Politics August 13, 2010

Selection case that damns Ijaz Butt

The Karachi City Cricket Association has called for the removal of Ijaz Butt as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board

The Karachi City Cricket Association has called for the removal of Ijaz Butt as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board. Its central grievance is that Karachi-based players are being discriminated against in the selection process. The facts, they argue, speak for themselves. Tanvir Ahmed is the only Karachi-based player left in the squad.

Critics have started calling the Pakistan team a Punjab XI. They identify the omissions of Younis Khan, Fawad Alam, and even Mohammad Sami as evidence to support their case. Danish Kaneria, another Karachi player, was suddenly chopped from the squad and replaced by a promising Punjabi teenager. With Umar Gul out with injury and Yasir Hameed unable to earn selection, the taunts of Punjab XI may well become reality at the Oval.

If only Punjabis stride out to represent Pakistan in the next Test it will be a shameful moment in the history of Pakistan cricket. The Pakistan team has always been a microcosm of the greater struggle of the Pakistani nation, whose founder's ambitions were to bring together the peoples of the four major provinces of Pakistan. Among the many disasters during the regime of Butt, this suggestion of ethnic prejudice is among the gravest.

Karachi has produced some of the greatest cricketers in the history of Pakistan cricket. Hanif Mohammad, the holder of Pakistan's highest Test score, and Javed Miandad, in my view the best of all Pakistani batsmen, both hail from the heaving, over-populated metropolis that is Pakistan's largest city. Indeed, a neat but inaccurate generalisation suggests that Karachi has produced Pakistan's batsmen while the northern parts have produced the bowlers.

The power struggle between Lahore and Karachi, Punjab and Sind, has been an ever present backdrop to Pakistani life, waxing and waning with political regimes and the passage of time. Now the decision-making of Butt's regime has brought the issue into sharp focus again. He denies any regionalism in the selection process, saying that the selectors have chosen the best players available but here is why he, personally, has a case to answer:

1. The notion of an autonomous selection panel is a myth. Butt has taken too personal an involvement in selection matters, sometimes making decisions without the knowledge of the chairman of selectors. Some of Pakistan's greatest cricketers have begun working with the cricket board and then resigned. Butt's interference has been a deciding factor. Hence the responsibility for the current situation rests with him and his master, the patron of the cricket board.

2. The gross imbalance in the origins of the squad members is a statistic that cannot be ignored. This is not an argument for a quota system, nor is one desirable. But it beggars belief that a province the size of Sind, and with its tradition of cricket, cannot produce more cricketers to represent Pakistan. There are two possible explanations. Either the selection process is biased or the development of cricketers in Sind is being mishandled. In either scenario, Butt and his cricket board are responsible.

3. Some of the omitted Karachi cricketers have arguable cases. One player's case is clear cut. Younis Khan, who the cricket board has admitted has no case to answer, remains unselected. He was available for selection at the start of the tour but wasn't included. Now that the board has decided to recall Mohammad Yousuf - and let us put aside the issue of whether it was right or wrong to change the squad at this point - why is Younis, a Karachi-based player, not offered the same clemency? If anything, Younis had a stronger case for a return considering his recent appearances for Surrey.

The failings of Butt and his PCB regime have become legend. By constantly interfering with selection policy he must take direct responsibility for the failures of selection on this tour, which have left the team pitifully short of viable options. Even the existing options, such as Yasir Hameed, have not been tried. Further, the regional bias in selection, whether through intent or mismanagement, is also his responsibility.

In these circumstance, how can the Pakistani selectors continue in post? Mohsin Khan's reputation is being damaged by the second. A hero of Pakistan cricket is being walked all over. He only need look at the examples of Abdul Qadir and Aamir Sohail to see what the correct course of action is. It takes integrity to step away from a senior position on a point of principle. But integrity is in short supply among those who run Pakistan cricket.

These pages have been calling for Butt's resignation or removal for over a year. This has been the most damaging regime in the history of Pakistan cricket. Butt has run it like a dictator, taking comfort in the strength of his political connections. Meanwhile, the organisation that he runs has disintegrated below him.

The most important outcome of the work of the Pakistan Cricket Board is the performance of the cricketers who represent the aspirations of an embattled nation. The performances speak for themselves. The imbalance in selection means that a team unrepresentative of Pakistan is taking the field. Whatever that team is, however, it deserves our support. But the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, the man who engineered this disaster, does not.

Of course, President Zardari has other matters on his mind, such as dodging shoes and convincing his people that he does care about flood victims. He might also consider the irony that his visit to England was less important to Pakistanis than the visit of his country's cricketers. They are the most visible and engaging ambassadors of Pakistan on the international stage.

Just as Pakistan deserves better from its leaders in so many other spheres, cricket is no exception. While President Zardari would never sack himself, he can easily sack Butt. Politicians, administrators, former players, journalists, and fans need to raise their voices in protest. Zaheer Abbas, a Punjabi living in Karachi, said Pakistan cricket is heading for disaster. I'll go one step further - Butt has led Pakistan cricket to calamity and must be removed.

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