The aftermath of defeat April 22, 2004

Pakistan pay for failures across the board

Wisden Comment by Kamran Abbasi
The Pakistan Cricket Board is at it again

Taufeeq Umar - could he be captaincy material? © Getty Images

The Pakistan Cricket Board is at it again. For every defeat there shall be a scapegoat; a reaction as instinctive as a primal reflex or a Pavlovian slobber. Once the man in charge at the PCB runs out of scapegoats he usually runs off himself. Shame on Shaharyar Khan, his curriculum vitae promised more sense. But Pakistan cricket at present is full of people trying to save their own skin by skinning someone else -- and if they can't think of someone themselves, Shoaib Akhtar will do.

To describe the PCB's medical board of inquiry as a complete nonsense would be generosity. Doctors are pretty lousy at accurately diagnosing a current illness -- to expect them to pontificate retrospectively is asking the impossible. This medical show is a charade, a clumsy diversion. It is not Shoaib's back that needs further investigation; it is the spine of the current Pakistan administration: Chairman, chairman of selectors, coach, and captain. All four are miscast in their roles. The simple question these four wise men need to answer is why was this series the most gutless ever played out by a Pakistan team? There are failings in each of their spheres.

Shaharyar has made a bad start with the board's reaction to this series loss and the free-for-all in terms of blame and counterblame. Wasim Bari is quick to distance himself from failure but quicker still to take the credit for success; as amorphous as Aamir Sohail was opinionated to the point of caricature. Javed Miandad's coaching tenure has turned from optimism into desperation at his inability to refine the techniques of Pakistan's young cricketers, and his reluctance to seek help in specialist areas. But the most glaring failing is in the captaincy.

Inzamam ul Haq's batting has been as outstanding as his leadership has been woeful. On the field, Pakistan is a team without drive, without motivation -- it is the captain's job to inspire. At times it has been hard to offer a generous interpretation of Inzamam's field placings or bowling changes. Inzamam was, is, and always will be a bad choice as captain.

The PCB says it has no other options. Yousuf Youhana is thought to be a schemer, not trusted by some of his team-mates, and others are shamefully reluctant to be led by a captain from a minority group. Shoaib Akhtar is just too wild and unpredictable, as well as being the likely scapegoat for this loss. Moin Khan's days are over and besides, Bari is not a fan. That leaves a clutch of younger players, and who among them is a likely leader?

The biggest mistake the PCB made was conspiring to rid itself of Rashid Latif. It may have found his accusations of fixed matches uncomfortable -- and it still does -- but Sohail's plan of a year's captaincy from Latif -- while he groomed a successor -- looks an even better one now.

What to do? Pakistan cricket needs to be brave. This tainted generation has failed to produce a captain worthy of Imran Khan's example. It is time to look to the next generation, identify a quality cricketer to lead the team, and support him. Of the current crop, sources close to the team suggest Taufeeq Umar would be the best choice. A youngster would be a gamble, but I think one worth taking. England, New Zealand, and South Africa have already shown that such hunches can pay off, although the hierarchical nature of South Asian culture would make a young captain's task more difficult than those faced by Michael Vaughan, Stephen Fleming, or Graeme Smith.

But anything has to be better than Inzamam's inertia or a slavish pandering to hierarchy. Desperate times call for radical solutions -- and the capitulation at Rawalpindi was even more desperate and gutless than thought possible.

Kamran Abbasi is deputy editor of the British Medical Journal.