Pakistan captaincy crisis September 26, 2003

Why did Rashid Latif have to go?

Wisden's Pakistan View by Kamran Abbasi
The Pakistan Cricket Board trumpeted a new era after the World Cup

The Pakistan Cricket Board trumpeted a new era after the World Cup. There were promises of consistency, and even the whiff of meritocracy. One of the most impressive statements was about the captaincy. Rashid Latif would lead the team for a year, and in the process groom a successor who, according to the chairman of selectors Aamir Sohail, would be Yousuf Youhana, the new vice-captain. Sticking to this plan, of course, was too much to ask. As an eminent psychiatrist once told me, nothing predicts behaviour like behaviour.

True to type, the PCB has slung out its good intentions with its recent selection policies. Rookies have been thrown into the international team after barely a first-class game, and now Latif has lost the support of the board little more than six months into his promised year. Why did it come to this? Pakistan, under Latif, had performed with credit, given the plethora of fledgling cricketers in the team. Why should Latif resign so suddenly? The answer, according to well-placed sources, is not a single issue. But the main reason is to do with the selection policy.

Latif, it seems, fought an ongoing battle over selection. He disagreed with the vogue for choosing players with little first-class experience at the expense of better-established cricketers waiting for a call-up. This tension reached its height during the Bangladesh series, when the selection committee wanted to drop Younis Khan and Abdul Razzaq and selected players that Latif didn't want. Latif was particularly flabbergasted at the decision to play novices, such as Yasir Ali. He is not alone. Many former Pakistan cricketers are dismayed at the way Test caps have been awarded like charity handouts.

More worryingly Tauqir Zia, the PCB chairman, has remained directly involved with selection policy, and Latif was seen as a hurdle in the selection of players that the board favoured. An age-old flaw in the Pakistani system has been the uncertain role of the selectors. In principle they should be appointed for their talent-spotting, fairness, and integrity. They should also be autonomous. This is not the case with Pakistan cricket, so why pretend that it is? Far more honest to admit that the selectors are, for example, Tauqir Zia, Rameez Raja and Aamer Sohail, instead of playing a public charade. I don't see a problem with that: make the decisions and take the responsibility.

Sources say that these selection hassles undermined Latif's position, and the board effectively withdrew its support from him after he was banned by Mike Procter for claiming a catch that he had grounded. After that he was not invited to a gala dinner with the president of Pakistan - it's unthinkable that the national captain should not attend such a gathering. Then Tauqir Zia made some public statements criticising Latif, and questioning his future.

All this augurs badly for Pakistan cricket, and it is time for a rethink at the PCB. It is a simple enough principle that selection should be left to the selectors, who then live or die by the team's success. It is a straightforward enough rule that the board chairman should leave selection to his appointed experts. It is an easy enough concept that selection should be based on merit and performance and not just on connections or a hunch - or anyway, hunches should be the exception not the rule. It is basic enough management practice not to publicly undermine your appointed leader. But it is the simple, easy, straightforward, basic tasks that Pakistan cricket habitually fails to master. Nothing, unfortunately, predicts behaviour like behaviour. Watch out, Inzy.

Kamran Abbasi, born in Lahore but raised in Rotherham, is deputy editor of the British Medical Journal.