In a shocking turn of events, captain Kumail Meghani took newcomer Noor Zia as his assistant captain. He’s most definitely lived up to the hype, but what are we to expect from Noor in his first JMS playoff appearance? What role do you think he’ll play, especially with a captain that has underperformed repeatedly in the playoffs over the years?
I: Much like his recent Imaan Cup performance (I hope you like that plug), I fully expect Noor to come out a little shaky but ultimately have an above-average performance. What really sticks with me is whether he has the ability to lift the team mentally and inspire them to play better than they can. The whole team has underperformed and there’s no reason to believe they’ll flip the switch for the playoffs. He’s already had to shoulder most of the load with Kumail struggling this season, and another early postseason exit would almost push Kumail into the overrated conversation. If Noor can pull off this one, he could be finding himself going first overall next season or even having the command of a team to himself.
M: He’s forced to play the role of saviour. He’s been carrying the load offensively for what can only be described as an inept offense. For as many weapons as this team has, they have an uncanny knack for finding a way for everyone to just stop performing. I’m going to start listing out some of the players that were taken in the early rounds of their draft – players whom we would suspect would be doing well – Imran Merali, Khizer Jamal, Muzammil Jaffer, Kabir Molu – by the way, I just listed them in order of average, and not one of them is hitting above .500. The lone exception to that is Asad Nasser who has learned to hit this year; he’s hitting with a higher average than Kabir Molu right now. I guess he has to since it seems he’s lost his starting pitching position to Mohamed Walli. Regardless of what happened in the regular season though, the playoffs is a different animal. You just need to get hot for a weekend. These guys are capable of it, let’s hope they take Noor’s lead otherwise it’s going to be a lot of games where it’s just runners getting stranded and opportunities getting wasted.
The Tigers have the second-best regular season defence, allowing 113 runs over the span of the 14-game season. If you ask the players, each one of them would say that they carry the team and bring that defensive attitude. Where do you believe this team gets its defensive identity from and do you see it carrying forward to this playoff weekend, where fatigue can play a huge part in who wins?
I: When you’re talking about defense, you can’t go on without mentioning Mahmood Kara. Some of the plays he’s made this season have been phenomenal to say the least. I fondly remember a couple plays during Al-Wahda, where even the umpire had to check whether someone in the outfield could throw a runner out at first. Who threw that ball? Mahmood Kara. And while this team may have some hot heads in the lineup, it doesn’t seem like anything phases Mahmood. It’s almost like the Kawhi effect; the entire team picks up on his defensive prowess and steps up to try and match his ability. Another guy that won’t get much love but has held it down every time I’ve watched him play is Bobby Bharwani. He’s shown the ability to be THAT guy; there have been more than a few instances where he’ll leap out of the gym and have you checking your contacts prescription to make sure you’re not just seeing things. Much like the rest of his team, I’m not worried about him getting up for the big games. The concern is how long he can last until Father Time catches up. The Tigers need to start off hot to avoid the longest possible route… Bengay might end up becoming a sponsor if this team has to play the full eight games.
M: The defensive identity of this team starts and stops with two guys – Vick Vij and Mahmood Kara. I’ll be honest, when you said they were the second best defence, I wanted to find out who was better. The Wolves allowed 4 fewer runs at 109. That the Tigers were at 113 with their pitching contingent letting up 34 walks for the season which is a far and away first (or last) place on that says a lot about their ability to shut it down. Truth be told they don’t have a lot of weaknesses defensively. This team has always looked good on paper, and they look good on the field. Their Achilles heel is that they may not have the lasting power to be able to endure the entirety of the playoff schedule. However, getting back to the question of defensive identity. Vick plays the game like a duck treads water. Over the surface, calm cool and collected. Under the surface, he’s covering ground and moving fast – it just doesn’t look like it takes him any effort to do it. Their outfield is scary with him out there. Mahmood Kara in the infield is equally scary. I’m going to share something that not many people saw – in a game that the Lions were playing the Tigers (second last week of the season). There was a hard hit ground ball in MK’s direction, he took it off the chest, calmly scooped it up and made the fielder’s choice at 2B like it was nothing. Any normal human being would’ve flinched or collapsed into a heap; On that play though, I think the ball was the one that flinched. I don’t even think he’ll remember this, because it was just so nothing to him. Long story short – this defensive identity is just that calm, cool, and not one you want to mess with. It’s going to be a tall task for the Owls to conquer it.
As referenced before, the Owls have had a history of underperforming under this current regime. They tried ‘running it back’ in the draft and the regular season turned out to be a dud. Who do you put the onus on and who needs to step up if the Owls are to have any chance against the favoured Tigers?
I: Kabir, Khizer, Muzammil, Asad, Kazim, Shahid… Do I need to name more Owls? It’s no coincidence that this team has the fewest amount of ‘eligible’ players batting over 0.500. WITH JUST TWO! Any guess on who those two individuals are? I put the onus on captain Kumail Meghani. He’s long been applauded for being someone that is unflappable; he doesn’t react to much, whether it’s good or bad. But I’m hoping to see a fiery Kumail come out and push his team to perform. When you have that many players on cold streaks (because we all know they can do better than they are right now), it comes to a leadership/coaching problem. Do I think the Owls have some internal rift we don’t know about? I have no clue. But if you’re Kabir Molu, you can’t go from hitting 0.676 last year to hitting 0.463 this year. If you’re Kazim Merchant, you can’t be popping up swinging for the fences. Not this week. My expectation from Kumail is to push the Patriots’ mantra to his players this week: Do Your Job. The problem is, they’ll need to work overtime to beat these Tigers.
M: The Owls are not favoured, there’s not really much they can do to be favoured. They need to show up as a collective team. Maybe if they stand there and force the Tigers pitchers to throw strikes? What they need to do is bring a lot of random food offerings to satiate their captain – it’s well documented that he performs above and beyond the call of duty when there is food being offered. Realistically though, I had these guys as my favourite to start the season just because of how potent a line-up it looked like on paper. Then upon further reflection, I see this as the type of roster that puts up runs in bursts 5-0-0-5-0-0. However, with the Tigers defensive prowess, that 5 run burst looks less and less likely. I really want to give them some kind of hope, but the only words of motivation I can muster are to watch Kumail’s preseason interview again. I’ll borrow his quote to give some semblance of excitement – “it’s unfinished business for us”. Well you haven’t been doing anything all season, so maybe it’s time you show up and get to work?