Danyaal Hasan, a friend & colleague, has just written this article which will be published in “The Nation” newspaper very soon. Feedback is appreciated.
Finding Heir Apparent?
By Danyaal Hasan
Pakistan’s form so far in the Twenty20 World Cup, culminated by its loss to England should not come as a surprise to its fans. In fact this has been just another predictable twist in a storyline that has, over the last 24 months, resembled episodes of South Park, characterised by the crude, surreal, and dark humour that the viewers are exposed to in each episode, in addition to the ever present off-air controversy. Not as predictable however, was the win against Netherlands even for its most die-hard fan.
If we dispassionately analyse Pakitan’s tournament losses thus far, there is a good argument to say that Pakistan has played not too far off its potential, which makes each of its starting 11 mediocre at best. Lack of competitive cricket, poor fielding, and bad captaincy are all reasonable excuses for the margin of defeat, but not the defeat itself. The reality is that Pakistan has now not produced proven world beating cricketing talent since Mohammed Asif, the lack of which has thus far been rudely evident in this tournament.
If Pakistan cricket is an episode of South Park, then the saga of its top three since the retirement of Saeed Anwar, has been an unpalatable parody of the three musketeers; I’m thinking brooms not bats. Of the most recent ensemble, Salman Butt has not played a decent innings against a team not named India since the tour of Australia eons ago, which probably explains why he was rested against India and played against South Africa and England. And whilst it’s too early to fairly assess the talents of Ahmed Shahzad, it is fair to question the decision to test new talent on such a stage when chances for the likes of Nasir Jamshaid are so few, far, and between. Kamral Akmal has shown over the last 7 years, of which the last 3 he spent as an on-the-job wicket keeping trainee, glimpses of ‘world class’, However this tease has now lost its allure and needs to either deliver to a standard regularly or make way for someone else’s stab at consistency. .
Pakistan’s middle order is possibly not as inept as its top order, however, they more than compensate for it with an abundance of confusion, playing passive aggressive cricket that has ‘very few runs for the loss of too many wickets’ written all over it. Overs 10-15 in a must score-big-game against Netherlands was a shocking reminder of how elusive this balance has been. Younis Khan is a solid test batsman albeit still not in the same league as his retired predecessors, and has the ingredients to be a good captain. However, his inclusion in a Twenty20 squad has to be on the basis of the latter and not the former. But given Pakistan’s need for a stabilising middle order batsman and team binding leader one can find ways to overlook his inability to reach or God forbid clear the boundary against a half decent side without resorting to the monkey sweep. What can’t be overlooked however is his penchant to use his time on the cricket field as an audition for Colgate Extra White, especially right after a catch has gone down. The captain wants to call the shots as Imran Khan once did but fails to recognise that the right to hold such authority comes with respect, will, hard work, and most importantly, results!
As for the all rounders, Afridi has now not scored a run since the launch of the Twenty20 format itself and what prompted Pakistan against India to hand the new ball to an ordinary Arafat in the presence of three specialist fast bowlers is beyond reason. In an era where great all rounders are defined by the names Kallis, Flintoff, and even Symonds, are we seriously considering taking the names Arafat and Afridi in the same breadth let alone sentence? And if not, why don’t we instead waste our time, energy, and oxygen on giving Fawad Alam an extended shot at this multi-task.
Last but not least, for all the touted talent and promise of our bowling department, Saeed Ajmal has a better chance of winning the fielder of the year award, than for this group to run through a winning side. For all his genuine efforts and hard work, when was the last time even Gull bowled 4 match winning overs on the trot? The answer is just as hard to come by as has been thus far finding heir apparent to Imran Khan’s legacy.
A small share of the blame for our cricketing dilemma rests with our past. The meteoric ascent to greatness for most of our now retired cricketing legends has set a damning precedence for the present cricketing generation because their rise from obscurity came in spite of the system, not because of it. This precedence has instilled in us a false hope that regardless of the shambolic state of its governing body and its domestic cricketing structure, Pakistan cricket’s next great is just around the corner, ready to display his grit, passion, raw talent, and genius on the world stage. Unfortunately, 2 years on from the retirement of the last of these greats, we are more likely to see the words ‘Venereal and Warts’ repeated in a PCB circular, than heralding the re-awakening of our fast bowling traditions.
The larger share of the blame rests with the establishment itself (past and present), who are hell bent on employing short term fixes to a problem which needs medium to long term corrective strategies. How else do you explain the repeated inclusion of Shoaib Akhtar in your 15 over the likes of Sohail Khan, Mohammed Talha, Anwar Ali, and Mohammed Aamer? In order to unearth the next great ‘W’, the PCB will need to strengthen its resolve, its integrity, and most importantly its commitment towards building a strong grassroots foundation for cricket in the country. Till then however, it needs to take smarter selection decisions and employ tighter team and player management.
After its win against Netherlands, Pakistan may well take advantage of its weaker group and reach the semi finals, thereon making it anyone’s cup. However, much like Kenny’s regular demise in South Park, this would be a blow most unfair to the discipline, planning, hard work, and strength in match winning talent that teams such as South Africa, India, and Sri Lanka possess and regularly display.
In the absence of greatness, one must make the most of good – for this die-hard Pakistani cricket fan, there is greatness in that.