Pakistan's selection battle November 12, 2003

Sohail v Miandad: end the not-so-civil war

Khawer Rabbani

One positive that arose from Pakistan's disappointing showing at the 2003 World Cup 2003, was that Javed Miandad then returned to the fold. His appointment to coach the young blood injected much-needed energy and enthusiasm into the team. In Pakistan you often hear comments to the effect that Pakistan cricket is always safer when it is in the hands of Javed. He is the undisputed king of cricket in Pakistan - which leads some other leading personalities to be wary, even jealous, of him.

And now one of those who made his debut under Javed Miandad's captaincy is going out of his way to criticise his mentor. Aamer Sohail was given a great honour when he was appointed Pakistan's chairman of selectors, in what was a well-intentioned move to show how keen Lt-Gen. Tauqir Zia, the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman, was to get the country's cricket back on track. Sohail, who is also a TV commentator, must have impressed the PCB bigwigs with his insight on the game.

However, Sohail has crossed the fine line between being proactive and being dictatorial, by ignoring - or not even bothering to seek - advice from a man whose knowledge of the game, and the players he is coaching, is second to none.

Javed Miandad always was a master tactician, and presumably he felt at first that it had been agreed that he would not be involved in selection, and the selectors wouldn't get involved in coaching. This approach was long-overdue in Pakistan cricket - but it only works if the personalities are compatible. Ignoring the chance of consultation with a person like Javed is simply undesirable, especially when the team is being rebuilt.

Nevertheless Sohail started publicly criticising the performance of the coach, using his TV commentary as a platform. And now, in unilaterally announcing a 22-man list of probables for the five-match one-day series against New Zealand, he has managed to upset not only the coach but also the captain, the PCB chief executive, and his fellow selectors. This lack of consultation has resulted in a media outcry, and a sea of statements and counter-statements - just when Pakistan cricket was on the way up.

It's high time that these matters were set straight. Aamer Sohail, as the chief selector, has a duty to provide the coach with the best available squad. They should already be almost the finished articles, just like the Aussies or the Indians, ready for the coach to apply the final polish and teach them the rigours and strategies of international cricket.

International cricket remains the ultimate forum, and to think or even express on television that someone should be taught cricket at that level by the coach or captain is living in a fool's paradise. No coach can go out and play, no matter how great a player he might have been. It's the player who has to go out and perform: the coach can only spruce up the 90-95% players and make achieve 110% or more.

But during his tenure Sohail has selected a number of average - and even below-average players - who were found lacking in the international arena. There you don't have time for learning the basics, you are playing for your nation and the people want to see you perform, not watch you taking an exam in front of the TV cameras.

Recently Pakistan have given caps to youngsters like Yasir Ali, Faisal Iqbal, Farhan Adil and Junaid Zia, who have all struggled. A player like Mohammad Hafeez, who has serious technical flaws, has been given a long run in the side too. That's not Hafeez's fault - the fault lies with the selectors who chose him before he was ready.

This latest squabble over the unwarranted criticism of the coach will take its toll on the young team's morale, just when important new challenges lie ahead, like the long-awaited arrival of the Indian team and the Asia Cup. If Aamer Sohail feels that he can somehow overshadow the legacy of Javed Miandad he must wake up and face the truth - his credentials do not match.