May 21, 2010

A new low, even for Pakistan

The aftermath of the leaked video reveals to what depths Pakistan's players have fallen

No longer should there be doubts that the current batch of players are among the most pathetic characters to have represented Pakistan. The leaked video of the PCB's inquiry committee hearings has simply confirmed, and put incontrovertibly and forever on the greatest mirror of our times, television, what many already knew: that this band of senior players care not for anything but themselves, that they cannot be captained by anyone, that they are governed by their greed for power and that they will, most shockingly, deliberately underperform to undermine their captain. Pathetic is barely condemnation.

This has been the way since Inzamam-ul-Haq left: so much factionalism, so many groups with different interests that nobody even remembers who is on whose side anymore. Shoaib Malik is a central figure.

He has been ably supported by men such as Salman Butt, Misbah-ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal and a handful of others, including even managers such as Yawar Saeed. What their aim has ever been is not certain, other than reinstating Malik as captain.

Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Yousuf have brought their own agendas. Afridi was used - or chose to be used - by Malik's lot in trying to bring down Younis Khan as captain. Yousuf's one-point agenda, meanwhile, has been to get rid of Malik somehow, with whom he has publicly rowed since 2007. Younis has had, what the master of the non-answer, Intikhab Alam, called, his own issues.

Two captains, Younis and Yousuf, have publicly said their players were actively trying to uproot them. The most shocking parts of the video - and there are enough - are Rana Naved-ul-Hasan's happy confessions of first siding against and then siding with Younis, and underperforming under him. He says it with unrepentant, shocking candour.

When Younis was captain, up to eight players met (typically, there are conflicting reports over where, and thus, how many times) to take an oath of allegiance to not play under him. An oath of allegiance to not play under him: nothing better captures the stench of these men than this, a quasi-official act of loyalty in the ultimate cause of disloyalty. There is so much distrust that they don't even trust each other to unite in the face of a common enemy unless an allegiance is shamefully made to higher authorities. Less bitchiness will be found in a season of either Gossip Girl or Pakistan's parliament.

So intense has been the infighting and factionalism that it shocked a member even of the coaching set-up on the Australia tour, one fully involved in the bad days of the 90s, when there were more captains in any XI than players. But in those days, he said, once they were on the field such differences were put aside so that matches could be won (at least, the blighted history of this country's cricket forces us to recall, those matches that weren't fixed). That was evident in results from the decade.

Up to eight players met to take an oath of allegiance to not play under Younis. Nothing better captures the stench of these men than this, a quasi-official act of loyalty in the ultimate cause of disloyalty

Younger players, such as Umar Akmal and Mohammad Aamer, are being drawn in. Their talent will never fail them but their personalities will. The younger Akmal, in particular, has developed the kind of cockiness and arrogance that will make him as many enemies as he will runs. Aamer has been involved in a serious dust-up with Umar Gul, over as small a matter as a dropped catch. And the ogling of women - no cricket crime, really - that Afridi refers to, is in at least one case directed at Aamer, who put down Ricky Ponting at deep fine leg in Hobart, minutes after just such a distraction. Neither Akmal nor Aamer is yet a full year into the international game.

It is a shameful, sorry spectacle, even when we think we are inured to such. It's no bad thing that the PCB has handed out such punishments as it has; after all, the one thing the video makes abundantly clear is that these men cannot play with each other, at least not without harming the team.

But the board should have been more open when it was handing out the punishments, if only to spare themselves this current headache. And they should also have sacked themselves for not being able to handle the situation. As much as it is an exposé of the rot among the players, it is also an indictment of the absolute incompetence of the PCB's top hierarchy. They failed to back any captain they selected, they appointed managers who couldn't handle situations, and in fact exacerbated them, and they let the situation fester. If players have been banned, so should Ijaz Butt, Wasim Bari, Yawar Saeed and others be told to go, to hopefully end what is among the sorriest periods in the history of this cricketing nation.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo