Babar Azam’s incredible rise from tape-ball cricket to ODI apex

Pakistan's Babar Azam celebrates after scoring a century (100 runs) during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between New Zealand and Pakistan at Edgbaston in Birmingham, central England, on June 26, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 14 April 2021

Babar Azam’s incredible rise from tape-ball cricket to ODI apex

  • Pakistan captain Azam has ended Virat Kohli’s 1,258-day reign at top of MRF Tyres ICC Men’s ODI Player Rankings
  • Becomes only the fourth batsman from Pakistan to attain number one position in the latest weekly update

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan captain Babar Azam has ended Virat Kohli’s long reign at the top of the MRF Tyres ICC Men’s ODI Player Rankings, becoming only the fourth batsman from his country to attain number one position in the rankings, the International Cricket Council said on Wednesday.
From playing on the streets of Lahore to the top of the world, Azam has officially climbed a peak unreached by any Pakistani since Mohammad Yousuf.
Azam has attained a career high 865 points following a momentous series against South Africa, whom his side defeated 2-1 to grab 20 World Cup Super League points. He now leads Indian captain Kohli by eight points. 
“The Pakistan captain has overtaken Virat Kohli to become the No.1 batsman in the latest @MRFWorldwide ICC men’s ODI rankings,” the ICC said on Twitter. 

“Babar, a star of the ICC Under-19 Men’s Cricket World Cups in 2010 and 2012 and who has been playing ODIs since 2015, had started the series against South Africa at 837 rating points but moved up to 858 (ahead of Kohli) after his score of 103 in the first match. He dropped to 852 by the time of the last weekly rankings update with a score of 32 in the second ODI,” ICC said on its website. 
“By ending Kohli’s 1,258-day supremacy, Babar has emulated compatriots Zaheer Abbas (1983-84), Javed Miandad (1988-89), and Mohammad Yousuf (2003) as the number one ODI batsman. In Tests, Babar has attained a best of fifth position and is currently ranked sixth while in T20Is he is third but has been number one in the past.”
Responding to his new achievement, Azam said he felt “privileged and honored” to have joined the company of the shining stars of Pakistani cricket like Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad and Mohammad Yousuf.
“This is another milestone in my career, which will now require even more hard work and absolute consistency with the bat in order for me to hold on to the ranking for an extended period of time, like Sir Vivian Richards from January 1984 to October 1988 and Virat Kohli for 1,258 days,” Azam said. 
“I have also previously topped the T20I rankings, but the ultimate ambition and goal is to lead the Test rankings, which are the real testament and reward to a batsman’s calibre, reputation and skills. I understand to achieve this objective, I will not only have to perform consistently, but more importantly, against the top sides.
“I am looking forward to this challenge and remain confident I will be able to accomplish this target with the support of my team-mates and coaching staff. But at this stage, I will savour the moment as it has come almost 18 months after I was first appointed the white-ball captain and that too at the back of my performances that helped Pakistan become the first Asian side to win two ODI series in South Africa,” Azam said.
By 12, Azam was playing serious tape-ball cricket and at age 14 he had his first meaningful taste of failure in the sport as he was rejected from the national academy. It was only a setback, the ICC said, as a year later he would gain entry and be declared the country’s best Under-15 batsman.
By age 15 he had made his List A debut and by 16 he was a first-class cricketer for ZTBL. By the time he received his first ODI cap he already had six centuries and more than 2,000 List A runs at an average of 47.88 to his name.
“Nowadays, Azam’s place among ODI cricket’s finest players is unquestionable. An average of 56.83 and 13 centuries across just 80 matches will do that sort of thing,” the ICC said.
By September 2018 Azam passed 2,000 runs in ODI cricket, reaching the milestone in just 45 innings. Only one player has ever gotten there quicker and that is South African great Hashim Amla. Amla took just 40 innings.
In the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, Azam made history, scoring 474 runs at 67.61 to break Javed Miandad’s 1992 record for the most runs by a Pakistan batsman in a Cricket World Cup campaign.
“Still only 26 years old, Azam’s best years are still ahead of him,” the ICC said. “Given he boasts the third greatest ODI average (56.83) in history right now, that is a scary thought for opposition teams all around the world.”


Bomb kills four soldiers guarding coal mine — Pakistani military

Updated 14 June 2021

Bomb kills four soldiers guarding coal mine — Pakistani military

  • Attack happened at Marget Mines, about 75 kilometers east of the capital of Balochistan province
  • No one claimed responsibility but militants have previously attacked miners and soldiers in the region

QUETTA: A powerful bomb targeting paramilitary soldiers exploded at a coal mine in southwest Pakistan, killing four soldiers, the military said Monday.
The attack happened at Marget Mines, about 75 kilometers (45 miles) east of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, a statement released by the military said.

Combination of photos shows paramilitary soldiers who lost their lives in an attack in southwest Pakistan on June 14, 2021. (Photo courtesy: ISPR)

It said the slain soldiers were guarding the coal mine and a search operation was still underway to track and arrest those who orchestrated the attack.
No one claimed responsibility but militants and separatists have previously attacked coal miners and security workers in the region and elsewhere. Pakistan has deployed troops to ensure the protection of coal mines and oil workers in the region.
Balochistan has for years been the scene of a low-level insurgency by small separatist groups who complain of discrimination and demand a fairer share of their province’s resources and wealth, such as natural gas and mines. The Pakistani Taliban and the Daesh group also have a presence.


Pakistan condemns Houthi drone attack targeting school in Saudi Arabia’s Asir region

Updated 14 June 2021

Pakistan condemns Houthi drone attack targeting school in Saudi Arabia’s Asir region

  • Saudi air defenses destroy armed drone launched by Yemen’s Houthi group toward southern Saudi city of Khamis Mushait on Monday
  • On Sunday, Saudi state media said drone rigged with explosives fell on school in Asir province but that no injuries were reported

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani foreign office on Monday condemned a Houthi drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s Asir region and called for an “immediate cessation” of such assaults. 
The Saudi Civil Defense said on Sunday it had received reports that a Houthi drone launched from Yemen toward one of the Asir region’s governorates had hit and damaged a school. No injuries were confirmed.
On Monday, Saudi Arabian air defenses intercepted and destroyed an armed drone launched by the Houthi group toward the southern Saudi city of Khamis Mushait, state television said, citing the Saudi-led military coalition, which has been battling the Houthis for over six years.
“These attacks not only violate the territorial integrity of the Kingdom but also threaten the lives of innocent people. We call for immediate cessation of such attacks,” the Pakistan foreign office said in a statement. “Pakistan reaffirms its full support and solidarity with the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against any threats to its security and territorial integrity.”


Capital gains tax cuts in Pakistani fiscal budget spark bullish sentiments at PSX

Updated 14 June 2021

Capital gains tax cuts in Pakistani fiscal budget spark bullish sentiments at PSX

  • Analysts say CGT cut, withdrawal of withholding tax on National Clearing Company and slashing turnover tax positive for equity market
  • Pakistani exporters of value-added textiles unhappy because government ignored demands including restoration of zero rating of general sales tax

KARACHI: Buoyed by the federal government’s step to cut capital gain tax to 12.5 percent, Pakistan’s equity market opened on a high note on Monday — the first day of trading after the fiscal budget was presented on Friday, equity analysts said. 
Pakistani finance minister Shaukat Train on Friday presented what has been called a “pro-growth” and “people-friendly” fiscal budget for 2021-22, with a total outlay of Rs8.4 trillion. 
Some of the proposals in the budget include reducing capital gains tax to 12.5 percent from 15 percent, removing withholding tax (WHT) on National Clearing Company of Pakistan Limited (NCCPL), a Pakistan capital market institution providing clearing and settlement services to Pakistan Stock Exchange Limited, and slashing turnover tax to 1.25 percent from 1.5 percent. 
Pakistan’s stock market started off the day Monday with a 662 point surge and remained bullish throughout the trading session, before closing at 48,726 points, gaining 421 points due to profit taking. 
“Stocks closed higher led by selected scrips across the board as investor weighed federal budget FY22 relief in the capital gains tax, withholding tax to brokerages and IMF relaxations on industrial tariff,” Ahsan Mehanti, the chief executive of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News. “Record higher global crude oil prices, relief for pharma and services exporters in the federal budget FY22 played a catalyst role in bullish close.”
Major activity was witnessed in energy sector shares because subsidies announced in the budget are believed will resolve the circular debt issue. 
“Pakistan’s federal budget is positive for the stock market,” Samiullah Tariq, Head of Research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment, told Arab News. “Overall the sentiment of investors is very positive and they are optimistic about the growth numbers presented by the government.”
Not everyone is happy, though, especially Pakistani exporters of value-added textile who say the government did not incorporate their anticipated demands for restoration of Zero Rating of General Sales Tax (GST) and the No Payment No Refund System, suspension of collection of Export Development Fund (EDF) surcharge, and reduction of the WHT rate to 0.5 percent. 
“Imposition of 17 percent GST has made textile exporters, especially Small and medium Enterprises (SME) exporters, financially unviable as their liquidity remained stuck up,” Jawed Bilwani, chairman of the Pakistan Apparel Forum, said at a press conference in Karachi on Monday. “The small and Medium textile operators throughout the year face financial crunch that makes it difficult to discharge export commitments, pay utilities and salaries to staff and laborers and also reluctant to take new export orders.”
Exporters say due to elimination of zero rated facility, 33 percent or 2,102 small and medium textile enterprises have closed down their business. 
“It is on record that 33 percent SME exporters have closed their export business as compared to last year due to imposition of 17 percent which blocked exporters liquidity,” Bilwani said adding: “With the continuation of 17 percent GST in 2021-22, many more SME textile exporters who managed to survive last year are feared to close due to liquidity. The GST on exports and refund after months is the key hurdle in the boost in exports.”
Value-added textile exports contribute around 62 percent in total exports, provide 42 percent urban employment, particularly to the female workforce, earn the nation the highest foreign exchange and support approximately 40 allied industries, according to exporters.


Of rhymes and ‘gawky’ reasons: Pakistani rap group traces journey back to Riyadh years

Updated 14 June 2021

Of rhymes and ‘gawky’ reasons: Pakistani rap group traces journey back to Riyadh years

  • Gawky Gang’s three members met in Riyadh and became known as the only three Pakistani rappers in the Saudi capital
  • Though they are now based in Pakistan, they hope to take their music back to Saudi Arabia soon “on a bigger scale, Insha’Allah!”

RAWALPINDI: Mohad Ali, the only Pakistani in a group of Arab rappers in Riyadh, was instantly drawn to compatriots Muzammil Wahid and Raamis Ali when he met them in 2009 at a time the hip-hop and rap music scene was evolving among locals and expatriates alike in the Kingdom’s small but talent-packed community.
Thus was born Gawky Gang, a rap band that was initially influenced by the members’ experience of growing up as Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia but whose repertoire has since expanded to include much broader themes like social justice and women empowerment. 
“Luckily, M.ZHE [Muzammil’s stage name] and I were living in the same neighborhood and started to meet more regularly after realizing we were the only three Pakistani rappers in Riyadh,” Mohad, 23, told Arab News. 
“We’d see people rapping in the streets [of Riyadh] and making graffiti art on random walls [as a way to express themselves],” M.ZHE, 24, who hails from the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, said. 
Inspired, the group launched the Riyadh City Cypher Series on YouTube, garnering “thousands of likes” for their online videos.
“The Riyadh City Cypher series ... became well known among Riyadh’s Pakistani community... and received love from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh too,” M.ZHE said.

Mohad Ali, Hashim Nawaz, M.ZHE, Raamis, and Aqeel Sarfraz in a photo shared by Sarfaraz on his Instagram account on October 28, 2018 (Aqeel Sarfaraz)

But the initial years were not easy, especially when it came to holding live performances in Saudi Arabia. 
But Mohad said the “struggles and difficulties” the rappers faced “influenced us to do more in terms of our music and write about our different experiences growing up in Saudi Arabia.” It also brought the band a loyal fan following among Arab musicians. 
“We’ve been appreciated by many Arab rappers, including Faris Albalad … we still receive appreciation messages from him,” Mohad added, saying that support was priceless since it was a response to music produced in a language many Arabs did not understand.
While living in the kingdom, the band members said they mostly performed in English or Arabic, not Urdu or Punjabi, which was their preference. 
It was the language barrier that eventually pushed them to return to Pakistan in 2016, they said, and launch the Gawky Records label, an extension of their stage name.
“It is not easy to leave a place where you have spent your entire life, especially your childhood,” Raamis said. “Pakistan is a very welcoming country and full of opportunities, but it was difficult to opt for a completely different lifestyle from which we were used to in Riyadh.”
Also, the hip-hop and rap scene was still in its teething stages in Pakistan in 2016, with many “misconceptions” about the genre. 
“It’s a little difficult for our culture to accept,” Hashim Nawaz Malik, one of the artists working with Gawky Records, told Arab News.
But things are taking a turn for the better for the rap scene. A recent edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) – the largest domestic T-20 cricket tournament in the country – included rap performances in the series’ official theme song.
“When we first started, there were maybe 100 desi rappers in total,” M.ZHE said. Raamis added: “Now there’s 100 in each street of Karachi.”
Raamis said the Gawky Gang was supportive of local talent too, using earnings from music streams such as Spotify to provide recording, mixing and mastering services to other artists.
“[We are] signing new talent on our label, sponsoring music videos... just for the sake of Pakistani hip hop,” Raamis said.
“We are trying to push everyone who’s with us since day one; this is how we have been since the Saudi Arabian days,” Mohad added.
But even as the band makes more and more music in and about Pakistan, its members still reminisce about Saudi Arabia, especially the food and the early years of producing music.
“Sometimes, when we are sitting in the studio, I get flashbacks from when we were in Saudi Arabia … and now ten years later we are in Pakistan,” M.ZHE said. “Maybe after ten years, we will be in a different country and a different setting but for the sake of music.”
Maybe back in Riyadh, where it all started?
“Exactly! Take the music back to Saudi Arabia,” he said, “back from where it started, but on a bigger scale, Insha’Allah!”


Flip out: Pakistan police detain 19 restaurant staffers after being denied free burgers

Updated 14 June 2021

Flip out: Pakistan police detain 19 restaurant staffers after being denied free burgers

  • Following outcry, nine police officers involved were suspended on Sunday, Punjab police chief says
  • Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly called for a reform of Punjab’s powerful police force

LAHORE: A group of police officers in Pakistan flipped out when a takeaway joint refused to hand over free burgers, detaining all 19 staff at the restaurant.

Workers at the trendy chain Johnny & Jugnu in the eastern city of Lahore were rounded up and held for seven hours overnight on Saturday, leaving behind unattended kitchens and hungry customers.
“This is not the first time something like this has happened with our kitchen teams at our restaurant, but we want to make sure this is the last,” the fast food chain said in a statement published on social media.
The beef started when staff at the restaurant refused a “request from a very high profile special guest.”
Restaurant staff told AFP that most of those arrested were young people, including many university students.
Following outcry among fans, nine police officers involved were suspended yesterday, senior provincial police official Inam Ghani said on Twitter.
“No one is allowed to take the law into his own hands,” Ghani said.
Pakistan’s police officers are often accused of corruption and for demanding kickbacks from local businesses, though they deny the charge.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for a reform of Punjab’s police force, saying “cronies” had been appointed by politicians to control police stations.