manufactured outrage, etc.

17 09 2013

There’s some outrage and lots of ridicule on twitter and Facebook today about Afridi’s comments on TV after Pakistan’s lost to Zimbabwe in the second Test.

And some more on Facebook, such as here.

I saw the comments live on Geo and thought Afridi was pretty tepid, specially compared to Safaraz Nawaz etc.  Then I started reading the “quotes” originating from PakPassion. I don’t know if it was just a bad translation job (possible because they translated “players ko confidence dena” to “taking players into confidence”) or something more creative, but some of the quotes were pulled out of thin air. Most importantly, this one:

Afridi never actually said this. In fact he didn’t make any comment on Misbah’s captaincy and even the comments attributed to him about his willingness to accept the captaincy himself are quoted completely out of context.

Here is a link to the actual interview, thanks to Hassan Malik:

The video clip starts off with some behind-the-scenes footage of the host fixing his tie and asking the crew how he looks, that’s about the most controversial thing that happens for the next half hour.

And here’s an English transcript of the same, translations (and errors) mine:

Host: Pak lost to Zim after 15 years in a ODI and a Test, what can you say?

Afridi: Cricket history is filled with such performances. Small teams defeat big teams all the time. In a T20 or ODI it can get tough to make a comeback, but in a Test you have more time to recover. But these things happen, bari bari cheezain hoti hain.
Host: One day we play very well, the next day we suddenly lose terribly as if they don’t know how to play. How can we see a minimum of such days when fans cry?
Afridi: These things will continue. The way our system is, they will continue. You will have to do new things. Domestic cricket, I’ve been saying for a while, a lot of people have in fact (we need to make it strong). I don’t know why we’re interested in bringing foreign cricketers to Pakistan. We should make our domestic cricket strong, have zabardast, tagray tournaments in Pakistan. Don’t have them in Karachi and Lahore, where nobody comes to watch, have them in small cities so you can fill the stadiums. The crowds will come, the sponsors will come, money will come, a positive message will go out that cricket is going so well in Pakistan. There should be a plan and it should be followed. You should spend money on your domestic cricketers, everything will be fine. It’s not the Kashmir issue, it can be solved. There should be a united goal and it should be about Pakistan. This is my request – it should be about Pakistan, not your personal angles.
Host: If Misbah does tuk-tuk, the match goes away from Pakistan. If you get emotional and step out of the crease, people also point fingers at you. What’s the deal, would you like to say something?
Afridi: Let Misbah do tuk-tuk and let me play freely!
Host: You have to say something!
Afridi: Hahaha. Look, everyone has their own strength. Every player should play to their strengths. Confidence should be given (to the player) from the captain, the management, the coach – specially the coach. I think it’s important that confidence should be given (to the player). If someone plays the wrong shot, or plays too many balls, doesn’t score enough, it’s the job of the coach to at least sit with him and talk. We have to come a bit stronger. I think we need a bit of the stick with the carrot. Humay pyaar ke saath saath danday ki bhi zaroorat hai. This is what I think…
Host: You’re Pakistan’s favourite player but there are some people in the board who don’t like you. I would say “who cares?” but would you like to say something about them or about yourself?
Afridi: Look, thankfully, respect is in God’s hands. I’ve been playing with respect, and I want to continue playing with respect, good intentions and honesty for whatever cricket is left in me.
I’m not understanding (what’s going on with?) the Chairman Sahab. It seems like he has no powers in his hands. Poor thing isn’t able to do anything. He was bringing a new selection committee when Iqbal Bhai (Iqbal Qasim) left, and Moin Khan as chief selector, but he wasn’t able to do that. I heard a couple of his interviews and it seemed like he wanted to take a few decisions, but he wasn’t able to. I don’t know what their constitution says or what the courts say. Mujhay nahi pata kay kya storiyaan hain. But if he’s the chairman he should at least have the right to his powers, so he can take decisions. He’s learned a lot about who is working and who’s not, and who’s only picking up his salary. I think the board should give the chairman powers so that he can work freely, keep the useful, hard-working people in the board and sideline the ones who aren’t working.
Host: We lost to Zimbabwe but there shouldn’t be a blame game. Kick this one out, keep that one. Should we keep a combination of young players and seniors or stick to the seniors?
Afridi: I think we were playing Zimbabwe as if we were playing South Africa, England or Australia. Yaar, look at your level. The Pakistan team has a level. Played so well in the West Indies. You should lift yourself up and play. We totally went down to Zimbabwe’s level and played (that level of) cricket, be it ODI, T20 or Test match. We played cricket at their level. No! That’s not our level, our level, thank God, is much higher and we should have played accordingly. Unn ko theek thaak maar kay aana chahiyay tha hamay.
Host: Shahid, think carefully before answering this one. Many fingers are being raised against the foreign coach. If we speak of local coaches, your experience with Waqar Younis was quite bitter, ended up losing your captaincy. What would you say, if you are given a major responsibility for Pakistan cricket in 2015, will you accept it? [Aap kya kahen gay, Pakistan cricket kay liyay agar 2015 mai agar aap ko koi bari zimmedari di jati hai, toh aap iss ko labbaik kahain gay ya nahi]?
Afridi: Look, the first thing is, playing for Pakistan for me is still – it’s been 16, 17 years of playing – it’s still an honour for me. Whenever there is any thing, I’m always available for the Pakistan team, always, in any form. [Aur kabhi bhi koi bhi aisi cheez ho, hamesha Pakistan team kay liyay haazir hoon, bilkul haazir hoon, kisi bhi form mai haazir hoon.]
As far as what you said about the coaches is concerned, I think I am really in favour of Inzi bhai. We should have a batting coach who is respected, so that even if he needs to be stern with someone, he is able to because he is respected. [Jo agar kisi ko aankhain bhi dikhayen toh dikha sakhain, unn ki ek respect ho]. He has the respect (of the players) so the dressing room atmosphere is also (going to be) great because of him. A batsman comes after playing a (bad) shot, getting out, no worries (koi fikar nahi, koi faqa nahi), sits around, the joking and laughing resume. There should be pressure on batsmen. I think if Inzi Bhai is given the responsibility of batting, as a batting coach, not a head coach, I think batsmen will learn a lot and also there will be pressure on them to not play needless (fazool idhar udhar) shots.
[end of interview]

If anyone from PakPassion is reading this, I’ll quote the host from the beginning of the show here: “Iss ko kaisay banao gay?”

Shoaib and Razzaq funnies before the 2011 World Cup

7 05 2013

There’s been a series of some excellent interviews with Ramiz Raja as a build-up to the (2011) World Cup. This episode with Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Razzaq was my favourite.

Part 1: (actually a later part?)

At 0:32, Shoaib and Razzaq dismiss the need for computer analysis. “If you can’t learn from bowling what will you learn from the computer?”
At 1:52: Razzaq has the best sense of humour and Waqar gets bothered by it the most.

At 5:41 – Shoaib & Razzaq complain about how sakht the training camp is, cute. “Sardiyoan mai garmi lagi hui hai.” Shoaib also jokes about the age and dull lifestyle of the coaches cramping his style.
At 6:16 Shoaib: Mai ek shareef larka hoon
At 6:50 Razzaq talks about Zulqarnain. Mujhay toh uss nay lift hee nahi karayi. Mentally abnormal lagta hai.
(Wtf is “charray charraant”?)

Part 2:
Shoaib at 0:40 talks about his 100mph delivery and how he planned it, using the yard action.
At 3:37, Razzaq talks about how one-down is his preferred batting position as he likes the new ball, but goes on to say he’s okay with 6-7 given the team’s current situation.

At 4:16, Shoaib launches into a praise-attack on Razzaq: “He had fitness, six-pack, beautiful body…”

Razzaq also mentions that he requested the PCB to consider him for the Test side for the England tour but they advised him to concentrate on T20s and ODIs.

Shoaib also talks about the added pressure on the field that comes from the financial insecurity that our newer players face.

Part 3:
Shoaib and Razzaq talking about their nail-biting finish vs. South Africa in Dubai.
Shoaib talks about financial security at the end.
At 10:10 Razzaq talks about what a captain should be: forgiving, sincere and motivating.
Shoaib goes a bit overboard singing Razzaq’s praises at 2:15 and Razzaq has a great reaction in Punjabi. 😛

Part 4: Razzaq at 2:30 talking repeatedly about the need for sincerity to get things like video analysis to really make a difference.

The Punjabi from Razzaq here:
Shoaib: “Razzaq na ho toh mai nets enjoy nahi kar sakta. Mai 14 saal say iss kay saath shararatain kar raha hoon.”

Ramiz: “Razzaq, you always look so cool under pressure. No expressions. Inner strength? Confidence?” Shoaib: “He got married.”

Razzaq: “I’ve been playing for 13 years now, I enjoy pressure.”

Razzaq: I prefer to bat at #3, but 6/7 is fine.

Shoaib: I’m saving myself for the World Cup. The WC glory means a lot to me.

This interview is a riot (but which Shoaib Akhtar interview isn’t): Shoaib makes Ramiz say he’s the alpha-male.

Shoaib’s advice to fast bowlers: “Hyper ho, lekin shoday hyper na ho.”

Shoaib: “The saddest thing about the ’99 WC for me was that the man I idolized – Waqar – was sidelined because of me.”

Shoaib Akhtar on all the 100mph hype: “I’m over and done with it now.” Great interview with Ramiz.

shoaib akhtar quote of the day

23 02 2012

shoaib akhtar on umar akmal, ahead of the 1st pakistan-england t20:

“he has a very lethargy attitude to life. he has to perform if he wants to be a star. he’s not going to be like a me or a shahid afridi that he’ll be a flamboyant just like that. (*snaps fingers*).”


Mark Nicholas, etc.

8 02 2012

I’m finally reading Michael Atherton’s book and wanted to share this bit he wrote on Mark Nicholas, his captain on a 1990 England A tour to Zimbawe and Kenya:

“Mark was a thoughtful and enthusiastic captain and very good company although he tended towards hyperbole. On seeing a cheetah with a fresh kill in a Nairobi game park, he was heard to proclaim that it was ‘the greatest day of my life!’ He repeated the claim twice more before the trip was through – on seeing the Victoria Falls and on meeting Robert Mugabe.”

I’m imagining a dark-haired Bradley Cooper cuddling a jungle cat. Anyway, here’s a random quote from an old thread on PakPassion on Nicholas’ commentary:

Richie Benaud (before senility crept in):
‘Good shot for 3’

Same shot (Mark Nicholas):
‘My word. My word. My word! (in fast tempo). Awwwww Awwwww Awwww. Have you ever seen anything like it? Thats the shot. That the spot. And thats the lot.’ blah blah blah

Btw, Atherton’s honesty, wit and crisp writing makes the book a must-read, but unless you haven’t heard his commentary or read his columns, you knew that already. Also, his struggle with a hereditary condition that causes inflammation in the joints reminded me of all the heartache Shoaib Akhtar’s hypermobile joints brought to him and his fans – everything from playing through pain, not being able to get out of bed, injections of painkillers before a match, even a board that didn’t offer any financial help for his treatment. It’s also interesting that so many people born with abnormal, painful conditions end up going on to become professional sportsmen.

go-slow or grow up

25 10 2011

the title of this post is dedicated to everyone who believes that criticism of a defensive approach in test cricket (that has sadly become typical of the current pakistan team) warrants a stand-in-the-corner-and-watch-some-ipl punishment.

pakistan should’ve won the first test against sri lanka. there are a few things they did wrong:

– dropped too many catches (hafeez 3, younis 2, wahab 1, gul 1, akmal -1)
– lost time batting slow
– didn’t go for the target
– set defensive fields when the lankans finally got a partnership going

i don’t think there is any disagreement on the catches hurting us. however i don’t agree with the opinion that the missed chances were the ONLY reason we lost failed to win after dominating for four days.

there was nothing in the pitch for the bowlers after day 1. sri lanka crumbled to 197 all out in the first innings, but it was still their batting more than anything else which could bring them back into the game – you can’t get a team with the likes of sangakkara and the jayawardenes out for sub-200 scores on dead tracks every day. that pakistan’s fast bowlers created as many chances as they did against sri lanka in the second innings was impressive and commendable, but – importantly – also unexpected given the conditions and the quality of the opposition.

the dropped catches were not part of the plan (or so we hope). but what about the pace of pakistan’s first innings? taufeeq, younis, asad barely made 30 in their first 100 balls, despite the team being in a good position having bowled sl out for 197 and the conditions being made for batting. captain misbah-ul-haq was the only one who showed some intent. yes, i know test cricket is not boom boom dhishoom, but surely there are some time considerations if you want to win? you have to leave enough time to bowl out a decent batting side on a road of a pitch and bat again to chase down the deficit, right? is there a chance pakistan overestimated how quickly they could get 10 sri lankan wickets? were they assuming they wouldn’t have to bat again – in which case, as jayasuriya suggested, it might’ve made more sense to hold off on the declaration? but guess what the team management thinks:

did you hear that? “the only only (negative) thing was our fielding.”

i don’t know about you, but i think it would’ve been more appropriate if he’d said that the only negative was pakistan’s attitude. misbah also pointed out that sri lanka were a top team, so i guess we shouldn’t mind drawing with them despite being in a position to win for 4 days. here’s him explaining why pakistan didn’t make an attempt to chase that target:

i hate hate the rule that lets teams quit an hour early and think whoever decided not to go for the target, improbable as it may be, was a wuss. i would talk about the damage inflicted by dilshan playing mind games by forcing pakistan to play an extra 5 overs in that last hour and then announcing that the momentum was with them, but i don’t think anyone in the pakistan team cares, so it probably doesn’t matter. also, mind games are still not strike bowlers, at least not on these pitches.

anyway, since misbah clarified that it was indeed team strategy to not go for the 170 in 21 overs needed for the win, i just want to know when during the match that realization set in. at what point did they accept that it was no longer practical to push for a win?

sri lanka’s last 5 wickets fell in 15 overs for less than 50 runs, so misbah & the boyzz couldn’t have felt too differently about the practicality of going for a win between sangakkara getting out and the end of their innings. so, what was the point of bowling out the quicks on a road all the way to the end of the innings in heat so oppressive the umpire didn’t mind wearing a cooling aid that looked like a dog collar when your batsmen weren’t even going to pretend to go for the target? i mean, are the batsmen lazy or scared (of what, their fair and lovely not working?) or are you trying to follow india’s approach to the number 1 test ranking by killing all your fast bowlers before you play england?

if the icc is serious about protecting fast bowlers, it should ban batsmen from becoming captains, selfish bums, the lot of them. they should also ban that abu dhabi pitch. only misbah saw the “lots of roughS” on it on day 5, everyone else seemed to agree it was good for another 5 days.

for all of you who are going to think/comment that i should “go back to watching t20 pajama cricket” because i have a problem with 3 out of the top 4 scoring at a strike-rate of less than 50 against a murali/malinga-less sri lankan attack on a pancake of a pitch, I KNOW.

i just keep getting scared by shots like these:


what brings me back to tests

jokes aside, i’m nervous about pakistan’s approach for the second test – basically, our strategy is that we’re going to try and field better. like a wise ball-sniffer once said:

ek fielding ka masla aur ek kashmir, ye doh maslay kafi time se hal nahi huay…

practice session ahead of 2nd test: can you feel the intensity? via PCB

Learning from Salman Butt

11 06 2011

Remember last summer when all the sportswriters in England were getting excited about how eloquent Salman Butt was? Well, he does. And now that his schedule has freed up somewhat, he’s on TV a lot. It’s too bad most of the talk shows are in Urdu so only those who understand Urdu/Hindi can be subjected to enjoy his expert commentary on everything from legspin to ethics. So I’m going to translate some of his most profound thoughts.

Butt started batting against Afridi during the run-up to the World Cup that the PCB turned into a captaincy race between Afridi and Misbah.

Speaking exclusively to News One, Salman Butt said that the current team is stronger (on paper?) than the Test team but weak leadership and the lack of planning it demonstrates is the the real reason behind its failure.
“The (current ODI) team is more or less the same as the one that won (the Test series v. NZ), and has also performed well in recent Test matches. The two or three changes to the team are the additions of very experienced players who have come in, who have been playing cricket for fifteen odd years. But I think a lack of planning and very weak leadership is the reason (for their loss), because the same team appears to be a different unit when they’re in a Test match, but when they come in to a one-day, it looks like they don’t even know what they have to do.”

“A person who himself is clueless – if he comes and says you should do this and not that, his words will neither be effective nor hold any weight. I think the captain should be a leader who leads by example. And right now, since Misbah is in great form, and has leadership qualities in any case, you can say he’s a born leader… from the players in the current team.”

He hasn’t looked back since.

He was an expert commentator on Pakistan’s Channel 5 during the World Cup. I didn’t catch much of that coverage (because I was too busy experiencing Shahid Bhai kick ass in Sri Lanka), but I did watch him try his best to explain away Afridi’s success by saying things like “the minnows lost their wickets to him because they were playing him as a spinner, but he can’t spin the ball much.”

He’s back to prime-time punditry to share his expertise on the Afridi vs. the PCB drama. His shoes should tell you all you need to know about him, but i’ll share some of his most thoughtful comments anyway.

Salman Butt turns out to talk

On compromise and sacrifice
He felt that, regardless of his grievances with the board, Afridi should have shut up and played instead of demanding to play only on his own terms, “because you work for the prosperity of the country.”

On respect
His message to Afridi, and possibly to every ice-cream conglomerate czar, football club owner and sports agent: “You have to respect the profession from which God gives you respect.”

On role models
“Kids watch you and want to become you (Afridi) or Imran or Wasim, so don’t leave them with examples that are not there to follow.”

On records
“If Afridi says he did well with a broken team, I can also say I had a broken team after he ran away after the First Test against Australia. Never in 400-500 years have you seen a captain run away from a 4-month tour after the First Test!” said Butt, who became the first captain in 400-500 years to not attend the post-match ceremony because everyone had found out he was a cheat before the start of the 5th day’s play.

On popularity
The opener from Lahore, who took over the captaincy from Afridi and also averaged just 6.05 fewer runs than him as a Test bat, had the following to say about the street support Afridi seemed to enjoy: “Anyone can gather a few people together for a protest, we all know how things are done in Pakistan.” A valid point indeed, and one that made me wonder whether my check from the MQM / ANP / Mian Sahab was already in the mail.

Afridi meets fans outside the Sindh High Court © AP PHOTO

Popularity is overrated, thinks Butt. © AFP

On reconciliation
In an apparent shift from his scathing criticism of the PCB for suddenly abandoning all support for the spot-fixing trio he led to a few ice-cream-parlour sponsored extras last summer, Butt also pointed out that: “Apart from him (Afridi), no other player has any issues with the PCB.”

On the responsibility that comes with authority and stardom
“You are Pakistan’s captain, God has given you so much respect, you should be careful….”

On what it’s all about
Butt also said Afridi’s impulsiveness was hurting the country, that his stories didn’t match up, and that all this meant that he was “not setting a good example.” After all, he said, “it’s about the country.”

Links to the videos

Most of the quotes are from an episode of Khailta Pakistan (no idea what channel that show runs on, but if you do, please comment to let me know because I have a few questions for the host who can’t get that smirk off his face), which you can watch here:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

The last two quotes are from Salman Butt’s appearance on an ARY News talk show, along with Mohammad Ilyas and Ijaz Butt, which you can watch here (thanks to Faran for the link): 

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:




Butt out Butt

6 06 2011

What should a captain do when a board no one trusts won’t talk to him, but warns him against talking to anyone else?

what did i say now

Now what?

Ijaz Butt removed Shahid Afridi as captain after the ODI series against the West Indies. Butt and the PCB are yet to reveal why Afridi, ODI captain since the 2010 Asia Cup, was sacked after leading the team to two back-to-back ODI series wins, as well as to the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Let’s look at what happened on the West Indies tour. Afridi had initially opted out of the West Indies tour, saying he needed a break and wanted to spend time with his family, but was eventually convinced by his father to go ahead. Pakistan started well, taking an early unassailable lead of 3-0 in the 5-match series, but lost the last two matches to a depleted West Indies side (though it was a tour for new faces for Pakistan as well). Afridi’s own performance was flat – he averaged just over 9 with the bat and 84.50 with the ball. There were reports that Afridi clashed with the rest of the tour selection committee (the coach Waqar Younis, vice-captain Misbah-ul-Haq and manager Intikhab Alam) over the selection of the final XI for the last two games. On his return to Pakistan, Afridi made the following comment in response to a query about said issues:

“Although the differences in team management are not such which could not be solved, I feel everyone should do his job and need not interfere in other’s work.” 

Reacting to this explosive (sic) comment, PCB officials admitted that there were “long-standing issues” over selection matters but hoped they would be resolved when Afridi met the chairman. That meeting never took place, and the PCB sent Afridi a notice demanding an explanation for comments it believed were against the board’s Code of Conduct. Afridi replied to the board’s notice, downplayed the issue in the media and also called Butt and got assurances (“dilasay diyay”) from him before leaving for a personal/fundraising tour of the US. Butt sacked Afridi as ODI captain while he was in the middle of his tour of the US. Afridi heard about it in the news, and after returning from the US, decided to quit in international cricket in protest against the current PCB administration.

We also know now that PCB selector Mohammad Ilyas and Shahid Afridi don’t get along, thanks to an ugly war of words between the two that’s being played out in the media.  Ilyas, sometimes better-known as the father-in-law of discarded Test opener Imran Farhat, was himself an opening batsman (avg 23.21 in 10 matches) and legspinner who once scored a 100 in Australia. The media “debates” between Afridi and Ilyas have taken on an ugly tone, which is regrettable, but some of the revelations that have come through them are startling.

Afridi has accused Ilyas of cronying up to Butt and conspiring against him. Ilyas, in response, has agreed that he is close to Butt and called upon Afridi to show some respect to the board that has, in Ilyas’ words, stood by him through many controversies. Ilyas also admitted – nay, boasted – that he refused to sign off on Afridi’s name being included in the SQUAD for the tour of the West Indies because he felt that Afridi was “not fit and wouldn’t do well on those pitches”. Think about this for a second. When the selection for the West Indies tour was being deliberated upon, Afridi had just returned from leading Pakistan to the semi-final of the World Cup in which he was the leading wicket-taker. He also would have had the semi-final’s man-of-the-match, Sachin Tendulkar, out 3 times in the semi-final which, if for non-Pakistani fielders. And here you have a cartoon who wanted to DROP him from the SQUAD for the very next tour. Forget the captaincy!

No matter how big a critic of Afridi you may be, you won’t agree that he deserved to be dropped from the squad on the back of that World Cup based on performance. An even more damning revelation to emerge from this exchange has been that Ilyas was the selector that the team’s Security Manager, Colonel Najam, reported seeing with Mazhar Majeed in a cricketer’s room on the tour of England at a time when the players had been specifically told not to meet Majeed. It was also hinted that this might have been the reason Najam was fired, albeit belatedly (after the Zulqarnain incident) from his role. The said report by Colonel Najam was submitted after the England tour, and no selectors have been investigated, let alone removed, since.

If you want to dig a little deeper, we can explore Afridi’s history as captain. He said he’s known of a conspiracy against him since the England tour, but I suspect he would have sensed it even earlier.

His first tournament as ODI captain was the Asia Cup in which Mohammad Amir was investigated for being on the phone in the dressing room – incidentally during a spectacular collapse the scorecard of which reads like Afridi was playing some other match – and Kamran Akmal and Salman Butt were asked by the ACSU to submit their phone records. In an interview to Geo TV after Pakistan were booted out of the tournament, Afridi stressed that discipline was his primary concern and he would not tolerate any violations, a threat that we now know fell on deaf ears. Thanks to NOTW and Mazhar Majeed as well as Salman Butt’s post-ban TV punditry, we now know that the same players – convicted by an ACSU tribunal for spot-fixing – hated Afridi and wanted him to be removed. It was also reported that Afridi formally called a meeting with Waqar and then-manager Yawar Saeed to alert them about his suspicions regarding Majeed, telling the players to stay away from him.

Afridi v Sri Lanka at the Asia Cup © Associated Press

His next assignment was the T20 World Cup where Pakistan were typically hit-or-miss, but somehow contrived a path to the semis where they were on course to win for 39 overs but lost due to a Hussey special. Details of text messages exchanged between Kamran Akmal / Salman Butt and Mazhar Majeed that emerged during the spot-fixing tribunal again suggest efforts that would have undermined Afridi’s captaincy. Colonel Najam reported that Mazhar Majeed was also “seen” on the tour.

Then came the England tour, before which Afridi says he was forced by the board to return to Tests. He lasted one Test before he realized that wasn’t a wise decision and announced his retirement in the post-match presser in typically rash Afridi fashion and, in so doing, paved the way for the fixers to get their man, Salman Butt, in charge. We all know how that went down.

The point I’m trying to make – in an admittedly long-winded fashion – is that a few extra extras have not been the only harm to come from corruption and controversy: an undermined captain who was left with weak reason to trust his board was an underrated setback.

Speaking of a cricket board supporting their captain, the PCB announced the squad without naming a captain on multiple occasions, including the squad for the World Cup. This all but eliminated Afridi’s input in selection matters. It also created for him the embarrassing situation of being asked about his vision for Pakistan’s World Cup team at a time when he was unsure not only about getting the team combination that would execute his gameplan, but also about whether he would even be captain come the next series. The point I’m trying to make – in an admittedly long-winded fashion – is that a few extra extras have not been the only harm to come from corruption, controversy and instability: an undermined captain with tepid faith in his board was an underrated setback.

Butt is yet to reveal why Afridi was sacked. Reports say it was his comments to the media about his issues with the coach that got him in trouble, but Butt himself made the following comment after saying that his reasons for sacking Afridi as captain were solid.

“We know Afridi won two series and that is why we didn’t act then [during the tour]. We couldn’t do anything more during that tour. Right now anything more I say will cause more tensions.”

This seems to suggest that Afridi was sacked for something that happened on tour, most likely the much-reported selection spat him and Waqar. The decision was announced after a report on the tour – and said selection spat – was submitted to the board by the manager Intikhab Alam, and before Waqar was summoned and met with the chairman to discuss the same. Afridi’s take on the matter was never requested, yet the chairman announced that he had “geniune reasons to sack Afridi.” It is ridiculous that such a big decision was taken without letting the concerned party know what the allegations were, let alone giving them the chance to defend themselves against them.

This is what Younis Khan, the last ODI captain appointed by the current PCB administration, had to say at the beginning of his tenure in May 2009 about whether he thought his captaincy would survive until the World Cup:

“I don’t think so (big laugh). I’m too aggressive, I can clash with someone anywhere, anytime. Many people tell me I should wait for the right (positive) time before speaking out, but that’s just not in my nature. Whether or not the team or I am performing, if there is something wrong, I will speak out about it. And I feel that this would quickly lead to my removal. (laughs) But I’m prepared for this. I’ll try to stay withing limits when I speak out, but I will speak out where I think it’s required – and I just feel that kind of behaviour is not durable in Pakistan.”

So, what should a captain do when a board no one trusts won’t talk to him but warns him against talking to anyone else?

Afridi told a talk show host he tried for months to work through all the issues that were being created for him but got fed when the PCB chairman closed the commication channel between them. I don’t blame him. He has had his fair share of controversies but he remains a straight-talker in a country where it is increasingly difficult to speak the truth. He has asked to see the tour report which supposedly got him sacked and one can only hope he will get the opportunity to defend himself, albeit belatedly.

It is also hoped that the PCB shows a similar level of proactive intent when it comes to, say, using some of the free 2011 World Cup TV rights’ cash to send some cricket-starved school-children to the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka next year, or draft a chapter in the Code of Conduct for the board’s “seniors”, some of whose last statements have included gems such as “Pakistan is safe for international cricket” and “Afridi is a scrap of paper from the street.” Maybe the next time a popular captain is unceremoniously dropped, he won’t find out about it through a breaking news ticker.

This blog was first published here.

How the girls got to Mohali

12 04 2011

I don’t know if it was the ease with which Pakistan put away the West Indies or the prospect of watching them end another unbeaten World Cup run – India’s then 4-0 record against Pakistan, ugh – but that Pakistan Day, I began to dream.

I had read earlier that day that the ICC had promised to expedite the visa process for Pakistan fans. After we won, I called my best friend and partner-in-cricket-obsession and told her we had to go. If India lost their quarter-final to Australia a billion tickets would suddenly become available, and if they won, well, then we would be going to TGME (the greatest match ever). I’m not sure whether her response was more WTF-are-you-crazy bewilderment or whoa-could-this-work excitement: “Should we do it!” Why not?

We had no idea where to start, but that was probably a good thing because we didn’t realize how hopeless our cause was until it was too late to give up.

Inspired by Ashley Kerekes making it to the Ashes thanks to a viral twitter campaign, we started a #getthegirlstomohali hashtag on twitter asking for ticket/visa information, and secretly hoping for ridiculous favours. We had 5 days to get visas, find match tickets and get on a plane or a train or a taxi to Mohali. How hard could it be?

Pretty much all the information I got on how to make this cricket pilgrimage happen – from the link to the right visa form to where in Islamabad I could find a printer at 5AM – came from twitter:

-The PCB has a visa-hotel-match-ticket package for $500 but you have to know one of their hotshots.
– The Indian embassy is issuing visas along with tickets if you have a contact in the High Commission (they didn’t pick up their phone from 10:30 AM to 3PM).
– If you have a visa, getting a couple of match tickets is going to be a breeze.
– Actually, you need a ticket to apply for a visa. There MUST be some tickets reserved for Pakistan fans.
– Even some of the journalists covering the event don’t have visas yet, applying at this point is hopeless.
– Just apply ASAP, I think you’ll get it.

You get the picture.

Our first breakthrough came on Friday when the kind Ambassador Haqqani messaged on twitter saying he would try and help us get a couple of tickets. Now that I had more tangible hope of getting a ticket, I got another friend on board. We thought briefly about sending in a rushed application immediately, but were advised that the better option would be to submit in person Monday morning, two days before the match. We made plans to get to Islamabad from Karachi and Lahore to kick off operation #getthegirlstomohali for TGME. (Dammit Australia).

The next step was filling out the online Indian visa application form. Saying that the experience was frustrating would be as much of an understatement as saying Test cricket will miss Mohammad Amir: there was no “Go Back” option and the form kept dying on us thanks to some aggressive timeouts that a guy at the Pakistan Foreign Office insisted were intentionally programmed in by the Indians to discourage visa applications (ha!).

There were non-technical challenges too. We nailed the first hurdle thanks to the generous Dileep Premachandran from Cricinfo etc. who agreed to be our sponsor. We still needed a place to stay and all the hotels in or near Chandigarh were sold out.  Our visa application deadline was 0830 on Monday the 28th, so no hotel success by Sunday evening meant we were now also looking for friends, acquaintances or angels in India who were willing to write us letters inviting us to stay with them AND send us two proofs of residence and identity. We also needed to submit a photocopy of our yet-to-be-sourced match tickets.

It was a long shot, but if any of us didn’t believe in the kindness of strangers, we were about to change our minds by the end of this match. A sweetheart of a journalist in Delhi agreed to be our pretend-host and quickly scanned and sent us her ID minutes before another very resourceful and exceptionally kind stranger tweeted to say he could get us a booking in a (nice) hotel about two hours from the stadium. Another friend in Mohali emailed us a picture of his 3 VIP passes to the match, taken by what I’m sure was a camera-phone from the early noughties. We were officially all set with the visa application requirements – thanks to three Indians we had never met!

In retrospect, it’s kind of appalling that there was absolutely no information from any of the PCB, the BCCI, the ICC or the Indian High Commission to guide Pakistan fans who might have become interested in going to the match – no helpline, not one page on a website with instructions, not even a press release saying whether getting a visa was even possible at this stage.

The officer at the Pakistan Foreign Office responsible for forwarding our applications to the Indian High Commission was on his fifth paan and impatient for breakfast, but he went out of his way to help us. It turned out that the visa application I had spent the last three nights filling out had been the wrong form all along. Thankfully this one was offline (no saazishi timeouts) so we finished it quickly,  paid the visa fees and said bismillah and shukriya and got out of there.

We were told we would hear about the decision by that night so we went home and crashed. For about an hour. Then it was back to looking for match tickets. We pushed that #getthegirlstomohali hashtag hard on twitter. We messaged every cousin, high school-nemesis and ex-colleague who worked at or knew someone who worked at Pepsi/LG/Servis/the PCB. We emailed every poster on every sketchy online forum selling tickets in black. Some guy on twitter said he had a classmate he hadn’t spoken to in 20 years but who might be selling 3 extra tickets – we even called him. By that evening, we had been promised two tickets – one from the kind ambassador and another from a friend’s friend at Times of India.  Just one more to go.

8 PM that night, -42 hours before the match – we got a call from the Foreign Office saying our visas had been approved: 10 days, for Chandigarh, Mohali AND Mumbai (we hadn’t even asked for Mumbai)! But that they hadn’t been stamped, so we needed to wait till 11 PM. This was great news but we still had to get those visas that night to be able to leave for Lahore the next morning to be able to cross the border before 4 PM to be able to get to Mohali the night before the match. It was a race against time.

No updates from the foreign office till midnight, then a call saying my friends’ visas were there but mine wasn’t and wouldn’t be there till at least 11AM the next morning. It pretty much meant game over for me. I couldn’t believe it. The girls said they didn’t want to leave without me. I told them they were being stupid and they had to go.  We were too tired to debate, so we decided to talk in the morning and went to sleep after what felt like years.

We had slept in till noon. It was the day before the match. There was still no word from the Indian High Commission about my passport. We decided to leave for Lahore either way, India or not, so we had a lazy breakfast, packed and headed out to pick up our passports, stamped or otherwise. On the way to the foreign office I got a call saying my passport was back. It was 1PM – too late to aim to cross the border that day. If we crossed the border at 9 the next morning, we’d be at the stadium in Mohali by 2PM, which was when the match was to start. Picking up our tickets from their various sources in India beforehand would be a challenge, but we decided to go for it.

Our luck had turned again. In trying to get that third ticket through our hotel reservation lifesaver from earlier – let’s call him Superman – we landed a pass.  We got on the bus to Lahore and started planning the fun stuff we hadn’t got time to think of yet, like whether we should wear green kurtas or personalized Boom Boom jerseys to the match. We also needed flags and green paraandas and green chooriyaan and face-paint and stickers and green glitter and neon wigs. The bookshop on the rest-stop on the motorway to Lahore didn’t have flags or any of the other green gear we were looking for, but there were a couple of giant-sized Afridi posters (actually Jazz ads) on the window. Of course we convinced them to give us one. Got to Lahore and packed for four days in ONE handbag that we would carry in to the stadium. No sleep again.

Superman had told us the border was opening early, at 6:30AM, and that not many people knew this. If we crossed over by 7, we would make it, even if the drive was 5 hours. (There were reports that the gates were going to close at 12:30, even though the game wasn’t going to start until 2:30 local time). Got to the border around 6:45 and saw a few boys in Boom Boom shirts waiting for things to open. A guard told us the immigration guys wouldn’t be there before 9! Thankfully, a friend had been kind enough to give our names and our car’s license number to some hotshots at the border, so we we pleaded with them to check those records, and they let us through. Immigration and customs on our side was pretty quick. We exchanged cash too – from a guy in a brown shalwar kamiz who had all the money in his shalwar-pocket, forget about receipts. (The rate was good). Shaikh Rashid was in line ahead of us, beaming.

"Borrowing" an Afridi poster

All our green gear

Walk to India

We ran to the Indian side. It was kind of surreal, but we were too rushed to think about how big a moment that was. The Indian guard at the border didn’t smile, but he was quick, which meant he was nice. The chatty officers at registration told us we had enough time to get to Mohali (not) and reassured (sic) us that it wasn’t going to rain. Ran from there to customs, where, thanks to Superman, some guy already had our names on some be-nice-to-them list. Filled out another form, then borrowed face-paint chalk from the other Pakistan fans in line to colour our faces while waiting for our passports to be scanned and copied. A very long fifteen minutes and we were through to customs, who were so helpful they TOLD us we didn’t have more than the maximum amount of Indian Rupees you were allowed to carry. They also liked our scary Afridi poster.

That was it, we were in India. There were about three dozen taxi-wallahs, all with “Special Permission for Pakistan WC” signs posted on their cars, each of whom insisted we go with him. We borrowed a taxi-wallah’s phone to call our taxi-wallah – he was clearly far away but insisted he would be there in two minutes and that we shouldn’t let the taxi drivers there mislead us. We waited about twenty minutes, which we spent haggling unsuccessfully with the taxi-wallahs to bring their rate down to our pre-arranged cab rate (8000 INR to 3200 INR). A couple of uncles in Boom Boom jerseys and sunglasses inspired by Waqar Younis circa 1992 had just crossed the border with a man who looked like a driver for a fancy tour package. We acted fast and asked them if we could share a ride with them to the match. They agreed. Fifteen minutes into the ride, we discovered that our friendly uncles had three extra tickets that they were trying to foist upon a reluctant golf buddy who lived in Mohali. With every passing minute and every call to our ticket sources in Ludhiana, Chandigarh and Mohali we knew we wanted those three tickets more and more: they were all for the same stand and they were all IN THAT CAR. We would feel terrible about not using the passes that our friends had worked so hard to secure for us, but unfortunately there was just no time for us to pick them up. So we spent the next four hours trying to convince our new Lahori friends that we deserved those tickets more than some guy who was playing golf on the day of an India-Pakistan cricket match and was going to cheer for the wrong team anyway. They couldn’t believe we had crossed the border without tickets. (“Who ARE you guys? Hide your wallet, KP!”) They also didn’t understand that anyone could want to go watch a match that badly: one of them (the golfer) had considered going straight to Mumbai when he got his visa and the other left – get this – SEVEN tickets at home. I don’t remember how we did it in the end, but we managed to prise those tickets out of them. (“But we came all the way from Karachi and we haven’t slept in 4 days and… okay ask me anything – ANYTHING – about cricket!”).

We got to the stadium a few overs late and had to look around for seats for a while before finally settling on a place on the steps next to the families of Wahab Riaz and the Akmals. Sehwag was smashing our best fast bowler around for fun, but nothing could put a damper on our excitement. We made it to Mohali!

We made it!

Special thanks to: Adnan Alam, Yusra Askari, Hafeez Chachar, Piyali Dasgupta, Vandna Dhand, Husain Haqqani, Faizan Lakhani, Dileep Premachandran, Mehmal Sarfraz, Tooba Awan, Barkha Dutt, my partners-in-crime Sukaina Ali and Saba Gul and everyone who tweeted for us including sufisal, FiveRupees, bbcsport_oliver, tazeen, thecricketcouch, AltCricket, gkhamba, iamhassan9, khurram_mir, sehwagology, alizeb, fizzarahmanThird_Umpire, syrabanu, richaaagarwal, sid_famir, skabi2010, parasdesai22, Nairvana, mount_57, ibudhani, Alifaruq, Banarisoh, Mehmal, ahmadbabar, haiderazhar, Korrupt_, sahyder1 , seennoonkaaf and oneonejubb. You got the girls to Mohali!

An edited version of this post was first published in Dawn

30 hours in India

10 04 2011

Ravi Shastri in the commentary box just before the India-Pakistan semi-final said that all the roads in Chandigarh led to Mohali. Maybe that’s why there were no signs when we got into Chandigarh. Our taxi-driver from the Wagah-Attari border was lost and the three people we asked for help all pointed in different directions! It was quite a contrast from the match towns I had been to in Sri Lanka (Kandy and Colombo) where you couldn’t drive 15 minutes without seeing a larger-than-life poster of Sangakkara or Afridi, but the atmosphere at the stadium when we finally got in more than made up for it.

The stadium gates were a half-mile trek from the where we got dropped off: me and my two girlfriends kept losing our flip-flops in the sand and the wild bush of the makeshift parking lot, but we didn’t slow down. We knew every cheer from the stadium – and there were many in that third over – meant an Indian boundary (we’d heard on the radio in the cab that India had won the toss). The boys needed us to be in the stadium ASAP.

We suffered a mini-heart-attack when the security at the first gate told us we couldn’t take our cameras inside but they let us through when we told them there wasn’t time to go back to Pakistan to drop off our banned belongings. There was still a bunch of Indian fans queued up to get in to the gate for the stand before ours – the three of us felt the need to make our Pakistani presence felt, so we held up our big Pakistan flag, let out something between a woohoo and war-cry and ran past them. Most of them responded by flashing their own flags and posters and laughing, all fun and good-natured. The policewoman at the final gate check didn’t give us too much trouble but refused to let us “bulbuls” (tapori for girls from Pakistan?) through unless we gave her some Pakistani change as a souvenir. We gave her a shiny purple 50-rupee note and we were in.

We couldn’t believe we had made it to Mohali.

Chacha Cricket and Chacha Lite. Photo credit: Saba Gul

We made it!

There were more Indian flags than people. Our stand – the PCA Members and Associates stand – had a section full of Pakistan fans, but there wasn’t a single empty seat in sight. It was also seriously hot and there was no shade, so I was glad I brought my floppy Pakistan team hat, the kind they never wear on the one-day field anymore. We finally found a place to sit on the stairs, next to a group of girls in Boom Boom jerseys who were reciting a prayer non-stop. Pakistan needed it too: Sehwag was demolishing our best fast bowler of the tournament.

Chacha Cricket and his Indian counterpart (in a tri-colour turban) were a few rows ahead of us. They posed for many, many dosti pictures and were constantly engaged in a side-match of their own with a group of young men in the neighbouring stand who seemed more interested in interacting with our stand than in following the match. It kind of reminded me of watching a match from the ladies’ stand at the NSK, where the neighbouring stands are impressively focused on things other than the cricket. The dosti chachas got kind of annoying after a while because they jumped up and blocked our view after almost every scoring shot, but the dancing turbans entertained everyone by singing (in Punjabi) and dancing pretty much non-stop for all the eight hours we were there.

A sea of tri-colour. Photo credit: Saba Gul

the non-stop dance party

Venturing out to get food in the innings break was a bit of a nightmare. There was no cold water or drinks (you couldn’t take water bottles inside the stadium anyway) and there was nothing left to eat except ice cream and aalu tikkis. I found out later that the VIP boxes hosting Prime Minister Gilani also ran out of tea, so I guess they just weren’t prepared for the number of people that showed up. Almost got stampeded on the way back but managed to bring in some warm mountain dew and cold samosas. The “Pakistani stand” had a warm, hospitable, awami feel to it – every few overs, someone would go get a box full of choc-bars or half a dozen coffees and just distribute them, so we didn’t stay hungry/thirsty for long.

My favourite moment of the match came in Wahab Riaz’s second spell. His two wickets in two balls shut up the 28000 Indian supporters and the few hundred Pakistani voices took over for a bit. Apart from the usual “Jeetay ga bhai jeetay ga…” slogans, a special naara for the star of the day made its debut: “Nahi karta kissi ka lehaaz, Wahab Riaz, Wahab Riaz.” It felt like there hadn’t been an Indian boundary for ages, we were high-fiving random Pakistani uncles (one of whom turned out to be Shahid Afridi’s chacha!) and even the dancing hecklers from the stand next door took a break, shoulders slumped – Pakistan were on top.

Wahab! © AFP

"Munnis & Sheelas Back in the Pavillion!" Photo credit: Saba Gul

Unfortunately, the self-assured feeling that the Pakistan fans had watching Wahab dominate towards the end of India’s innings didn’t carry through to the Pakistan innings. I guess I’m not the only one who’s ALWAYS nervous when we bat, even before the first wicket falls. Most fans around me felt we were batting too slow or losing too many wickets or, worse, already out of the game, even while Asad Shafiq was still at the crease. The Pakistanis in our stand started leaving when Umar Akmal got out, and were almost all gone by the time Wahab fell. Still, there were a few of us laughing and chanting “You can do it Misbah – do it for your average!” when he was hitting boundaries for fun near the end.

The Indian fans were gracious hosts after their win. As we stood near the exit, waiting for the crowd to clear out before we left the stadium, tens of locals walked up to us for a friendly handshake or a chat or a picture. A few even apologized for winning, and one decidedly confused guy actually told us we had been the better team, ha! Almost everyone thanked us for making the trip to India, which doesn’t sound like much but felt really good to hear. As we left Mohali to drive back to the border after some 2AM chicken tikka sandwiches at Subway (food at last!), we heard a random car stereo in a parking lot by the team hotel play the Meesha Shafi and Arif Lohar song from last season’s Coke Studio. I think it made me feel a little less broken about losing to India than watching Amir Sohail’s bitter post-match analysis on TV would have.

(A very edited version of this blog was published in the News on Sunday on April 10, 2011. Seriously, what on earth does “Riaz was bucked up” even mean?)

why karachi needs to stand up for cricket

15 01 2011

Nothing makes me sadder than the hopelessness of the prospects of international cricket returning to Pakistan. But I love cricket and I refuse to give up on my team and it breaks my heart to see the ICC’s touring party watch the final of our premier domestic championship play out in front of near-empty crowds, so I’m listing 10 reasons why you need to go to the National Stadium this weekend:

1. It’s the final of Pakistan’s first-class competition, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. I know it’s hard to care about PIA vs HBL, but it’s still the best two FC teams in the country, battling it out in what seems so far to be a very competitive championship game, with some exciting fast bowling with the late orange ball under lights bringing some quick wickets near the close of play on both days. PIA 228 (1st inn) HBL 313 (1st inn) PIA 13/0 (2nd inn)

2. It’s your chance to be a part of history: this is the first time anywhere in the world that a 5-day match is being played under lights, with an ORANGE ball. There’s been talk of day-night Tests with pink balls for a while now: pink balls retain their visiblity, but lose their shape; they don’t retain their colour for 80 overs so they need to be switched from each end; it gets too cold at night in England and there are issues with the dew in the sub-continent. Pakistan – much like it throws in raw teenage fast bowlers straight into the Test side – has taken the lead in giving the orange ball a shot in the final of its major FC competition.

Danish Kaneria bowls with the orange ball

3. Dave Richardson (can you believe that the dude who kept wickets for South Africa before Boucher already has white hair?) from the ICC is in town to watch the proceedings. The ground looks beautiful, but lonely – show up, if only to be a good host and/or show off your city!

The National Stadium Karachi

4. Two of the most promising new fast bowlers, Aizaz Cheema, and Anwar Ali (yes, him of the banana swing fame from the 2007 U-19 WC final against India) are working their magic. The conditions for swing bowling make the proceedings even more watchable around sunset, just after the lights come on and a sea-breeze descends over the NSK.

5. Ex-captain, ex-husband of Ayesha Siddiqui, and the reason for much amusing Indian outrage, Shoaib Malik is playing. Maybe Sania Bhabi will even join you in the stands if you root for him.

6. You can boo Imran Farhat live! (Or cheer him, he did defy all odds and make a 100)

7. Local boy Danish Kaneria’s uniquely comic fielding will be on display.

8. Free entry. The cricket runs from 2PM to ~9:30PM, best time to go is when the lights come on, around 6PM. This weekend is Days 3 & 4.

9. It’s the perfect solution to waking up at 3am for the Wellington Test and, 8 hours later, finding there’s no more cricket to watch.

10. There were hardly any matches played in Karachi this season (one of the first of the season that I was planning on going to was cancelled because of poor security in the city), so think of this as doing your bit to support the return of cricket to your city too!

Anyway, get your butt to the National Stadium, make some noise, maybe someone will see you waving a “We miss international cricket” poster and send a club team or something to tour. It’ll be fun, I promise, and you’ll be doing a lot to help Pakistan cricket – just GO.

This plea was first published on Dawn blogs at