There were more twists and turns in the performance of the national team and the PCB’s shenanigans during the World Twenty20 than in any Turkish soap opera. Apart from incorrect readings of pitches, wrong selections and inexplicable batting order, statements issued midway during the tournament indicating that the coach and captain’s heads were lined up on the chopping block lent a certain surreal air to Pakistan’s campaign. Add to that Waqar Younis’ assertion that the team did not deserve to reach the semi-finals and you had the script for a disaster film.
When Imran Khan gave the boys a pep talk before the vital game against India, Umar Akmal asked the former captain to urge the team management to let him bat at the number three position. One must not blame Akmal for behaving like a tantrum-throwing kid since he is not averse to skipping practice sessions because of his status as a blue-eyed boy. In addition, there were the less-than-welcome statements from some of our stalwarts talking about rifts within the team. Shoaib Malik’s mind-boggling claim that during the victorious 2009 World Twenty20 campaign six of the players weren’t talking to each other was a case in point.
After the debacle, it seemed ‘sorry’ had become the easiest thing to utter for our cricketing heroes as it tripped off the tongues of Shahid Afridi and Waqar but only when they touched the terra firma of Pakistan. While Afridi seems desperate to keep on playing, reportedly because of pressure from sponsors, Waqar initially said he would keep mum as he handed in his official report. It did not even take a day for his confidential report to be leaked, which brings us to the question of certain journalists being a tad too close to the powers that be. The same hacks drumming up suspicions about Mohammad Hafeez faking his injury went to town with selected portions of the report. Interestingly, the only parts made public were those singling out particular players for criticism.
A hurt Waqar who was denied a meeting with the PCB higher-ups to sort out the issue then burst out with the revelation that the head honcho who hired him has not met Waqar for 1.5 years. Usain Bolt may say he started running after seeing Waqar, but our schmoozing jet-setter did not deem him important enough to meet. Waqar’s fate was sealed and his resignation was a matter of days with him mourning, “It's funny how everybody considers honesty a virtue, yet no one wants to hear the truth.”
A panel comprising Wasim Akram and Rameez Raja has now been set up to assist the PCB in finding a replacement for Waqar with the hope that since the two will be involved in the IPL in various capacities, they will have the opportunity to interact with foreign coaches who can be considered along with local coaches. Apart from commentator Rameez being suddenly elevated to the status of a cricket expert, it is to be noted that Wasim was included in a similar panel, which had picked Waqar as head coach in 2014. If that decision backfired, as the PCB seems to suggest, then why appoint the same person who had selected Waqar as head coach?
As news broke of the seasoned Aqib Javed applying for the post of Head Coach, Wasim and Ramiz revealed their preference for a foreign coach. Aqib has since then shown his disgust at this state of affairs.
Let us now come to Afridi who has defied description ever since he made his debut, with ‘exciting’ and ‘boom boom’ perhaps the only words considered sufficient except that the boom boom has increasingly come to signify the impending destruction of a building crashing on its hinges. Post-tournament, we were told that since Afridi was appointed Twenty20 captain till the 2016 World Twenty20, the PCB will now appoint a new Twenty20 captain. It seemed as if the World Twenty20 was a farewell gift for the faltering, perpetually-in-love-with captaincy Afridi, Pakistan cricket be damned.
The Aspirin-inducing fielding of the team illustrated how unfit the players were, but it took a special committee to confirm that “fitness levels were a major issue” to awaken the PCB from its stupor. Now that fitness standards will be a part of the contracts of players (like other teams), we may not be subjected to the sight of Sharjeel Khan crashing on the boundary in pursuit of the elusive ball.
When will our players come out of their comfort zone and actually work up a passion for winning like Virat Kohli? If players are more obsessed with fancy hotels, infighting and negativity rather than concentrating on the jobs they are supposed to do, atrocious results will be the norm rather than the exception. As bowling coach Azhar Mehmood points out, “The pride and passion of playing for your country is missing from some of the current cricketers. The Pakistan women's team were an example to the men's team at the World Twenty20 as they played with passion and pride.”
Have the fundamental problems facing Pakistan cricket been dealt with? Waqar and Afridi may have resigned and the selection committee may have been disbanded, but who appointed them in the first place? Instead of rooting out the weeds from the base, there is a superfluous shearing underway. As they say, ‘a fish rots from the head down’.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2016.
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