Widowed willows and ma-in-laws


Never has Pakistan cricket been so bed-ridden

Ian Botham – or quite simply Beefy – called for suspending Pakistan from international cricket following the match-fixing controversy that broke during Pakistan team’s ill-fated English tour in 2010.

Beefy was being, well, beefy. Many of us saw in that kneejerk reaction the villain who had once suggested Pakistan was the place to send your mother-in-law to – with a one-way ticket. To be honest, it got our patriotic nerve in a twist then, especially since this South Asian nation was pretty decent when he proffered the cheek.

Aamer Sohail, the former opener, wasted little time in reminding him where to send his (Beefy’s) ma-in-law when Wasim Akram induced a tantalizing edge from his bat and Pakistan trounced England in the final of the 1992 World Cup.

Now, with the nightmare that the land of the less-than-pure is today, Beefy may have a point. All those who have suffered immeasurably at the hands of their ma-in-laws, would probably find themselves in agreement!

Seriously though, Pakistan cricket lies in a shambles. In more than three decades of following the sport, I have never seen the spirit sag to the extent you see now. Sure enough, we have seen greater turmoil, on and off the pitch, but it is difficult to recall another time when the cupboard was so bare.

We seem to have even run out of talent – at least the kind that has been associated with Pakistan cricket ever since the country first burst on the international map in 1952 as a full Test member – it still remains the only team ever to have beaten England on its maiden tour to the Old Blighty.

How and why have we reached the sorry pass we have? Sure enough, the major contributing factor in the slow death has been the militant attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team more than four years ago, which led to the international isolation of Pakistan as a host.

There is no fool-proof formula to either prevent or fight such dark forces from wreaking havoc – Pakistan was extremely fortunate that not only did the visitors survive to tell the tale, but their government and people only chose to count their blessings and even empathize with Islamabad.

There is no guarantee the obscurantist elements would not attack our way of life – cricket akin to a second religion in this part of the world – again, if tomorrow, by some stroke of luck, international cricket were to resume in Pakistan.

But where we have self-destructed is in our subsequent actions even if we were to set aside the criminal negligence shown by the authorities to intelligence reports two months prior to the episode at Liberty Market roundabout, which had warned of precisely the kind of attack that eventually took place.

Ijaz Butt, related to Ahmed Mukhtar, the PPP’s then-defence minister, was made the chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board. If ever there was a walking disaster – a septuagenarian who was hard of hearing, had trouble remembering things, and could barely walk straight – it was him.

When mercifully, his term expired in 2011, President Asif Zardari, the Board’s patron-in-chief, decided to continue reading the literal meaning of patronizing by appointing his close friend, Zaka Ashraf of Zarai Taraqiyati Bank Ltd, in his stead.

Ashraf is currently suspended by the Islamabad High Court from office following his ‘dubious’ anointment as the first ‘elected’ chairman of the PCB under the new constitution that finally, saw the light of day thanks to the International Cricket Council’s mandatory requirement of democratizing cricket boards by June-end 2013.

Be it the previous Butt of all boards or the one headed by the ambitious-but-now-beleaguered Ashraf, Pakistan cricket is a rudderless ship lost in a turbulent storm. If the ship is Titanic, it is only thanks to the overbearing officials and hangers-on, with no boy on the burning deck in sight.

But that, you can argue with perfect logic, has typically been the story of Pakistan cricket. Where it has taken an unprecedented turn for the worst is in the cast on display. Never has a Pakistani team lacked so much in motivation, heart or form.

They made heavy weather of winning against Scotland and nearly lost to Ireland before the annihilation at the just-concluded Champions Trophy. In recent times, they have appeared to merely reach the park and go through the motions of being in a contest – read that as ‘con’ test – and, utterly failed.

When someone like Misbah-ul-Haq Khan Niazi – any resemblance to the last two names with a certain Imran is purely coincidental – assumes the halo of a saviour, you know your cricket is little more than a floating rafter.

This is not to belittle Misbah, who Heaven knows, has endured his share of the strife and then some, but still thrust his bat-and-pad forward like there was no tomorrow, but yours truly humbly assumes you get the drift.

Consider. The combined total of the Flashy Farhat, the Harried Hafeez, the Mirza-ed Malik and the Atrocious Akmal in 11 innings at the Champions Trophy was 90 – still 6 short of Misbah’s messianic, if lonely, vigil against the West Indies!

According to unconfirmed reports, Misbah was watching Life of Pi just before he walked out to bat, which is the nearest thing any team member took to self-motivation. Well almost!

But imagine the crossroads Pakistan cricket has reached: it wants to dispense with the aforementioned four villains as well as give the golden handshake to Misbah’s stewardship, but so thin is the upper deck that they are forced to lump with mediocrity.

The bumbling Hafeez, whose feet get Fevicoled in the face of ace pace, insists on – wait till you hear this – opening the batting! Regardless of his rather widowed willow, he still fancies getting the captaincy in the ODI and Test formats, next.

So short is Pakistan cricket on ideas that the only alternative being bandied about is returning to Shahid “genome-mapping defying” Afridi, who believes life is one big McChicken fried in PCB papparoti.

If that happens – not for nothing are we suckers for nostalgia – there would be a meal ticket, not necessarily a meal. Fry your heart out!

The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]