May 1, 2013

Pakistan cricket's style problem

Wasim Akram has employed a stylist to advise youngsters on presentation. We beg you, Wasim, stop

The subject for today's blog is fashion. So before we start, I should declare an interest: I am not a fashionable man. My sole claim to sartorial distinction is the possession of a stripey brown jacket that is so ugly I have been warned by the police that if I ever take it out of my wardrobe, I will be arrested for causing a breach of the peace. My trousers are boring, my hair is dull, and even my writing, devoid of zombie references and f-words, is so last century.

Still, as Oscar Wilde said, fashion is a form of ugliness so unbearable that we are forced to change it every six months. For many years the Pakistan board has applied the same principle to its Test team, so it was to be expected that at some point, fashion and cricket would come together. This week, we learned that Wasim Akram, headmaster of the Lahore Fast Bowling Kindergarten, has employed a stylist to advise youngsters on presentation.

Ex-pros telling young 'uns to smarten themselves up is nothing new. During the 1990s, when elderly English cricket mandarins were desperately trawling the Sea Of Explanations for a solution for our talent-deficit situation, one of the first red herrings they fetched up from the depths was the idea of the Magical Righteousness of the Blazer.

"Look at those Australians", it was said, "See how green and neat and lovely their blazers are, whilst our chaps wander about unshaven, in shell-suits and tatty jeans, looking like a group of trainee football hooligans after an away leg in Benidorm. No wonder we keep losing."

It was as nonsensical as changing your entire team every match, or dropping David Gower because he couldn't do sit-ups. Polishing the buttons on your blazer until you can see your designer sunglasses in them does not help you play the cover drive any better.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with asking your players to threaten their fringes with a comb every now and then, or reminding them not to drip ice cream on their team ties. But Wasim's agenda is more sinister than asking his boys not to wipe their nose with their sleeve just before they shake hands with the president.

"A good hairstyle and good dress add to your confidence and it can play a very good role in giving someone much-needed confidence."

No Wasim, that's where you're wrong. It might start out that way, but as any teenage girl will tell you, it doesn't stop there. If you become more fashionable, then everyone else by comparison is less fashionable. Every time a young Pakistani bowler visits an expensive stylist, he raises the style bar and makes everyone else look worse. How long before Pakistani fast bowlers are worrying about body image, cellulite and botox?

And what of their legacy? If you showed a modern stylist a recording of a day's play from Melbourne 1974 or Lahore 1975, he'd have to be revived with smelling salts. There were trouser legs flapping in the breeze like mainsails, there were shirts that were mostly collar, and there was hair. Everywhere. Voluminous Afros, gravity-defying comb-overs, curly perms, uncultivated moustaches, wild sideburns. When a 1970s team left the field, they looked like shipwrecked mariners returning from five years on a desert island.

When a player from the seventies gets out his team photographs to show to his grandchildren, he has to explain that he's the one standing in between Chewbacca's nephew and the Yeti, the one who looks like he's just walked out of a Neanderthal Man exhibit at the Natural History Museum. You see, Wasim, fashion did that.

Young cricketers need little encouragement in this direction. You only have to tune in to the IPL to see the range of exotic coiffures and elaborate tattoos on show. It starts with an extra dollop of hair gel and ends with a high-profile engagement to a toothpaste model, a ten page photo-shoot for Vain Bowler Monthly, and an early retirement from the game to pursue a career as a celebrity. For the sake of the children, Wasim, I implore you, stop it now.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here