On Sunday, a feverish Gaddafi Stadium will play host to the final of the second edition of the Pakistan Super League.
By hook or by crook, the Pakistan Cricket Board and PSL has convinced local authorities, players, team owners and a smattering of foreign stars to take part.
Metal detectors, sniffer dogs and various stages of entry will punctuate the sell–out crowd’s entry to the stadium in a 2km stretch of security patrolled by over 10,000 security figures, from the local Punjab police to the country’s paramilitary taskforce; the Rangers.
It will be an enormous operation that, insha’Allah, will provide both the public and the teams with a safe environment to crown a winner out of Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi.
The en mass take up of tickets for the final proves just what cricket of this magnitude means to the Pakistan public and the stringent policing of the surrounding area to the stadium an indictment of the risk they are taking to watch a final that many in Dubai would take for granted.
The spate of terrorist attacks over the course of the past two weeks or so have claimed more than 100 lives across Pakistan and, though the stadium is blanketed in its safety net, the rest of the country, will be holding its breath considering the resources exhausted in the Gaddafi’s vicinity and not elsewhere.
It is a minor miracle that the match is going ahead in Lahore, the dedication of PSL chairman Najam Sethi managing to convince those that needed convincing that the match can go ahead without incident.
Sethi’s bloody mindedness must be applauded and that four of Peshawar’s foreign players look like making the trip is a major indictment for Sethi and cricket in Pakistan going forward, but doesn’t quite feel like the ushering of the new dawn that was hoped for.
That was Sethi and the PSL’s main objective, to lead the way in returning Pakistan cricket to Pakistan and forge ahead with eventually taking the entirety of the league back home.
But, considering Quetta’s entire foreign players, commentators Danny Morrison, Ian Bishop, Mel Jones and Alan Wilkins, as well as members of the foreign media and the tournament’s production company – Sunset + Vine – will not make the trip, the issues remain clear.
And this is for just a one-off match, which will see all parties fly in and out without much more than a trip to and from airport and stadium.
When the ambition is to see bilateral internationals return to Pakistan, simply from a logistical sense, how could the government, police and armed forces commit 10,000 people to, say, a series of two T20Is, three ODIs and three Tests and across 45 days, like the one Pakistan will play in West Indies from March to May?
Great news. 2 passes are being issued by PSL marketing for PSL final to Mehr Khalil, the bus driver who saved S Lanka team in 2009 #PSLFinal— Saj Sadiq (@Saj_PakPassion) March 4, 2017
No-one could justify that and this exercise will not see international teams lining up to tour Pakistan like the good old days.
Unfortunately, that still seems some way off as long as the likes of the tragic terrorist attacks that occurred in February continue to pop up in spite of the Pakistan government’s breakthroughs in the last few years.
But the driving force is different now and on Sunday in Lahore, the entire city will be looking to raise its collective middle finger to the terrorists that seek to ruin their country and way of life in a show of strength that proves life goes on and that these cowards will never prevail.
The watching world will be praying Pakistan wins this battle, that it is their day and for one night only, Pakistan rocks to the sounds of the PSL.
The 32-year-old batsman had smashed 100 in the 85-run victory on Thursday and the skipper hit another big score with a 76-run (eight fours) knock in Ireland’s eight-wicket triumph in Dubai.
It was the UAE’s third consecutive loss to the European nation, having also tasted defeat in the Desert T20 in January.
Having electing to bat first after winning the toss, UAE’s experiment in promoting Mohammad Naveed to the top of the order backfired when the 29-year-old was out for just four in the first over.
Captain Rohan Mustafa (17) and Ghulam Shabber (1) both fell to Andy McBrine in quick succession as the hosts were 43-3 with just eight overs played.
Shaiman Anwar (48) and Rameez Shahzad (41) revived the innings with a 76-run stand, which ultimately was their biggest partnership of the day as the hosts were all out for 202 in 47 overs.
Craig Young (3-48) and Andy McBrine (3-42) were the pick of the bowlers for Ireland.
Porterfield and Paul Stirling (41) gave them a strong start before Imran Haider removed the latter. Porterfield became Zahoor Khan’s only victim but Andy Balbirnie’s unbeaten 58 saw them home in 47 overs.
Australia were expected to roll over and play dead during their four-Test series against India. At least that’s the impression one got after reading the comments of former India spinner Harbhajan Singh, who said if the Aussies play well enough, they might lose 3-0 rather than being whitewashed.
India were the favourites going into the series and Australia didn’t have much to lose as they were turning over a new leaf after overhauling their side late last year. Even so, the way in which Steven Smith’s team pulverised the Indians inside three days, stunned everyone, including me. The Indians being thoroughly outplayed in their own game was a remarkable achievement.
Firstly, the Australians need to be given full credit for coming to India fully prepared for all eventualities and staying one step ahead of the hosts in almost every session. Their batsmen showed immense application, be it Smith who gave a masterclass on how to bat on a wicket where the ball was turning square, or Mitchell Starc who smashed the Indian spinners down the ground in both inning and ended up scoring 91 from 94 balls with six hits over the fence.
Their bowling attack was dominated by left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe who altered his line and action after the start of India’s first innings to make the most of a wicket where all that the spinners needed to do was put the ball in the right area and at optimum speed. It was a simple formula that worked brilliantly for O’Keefe, who was duly rewarded with 12 wickets in the match.
So, does the 333-run defeat signal the end of the dream Indian run in Tests and the beginning of a troublesome period? Not quite. And not yet.
It is true that Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja together took 12 wickets, but were not at their best on a pitch that needed less skill and more accuracy. Both the spinners regularly missed the bat by a long way and while that looks good on TV, it doesn’t always translate into wickets. After the Aussies took a 155-run lead, the writing was on the wall and the Indian bowling lost its sting in the second outing.
But this does not mean Ashwin and Jadeja have lost some of their skill or O’Keefe and Lyon are decidedly better than them. On flatter wickets, the variations and skill level of Ashwin and Jadeja will become more apparent. They have been doing so for a year and a half, playing pivotal roles in India’s run of 19 unbeaten Tests before the Pune debacle. When matches are played on wickets like the one we witnessed in the first match, it creates a picture that may not exactly reflect reality when it comes to individual players.
Yes, as a team the Australians were better and grabbed every opportunity that came their way. But it doesn’t mean over the course of the next three matches, O’Keefe and Lyon should continue to outperform Ashwin and Jadeja. The latter duo have proven themselves over many years and the visitors are not an established pair as yet.
We must look at this loss as an aberration though. It will be unfair to this Indian team, if we looked at it any other way.#INDvAUS— Sanjay Manjrekar (@sanjaymanjrekar) February 25, 2017
If the remaining matches are played on flatter wickets, expect the subtle variations of Ashwin to make a greater impact than other bowlers because his fundamentals are still exceptionally strong.
Earlier, when India used to tour outside the subcontinent, they would hope for a spicy wicket so that the gap between their bowlers and that of the hosts reduces and there is a greater chance of victory. But on flat wickets in Australia, England and South Africa, India never really stood a chance.
The situation has reversed now. This home season, the Indians have been brilliant on ‘good’ wickets where it becomes a matter of patience and discipline, both from the batsmen and bowlers.
Kohli has relied on huge first innings totals and the pressure of the scoreboard in the second innings to chip away at the opposition and that is why India had managed to remain unbeaten despite conceding huge first innings totals against England, and even Bangladesh.
India, for the right reasons, started overwhelming favourites. This is an astonishing result for Australia. The underdog has his day.— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) February 25, 2017
India will be hoping to return to that template in the second Test in Bangalore. Australia too shouldn’t mind it as that would mean more opportunities for their batsmen to score big and their pacers Starc and Josh Hazlewood to have an impact.
It would be disrespectful to take any credit away from the Australians for their clinical display against massive odds. It would also be unfair to berate the Indians as they have delivered consistently over a long period and maintained a high level of intensity and discipline with the bat, ball and in the field.
As Kohli admitted, the Pune humiliation was a wake-up call and the team realises what needs to be done to raise their game. How they play their cricket from here on will show if the Indians are made of sterner stuff. If not, the confidence in the Australian camp will keep multiplying. And then we can take out the knives and have a go at the No1 Test team.