Moin out to a false stroke

Moin out to a false stroke by Sohaib Alvi

There’s a time and place for everything, it is said, and that remains the core philosophy and reasoning behind the recalling of Moin Khan from this World Cup. However, in my view there are some things for which there is never a time and place. And a casino falls in that category. As such it was an injudicious venue to have dinner in the first place whether or not Moin indulged himself in what is a frowned upon activity by most in even civilized societies and which our religion forbids emphatically.

Nevertheless, by just being present in the casino does not prove he was gambling. No photographs have passed my eyes indicating he was, though it has to be said that it is not a place where you just walk in and have your photos taken.

But it is his personal matter and whether he is innocent or guilty is not for us to decide. What is not his personal matter nevertheless is his job at the time he was caught inside the premises of a gambling place. He was after all the man who was representing a cricket board that is already being maligned for being soft on cricketers mixing with match fixers. And we all know that the probability of them being in a casino is high. He was the man who had a say in the final XI and millions of dollars are bet on what that will be at the time of the toss. Bets are opened in the casino for everything from the final XI to who will open the batting or face the first ball.

You can also pass on props that will indicate a certain event to happen; the colour of the wicketkeeper’s gloves or who will not wear a hat while fielding in the first 10 overs. But does that mean he should remain locked up inside his room and go into some sort of hibernation till the time the match begins? Certainly not. Is he to stop talking to anyone outside the team management and players? No he shouldn’t. But he should have the discretion to not create the perception that he is accessible to gamblers.

It can be said that he is not guilty of gambling away Pakistan’s fortunes. One would not be daft enough to be seen among gamblers if one is to fix a game or any of its aspects. And then make it so high profile an event as to pose for photographs that are bound to make the social media if not the mainstream.

But Moin certainly shot himself in the foot by going to the casino, especially considering he belongs to the generation of the 1990s that has been tainted in match fixing inquiries and accusations.

Moin all his life agreed to the realism that it is not necessary that you are out for an umpire to give you out; it is enough that the umpire perceived that the ball took the edge of his bat on way to the keeper.

He is now straddled with just that fact of life and he should not complain that he has been wrongly given out. He really shouldn’t have played that close to the ball if he wasn’t going to middle it.

On to today’s game and the question is whether the Pakistan think tank has learned from the mistakes made in the first two games. But so thick is the skin of the decision makers that we might yet see Umar Akmal keeping wickets and Younis Khan retaining his place at the expense of playing the extra bowler — or rather the necessary fifth bowler.

Younis seems adamant that the faults in the team have nothing to do with him and has conveyed that he has no plans to retire. Does that mean he will put some latent psychological pressure on the tour selection committee and get into the side despite a horrendous run up to today’s game?

If the tour selection committee which now includes the bureaucrat Naved Akram Cheema were to select him it would be equally guilty if he were to fail again.

I have written before and writing again that Sarfraz Ahmed must be given his rightful place back and Younus is the man who should make way.

If he plays and opens, Yasir Shah can be played in place of Nasir Jamshed who really must be told that we have more than six balls to chase the target. And that until he gets that into his head he can warm the bench. His inclusion is already being viewed suspiciously after Hafeez claimed that he was to be fit within ten days (in time for West indies’ game).

Pakistan are playing at Brisbane today and in the game between Ireland and the UAE  on this ground played a few days ago we saw that the temperature was testing and that high level of fitness was vital to bat or bowl through the fifty overs.

It will be seen whether Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz are able to bowl their 10 overs, considering the injuries they have battled over the past six months.

It will worry Misbah even if he plays Yasir Shah as the fifth bowler as Pakistan have only Ahmed Shahzad and Sohaib Maqsood to bowl should one bowler break down.

Thankfully the boundaries are bigger on all sides at The Gabba, which allows Misbah to bowl spin with less worry about the boundaries.

The pitch also holds up the ball even though it is good to bat on. Over 550 runs were scored in the game between Ireland and the UAE.

Pakistan have their work cut out. And not just for today but for the rest of the games as well. Even if they were to win three of them their place would not be guaranteed in the quarter-finals as theirs is the worst run rate. They must not only defeat Zimbabwe today but they must do it emphatically. The same will be the case in their matches against the UAE and Ireland; maybe by over a 100 runs or with something like 15 overs to spare if they are chasing. But then like a true blooded patriot, I am assuming we will win today and squeeze our way into the quarter-finals.

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A Breakaway Selection

The fact that Moin & his fellow selectors eschewed the temptation to go back and pluck out Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal from semi oblivion shows that the selection of the World Cup squad has been made more on merit than on hope; something that I had feared in my last column. Yes, hope is there in the shape of picking Hafeez as a batsman when he will not be bowling unless he passes the official biometrics test which I feel he will decline to give. Yes it is there in taking along a circumspect Younis Khan though a team sport needs someone with his intelligence and calming influence in the field. And yes it is there in the form of Ehsan Adil, a bowler who is quite injury prone and hasn’t done much in 2014.

But in once and for all deciding that the oft used and abused word of ‘experience’ as a basis for carting along totally spent cartridges will not hold water Moin & Co. have taken a forward step. I qualify ‘spent’ with ‘totally’ because Younis and Hafeez are still in the team and Younus has clearly stated that this is his farewell appearance. They have also risked more than the previous selectors would do. Then the tactic was to bring in anyone for a big event who once had a name and if –rather when– they failed to hide behind the excuse that if the best and most experienced couldn’t deliver, there was nothing they could have done. Total hogwash it was of course.

Now the current selectors may be put questions if Pakistan returns earlier than the semi finals as to whether they erred by taking players who had no, or little, experience of Australian and New Zealand pitches, or had not the wherewithal to take the pressure of playing in the World Cup. As such the more conservative ones would have picked players like Mohammad Sami, Sohail Tanvir, Nasir Jamshed and of course the duo of Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik. But Moin Khan is his announcement was clear he would be here to take the flak if that happened but for now he was backing these 15.

Nevertheless I am terribly disappointed that Fawad Alam did not make the squad. He is the ideal player for a World Cup situation and had shown form and grit in his performances in the first half of the Pentangular Cup. I can understand where the selectors were coming from. He had to fight for a place in the middle order where Sohaib Maqsood and Umar Akmal were the other options and I would have picked both any day.

But in the presence of four fast bowlers, perhaps a fifth in the form of Ehsan Adil may have been dispensed with and an extra batsman like Fawad brought in who can also bowl left arm spin. The question arises, yes, whether he could have been preferred over any one from Younis, Haris or Umar/Sohaib, Misbah being a constant. My answer is that it would have made all four conscious of their performance and would have given Pakistan an excellent fielding substitute if nothing else.

The selectors have taken a mighty gamble in selecting only one specialist opener in Ahmed Shahzad. I say one because his supporters can label him an opener all they want but Hafeez has disappointed in that role for the past few years, putting up some runs only when the pitches are soft and the pace attack contains no big name. I would play Hafeez any day in the limited-over sides because of his bowling and bat him lower down. But now with the prospect of him going in as specialist batsman he certainly doesn’t merit a place in the first XI.

Maybe In his heart of hearts Moin thinks so too but has taken pitiful measure for that by saying that Sarfraz is back up. I say that because knowing that Pakistan had paucity at the top Sarfraz should have been tried in this role in the five ODIs against New Zealand. It is distinctly different than opening in T20 and any opener would tell you that. The selectors have perhaps relied on his experience of doing so in domestic cricket.

But as I had written then, Hafeez was persevered with knowing he would get runs on such pitches against a none-too-threatening opening attack. That part of the selectors plan has worked. If anything I would have picked Sharjeel in the 15 instead of Hafeez. Yes, he hasn’t set the pace when given several opportunities in the past year but hasn’t Hafeez been given years of the same? Sharjeel would have allowed a left-right opening combination and is equally, if not more likely, to have scored at least as many runs as Hafeez might.

I am nevertheless happy that Sohail Khan has at last been given his due. He has been performing admirably in domestic cricket and as Moin pointed out the selectors decided that Pakistan first class cricket has to be given importance. Sohail can generate good pace and bounce but if he plays he must be held back from spraying it around too much in his excitement. A good coach and analyst will show him, and in fact all the fast bowlers, how the Indian pace attack has suffered on the current Australian tour by bowling short of a length.

Sad for players like Bilawal Bhatti and Anwar Ali who had emerged with such aplomb in South Africa and seemed to be the answer for Pakistan’s search for all rounders. Tough luck for Raza Hassan and Zulfiqar Babar also, both of whom have done well in limited-over formats whenever given the opportunity. I would have thought that just like the option of trying Fawad Alam for Ehsan Adil, the selectors could have gone for one of them in his place. I suppose the emergence of Haris Sohail as a reasonably restrictive left armer and who also took some important wickets, sealed their fate.

Important thing to conclude here is that the selectors announced this in a press conference and Moin took the questions confidently, showing he had no guilt feelings and has nothing to hide. I think the selection has been done with sincerity and the selectors deserve credit for that. Now it is up to these fifteen players to back them up come February 15.

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The Educated Have A Greater Responsibility With Words

The 4th of January marks the death anniversary of Salman Taseer, shot and killed by one of his guards as he exited a café in the heart of Islamabad. He was the Governor of Punjab, a stalwart of Pakistan People’s Party and a graduate of Cambridge University.

He was killed because he had chosen to speak out against the Blasphemy Law. His detractors claim he was killed for the right reason, his supporters believe he was the victim of a mindset that is extremist and intolerant. What is right will never be settled or agreed with unanimously. Even the courts are ambivalent; they have punished the man, Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, but no one dares to push for anything beyond that. Taseer’s shooter may be in jail but is a celebrity among those who believe he acted correctly and courageously.

The question is not whether he is guilty in the eyes of the law. The law is clear. The question is whether he is guilty in the eyes of God? The jury is out and it is in the millions. It never meets except in groups of like-minded. And then the decision is either very guilty or very innocent.

What has in my view never been debated is whether the commencement that led to the gory episode could have been better handled. That is the point of this piece.

Let us look at where it all started. Salman Taseer sat next to a woman, Aasia Bibi, condemned for blasphemy and spoke in her defense. However, it is what he said rather than the spirit in which he spoke that needs to be examined. Why was it that he was picked for ‘execution’ if you may, by the killer or by those who instigated the feeling inside the gunman, and not others who have been equally critical of the law?

Abstaining myself from the actual controversy or commenting on the vile consequences thereafter for Salman Taseer, not least because it is not the subject of this piece, I must state that it is such coarse choice of words from the educated that require attention.

Examining his words that day we come up with some that possibly went beyond the call of advocacy. In particular was when he referred to the Blasphemy Law as “the black law” as Newsline published on December 23, 2010 quoted him: “Even people who are deeply religious have spoken out against this black law.”

Having been educated at Cambridge he should have known what the connotation of the word “black” is when referring to day or law. Being a businessman, politician and holder of the office of Governor directed that he should have had his pulse on the level of illiteracy and the comprehension level of the uneducated. I pray for the soul of Salman Taseer and believe he did much good in his life, was a loving husband and father and a peaceful citizen of the country. But though he said much right in that interview he also erred appallingly.

“People in power have to be careful about what comes out of their mouth. They have to find exactly the right word that can’t be attacked”, says the playwright Anna Deavere Smith.

So while the late Salman Taseer may not have meant it that way it did come out to an extent that he was against there being a blasphemy law, which is intrinsic in Islam. While it is unfair to pluck out one word from among many he said that made sense, should not the educated be aware of the nuances of a word? The whole essence of education is to be able to pick and say the right word for the right occasion and to have a narrative that steers clear of any confusion or misinterpretation.

Sadly, we do not care for that attention to detail. And when it comes to bite us we choose to blame the listener or reader.  That is not to be an apologist for the actions of the individual who reacts. But to have an understanding of his or her mistake nonetheless if there is one. I am talking of normal disagreements not an extreme one like that enacted by Mumtaz Qadri.

I say again that the objective of this piece is not to pass judgment on the happening of the day but to say that those among us who are educated and have read history and are familiar with the ramifications of misinterpretations must be at the vanguard of communication. We are quick to condemn acts by the illiterate, no matter how justifiable, yet we look not upon ourselves at what we say and more poignantly, how we say it.

That is not to say that educated people should be faultless; just that they have a greater responsibility to be correct especially when it comes to public speaking and principally when it comes to issues involving sensitivities of all kind especially religious.

I believe I am educated and entirely at fault on several occasions, especially in my writings where I have touched on a nerve at times with an abominable choice of words. So have thousands of others on an occasion or two who may in fact be scholars. Yet it is a case of diminishing errors the more we become cognizant of the fact that education thrusts upon us a responsibility towards guarding against the miscomprehension or angst of the illiterate. It is no less than that of a parent to the decent upbringing of their child. It is not just a responsibility. It is a moral duty.

And to build on Anna Smith, we the educated are more responsible for consequences than those who are not. In fact we are more accountable to society especially to the underprivileged that live in it.

But to return to the individual, we must be careful of the terms we use to speak our intentions and opinions no matter how well intended they are for others. It is a responsibility that is as intrinsic a part of education as string is to the woven fabric, without which our covering will fall apart; without which we will remain grossly naked while wearing the fur hat.  As indeed we are.

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Playing cricket after the massacre

This appeared in Dawn today. Please visit their page also and post a comment for a wider audience.                                                                 


Playing cricket after the massacre

Should Pakistan have played cricket after the horrific school massacre at Peshawar that sent a nation into shock and grief and mourning? That is a question that will be discussed for some time and there will be countless who will remain adamant that it should not have been played.

However, the PCB could not have given a more ludicrous reason for going ahead by saying that it could not postpone the ODI due to broadcast commitments! A more heartless and selfish reason could not have been given and shows a complete lack of diplomatic communiqué skills from the Gaddafi Stadium. And how come this has been given in an impersonal press release. This was a time when no one less than PCB chairman should have publicly come forward personally and given a personal statement as did the CEO of ACB when the first Test was announced as postponed after the death of Phil Hughes.

It showed a severe absence of emotional intelligence, leave alone normal intelligence by those at the helm of PCB and Chairman Shaharyar Khan has to take responsibility. For out of this clearly tortuous mindset came the next statement that appeared in PCB’s press release as quoted online by “We tried our best to postpone the 4th ODI but were constrained by the broadcasters commitment as well as for cricketing reasons advised by the New Zealand management.”

Constrained? 132 children are butchered and PCB says that they were constrained by private enterprise? And are we to believe that the New Zealanders are heartless people who care little about such a horrendous episode and want to have their cricket game, or the opportunity to equal the series? I refuse to believe that. And would the PCB please elaborate on what were the reasons advised by the Kiwis.

So the broadcasters, who are not from Pakistan, can be so cold-blooded as to demand that their coffers be filled. I refuse to believe that also. These are people who just a couple of weeks back announced that they couldn’t cover the game because a cricketer had died back home. A whole day’s play was called off and taken forward.

And if what the PCB says is true then if I were the chairman I would have written them the cheque and called off the matches. If New Zealand doesn’t want to play us in future because of our refusal, then so be it. How can anyone play cricket after what happened?

The Shaharyar Khan-led PCB then gave some convoluted logic that “We are playing outside Pakistan only because of the threat of terrorism at home. If we allow terrorists to disrupt our matches abroad, then all will be lost.”

I’ll tell you what is already lost; our self respect in front of the comity of nations, at least ICC members who see us as insensitive people who are just interested in money and who bow down to broadcasters and another country that wants to play cricket.

And what of the players? Analogy, if you can call it that, will be drawn with the death of Philip Hughes that led to postponement of the second day of the second Test between Pakistan and New Zealand. If the players could not get themselves in the right frame of mind to play cricket after an Australian batsman had died tragically after being hit by a bouncer in the peaceful setting of the SCG, and with no ill intent, how could they possibly bat and bowl with vim and vigour and celebrate successes on the day after one of the world’s most horrifying episodes?

It was a massacre that took our breaths away; innocent children going about their daily routines of creativity, examination and making or sharing plans for the day with friends. It was a day bloodied that made a nation livid, feel numb and lose all sense of dimension all at the same time. You dropped whatever it is you were doing. And we played cricket the next day?

A further insult to the dead and the grieving was added when the PCB, perhaps in a bid to rationalize their decision and win support, announced that they would donate the earnings from the 4th ODI to the families of the dead. This is preposterous. This is not a natural calamity. This is traumatic killing. They don’t need money; these children were not bread earners of the family and the adults were employees of an institution who will look after them as will the state.

By saying that they were “constrained” has once again revealed that PCB cannot stand up to anyone or any institution. If they could not postpone or cancel an ODI of a ‘home series’ after Pakistan’s PM (and PCB’s patron) announces a three-day mourning, we should hang our heads in shame.

Published in Dawn December 18th , 2014

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A Test of honour

Originally published in the News on December 7

Pakistan’s selectors and coaching staff will know in another ten days whether they can end the ‘home tour’ of ODIs on a winning note but if the third Test was anything to go by they will worry till the end no matter how they have started.

It was a massive counterattack by New Zealand in Sharjah and if anything Misbah and Co. must be cursing themselves for not going for the target on the last day of the second Test. With their conservative approach based on perhaps the assumption that they can’t lose the series after their showing against Australia and the first Test against the Kiwis they have forfeited the opportunity to win a series against New Zealand. But New Zealand it seemed were playing for honour as much as for a win.

Perhaps they thought that the Kiwi resurgence in the second innings of the second Test was a fluke. But the manner in which they came back in their first innings took everyone by surprise. It was more of a shock considering they were in mourning more than the Pakistanis over the tragic passing away of Philip Hughes that had promulgated a rest day after Pakistan’s mastery on opening day.

What must scare the selectors is the manner in which they took on the Pakistani spinners who for the past six weeks had looked unplayable. There had been the hint based on previous outings with the New Zealanders that their batting was stronger than the Aussies but something as massive as what they achieved was unexpected by Waqar Younis and his bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed.

So the question arises: Was this the real thing and was it that Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah had exerted more of a psychological push on the batsmen from both sides of the Tasman Sea? And that once the more positive New Zealanders set their minds to it they found the bowling not much of a threat if faced with self belief.

It is difficult for the caching staff and the spinning pair to blame a flat pitch. After all it was on that second day and in just one session that Craig took those seven wickets that ate into the Pakistani middle-order that had dominated over the past four Tests here.

Can it be that the Pakistani spinners relaxed thinking that it was McCullum who was on a road trip and that they just had to bear his whirlwind approach? And that the rest would be usual fodder for them? I feel it was and that knowing McCullum’s reputation they felt that once he got out they would claw back. But what they perhaps didn’t realize is that by the time he did get out he will have flattened them up so much that they would be shaken up bowling to his teammates also.

That is what great batsmen do; they play not just for themselves but also for the rest. What Williamson and the others who followed gained was a quick cram session on how to play spin. Also the weight of the runs that McCullum piled up and so quickly was the key to success. Spinners are slow men in planning and not just delivering. They like to write a longer script. McCullum gave them no time to think in between overs let alone between deliveries.

Strange that it came when the New Zealanders clearly showed emotions, or rather lack of it if celebrating wickets was concerned. One would have thought that their preoccupation with the loss of their friend in Sydney would just make them play out the day without any ambition. But like professionals they went about their business whatever their state of mind. They were here to win and not even a tragedy of such proportions should stop them from doing that.

At this point I must put in a word about the young man who gave his life to cricket in more ways than one. No death can ever be acceptable to the mind and heart; when it comes in such dramatic fashion it jolts you even more. The romantic will say that he died with his pads on but this is not a time for romantic endings. That is for novels and films.

That he was a young man full of promise and that he had a countenance that was so appealing has made it worse. There had also been the hope for those of us sitting so far away and not being updated minute by minute. He would come out of it one thought; it would just take time. Probably the real tragedy would be that he would miss the season, maybe never play again. But to pass away forever was a shock.

There has been talk whether it should have led to abandonment of a day’s play in a Test match far away. I just feel that if it had not been New Zealand and maybe an Asian country playing Pakistan then the match could have been played after observing a minute’s silence and wearing black armbands. But the Kiwis are close cousins of the Australians and Hughes was a teammate of a couple of them as the various cricket leagues of the world go. It would have been very odd for them to carry on playing and being so insensitive.

That is why I think there is nothing wrong in Saad Shafqat, the well respected cricket writer, tweeting and asking whether a day in an Ashes Test would have been cancelled had a Pakistani first class cricketer died in such fashion. Although it remains a hypothetical question but I would say probably not. But the fact is that if it had or in this case if it did, it was probably the right thing to do. A life ended and it was a cricketing act that finished it. Going through the same act within an hour of hearing it gone must have dulled the senses. You just can’t go in and play in a state of mind like that. Knowing after every ball you bowl and every shot you play that someone close has just been stopped from doing that would have been too heavy.

I feel the PCB, the Pakistani team management and the players need to be congratulated on the manner in which they shared the grief of a nation and Hughes’ family. Even Mohammad Hafeez showed no emotion in missing out on a double century. That showed that the Pakistanis really felt for the occasion. It showed that sometimes and in some settings the player can be bigger than the game. Even if he is no more.

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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:

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?


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

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