Monday, July 26, 2010

Turns out I'm not mad, we beat the Aussies!

The last article I wrote gave all my friends good reason to hurl all sorts of insults my way. What was I thinking suggesting that we could chase down a world record 440 runs to win in the fourth innings? Well for starters, records are made to be broken and secondly, this torrid run against the Aussies had to come to an end eventually. And it did, albeit a Test later than I was expecting but I’m not complaining. Pakistan played the way only Pakistan plays and yet we managed to pull it off. This victory should be savored by all of us for years to come, 15 years is a long time to wait for a win, 16 if you look back to the time where we won a Test that actually means something. This victory is for all the optimists who have managed to stick by Pakistan cricket through all the collapses and the dropped catches and missed run outs, etc. This is also a rallying cry for all the pessimists who abandoned Pakistan cricket when we lost by 8 wickets in the ’99 final or when we failed to make it past the first round in the next two World Cups or when we failed to win at Sydney. The point is Pakistan cricket has gone through a lot to get to this point, and that makes this victory all the more special.

The pessimists will not be turned over that easily though. We barely sneaked across the line, requiring only 40 runs on the last day with 7 wickets in hand on a flat pitch with no cloud cover we lost 4 wickets, and all four were top order batsmen. But you can all read the details on cricinfo, the point is our batting was woeful, and had it not been for Messrs. Asif and Aamer we would have been in a world of trouble. We finally managed to win a test match purely on the basis of our phenomenal bowling, but to expect to bowl the English out for 88 four times over the coming month is a stretch even for the wildest of optimists. The conclusion then is that this victory is only to savor and not to use as a blueprint for success.

Although this victory does not give Pakistan a blueprint for success on how to win Test matches, it gives Pakistan something a lot more important: momentum. Pakistan is a momentum side, when things start going our way the fielding gets better, the captaincy is sharper, bowlers stick to a plan and batsmen learn to apply themselves. When you combine raw talent and momentum you end up with an unstoppable juggernaut, and if Pakistan gets off to a good start in the first test against the English next week then that is exactly what we will become.

A word of caution though before we move forward. On the outskirts of the team lurk Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, and though they are two of the finest Test batsmen in recent memory, their inclusion into the squad might just wreck this great momentum. Yousuf and Younis’ presence will simply be overwhelming, and their egos have to be handled with care. Salman Butt already has enough on his plate without having to worry about catering to the senior players. Other people may disagree, but Yousuf and Younis are not getting any younger, and they bring too much bad history with them. Yes our middle order lacks steel, but Azhar Ali showed great composure and Umar Amin showed great promise. The former made a crucial fifty in our chase of 180 and the latter has great technique and requires only a bit of experience. Giving these two a chance to come good for Pakistan may set us up for a better team in the long run, Yousuf and Younis will only provide us with a short term solution that will barely last us till the World Cup. Now the only person left to get rid of is that damn husband of Sania Mirza, whose first innings dismissal showed that he really has no place in a Test squad.

All of this being said, we did draw the series with the mighty Aussies. They might not be as great as they were with McGrath, Warne and company, but nonetheless they still are a formidable opponent. Next up are the Ashes victors. Last time the English won the Ashes they went to Pakistan and got HAMMERED 2-0 in a three test series, as well as losing the ODI series 3-2. One feels we are in for one heck of an English summer yet!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Spare a Thought for Balochistan

It's been less than a week since the most prominent political assassination in Pakistan since Benazir Bhutto was killed in 2007. Of course you wouldn't understand if you just watch talk shows and read newspapers. That's because this particular leader was from Balochistan and his death took place in Quetta, not Karachi or in the Punjab.

Habib Jalib Baloch was Balochistan's most important non-feudal leader. Yup, not the guy who earned billions in state royalties and yet made his tribe's women walk miles for water. Nor was he the guy who picked up guns and fought the Army from the mountains. He was instead of a rare breed of politicians with an educated, middle-class pedigree. This fact is best personified by the way he died: while reading a newspaper, unarmed and unprotected, in his brother's shop.

With his death, Balochistan lost a political voice. But Pakistan lost more. While dealing with an angry secession-inclined province, the state could have benefited from engaging men like Jalib, who by virtue of their background provided a purer connection to the Baloch people, compared to the current policy of purchasing the loyalties of greedy tribal chiefs.

Unfortunately, instead of this introspection all we managed was silence. Consider the dichotomy of reaction in Balochistan and the rest of the country. Quetta was in a state of paralysis for 3 days. Meanwhile, in Islamabad the talk of town was fake degrees, mid term elections and talks with India.

Painful as it sounds, Baloch people are correct when they assert that the reform they need is not constitutional or financial, but that of attitude. That attitude is molded not just by the state, but by people as well. This is where we have failed. How many of the smartest writers in Pakistan covered Jalib's assassination in their columns or blogs this week? How many protests took place in Karachi and Lahore? Heck, does the average Pakistani even know who Habib Jalib Baloch was?

The truth is that while we are enamored by Balochistan's geographic and economic vitality, we have failed to cultivate an emotional association with it. For that we may be a stronger country, but a poorer nation.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What Can You Say About This Guy?

When your team gets knocked over by a part-time bowler like Marcus North (though the Australian wicket-keeper could've thrown his gloves off and taken all those wickets too) there's only one thing you can do:

To sum it up (go to 6:42):

Reporter: When exactly did you decide to retire?
Afridi: When I got out.

I thought long and hard about putting this into words. All I could come up with was a sigh, a smile and Pakistan cricket's best friend: de ja vu.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Watch Cricket, People!

Now that the hype of the World Cup is starting to blow over, cricket has once again begun to take center stage in Pakistan. Very quietly Pakistan broke their awful losing streak to the mighty Australians by winning the two T20 matches and showed no signs of the scars we all bear after Hussey’s miraculous effort to knock Pakistan out of the World Cup. That gave the team the confidence they needed heading into the test arena, where the statistics send a shudder down every Pakistani’s spine. The last time Pakistan managed to avoid defeat by drawing Australia was back in 1999, and they last outright beat Australia in 1995. Pakistan came close in their tour down under this past winter in the infamous Sydney Test, but the collapse from that position has been well documented.

So why am I hyping up this latest Test where Pakistan needs 440 runs to win in the second innings? After all, this is the same side that got bowled out for a measly 148in the first innings. The reason is simple, umeed pay dunya kaim hai (the world is running on hope). This losing streak has to come to end sometime, why not now? At the close of the third days play Pakistan were 114/1. Our best batsmen of late Salman Butt is at the crease unbeaten on 58 and getting good support from one of the debutants, Azhar Ali. 440 might seem like a daunting number, but that’s not the way to look at it. There are 6 sessions left so time is not an issue, Pakistan have 9 wickets in hand and need 326 runs to win. The conditions have much improved for batting, the green tinge on the Lord’s wicket has faded, the clouds have disappeared and the ball isn’t moving as much. The new Australian spinner Steve Smith shouldn’t cause much trouble, he has good control but the Pakistani batsmen have always been good players of spin and Danish Kaneria should have given them much practice in the nets. The meat of the batting order is yet to come: the Akmal brother and captain fantastic.

Before you dismiss my eternal optimism and go watch movies at Cinepax instead of this test match, take a moment to soak in the situation. Pakistan has a shot, albeit it a long shot, of beating Australia at the home of cricket, Lord’s. Sorry Mom, I’m going to pass on family stuff this weekend, I will be rooted to the couch!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Top 10: Mistakes Pakistani Politicians Made on Fake Degrees

The curious issue of the fake degrees held by politicians in public office, in case you've missed the latest in Pakistani politics, has been dominating the political landscape recently. This Al-Jazeera report provides a good, impartial summary. The latest, from Dawn, puts the tally at 47.

Fraudulent degrees and ill-advised submissions, when exposed, make for some (extremely) entertaining stories. So after much research and deliberation, here's a Top 10 of mistakes politicians made on their fake degrees:

10.The degree-awarding institution did not bear a believable name. Fire University?!
From The News: The BBA degree of Hummayun Aziz Kurd (PPP) was issued by Air International University. [...] Yet another Mir from Balochistan — Mir Humayun Aziz — who is a member of the National Assembly, has declared to have done “Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing” in 1999 from “Fire International University”. The HEC declared it, too, as a Non-Chartered University.
From Dawn: Mr Hussain had submitted to the election commission his BA degree in Islamic Studies issued by the Trinity College and University Spain incorporated in Dover, Delaware (USA), while filing his nomination forms for October 2002 general elections.

9. Purchasing fake degrees from the internet. Can you get any lazier?

From The News: Two ministers of state in Musharraf’s cabinet were also caught buying fake degrees from internet-based universities. The degree of ex-senator Pari Gul Agha was also questioned by the media but no one challenged it and the lady walked away after completing her term and contributing her role in passing the infamous 17th Amendment.

8. Submitted degree misspelled name of the University of Punjab, one of Pakistan’s most prominent institutions, as 'Panjab.'

Via The News: Where is the University of ‘Panjab’, as against the genuine Punjab University? A host of degrees presented by parliamentarians belong to this institution in ‘Panjab’. Masters and Bachelors’ degrees issued to a large number of sitting lawmakers come from University of the Panjab, raising doubts about their genuineness.

7. Failing to recall, when questioned, the name of courses indicated on submitted degree transcripts. When the MP did answer, he identified a subject with the acronym IPS as 'Health and Physical Education.'

From Dawn: In his verdict, the chief justice also mentioned what he called a revealing incident when Rizwan Gill, who had secured 72 per cent marks in a subject called IPS, was asked to define what it stood for. A long silence was the answer offered by Mr. Gill who himself had come to the podium to address the court. On court’s insistence and after deep thought, his reply was “Health and Physical Education”. The detailed marks certificate produced on record by Mr. Gill himself mentioned the IPS as “Islamic Studies/Ethics and Pakistan Studies”.

6. Text on foreign-issued degree indicated that University headquarters were based in Defence Housing Authority, Lahore.

Via The News: “Rubina Zafar Zehri having completed the prescribed studies and satisfied the requirement for the degree of Bachelor of Business Administration has accordingly been admitted to that degree with all the rights, privileges and immunities thereunto appertaining In witness whereof, the Trustees of Mitech Institute of Management & Information Technology have caused this degree to be signed by the duly authorized officers of the Institute and embossed with its corporate at Lahore, Pakistan.”

5. Submitting Doctorate degree earned from a sham university charged of fraudulent activity by American authorities, where one individual was found to be responsible for teaching 425 courses in 14 disciplines!

From Dawn: The university from where Law Minister Babar Awan claims to have done his PhD is banned in the United States from issuing any degree and cannot even claim that it is a legal educational institution. Long before the dispute over fake degrees became a political issue in Pakistan, the Circuit Court of the First Circuit in the State of Hawaii, declared that the University of Monticello was a non-recognised and non-chartered university.

4. The famous case of Jamshed Dasti: Upon interrogation by the court, failed to display even basic knowledge of the degree course in question.

Via The News: The PPP MNA failed to answer the questions of the court about the total number of Surahs in the Holy Qur’aan, including the names of any of the five Surahs. Justice Ramday questioned Dasti: “How you did the Dars-e-Nizami course, as you even don’t know the names of five Surahs?”

3. Academic program indicated on degree did not exist at the time of submission, was formed 7 years later.

From Dawn: According to the details submitted to the election commission by Hayat, she graduated from Islamabad's Rifah University in 2002 with a BBA degree. However, according to records, Rifah University did not offer the BBA programme in 2002.

2. Indicating the same identification number of the same University as a previous minister who, as it turns out, had already been dismissed from office on the basis of those details!

From Dawn: He said a report submitted by the religious institution denied having issued any certificate to Javed Husnain, and even Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arbia in its reply confirmed that the Madressah of Bannu was not affiliated with it. The counsel said a fact to prove the certificate bogus was that it had the same roll number which was allegedly issued in the name of Ms Naghma Mushtaq who had won the election from PP-206 and later was held disqualified on the basis of a Madressah certificate.

1. Master’s degree, earned in ’92, predated Bachelor’s degree, issued in ‘06. Must be some genius!

From The News: MPA Tariq Mehmood Bajwa [...] is learnt to have obtained a graduation degree from the Bahauddin Zakariya University in the year 2006 while his masters degree is from Tanzeem-ul-Madaris-ul-Islami in the year 1992.
Fact is, there are any number of reasons — philosophical, political, social and perhaps even economic — to oppose the mandatory degree law. But the law is a minor inconvenience after all, meant to be subverted through online degrees and fake results. Now, predictably, there's bedlam: Pakistani psychiatrists are saying politicians with fake degrees are dangers to society, the presidency is trying to delay degree verification and one lawmaker even suggests a punishment of 80 lashes for anyone found to have submitted fake qualifications.

Don't know what the problem is, to be honest. "A degree," as Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani said, "is a degree, whether fake or real."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

(Ridiculous) Links of the Day

If you're like me and spent the last 30 days of your life eating, drinking and breathing the World Cup, you might be wondering what the rest of the world is upto. Specifically our part of the world. Without further ado, making sense of the ridiculous:

1. Unlike what many might think, not all Pakistanis are morons. Here's a
great story from one of my favorite parts of the country.
2. That being said we do have our fair share of morons.
Bigots in fact.
3. The previous story might make you think we're an uber-religious nation. We're not. Here's our worst-kept secret coming out.
By Fox News no less. Bye bye, hotel-worker inspired good publicity!
4. Speaking of that worst-kept secret, here's a hilarious blog post on what women in Pakistan, and much of South Asia infact,
do to 'protect' themselves. So true!
5. Since a post on Pakistan being ridiculous cannot be complete with a mention of how India is just as ridiculous, here's their media
twisting a telephonic conversation on Kashmir. By design or by mistake, this is something even Hamid Mir will have a tough time matching. How do they get away with this?!
6. Speaking of neighbors, here's an upcoming Indian movie, starring Ali Zafar,
which is facing problems due to its title. Ali Zafar may be a horrible singer, but kudos to him for having the guts to do this. I don't know why people would be so worked up about this, I mean last year Geo did a spoof on the militants and it was pretty funny and uncontroversial.
7. Talking of the bad guys, here's what the Taliban have concluded after fighting NATO.
They're so dumb, we could fight them with monkeys. Yup, you heard that right. I laughed 10 straight minutes after reading this.
8. Finally, since this is a post about ridiculous stuff, I might as well end with a ridiculous statement. Here's the Law Minister, no less,
telling us who our next Prime Minister will be. Thanks Sir, if I ever needed proof of your fake degree, I just got one.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Blue Rickshaw World Cup Final Preview

So here we are, a month on from the kickoff and wondering what we did with our lives before the 11th of June.

It all comes down to this: an unlikely final between Holland and Spain. But in a World Cup of firsts, it’s only fitting that the two contenders are battling for their first crown. Remarkably, this will be the first World Cup final without Brazil, Italy, Germany or Argentina. And the first since 1978 in which neither team holds a previous crown.
Before I begin, an interruption here for irresistible Germany:

Germany, without a shadow of doubt, were the highlights of this tournament. And there was one overarching reason for why I adopted them as a favorite once the tournament began: it just wasn’t the mechanical Germany of old. Ozil, Muller, Neuer and Khedira have given them a wholly different outlook.

By incorporating successful Under-23s into the senior squad, Germany showed the world exactly how a good team must be run. Ageing England would do well to learn a thing or two from this squad. So, too, would the frequently infuriating Pakistan cricket team, which desperately hangs on to the likes of Shoaib Akhtar and Shoaib Malik when it would be better served giving our consistent U-19s a chance at the biggest stage. There was a welcome cosmopolitan feel about the Germans, too: naturalized Turks and Tunisians at the heart of the Deutsch midfield are a rare sight.

Then there were those experienced men — Podolski, Klose, Lahm, Mertesacker and Schweinsteiger — who never seem to disappoint at international level. And in the 4-1 drubbing of England, they duly dispatched the myth of English footballing superiority. Then with 4 more, they sent mad Maradona and Lio Messi packing.

Now, about those two finalists.

The Road to the Final: Both Holland and Spain have followed reasonably similar paths, in terms of opposition, to Soccer City. Holland eased past Denmark, Japan and Cameroon in the group stage, before overcoming Slovakia, Uruguay and, of course, Brazil. Spain recovered from a shock defeat to Switzerland before beating Chile, Honduras, Portugal, Paraguay and finally Germany.

International Achievements: Spain have only once before been past the quarter-finals at a World Cup. European championships in 1964 and 2008, and an Olympic gold in ’92 are their only crowns. Holland, meanwhile, finished runners-up in consecutive world cups in 1974 and 1978. Their only trophy was Euro 1988, immortalized by this stunning van Basten strike.

Holland’s Key Man: Pacy Arjen Robben, on the left flank, should cause Capdevila some discomfort. Expect Xabi Alonso to drop back and cover.

Spain’s Key Man: David Villa cut a lonely figure against Germany, despondent in his isolation against a 5-man midfield. But if he can find his way past the Holland defense, he could find himself on the front pages.

Tactics — Spain: Del Bosque faces a tactical dilemma. With both Torres and Villa up front, Spain can trouble a Holland defense that was exposed at times by Robinho and co. But if Sneijder and Robben have to be stopped from constructing incisive attacks, Spain may opt to sit 5 in midfield with Villa as a lone striker.
Likely 11: Casillas, Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila, Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Torres, Villa.

Tactics — Holland: The Dutch can sit back, absorb the pressure of overwhelming Spanish possession, and look to attack at rare opportunities. Or, if they’re smart, they’ll play smash-and-grab. With De Jong and van Bommel, Holland can disrupt Spanish passing in the center, frustrating the Spaniards and counter-attacking through Sneijder, Kuyt and Bronckhorst.
Likely 11: Stekelenburg, Heitinga, Mathijsen, van der Wiel, van Bronckhorst, van Bommel, de Jong, Kuyt, Sneijder, Robben, van Persie.

Why Spain Should Win: Quality of football. In Xavi and Iniesta, Spain arguably have the best distributers of the ball in the world.
It’s all about passing, the beautiful game and David Villa. And, for a nation whose league boasts clubs like Madrid and Barcelona, the fact that their previous best at world level is 4th (and that, too, in 1950) is embarrassing.

Why Holland Should Win: Holland are like Turkey and Croatia — no one really hates them. It might not even be an exaggeration to label them the most lovable team in the world. A world crown for the Oranje is long overdue: the Gullitts, Cruyffs, Neeskens, van Nistelrooys, Bergkamps, Rijkaards and van Bastens couldn’t do it. It’s time for the class of 2010 to deliver. Plus, a third world cup final loss would just be heartbreaking.

And then, of course, there was this strike of some class from the captain:

One Man Who Shouldn’t Be Let Near the Final: Pedro. Selfish, selfish play in the semi-final cast doubts on his nationality. Which other Spaniard wouldn’t pass to a goal-starved Torres in this 2 v. 1 counter against the goalkeeper?

Predictions: Shazil is going for a 2-0 win for the Dutch, with goals coming from two unlikely sources: de Jong and van Persie, who hasn't really got going this time round. Umair, meanwhile, is tipping Xavi to score the only goal in a 1-0 win for Spain.

For me, the heart says Holland, the gut says Spain. I’ll go with Der Hollander 2-1 a.e.t., with Sneijder edging ahead of Villa in the battle for the Golden Boot. HUP!

Link of the day: To get into the mood for some World Cup football, turn up the volume and click here.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Joel Stein vs Kal Penn

Joel Stein is usually on the money with his satire. Not this time say many Indian-Americans, whom he targets in a satirical piece on immigration "My Own Private India", published in Time magazine this week.

Stein's article talks of how Indian immigrants have changed the cultural face of his hometown, Edison, NJ.

My town is totally unfamiliar to me. The Pizza Hut where my busboy friends stole pies for our drunken parties is now an Indian sweets shop with a completely inappropriate roof. The A&P I shoplifted from is now an Indian grocery. The multiplex where we snuck into R-rated movies now shows only Bollywood films and serves samosas.

Pretty funny so far, right? Well it is, until Stein says this:

For a while, we assumed all Indians were geniuses. Then, in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor.

and then this:

Whenever I go back, I feel what people in Arizona talk about: a sense of loss and anomie and disbelief that anyone can eat food that spicy.

Not surprisingly, the Indian-American community is outraged. A group called the South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) has even circulated a petition, appealing against the article to Time's editors.

In his defense, Stein points to what he was actually trying to say:

I was trying to explain how, as someone who believes that immigration has enriched American life and my hometown in particular, I was shocked that I could feel a tiny bit uncomfortable with my changing town when I went to visit it. If we could understand that reaction, we’d be better equipped to debate people on the other side of the immigration issue.

There is a reason, however, why humor is best answered by humor. Kal Penn, writing in the Huffington Post, responds to Stein in a befitting manner:

Gags about impossibly spicy food? I'd never heard those before! Multiple Gods with multiple arms? Multiple laughs! Recounting racial slurs like "dot-head"? Oh, Mr. Stein, is too good! I don't know how he comes up with such unique bits.

Where Penn is at his sharpest, though, is in his parting shot:

Critics might call Mr. Stein's humor super-tired or as played out as the jokes about that cheap Jewish car that stopped on a dime to pick it up, or that African American kid who got marked absent at night school. Although unlike Stein's Indian American piece, in 2010 those other jokes don't show up in mainstream media like Time Magazine. I wonder why that is..

Between the humor and banter, the episode raises some important questions. Was Stein's opinion reflective of the 'white man's dilemma' on immigration? Was it just clumsy writing? Perhaps even more broadly, would Time have published a similar piece with other immigrant groups like Asian-Americans or Hispanics?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Tragedy in Lahore

Between the shock, outrage, condemnations, blame game and conspiracy theories, one sad fact will be lost:

For the first time in 927 years, the Daata Darbar's langar, a free kitchen which feeds thousands of poor people everyday, will be closed.

A painful symbol of our social, historical and economic decline.