Willow and leather – Cricket World Cup 2015 on the horizon!

I write

this piece at the risk of being ostracized by friends and condemned to purgatory by the ultra nationalists. But write I must.

A day after amorous couples across the planet will have expressed unconditional devotion to each other on Valentine’s Day, two arch-rivals will square up on a green field to try and decimate each other. Who will uncork the bubbly after the game?

For citizens of both countries, this match, only the third of 49 matches to be played in World Cup Cricket 2015, is the only match that matters. Sure I would like our home team to win. And hopefully they will. But frankly speaking, I don’t see Pakistan doing too well in the tournament overall. In fact I will be pleasantly surprised if they progress beyond the quarter-finals.

Why this pessimism? Well, can anyone deny that competitive international cricket today is no longer a game of chance or pure luck? It is a game of hard preparatory work, total commitment, huge mental strength, sheer guts, meticulous planning, extreme physical fitness, teamwork, hardcore discipline, inspiring leadership, and yes, immense talent. That’s 10 attributes that define a winner. Now honestly, how much do we score on each of these criteria?

These are another 10 reasons why I feel we will not do too well. In no particular order:

  1. No established opening pair. A pair that can give us a solid start every single time, or at least 8 times out of 10. In 20/20 cricket, if you lose the opening pair in the first 5 overs, it is not a crisis, because you only have another 15 overs to play and 8 wickets in hand. In test cricket you lose both openers in first 5 overs and it is a matter of concern, but again not a crisis, because you have limitless time for the other batsmen to just bat on till a good base is built. But in 50 overs cricket, you lose your openers in the first 5 overs and you are in trouble. Forty five more overs to go and numbers 3 and 4 now required to do the job of the openers – establish a solid base. So in one day cricket, the opening pair has to be at the wicket for at least the first 10 overs, posting at least 50 runs on the board before either gets out.
  2. A winning one day team has to have at least one world-class all-rounder. Do we have one? World-class?
  3. No death bowler. Often one day cricket is decided in the last over or two. And if you are the bowling side, you need a class death bowler, who can bowl 6 yorkers at a trot if needed. We don’t have a death bowler.
  4. World level cricket requires top class fielding capability. We drop catches, we throw wildly, we don’t dive.
  5. A winning team works like a well-oiled machine. Internal politics, on the field or in the dressing room spell death for teamwork.
  6. Winning teams come with a definite game plan for every match. They have studied time and time again, each and every weakness of each and every player of the opposing team. They are proactive and not reactive in their strategy.
  7. Poor in between running. Innumerable matches have been won or lost by a few runs, even by just one run. So every run matters. Including the ones you could have taken but did not because you have poor understanding between the batsmen at the crease and poor running in between the wickets. So many times watching Pakistan play, you wonder if the boys have ever been taught or not, one of the fundamental principles of running between the wickets which the coach of a school team even teaches – if the ball is played behind the wicket, the non-playing batsman at the other end gives the call for the run. And if the ball is played in front of the wicket, the playing batsman gives the call. As simple as that. Why then do our batsmen not follow this rule?
  8. Reason # 8 – Sohaib Maqsood. Why is he in the team?
  9. Reason # 9 – Mohammad Irfan. Innocent, likeable fellow. But ODI average of a wicket per 30 runs? Batting average of around 4 runs? Time and again match going to the wire and everyone knows – our players, the other team, the umpires, the commentators and the crowd, that the tallest cricketer ever, cannot even hold a bat properly.
  10. Reason # 10 – yes, I have to say this – Sahibzada Mohammad Shahid Khan Afridi. A mind-boggling 389 ODI matches played. Batting average a paltry 23.49. Bowling average, a wicket per 34 runs. Yes, he has been great on his good days. But the good day comes after every 50 bad days. Afridi should really have thrown in the hat the last time he out-performed. Gone out in a blaze of glory.

Of course I will be rooting for Pakistan as long as they last. But I am also a cricketer, or at least an ex-cricketer. Left-arm leg-break. Played early in life for St. Patrick’s School Karachi, then for Aitchison College Lahore and then for the London School of Economics in university days. In one inter-school tournament I picked up 5 wickets for 6 runs, which I daresay could well be among the best bowling figures ever in Aitchison’s cricket history. Of course the team we beat in that match was beyond hopeless. I admit. But then, all our other bowlers had an equal opportunity to pick up wickets, didn’t they?!!

So as a cricket lover I will be watching the World Cup for the cricket; for the passion and the love of the game itself. All matches and not just the Pakistan matches. Want me to give 10 good reasons why some outstanding cricket will be on offer to relish viewing?

Again, in no particular order, 10 irresistible reasons to watch as many matches as possible:

  1. Brendon McCullum
  2. A.B. de Villiers
  3. Chris Gayle
  4. Younis Khan
  5. Virat Kohli
  6. Kumar Sungakkara
  7. M.S. Dhoni
  8. Glenn Maxwell
  9. Dale Steyn
  10. Lasith Malinga

Come to think of it, that’s almost my World Eleven! Drop one middle batsmen and add two, class spinners, and you have your World Eleven.

Footnote:

Just finished reading the 395 pager first novel by Sri Lankan author, Shehan Karunatilaka, titled Chinaman. For those not too familiar with cricketing terms, a Chinaman is a ball delivered by a left-arm leg-spinner that goes the other way. This novel, a recent winner of the well-recognized DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, is a real masterpiece. Arresting throughout, the twists in the tale last virtually till the last page! If you know and love your cricket, this is a MUST read. For me it had a double pleasure. For the book, besides being about cricket, is about Sri Lanka, one of my hot favourite countries to live in, or even just to visit – again and again!

3 Responses to Willow and leather – Cricket World Cup 2015 on the horizon!

  1. Raza Tahir says:

    pleasently surprised to know you been a cricketer and that too a left arm bowler. How about coaching?
    I quite agree with your opinion but a few disagreements;
    1. Sohaib Maqsood: should be be playing evrytime – aggressive technically correct batsman – can be the inzi of ’92.
    2. Should have had developed Hammad Azam as a bowling all rounder along with Afridi for this cup.
    3. Irfan : he has hardly played any cricket to be judged on his average. I’d play him for his height and ability to bowl good lengths. Same was the case in today’s match vs nzl.
    4. Junaid khan along with irfan make up a good death bowling combination.
    5. Pakistan being slow starters should be favourites to win their quarters however I don’t see them progressing to the finals.
    Lastly, how could you miss out Hashim Amla in your team? Younis who?

    • Zohare Ali Shariff says:

      Thanks for feedback Raza. Yeah, we have been hearing of Sohaib being the next Inzi, but he sure is keeping us waiting for this to happen! If you take out his one-time 87 n.o., his average is quite dismal. Junaid and Irfan are not death bowlers by any means! Perhaps its their relative inexperience, but they do not have the thinking mind, focus and concentration to be great death bowlers. Yet. Younis is there out of loyalty. But also because he can be a real asset when the chips are down. Unlike Afridi who is all slogging and hoping for the best. Yes, Amla will any day be in a World 11.

  2. Yasmin Elahi says:

    For me love for cricket started from my childhood days. I remember my mother glued to her transistor radio( I am talking about the 60s) and listening religiously to every word of the famous commentator duo, Omer Qureshi and Jamshed Marker! With due respect to her departed soul, I must admit that she didn’t understand English, but maybe caught up with what was happening on the field with the level if excitement in their voice!
    Totally agree with you about the reasons we can’t pin much hope on our team, but aren’t we a nation who love to hope against hope?
    Great to read about your cricketing career, and greater to stumble on your blog! Will keep coming back Insha ALLAH

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