A week for the cricket-starved

3 12 2010

Packed crowd at the Gaddafi stadium

Boom Boom fan

The rest of the cricket world might not know (or care), but Pakistan’s premier T20 competition ended this weekend, and it was a fine testament to the resilience of Pakistan cricket fans. Not only were the crowds packed for almost every evening game (including the ones before the semis), there was significant interest in those watching and following from home. Popular fan site, PakPassion.net, which runs a live match discussion forum, had as much activity on their Rawalpindi-Karachi semi-final thread as they did for the series-changing 3rd England-Pakistan ODI.

Format: Fewer teams, more matches?
There’s something to admire about a tournament that doesn’t take itself too seriously and produces a champion in exactly a week (I’m looking at you, the ICC World Cup ’07 and the IPL). However, you can’t help but feel that a little more thought could’ve been put into the format: with 4 groups and a total of 13 teams, playing just 2 group matches each before the semis, it was essentially a knock-out from the get-go. It kept things fun and competitive and meant the big teams couldn’t afford to relax, but you’ve got to feel sorry for teams like the Quetta Bears, who came perilously close to beating Shoaib Akhtar-led Islamabad, or the Hyderabad Hawks, who beat a Lahore side with 4 players from the current Pakistan team. (Neither of these teams, among others who improved and impressed, progressed to the second round which meant we only saw them play 2 matches).

For the future, it would be nice if improved performances were factored in to the draw for the next competition, though I guess asking the PCB for a domestic ranking system is being too ambitious.

Also, do we really need to have two teams from each of Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi/Islamabad? Wouldn’t a Karachi fan rather see a team with the combined bowling riches of Anwar Ali, Kaneria, Sami and Afridi instead of being forced to choose between two lukewarm attacks with half the potency? The argument in favour of multiple teams from one region is that it prevents any one team from being too strong, while making sure all the deserving players still get to play. In practice, though, this only ends up diluting the competition, not enriching it. A better approach to make the league competitive would be to loan some of the top players to a weaker side, like Quetta.

Tournament favourites Sialkot Stallions went out early

Younis Khan watches a weak Peshawar side struggle against Abbottabad

Best Contest: Shoaib vs. Yousuf
As far as battles within the battle go, the contest of the tournament for me came in the 11th over of the Islamabad-Lahore semi-final, when Shoaib Akhtar brought himself back into the attack to attempt to get rid of a well-set Yousuf. Mr Lazy Elegance himself up against Pakistan’s most ferocious fast bowler, both leading their sides – and possibly for the last time – in a fight to the final of a tournament neither had ever won. A fiery bouncer first up had Yousuf caught at point, but it came off the helmet. Next, Yousuf somehow kept out a couple of fast, inswinging yorkers. Those wrists (no, Cricinfo ball-by-ball, that phrase is not reserved for VVS Laxman) came back strongly with a perfectly-placed drive over mid-off for 4. Shoaib’s came back with a fuller one which swung in late and made Yousuf look like schoolboy-silly going for the drive. Cue 5 wides because, hey, it’s Pakistan. Shoaib ended the over with another late inswinger that forced Yousuf back and rapped him plumb in front, but for an inside edge. Yousuf survived, but this round of the battle of the 35-year-old rockstars of Pakistan cricket went to Shoaib.

International player watch
All the surprise picks for the South Africa series failed to dazzle: Misbah led a strong Faisalabad team to an early exit; Tanvir Ahmed got a few breakthroughs but also got hammered; Sami was Sami; Taufeeq Umar had one good innings against a weak lineup; Hafeez did nothing of note; Sohail Tanvir was erratic though you could see his utility with both bat and ball, and finally, Imran Farhat.. well I guess his selection can’t really be a surprise anymore, so let’s skip him.

The one exception was Wahab Riaz. Regardless of what you might think he was doing with that jacket outside that restaurant, he bottled the opposition with some smart, spirited bowling, picking up 10 wickets with an economy rate of 4.12 in a tournament where teams were chasing down scores of 200+ in 18 overs for fun. He wasn’t afraid to mix things up and surprised both an in-form Shahid Afridi and tournament top-scorer Shahzaib Hasan with some well-targeted short-pitched deliveries in the final. Definitely a good prospect for the similarly flat roads expected for the 2011 World Cup.

Speaking of Shahzaib, he completely dominated with the bat, as he often does on the flat tracks at home. It was good to see him demonstrate some maturity and bat through the innings to see his side home. Shahid Afridi’s strong support for him, both as his captain and senior batting partner on the field, as well as his most vocal supporter off the field finally came good as he became a belated addition to the T20 and ODI squad for the UAE, along with the other star performer of the tournament, Wahab Riaz.

Wahab Riaz picks up the Best Bowler award

Players to watch
The exciting 22-year-old legspinner from Dadu, Zahid Mahmood (Hyderabad Hawks) not only has all his variations spot-on and an encouraging thumbs-up from Abdul Qadir, he also has the fire, the attitude, and the hair that made Boom Boom the hearthrob that he is. Too bad Hyderabad played only 2 matches and he was only picked for one. Raza Hasan (Rawalpindi Rams), Kaneria’s unlucky passenger-replacement on the England tour, also impressed.

Other performers include Abbottabad’s Junaid Khan who bowled his heart out and, along with his captain and middle-order bat, Yasir Shah, played a vital role in making a lacklustre team competitive.

Hammad Azam emerged as the best all-rounder apart from Afridi and Razzaq,  and should be nurtured for the future.

Openers Ahmed Shehzad (Lahore) and Nasir Jamshed (Lahore) looked in good touch and can both hit a lusty blow. They must surely be considered for another chance soon, though, to be honest, almost every other team had an opener who looked better than Imran Farhat.

Zahid Mahmood helped Hyderabad upset Lahore Eagles

Razzaq & Afridi: still the best all-rounders on show

Geo Super should be commended for organizing what looks like the only cricket we’re going to see in Pakistan for a while, and making it fun for all involved. The free entry, floodlit night-matches, and short tournament helped fill the stadium night after night, which was heartwarming to see. However, given that it IS the only spectator-friendly cricket we’re going to see for a while, I feel the PCB has a bigger responsibility in terms of ensuring the tournament reaches every Pakistani.

There was no visible marketing of the event outside of the (private) news channel that broadcast it and its associated newspapers. Also, the PCB must try to get at least the semi-finals and the final aired on PTV for those parts of the country which still don’t get cable. Teenage cricket-fan Ahmed Hassan and his cricket-obsessed friends from one such village (Saiden Hattian, near Attock) travelled 20km to the city to watch every match of the T20 Cup; as fun as he says these trips are, it’s only fair he gets to watch the games at home.

Also, I understand this is not a disease peculiar to any one desi sports channel, but the length and timing of the ads was beyond ridiculous. Forget cutting to ads as soon as the last delivery of an over was bowled, or even before they could show the replay of a wicket, they didn’t even show the winning team (Lahore Lions) lift the trophy! And did they really have to interview tournament sponsor Faysal Bank’s CEO in the middle of an over?

Lahore Lions celebrate their win

Finally, Geo’s Urdu commentary was immensely enjoyable. Almost everyone on the team was either hilarious (Mirza Iqbal Baig), insightful (Aamir Sohail) or both (Abdul Qadir). Tariq Saeed was all that, and eloquent – it almost made up for Mushtaq Ahmed exclaiming “OUTSTANDING SHOT!” at Shastri-volume every single time a boundary was hit. My favourite out of all the commentary gems (somebody compiled them on PakPassion) would have to be Abdul Qadir’s proclaimation that super-talented players like “qaum ka khoobsurat heera,” Shahid Afridi, naturally tended to think less than the average player.

“Match delayed – Mosquitoes”
That was the official match status for a bit, during the Karachi vs. Rawalpindi semi-final, when Karachi captain, Shahid Afridi, refused to take the field after his bowlers were constantly stung in the eyes by a mutant army of “helicopters” – some sort of rare Lahori crossbreed between mosquitoes and fireflies. The bug-busters, who had forgotten to spray the field before the start of the night game, strolled on to the field with (typically Pakistani) carefree abandon. Karachi returned to the field with a variety of smart accessories, not least of which were sported by Fawad Alam who fielded with his usual atheleticism for the remaining 18 overs, except with a towel tied around his mouth to prevent swallowing any more bugs (Yeah, he looked pretty badass, everyone on PakPassion was calling him Daku). A special mention too for Mohammad Sami, who became the fastest man to bowl with sunglassess: quite a sight under lights (still bowled a consistent short-and-wide line, dotted with the full-toss or two per over, in case you were wondering).

Shahid Afridi helps Sohail Khan remove a bug from his eyes

Umpires out, bug-busters in

The forgotten Akmal
Guess what – the Akmals have another brother who could yet make the national team: Adnan. Winner of the tournament’s best keeper award, he looked a better keeper than Kamran from the little that was seen of him. Apparently the day Kamran was first picked for Pakistan, both him and his brother Adnan were called to the national team’s nets, and it was Adnan, not Kamran, who was being tipped to get the nod. If you thought it was frustrating being Zulqarnain Haider or Sarfaraz Ahmed, spare a thought for this kid: he not only gets to live with the resentment of being kept out of the team by an undeserving player, he has to go home to him and pretend to love him at the end of the day.

The biggest letdown
Fielding standards were non-existent. The most disappointing thing on this front was that the best fielders on display were not the young guns trying to break through to the regional or national team, but veterans like Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Yousuf. Runners-up Karachi Dolphins dropped 6 sitters in the final, and this was a side packed with international players. Yousuf, much to his surprise, was awarded the Best Fielder prize in one of the most comical awards-ceremonies ever where everyone from the presenter to Ijaz Butt enjoyed a hearty laugh at the expense of Maulana Jonty.

And, finally, an Amir sighting
Mohammad Amir made an apperance in the stands. The crowd erupted into a roar when he was shown on the big screen, though it was unclear whether it was an expression of support, surprise, anger, or all of the above. Earlier, he was reportedly booed by fans outside the stadium as he honked his way through throngs of people who were forced to park their cars at a distance because of security concerns. National hero to undeserving holder of parking privileges in a few no-balls’ time: why, Amir, why?

(Previously published on Dawn.com, 19th October 2010. Photo credit: Faysal Bank T20 Cup).




2 responses

2 03 2011

i have followed you on twitter, can i ask u somet5hing .do y6ou have a problem wit5h aamir sohail. at one time u try to patriotic and when someone like him goes and raise a voice u guy6s have a problem. what do u know about5 the game. fuck all i believe. opinion is just5 like an asshole everybody has it. but if it5s not5 clean it stinks.

4 12 2011

i just read about your insights of the Pak-Srilanka 1st test match and being a cricketor myself i’ll disagree to a lot of points but being a cricket fan yea i would’ve thought the same way u did and i do appreciate your positing thinking but believe me things are not the same in the middle when you know how the pitch is behaving specially going out there every day in the morning looking at the pitch and then when you leaving the ground at the end of day and planning for the next day. It gets really difficult to even play the ball sometimes when you are into the last overs of the day and specially when its the last day.

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