March 4, 2001

Moin Khan: Will he survive another setback?

Moin Khan
Moin Khan
Photo CricInfo

After consecutive defeats on home soil against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Australia with Pakistan losing to the English tourists as well raised few eyebrows among the local fans. And now that they have made a `superhuman' effort in going down 3-2, to the Kiwis - a team considered to be down and out after a string of defeats - in the One-day Internationals, criticism of the cricket team and its captain is at its peak.

The pundits have settled on their tried and tested method of seeking a scapegoat. And the man at whom most of the accusing fingers are being pointed at is that doughty fighter for Pakistan, captain Moin Khan.

Following the rather uncalled for defeat against England at Karachi, which gave the Poms a series against Pakistan for the first time in 19 years (at home after nearly four decades) the bloodhounds were baying for Moin's blood. He was being dubbed as too defensive, negative and unimaginative in his tactics. To top it all, his form with the bat had been rather indifferent for some time. This continues to be so, though he chipped in with a quicksilver innings in the lost cause in the fifth one-dayer against the Kiwis.

Those calling for his head might still get him, especially if the team continues to flounder in Tests against Kiwis.

But Moin, a fighter to the core, is no stranger to pressure and adversity, and as he has done before in his career, may claw out of this situation too. After all, he fought his way back into the team, ultimately becoming the skipper, after many had written him off when Rashid Latif sidelined him way back in 1992 on the England tour.

The silver-lining for Moin is that the PCB for its part has kept faith in him, and despite his luckless travails, his lease on captaincy was renewed till June 2001, when the truncated rubber in England and also the triangular one-day tournament involving hosts, Pakistan and Australia would be over.

But that appointment was made before the disaster in the one-dayers against the Kiwis.

Yet, only a few months ago, in his second stint as captain, Moin seemed to do no wrong. When he took over from Saeed Anwar early last year, the Lankans had an unassailable 2-0 lead, and the Test at Karachi was the last opportunity for the hosts to salvage some pride. The Pakistan side immediately responded to this change at the helm and the Lankans were beaten. Rejuvenated, the Pakistanis subsequently won the triangular, beating India and South Africa to the title, triumphed in another tri-nation in the West Indies (their first such victory in the Caribbeans), took their first Asia Cup trophy in seven attempts, and rounded off a successful four-nation trip with a Test rubber victory against the Lankans. In the meanwhile, the West Indies overcame the Pakistani challenge in the Test series 1-0, but it was widely acknowledged that crucial umpiring decisions helped them in a tight final.

Moin started off watching his elder brother Nadim Khan, a slow left-arm Test bowler. His precocity made the selectors take notice, and in 1986 he was picked for the (aborted) under-16 squad for England. Moin nevertheless was all set for big time cricket. A couple of years down the road, he made his first class debut for Karachi and was made captain of the Pakistan under-19 squad for the tour of India. The responsibility of captaincy brought out the best in him, and from then on he was considered captaincy-material by the brass in the PCB and groomed as such, with opportunities coming as captain of the Under-21 and `A' teams.

Moin's international debut came in November 1990 in a one-dayer against the West Indies at Multan, and the baptism in Test cricket followed a mere 10 days later. After a year out of the squad, he got a recall on the eve of the `92 World Cup, when Imran Khan wanted to rebuild the side. In the three-nation Wills Sharjah Trophy in 1991, he performed well enough to hang on to his position in the one-day series against the West Indies and three matches apiece in both versions of the game against Sri Lanka. That season saw him as a top contender for the wicketkeeper-batsman's slot and he was chosen to represent the country in the `92 World Cup Down Under.

Still only 20, his performance was only third best, behind veteran `keepers Dave Richardson and David Williams. His contribution to Pakistan's most famous triumph was 14 scalps (11 catches, three stumpings).

Since Pakistan had beaten England in the World Cup final, the 1992 tour of the Mother Country was considered a `grudge' series. On that trip, Moin's performance, both with the gloves and with the willow, left much to be desired. It was no surprise that Rashid Latif, considered a far better `keeper, indeed a natural, got his chance and he grabbed it with both hands, impressing everyone with his `keeping and further impressing everyone by smashing a highly polished knock of 50-plus on his Test debut. Moin was given the boot.

Perhaps out of disgust with his match-fixing colleagues, Rashid announced his retirement in February 1995 while on tour in South Africa. That opened the door for Moin, and in his comeback match, he equaled the record for most dismissals in a limited-overs game. That inspired touch deserted him in Australia, and quite a few catches went a begging. Latif, by then rehabilitated, was recalled.

When he was left out of the `96 World Cup team, Moin knew that he had to produce something out of the hat to resurrect his career. Then Rashid injured himself during the Test series in England that same year. Recalled yet again, Moin stroked his way to a century in a tour game - and has not looked back since. His batting by then had improved and become more consistent. Behind the stumps, too, he was more agile than ever, a bit more reliable, and yes, more vocal too. Moin had come to stay.

Though Rashid reclaimed his position as stumper, and later as skipper too, yet Moin's performance in front of the wicket had been good enough for the selectors to retain him as a specialist batsman in the middle order during the Golden Jubilee Cup in November 1997 and on the subsequent `98 tour of South Africa.

That tour saw the end of Rashid Latif, and Moin was handed back the gloves, made deputy to Aamer Sohail and later to Wasim Akram.

The `99 World Cup, despite the debacle in the final, proved a high point for the wicketkeeper-vice captain. He made the most dismissals (15) and tallied that with an average of 34. He is second to only Wasim Bari among Pakistani `keepers in the Test arena, and in the limited-overs game he is second to none: he has already overhauled Ian Healy's record of 234 dismissals and heads the Pakistan list by well over a hundred dismissals.

Before he was given full responsibility of the national XI in February 2000, Moin had captained the side in only four One-day Internationals, winning them all. Although initial reports stated that he had been reluctant to take up the role of skipper, he quickly rejuvenated a demoralised side.

If he is not up to one of his famous rescue acts, Moin is perennially egging on the bowlers behind the sticks. The purists might find his antics annoying at times but more than often the Pakistani wicket-takers' appetite is whetted by the shouts of their `keeper'.

A fighter to the core, he has built his reputation as a man who rescues his side with gutsy, albeit unorthodox, lower order batting. More than anything else, he is the sole cheerleader of the side with his constant shouts of `Very well bowled!' and Shabash (well done).

Despite all this, would Moin survive another bad patch, another reverse, and still maintain his hold on captaincy? Only time will tell, but there are indicators, which reflect that he might not. For one, the PCB high-ups are not really happy the way he has gone behind their backs and led a pack of his charges, into endorsing Coke's campaign, sullying the image of the Board and its main sponsor, Pepsi Cola. His cribbing against coach Javed Miandad's financial arrangements too has not gone down well with the PCB chairman.

And above all, Humayun Farhat, the young glove-man who is also a highly accomplished batsman, is now breathing down his neck; to add to Moin's discomfort, the PCB has already flown Humayun to New Zealand!

Another slip, and we may find a change behind the stumps and yet another captain leading Pakistan.