Pakistan's captain steps down on horrible day

Timing not right for distressed Inzamam

Dileep Premachandran

March 18, 2007

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Inzamam-ul-Haq took responsibility for his team's World Cup exit as he announced his one-day retirement © Getty Images
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As a batsman, Inzamam-ul-Haq's timing was wondrous, entrancing a whole generation of cricket-watchers. However, the announcement that he was stepping down as captain and retiring from one-day internationals was about as ill-timed and insensitive as you could hope to get, coming mere hours after the sad death of Bob Woolmer.

Emotions ran high at a press conference organised soon after Jamaica's prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, had met the players to offer her condolences. With the rest of his team watching, Inzamam started to speak, having been instructed by PJ Mir, the media manager, that his words should be in Urdu. After a cursory "First of all, our beloved coach has passed away," Inzamam went on to say that he would be relinquishing the captaincy and retiring from the one-day game after Wednesday's game against Zimbabwe.

After talking of how he had enjoyed his 17-year career and the four years spent leading the team, he went on to thank his team-mates, his seniors and those that had captained him, before also doffing the cap to the cricket board and his family. There was then an apology to the Pakistani people for the team's abject failure at the World Cup. "I take responsibility as captain," he said. "We did everything we could but the results didn't come out as planned."

The speech lasted all of five minutes and there was a fair bit of restlessness in the room by the time he had finished. A TV journalist then asked the question that was uppermost on everyone's mind. Didn't he think that the timing of his retirement was insensitive, given what had transpired in the morning?

"I know it looks bad, but I'd already decided," was Inzamam's response. "I had a strong emotional attachment to the coach and I'm disturbed myself. I just decided to do it now."

After the match, Bob and I talked a little about it. I told him that we'd discuss it tomorrow, but tomorrow never came

Even if the pain of defeat to Ireland and the loss of his coach had upset Inzamam's mental equilibrium, the team management should have had the sagacity to postpone the announcement, which only made one of the country's greatest players look self-absorbed and utterly devoid of sensitivity. In truth, it was easy to see that Inzamam was visibly distressed. And it didn't help that most of his answers were hopelessly mangled in translation by the media manager. Some of the more poignant lines didn't even come out, unless you happened to know your Urdu or Hindi.

"He was a good man," Inzamam said. "Whenever any of the boys had a problem, he'd sit with them, and we were very attached to him." When asked if he had discussed his decision with Woolmer before his death Inzamam said: "After the match, we'd talked a little about it. I told him that we'd discuss it tomorrow, but tomorrow never came."

A rather incongruous question about his career highs and lows followed, before he was asked if Pakistan would play their final game against Zimbabwe. Inzamam chose to let the manager answer that one. "The best tribute to Bob would be to play against Zimbabwe," said Talat Ali.

For Inzamam, that will be his final game in coloured clothes. "I'll complete my commitment," he said. "We'll do our best for Bob. But whatever we do, it won't be enough."

When asked what would be his best memory of Woolmer he said: "After the game yesterday, he went to all the boys and cheered them up. He told them that these things happen in life. That was his greatest quality. Even in the bad times, he would think positive."

At that point, the timing of his statement was queried again. This time, Inzamam was a little more forthright, though once again his message was lost in translation. "My retirement and winning or losing a game is a small matter when compared to the death of Bob," he said, though that again begged the question: "Why now?"

He was then asked whether his stepping aside would further destabilise a team that is already without a coach. "In my view, it won't affect things much," he said. "There are senior players who might be even better than me at doing the job. With God's grace, they'll be even more successful." On a day like today though, what price success?

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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