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India vs Pakistan fanspeak: Sarfraz Ahmed and Co’s outdated approach leaves little hope for Champions Trophy clash

One of the unfortunate realities of growing up is that at a certain stage in life, people start re-evaluating friendships and relationships they have nurtured over a lifetime. It takes perhaps a succession of endured disappointments or heartbreaks for the flame of unconditional loyalty to get extinguished. For a lot of Pakistani cricket fans, we are at the crossroads of our relationship with ODI cricket.

How did we get here then? How is it that a team, once the darlings of modern cricket now resemble the sad, ailing grandparents of a new generation? It would be pertinent perhaps to retrace our steps.

Drawing from a Back to the Future reference, somewhere in the space time continuum of cricket, the timeline skewed into a tangent, creating this alternate reality. Putting our Doc Brown glasses on, it is conceivable that year for Pakistan cricket was 1999. We were an ODI team at the peak of its powers, gifted with quality all-rounders, aggressive batsmen, wily spinners, spunky wicket-keepers and pace bowlers with both extreme pace and nous. And then something terrible happened. On a sleepy London afternoon, a Pakistani team abjectly relinquished its claim to the throne. A World Cup final was lost, but more importantly a swagger was surrendered.

File image of an India vs Pakistan match. Getty images

Since 1999, much like Doc Brown and Marty McFly, we have since witnessed the cricketing world alter radically around us, with the new world order now real to everyone else, but abnormal for us. The last 18 years of the ODI game have seen thicker bats, smaller boundaries, lesser reverse swing, bulkier batsmen, more power play restrictions, and often outrageous stroke-play. In a tragic sort of way, a lot of the modern rules have conspired against the style of cricket Pakistan was so adept at playing in the 1990s, leaving it a mere shadow of the fun-filled, aggressive team it once used to be.

To continue to explore Pakistan’s unfortunate version of Back to the Future, the role of the villain Biff Tannen would have to be played by the Indian cricket team. Sometime between 1999 and 2003, when Pakistan lost its ODI mojo, India discovered fire in cricketers like Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag. Barring a blip in 2007 where our fates were shared, India has made a semi-final, a final and won a World Cup. They have shed the conservatism of the 1990s and embraced the modern game. They even hold the current Champions trophy title, a trophy won on the back of attacking bowling and solid batting.

This brings us to the upcoming Champions trophy encounter between Pakistan and India on 4 June, a mismatch now so depressingly stark, it almost feels like the 1990s but with the boot decisively on the other foot. Just the sheer disparity in rankings promises a damp squib; India are number 3 in the world, Pakistan a miserable number 8. Pakistan are stuck playing a brand of cricket that will get them 250 runs on a good day, India are currently making 290 runs on a bad day. Pakistan’s batting order is depressing enough to suck the life out of even the most optimistic cricket fan; Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali are the very anti-thesis to a modern batsman. It is almost as if Pakistan cricket is stubbornly fighting a lone cause for old-fashioned cricket. This is perhaps the only logical explanation for building a top-order around three batsmen, who carry strike rates of 72, 75 and 75 respectively.

Putting aside the wizened pessimist in me, my only glimmer of hope from our batting is provided by Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz Ahmed, three cricketers who in the very least have a lower dot-ball percentage and a greater degree of consistency than their companions. It is inexplicable why Safraz Ahmed refuses to bat in the top order that cries out for his style of aggression. It was only two years ago during the 2015 World Cup, when many of us were baying for Waqar Younis’s blood after he so stubbornly refused to bat Safraz at the top of the order and continued experimenting with the disastrous Nasir Jamshed. When Sarfraz was finally inducted into the opening slot, he responded with match winning knocks of 49 and 101. Logic though does not seem to prevail in Pakistan cricket. Even as captain, Sarfraz continues to hide at number 6, where his lack of big hitting ability has been exposed. Most disappointingly perhaps, it has also revealed a lack of the courage and initiative that Pakistani cricket so desperately needed from Sarfraz.

It is in bowling as usual that Pakistan will place most of its hopes. The fast improving Hasan Ali has emerged as a real wicket-taker in the bowling lineup. Mohammad Amir has been solid, albeit unspectacular, since his return to ODI cricket. Imad Wasim’s accuracy will be challenged by an Indian batting lineup that can feast on his style of non-spinning darts. If selected, the irresistible Shadab Khan will be the real wild card in this bowling lineup. His performances in the ODIs and Test matches in the Caribbean showed that he still has some learning to do in the longer formats of the game. His undeniable talent though, provides a rare reason to continue sitting through the mundane extremes of our ODI cricket.

Pakistan’s real challenge in ODI bowling has been that in the absence of reverse swing, its fast bowlers are rendered completely ineffective, especially during the death overs. As was seen during the Australia tour, even if Junaid Khan and Amir picked up early wickets, Australia’s long batting lineups were still able to effectively counter-attack during the later stages of the innings. It does not help that the Pakistani attack is returning to the country of its biggest-ever meltdown — conceding 444 in an ODI innings to England.

So on 4 June, we approach the game with a sense of foreboding and depressing inevitability. The optimism and swagger of the 1990s has faded. It seems into a different lifetime. There are few logical reasons for us to expect anything other than a resounding thrashing and a continued walk along this path of indifference. It is time perhaps for the space time continuum to explode one more time, taking us away from this alternate reality and back to the comforts of a glorious past.

IPL 2017: Delhi Daredevils must shed underachievers tag to deliver on their pending promise

Every summer, when Premier League football gets underway, there is one certainty. Arsenal FC begin every season with renewed vigour, which dissipates by the end of the year, and at the turn of February-March, they are struggling to stay afloat, hoping to finish fourth again. Arsenal fans, the world over may not agree with this, but regardless of whatever their argument, this yearly routine is a fact.

Now, starting from its very genesis, the Indian Premier League has forever been drawing parallels with the Premier League. Never mind the fixing saga and ensuing ban, Chennai Super Kings were seen as Manchester United, as they won everything they came across – multiple IPL trophies and the now-defunct Champions League T20. ‘Perennial winners’ is the phrase that comes to mind.

File picture of the Delhi Daredevils team . AFP

Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore are the rich clubs, like Manchester City and Chelsea, throwing out large cheques at player auctions. Kolkata Knight Riders have the most passionate supporters, like Liverpool. Obviously, when it comes to ‘perennial underachievement’ then, Delhi Daredevils find themselves in the same classification as Arsenal.

2012 was the last time this franchise had anything to cheer about. They finished top of the league table, but failed to get going in the play-offs, finishing third. They qualified for the Champions League too, and finished top of their group therein, but failed in the semis again. With the likes of Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardene, Aaron Finch, David Warner, Ross Taylor, Glenn Maxwell, Andre Russell, Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav, this season didn’t seem like a total loss though.

Instead, it seemed the dawn of a new hurrah, with these names laying the foundation of a new era of success. It didn’t happen, thanks partly to downturn in the form of some of the oldies, and the rest down to poor decision making on part of the team management as they sold off (or failed to retain the other players) who could have made an impact in the years to come.

Again, it is similar to the Arsenal story. They won the 2003-04 Premier League title, and every time they win a side-trophy like the FA or League Cup, it seems there is dawn of a false new era. It has been eons since Arsenal provided a firm challenge, and no, finishing second to Leicester City doesn’t count (Arsene Wenger should have been fired for losing out last year when City, Chelsea and United were all in doldrums, but that is a different debate).

In that sense, 2012 is Delhi Daredevils’ 2004. Five years is a long, long time in T20 cricket and their current squad isn’t a patch on the one they had all those years ago. Finishing eighth (2013), seventh (2014) and eighth (2015) subsequently, they have become more than under-achievers now. It is a pity there is no relegation system herein, for the Daredevils needed to be put out of their misery. Perhaps, it was the rude jolt their team management needed in order to buck up and make intelligent decisions.

2016 had seemed a little different then. Their squad was heavily inspired by the banned Rajasthan Royals’ outfit, bringing in the Rahul Dravid and Paddy Upton combination to manage, and the much-celebrated Gary Kirsten was let go. The message was clear – the Daredevils had bought into the youth-first policy and heavy invested by putting their eggs in one basket. The result was okay – finishing sixth – but stayed in the hunt for a play-off spot for long, only running out of steam at the very end. Almost like Wenger had been fired from Arsenal, and the new manager had hit the reset button, overseeing a period of transition at the club.

This is where the analogy ends, for Wenger is still there and on the verge of signing a new contract. More pertinently, in the context of this upcoming 2017 IPL season, the Daredevils are in a familiar territory. It is a make or break season for them, for next year all players go back in the auction pool, and the teams will be reshuffled. Maybe there will be an option to retain or buyback by matching the highest bid, it is undecided. Even so, it puts firm onus on this season’s performance, to gauge if this ‘youth’ blueprint even works.

So how are the Daredevils shaping up this season? Two of their important imports are out of this season – Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy. Both players are mercurial in their own definitive way; de Kock can blow hot and cold, it is all a bit moody time for him. If he gets going, like in 2016 (445 runs in 13 matches), he can be a firecracker both in front and behind the stumps.

Duminy is a bigger miss. Zaheer Khan, now 38, will never play every single match of the IPL season. The South African was the obvious choice to step in as skipper in his stead, and his experience in the lower-middle order will be sorely missed.

All is not lost though. For once, the Daredevils’ management spent good money (read judiciously) in the player auctions and their purchase list this year is pretty impressive. Take a look – pacers Pat Cummins and Kagiso Rabada, all-rounders Angelo Mathews and Corey Anderson, plus keeper-batsman Aditya Tare and spinner Murugan Ashwin. They released Nathan Coulter-Nile, Imran Tahir and Pawan Negi, freeing up important spots in their first-choice line-up.

Mathews, who has played for Daredevils before, can step up as captain when Zaheer needs a rest. Additionally, the injuries could be a stroke of inadvertent luck. Players like Carlos Brathwaite, Sam Billings and Anderson can get a long run of games, and these are impact players, in the Chris Morris-mould. Cummins is coming off the back of a fantastic two Tests in Ranchi and Dharamsala, while Rabada is already a rising star in every format of the game.

They can be used alternatively with Zaheer, in bolstering the pace attack, whilst the return of Mohammed Shami is always a good thing. Tare covers up for de Kock adequately, while the evergreen Amit Mishra, Jayant Yadav and Shahbaz Nadeem have the spin department covered between them.

And so, the focus once again will squarely be on the young guns. Shreyas Iyer and Karun Nair have a lot to prove given the lofty standards they have set themselves. Sanju Samson is in search of a fresh start to his promising-but-faltering career graph.

There is Rishabh Pant who has a hard-hitting reputation to live up to. This batting foursome will sew up the top order, along with Tare, and together they boast of enough firepower with the T20 experience of Brathwaite, Anderson and Morris/Billings to boost up the run-rate as needed later.

On paper, much like Arsenal every season, this squad promises a lot once again. Delivering on the field of play, however, is a different prospect altogether.

DD squad: Zaheer Khan (c), Shashank Singh, Mohammed Shami, Shahbaz Nadeem, Jayant Yadav, Amit Mishra, Sreyas Iyer, Sam Billings, Sanju Samson, Chris Morris, Carlos Brathwaite, Angelo Mathews, Corey Anderson, Kagiso Rabada, Pat Cummins, Ankit Bawne, Aditya Tare, Murugan Ashwin, Navdeep Saini, Karun Nair, Rishabh Pant, CV Milind, Syed Ahmed, Pratyush Singh.

Gautam Gambhir calls for India-Pakistan ties to be frozen till terrorism ends

New Delhi: Indian cricketer Gautam Gambhir on Tuesday called for a complete freeze on ties with Pakistan till the time cross-border terrorism does not end, saying that “Indian lives are more important than sports”.

“I would not even think of playing cricket with Pakistan. Indian lives are more important than sports,” Gambhir told mediapersons at New Delhi.

File photo of Gautam Gambhir. AFP

Gambhir insisted that every Indian must put himself into the shoes of an army personnel before talking about keeping politics and sports separate.

“I absolutely endorse that we should not have any relation or ties with Pakistan until the time this cross border terrorism finishes. People need to put themselves in army’s shoes who have lost their kids, someone have lost their father, son.

“We can say this sitting in an AC room that cricket or bollywood should not be compared to politics as long as we don’t think ourselves as Indians, or think for our own countrymen. So I totally endorse that until the time we don’t secure our own Indians, our own countrymen, all other things can be kept aside,” the 35-year-old added.

Gambhir, who had recently made a comeback to the India Test team against New Zealand, is not the first Indian sportsperson to express his views on the issue of Pakistan.

India Test skipper Virat Kohli had condemned the Uri attack of September 18 on an army camp that claimed the lives of 19 Indian soldiers and former opener Virender Sehwag has also spoken out this on the social media.

Watch: Deepika Padukone, Indian sportswomen feature in inspiring #JustDoIt campaign

Deepika Padukone stars in an inspiring new video with Indian female athletes for a Nike campaign. Taking off from the brand’s tag line: “Just Do It”, the video sees Deepika training hard in the gym and on the badminton court as other athletes  like hockey player Rani Rampal, footballer Jyoti Ann Burrett and cricketers Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandana and Shubhlakshmi Sharma are also visualised pulling off their jaw-dropping feats.

Deepika in a still from the Nike #JustDoIt campaign video. Screengrab from Facebook

Sharing the video on her Facebook page, Deepika accompanied it with a post on how sports has helped her through difficult phases in her life:

“When I was growing up my father said to me, ‘To be the best, always remember the three D’s — Discipline, Dedication and Determination. Follow your heart. Do what you are passionate about.’ Sport has taught me how to handle failure. It has also taught me how to handle success. It has kept me grounded. It has taught me humility,” Deepika wrote on Facebook.

She also referred to her (now commonly known) battle with depression, and her efforts to overcome it.

“Two years ago I struggled with depression,” wrote Deepika. “I was sinking. I almost gave up. But it was the athlete in me that gave me the strength to fight and never ever give up!”

She goes on to exhort everyone to open their eyes to the power of sport, and its ability to make a positive impact on individual lives, and society.

“I want to say to every girl and every boy and every woman and every man…play a sport…because it changed my life…and it will change yours too! Sport has taught me how to survive! It has taught me how to fight! It has made me unstoppable!” Deepika added, before signing off with “‪#‎JustDoIt”.

The video by Deepika for Nike comes in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics at Rio, and is sure to generate even greater support for the Indian contingent as they head for the Games. It had 895,286 views within just seven hours of being uploaded by Deepika.

Not Virat Kohli: Saqib Saleem clarifies he isn’t playing the cricket star in ‘Dishoom’

Mumbai: Actor Saqib Saleem, who plays a cricketer in the film Dishoom, says that he is not playing star cricketer Virat Kohli and was not offered that role but it was his own decision to model his character on him.

About reports that he is playing Virat in the film, Saqib said in an interview, “Of course he (the character) is a cricketer but not Virat Kohli. I’m a Virat Kohli fan and I really love how he plays his game, how passionate he is. And when I got this role, I thought because of the fact that he is my favourite cricketer, why don’t I make it around him. It has been a fun journey.”

Saqib Saleem isn't playing Virat Kohli on screen, although his character in 'Dishoom' has been modelled on the cricket icon. Images from News 18. Getty

“Cricket is my first love and I got the opportunity to become a cricketer; there are two passions of mine — acting and cricket — and I got to combine these two, so that was a good feeling,” Saqib added.

Saqib was a part of the Mumbai Heroes team in the Celebrity Cricket League. He was also a part of the under-19 team in Delhi, where he was brought up.

“I played a lot of cricket, watched a lot of videos of Virat and other cricketers, just tried to make him a soldier on a mission, like how Virat plays his game. When he is batting, it doesn’t seem that he will get out. We feel that even if we have to make 400 runs, Virat alone would make it. He has given us that confidence and I wanted to get that confidence into this character. I even had interactions with the director,” he said about his preparations for the role.

Dishoom also stars Varun Dhawan, John Abraham and Jacqueline Fernandez and has been tagged as a “masala action comedy”, directed by Rohit Dhawan.

“It is a very intelligent commercial film; it has all the elements of a commercial film but there is an intelligence as well in it. I feel it is the best commercial film you will see in a long time because it is very well crafted, there is a good graph in the film,” he added.

Saqib added that though the hot weather during the shoot in Abu Dhabi was challenging, he actually enjoyed it as he likes shooting outdoors and in the sun.

Pacers Clinch Playoff Berth, Begin to Look Ahead

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Pacers secured their spot in the 2016 NBA Playoffs tonight with a 129-105 thrashing of the Brooklyn Nets. Indiana’s seed is still yet to be determined, but as we’ve known for a while, they will either enter the postseason as the 7th or 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.

It’s always good to pick up a win, particularly one that clinches a playoff spot. Beyond that, however, is something gained from this that the team really needed.

The Pacers have had a number of poor performances in the latter part of the season, and part of the reason for their inconsistency has been lack of chemistry/lack of leadership. Indiana doesn’t have serious locker room issues, but they do have some that get in the way of team performance at times.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Frank Vogel recently talked about the team having “decent chemistry,” which is basically an admission that it is less than optimal – or worse. After a recent blowout loss to Atlanta (pictured above), guard George Hill was quoted as saying “it’s not about keeping people happy” when asked about fixing the Pacers’ problems. His comment was an allusion to some of his teammates being a bit more concerned about themselves than the team.

The game against Brooklyn, a blowout win in which everyone got to play and contribute, helps team chemistry, at least in the short-term. These guys all feel good about things after that type of victory, coupled with the accomplishment of making the playoffs.

I don’t think it matters who they play in the first round, but what does matter is how the team learns and grows from their playoff experience. Playing either the Cavaliers or Raptors is going to be a struggle, and it will be important to see how the players react when things aren’t going well. In the NBA, that’s usually when teams pull apart, rather than band together.

The Pacers aren’t going to advance past the opening round, but if they gain some valuable playoff experience during this process, and learn to stay together and play for each other when times are tough, then they will have accomplished quite a bit during their brief playoff run.

 

The Three Crucial Questions That Will Be Answered This Week

We are down to our last four games and all of it will have a vital effect into the standings!

Mahindra and Purefoods will be battling for the #8 spot, Meralco will try to put an exclamation point to their impressive elimination round, NLEX wants to have an outside for a top 6 finish in their game against Alaska and San Miguel will try to solidify their #2 spot.

Those games will not only settle the seeding for the playoffs but it will also answer three important questions, entering the Playoffs!

#3 Do the Star Hotshots still have the heart of a champion?
The most recent franchise to accomplish a grandslam has been a very shaky team when their former grandslam mentor, Coach Tim Cone, was shipped to their archrival, Ginebra San Miguel. Nobody expected that to happen because the management maintained the core of that Grandslam squad this year.

Marc Pingris, Mark Barroca, James Yap, PJ Simon, Ian Sangalang, Justin Melton, Allein Maliksi, Rafi Reavis, Alex Mallari and Jerwin Gaco were all part of that grandslam team and nobody expected that a championship core like this will not be able to handle the replacement of their mentor. Maybe, it was all about Coach in 2014. Maybe, they never develop a heart of a champion. We could find that out on Wednesday,

#2 Shane Edwards or Rob Dozier?
The judgement day is coming for the two resident imports of the Alaska Aces! There is a chance that it could happen earlier this week but if Coach Alex still go with Shane Edwards, I expect their game against NLEX to be the last deciding factor.

Rob Dozier is already 100% but the risk of him re-injuring his feet and not having the choice of putting Edwards back has forced the Aces to keep Edwards. The Aces have a hard time playing teams with legit bigmen and they will face another one on Friday, Asi Taulava.

I believe, size is the biggest difference between the two and that makes Rob more valuable against team with legit bigs. But, a good showing against NLEX, specially in defending Taulava, could satisfy coach Alex and make him remains.

#1 Who is the best Defensive Team in the Conference?
The game that I am most excited about is no other than the Brgy, Ginebra San Miguel versus Meralco Bolts. This is the battle of the best defensive squads this conference.

Meralco Bolts is putting up the #1 Points Allowed (91.0), #1 in FG% Allowed (40.9%) and #1 in 3FG% Allowed (31.0%). On the other hand, Ginebra is putting up the #2 Points Allowed (92.5), #2 FG% Allowed (41.4%) and #4 in Forced Turnovers (16.6).

The match-up is a great test for the two in the defensive end. Meralco will need to find a way to limit the very tall frontline of Ginebra while Ginebra will need to try and limit the inside-outside attack of Meralco. Defense is the #1 weapon of both teams but testing their offense against their top defense counterpart could be a good gauge entering the playoffs.