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India vs Pakistan fanspeak: Sarfraz Ahmed and Co’s outdated approach leaves little hope for Champions Trophy clash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

Raees’ release could be postponed as anti-Pakistan sentiment simmers; Kaabil clash averted?

As the sentiment against Pakistani artistes brims over, reports have emerged that the release date for Excel Entertainment’s Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Raees might be pushed back further.

Raees was originally meant to release during Eid 2016.

Shah Rukh Khan in 'Raees'

However, Salman Khan’s Sultan too was slated to arrive in theatres on the same day, and rather than st up a big box office clash, Excel, SRK and director Rahul Dholakia decided to postpone their film’s release to January 2017.

There was just one hitch though — the date they wanted had already been taken by Rakesh Roshan and Hrithik Roshan’s Kaabil.

Industry analysts went into a tizzy wondering which of the two films would emerge the victor from this tussle.

However, it seems that Raees won’t be clashing with Kaabil after all, if the reports of it being postponed are indeed true.

Raees‘ leading lady, the Pakistani actress Mahira Khan, has come under attack from political parties like the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which has said that artistes from across the border will not be allowed to live and work on Indian turf.

In this scenario — while the Raees release delay is still speculative and not confirmed — Excel and SRK may have decided that pushing their film until such time as bilateral tensions ease is the best possible policy.

This week, the MNS staged protests outside filmmaker Karan Johar’s office, demanding the ouster of Fawad Khan from his upcoming film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. ADHM, which stars Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and has a cameo by Fawad, is scheduled to release on 28 October.

On Friday, 30 September, the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association announced a ban on all Pakistani artistes and technicians from working in India. However, they said ongoing projects were exempt from the ban, including ADHM and Raees.

Krrish 4 release date changed; clash with Shah Rukh Khan-Aanand L Rai film averted

Box office clashes isn’t exactly good news for anybody, least of all the producers. While Diwali will see the mother of all box office clashes with Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil locking horns with Ajay Devgn’s Shivaay, there’s some respite coming in as another box office war has been averted.

srk hrithik

Filmmaker Rakesh Roshan, whose production Krrish 4 was all set to release on Christmas 2018 alongside Shah Rukh Khan’s project with director Aanand L Rai, has decided to back out of the clash. The filmmaker stated that he arrived at this decision since Khan had announced his film earlier and it would be “unethical” for him to release the fourth instalment of his superhero film alongside.

Talking about it in an interview to Bombay Times , Roshan said, “It is unethical for me to release my film on this date as Shah Rukh has already announced is movie…We’re here to make films, not create controversies. As far as Shah Rukh is concerned, he is like a younger brother to me.”

However, the Raees vs Kaabil clash on Republic Day 2017 remains unaffected. Khan’s Raees was slated to hit the theatres on Eid this year with Salman Khan’s Sultan. But Shah Rukh Khan postponed Raees’ release toJanuary 26 – a date that had already been booked by the Roshans for the release of their upcoming thriller, Kaabil.

Roshan stated that he will not move Kaabil’s release date ahead as he had announced his project way before Khan.

Ajay Devgn on clash with Karan Johar: ‘Don’t waste my time thinking about anybody else’s film’

This has been the season of clashes.

It all started last year in December with Bajirao Mastani and Dilwale clashing, which was followed by rumours of a big clash between Raees and Sultan. However, we are guessing Shah Rukh Khan decided to play it safe after Bajirao Mastani did better box office business, and Sultan had a solo release.

The clash between Mohenjo Daro and Rustom is still underway, with Rustom emerging as a winner .

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However, one of the biggest clashes of this year has to been between Karan Johar’s directorial venture Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Ajay Devgn’s directorial venture Shivaay, both of which are releasing on Diwali this year.

While both Johar and Devgn have not spoken about the clash till now, Ajay has finally addressed the elephant in the room, in this DNA interview. Not known to mince his words, Devgn has been very straightforward about his stance.

“I don’t waste my time thinking about anybody else’s film. I want to concentrate on my film because, eventually, it’s the product that speaks. Why break my concentration? I’m only concerned about what I’m making,” said Ajay Devgn upon being asked if he is “prepared” for the clash with Karan Johar’s film.

He further said that when they announced the release date for Shivaay, nobody else was releasing a film at the time, and that it’s their [Dharma Productions] prerogative if they want to cash in on a good day. Devgn further informed that when he reached out to Fox Star India (who are co-producing Ae Dil Hai Mushkil) they refused to budge on the release.

This is especially a delicate clash because Devgn’s wife and actress Kajol, and Karan Johar have been thick since even before they started their careers. There have been reports of a fall out between the two since the clash.

Both these films, Shivaay and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil are very crucial to Ajay Devgn and Karan Johar respectively. This is Ajay Devgn’s second film as a director after 2008’s U Me Aur Hum and his last film was DrishyamShivaay has taken close to two years to script and make and therefore its stakes are very high.

Karan Johar, on the hand, directed his last film (Student of the Year) in 2012, and has been producing films since then. His lead actor in the film is Ranbir Kapoor, whose last few films have not been successful. Anushka Sharma is, for all practical purposes, the most “bankable” star in his film.

This must be something that plagues Johar since he was the one who conveniently “dropped” Imran Khan from his favourites list after he stopped delivering hits.

Given this background on the film, is it strange that Johar is making no sounds about his film. There are no hashtags, no first looks, no songs, not even Instagram posts about it. Just radio silence. Should we be expecting an announcement of a shift in release soon?