Archive for February, 2011

Cricket: World Cup power rankings

Cricket correspondent Andrew Alderson is working for nzherald.co.nz at the World Cup.

He is ranking the teams for us on a week-to-week basis, judging from what he hears and observes at the tournament.

Group A

1. Australia
The power of their middle order and spin attack is yet to be truly tested but eased through their first two matches against Zimbabwe and New Zealand despite two warm-up losses. The pace attack of Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson has been menacing, contrary to what some predicted. The best in pool A when compared to mercurial Pakistan and vulnerable Sri Lanka.

2. Pakistan
Are they tournament sleepers under skipper Shahid Afridi? He exudes charisma and already has nine wickets for 50 runs from 18 overs, despite a poor past World Cup record. The 11-run win over Sri Lanka could be crucial long term.

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He is backed by the unpredictable Akmal brothers and the reliable Misbah ul-Haq and Umar Gul. After Pakistan’s tumultuous year it is remarkable they’re in this shape.

3. Sri Lanka
A favourite on paper. They have the batting, the spin attack and arguably the world’s best keeper/batsman in skipper Kumar Sangakkara. In practice they aren’t as assured, despite playing for Muttiah Muralitharan in his last hurrah in national colours. Winners last time the tournament was on the subcontinent in 1996, they need wins against New Zealand and Australia to boost confidence.

4. New Zealand
Living up to expectations. At this stage a quarter-final exit seems inevitable, barring a spectacular turnaround. Relying on the lower order batting and skipper Daniel Vettori with the ball isn’t a foolproof method to threaten their other key group opponents Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Need to build on batting and bowling partnerships. Could be saved by the forgiving last eight format.

5. Zimbabwe
Not to be underestimated, especially on Friday in Ahmedabad against the Black Caps. Their best weapon is making opposition batsmen force the pace off spinners Ray Price, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer. Proven class is back looking after Zimbabwe these days. Past players Heath Streak, Alistair Campbell and Grant Flower have returned to the fold in various capacities which bodes well.

6. Canada
Making up the numbers… it could be their last World Cup for a while. Most notable feature is probably a trivia quirk in John Davison who at 40 years and 294 days [as of Sunday] is the oldest player in the tournament. His century off 67 balls against the West Indies in 2003 was then the fastest at a World Cup.

7. Kenya
Look wayward after a pounding from New Zealand in their first match… expect more where that came from after claims of disharmony in camp. Were gifted a semi-final spot in 2003 through terrorism-fear boycotts. Like Canada they’re unlikely to return for a while if the format reduces to 10 in four years.

Group B

1. India
India should lead this group but the tie against England has come as a shock to the nation… and the All Blacks think they face pressure. Cheering outside this hotel window piped down considerably as England recovered; crowds had also milled around television sets everywhere on the journey from Nagpur to Ahmedabad. The batting seems sussed but how their bowlers could give away 338 runs needs addressing, sharpish. The injury to preferred left-armer Ashish Nehra hasn’t helped.

2. South Africa
Look a fine, balanced unit but have failed to deliver the trophy every time since returning from isolation in 1992. With such a strong core including Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn they should fancy their chances but bowling could let them down. There is hope Imran Tahir with four wickets against the West Indies might deliver on the spin front.

3. England
Produced a thrilling tie against India but narrowly defeated the Netherlands. Odd. All the matches saw plenty of runs but where is the consistency? The batting, led by skipper Andrew Strauss and with plans to keep opening with Kevin Pietersen, looks solid. Plenty of Ashes winners stack the bowling. The question is: can they keep firing – as in Bangalore – after months on the road for many.

4. Bangladesh
Remain an outside hope for a semi-final given they play all matches at home. New Zealand mightn’t be the only top tier nation to get tangled in their spinning web after the 4-0 whitewash last year. Shown up by the Indian batting juggernaut but held nerve to dispatch Ireland who chased close. So much rests on Shakib al Hasan as an all-rounder and Tamim Iqbal as an opening bat.

5. West Indies
The loss of injured all-rounder Dwayne Bravo means prospects are grim. The 73 from his brother Darren – a Trinidadian who is a fine replica of countryman Brian Lara – against South Africa offers hope. A couple of others, notably Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard, also need to produce if the West Indies are to progress. Seem the most likely test-playing team to flounder.

6. Ireland
Won’t replicate their 2007 giant-killing feats but at least present stern opposition when compared to group A.

7. The Netherlands (aka Ryan ten Doeschate)
If ten Doeschate fails you suspect the Netherlands will too, although to be fair they provided stiff opposition against England – ten Doeschate’s century was backed by valuable support in the middle order. Surely it’s impossible for him to contribute like that every match?

- Herald on Sunday

Pakistan: Yet another Christian accused of blasphemy

By Speroforum for Spero News

A Christian woman, Agnes Nuggo, was accused of blasphemy and arrested in the Diocese of Faisalabad, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The Catholic Church, which is handling the case, expressed “extreme concern”  over the affair.

The Commission for Justice and Peace in the diocese reported that Agnes (50) is married to Bashir Masih, has children and lives in the Christian quarter of Waris Pura. She was accused of blasphemy after a dispute over a piece of land that had already created controversy with his relatives. Some Muslim neighbours accused her of having made insulting statements against the Prophet Mohammed and against Islam. On 16 February, the local police registered a FIR (First Information Report) pursuant to art. 295/a of the Criminal Code and arrested her. Agnes professes her innocence and says the accusations are completely fabricated.

Fr. Nisar Barkat, Director of the Justice and Peace Commission in Faisalabad, reported “Bishop Joseph Coutts has become aware of the case and asked me to follow it closely.” Fr. Nisar was in court and obtained a copy of the complaint against Agnes, who will have her first court hearing in two weeks. The church will find her a lawyer and will take care of her family.

According to some sisters who know Agnes personally “the case is quite complicated: the woman was lured into a trap. Some people wanted to take revenge on her, because in the past Agnes had agreed to testify in court for money.””

Fr. Pascal Paulus, a Dominican priest in the Waris Pura area, said that “the situation is critical for us Christians. We need to be very careful. The Islamic radicals want to exploit these cases to attack the Christian minorities. We are exposed to spurious attacks, which have already been happening.”

Asia Bibi, another Christian woman accused of blasphemy, has been imprisoned for several months and has been condemend to death under Islamic law, Haroon Barket Masih of the Masihi Foundation said of Nuggo, “She is a new Asia Bibi. Agnes’ case is one of many cases of persecution that continue to occur. Most of the episodes don’t leave a trace and do not reach the clamour of the spotlight. Only when the victims’ families trust in the Churches, foundations and NGOs, then the injustices come to light. Families often keep silent for fear of retaliation. And institutions are absent: in this situation, what can Christians do?”

Rosemary Noel, head of the Pakistan Catholic Women’s Organisation said, “Being a Christian woman in Pakistan is a dual challenge. Even the status of women is itself exposed to discrimination, violence and abuse. Women struggle to gain access to education and the world of work. Those Christians are doubly discriminated against. They are considered as objects by Muslims and suffer all sorts of abuse and injustice to general indifference.”

According to data provided by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistani Bishops, including Agnes, there have been 16 Christian women accused and imprisoned between 1987 and 2010 (in addition to a Muslim woman and a Hindu), but many other cases escape inclusion, because they did not end with a formal complaint.

Bahrain: Two Seas, Two Sects

By Lauren Vriens for The Huffington Post

For the past six months, I’ve lived in a country nicknamed the Las Vegas of the Middle East, replete with neon lights, clubs and prostitutes. But I’ve also been living in a country of sandy villages, lined with black flags and small mosques. This is Bahrain. The country’s name means “two seas” in Arabic, but it might as well be a metaphor for its division between two sects.

After the first protester died on February 14, the existing tensions between the Sunnis and the Shia have heightened. Some observers say this clash has its roots in a geo-religious power struggle between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia; the more likely story is one of tension between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

The country is rife with rumors that every Shia household has either a Hezbollah flag or a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini hanging in the living room. But as hard as journalists tried to press at Pearl Roundabout, the locus of the demonstrations, protesters just shrugged when asked about Iran’s influence. “This isn’t about Iran. This is about me being able to feed my children,” one woman said.

On Monday night, there were allegedly 300,000 people protesting around the Grand Mosque in favor of the government. Only 20 minutes away, a hundred thousand, if not more (no Bahraini newspaper has provided an estimate), were protesting against the regime.

Shias will say that the pro-government rally was half comprised of wealthy Sunnis who benefit from the status quo, made clear from their accessories of Gucci sunglasses and Hummers. The rest of the rally-goers were Sunnis from Pakistan, India, Yemen, Syria and other countries, speed-tracked to citizenship by the government to increase the Sunni percentage of the population.

Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, there has been a palpable fear among Sunnis that Bahrain is one step away from becoming a mini-Iran, where women are required by law to wear black chadors and the only alcohol to be found is fermented in the neighbor’s bathtub.

An allegiance between Bahrain and religiously strident Iran is the Sunni minority’s worst fear — much of the country’s wealth is dependent on its vices. The money generated from Saudi weekend tourists looking for a good time consists of nearly 25% of the economy according to the U.S. Embassy. If democracy comes to Bahrain, the majority Shia population could, conceivably, end all the fun and harm the economy.

My co-worker, a Sunni and a former financial trader, thinks that democracy is a good thing — “Arabs need reform and modernity; in thousands of years, not even one word has been added to the Arabic dictionary” — but she just applied for papers to move to Australia. If democracy comes to Bahrain, she doesn’t want to be here for it.

The lynchpin that is keeping this country the way it is — the home of a Formula One race track, the base of the U.S.’s Fifth Naval Fleet and a favored place in the Gulf for business meetings — is the monarchy.

The royal family has two faces, however. The first is busy promoting the country as “Business-Friendly Bahrain,” as its visa stamp reads. The second is systematically and deliberately oppressing a portion of its population, largely because of fears of an Iranian coup.

In 2001, King Hamad put forward the National Action Charter, a referendum that signified political reform and his wish to distance himself from his father’s reign of terror against dissidents in the ’90s. The U.S. applauded him for his efforts in correcting his family’s legacy of human rights abuse.

Since then, the regime has painstakingly dismantled any serious political opposition through cleverly-placed veto powers, arrests, torture, and other dictatorial tricks. In late January, police blasted a 15-year-old Shia boy in the face with birdshot. Things like that happen all the time.

The main Shia demand on February 14, at the outset of the protests, was simple: an elected Prime Minister, rather than an appointed one. This was a reasonable request. But once the mercenary Sunni riot police fired rubber bullets at sleeping men, women and children in Pearl Roundabout, there have been cries for the whole regime to step down.

It is unlikely that the monarchy will fall any time soon (if it even comes close, Saudi Arabia will allegedly roll its own tanks over the causeway), but the government could assuage the situation and keep the country from civil war, or from grinding to a complete stop as the numbers in Pearl Roundabout grow daily.

The recent release of 23 Shia political activists is a step in the right direction, but the most important thing the government can do is focus on closing the income gap by boosting its human capital development and training programs, like Tamkeen. Forget about the Iran Boogeyman and bring in the opposition for genuine dialogue and debate. The more the monarchy alienates the opposition, the more radical and eastward-leaning the opposition will become.

Regardless of the tactics the monarchy takes, it needs to start soon. It cannot just keep its finger plugged in the dike, or else the sea may just well come crashing in.

Gadhafi’s vow: Will fight to ‘last drop of blood’

By Maggie Michael and Sarah El Deeb for The Associated Press

A defiant Moammar Gadhafi vowed to fight to his “last drop of blood” and roared at supporters to strike back against Libyan protesters to defend his embattled regime Tuesday, signaling an escalation of the crackdown that has thrown the capital into scenes of mayhem, wild shooting and bodies in the streets.

The speech by the Libyan leader — who shouted and pounded his fists on the podium — was an all-out call for his backers to impose control over the capital and take back other cities. After a week of upheaval, protesters backed by defecting army units have claimed control over almost the entire eastern half of Libya’s 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) Mediterranean coast, including several oil-producing areas.

“You men and women who love Gadhafi … get out of your homes and fill the streets,” he said. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs.”

Celebratory gunfire by Gadhafi supporters rang out in the capital of Tripoli after the leader’s speech, while in protester-held Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, people threw shoes at a screen showing his address, venting their contempt.

State TV showed a crowd of Gadhafi supporters in Tripoli’s Green Square, raising his portrait and waving flags as they swayed to music after the address. Residents contacted by The Associated Press said no anti-government protesters ventured out of their homes after dark, and gun-toting guards manned checkpoints with occasional bursts of gunfire heard throughout the city.

International alarm rose over the crisis, which sent oil prices soaring to the highest level in more than two years on Tuesday and sparked a scramble by European and other countries to get their citizens out of the North African nation. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting that ended with a statement condemning the crackdown, expressing “grave concern” and calling for an “immediate end to the violence” and steps to address the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel called Gadhafi’s speech “very, very appalling,” saying it “amounted to him declaring war on his own people.” Libya’s own deputy ambassador at the U.N., who now calls for Gadhafi’s ouster, has urged the world body to enforce a no-fly zone over the country to protect protesters.

“This violence is completely unacceptable,” added Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Perfect Pitch

By Sonal Srivastava for The Times of India

Tickets to most India matches have been sold out,” Priyanka Saxena informed her colleagues. Her co-workers were huddled at her work station, eyes fixed on the monitor, hoping to get premium tickets for the India Vs Netherlands Cricket World Cup 2011 match in Delhi. “We were disappointed, but then we decided to go for the South Africa Vs West Indies tie, instead. I’m going to cheer for the South Africans as they haven’t won the World Cup yet,” she says. Cricket is an amazing game; it originated in Great Britain, but Commonwealth countries have adopted it as their own. The game has not only transcended international borders, it has also managed to cut across fault lines, transcending race, colour, caste, community, class and faith.

The 2011 Cricket World Cup is being hosted by three South Asian cricketing nations: India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Teams from 14 countries are participating in the 10th edition of the World Cup. The event will be spread over two months and will be played in three different countries, starting off at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, Dhaka, and ending in April at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai.

So much good cheer
“Sport brings communities together and helps release a lot of pent-up emotions,” says Ian Botham, former English cricketer. When you cheer for your country or any other favourite team of another country, you forget all your worries. If your team wins, it’s time to celebrate. Every time India or the team that’s being backed wins a crucial match, fans light crackers and distribute sweets; some dance to the beat of dhols. As a cricket-crazy country, we celebrate the success of Zaheer Khan and Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh and Dhoni, irrespective of their religious leanings. “People like to cheer for something; it’s a feel-good thing. If you are stressed, then watching a cricket match can bring relief; when your team wins, you feel on top of the world,” says former India cricketer Atul Wassan.

World Cup is the time for bonhomie: It’s when you can start a conversation with strangers without inhibition, exchange notes and discuss the outcome of the match. When a batsman hits sixes, you might spontaneously hug a complete stranger standing next to you — your passion for the game takes precedence over age, gender, and community. “You can play cricket even in a remote village with just a bat and a tree stump for wickets. That’s what makes cricket popular,” explains Wassan.

Ties that bind
Devoted fans of the game cheer for their favourite cricketers irrespective of the country they represent. Interestingly, even if India is knocked out, people like to see their neighbours — Pakistan and Sri Lanka — do well and bring the World Cup back to the subcontinent. The result? Fans get to see ‘some good cricket.’ During the 1996 World Cup Quarter Final, in Bangalore, Aamir Sohail hit a delivery from bowler Venkatesh Prasad for four runs. He looked at Prasad and pointed his bat towards the boundary where the ball had gone. In the very next delivery, Prasad bowled out Sohail and pointed the finger towards the pavilion. “There is traditional rivalry between India and Pakistan. The armed forces of our respective countries may have to defend borders, but cricket is something that helps people-to-people bonding. During matches, the atmosphere on the field is electric, but after the match, the cricketers hang out together like old buddies,” says former India captain, Ajit Wadekar. And so do fans!

Gentleman’s game
A one-day match is played over six hours and sometimes players do get carried away and tempers run high. But cricket is a gentleman’s game and players have to abide by the umpire’s decisions. Often there is friendly banter on the cricket field and humourous one-liners are exchanged to help lighten the mood. For instance, Inzamam-ul-Haq reportedly told Brett Lee, a fast bowler, to “stop bowling offspinners”. In another instance, when Indian all-rounder Irfan Pathan came to bat, Afridi shouted twice: “O mera shehzada aaya!” — Oh! My prince has come.

Gods of cricket
Fans adore cricketers. Those for whom cricket is religion, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, are gods personified. The little master has such charisma and skills that Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden exclaimed: “I have seen God; he bats at no 4 for India in Tests,” referring to Sachin’s position in the Indian batting line up. “When people watch their favourite cricketers do well, it gives them self-belief. They think that if Kapil Dev or Dhoni can make it, they can also do well,” says former spin bowler Maninder Singh. Fans also manage websites dedicated to their favourite cricketers. A site called ‘Sachinism’ runs forum discussions based on Sachin’s knocks, and fans post their views on the master blaster’s innings.

Playing field
A game of cricket is a lot like life. Just like a batsman faces googlies from the bowler, we too have to deal with what life throws at us. The batsman stands alone on the field, faced with 11 opponents; but with training, discipline and good reflexes, he does the best he can. However, in the game of life we are rarely alone. We have family, friends and others willing to lend a hand. Moreover, we have the benefit of access to ancient and modern wisdom that helps us train and discipline ourselves to deal better with life’s challenges and help each other.

India and Pakistan Officials Discuss Bilateral Water Treaty

As reported by Daily India

India and Pakistan officials attended a high-level meeting of the Indus Water Treaty Commission in Jammu to discuss a proposal by India to erect a dam on the river Indus.

A three-member delegation from Pakistan led by Sheraj Jameel, Commissioner, Indus Water Treaty, visited the Nikki Tawi area to examine the site and the design of the proposed artificial lake. The lake is being constructed at a cost of rupees 1.1 billion.

“We are here to inspect the project. We will see whether it is within the limitation of the treaty or not and after the visit we will talk to our counterpart,” said Jameel.
The Indian counterpart S.Ranganathan, Commissioner, Indus Water Treaty, said that the lake project is still in conception.

“In our opinion it does not violate the treaty. When we will get the information from the project authorities, we will analyse it and if it doesn’t violate the provisions, then we will give the go ahead for the project” said Ranganathan.

The team of delegates would be in the region for three days to examine all the records and plans vis-à-vis water distribution for the lake project.

The World Bank had brokered the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan and was signed by the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then Pakistan President Mohammad Ayub Khan in Karachi in 1960 giving powers to the latter for monitoring the usage of three rivers-Indus, Jehlum and Chenab from Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan.

Dig Deeper and You’ll Find the Other Oslo

By Rick Steves,Tribune Media Services

In the Norwegian capital of Oslo, a big statue of a tiger sits in front of the train station. A local once explained that Oslo is nicknamed the Tiger City because in the 19th century, when country boys visited the wild and crazy “New York City of Norway,” it made “a mark on their soul.”

I find Oslo more of a kitten than a tiger. Its mix of grand neoclassical facades, boxy 1960s-style modernism, pastoral parks and homogenous culture always have felt a bit tame for my taste. But by digging deeper, you can find more texture here, from gritty neighborhoods to troubled artists.

The city’s grand boulevard, Karl Johans Gate (street), cuts from the train station through the center of town to the Royal Palace. Lively with restaurants, parks and people, the street is lined with landmarks, including Oslo Cathedral, Parliament and Stortorvet Square, with its lively flower and produce market.

The boulevard also is the address of the Grand Cafe, once the meeting place of Oslo’s intellectual and creative elite. At the back of the cafe, a mural shows Norway’s literary and artistic clientele enjoying this fine hangout, from playwright Henrik Ibsen (who came in every day at 1 p.m.) to Edvard Munch, leaning against the window, looking drugged.

Munch is Norway’s most famous and influential painter. To see his most important work, head to the nearby National Gallery. Munch helped to pioneer a new style, expressionism, using lurid colors and bold lines to “express” inner turmoil and the angst of the modern world. His most iconic painting is The Scream, which he described as “the work of a madman.”

A few blocks down from the National Gallery is Oslo’s people-friendly harbor front, situated at the head of the 60-mile-long Oslofjord. As in many European cities, residents are reclaiming their waterfront area. In the past, you would have dodged several lanes of traffic to get to the harborfront, but now, most traffic has been diverted through tunnels under the city.

Facing the harbor, Oslo’s striking city hall is famous for hosting the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Completed in 1950 to celebrate the city’s 900th birthday, the building was an avant-garde thrill in its day. Entering here, I’m reminded that in this most highly taxed corner of Europe, city halls, rather than churches, are the dominant buildings. Though the state religion is Lutheranism, people rarely go to church. Instead, they seem to almost worship good government. The main hall actually feels like a temple.

Along the eastern harbor, the marble Opera House seems to rise like an iceberg from the sea. This is the only opera house in the world that doubles as a public plaza, with a roof designed to be walked on. Opened in 2008, this cultural venue is a huge hit. On my last visit, I joined 8,000 people on the rooftop to watch a hot English group named Antony and the Johnsons (with a lead singer who looks like a cross between Meatloaf and Marilyn Manson) perform on a stage raft anchored just offshore.

In summer, Norwegians practically live outdoors. Frogner Park not only offers a great peek at Norwegians at play but also features a fine sculpture garden showcasing a lifetime of work by Norway’s greatest sculptor, Gustav Vigeland.

From 1924 to 1943, Vigeland created a world of bronze and granite statues — around 600 nude figures in all. The centerpiece is a teeming monolith of life, with 121 figures carved out of a single block of stone rocketing skyward. Like Munch, Vigeland was troubled. Those who know his life story can read it clearly in the granite and bronze, but I ignore it all and simply see his art as observations on the bittersweet cycle of life.

As much as I love Norway, goat cheese and my blond cousins, sometimes I need to inject some color into my days. At night, I head to two trendy multiethnic zones. Grunerlokka is the Greenwich Village of Oslo. A former working-class district, this neighborhood of funky shops, old hippies and bohemian cafes is a favorite of Oslo’s artsy set. Locals come here for its convivial night scene and colorful eateries.

Oslo’s rough and tumble immigrant zone is a stretch of a street called Gronland. This is where Turks, Indians, Pakistanis and the rest of Oslo’s immigrant community congregate. Colorful green grocer carts spill onto sidewalks. Various kebabs and spicy borek cost just $2 to go. Dueling tandoori restaurants offer meals for under $10, otherwise unheard of in Oslo.

I love dining street-side here. It’s cheap — and seeing a rainbow of people and a few rough edges makes the city feel less like Wonder bread. But that’s the beauty of Oslo. Just when you think you have it figured out, it gives you a taste of something different.

Rick Steves (ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at rick@ricksteves.com and follow his Facebook blog.


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