Two weeks ago, I had mentioned in this column that Farooq Mazhar, a senior sports journalist and commentator, was seriously ill and his condition had been described as "critical." Farooq passed away peacefully. Even death came to him as a friend. I counted among my blessings his friendship and I have one blessing less. My heart goes out to his family and the printed word seems hardly suitable to convey my deepest sympathies. I hope to do so in person.
If press reports are to be believed, the selection of Pakistan's team to England bore a resemblance to a one-day game that goes all the way to the wire. The Selection Committee in almost every Test playing country is an autonomous body and has the first and last say. The captain of the team may or may not be asked for his opinion. Generally, he is not, except in an informal sort of way. Not so in Pakistan. It is the PCB Advisory Council that approves the team and alters it when it finds it necessary to alter it, according to its lights.
And in the case of the selection of the team for England, again according to press reports, the captain Waqar Younis needed a lot of persuasion to agree to having Wasim Akram in the team. In every other Test-playing team, Wasim Akram's name would be the first to be inked and this includes Australia and South Africa. Frankly, I am surprised that even before the team has left Pakistan, Waqar has stated (with audacity that amounts to bravado) the he (Waqar) cannot guarantee Wasim Akram a place in the Test line-up.
I hope he has been misquoted. If not, it does not seem an auspicious start to the tour. Surely, Wasim Akram cannot be dropped on cricketing ability. He remains, not only Pakistan's best but the world's finest fast bowler. Is he then to be dropped for non-cricketing reasons? The public is entitled to know what these non-cricketing reasons are. How much do they have to do with Waqar's "personal feud" with Wasim?
Although it should be obvious, it bears mentioning that there is no room for personal likes and dislikes in a team that represents one's country. Waqar too might do well to remember that if Shoaib Akhtar is fully fit, his own place in the team would have been doubtful if he had not been made captain. Waqar will be held accountable for the team's performance. If it does well, he will get the credit. If it does not, he will be held responsible.
This brings me to Shoaib Akhtar. Nothing would please the Pakistan cricket public more than a fully fit "Rawalpindi Express" at full steam. But he is short of match-fitness and the first Test match is at Lord's and with its slope, is not the easiest wicket to bowl on.
The PCB has made a sizable investment in Shoaib Akhtar. He has been all but wrapped in cotton-wool. The time has come for him to pay back those who have supported him to give his hundred per cent. Pakistan need him to take wickets, win matches and not prove that he is the world's fastest bowler. He will be playing in a Test match and not be a star attraction in a "freak" show. The choice of Hair and Peter Willey to supervise the first Test match may have been just the luck of the draw. On the other hand, it does seem fiendish to have the two umpires who were instrumental in calling Shoaib Akhtar for 'chucking'.
In the ICC Knock-out in Nairobi, the Sri Lankans were successful in having Darrell Hair changed from their match. It may be good idea if the management of the Pakistan team was to make known its apprehensions in advance rather than cry foul later. I don't see how having Daryl Foster, the bowling coach around will have any influence on the two gentlemen.
Bearing in mind the weather and the playing conditions in early summer, I don't see how the inclusion of Mushtaq Ahmed can be justified. In the Test matches, the spinners will hardly get a look in and in any event, there is Saqlain Mushtaq. A better option would have been Shahid Afridi. His batting and fielding would be a bonus.
A 17-member squad is far too many when there are only two Test matches. Changes will be made when the triangular begins. Some will return home, others will join the team. I have always felt that touring team should not carry excess baggage.
Anyhow, it's going to be difficult tour. All the more reason, that the players should set aside their personal differences, which in the national context, appear petty in the extreme. There can be no higher ambition for a cricketer than to wear his country's colours and no greater honour than to represent the country.
The modern cricketer may not share this view, but the cricket public, old or young certainly do. And there will be a large number of them in England who will be at the grounds and who will expect their team to perform to the best of its abilities and they will be vocal in their support as if "wielding the willow and bowling the leather themselves." Wining or losing may be a part of the game but it is becoming a little unconvincing.