Moin Khan: out of favour, and running out of time? © Getty Images

It is the tragedy of wicketkeeping. Your performances don't merit attention until they fall below par. And if you are a modern-day wicketkeeper, then performances with the bat are also scrutinised. For over a decade now, Pakistan's wicketkeeping - as opposed to other departments in the team - has been a bastion of consistency. If Rashid Latif served Pakistan as the more fluid and natural keeper, then Moin Khan has been the grittier, more explosive batsman. Now, with Moin out of contention (struggling with the bat) and the Latif out of the loop too (struggling, seemingly, with the team management), an era of stability behind the stumps is drawing to a close, leaving the selectors with some tricky decisions to make.

There was frenzied speculation in the press, as well as among ex-players, that Moin would retire after being axed from the squad for the second Test against Sri Lanka. Inevitably, perhaps, given his resilience, he has not done the expected. Speaking to Wisden Cricinfo, Moin said: "I have no intention of retiring. I still think I am good enough and fit enough to carry on for some time. I have been told by the selectors to keep performing at domestic level and I will do."

Not many have argued with the decision to drop him, although the former Test selector, Salahuddin Ahmed, did provide a jarring note in Dawn newspaper, suggesting that Moin's position in the team should be judged on his glovework alone. But it is his long-term future that has divided Karachi, Moin's home town. Some senior journalists believe the time has come for him to hang up his gloves, and make way for youngsters like Kamran Akmal. "His keeping was never that great anyway," says one, "but now that his batting has gone to pieces, he should go and give up his place to Rashid or someone younger."

Rashid Latif, in fact, provides an interesting frame of reference to Moin's career. Pakistan cricket, in the past, has had a deep fault-line running between Lahore and Karachi. In the days of Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, it was at its most divisive, but Latif and Moin - both from Karachi - have often divided the people of this port city. A late-night local-radio show has been campaigning - albeit irreverently - for Latif to be recalled. The show is wildly popular among middleand working-class areas in Karachi - a demographic to which Latif has always appealed.

Ever since his accomplished debut, in the fractious England series of 1992, Latif has been widely recognised as one of the best keepers, not just in Pakistan post-Wasim Bari, but internationally. His reputation as a forthright speaker and his services to the game in the city - he runs a cricket academy free of charge for young children - have endeared him to this city, if not always to the game's authorities.



Rashid Latif: Karachi's working-class hero © Getty Images

Moin, in contrast, has earned respect in spite of his faults. When he first made his debut in 1990, it was widely asserted that he was only in the team on Imran Khan's insistence and ahead of other more deserving candidates. But over time his performances with the bat - from his cameo in the 1992 World Cup semi-final to his pyrotechnic displays in the '99 World Cup - have balanced out concerns over his work behind the stumps.

When he came back into the team last December and confounded the Kiwis with a typically unorthodox century - his fourth in Tests - it seemed, briefly, that the trauma of Latif's exclusion would be softened. But Moin's batting since has fallen apart, and his lazy dismissal last week, cutting a ball too close to him onto his stumps, sealed his fate. He said: "I have been through a really bad run with the bat. My keeping has been good, but I have batted very tensely and often tried to hurry it too much."

With the future of both Latif and Moin uncertain, Pakistan finds itself with some tough decisions to make, both in the short and long term. Kamran Akmal has been identified as one for the future, and in his sparse opportunities so far he has impressed with the gloves. About his batting, the verdict is less certain. And the selectors, by looking at Zulqarnain Haider, have at least displayed their eagerness to increase depth in the squad.

The more immediate predicament, however, is who Pakistan should take to Australia - preferably with Akmal as understudy. In this light, Moin's fall from grace has further clouded matters. Can Pakistan afford to take an experienced (as is Inzamam's wish) but non-performing (as is nobody's wish) player to Australia? If not, then the only option becomes Latif, a potentially combustible situation given the nature of his departure.

Which option the team management will take is not clear, although local journalists - and Inzamam's own preference - suggests that Moin will travel to Australia. What has become clear, however, over the course of the year is the urgent need to groom a replacement, to ensure no dip in the levels of competence and comfort Moin and Latif have provided to Pakistan's bowlers over the last decade and a half.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance journalist based in Karachi.