks all protected for Pakistan but batting is ragged up now. Ahmed Shehzad deserves to have a go; he is the man in form. Keeping with Umar is a ridiculous move, it is better to have Kamran back. At least, Kamran has better probability to pluck a few and with his red hot batting form, it would be even more tempting to do so. Misbah’s captaincy in shorter formats is pathetic; probably selector would have to give a call in this matter. Importantly, attitude of Umar and Afridi has to be improved; according to me this would decide Pakistan’s chances.
   England might be victorious but they are not short of meditative to do on T20 scheme of things. In bowling for sure Dernbach and Swan are the main men. Dernbach is already in top depth bowlers, it is not easy to hit him out, England might gain more from him by bowling him all at depth. Broad could be man to share new ball with Finn. Broad with his excellent upright stratum has more chance to damage with new ball at the same time Dernbach can use his strengths i.e. slow balls and Yorkers more at depth like Gull does. Finn and Patel are the weak men to target for other sides. Finn has the pace and his direction can worry sometimes but they have very capable option in Bresnan waiting. KP’s bursting back in form is wonderful for England prospective but middle order looks a stiff one. Morgan had a woeful tour, he is very important for England in T20. He has to come back into form otherwise it will be sad story for England.  There is no doubt in abilities of Buttler and Bairstrow, it looks tall order in alien conditions in Sub-Continent against turning ball, may be few good hits in the home conditions can do good to their confidence in upcoming games. Swap batting order might work for England to counter it i.e. dropping KP to 3 and opening with Hales as happened in last T20 WC in Caribbean.
 Good news for both sides is that there are few T20 games in between to fine tune the playing XI before mega event kicks off. Certainly both sides are far from the point where they would want to be.