New age April 14, 2008

Superficial stars of a failed system

Today, a reader sent me a message arguing that it is my social responsibility to start a new thread on Younis Khan, as cricket fans are poised to comment on his extraordinary withdrawal from the current series. An excuse of fatigue is hard to believe. A fit of pique (at the visit by the anti-corruption unit) would be more in character. A statement explaining that he is tired of playing the world's less challenging teams might be understandable. An expression of irritation at Shoaib Malik's captaincy would play to the gallery.

You decide.

Instead, I'm using Younis Khan to highlight a different point. An observation that is reinforced by the presence of two Pakistan XIs in action simultaneously. It is further emphasised by the enigma of Shoaib Akhtar. Once upon a time, Pakistan cricket had more big time players than little piddling ones. Since Inzamam's retirement, Mohammad Yousuf is the only player that will genuinely merit comparison with the top players of the past.

Younis is an erratic and temperamental talent. Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi could be described in the same way. The rest are a talented bunch yet to cut it when it really matters or show enough depth to be deemed irreplaceable. And there are so many of these superficial stars that we now have two teams of them: one battering Bangladesh and the other humbled by lightweight Indias and World XIs.

Look across these two teams and tell me how many players can be judged to have had satisfying international careers? Yet you will not disagree that therein lie buckets of talent, possibly even thimbles of genius, a catalogue of might-have-beens and what-ifs. Mohammad Asif is the one exception, but injury and injudicious supplement taking have ruined the honeymoon. The rest are superficial stars, promising much delivering sporadically. This is what Pakistan cricket has become, and the breadth of the failure implies the failure of a system.

Now, some readers would like me to move off this theme and start talking up the state of Pakistan cricket and its cricketers. Applaud the PCB for its wonderful stewardship of what was once a national treasure. But what can you really say about comprehensive victories over Bangladesh on flat tracks? Should we hail Salman Butt as the next Saeed Anwar, Shoaib Malik as the new Imran Khan, and Kamran Akmal as the inheritor of Adam Gilchrist? Should we congratulate Dr Ashraf for ensuring the boys get some cricket and win a few games?

All we can really say is that the malaise in Pakistan cricket is a chronic one. It began when the team was at its strongest in the 1990s and has only intermittently been reversed since, such as briefly inspirational spells in the long rule of Wasim Akram and the short period of unity between Inzamam and Bob Woolmer.

New administrations talk long-term strategies and walk quick fixes. The current administration is no different. Only two years ago, Inzy and The Bob had engineered Pakistan into a fight for the second spot in world cricket. Since then, the decline has been quick and distasteful.

What to do with a system that has consistently failed? There is little point in sweating blood to make it work better. It won't. The answer lies in a new system, a whole new approach. And for that the politicians in Pakistan must cut the cricket board free of political rule, appoint an interim administration of independent professionals to revamp the governance and operations of the cricket board, and then appoint a new cricket board of individuals benchmarked against the skills and experience of administrators in the best run cricket boards.

It will take high-quality people, protected by robust governance, to restore the fortunes of Pakistan cricket. The process has to begin now and the change in government offers an ideal opportunity. Pakistan cricket needs to decide if it is happy to continue with its quick-fix production line of superficial stars or whether it is willing to commit to a fundamental rethink of its cricket administration so that it can begin to invest in a more meaningful future?

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