July 19, 2010

Don't blame Afridi

What was the board thinking by appointing as captain a player who hadn't played a Test in four years, to lead one of Pakistan's most inexperienced sides?

Shahid Afridi did not appoint himself captain of Pakistan's Test side. He was asked to take over by the PCB. At the time, there were suggestions that the Test comeback was a prerequisite to him retaining the captaincy of the ODI and Twenty20 sides - the implication being that he was pressured into it. Subsequently, Afridi, a straightish talker when he wants to be, hardly hid his reluctance over the task at hand.

So the first questions flung after this latest inevitable, but thankfully brief, self-defeat must be at the board. In pushing a man who had not played Tests for four years, a man who wasn't really ever a Test cricketer, a man whose place in the Test XI wasn't guaranteed, to lead a side with 249 Tests worth of experience between them, against two of the strongest teams around, in alien conditions, what was the thinking?

Maybe they looked at his Test average (before the Lord's Test) and concluded that as it was higher than Nasser Hussain's and Hansie Cronje's and fractionally lower than Michael Atherton's, he must be all right. Maybe they really are as simple as that, even if that is to credit at least one among them with the knowhow to use Statsguru.

The only conclusion that can be reached from their choice is that they have no clue of the game they purport to govern. They have the vision of bats; the thinking, of how to develop a side, how to nurture a game, how to identify talent, how to run a business, is remarkably empty. Afridi should never have been approached to lead the Test side. Malcolm Speed was blunt about the PCB, but that was his only fault.

The board line was that there was no other option. That was, in any case, arguable; if it was true, it was only because the PCB had engineered the situation such. Since 2009, in fact, the one thing the board has done consistently is to not show any spine in standing by their captains. If, as the administration, you oversee one change in captaincy, you can be forgiven. Two looks careless. Beyond that - and Ijaz Butt's men have now overseen four in less than 18 months - clearly no one has the slightest clue. They don't seem to care much either.

So to blame Afridi for taking it on - and now leaving it - is to misplace frustration. Few turn down the captaincy, and he did it with good intentions. It was, in one sense, a brave decision, to take on such a shattered, divisive group of individuals, after such a beating, in a format you're not familiar with. The bravest move might have been to recognise your limitations and turn it down, but that is to be expected only from the biggest men.

If, as the administration, you oversee one change in captaincy, you can be forgiven. Two looks careless. Beyond that - and Ijaz Butt's men have now overseen four in less than 18 months - and clearly no one has the slightest clue

And over four days in the field, he didn't look that bad as captain. He attacked, handled his bowlers mostly well, got his fields mostly right, and oversaw Pakistan's safest fielding performance in years. He is not the first Pakistan captain to lose a Test to Australia.

He batted irresponsibly? Much better batting captains of Pakistan have done worse, most recently Mohammad Yousuf in the Sydney run-chase. Afridi's batting, of course, was a problem and its true effectiveness in this format lay long ago, in the type of innings Bob Woolmer squeezed out of him: the madcap opening bursts in Bangalore and Kolkata in 2004-05, which were potential game-breakers. And even those were controlled circumstances, where the surfaces weren't spicy, and he batted with the luxury of knowing Yousuf, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Younis Khan could clean up most messes behind him.

But Afridi was honest about it, even if the affair retained the calculated charm of the brand Afridi: "Me? I only know how to hit sixes and I can't do that for five days." He knew he was a weak link in the side and he moved on. Wanting to ensure that his limited-overs leadership is not sullied by five-day misery will also have been a less than selfless calculation. He could have handled it far better: resigning and retiring minutes after one Test defeat smacks of panicked, chaotic defeatism. But typically, in the contrary ways Pakistan cricket works, his absence should strengthen the side.

Now, Salman Butt. His name has come up before in this kind of talk, which doesn't say much in Pakistan other than that he has been around long enough (seven years nearly) and been dropped often enough (seven times in 28 Tests). The immediate fear is that he is being burdened just when he is finally becoming the opening batsman that Pakistan have needed more than anything. Another is of the momentary lapses in concentration, evident in soft dismissals when set, or poor catching or bad running. He is also his country's fifth youngest captain and young captains have never had it good in Pakistan, though that he has mostly young men around him might help.

But there are good things. To make eight comebacks and not be broken suggests some resilience. It is also something that he does best against the two toughest opponents a Pakistani batsman can come across: Australia and India. Above all has been his reconfiguration for the Twenty20 format, among the most significant acts of self-improvement by any Pakistani batsman since Yousuf's 2006 transformation.

And on the field, he has materials and men to work with. Off it he has nothing.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2010, 23:48 GMT

    My fellow pakistani pls let system work and try to let players make a decision and board should do there job.We changed players and Captain like nothing.What happen to our people why they are like that.How the system will work when old guard still there.Let young energitic should be there not same old people.Worlds sports need pakistan.But we should look it ourselves we have everything to benefit our nation.So many overseas pakistani like to help pakistan.But all we feel insecure.From North to South and East to West.we have every thing.Lets we stand for each others.Where ever we came from to Pakistan.Pls love pakistan and take care of our Nation

  • Anneeq on July 21, 2010, 22:36 GMT

    I dont think many people have a problem with Afridi resigning captaincy, there is a problem with the timing tho. He should have resigned after the tour of England at least. I personally dont think he should have resigned as a player he has a lot still to give to Pk. Even if he isnt the greatest of test players, his bowling is very useful and his fielding is even better. He isnt as bad as he and everyone thinks he is. Averages do also matter, thats how u get selection into a team, so i dont see why thats being dismissed as a useless criteria. He was actually a far better captain than MoYo, anyone is really. But in the test stage u have to lead by example, Afridi cant do that with the bat so fair play.

  • Gonie on July 20, 2010, 20:55 GMT

    Osman... what were you thinking when you wrote words "board and thinking" together ?

  • Raziullah on July 20, 2010, 20:47 GMT

    I am not blaming afridi for playing test cricket, for loosing match against Australia. Pakistan loosing test against Australia since Nov 1999 continuously. Last Test when Pakistan finished as winner against Australia was way back in 1995.

    This is what happen when we are making some one hero while they are zero. PCB ask Shahid to captain because he is the senior most player available at the time. And if the senior most player just making excuses because he don't want to change his style. He should have to be ashamed on himself and will never talk about patriotism and saying that I want to play for Pakistan.

  • ahmad on July 20, 2010, 19:34 GMT

    Afridi should have been more patient and come back in next test match. He did not loose this match. It was whole batting side with around 30 averages that collapsed and always collapses and will continue to fail in future as expected but PCB does not want to do enough. It is PCB responsible for another loss led by Ijjaz Butt who did not purge out continuously failing players like Imran Farhat, Shoaib Malik and Salmanl. THere are so many players in 1st class with 50 plus batting averages in 1st class but never get chances. When Pakistan team visited New Zealand and Australia last season, every body knew that Pakistan will loose owing to poor selection and they lost 5 tests in aus but PCB blamed to palyers indisciple etc., to find escape for themselves. I pray that Imran Farhat is not in next match and is replaced by Yasir Hameed.

  • Dummy4 on July 20, 2010, 19:06 GMT

    Hi Osman Samiuddin, I haven't read your whole article but just read few lines, but I want to tell you something about the decision of making Afridi the captain, in my opinion it was good decision, because captain is not just about how well you play, you need to have positive mind to lead team with aggressive sort of attitude, in history all good teams had a captain like that, I meant aggressive in thinking to win, more eager to win, an active person who is keen to talk to team mates in every delivery they ball, a world cup winner, all these quality did exisit in Shahid Afridi, but not everything works as you planned, sometimes people do make mistakes, I think he shouldnt retire, some day he can become really good test or any format captain, we will win... But now we are back to square one, I hope Salman have same attitude toward the game, he looked determine while batting but lets see how much he is???

  • Nataraaj on July 20, 2010, 14:39 GMT

    loosing a test match against Australia is not a big thing, it's part of the game..but composition of team, selection of caption is important. for just one defet ,Afridi risign and reitre from test cricket ,that too in mid-tour shows Afridi is just incapable to handle captaincy preasure & not fit to play test cricket.

  • Pak-cricket on July 20, 2010, 13:20 GMT

    PLEASE give A chance To Yasir Hameed in the second test He is much better than Imran Farhat ,,,,,,

  • zaheer on July 20, 2010, 12:06 GMT

    I agree with mr osman.Pcb has made us all Pakistani 's to look fool in front of the world.Australian cricket board never made shane warne captain of australia even he proved on the field how good a captain materieal he was,other example is andrew symond ,great player he is, but no one is bigger then the game itsellf, our board biggest crime is they could not convey this massege to the players long time ago and now they have lost control of the situation and they have no idea how to come out of that either.I can not see situation gets any better under this regime.

  • Alan on July 20, 2010, 9:43 GMT

    I've got to say this is fascinating stuff. I'm a great admirer of Younis, and have wondered for months what the dynamics were behind his hard times. Kamran Akmal has to be the worst international wicketkeeper I have ever seen, and has been since the first time I saw him in a test. He just hasn't improved, yet he is an ever-present. Surely Pakistan can do better than him? No doubt there are all sorts of political connotations to all this, but any explanation would be gratefully received!

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