Wasim Akram has described the Sunday night final of the Pakistan Super League in Lahore as “a great occasion” for the country and scores of cricket fans, expressing hope that it will be staged without any hitches and pave the way for more cricket in Pakistan in the future.
Akram, the cricket director for Islamabad United and a brand ambassador of the PSL, shifted to the commentary box after his team lost to Karachi Kings in the second qualifying final on Wednesday.
Danny Morrison, Mel Jones and Alan Wilkins, who commentated on the PSL up until the third qualifying final between Karachi and Peshawar Zalmi in Dubai on Friday all refused to travel to Lahore citing security concerns, while Ian Bishop has flown home to be a part of the commentary team for the West Indies v England series.
“The PSL final in Lahore is a great occasion for Pakistan as well as for the millions of fans in the country, who have been deprived of watching their players for some time now,” Akram told Wisden India. “I am myself going to Gaddafi Stadium after ten years so it’s a great occasion and we all hope and pray that it happens successfully because a lot depends on this match. Our future in cricket also depends on this.”
Peshawar, who beat Karachi to qualify for the final, have the edge against Quetta Gladiators in the title round, felt Akram.
“Zalmi will have some advantage because of their foreign players, while Quetta’s top foreign players are no more with them. But Twenty20 is different and if you play well you carry the day, so no team is favourite,” he said, adding that he was impressed by Sarfraz Ahmed, the Quetta captain. “I like Sarfraz’s aggressive style and since he is also Pakistan’s one-day and Twenty20 captain, that is an added advantage for him.”
Quetta, who lost to Islamabad in the final last year, are going to be without Kevin Pietersen, Luke Wright, Tymal Mills and Rilee Rossouw, who have been replaced by Anamul Haque, Sean Ervine, Elton Chigumbura and Morne van Wyk.
This article originally featured on WisdenIndia.com and was written by Shahid Hashmi.
Pakistan’s ascent to becoming the number one Test team in the world last year had its headline makers.
Misbah-ul-Haq was rightly praised for their rise, six years in the making and during international exile.
Younis Khan’s hundreds when they needed him the most, Yasir Shah’s race to 100 Test wickets and the return of Mohammad Amir were wonderful stories to tell.
They were all blockbuster stories, but Pakistan’s rise would not have been possible without the ensemble cast of characters in support.
Chief among them was Asad Shafiq, who in 2016 offered solidity and consistency to the team.
He also nearly pulled off the most remarkable win in Test cricket’s illustrious history in Brisbane with his Test best knock of 137.
At 31, Shafiq is entering his golden years and the man from Karachi is determined to ensure 2016 serves only as the start of things to come and is not remembered in the future as his best year.
It is so far [the best year of my career] but my best is yet to come,” Shafiq told Sport360 on the sidelines of the Pakistan Super League. “I’m working hard on my game to improve every day and to get better every day.”
Pakistan fans will hope he is nowhere near done, with Shafiq a vital part of the succession plan come the looming retirements of Misbah and Younis.
The rejig of the Pakistan batting order is already well underway, with Azhar Ali promoted to opener and Babar Azam coming into the side at number three.
Sharjeel Khan’s spot-fixing suspension, something Shafiq says doesn’t concern him, is likely to complicate things further.
For many, when Babar breezed into the side at three it was foolhardy to have overlooked Shafiq in favour of the new kid on the block.
Babar’s first forays into Test cricket could surely have been made easier ones by batting down the order and Shafiq’s experience at three invaluable to a side in transition and suffering a wobble.
Shafiq, who has the highest number of Test centuries batting at six (nine) and is 342 runs off Steve Waugh’s record for the most in that position, admits he would like to bat higher up the order but is adamant that the team’s desires come before his own.
“I think it’s not about my personal thing, it’s about the team and what Misbah and the coach thinks. They made a plan and they told me they want me to play at six,” said Shafiq.
“Personally, I always prefer to bat at the top of the order, number three or four. I’d like to be there but what matters is what the team requires from me.
“If the team want me to play at six then I’m really happy with this as well.”
For now, Shafiq’s focus is on the ongoing PSL tournament in Dubai where he is opening the batting for Quetta Gladiators.
Having played just 10 T20Is, Shafiq would like to improve his Twenty20 record and find a place for his elegance in the longer format in the savagery of 20-over cricket.
For Shafiq it is all part of a learning curve.
“It’s going very nicely for me so far because it’s a big opportunity for me and for every player in the league to perform well and perform in front of everybody,” said Shafiq. “It’s a good platform for me as well to learn more about Twenty20 cricket.”
So far in this year’s tournament, Shafiq has been criticised by some as not being suited to the format and a return of 85 runs from three innings at an average of 28.33 and strike-rate of 102.40 is a world away from the sort of brutality that brings batsmen T20 success.
But Shafiq is well aware of where he wants, and needs, to develop his game.
“I really wanted to improve my strike-rate. In this format, strike-rate is very important so I really wanted to improve my strike-rate and average as well,” he said.
“It’s about intensity. I have to take my intensity level up to score big in this format because it’s a very short format so you don’t have much time to get in, really get set and then play your shots. I have to change my approach and I want to improve my intensity.
“[Power hitting] really matters sometimes, especially the last three or four overs when you need to be power hitting and I’m working on this as well.”
Enigmatic Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi finally called it a day on the international scene late on Sunday night, bringing to an end one of Pakistan cricket’s most renowned careers.
It was inevitable and Afridi had been waiting for a send-off he believed befitted his career in the green and gold of his country.
He reportedly demanded a farewell series, then a match, to say goodbye to his fans but instead found a fitting way to bid adieu with a superb innings of 54 from 28 balls in the PSL at Sharjah.
His knock was brutal, giving his side hope seemingly from nowhere before falling agonisingly short of leading his team to victory.
A case of so near, yet so far. An innings capturing the imagination of his adoring public but ending in defeat.
It was the most Afridi of things. A microcosm of his career.
Since blisteringly announcing himself to the world stage as a 16-year-old with a 37-ball 100 against Sri Lanka in his second ODI way back in 1996, Afridi has long been the shining light of Pakistan cricket.
That light certainly faded over the past few years and flickered for the majority of his career but Afridi’s ability to magically muster awe-inspiring performances out of the hat resonated with the Pakistan public.
For Pathans, he is an idol incomparable but for many outside of Pakistan cricket – and many within it – Afridi’s international career was more frustrating than compelling viewing.
He so often struggled to find consistency and riled opposition, team-mates and coaches alike in a career filled with clashes.
In T20Is, Afridi did find individual success and he leaves the game as the format’s most capped player and leading wicket-taker with 97 scalps in 98 matches.
His leg-spin is beguiling, the drift, speed, turn and variety on offer worthy of a dissertation all of its own.
But, with the bat, it is only in Test cricket – the format he enjoyed the least and scandalously only played 27 times – that his batting average betters that of his bowling.
For a premier all-rounder so naturally adept in all of the sport’s arts that makes infuriating reading, but Afridi’s star power tends to transcend numbers.
He is the kind of man that makes knees weak as soon as he walks into a room, the aura of a rockstar complimenting the customary aviators.
And therein lies the Afridi conundrum, that of a man willed by perception, be it out of his control or orchestrated by it.
Some will never forget the tempestuous captaincy, biting of balls and pirouettes on the pitch.
For others, the image of a 16-year-old sending the ball to all parts and the feisty competitor carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders will win out.
You know which one Afridi would like you to remember.
However you choose to remember Afridi’s career, one thing we can all agree on is that there was never a dull moment.