Pakistan cricket’s benefactors

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What did not kill it, only made it stronger

For its recent unexpected bounce back-with-a bang after a long period of hibernation spread over nearly 20 years, Pakistan cricket should in the final analysis remain indebted to two expatriates: a greedy bookie with a big mouth oblivious to hidden cameras and the ‘Fake Sheik’, an undercover reporter always on the hunt for a ‘sting’ scoop for the now defunct News of the World. There is a whole set of characters (some bizarre) and organisations, some known as well as one unknown to the general public, that also played their parts, not the least of them New Scotland Yard, Her Majesty’s courts and the ICC.

That is not to forget Ijaz Butt, the former PCB chairman who only recently and somewhat immodestly claimed credit for Team Pakistan’s rise from the ashes. He richly deserves a compliment, but only a backhanded one – for his sheer ham-fisted handling. Incidentally, if he had been even slight sense of crisis management after NOTW broke the match-fixing story and promised the ICC to probe it under the PCB’s own aegis, Pakistan cricket may well have stayed stuck in the mire forever.

There is another character not known to many but with a pivotal role in the whole affair. The cricketing grapevine has it that it was a former skipper (for legal reasons, let him remain anonymous for the moment) with media savvy and a score to settle who quite by accident got hold of Salman Butt’s Blackberry. Not for any altruistic reason, but with intent to injure, he wizened up Mazhar Mahmood by providing him the whole cache of the SMSs. From there on, it was a piece of cake for the latter.

So by default, Pakistan cricket has actually been a beneficiary – an unintended but immensely satisfying consequence of the unsavoury controversy. With a sub chalta hai culture, we could never have cleaned up the stables on our own. In the mid 1990s when the match-fixing scandal was raging, Arif Abbasi covered it up. Some five years later, Malik Qayyum and Lt. Gen. Tauqir Zia combined to provide a reprieve on patriotic grounds.

This time round it was a blessing in disguise that the ICC made us clean up our act by making an extreme example out of the tainted trio. It hurt, as all surgical treatment does, but it also led to healing. And Pakistan cricket is going from strength to strength ever since.

England was supposed to be our sternest test. Instead it has turned out to be a trial by spin, and the No 1 Test team has been found wanting and somewhat baffled by the new, fighting-to-the-last breath Pakistani outfit.

From the summer of ignominy in 2010, it has been some transformation.

Misbah-ul-Haq, the skipper extraordinaire, deserves every plaudit and then some that he has been bestowed with. The really most pleasant aspect is that not just our own, but after a long time, the neutral amongst the commentariat have been profuse in their praise for the manner that he and his charges have conducted themselves. In terms of sheer talent, the present outfit may not be a match to the ones that we’ve fielded through the 2000s. Yet freed from the vices of chicanery and avarice, under a self-possessed captain it has gelled magnificently and produced results. “There are lies, damned lies and statistics”, remarked the American humourist Mark Twain. But in this case statistics do not lie: with Misbah in the saddle, Pakistan has featured in 14 Tests, winning eight, losing just one. This is impressive stuff, especially from a team that in the past presented its unpredictability as a virtue. (Chauvinistic as it may sound, the additional relish is that statistics also testify a certain neighbour’s plumbing the depths with two whitewashes.)

Reassuring as this resurgence is, to strike it really big, to be numero uno and stay at the summit – to seize this decade much in the manner of the West Indies in the 1980s and Australia in 1990s-2000s – Team Pakistan still has miles to go. In the past, we’ve mismanaged ourselves and scripted our own downfall, but this time we must not put down our guard at any stage.

The incumbent captain’s credentials are well established, and the good part is that we may have an adequate successor in ‘Professor’ Mohammad Hafeez. After having an embarrassment of riches in terms of extraordinary pace merchants, ironically now the only somewhat weak part is fast bowling. And our fielding at best is only slightly better than the weakest. Umar Gul is very good, but only in patches. But you have to grant him, Cheema and Junaid that conditions have really not suited fast bowling in the venues of the desert.

Still, talent in Pakistan runs deep and in rich vein. We will certainly find pretty decent options to solve all our selection problems as they crop up. The issue is management – the Board itself. So far the new chairman Zaka Ashraf, a political appointee much like his predecessor, has hardly put a foot wrong and made all the right kind of noises. But these are early days for him. Though he may not know much about cricket, it is obvious that he is neither as abrupt nor as excitable as Ijaz Butt. This is all to the good, for God knows Butt had earned Pakistan enough ire and enemies in world cricket. The insiders though say that the tendency to micromanage remains.

The coach conundrum will be Zaka’s strategic test. He has contrived to arrive at the right decision in Dav Whatmore. It remains to be seen whether he sticks to it or gives in to Mohsin Khan’s recent claims for the position. Pakistan’s successes have nothing to do with the present coach. Mohsin may be many things, but he is no cricket coach, not by a long shot. It would be wrong to accredit anyone but Misbah and that unsung character, Waqar Younis, for the revival. Waqar has gone, the momentum stays.

The right coach at this critical point will certainly prove to be a force-multiplier for Pakistan cricket.

The writer is Sports and Magazines Editor, Pakistan Today

2 COMMENTS

  1. A display of excellent Pakistan cricket savvy by the author. Some way to go yet before normalcy returns and damage done by previous PCB management is erased. Unemotional and professional management is key and let us hope the COO can prevail.

  2. Agha Akbar is spot on in what he has said about Pakistan cricket.Firstly that there is undoubtedly a resurgence in Pakistan cricket as a result of the fact that the present outfit is well gelled and motivated under the captaincy of Misbha Ul Haq.Secondly the credit for the resurgence should go to Waqar Yoonus who served as it coach before Mohsin Khan and prepared the ground work to stage the resurgence.Thirdly the astute,calm and matured leadership of Misbah has played a significant part in the upward movement of the team. And finally we have to appreciate the role played by Mohsin Khan in moulding and guiding the team ..With an enthusiastic,dedicated and hardworking person on the saddle, Pakistan cricket will certainly gallop away to reach the desired goal.

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