An Indian look at Pakistani cricket
The mood in India towards Pakistan cricket has somewhat changed. The lack of frequent Indo-Pak exchanges has only somewhat helped towards changing attitudes towards Pakistan cricket and in a way, jingoism has taken a backseat, at least for the time being and there is a genuine sense of both empathy and concern about Pakistan’s relevance in the modern-game.
Let me try to do something most Pakistanis would think twice about - make sense of Pakistan cricket, as it stands today.
You are justified to ask me as to why someone like me, sitting here in Mumbai is trying his level best to try and see through the muck that people at the PCB’s HQ in Lahore aren’t quite able to. There is a reason. And as a promise, I shall try and keep my nationality aside throughout this post, just to try and put things in much-needed perspective.
The mood in India towards Pakistan cricket has somewhat changed, and let me be categorical here. The lack of frequent Indo-Pak exchanges has only somewhat helped towards changing attitudes towards Pakistan cricket and in a way, jingoism has taken a backseat, at least for the time being and there is a genuine sense of both empathy and concern about Pakistan’s relevance in the modern-game.
I write on behalf of all Indians who genuinely love the game, its characters irrespective of the team they represent. There will always be some from this side of the divide, who’d narrow it down to, “They deserve this. It is their Karma. They’re cheats, etc etc.” but all I can hope for is those types are a part of a silent majority whose mere right to noise doesn’t mean that their views must be taken seriously. Some of us from the saner minority can’t imagine what international cricket would look like without a strong Pakistan XI making an effort to believe, overcome that oft-heard "mercurial" adjective and of course, writing regular successes on the field.
As Indians, we’ve somewhat been through this frustrating phase in the 90s, where glory was occasional yet talent was at its peak, and I would like it to be a phase - where anarchy takes precedence over logic and the subsequent damage just amplifies matters to a point of no return. And as fans of the game, we must hope Pakistan overcome this prolonged phase they’re going through. And yes, let’s be honest - to make sense of Pakistan cricket and this phase, you don’t need Senate Committee reports by politicians who a) haven’t played the game and b) are ‘fake degree’ holders. So, to simplify my argument, I’ll split it into two, a) the cricketing side of things and b) administration - both are areas of concern as far as Pakistan cricket goes.
Now, let me start with the cricketing bit. As a team, you obviously don’t want to go into a Test match not knowing who your captain is. And that is exactly where it stands today. I bet even the selectors don’t seem to be in a position to form a consensus on major cricketing decisions, which is somewhat a big breakdown. Shahid Afridi might have won all the plaudits for his brutally honest self-assessment of the obvious - his lack of Test match temperament, but ask the question again - was he the right choice in the first place? Say yes, and my follow up is - is it about having a “united team” or “winning or trying to win matches?” Say no, and I’ll ask, where’s the choice?
Pakistan never had a succession plan in place, whereby a young potential captain is groomed under someone senior and even there, some of the choices have been a mock, to say the least. You can’t expect results when you change five captains in a year’s span, with players unwilling to play under some of them. And to boot, now you have a guy who’s not exactly been groomed to take the job, but played under captains who’ve done nothing to a) change the prevailing atmosphere within the team and b) led from the front/or have excellent leadership skills on their resume. And of course, they’ve not been given time to prove their worth.
Next, you have two seemingly young talents in Muhammad Aamer and Umar Akmal, who have started out well and in a way shown their initial promise, but the sort of team they’re playing in, the sort of atmosphere would mean that talent may not necessarily step it up to the next level. You of course do not want to see that happen. And of course, the last thing you do is blood two youngsters at #3 and #4 in the batting order in a Test match. Pakistan did it, the pundits may like some of it, but I ask humbly, are they two of Pakistan’s best batsmen? Sorry, but no.
Now on to the world-famous Pakistan Cricket Board.
Malcolm Speed hit the nail on the head by bluntly calling the current PCB chief a “buffoon” and to be honest, he’s been an utter disaster. And even by BCCI standards, which we often love having a crack at, Pakistan cricket’s administrative side has proven to be nothing short of a laughter ride. And it’s almost a comedy script written horribly and decisions that range from the innocuous to the extreme. Even someone like me sitting here in Mumbai knows that a ban is followed by a fine which is followed by a legal challenge which is eventually quashed and the player returns. Ever imagined all this from a player’s point of view or what he must be going through? No.
And of course, you have selectors being sacked left, right and centre so much that a clown eventually ends up picking a side that has some political selections. So every time you see a Pakistan team go out to the field, ask yourself - Is this the best XI playing? Inevitably, the answer is "no" or "Humare paas aur koi nahin hai!"
As a remedial course, for Pakistan cricket to change, Ijaz Butt must go. His regime has been too controversial, his handling of issues, ranging from several appointments to the World Cup and scheduling has been nothing short of a disaster and of course his decision-making has not always been in the best interests of Pakistan cricket. But given the way cricket is politicised in Pakistan, I won’t be surprised if there’s an Ijaz Butt II waiting to replace him.
Pakistan's story and to an extent India's, has often been the "in spite of" - which essentially means, performance NOT because of, but in spite of poor administration. But, that story might well be coming to an end as far as Pakistan is concerned.
And lastly, there’s the media. Conspiracy theories are good, but make no sense in the bigger picture. The Pakistani media should opt for perspective over the well-rehearsed and repeated nonsense some of the ex-players often come up with. What Pakistan cricket needs is stability in both cricketing and administrative terms. And both sides of Pakistan cricket have a similar set of symptoms. Insecurity, instability, lack of a hands-on leader and someone who’s not a puppet/political appointment, rather who looks for the best interest of Pakistan cricket.
Or let me just say, cricket fans across the world and most importantly, the biggest stakeholders in Pakistan cricket, deserve a lot better.