Monday, 31 December 2012

Bangladesh’s tour to Pakistan - The illusion ends

Yet the PCB shouldn’t stop it’s players from BPL

By Muhammad Asif Khan

The dawn of March 03rd, 2009 actually became the dusk for International Cricket events in Pakistan. Ever since the day, when the touring Sri Lankan team was attacked nearby Gaddafi stadium in Lahore, the cricket administrators of Pakistan have been moving from pillar to post to convince the cricketing world but so far this labour has not borne fruits.

Like his predecessor – Ijaz Butt – the incumbent Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Zaka Ashraf has also been very keen to fill this void and invite an international outfit to Pakistan. Only recently he was almost certain to have achieved this goal by persuading the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) as earlier in 2012, the BCB not only had given the green-signal but also sent its security delegation to Pakistan. All was seemingly well and Bangladesh was on the verge of embarking on a short trip to Pakistan but a petition in the Dhaka High Court from nowhere hindered the development.

Before the announcement of that trip, the Pakistan Cricket Board assured its Bangladeshi counterparts of their ‘unconditional’ support to Bangladesh for the slot of International Cricket Council (ICC) President. The tour was called off yet Pakistan went on with its commitment for the then BCB chief Mustafa Kamal who later took charge as the ICC President.

At that time, it was an impression that the PCB tried to break a barter deal with Bangladesh; however, despite of the tour cancellation, the appointment of the ICC president from Bangladesh with Pakistan’s negated this impression.

Life went on and yet again Bangladesh raised hopes and eventually backed off once again as expected. This time around the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had played yet another card, which is again a barter deal to send its player to the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) if Bangladesh tours Pakistan.

Before moving further on the issue and analyse the possible reasons of Bangladesh’s decision I would like to make a point here that in whatever circumstances the PCB should not stop it’s players from featuring in the BPL. The first reason for my viewpoint is that the players selected for league – including a lot of youngsters – should not be deprived of an opportunity to earn money as well as valuable experience after all, it’s not the fault of the Pakistani players if the Bangladesh is not coming to Pakistan. Secondly it will transmit wrong signals to the world that Pakistan Cricket Board in fact used blackmailing tactics after failing to convince Bangladesh for a short tour.

Earlier when Bangladesh broke the promise, the PCB showed big heart and did not oppose Bangladesh’s nomination for the ICC President, the situation is almost the same this time around too as PCB has another tool in the form BPL to somehow reciprocate the gesture shown by it’s Bangladeshi counterpart.

The question is that what would happen if Pakistani players are kept away from the BPL, will Bangladesh bow down to the Pakistan Cricket Board? Whatever would be the outcome but one this is for certain that the impression of blackmailing would prevail.

If it was imperative then this BPL card should be used earlier, and Pakistani players should not be sent for the auction. Bangladesh backed off all right, but what is the fault of the franchises, which have opted for around 20 Pakistani players? Or there must be a clause added to the contract of these players related to the Pakistan tour. Since there is no formal condition attached hence baring players would also be a breach of the code of conduct rather code of ethics. Moreover, if PCB does so, then will Bangladesh send it’s players to the proposed Premier league in Pakistan?
My feeling is that if the PCB used the BPL as a tool earlier then today this card is in the hand of the Bangladesh Cricket Board, because the President of the BCB, Nazmul Hassan has said that they would re-think about a short trip to Pakistan after the Bangladesh Premier League, now in this situation, imagine if the PCB boycotts the BPL then would it be in a better position to convince or pressurise it’s Bangladeshi counterparts to honour their commitment?

In the end coming to the possible reason of the continued uneasiness shown by the Bangladeshi board towards this issue. Their Board chairman has recently said that touring Pakistan is a ‘sensitive’ issue. The reason why he said so is that the BCB was a highly politicised organisation. Its chief is the son of the incumbent President of Bangladesh, Zillur Rahman, who is a prominent leader of the ruling party, Awami League as well. At the time when the next general elections are not so far away, how the opposition parties would cash-in on the ‘sensitive’ matter for point scoring against the ruling party.

There is also a large public resentment present in Bangladesh over the Pakistan tour which might have forced the ‘political’ BCB President to even sallow the bitter pill of annoying the Pakistan Cricket Board. It has probably made him a villain in Pakistan, but he has become a hero in his own country for sure.

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Saturday, 8 December 2012

Westfield not to attend Kaneria’s appeal hearing

By Muhammad Asif Khan

Karachi: Pakistan’s suspended leg-spinner, Danish Kaneria - who has been banned for life from playing in England and Wales after being found guilty of corruption – is in London for the hearing of his appeal against the ban. However, sources privy to the development have claimed that Westfield had now formally refused to attend the appeal hearing scheduled for Monday. “Westfield’s lawyers have formal informed the ECB about his non-availability to be present at the appeal hearing”, claim sources.

The 61-test veteran, Kaneria was banned for life from playing in England at a disciplinary hearing of the ECB earlier year for his alleged role in spot-fixing in county matches. Consequently, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) also suspended the leg-spinner from taking part at any level until his appeal is heard by an independent ECB panel.

Also, Kaneria’s Essex county mate, Westfield was sentenced four months imprisonment for intentionally bowling badly in a pro-40 game against Durham in 2009, and later was banned for 5 years after he pleaded guilty to the charge of accepting money to underperform. The ECB said that key evidence against Kaneria came from Westfield.

On the upcoming appeal and the absence of Westfield the sources further said that Monday’s hearing would not move forward without the presence of the English cricketer. “If Westfield’s lawyers would come up with a legitimate excuse then the hearing is likely to be adjourned as the presence of Westfield, who is the main person in the case, is a must at the proceedings”, conclude sources
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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Is genuine fast bowling a fading art?

By Muhammad Asif Khan

Ever since I started following the game of Cricket the aspect fascinates me the most is the sight of a genuinely quick paceman running down from his bowling mark to rattle a batsman. I still remember the day when I entered a Cricket stadium for the very first time – early 2000 - only to witness the run-up of the legendry Waqar Younis. Although I observed the craftsmanship of Wasim Akram as well but, the swift yet smooth approach of the other ‘W’ mesmerised me the most.

I used to hook to the Television screen to see Waqar Younis running rather sprinting down to the bowling crease with a purpose to scare the hell out of a batsman, not only me but Waqar was in fact the source of inspiration for the World’s fasted-man, Usain Bolt also as the Jamaican athlete had himself revealed that he was enthralled by the lighting sprint to the wicket by the former speed-star of Pakistan.

Off course Waqar Younis is not the only one who struck the fear of God into many batsmen but the time before and after him is also studded with terrifying fast bowlers, but recently this high quality supply seems to have decelerated.

After Shoaib Akhtar, Australia’s Brett Lee has also hung his boots which left South Africa’s Dale Steyn as the sole fear factor on the Cricket field to terrify even an all-guarded opponent standing on the other side of the pitch. I am sure that the majority of the Cricket lovers weren’t happy with this state as they are also familiar with the impact of these ‘terrorists’ who treat cricket ball as a missile. Obviously the question would arise that what was the reason of this drought like situation and why not many people are getting inspired by the heroes of yesteryears?

Young bowlers with a speed of around 145 kph are coming to the fore pretty regularly but a rare breed is being missed. Even a 145 kph bowler fades away in a year or two. To understand the cause one has to be aware of the ingredients which transform a good bowler into a fearsome one. Apart from the athleticism, the physical hard work is a must to throw bomb shells at the batsman every time and here comes the need of top-class fitness and the regime to maintain the body to bear the exceptional amount of workload.

Indeed the newer lot of players is shying away from this beautiful yet demanding aspect but the authorities managing the game have also been contributing to this disheartening phenomenon. The rapid spread of the shortest version – Twenty20 – has made the pacemen most vulnerable because in this format a captain prefers an all-rounder than a specialist, also a faster, or any bowler for that matter, focus more on saving runs. Remember what Imran Khan used to tell Wasim Akram during the 1992 World Cup? “Bowl as fast as you can, don’t worry about the runs, I want a wicket from you” and now after 20 years, when we are breathing in a T20 era, I am sure no captain could exhibit the courage to push his fast-bowler like this.

The fright of going for runs is one of the main reasons why a fast bowler hardly experiments with his length during his spell. This is the very fact why bouncers and yorkers – the main weaponry of faster bowlers – are becoming a rare sight now.

Some people also blame the rules and the dead surfaces around the world as one of the major causes of killing a potential Express bowler, but I would say that rules for the bowlers were more or less same. Also like yesteryears the wickets – especially in the subcontinent – are in favour of the batsman or a spinner, yet Pakistan has been able to produced quality faster-men one after the other.

The amount of Cricket happening around is taking it’s toll on the players as well, this scenario forced a batsman even to be on his toes however this work-load has put a fear of injuries in Cricketers’ minds hence they are not opting for an extra yard during bowling especially. Avoiding runs and injuries is preferred on the pace to intimidate the opponents.

The T20 version also attracts a league of spectators who are more interested in witnessing towering hits and a flurry of strokes or in other words guys like Gayle and Afridi are more in demand but what about the thrill and the row created amongst the spectators by a fearsome fast bowler? This feature is neglected rather discouraged.

Coming towards the end, I feel, seeking short cuts is the main cause of concern. Currently playing Test cricket is not as enticing a factor than representing a T20 league I am afraid. Due to these lucrative leagues players, in the past, have not even bothered to skip Test Cricket over the shorter versions. Sad, isn’t? To preserve the art of Cricket in general the mushroom growth of T20 leagues should be checked otherwise we would not be able to witness the likes of Thomson, Marshall, Imran, Lillee, Donald, Akhtar and Lee again.

Good intentions, bad results

By Muhammad Asif Khan

Whenever a decision is made its impact in the coming days is, or should be, the foremost concern of the decision-maker. The more sensitive one’s position is the greater amount of responsibility gets attached to a decision.

In Pakistan, the position of the Cricket Board chairman is among the most watched slots, so a single wrong step made by the person occupying the seat attracts a great deal of criticism.

The era of Ijaz Butt was by far the most talked about, but has the situation changed since the new Chairman — Chaudhry Zaka Ashraf — took the reigns of the Pakistan Cricket Pakistan (PCB)? Quite honestly, it has been a mixed bag in terms of the decisions taken by him.

An overview of the last one year — since Zaka Ashraf assumed the office — gives an impression of his being a man desperate to make his mark. Nevertheless, he has also pressed a few wrong buttons in the process.

The latest wrong button was in connection with the Domestic T20 tournament, which was finally shifted to Lahore from Karachi.

Contrasting statements from the media department showed the lack of coordination which was later proved when the President of the Karachi City Cricket Association (KCCA) Sirajul Islam Bukhari burst the bubble and presented an official letter from the PCB with instructions to constitute various committees for smooth operations during the event in Karachi.

The board spokesman later pointed to the unrest in Karachi as the reason for the venue-shift and this is the point where many eye brows were raised.

What kind of message these statements would transmit to the world — already shying away from Pakistan — and how would they react in the future?

Earlier this year when the Bangladesh Cricket Board agreed to send its team to Pakistan, a petition was filed against the move in the Dhaka High Court in which an article from the local press — regarding the law and order — was also included to strengthen the case.

This time around, a statement from a person within the PCB could serve the same purpose.

The Chairman started off really well by taking everyone aboard and meeting with former PCB heads as well as a number of ex-cricketers. He also wrote letters to the cricket fraternity to seek support. During other relevant meetings as well, he tried to send his point across pretty efficiently, but a few wrong calls on important junctures have somewhat spoiled the party for him.

When Zaka took over, he showed a lot of interest in employing foreign coaches for the national team despite the fact that the then coach Mohsin Khan was doing reasonably well.

Since then the Chairman has been advocating the need for qualified individuals. But the appointment of Mohammad Akram as the bowling coach is opposite of that very claim.

Also, if a certain level of qualification is a must for a team’s coach then why no certification is sought for the all important post of the Director Academies?

The efforts of Zaka to bring back international cricket to Pakistan are honest and highly commendable. When the Bangladesh Cricket Board hinted at sending its team to Pakistan, the barrage of statements from the chairman pushed the hopes high. Even in January ñ when the tour of Bangladesh was still conditional in many ways — the chairman said that their tour to Pakistan in April would give a breakthrough.

He also said that the government was onboard, but the tour was called off and later the local government in Punjab crushed the security wall around the PCB headquarters, which showed to the world the lack of coordination and trust between the PCB and the Punjab administration.

It is believed that the boards of Bangladesh and Pakistan are again engaged in talks for a bilateral series in Pakistan, so it would be better if the PCB chairman sorted the matter out with the local administration before giving any statement.

The PCB recently invited former England coach Peter Moores in a consulting role. He has been assigned to review Pakistan’s domestic structure. If Moores is the perfect man, then why a task team was constituted by the PCB in last December?

The task team — consisting of former players — did present their recommendations, but what happened later is still unknown?

If the board wants to improve the standard of the domestic cricket, won’t it be better to consult with the people who are actively attached to this system?

Representatives of the departments taking part in the domestic circuit would be in a better position to apprise the chairman about the shortcomings in the existing domestic system.

Here again the intentions of the PCB Chairman are not doubted but his execution is putting a lot of doubts in mind.

Another matter which is limited to announcement only is a call from the PCB chairman to honour off-spinner Saeed Ajmal. When the ICC snubbed Ajmal the PCB swiftly reacted, but till date the ‘Best bowler’ award has not been conferred on him.

The board tasked Javed Miandad with finding the reasons for the worst ever performance by the U19 team in the World Cup in Australia — where Pakistan finished 8th. But nothing has come out yet.

Separately, the PCB initiated an inquiry into the conduct of two local umpires, who were accused by an Indian TV of agreeing to fixing. But nothing has come to the fore on this issue either.

Most recently the board provided another opportunity to the world to laugh at us by mishandling the Big Bash NOCs for its players.

Initially the players were allowed to take part in the league, but then they were denied and finally a conditional permission was given. The reported reason for the denial and then the conditional approval was that the PCB wanted the players to give importance to the domestic competition, but wouldn’t this unnecessary episode hamper Pakistan Cricket Board’s relations with the Australians counterparts?

In the first place it was not players’ fault at all because they weren’t aware of the board’s plans to hold the National T20 earlier than usual.

The chairman is very keen on the commencement of Pakistan’s own brand of premier league, but statements in this regard as well are not helping the cause at all.

The chairman has given many dates for the venture. The purpose of the league is no doubt a bid to transmit pleasant signals around the world, but when Sindh Sports Minister Dr Muhammad Ali Shah managed to rope in a few former international players the cold attitude of the board chairman was not in good taste.

The sensitivity and attention attached to the post of the PCB chairman demands a lot of control. A general impression is that the chairman talks on almost every aspect. In fact he talks a lot — the habit which led to the downfall of his predecessor.

The Twenty20 impact

By Muhammad Asif Khan

More than a century ago when the game of cricket came into being it was just Test Cricket on display. The number of overs had no limit, yet the quality of the game was quite high.

After decades a faster version was introduced with a limited number of overs to achieve the target. In this scenario the players were forced to invent new ways to score. Here again the quality of the game was not compromised very much.

However, not so far ago, the fastest version of the game was launched — the Twenty20 Cricket. This is the point from where everything seemed to have taken a fresh turn.

In this format the number of overs is even less than the previous limited-overs one, so the batsmen remain on their toes all the time.

During the early days of the ODI cricket, the emergence of the World Series Cricket — organised by Kerry Packer — came as a jolt as it was seen as a factor which divided players’ loyalty. The storm triggered by the lucrative venture was somewhat controlled but it surely left its footprint. That was, to me, the beginning of the extravagance in cricket that has peaked today.

People at the helm back in the late ‘70s put a lid on the World Series, but they could not do anything about its recurrence in the form of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which began in the last decade.

Lalit Modi took the baton from Kerry Packer and with extraordinary amount of money the league was more than mouth watering for players around the globe.

Even the cricket administrators did not put their foot down this time around and gave their consent to what turned out to be a trend-setting venture.

This was indeed the beginning of a new era which changed the complexion of the game and its perception. But it was precisely here that the authorities should have played their due role.

Now everybody is in it and it is very much like over-cooked food which leaves bad taste in one’s mouth. Even a good thing can earn you bad result if it is overdone and same is the case with the mushroom growth of the T20 leagues.

After India, now almost every Test playing country has an indigenous T20 league where the players are given handsome amounts of money to basically entertain the audience. This trend is actually denting the game in many ways and here the International Cricket Council (ICC) should concentrate on quality rather than the quantity.

With the T20 expansion —mainly through these leagues — the game of cricket is seen as a three-hour entertaining show only.

Nobody remembers a copybook stuff but a towering hit. It is also taking its toll on good players around the world because when an organiser pumps in huge money then he would surely bank on top-class players to get good returns on his investments.

On the other hand, the players are fatigued because of non-stop traveling and playing. Several of them now have to make a choice between such leagues and the national duty.

There have been examples when players chose a league over a national assignment, and it will continue I am afraid.

This is not the only problem associated with this phenomenon. Apart from cricketers and their issues, this has also been tarnishing the image of the game in general. Ever since the IPL numerous corruption cases have come to the fore.

It has actually put an extra burden on the shoulders of the people responsible for the transparency matters.

Also, it has been a reason why a vast majority of people has distanced itself from the true version of cricket — the Tests. The ICC also has an idea of it and that is why they have introduced some colourful innovations to the longest format, but still a lot should be done.

In modern time people very easily associate cricket with fixing, and the reason is that the number of leagues made a bookie’s job a little easier and the non-payment episodes, such as Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the match-fixers.

Indeed capping a wrongdoing is very difficult but with the amount of cricket being played in the form of such extravagant leagues, curbing this menace has become next to impossible.

Everyone is trying to outsmart the other and in the process the game of cricket is suffering. The ICC has to take immediate steps to limit this practice.

They should put in place strict mechanism both for the players as well as for the organisers. Players should not be encouraged if they overlook their national side and the host cricket boards should also be penalised if a wrongdoing is unearthed in a league.

How to train best for national duty

By Muhammad Asif Khan

The game of cricket has taken a lot of turns for betterment since its birth because the administrators have kept on pushing for innovations.

Among the modern introductions, coaching staff for a team is also considered as a must. Almost all the teams now have a set of professional coaches and trainers.

Unlike yesteryears, this department is taken care of very seriously and relevant qualification ñ coaching courses, etc. ñ is seen as mandatory for the individuals chosen for the different jobs.

The question is: if the world is doing this, why shouldn’t the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)?

But first we must understand the idea behind having separate coaches. Other teams are doing fine with this methodology but why heavy duty coaches have not been able to deliver in Pakistan?

From Richard Pybus, Bob Woolmer, Geoff Lawson to Dev Whatmore and Julian Fountain the end result has not been satisfactory. Why, what is the reason for it?

If a player, even after reaching the top level, does not know the basics of the game then there are two possible issues to confront with. Either the domestic structure is not producing quality players or the selection process is not transparent. Or there might be a third possible reason: probably we are not putting the right persons at the right places.

And this third possibility is exactly the point I would like to make here.

Can a coach alter the technique of a 100-match veteran overnight? It seems next to impossible, so the purpose of having an expensive coach is not well served.

There can be no comparison between Pakistan and other top cricket playing countries because all those have competitive domestic structures, in which the issues related to fitness and techniques are taken care of adequately. Players there are mature enough before entering the international arena.

The Pakistani authorities directly expose a good domestic performer to the international pressure which, at times, has an adverse effect on the otherwise talented youngster.

In my opinion, the short-term solution to this issue is the revival of the junior level outfits such as the A and B teams, which should be provided with foreign trips so that they have international exposure of a sort.

In the long run, there should be a system put in place to fix problems beforehand by putting a talented bunch at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) prior to their inclusion in the national side.

At this penultimate stage qualified coaches should be available to these players.

This penultimate phase should have a bunch of outstanding domestic performers or under-19 players who should be put to rigorous training and groomed on technical lines.

The coaches at this level should be assigned a duty to grade the players on the basis of their ability, and performance during the training.

This way, the boys will get motivated to do well, and the end result will definitely be in Pakistan’s favour.

I am personally not in favour of appointing a heavy duty coach with the national team only, because at that stage one could not do much with players’ techniques. But, yes, a man who can guide the captain and player in formulating a strategy should accompany the boys.

A strategist, planner or an analyst should be there for the tune-up along with a competent trainer who could help the players in maintaining top class fitness which is the foremost requirement of the modern era.

With these arrangements, the selectors for the national team would have a trained individual who can replace any injured or out-of-form player in the top team. Moreover, the rotation policy will also be effective with this liberty of having a large group of trained players. We will have more than eleven players ready to represent the team at the top level.

We have a lot of talent in the country, but the transition phase is where the problem lies. Therefore if the best of coaches are placed at the above mentioned penultimate phase, it will help rectify the players’ imperfections before they put their steps into the international arena.

Need for better detectives

By Muhammad Asif Khan

Money and corruption go hand in hand and cricket is a game in which a lot of money is involved. So corruption cannot be ruled out. Every now and then the resurfacing of corruption scandals is indicative of the fact that the game had continuously been under the shadow of this menace even when there were no reports of fixing.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) formed the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) back in 2000 with an idea to put a lid on the malpractice, but fixing has continued ever since. It means that there is some thing wrong in the methodology which is being practiced by the ICC and it needs to be altered.

ACSU is manned by ex-police officials who must have been brilliant in their respective fields, but cricket is a different ball game altogether.

The ACSU’s officers can keep watch on players’ off-the-field movements, but detecting a dubious act by an individual on the field is next to impossible. If a batsman deliberately scores slowly then a detective cannot figure that out, but probably an ex-cricketer would smell a rat in the process. One proof of the ineffectiveness of the ACSU is the fact that the body has not so far unearthed a wrongdoing on its own.

They take action only after something wrong has been exposed by newspapers or television channels. Just recall the infamous over-step by Mohammad Amir in 2010. It remained undetected until the sting operation. Let me quote a few more examples here. In the World Cup 2011 match between Australia and Zimbabwe on February 21, 2011, Australia managed to score just 28 runs in the first 10 overs, and later went on to post a winning total of 262.

I am not saying that something must have been wrong in that match, but the question remains: can it be noticed by a detective who is not related to the field of cricket?

Another example is the World Cup match between India and Australia on February 15, 2003. India were at 26/1 in the first 6 overs and after 15 overs their score was 45/4. Wasn’t it strange? It could be pre-designed but again nothing could be said with absolute certainty. The above two examples are amongst many which might have been noticed by cricket experts.

So what should the ICC do? They have distributed literature amongst players, empowered member boards to establish their own anti-corruption units, etc. But still there is room for improvement.

Countless endeavours by the ICC are there but what they have not done so far is to encourage those who want to speak against this wide-spread menace.

Who doesn’t know former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif and his efforts against match-fixing but did the ICC take him seriously? He wrote a letter to the apex body in 2003, but was not taken aboard in putting in place a better mechanism.

There are other examples too. Former fast bowler Sarfaraz Nawaz also claimed to have briefed the ACSU officials in the past but to no avail.

Therefore, for the sake of this game and its integrity, the governing body needs to come up with an out-of-the-box solution. By only admitting the reality, the ICC is actually showing its helplessness. They are in charge of the game, so they are the ones who need to take charge. Otherwise the recurrence of unpleasant events would continue.