Early autumn semantics

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Major League Baseball and the Rugby World Cup have both reached crunch time, however the column kicks off with the return of the nation’s favourite son…
Afridi’s tiresome antics
This column prophesised this as soon as Waqar Younis announced his resignation – no rocket science, since it was the most preposterously inevitable U-turn in the history of U-turns. However Shahid Khan Afridi continues to rewrite irrelevant cricketing records by redefining ‘Retirement Tantrums.’
Making a mockery of the act of retiring has unfortunately become a norm in our neck of the woods. Yousuf, Younis and the usually stable Razzaq have all been guilty of expounding this unique art in one form or the other – the former well and truly on his way towards overhauling all the collective u-turns in the realm of sports and beat them with interest, single-handedly. Nonetheless what makes Afridi’s reversal all the more wretched is the fact that he didn’t even bother to cover up his antics – you know for courtesy’s sake – since he was the Captain when all the unceremonious confrontations began. Afridi’s idiocy was shrouded by idiocy 2.0 of former PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt, and hence his lamentable actions weren’t given their share of lament.
First of all, in his quest to dominate all the strings of our team, he confronted Waqar Younis and threw tantrums when he couldn’t get every single thing his way. Then he returned from the Caribbean, and in a transparent act of washing dirty linen in public he hauled over coals on one of the living legends of Pakistan Cricket – incidentally the national team’s coach as well – not someone you can stubbornly ask to shush away nor someone against whom you can play the ‘because I say so’ card. And then came the well documented confrontation with Ijaz Butt and the foolhardy ‘conditional retirement.’
We’ve all had our disagreements with those further up the ladder, but if someone states categorically that he will not play under a certain regime it exposes a few things about the asserter: a) he doesn’t have any sense of respect and responsibility towards the national cause; b) he believes that he’s indispensable, perhaps bigger than the game itself; c) and he knows that he will get away with it and get it back at the time of his choosing.
Afridi knows that he will always have the backing of the masses, and the powers-that-be from Karachi and has taken his stardom for granted – understandable, since most of it has been undeserving. Ever since Inzi’s retirement, Afridi has been on a personal expedition of reigning supreme in affairs of Pakistan Cricket, on and off the pitch, because in his eyes he is the sole flag-bearer of our cricket. This unwarranted acclaim his vastly inflatable ego, and, when he doesn’t always get his own way, he’s throws his toys out of the pram.
Zaka Ashraf should take a cue from the West Indian board, that made it clear to Chris Gayle that until and unless he retracts his statement against the Board and apologises, there is no way back into the team for him. Considering the dire straits the West Indian cricket finds itself in, it’s an intrepid statement of intent from those at the helm in the Caribbean. Why can’t we ask the same from our cricketers?
Sometimes the bans are ridiculous, on other occasions the imprudent appeasement is detrimental. We need to have a stable – yet uncompromising – approach to the matter to ensure that our players act appositely. Or, do we honestly believe that Afridi offers more to Pakistan than Gayle does to West Indies? While Afridi’s batting has always been a moral-booster for our opponents as his contributions – euphemism for self-capitulation when Afridi has the willow – are overpowered by his nonsensical no-shows; is his mildly ‘useful’ bowling worth the hassle of bringing a turbulent figure in what is clearly a stable-looking squad? The same goes for the Akmal brothers, one is a wicket-keeper who can’t keep wickets and the other ‘gets injured’ when the former is penalised for; well for being catastrophic behind the stumps. And, the latter is erratic and has fallen prey to all the world-beating hype. Let’s teach our cricketers a thing or two about responsibility, and those who fail to grasp that concept should be left to rot outside the jurisdiction of the first team squad. After the turmoil of the recent past, we have finally attained constancy under Misbah, who has proved himself to be a befitting and dependably leader – you don’t have to exaggerate achievements, give larger than life interviews or pat the bowler after every single delivery to be a competent captain.
All-Blacks’ triumphant tactics
All-Blacks are one final hurdle away from finally throwing the cumbersome monkey off their back and be crowned the World Champions for the second time in their history marred by underachievement. Facing them are the French side, who only need a peek at what the Kiwi media has had to say for the past month or so to be fully charged up for the match. France have been written off in unison, and their erratic performances are being touted as minuscule exhibits when compared to the towering shows of the hosts. However the charm of any cup final lies in the ‘winner takes all’ chestnut that bulges out from every jot. We have never had a high-scoring Rugby World Cup Final, even so one fancies that might change today. New Zealand should be nervous in the early scuffles, as history lies in the wait in front of the home faithful, and hence the Lievremont’s side can capitalise early on, before the All-Blacks eventually seize control of the game. France have nothing to lose really; they’ve displayed the mother of all mixed bags over the past month or so, been jarred by controversy, been getting on the nerves of the local press for almost the entirety of the tournament and now they’re being flaunted as if they’ll only be making up the numbers on what ostensibly is ‘New Zealand’s Day’ at Eden Park. France know that they are one strong performance away from a flabbergasting sporting achievement.
In between their slapdash performances, France have also exhibited tenacity – last week against Wales, and explosiveness – in their best performance of the tournament against England, which attests their credentials as being able to synchronise their tactics according to the need; hence making them a veritable menace is a one-off knockout game. France have the aptitude of dictating play and forcing penalties, and with games so often being decided ‘by the foot’, the kick converting expertise of Yachvili and Para will be colossal for France’s chances today. Nevertheless, New Zealand are the firm favourties, not only because of the supremacy in their repertoire, but because any inkling of scepticism was expunged by their dismantling of the Wallabies. It was an epic team performance – after being sneered at for reliance on individual brilliance – and another comparable display should see McCaw lifting the William Web Ellis Cup today. All-Blacks have immense presence out wide and would look to exploit that. Expect Dagg to score today, and challenge Clerc for the top try-scorer. Dagg (5) has one less try than Clerc (6) and if the former can score early on, we could be in for an intriguing personal duel on the park as well.
On paper New Zealand should win this, but the World Cup Final – the biggest stage in any sport – does funny things to even the best of the lot. However having soared through the emotional conquest over Australia, New Zealand should be up for this one. And once again, having backed the Kiwis throughout, the column goes for a hard-fought All-Blacks win as New Zealand look to take over the dominion of Rugby.
Rangers are romantics
After never having made it as far as the World Series in their history, Texas Rangers are now contesting the Holy Grail of Baseball for the second year running against the Cardinals, with the resolve to go one better this time round. Game 1, was touted as the Berkman-Wilson duel, and with the former delivering one of the crucial hits against the latter in a 3-2 win for the Cardinals, the billing was justified. Berkman has been talismanic for St. Louis and will be gigantic for their chances to lift the World Series. Wilson’s big-game crisis has been well-documented in this column, and even though he had a decent outing, he still hasn’t matches his regular season expertise. Rangers struck late in Game 2 with Hamilton and Young hitting sacrifice flies to score Kinsler and Andrus in the final inning to put their side in the driving set as they return home.
At the time of writing there wasn’t any official word, but the likelihood is that Rangers are expected to start Harrison in Game 3, with Holland starting Game 4 – the latter doing well in his first start of the postseason and then forced a scoreless inning in relief. The two are in for the games of their lives.
Rangers should feel confident knowing that a strong show at home can fulfill their collective craving of the biggest accolade in baseball, after having spent their entire history in the lower echelons. It could be one of those romantic sporting tales.