Once upon a time there was a cricket team that enthralled us. A team that was our aspiration and inspiration. A team that had flair and fire in its belly. A team that had the panache of a Waqars’ yorker, the verve of an Akram’s ripper, the elegant fluency of an Anwar’s drive and the stamp of Inzimam’s authority. A team that had the doggedness of Miandad’s presence and had the sheer class of Imran Khan. Once upon a time there was a cricket team. A Pakistan cricket team.
It was the team that played with a free spirit akin to Brazil in the football and at the same time a team whose every member was a precisely milled cog in a highly efficient machine. A team whose achievements were not merely eye watering statistics but blazen trail of rich legacy. That was the team that was.
Today team Pakistan is everything but. It is a joke in a bad taste. The decay in the standards has been gradual but persistent. The writing has been on the wall and the rot therefore is disappointing but not surprising. After the fading of our star players in the last decade that held us on the summit through the 90s, the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) systematically ensured that no such players ever play again for the country. Merit has been so ruthlessly slaughtered to preserve nepotism that its blood has salined the fertile grounds that once cropped up world beaters.
A case in point is Anwar Ali. Even now looking at the video highlights of Pakistan against India U-19 final in 2006 leaves you flabbergasted. Defending a small total of 109, Anwar Ali single handedly skittled India out for 79. To the disbelief of the commentators, he was swinging the ball miles in a sweltering Columbo cricket ground. What was the reward given by the PCB for his performance? Surprise surprise he wasn’t scouted for the big team. He was instead asked to change his natural action and work on his batting. They destroyed his ability and bruised his career.
Meanwhile the PCB chairman (Ejaz Butt) and then captain were busy propping up mediocrity. Be it the Umar Ameens, the Farhats the Akmals, they were all accommodated in the national team using one word criterion. The word that for many has turned from sour to utterly disgusting. It is “Talent” the very word that was once the highlight has become the bane of our national team.
The only consistency in Pakistan cricket officials and its commentators is the abuse of this one word justification. Rameez’s recent rant about talent involved the abject rationalization of Harris Sohail. “He is a genuine talent” said Rameez “he can score singles as well as hit a six”. Sohail promptly responded by getting out on a duck.
One can only hope it was just an innocuous comment by the veteran commentator and not a swipe at Fawad Alam. This is because Rameez’s jibe only furthers the propaganda against the lesser human (in PCB eyes) that is Alam and his ill perceived ability to clear the ropes. Note that Fawad Alam has been consistently scoring in the domestic circuit and retains one of the highest averages in the game but is conveniently ignored by the selectors.
A few weeks back, the selector Shoaib Mohammad made a mockery of himself on TV. He said that we needed power hitters from the 35th over onwards and so Fawad did not fit the bill. Little he knew that the selected team, in 9 out of 10 games, would struggle to get to 10 overs, leave alone 35th.
How many times we have heard the following: Ahmed Shehzad talent, Sohaib Maqsood talent, Umar Akmal …..big talent. The scope of the “T” word has been narrowed down in Pakistan so much so that it merely suggests a player that can hit the ball hard.
There is no denying that innate talent is a huge component of a skillful player. However, attitude, fitness, mental strength, adaptability, temperament and technique are the other essential elements of a complete player. When obese talents like Nasir Jamshed are given a free ride into the national team, the outcome of 17 minutes in the field and the rest in the dressing room should be of no surprise.
In the game against West Indies (world cup 2015), after 5 wickets went down cheaply, the game was all but over. Nonetheless it was still shocking to see the players in a hurry to get back to the dressing room. It felt like watching a rudderless ship trying to sink itself. No one stepped up in the remaining overs to ensure that the net run rate was improved when the pressure was taken off by the Windies. No one even thought about the players late down the order using the opportunity to get some batting practice.
The slide from world beaters to laughing stock was the shift from meritocracy to patronage. The system of patronage starts from the very top (selection of PCB chairman) and cascades down to selection of players. Although personal preference at the cost of merit has been part and parcel of Pakistan cricket, but it was done as an exception and wasn’t a norm. The trend today is vice versa. During the disastrous reign of the nincompoop chairman Ejaz Butt, the outlook of the squad turned from a national side to a club team. Salman Butt, a player whose feet movement competed with that of an amputee was made the captain. And there lied the rub.
Off course for a captain who averaged in the mid twenties, it would have been difficult to accommodate players with much better records. His insecurity lead to two things. He chose minions ahead of players and tried to make the most of his time as a leader. What followed is history. Although the departure of both “Butts” was a sigh of good riddance but it opened up another can of worms. A constant musical chair is currently being played for the PCB hot seat.
The disease that festered during the Butt tenure has crept into the current setup. Misbah may portray himself as the lone ranger, but it was him who was involved in cherry picking all the players in the current squad. He cannot shy away from this fact and neither should the public absolve him based on his individual performance.
Pakistan cricket needs to do soul searching. If cricket is to be improved, than one of the first step to be taken is removal of the right of the Prime minster to appoint the chairman of the cricket board. The PCB has to get its house in order. It needs to spend more on the domestic circuit. Only then will a system evolve that will nurture cricket and protect merit.
Let’s make sure that in years from now, we don’t have to repeat the line, “Once upon a time there was a cricket team”
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