October 13, 2009

Stupidity of staggering proportions

After a recent and fairly commendable upturn in fortunes, once again Pakistan shoots itself and watches bemused as the world sniggers

The absolute stupidity of this whole situation is staggering. An Indian journalist writes a particularly incendiary report after Pakistan's semi-final loss to New Zealand in the Champions Trophy, claiming there was more to the defeat than meets the eye. The report was immediately shot down by the ICC and soon after by the newspaper itself.

But the germ had been planted. Pakistan, match-fixing, and so a chain of events, even before the tournament was over, was becoming increasingly predictable: the report would be picked up by Pakistan's hyperactive media, big on headlines and poor on detail, some political personalities would get involved, hearings would be called, intrigue would be added, a captain already averse to precisely this would decide he had had enough. Wham, bam, thank you, latest controversy dealt with, let's move on to another.

To the letter, this is what has happened. The chairman of the National Assembly's standing committee on sports, Jamshed Dasti, first told every TV channel and news agency that he thought the matches were fixed and promised a committee hearing and investigation into it. The next day he denied ever making any such allegation, claiming instead that people in general were saying so. At the hearing he told Younis Khan he had not been called in to announce his resignation. After the hearing, Dasti told TV channels that, thankfully, the allegations of match-fixing were totally unfounded. The stupidity of it all is much too much to bear. It will not be surprising if it doesn't happen, but it won't be right either if Dasti's role in all this is not held to account. And now many will make the lazy assumption, pointing to Younis' previous with captaincy, his ethnicity, and tut-tut and say that he has done "a Younis", that he is emotional, temperamental and all that. He shouldn't have resigned, or done so in this way. All points have merit but the main point will be missed. It cannot be a good thing to have led your country to the World Twenty20 title and the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy - the only country, by the way, to have reached the last four in both tournaments - and still have your own countrymen suspect you of match-fixing, to ask you, to tell you that it is so. And these are not just allegations of factions in teams, or about your own performances: these are serious allegations against your person and integrity. Rightly, Younis should not have to put up with this pathetic nonsense, stuff that was barely credible to start with. Many captains in the past have had to put up with it and it is something they should not have had to put up with. A whole nation, a people, a culture, stands to be blamed.

Younis should not have to put up with this pathetic nonsense. Many captains in the past have had to put up with it and it is something they should not have had to put up with. A whole nation, a people, a culture, stands to be blamed

This being Pakistan, though, it cannot be as simple - or not - as just that. To the stupidity we must add the conspiracy and intrigue. So comes in the name of Shahid Afridi, vice-captain in ODIs and Twenty20 captain. The PCB chairman, Ijaz Butt, met Afridi a few days ago in Lahore. On the agenda, it has been rumoured, was the topic of the ODI leadership, though Afridi and Butt denied it. Butt said later he only wanted to discuss the Champions Trophy performances with Afridi. This is fine, except the natural person to do that with would be the captain, would it not?

In fact, those close to Younis are keen to point out Afridi's angling for the post, though in fairness Afridi has always publicly and regularly backed his captain - and has performed as such to prove it. Younis' fractured finger and poor form further complicate matters, and the PCB's dithering on his inclusion for the New Zealand series is precisely the kind of incompetence that wasn't needed. Now all kinds of things are flying around: the team's Punjab lobby has played its hand, Younis has done it as part of a bigger plan, Afridi has meddled; the truth may be everywhere and nowhere but mess is everywhere.

After a recent and fairly commendable upturn in fortunes, once again Pakistan shoots itself and watches bemused as the world sniggers. This year, which has seen international cricket taken away from the country for the forseeable future, has also seen success on the field and off it, with the unearthing of some exciting new batting and bowling talent. Younis' captaincy and his side have been much admired globally for again becoming compelling to watch; to most observers, Younis was the most fascinating personality at the Champions Trophy - endearingly honest, open and refreshing. Broadly speaking, he was thought to be a good, calming influence on the side. That message seems not to have reached Pakistan.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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