Team sheet January 24, 2008

Pakistan's selection sickness

A bad process, a management consultant would tell you, usually produces a bad outcome

A bad process, a management consultant would tell you, usually produces a bad outcome. Little wonder, then, that Pakistan's selection "process" rarely pleases anybody. The current bickering between board and team management is just another variation on the theme of internal division that prevents the key players in Pakistan cricket from developing the team in a coherent, constructive, and successful fashion.

At the heart of the problem lies a tussle for control, a power struggle that is eternally unresolved. Captain, coach, chief of selectors, and chairman of the board are all potential rulers of the rabble--and it will remain a rabble as long as the hierarchy fluctuates with a frenzied frequency.

The last time Pakistan's selection process worked properly was when Imran Khan was in total control. That was a fortunate time for Pakistan cricket but an unfortunate lesson was learned. Imran's success suggested that the captain should be responsible for all selection matters, indeed it is an approach he has strongly advocated since.

But Imran's triumph rested on at least two foundations. First, Pakistan cricket was desperate for world recognition, a recognition that any era before Imran's captaincy had never achieved. Second, and most importantly, Imran had the personality and the ability to pull off his dictatorial strategy.

Many of his acolytes tried to follow. Wasim Akram came closest to emulating Imran's on-field success while Inzamam-ul Haq was nearest to total control. Yet none could match his leadership and determination, inevitably leaving a large hole for bureaucrats, selectors, and coaches to jump in to.

Who can now say what Pakistan's selection strategy and process is? In publicly acknowledging a "healthy debate" Dr Nasim Ashraf is hiding a fundamental disagreement. Everybody wants to rule but nobody is capable of it. It is in this situation that a good process can mask the inadequacies of individuals. No such process exists.

Pakistan fans look on with dismay as whims, fancies, and power fluctuations dictate selection of the national team. Merit looks to be an irrelevance. Selection decisions baffle, disappoint, and infuriate.

Might not the Zimbabwe series have been an ideal opportunity to give experience to Sarfraz Ahmed to mitigate the risk of Kamran Akmal's chronic bad form? Why did the selectors even bother with Samiullah Khan, a player I last saw lying on his back at a net practice ignoring Bob Woolmer, who was pleading with him to join the net session? What was the logic in leaving out Shoaib Akhtar when he was in desperate need of match fitness?

Readers of this blog will have questions of their own. Some people might argue, though, that healthy debates about selection are the essence of cricket's fascination. But the selection sickness in Pakistan cricket has become a terminal disease that requires urgent intervention.

In the absence of a modern day Imran Khan, Pakistan has the Australian model to follow. And this does not mean simply paying lip service to it but implementing it properly. A successful process requires three fundamentals: a high-quality selection committee of impeccable integrity, a captain and coach willing to acquiesce power and desperate to succeed with the selected team, and a cricket board chairman enlightened enough to delegate responsibility to the selection committee but take responsibility in the event of failure.

Sadly, Pakistan cricket has none of these three elements in place. Worse still, none of the individuals involved has shown the guts or the selflessness to make it happen. Millions upon millions of supporters are desperate for a process that will nurture success rather than turn their hopes into dust.

The selection process is sick but we are all sicker for having to endure it.

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