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'Afridi's captaincy won't work long term'
Ramiz Raja and Osman Samiuddin on the PCB's flip-flop, the return of the two Shoaibs and Afridi's leadership (13:28)
Producers: Akhila Ranganna and Siddhartha Talya
June 13, 2010
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'Afridi's captaincy won't work long term'June 13, 2010
Leading in to the Asia Cup, Pakistan cricket is showing signs of recovering from yet another period of turmoil - one that coach Waqar Younis has referred to as the worst in the last few decades. A disastrous tour of Australia unleashed a heavy-handed reaction from the PCB. Players were banned, fined, placed on probation and even accused of deliberately underperforming.
While player indiscipline was widely considered the root cause of the crisis, were there other factors at play as well? What prompted Waqar, someone familiar with phases of instability in Pakistan cricket, to label this the worst ever? And what is the way forward? We spoke to former cricketer and CEO of the PCB, Ramiz Raja, and the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo, Osman Samiuddin
Ramiz Raja: Pakistan cricket has oscillated over decades from wonderful to woeful, so in that regard Waqar Younis is completely right. I wish I could put a finger on one reason for the flip flop. I think the lack of discipline at the grassroots level - at club and junior-level cricket - develops a feeling of being above the law and bigger than the game. [There is also] a lack of trust in people running the show - that is another major area of concern. Thirdly it's the government committees who have been bent in giving cricket and cricketers a bad name by involving politics in the sport.
Osman Samiuddin: This is up there with some of the worst times in Pakistan cricket. The difference that Waqar was trying to stress was that in his time they were still performing on the field; they still had guys like himself, Wasim Akram, Salim Malik and Inzamam-ul-Haq, who could go out there and win matches. It will be very tough for them [to regroup].
The PCB's announcement of the punishments in March was a bombshell. But just three months later, almost all of them have been overturned, on the PCB's own initiative. What purpose then did those punishments serve?
OS: I think the way they suddenly lifted all the punishments without giving any real reason for it was pretty pathetic. I think it showed how ad hoc and incompetent this PCB has become. This kind of stupidity sends out all the wrong messages. What a lot of people now want is for some cricket to start.
RR: It's a difficult question to answer. Indiscipline has been Pakistan's problem. While some people say that these players should not have been considered, others feel that you have got to get the best talent available, and work with the players who are a little difficult but who could contribute to Pakistan's chances of winning. But from the start I felt the punishments were harsh. The PCB probably wanted to send a strong signal, that no one is above board and no one is bigger than the game, but I think they went overboard in this regard.
One of the immediate results of this decision is that Shoaib Malik - whose name had figured frequently in allegations of inciting player unrest, for which he was subsequently banned for a year - is part of the Asia Cup squad. Shoaib Akhtar, who last played for Pakistan a year ago, finds himself back in the team after an impressive comeback in the domestic Pentangular limited-overs tournament. The return of the two Shoaibs could mean that the touring party is a potentially volatile one. Just how they fit in the scheme of things for Pakistan could well determine the fortunes of the team.
RR: It's a catch-22 situation. I think we tried to experiment with this kind of combination by involving senior and junior players in the 2003 World Cup team, and it backfired. It turned out to be an aging team that didn't perform, though it had star material. I hope that is not the scenario in this Asia Cup.
It provides an opportunity for both these players to do something special for Pakistan. Pakistan cricket needs to think fresh, right and positively. This is going back a little in that regard, even though both Malik and Shoaib Akhtar will give their level best to get Pakistan going in this Asia Cup, because they have a reputation to protect. But it can be a managerial nightmare. They'll be dealing with a management, a new captain, and with some players they've rubbed up the wrong way.
Shahid Afridi being a young captain wants his major players with great reputation to fall in line and perform, not only for the team but for the captain. Pakistan is desperately looking to win matches and tournaments, and they feel that Shoaib Akhtar will provide them with that opening.
|"Afridi admits there are problems and that there will be issues, but he wants to be clear that if you are open about it and speak openly to his face about it, then it is a good thing and a step forward" Osman Samiuddin|
OS: I know from experience, and having been in touch with him, that Shoaib Akhtar on the surface seems like he has understood that this probably is his last chance. He seems to be keen to do as much as he can now with his Pakistan career. Waqar put it best when he referred to how Akhtar is a wizened head, and his experience and smarts as a bowler could be used by some of the younger bowlers.
Nobody is irredeemable in this world. Even if Malik has had problems in the past, if he knows he is coming back into the side with this kind of pressure and scrutiny and context, who knows, he might just stop behaving the way he has done over the past year and get on with his game. The biggest thing with Malik is that he just needed to concentrate on his game. It's okay, they are in the team and there might be problems there, but I would equally say that this might be the opportunity for these guys to finally clean up their act and do something they would be remembered for.
With the World Cup less than a year away, is the return of Malik and Akhtar the right step towards building Pakistan's ODI team? Ramiz and Osman offer contrasting views.
RR: As far as finding the right direction is concerned, I would have preferred somebody young, fresh and new for the Asia Cup. At the end of the day if you're preparing for World Cup cricket, you've got to take your chances in tournaments [like the Asia Cup] where there is not a lot at stake. Obviously winning is important but also experimenting before the World Cup is crucial.
OS: I worry about the personalities in the side and the disruption they can cause but I don't think that there is any doubt that on paper this is a pretty decent team. Salman Butt's form over the last few months in Tests and the Twenty20 has been a huge, underrated bonus for Pakistan, in that they have finally found an opener. They should now stick with him. They have discovered Umar Akmal, who is one of the most exciting middle-order talents. They have Mohammad Aamer, who is an exciting fast-bowling prospect. And they have Mohammad Asif. On paper they have a number of players and they should make up a good team. The road map is there, in that Pakistan should know what their best team is. They have done a good thing for the Asia Cup, taking guys like Umar Amin and Asad Shafiq. As ever, the tools are very much there for Pakistan to be a force; it's just that they need some leadership in terms of the PCB getting its act together. On the field. for now at least, Afridi [is] doing something.
The Asia Cup will be a big Test for Afridi. He has said one of his immediate priorities will be to ensure his players aren't guilty of any unruly behaviour while on tour. Both Ramiz and Osman believe it will not be an easy task.
RR: As far as Pakistan is concerned, we'll be looking at consistency from them and a bit of predictability from them, as well as some of the young performers. Importantly, we'll be looking at how Afridi operates as captain. It's going to be an important tournament for him because he's talked a great deal about bonding with players off the field, but he hasn't said much about how he'll conduct himself on the field as a captain. While his team's performance was patchy during the World Twenty20, his own performance as a captain was a bit patchy as well. The idea is to not burden him with a lot of stress, because he is obviously a key player when it comes to limited-overs cricket. Others would have to take a bit of the burden off his shoulders so that he can also consistently work as their leader.
OS: I think Afridi has stressed he wants open communication in the team. He doesn't want players to go around each other's backs and badmouth each other and work against them. He admits there are problems and that there will be issues, but he wants to be clear that if you are open about it and speak openly to his face about it then it is a good thing and a step forward. He has a volatile set of players - guys like Malik and Akhtar are not easy to handle. But in this [limited-overs] format, because he brings so much to it, he will have more success as a captain.
Afridi has also been appointed Pakistan's Test captain for their upcoming tour of England, where they will play Tests against the hosts and Australia. He is returning to Test cricket after a gap of about four years, and while he is at best a reluctant Test captain, he has to be lauded for his move. But will this bring about some stability in Pakistan cricket?
OS: As much as I would like to think of some stability coming, it is difficult to reconcile to the idea of Afridi being Test captain. He is probably the best choice as a captain the Twenty20 and ODI format. If you pick an XI, then he is almost the first name in both teams, and he is probably the most influential in those formats in the last couple of years. But I really worry about him in Tests. He hasn't played for about the last four years; he has played very little first-class cricket in that time, and even before he gave up Test cricket nobody could say with any certainty that he was a Test specialist. Those questions were there before and now with him being captain those questions are still there. I don't see it turning out long-term. Having spoken to him myself, he himself is unsure how long he will last as a Test player. That is one of the reasons he left the format; he is more interested in the shorter format, which is fine. It is a brave thing that he has done because he knows the problems, he knows the team is not united and he knows it is a format that he is not used to. It is a brave decision and it has to be lauded.
RR: He's taken that jump once again, has Shahid Afridi, because he was a reluctant player when it came to Test cricket. He felt he was not good enough to hold his place and play consistently well for Pakistan as a Test player and gave up his position. Now, and I felt it was a very good and brave decision, he's allowed himself to come back and work for the country and the team as a leader. I think it gives a lot of consistency to the thought of stabilising the unit under one captain. This is where the PCB has done really well, to invite Shahid Afridi out of this interim retirement and work for them as a leader in Test match cricket.
Now it is going to be extremely difficult for Afridi. His job is cut out. He is coming back into Test cricket after a lapse; he will be up against two formidable sides in Australia and England. And we know that all good teams go after the captain. So he will be tested as a leader and as a batsman. So his first task will be to play well as a player and the rest will take care of itself. The captaincy part will come later; he has to lead them by playing well as an all-round cricketer but it won't be easy. The decision is a brave one and we have to back Afridi in this turning point for Pakistan cricket.
How Afridi performs at the helm could well determine if Pakistan achieve the stability they so desperately seek.
With Siddhartha Talya, this is Akhila Ranganna for Cricinfo.
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