August 7, 2013

Neros fiddle while talent burns

Pakistan cricket has talent but no fairness, meritocracy or systems

Imran Farhat is back. Dear god, why? © PA Photos

Is talent overrated? It might be, unless it's all you've got. Let's be clear, it's all Pakistan have got. Forget natural aptitudes or attributes for any sport. Forget eagle eyes and magical wrists. It's a simple numbers game. A country of 180 million has more people with natural talent than a country of 60 million. Let's not get on to certain countries with a population of over a billion. All things being equal, and we know that they aren't, size matters; Yorkshire, I'll wager, will beat Huntingdonshire. I wouldn't wager on Pakistan beating anybody, except possibly Zimbabwe.

But that's Pakistan for you. Talent is all Pakistan has got. And I'm not talking about Imran Farhat, newly recalled to Pakistan's squad for the tour of Zimbabwe. What's that all about? It isn't about performance or development or fairness. There are less kind, less honourable explanations. No Nasir Jamshed or Mohammad Irfan in Tests. No Hammad Azam in any form. Faisal Iqbal returns with Imran Farhat. What is going on? I feel like shouting in capitals. WHAT IS GOING ON?

We know that Pakistan have troubles, lots of troubles. From A to Z in the fat edition of the Encyclopaedia of Troubles, Pakistan headline every entry. When you have so many troubles, you can't compete. Fair enough. But that doesn't mean you kick yourself in the rocks at every turn. An unwritten law of Pakistan cricket is that any success is followed by an act of crass stupidity. Beat West Indies with refreshing splashes of new and regenerated blood. What's next? Build on that? No. Let's kill that vibe with cricketers whose most persuasive records are their records of birth. Any Pakistan squad will beat Zimbabwe. But you've still killed the vibe.

This is why, I'm sure, people shoot themselves in the head. I know that shooting yourself is a grave sin for a Muslim, and it probably isn't worth it over a squad selection, but ripping off 180 million people must be a sin too? If you ever want to know how it feels to be cheated, start supporting Pakistan. Or perhaps use your talent to push for national selection. Unless you have some connection with a selector or one of the back-seat selectors in the cricket board, you'll quickly learn what it feels like to be cheated.

This is how to burn talent. Treat it unfairly. Dash its hopes and ambitions. Destroy its ego. Erode its confidence. Make it powerless. Kill its dreams. That is what power allows. It allows you to ruin who you choose to ruin. You see, in Pakistan talent exists, like in any other country, though possibly more than in smaller countries, if you follow my earlier argument. But fairness doesn't exist. Merit is absent.

One way of limiting unfairness is to devise sound processes. Let's take England, for example. England isn't perfect. There is plenty of unfairness in cricket and any other walk of life. But enough people in positions of power have cared enough of the time to devise processes and systems that allow enough people of merit to succeed. It isn't perfect. It is good enough.

Beating Australia in the Ashes is no fluke. The ECB has invested in grassroots cricket for over a decade. The standard of junior county cricket rises every year. More coaches are being trained. Facilities are being upgraded. The pathway - that horrible word - from junior cricket to the Test team is clear and already well trodden. People won't be entirely fair. That's people for you. The pathway and the system are imperfect. What pathway or system is perfect? At least there is enough of an effort, though, to select and develop enough of the right players.

In Pakistan, we know there is no fairness. But we also know there is no pathway or system. The cricket board might talk about cricket academies and the grassroots, but not enough people care to do enough of the right things. Nobody is asking for the people who run Pakistan cricket to be perfect or for the processes to be impeccable. We're just asking for the people and processes to be good enough. We're asking that we don't kick ourselves in the rocks at every turn. We're asking that we don't shoot ourselves in the head. We're asking not to be ripped off. We're asking for an end to the Imran Farhats and Faisal Iqbals. Obvious stuff, really. We're asking that the Neros, the decadent rulers of Pakistan cricket, stop fiddling while talent burns. In fact, we're asking in capitals.


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