Australia in no hurry to pull out of Pakistan tour

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Cricket Australia will wait at least eight weeks before deciding whether Australia will tour Pakistan in March. The assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi on Thursday raised further concerns about the series, but James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, said the shooting and subsequent violence in the country had not changed the organisation's view.

"During February we'll have a look at the circumstances that are relevant to the tour,"

he said.

"Right now playing in a neutral venue is not something that's under consideration. There's a commitment to tour Pakistan and we'll be pursuing every avenue we can for that tour to go ahead."

Sutherland said Cricket Australia was not at the stage of

"looking too deeply into this",

but it would remain in contact with the federal government and take advice from its security experts.

"The tour is nearly three months away,"

he said.

"The appropriate time for us is really eight weeks away."

A delegation of officials from Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association is due to visit the country in February to make a decision on whether the trip will proceed. Sutherland said the safety of the players and the advance party was paramount.

Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd was confident the tour would go ahead as he felt that cricket is a tool to improve diplomatic relations between countries.

"I think we'll sort that all out with Cricket Australia as the time approaches,"

Rudd said in a radio program.

"It's always hard, it's always difficult, but (cricket) is a great international game. It's a great language of international diplomacy.

In response to that, Nasim Ashraf, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, said he was happy with Rudd's positive statement.

"We are happy that the Australia prime minister has taken a very positive approach on the issue,"

Ashraf told The News.

"The Australian team will be safe in Pakistan, which is a nation that loves sports. In addition, we will be providing them a fool-proof security cover here."

Michael Clarke said the team was confident with any choice made by Cricket Australia.

"We'll all be leaving it to them, we're out of our depth,"

he said.

"I certainly don't know enough about it. Cricket Australia will let us know when we get closer to touring there and I'll go on whatever they say."

Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, said if Australia's investigation concluded that touring would be too dangerous the ICC would complete its own report.

"If ultimately it's decided it's unsafe, the next step is a neutral venue and the next step is to defer the series and fit it in to the schedule,"

he told ABC radio.

"There will be no decisions in the next week or the next month."

Pakistan staged the 2002-03 series against Australia in Sharjah and Sri Lanka, but Speed said the ICC could not force the next contest to be held at a neutral venue.

"That's another option for Pakistan,"

he said.

"We need to wait and see how things settle down."

The Pakistan Cricket Board has said the matches would not be played outside Pakistan.

Wasim Akram said the PCB could do nothing at the moment to ensure the Australia tour occurred.

"First the country has to settle down into some state of normalcy,"

he said. A previous Australian delegation visited Pakistan in July before the Australia A and Under-19 tours that were held without any problems.


Assassination casts doubt over Zimbabwe tour

The immediate fate of Zimbabwe's tour to Pakistan hangs in delicate balance following the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, an incident that has sparked violence throughout the country.

Zimbabwe are due to arrive in Pakistan on January 12 and are scheduled to play two warm-up matches as well as a series of five ODIs, beginning January 26. But that schedule was thrown into doubt following yesterday's suicide attack which killed Bhutto shortly after an election campaign rally in Rawalpindi. Since then, the main urban centres of Pakistan - including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad - have witnessed heavy rioting and violence.

Understandably, given the proximity of the incident, no decision has been taken yet. The nation is in official mourning for three days, a stance echoed by Nasim Ashraf, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

"This is a huge national tragedy and a time of mourning for the whole country. I feel it is not appropriate to talk about cricket just now. We will look at the situation in 2-3 days,"

Ashraf said.

Another senior board official said the Zimbabwe board had not been in touch yet.

"Nobody from the Zimbabwe board has yet got in touch with us about the situation,"

the official said. When asked specifically whether the tour would go ahead, he said,

"As of this immediate moment, it is on. But ultimately your guess is as good as mine."

Zimbabwe play their first ODI in Hyderabad, another city particularly badly hit by a night of rioting; they are also scheduled to spend considerable time in Karachi, before playing in Multan, Faisalabad and Sheikhupura.

Clouding the matter further is the fate of the general elections, which were scheduled to be held on January 8, days before the tourists arrive. In the aftermath of the assassination, there are suggestions they may be postponed. In either case, however, reports are warning that further violence in coming days may be inevitable, extending a year of already tremendous political tumult in the country.

Australia, who are due to tour Pakistan in March, have adopted a wait-and-see policy. They are due to send a security delegation to the country in February, after which they will decide on the tour.


Zimbabwe and Pakistan both need the series to go ahead

Speculation that Zimbabwe will reconsider the wisdom of going ahead with their tour of Pakistan following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto assumes that Zimbabwe are as safety conscious as other most Full Member countries. The reality is that cancellation is that last thing on the minds of Zimbabwe Cricket at the moment.

Over the last four years Zimbabwe has constantly played down suggestions that it is an unsafe destination for tours or that the political situation is such that it would be wrong for sides to visit. It would be the height of hypocrisy for those in charge to now turn round and use those same arguments against Pakistan, however different the reality of their two situations might be.

In inviting Zimbabwe to tour at all the Pakistan board took a leap of faith as there is no way such a series makes economic sense. For Zimbabwe Cricket, such invitations are few and far between and to snub it now, however understandable the reasons, might leave the team in limbo for some time.

It is vital to the Pakistan board, too, that Zimbabwe go ahead with the tour because hot on their heels come Australia. If Zimbabwe argue that the situation is too unsafe for them to proceed then the chances of the Australian tour happening reduce significantly. It's looking shaky even now. The financial implications of that to the cash-strapped Pakistan board are huge.

Zimbabwe Cricket has relied on the support of the Asian countries in its ongoing battle to maintain Full Member status, and it is aware that it cannot afford to rattle that alliance. That Zimbabwe remain at cricket's top table is more to do with behind-the-scenes politics than cricket-related arguments. With Peter Chingoka, the Zimbabwe Cricket chairman, facing the results of a potentially devastating forensic audit when the ICC next meets, he needs friends badly.

The only way the tour will not go ahead is for the ICC to step in and, using its own security advisors, rule that the situation inside Pakistan is too unstable. That would be a blow to both boards even though from what we know so far it may well be the common sense solution.

Since when, though, has common sense been a factor?


Pakistan opt for best combination against Zimbabwe

The Pakistan Cricket Board has decided to stick to the best possible team for the ODI series against Zimbabwe that is scheduled to get underway next month. It was widely anticipated, and planned by the national selection committee, that new faces will be tried in the relatively low-key series in order to assess Pakistan's backup resources.

"We cannot take Zimbabwe on any other team lightly,"

Nasim Ashraf, chairman of the PCB, told the News.

"That is why we will ensure that our best possible team plays against Zimbabwe and wins the series five-nil."

Salahuddin Ahmed, the chief selector, had earlier planned on introducing young blood into the team during the series.

"We will definitely try out some new faces in whichever department we need them in,"

Salahuddin had said.

"That's not to say that we are taking Zimbabwe lightly, but we need to assess players on the fringes of the national side and this is a good opportunity."

However, after Ashraf attended a couple of domestic matches on Thursday, he had a meeting with Salahuddin where a decision to hold a three-day exercise to test several upcoming cricketers was taken. The camp is scheduled to take place in Karachi from January 9 and will include 22 to 24 promising youngsters in action.

"We will call around 20 to 24 youngsters for a few trial matches ahead of the series against Zimbabwe,"

Ashraf said.

"The players will be selected on the basis of their performance in domestic events as well as during Under-19 assignments."

"We will spot players who can be a part of the national team in the future but will bring them in step by step. This is because we have to make it sure that the team's performance is not affected by too many rapid changes."

"We have a four-day and a three-day game against Zimbabwe and they would provide us with excellent opportunities to check out the youngsters who are knocking at the doors of international cricket."

"We need solid players who can be groomed into world class Test cricketers."

The tour is scheduled to start on January 14 with a four-day match in Karachi. However, yesterday's assassination of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister, has thrown the immediate fate of the series in doubt.


Malik begins rehabilitation

Shoaib Malik, the Pakistan captain, needs a further three weeks to recover fully from the ankle injury that curtailed his tour to India. It also means that he faces a race against time to be fit for Pakistan's next assignment, an ODI series against Zimbabwe, which begins from January 26.

Malik missed the final two Tests against India recently after injuring his ankle during a post-Test warm-up and now begins an injury rehabilitation programme at the National Cricket Academy.

"Doctors have removed the plaster from Shoaib Malik's ankle today and have advised him to undergo a rehabilitation programme for the next three weeks,"

Ahsan Malik, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) spokesman, told The News.

Malik will be working with Sohail Saleem, the PCB's chief medical officer, and trainer Abdul Saboor.

"He (Malik) is feeling much better and is confident of regaining full match fitness ahead of the series against Zimbabwe,"

Ahsan said.

Another vital player, Mohammad Asif, also begins his comeback from the elbow injury that has nagged him over the last year. Asif underwent surgery in Australia earlier this month to rectify the problem and is now hoping to recover in time for the home series against Australia to be held in March-April.

"Asif will work at the NCA according to plan prepared for him by David Dwyer (the Pakistan team trainer),"

said Ahsan. He added that Asif will undergo physical training sessions for several weeks before he even begins to bowl. Fellow fast bowler Umar Gul has also recovered from his back problem and will start bowling in the nets at the NCA from January 1.


Lawson to wait before deciding on return to Pakistan

Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach, is yet to take a decision on returning to Pakistan following former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

Lawson is currently in Sydney and is scheduled to leave for Pakistan in two weeks. He said he was waiting for advice from people inside the country before deciding what to do.

"I've sent a few emails this morning to people I know in Pakistan in different areas to get their opinions,"

Lawson told AFP.

"I'm very open [to what they say] and I'm more likely to take into account what they've got to say rather than any officials. I'm just seeking advice, I'm not pre-judging anything."

Pakistan are scheduled to play five ODIs against Zimbabwe at home beginning January 26. But rioting and unrest in many parts of the country have put the tour in doubt.


Asif to begin fitness restoration program in next two days

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

KARACHI: Fast bowler Mohammad Asif will begin his fitness restoration programme in the next two days under the guidance of David Dyer, trainer of the national cricket team.

Mohammad Asif has recently gone through a successful operation of his right knee in Australia.

Dr Sohail Saleem, a member of the medical commission of the Pakistan Cricket Board, told Geo News that Mohammad Asif is now feeling much better than earlier and now his fitness restoration programme is being started.

In this connection, his surgeon in Sydney has been consulted and the training programme is being started under the guidance of national trainer David Dyer in a day or two.


PCB To Discuss Malik`s Deputy

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has confirmed a deputy to captain Shoaib Malik will be named after a board meeting on January 15.

The board decided to retain Malik as skipper despite the team's poor showing in India, but have opted to take more time in naming the vice-captain.

Salman Butt and Younis Khan have both shouldered the responsibility in recent times, but the board is keen to appoint someone on a permanent basis.

PCB chairman Nasim Ashraf told the Daily Times:

"The vice-captain will be named after the PCB's governing board meeting in Lahore on January 15.

"The PCB will select a 100% fit and mentally strong team member to meet the challenging responsibilities of captaincy in the absence of Shoaib Malik."

Misbah-ul-Haq, who was Pakistan's highest run-scorer in the Test series against India, is also believed to be in the running for the post, and the board chairman praised the recent efforts of the 33-year-old batsman.

"He played an excellent innings under pressure, when our top order had flopped against an experienced Indian bowling attack,"

said Ashraf.

"He has shown good temperament, and he is a well-educated and well-mannered member of the team."

The first test for the new vice-captain will come at the end of January, when Pakistan host Zimbabwe in a five-match one-day series.


Domestic ban for Pakistan's ICL players

The Pakistan Cricket Board has banned players who participated in the unofficial Indian Cricket League (ICL) from playing in the ongoing domestic season. Six Pakistan players - Inzamam-ul-Haq, Azhar Mahmood, Abdul Razzaq, Shabbir Ahmed, Imran Farhat and Taufiq Umar - appeared in the inaugural tournament of the ICL earlier this month.

"It is a policy decision that players who play in unauthorised leagues cannot be allowed to play in any domestic competition organised by the PCB,"

said Shafiq Ahmed, the PCB domestic cricket general manager.

"We cannot allow violation of our rules and regulations by anyone. We don't think it is a harsh decision."

Reacting to the ban, Farhat told Reuters,

"Cricket is our bread and butter. This is a violation of our fundamental rights."

He said the players would take legal action and try to obtain a stay on the ban.

The PCB had already announced that players associating with the ICL would not be considered for national selection.

On Saturday, the Indian board had stated its displeasure with Daryl Tuffey, the New Zealand fast bowler and an ICL recruit, being allowed to represent his state side Auckland in a 50-over match against the visiting Bangladesh side.


Shoaib Malik denies rift speculation

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's under-fire captain, has dismissed speculation that rifts are emerging in his side after losses to India and South Africa under his leadership. Malik, who was appointed captain after the World Cup, has been retained as leader until December 2008 by the Pakistan board, despite the poor start to his tenure.

Pakistan has been rife with talk that two camps have emerged in the team, one supporting Younis Khan's push for captaincy and the other behind the incumbent Malik. This was, Malik said however, just talk.

"It hurts to end the year on a disappointing note with defeats in India. But there is no truth in rumours of differences within the team,"

he said.

"The team has been playing as a unit and that is why we managed to draw the last two Tests in India. The seniors have been extending full co-operation and I am happy with my position as captain."

Malik pointed out that injuries to key players, particularly in the fast bowling department, cost Pakistan heavily through the tour. "It made a big difference to our performance because our bowling lacked bite. In the one-day series we fought hard and it was a close rubber. In the Delhi Test one bad session cost us the match.

"I try to take some positives out of the criticism. But everyone should realise that no captain likes to lose and neither does any team want to end on the losing side. But the fact is we lost in India because of some unseen problems."

Malik also defended his performances as a batsman while captain: he has scored one Test fifty in six innings since he took over but is averaging 38.33, higher than his career average, in 13 ODIs with three fifties.

"Every professional cricketer when he is on the field is under pressure to perform and the same is for me. And I don't think my performance as a player has been that bad as captain. But there is a need for me to be more consistent,"

he admitted.

The new year, Malik hopes, will bring a change in fortune for his side.

"I am hopeful that we will have a better year in 2008. The team has potential and is united. We just need to lift ourselves in some areas particularly in the fielding.

"We will try some new players against Zimbabwe to check the depth of our talent but the Australia series would be our real test and we need to be well prepared for it."

Malik missed the last two Tests against India because of an ankle injury. That injury, he said, had still not healed fully. He has been advised to keep the plaster on and rest for at least another week. His next assignment doesn't begin until January 26, when Pakistan take on Zimbabwe for the first of five ODIs.


Twenty20 National Cricket Championship to be held in Feb’08

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

LAHORE: The Twenty20 National Cricket Championship will begin in February 2008 instead of January 2008.

Director cricket operations Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Zakir Khan told News that the fourth Twenty20 National Cricket Championship was earlier scheduled to be held from January 10 in Karachi but as Zimbabwe’s cricket team would be touring Pakistan during these days the date of the tournament has been changed.

Now, this championship will be played from February 9 to 15, 2008 in Karachi and 22 teams will participate in it.

Sialkot Stallions will defend their title in the T20 National Cricket Championship.


Australia series will not move to neutral venue - PCB

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has made it clear that the home series against Australia will not be shifted to a neutral venue if the tourists decide against visiting Pakistan due to safety concerns. The tour is scheduled for March-April 2008 and includes three Tests, five ODIs and a Twenty20.

"We are confident that the Australians will come and play here according to schedule,"

Shafqat Naghmi, PCB's chief operating officer, told The News.

"Either the series will be played in Pakistan or cancelled but there will be no neutral venue."

Australia's last tour of Pakistan in 2002-03 was shifted to Colombo and Sharjah due to security issues. Naghmi said that such a move will not be repeated, adding that Pakistan will provide foolproof security to the Australians. Even with that assurance, the Australian board will send a security delegation for a brief visit prior to the tour. Only after that is a final decision likely to be made.

Following months of political turmoil in Pakistan, Darren Lehmann, the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) president, said recently that the tour will go ahead only if the security reports deem the country safe.

"Security is paramount,"

Lehmann said.

"If there's any risk at all the tour might not go ahead, but I'm not saying it won't, it still could. If security say it's fine, we will be going. The players will be guided. [The ACA] are right behind the whole process that's in place. We go and pre-visit."

According to the ICC's Future Tour Programme (FTP), Pakistan are to pay a return visit to Australia in December 2008.

"We believe that the Australians will not be at any risk in Pakistan,"

Naghmi said.

"The Australian delegation will come here in January after the general elections and we are confident that they would agree to send their team for the series."

The itinerary of the series will be finalised following the security delegation's visit.


Taufiq Umar marries

LAHORE: Pakistan Test cricketer Taufiq Umar was married here today as a large number of guests including the players of the Pakistan cricket team attended the wedding ceremony.

The main feature of the colorful marriage ceremony, celebrated at a private hotel in Lahore, was Taufiq’s riding a horse-carriage while his friends were riding horses to take the barat which attracted the people.

The ceremony was attended by various political personalities and people from different walks of life besides the relatives and friends of Taufiq Umar.

Among the players, Misbah-ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal and former Test cricketer Aamir Sohail attended the wedding ceremony.


Sialkot unfit to host international match

Pakistan's plans to adopt a ground rotation policy for next month's home series against Zimbabwe suffered a minor setback after Jinnah Stadium in Sialkot was declared dangerous for spectators.

A PCB official told The News that the idea of holding an ODI at Jinnah Stadium was dropped after it was discovered that one of the pavilions at the stadium was in "pretty bad shape".

"It would have been risky to stage a match in Sialkot because of that particular pavilion,"

the official said.

"Also the road leading to the stadium is in a shambles. We will now host an international match in Sialkot sometime later."

Sialkot hasn't hosted an international match for over ten years. A Quaid-e-Azam trophy first-round match between National Bank of Pakistan and Sialkot was abandoned due to unplayable pitch conditions in October.

Zimbabwe arrive in Pakistan on January 12 for a series of five ODIs and a three-day and four-day game.


Shabbir Ahmed’s hat-trick seals ICL title triumph for Chennai Superstars

PANCHKULA, India: Chennai Superstars became the champions of the inaugural ICL tournament, with all-round team work helping them beat the Chandigarh Lions by 12 runs. After being put into bat, the Superstars made 155 for 8 which seemed to be short of their expectations, but Shabbir Ahmed tamed the Lions with his 4 for 23, which included the first hat-trick of the tournament.

The grand finale lived up to its reputation with a Super Bowl-like atmosphere: a fashion show, Bollywood stars, a full house, fireworks, and big hits. Panchkula, on the outskirts of Chandigarh, was alive and reverberating. Sadly, only part of the cricket matched the entertainment off the field.

Shabbir packed off the Lions’ openers quickly. Imran Farhat’s slash ended in the hands of wicketkeeper Chris Read and Hamish Marshall’s waft at a beautiful outswinger gave Read his second catch. 19 for 2 quickly became 30 for 3 when Manish Sharma’s lofted on-drive was snapped by S Saravanan just a yard from the boundary.

TP Singh along with Dinesh Mongia then did the repair work with Singh adapting well to the frequent changes in the bowling made by the Superstars’ captain, Stuart Law. But just when the Lions seemed to have turned a corner, Singh’s paddle sweep landed in the hands of Thiru Kumaran at short leg.

Mongia, who had played a crucial knock in the semi-final, seemed to be doing an encore but Law once again played his card smartly bringing back his match-winner Shabbir. The Pakistani struck twice getting Mongia and Chetan Sharma off consecutive balls. Mongia tried to defend an offcutter which took his off stump while Sharma was out lbw, rapped in line with the leg stump. It completed a hat-trick for Shabbir who had got Marshall off the last ball of his second over.

Cairns, the danger man, was done in by a beauty from Harvey; bowling wide of the crease, Harvey sneaked one past the strong defence of Cairns. Andrew Hall and Sarabjit Singh tried their best to fight back but they could not match the mounting asking-rate or Law’s shrewd thinking. In the process, the Superstars lived up to the billing of being the form team, with five victories in the seven games they played.

Batting first, the Superstars failed to capitalise on an enterprising start given by Ian Harvey, who finished as the tournament’s leading run-getter, and G Vignesh. After Vignesh holed out to cover, Read walked in and sent a fuller one from Hall to the cover boundary. Harvey punched one in the gap between cover and mid-off against Amit Uniyal, the left-arm seamer, who tried to angle one away but pitched it short. A slow ball which came out as a full toss was pushed past Cairns to mid-off for another boundary.

Mongia, who was brought on in the seventh over, soon had a smile on his face as on his second ball, Read was run out while attempting a cheeky single. Russel Arnold fell soon after, but,Harvey remained unruffled at the other end.

His immaculately-timed punch off Cairns forced mid-off to be pushed back. Cairns then had to swallow the pain first of a no-ball and then bowling Harvey on the resulting free-hit. But Harvey’s cup of luck had run dry; he pushed an innocuous Mongia delivery to the unguarded leg side, but wicketkeeper Sarabjit Singh rushed to short leg and picked and threw in one motion to run Harvey out.

Harvey’s departure slowed the scoring, as the Superstars could manage only 30 runs between overs 10 and 15. Hall lived to his death-bowler reputation giving away only four runs in the final over which saw two run-outs, including that of a desperate Law trying to finish a tight double. Even if the Superstars might have thought they fell short by at least 20 runs, in the end Shabbir’s bowling clinched the title and the US$1 million prize money.


Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, 10th round, 3rd day

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sohail Khan bags 16 wickets to shred record books

Group A

Karachi's new pace-bowling sensation Sohail Khan created a Pakistan first-class record, ending with a match-haul of 16 wickets on the third day of Sui Southern Gas Company's tenth round Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Cricket Championship encounter against Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), at the Asghar Ali Shah Stadium in Karachi.

Already the highest wicket-taker in the ongoing competition, the 23-year-old Malakand-born Sohail captured a career-best 9 for 109. Added to his equally splendid figures of 7 for 80 in WAPDA's first innings, Sohail completed 16 for 189 in the match. It beat the earlier record set by Fazal Mahmood (15 for 76) for Punjab against Pakistan Combined Services in Lahore during the 1956-57 season.

In what must rank as one of the most sensational entries into first-class cricket, Sohail, who made his debut as recently as October, has now captured 65 wickets at just 18.43 runs apiece. He has taken five in an innings on eight occasions and 10 in a match twice.

In spite of Sohail's heroics, WAPDA compiled 353 runs yesterday, leaving SSGC to make 328 runs to achieve an outright victory. There were several resolute batting displays in the WAPDA innings: Nawaz Sardar, who struck 18 fours and a six, missed a maiden first-class hundred by two runs. Along with skipper Aamer Sajjad (40), Nawaz helped add 80 runs for the fourth wicket. Bilal Khilji (80) and Sunny Irshad (75) then joined together for fine 146-run association for the sixth wicket. However, the last five WAPDA wickets added only a further 19.

Neither team might have done enough for a final slot though one thing is clear: third-placed WAPDA will not make it to the top of the 11-team Group A ranking.

Leaders Habib Bank Limited (HBL) took another step towards qualifying for the tournament final on the third day of their tenth round, Group A Quaid-e-Azam Trophy against National Bank of Pakistan (NBP). They took a crucial 44-run first innings lead in the match against NBP Sports Complex Stadium in Karachi.

Thanks to a fine 137-run fourth-wicket partnership between Aftab Khan and Khaqan Arsal, Habib Bank responded with 341 against National Bank's 297 all out. The 23-year-old Khaqan, who brought up his third first-class century, remained unbeaten till the end with 109, a knock involving 16 fours.

Aftab cracked a 210-ball 80 in a little over four-and-a-half hours. Skipper Hasan Raza perished for a rare duck as did Salman Qadir, but a 42-run seventh-wicket partnership between wicketkeeper Humayun Farhat and Khaqan allowed Habib Bank to gain the lead. By the close of play, with opener Nasir Jamshed having made an unbeaten 58, National Bank gained a slender edge of 42 runs with nine wickets in hand.

Habib Bank are in a must-win situation here. A draw will take their points tally to 66 after nine matches. National Bank will then still have two more games to go and the full points from two wins will keep them in contention for the final.

After having dominated Sialkot for much of the first two days, Lahore Ravi were in some trouble, on the third day of their tenth round match, at the Lahore City Cricket Association (LCCA) Ground in Lahore.

Sialkot, who had restricted Lahore's lead to 77 after being shot out for a pathetic 88, recovered to score 288 runs in their second innings. Needing 212 to win, Lahore Ravi were 177 for 7 by the close of play, needing 35 more to wrap up the win.

For Sialkot, skipper Ayub Dogar hit a splendid century, a 240-ball 124 that included 15 fours and two sixes. Lahore pace bowler Waqas Ahmed, meanwhile, continued with his excellent display in the match taking 6 for 70, ending with 10 for 118 in the match. Medium-pacer Mohammad Ali Bhutta continued his devastating form, ending with 4 for 54 in the second innings, adding to his 5 for 38 in the first.

Multan scored 446 runs in their first innings, taking a 111-run lead over Hyderabad in the Multan Cricket Stadium. A double-hundred by their left-handed opener Usman Tariq, who's knock contained 20 fours and five sixes, formed the bedrock of the Multan innings.

Centuries by Asif Iqbal and Zahoor Elahi allowed Pakistan Customs to compile 338 runs against Karachi Whites at the National Stadium. In reply, Karachi managed to reach 154 for 4 at close, still 184 runs in deficit. Iqbal scored his second first-class century and his highest individual score after batting for over five hours and hitting 13 fours. With Elahi, he added 159 runs for the fourth wicket. For Karachi, Khalid Latif continued his impressive form with the bat and scored 42 while Asim Kamal is still unbeaten on 47.

Group B

Making their debut in the competition this season, Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited (SNGPL) became the first team to qualify for the tournament final when, on the third day of their tenth round, they easily defeated Lahore Shalimar by ten wickets in the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.

After having gained a first innings lead of 135, SNGPL bowled out the opposition for a modest 206. This left them just 72 runs to win, which they attained without loss in a matter of 7.1 overs.

With 63 points from nine matches, and a game in hand, SNGPL have raced ahead of second-placed Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in the Group B table. PIA have their last match coming up and, with only 48 points in their kitty, don't have a chance of making the final.

Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited rattled up a big first-innings lead of 327 over Karachi Blues, on the third day of their tenth round, Group B Quaid-e-Azam Trophy at the United Bank Limited Sports Complex Ground No.1 in Karachi.

Opening batsman Afaq Rahim's unbeaten 205, his second double-hundred of the tournament following his career-best 275 against Quetta last month, was a record-breaking milestone. It was the 100th double century achieved by any batsman in the 50 editions of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.

The 22-year-old Afaq, from Mirpur in Azad Kashmir, had already reached his career's seventh hundred with his 107 on Friday afternoon. He batted just a minute over 10 hours in an innings that comprised 450 balls with the help of 24 fours. Afaq added 232 vital runs with Wajahatulla Wasti, who cracked his 15th first-class hundred with the help of 13 fours and three sixes.

Having bowled the Blues out for 188 on the opening day, ZTBL reached a massive 515 for five yesterday before skipper Wasti declared. By the close of play, Karachi Blues had lost two wickets -- both to medium-fast Kashif Dawood, the five-wicket hero in the first innings - while adding 51. They still need another 277 to avoid an innings defeat.

This match is really of no importance in the context of the teams getting to the final. ZTBL are placed fifth in the 11-team Group B ranking with 27 points from nine matches. They are making their last appearance in the pool round. The Blues are down at No.9, just above Abbottabad and Quetta, with just 12 points from eight matches.

At the Diamond Club Ground in Islamabad, the hosts, took the first innings lead against Quetta. Ameer Khan missed a century, managing a 170-ball 92, but had done well to help his team to the lead. Quetta responded with 237 for 4 in their second innings, mainly through an unbroken 96-run fifth-wicket stand between opener Shoaib Khan (95) and Jalat Khan (46), and are now 199 ahead with six wickets intact.

Rawalpindi took a 60-run lead over Peshawar at the Arbab Niaz Stadium in Peshawar, after compiling 316 in reply to the hosts' 256. Youngster Usman Saeed (94) missed his hundred by six runs. Peshawar erased 45 runs off the lead while losing one wicket in their second innings by the end of the day.

The left-handed Saeed Anwar attained the 12th century of his first-class career, as he made 107 runs in the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) score of 356 for 7 against Abbottabad at the Abbottabad Cricket Stadium. The two teams had earlier forfeited their respective first innings after the opening day on Thursday had been completely washed out. The highlight of the innings was Saaed's 151-runs stand with Bazid Khan (78).


Pakistan to test bench strength against Zimbabwe

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pakistan will be trialling fresh faces during the five-match one-day international series against Zimbabwe, due to begin from January 26. The relatively low-key nature of the series provides an ideal opportunity for Pakistan's selectors to test players in three departments, before Australia visit in March for a full tour.

"We will definitely try out some new faces in whichever department we need them in,"
Salahuddin Ahmed, chief selector, said.
"That's not to say that we are taking Zimbabwe lightly, but we need to assess players on the fringes of the national side and this is a good opportunity."

The bulk of the experimentation will be carried out with fast bowling, opening and the wicketkeeping slot, areas which have for various reasons troubled Pakistan in recent years. Salahuddin suggested domestic pace stalwarts such as Abdur Rauf and Mohammad Irshad would be in line for debuts.

"We're also keeping an eye on the progress of Anwar Ali [former Under-19 star] and Sohail Khan."

Sohail, a right-arm fast-medium bowler from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) but based in Karachi, has lit up this season's Quaid-e-Azam trophy with a string of outstanding performances.

In nine matches of what is his debut first-class season, for Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), he has taken 65 wickets; he has already taken eight five-wicket hauls and two ten-wicket match hauls. This includes, in his last match, a Pakistan first-class record haul of 16 for 189, including 9 for 109 in the second innings.

The selectors also have an eye on three openers in particular prospering domestically.

"Khurram Manzoor, Khalid Latif and Nasir Jamshed have been very good this season from all reports and they are definitely in the mix for that series, as is Asim Kamal,"

Salahuddin said.

Manzoor, who opens for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is the only batsman with over 1000 runs this season (including matches for Pakistan A), while the left-handed Jamshed and Latif, with three hundreds apiece, are not far behind. Latif, in fact, was called up to the Pakistan ODI squad for three matches of the series against South Africa in October, though he didn't eventually play.

And following more mediocre performances behind the stumps in India, it is almost inevitable that Kamran Akmal will be rested and former U-19 captain Sarfraz Ahmed given a run in his place. Sarfraz was called up to India as cover for Akmal and made his debut in the last ODI at Jaipur, impressing most observers with an assured display. The idea that both play, with Akmal as a specialist middle-order batsman, has also been discussed by the team management.

Zimbabwe are scheduled to arrive on January 12 and will play a four-day match and a three-day match before the ODI series begins.


Kaneria hits out at 'lifeless pitches' in India

Danish Kaneria, the Pakistan legspinner, criticised the lifeless pitches prepared by India in the recent Test series, and said they made contests less interesting.

"I am really disappointed at not having the success my team and countrymen were expecting of me, but the pitches used in India were of low bounce and did not give any support to the bowlers,"

Kaneria told AFP. Pakistan lost the three-match series 1-0 and managed to bowl out India on only two occasions.

Kaneria said the turning point of the series was Pakistan's failure to put up a fighting total in the second innings of the first Test in Delhi. After conceding a first-innings lead of 35, Pakistan mustered only 247 in their second innings, enabling India complete a six-wicket win.

"Had we scored 300 runs, we would have won the first Test and from there on it would have been difficult for India to level the series."

"The pitches in the second Test at Kolkata and third at Bangalore were playing well even on the fifth day, which demoralised the bowlers,"

said Kaneria. Despite finishing as Pakistan's leading wicket-taker in the series with 12, he was disappointed he could not achieve his target of 20 wickets.

Pakistan's next assignment is a five-match ODI series at home against Zimbabwe, with the first match in Hyderabad on January 23.


Shoaib Malik under the scanner after series loss in India

Nothing stirs Pakistan cricket more than defeat by India. A first-ever Test series loss in India in 27 years - preceded by the ODI series reverse - and particularly the insipid manner of defeat has ensured that discontent with the status quo is gathering strength.

The prime target is the captaincy. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has reiterated its full support to Shoaib Malik, the incumbent, till December 2008. But Younis Khan's recent change of heart over the captaincy has clouded matters.

Younis, it is emerging, is not only open to the idea of captaincy now but is actively keen on it. Though Nasim Ashraf, chairman of the board, has publicly said it is too late - still smarting, perhaps, from Younis's earlier refusal - Younis is now understood to have support from quarters within the board, as well as from key players within the team.

The support is understandable, says one official.

"His performances while captain, in particular the fact that his batting has been largely unaffected by leadership and that he is a certain starter in any Test side, weigh heavily in his favour."

By contrast, Malik's continuing inability to convince people of his Test credentials, more even than concerns about his leadership or attitude, do him no favours.

One official, broadly sympathetic to Malik as captain, even admitted

"he makes the middle order by default, because there is no competition, no other real candidate. The captaincy is officially not available to Younis, but in Pakistan you can never say."

As an endorsement for continuity, it is hardly convincing.

And there is also reason to believe that the selectors, if put in a dilemma by the credentials of a better-performing middle-order candidate, would not hesitate to drop Malik from the Test side.

The issue is further complicated by what more than one tour official privately admits to be "some friction" between Malik and Younis. The rift is thought to have emanated from certain selectorial decisions, including the decision initially to send Shahid Afridi back after the ODIs, one Younis was unhappy with. The rift could have a potentially divisive effect on the team.

One source close to the team management also suggested the back injury that kept Umar Gul out of the series might not have been so serious as to rule him out; the implication being that his not playing is somehow linked to his closeness to Younis and being part of that camp. Younis is also said to be less than pleased by the insistence of Geoff Lawson, the coach, and Malik to play Mohammad Sami in the last two Tests.

Captaincy aside, the role of Lawson is also being discussed. The chairman gave him his public backing, but not before questioning - also publicly - why he was unable to extract better performances from his team. Some senior players admit to being underwhelmed by Lawson thus far.

Even one official who supported the decision to appoint Lawson now acknowledges that

"so far, we have not seen anything outstanding from him, strategy or tactics-wise. I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, because it is still early, but certainly he has not been as impressive so far as we hoped."

Nothing so far suggests that any key decisions will be taken in a hurry. For one, there is no pressing need: Pakistan's next assignment is a low-key five-match ODI series against Zimbabwe. But in March, Australia visit and one official admitted "that will be the make-or-break series". Change might pre-empt it, or change may come as a result of it, but change, it increasingly appears, may be inevitable - and soon.


Zimbabwe to reach Pakistan on January 12

The touring Zimbabwe squad will arrive in Karachi on January 12 for a five-match ODI series as well as a four-day and a three-day match.

The tour will start with a four-day match from January 14 at the National Bank of Pakistan Sports Complex followed by the three-day match from January 22 at the Asghar Ali Shah Stadium. The ODI series starts on January 26 with the first match taking place in Hyderabad before matches at Karachi, Multan, Faisalabad and Sheikhupura.

The last time Pakistan and Zimbabwe met was at Kingston in a World Cup match where Imran Nazir's majestic 160 powered Pakistan to a mammoth win. Zimbabwe last toured Pakistan in September 2004 for a tri-nation ODI tournament, also involving Sri Lanka, when they failed to win a single match.


Glamorgan refused permission to land Rao Iftikhar

Rao Iftikhar is part of Pakistan's plans for the coming season: Pakistan board

The Pakistan board has decided against allowing Iftikhar Anjum, the medium-fast bowler, to join Glamorgan after the county showed an interest in signing him up as their overseas player for 2008.
"We have told them [Glamorgan] that Pakistan have a busy international season coming up and cannot afford to release any of their players from the core squad,"

Shafqat Naghmi, PCB's chief operating officer, told the News.

Pakistan are due to host Australia in March and April next year for a Test and ODI series before hosting the Asia Cup in June and according to Naghmi, Pakistan will be needing Iftikhar's services throughout.

The PCB is also reluctant to allow a fit fast bowler play for a county with most of the national team's bowling line-up on the injured list. Mohammad Asif has just undergone an elbow operation, Umar Gul is recovering from back spasm that ruled him out of the Test series against India while Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami were both below par due to illness during the tour to India.

There are reports, however, that Glamorgan have agreed terms with Iftikhar's agent and are prepared to wait until March for a final decision by the PCB before following up other potential targets.

If the deal goes through, Iftikhar will be the first Pakistan player to sign for the county since Waqar Younis over a decade ago. He has made 39 ODI appearances and taken 42 wickets with an economy-rate of under five an over. Iftikhar last featured for Pakistan in the ODI series against India before being surplus to requirements for the Test series. A spate of injuries and illness, however, prompted the PCB to send Iftikhar back to India as cover for the other fast bowlers ahead of the final Test in Bangalore, which he didn't play.


BCCI okays $400,000 sign-on fee for Warne

Shane Warne will be the Indian Premier League's most expensive signing, at a cost of US$400,000 for the first season, set to kick off in April 2008. The finance committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India met in Mumbai on Friday and approved several decisions taken by the IPL's governing council regarding payment of its players.

The fee quoted for Warne is the signing amount for him to be part of the player pool from which franchises will bid for the rights to employ players within their ranks. With Brian Lara reportedly being paid US$1 million to appear in the Indian Cricket League, and the market heating up over the two rival leagues, Warne and similar big-ticket signings could rope in well in excess of US$1 million, sources revealed.

The second-highest signing-on fee has, not surprisingly, been paid to Glenn McGrath, whose nifty line-and-length bowling see him join up for US$350,000. Stephen Fleming, whose agents flirted with the ICL but in the end held back - to the extent that Fleming was one of those present at the IPL's launch - also nets US$350,000.

Mohammad Yousuf, who had reportedly signed with the ICL before being lured away by the Pakistan board - which made no effort to stop Inzamam-ul-Haq, Abdul Razzaq or Imran Farhat from joining the unrecognised league - has signed up with the IPL for US$330,000. A surprise entrant in the top five - and at the moment the list does not include current Australian or Indian cricketers - is Shoaib Malik, who is guaranteed US$300,000.

The ICL, which is nearing the end of its inaugural edition, will hand out approximately Rs 18 crore [approx. US$4.5 million] in total prize-money for its 16-day tournament.

The fees have been decided for only 34 of the 49 cricketers signed up by the IPL, sources said, and, of these, only 11 have received [partial] advance payments. The only player to receive payment in full is Yousuf, not surprising given that he was once a dead certainty to join the ICL. It is understood that McGrath is among those who have been given a sizeable advance.

The 29 others who have received contracts:

[All amounts in US$]
Australia Justin Langer 175,000

Sri Lanka Farveez Maharoof: 150,000, Kumar Sangakkara: 250,000, Mahela Jaywardene: 250,000, Muttiah Muralitharan: 250,000, Sanath Jayasuriya: 250,000, Nuwan Zoysa: 100,000, Dilhara Fernando: 150,000, Chaminda Vaas: 175,000, Lasith Malinga: 200,000

Pakistan Mohammad Asif 225,000, Shahid Afridi: 225,000, Shoaib Akhtar: 225,000, Younus Khan: 225,000

West Indies Shivnarine Chanderpaul 175,000

New Zealand Daniel Vettori 225,000, Jacob Oram 200,000, Scott Styris 150,000, Brendon McCullum 175,000

South Africa Loots Bosman 150,000, AB de Villiers 175,000, Albie Morkel 200,000, Graeme Smith 225,000, Herschelle Gibbs 225,000, Shaun Pollock 200,000, Ashwell Prince 150,000, Makhaya Ntini 175,000, Mark Boucher 175,000, Jacques Kallis 200,000.


Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, 10th round, 2nd day

Group A

Riding on a 77-run eight-wicket partnership, Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) took a 26-run first-innings lead over Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) at the Asghar Ali Shah Stadium. Resuming on 63 for 3, after WAPDA had been dismissed for 200, SSGC lost the next three wickets for the addition of 24 runs as Sarfraz Ahmed (6 for 48) caused havoc. A 93-run partnership between Ahmed Zeeshan (51) and Haaris Ayaz (64) first got SSGC closer to the 200-mark and then, with assistance from the tail, allowed them to take the slender lead. By close , WAPDA had scored 43 for 2 in their second-innings - a lead of 17 - with Sohail Khan, after having taken seven wickets in the first-innings, adding two more to his tally that now stands at 58.

Table-leaders Habib Bank Limited (HBL) took a big leap towards confirming their place in the final after making a strong 195 for 3 in reply to the 297 National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) had earlier scored at the NBP Sports Complex. All of HBL's batsmen contributed and with Aftab Alam unbeaten on 55, HBL are on course for earning a big first-innings lead. Earlier, resuming at their overnight 207 for 6, NBP added 90 runs before Mohammad Aslam cleaned up the tail with a five-wicket haul. Qaiser Abbas, unbeaten on 54 overnight, took his score to 74 off 186 deliveries before being dismissed.

Sialkot recovered well to restrict Lahore Ravi to 165 in their first-innings, facing a deficit of only 77 runs, before putting on a much-improved batting performance to go at close on 211 for 5 at the Lahore City Cricket Association (LCCA) Ground. Bundled out for 88 in their first innings, Sialkot pace trio did well to limit the damage and shared all 10 wickets among themselves. Mohammad Ali was the pick of the bowlers with 5 for 38 and it was left for Lahore's No. 9 Waqas Ahmed (45 off 23) to guide his team to respectability. Sialkot, in their second innings, owed much to an unbeaten 81 by Ayub Dogar and now have an overall lead of 134.

At the Multan Cricket Stadium, Multan first did well to restrict Hyderabad to 335 in their first-innings and then score 229 for 4 in reply by close. Hyderabad had resumed on 260 for 4 and looked set for a huge score before Rahat Ali (4 for 35) sparked a collapse that saw them lose their last five wickets for the addition of only one run. Usman Tariq was Multan's hero with the bat as he scored an unbeaten 118 to take his side within reach of a first-innings lead.

Centuries by Asif Iqbal and Zahoor Elahi allowed Pakistan Customs to compile 338 runs against Karachi Whites at the National Stadium. In reply, Karachi managed to reach 154 for 4 at close, still 184 runs in deficit. Iqbal scored his second first-class century and his highest individual score after batting for over five hours and hitting 13 fours. With Elahi, he added 159 runs for the fourth wicket. For Karachi, Khalid Latif continued his impressive form with the bat and scored 42 while Asim Kamal is still unbeaten on 47.

Group B

Mohammad Hafeez hit a century to help Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited (SNGPL) take a first-innings lead of 135 runs over Lahore Shalimar at the Gaddafi Stadium. Hafeez shared a 164-run fourth-wicket partnership with Umar Akmal (65). Later, Khurram Shahzad scored 64 before Mohammad Naved rounded things off for Lahore with a six-wicket haul. By close, Lahore had scored 52 for 3, requiring another 83 to make SNGPL bat again, with Asad Ali taking two of those wickets.

After having bowled out Karachi Blues for 188, Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) finished day two on 251 for 3 at the United Bank Limited Sports Complex. The highlight of the day for ZTBL was an unbeaten 107 by Afaq Rahim, their 22-year-old opener. Adnan Raza (62) added 103 for the third-wicket as ZTBL crossed the 200-mark and ended the day in a commanding position.

At the Diamond Club Ground, Rauf Akbar finished with figures of 6 for 66 as Quetta could only add a solitary run to their overnight score before being dismissed for 244 against Islamabad. However, its bowlers did well to restrict the home side to 229 for 7 in reply with Imad Wasim, the Pakistan Under-19 captain, making a valuable 41 in a 101-run sixth-wicket partnership with Ameer Khan (58*).

Sajjad Ahmed's unbeaten 83 allowed Peshawar to reach a competitive 256 after resuming on 134 for 6 overnight at Arbab Niaz Stadium. Ahmed added 144 with the last four batsmen to allow respectability to his side's total before Rawalpindi replied strongly with 140 for 3 by close. Awais Zia (27*) and Naved Ashraf (34*) have put on 57 for the fourth wicket and will look to carry on the good work into the third day.

After the first day's play at Abbottabad Cricket Stadium was washed out , both Abbottabad and Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) forfeited their first-innings in order to procure a result. However, only 13.5 overs were possible on the second day, in which KRL, after having been put in, reached 26 for no loss.


Pakistan board backs Shoaib Malik

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Pakistan board has reiterated its faith in Shoaib Malik as captain and insist he will remain in the post as originally planned till December 2008.

Malik's position has come under intense scrutiny following Test and ODI series defeat to India, a second successive reverse in both formats following the loss to South Africa at home. His cause wasn't helped by an ankle injury which kept him out of the final two Tests against India, both of which were drawn. A number of ex-players, including Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, have questioned the wisdom of Malik as Test captain when he has yet to establish himself fully as a Test batsman.

The backing for Malik came in the wake of a board meeting constituted specifically to review Pakistan's poor performances in India. The board also decided to prevent players from writing articles during series and concentrate solely on the cricket while on tour. There was criticism of the surge in Pakistani players' extra-curricular media activities: many were writing for newspapers and a number had separate TV commitments as well. One column by Younis Khan, in particular, seems to have caught the board's attention. As stand-in captain for the second Test in Kolkata, Younis distanced himself from the team selection, hinting that he might not have been happy with the composition, in a column for Hindustan Times.

Though the board has yet to read fully the tour reports handed in by the team management, immediate changes are not expected. The participation of national players in domestic tournaments was again stressed, and three camps, for bowlers, wicketkeepers and openers, have also been arranged for after the domestic Twenty20 tournament.


Younis Khan willing to lead Test side

In a surprise change of heart, Younis Khan has said he is now willing to lead the Test side if the Pakistan board asked him to do so.

Younis has long shown a reluctance to lead Pakistan. He gave up the captaincy - and swiftly took it back - last year before the Champions Trophy, and then turned down the post again after the Caribbean World Cup this year.

And he was again an unwilling stand-in captain after Shoaib Malik's ankle injury ruled him out of the last two Tests against India.

"If the board wants me to lead the team, I can do it. But first we [himself and the officials] need to sit down, discuss and finalise some things,"

Younis told PTI.

Younis had been the official vice-captain for two years under Inzamam-ul-Haq and was widely expected to take over once Inzamam resigned. At the time of his refusal, he also stepped down from the vice-captain's role, before surprisingly accepting for the tour to India.

"I only agreed to be vice-captain for the Indian tour because of the importance of the series. If the matches had been against any other team I might not have accepted this responsibility."

"But now if the board feels I can be a good Test captain, I am willing to do it but after talking to them,"

he said.

"If the team can do well under my captaincy I would be very happy but I am not asking anyone for the job. This is the board's prerogative whatever they want to do."

The board has, however, once again expressed its full faith in Malik to retain the post until December 2008.


Misbah takes 23rd position in ICC Test rankings

KARACHI: Following his outstanding performance in the Test series against India, Pakistani batsman Misbah-ul-Haq has entered into the top-25 of ICC Test rankings for batsmen.

This is a major move as the right-handed middle-order batsman jumped from the 88th position to the 23rd after scoring 464 runs in six innings at an average of 116.

Other big mover is Sourav Ganguly who has entered into the top-20 for the first time in seven years.

The left-hander notched up two centuries, one fifty at an average of 89.00 to earn the Player of the Series award and jump four places to 20th in the ICC list.

However, Pakistan’s vice-captain Younus Khan dropped from seventh to eighth and India’s Sachin Tendulkar dropped a rung to 19th.

On the bowling front, India's Test captain Anil Kumble is relishing his time in charge and the veteran leg-spinner took 18 wickets in the three-Test series to move up two places to fifth in the bolwers list but Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar came down to 10th position.

Meanwhile, pace spearhead Irfan Pathan's maiden Test hundred has pushed him to the sixth spot in the rankings for all-rounders, behind Chaminda Vaas of Sri Lanka.

At the top, Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara and Australia's Ricky Ponting are sharing the number one position in the rankings for batsmen.

The two are locked on 936 ratings points but Sangakkara has the first chance to move ahead again when Sri Lanka and England take the field for the third and final Test of the series in Galle, starting on Tuesday.


Umar Gul hoping for a January comeback

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Umar Gul is confident of making a comeback to bowling in the first week of January after injuring his back on the tour of India. Gul, who took part in the ODI series, complained of a back problem and was sent home before the Tests after being diagnosed with muscle spasm.

"I have rested a lot and I feel OK now. But I have not bowled for a while and the board has asked me to appear for a fitness check-up before the PCB medical panel in Lahore,"

Gul said. The check-up was due to be held sometime on Thursday.

"I am looking forward to resuming bowling by the first week of next month, provided everything goes well. It is not a serious injury nor a recurrence of the back stress fracture I had two years ago."

Shafqat Naghmi,

the PCB's chief operating officer, said it was premature to comment on Gul's fitness but he confirmed that the bowler had been told to take a week's rest before his check-up.

"We are confident it is nothing serious but we are prepared for any eventuality. We are facing frequent fitness problems with our main bowlers and we want to ensure they don't suffer long-term injuries,"

Naghmi said.

Pakistan were struggling in the fast-bowling department during the Test series. While Gul missed the Tests, Mohammad Asif was forced to miss the entire tour of India and underwent keyhole surgery on his troubling elbow earlier this week. Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami were unable to deliver 100 percent due to illness.

Gul blamed the current crammed international calender for niggling injuries to pace bowlers.

"You can't escape from them [injuries] despite the improved fitness programmes we follow these days and the training regimen we go through."

Pakistan now take on Zimbabwe for a five-match ODI series at home before hosting Australia in February and March 2008.


Shoaib Akhter defends himself after series loss

Shoaib Akhtar has defended himself from critical comments cast by Imran Khan after Pakistan's 1-0 Test series defeat to India.

Imran, former Pakistan captain, told an Indian news channel that the result could easily have been 3-0 if their spearhead had applied himself. But Shoaib felt the absence of Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul, out with elbow and back injuries respectively, seriously hampered their chances.

"Imran Khan, who is a man and former player I admire and respect greatly, singled me out in his television analysis and said I should be disappointed with myself,"

he said on Bigstarcricket.com.

"I realise he was being kind in saying I am a match-winner, but I can't win Test matches on my own."

Though he completed a rare full Test series, Shoaib battled fitness and injury in all three Tests, ending with nine wickets at 33.11. And there was little else to speak of in the pace department, bar replacement Yasir Arafat's five-wicket haul on debut in the final Test. Mohammad Sami, Shoaib's new-ball partner, went wicketless in the first two matches.

"When I built up pressure we weren't able to maintain that pressure on the Indian batsmen. I'm not blaming my team-mates - if Sami had been around with me, Asif and Gul the series would definitely have turned out differently. We cannot expect too much from the inexperienced guys at this level. It stands to reason that any team is going to miss players like Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif."

"Imran had players like [Abdul] Qadir and Wasim [Akram] to back him up or Sarfraz before those days."

Akhtar, 32, took six wickets in Delhi and two in Kolkata, where he ill-advisedly played with a chest infection. Then, having bowled ten overs on the first morning at Bangalore, he was taken to hospital for an MRI scan after suffering back pain. The scan revealed no injury but Shoaib did not bowl again in the first innings. He bowled later in the match but did not look fully fit.


Amir Sohail Hits Out At Selectors

Former Pakistan captain Aamir Sohail has hit out at selectors for failing to spot quality domestic fast bowlers to play for the national team.

Sohail also blamed the panel for not selecting the right bowlers at the right time, which has seen many pacemen fade at the start of their international careers.

The 41-year-old former opener told The Hindu:

"They (the selectors) are essentially opting for medium-pacers who can seam the ball around. But we hardly get seaming pitches these days."

"Pace and swing are the requirements and these were Pakistan's strengths. We have some genuinely quick pacemen back home but they are not getting selected. These bowlers have done extremely well in domestic cricket."

"Now we see pacemen figuring in a Test series or two and then disappearing from the scene. This hurts the side in the long run."

"We had a potentially great fast bowler in Mohammad Zahid. He should been used carefully, camouflaged, early in his career. Before his body developed fully, he bowled too many overs. He suffered a serious back injury."

In contrast, Sohail praised the efforts of former Pakistan cricketers in spotting talent at the right stage and giving them a go early in their careers.

He said:

"In the past, even if the selection panel was not always right, Imran Khan groomed the pacemen and Javed Miandad did so with the batsmen."

"Confidence was instilled in these cricketers and they were given a fair run."


PCB Constitution published in Gazette of Pakistan

Constitution of Pakistan Cricket Board was notified in the Gazette of Pakistan on Thursday, October 18, 2007. The Constitution may be viewed or downloaded (in pdf format) from the link given below:

  • PCB Constitution Document [ Click Here to Download ]
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    'We were competitive in all three Tests' - Malik

    After 20 days of cricket including five ODIs and three Tests, several injuries and rumours about captaincy, Pakistan leave India with little to show in terms of hard results. They won two ODIs, one of which was a dead rubber, and were playing catch-up in each of the three Tests. Shoaib Malik, their captain who missed the last two Tests because of injury, thought otherwise however, suggesting their performance wasn't as bleak as the 3-2 and 1-0 scoreline in the ODI and Test series suggested.

    "We were competitive in all the three Tests,"

    he said after the final day's play.

    "If you look at it, we played badly in the morning session on the third day of the Delhi Test, and that cost us the series. There were a lot of positives to emerge. India scored more than 600 runs not once but twice in a row and we replied with 500."

    A significant reason behind Pakistan's competitiveness in the Tests was the form of Misbah-ul-Haq. He scored 464 runs in six innings and his centuries in Kolkata and Bangalore played crucial roles in Pakistan drawing the last two Tests. Malik had high praise for the batsman who stepped in to fill the gap left by Inzamam-ul-Haq.

    "He was tremendous throughout the series,"

    said Malik.

    "He and [Kamran] Akmal played a big role in us saving the Kolkata Test. Here also, the same pair put on a very good and important stand, and that augurs well for us."

    Akmal, after a poor one-day series, struck form in the Tests. His century in Kolkata complemented Misbah's and he scored an aggressive fifty in Bangalore to help Pakistan past the follow-on mark. However, his keeping in the ODIs was poor and didn't get much better in the Tests.

    But Pakistan's biggest disappointment was perhaps the form of Danish Kaneria. He picked up 19 wickets in three Tests on his last visit to India and played a vital role in the series-levelling win in Bangalore. This time he hardly troubled the batsmen and, although he took 12 wickets, they cost him 52 apiece. Malik defended Kaneria saying that

    "like a batsman has a bad patch, a bowler too sometimes can go through it."

    The other main concern would be over the fitness of key players, an issue that hampered them through the Test series. Malik acknowledged that

    "problems with physical fitness"

    significantly affected their competitiveness and stressed that it was an area they needed to improve upon.

    Mohammad Asif was ruled out of the series before it even began and their bowling attack was further weakened by Umar Gul's back injury and the illnesses that affected Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami before the second Test in Kolkata. Shoaib's back injury during the Bangalore Test left them with a three-man bowling attack in the first innings, allowing India to pile up an impregnable first-innings total.

    Pakistan now have a long gap before their next Test series in March. It provides an ideal window to get their first-choice fast bowlers match-fit and as it is Australia who are visiting, how Pakistan fare in the series could well hinge on the fast bowlers.


    Asif could face three-month rehabilitation

    Mohammad Asif's rehabilitation from elbow injury could rule him out for another three months, which means he may face a race against time to be ready for the home series against Australia in March.

    Asif missed four ODIs out of five against South Africa in October and also the entire tour to India because of his right elbow. The problem is a long-standing one, having forced him to miss three Tests last year against England as well.

    He has just undergone successful keyhole surgery on the elbow in Sydney, Australia. The surgery was carried out by a prominent specialist on Monday.

    "The initial reports are that it was not a major operation and it has been successful,"

    Shafqat Naghmi, Chief Operating Officer of the PCB, told Reuters.

    "But Asif's recovery could take up to three months before he resumes playing,"

    Naghmi said. A specialist will soon determine how long the full rehabilitation period will be.

    "We fear he would require a three-month rest, which means he is certainly out of next month's home series against Zimbabwe,"

    he stated.

    Naghmi also said that Asif might then face a race against time to be completely fit for the home series against Australia, tentatively scheduled to begin from March 9.


    Pakistan Vs India, 3rd Test, Bangalore, 5th day

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007

    India 626 (Ganguly 239, Yuvraj 169, Pathan 102, Arafat 5-161) and 284 for 6 dec (Ganguly 91, Karthik 52) drew with

    Pakistan 537 (Misbah 133*, Younis 80, Butt 68, Akmal 65, Ishant 5-118) and 162 for 7 (Iqbal 51, Kumble 5-60)

    When India left Pakistan just 47 overs to score an improbable 374 for victory, the Bangalore Test appeared to be meandering to a draw. As the opening pair added 44, thoughts turned to how soon the match could be called off but dramatic interventions from Anil Kumble and Yuvraj Singh pushed Pakistan to the precipice before bad light saved them from acute embarrassment with 11 overs still to be bowled. The playing conditions didn't allow the use of floodlights, leaving India to rue a declaration that probably came half an hour too late. However, they would have been satisfied to clinch their first home Test series victory against Pakistan since 1979-80.

    Even when Yasir Hameed and Younis Khan fell in the space of four balls, one bowled by a Kumble express and the other popping up a return catch, it appeared to be a wobble rather than a quake. Salman Butt and Faisal Iqbal steadied the innings with a 29-run stand and, when Butt got a thin edge behind to give Kumble his third wicket of the innings, Pakistan decided to blast their way out of trouble.

    With the fielders crowding the bat, cuts and drives flew to the boundary as Misbah-ul-Haq and Iqbal added 73 at seven an over. Only nine balls remained for the mandatory overs to start when Kumble struck again. A short and fast one drew Iqbal into the pull, and when it looped up to Ishant Sharma at mid-on, all thoughts of handshakes and an early finish disappeared.

    Kamran Akmal walked out to join Misbah, but this time Pakistan's premier rescue act couldn't even get started. Kumble started his cricket as a medium-pace bowler and those roots were very much in evidence in the quicker delivery that deviated away just enough to peg back Akmal's off stump. Mohammad Yousuf avoided the hat-trick, but Yuvraj Singh, the birthday boy, then left his mark on proceedings.

    An arm ball ended Misbah's came on 37, while Yasir Arafat had no answers to one that went straight on. Given the batting qualities of Shoaib Akhtar and Danish Kaneria, India were effectively three decent balls away from a famous victory, but Mohammad Sami kept Yousuf company long enough for the umpires to bring their light-meters out. Once they asked the question, the batsmen were off like a cannonball shot.

    India had their chances before tea as well. Rahul Dravid couldn't grab a thick outside edge from Butt off Kumble's bowling, and the captain was himself the culprit moments later when he spilled a chance at gully after Hameed had flashed outside off stump. Hameed rubbed it in with three fours in an Irfan Pathan over but batting, by and large, was no picnic on a pitch where the bounce had become impossible to predict.

    India certainly found that to be the case when they resumed in the morning, in the lead by 220 runs. There was no excessive urgency or interest in a challenging declaration. With the odd delivery not rising above shin height, their approach was understandable, though any fears that Pakistan might chase down a target in excess of 300 weren't grounded in reality.

    Sourav Ganguly started the morning with an inside edge for four off Sami, and there was four too for Dravid as Yousuf made a complete hash of backing up a throw. But with Shoaib bowling at serious pace and pitching it short, scoring opportunities were hard to come by.

    Kaneria was also brought on early, and proved equally difficult to put away, bowling into the leg-stump rough. Ganguly tried to force the issue with a sprightly saunter down the pitch and an off drive, and when Sami subsequently dropped one short, he played a withering pull to the midwicket boundary.

    Then came the sticky patch. The partnership was worth 152 when Dravid was deceived by a googly from Kaneria, and three balls later, Ganguly slashed a wide ball from Sami straight to Iqbal at gully. His knock ended on 91. Another nine runs and he would have become only the seventh man in history to make a double-hundred and a century in the same Test.

    The sheen was then taken off Yuvraj's birthday celebrations as Rudi Koertzen gave him out caught behind off Sami for two. Replays suggested the bat had made contact with boot rather than ball. Suddenly, 178 for 2 had become 184 for 5, but instead of retreating into a shell, VVS Laxman and Dinesh Karthik upped the ante. Laxman flicked and then square drove Sami for two fours in an over, while Karthik took a shine to Kaneria, clouting a six and two fours over the leg-side field.

    Three balls after lunch, India's immediate prospects, with a tour of Australia looming, were dealt a sickening blow when Laxman took his eyes off a Shoaib bouncer and was struck on the elbow. The physio came out and had a look, but Laxman was clearly in so much pain that there was no option but to come off and perhaps head for a precautionary X-ray.

    Pathan came out to replace him, and his batting form was evident in the cover drives that he played off Shoaib and Kaneria. Karthik, who had a point to prove to the knee-jerk-reaction crew questioning his suitability for Australia, was playing a busy little innings at the other end, sweeping and cutting Kaneria for fours as thoughts turned to sending Pakistan in.

    A straight drive off Arafat got him to his half-century from 66 balls, but when the next ball was edged behind, Kumble called them in. You could hardly have predicted what happened next. India will reflect on missed opportunities, but at the end of the day, they'll take a 1-0 series win, their first against Pakistan on Indian soil since the days when a fresh-faced Kapil Dev was leading the attack.

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