The Bob Beamon Moment

imageOn the afternoon of October 18th 1968, in Mexico City our world was about to witness the “historic moment” of sports history.

The world was bubbling and very revolutionary then. It was the late 60’s and Vietnam, Paris and Prague had all brought people on the streets. Flower power was asserting itself and rebels (with causes) were standing for their rights. Muhammad Ali and Bob Dylan were each leading their own revolutionary battles. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated for their respective causes. Then there was the black power movement and only one day before, two black American athletes had been thrown out of the Mexico Olympics for demonstrating the Black Power salute on the medal stand.

On this afternoon Bob Beamon was about to participate in the Long Jump Final. The world record had moved 22 cms in 33 years, since the record jump of Jesse Owens. Beamon was lucky to get through, as he had two foul jumps in the semis and just scraped through on the third. No one, literally no one in the world, could predict what was about to go down.

On the first jump, Beamon took a deep breath and tore down the track, hit the board perfectly and soared into the air, landing deep and for a split second his bottom grounded, cutting inches out of his jump. Nevertheless, despite this reverse, the jump clearly was long. It was so long that the automatic tape measure was unable to authenticate this number. So a manual measure was done, which took some 20 minutes of confirmation. When the result was flashed on the board and across the world, it beggared belief. Beamon had broken the record and his own best by 55 cms. When the result came, Beamon himself collapsed on the track in some sort of seizure. Beamon’s jump knocked out long jump as a competitive event, for decades. It is almost 50 years to that event and only Mike Powell has once out-jumped this number. The Bob Beamon Moment is the single biggest sporting surprise in history.

Cut to today and the Rio Olympics 2016. Wayde van Niekerk came to Rio as a good 400 metre runner. Niekerk had won the World Championship last year, but Kirani James and Merritt, previous Olympic champions were considered still better runners. Niekerk would expect to be on the medals stand, though he had a mediocre qualifying round. When the lot was drawn, it put him in lane 8 ahead of everyone, and so his goose was cooked. It meant he would have to run the race blind, ahead of everyone else. The best Olympic time running from lane 8 ever recorded was 44.66 seconds. Michael Johnson world record stood at 43.18, recorded in 1999. James and Merritt felt confident that running from mid lanes, the real battle was between them now.

Niekerk had no option but to go full blast from the start. But 400 while being a sprint, does exhaust one and one generally ends the race in such a situation as a walking dead. So in the face of this full blast, at 200 metres, James and Merritt (both running fast times also) would fully expect to haul Niekerk in. Infact, if you run the video on the net, it is amazing that Niekerk is so far ahead, that the video actually does not capture him for a bit. Around 350 you can see Niekerk slowing and then most extraordinarily, he kicks on, building a new lead and to the finish. When the result came out, it was 43.03 some 0.15 below the WR, but remember the best lane 8 time. That is what makes this extraordinary. Niekerk ran the second 200 metres faster than the first 200.

The best way to gauge this performance, is to look at Usain Bolts reaction when the time is announced. Bolt was waiting for his 100 metres final, where subsequently he also created history. Bolt also left his pre-run interview and went to hug and congratulate van Niekerk. All these videos are on the internet for one to see. So now is this another great, shocking moment in sports history? It is shocking enough for journalists, around the world, to question it in the press conference. It is shocking enough to make ones spine tingle and I just hope it goes down in history as one of those Bob Beamon Moments.

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The Curse of Béla Guttmann

imageI write this not as a superstition, but as an intriguing series of events, which defies logic. Nevertheless, the element of bud-dua exists in our belief system. For the rest, Allah knows best.

As I watched the football match between Benfica and Bayern in the European Champions Cup Quarter-Final, my mind flashed back to when Eusebio was king of Europe and Benfica the best football team in the world. Picked out of Mozambique, based on a chance discussion in a barber shop in Lisbon (about a soccer wonder kid), this 20 year old had made Benfica European Champions in 1961 and then again in 1962. It was no mean achievement, as they had beaten Barcelona and then Real Madrid in those finals.

Béla Guttmann was the manager behind Benfica. Much traveled and besides playing for Hungary, had been in the USA, South America and various European clubs. His history besides being adventurous, was also one of hard nosed independence and eccentricity. He rarely lasted beyond two seasons and was attributed with the quote “The third season is fatal”. After World War II, Europe being short of food, he asked that his managerial compensation be in the shape of fresh vegetables, so that he could feed himself and his family. He also had renowned arguments, which meant he had to move on from his job. He was fired from AC Milan in the mid 50’s despite the Rossoneri leading the Italian Serie A. He also took on Ferenc Puskas, the Captain of the Mighty Magyars of the 50’s and got fired.

So here was a man at the peak of his career. Acknowledged as the main force behind Benfica, he had already mentored Eusebio to greatness (who eventually became Ballon d’Or) and was looking at his last years of management spent at the top of world football. He was however, in his third season at Benfica, and maybe he should have reflected on his own words.

Somethings never change. Guttmann’s history was one of them. Having beaten Real Madrid in the 1962 European Final and Eusebio ending runner up in the Ballon d’Or election, Guttmann approached Benfica for an increase in salary. In todays monied world this is such an obvious move; Benfica would have done well to increase Guttmann’s pay. They chose to refuse and Guttman being who he was, walked. Much regret from everyone, but it seemed not the end of the world. However, as Guttmann left Benfica, legend has it he cursed the club, declaring “Never in a hundred years, will Benfica ever be European champion”. This is what in our words, is called a bud-dua.

I am no one to judge the merits of this curse. But, 54 years on, as Benfica lose to Bayern Munich in another European Champions Quarter-final, they have lost all eight of their subsequent European finals, comprising five European Cup finals (1963, 1965, 1968, 1988, 1990) and three UEFA Cup/Europa League finals (1983, 2013 and 2014). An amazing series of events and a statistic which has intrigued many in football. This course of events is similar to the much spoken “curse of the Bambino” on the Boston Red Sox, which took almost 90 years to break.

Just to show that in Portugal they take this curse very seriously, before the 1990 European Cup final, which was played in Vienna, where Guttmann is buried, Eusébio (Guttmann’s former star player) prayed at Guttmann’s grave for the curse to be broken. As I finish writing, the score ends Bayern 3- Benfica 2. Another year gone.

* picture is from Sportskeeda.com

Cruyff the Magician

imageAlmost forty-two years ago, in my first minute of ever watching live football on television, a thin, lose limbed footballer, charged through the West German defence in the first moments of the World Cup Final 1974. Uli Hoeness brought him down at the edge of the penalty area. That Neeskens stepped forward to score the resultant penalty, is at the moment just by the way. The tragedy is that the lose limbed magician, who made the penalty is today gone from among us. History will remember Johan Cruyff as one of the greats of all time and within the period immediately after Pele, the greatest footballer of that era.

The Ajax team of the early seventies were to dominate football for a few years, much as Barcelona has in recent years. Out of them came the style of Total Football, where positions were freely exchanged, quick passing and movement bringing new facets to football. That game was transferred into the style of the Holland team which came to the World Cup 1974, with Rinus Michels as coach. It included at least six of Ajax members and names like Neeskens, Rensenbrink and Johnny Rep were household names. But above all came the name of Johan Cruyff, Ballon d’Or for three years, and in that period the greatest player in the world.

Facing them in the 1974 Final was a West German side, likewise represented mainly by Bayern Munich players. Bayern were the new rising power in football and were to dominate the European Cup for the next few years. The German style of play was structured, methodical and set traditional football in direct conflict with total football. On the day, despite the very early lead for Holland, the Germans came out victorious, by a sheer never say die attitude. The famous hitman Gerd Muller getting the winner. Sadly, while Holland were to go onto another World Cup Final loss to Argentina in 1978, Cruyff was never again to grace this world stage.

Nevertheless, Cruyff’s legacy carried forth through his transfer to Barcelona, who were to win a few titles with him in the mid 70’s. Later, his playing days over, the vision and wisdom came forth as the Manager/Coach of Ajax in the 80’s and Barcelona in the 90’s. Both clubs were to win several titles under him. His legacy is further seen in the same total football philosophy which is carried forward by both clubs and by several others even today. Total football has been absorbed into normal football.

Football today has the stamp of Cruyff’s game in every facet. He was also honoured with the iconic award of European Footballer of the 20th century, in 1999. Today is a sad day. Literally, the imagery (those first few moments of live football) which has driven my passion for football has been removed from this earth. It will now abide on Youtube and other such archives. Many of us will miss the magic of Cruyff.

Winner Takes All

imageIn late 1973 Red Star Belgrade came to Anfield in the European Cup (Champions League today) and ran the legs off Liverpool. Liverpool were one of the favourites, and couple of years later won the same European trophy twice back to back, besides winning the UEFA Cup twice in this period, and five League Championships in eight years and being runners-up in the remaining three. So no mugs.

Anfield must have been shocked. Absolutely, no argument about that. At the end of the match, the Kop (at the time, the most celebrated football crowd in the world, pre Heysel and Hillsborough), simply stood up and gave them a standing ovation, genuine and appreciative of the great skill of that Red Star team.

History records this particular Red Star Belgrade team was one of the great underachievers of club football. They were one of the best football teams in the world, but simply disappeared into the unknown. A later Red Star team won the European Cup in 1991, and that is what Red Star Belgrade is known for today. Like some other underachievers, namely Puskas Hungarians of 1954 and Tele Santana Brazilians of 1982, they won nothing and today, even very knowledgeable football fans do not know of them.

Who really remembers the 1970 South Africans? Except that they were one of the most magical cricket teams to exist. But they never won on the world stage, other than the 4-0 drubbing of Australia. Players like Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Mike Proctor were kings of their era.

This winner takes all mentality is a modern phenomenon. It has several aspects to it. Firstly, it expects that people win something to be acknowledged and become somebody. Secondly, the expectations and loyalty of supporters is also short and variable.

If, it’s a question of numbers and probabilities, one wonders how people will achieve acknowledgement in this world. Only 2 percent are outstanding in the Bell Curve. I am presuming title winners will come from within this 2 percent. So, what of the 98 per cent? Are they to be consigned to the scrap machine? Will these people live out an also-ran existence, because fortune did not smile on them?

The other point is of patience and loyalty. I read the Liverpool and Manchester United forums. In the old days, Shankly and Busby were given deep loyalty. When their teams were not doing well, the supporters never lost patience. Nowadays, Rogers, Moyes and Van Gaal, have had praise and then dung heaped on them. Sometimes this variability is week to week. A good performance and the manager is up in the sky; a bad performance and he is buried. The recent case of Mourinho is a stark reminder, ‘success is now measured in concrete returns – the trophies’.

There is a more obscure third matter, people my age will notice. In the past, there used to be a case for aesthetics in sports. Today it has been replaced by efficiency, because of the need to win. Guardiola, Benitez and Mourinho are all about this efficiency. Used to be that the luxury, skilful, maverick player would roam the park. They would deliver supreme beauty of skill, but were not too pushed about marking opposite players or getting back in position. Nevertheless, the joy of watching what they did with the ball was enough. Today these players have disappeared. Messi and Ronaldo, the most skilful players today, do not exercise their skills in matches as a Finney, Zico or Rivera (thats right, how many have heard these names, they were great, but never won a famous trophy). The same with a graceful batsman. They crunch the beauty out of his game and leave instead an efficient, slogging or boring run machine. One has to watch a free-wheeling Kanhai to understand what I mean. The joy of the visual has gone and the efficient deliverer has to perform on the stage.

Now just imagine this thinking spread across sports, art, literature and more. The flamboyant beauty of a Sobers innings, the risky manoeuvre of a Senna in F1, the audacious paint strokes of a Van Gogh, the long styled challenging writings of a Dickens. All these have disappeared and been replaced by efficiency, which cuts out risks and delivers results. Today, the winner takes all and so we also refine our lives accordingly. Imagine you advising your child to pursue a profession which is guaranteed good returns, shunning any particular artistic skills which may have been the real passion. Drabness starts to take over life.

An Emotional Intelligence Lesson

imageThere is an emotional intelligence lesson going on in London and I doubt if many management gurus are watching it. Most who follow football would be aware of it, when I mention the names of Chelsea, Mourinho and Stamford Bridge.

For the uninitiated. Jose Mourinho, the most successful manager in the last decade, has won European Cups and League Championships with more clubs than anyone in football history. His football sense is exceptional, but many have tactical nous. It is his strategic sense, the ability to create a vision and teams which makes him exceptional. He will create a siege mentality, so players bind into a team. Coupled with their football skills, team bonding drives the purpose and brings trophies. Mourinho has won European Championships with Porto, Inter-Milan and league championships with Porto, Chelsea, Inter-Milan and Real Madrid. Not to forget the local cups he has won. He has ended up winning 22 trophies in an eleven year period.

This is obviously a Rolls-Royce of a manager, with a very aggressive confrontational management style, but his teams are at one with him.

So, when Chelsea (English Champions) stepped into this season, with a couple of additions to the squad, they came as favourites. Somewhere, unbeknownst, things were not quite right. My own inference is that the head was not quite in place. Arrogance begets strange children.

The team preparation was not adequate. I think they fell into a trap of complacency. So pre-season being inadequate, they came into the season not at the top of their game. In modern day sports, the difference between dominant professionals and very good ones is minuscule. It meant a bad start.

From then on, human psyche took over. An early reverse, meant that Mourinho and team were under stress. They were angry that they were not living up to their reputation. Mourinho knows one style only. Its confrontational and generally directed at the press, referees and sometimes other teams. Here bad results meant, he was looking for rationale. He turned inwards to the peripherals of his team – theoretically where least damage happens. A very strange and largely irrelevant storm blew up against Dr Eva Carneiro, the team doctor. Since this is sub-judice, one cannot comment on it. Suffice to say, it had little to do with football and coupled with a gleeful media, it became a storm, which has now ended up in the courts.

What it did to the heads of the players is the more relevant issue. Managing a team, football or otherwise is a very delicate balance. The leader has to lead. The moment a team realises that a leader is not in control, it sheds doubt on his/her leadership. Mourinho, I think lost control of the situation immediately. The moment you lose control, the team is gone. The common enemy, common purpose, the feeling of belonging begin to unravel. The results showed it. They were not disastrous, but were decidedly mediocre.

Next step came the players. They start with a mind set, ‘we are good players and at the moment the team is a problem’. As the results decline, supporters become agitated and the press target them, personal confidence slides. After a while, even the players start losing confidence and perform sub-optimally. This eventually resulted in a couple of bad results and Chelsea now hover right above the relegation zone.

We are now at a stage where the atmosphere within must have come apart. Typically it results in a blame game and descends into politics. Sure enough! With Eden Hazard (rather dismissively) going off injured in the last defeat against Leicester, Mourinho has now gone on record as feeling betrayed by his players. This is a man, whose basic tenet of management has been that his players are great and that he is a wall of protection in front of them against the big bad world out there. Now just imagine the feelings of his players. They have lost their protector, leader and friend. They have been cut loose to face the world.

At this stage one of two things happen. Mourinho has either taken a risk and hopes to shock his players back into togetherness or his ego is now in justification mode – ie I am not responsible for this mess. It is the stage where rationality has now gone out of the door, with the ratcheting up of risky actions. I would be surprised if the owner Abramovic does not step into action by the New Year. So either way, the status quo is about to change. Chelsea go up suddenly or Mourinho goes out.

This is a salutary case study of management. The whole facet of it. An exceptional system, leading to exceptional success. Complaisance due to over confidence, leading to temporary decline, an unthought reaction, an unravelling of the team spirit, an implosion inwards and now arbitrary decision making. It is now in the realms of luck.

* picture is from Dreamstime.com

Stress Test

imageWhat is common between Karachi 1973, Edgbaston 1987, Karachi 2000 and Abu Dhabi 2015. Well if you want to have a real live stress test, with all its elements, you need to be alive and watching the events happen. I am one of those unfortunate few, who have actually lived and passed this stress test.

The commonalities are that its got to be a Pakistan versus England Test Match. The first innings of both teams have to be strong innings. It should be the fifth day of the match. Everyone considers the wicket is lifeless. All think it is a foregone conclusion, that the match is a draw. Pakistan is batting in its second innings (the third of the match, so England have still to play its second innings). Our batsmen and our dressing room is relaxed, maybe too relaxed. They think its a done deal.

Except that all hell is about to break lose. Pakistani batsmen will throw away their wickets, in a stupor of carelessness and apparent safety. Then pressure is going to be created and we will end up putting the game squarely in England’s hand and so will have to fight like mad to try and save it.

You really don’t believe this do you? But the truth is that this is exactly the way it turns out and we just don’t seem to learn from our history. So to recount.

Karachi 1973. With Majid as captain, this match is more famous for the three 99’s which were scored in the match. Majid, Mushtaq and Amiss (https://sarfarazar.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/the-99s-in-karachi/). Going into the fifth day with a 59 run lead and 105 for 2 before lunch, we looked safe. Then we collapsed to 129 for 8. A very brave partnership between Wasim Bari and Sarfaraz Nawaz rescued us and we were able to escape, what looked like certain defeat some hours earlier. The anger all of us felt was utterly useless and all one could do was watch and pray.

Edgbaston 1987. Imran as captain. We had just thrashed England at Headingly and for most of the match had looked good in this, which was the forth test of the series. Two big first innings and we were 79-1 at lunch on the 5th day. We seemed comfortable with Shoaib looking excellent. Post lunch we collapsed. Miandad, Malik et al. Imran dug in and resisted. We left England 124 to make in 18 overs. Simple in T20 days, but England with three run-outs squandered their chance and ended up 109 for seven. Phew! The close proximity to a mind blow out. I shall remember that late evening forever. I lost five years somewhere during it.

Karachi 2000. Moin Khan as captain. This was the Steve Bucknor match. The chase in the darkness of a Karachi evening. Again we looked okay. Match not in contention. Muhammad Yousuf and Saleem Elahi playing, 128/4. Then we collapsed to 158. Still the target looked unreachable at 176. But we reckoned without Steve Bucknor and his peevishness. He took exception to our slow over rates. So if you are angry, warn the captain. But no, he stretched the game to a time when no one could see the ball. Clearly a flagrant violation of the principle of bad light. England got to 176 in the darkness and Pakistan lost our 45 year old unbeaten record at the National Stadium. Most of our anger was directed at Bucknor. But this disguised the fact that we had lost a drawn match through our own carelessness.

Abu Dhabi 2015. Well you do not need details of yesterdays match. Suffice to say, that watching before lunch, I kept thinking of the three matches mentioned above. I promise you, that if I had Waqar’s number, I would have called him up to relate all the above to him. Might have stopped the sorry shots which emanated. Hafeez out to a needless runout. Younus and Misbah to awful heaves, which belie their experience and maturity. Asad Shafiq and Sarfaraz also not really thinking and adjusting for the changing situation. Awful. It was deja vu. A friend of mine shut his television as he could not take the stress.

Forty two years and they will not learn. I have come from school to retirement, a whole work-life. But, yet our people do not learn. In the future, I shall personally send this write-up to the Pakistan coach, before the next Pakistan versus England series. Please have a heart and think of us long time supporters.

*picture is from pictures.cricket.com.pk

The breaking moment!

imageIt was concentration, just before half time. Perhaps perpetrated by frustration or by a needless desire for Liverpool to score a goal. The 33 year old, took his eyes off the ball and it slipped under his foot. Next thing you know, there is a goal forty yards away and the goal keeper is picking the ball out of the net. Liverpool are one down and lose that day.

On such fine margins are fates decided. Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool manager would say, “hey, the slip was not even mine”. True you cannot legislate for such things. Especially, if it is your most reliable player. But stuff happens. Fact is that the Steven Gerrard slip cost Liverpool the Premier League title. Something broke that day, in the hearts and mind of the Anfield dressing room. It was never the same again.

I have seen this before. There are times when you give your all, you believe intensely and you are actually good enough. Its the real thing and the world believes also. You have your hand on the prize and everything in fate is going for you. But fate has something else planned for you, just before the final line. When it happens, the final last moment failure is too big to handle. It breaks you.

Back in 1982, Brazil had the World Cup in their hand. There were no equivalents in the history of football, barring Puskas and his Hungarians of the 1950s. Tele Santana and his team seemed in-human. They floated on the ground and created magic, which I have not seen again in these forty plus years of watching football. Never will, because football has become too safety first and structured. Watching them quietly was Enzo Bearzot, grizzled professional and a knowing Italian. He saw things which no one else saw. On that fateful afternoon in Barcelona, Paolo Rossi, rose out of a disastrous World Cup, to score the most famous hat-trick in football. Brazil lost, just! It broke all of us. I saw many friends cry that afternoon. But it definitely broke Brazil and Tele Santana and they were never the same again.

Coming into the 1999 final, Pakistan looked the real deal. We had beaten the Aussies at Headingly, a couple of weeks before and we looked like champions. The fastest bowler, the wiliest left armer, the best spinner and two of the best all rounders. Then we had very good batsmen. That was the team. It was a mature team, with a combination to fit. One just felt right. When I arrived at Lords that morning, the only misgiving was a fresh looking pitch. It looked like a Brisbane pitch on the first day. It was. Our team, on a high and expecting things to role their way, collapsed that day. It was built on a belief, which was based on the normal English summer conditions. We lost badly and for me its the turning point of Pakistan cricket. We lost a lot more that day. It broke us and over the next decade and a half we have never fully pieced it together again.

So to Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool manager. For twenty plus matches, he created a sublime attacking machine. Its philosophy steeped in offence, it simply scored more than it let in. It was exhilarating to watch and for a few months we all believed in the magic. Then it happened and we came down to earth. It broke him and I think, he did not have the wherewithal to repair the heart. In todays world of commerce, even sports is subservient. Success is the only answer. BR found that out. He has been dismissed as Liverpool’s manager.

For Liverpool I will say, what I have said these forty four years. You Will Never Walk Alone. For Brendan Rodgers, a thank you for the 2014 season. Good luck for the future. There may be other pastures, where this wound may heal.

*picture courtesy Premierleague.com

The Marathon, a human story

imageEarly morning today, I watched a fascinating life event in real time!

I have always been interested in athletics and just love the direct competition, the emotion and show of strength of individuals. Its gladiatorial and a human story without being hurtful to people. Today, watching the Marathon in the World Championship, was an education which captured all the above ingredients.

When Edna Kiplagat, the Kenyan, who had been World Champion twice in the past, suddenly dropped back a few meters from the leading pack of five competitors, in the last ten minutes phase of the race, it was the declaration of her inner self. If you are running twenty six miles plus at fair pace, then for a top athlete, mental endurance is what it is about. They are all supreme athletes and physically in prime condition. But at some point, the mind does take a call. Through the fog, stress and physical challenge, the mind is ready to go on or conversely the pain barrier has become too much and now its time to lower it.

In that one moment, it is a real human story. The particular athlete is deciding, I am superhuman or I drop back to being a normal mortal. In this case, Kiplagat, who had overcome these barriers often in the past and been superhuman for long, decided that notwithstanding a great career, she could not be superhuman anymore. No more! She was saying ‘I am ready to go home’.

Moreover, as always happens in this life, there were four others in that leading group who continued onwards. Soon enough, in the next couple of kilometers a sprint ensued at the end (which must have taken superhuman effort) and out of the ashes of Kiplagat, rose another phoenix, in the shape of the Ethiopian, Mare Dibaba. The new World Champion.

Is this not what happens in real life also? Not so dramatically though. We all take calls at a certain time, that our search for achievement, the sacrifices and effort it calls for, are just a mountain too far. And so we decide to lower the ante, or decide to change our purpose in life. Others who are with you in your life, continue onwards. They still have the desire and out of them will appear another flag bearer for the future. The Marathon today was a one hundred and fifty minutes encapsulation of all our lives.

The Anatomy of a hero – Wahab Riaz

imageNow that the World Cup is done and dusted, our team on the way back home, Misbah (sadly) and (hopefully) Shahid Khan Afridi duly retired, we can relax. Our interest is now peripheral and really involves the future of one or the other surviving teams. But, out of the tournament we have found a couple of heroes and the main man is Wahab Riaz.

First of all, I find a slight similarity of looks between him and our tennis player Aisam Qureshi. Must be a figment of my imagination. Maybe because both hail from Lahore. Anyway, here was a fast bowler who for almost seven years has been hovering at the edges. A few brilliant performances, including one in the English summer 2010, and one electric one in the previous World cup semis against India, have not facilitated his claim to a place in our hearts. Unfortunately, a donning of a con mans jacket in the English summer of 2010 and a rather strong belief that our Government manipulated us out of the 2011 World Cup semi-final, just sidelined those performances. So we the Pakistani cricket followers, ready to give our heart and faith, never have quite believed.

When WR woke up the day of the quarter finals, he must have looked at the World Cup and felt that he had done enough to leave the impression that Pakistan’s bowling carries our team. A bowling which fights as in old days and has enough quality to hold its own and represent the nation on a large stage. Remember this bowling was without Amir, Junaid, Ajmal, Irfan and Hafeez. That is a lot of firepower to have lost and yet maintain strength. What transpired on the stage during the day, further confirmed that belief, and as usually happens, a couple of dropped catches and a particularly pedestrian batting performance, put paid to it all.

On the day, the particular bowling performance now is being hailed as the stand out moment of the World Cup. In a tournament when the bat has dominated and 400 sixes have been hit, the bowlers have rarely got a look in. In that background, a 150 kilo plus performance, on a friendly Adelaide surface has caught the imagination of the world. The dismissal of Clarke shall remain a vivid memory, as it is really an Aussie fast bowlers method, rather than a Pakistani reverse swing dismissal. Brian Lara, Warne and many others have eulogised the bowling spell. Even Watson, the victim, has lauded it and talked about those moments. The fact that WR has been fined for his orchestration of his animosity, has somehow added further value to it.

We now apparently have a hero in the mould of many traditional Pakistani heroes. Imran, Miandad and Wasim come to mind immediately. Stand up characters, who love adversity, have the capability, and like all great sportsmen, rise to the occasion when it is required. These sort of stars up their game and have the will to impose themselves on their surroundings. This is the anatomy of our new hero – Wahab Riaz. May he encounter future success and hence bring plaudits to our country also.

*picture taken from zimbio.com

Cricket, wherefore art thou?

imageLong ago, they sat in a village green and sampled tea and scones. It was a lovely green meadow, with a slightly warm sun and a nice cool breeze. In the field men in white, starched whites, played a game of cricket. Ordinary bats, green wicket and a red ball. It was good balanced competition between bat and ball. It seemed like bliss. Those who watched remarked, “could anything be better than this? a thing of beauty!”

World Cups, whether they are cricket or football – and years ago it also included hockey- were stress times, coupled with a bit of happiness if Pakistan mainly, or Italy, were doing well. I can see you immediately saying whyever Italy? Well, just that through the 70’s when I learned my football, I remember Italian sides being quick, efficient, sometimes artistic and definitely tough. I can’t help it, but in my makeover, toughness counts.

Anyway, to get back to the World Cups. In this case specifically, cricket World Cup, because that is what is taking place at the moment. Anguish at our under achievement, characterised these World Cup periods over the last forty years. So for instance, 1983, 2003 and 2011 were really no problem. Those sides went as far as they could and should have. The worst cricketing day in my life, was the semi-final loss to Australia at Qaddafi, in 1987. Wholly unexpected, but more so, we broke the back of our team, which at that particular time was the best in the world. Luck did not favour us that day, when many decisions went against us, but also we were too sure of ourselves going into the game.

So to this time and this World Cup. My most engaged moment came, when I was saying my congregational prayers during the game with South Africa. As the prayer started, a huge roar went up and being aware of the situation of the match, I figured AB de Villiers had got out. Later while in sajda, another roar went up and then the firecrackers started, which meant Pakistan had won. That is the closest I have come to Pakistan in this World Cup and it is intolerably sad. A committed follower of cricket since the age of five. Sigh!

Its not our performance. One has seen good and bad days and this team has definitely performed better than ’03 and ’07. As an aside, in ’03, I was heavily involved with the team, due to my Pepsi position and somewhere there is even a photograph of myself holding the World Cup. To get back to the main theme, it is the way short form cricket has gone. The goons seem to have taken over, and the skill factor is gone. Its mostly to do with the terrible imbalance between bat and ball, coupled with the blatant change of rules, which have mercenerised this once beautiful game. The upshot is, that all the kids growing up will never desire to be bowlers anymore. Who wants to be sacrificial lambs? There is nothing inspirational about it anymore.

So while I do pray on a patriotic level that we go on to win this cup – and there are some great coincidental similarities with 1992 – but I have not been able to watch any of this stuff for a long time now. In the years ahead, I see test cricket totally declining or changing, because batsmen can only wallop the ball and cannot put their head down and bat 6-8 hours – Hanif batted 3 days plus to save a test match. Similarly, I see T20 and One day changing further, as lollypops will be served to batsmen, who will have rules bent to favour them. A 500 score is not far off, a hundred in less than 25 balls is on the cards, a 300 by an individual batsman and last a 150 runs concession by a bowler.

Oh, the gluttony of sixes and the starvation of wickets. Enjoy it, if that is what you like. Weekes famously said to a teenage Mushtaq Muhammad “Son, three fours are always better than two sixes”. I see the souls of Grace, Ranjitsinjhi, Bradman, McGilvray and Arlott weeping.

* picture taken from Yahoo images

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