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Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010: Difficult yet happy year for Pakistan sports

For a variety of reasons, 2010 was a difficult year for Pakistan sports. But then it was also a year of happiness with Pakistani women winning an Asian Games gold and the hockey team finally ending its title drought in Guangzhou, a Chinese commerce hub located at the north of the Pearl River delta.
Perhaps even better was the fact that Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi became the first Pakistani tennis player to reach a Grand Slam final. In fact he played in back-to-back finals of the men's doubles and mixed doubles events at the US Open to finally put Pakistan on the world tennis map.
But sadly, 2010 was also about a few horror stories.
Cricket - our national pastime - remained mired in controversy with little positive signs visible in the lead up to World Cup 2011, which will explode into action on Feb. 19 in Mirpur, Bangladesh.
With Ijaz Butt - the much-criticized chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) - still at the helm, even the most optimistic of Pakistan sports fans won't be much optimistic about the immediate future of cricket in our country.
It was cricket, which provided Pakistan sports with both its highest and lowest points in 2010.
In August, Pakistan officially became the most corruption-tainted team in the cricket-playing world when three of the country's leading players were accused of spot fixing. It was a story that rocked the cricket world and is now threatening to cut short the international careers of three leading Pakistani stars - Mohammad Aamir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt.
For a change, Pakistan cricket was celebrating three months later when their women bagged a surprise gold at the Asian Games in November. It was a historic occasion, considering the fact that cricket made its debut in the regional extravaganza in Guangzhou and it were the girls in green, who grabbed the gold. With the title-winning triumph, Pakistan's women cricketers proved that they are now an emerging force in regional cricket. Unlike in the past when nobody took women's cricket seriously in Pakistan, everybody is now talking about how our ladies can go on to become a force at the world level.
Ironically, while our women won the title, Pakistan flopped miserably in the men's event as they crashed out in the semifinals following a shocking defeat against minnows Afghanistan. Pakistan was firm favorites to win the gold, which eventually went to Bangladesh, who conquered the Afghans in the title match.
While the women were greeted as national heroes on their return home, their male counterparts were accused of match fixing.
Early in the year, Pakistan returned home from Australia following a catastrophic tour during which they lost all their matches under senior batsman Mohammad Yousuf, who flopped miserably as the team's captain.
A probe carried out by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) concluded that several of the national team players were guilty of serious disciplinary breaches. The Board banned and fined a number of leading players but as usual most of the punishments were never really carried out.
Pakistan went to the Caribbean a few months later and failed to defend their World Twenty20 title, falling to Australia from a seemingly winning position.
Their bad run continued in Sri Lanka where the Pakistanis failed to reach the final following losses against India and Sri Lanka.
From Sri Lanka, Pakistan flew out for England on what was a marathon tour featuring back-to-back series against Australia and England.
Shahid Afridi, who was promoted as Pakistan captain for all three formats, dropped a bombshell when he announced his retirement from Test cricket forcing PCB to install his deputy Salman Butt as the new Test captain.
The left-handed opener made a stunning start to his captaincy stint by leading Pakistan to a series-equaling triumph over the Aussie in the second Test.
It seemed Pakistan had finally managed to appoint the right man for the job. But just weeks later, things went horribly wrong for both Butt and Pakistan.
Pakistan lost the opening two Tests against England before bouncing back with a vengeance to crush the hosts in the third Test at The Oval. In the fourth and final Test at Lord's, Mohammad Aamir ripped through the England batting line-up on the opening day and it seemed Pakistan were on their way to another series-leveling victory.
But all of that became irrelevant when News Of The World - a British tabloid - splashed a sensational story accusing the trio of Butt, Aamir and Asif of spot fixing.
It claimed that Aamir and Asif bowled deliberate no balls during the Lord's Test. The players were provisionally suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and could be banned for life if an independent tribunal finds them guilty following a full hearing in Doha from Jan. 6-11.
Butt's exit made way for Misbah-ul-Haq, who guided Pakistan to a 0-0 draw in their two-Test series against South Africa in the UAE in November.
In hockey, Pakistan suffered from a series of embarrassing results at the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games before they bounced back to win the Asian Games crown.
Pakistan's squash chiefs, too, endured several frustrating results before their previously under-achieving players landed the team gold at Guangzhou.
However, squash legend Jahangir Khan advised the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) to keep its eyes on the ball instead of getting distracted by what he termed as a minor title. In response, the PSF roped in Jansher Khan - Jahangir's one-time rival - as the new national coach as well as its chief advisor.
Soon after his appointment, Jansher declared that he can put Pakistan back on track and promised that a Pakistani player will win the world individual crown in Belgium next August. Jansher was the last Pakistani to win that title back in 1986.
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