World Cup 2007 March 18, 2007

Shamed by the shamrock: an open letter

Dear Inzy, Bob, and the Doc,

There have been many bad days in the history of Pakistan cricket but 17th March was probably the worst. You have taken a group of players with ability and turned them into the most spineless, lethargic bunch in the world.

For two consecutive matches, every Pakistan batsman has died a coward's death. They have confirmed their status of flat-track bullies and low-intensity stars. Congratulations, of course, to Ireland who played out of their skins but they really should never have beaten Pakistan, green wicket or flat top.

The way this reality has been hammered home to Pakistan fans leaves us in shock and fills me with disbelief. I, like many other romantic fools, believed that the World Cup would bring the best out of you, that your players would fight to the death, and would prosper on West Indian tracks. Even now, I say that the only team this bunch of players should have found to be unbeatable in this tournament is Australia. The rest are evenly matched in ability but it seems your team is handicapped by its habit of shrinking to the occasion. The team's supporters have been horribly betrayed. You will understand the anger and it will come at you like a howling wind.

The Pakistan cricket team was once known for its fighting prowess but you have stripped these players of any spirit or steel. Your bowlers have retained some will, they performed admirably in both encounters. In truth, though, they too lacked the killer instinct, that extra 10%, that would have dismissed the West Indies more cheaply and knocked out Ireland. You have paid a heavy price for your inability to make best use of Waqar Younis, and people will ask what Mushtaq Ahmed achieved other than giving himself and you a bloody nose?

Your fielders wander the outfield like elephants, young men grown old and old men grown arthritic. They are a blot on international cricket, a sport that now requires fitness, energy, and speed, yet your players are like the noble unbending amateurs of some bygone era.

Only Pakistan cricket could do this because only Pakistan cricket could have a system that fails from A to Z. Only Pakistan cricket could have a system whose failures are protected by the patronage of the president of the country. Whatever the merits of the president's work elsewhere, he must take responsibility for being shamed by the shamrock. Because, ultimately, he appointed his pal, the good doctor, to rescue Pakistan's world cup chances. Instead of rescue, Doc, you have orchestrated a catalogue of disasters, embarrassments, and ill-conceived schemes and intrigues. For shame, Doc, move on. Look after human development in Pakistan, though on second thoughts if you are as unsuccessful in that as you have been in cricket administration perhaps you had better leave human development to somebody else.

Your combination has failed too, Inzy and Bob. Your choices, your strategies, your inspiration have brought us to this. Nobody should doubt that you both had the best of intentions but the best of intentions mean nothing when your team surrenders in a hurry. And it is not as if these failings are new. Unsettled openers, batsmen unable to negotiate swing or seam as they gift wickets like sweetmeats on Eid, and a general lethargy about the team that only disappears in moments of crisis. You have given the impression of men asleep on your watch, but Pakistan's cricket fans are some of the keenest observers of the game. And the majority don't like what they have seen this last six months. What they have seen most obviously is an absence of leadership, a confusion in strategy created by disunity of purpose, and persistent failure on the cricket field.

With all due respect, I believe that time is up on your partnership. The extent of this loss means that Pakistan cricket must build afresh, free of the shackles of the past. Many will say that it should have ended much earlier but I believe that up to last year's tour of England you both helped Pakistan regain much respectability in international cricket. But everything possible has gone wrong since then and Pakistan cricket now finds itself in a similar mess to the aftermath of the last World Cup. Overall, no progress then, a bad situation to be in.

But I hope you are not made the only scapegoats because the shit needs to pass upwards and cover you Doc and your man at the helm, Salim Altaf.

What to do? Well, Pakistan cricket will survive. There remains a passion for this sport like no other in the country's cities and villages. But Pakistan cricket requires a root and branch reform, a top-to-toe shake up. The PCB requires to be run by people appointed on the basis of merit not friendship or relationship. And the first job that meritocracy should do is sack its selection committee and replace it with some real champions of Pakistan cricket.

Our new captain needs to be somebody with age on his side and fire in his belly. A leader who will lead by example and fill his charges with a passion to succeed. We know there is no perfect choice but what Pakistan cricket needs to rediscover most urgently is its attitude. These spineless capitulations sit uncomfortably with us emotive Pakistanis. There are only three candidates to my mind: Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, and, I thought I'd never say this, Shahid Afridi. Something inside me says that after the lethargy of Inzamam, the passion of Afridi might be just the antidote we all need.

Finally, at this moment I can't help but think of the great players that made Pakistan a force in world cricket, the battles they fought to create a team for a whole nation to be proud of. I can't reconcile those images in my mind with the joke of a cricket team we have desperately supported over the last six months, batsmen unable to bat, bowlers unable to stay fit, with some fanciful notion that all would be well come the big day.

Inzy, Bob, and the Doc, you came, you saw, and you floundered. The best thing you can do for Pakistan cricket is to help it to rediscover the qualities that once made it great. You have sentenced us all to four years of painful memories. Failure, they say, is an orphan but this one has at least three fathers.

In the end, though, it just shows how important a skill great leadership is.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here