2010: Summer of Pakistan September 9, 2010

Dead tour walking

Shahid Afridi's players have acquired the greatest responsibility in the history of Pakistan cricket: the responsibility to save Pakistan cricket from the recklessness of their colleagues and the negligence of all the President's men

Four months ago Pakistan were the most feared team in Twenty20 cricket. Four days ago they were dreadful. This is a dead tour walking and it is up to Shahid Afridi's team to bring it back to life. A summer that began with hope and ambition is ending in total disaster. A demoralised team is playing before numb supporters. If Pakistan's remaining players have clear consciences they need to show the world that their country has the pride and heart to face down the many challenges it faces.

As the saying goes, a fish rots from the head, and Pakistan cricket will not halt its death slide until the head of the cricket board is replaced. Yet Ijaz Butt appears as secure as ever, safe in his friendship with the President of Pakistan. We would all love to know the precise nature of the debt that Zardari owes Butt, beyond personal connections, because Butt's has been the most disastrous regime in the history of Pakistan cricket.

The world is powerless to break Butt's spell over Zardari. This sense of powerlessness complicates the grief that Pakistan supporters are currently experiencing. My impression is that Pakistan fans have been through a stage of denial and are hovering between anger and sadness, with the final stage of grief being acceptance. The current Pakistan players and management, assuming their innocence, must be cycling through similar stages.

I have reached a mood of sadness about the spot-fixing affair. I watched my first live Pakistan match 35 years ago, and have commented on Pakistan cricket for 15 years. In all those hours and days of my life lost to cricket, in all the million or so words I must have written about the team that once wore the green and gold with pride, I have never felt so disenchanted. Pakistan cricket has suffered every conceivable scandal yet this cut feels the deepest. Why?

I'm not quite sure what the answer is but I guess there are many factors that contribute to my malaise. This tour was billed as a lifeline for Pakistan cricket, a route to revenue and rejuvenation. The new-look team was supposed to offer a clean break from the past, boasting a bowling attack to rival any on the planet. Passionate support would fill stadiums and create an unforgettable spectacle.

We had glimpses of that dream but now we live a nightmare. Pakistan has been troubled by match-fixing allegations before but today's circumstances are the most perturbing. The Qayyum inquiry of a decade ago was unsatisfactory for many reasons, one of which was its failure to produce any compelling evidence for public consumption. The current crisis may not result in a criminal prosecution, and the ICC inquiry has still not reached a conclusion, but the recent allegations have shattered the confidence that fans have in their team.

Last time around we were still unsure of what really happened but this time the videos and the transcripts are difficult to dislodge from our minds. They may not prove guilt but they have shaken our belief in the integrity of the sport. All this on the backdrop of a crippling war and murderous floods.

Ultimately, though, this melancholy might be explained by the powerlessness to oust the people who many supporters believe have failed in their duty to preserve the integrity and the reputation of Pakistan cricket; people who should have kept agents from the team's door, selected wisely, and guided their young charges with greater responsibility.

The players may change by the day, one disaster might be outdone by a different calamity from one week to the next, but the cricket board and the team management are constants, unwilling to take any responsibility for supervising Pakistan cricket to intensive care.

The head of this fish is rotten, as is its bloated body. The players form the tail of this once vibrant, now monstrous creature, and it is the healthy parts of the tail that must wag this beast back to life. They should be boosted by two new additions in Asad Shafiq, a highly rated middle-order batsman, and Mohammad Irfan, the new Big Bird of international cricket. With Shoaib Akhtar and Afridi in the mix, even in its death throes, Pakistan cricket offers a twitch of fascination.

Now Afridi's players have acquired the greatest responsibility in the history of Pakistan cricket: the responsibility to save Pakistan cricket from the recklessness of their colleagues and the negligence of all the President's men. Sport can replace misery with joy but this is a deep melancholy and the most desperate of times. Can Boom Boom and his band of tortured men demonstrate the real power of cricket?

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

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