If ever proof were needed of just how hand-in-hand with life cricket is in Pakistan, 2008 provided it. Increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, tangled in a web of militant violence, severe economic upheaval and political and administrative ineptitude - it was difficult to differentiate the ills of cricket from those of the country.
There wasn't quite the quickfire succession of controversies, or the suicidal lust for scandal of 2006 and 2007, though there was still Mohammad Asif's continuing descent into a fate reserved for rock stars. Instead, a much deeper, more rooted gloom took hold, one infinitely more depressing than any doping inquiry, any ball-tampering row, even perhaps the death of a coach.
Nobody knew how to react, for example, to Pakistan not playing a single Test in the entire year, the first time since 1970. Mostly there was disbelief that such a thing could still happen in cricket's bloated modern age. It wasn't planned that way, of course, but it wasn't planned much better: Officially Pakistan had just one Test series, against Australia, scheduled this year.
It said all that was needed about the ineptness of not one PCB administration - for there have been so many - but the PCB generically. This FTP was arranged years ago, so why were there no foreign tours at all in 2008? Why was nothing arranged last year, or before?
Even more depressing, of course, was the belief that had even 15 Tests been arranged at home, the situation in the country was such that no one would have visited anyway. Along with Australia's tour, the Champions Trophy was postponed, and before the year was out, India had also bailed out. This much at least wasn't in any board administration's hands. Until the country can claw its way out from the many ills grasping it, from under this siege, there will be little any board can do. Save, of course, adopting a Middle-East neutral venue.
It wasn't just the lack of action. Paralleling the appalling administration of much of the country was Nasim Ashraf's chairmanship of the country's cricket. In a tenure pockmarked with u-turns, the feeling that no one really had a clue what was going on was never far.
|At the end of 2007 it wasn't possible for Pakistan to sink further. As they faded away off the field and on it into virtual isolation, sadly, 2008 proved that impossible is nothing|
Time and money were wasted in legal wrangles against players and employees. The board workforce mushroomed (but 700 of them still didn't remember to put up India's flag in the National Stadium during the Asia Cup); they lied publicly about potential series and insurance deals - according to the new administration they bled the board dry financially, though the spate of cancellations didn't help. In short, the administration was the anvil that broke the camel's back. Fittingly, when the president of the country resigned, so too did Ashraf.
On the field there was little to evaluate. Never have 18 ODI wins and three losses felt so shallow. Twelve wins were against the might of Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong. Paris Hilton serves greater purpose than these contests did.
The Kitply Cup win, and three Abu Dhabi victories against West Indies were rare silver linings, but the Asia Cup wasn't. And that was it really; nothing significant on which you could really judge anything, anyone - not the captain, not new openers or wicketkeepers, not the fitness of bowlers. Nothing apart from, apparently, Geoff Lawson.
After the administration change, Lawson was sacked, a year into his contract - a year of little cricket. In appointing Intikhab Alam as a replacement, Pakistan went back to go forward. But neither the change in coach, nor the administration, was depressing in itself. More was the numbing inevitability of it: Isn't this what always happens? Will it ever change? How?
At the end of 2007 it wasn't possible for Pakistan to sink further. As they faded away off the field and on it into virtual isolation, sadly, 2008 proved that impossible is nothing.
New kid on the block
Like throwing spaghetti against a wall and waiting for something to stick, Pakistan tried many new faces early in the year. Many slid away but Nasir Jamshed stuck. Four boisterous fifties through the year were impressive, none more so than the one against India in the Asia Cup. He likes coming down the pitch - apparently a prerequisite for modern leftie openers - and may just be the solution to Pakistan's opening problems in limited-overs cricket.
Of all the talent that has slipped through Pakistan's hands, Asif is the one they can least afford to squander. The world's most promising fast bowler suddenly became its most scandal-ridden. Barely recovered from testing positive for steroids in 2006, Asif was caught with a contraband item at Dubai airport, and detained for 19 days. Soon after, it emerged he had tested positive again for steroids, this time at the IPL. He ended the year breaking down on TV, in need of serious help.
The Kitply Cup win over India, for shock value, though the clean sweep against West Indies later in the year also had a good feel about it. Many may prompt for the Lahore Badshahs' win in the ICL. The slim pickings indicate the poverty of Pakistan's year.
What 2009 holds
Ajantha Mendis and Sri Lanka come knocking early, in a potentially tasty battle before Pakistan go to Sri Lanka in the summer. The World Twenty20 may provide some joy before a trip to Australia at year's end. It is another lean year, but at least there is cricket. And any competitive cricket will be appreciated, never mind the result.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo