December 6, 1999

Time Now To Look Ahead

One of the ways of being magnanimous in victory is to praise the opposition, particularly after you have crushed them with a no-nonsense three-nil defeat on them, one by 10 wickets, the other by 5 wickets and the last by an innings inside three days. When I was in college in Bombay, I was the football captain and the team's goalkeeper. We played a match against a Naval unit and by half-time they had scored 21 goals. We put in a better performance in the second half and our opponents were able to score only 12 more goals. Our opponents too were magnanimous and praised our fighting spirit and particularly praised the goalie. Were they trying to imply that but for the heroic efforts of the goalkeeper, the score might have been higher?

Whether Pakistan played well or not is of no consequence. The bottom-line is that they were beaten emphatically by a far better team, better mainly because the Australians were mentally tougher and each and every player made a contribution. If Mark Waugh failed with the bat, look at the catches he took in the slips. Ricky Ponting went into the Perth Test match with three successive ducks. Normally one would have expected that he would have been dropped but the selectors kept faith with him and he responded by making 197, battling at first to pull Australia out of a mini-batting collapse and then paving the way for a match winning total in association with Justin Langer.

To make excuses for Pakistan is to do Pakistan cricket a disservice. There may have been some umpiring decisions that went against Pakistan. But Pakistan too was the beneficiary of some decisions, Ijaz Ahmad seemed to be caught behind of McGrath and McGrath clearly was not amused and gave us a display of his tantrums for which he is notorious and surprisingly hasn't been pulled up for them.

Pakistan had come close to levelling the series at Hobart but had gone without a game plan on the crucial fifth day, no fall-back position in case Langer and Gilchrist got stuck in. The run flow should have been checked and bowlers directed to bowl on one side of the wicket. In other words to induce an error by drying up the runs. Instead the bowlers went hell for leather and got punished. By the time the Perth test came along, the body-language of the Pakistan players suggested that their heart was not in the game.

I am not a great one for post-mortem or even worse for inquiries. They don't alter the result and put extra pressure on the team. And God knows, this team has had its share of humiliations. They have been hounded and persecuted, having had allegations of match-fixing hanging over their heads and yet we have demanded results from them. No other cricket team in the history of the game has had to endure the hell to which this team has been put. They reached the final of the World Cup, in itself a monumental achievement in the conditions in which the World Cup was played. They should have been welcomed home as heroes. Instead they sneaked into Karachi and soon the bloodhounds of the Ehtesab Bureau were interrogating them as if they were criminals. It was openly disclosed that the team had been under surveillance during their stay in England! Who authorised the surveillance? The PCB was unceremoniously sacked and yet another Ad Hoc Committee was imposed on Pakistan cricket. The first action of the chairman of the new Ad Hoc Committee was to suspend Wasim Akram, Salim Malik and Ijaz Ahmed, after, that is, he had changed the logo of the team. And then just as mysteriously the suspension was lifted. This was Alice in Wonderland.

What we need to do is to look ahead on two fronts. On a short-term basis, the team has to re-group for the Carlton & United triangular. We should seriously think of bringing Shahid Afridi and Aamir Sohail back. Someone should work on Shoaib Akhtar, get him to downplay the showman in him and impress on him that his main job is to get wickets and not break the sound barrier. The entire team must undergo a fitness test and we should find someone who can improve the fielding. Clearly Mr Pybus has not been able to do so. In the long-term, cricket should be de-politicised and if we must have the Head of State as patron, then he should be a figure-head like the monarch in England. He should not have the power to sack the cricket board and appoint Ad Hoc Committees.

There was absolutely no reason to have sacked Khalid Mahmood just as there had been no reason to have sacked the then BCCP headed by the then Chief Justice of Pakistan. Nowhere else in the world are cricket boards treated in so cavalier a fashion. I am sure that the Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, knows how much cricket means to the people of Pakistan. To them, it is more than a game. It is an integral part of national pride. In his efforts to re-build institutions, he must find time to give some thought to putting back cricket on solid foundations and having done so, to step back and let the Cricket Board get on with it without interference.