Category Archives: Cricket

No decision taken on Mohammad Amir’s return to Pakistan team: PCB

No decision taken on Mohammad Amir’s return to Pakistan team: PCB

The Pakistan cricket authorities are having second thoughts about rushing Mohammad Amir back into the national team.

The Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Shaharyar Khan told the media in Lahore that until now no final decision has been taken on when Amir would be considered for national selection again.

“We have to first monitor his attitude and behavior and see other things as well. They are some players who are opposed to his comeback to the Pakistan team and we have to sit down first and talk to them and also Amir,” he said.

Khan’s statement was different from the one he gave last week when he said that the PCB had decided to give Amir a chance to win back his place in the Pakistan team.

Pakistan’s head coach Waqar Younis had also said that since Amir had served his five year ban for spot-fixing he deserved a second chance.

But a well-informed source told PTI that the PCB had got some feedback from the Bangladesh Premier League and they were not very happy to hear some things about Amir’s attitude and conduct there.

Amir has impressed with his bowling in the BPL and after having dismissed Pakistan’s Test and T20 captains Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi in the tournament on Tuesday he also accounted for the scalp of Muhammad Hafeez.

Amir clearly didn’t try to hide his delight at having Hafeez caught behind in his celebrations which included a kick in the air to apparently send a message to his former Pakistan teammate.

Hafeez is the only Pakistani player to have gone on record recently and said he wouldn’t like to share a dressing room with any of the three players Amir, Salman Butt and Muhammad Asif who were banned for spot fixing in 2010.

Aamir has been brilliant for Chittagong Vikings in the BPL.

The Chittagong Vikings match with Dhaka Dynamites on Tuesday was much anticipated as earlier Hafeez had also said he turned down an offer to play alongside Amir’s team in BPL, saying that he could not “share a dressing room with a player who tarnished the image of Pakistan”.

Better late than never for Rafatullah

Good things come to those who wait and after nearly two decades of domestic cricket, Rafatullah Mohmand is in line for his Pakistan debut


For 19 years Rafatullah Mohmand has grafted away on the Pakistan domestic circuit. Recently, the 39-year-old has pondered retirement but now he is on the brink of fulfilling the dream of an international debut having been included in the T20 squad for the series against England and staking a claim for the World T20.

Since 1996 Rafatullah has not missed a single season. He started his career for his native team Peshawar and later joined Habib Bank Limited and is presently representing WAPDA. His name was floated around for national selection in 2006 when he was enjoying a consistent run in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy with Peshawar, where he finished second-highest run-scorer in the Gold League, but he only reached as far as the Pakistan A side for a Top End one-day tournament in Australia.

“I have been playing cricket for a long time and like many I also had a dream to represent the country at highest level,” Rafatullah said after his national selection. “But we all know how big the competition is in Pakistan and you only few get a chances but I am happy that I finally got a chance. Now, I know I have less time so my target in whatever the time left is I want to do my best and help Pakistan to win matches.

“Whatever I have learnt and whatever I know I will transform it at the top level. It been a very long time I have been playing domestic and I have been use to of it. Obviously every cricket player has a dream to play and after such prolonged domestic career came at certain stage of my career where I was thinking about quitting. But now I have a chance and whatever the age is I want to perform and if I am not able to give perform well I will move aside.”

In the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons, Rafatullah averaged over fifty in List A cricket but he could not quite do enough to force his way to the top of the list. In 2009 he was involved in a first-class world-record second-wicket stand of 580 with Aamer Sajjid where he finished unbeaten on a career-best 302.

At a time when he was struggling to earn a national call-up despite his consistent runs, he tried emigrating to Afghanistan in a bid to play the ICC World Cup Qualifier in 2009 but his name was later withdrawn as he would not have spent the required four years in the country.

In the 2012-13 season he trebled his number of one-day hundreds as he scored 425 runs in six matches with three centuries, but it was this year’s Haier Mobile T20 Cup which finally brought him his reward after scoring 230 runs at a strike-rate of 157.53 to help Peshawar to the title. He was also considered one of the fittest players available and before selection, Rafatullah was called up in the National Cricket Academy for a fitness test and ESPNcricinfo understands he has passed with distinction. If he makes his debut, he will be the oldest T20 international debutant for a Full Member.

“We always talk about youngsters but they are raw and with World T20 ahead we want an experienced campaigner,” Haroon Rasheed, the chief selector, told ESPNcricinfo. “Rafat is the one we think can give us what we need in the line-up. He is among the fittest guys in our domestic circuit and his form, we have seen him batting in the recent T20.

“He knows that he doesn’t have much time but we wanted to reward him for his persistence in domestic cricket. He has been an outstanding batsman in T20 for his team Peshawar. Having experience of playing first-class cricket for many years, with his form, sound technique and fitness, and also given his fielding credentials, he has been afforded an opportunity as he was considered to have potential to feature in an international T20 competition as an opener.”

Pakistan have never been afraid to throw a player in young. Now they have shown they don’t mind blooding them somewhat older, too.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent.

پاکستان کے پاس اب انڈین پریمیئر لیگ کی طرح پاکستان سپر لیگ ہے۔ یہ صرف وقت کی بات تھی کیونکہ ہندوستان کے بعد اگر کسی دوسرے ملک کے کرکٹ شائقین اس کھیل سے جنون کی حد تک عقیدت رکھتے ہیں، تو وہ پاکستان ہے۔

حال ہی میں بنگلہ دیش، سری لنکا اور یہاں تک کہ ویسٹ انڈیز نے بھی تھوڑی بہت کامیابی کے ساتھ آئی پی ایل کے اپنے اپنے ورژن لانچ کیے۔ مگر پاکستان میں چیزیں صفر سے آگے نہیں بڑھ سکیں جس کی کئی وجوہات میں سے بنیادی وجہ بین الاقوامی ٹیموں کا سکیورٹی خدشات کی بناء پر پاکستان میں میچ کھیلنے سے انکار تھا۔

مگر ایسا لگتا ہے کہ اب چیزیں درست سمت میں جا رہی ہیں۔ کئی سالوں کی غیر یقینی صورتحال کے بعد پاکستان کرکٹ بورڈ نے اب ستمبر میں پاکستان سپر لیگ کے لیے ٹھوس منصوبوں کا اعلان کیا ہے۔ افتتاحی ایڈیشن فروری 2016 میں شروع ہوگا۔

یہ دوسری ٹی 20 لیگز کی طرح فرنچائز ماڈل پر ہی مبنی ہوگا جس میں پانچ فرنچائز — کراچی، لاہور، پشاور، کوئٹہ اور اسلام آباد — چار صوبائی اور ایک وفاقی دار الحکومت کی نمائندگی کریں گی جبکہ انعامی رقم 10 لاکھ ڈالر ہوگی۔

اور پی ایس ایل میں بڑے ناموں کی کوئی کمی نہیں ہوگی۔ کرس گیل، کیرن پولارڈ، کیون پیٹرسن اور کمار سنگاکارا ان 100 سے زائد کھلاڑیوں میں شامل ہیں جنہوں نے ٹورنامنٹ میں شرکت کی حامی بھری ہے۔

زمینی حقائق

لیکن صرف ایک پریشانی جگہ کی ہے۔ بھلے ہی اس ایونٹ کا نام پاکستان سپر لیگ ہے، مگر یہ ایونٹ پاکستان میں نہیں ہو رہا۔ شروعات میں تو میچز کے لیے قطر کا نام تجویز کیا گیا تھا، مگر پھر پاکستان کرکٹ بورڈ نے فیصلہ کیا کہ پی ایس ایل کا پہلا ایڈیشن متحدہ عرب امارات میں ہوگا۔

پی سی بی کے پاس اس سلسلے میں زیادہ آپشن نہیں تھے۔ زیادہ تر بین الاقوامی ٹیمیں اب بھی پاکستان کو غیر محفوظ سمجھتی ہیں۔ پاکستانی قومی کرکٹ ٹیم اپنے ہوم میچز امارات میں کھیلتی ہے۔ مئی میں پاکستان نے زمبابوے کا دورہ کیا مگر دوسری ٹیموں کے پاکستان آنے میں اب بھی بہت وقت باقی ہے۔

لیکن پھر بھی پی سی بی نے یہ ایونٹ اپنی سرزمین پر کروانے کے لیے سرتوڑ کوششیں کیں۔ انہوں نے اعلیٰ پائے کے بین الاقوامی کھلاڑیوں کو مینیج کر رہی ایجنسیوں کے ذریعے انہیں پاکستان میں کھیلنے کے لیے دعوت دی مگر منفی جواب ملا۔

کرس گیل اور کیون پیٹرسن جیسے زبردست ٹی 20 کھلاڑیوں کی شرکت کے بغیر پاکستان سپر لیگ ایک ناکام ایونٹ ثابت ہوتا اس لیے ایونٹ کو پاکستان سے باہر رکھنا کاروباری اعتبار سے ایک درست فیصلہ تھا۔

مثبت چیزوں پر توجہ دینا

ایک انٹرویو میں پی سی بی ایگزیکٹو کمیٹی کے سربراہ نجم سیٹھی پرامید تھے کہ پاکستان سپر لیگ کو بیرونِ ملک منعقد کروانا پاکستان کے لیے مددگار ثابت ہوگا۔ سیٹھی نے وضاحت کی کہ جگہ سے زیادہ اہم بات یہ ہے کہ پاکستان برانڈ میں کمرشل دلچسپی زیادہ ہوگی جس سے کھلاڑیوں کو زیادہ معاوضہ ادا کیا جا سکے گا۔

پاکستانیوں کا اپنے کھلاڑیوں کو اپنے سامنے کھیلتا نہ دیکھ سکنے کا افسوس اس امید سے کچھ کم ہوجاتا ہے کہ شاید اس سے پاکستان کرکٹ بالآخر بہتری کی جانب جائے۔

فیصل زیدی نامی ڈان کے ایک فری لانس صحافی اور کرکٹ شائق نے کہا کہ “پاکستان میں ایک عرصے سے بین الاقوامی کرکٹ منعقد نہیں ہوا ہے، اس لیے لوگ پاکستان سپر لیگ کا انعقاد پاکستان میں ہر حال میں چاہتے ہیں۔ لیکن اگر حقیقت پسندی سے دیکھیں تو ایونٹ پاکستان میں منعقد ہونے پر یہاں کوئی بھی نہیں آتا۔ پر اگر یہ امارات میں کھیلا جاتا ہے اور کامیاب ہوتا ہے، تو اس بات کی قوی امید ہے کہ ایک یا دو سیزن کے بعد یہ پاکستان منتقل کر دیا جائے گا۔”

مختصر فارمیٹ

پی ایس ایل کو آئی پی ایل سے دو مزید چیزیں ممتاز کرتی ہیں۔

پہلی چیز ٹیموں کی تعداد ہے۔ آئی پی ایل کے برعکس پی ایس ایل میں صرف پانچ ٹیمیں ہوں گی، جس کا مطلب ہے کہ مکمل ٹورنامنٹ صرف 24 میچز پر مشتمل ہوگا۔ یہ آئی پی ایل سے چھوٹا ہوگا جہاں آٹھ ٹیمیں تقریباً دو ماہ تک کھیلتی ہیں۔

دوسری چیز نیلامی کا نظام ہے۔ پی سی بی کیریبیئن پریمیئر لیگ کی طرح ڈرافٹ فارمیٹ اپنائے گا جس میں ہر کھلاڑی کو ایک مخصوص کیٹیگری میں ڈالا جاتا ہے اور پھر بیلٹ کے ذریعے اسے منتخب کیا جاتا ہے۔ سیٹھی کے مطابق اس سے پاکستانی کھلاڑیوں کو بین الاقوامی کھلاڑیوں جتنا معاوضہ ملنا ممکن ہوگا۔

پاکستانی کرکٹ کی غیر یقینی صورتحال کو دیکھتے ہوئے پی ایس ایل کے پہلے ایڈیشن کا شدت سے انتظار کیا جا رہا ہے۔ سب سے پہلی ترجیح یہ ہوگی کہ افتتاحی ایڈیشن بغیر کسی بڑے مسئلے کے نمٹ جائے۔

مگر اس سے بھی زیادہ اہم یہ کہ اگر پی ایس ایل پاکستان میں بین الاقوامی کرکٹ کی بحالی کا سبب بن جاتی ہے، تو یہ ایک بہت بڑی کامیابی ہوگی نہ صرف پاکستان کرکٹ بورڈ کے لیے،بلکہ کرکٹ کے لیے بھی۔

انگلش میں پڑھیں۔

Views from India: Why it’s important for the Pakistan Super League to succeed



Pakistan now has its own version of the Indian Premier League. To be fair, it was only a matter of time. After India, if there is one country that can match the cricketing devotion of its fervent fans, it is Pakistan.

In recent years, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even the West Indies launched their own versions of the IPL, with varying degrees of success. But Pakistan didn’t quite manage to get things off the ground. A big factor was the fact that international teams were not willing to tour Pakistan because of security concerns.

But things seem to be looking up now. After years of uncertainty, the Pakistan Cricket Board finally unveiled concrete plans for the Pakistan Super League in September. The inaugural edition is set to begin in February 2016.

It will follow a similar format to the other franchise-based Twenty20 leagues in the world, with five franchises representing the five provincial capitals – Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta and Islamabad – with prize money of $1 million.

And the PSL isn’t likely to be short of big names. Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Kevin Pietersen and Kumar Sangakkara are among the more than 100 players who have signed up for the tournament.

Ground realities

The only caveat is the location. Despite being called the Pakistan Super League, the event will not be held in Pakistan. Though Qatar was the original venue, the Pakistan Cricket Board later declared that the first edition of the PSL would take place in the United Arab Emirates.

The PCB really did not have much choice in the matter. Most international cricket teams still consider Pakistan out of bounds. The Pakistani national cricket team continues to play their home games in the UAE. Zimbabwe tested the waters in May by touring Pakistan. However, there is still a long way to go before other teams will be willing to set foot in Pakistan.

Even so, the PCB tried its utmost best to host the event on home soil. They initially contacted agencies handling some of the top international players to consider playing in Pakistan, but the response was negative.

Without the participation of Twenty20 heavyweights like Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen, the Pakistan Super League would have ultimately turned out to be a damp squib. Therefore, the move to a venue outside Pakistan makes reasonable business sense.

Looking at the positives

In an interview, the PCB Executive Committee chief Najam Sethi was confident that hosting the PSL abroad would ultimately help Pakistan. Sethi explained that more than the venue, there would be a greater commercial interest in the Pakistan brand, which would result in better player remuneration.

In Pakistan, the dismay at not being able to watch its stars live is tempered with the hope that it may lead to a resurgence of Pakistani cricket.

“Look, it is true that people here badly want the PSL to be in Pakistan as we have been in cricketing isolation,” said Faisal Zaidi, a freelance journalist for Dawn and an avid cricket fan. “But let us be realistic, if it was held in Pakistan, no one would have come here. If it is played in the UAE and if it becomes successful, there is a chance that it will be moved to Pakistan after one or two seasons.”

Shorter format

Two other features differentiate the PSL from the IPL.

The first factor is the number of teams – unlike the IPL, the PSL will only have five teams, which means that the entire tournament will comprise of only 24 matches. That is much shorter than the IPL, where eight teams currently play each other over a period of almost two months.

The second factor is the auction system. The PCB will follow the draft format followed by the Caribbean Premier League, where each player is put in a certain category and chosen by ballot. According to Sethi, this will ensure that Pakistani players will make the same money as international players.

Considering the mercurial nature of Pakistani cricket, the first edition of the PSL is being keenly anticipated. The first priority would be to ensure that the inaugural edition goes off without any major hitch.

But more importantly, if the PSL can become the first step in the resumption of international cricket in Pakistan, it will be a huge success story for a beleaguered Pakistan Cricket Board and the game as a whole

Pakistan overachievers? Who’d have thought it?

October 30, 2015

Pakistan overachievers? Who’d have thought it?

Over the last five years they have won over half their away series and have not been beaten at home. It is a stark contrast to what went before

A strong home record is not to be sniffed at Gareth Copley / © Getty Images

A last-gasp victory and after all the turbulence of ten days of Test cricket the result in the end has been somewhat predictable. For the sixth season in a row Pakistan will end up unbeaten in the desert. It has become such a state of affairs that even the local fan base has become used to it – almost taking it for granted. It bears repeating: there’s nothing wrong with being a bully at home. Perhaps being dominant at home is worth being satisfied about, rather than being something worth denigrating as somehow unworthy, somehow Indian even.

One of the more fascinating things to come out of this series – against England, and so bound to be high-profile – is how the results affect so much and yet so little: you can change your form, your reputation, your performances, but the narrative? That takes more than mere competence.

In the weeks before the series started, most headlines inevitably revolved around Mohammad Amir (him of zero first-class matches in five years) not being back in the team immediately after his ban was lifted. The rest focused on Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman – neither of whom had played a Test match in the year prior to the team selection for this series – being excluded from the squad. It almost seemed as if Pakistani cricket might as well have been in stasis during their time between the last home series against England and this one, rather than having gone through a downfall and a revival, as was actually the case. Pakistan went from a spin-led juggernaut to a team struggling without identity, which eventually rebounded thanks to domestic veterans and batsmen playing beyond their own expectations.

Of course, that is a better alternative to, say, the Australian perspective. For instance, the conversations at the start of the Australian season last year seemed to indicate there had been a memory wipe regarding Australia’s tour to the Emirates. While it has become a cliché to lampoon what happens in the Channel Nine commentary box, it was still surprising that a discussion there on cricket’s fastest centuries failed to mention Misbah-ul-Haq’s effort barely a month prior, against their own lot. At least for England, what happens against them still counts as actual cricket, even if it takes place far from their shores.

Is it really the team’s fault that their board has neither the clout nor the vision to give them the sort of opportunities their record deserves? Are they to blame for not touring any of the big three in this period, or is it the fault of their board, or of the condescending triopoly that rules cricket right now?

Pakistan exist as the pariah of the cricket world, and even when they enter the mainstream, they seem to do so temporarily. To be fair, it’s not as if Pakistan and the builders of their narrative play a particularly positive role in changing this state of affairs.

That doesn’t mean their achievements should be played down, particularly at home. Pakistan have gone through a quiet, televised revolution. The return of Younis Khan, the appointment of Misbah, and their relocation to the UAE came at perhaps the lowest point in modern Pakistan’s Test history.

In the previous 47 months they played nine Test series and won none – the longest winless run in their history. No batsman but Younis Khan had averaged over 45, no bowler had averaged under 25. The glimmers of hope – a new-ball pair who could rule the world, a captain who could bring stability – had been removed, Eeyore might have been deemed too optimistic in Pakistan at the time.

Five years later they hold the longest unbeaten home run in Test cricket. That too has to be taken into context. Their fortunes till then had been rather different to those of their Asian brethren. At the start of this run by Pakistan, Sri Lanka had lost two of their previous 19 home series; India had lost two of their previous 34 series – one each to Australia and South Africa. Pakistan, meanwhile, had lost nearly as many Test series (nine) as they had won (eight) at home over the previous 15 years, losing to six different Test nations. If you had told Pakistani fans that five years from then they would all be complaining about being dominant at home, they’d have called you a madman – and then probably accepted the notion, since satisfaction has never been part of their dictionary; they only feel at home in elation or misery.

Yet Pakistan’s away record is different from what popular perception might say it is too. They have won half (five) of their away series in this period, or as many as they had won in the 11 years prior to the start of this run.

This Pakistan team has made Test cricket interesting again for its fans © AFP

Is it really the team’s fault that their board has neither the clout nor the vision to give them the sort of opportunities their record deserves? Are they to blame for not touring any of the big three in this period, or is it the fault of their board, or of the condescending triopoly that rules cricket right now? Is it their fault that every time the Test team starts to get into their groove, they have to face months on end without a single Test match?

Perhaps their greatest achievement, despite what the crowd attendance in the Emirates might argue, has been to do with interest in the longest format. Test cricket was slowly becoming an irrelevance in Pakistan – perhaps best illustrated by them going a calendar year, 2008, without playing a single Test. Five years of success later, the TV network broadcasting the Pakistan-England series can proudly call the ratings from the Test series record-breaking. It’s amazing what a winning team can do.

But all good things must come to an end. In the most likely scenario of there being no Tests in the India series, which is in any case unlikely to take place, Pakistan will go at least seven months without a Test. Misbah might be gone by then; Younis’ Indian summer will almost certainly be over. The players who are around will either be more in tune with the shorter formats, or (in the case of the Test specialists) out of tune with the international game. The Sharjah Test might be our last look at an under-heralded team.

So appreciate them while you can, because a decade from now, a bunch of hipster writers certainly will. After all, nothing pleases their narrative as much as a Pakistani team from days gone by.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. @mediagag

The second coming of Team Misbah

November 3, 2014

The second coming of Team Misbah

The current side calls forth memories of the golden era of 2010-12
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Good old boys: Misbah-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali made their debuts in their mid-20s, late by traditional Pakistan standards, and have come to embody an ethic that goes against the idea of the mercurial Pakistan side © Getty Images

There was a lot that Pakistan lost in the summer of 2010. They lost a series against England; they lost two captains, their two best pacers and some of their integrity. It could have been easy to lose hope as well, particularly when barely a month later Zulqarnain Haider abandoned the team mid-tour. They had failed to win any of their previous eight Test series since beating West Indies in 2006, and their fortunes looked bleak. To add to that, they had won only one of their previous ten away series, and considering they could no longer play at home it would have been easy to fold there and then. But instead, with Waqar Younis and Misbah-ul Haq in charge of the Test team (and Shahid Afridi with the ODI squad) Pakistan went on a run that would have been hugely impressive with the full-strength Test squad, or even the team of the 1990s, and quite simply remarkable with the talent available.

Over the course of about a year and a half following that summer, Pakistan played seven Test series, winning five and drawing two. It was the longest unbeaten streak of series they had had since the late ’80s, and the first time they had won four in a row since 1994. And the men who made it possible made you doubt everything you had learnt about Pakistani cricket.

The Pakistani player in the post-Imran era was brash, aggressive and disturbingly young. Nearly every one of the greats of the mighty ’90s side made his debut as a teenager. It was a trend that continued even when it seemed it had stopped paying dividends. The lost generation of the 2000s could blame their careers on how early they were thrown into the bear pit. Several of them had been outlined as potential Pakistan players when they were still boys – in the 1996 Lombard Under-15 Challenge Cup, Taufeeq Umar, Hasan Raza, Bazid Khan, Faisal Iqbal, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik and Yasir Arafat all played for the Pakistan team that finished runners-up. Every one of them, with the exception of Bazid, would eventually make their international debuts at 20 or younger. Each of them could be accused of failing to fulfill his potential. Add the likes of Danish Kaneria (who debuted at the age of 19) and Pakistan’s lost generation seemed to be posing a question to the very core of the beliefs of Pakistani cricket. Perhaps the decades-old strategy of throwing children into the pool and judging them by whether they swam or sank wasn’t ideal in the modern, increasingly professional game.

With that generation failing and the assembly lines drying up Pakistan were forced to look where they had rarely looked before. The rise of Team Misbah was based around the very players that Pakistan seemed to regard as obsolete: journeymen who had learnt their craft after years in the domestic game. Pakistan’s two highest scorers during those seven series dating from late 2010 were Azhar Ali and Misbah. The former had debuted at 25, normal by international standards but practically ancient for Pakistan. Misbah had debuted at 26 but did not play his sixth Test till he was 33. Both were, and bizarrely still are, underrated within Pakistan. Neither can be considered an expressive shot-maker – the only reason they got to where they did was the weight of their runs rather than the keen eye of a particularly prophetic selector. Misbah is the embodiment of this team – unspectacular, conservative, ugly but successful. A man who elicits admiration and respect but rarely the blind love that would force a 12-year-old to go out into the street and play cricket.

Much the same was true of the bowling. The two leading wicket-takers during those 18 months were Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, who made their debuts at 30 and 27 respectively.

What that team had was a collective unity, a desire to show the world that their late debuts, and the questions about their age, was unjust. Even now Misbah bristles at talk of his age, arguing that a player’s fitness should override his date of birth – a view that seems to be shared by the older players in the team.

After the historic win against England, though, Pakistan began to unravel, unable to win any of their following six series. The fact that they played only one series in the 12 months following that England series – and continued to be patchy in the ODI game – meant that the confidence, unity and momentum that the 18 months of constant long-form cricket from late 2010 on had established were lost.

Azhar’s position in the side was questioned after a poor series in South Africa. He had been Pakistan’s highest scorer in the series win against England, and the only player to score multiple centuries against Sri Lanka in mid-2012. One bad series was enough to make the doubters question his presence. Furthermore the complacency that has defined Pakistan cricket for decades seemed to have returned. The fire in the belly from years of being treated poorly (in their eyes) had dimmed.

With Sarfraz Ahmed trying to make up for lost time and a stunted career, and Younis Khan feeling unfairly treated again, Pakistan seem to have a team eerily similar in composition and mindset to the one that brought them success early in the decade

Now Pakistan have a chance to revive that team. Before the second Test match here in Abu Dhabi, Zulfiqar Babar bristled at questions over his age in a manner that was reminiscent of Misbah. He too seems to be making up for lost time, and having missed five years of domestic cricket (due to politicking in the Multan division) there is a passion in him that is evocative of the early series of Team Misbah, and of the way Rehman and Ajmal bowled in them.

Each member of the bowling quartet is inexperienced at this level, but none is younger than 26. With Sarfraz Ahmed trying to make up for lost time and a stunted career, and Younis Khan feeling unfairly treated again (the most dangerous Younis is the angry Younis), Pakistan seem to have lucked out with a team eerily similar in composition and mindset to the one that brought them success early in the decade. And with Misbah and the returning Waqar united in the dressing room again, satisfied with making conservatism Pakistan’s go-to approach, they seem to be turning the clock back to 2010.

But of course this is a poorer version of that team. It would be extremely surprising for anyone in this team to achieve what Ajmal did in the last four years, for instance. That team also had Umar Gul responding to the responsibility of leading the pace attack following the loss of Amir and Asif – and producing the best year of his career in 2011 (the only year of his career when he has taken over 20 wickets at under 30). Thus while the keeper, and possibly one of the opening batsmen, might be an improvement, it is questionable if this team really can achieve the heights of the first iteration of Team Misbah.

After the Test win against Australia in Dubai, Misbah said it was second only to the series win against England in 2012. A 2-0 result in this series could leapfrog that one. What’s open to question is whether it is a flash in the pan or truly a reincarnation. Either way, the team will be respected but never loved.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. @mediagag

Yasir trains with childhood hero Warne.

Yasir Shah and Shane Warne chatted about legspin in Sharjah

Yasir Shah and Shane Warne chatted about legspin in Sharjah

Shane Warne has paid a visit to Pakistan’s training session in Sharjah to have a one-on-one session with legspinner Yasir Shah. After their one-and-a-half hour session, Yasir said it had fulfilled a childhood wish to bowl with the legendary Australian.

This was the first organised meeting between the two, with Warne in the UAE to promote a golf tournament. Warne was also keen to get some practice before his All Stars T20 matches in the USA. Pakistan’s team management were reluctant to let Warne take part in a team training session but allowed him and Yasir to spend some time on one of the pitches at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

Yasir’s excitement was clear and he said he was happy to meet his hero. “I had a wish from my childhood that I could bowl with him and play with him,” Yasir said. “I was excited to have him here for me. I am very happy to hear the kind of feedback he gave me, and he spoke highly about me.

“He didn’t teach me everything but gave me very useful tips about certain things, and didn’t find any problem in my bowling action. He emphasised that Test cricket is played with patience and I don’t need to rush and waste energy, just keep myself calm.”

When asked if he could get confused with having too many coaches around him, he said: “I don’t think I can get lost focus as I am working a lot with Mushy bhai. His [Warne] tips are very useful, which I am going to try in the long run, but during the series I won’t make any changes.”

Yasir was perhaps a little star struck as Pakistan arrived for their training session at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, with his team-mates calling “berha khush ha aj Yasir” [look how excited Yasir is today] at the news of Warne coming to nets.

Warne had been due to arrive at 10am but eventually turned up just after 11am. The team security manager was overhead saying “a gya” [he came] as Yasir hurried towards the dressing room, where Pakistan’s team manager, Intikhab Alam, introduced the two legspinners.

“Look I have always been a fan of Shah since the first time I saw him a while ago,” Warne said afterward. “He’s probably the best legspinner in the world. The way he bowls and the way the ball comes out of his hand its fantastic. I think he is more of a natural talent than me. If he gets his pace right and doesn’t try to bowl quick and keeps patience… He has got a beautiful leg break.”

“He is a wonderful bowler now, although he hasn’t played a lot Test – but he has played a lot of first-class cricket. He is a world-class spinner. Test match cricket is what all we love and spinners can excel in this format.”

Yasir climbed to No. 2 in the world rankings for Test bowlers after taking eight wickets against England in Dubai. Overall, he has picked up 69 wickets in 11 Test matches at an average of 24.55.

Warne was the player Yasir idolised and grew up watching him. The pair met in Adelaide during the World Cup earlier this year but on that occasion only spent a few minutes together, and Warne said he would be happy to share more of his expertise with Yasir in the UAE, given the opportunity.

“Probably I am a bit biased for legspinners, but I love seeing spin bowling and I am very passionate about it,” Warne said. “I have always liked to help as many spin bowlers as I possibly can, whether it’s Kaneria, who I have helped little bit, or Graeme Swann, Kumble, Saqlain, Mushy, Dan Vettori – all of the spinners have got a club, so we always try to help each other. We are bit different, think differently than most people. It was a fantastic opportunity to work with Yasir; we worked on a couple of things.

“I am not big on working on technical things because you have your natural gift and what is natural to you, so there’s no point working on technical things, especially in the middle of a Test series. Off-season’s when you have time work on that. He is a wonderful bowler, beautiful, so we just worked on who he has having troubles with in the England side, some tactics and plans, how he can be little bit better.”

Yasir was mainly assisted by Mushtaq Ahmed, Pakistan’s spin bowling coach, to cover the language barrier. It was Warne who did most of the talking, with Shah was rarely speaking, though he questioned about getting spin and drift.

“He wants a bit more drift and bounce, bowling round the wicket and over the wicket,” Warne said. “I hope by the end of the series he will be bowling beautifully and a huge smile on his face. We couldn’t communicate that well but when he was smiling afterwards I knew what he got was pretty good. It was nice hour or so and that was good fun.”

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @kalson

The Azhar Ali answer to Pakistan’s top-order woes

October 2, 2015

The Azhar Ali answer to Pakistan’s top-order woes

S Rajesh
In Pakistan’s Test history, no player batting in the top three positions has scored 4500 runs; Azhar Ali is well on course to becoming the first.
Only three Pakistan batsmen have scored more Test runs than Azhar Ali when batting in the top three slots © AFP

Since Test cricket began, 31 batsmen have scored 5000 or more runs when batting in the top three positions, from Kumar Sangakkara (11,916) and Rahul Dravid (11,331) to Richie Richardson (5142) and Don Bradman (5078). (Bradman’s aggregate is the lowest among these 31, but his average of 103.63 is obviously the best by far.) Of these 31 batsmen, there are eight each from Australia and England, four each from South Africa and West Indies, three each from India and Sri Lanka, and one from New Zealand.

That covers all major teams except one. There’s no one to represent Pakistan in this list. A country that has produced outstanding fast bowlers throughout Test history has struggled to produce as many batting luminaries, but the vacuum is especially glaring in terms of top-order batsmen. In the middle order, starting at No. 4 or lower, Pakistan have four batsmen who’ve scored 5000-plus runs – Javed Miandad, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf and Saleem Malik – plus Younis Khan who has an aggregate of 4759, but in the top three positions the highest is only 4055, again by Younis. None of the others have even touched 4000, with Saeed Anwar next at 3976 runs from 89 innings. Anwar opened the batting in 86 out of 92 innings he played in Tests – and batted at No. 3 three times as well – but he played relatively few Tests given his class – 55, compared with 247 ODIs.

The good news for Pakistan is that their current incumbent at No. 3 could well break those records and surge past the 5000-run barrier as well. The 30-year-old Azhar Ali has been around Test cricket for five years, is firmly entrenched at No. 3, and has racked up more than 3000 runs at that slot. His average when batting in the top three is a respectable 44.28, which is third among Pakistani batsmen who’ve scored 2500-plus runs at these slots. With his best years as a batsman still arguably ahead of him, there is a fair chance that his average will go up as well over the next few years.

Pakistan’s top run-scorers at Nos. 1-3 in Tests
Player Inns Runs Ave 100 50
 Younis Khan  83  4055  51.32  13  12
 Saeed Anwar  89  3976  45.70  11  25
 Mudassar Nazar  109  3787  36.76  9  15
 Azhar Ali  77  3233  44.28  9  19
 Mohammad Hafeez  84  2970  39.07  8  10
 Taufeeq Umar  83  2963  37.98  7  14
 Majid Khan  70  2801  41.19  6  13
 Mohsin Khan  78  2671  37.09  7  9
 Hanif Mohammad  66  2666  41.65  7  12
 Aamer Sohail  78  2654  35.38  4  13
 Saeed Ahmed  60  2503  43.91  5  12

Recently there has been a fair amount of uncertainty over the No. 3 slot for a number of teams: Australia have pushed Steven Smith to that slot after experimenting with Shane Watson and a few others, England have ditched Gary Ballance, Sri Lanka are searching for Kumar Sangakkara’s replacement, Hashim Amla has dropped to No. 4 to shore up South Africa’s middle order after Jacques Kallis’ retirement, while India are playing a merry-go-round around that position with Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane (with Cheteshwar Pujara in the mix as well).

Amid all these movements, Azhar Ali has become one of the most well-entrenched No. 3s in Tests, along with New Zealand’s Kane Williamson. Since his debut in July 2010, Azhar has batted at No. 3 74 times in Tests; no other Pakistan batsman has batted there more than four times. In fact, since July 2010, only Sangakkara has batted more often at No. 3 (80 innings) than Azhar. In terms of averages he isn’t among the top five in the list below, but there is a good chance that he will climb up there over the next few years.

Batsmen at No. 3 in Tests since Jul 2010 (Min 25 inngs)
Batsman Inns Runs Average SR 100 50
 Hashim Amla  45  2654  66.35  58.17  11  10
 Kumar Sangakkara  80  4763  65.24  52.46  17  20
 Gary Ballance  25  1169  50.82  48.30  4  6
 Kane Williamson  56  2605  50.09  46.97  8  12
 Cheteshwar Pujara  39  1814  49.02  48.36  6  4
 Jonathan Trott  62  2670  46.03  47.43  6  15
 Azhar Ali  74  3153  45.04  40.97  9  19
 Darren Bravo  31  1190  41.03  44.88  2  7
 Rahul Dravid  40  1554  40.89  42.17  5  5
 Shane Watson  27  987  37.96  56.14  2  6
 Kirk Edwards  25  781  32.54  46.07  2  5

One aspect of his game that Azhar needs to work on, though, is his strike rate: among the 20 batsmen who have faced at least 5000 deliveries since July 2010, which is when he made his Test debut, Azhar’s strike rate of 40.72 is easily the lowest; the next-lowest is Alastair Cook’s 44.98. His dot-ball percentage of 77 is the highest – marginally higher than Jonathan Trott – while he has only scored 39% of his runs in fours and sixes, which is also the least among all batsmen. (Chanderpaul is next at 40%.) The combination of those two factors – high dot-ball and low boundary percentage – means Azhar tends to get stuck more than most other batsmen.

Among these batsmen who have faced at least 5000 deliveries since July 2010, Azhar’s average of 44.06 ranks 16th, but in terms of balls faced per dismissal, he is ranked eighth, which again indicates he doesn’t always convert time spent at the crease into runs. Joe Root, for example, faces three fewer balls per dismissal compared to Azhar (105 to 108), but he averages 10.6 runs more per dismissal (54.66 to 44.06). That’s because Root has a much higher strike rate of 52.28, compared to Azhar’s 40.72.

The good news for Azhar fans is that he is clearly showing signs of improving on that front too: since 2014, he has increased his strike rate to 44.45, and in 2015 alone it’s 48.17. That’s also a function of him showing better form and scoring more runs – he has averaged 57.04 during this period, with five centuries in 13 Tests. Also, he has found success as an ODI batsman too in 2015, scoring 664 runs at an average of 55 and strike rate of 86 from 12 matches. All of these numbers indicate a batsman whose graph is on the upswing, and a batsman whose best is yet to come.

Highest balls per dismissal for batsmen since Jul 2010 (Min 5000 balls faced)
Player Inns Runs Ave Strike rate 100 Balls/dismissal
 Shivnarine Chanderpaul  65  2898  59.14  45.04  8  131
 Misbah-ul-Haq  67  2992  56.45  45.76  6  123
 Younis Khan  68  3554  61.27  51.06  14  120
 Kumar Sangakkara  86  4851  61.40  52.22  17  118
 Hashim Amla  61  3387  62.72  54.88  13  114
 AB de Villiers  57  3374  63.66  56.63  11  112
 Angelo Mathews  79  3422  54.31  48.67  7  112
 Azhar Ali  82  3393  44.06  40.72  9  108
 Alastair Cook  112  5133  48.42  44.98  15  108
 Joe Root  58  2733  54.66  52.28  8  105
 Steven Smith  63  3095  56.27  55.83  11  101
 Kane Williamson  75  3199  45.70  45.67  10  100

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

Australia No. 1 in ICC rankings for women

Women’s cricket news October 1, 2015

Australia No. 1 in ICC rankings for women

ESPNcricinfo staff
Australia and England are the no. 1 and 2 ranked women’s teams © Getty Images

Australia’s dominance in all three formats has resulted in them taking first place in the new ICC rankings for women’s teams. England are second with 124 points, ten behind Australia.

The women’s ranking is a combined Test, ODI and T20 ranking, whereas the men’s teams have a separate ranking for each format.

“The innovative new system treats results from Test, ODI and T20I cricket equally,” the ICC said. “This means there will be rankings points to play for in every international match, while the volume of matches will ensure the table is a credible reflection of overall performance.

“The rankings table is based on results between three and four years, but with the first two years being weighted at only 50 per cent. Currently, results from October 2012 to September 2014 are weighted at 50%, while results since October 2014 are weighted at 100%.”

Australia’s standing was a result of their victory in the 2013 World Cup in India and the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh, and their lead position in the ICC Women’s Championship.

“It’s certainly nice to be recognised as world number one. We’ve done a lot of hard work in the past few years to win the ICC Women’s World Cup and ICC Women’s World Twenty, as well as the Ashes recently,” Australia captain Meg Lanning said. “We are looking forward to staying at the top of the tree for a long time, which is going to be a big challenge but we have the players to do that.”

Pakistan news September 2, 2015

PCB seeks clarification on India series in December

PCB chief Shaharyar Khan believes an India-Pakistan series will help reduce tensions between the two countries © AFP

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has, in a letter to the BCCI, sought clarity on the mooted bilateral series this December, pointing out that it was part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed last year by the two boards. The letter, written on Tuesday by PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan to BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur, comes in the wake of a growing sentiment in India – and echoed by the BCCI – that bilateral cricket ties should be suspended given the current political tensions between the two countries.

The MOU, for a total of six series between 2015 and 2023, had been agreed to during the ICC meeting last year and was the basis of Pakistan’s conditional support – after initial opposition – to the ICC’s organisational revamp.

However political events in the recent past have cast doubts over the revival of the India-Pakistan series as planned. Thakur himself scotched the possibility of cricket resuming till political equations had stabilised. In his letter today, Shaharyar called Thakur’s statement a “negative shadow” on the PCB-BCCI relationship.

“I am much hopeful that the Indian government will give its go-ahead to our series regardless of any routine border tension,” Shaharyar wrote. He said the series would help both countries reduce the tension, referring to the series in 1999 when Pakistan toured India despite issues caused by fringe political activists, as well as the return tour by India to Pakistan in 2003-04 despite security concerns.

The letter also addressed the issues surrounding Ten Sports’ deal with the PCB. The PCB had recently signed a five-year deal with the broadcaster, but its ties to the Essel Group, which has threatened to form a breakaway international league, had caused issues.

ESPNcricinfo understands that some cricket boards had been reluctant to play any series in which Ten Sports is the host broadcaster, leading to a delay in firming up the plans for a series between England and Pakistan.

Shaharyar said in the letter that the issues had been resolved and ICC and Ten Sports had agreed on an MOU in which the broadcaster stated that it has no intention of being part of any rival league. Shaharyar met Subhash Chandra (the owner of Ten Sports) in London last month to clear any doubts on the matter. The MOU between the ICC and Ten Sports is, however, reportedly yet to be reviewed by the BCCI.

India have not played a bilateral Test series against Pakistan since 2007, though they did host them for two T20Is and three ODIs between December 2012 and January 2013.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @kalson