August 23, 2007

Muddy waters run deep

The only active internationals to sign for the ICL are from Pakistan - an indictment of the players, the PCB, and the relationship between the two

Mohammad Yousuf's potential loss will be a big blow to the PCB © AFP
Rare is the issue in Pakistan cloaked in black, white and little else. The deeper you delve, the more complex it gets; contradiction, hypocrisy, incompetence, lies, and sometimes facts, happily swim together in this cesspool, where nothing is really right or wrong. So it is with the decision of four active internationals to sign up with the Indian Cricket League, and maybe sign away what remains of their Pakistan careers.

What you also find is bristling diversity of opinion here. So for every person who says the PCB is incompetent, uncaring, and has driven its players away, another will chip in about the mercenary nature of the modern cricketer. The media, newly loud and proud, captures it best; one article in The News vented fury at the greed of the players, while the cartoonist down at The Post did likewise at the board. Both views are forceful, neither is wrong; but they should not be mutually exclusive either.

The matter is indeed complex. Last year Mohammad Yousuf was the best batsman in the world, in the form of his life. Soon, at 32, he might be banned from playing for Pakistan. He has reason to be aggrieved, dropped as he was from the Twenty20 squad - not for a youngster, which would have at least had the benefit of logic and planning, but for Misbah-ul-Haq, which has neither.

Yet should Yousuf be so hurt by an omission from, essentially, a lesser format of the game as to risk his entire future with Pakistan in one almighty petulant fit? And just how well does his image as a deeply religious and spiritual man, free from material trappings, sit with his keenness to play in a league where only the financial details seem to have been finalised?

Abdul Razzaq eagerly became the poor, victimised, senior servant of Pakistan cricket, forced out before his time. Injury forced him to miss the World Cup, after which, he complained, the board didn't bother calling him even once. If true, it is indeed a sad, damning indictment of how the PCB treats its commodities.

As sad, perhaps, as Razzaq's reaction to his dropping from the Twenty20 squad. One omission is all it took for him to renounce international cricket. Had they Razzaq's stomach for a fight, Graeme Hick, Mark Ramprakash and Sourav Ganguly - no strangers to axes or comebacks - would have committed suicide long ago. Forget that Razzaq's form in the last two years, under any microscope, from any angle, given any spin, called for no better than the chop.

And what to make of Imran Farhat? Some injustice has been done, it is true. He was dropped just before the World Cup, having been persisted with for some time, for Imran Nazir, who hadn't played an international in nearly three years. But from the way Farhat attacked selectors and justified his joining the ICL, you'd think Don Bradman had been axed, not a man who, after six years in the game, averages 33 in Tests and 30 in ODIs with three international hundreds.

Inzamam-ul-Haq's choice is of a different nature altogether; not only is he, at 37, not in the team's current plans, even if he was, it would not have been for much longer. And he fits the ICL profile; nearing the end of his career, this is an opportunity not to be spurned.

Having maintained loudly that joining the ICL would result in life bans, a u-turn for an administration increasingly renowned for them, is not ruled out

If we're being ruthlessly honest, then Yousuf's potential loss is the greatest. The PCB has already acknowledged as much, albeit a little tactlessly. If pushed, a future without Farhat, Razzaq and Inzamam is tangible, but without Yousuf? Reconciling, as Pakistan must, to a middle order without Inzamam is difficult enough; without Yousuf as well it hardly bears thinking about.

Ultimately, that the only active internationals to sign are from Pakistan says as much about the players as it does about the board, but it says most about the traditionally fractious relationship between the two. None of these players was bound to inform the board of his decision, and none except Yousuf did; the board's failure to contact Yousuf or Razzaq when central contracts were being signed was similarly telling.

Now, four days later, little save vague noises about bans and reconciliation with Yousuf emerge from board officials. Having maintained loudly that joining the ICL would result in life bans - and having been subsequently caught off guard - a u-turn for an administration increasingly renowned for them, is not ruled out.

What to make of it all? Feel first for Geoff Lawson, who was welcomed to Pakistan with this development, a greeting that, for novelty, is up there with eskimos rubbing noses. Then resign yourself to the methods of Ardeshir Cowasjee, that irascible, legendary columnist who, when writing of Pakistan's muddy politics, often invokes the famous Urdu proverb: Iss hamaam mein sab nangey hein (All are naked in this bathhouse).

Were the players justified in joining the Indian Cricket League? Tell us what you think

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo