Howzatt 2

So the verdict is in and the Green Shirts have finally taken off to India for participating in the T20 World Cup. How desperately we want them to do well! But folks, if you really love the game of cricket itself, please watch the T20, no matter which teams are playing, for the sheer delight of top class batting and bowling and fielding coming from teams such as Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa.

I am in the camp that feels that we would have had much better prospects if Afridi had bowed out gracefully, and Waqar Younis too had called it a day. Mad Afridi fans (not dissimilar to mad PTI fans incidentally) will balk at this and forever rant about his great performances in the past. And exactly therein is the operative word – past. The man is well beyond his Best Before date and we need to be objective enough to accept this. And Waqar, one of the greatest bowlers of his time. But coaching is another science altogether.

Not to mention that both Afridi and Waqar do not inspire high performance or genuine respect in the players. They only inspire a sort of fear of rejection, rebuke, being sidelined. Fear cannot generate high performance. Especially not against the world’s best. PSL was another story. This is the World Cup. And great excitement as the PSL gave us, I could never shut out the thought throughout PSL that how sad it is that it is not happening in the country itself. How hugely indicative this is of the state our society has reached. What good is any ‘progress’ or ‘development’, when successive governments cannot even develop a society in which a perfectly normal activity like a major cricket match can take place.

Back to the World Cup. The good evening announced Friday evening was that Imran Khan himself (and Wasim Akram) will be there to advise and motivate our team. Totally disagree as I do with IK’s politics, there can be no doubt about his knowledge of cricket strategy and of his ability to truly inspire our players. And fortunately he is not the sort who will mince words, even if he has to advise the boys something totally contrary to what the erstwhile captain and the I-have-lost-the-plot head coach have told the team! Which of course will put even more pressure on the boys, unless Afridi and Waqar, in the larger national interest (national interest is such an omnipresent expression in our lives!) swallow their stupid pride and cheerfully accept what the Khan says.

Hopefully Khan will tell them, amongst other things, to just

follow the basic rules for God’s sake! Rules that are taught even to school teams. Rules that our great cricket coach at Aitchison College, Khokar Sahab had ingrained in us playing cricket for the first eleven, as young teenagers. I will even say I am bewildered when our national team, at their level, either do not know the basics, or are just too stupid or careless to follow these. For example:

  1. This is T20. Every single run counts. This really cannot be overemphasized. When batting, take every single possible. Convert singles into two’s. And the way to do this is to take the first run very fast. Don’t stroll over!
  2. Don’t just focus on the big hits. Wait for the loose ball for big hits. In meantime, keep scoreboard ticking and the strike rotating with quick singles. Nothing worse than dot balls in T20. When fielding, stop singles as much as boundaries. Stop singles from becoming two’s. Outfielders to run in fast for this.
  3. Countless run-outs take place during taking quick singles. This is really very surprising as run-outs taking singles (or two’s) are very simply avoided if the fundamental rule is stringently followed – if the hit ball goes in front of the wicket, the batsman striking the ball gives the call for the run and the non-striker just runs. If the hit ball goes behind the wicket, the non-striking batsman gives the call for the run, and the striking batsman just runs.
  4. This is T20. Every single run counts. Bowlers to aim for zero extras – no no-balls or wides, especially down the leg side.
  5. Imperative not to lose a wicket in first 6 overs of power play, batting first or chasing a big total. No matter if the scoring rate is low. Nothing unnerves the opposition as a stand of the opening pair.
  6. Fast bowlers are best off bowling yorker after yorker into the stumps, or outside off stump.
  7. Show energy and positive body language throughout. Fielders to slow run (instead of walking) to new fielding position at change of overs. Good fielding by anyone to be applauded by all. Don’t show dismay or anger or anguish at mis-fielding or dropped catches. Get on with the game and concentrate more. Remain positive.
  8. Shy at the stumps almost always to try run-outs. But imperative that TWO, not one person are backing up always. No over-throws allowed.
  9. Batting strategy has to be customized to each match, and will depend on various factors, including who is the opposition, ground conditions, whether batting first or second, etc. But a general strategic rule can be applied to most, if not all matches. Do not lose wickets in first 6 overs, accelerate as circumstances permit in over 7 to 12, go for the hardest hitting in overs 13 to 17, when weaker bowlers are in action, do not leave too hard a task for last 3 overs as inevitably the best bowlers of the opposition will be on for the last 2 or 3 overs.
  10. And last, what has been told a zillion times – catches win matches! And the simple way not to drop a catch is to keep your eyes on the ball till the catch has been held.

And for Afridi – if you really want to learn what T20 strategizing is all about, just watch intently a dozen of the post-match comments that Dhoni has given in past matches as the winning captain during the presentation ceremonies. Huge wisdom and learning to be gained there if Afridi pays attention and absorbs what is said. For in every such instance, Dhoni has summed up the approach he took in winning the match, no matter how high a target his team was chasing.

I don’t think we can bring the Cup home. But let’s give it a real fight!

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