Rarely has Pakistan been as sidelined in world cricket as it is currently. There are reasons on and off the field for this, but in both cases the fault is that of weak leadership.
Shoaib Malik is a good guy but he has not created a winning environment for the team on the field. If you look at teams such as Australia or South Africa, you can see that there is a winning environment in place. Under Malik, players have felt left out and not felt involved in strategy-making. There isn't that sense of cohesion, and that is something the captain is responsible for.
The worry is that he has been in the job for over a year now and the concerns refuse to go away. There has been nothing exciting about his captaincy. He also doesn't come across as a particularly astute leader and players crib that they are dropped from the team for reasons other than those to do with on-field performance. If that is true, there are severe problems in the dressing room. Every captain needs the respect and support of his team; maybe Malik isn't getting that.
Above all, he doesn't hold his place in the side in either Tests or one-day internationals. If he is bowling well and often, then at least in the ODI side he can contribute. But in Tests his technique will be found out against the likes of Australia and South Africa. For these reasons I feel the captaincy should be given to someone else, someone who holds his place in both formats currently: someone like Misbah-ul-Haq.
Misbah's batting since the India tour has been excellent, and he holds a place in all three forms of the game. He comes across as a mature individual, he is educated, and the little we saw of him as captain - when he stood in against India in the Asia Cup - was impressive.
It hasn't helped Malik that his coach has been a touch disappointing. We weren't expecting miracles from Geoff Lawson, but perhaps a little more by way of a change of culture. I was hoping he would bring that Aussie mentality to Pakistan, that winning attitude. I was expecting him to work on the little things that matter big, like running between the wickets, or fitness, or clamping down on extras - which as an ex-fast bowler he really should have done.
Neither has he instilled in his players that sense of hurt you are supposed to feel when you've lost a game. And he doesn't seem to have helped fine-tune Malik as a leader. In short, he has been rather disappointing. The results have not been coming and the team is still beset with inconsistencies. To top it all, he is clearly getting frustrated as was evident from his little spat with the media during the Asia Cup.
Weak leadership off the field by the PCB is not helping either. Many players are hurt at the way the administration is dealing with them, as the exodus of players to the ICL shows. Danish Kaneria's recent comments about the possibility of his playing for England also reveal some disappointment at his treatment at the hands of the board and selectors.
The game has changed so much now and there are so many more avenues and options open to players, as well as much more money. Previously there was nothing like the IPL or the ICL to deal with. If you don't manage all these things as a board, you will suffer. The PCB wants to govern but it doesn't know how to. It wants to discipline players but it doesn't know how to. The board is not on the ball in so many situations: they are forever reacting rather than being proactive.
Take the Mohammad Asif doping case as an example. Asif is obviously completely at fault for the mess he finds himself in. He has played enough to realise what is good for him and his cricket and what is not. But a share of the blame must go to the PCB for not working on an irritant like Asif closely enough. As the employers they take some blame; maybe they took him for granted.
The biggest disaster has been that the board hasn't stuck to its guns on major issues. Whenever something has happened - as with the first doping scandal - they've taken a tough call initially only to turn around subsequently. They have just not applied consistently strong policies. Another example is their confusion over the vice-captaincy: in the last year they have had four men in the job.
What they need is a panel of ex-cricketers around them that could help them in their cricketing decisions. There is nothing wrong with non-cricketers running the board, as you need men with solid administrative experience for that. But they often falter in cricketing decisions and so an advisory panel with ex-cricketers, like there was with the IPL, is not a bad idea.
I am also worried that there might be a lack of back-up talent in Pakistan currently. No new player coming up has really caught my eye: the fast bowlers are not that fast and the batsmen have technical deficiencies. The whole system needs an overhaul, especially at the lower levels where there is far too much politicking happening.
Perhaps, though, the real question is whether there is no talent at all or whether that talent is not being screened and utilised properly. Is talent being given its due or is it just not there? The only way out currently is to hope for some exciting cricketer suddenly appearing from a small town, like Asif did, and pin your hopes on that miracle.