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Riding the Rollercoaster . . . . What its really like to be a Pakistan fan.

Merriam-Webster, the Oxford dictionary, along with other sources, define "fan" as a shortened version of the word fanatic. Fans usually have a strong enough interest in a team, that some changes in their lifestyles are made to accommodate devotion to the focal object.

The Pakistan Cricket Team has some of the most dedicated & devoted supporters in the cricket world, travelling far and wide to ensure that the team feels that it is appreciated. Among their ranks is a hardcore group of “Characters” who have made it their mission to show unbridled support for Team Green at as many fixtures as possible, both in the UK and further afield. 

This group of hardcore cricket fans have become a phenomenon all by themselves making innumerable appearances on TV both during & after matches and even organised a dedicated Pakistan Team Supporters bus, that has toured various playing venues during the 2016 Pakistan tour of England.

I caught up with these guys on their way to the T20 at Old Trafford, where they will face England in the last fixture on the 2016 tour of England.

JF: So how long have you guys been Pakistan Cricket Fans?

Mr Pakistan: We have been going the games as characters since 2010, but have been going to matches for a long time. We have watched the guys on TV since we were young, so there’s a longstanding affection & affiliation with Pakistan cricket.

JF: Can you remember the first game you saw live at a stadium?

Mr Pakistan: The Sheikh went to his first live cricket game in 1986, I saw my first game in 1987.

JF: How many games have you been to?

Mr Pakistan: Loads; far too many to remember all of them. I have been to at least one game (but usually more) on every Pakistan tour of England since 1987. I have been fortunate enough to have watched Pakistan play cricket in 8 countries worldwide.

JF: Who is your favourite player & why?

Mr Pakistan: Personally I try not to have favourite players, just as I try not to despise any particular player. I support whoever wears the shirt, because it’s the name on the front of the shirt that matters; not the one on the back. Having said that, I have great respect for Misbah, who took control during one of Pakistan Cricket’s darkest times, only to steer this often volatile ship to a global number one ranking in Test cricket, despite not playing a single Test in Pakistan. A huge achievement by an stretch of the imagination.

JF: What was the most exciting game you have been to?

Mr Pakistan: Pakistan v India games are always exciting no matter what the result and the 2004 Champions Trophy match at Edgbaston springs immediately to mind, along with the 2011 World Cup win over Australia in Colombo. But my all-time favourite match, for obvious reasons, was the 2009 T20 World Cup final at Lords.

JF: How long have you dressed as a character at the games ( & is there a back story behind your character?)

Mr Pakistan: We started dressing as characters in 2010, during the two friendship matches against Australia at Edgbaston. Initially it was just for the two games as we were not sure of the reactions we would get from other supporters. However, because of the overwhelmingly positive support and encouragement we received, we decided to continue doing it. 

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JF:  We see you guys on TV a lot; what is the furthest you have ever travelled to watch Pakistan play?Mr Pakistan:  Australia, Sri lanka, the West Indies and the UAE.

JF: How do your wives feel about you spending so much time at cricket?

Mr Pakistan: We are all very lucky and have understanding wives, and they enjoyed the novelty of seeing us on TV at the games. But as with all relationships, we have our differences but the secret is to balance our home life & our cricket life. Taking them on great holidays also helps!

JF: Some fans are sponsored to support their National Teams; are you guys sponsored?

Mr Pakistan: We have never been sponsored and we pay for all our trips ourselves. We work super hard to save up enough money to make sure we can support the guys at as many matches as possible. That said; factoring in the amount of television coverage we attract both inside and outside a stadium, any sponsor would definitely get their money’s worth.

JF: How do you cope with the teams Win / Loss record?

Mr Pakistan: Everyone has heard the saying “Winning & losing is part of the game” but few actually take comfort from that. I always say we should remain humble in victory & gracious in defeat. Winning is not the be all and end all of the day. Turning up, watching the team, showing our support is what really makes our day. Winning is the icing on the cake; but wholeheartedly supporting is the main body of it.

JF:  If you cannot watch Pakistan play cricket, which other team (any sport) do you follow?

Mr Pakistan: I’ve been to a few Liverpool football matches and some of the guys support Manchester United. We love sports and will watch boxing, F1, snooker, hockey, the Olympics.

JF: Will we see you guys at the next cricket world cup?

Mr Pakistan: As long as we can afford it, we will travel to support the Pakistan cricket team

JF:  Seems like there’s an opportunity here for a forward thinking corporate sponsor. I do hope that you get a sponsor to help out, because I can tell you from personal experience, it makes a real difference having familiar faces cheering the team on, when you are foreign soil.

Take care guys, have a safe journey & good luck today. We will be looking out for you on TV.

Julien Fountain was talking to Mr Pakistan, The Sheikh of Pakistan, The Doctor of Pakistan, Pilot of Pakistan.

You can follow @JulienFountain @MrPakistan1992 & @PakistanSheikh on Twitter & Instagram

(Footnote . . . . What an incredible game this turned out to be. Some fantastic cricket by Pakistan. A superb way to end the UK tour. Congratulations)

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Conquering Everest, Misbah style . . .

“Conquering Everest” -  Misbah style . . .

Contemplating his next ascent.

Contemplating his next ascent.

Anybody who follows cricket will tell you that Test Cricket is the pinnacle of the sport of cricket. Steeped in history, brimming with tales of conquering heroes and plucky underdogs; you’ve only got to look at the names given to Test Cricket series such as “The Ashes” or “The Border Gavaskar” or the “Frank Worrell” to see that the contest holds almost mythical status, harping back to a bygone era.

To play three two hour sessions each day, for five days, is like playing fifteen individually wrapped, but intrinsically linked, separate games of cricket. And then, once you have survived that, there are usually at least two or three more with only 3-4 days between the finish of one and the start of the next. And those of us a little older can remember Test series being five games, not a paltry three or four. Truly a mammoth test of any elite athlete’s stamina and ability.

The ICC ranks each of the Test Cricket playing nations, using a points based system. Teams play in a varied often chaotic calendar and points are duly awarded along the way. For a team to rank number one is a fantastic achievement by any stretch of the imagination. It means they have surpassed a wide variety of opponents in all aspects of the game of cricket. As any sports player, fan or aficionado will tell you; the home field advantage plays an integral role in any teams results predictions or strategy. In fact, soccer devised the “Away Goals” rule that actually takes into account the perceived difficulty of playing at venues other that your own home ground.

Given the fact that Pakistan, captained by Misbah ul Haq, have achieved the No 1 Test ranking without having played a home Test Match since 2009. That’s seven years of either playing away, or at neutral venues. No other major cricket playing nation has ever had to cope with such adversity and it is a testament to the leadership of Misbah ul Haq and his dogged determination to overcome the odds and achieve success for his country.

Some may say that it’s only a number one ranking, and all the major cricket nations get there at some stage; very few of them have had to overcome such a major handicap as Pakistan’s ban from playing international fixtures at home.  To put this into perspective, over 4000 people have climbed to the summit of Everest since 1953, something that most people would consider an almost impossible achievement; yet less than 1% of those were by people with a disability. Their ability to not only overcome the mountain, but do it despite it being infinitely tougher for them, as compared to an able bodied climber, shows true mettle.

So take a bow Team Pakistan; you have climbed cricket’s "Everest", and shown the world that it is  possible to turn an adversity into an opportunity.

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Three things Pakistan must both embrace & conquer this summer

Pakistan are touring England this summer and I for one am going to watching it with an eager anticipation. Touring England is a tough job for most teams from the subcontinent; let’s take a look at some of the challenges that the guys may face on this trip in 2016.

1.   A New Coach

Teams have to hire new coaches, its just how it is. So with a big tour to England & a new coach in Mickey Arthur, Pakistan has to be in a positive frame of mind. He brings a wealth of experience from a wide range of teams and formats. Clearly if the tour goes well, Mickey becomes a hero; if the tour goes badly he becomes the proverbial whipping boy. In a fair and balanced world everybody will understand that Mickey cannot change the world in a couple of months, however sometimes certain portions of the cricket media can look for scapegoats rather quickly. Primarily this will be one political camp accusing the other of being bad at their job in order to promote their own agenda. I hope that he gets a fair chance to plan and implement his own policies and measures over a suitable timescale, along with the cooperation of the board, the players, the fan's & the media; as he will be the one who is ultimately held accountable if the team fails over the longer term. The addition of some new backroom staff will inevitably bring new ideas, attitudes & different standards which will present themselves as time progresses.

2.   English Pitches & weather

Braving the cold climate

Braving the cold climate

England can be a brutal place to tour if you come from a hot climate. Even at the peak of the so called British summer, temperatures can plummet making spending long periods out on the field pretty taxing. Hand warmers become de rigueur for most tourist’s and I hope Pakistan will have plenty of them in case of emergencies. Hard ball plus cold hands equals fielding mistakes & dropped catches. Then there’s the pitches. Some will seam some will bounce, and don’t rule out the swing from England’s pace attack. Batting in the UK requires the ability to adjust mid shot, as you bring your bat through,  because the ball may be changing it's location due to swinging conditions. Hitting blindly through the ball is a recipe for snicks to the slips & keeper. One things for sure, both sets of pace bowlers have the ability to create problems for batters, so only the toughest batters (physically & mentally) will succeed. 

3.   History

There is a lot of cricket history between England & Pakistan, when Pakistan tour England. Some good, some not so good. We have rarely had a Pakistan tour that has not made headlines for both on field & off field occurrences. Pakistan is a proud nation, especially on a cricket field, and I hope that the team is judged solely on their “on Field” performance alone. With a mix of experience and youth in the Test Squad, it will certainly be an exciting series. Batting at Lords brings the slope on the wicket, bowling and fielding at Old Trafford can be tricky when the weather is unsettled. Both the Test's and ODI's will be tough fights and both sides will be keen to exert their dominance early on.

One thing is certain, Pakistan playing England at the Oval on 14 August is going to be a huge boost to the team’s morale. With some of Pakistan’s most experienced campaigners in Misbah, Hafeez & Younis they have a core group of players who have played England in England previously; let’s hope that the 20-year wait, will soon be over.

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"PSL will be an even bigger success in 2017"

By Julien Fountain (23rd March, 2016)

I think its only right and proper to start my latest blog by saying a huge “Well Done” to the PCB, the organizing committee, the franchise owners, the players, the backroom staffs and everybody who had a hand in the recently concluded Pakistan Super League. It was, without doubt, a roaring success and I for one am looking forward to the 2017 edition already. Hopefully next year Quetta Gladiators will be victorious. Failing that, we’ll challenge everybody else at soccer, because we would definitely win at that!

It is not an easy task organizing a national domestic competition, never mind locating it offshore. All the usual teething problems with the first edition of an event are going to be harder to cope with, but problem solving outside your own country brings with it a host of other issues, not least the basics of venue management and day to day logistics.

So taking that into consideration, I felt the inaugural PSL was a wonderful competition, easily fitting into the global fixture list of T20 cricket competitions. The annual cricket calendar is definitely enhanced by the addition of a Pakistan centered event. Obviously it will be the goal of all concerned, to move the competition onto Pakistan soil when the situation allows; but until such time as that is
possible, the UAE provides a natural hosting solution that allows it to be as much a domestic Pakistan event as possible. Both Dubai and Sharjah are wonderful venues, for different reasons, but both provide a unique experience for both players and fans alike.

Dubai is a beautiful modern, symmetrical stadium that, in my opinion, gives both the athlete and the spectator an experience to be cherished. Its shape allows crowd noise to amplify and rebound back and forth across the playing field, assisted by the roof which seems to trap the noise and reflect it.

The “Ring of Fire” provides a wonderful lighting solution, that I have not heard many criticize. Whilst some people may disagree with me here, I feel that it has a similar feel to it as the old MCG from the nineties, where the wall of noise that greets the opposition is simply awe inspiring.

Opening the dressing room door at either venue, when the crowd is near capacity, and is in full flow; you are greeted with an almost physical wall of sound that can make it feel like you are being pushed backwards. I am sure many a player will have thought about retreating to the safety of his dressing room spot, rather than face the seemingly millions of opposition fans crammed into DSC.

Sharjah, meanwhile, definitely has that old school charm that we don’t often see in the modern, multi-million dollar stadiums around the world. Its old, oddly shaped stands bring the fans much closer to the action, than at many venues. It feels a little like an English County Ground from the eighties (until the noise erupts !)

This harks back to the golden years of Pakistan cricket, as we see replays on TV of Wasim, Waqar, Javed and Inzamam in button up shirts with rolled up long sleeve shirts, firing the ball into the stumps of the great names from the past, or flaying the ball to all corners. Sharjah allows todays players and fans to feel a connection to the great teams and great players from the past, which makes it very
special.

The crowd is much closer to the action at Sharjah, so despite significantly lower capacity, the volume experienced in the center of the pitch is able to rival some of the newer, multi million dollar stadiums for intensity. Where Sharjah proves successful is its location, as it is very accessible to Pakistani fans who live in the area.

With the UAE acting as Pakistan’s home venue for now, it looks as if the PSL will be an even bigger success in 2017 and I for one am looking forward to being a part of it, should I get the opportunity!

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"Thank you Younis Khan"

By Julien Fountain (14th November, 2015) 

To be or not to be, that is the question . . .

To be or not to be, that is the question . . .

By the time you read this, you will have no doubt read countless other articles about Younis Khan and his recent retirement from ODIs. So I will not try and compete with the many journalists who have listed his career achievements, career statistics etc etc. Instead I will give you my own personal take on Younis Khan the sportsman, the ambassador, the person. 

Having been involved with Pakistan cricket, first in 2001, then again in 2006 and finally 2012-2014, and over the years I have seen a variety of player personalities and psychology. There are those who work hard for show, and there are those who simply work hard. Younis is most definitely the latter. 

He does not make a huge song and dance about receiving throw downs from the new head coach; instead being completely happy with working with whomsoever has the time available to work with him. He does not insist on batting, and batting, and batting, and batting until the coach’s arm is hanging by a thread; instead he will specify he only wants 18 balls, thrown in multiples of 3, each with a specific objective in mind. 

My recollection of Younis is that despite being one of the senior players, and one of the older guys, he was always first on his feet to start a drill. He was always at the front of the queue to start a practice. He seldom if ever complained, and went about his preparation in a methodical and workmanlike manner. 

Many players talk a big game, but when push comes to shove, they would rather sit one out, than go the extra mile. Younis and Misbah are both shining examples to any prospective team member. Both know exactly what they need to do to prepare for a game. Both put in extra effort to ensure that they are ready for battle. 

From a coach’s perspective, working with Younis both on his batting and on his fielding, was a really good experience. He would not expect a million balls to be thrown at him, with no real plan. He would not expect to catch an endless stream of balls hit at him; instead opting to set targets and goals in order to make the practice competitive. 

In fact, even when having throw downs, Younis would set targets and goals and challenge the coaches to be able to get him out. And for the record, he would be humble and congratulatory should that occur occasionally ! 

He approaches his kitbag in exactly the same manner. He would meticulously pack and repack his equipment, cleaning and tidying items where required. You can always tell which is Younis’s area as it will be distinctly well organized and tidy. Woe betide you if you stray into his clean and tidy area with your untidy clothes or equipment bags. I remember in a slightly cramped changing room, where he was positioned between two slightly untidy people (myself & A.N other) I returned to the changing room after a practice one day to find that there were two neat strips of tape that marked the “Borders” of Younis territory. Needless to say, we did not stray into YK governed territory after that! 

Younis always has time to discuss things, cricket and non cricket; which was really helpful to me as he had a wealth of experience to impart to students of the game. He was always able to engage in a debate about a topic, without resulting in a shouting match to prove a point. 

Over a twenty-year career I have been fortunate enough to coach some of the world's most famous players; but if I had to choose the person I enjoyed working with the most, Younis Khan and his infectious enthusiasm combined with consummate professionalism, tends to come out on top.

Thank you Younis, I wish you well for the future.

 

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"Law 24.2 strikes again"

By Julien Fountain (16th August, 2015)

Law 24.2 Strikes again . . .

Pakistan all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez has been banned from bowling in international cricket for 12 months after his action was found to be illegal for a second time since November 2014. He will be able to have his action reassessed by the ICC only after this period is completed.

So, the rule 24.2 strikes again and yet another spinner bites the proverbial dust. Who is to blame and what can we do to stop this travesty happening in the future?

The legality of bowling actions has always been a debatable topic at all levels of the game. Surely it is the responsibility of grassroots coaches to ensure that a young players bowling action is considered legal when a player starts to play the game at an early age.

But for the last few years, the plethora of high profile role models from around the globe has meant that this so called “Questionable action” has not been questioned, until now. Is that the fault of their grass roots coaches or the ICC for not policing law 24.2 strictly and effectively enough for the last twenty years?

Clearly, the tactical advantages that may be afforded by a player using an illegal action; have been overlooked by coaches, captains and players in a bid to gain a competitive edge at any cost. If role models at the international level are doing it, surely we cannot be surprised when all our youngsters start imitating it and start achieving similar results

Unfortunately, this means that long term a young bowler is treading a very fine line; especially if they go on to play cricket at a professional level where their actions can now be put under a TV microscope by all and sundry.

So if this is the new policy, surely it must be a two-pronged attack. On the one hand all the dubious actions must be dealt with at the professional end of the game. Now this is not going to be easy, and least of all for the players themselves. They have been using this action for many years, and have not been told to modify it until now. It is bound to be a very difficult undertaking for many.

The second step is to ensure that youth cricket coaches worldwide are helping the process, not hindering it by excusing or overlooking dubious actions merely to gain a competitive edge. This process of clean action education needs to be encouraged and supported by national governing bodies globally. Players should be encouraged and supported in that learning phase of their development; not ostracized or sidelined.

So how do we deal with this at the professional end of the game?

The following is taken from an ICC document called: “ICC Regulations for the review of bowlers reported with suspected illegal bowling actions”

You can view it here: http://www.icc-cricket.com/about/91/...tions/overview

The whole process seems both unnecessarily complicated and long winded, and the people who suffer the most are the bowlers. They have the ignominy of being reported and then have to get on a plane, fly to a testing centre to be tested. And then wait for a verdict.. And of course, the world’s media start to pick their character apart from day one. Its as if they’ve committed a crime and need to be tried and sentenced to appease the masses. Lets not forget, they learnt to bowl as kids, under the supervision of coaches and senior players. Nobody seemed to question them at that stage.

So currently the bowler has to fly to a testing centre, and, under laboratory conditions, undergo a bowling session whereby they are recorded using reflective markers placed at the strategic points on the body thus allowing the special cameras to present an image that software can translate into a statistical breakdown of human body movement.

Clearly, there are some obvious flaws in this plan that are plain to see.

Firstly, it is imperative that the bowler replicates his exact action as the one that was reported in the game. I don’t know about you, but I think that bowling in an indoor net, in a laboratory environment, does not replicate match conditions very well. During a match (that took place a few weeks previously remember) that bowler would have been coping with fatigue, injury, weather, crowd noise, situational pressure and a whole host of factors; all of which would have impacted upon his bowling action.

Secondly, and more precisely; how accurate is the marker testing really? Have you ever watched an athlete perform a skill using ultra high definition slow motion cameras? Take a look at their elbows, knees and shoulders. Take a look at their skin, especially where the markers would be placed. It moves around; quite a lot !

I would like you to try a little experiment. Point your arm out in front of you at shoulder height with the palm up. With your other hand “Gently” pinch the skin under your elbow. Now “gently” move that pinch of skin around a little. You see, skin moves and if the skin moves, the markers move.

Surely that affects marker accuracy readings?

Lastly; what if the bowler (either consciously or unconsciously) does not replicate exactly the same action as in a game?

Surely the only way to really tell if a bowler is breaking Law 24.2 in the game, is to actually measure that bowler “IN THE GAME” ?


And funnily enough, there is one system available that can actually achieve this and it is produced by a company called Kinatrax. It is being used in Major League baseball and is achieving incredible results already.

Their website is www.Kinatrax.com and if you pay them a visit, you can actually see some of their data point videos on their website. One of the key measurements is . .

. . yes you’ve guessed it . . . . .”ELBOW FLEXION !”

So there it is. A system that can not only police Law 24.2, but can actually be used for the real reason it was developed, performance enhancement. We could measure our bowlers in a variety of ways that until now was only possible using outdated, inaccurate, marker technology. Imagine being able to see real statistics in game for velocities, angles and distances over 22 data points for both your bowlers and the opposition bowlers too.

Imagine being able to receive complete scientific proof that the bowler is or is not chucking the same day.

Imagine being able to have a complete biomechanical report on every opposition bowler your team faces. I doubt that that kind of data is currently available as each board guards that kind of sensitive material closely. It will definitely give you a tactical edge.

Imagine being able to prevent injuries by monitoring your bowlers In Game, rather than waiting for the injury to occur. Each ball they bowl will give you a set of data, that can be formed into a Health versus Performance document. When the statistics change you will be able to see it far earlier before major breakdowns occur.

Imagine being able to tell whether a bowler’s action is changing and becoming less efficient actually during the game? Rather than waiting until a few poor match performances have occurred and then reviewing a players video to see why; the Kinatrax system can act as an early warning system both for performance & injury.

So there you have it. A system is available today that can police law 24.2, help reduce injuries and enhance performance.

It’s a no brainer, isn’t it?

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"What is playing without fear?"

By Julien Fountain (23rd April, 2015)

If you followed the latest installment of the cricket World Cup, no doubt you will have heard this phrase uttered by a plethora of individuals. It was a message delivered by captains, coaches, pundits and journalists on a daily basis. But what exactly does it mean to a player, and how exactly do you “Play without fear?”

I lost track of the amount of times I heard “We need to play without fear” during a pre match press conference or “they played without fear” in the post match media interactions. So what does it mean, and why are some teams able to play without fear whilst others conversely seem to play paralyzed with fear?

During my twenty years in professional and international cricket I have heard this phrase both in team meetings prior to games and post match media debriefs more times than I can count. It is one of those cliched sound bites that are the stock and trade of anybody responsible for talking to the media, explaining how their team is either going to play or should have played.

But what does it mean? Well, we can separate the three words and define each one literally using the dictionary definition.

“Play” (a Verb): to occupy oneself in (a sport or diversion); amuse oneself in (a game) (transitive) to contend against (an opponent) in a sport or game - to fulfil or cause to fulfil (a particular role) in a team game (transitive) - to address oneself to (a ball) in a game

“Without” (preposition): not having, not accompanied by, not making use of.

“Fear” (Noun): a feeling of distress, apprehension, or alarm caused by impending danger, pain, - reverence, awe, concern, anxiety,
(Verb) to be afraid to do something, or of somebody

But how does this possibly relate to cricket, and specifically batting, as this is where we often hear it said? It was used in reference to both Pakistan’s batting and bowling on more than one occasion during the World Cup. I believe it was also used in reference to New Zealand’s world cup performances, but in a somewhat different context.

If a batsman swings wildly at a delivery and is bowled or caught out, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Do the captain, coach, fans and media think it's OK or does the player need to be chastised for being reckless and bringing the team’s ultimate performance level down? Nobody is condoning a reckless attitude, but if a player is to truly play without fear, surely we have to know what it is that they are afraid of. Is it the internal feeling that he could have done so much better? Is it the verbal dressing down from the captain or the coach? Is it the public humiliation from the media or the negative interaction with the fans?

Personally I think it is a combination of all of the above. Both Pakistan fans and media are the first to punish a player for being reckless and inconsiderate, playing a rash shot at an inappropriate time, thus causing the ultimate downfall of the team. Surely these are the same people that are telling the players to play without fear. How can a player hear one message and believe it, if the very people sending the message turn on them at the first sign of things not going smoothly?

If you view New Zealand’s World Cup campaign, you can see a team that “Played without fear” in all departments. They were successful, most of the time, and, despite a few hiccups along the way, were lauded by fans and media alike throughout the tournament. Is this more a reflection of how a team's performance is perceived, rather than how it is executed? One team is labelled as irresponsible and of poor quality (because the results were negative) and another is praised and held aloft as champions (because their results were generally positive).

I guess what I am trying to say is, it is easy to make statements after the fact. That massive top edge that for one player carries for six, but the next player it gets caught by an outfielder. Same ball, same shot, different outcome. One player is derided for being reckless; one is complimented for being positive. Go figure!

Personally I believe that a player should try not be weighed down by too many thoughts or too much external pressure. The game situation itself will provide more than enough pressure; let's not create bucket loads of external pressures in addition to that. Yes we want the player to do well, but if the player walks to the wicket dreading what is to be written about them in the following mornings papers, he is already facing an internal battle that most of us would struggle to win. And that’s before a ball has even been bowled at him! Providing he has been properly prepared technically, physically, mentally and tactically; all we can hope for is some sound professional judgement coupled with a bit of good fortune. The rest is down to fate.

In conclusion, I think there is a collective duty of all concerned; player, captain, coach, fans and media, to ensure that the player has the best possible chance of success each and every time they step out to the wicket. Some days it will go well, some days it won’t. Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day!

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"Twenty 20 cricket should become an Olympic event"

By Julien Fountain (28th October, 2014)


It seems as if each time I start to write for PakPassion.net, there are simply too many hot topics to talk about. Last time it was new coaching staff for Pakistan, illegal bowling actions and court cases. This time is no different with the cricketing world witnessing a book launch and the corresponding claims and counter claims from all and sundry, another new “local as opposed to foreign” head coach hired in the subcontinent and the bowling action’s saga continues, gaining pace (if not the turn and bounce, with the vigorously enforced 15 degree limit) So, what to talk about this time. . . .

Firstly, I must begin by reminding everybody about how well Korea did at the recent Asian Games T20 Men's Competition. This was a group of players who had between twelve to eighteen months of cricket playing each, so to make it into the quarter-finals against Sri Lanka, was really a great effort. Then to actually take eight wickets and restrict them to less than 180 was a huge achievement. Of course we were never going to win the game, but who could have predicted a Korean left arm fast bowler, Park Taekwan, achieving figures of four overs, four wickets for sixteen runs. There in itself is a reason Twenty20 cricket should be in the Olympics. There’s a thought . . .

Imagine if you will, a different world where T20 Cricket is now an Olympic event. The Top 20 medal-winning countries from London 2012 only included England (GBR in 3rd place), Australia (in 10th place) and New Zealand (in 15th place) in terms of full member nations and the only strong cricket playing associate nation represented in the top twenty was the Netherlands (in 13th place).

Now it could be argued that despite the majority of the major Olympic nations not having a cricket culture, what some do have, such as Korea, is a huge baseball culture; which as we have just proved conclusively at the Asian Games in Incheon, can be utilized to create a T20 cricket team. Instead picture the likes of USA, China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Netherlands, Cuba all of whom have professional baseball leagues. All of these countries have thousands of highly skilled bat and ball athletes.

Imagine if these countries who, after all, are in the habit of achieving medals across a range of diverse sports, were able to utilize their National Olympic Committee funding and resources to put out a T20 Cricket team? Korea just did it at the Asian games and in just 12 months, with virtually no funding and no national support managed to beat China who had had support and development going back 6-8 years, and play really well against Sri Lanka, an ICC full member nation.

Associate and Affiliate nations struggle to perform because they do not have the funding or cricket infrastructure that a full member nation does. NOC backing for these countries would go a huge way to leveling the global cricket playing field.

So where, I hear you ask, do the traditional Cricket “powerhouse” nations stand in terms of the global Olympic Sports movement? Well, using the London 2012 medal table as a measure of recent Olympic success; South Africa placed 23rd, Ireland placed 41st, India placed 55th and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh failed to make it onto the medal table at all.

It would be a very interesting event to see a truly globalised T20 Cricket competition where former baseball players from the USA, Cuba, Japan or Korea pit their skills against the big three and their counterparts. Incidentally of the so called “Big Three” only one is represented in the "Olympic Big Three" from 2012 (GBR placed 3rd) and only two are in the top ten (GBR 3rd & Australia 10th). How different would it be to see the smaller Associates and Affiliates receive the same support from their much larger NOC’s, that is given to traditional Olympic sports within each country. An Olympic T20 Cricket tournament would truly be a “Global Cricket Event” with all the usual bias’s removed, and only the sport itself being important.

Anybody, who is truly in favour of the globalization of the sport of cricket, should not have a problem with T20 Cricket becoming an Olympic event. The T20 format provides some of the best sporting characteristics and features for both spectators and competitors alike. T20 is truly a sports event that can be both played, and appreciated, far more widely than current audiences suggest. The old forgotten colonial ties are long gone; this is the modern era where both sport and big business are king.

The case against cricket becoming an Olympic event? Well, I will leave that for you to decide. It might be a financial issue, it might be an issue of power & dominance. What I will say is it would be very interesting to see some of the major cricket governing bodies sit amongst some of the major Olympic Associations such as the USA, China, Russia or Korea and then try to bulldoze their way through meetings or votes !

These countries might just meet their match both on and off the field!

 

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"Old School failed to accept that the fielding improved . . ."

By Julien Fountain (28th April, 2014)

I am writing this blog, whilst sat in my new apartment in Seoul, South Korea, where I am currently the Head Coach of their national cricket team. We are preparing for the Asian Games, and believe me we are going to surprise a few people. I have ex baseball players who can happily hit a ball 100m plus, I have a 6ft 3 left arm 140kph quick, and a guy who bowls a doosra. Korea is a very disciplined country, and despite facilities being sparse, and budgets small, it’s a real pleasure to be their Head Coach as we are the host country and the prestige is huge!

Firstly, may I begin by saying a huge thank you to all of you who read and post regularly on Pakpassion.net, and who have been so supportive during my recent two years with Pakistan. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the team, and according to many well respected players, coaches and even some TV pundits, Pakistan actually started looking pretty good in the field.

But we already knew that, as those of you who pay attention to the games would know, I keep detailed statistics on each performance. The “old school” who simply know how to criticize but not to impartially assess, are just not smart enough to accept that Pakistan's fielding improved over the last two years.

Now that is not to say it could not get better; of course it could be better, but there are sometimes limiting factors which do not get taken into consideration when making sweeping statements like “Player X is a useless fielder” for example:

  •  Is the player carrying an injury you are not aware of?
  •  Has the player ever actually been taught the fielding skill he has just messed up?
  •  Is there actually a time period in this players working week where he is able to both learn & practice this skill?

 

 

Lets take a favourite topic for discussion, Diving & Sliding

In order for an international cricket team to be successful in the field, its players must all be able to dive and slide effectively. Hell even Imran Tahir & Tsotsobe are to be seen hitting the ground quite frequently, so ethnicity is no excuse.

Some players in the Pakistan team are unable (or unwilling) to dive or slide as often as is required or even at all. This does hinder the teams performance somewhat, as it means these players are executing other skills at inappropriate times, thus increasing the risk of making an error.

“Teach them all to dive then Fountain”, I hear you say; well, ok that was what I intended to do but now listen to some of the counter arguments I heard in my time with the team.

 

1.“Some of these players are a little old, and do not want to put the final stage of their career at risk due to injury”

2.“We are on tour, we don’t want injuries before a game, cannot this be done at the NCA”

3.“We need to practice catching, as that is more important than diving”

4.“I am a little tired, can we do this training tomorrow”

5.“There is no time in the schedule and nowhere to do it, sorry”

 

So, what do you do….

Some are too old, some are too stubborn and if they all get the green light from various sources to wimp out of it, what can you do.

Even when we have done some sessions, using the same “Baby Steps” that you would use with Under 12 age players, still certain people managed to get “Injured” !!! What to do?

You want results, but the reality is that sometimes the very people involved either directly or indirectly are simply not willing to go that extra mile to ensure success on the field. Too busy cozying up to a celebrity to actually enforce a decision.

If the domestic structure had appropriately skilled coaches, and the domestic teams were selected using the appropriate criteria (not whose brothers, uncle’s, nephew once removed you are) then fielding (and fitness) would have a definite place.

I have said it before and will continue saying it “Your national team is only as good as your domestic teams” Until your domestic teams can challenge an international touring team, you will always struggle for consistent performances at senior international level.

I have been involved with PP since 2006, so please feel free to ask me any questions you like and I will do my best to answer them.

Ask away . . 

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