Monday, November 22, 2010

A neutral Ashes perspective

"The Ashes is massive. It has colossal importance. It is the marvel of test cricket. It is one of the greatest sporting rivalries."

How often have you heard all of the above phrases? I bet many a times. And not more so than the recent few years when they have been a two-way road instead of the Australian domination for nearly 2 decades. For a neutral fan like me, it indeed is a must-follow, and it becomes more of a wonder being in England where cricket hardly ever dominates the sports section of the newspapers. Come Ashes, it takes a front seat like none (even a World Cup of cricket has not much significance as go the tabloids and electronic media). Yes, it is of such prominence.

Here, we will make an attempt of analysing the major factors and chances of both the teams, who I have followed pretty closely in the last few years, and not more than the summer that has just gone by.

The Poms

So starting with England, who does not know that this Ashes is being tipped as the best shot for England in the last 20 years when it has been played Down Under. With a formidable batting line up, which consists of few of the most impressive stroke players of the present era, and almost all of them in good rhythm, they should come across as a hard-boiled unit for the Aussie bowling line up. Moreover, their bowling attack is being deemed as more sound than it has been in the previous visits to Australia, both quality and form wise. With a worthy pace attack and a world-class off spinner, it is acknowledged as one of best test attacks in the game today.

Furthermore, the quality of management and coaching they have, has been of high caliber and has resulted in considerable success in recent times. The Flower effect is a massive factor. He has given England a face lift which in recent history has been paralleled by only few world over. Apart from his first series which England lost to West Indies, he has been in-charge of a commendable run which has seen them win against West Indies, Australia, Bangladesh and Pakistan and draw with South Africa. The T20 World Cup honor and a serious force in ODI are other medals of success he has helped England to. With Graham Gooch, David Saker and Mushtaq Ahmed as his wingmen, they form a safe umbrella for the England team.

For all those English fans in a fix and deliberating the night vigils, let me assure, this one is as close as you will ever get to retaining that little urn Down Under, and you know it well. So much so that this winter and Christmas can easily be taken to another level by your lads if they stick in there. And as the pundits and critics are putting it, this should be the time when the Aussie aura is ultimately going to give in.

The Aussies

Indeed, Aussies are struggling, or let me put it fairly, in a mess. Their top batters are basically nowhere when it comes to the form factor. They have not had the prettiest of phases in world cricket of late. Even their bench strength does not seem to possess the quality we have been accustomed to for the last couple of decades. Yet, to take their batsmen as walking wickets would be delusional. Remember, Form is temporary, Class is permanent. After all the years of analyzing this game, if you are unable to comprehend this phrase, one would really think of you as a Walter Mitty.

Yes, Aussie bowling lineup is probably the feeblest it has been over the few decades. They have been unable to dislodge even the most fragile batting line ups as easily they used to till the last few years, yet to think their bowling does not hold the potential to put up a serious challenge, even on their own decks, would be too immature.

Now for the man who probably matters the most in this duel and for whom this series could define his legacy and his greatness. For sure, he has struggled to put up ever since the Warnes, McGraths, Gilchrists, Haydens and Langers bid farewell to the game and without doubt, his tactical moves, shrewdness and composure have been criticized many a times. Yet, to think he and Australia would be a walk over under the pump they are in, should not be taken as granted at any cost.

Make no bones about it, Australia in its backyard is a beast which hardly gets tamed and even the last few years (post-McGrath, Warne) which has seen them field their most fragile bowling line ups, they have been able to put up decent performances, and baring the series loss to South Africa, they have remained unbeaten at home. Their batting has the firepower capable of dominating any bowling attack in the game. It is just a matter of time they come good and get their flow back.

A personal take

See, I'll be mighty honest here. My head says it will be England but my heart has a drift towards Australia. The former for their consistency, confidence and the aplomb they are carrying into this series, and the latter for the aura they can back on, quality of certain players and this being played in their own hood. Australia is cornered, lets put it simply. Ponting is at a critical crossroad, as a great of the game and as a captain. What more can you ask for the Aussies to know where they are standing? What more can you question the Australianism with? Nothing more, one would believe. This is exactly where the legacy of a great cricketing nation will be under observation, hence making it a prospect of a fascinating viewing.

So, brace yourself for the next few weeks. This is going to be a spectacle, trust me, even if the standard and quality might not be the same as one would expect. It would be a battle that has a lot at stake, not only for Australia but for England too. As for neutral cricket followers, it should be charming enough to keep you glued to your tv sets. Its all set for you to get enthralled.

Let the show begin!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

For Everything, There is Younis Khan

If you had the chance to pick only one gladiator to battle for you in the bull ring, you will have to pick him. If you had to name only one assassin to do the job for you and that too with a smile, you will pay for him. If you had to seek an epitome of fighting dignity for yourself and your countrymen, you will analyze only his persona. If you had to teach sportsmanship to kids of a game called cricket and its tormented gentleman's essence, you will request him to do it. Because, for everything there is Younis Khan.

His legacy

He may not be the classic copy-book batsman out there nor the most explosive of the belligerent hitters in the game, yet there is something uncanny about him that makes him a must in the present day cricket. Probably, its the aura of calmness he oozes in nerve-wrecking scenarios and the warm feel that you get from watching him do his thing as if you are being given vicks vapors. Probably, its the controlled passion he displays with a pint of bravado in his glass that he has to offer to you. Probably, its the fire he possesses in his belly, being the Pathan he is, which amazingly does not go untrammeled even in the grandest of hippodromes.

All his cricketing credentials aside, the man carries a million dollar smile which he entertains amidst every trauma he goes through and no matter how life pushes him to the corner. Be it a personal tragedy of losing his father in middle of a tour or the death of Bob Woolmer, who he deemed as his father figure and who used to call Younis his third son, that smile hardly broke; and even when he had been left all alone by his own team mates who conspired against him and when his own countrymen started labeling him as a confused individual just because he always wore his heart on his sleeve, the smile was still there. Though he did accept in middle of the mayhem happening with and around him that he had to stop smiling yet it was always visible, even if it was a bit subdued.

You can bet all your money on this that if it had been someone else but Younis Khan, all his principles and  decorum would have fallen off and accepted defeat, compromised to bowing in front of his nincompoop masters and gotten back in the arena but not him. All through his vigil of observing his plotters get back, he remained steady as a hawk and kept that chin up, and ultimately got back to do what he does best. For he is the man  possessed, he is the one for the moment.

A modern day great?

Pundits will tell you his cricketing achievements have been understated, since his records and stats give enough evidence that he deserves to be enumerated as one of the  current giants of the game. Take any format of the game and he is up there with the bests, be it in the stats or as a leader. Here, we try dissecting his career and ascertain his significance in the game.

Most definitely his greatest feat in cricket career would remain captaining Pakistan to the T20 World Cup win in England in the summer of 2009 when his boys roared as the famous cornered tigers. A triumph that had a stark similarity to the country's other successful global prize campaign, the World Cup win of 1992, and one in which he gave the world the most famous quote of that format when he termed it as fun and associated it with WWE. At that lifetime conjuncture, he decided to give up his boots in that format so that new blood could be inducted. This was to be the threshold of his greatness which has always been coupled with absolute humility.
Statistical study of his career

10 years is a good enough period to scrutinize a cricketer's career and his standing in the game. Younis Khan, to-date, has played 64 test matches, 207 One Day Internationals and 22 T20s. He has captained his national team in all three formats and won a world title in the T20 format from which he has gracefully retired.

Test Match Genius

We look into his test match credentials and try to figure why he should be acknowledged as a modern day champion in the most important version of the game.
  •  He is one of the top 10 current batsmen in the game who average 50 plus in test matches, and has an equally good home and away record.
  • He is only one of the 4 current players in the game with a triple century to boost against his name.

  • In test matches that Pakistan has won and drawn (39/64), he averages a whooping 66.12 with 13 of his 17 centuries coming in them. And that average increases to 68 in test matches that Pakistan has won.
  • In his last 31 matches, he has averaged an amazing 65.47 with 11 centuries.
  • And here is the most significant stat as go his test match credentials. He is the modern day best when it matters the most, technically and impact-wise, in the 5 day contest; when it has counted the most, he has graced the occasion with his quality and brilliance.
He has a stunning average of 62.0 in the 4th innings, which places him in the top 5 of all-time, with only Michael Hussey accompanying him in the top 10. That list has the present day giants such as Sachin Tendulkar at no. 52 (average of 38.77), Rahul Dravid at no. 35 (average of 42.78) and Mohammad Yousuf at no. 34 (average 43.00). Only Ricky Ponting and Graeme Smith average above 50 out of the current players.
In the same statistical analysis, he also has the most number of hundreds, i.e. 4 (matched by Ponting and Sarwan). Out of those 4 hundreds, 3 have resulted in saving the match for Pakistan, and what better than the latest titanic effort of his against the Proteas.
He averages 88.06 against India which places him 3rd in the game's history with players scoring 1000 or above runs against them. Also, is no. 2 in all-time list of scoring maximum runs in a test match versus India.

Against South Africa his average is 52.57, versus Sri Lanka its 51.24, against England its 45.46 and its 31.83 against Australia. So barring Oz against whom he's played only 6 tests (the lowest among his matches against these top 5), his stats are world class and comparable to any modern great.

A serious force in ODI business

As goes his playing style, he is one of the rare conventional batsmen in the modern game. For most of them, ODIs may not be the specialization anymore but for him its a challenge he takes up and is  as good as anyone when the chips are down and you need someone to lead you from the front.
  • While chasing and Pakistan winning, he averages a brilliant 43.75. When Pakistan has won batting first, he averages 39.06. Both stats are a mile away from his career average of 32.48, and clearly show he is a  major influence whenever Pakistan wins ODIs.
  • When he has not compiled a century while chasing, he has come up with gems in low scoring games and been the man of the Match, such as the one against Australia in Melbourne (Docklands), June 2002 and India in Abu Dhabi, April 2006. Then, his recent fabulous effort versus South Africa is a clear vindication of him being one of the best chasers in the game.
The Comeback King

If you have followed him in his career to any considerable extent, you would know he deserves this accolade as much as anyone else out there in the game. Here we look at 2 of the most memorable Younis Khan moments.
  • Kitply Cup in Bangladesh (2008) - He had bagged consecutive ducks in the league games against India and Bangladesh and was under immense pressure either to perform or to give away his place, he came up with the goods in the big game, the final versus India, and was deservedly the MOTM.
  • 1st Test match vs South Africa, Dubai 2010 - Being kept out of the test team for the last 16 months by the lunatic Ijaz Butt and putting up against the shoddy politics engulfing him, Younis showed the world what it was missing. A herculean 4th innings hundred against arguably the best test bowling attack of the world enabling Pakistan a draw against all odds. In context of the state of Pakistan cricket and his own personal traumatic experiences, it was surely the return of the king.
Cometh the hour, Cometh the man

Mohammad Younis Khan may not end up as your lifetime hero nor your stereotypical great cricketer but trust him to be your savior when you will turn your back to everyone you counted on because they just could not handle the pressure of the coliseum and wilted away. He will be the braveheart who is going to never compromise on his values and will put a fight for your freedom and your country at any price. He will remain the juggler amongst the clowns in the circus of world cricket. He will still be the working-class man who goes home every night smiling happily with his day's work no matter what paltry wage he gets. He will be your punchbag absorbing your frustrations when you need to vent them out. He will be whatever you will crave for, because for everything, there is Younis Khan.

He will forever be the last man standing!

Younis Khan zindabad!

- This post was first published here at Clear Cricket.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Great Debates - Wasim Akram vs Waqar Younis

As the name goes, these are supposed to be few attempts in which we will dare to profess two parallel greats of specific eras and try to contemplate on their sheer greatness and ultimately, make an immortal attempt to compare them. It must be foretold that these attempts may be flawed and not satisfy every follower of the game who was/is enthralled by those greats.

In this first study, we pick two of the greatest fast bowlers the game of cricket was ever graced with. They were a duo for whom every accolade that is humanly possible has been put forward, before whom even their greatest critics and conspirators had to bow and the legacies and aura of whom still make up the game played today. Words fall short in all honesty to define their greatness, hence we'll simply start this off. Its a humble take on the Ws, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

What basically started as a random twitter chat on one fine October night about the two W's by me, Sana Kazmi and Faran Ghumman ultimately transformed into some factual and statistical debate. Sana Kazmi casually quoted Imran Khan, the godfather of Pakistan cricket, who termed Wasim as the one who gave up too soon out of the two Ws, and then what followed is the basis of this venture, and which was then further discussed through e-mails and also a respected input from Subash Jayaraman. And with me being a self-proclaimed greatest fan of Wasim bhai, this was bound to be a bit interesting.

Back to the theme, let me clarify that to aptly analyse the greatness of the two Ws is next-to-impossible as every proper cricket follower would know; hence, this debate consists of only specific points and considerations. Also, we are only analysing the test match careers of them here, and if ODIs were to be done too then whatever follows here wouldn't ever be able to be jotted down too.

Since the main talk revolved around the 'effectiveness' of the two, there were some arguments given. which were countered. In the following, I have quoted and summarized the emails and various points in consideration to the best of my abilities. 

I. In Pakistan & Subcontinent

My point of Wasim's career Strike-Rate (SR) being less than Waqar's owed to the fact that he bowled more in the flat subcontinents pitches than Waqar, hence his SR was bound to be affected more. Sana takes my point and hits back with the following:

Percentage of overs in Pakistan
Waqar 1046.4 out of 2704 -> 38.6%
Wasim 1312 out of 3771 -> 34.8%
So Wasim bowled only 4% more of his overs in Pakistan than Waqar did, which you would have to agree, is too small difference to account for a difference in their overall strike-rates of more than 10 (Waqar's 43.4 vs. Wasim's 54.6). Even if you don't agree with that, your argument is basically that Wasim has worse stats because he bowled on pitches less suited to fast bowling - in which case you must extend the analysis to the entire sub-continent, not just Pakistan. 

Percentage of overs bowled in the sub-continent (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, UAE*)
Waqar 1370/2704 -> 50.6%
Wasim 1887.2/3771.1 -> 50 %
When you compare the percentage of their overs bowled throughout the sub-continent, it's the same! (In fact, if I was being anal, I'd say Waqar actually bowled .6% more of his overs on flat pitches.

Though I'll admit that the kind of bowler Wasim was made him less suited to dead tracks than Waqar with his extreme pace, I don't really believe in comparing bowlers on where they've bowled if they're from the same team. Unless there's a huge difference in the no. of overs, it evens out more or less. (Of course in Wasim and Waqar's case I would say it did in their case, it evened out completely, but that's unusual).

*Wasim never played a Test in the UAE

My take:

As I said, Waqar bettered Wasim in subcontinent mainly because they played most of the games vs Ind, SL, WI, NZ, Zim (with which we won almost very series,a nd they weren't the best of teams, lets be honest).
And they played hardly any v Aus and SA (which were unarguably the best teams of that era- late 80s and whole of 90s). Lets see some stats in this regard.

First, take Waqar in Pakistan.
Team   Matches   Wkts
NZ         5              35
SL         8              31
Zim        7              41
WI         5              24

Total      25            131
Waqar played 33 matches in Pak. Hence, 25/33 is a large proportion!

Now, Wasim in Pakistan.
Team   Matches   Wkts
NZ         2              10
SL         10             28
Zim        6               28
WI         8               43  

Total      26            109
Wasim played 41 of his 104 matches in Pak.

So, we can see Waqar has more wickets, better average and SR against these low ranked teams of that era. Which ultimately helped him getting a better avg and SR at home & subcontinent than Wasim.

Wasim v Aus+SA took 21 wkts in 6 games.
Waqar v Aus+SA took 14 wkts in 4 games.

So this shows they were almost equal against the top 2 teams of their era, sadly they played too less at home to properly analyse who was better against the top teams.

II. Against the best team (Aus) of their era.

My next point is on who was better in the country that mattered the most. Yes, in Australia and vs Australia too.
And Wasim wins it comfortably, in all depts- wickets, average and SR.

v Aus           Matches     Wickets   Average    SR  

Wasim           13             50           25.7          59.8  
Waqar           12             30           33.8          62.7

in Aus
Wasim            9               36          24.0           58.0    
Waqar            7               14          40.5           81.4  

So, in Aus and v Aus, Wasim was the daddy.

III. Against the top teams of their era.

Another major point, which should give a fair idea of who was better overall wkts/match and avg wise v the other top teams in their era. I'm taking SA, Eng, Ind and WI (WI because they were tough till 97', at least)

First, Waqar.
Team            Matches        Wickets    Average    SR      Wkts/match
SA                  7                    23           28.7      50.6         3.2
Eng                11                   50           27.0      48.5         4.5
Ind                  4                     8            47.0      80.2         2
WI                 13                   55           23.3      36.6         4.2

Now, Wasim.
Team            Matches        Wickets    Average    SR      Wkts/match
SA                   4                  13            29.7      65.0          3.2
Eng                18                   57           30.6      69.8          3.2
Ind                 12                   45           29.8      65.0          3.75
WI                 17                   79           20.8      44.9          4.6

Against NZ and SL, both were equally good (almost inseparable stats-wise).

By above stats, we see:
Wasim bettering Waqar in Wkts/Match by 2-1.
Waqar bettering Wasim in SR by 3-1 while Avg-wise, both are 2-2.

So, its basically evens stevens in those stars. Saying any one of them was better than the other would be stupid, so I would like you all to focus on the first 2 points that I detailed, esp, v Aus and in Aus. 

IV. Longevity 

Subash pointed out that "You need to have longevity to get in to any sort of All time XI. In terms of SR and Average, there isn't much to choose between the two, in which case, you have to go with overall skill set and longevity and hence, I go with Wasim."

When looking at the two W's in matches that Pakistan won:

Wasim played 104 tests; Won: 41
Total wkts 414; In matches won: 211 at 18.48 average.

Waqar played 87 tests; Won: 39.
Total wkts 373; In matches won: 222 at 18.20 average.

By this stat, Waqar could be termed slighty more "effective" but Wasim had longevity.

V. The eight-year period (1990-1997) & few other astounding stats.

This cricinfo stats analysis by S Rajesh tells a lot about the two W's, their dominance in the cricket world, Wasim edging Waqar in few areas and more. There is hardly any difference in Wasim and Waqar as go the performance during those 8 years (Wasim has the better avg and Waqar has the better SR), yet no one in the game was better than them, and here we are talking about an era of the game which saw the likes of McGrath, Warne, Donald, Ambrose etc.

The most vital factor I want to press here is the MOTM (Man of the match) frequency Wasim had. During these eight years, Akram was Man of the Match in 12 of the 48 Tests he played, an incredible average of one every four games. And even in his whole career, his frequency 17 MOTM out of 104 matches is the best in the game's history. So, if there was any question of being 'effective' and to influence the matches, I don't think there can be any more comprehensive argument than this.

Conclusion? Honestly, Impossible.

Having discussed all this, even though I've tried my best to put more weight in Wasim bhai's half, I'm of the opinion that it will forever remain an impossible task to edge one of them over the other in most of the areas/aspects. Individually, they were an entire world within themselves. Sheer masters of new and old ball, absolute gods of swing and a lifetime phenomenon to witness.

Subash has a liking for Wasim bhai and fittingly says, "Also, I think a lot of the times people some times get influenced by the ODI performances in their overall judgement of the players. Of course, Wasim was a stud and leading wicket taker there as well, but the brutality and devastation of Waqar's inswinging yorkers could swing some arguments.
As long as we keep those two separate -- i don't think its as close as the stats seem to indicate. Wasim was born to bowl. So raw when he came on, but quickly became the stud that he was for the longest time.

P.S. To this day, I remember watching the 92 finals on a grainy screen at a friend's house. I was 15 then. Old enough to understand the game and the players playing it. Still cannot comprehend how he turned the game on its head with those 3 balls."

Sana puts in one her emails: "Wasim obviously had more variety, and hence - you would think - more skill, and was just... special. Without needing to be express. And it's incredible that he was diagnosed with diabetes at 26 and still looked like he was at his peak till 31 or so. Plus two very different kind of bowlers, so not really fair to compare. And, like I was telling, I think this whole exercise of picking an all-time XI is really dumb. (Gideon Haigh wrote a great article on Cricinfo on why it's futile to do so). "

My drift is understandably towards Wasim Akram, for various other reasons; the one which should suffice here would that he has been my boyhood inspiration and forever will remain. Watching him was like seeing a god turn his left arm over, do the divine and then celebrate. Having said that, make no bones crack, I would die a dozen times if I was told I would be able to see Waqar Younis in his pomp live again. There were and will be hardly any better sights in the game then a Waqar's toe-crushing yorker. For Waqar's fans and all those interested in this read, here is a really scintillating piece by Alex Bowden (click the weblink).

All said, I believe we haven't and won't ever be able to do justice with such comparisons or analysis, because some legends and there comparisons in cricket are incomprehensible. To do any justice, here we go with a mini-reminder of what these two of the proudest sons of Pakistan were like:

Any comments and views on this and any personal takes would be appreciated. Much thanks.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Selected classic banters of this decade.

Today, we do a quick rewind of few of the one-on-one famous and not-so-famous banters in the cricket field of this decade. These are mainly bits of cracking jests picked up by the stump mic.

Let me clarify none of these can be classified as arduous sledging, nor it comes under any racial vilification. There are no McGraths, Symonds, Harbhajan, Gibbs here, so take this as mild sledging to the maximum. Hopefully, you're going to have a laugh or two.

1. Kumar Sangakkara gives a buoyant welcome to Shaun Pollock in the famous 2003 World Cup game.

2. Freddie Flintoff didn't like Dwayne Bravo's chirping and lets it rip while batting and then in the slips.

3. Mark Boucher 'intimidating' Tatenda Taibu only to find the latter is rock solid.

4. Kevin Pieterson and Yuvraj Singh - Evergreen duels of the decade. 

Apparently, Yuvraj starts this off, and KP hits back with "You're not God, you're a cricketer. Concentrate on your batting, you might play more." Then Yuvraj says something which isn't picked by the mic, to get a reply from KP "I'm a little bit tougher than you." It ends with Yuvraj stealing it by imitating KP's rundown the pitch to be hit by McGrath in the ribs (in the 2006 Aus tour).

5. Mohammed Kaif winding up Mohammed Yousuf (the then Yousuf Youhana) and Mohammed Sami.

Since, it was in Hindi/Urdu, so I'll translate the main bits here:
Kaif tells his team mates that Yousuf had faced 87 balls and hadn't hit a boundary yet. Then he goes on to point to the gap between the short leg and short square leg so that he can hit it in the gap.
Then Kaif has a go on Mohammad Sami saying Sami is always buzzing words while bowling but right now he's liplocked right now.

There were couple of more good videos but I stuck to these 5. Soon, we'll do a post on the topmost revered sledging moments of the decade. And those won't be mere banters ;)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Gentleman's Game? No more!

Cricket is not a gentleman's game anymore. Though this statement has been vindicated in the past, it is currently being augmented in an explosive manner in the form of the ongoing fiasco concerning Pakistani wicket keeper, Zulqarnain Haider. Just when Pakistan cricket and its fans could ill-afford another trauma in this cursed year of 2010, here came the bewildering news of Zulqarnain Haider going missing just hours before the final match of a classic ODI series against South Africa which Pakistan eventually lost.

Anyone who follows and comprehends cricket, should know by the history and dynamics of it that it is just not a mere sport. It is a massive world encompassing the game contested in the ground, entertainment and money. Sadly, the last one is counted as the pivotal factor whenever this beautiful sport is plagued with controversies and scandals, and thus plays a pivotal role in developing the above stated perception. From one end of the cricketing world to another, financial gains and corruption have resulted in hijacking the true essence and spirit which this sport embodies and ultimately has put it to shame.

Betting is a menace which is not alien to cricket. It has been present probably since its inception, yet betting and illegal money have always been the hobby for the wronger rather than the men in flannels until the last few decades. Since the 1990s, cricket has seen numerous scandals of monetary corruption and match fixing involving various men representing their countries, which has jeopardized its image and forced a view that the corruption is inseparable from the game and according to Paul Condon, cannot be uprooted.

From the infamous controversy of Shane Warne and Mark Waugh being involved with bookmakers to the monstrous revelations of Hansie Cronje in 2000, cricket corruption has shown its colors even in the most professionally competent cricket boards of the world.

The year 2000 also saw the crackdown on match fixing by Indian cricket and Pakistan's Justice Qayyum inquiryboth of which left more than 1 billion cricket worshiping subcontinent people stunned.

Only in this decade, there have surfaced numerous damning scandals and incidents which have proved that the cancerous betting and monetary corruption have penetrated well and truly in cricket world. The recent IPL mess in which its chief administrator, Lalit Modi was suspended amid corruption claims is a grave consequence of monetary mismanagement in the game.

Till today, the deaths of the disgraced former South African captain, Hansie Cronje, and former Pakistan coach, Bob Woolmer, remain a mystery and are indicated by some to be murdered by mafia betting syndicates, who have thoroughly maligned the once-called gentleman game.

Earlier in the year, when the spot fixing controversy concerning 3 world class Pakistani players surfaced, Geoff Lawson, who had been the coach of Pakistan team, provided an insight to the world about the virus that cricket is subjected to in the form of the mafia that endangered the lives of people connected with the game. He revealed that during his term as the coach of the team, one of the selectors of Pakistan team had been threatened of his daughter being kidnapped if a specific player was not selected for a match. To further corroborate the threat possessed by the betting mafia, a recent incident involving English player, Usman Afzaal showed how dangerous these syndicates can be.

The latest episode of Zulqarnain Haider claiming to be given death threats seems to be the latest in this context.
A devoted and fighting cricketer who had a permanent place in the team till he left for UK is now so mentally traumatized that he has put his career on line, retired and is said to be seeking asylum in England. What in the world forced him into such a mental state and to take such life defining actions? There have already been many opinions and commentaries done, varying from it being an attention seeking stunt to tarnishing the image of the country. Whatever be anyone's take on it, he needs to be understood and the issue needs to be addressed in full length. Zulqarnain has already spoken out a bit on the match fixing elements he has dealt with in his career which have already caused a stir, yet his whistle blowing related to the death threats should be the one making heads roll, that is if he comes out with any.

Where all this will end up, nobody knows for now, but there is a definite exigency for the administrators of the game to tighten the screws. Cricketers, of all, need to be provided maximum security. The onus is on the ICC who has often been accused of lacking professionalism in such scenarios, even though ACSU has been its major tool to check on the prevalent betting and match fixing in the game. Moreover, cricket boards need to step up and apart from protecting their own players from these menaces, need to support ICC. Having said that, no matter how concrete and credible steps are adopted, one thing is indisputable- today's gentleman's game is a far cry from the one played by W.G. Grace and his men. Sigh.

- This piece of mine was also published here in the Pakistan English daily, Express Tribune.