Twenty20: The Grown up Ramazan Innovation
We Pakistanis started T20 cricket. Yes, we did and not South Africa or England. In fact, the Pakistan Super League (PSL) is just the reincarnation in Pakistan of what started in the late 70s as the Post-Packer Syndrome began in Nazimabad, Karachi.
You see, the first time night matches were played under floodlights was when Kerry Packer launched his rebel World Series Cricket in the winter of 1977 and included night games for higher viewership as well as some novelty.
Pakistan, specifically Karachi was the first to adopt this emerging prospect. Except it took root at a far lower level than in Australia where it was played on proper cricket grounds, albeit a couple that were essentially football and rugby fields.
A few close-to-retirement Test cricketers actually took fees to participate in neighbourhood competitions that started late at night and went up till the wee hours of the morning. LED lights were hung over the streets; T-junctions ideally.
The sub-innovation was the tape ball, white tape wrapped over the tennis ball. And of course the matches being played 20 to 25 overs per innings. Within months, entire neighbourhoods would be lit up simultaneously on Thursday nights; Friday being the weekly holiday in those days.
The venues for this eventually graduated to the club and neighbourhood grounds, where the extra element of lights on bamboo poles came up. Eventually, on some proper cricket grounds, small light towers were installed. A case in point was the A.O. Clinic ground in North Nazimabad.
By now the concept was spreading across Pakistan. The rules were as envisaged by the WSC – inner circle with field restrictions and bowlers’ quota to mention just two.
As the idea caught traction, the all-night Ramazan tournament was born. Matches would begin around 11 in the night after taraveeh and proceed till shortly before sehri time. It started with neighbourhood tournaments like the Nazimabad Cup and sprouted to the city level.
Soon sponsorships came and brands started associating with them. Lipton was one of those that started, with Medicam and Tapal also adding their names. The prize money that started at Rs. 25,000 went into six figures shortly.
With more brands entering and not enough grounds to host tournaments that so many wanted to organize the Ramzan tournament debuted in the afternoon also to enable two tournaments on the same ground or accommodate more teams. Matches would start around 1.30 or 2 pm and finish before iftar. I remember myself sponsoring such a Ramzan tournament at the Karachi Gymkhana in the early 1990s.
Today 40 years later, all players have become professional and charge various fees for participating. Not only that, players play both afternoon and night matches. Televising the events have helped too. Sports channels find their content and organizers can charge sponsors more. It has therefore become a mini-industry with everyone making money.
In all this, the fact remains that Pakistan deserves to be credited with the initiation of the 20-20 format. I recently saw a documentary on SuperSport where Mike Haysman was insisting that SuperSport launched 20-20 cricket in the early 2000s and that England claim credit for the idea by launching in 2004.
Of course, Haysman wouldn’t know that Pakistan launched the format and the competition more than 20 years before the SuperSport tournament.
It got daily media coverage in newspapers, just that private TV channels didn’t exist at the time and neither did PTV Sports, so TV coverage was impossible. But the records show that it was in full swing even in the 1980s. Pakistan is the creator of the 20-20 format. Period
The four-nation theory gets shot down
It was a concept delivered to the International Cricket Council (ICC) board with a lot of fanfare by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) but as expected, it met with a big NO even though the rejection by the members was mentioned in polite terms to PCB.
An idea that had originally been floated some years back by Saurav Ganguly — though he had omitted Pakistan and asked New Zealand as the fourth side to play with India, Australia and England — and tabled again by Ramiz Raja earlier this year was, as said at the time was a nonstarter.
The reason given is an enormously busy calendar and fear of mitigating the marquee ICC events that are taking place almost every year now. That was not why I’d thought Ramiz’s proposal would be shot down. My thinking had been that no way would the Indian foreign ministry allow a match between India and Pakistan sneak through the back door.
Playing against each other in ICC events where admittedly India and Pakistan are kept in the same group to ensure that is another thing. It is disguised as unavoidable and part of global competition. But to deliberately have a tournament that PCB had hyped as the platform for a regular India-Pakistan game was asking India for the moon.
What had also made me doubtful was how this would be taken by the other member nations who weren’t invited to the party. Had this been proposed as part of a private arrangement among the countries, it would have been understandable. But to put it in front of those members who were, well, not invited was communicating an insult, even if there was money on the table for everyone from the expected revenue of US$175 million over 5 years.
Having said all that, and the fact that ICC does not at the moment allow anything more than a triangular tournament by member boards, the idea could have gone much further had it come from India where it had originated minus Pakistan.
But with IPL as an annual money churner over 8 weeks and hosting the 2023 World Cup and always the beneficiary of other ICC events, a quadrangular is like yesterday’s fashion for BCCI. It’s also cold soup for them now that they have a warm feast for themselves.
Lessons from the Australian tour
Pakistan secured a fantastic victory in the second ODI in Lahore and the momentum took them to a 2-1 series win in the ODI series against Australia.
But before and after these two games is what should not be brushed under the carpet in the wake of the party mood brought on by the marvellous and inspiring batting by Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam.
I just feel there is still an element of bonhomie and friendship bias in the selection of the match team. Since the time Ramiz has empowered the captain for the final choice of the playing eleven, Babar, despite his heroics with the bat, has to shoulder responsibility for the lack of balance that was evident in both the red and the white-ball sides. As well as the inclusion of a couple of players that seems to defy ground reality.
A miserably out of form Hasan Ali was persisted in the latter two Tests but the stupefying choice came for the first ODI after his mundane Test performance. OK, given that Shaheen Shah Afridi didn’t play the first ODI so his experience was required even though experience can’t make up for lack of form.
But to bring him back for the T20 game after being dropped following a lacklustre first game bordered on the ridiculous. It was also hugely disrespectful to fine bowlers like Shahnawaz Dahani who had his PSL7 credentials emblazoned on his chest.
Then I couldn’t understand how Haider Ali was not picked. He has the one ingredient that is particular to theT20 format. Flamboyance. He takes the fight to the bowlers and to the opposite captain, as is the character of the shorter format. Khushdil, of course, deserved his spot fully but to prefer Iftikhar over Haider in the T20 considering he wasn’t asked to bowl was simply not on, considering even in PSL7 Haider finished higher in the averages.
It is this consistent adherence to conservatism that is causing harm to what is an immensely talented squad. There are players of equal or better talent that are being wasted.
There is a limit to persevering with those who Babar thinks got the feel of the opposition’s previous game even if they didn’t do much. Only the team management knows how much the inclusion of Hasan and Iftikhar was due to Babar’s insistence.
But if he has been nominated to make the final call, then he has to stand up and take responsibility. He deserves all plaudits for his tremendous batting that secured an incredible win in what was Pakistan’s biggest ODI chase. But this is another issue.
What Babar must be credited with is that he has changed his approach as a T20 opener and now going for his shots from the start. He deserves plaudits for that as he has responded to criticism of his past ascetic approach in powerplays. What we saw in the sole T20I was refreshing as he raced to his 50 off just 33 balls. He was inventive and more importantly, brave in his shots.
He did get into his former groove as two wickets fell off 2 balls and that’s where he has to learn from the Australian way to go with the momentum you have established.
He will no doubt point to the later collapse and inertia once he got out but let the others take responsibility for their failures. You can’t slow down once you’ve got your foot on the accelerator.
Kamran’s unsavoury swipe against Babar Azam
Ironic that the brothers who are alleged to have looked down on Babar when he was finding his way in cricket and famously wouldn’t lend their shoes to him when he couldn’t afford to buy them, are now commenting on his selfishness.
I was appalled when I saw Kamran Akmal give that interview a few days back where he demanded more selflessness from cricketers and cited Babar Azam as an example.
Babar has never been selfish, just conscious that his early wicket can lead to a collapse. That has constrained him in the powerplays when he has opened in the T20s. But a player of his calibre can never be insecure and play for his place in the side, especially when he’s just been made captain.
Yes he captained defensively in the Test series but that was part of the strategy by the team management; even chairman Ramiz Raja owned up to it. But at no point was Babar selfish.
Kamran demands that hundreds must produce victories. Well, Babar has an ODI average of 91.46 in matches Pakistan have won and has 12 hundreds in those games compared to three hundreds when Pakistan have lost. There’s one in a tied match.
Kamran wanting him to have 30-35 hundreds by the time he finishes to be counted among greats should realize he’s got those 16 hundreds in just his first 5 years. At this rate, he should end up with 45 hundreds.
In T20s Babar has 19 fifties and one hundred in the games Pakistan has won with 6 fifties when Pakistan have lost. That is the impact player he is.
In fact, Kamran who also opened in white-ball cricket, averages 36.37 in the games Pakistan won and has five hundreds in those 66 innings. In the 27 T20s where he opened, Kamran has three fifties only.
This comparison should cull Kamran’s criticism. In fact, it’s sad that Kamran had to come out and make a statement like that. He has on his day been a good opener and has some fine knocks that have helped Pakistan’s cause.
He already has a sullied reputation that made him unpopular even when he was playing due to all the shenanigans, especially against Zulqarnain Haider and Sarfaraz Ahmed when they were threats to his place in the Pakistan side.
On another note, the youngest brother Umer Akmal, who made his comeback this year in PSL7 for Quetta Gladiators, has announced his ambition to play again for Pakistan as a wicketkeeper-batter.
No harm in good intentions and his determination should be admired in the face of competitors like Mohammad Haris and Azam Khan aspiring for Rizwan’s place.
For that matter, stranger comebacks have occurred. Mansoor Akhtar comes to mind, coming back after four years to play the 1987 World Cup and then again two years later to play 3 ODIs against India.
It was probably the most camouflaged national one-day tournament in Pakistan’s cricket history, running parallel to a high-profile Test series also at home.
In fact, the final took place before the 3rd ODI and the only T20I. Luckily it was televised and it was heartening to see the weaker side take the trophy so emphatically. That too against defending champions Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) which have monopolised trophies due to their extraordinary talent.
What was good to see was Yasir Shah taking wickets and leading his side to the championship. He’d been dropped since the tour of West Indies last year citing lack of form and fitness but he took 24 wickets in the tournament at only 22.67.
At a time when Nauman Ali and Sajid Shah failed to make an impact in the Test series and neither was Zahid Mahmood much effective in the ODIs, questions can be raised on why he was kept out.
Through his performance, he has indeed tapped the shoulders of the selectors for looking him up for the tour of Sri Lanka in the summer.