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Analysing how PSL squads could be better

This article was originally published on Cricingif here:

The second season of the PSL is in full swing, and once again the Sharjah leg has added more life to the competition. The teams have been constantly experimenting with their playing XIs and whereas teams like Islamabad have settled into their ideal combination early, others haven’t been so lucky. Let’s have a look at each side and what they could do differently.

Islamabad United

Islamabad’s plan has been simple. Stack the top with batsmen from the foreign players’ category and use quality local bowlers. This has resulted in Islamabad playing with Dwayne Smith, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Sam Billings in the top 5. What really works for Islamabad is that out of this top 5, they also get a genuine all-rounder, a part time medium pacer and their wicket keeper. This depth defines their team.

While their choice of replacing Sharjeel with Riffatullah might be questionable, his selection as opener increases the team’s batting depth with Watson or Misbah slotting in at 6. Alternatively, with Billings now gone, Duckett can easily slot in as an opener. For Islamabad to get the most out of Misbah, he should bat no lower than 4. With Watson at 5 and Asif Ali / Hussain Talat playing at 6, Islamabad are well settled.

Their bowling is strong enough that depending on the match details and Irfan and Sami having permanent spots, they can try a variety of combinations without weakening their playing XI e.g. choosing Ammad Butt or Imran Khalid for the lower order all-rounder; playing both Ajmal and Shadab for a spin heavy attack; or dropping a spinner and playing Rumman Raees to focus on pace.

Peshawar Zalmi

Peshawar can make a lot of changes to their side. Let’s begin by mentioning the elephant in the room – Mohammad Hafeez – who must be dropped from the top order. In 5 innings, he has scored just 29 runs! Instead of playing him, Tamim Iqbal and Kamran Akmal form a perfectly fine opening combination.

Zalmis have persisted with Sohaib Maqsood whose game is a bit lost right now. His tally is 35 runs from 4 matches, out of which 30* was made in a single innings. Stats aside, he just hasn’t looked like he belongs at this level. On the other hand, Iftikhar Ahmed’s playing too high at 3; it’s a position where they must look at Haris Sohail to beef up their batting. With Morgan gone, I would pick Andre Fletcher ahead of Marlon Samuels in a pure slogger role at 4.

With Shakib-ul-Hasan at 5, either Iftikhar or Hafeez can come in at 6, where they may or may not be required to bat dependent on whether Afridi or Sammy need to be given more overs. To maximize their batting potential, Zalmis who often get stuck in the middle overs, must give Afridi more overs to bat regardless of match situation. If Fletcher, Afridi and Sammy are given more time in the middle, they can turn things around. With Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali as easy selections, Asghar Ali can complete their bowling attack and must be played. If an extra pacer is required, they can replace Fletcher with Chris Jordan or one of Iftikhar or Hafeez with Junaid Khan; neither decision is likely to weaken their batting.

Lahore Qalandars

Jason Roy’s departure leaves a big hole in the Qalandars’ side. Brendon McCullum will mostly likely return as opener alongside Fakhar Zaman. Following them should be Umar Akmal, Grant Elliot, Cameron Delport and Mohammad Rizwan to complete the batting. Umar is a natural choice at 3 regardless of the match situation. Elliot is a better batsman than given credit for and should bat at 4 for Qalandars.

Sunil Narine, Sohail Tanvir, Yasir Shah and Muhammad Irfan (jnr.) are expected to play each game unless Baz wants to see what the spinners Usman Qadir or Zafar Gohar have to offer. It’s a bit of a downer for Zafar who’s a talented spinner and looked good in the previous season but cannot find a place in the team with Baz preferring a leggie. Narine’s hitting form gives Baz a special edge & he might be content in playing Narine at 7 to include an additional spinner, or a seamer like Bilawal Bhatti. However, this has backfired at times for Qalandars this season, a problem which can be fixed by playing Aamer Yamin – a promising all-rounder who can bowl with the new ball and provide an additional batting option at 7.

Karachi Kings

It’s time to for the Kings to drop Chris Gayle and try other options. Kumar Sangakkara and Babar Azam seem to have clicked as openers. Ravi Bopara must come at 3 as he can bat aggressively against quality bowling, followed by Shoaib Malik.

Kieron Pollard’s being wasted down the order and can play a big role in Karachi overcoming the middle overs rut. He must play in a floating role, coming in at no lower than at 5 to make maximum impact. If Pollard feels like an unaffordable luxury as he isn’t bowling much, playing Mahela Jayawardena as opener would be an ideal boost to Karachi’s batting. Sangakkara can then move at 3, pushing Bopara and Malik one position lower.

Karachi should look to play Imad Wasim and Ryan McLaren – two high impact all-rounders – in the team. Karachi’s core bowling attack is now evident: Sohail Khan, Mohammad Amir, Usama Mir and Usman Shenwari. For slow pitches however, they can experiment with playing a spinner in place of Usman.

Quetta Gladiators

Quetta has done well again despite their selection which has been strangely muddled this season. They stuck with Asad Shafiq as opener for 4 games who’s done nothing in the past that inspires confidence in his T20 batting. In the 5th game, Saad Nasim, a promising middle order batsman and leg spin all-rounder played as opener and didn’t bowl a single over. This decision came despite the fact that Rilee Rossouw, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Luke Wright have all opened at the international level. In their last game against Lahore, they played 3 left arm finger spinners (Mohammad Nawaz, Hassan Khan and Zulfiqar Babar) and a right-arm finger spinner (Mahmudullah), and two seaming all-rounders.

Quetta must cement its choice of openers. Rossouw is well equipped to open with Ahmed Shahzad. Following KP and Sarfaraz, Saad Nasim can slot in at 5, a position that suits him more. If Sarfaraz is more comfortable with Rossouw in the middle order, they have an opener ready in Luke Wright, who also bowls medium fast. Umar Amin can play if either Saad or Nawaz fail to perform, however, Quetta must retain the afore-mentioned batting order for the top 4.

With Nawaz, Thisara Perera or Mahmudullah and Anwar Ali to follow, there’s enough firepower to play bowlers Hassan Khan, Tymal Mills and Mir Hamza / Zulfiqar. It is strange that a bowler of Mir Hamza’s caliber is yet to play this season. For the right balance, Quetta can play only one of Perera, Mahmudullah and Wright, as Rossouw, KP and Mills are undroppable. This gives Quetta enough bowling options to hide bowlers that aren’t having a good day. Though their bowling is weak, clever manoeuvring will ensure success.

Umpiring Blindspot – Why Ben Stokes was rightly aggrieved

There was much furore around the dismissal of Ben Stokes in the 2nd ODI of the post-Ashes bilateral series between England and Australia, where he was given out obstructing the field, a decision which proved to be pivotal in the game as England were never able to recover from that point.

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The 3rd umpire Wilson probably judged the decision using Law 37, which states that a batsman is out obstructing the field if he willfully strikes the ball with his hand, unless it is to avoid injury. The key part of the law if a decision is to be made in favour of field obstruction is that the contact with a throw must be deliberate and the ball must be judged as heading towards the stumps. I of course, feel that Ben Stokes was not out.

There’s a worrying absence of street-smart thinking in the umpiring world these days. The whole affair occurred at very high speed, from the delivery to the straight drive to the throw to the sway out of line by the batsman. Everything that happened after the shot was essentially about instinct and reflex action. I can’t imagine the umpire not being swayed into the decision by the slow motion replays.

Using evidence from the slow motion action replays to assess the batsman’s intention (which is only indicative evidence anyways) is fundamentally flawed, considering Stokes had to evade the throw within a fraction of a second. In that fraction of a second, he used his hand to save himself. If you have a look at the replays in the video above, the ball was hurled at Stokes’ right shoulder. Hence he first moves his hands towards the ball to block it from hitting the shoulder, and instinctively also moves his shoulder out of the way by turning his body sideways. Starc’s throw was such that the ball swung from its initial line hence Stokes’ outstretched hands instinctively followed it. Stokes was already moving his head backwards when the ball hit the gloves. He was not in direct sight of the throw which to me is the most convincing evidence that Stokes’ reaction was evasion and self-protection and not obstructing the field.

I am guessing here that ultimately it was the still shot at the point of contact of the ball with hand that swayed the umpire’s decision towards giving it out. However, I believe still shots are never the solution for these cases. Viewed in isolation, it doesn’t show that the ball was hurled at the body initially and that the natural swing of the throw and movement of Stokes’ right shoulder made it look as if the ball was actually very far from Stokes’ body. As a reaction triggered by your stimulus, you generally follow the ball when you’re faced with a split second decision. It’s similar to when you are playing a ball that swings out late; you don’t deliberately follow the ball, the hand adjustment is pure instinct. Hence not out for me. The way I see it, there’s no deliberate attempt from Stokes to obstruct the throw. As a fellow cricket enthusiast put it, it is absurd to think he could obstruct a ball thrown at such pace and from that distance, with the objective to save his wicket in that split second. Adding on to his comments, there seems to be a serious mistrust of cricketers.

I think the umpire was too quick to reach a decision. If we only have to look at replays in black and white, for example where the ball is at point of contact, why do we even need an ICC umpire for this job? Surely in this case, the real umpiring skill should be to assess the body and ball movements that transpired before the contact to judge Stokes’ deliberation? In accounting principles, we are repeatedly reminded to use substance over form in making decisions related to the standards governing financial reporting. Surely the umpires who are highly trained should be exercising their judgement on the substance of such incidents? Surely they have a bigger responsibility than interpreting standards in black and white, especially when judging deliberate intent?

Remember this?

Remember this?

In my opinion, this decision has simply added to the increasing number of woeful decisions made by the 3rd umpires in recent times. The recent run out dismissal of James Anderson in the 2015 World Cup comes to mind. And who can forget that legendary 2005 run out decision given after Inzamam had involuntarily stepped out of the crease while taking evasive action against Harmison’s throw?

The Neural Connection with Wahab Riaz

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Ever had an experience where you are not really there, but you are there? A moment stuck in time where in the thrill of witnessing what someone is doing, the ‘why’ of that performance is lost in between? Let me rephrase the question, have you ever had the experience of watching a Pakistani fast bowler attempt to defend a small total?

At the biggest stage, in front of a large hostile crowd cheering on the home side, and in a country which truly values devastating fast bowling, Wahab Riaz came up with a performance so animalistic in nature, the players watching it in the stadium, the 30,000 plus crowd present in the stadium, and the millions watching it on the television will remember it for years to come.

Wahab’s bowling was filled with such undisguised anger, it was a near miracle he didn’t lose control of his bowling or his temper, either through the 6 overs of his first spell nor in 2 of the 3 overs he bowled in his second spell. It was difficult to ascertain what Wahab was angrier about. His bowling seemed a direct response to both, his team’s run-of-the-mill insipid batting and the sledging from the Aussies who had hounded him every minute he was on the crease. Perhaps the Australians sensed that in the absence of Irfan, disarming Wahab was the key, and continued their tradition of going for the head of the snake. In that, they ended up complimenting him, perhaps inadvertently reaffirming Wahab of his status and value to the opposition. And oh how the head of the snake responded.

The first 8 overs were captivating yes, but one felt a slight uneasiness, inevitability even, as if the real showdown which was to come was expected. When would Misbah introduce Wahab? What could he do? The tension Wahab brought with himself was visible in Warner’s first shot, a mistimed punch off the back foot off a short and wide delivery that went for three runs. Another wild bouncer followed and was called a wide. And then Wahab struck, a short rising ball which Warner could not control, caught ironically in hindsight, by Rahat at third-man. Enters Michael Clarke. Wahab is touching 90 mph in his first over. A short-leg fielder comes up to say hello. The fourth ball of the second over is venomous, it is a cruise missile aimed at the narrow length between Clarke’s neck and the top of his head. Wahab cruelly choses to exploit Clarke’s weak back. Clarke could only fend off the ball to forward short-leg. And Wahab had burst the door open. Angry. Fast. And hungry for more.

Wahab that day was in complete sync with the most quintessential of human instincts; that of the hunter. Wahab’s rhythmic run up and delivery was hypnotizing. Your pulse raced with the rise and fall of his own. As a spectator on TV, you felt your emotions spilling over, blood boiling and body temperature rising a few degrees as the force of Wahab’s aura overwhelmed everything else. In that moment, you felt a part of your soul had formed a neural connection of sorts with Wahab and the full impact of his anger, frustration, aggression and desperation hit you like a freight train.

Wahab - 50 fucking shades of crazy

Wahab – 50 fucking shades of crazy

As Wahab sent in bouncer after bouncer and Watson hung on for dear life, as he hushed the vocal crowd who must have sensed a slight element of fear, as he was delightfully reminding Watson about the bat he had come out with and bullying him in his strong zone, he transcended the match result itself, the runs needed, and the other players on the field. You were moved by one man’s barely believable confidence in his own skill to challenge and dominate an opponent. The bouncers were of such high quality pace and accuracy, for a moment you’d have thought this was Bodyline in Adelaide 1932-33, Harold Larwood at the bowling crease and Douglas Jardine his captain. With two close-in catchers on the leg side, Misbah certainly did what was allowed. Judging by Wahab’s accuracy, in hindsight, he could probably have had all others come around the bat at catching positions and Watson still wouldn’t have been able to get him away. Among the many that were there to watch the spectacle, it seemed there were only two. Then and there, the world must have been a lonely place for Watson.
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Australia v Pakistan: Quarter Final - 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup


That Wahab couldn’t inflict more damage through the wickets column was due to fielding of such poor standards it should be termed criminal. Also, the resilience of Watson and Smith cannot be ignored. One can only imagine what would have become of the Pakistani batting unit had they faced such a ferocious spell of bowling. As Wahab returned for a second spell with the game almost lost, he gave Pakistan one more chance to make amends. Maxwell made an ugly attempt at a pull / swat that went high towards third man. Predictably, this attempt to catch the ball was even worse. Wahab, so visibly in anguish, let out another pained scream and the World Cup was over. The rest was just semantics, the last rites of one of those many ‘what-if’ games Pakistan has been a part of. Coach Waqar may consider putting an arm around Wahab, and let him know why he and Wasim only concentrated on LWBs and Bowleds.

With the chaotic management and injustice both prior to, and during the first 2 games of the World Cup, I had tried to disassociate myself from the team’s cricket, dispassionately declaring for a need to lose 0-6 in the group stages so that the disease which plagues Pakistan cricket does not remain covered. A friend asked me the day after the match that why was I so emotional about the result now, and I could only respond with a phrase fast becoming legend, courtesy of some very Pakistani cricket journalists and fans, “Kya karun yaar, Pace is Pace Yaar (What to do man, Pace is Pace man).”

Almost feels like a Wahab slow-clap -

Almost feels like a Wahab slow-clap –

What’s in Wasim and Ramiz?

The 2 people who are positive up-shots to the Indian ego

The 2 people who find it difficult to be Pakistani

What’s in Wasim Akram and Ramiz Raja?

No seriously, what’s so special these two Pakistani commentators that allows them to remain untainted from India’s recent efforts to humiliate every Pakistani on every political front?

To start with, there was, and still is, the brouhaha over Pakistan’s participation in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

The extension of T20 franchise system on a global level, in the form of Champions Trophy, was next. Last competition was the first time a Pakistani franchise ‘Sialkot Stallions’ was allowed to participate, and even that through a qualifier system which was wretchedly unfair.

There has been serious political protests and concerns over Pakistan’s cricket team visiting India, and it was only affected after considerable political humiliation of Pakistan.

For the Women’s World Cup, the women cricket team of Pakistan was relocated from Mumbai to Cuttack, after threats to the team. Moreover, they faced the humiliation not being allowed accomodation in hotels. The team was confined to the stadiums, which was utter humiliation in a global tournament.

To add more to the atrocities against our visiting teams in India, our blind cricket team captain was poisoned, after Pakistan had beat India in a group fixture.

And finally, India released all Pakistani hockey players that it had invited for the Hockey India League (HIL), after serious political protests and pressure.

Hence my question: What’s in Wasim and Ramiz? I have observed their commentary and how cosy they have become with Indian sports broadcasters. All of Pakistan have witnessed their incessant sucking up to other Indian commentators on the panel, the Indian cricket team and the Indian cricket board. One also wonders why these two are well accepted in Indian media circles when everything else associated with Pakistan is shunned by the Indian auathorities.

Ofcourse the cricketing community knows their commentary skills are mediocre at best. If it’s excellence in commentary they seek, they need not look farther than Waqar Younis, a genuinely good spokesman in every aspect. Are they accepted only because of their tendency to be dominated by Indian contemporaries in the media box? Are Wasim and Ramiz much needed up-shots to the Indian ego? Does their presence in the midst of Indian celebration of its nation’s greatness makes the celebration that much sweeter?

So why Wasim Akram and Ramiz Raja? And why have these two not made any effort to uphold some semblance of pride in their own nation’s position and its treatment at the hands of the Indian authorities? Sunil Gavaskar for instance, publicly communicated his displeasure at revival of Indo-Pak cricket ties when the perpetrators of Mumbai attack were still unpunished then. Surely there must come a time when an individual takes a stand? Unfortunately, for Wasim and Ramiz, The question is not ‘when‘, the question is ‘will it ever?

2009 – An account of the night when we won the World Cup!

I have reproduced what I had written back then when we won the World Cup in 2009 …. oh what a magical night it was. It was what pure happiness could mean. It was all that happiness could give. Let’s hope we see something like that again ? : ) Let’s hope we get a chance to be so naive about hope and patriotism as I was, when I wrote this : )

A Khan brought the trophy home again. Infact Younus Khan, Umar Gul and Shahid Khan Afridi carried the fortunes of the team. This country’s fortunes are sewn with Pathans; would somebody please stop driving them away ??

It’s ironic that the ethnic group most tormented by our Government has brought this nation the most happiness. The country is bathed in ecstasy; I myself have been delirious since the winning leg-bye was scored. Cricket means to me more than anything. I say this without drama, that nothing moves me as much as cricket does.

It’s a sport that stretches beyond the realms of a mere sporting victory. This victory has given this nation renewed hope. This victory has perhaps woken us all from the deep slumber we’ve bin entrenched in and instilled in us a reinforced pride and passion for our country. Suddenly you see people being outrageously patriotic and happy for living in Pakistan.

The night of the World Cup Final will forever be etched in my mind. I was part of the wild celebrations that went on and on throughout the night and I will never forget the ecstatic face of the nation. I had personally never seen such a huge crowd gathered in one place for any reason other than political affiliations. But on that night, there were hundreds of Pakistani flags on the head of bikers, on the windscreen of cars, hung across streets, hung across the backs of guys and painted on the faces. Admittedly, there were some political flags seen too and while some idiots still continue to value that flag more than the national flag, the masses were there for Pakistan.

I can’t remember myself ever being so happy and content; why wouldn’t you be? How often do you hear nationalist slogans across Karachi? You don’t. But on THAT fateful night, as I hung outside from a friend’s car’s window, on every Pakistani’s face was a brutal expression of joy and freedom – the slogans of JEEVAY JEEVAY PAKISTAN echoed through the night! People had gone absolutely crazy. They would stop at every signal, get off from their bikes and cars and dance wildly and then move on to the next stop.
It was like every bike and car was heading for pilgrimage, in this case being SeaView! Those were just unbelievable scenes where every car was being stopped at SeaView McDonalds and people would dance and sing and clap; they’d ask the car inhabitants to come out and celebrate too. Some of them were game, but we encountered a fair number of spoilsports too! You moved on ahead and you saw roads completely blocked by people. I can safely say there were at least 15000 people there that night. Container trucks were stopped, guys were dancing on top of the containers, on the bumpers, and all the time accompanied by the rhythmic clapping on JEEVAY JEEVAY PAKISTAN.

It was a time when the public dared kid around with the Police and Rangers. The ecstasy was just infectious, intoxicating. You couldn’t help but be absorbed in it. It was a night you could do just about anything and get away with it. You could shout yourself hoarse on streets at 3pm in the night, you could hug policemen, you could talk to girls you have seen for the first time in front of their families without any ramifications! That’s how infectious this WorldCup victory was.

I traveled all over Karachi hanging out of the car, shouting slogans at every bike and car we passed with the omnipresence of the victory sign. Infact that is the way everyone was that day. Nobody knows how many years it’ll take for a moment like this to come again where the streets would be flooded with Pakistanis and not Muhajirs or Sindhis or Pathans.
All I can say is that whoever stayed in their homes that night deprived themselves of a phenomenon, unwittingly alienated themselves from the mercurial nation that Pakistan is and perhaps slept through the happiest night in Pakistan in years.

Now you better Stand Up for The Champions !

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