Saturday, March 31, 2007

Going beyond the 10

The world cup in 2007 has seen 16 teams participate in the event. Despite many people arguing that it would dilute the entertainment on offer, the ICC maintains that it’s necessary for global expansion that the lesser nations are given the exposure that they so badly need. But is exposure alone enough to ensure that cricket is able to grow in these countries? I do have my reservations with this approach. The ICC’s methodology of allowing 6 associate nations to play against top teams once every 4 years is not only ludicrous but shows lack of planning for the future.

The world cup has given us two great upsets so far. Bangladesh’s win against India is considered important with regards to Bangladesh’s graduation from high school to the professional league of the test playing nations. But it is Ireland’s emphatic victory over Pakistan that has got everyone talking. The ICC have already started giving everyone their we-told-you-so’s, but how much impact will this victory have on Irish cricket in general is still much debatable. Kenya caused their first upset in the 96 world cup; they were semifinalists in the 2003 version. But is cricket better off in Kenya than it was 11 or even 4 years ago? I really doubt it. It’s been more or less at a standstill. Zimbabwe beat Australia way back in the 83 world cup. It has been almost 25 years since and Zimbabwe have instead taken a few steps backwards.

The world cup is the most followed event in the global cricket community. Not only have the extra teams increased the number of matches being played but have also increased the span of the tournament to a month and a half. These extra number of matches, which usually end up in results with embarrassing margins, not only take away the gloss from this much coveted tournament, but also does not significantly help the process of global expansion. I would not suggest removing all the associate teams from the tournament altogether, but would recommend only the best two to be allowed to play. It can be easily seen that Ireland was the best among all the associate nations whereas Bermuda could not find their feet at all.

Instead of 16 teams playing in the one day world cup, it would be more suitable for the same number to be in the Twenty20 world cup. With lesser number of overs in offer, the associate teams would not only have a much better chance at competing with the big boys but the format will be more easily accepted by their public.

But it is even more essential that the ICC continues to support the cricket establishment once cricket does begin to grow in one of the offshoots. The ICC can be held responsible for the majority of Zimbabwe’s failure to establish themselves in the cricket world. When Zimbabwean cricket was on the up, especially during the 99 world cup, and it had a number of world class players in its ranks, quite a few of them (Neil Johnson and Murray Goodwin being the most prominent) had to part ways with the national side in order to earn a livelihood. The ICC having enough money in its coffers could’ve easily supported the development of cricket in Zimbabwe. Instead it chose to deal the matter with utmost naivety and apathy.

Ireland, on the other hand, have the advantage of an established domestic cricket circuit in its proximity (that being English county cricket). So the win against Pakistan would do them more good than it would have to any of the other minnows playing. What Irish cricket needs is more popularity and that is exactly what the super 8 advancement got them. But even if cricket in Ireland does become popular, it will always remain in the shadows of English cricket as most of the talented and performing players would have a priority to play for England. But for now, Ireland should enjoy their success and hope that they can cause a further upset or two in the super 8s.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A tribute to the world's worst runner

I don’t remember ever being this emotional about a player retiring. Maybe because in Pakistani cricket you hardly ever get to see a player choosing to retire before the board forcefully shortens his career; therefore never giving an opportunity to the player for one last hurrah before an appreciative crowd. Or maybe because it’s been two losses too many in the space of a couple of days. Or it could be due to the fact that Inzy was a damn good player. I guess it would be all of these reasons, plus many, many more.

I can’t even imagine the Pakistan team without Inzamam. I started watching cricket with the 92 world cup, as did so many other people of my generation, and up till now Inzy has been a permanent fixture in Pakistan cricket. Over time we’ve all appreciated his pulls over midwicket to the fast bowlers, or his coming-down-the-track to the slower ones, or probably most of all, his running (or rather lack of it) between the wickets. His calm and composed approach both on and off the field (save for one incident in Toronto) has won him both critics and admirers.

He was no Imran Khan when it came to captaincy, but he still was a good captain. Yes, there were a few negatives, but there were some great positives too. After a very long time Inzamam was able to create a dressing room environment that was free from all politics. This, I believe, would be his standout achievement as captain. Everyone in the team respected him as a leader. I also think he handled the Oval fiasco very well under the circumstances, regardless of what the general opinion is. He stood for what he believed, and that again is a sign of good leadership.

Well his retirement has only been from the one day arena but I can’t help but wonder if he might call it quits from all forms of the game. Pakistan is scheduled to play its next test series in December this year so that would be an awful amount of time before Inzy could get to play again. I just hope he hangs in there a little more. Finally, thank you Inzy for 16 marvelous years of sheer entertainment, and I hope you still remain a part of Pakistan cricket in some way or the other.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

When cricket loses its meaning...

The world cup has ended for Pakistan even before anyone could say “Which group is Pakistan playing in, again?”. Like every Pakistani I was (or rather, am) gutted. The performance of our players can’t even be described in words. I was going to delete the slog blog once and for all (not that it would’ve mattered), and promised never to watch a game of cricket again. But then Bob Woolmer died. For some one I have never met, Woolmer’s death did affect me a great deal. Not only has he been described by many to be the best coach for the game of cricket to date, he was a gentleman in the true sense of the word. Never have I ever read about him losing his temper or being involved in any negative incident at all. And I don’t remember anyone coaching Pakistan for nearly 3 years at a stretch. He’s had his critics, but all I can say is that Pakistan was doing very well under him before the Oval Test last year. After that, event after event saw the team wither away.

Bob Woolmer was probably the only coach Pakistan has had who was respected by all of the players. Everyone liked him. Maybe that is why his death is more saddening. One thing is for sure, all of this has given me some perspective. Sure, the selection of the squad was wrong, sure, the team played appallingly, sure, the captaincy was next to nothing… but in the end, it’s only a game. Cricket in the subcontinent has an emotional connection with the people, understandably, since there are very few things the general public can look up to with hope and anticipation given the political and economic situation of the country. But in the end, we must try not to forget that it is nothing more than a game; a game with a winner and a loser, and there may be times when we may end up on the losing side.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

It's still anyone's cup!

I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the theslogblog’s one year of inactivity by writing something.

Considering that Pakistan was ranked handsomely at third place just a month back in both one-day and test levels, it did come as a mild shock when I learnt that Pakistan’s odds for winning the world cup are less than all the test playing nations with the exception of Bangladesh. However, even without Shoaib and Asif, I still have considerable belief that Pakistan can win this year’s World Cup.

Well firstly Pakistan still has a very strong team. The most critical player in my point of view would be Rana Naveed. If everyone could go back a year and a half, we would have an idea how Pakistan was winning matches. Important to note, we were playing more matches in the subcontinent. Also, Rana was by far our most dependable wicket-taker. We have a batting line up with commendable experience and class, save the openers, and if the bowling holds there is no reason why the team cannot win matches. Rana’s recent form has been the most worrying and crucial factor in our lack of success in South Africa. It is his and Umar Gul’s partnership with the ball that should more or less decide on how many runs the other teams will score. It should also be important to note that we beat India in the 2004-05 odi series in India WITHOUT Asif, Shoaib and Umar Gul. And we all know how it is to play against India in India on batting wickets.

What I don’t understand is how New Zealand have all of a sudden become favorites for the world cup. Yes they whitewashed a relatively “weak” Australian side, and I do think that they are a good team, but they certainly haven’t become world beaters all of a sudden. Everyone is forgetting that they were playing Australia in their own backyard and if they could go back a couple of years when the Chappel-Hadlee series was also played in New Zealand they can see apparent similarities to the recent concluded series. New Zealand successfully chased Australia’s 331 (a world record at the time) and lost by 2 runs chasing 322 in another match. And Australia was playing their best eleven.

South Africa has become the No. 1 team according to the one-day rankings. Again, most series that they have won over the last year were on home soil. I have a lot of skepticism on how their one-paced attack will fare in subcontinent type pitches.

All I’m trying to say here is that Pakistan may be a bit down these past few months but they most certainly aren’t out of it as yet. In fact they have as much (or as little) of a chance then any of the other teams playing. Statistics only show half the picture.