New age March 5, 2010

Toecrusher and the Eagle

Amid the machinations among players, administrators, and politicians, two important decisions have been taken

As a modern great Waqar will have some leeway to establish himself and his methods, although any presumption that he will still be in post at the end of 2011 is ill founded © Getty Images

These have been a particularly bewildering few weeks in the bewildering world of Pakistan cricket. And who knows what thunderbolt will strike next? Some issues are better put to one side until some evidence emerges. Match fixing is a prime example. Cricketers, like their fellow humans, are ever fallible and inconsistent, hence accusations about match fixing based solely on mistakes and decisions during a match are invariably impossible to prove.

My own brief inquiry into the latest flurry of claims revealed that, according to an ICC spokesman, no information has been passed by ICC to the PCB. In these circumstances, it would be helpful, nay obligatory on the PCB, to provide clarification about the true nature of any concerns.

Amid the machinations among players, administrators, and politicians, two important decisions have been taken. Waqar Younis is head coach and Mohsin Khan is chairman of selectors. A third, appointing Shahid Afridi as Pakistan’s new captain is more pressing and more needed.

A final decision, most important of all and incumbent upon the Patron of the Pakistan Cricket Board, is required to rid Pakistan cricket of the calamity of Ijaz Butt’s leadership. Mr Butt’s greatest triumph has been to make some of his more questionable predecessors look like highly skilled professionals.

That Pakistan cricket is in a mess is clear. But there is a way out and it lies through putting up a fight on the cricket pitch and climbing back up the cricket rankings. Without the cricket board operating in the right way, any hope of a consistent revival is a distant one. More the pity, as another World Twenty20 followed by a series against Australia and England offers ample opportunity for resuscitation.

Indeed, you might argue that Waqar the Toecrusher, Mohsin the Eagle, and Shahid the Ball-biter, if he is appointed, have been handed an impossible hand. How can these good men and true—we hope—lead their charges through the perpetual storm that is Pakistan cricket? Will any of them survive long enough to make a difference? We all know that contracts, guarantees of longevity, and utterances of support count for nothing.

As supporters of Pakistan cricket our duty is to wish these fellows well at the dawn of another day in the last chance saloon. None of them is perfect but they have all displayed heroism at some point in international colours.

Waqar was a champion bowler, a true great of the modern game. But for injury his record would have been even more earth shattering, his legend even larger. Much of Waqar’s career was a spectacle but I’ll never forget the way he once demolished Brian Lara in the desert heat of Sharjah. It only served to emphasise what world cricket lost when Waqar had to yield to injuries during his prime.

Unfortunately, Waqar did embroil himself in the player politics of his age, the post-Imran era that returned Pakistan cricket to divisions within the team. We can only hope that Waqar has learned that such behaviour is destructive and will impress as much upon his charges.

When the captaincy came his way, it was probably ill timed, his fast bowling powers were on the wane and many of his best players were ending their careers. At the beginning of the last decade, Pakistan were a team in decline and the Burewalla Express was unable to stop it.

Waqar’s biggest coaching break was to work under Bob Woolmer, Pakistan’s best ever coach. Confined to helping the bowlers, there was progress among Pakistan’s pace attack, with Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif beginning to establish themselves. But a lead coach has broader duties of management, tactics, and technique. Batting and fielding are Pakistan’s biggest concerns, areas in which Waqar never excelled nor acquired great experience.

These challenges will be tough for Waqar and his best strategy will be to employ experts in the areas where he is weak. At the very least if Waqar can revive Pakistan’s spirit and attacking brand of cricket, as well as forging a constructive relationship with the captain, half the battle will be won.

As a modern great Waqar will have some leeway to establish himself and his methods, although any presumption that he will still be in post at the end of 2011 is ill founded. Mohsin Khan, meanwhile, as a less modern and less great cricketer will have even less latitude. Yet, Mohsin was a dashing personality and flamboyant batsman at a time when Pakistan really began to establish itself as an international force. He also had the example of Imran Khan to help him understand the strong, no-nonsense approach that is required to get the best out of Pakistan cricket.

Mohsin’s biggest challenge will be managing the internal politics of the PCB and ensuring the integrity of his selection panel. A good start would be set clear rules of engagement with the PCB chairman, in other words the selection panel must be independent of the chairman and the other board members—in word and deed. In addition, a new chief selector should also mean change in the panel itself. Indeed, the selection panel requires more modern cricketers, not the long retired sycophants who live off the bounty of the board.

Unfortunately, Ijaz Butt has a habit of appointing friends or people he can control in positions of responsibility. The biggest question in my mind is whether or not Waqar and Mohsin can be their own men and do what is right for Pakistan cricket? In any senior leadership position it is better to fail by your own mistakes than fail because you compromised your vision, principles, or ideas.

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