Test match nostalgia when playing New Zealand

This article was published in Dawn edition of Saturday November 8, 2014 a day before the series started. For a visual look go to e-paper: http://epaper.dawn.com/DetailNews.php?StoryText=08_11_2014_023_006

Test match nostalgia when playing New Zealand

by Sohaib Alvi

New Zealand will go into the history books as the team that cancelled a Pakistan tour mid way in 2002 though for no fault of their own. That decision brings back the memories of the catastrophe that surrounded the bomb blast before the second Test at Karachi, after Inzamam had warmed up for them with a triple century in the first at Lahore.

But other than that Pakistan’s cricketing contests on the Test match front against New Zealand have been more low key than with others. They have been the outside challengers to most of the bigger cricketing nations and not only because of being on the final frontier of land mass; a small country with population the size of Peshawar’s. There has been a lack of team skill and temperament, even as they have had some commendable individual talent over the years, perhaps more so from the 1970s in the shape of Glenn Turner, Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe through Stephen Fleming and Daniel Vettori around the turn of the century and currently Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor.

Not surprisingly therefore Pakistan has their highest win percentage against them in Test matches if Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are to be kept aside, winning almost half the 50 Tests they have played against them since 1955. Indeed, before assuming the more cut throat look of professional cricket the men from New Zealand have been the greater gentlemen of the game.

When they toured Pakistan in late 1955, they lost by an innings in the first Test and then in the second (a game where Imtiaz Ahmed and Waqar Hassan added 308 for the 7th wicket) Pakistan were left to chase just over 100 to win on the fifth evening. And the Kiwis were running to change ends!! They did that to allow fair opportunity to the hosts and Pakistan eventually got through by 6 wickets in an exciting finish against the clock.

Fast forward to the last Test of the 1985 tour to Pakistan and their captain Jeremy Coney stormed out of the commentary box in a post match talk leaving the normally eloquent Iftikhar Ahmed gaping at the camera in severe bemusement. Coney’s rant was against Pakistani umpiring, blaming them for a 2-0 loss. In all that fuming was the threat that they will get a doze of their own medicine in the return tour scheduled a few weeks later. That they doled out in equal measure, mind you with skipper Zaheer Abbas opting out of the trip; that it came after Coney’s threat added to the innuendo.

In one of the earlier series in 1979, it had been Majid Khan who had retorted to what he felt was an element of deception by paceman Richard Hadlee. In one of the more unusual complaints that umpires have received Majid pointed out to the umpires that the particular sound of effort that Hadlee was producing at the time of delivery could be mistaken for a shout of “No” from the umpire! There was talk that it was deliberate to get a batsman to take a risk in the belief he won’t be given out off a no ball when in fact there was none.

For Pakistan nevertheless a contest against New Zealand has been the stage of personal records and triumphs as well, not least by the Mohammad family. It was against New Zealand in 1969 that three brothers — Hanif, Mushtaq and Sadiq —played in the same Test and it is against them that Hanif and son Shoaib scored double hundreds (both 203 not out) 25 years apart, the only father-son duo with double hundred in Tests. The pair also has an additional century against the New Zealanders.

The Mohammad brothers — Mushtaq and Sadiq — flayed their attack on the 1972-73 tour, with Mushtaq getting a double hundred in the second Test at Dunedin (where he and Asif Iqbal (175) added 375) and Sadiq a brilliant 166 in the previous Test. In that first Test, Majid Khan (79 in each innings) became the first Pakistani and the fourth in the world at the time to score identical 50-plus scores in the same Test.

It was New Zealand that bore the brunt of Javed Miandad’s debut. The 19-year old walked in at 44-3, lost Zaheer on 55 and then plastered the tourists for 163 in around four hours. He went from 90 to 102 with three consecutive boundaries off left arm paceman Richard Collinge, each time coming down the pitch to drive him through the covers; Asif Iqbal (166) could only try his best to calm him down. In the third Test at Karachi Miandad became Pakistan’s youngest double centurion in Tests. In the second innings he was stumped for 85 as he selflessly obliged an urging Mushtaq at the other end by flaying at everything to make possible a declaration late on the fourth day.

It was in that Test match that Majid Khan scored the then fastest hundred for Pakistan, a record that stood till last Sunday. It took him just 74 balls with 18 boundaries and two sixes. But he remains ahead of Misbah on the other aspect of the record. It was only the fourth time in Tests history that a batsman had scored a hundred before lunch on the first day of a Test match. It had come almost half a century after Don Bradman had joined fellow Aussies Trumper and Macartney in that feat and stands unmatched close to four decades later.

New Zealand has nevertheless given Pakistan a tougher time over the last twenty years. Till then they had won only three Tests against Pakistan, which included an amazing 0-1 series win in Pakistan itself back in 1969 and that 2-0 riposte that Coney promised at home in 1985. They had been annihilated in the 1990-91 series by Wasim and Waqar and bowled out short of a target of 127 in the lone Test at Hamilton in 1993. They’ve had Pakistan’s measure since then winning at least one game in every three-Test series and have only lost two-Test series with no whitewashes. In fact they drew 1-1 the two-Test series in Pakistan 1996-97.

Pakistan in fact came close to losing the series in 2009-10 in New Zealand when they conceded a 232 run lead in one of the Tests; they eventually drew 1-1. It was the series where Umar Akmal got a brilliant hundred on Test debut.

But Umar Akmal wasn’t the only Pakistani who made his name from New Zealand. Previous to that the tour to New Zealand had thrown up two fast bowlers who were to have different fortunes: In 1985 Javed Miandad insisted on taking a teenager by the name of Wasim Akram who didn’t even own a pair cricket boots but who took 10 wickets in the second Test. Some 15 years later it was Mohammad Sami who took 8 wickets on his Test Debut against New Zealand to announce himself.

A year after Umar Akmal’s heroic entry Pakistan took the shorter series 1-0 and it is to Pakistan’s credit that though they have not played the Kiwis even on neutral grounds since that abandoned tour of 2002, they have held their own. In fact 7 of the last 9 Test series (including two instances of lone Tests) have been played in New Zealand. Pakistan have lost only 3 of the 15 Tests they have contested in New Zealand since early 1993 and only 5 overall in 29 Tests there.

In fact outside New Zealand the Kiwis have beaten Pakistan in just two Tests over some 60 years. Something they will carry on their minds when they step out for the opening Test. For Pakistan the point to note is that Misbahul Haq has been the 15th Pakistani captain against them the 20 times they’ve entered into a series/lone Test. Some things never change in Pakistan except captains.

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Yesterday Australia, Tomorrow New Zealand?

Yesterday Australia, Tomorrow New Zealand?

By

Sohaib Alvi

It’s been such an unexpected, unusual and incredible Test series in that it has bedazzled, bemused and entertained. It has been all the more unbelievable coming after a putrid performance by Pakistan in the limited over games.

Undoubtedly the biggest buzz has surrounded the allegedly aging but youthfully ebullient pair of Misbah and Younus. The Khan of Karachi had initially owned the media and the masses by enthralling with his twin hundreds in the first Test and when he followed it up with a double in Abu Dhabi he more than partially eclipsed the first innings hundred by Misbah; much like the captain’s seemingly less important half century in Dubai.

So the man from Mianwali just had to do something sensational to get back the attention of, as I said, the media and the masses; and did he do it in style. That he didn’t break the record for the fastest hundred disappointed millions as did me. But to have your name next to Sir Vivian Richards has a special feeling in itself. After all the former Australian captain Mark Taylor declared the innings when he was 334 not out at close on the second day equaling the then highest score by an Australian batsman, Sir Donald Bradman himself.

Everyone was stunned that third morning thinking that Taylor would go to surpass the then all time highest score of 375 by Brian Lara. But Taylor explained that he could not think of surpassing Sir Donald Bradman, such respect he had for Sir Don. And also that for posterity his name would come alongside the greatest batsman of all time and his country’s legend.

In the same manner to have your name next to the greatest batsman of the last half of the 20th century, who to many is no less a mortal than Bradman, is a huge honour. That Misbah did it against the No.2 rated side in the world goes down well with his supporters.

My columns, blogs and comments on social media over the last 4 years bear testament that I have been his most vociferous supporter as captain and just for this reason; that he is a man who has enormous contribution to Pakistan cricket. He is dubbed the strangler when it comes to chases not realizing that he remains burdened in such circumstances with a batting order that has not the strength that Inzi surrounded himself with. No Yousuf next to him and after him no Razzaq. When they faltered there was precious little Inzamam could do in the 2007 World Cup. Likewise when Yousuf had no Inzi or had out of form Malik, Kamran Akmal and Razzaq his team wilted and Yousuf himself could not chase down some 170-odd on a placid pitch at Melbourne back in early 2010.

So when he got himself a line up consisting of Ahmed Shahzad, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan before him and below him Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed he arrived in settled times and knew he had stability even if he went cheap; hence the gay abandon with which he exhibited a strokeplay which was always his hallmark.

He still has not the eye of Inzamam nor the timing that Inzi was a master of; nor does he have the languidness of Yousuf or the sanguinity of Younis. But none of them has ever hit with such power dressed in such stylishness. And none can match the distance of his sixes, though Yousuf has hit them long and hard once in the longer boundaries of the MCG. In fact in that one innings where he hit 5 it almost equaled the collective number of sixes hit by Australians; and his overall 8 surpassed their team effort.

And what of Younus Khan, the man who now averages over 50 in each of the 4 innings of a Test match? He has had the greatest series ever no doubt. Matching Herbert Sutcliff by scoring three successive hundreds against is an achievement and he will now have his name next to one of the greatest batsmen of the second quarter of the last century. But Younus is one up in that it included a double century whereas Sutcliffe’s highest of the three was 176.

The achievements of Misbah and Younus have also side lighted the hundreds from Azhar Ali, Ahmed Shahzad and Sarfraz Ahmed, which were in no manner less important; without them and Asad’s near hundred Pakistan could not have won the first Test or got Pakistan into such an invincible position in the second.

Sarfraz especially needs to be mentioned separately. At Dubai he came in when the main batsmen had gone and yet batted with a flair that none of the earlier batsman had. It was almost like he was telling the Australians: “You guys can’t bowl.”

The psychological impact to the Australians of that hundred in 80 balls was no less definitive than what Javed Miandad’s last ball six had had on the Indians back in Sharjah on that infamous evening of 1986. It shook them up and to the Pakistanis it showed their bowling to be far more weaker than what the grinding innings of Azhar, Younus, Misbah and Asad had made them out to be.

Perhaps what equally surprised everyone including the Pakistanis was the way their spinners performed in the absence of Ajmal and the perceived absence of Abdul Rehman, both heroes of the whitewash against England on these pitches back in 2011. After the Dubai Test coach Darren Lehmann might have rued the fact that his batsmen were out to straight balls by the spinners but his best buddy Shane Warne used to bowl them to great effect too. And if it comes to that one can say what the great England fast bowler Fred Trueman once said to a batsman who tried to play down his dismissal with an in swinger saying it was just a straight one. “Aye, and a straight one was good enough for ye,” came the sharp retort from the Yorkshireman.

But it weren’t straight ones that got them all tied up when they lost their last 5 wickets for a handful to lose the second Test. Twenty six wickets between them at an average of less than 22 says little of the grip Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah held over the Australian batsmen throughout the time they were on the field.

On now to New Zealand and a whole new challenge. Yes challenge, because they will not necessarily be push overs that the Australians turned out to be. Their bowlers are likely to struggle like the Aussies but they bat well in the middle of the order and in Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and Ronchi have master counter strikers. The Pakistani coaching staff needs to realize that Rahat Ali remains quite impotent on these pitches and Imran Khan took only 5 wickets at over 30. Expecting too much over three Tests from the spin duo and Hafeez (who took just 4 wickets at over 33 each) would be extracting.

Yes, New Zealand is the new tomorrow for Pakistan and after the conquering of their Tasman Sea neighbours, it seems the turn of the Black Caps. But it might not be so easy.

Originally published in The News on November 9, 2014

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/the-exploits-of-an-ageing-duo-misbah-ul-haq-younis-khan/#.VF920TSUdzs

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Reflections On a seashore

I visited the beach with my family the other day and suddenly was reminded of a poem I had written when I was maybe 16, and at a time when I was much impressed by the style of the 19th century poets as I would read from The Golden Treasury.  So if you’ll keep in mind the age and the style of poetry even then in vogue, you can perhaps overlook an element of childishness in the form of this one and others I penned. Honestly, putting it here more for the fear that a memory might be lost if I were to lose that diary than for any other reason. After all time has moved on and so has style of the written word. Still believe I was born in the wrong century….

Reflections On a seashore

O brilliant sunshine!
O glorious sea!
Both of you are mine
And I belong to thee.
Here I stand my love!
On this place they call land
The sea in front, the skies above
My feet sunk in soft sand

Oh, it’s a wondrous world
Open to all there be
So delicately carved and curled
All there for us to see;
It’s an Artists heaven
And a Poets dream
So artfully is it woven
So superbly serene

The joyfully galloping sea
Arrives ever so gaily on the beach
To embosom the sand in unhidden glee
As far as its arms can reach;
The white gloved hands of the waves
Doth so gently clasp ones feet
As the soft sand from underneath escapes
In a fashion so ticklishly sweet

As the promise of a dazzling dawn
Doth embody itself on the bay
The first streaks of Aurora are born
To herald the birth of another day
The splendor of a clear blue sky
Is soon to be seen and enjoyed
It’s a time to revel, so don’t be shy
Come out and shout: “God, I’m overjoyed”

As patches of cloud suddenly appear
To decorate the ceiling of the earth
The sky is dressed in its full attire
To prove itself of worth
To the sea, lavishing in its blue dress
Its white frills stretching on the sand
To receive the smooth, gentle caress
From the level layers of soft sand

Softly, the trees began to stir
In the early morning breeze
As the flowers begin to decipher
The buzzing of the hungry bees
The shrill whistle of the Cuckoo bird
Announces the blossoming of another day
As nature makes itself seen and heard
And at our feet it doth itself lay

And the wind winds its way
Spreading a gust of salty smell
All along the margin of the bay
Bewitching all; casting a spell
Of pure harmony and enchanting melody
Producing its own delightful rhapsody
All along its path it sings
As it flies on its woven wings

In the far distance the sight
Of the waves splashing their foam
As they crash with all their might
On the tall cliffs standing alone
To face the deafening roar
Of the determined waves’ attack
Engrossed in their vain bid to pour
Upon its foe; only to be driven back

The gulls in their graceful glide
Do so elegantly ride the air
As they turn left, then right
Relishing the morning sun’s glare
Flapping their wings now and then
Echoing their shrill piercing cry
As in a giant flock they descend
Then up, up they go into the sky

At last, Apollo calls it a day
And exits in a golden haze;
For a while its Ambassadors stay
For a fabulous farewell; to amaze
Even the hardest of hearts
To mystify the most brilliant brain
But primarily this message to pass
Our king shall rise again

Soon lovely Diana in her eternal grace
Shimmers down on the darkened sea
As she takes her predecessors place
To reign in her utmost glory
The bees are silent, the birds asleep;
The stars twinkle on the Milky Way
Flowers through their petals peep
As everything waits for another day.

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PCB Chairman Jumps Ship On Younis Khan

For an abridged version you can read

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/pcb-chief-jumps-ship-khan/#.VFW7SyKUdzs

PCB Chairman Jumps Ship On Younis Khan

By

Sohaib Alvi

When Younus Khan refused to acknowledge or thank the PCB in the presentation ceremony despite being prompted by Ramiz Raja, it must have sent chills down the spine of everyone at the Gaddafi Stadium. That it sent one down the chairman’s was confirmed when he came out with the statement that he was all in favour of Younus being selected for the world cup.

Shaharyar Khan also confirmed what I have said countless times in my columns and TV appearances over the years. That he is de facto chairman of selectors and that the chairman of selectors is basically his subordinate. It’s been that way for years so it’s not just Shaharyar Khan who is playing this role. He’s simply inherited it.

Why do I assign this position to the chairman? Well until he approves—note, approves—the side it doesn’t get announced and can’t travel. Period. It takes the chairman’s signature for the ball to start rolling on the paper. PCB officials and their media men have always denied this intervention and will continue to do so. They will say it is an administrative function for the funds to be released, or that the PCB Chairman just checks that no banned or suspended player has been included going by past explanations offered.

Ridiculous reasons all. There can at any time be no more than a few players from the domestic circuit that are not cleared for one reason or another; the list can be given to the selectors by the disciplinary committee or the sports medicine head in case of injury suspicion. And the budget doesn’t change if it is say, Younis Khan going with the team or not.

As such the fact remains that the chairman has the last say; some have more interference, some less. From what I saw in Shaharyar Khan’s last tenure, he is the less intrusive compared to say what Tauqeer Zia was said to be. When it came to non selection of Younis Khan for the ODIs against Australia, Shaharyar Khan said he would not interfere. At the time it was taken as a ‘No’ by those who knew that Younis Khan had had a verbal fallout with the chairman in 2006 over captaincy after which Shaharyar Khan had resigned. And as such he would not support him now. But that was up to conjecture, as was the news that Moin Khan has rushed to Lahore to get Shaharyar Khan’s consent over the team to be announced for the limited over games.

It had weight though. The team was slated to be announced in Karachi at 5pm before the semi finals but at 4.30 the cameras had to be disassembled. Moin Khan subsequently flew to Lahore and a day later the team was announced from there with Shahrayar Khan backing the selection.

But by publicly stating that he would like to see Younis Khan in the world cup squad Shaharyar Khan has officially interfered in the selection process. He can imply what he wants by adding that the final say is up to the selectors. Simply giving his comment when he is officially the chairman is clearly interference, or at least influence, which in Pakistan means as good as interfering.

He has let the cat out of the bag by saying: “When the ODI team was announced, the selectors and other stakeholders had agreed upon Younis’ omission.” Note the words ‘selectors and other stakeholders’. Would Shaharyar Khan please elaborate who the stakeholders are who have a say in the selection?

The erstwhile diplomat is saying it is his personal opinion. That is as ridiculous as when he reportedly said on an Indian media that Dawood Ibrahim was no more in Pakistan and that he had been chased out. He retracted when put under pressure by saying: “I have never, even when I was in the foreign ministry or now known where Dawood Ibrahim lives. I am only reflecting what the Pakistani press has been saying about the gentleman.”

Yes of course he was quoting the press!! Imagine the diplomatic faux pas of a seasoned man. I thought that he must have been misquoted. But honestly, how can he be chairman of PCB, give a statement and then say it is his personal opinion! Doesn’t he know that when you are holding a public office (and PCB is under PM patronage) there is no such thing as ‘personal opinion’ when you are discussing your own institution. And if there is it is never cited in public.

I believe that he has been psyched out by what Younis said—or rather did not say—at the presentation ceremony of the first Test. He realizes that he has lost the popularity vote. And while someone who is more mentally strong (say Majid Khan who refused to accept Wasim Akram’s inclusion when at his peak because of his belief that something was not right) would have stood his ground, Shaharyar Khan has blinked first and rushed to absolve himself of all opposition to Younis Khan’s inclusion for the world cup after seeing the reaction in media and general public.

By doing that he has dumped Moin Khan and is making him the scapegoat. Now Moin (and to some extent Waqar Younis) will be made responsible for Younis Khan’s omission and outburst at the National Stadium and for subsequent omission of PCB from the vote of thanks Younis gave in Dubai. That is a shameful thing to do. He may have inherited Moin as chief selector and manager but as long as Moin is his subordinate he should not leave him in the lurch. He should learn from the ECB Chairman and Chief Executive who stood by the selectors despite the continuous flare-ups from Kevin Pieterson.

He has also shown that he has little understanding of cricket. That a Test match temperament and ability is different from One Day temperament and ability. He has shown that he has knee jerk reaction to situations. I mean how can he give his opinion on a technical issue when he has had little to do with cricket and is there purely as an administrator and that too because he caught the PM’s eye for being nominated (not elected) on the board, which like the good boys they are elected him to the top post because as it seems now, Najam Sethi was to go to ICC as President.

All in bad taste. Shaharyar Khan would have won more respect had he chosen simply to remain calm and quiet and said that his opinion on selection is not to be shared in public due to the position he is holding. A seasoned diplomat should know the right thing to say.

END

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Suna hai Log poochtay haiN haal hamara

Suna hai Log poochtay haiN haal hamara
Kehdo aaj kal kuch gumnamee see hai

Kia roshan karooN ga in gulyoN ko
Apnay sehen mein hee tareeki see hai

Zehen ko samjhana tu dooor ki baat hai
Abhi tu qalb mein hee budgomanee see hai

Kisko dhoondooN raaz kee baat batanaiN
Hur sheh tu yehan jaani pehchanee see hai

Kidhar, Kahan basaooN mein tamasha apna
ChaaroN taraf basti mein veerani see hai

Har khayal, kar iradeh ka hai pataa
Phir bhi zindagi baymaanay see hai

Suna hai Log poochtay haiN haal hamara
Kehdo aaj kal kuch gumnamee see hai

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So…will I die

So…will I die

With words not written
Those books unread
The play not staged
The script not made
He had ideas, they will say
But alas, he is dead.

So…will I die

A vision destined to arrive,
Lost now in a world of dread
Where dreams stay dreams
In a silence that screams
He had plans, they will say
But alas he is dead

So…will I die

With so much to say
With so much unsaid,
In a crowd but unseen
Ah, what could have been
He had talent, they will say
But alas he is dead.

So…will I die

Was it a life fulfilled
or one made, not bred
With a longing to serve
To be loved and to love
He had a desire, they will say
But alas, he is dead

So…will I die
So will I die

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COUNTING THE CASUALTIES

Published today in The News October 19, 2014

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/mohammad-hafeez-counting-casualties/#.VEOaSSLLfTC

PCB COUNTS THE CASUALTIES

By

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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