Cricket


Let’s be clear about this: we did almost everything in our power to throw that game away. Pakistan, over the last year in a particular, but throughout its cricketing history, has made a habit of contriving to lose from the most dominant of positions. That we got away with it on Saturday morning doesn’t mean that our batting has emerged from the (mostly self-inflicted) psychological trauma of the last few years of Test cricket.

Like a demented 3-year-old with a pair of gardening shears, Pakistani batsmen seem to take some sort of perverse pleasure in getting to the very brink of victory, before stabbing themselves in the heart with the business-end of said shears. Today was no different. We wobbled more than a bowl of trifle on a tray that has had a discreetly placed stick of TNT go off underneath it. Only Pakistan could make chasing 180 seem daunting, and chasing 40 (with 7 wickets in hand) a virtual mountain. One shudders to think what would have happened if, with 5 runs required, Kamran Akmal had been given out when Hussey claimed the catch at gully.

Shudder.

In the end Muhammad Amir had to come out and finish the job himself, with Umar Gul of all people stroking the winning runs through cover. Hardly confidence-inspiring stuff.

Nevertheless, Pakistan has broken it’s 15-year long duck against the Aussies, and there is something to be said for the good that will do this team. In a way, it seemed that Pakistan was afraid of winning against Australia. Sydney proved that we, on some level, simply did not know how to do it. Headingley has now proven that we can. There is, of course, much to be said about having the right mentality when it comes to Test cricket in particular: the Aussies, over the last decade and a half, have been so used to winning, so efficient, so ruthless, that they now expect nothing less than victory, and much of their fighting spirit comes from this expectation. That this team is not as talented as the teams before it is almost inconsequential: the Aussies own the pitches they step out onto.

The same cannot, of course, be said for Pakistan, which generally displays all of the application and determination to win of a small cat faced with a ball of yarn. This win will not change that, but it will help. It has, of course, been a long, long time since Pakistan won a Test of consequence.

Looking forward, England come next, and their batsmen will not fall to quality swing bowling as easily as the Aussies. An interesting summer awaits – will Pakistan draw strength from the tremendous psychological boost of having finally beaten Australia to band together as a unit, or will the wheels fall off, causing said unit to explode in a shower of thwarted ambition and misplaced confidence? Who knows – demented 3-year olds are unpredictable creatures.

“I’m not going back to the pavilion. They’ll murder me!”


– el kapitan

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Game, Set & Match. A Pakistani and an Indian Have Teamed Up, Creating History In The Process For Both Nations At Wimbeldon.

What better a piece of evidence than the ultimate motivational force in every day life, sport. I’m not sure if you’ve been watching but Pakistan No.1 Aisam-Ul-Haq teamed up with long time friend Rohan Bopanna of India in a push for a Wimbeldon doubles title.

Yesterday of course, marked the first Pakistani to make it to the quarter finals at Wimbeldon ever. What is even more surprising is that it happened via the partnership of a citizen of neighboring India. While the tabloids and back pages will celebrate this victory as if the Kashmir issue could be solved if they lift the trophy together in London on the weekend, I won’t go outside the bounds of reality, I promise.

There is no doubt that sport has been one of the major influences in the realm of thawing relationships between countries. The olympics highlighted issues of race, cricket banned the South African team for apartheid, Serbia & Montenegro combined to form a World Cup side, the ICL gave cricketers from both sides of the border a chance to play with one another and the IPL will eventually allow Pakistani’s to play cricket on Indian soil again.

The truth is, no political wrangling can overcome the power of seeing ones heroes on TV participating and co-operating with each other in a cordial atmosphere. I’m no psychologist, but I’d say it has something to do with our seeing individuals of two hostile nations reacting cordially and the thought of the viewer being able to do the same that motivates such a theme of reconciliation through sport.

Open minded sports writers have had plenty of evidence to suggest that if India and Pakistan had been one nation, it would have probably been unstoppable in several sporting realms. Hockey for one, could have been a joint triumph and perhaps we wouldn’t be in our current slump like we are now if we had a combined team, instead of the current squad helpless to win anything of significance in the realm of Pakistans Nationals Sport. Though for the record, I think Pakistans Hockey team is the most under appreciated of all.

Personally, I don’t think Australia would have been able to set up any sort of dynasty in this fading generation of players had the likes of this guy called Sachin Tendulker and this guy called Inzamam-ul-Haq been on the same team holding up the middle order with their bats. Not to mention the two best fast bowlers in the world Wasim and Waqar  or having the best spin attack in the modern game with Mustaq Mohammad and Anil Kumble bowling alternate overs.

I won’t even get into the destruction our openers would have created. The greatest single benefit however is that we would have never had to hear Mongia’s near constant string of appeals for no reason over the course of 8 years of cricket. We would have had Rashid Latif or Moin Khan instead. The possibilities my friends, are endless.

Back to it. Doubles, Wimbeldon. Will they lift a trophy this weekend? Probably, absolutely not. They will have to take on a couple of absolute legends, including one of my favorite doubles players of all time Leander Paes, but this is not about how far they get anymore, its about the example they set and the hope that other sports personalities will do the same. We have had collaboration on one level or another in cricket and tennis. Only to see nothing short of explosive results.

“Its time we stopped ignoring each other and started co-operating” is the message our athletes are communicating to us. Perhaps we can keep telling ourselves it isn’t the right time yet or maybe we should just listen and evolve. For once.

The World Cup is about to start and sadly Pakistan is nowhere to be found. According to my research, it has never even made the finals of the Asia Cup. This year in World Cup qualifying, Pakistan were eliminated at the first stage after losing 7-0 on aggregate (7-0 in the first leg) to Iraq.

Instead of worrying about the state of Pakistan football, listening to a podcast hosted by ESPN’s Bill Simmons gave me an idea. Simmons was discussing which American athlete would have made the best football player if he had played it from a young age (my pick – Floyd Mayweather). So, I thought I’d apply this to Pakistani athletes. So, here is The Offside Trap’s Pakistan XI in a 4-4-2 formation.

Goalkeeper: Aisam-ul-Haq Qureishi

The key requirements for  a goalie are height, discipline and agility. A lot of Pakistani fast bowlers have 2 of the 3 qualities, and I don’t think you need my help in figuring out what they lack. Aisam is slightly short at only 6 feet, but with his tennis player’s footwork and diving around the net, I think he could have made a pretty decent keeper. Sohail Abbas and his wrists of steel would also be an option, but I’m not sure about his height.

Right Back: Mohammad Sami

Instead of being Pakistan’s most frustrating fast bowler, Sami could have been a pretty decent footballer. From watching him field, I think he’s clearly the best pure athlete which Pakistani cricket has produced recently. His workrate has also never been questioned, and he would do a good job running up and down the right flank.

Centre Backs: Imran Khan and Waqar Younis

Call me crazy, but this combo reminds me of John Terry and William Gallas. I don’t think Imran had an affair with his teammate’s wife but he has the same leadership genes as Terry. Waqar would be a pit bull – I don’t think any striker would want to play against his mix of strength, speed and aggression.

Left Back: Shoaib Malik

You need some glamour for a football team, so I guess Shoaib Malik makes it. Overall, like his role in the cricket team I see his value as being a utility player who can fill in different positions – right now its the left back where there isn’t a clear contender, so Malik it is.

Central Midfielders: Javed Miandad and Jahangir Khan

Miandad is Mascherano. He would get under the skin of the opposition and no doubt put in a few crunching tackles. Jahangir is Pakistan’s greatest ever athlete and his calling card was his endurance and commitment to fitness. He would be the ideal foil for Miandad with his box to box running.

Right Wing: Shahbaz Senior

Pakistan’s last great hockey player, Shahbaz was an incredible dribbler. It’s a shame that hockey in Pakistan has slowly declined with seemingly no prospect of reviving. However, surely Shahbaz’s skills and trickery would have made him an awesome football player.

Left Wing: Abdul Qadir

This pick is a bit of a stretch but as El Kapitan said to me, you have to think that some of the trickery and deception would be transferable from Cricket to Football. Also, both Qadir and Mushy would have the advantage of using their low centre of gravity to evade defenders.

Strikers: Jansher Khan and Wasim Akram

Think Zlatan, think Berbatov, think Jansher Khan. Whereas Jahangir would grind his opponents down, Jansher was imperious in the way he controlled the centre of the court. Like the two footballers I’ve mentioned, he sometimes seemed slightly laid back, but had incredible skill and flair. If Jansher provides the style, Wasim would provide the power and aggression, not to mention his incredible skill – this one’s a no brainer and also gives a left and right footed partnership.

Some thoughts, as the new season trundles into first gear.

– On the Eduardo dive: it was blatant and disgraceful. The only possible consolation I can think of was that he didn’t want to leave his leg in for a crunching tackle after he broke it last year, and so flung himself to the ground to protect himself. Even so, much has been made by Arsenal fans of how he is ‘unfairly’ being targeted. The point is, anyone who dives should get this much attention . . . it’s not that Eduardo’s getting more than he deserves, it’s that the rest get less.

– On the Galacticos: having watched their pre-season, there’s no doubting that they pose an awesome (in the original, Biblical meaning of the term) threat going forward. With Xabi and one of the Diarras in the centre of midfield, they will have the required strength in that position. On paper, Pelligrini (a coach I actually do admire) has put together a good squad, and there are no positions where you can say they have an obvious weakness. My concern with Real would be whether or not the players gel together in pressure situations, and how the defence copes with the inevitable pressure that will come from Madrid’s relentless-attacking-and-not-tracking-back style.

As for Barca, I think the Zlatan deal was, to put not too fine a point on it, absolutely ridiculous. One understands that they wanted to cash in on Eto’o before he left on a free next year, but 46 million pounds plus a talismanic striker? We shall see, Mr Begiristain, we shall see. That Swede had better score some scorchers, and put in a shift covering his men, or the Barca faithful will be none too pleased. On the upside, Pep seems to be able to get the best out of his players, and there’s no doubting that Ibra is technically very, very good.

– The Ashes are over. The Aussies have lost, and that brings a little thrill to my heart I know not why everytime I say it out loud. I’m not an English fan, particularly – I think their cricket is insipid at best, with moments of inspired greatness, and that they win matches usually by playing less badly than their opponents. But something about watching the Aussies be invincible through my childhood has left me with mixed feelings of admiration and revulsion. Fanon wrote much about this sort of thing  . . .

ArshRussian star Arshavin tells the voices in his head to shut up, before he loses
his mind and shoots everyone in North London in a vodka-fuelled
frenzy of blood, guts and, rather strangely, suction pumps.

Picture courtesy AFP/Carl de Souza

The Offside Trap would like to congratulate England on managing to pry back the Ashes and send Australia out of the top ranked spot in Test Cricket. While the Aussies aren’t happy, I am sure the Ashes will mean a lot more when they contest for them again.

-TOT

I have read el gaffer’s post, and while I wish him well in his recovery from obvious insanity,  I cannot endorse his views entirely.

The Sri Lanka tour has been, mostly, a disaster, with the team performing to its potential only in fits and spurts during the Tests, and only when it no longer mattered and their jobs were the only thing on the line in the ODIs. This is disturbing, because to me it means the team’s regressing – and when it comes to Pakistani cricket, old ways are quite definitely not the best ways.

So we’ve gone from Woolmer’s boys, who threw themselves about the field with wild abandon and played with something vaguely akin to professionalism and pride, to a team where everyone’s looking to save their own skins and there doesn’t appear to be any fellow-feeling whatsoever.

It’s enough to make a fan bang his head against a wall.

Oh, and on Umar Akmal: I refuse to rate him highly. Mostly because when asked who his batting heroes and inspirations were, he said: “Kami bhai.”

Kami BhaiOld Irongloves looks back in anger at the Sri Lankans celebrating his dismissal.
“You!” he thinks, staring straight at Kulasekera.
“I’ll drop you later.”

Photo courtesy AP/Eranga Jayawardena

– el kapitan

I haven’t been that disheartened by Pakistan’s performances against Sri Lanka because I’ve seen enough building blocks to be optimistic about the future. Fawad Alam opening and Omar Akmal in the middle order, Ajmal and Kaneria’s spin, Abdur Rauf’s bowling and most of all Mohd Aamer. The one thing we’ve needed is for another opener and the person I’ve been waiting on for a couple of years now, could be ready to make the step up.

Umar Amin, a stylish and composed left-handed batsmen has been in the U-19 team and then been doing ok for Pakistan A. He just made 153 out of 315 against a Sri Lankan A side. It could be a one off (he made a first ball duck in the second inning), but I’m confident that he could be the heir to Anwar and Sohail. In terms of style, the player he reminds me most of is Sangakkara. If he can be 3/4th the player he is we’ll have a player on our hands.

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