November 12, 2013

A time for defiance and flair

There was a time when Pakistan masked ordinariness with defiance and flair. Now they are humbled and demoralised

Is it time to let go of Mohammad Hafeez and a few others in this line-up? © AFP

Pakistan feel humbled, demolished by mighty South Africa. They challenged us without Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, or even Imran Tahir, a surprise star. But we were still demolished. And we are still humbled, as has become our custom.

Once, our teams made up for any lack of preparation, and the bumbling amateurism that bestrides Pakistan cricket, with a touch of flair and frequent flashes of defiance. This combination of defiance and flair carried them a long way. Yes, we possessed some brilliant players, but the more ordinary tended to mask their ordinariness with the aforementioned defiance and flair.

Now, we are a rump of humbled and demoralised cricketers. We don't have defiance or flair, and even if we do, we don't show it. We know it is the batsmen, those damned incompetents, who are to blame for this general demoralisation. They are so much to blame that even our once excellent bowlers are beginning to fray at the seams - and I don't mean ball-tampering. Their previous excellence is slowly succumbing to ordinariness. Who can blame them? Even the gods would be demoralised by the crapulence of our batsmen.

Bring back Aamer Sohail, all is forgiven. What we would give now for a player of such absolute ordinariness but bulldog defiance. Or his opening partner, Saeed Anwar, a man of uncertain defiance but godly flair. If you never lived through those times, I'm sorry, you missed a treat.

If you never saw Mohsin the Eagle, or Zed - not the Zed from Pulp Fiction - you missed a treat. If you never saw Javed Miandad, Queen to Imran's King, or even Saleem Malik - damned Saleem Malik - you missed a treat. If you missed the slashing wrists of Ijaz Ahmed, the forward thrust of Imran Khan, or the majesty of Majid Khan, you missed a treat. You might not have heard of Wasim Raja, the best of the Raja brothers, or Mushtaq Mohammad, the second-best of the Mohammad brothers, but you surely missed a treat. You don't need me to tell you about Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf.

Trust me, there were frustrating days as well in those past decades, but enough of the time your heart leapt to the tune of the defiance and flair on show. Now we are a rump of humbled and demoralised cricketers.

But Pakistan cricketers can bat. Verily we've always struggled to match the might of India or Australia. Truly we lack the faith, unity and discipline to be a batting machine, but we've always had something about us. Chutzpah, they would have called it when I started writing about cricket in the 1990s.

By my estimation only the selection of four players out of this sorry bunch should not be disputed: Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan and Sohaib Maqsood. Only one of those is a batsman, and, as impressive as he looked, he is just starting out. The rest require their positions reconsidered, although after due reconsideration Misbah is the only viable captain in the short term. Equally, after the same reconsideration, there seems little worth to the international careers of Mohammad Hafeez, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir and the plague of Akmals. Go with grace but in the name of god, go.

Pakistan cricket needs to go back to the future to McFly, as it were; to rediscover a touch of flair and frequent flashes of defiance. Bring in some young players with these attributes to at least offer service as a batsman, allrounder and wicketkeeper. Haris Sohail, Hammad Azam and Mohammad Rizwan are popular cries. Let's take up these cries, for we need new heroes, and any aspiring hero must be tested. Look how Sohaib surprised us, and Shan Masood before him.

Let's end this circus of limp ordinariness that demoralises both bowlers and supporters. Let's stop feeling humbled. Our fans once carried placards boasting: "Demolition in progress." Now we are the subject of the demolition, almost each and every day. Pakistan, in sport and beyond, cannot be rebuilt in a day, but you begin by understanding how far you have fallen.

Let's build afresh; vow that our hearts will leap again, and no longer sink to the dread beat of falling wickets. The time is right for a cull, a cull to refresh, revive and rebuild. It is human nature to glorify the past, and the past wasn't perfect by any means. But let me assure you, it was often a treat, and if you haven't felt that thrill, I want you to feel it too. That thrill, that flair, that defiance, that is the magic of Pakistan cricket.

Give it back.

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

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