The opening T20 match of the pre-World Cup series between Pakistan and England on May 5 was yet another reminder of a sickening culture in Pakistani cricket team: the on-field yelling and grumbling by players at each other. Our captain, Sarfarz Ahmed, is famous for baseless and never-ending yelling and bickering. Funnily, this time at one point both Sarfaraz and Imad Waseem from the either end of the pitch were shouting at a player over a slight misfielding. Asif Ali did not forget to create a scene either by showing the other batsman’s resentment over his run out which was his own mistake.
It was hoped Sarfraz would have learned lessons from the recent Andile Phehlukwayo issue which was an inevitable outcome of his non-stop unwarranted bickering. Sarfraz may have taken it to a different level but the issue of undue squabbling by captain and senior players is chronic. At least since 1980s, majority of the captains have had this problem. Leaving aside the case of occasional personal grudges and in-fights involving individuals, which can be a case with other teams as well, a toxic culture of bullish attitude by captain and senior players towards juniors is a reality as has also been pointed out by Shahid Afridi in his book Game Changer. A number of former players including some of the superstars of our cricketing history have themselves revealed how at times they have had to face derogatory behaviour by seniors.
The problem is, in fact, a reflection of a larger cultural issue. In many cases, individuals as young players would have themselves experienced a harsh attitude by seniors and they end up doing the same when they are in a position. Even today, the selection of team from grassroots to domestic levels is heavily plagued by issues like favouritism allowing captains and management with draconian powers, sometimes leading to waste of brilliant talent. To tackle these issues at PCB-affiliate clubs and in domestic cricket is probably too hard a task.
Another important area being overlooked is players’ presentation and media handling. Their post-match interviews and press conferences are often bewildering. Though it is not a justification, language barrier can possibly offer them the benefit of the doubt for usually being far from the proper answers to the questions posed to them. In this time and age, missing out on media training of the players is quite astonishing.
While there are hardly any well-educated cricketers in the international arena, players in other countries are trained and groomed to get their presentation and etiquettes refined.
Cricket is a passion in Pakistan — one of the very few things that bring a sense of pleasure and unity at the national level. Cricketers ought to realise the value of wearing the national colour. The fame and wealth they enjoy demand some moral responsibility and it is the job of the PCB to educate and discipline them. Match-fixing, spot-fixing, ball-eating, racism and perpetual on-field bickering. This saga of bringing embarrassment to the nation must stop. The PCB needs to hone its players and management through a meaningful grooming and mentoring regime.
Another important dimension here not to ignore is that national team players are role models for millions, especially kids and aspiring young cricketers. Players need to realise what examples they are setting for their fans.
Even though changing the dressing room culture is a long-term and difficult process, the on-field attitude, presentation and media handling can be fairly improved. It is a matter of only a few quick sittings to teach players of basic dos and don’ts. Finally, a fraction of the revenue windfall the PCB makes needs to be spent on ethical coaching and broader grooming of players. Players are not just about their match performance but also their conduct.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2019.