A Pakistani’s second letter to Mohammed Amir

 I wrote an open letter to a young Pakistani cricketer caught in spot-fixing. Originally published here: http://www.dawn.com/2012/03/21/a-pakistanis-second-letter-to-mohammad-amir.html

So Mohammad Amir, it’s been a bizarre one and a half years since those fateful no-balls. You finally pleaded guilty, and were proven guilty and were handcuffed and locked in prison. And when you were released, you spoke on TV like a balanced, reflective individual in an interview with Michael Atherton, and if I didn’t know better I’d say your words touched me.

We, Amir, the people of your country are a jaded, cynical lot. We’ve seen pain and terrorism up close, we’ve seen empty promises from politicians and we go through a day-to-day struggle to live a decent life. We are a tired lot, and most of us don’t believe in giving people second chances.

But as I heard you talking to Atherton about your dreams and aspirations, and how they were realised and then how suddenly they came crashing down – somehow I could relate. We’ve all been there, Amir. We’ve all done the silliest, maddest things to lose what appears to be everything, and in those times, it seems as though the world cannot go on. But it does and your trial (pun intended) went on in front of millions of people, who observed your every grimace and gesture. It must’ve been hard.

Amir, you spoke of being immature, you spoke of being framed and spoke of wanting no money whatsoever. As much as I want to believe you I can’t help wondering why a 17-year-old cricketer would give his bank account number to someone as soon as they ask for it and after giving those details, ask why the person wanted it. I’m really no one to judge you but the innocence of your intentions seems too good to be true.

When I wrote to you a year earlier Amir, I requested an apology, and you finally gave one. And it takes strength doesn’t it, to say you made a mistake? However can you please explain all those trials when you said the no-balls were an accident? I distinctly remember an interview you gave on phone in a TV show when you were on a ‘tableeghi dora’.

Apparently, you were in a mosque and couldn’t stay on the phone for long. At the end of the show the anchor asked the audience whether someone as religious as you could possibly spot-fix. I feel hurt and cheated, especially because of the mosque (and our faith) being brought in to vouch for your ‘complete innocence’. How can I be sure you’re not lying this time?

You know Amir, a few months back I was playing cricket with a group of women at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium nets. Someone asked me where I was from. “Pakistan,” I replied.

“Oh. Wasn’t it Pakistanis who were caught bowling no-balls for a load of cash?” someone asked. I nodded quietly and for the rest of the morning, I felt pretty low. I’m sure you know how bad I felt. The entire nation did, in fact, and now that you have apologised, your story, though touching, artfully clears you of any avaricious motives, and makes you appear like the poor guy who was framed into saving his skin, and thus delivered a couple of no-balls.

Despite the loopholes, I can’t help being softened by your candid admissions. I don’t know why, but somehow my dwindling trust in the world strengthens as I wonder if you’ve finally spoken the truth. Maybe it’s time for us to give you a second chance. And Amir, I, like millions of people want to see you make a come-back.

Sincerely,
Mehmudah Rehman

The author is a Dubai-based freelance writer who’s obsessed with cricket and enjoys bowling leg-spin. She blogs at Ummanaal’s Musings.

A cricket fan’s letter to President Zardari

An edited version of this letter first appeared on Dawn.com

http://www.dawn.com/2011/06/06/a-cricket-fan%E2%80%99s-letter-to-president-zardari.html

 

 

(google images: image for illustrative purposes only)

 

Dear President Zardari,

 

 

I hope this finds you well.  I think you must be a worried man right now because of the strange things that have been happening in the cricketing scene in the country. Since you are the chief patron of the PCB, as a cricket fan, I felt helpless and I just had to write to you.

 

 

I, like countless other Pakistani children grew up playing cricket. Through the highs and lows of Pakistan cricket, I hung on loyally. I chanted the names of Saeed Anwer and Shahid Afridi as they walked in to open the innings and revelled in the glory when Wasim Akram led our team to the world Cup finals in 1999. I’m sure you did too. I squirmed in shame at the ugly spot-fixing saga and felt enraged when people said all Pakistanis were cheats. I whooped and cheered when Shahid Afridi led our team to the semi-final in Mohali. I guess you know what that meant to us as a nation. It all seems like an eternity ago, because the public spat between Ijaz Butt and Shahid Afridi is every cricket-lover’s nightmare.

 

 

Mr Zardari – I wanted to talk to you about someone who’s been troubling us immensely for the past three years or so — Ijaz Butt. Some of the best sportsmen and sports-journalists of the country have said it in no uncertain terms: The man is suicidal for Pakistan cricket. And more importantly, 170 million people of your country echo that sentiment, with more profound feeling. You read the papers don’t you – or should I do the unpleasant task of informing you that Ijaz Butt has denounced up to nine captains in only three years, and has been the cause of great humiliation and discord? Yet, it’s truly baffling that the man sits pretty in his seat, without an iota of discomfort as he causes rampage after rampage and plays with the brittle hearts of a war-torn nation!

 

 

I don’t know if it’s true but a lot of people say that the reason he’s still in the driving seat of a very unfortunate PCB is because he has links to you! Imagine! I mean come on, Mr Zardari – I’m sure you’re a man of principle and if someone of your kith doesn’t deserve a position you’d never bestow it on him right? What would the children of Pakistan think? Can we afford to break their fragile trust yet again in that one thing which they’ve always clung on to – cricket?

 

 

Tell you what Mr President – sometimes I feel sympathy towards you because being head of state is so, so difficult. With power comes responsibility – the ability to hire, the right to fire and even before I finish this letter to you, if you want, Ijaz Butt might already be history. I understand you might have reservations because of his close relation to you, but you know Mr Zardari, when a limb becomes infected with gangrene, it must be severed or the disease can spread to all parts of the body. And let’s just put it this way – Ijaz Butt has already infected Pakistan cricket in myriad ways. He keeps surprising us with just how low he can go. Afridi must have spoken to you about that in his appeal, no?

 

 

Mr Zardari – are you still reading? Because I have something nice to say about you. I don’t confess to being your greatest fan, but you know what I always liked about the PPP? Right from the time of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, there was always something overwhelmingly democratic about your policies. Even your late wife believed in equal rights and democracy. But sadly, the PCB is run like a dictatorship, except the current dictator seems to lack the brains that guys like Hitler and Napoleon had.

 

 

You know Mr Zardari, the country is currently in a very unstable political position and if I were you, I’d use this moment and oust Ijaz Butt amid much fanfare and get on the good side of people. It has been alleged that letting Afridi retire quietly like this might be really, really bad for your regime, (especially after he made that smart move of appealing to you). And we don’t want that do we, Mr President? Especially when much more pressing questions about sovereignty and security within the country are being raised embarrassingly at international platforms…

 

 

Please put a smile on our faces and appoint a new chief of the PCB – someone intelligent, talented, experienced and competent. And it wouldn’t hurt to do so with a consensus of opinion with some of the greatest cricketing brains in our country – because after all, history has proven that politicians do not take great cricketing decisions.

 

 

I hope you will take notice of an appeal that comes from a nation which, miraculously, still hasn’t let go of hope.

 

 

Yours’ Sincerely,

An expectant fan.

Can someone please tell my countrymen to be a little humble?

Alright, I have to say this, I have noticed that high-achievers who are Pakistanis are annoyingly big-headed. Wherefore is the humility I ask?

Much as I love Abdul Qadir’s bowling, he really needs to … stop talking about how cool he is. And this is why I really respect Sachin Tendulkar… so so humble. At least from what I have read and heard about him. I’ve come across a few Pakistanis (men and women) who have such bloated images of themselves its not even funny. Yes, you’re a super achiever, but please remember, pride comes before a fall.

Cricinfo’s piece below should tell you why I really had to say the above…

Happy reading, Ima sign off now.

Cheers!

A spinner should be able to land the ball wherever he wants’

The legspinning genius who inspired Shane Warne looks back at his highly successful career: his dominance over West Indies, the unforgettable summer of 82, Imran’s influence, and more

Interview by Ijaz Chaudhry

May 24, 2011

I played all kind of games on the street, from hockey to marbles, but not cricket. One day while playing marbles, a friend asked me to join his cricket team, which was one man short. They used to send their worst player to open the innings. The first ball I faced hit the stumps, but I was told it was a try ball so I could to stay. I was bowled the next ball as well.

I rate the basic legbreak as my most trusted weapon. It was my stock ball and I had very good control over it. It was my saviour even on my worst days.

I saw people of all ages seemed to be interested in cricket. Even older people asked each other, “What is the score?” That got me interested in cricket.

They say my temperament on the field was more that of a fast bowler.

I joined Dharampura Gymkhana, scored a century in a local tournament and became a regular in the team for the Lahore club competitions. I was often the tournament’s best allrounder. But those days my father didn’t approve of my playing so I used to wear my cricket kit under my salwar kameez.

Imran Khan said my record would have been much better had the DRS been around back then. Those days the umpires almost always favoured batsmen who put their front leg forward to spinners.

The real breakthrough came when I got admission through cricket into Lahore’s famous Government College, the alma mater of several international cricketers. I managed the double of a century and five wickets against Islamia College, our traditional rivals. Habib Bank approached me, and in 1975-76 I took 6 for 67 on first-class debut. Within two years, I was in the Test team.

My 13 runs off Courtney Walsh’s last over to win a crucial World Cup tie in 1987 is rated by many as equal to Miandad’s last-ball six against India in Sharjah.

People said I had three types of googlies. I wanted to have as much variety as I could and kept practising new deliveries. I tried different angles of the arm and practised one delivery with a different number of fingers.

I told [Anil] Kumble: “You are not a big spinner of the ball. But you are fast in the air, which is your biggest strength. Simply try to twist the fingers and use the wrist more. That will add variety into your bowling.”

West Indies were easily the best side in my time. My standout performance against them was in Faisalabad in 1986-87 – 6 for 16 when they were dismissed for 53.

I was selected for my first Test, against England, on the basis of my 67 wickets in the previous domestic season. I bowled well but was unlucky to get 1 for 82. Critics said I was selected too early. But in the second Test I took 6 for 44 in the first innings.

In my first three seasons of first-class cricket, I scored more than 1000 runs at an average of nearly 30, and scored a century. But over time, I paid more attention to bowling. I am only the fourth Pakistani to achieve the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in Tests.

I declined very lucrative offers to play for English counties, Australian state teams and in South Africa, where I was offered a blank cheque, because I wanted my country to benefit the most from my art. I didn’t want to expose it in the domestic circuits of other countries.

During the 1982 tour of England, Imran suggested I grow a goatee. “It will add to your aura,” he said. He was right, because when I did, people remarked that I looked like a magician.

It was only in 1998-99, three years after my first-class career was over, that I played one seasonfor Carlton in Victorian Premier Cricket. I was only the second overseas player to win the Ryder Medal for the best player in Melbourne’s club competition.

Imran said that Allan Border, Viv Richards, Arjuna Ranatunga and Steve Waugh, all World-Cup winning captains, all thought I was better than Shane Warne.

When I ruptured my tendon during a charity match in London, Nassem Hassan Shah, the PCB chairman, declined to help because I wasn’t playing for Pakistan. It cost me about 1.5 million rupees. Towards the end of my international career, I had a head injury during net practice. Again the board refused to help.

My international career coincided with the era of fast bowlers The great spinners like Bedi, Chandra, Underwood, etc. had faded out. But I managed to hold my own among the great pacemen of my time. Many regard me as the first great one-day spinner.

Imran Khan is Pakistan’s greatest cricketer. He had great confidence in my abilities and I owe a lot to him. Without him we would not have the fast-bowling culture in Pakistan. Imran guided the fast bowlers and taught them the importance of exercise and running, and the result is a never-ending supply of quality fast bowlers.

I captained Pakistan in ODIs and was once offered the Test captaincy. But since Javed Miandad was a more senior member of the team at that time, I refused the offer.

My most memorable tour was to England in 1982. It was a wet summer but I enjoyed success in almost every match and took nearly 50 wickets in the first-class games before the first Test. It was a major breakthrough for my international career.

All my four sons played first-class cricket. I have great hopes from Usman, my youngest. He played the Under-19 World Cup in 2010, where Pakistan were runners-up. People say his action is not too different from his father’s.

Left-hand batsmen bothered me. On our 1983-84 tour, Australia planned well and stuffed their side with lefties, and I was largely ineffective.

I have been running the Abdul Qadir International Cricket Academy and Club since 2005. We have 40-50 boys from all strata of life. The academy team has been to Dubai a couple of times and to Malaysia once. A number of them have graduated to first-class cricket.

In 1987, Razaaullah, a senior member of PCB, rang me and said, “I know a Sahiwal boy by the name of Mushtaq Ahmed who is an exciting legspinning talent and his bowling action is a mirror image of yours.” The touring England side was scheduled to play a three-day game at Sahiwal against the Chief Minister’s XI. I asked the chairman of the selection committee to include Mushtaq in the team. Mushtaq took six wickets in first innings and was on the national selectors’ radar from then on.

Many Indian batsmen played me well, especially Gavaskar, Viswanath, Amarnath and Vengsarkar. Among others, Gatting, Haynes, Aravinda and Ranatunga were the best.

I resigned as chief selector in 2009 after six months on the job. Before accepting the post, I had been assured by the PCB chief that there wouldn’t be any interference in the working of the selection committee. But Intikhab Alam, Pakistan’s coach, and Yawar Saeed, the manager, continuously intervened and it became intolerable.

Danish Kaneria is purely my product. The PCB boss, Lt Gen Tauqir Zia, had invited aspiring spinners from all over Pakistan to a camp in Lahore. I picked Kaneria and worked on him for one month. Imran Tahir was also my pupil before he left for South Africa.

I was always ready to help anyone. Sharne Warne visited my home in Lahore to get tips. Steve Waugh brought along Stuart MacGill, and Andy Flower asked me to teach Paul Strang.

I wasn’t picked for the first game of the 1983 World Cup. I was told by the management that legspinners tend to be expensive in ODIs. I told them whenever they felt I proved costly in a game, they could drop me for the next match. In the next game, against New Zealand, I took 4 for 21 and top-scored with 41 Thereafter I was more or less an automatic choice in Pakistan’s one-day side.

Saqlain Mushtaq benefited from a tip I gave him. He used to bowl the doosra with a higher trajectory. I told him to deliver it with the same trajectory as his other balls to avoid it being picked up by batsmen.

I enjoyed lofting spinners for sixes.

My best batting performance was scoring my Test highest of 61 against England in 1987-88. It included four sixes off John Emburey.

I played my last full season of first-class cricket in 1994-95 and took 52 wickets at little over 20. The PCB asked me to play for Pakistan but I declined as I had already decided that my time was over.

An essential quality for a spinner is the ability to land the ball wherever he wants.

One of the best tributes I ever received was from the greatest spinner of all time, Shane Warne. He wrote, “To the best. Thanks for everything. I look forward to catching up with you. Sincerely, Warne.”

Twenty20 is good entertainment. It is also benefitting cricketers and boards, and has brought back crowds to stadiums. I appreciate IPL, but it should be rotated and held in a different country every year.

Once in England, a few old ladies came out of a lift I was waiting for, and one of them screamed, “Is it you, Abdul? My daughter, who otherwise has no interest in cricket, always enjoys watching you bowl. She says, ‘Mama, when Abdul is bowling it seems a young lady is dancing on the floor’.”

http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/516377.html - link to above story

Oh and umm.. this other piece by cricinfo was hilarious http://www.espncricinfo.com/page2/content/story/516365.html

Madness on the streets in Dubai after India win World Cup

A bleary eyed five year-old walks up to me and says, “Mamma, please can you ask these people to stop shouting? I want to sleep.” I shrug wordlessly in response, powerless to stop the mob that is out on the streets and loving every moment of it.

It looks like something out of a mehndi function back home in Karachi, when the bride is being brought to the venue. Absolute pandemonium. People are beating drums as loudly as you can imagine, and a great number of them are dancing, with huge Indian flags draped around their bodies. A few of them are in their pyjamas, but they don’t seem to care. The idea is to scream “India! India!” till you’re hoarse and dance to the beat. I spot a few startled Filipinos meandering out of their homes rubbing their eyes as though they’ve just been woken up. Because really, in a city like Dubai, what do you expect at 11:00 pm at night? Most of the people are working couples with school-going children and can ill-afford to be woken up from their precious hours of slumber.

Yes, India, you’ve won the World Cup, but please let the rest of Dubai sleep. I may sound like a bit of a sore loser, and you know what, I probably am. I was rooting for Sri Lanka to completely annihilate the Indians, but that wasn’t to be. And ever since MS Dhoni hit that glorious six over long-on, the celebrations in Dubai have started.

Indians make up about 40% of the total population in the UAE, so it wasn’t surprising when the streets started filling out with people desperate to savour a world cup win. At first we smiled – how patriotic. Look at these guys. And then fifteen minutes passed. We looked on, but our smiles were a teeny bit stretched – would it end soon? Nope, no such luck. Another twenty minutes, and the party on the streets below my apartment is as lively as ever. In fact, now even the women have joined in (thank God, they’re not in their night-gowns). By now it’s almost eleven o’clock and we really want the noise to stop. This doesn’t seem like patriotism, it feels like a form of hooliganism, a very popular variety of which is found on New Years’ Eve in Karachi.

What finally made the people return to their homes nearly an hour after Dhoni’s winning blow was – you guessed it, the ‘shurtas’ or the cops. Loud sirens emitted from the police car as they finally quietened the animated mob, and mercifully let us sleep again.

To be sure there’s nothing wrong with partying if your team has just won the world cup. Party away the night – but a request – please do it in your own homes and let my five-year old sleep.

Pic: After the cops came, the crowd dispersed, and here is a shoddy iPhone pic that was taken after most people had already gone back

So close – and yet so far

http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/01/so-close-%E2%80%93-and-yet-so-far.html

 

They say that a picture is equal to a thousand words, and at Mohali, the image of Pakistani woman in the stands really said it all. Dupatta firmly in place on her head, her lips moved feverishly, with her face turned up in desperate beseech to the heavens, as she prayed earnestly for Pakistan to win. Sadly, Shahid Afridi and his team did not make it to the finals, and although one must laud the fact that they reached the semis, it has to be said that Pakistan are possibly the most frustrating team in the world to watch and follow.

Watching Pakistan play is like observing an extremely inelligent student, loaded with potential, who still ends up with a B-Minus in his O’Levels. He saunters to school with a carefree attitude coupled with an innate flamboyance, which is both endearing and annoying. He threatens to live up to his immense promise, but somehow never quite manages to. On the other hand, a team like New Zealand is the exact opposite – they can be likened to the hard-working back-bencher who in some way or the other, manages to get a respectable grade nearly every time. (Indeed, Scott Styris embodies that metaphor very well – he is the classic workhorse who’s made himself indispensable to the NZ side not because of his talent, but because of his persistence). Pakistan, on the other hand, is a side loaded with match-winners and talented young men, and yet, we don’t cross the finish line as often as we should. That is the reason why it’s so exasperating to follow Pakistan – there is always an ‘if only’ lurking mockingly in the shadows.

If only Sachin Tendulkar hadn’t been let off so many times (four drop catches, who would have thought?), if only Mohammad Hafeez hadn’t played that daft shot, if only the powerplay had been taken earlier, if only Misbah ul Haq hadn’t fallen asleep for the first part of his innings, if only, if only. Which brings me to another point – why did Younis Khan and Misbah ul Haq play a painfully tedious test match innings? Your guess is as good as mine. When Misbah finally rose from his untimely slumber and smelt the coffee, it was a tad too late and the Indians knew the game was theirs for the taking

A few positives though – and Wahab Riaz fittingly tops this list. The delivery that got Yuvraj Singh on the first ball was for me, the wicket of the day. Inswinging, full and fast, Wahab had clattered into the middle stump of a shell-shocked Yuvraj Singh. Alas, Wahab’s five wickets went in vain, but this cricketer is definitely one for the future. Afridi’s captaincy too, I thought was brilliant during India’s innings (and it’s another matter that the side’s fielding let him down horribly). Pakistan have finally unearthed a leader who commands respect from his teammates and countrymen alike. He accepts advice from everyone, but is poised and confident enough to do exactly as he pleases.

Pakistan’s World Cup campaign will hopefully not invite any changes in the captaincy from an unpredictable PCB and one can only hope that the ‘slightly crazy’ Afridi will remain at the helm. For a team that represents a population as capable and as volatile as that of Pakistan, Afridi is the logical, numero uno choice for captain. Asad Shafiq is another bright prospect, and I guess no one had any doubts about Umar Akmal in the first place – but he really needs to translate all that talent to regular big scores for Pakistan.

As Team Pakistan trudges dejectedly home, it is a time to ponder and contemplate upon everything that went wrong. India’s unbeaten run in the World Cup against archrival Pakistan remains, but at the end of the day you have to admit that the Pakistan team has done better than anyone expected them to and their performance has rekindled the heady cricket obsession of the 90s in Pakistan. Except this time round, we have another song. De Ghumaa Ke, anyone?

 

Pakistan vs India

Me blogging live for dawn.com. unfortunately Pakistan lost the match, but great game nonetheless! http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/29/live-pakistan-vs-india.html

Mehmudah Rehman from Dubai

Update (22:19 PST)

Pakistan – hold your head up high, and take this loss with dignity and indeed, pride. We were down and out before the World Cup and have done remarkably well to make the semis. Cricket has won, and thank you India, for a great match! Pakistan Zindabad!

There will be inevitable whispers of match-fixing and Misbah and Younis’ inning, plus the timing of the powerplay would have raised many eye-brows (mine almost went through my forehead)!

Misbah Misbah – you missed a trick there buddy! Left yourself too much to do! Too late – great SIX though! Love it when they hit it straight

Update (22:11 PST)

Shahid Afridi looks crestfallen. You gotta feel for the guy. Misbah hasn’t given up though.

Update (21:47 PST)

It had to happen sooner or later – the tailender can only do so much. Wahab Riaz is out and Dhoni and his men are on the brink of a memorable win here!

Update (21:31 PST)

That’s it! He’s gone! Afridi the man, it’s curtains for Pakistan, surely! Indians are celebrating

Pakistan falling like a house of cards.. Misbah- today’s test player is still there though. We need a blitzy 20-20 knock!

Update (21:21 PST)

Dhoni has been pretty good with his bowling changes, Zaheer Khan has been used wisely. He’s back here and what’s  Shahid Afridi ‘s plan of action?

Update (21:04 PST)

BOOM BOOM AFRIDI walks out to the middle! Abdul Razzak has been bowled Indians have the momentum and the hopes of a nation are being dashed – ball by ball, over by over. 8 an over reqd.

Update (PST 20:51)

Abdul Razzak is a very capable batsmen and all is not lost! Pakistanis around the world are praying for a performance like THAT one against South Africa…

Update (PST 20:47)

I heard the wicket of Umar Akmal before I saw it – HUGE cheer in the crowd. So that’s Pakistan’s main man gone! India are really choking Pakistan here!

Update (PST 20:31 PST)

The tension is mounting as Miss-bah has missed the ball, and is playing really slow. C’mon, rotate the strike!

Update (20:29 PST)

Umar Akmal hits a four and then a SIX! Relives the pressure! He needs to do something extraordinary to save the match. Required run rate well over 6

Update (20:10 PST)

Younis Khan never looked comfortable out there – he was always struggling. His strike rate of 41-odd is quite a let down. In walks Umar Akmal, who happens to be one of Pakistan’s most talented players, and has been touted as the ‘Inzamam’ of this tournament. Can he do something special here.
Well over a run a ball required, and Pakistani hearts are in the mouth.

Update (20:02 PST)

Another Pakistani throws it away after getting a good start! Asad Shafiq looked so promising .. he perishes and India are on top! Yuvraj Singh is a real crowd favourite – and then he’s playing for someone special too, remember?

Update (19:52 PST)

That does NOT look like India in the field! What’s with the electric fielding?!

Update (19:48 PST)

I like how Zaheer Khan hides the bowl in his hand right until the point of delivery. Crafty operator… Pakistan need to play him well.

Update (19:39 PST)

Younis Khan is a better player than his average suggests – 32.29. he needs to stay at the wicket and get a partnership going.

Update (19:27 PST)

OH NO! Hafeez is OUT! That was a needless shot! Mohali stands up to applaud the efforts of Munaf Patel, whose tight line has paid dividends. But really, that was more the batsmen’s fault, than the bowler’s skill. Paddle sweep? C’mon guys!

Update (19:21 PST)

Pakistan are getting just a little bogged down here. The run rate for the last 4 overs has been around about 3. Milk the bowling, take the singles! Munaf Patel’s tight line is right on the money.

Update (19:08 PST)

India is a side not known for its fielding, but they’re quite good in the field today. Energy, dives, and a bit of lively banter too. As for Pakistan we need to play risk-free cricket, and Asad Shafiq is a guy who could do just that. Prodigious turn for Harbhajan Singh… ooh, better watch out Hafeez!  Yuvraj Singh will be itching to get a bowl!

Update (18:59 PST)

India need to introduce spin to stem the flow of runs, and the fact that Ashwin has not been selected is a boon for Pakistan.

Update (18:54 PST)

Mark Nicholas is a commentator I regard highly, both for his views and his crisp delivery of words. He says on air that the semi-final of a tournament is the hardest game to play. I agree. Remember THAT semi-final between South Africa and Australia?

Update (18:28 PST)

Beautifully timed by Mohammed Hafeez on the on-side, wristy, if you like! Boundary to Pakistan!

Update (18:23 PST)

The second innings is underway and Kamran Akmal has absolutely creamed two boundaries to best bowler in the Indian line-up, Zaheer Khan. His performance behind the stumps seems to have given him confidence.

Update (17:52 PST)

Excellent last over from Wahab Riaz but the Indians have piled on a pretty respectable total in the end, and this will take some seriously good batting to get. This is a placid batting track at Mohali, though a good start is vital, because the pitch generally deteriorates in the second innings and the ball doesn’t come on to the bat too well.  Innings break now, and what a match this has been so far!

Update (17:28 PST)

These last few overs are extremely important and could well be the difference between the two teams. Umar Gul’s yorkers are going wrong, and Raina is having a ball. Another boundary. We need to pull back! Score getting healthier with every stroke, and Afridi is a worried man.

Update (17:13 PST)

Last boundary was at 29.5 overs – and we’re currently at 43.2 overs. Well done, Afridi and Co!

Update (17:10 PST)

Remember Harbhajan Singh is an attacking playing, and a more than useful tailender. Can they get him? Afridi’s attacking field is spot-on, says Sanjay Majrekar on air.

Update (16:49 PST)

Twelve overs still to go and we’ve got Pakistan bowling like a well-oiled unit. Any guesses on the final score? At one stage, one would have thought India would have demolished Pakistan and collected in excess of 300. We have pulled back with those Wahab Riaz wickets, and now let’s watch Ajmal operating with his offspinners and doosras. Let’s hope he can fox the batsmen and get a wicket

Update (16:45 PST)

FINALLY! The lives are up and Afridi gets his man! Pakistan are breathing easier and Suresh Raina walks out to a pressure cooker situation, another one of India’s mightily impressive young batsmen.
Saima Hussain from Toronto: Finally! Tendulkar gone. Finally! Out at 85
And very appropriate that Skipper Afridi did the job.

Update (16:27 PST)

If only we took our catches, we would have been on top! Here’s hoping we give no more chances… India has a formidable batting line up and Pakistan have only themselves to blame that the wicket column says ‘4’.

Update (16:19 PST)

Sachin Tendulkar has moved on to 70, with all those lives … Hundred number hundred in a semifinal match against Pakistan? He looks tentative and yet the ball regularly goes to the boundary. This is frustrating for Afridi!

Update (16:04 PST)

We’ve just given two boundaries to MS Dhoni through edges!? Why don’t we have a slip in place Afridi?

Update (15:34 PST)

YES! Kamran Akmal and Mohammed Hafeez have affected a stumping! Off goes Gambhir! Spin seems to be making an impact! Here’s Virat Kohli, I’m a big fan actually. He’s a great timer of the ball. Let’s hope he can’t time it this time!

Update (15:10 PST)

Things have gone quiet since Ajmal was introduced and the swashbuckling Sehwag departed. Saeed Ajmal reminds me of another off-spinner who at one time, caused Tendulkar problems. Saqlain Mushtaq anyone?

I’ve been reading how acrobatic Pakistan have looked in the fielding drills. At the moment though, the fielding is anything but outstanding. OH! A DRoP CATCH! MISBAH UL HAQ< did you just drop the world cup?  Tendulkar gets ANOTHER life.

Update (15:00 PST)

Did we get Tendulkar???? Almost! Oh dear! The balls not hitting the stumps in the DRS. Mohali goes wild. Pakistan look devastated. Just missing leg. And another appeal! A stumping from Kamran Akmal??? Pakistan looks confident, and I can’t stand the tension…not out!

Update (14:56 PST)

And Saeed Ajmal gets the ball. He’s bowling to Gautam Gambhir, the left-hander who averages 40-odd in ODIs’s. Ajmal’s body language looks good though. He looks confident. How much will the pitch turn? Remember Pakistan are batting second, and the pitch is likely to turn more then. Harbhajan Singh will be quite ineterested in how the pitch plays.

Update (14:41 PST)

Wasim Akram is in the commentary box… what if he had been playing? Umar Gul looks to be struggling with the line.. another boundary to fine-leg. Wristy subcontinent players, c’mon Umar!! Sachin’s a treat to watch though. Gotta appreciate the Little Master. He looks divine when he plays that straight drive. Gladly straight to the fielder that time.

(14:30 PST)

Mohali is a riot of sound and colour as Virender Sehwag has dispatched everything to the boundary with disdain. Here in Dubai, the match is all anyone is talking about.Offices will be let off early today and many malls have giant screens to display the match. Soon I’ll be going out to join the crowds too. Just hope Pakistan fares better. Here’s Wahab Riaz in place of the veteran Shoaib Akhtar. Was it a good decision? Let’s see… Sehwag looks in ominious form.

YES! Sehwag goes!!!!!!!!!! Mohali is quiet and Pakistan and Afridi are all smiles!

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May the best team win!

Gulf News Opinion first published this in print and online.

 

 

May the best team win!

The first thing the Sri Lankan maid asked me when she entered the house is, “Watched the match last night? Sri Lanka came close, so close! Pakistan won, but only just!” The cricket World Cup is well and truly under way and we have had some exciting humdingers already.

Life has been breathed back into the 50-over format of the game as legendary rivalries are rekindled and people around the world watch 22 men go nuts over a ball smaller than the palms of their hands.

Groups of people gather at common places to watch their team play at the highest level as musicians and clerics, teenagers and parents, teachers and students and bosses and employees all come together to watch history in the making. Viewing high-octane sport for a couple of months is no less than an addiction and many wonder what will they do once the games are over. (I daresay in my case it will mean hot meals served on time).

The atmosphere in the stadiums is electrifying but even in homes and offices, the World Cup is definitely creating an impact. Indians and Pakistanis shudder at the thought of the other winning against their country — for who will face the smirks and remarks at work tomorrow? We in Dubai live in a multicultural environment and sport, in general, has almost become an identity. Sport is something to talk about after dinner conversations — a safe topic which you can be sure will invite people to debate.

Millions of viewers around the world will catch the action on television and spectators glued to their TVs and computers will put their hands on their heads and exclaim animatedly as the ball beats the bat and people will rant about each lbw or caught-behind decision that the umpires got wrong.

Venting disappointment

Odd promises such as ‘If England don’t lose a wicket, I will shave my moustache/ I won’t change my shirt’ will be heard and people will not budge from their seats if the team they are supporting is having a good period of play — as though it’s them watching the game that’s making it all happen!

Some passionate viewers might even smash their TVs and swear. Player effigies may be burnt as violent mobs vent their disappointment.

The cricket extravaganza continues and while many people feel that this World Cup is too long, I for one revel in the fact that for nearly two months there will be high quality cricket to watch.

The commentary can sometimes be bland, but it can be equally witty too, as some seasoned names like Ian Chappell, Nasser Hussain and Tony Greig help us enjoy and understand the game just that little bit more. I do hope, with all my heart, that the disturbing issue of match-fixing or spot-fixing does not raise its ugly head and that the World Cup is played in the right spirit. May the best team win!

 

Mehmudah Rehman is a freelance writer based in Dubai.

 

Reuters: Mohammed Amir opts for education!

I was skimming through the paper, not really interested in anything – and then… this caught my eye! Reuters have reported that banned Pakistani cricketer Mohammed Amir has decided to complete his studies! Wohooo! http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/03/04/cricket-pakistan-amir-study-idUKLDE7230T020110304

This letter( http://blog.dawn.com/2011/02/09/a-fan%E2%80%99s-letter-to-mohammad-amir/)that I had written to Amir probably had nothing to do with it… or maybe it did!   But whatever the case, I am really delighted to read that! Way to go buddy! May Allah give you true success! If you’re reading this Amir, you made a great decision and we’re all proud of you!

Cricket with Hijab

Welcome to the Hijabi Cricket Association (HCA)

It’s a lovely morning. The sun has just risen and casts a warm hue along the road that I am driving on. The roads are empty and this is how I like them. I drive with pleasure and in a few minutes I reach the ground. If you have been reading this blog (and that’s probably a highly boring exercise) you know I play cricket on weekends. Warm-ups, fielding drills, catches – and finally we come to the nets. I fall on the pitch in my follow-through once (sort of like Steven Finn of England) and I sit for a moment to take a break (unlike Steven Finn, who goes through his over). I sit by two young girls, sixth graders, who play a mean game of cricket. They are talking amongst themselves: “Try swimming, it’s really good for fitness,” one says to the other.  Since I’m sitting with them, I feel obliged to respond. “Yeah, you should. Swimming is sexy, man,” I blurt out.

The two 11 year-olds look at me quizzically. “Umm, it really is,” I say uncomfortably, and then I think I shouldn’t explain more. This conversation can only get more explicit. And for someone who covers up on the cricket pitch, I should really know better than to tell these young ladies that swimming’s main selling point is the fact that it is sexy. Sigh. No wonder I don’t swim unless the pool is ‘females only’.

Okay, so let’s get back to the cricket pitch instead of the swimming pool. Yeah, so I wear the following outfit when I play. First I wear one of those stick-to-your-body microfiber shirts. Then I wear a full-sleeved, long, sporty shirt, which ends right above my knees, (but is not overly baggy, is neither tight) and a matching pair of track pants. Then I wear (on top of all that) a hideous gray thing. I don’t know what it’s called — it is very light (is it called a pinafore?) and is supremely ugly and almost as long as my shirt. Then, I cover my hair with a sort of bandana, and wait I’m not done yet: I wear a scarf that is put in place with the help of a pin. Socks, shoes, and I’m outta there.

Believe me, this outfit is about as unsexy as you can get on a cricket pitch. But I’m comfortable with it, since Hijab is a very significant part of me, and I wouldn’t want to give it up for anything – not even cricket. And sometimes the scarf tends to become loose (doesn’t come off, just gets loose) when I’m on my follow-through, but I think that’s mostly because I do a bit of a shoddy job with tying up the scarf.

Once a girl came up to me and said, “Why do you wear that?” looking at my pinafore, wondering why I wear that unsightly baggy thing on top of my (not-so-ugly) shirt. “Oh that? It’s an abayah, kind of,” I explain. Since the girl is a Muslim, she knows about ‘purdah’ and there is no need to explain further. And hijab has never held me back, ever. I’m still just as gregarious, outspoken and as much of go-getter as I always was. Probably just as much of a pain in the .. ahem .. derriere as well, as when I didn’t cover up.

Ciao, people.

A fan’s letter to Mohammed Amir

Note: This blog first appeared on Dawn.com.

 

Dear Mohammed Amir,

When the tribunal was deciding your fate in Doha, as a nation we were waiting with bated breath for the final decision. Some of us were so dismayed by your antics that we suggested you, along with your two cronies should be imprisoned, others insisted upon a life ban. Those on the other end of the spectrum vouched for your innocence.

You persistently spoke of your complete innocence and come on, Amir, a lot of us have a hard time believing your claims. Now I am not blessed with the knowledge of the unseen and I can in no way claim that you lie – only God and you know the complete truth. But the tribunal said you are guilty and it makes more sense to admit to a crime which it seems you did commit.

I mean, what’s so bad about saying you were lured by money and that you are sorry? Do you know that great men in the past have admitted to their mistakes and have gained so much respect in the world? Do you know you could suddenly win the sympathy of our countrymen who, you may not realize this, have the ability to forgive?

You captured hearts with your bowling, but then you broke them too. Now is the time to begin mending them and as an idol for young fans, you need to give us some answers. I realize you are only 18 years of age, and that’s why I believe this decision could be a blessing in disguise for you.

Ever thought about studying? Getting enrolled in a good school somewhere, getting a degree, and serving your ban like a true gentleman? Cricketers around the world have made strong comebacks after getting educated – Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq is a prime example. Your swing and seam will not desert you Amir, for you are prodigiously talented. You’ll be a qualified man with another profession to fall back on.

And then there’s the physique. You are thin and lanky and in the five years away from cricket, you could use the time to work on your body. Playing international cricket is a demanding profession and working on your fitness might help to minimize the chance of some career-threatening injury. Plus, the lads easier on the eye (and higher on the hotness quotient) are always more popular. I read somewhere that it looked as though you had been crying after the decision was announced, and you know what, it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to say you’re sorry, it’s okay to make mistakes – we all do. Just admit to them like a man.

And Amir, a word of advice before I sign off – please choose your friends wisely. For someone who carries the hope of a nation mired in strife and controversy, you need to make sure the guys you hang out with are not cheats, drug addicts and crooks. And please, PLEASE, stop wearing marijuana T-Shirts, okay?

Yours sincerely,

Mehmudah Rehman

The writer is a wannabe cricketer, and the minor fact that she has never picked up a wicket or hit a six fails to deter her. She blogs at Notes to Self.