Published today in The News October 19, 2014



Sohaib Alvi

A look at the 19 probables announced by the PCB for the Test series shows clearly the scope of what has gone horribly wrong over the past few weeks. It is was bad enough off the field with the handling of the Saeed Ajmal ban and controversies over the non selection of Younis Khan.

But the development over the past two weeks that the Pakistani pace attack will not feature Irfan, Junaid and Wahab Riaz is disheartening for the fans following a pathetic performance in the limited over games since October 5. But even though the injuries cannot be blamed on the head coach, manager or selectors, other casualty figures in the area of leadership and selection of the final XI fall flat into the appraisal of these managers of Team Pakistan.

Worse of course was allowing Misbah to sit out the final ODI, if it is to be believed that it was solely his decision and that no direct or indirect pressure was put on him to drop himself.

misbah and waqar

Waqar Younis should never have allowed Misbah to sit it out. As coach he needs to instill confidence in the captain not encourage him to be sacrificial.

I feel the responsibility goes to the coach and the tour selection committee. If he had come up with this crazy idea of taking responsibility and being worried over his form, it was the job of the coach Waqar Younis to motivate him to carry on. Look at Alistair Cook who has had a devastating run of form over the last year entirely but stands up to be counted. Misbah has had one bad series before these twin failures–and has been run out some 3-4 times during this phase—and hey, it’s time for a rethink??

Considering that it is widely held that the coaching team and selectors seem to believe Misbah is not the right man for the job, and that his place in the ODI side is not entirely justified, they must have jumped at the opportunity to push Afridi to take up the vacant slot for the third ODI. That in my view is not professional, knowing that it’s the last game of the series and Misbah is far too mature and mentally strong not to let another failure affect his preparation for the coming Tests against Australia and New Zealand.

A more demanding coach would also have worried about the impact this decision would have on not just the playing eleven but the overall team. It indicates that the captain is weak and is questioning his place in the side. No motivational trainer would have allowed his student to let that happen under his watch. This shows that team was not the priority here but egos were.

That his position in the batting order was taken by Fawad Alam who has been more out of touch with strokeplay than Misbah during this series is laughable. If the answer to Younis Khan’s and Misbah’s slow pace of run scoring are Asad Shafiq and Fawad Alam, then something is far more seriously wrong in the think tank than imagined when the team for the first ODI was selected.

To come back to the Test side, I see Hafeez is back after it was announced that he would be out for three weeks. This lends credence to the theory I expounded in these columns in first week of this month that it looks a set up to me.  And that it was planned to keep him out of the ODIs for fear of him being called for throwing in international cricket, following the CLT20 charge. My other understanding was that with him in his usual pitiable self while batting the push to get him back his Test place would have been weakened by another failure, something quite likely given he would have been facing Johnson & Co.

So now he is back with that covering memo that it is subject to his fitness. If it is true that he suffered that serious injury to the webbing of his hand, how can he be considered given the hand injury will also be a barrier to stop the harder hit balls, and fielding is already troubling the coaching staff? The question to ask also is how can he walk back straight into the Test side without match practice as he hasn’t played the longer version since January after he was dropped for the third test against Sri Lanka? And when his replacement, Azhar Ali, scored a match winning hundred against all odds? Certainly there is no place in the team unless they shove him back to open.

It is disappointing to again see that Fawad Alam has not been picked for the Test side when he has shown all the requisites for the longer game. His style of play is not suited for the limited over game even though he has delivered a couple of times recently in Bangladesh. But he is a walk in into a Test side given his temperament and ability to stay at the wicket. He should certainly have been chosen ahead of one of the reserve openers in the provisional squad.

But good to see Taufeeq Umar back in contention. Another good man who was dropped when he was at the top of his form (he averages almost 40 in Tests), he deserves a comeback after doing well at domestic level ever since he was harshly put aside, and at a time when Pakistan was struggling to look for openers. Good also to see Imran Khan being rewarded for a fabulous performance for Peshawar Panthers in the Haier Cup. He and the junior Imran Khan both bowled well but certainly the senior Imran has more pace.

What is absolutely hilarious and hair splitting is the selection of Ataullah from Quetta. The Bears played some entertaining cricket in the Haier T20 Cup and had some good players on show but Ataullah has played just one first class game and that was five years ago! And he didn’t bowl in it! On top of that his action was reported when he bowled in Karachi last month, though Moin has said it has since been cleared, which always comes with a pinch of salt for ICC. The selection is funny enough as it is without picking such men; if at all a player from Balochistan was to be included but not played, then Bismillah Khan could have been brought in who has batted well as an opener.

The selectors have nevertheless done well to keep both the left arm spinners, Zulfiqar Babar and Raza Hassan in the probables. The elder one is likely to play as Pakistan will probably attack Australia’s weakness against leg spin with Yasir Shah. What will be interesting to see is how the rookie fast medium bowlers from Pakistan do on the flatter UAE pitches under the scorching sun. Given the absence of Junaid and Irfan, Umar Gul should have been given a shot at least for the first Test. Now it seems Talha and Rahat (someone who I feel shouldn’t even be ranked in the top ten medium pacers in the country) may just open for Pakistan, though I would give Imran Khan the opportunity in place of Rahat. If we have to go in with a new bowling attack, might as well throw in a calculated gamble or two.

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Kab, kahan, kaisay yeh pachaas pal beet gaye (When, Where, How Did The 50 Moments Pass By)

I wrote this on my 50th birthday in Jan 2012….

Chaltey, Dorhtay, thamtay, sambhaltay 

Gham-o-khushi kay tapaktay aanswoN maIn

Aik achanak palak jhabaktay lamhay maiN

Kab, kahan, kaisay yeh pachaas pal beet gaye


KitneeN khooshian, kitnay gham day kar

KitnaiN bharosay, kitnay bharam dekh har

kitnaiN mausam, KitneeN Raatain nibah kar

Kitneen khamoshian, KitneeN batain sun kar


            Aik achanak palak jhabaktay lamhay maiN

            Kab, kahan, kaisay yeh pachaas pal beet gaye


Aik maaN ki duaa, aik baap ka uboor

aik bhai ka haath, aik behan ka pyaar

Sub nay mil kai raasta banaya meray liye

Kahin kaantay kaatay, kabhi patthar hata diye 


            Aik achanak palak jhabaktay lamhay maiN

            Kab, kahan, kaisay yeh pachaas pal beet gaye


Kia ustaanee Jee ki who pehli Bismillah

Kia ustaad janaab ka who aakhree misrah

kabhi sochta hooN apni chaati main jhaank kar

Kitna samjha, kitnaaN bhoola, kitnaN zaaya kar diya


            Aik achanak palak jhabaktay lamhay maiN

            Kab, kahan, kaisay yeh pachaas pal beet gaye


Woh subh-e-nau ki kirnoN maiN, aik ishq ki sehr,

Aik rukhsar-e-gulab say dilrubai ka aghaz-e-asar

Woh shab-e-roz deedar maiN, dil-e-nadaaN ka behr 

Charhtay chaand say dhaltay sitaroN tak, bila manzil safar. 


            Aik achanak palak jhabaktay lamhay maiN

            Kab, kahan, kaisay yeh pachaas pal beet gaye


Uskay Izhar-e-mohabbat-o-wadah-e-wafa ka azum,

FurqatoN-o-fasloN ka khatam, Shab-e-qurbat ki qasam,

Apni agosh main rakh kar barhai meray pyar ki kahani

Chalaa aik aur safar pay hamrah auladoN ki zabani.


            Aik achanak palak jhabaktay lamhay maiN

            Kab, kahan, kaisay yeh pachaas pal beet gaye


Rizq-e-hilal kay aahaatay maiN guzaree hai kamanaiN ki kashish,

Mehnat, usool, sachaee, khidmat-e-jejan ki kari hai juztajoo.

Quran-o-Sunnah ki roshni-o-sayaay main kari hai yeh kohshish 

Maalik-o-shagirdh milay hassass, yeh tu poori hui hai dil ki aarzoo. 


            Aik achanak palak jhabaktay lamhay maiN

            Kab, kahan, kaisay yeh pachaas pal beet gaye


Kiya dia, Kiya nahiN; kahaN liya par diyaa nahiN, Sohaib

Yeh tau janoN gay jab aakir meiN baithi gi Kursi-e-falak

Filhal kitnay puray kiyay haiN apnaiN usool-o-khuwab,

Yeh khalish rahay gi Uss kay jawaab kay sar honaiN tak





Chaltey, Bhagtay, thamtay, sambhaltay 

Gham-o-khushi kay tapaktay aanswoN maIn

Aik achanak palak jhabaktay lamhay maiN

Kab, kahan, kaisay yeh pachaas pal beet gaye

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So Whats the ICC Angle?

So Whats the ICC Angle?


Sohaib Alvi

What ICC is doing today reminds me of the Laffer Curve we studied in economics 101 back in business school.

This curve shows the relationship between tax rates and tax revenue collected by governments and is shaped like an inverted bell placed on the table as seen from sideways.

With revenue collected from people plotted on the y-axis and tax rate on the x-axis, the curve suggests that, as taxes increase from low levels, tax revenue collected by the government also increases. It then shows that tax rates increasing after a certain point would cause people not to work as hard or not at all, thereby reducing tax revenue. The theory is that ultimately, if tax rates reached 100% then all people would rather not work because everything they earned would go to the tax collector.

The revenue department of the government would therefore like to be at the peak of the curve so as to collect maximum amount of tax revenue as people at that point are willing to give the most and consider the tax rate a fair deal.

Paradoxically applying this supply side economics model to off spin I can say that the more ICC decreases the approved bending of the elbow at time of delivery beyond a certain point, the more counter-productive it will be to the expansion in the art of off spin. It has been after years that off spin has received the admiration it has merited. It was at its peak after Jim Laker took 19 wickets in a Test match against Australia in 1956; it threw up heroes like West Indies’ Lance Gibbs, Australia’s Ashley Mallet, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan from India and Pakistan’s Tauseef Ahmed.  When Saqlain Mushtaq and Muttiah Muralitharan took a bow at the turn of the century there was a period of a few years (as there had been before Saqlain emerged in 1995) when it seemed that Shane Warne dominated the hearts and mind of the global teens who all wanted to bowl leg spin. Murali till then was not an icon like Warne.

off spin test

Now I fear that with the ICC hunting down off spinners with a sniper rifle, there may come a time when the young– fearful of being banned even if they were to have the capability to bowl legitimately–will switch to other modes of bowling carrying less of a threat from ICC umpires and match referees. Already the young are more interested in batting considering how the emerging laws of cricket and modern playing conditions are being deliberately tilted so heavily in the favour of batsmen.

The conspiracy theorists are already crying out that the axe seems to be falling on the Smaller Seven than the Big Three and men of colour, the odd white man notwithstanding. That is of course is open to question as cricket is ruled by brown sahib India and also because both England and Australia have no off spinner worthy of the name. But if the off spinners who are being sanctioned are from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies, Bangladesh (for the moment South Africa and Zimbabwe have no penetrative off spinners either) it is because they have a surfeit of off spinners who have grown up inspired by Saqlain and Muralitharan and currently Saeed Ajmal.

Both Ajantha Mendis and Sunil Narine have been iconic bowlers too with their carom ball and doosra. With the West Indian and KKR super off spinner now being reported as well in the CLT20 there is the fear that the reemerging art of off spin may well be reduced to a mundane line and length and predictable turn while the leg spin maintains its lethal options. There will be the similar arm ball or the straighter one but when bowled by the off spinner it is likely to be slaughtered at the bounce.

Pakistan have been in the glare of publicity as they were when Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis ran rings around the batsmen with their reverse swing at high speed. Now even Hafeez has been called and though the circle of violation is within CLT20, but the message has gone across to all umpires who will be officiating him from now on. There is now less pressure on them if they report him.

Sounds of discontent are starting to come in from the coaches and captains, especially with the world cup so close. Waqar Younis is of course the most vocal because Pakistan have been looking at Ajmal and Hafeez to bowl 20 of the 50 overs every game. If they are not bowling then Waqar and Co. have to discover in a matter of weeks two bowlers who can be as effective as these two, whether in strike rate or runs per rover conceded.  Considering the chairman PCB himself has (stupidly) admitted in a public statement that just about every off spinner chucks in Pakistan, it seems that Plan D has to be thought about.

Waqar Younis has said that the laws against exceeding the allowed bend of the elbow should have come after the World Cup in February- March. Perhaps it could have been, so as not to uproot well planted strategies by coaches  that were to be harvested in Australia and New Zealand. But would he have said that if he had been coach of say, Australia? Also, should the epitome of cricketing display be marred by charges that someone wasn’t playing within the rules? Especially if they were to go on and win it?

The point is that if something is illegal, and it has been identified to be in practice on a large scale, then it should be clamped down upon immediately. It looks suspicious of course the way it has been done and the timing, but it can also be seen in a positive sense that bowlers have been given some seven months from the time the warning came from ICC to modify their actions before they set foot in world cup matches. And in the case of say Ajmal, to either bowl off spinners or to find a way to bowl the doosra without bending beyond the tolerance limit.

Talking of Plan D Pakistan can also play the young Raza Hasan, who has heaps of talent and continues to impress.  He perplexed many a good batsman with his guile when he played the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka two years ago before injury set him back. The foreign coaches, batsmen and analysts haven’t seen much of him and if Pakistan play him selectively they may have an ace up their sleeves by the time they walk out into the games of the 2015 World Cup.

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Analysing Afridi


Sohaib Alvi

Think of Shahid Afridi and you think of superheroes of Marvel and DC Comics, though on more occasions than not he appears as a real life spoof of Stan Lee’s iconic creations than the great saviour against all odds; a blundering combine of Spider Man, Superman, Batman, et al. Just about all the time we see him off to the rescue only to smash into a wall as he mistimes a leap 100 stories high or punch the victim while tackling the kidnapping villain. Perhaps a title of Captain Pakistan settles well upon him, especially now that he is in effect back on the lead horse.

Or can he be counted as the man from history, the Robin Hood of the entertainment starved poor in a world dominated by the sheriffs of Islamabad; the moody Achilles of Pakistan cricket who is called for when all else fails despite the knowledge that he has scant respect for his employers, fights alone within the charging army and places self actualization before the team role written for him. Except perhaps that he leaves the poor or the employers in no greater comfort more often than not. Once again he is less the real thing and more the imagined legend.  As a wag would quip, he is the only cricketer dangerous for both sides.

So who, or perhaps what, is Shahid Afridi? Why is it that a man who is so callously willing to throw his wicket in a fit of bat rage from the first ball he faces can be the one who fills the stadia in local games and empties it upon his dismissal? Who is he who has a cult following that rivals that of rock stars or cine celebrities? Indeed he divides a nation and households; someone who polarizes opinion on his values and abilities no less than a certain Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto did or Imran Khan does today.  You either love him or hate him.

To understand him one has to become the psychiatrist Billy Crystal in Analyze This/That who tries to harness Robert De Niro’s impulsive angst and his excruciating inner conflict and all when the man himself demands that he be accepted for who he is.analysing afridi

See the movie and you’ll get the picture; except the challenge here is more complex than straightening out the mafiaso don and more akin to unraveling the concept of The Matrix.

If you ask the doctor to give it to you straight he’ll tell you that Shahid Afridi is an entertainer first and a performer second. The sooner you accept that the quicker you treat your blood pressure. He is the embodiment of the modern game, where the audience is as dispassionate about the romantics of the game as the baying crowd shouting for blood in the colosseum. Human values are for the old fashioned, the weak hearted.

Shahid’s entry into international cricket sealed his brand really; a 37-ball hundred against Sri Lanka in 1996 that transformed his role in the side from a leg spinner to a power hitting all rounder. He was 16 then, an age where you feel that you can change the world single handedly and that all who try and tell you otherwise are molding you back into the their own inefficiencies, their primal fears, their obtuse pessimism. When this stage of your life is coupled with a type ‘A’ individual it is a Molotov cocktail.

That lethal mixture has since been exploding not just on the cricket fields but in dressing rooms, chairmen’s suites, selection meetings and in front of the media. He comes with the paradoxical tag ‘Robust: handle with care’ and those interacting with him, let alone confronting him, disregard that at their peril. Since the past 18 years, Afridi is, and has made aware that he is, his own man; that the world must bend to understand where he is coming from. The sooner the selectors, captain, management, fellow players, spectators recognize that the better it is for them.

His volatile approach has over the years tempted his captains to push him up to open, erroneously assuming that his firepower is in sync with his mind power. That perhaps destroyed him as a batsman where more pragmatically thinking strategists channeled similar types  like Andrew Symonds and recently Corey Anderson (who broke Afridi’s fastest century record) to become more effective in the nascent stage.

He has walked out of Test cricket at the drop of a hat when he had a batting average of 36.51 and a strike rate of 86.91 for his 1700-plus runs which included 5 hundreds in 27 Tests and continued to play in limited overs format (perhaps because it is suited more to his limited patience level with pace of play) where he is perhaps the only cricketer to have reached over 7500 runs with an average of less than 25 with 6 hundreds in 381 games.  He did so saying he feels limited over games is more his forte. Analyse that!

There is something about Shahid they will say. In mid play he has abused Harbhajan for no apparent reason yet thrown a kiss at Gautum Gambhir. He has bitten a cricket ball trying to beat 26 cameras catching him in the act, swiveled in the middle of a cricket pitch with his spikes assuming cameras are off during overs, yet fights for integrity in the game.

He recognizes no authority but himself and demands control over his destiny. It took a notification from PCB to halt his continuously impulsive and immediate referrals to DRS when appeals were turned down off his own bowling, with scant regard for skipper Misbah who is the sole authority to decide.

He is a man obsessed to be seen as the best in his trade. He can’t stand being outshone, no matter what humility he propagates. In the very first IPL in spring of 2008 he had to make a delayed entry for Deccan Chargers as Pakistan hosted Bangladesh. When in the opening match Brendon McCullum pummeled 158 off 73 balls for Kolkata Knight Riders Afridi’s first reaction from home was that he would better that the moment he went over. To the dismay of Deccan Chargers and captain VVS Laxman, Afridi spent the entire tournament in a fit of heave-ho off the very first ball in every game despite orders to quit his maverick style. Some US$675,000 spent by DC on purchasing him went waste with every slapstick dismissal of his within minutes of walking in. He was shunned from the team near the end of the tournament.

Many therefore wonder how a man with such multiple vicissitudes can be given a leadership role. But it cannot be denied that Shahid Afridi is a brave man; admittedly reckless but nevertheless resolute. He has a simplistic plan which is basically to forge ahead and see what holds forth. Like Imran Khan he values those who give their hundred percent and youngsters in the team look up to him because he stands up for them, protects them from their own devils and gives them a clear message that like him they should not be afraid to lose.

In doing that he has captured the essence of leadership; self belief. Many fault him for letting down the team but forget that in the 2011 World Cup he time and again singularly rescued his side with his bowling; without him they would not have reached the semi finals. And there his self control on the field as five catches went down, showed an unrecognized maturity. A year earlier he had bent down to console a near weeping Saeed Ajmal after he had conceded some 20 odd runs in the last over to lose the semi final of the World Twenty20 where Pakistan were defending champions.  How many captains would do that?

Though the game makes him who he is, Afridi has travelled beyond cricket now. This has become his pastime. Do not watch him as a cricketer. If you try and make sense of what he does and why he does what he does, and how it relates to what is happening on the cricket field, you are eligible for a noble prize if you succeed. He is cricket’s Mario Balotelli long before the Italian and ex-Man City, ex-Inter and now Liverpool striker makes coaches bang their heads against walls.

As such, it might be simpler to recount an incident that happened once with Jose Mourinho which should help explain what happens with Afridi:

“I remember one time when we went to play Kazan in the Champions League. In that match I had all my strikers injured. No Diego Milito, no Samuel Eto’o, I was really in trouble and Mario was the only one.

“Mario got a yellow card in the 42nd minute, so when I got to the dressing room at half-time I spent about 14 minutes of the 15 available speaking only to Mario.

“I said to him: ‘Mario, I cannot change you, I have no strikers on the bench, so don’t touch anybody and play only with the ball. If we lose the ball no reaction, if someone provokes you, no reaction, if the referee makes a mistake, no reaction.’

“The 46th minute – red card!”

That for you is Shahid Afridi. But unlike Balotelli, he does not work under a regime but rather anxious administrators who let him do his thing. Perhaps it is for the better as they themselves have failed to instill a system of sense and sensibility that mentors youngsters.  In Pakistan cricket, it takes a mindset that is Shahid Afridi to harness the negatives into a winning situation. Which is why he roams the fields like an unbridled wild stallion, proud of his independence and magically attractive to those who wish to be free of the mundane?

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To all men who forget the greater labor day : The Woman’s…

women & labour Day 1

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We Shall Always Fly

We shall fly for the children
We shall fly for the books
We shall fly for the schools
We shall spread the message
We will deliver everywhere

Until we can fly no more
Until we have no air
Until our prayers run out
Until we are no more
Until we have left our mark

We now soar up elsewhere
We now have wings of our own
We pray still for the children
We still raise funds in blessings
We will never abandon you

Just promise us more will fly
Promise more join the cause
Promise every child will read
Promise you will go on and on
Promise we have not flown in vain

–Sohaib Alvi

Dedicated to the brave father and son, Babar Suleman and Haris Suleman, who died when their single engine plane crashed into the sea. They were on their last leg of flying around the world to raise funds for under privileged children’s education in Pakistan. May Allah grant them a special place in heaven.

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The Lost Scream

From the depths of the mind
From the hollows of the heart
Like a call from the Wild
In the canyon of words
An echo of a phrase rebounds
A thought trapped in the clouds
Meandering through the vales
In a world without fences
Where the shriek of a reader
Can be heard miles away
But no one can hear a writer scream.

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