Captaincy April 17, 2007

Malik rises above hierarchy

Later this week the PCB is expected to confirm the rise of Shoaib Malik

Later this week the PCB is expected to confirm the rise of Shoaib Malik. His appointment as Pakistan captain will be a welcome change to the tried and failed method of handing the job to the most senior player.

Younis Khan's perplexing decision to snub the captaincy left the PCB with a testing decision. In the seniors corner, Mohammad Yousuf was expressing his willingness to lead his country. In the less-seniors corner, Shoaib Malik was keeping quiet. Elsewhere, Shahid Afridi (with some justification) and Abdul Razzaq (with no justification) were probably wondering why they'd blown it. Salman Butt might have begun to picture himself as Pakistan's first non-playing captain. And Shoaib Akhtar will have been regretting nandrolone more than ever.

In the end, the PCB has done well to choose a young captain, a smart cricketer, and a star of Mobilink Jazz adverts and Hum Aik Hain videos. If ever there was a time for Pakistan's cricketers to heed the words of a song this is it.

Factions and disloyalty should be greeted with a zero-tolerance policy, a young captain requires a clear demonstration of confidence from his cricket board. It is disappointing that the first leaks about Malik's elevation have been accompanied by an official stating that "there isn't really another suitable candidate around." This new era has to be launched with positives about the new captain and not any grudging excuses. Let's hope for better at the press conference.

Similarly, the PCB has to rethink its decision to appoint Malik on a "series by series" basis. A captain can be sacked at any moment and this series by series approach simply breeds uncertainty and disloyalty. Indeed there are hardly any series to speak of over the next few months and this policy becomes a way of undermining the new captain's authority right from the start.

Malik has to face a few challenges of his own too. It takes skill to handle people who are more experienced and win their full support--particularly in a culture steeped in hierarchy--but it is by no means an insurmountable problem. Imran Khan faced similar challenges when he took over but he quickly established his authority as his own performance jumped to a new level.

But Malik, unlike Imran, is yet to convince everyone that he fully deserves his place in both teams. His footwork--or lack of it--is a particular worry. Nonetheless, Malik strikes me as the kind of cricketer who will lift his game, fight, and accept the responsibility. I don't expect captaincy to propel him to the level it did Imran but I'd be hopeful that he can quash any doubts about his selection.

Malik's leadership is unproven on the world stage although he has captained with some distinction in domestic cricket. Unfortunately any good work was undone by his decision to deliberately lose a Twenty20 match. But his critics are being unfair. Malik's behaviour while unacceptable was a protest against the way the rules of the competition were being implemented and not a case of match-fixing in the sense that we understand it. Still, Malik's conduct will be under strict scrutiny and he needs to restore some credibility for himself and his country.

For the first time in months Pakistan cricket has moved in the right direction. It feels good to write that. It will feel even better if Pakistan begin to display urgency, bravery, competitiveness, and above all professionalism. The talent, we know, is there already. Can Shoaib Malik make the most of it?

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