There is no black-and-white solution to this problem, as has been made out in the aftermath of Pakistan’s exit. Spare a thought for Mohammad Hafeez, probably the side’s steadiest all-rounder – in this tournament, he led both Pakistan’s run charts and wicket tallies – who is now being flayed by former cricketers who imagine that they had done better in their time. Razzaq’s bitterly sarcastic remarks upon arrival in Pakistan, where he claimed that Hafeez had single-mindedly changed a winning combination and supposed himself a better tactician than a number of more accomplished advisors, will do nothing to help the embattled captain.
At the same time, it has to be said that in the past decade, no player has spent more time on the sidelines or in the dressing room than Razzaq. Pakistan does not have a more sidelined senior player. Part of this comes down to the player’s role in the side – as a merchant of slow, accurate cutters that, if not as quick as they were in his youth, retain a militarily discipline and economy, and as a fierce late-order hitter with the versatility either to lash out at the end of an innings or patch up a stumbling innings – he can be easily overlooked. Similarly, as one of the side’s quieter, more staid personalities – in contrast to the gregarious and charismatic Shahid Afridi, for instance, whose exclusion would raise a whirlwind of a backlash – he is an easier prospect for a captain to overlook if changes need be made to the side.
Consider the semifinal: Hafeez wanted Sohail Tanvir as an additional bowler in the squad, which is a fair enough call for a captain against Sri Lanka’s lineup. Tanvir’s fine record against the side most definitely helped but rather than replacing one of the underachieving batsmen – including the palpably out-of-form Afridi, Shoaib Malik or Kamran Akmal, each of whom holds more leverage as a more dominant and difficult personality – he omitted Razzaq. This, despite the man’s distinguished record with the ball in similar conditions over six separate visits (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2010). Never mind the fact that in his only outing this time around he had done a better job, with a swift 22 on a sluggish pitch, than the aforementioned players had. Never mind, either, that his Twenty20 record with the ball is as good (indeed slightly better) as his replacement’s.
This is not a new phenomenon.When a captain is looking to experiment - as the ambitious and possibly eager Hafeez has since taking over - Razzaq has been an easy player to brush aside in the past three years regardless of performance. He neither boasts the fan following, and subsequent leverage, of Afridi; nor does he wield Malik’s supposed expertise – which has vanished in the past year – as a middle-order accumulator; nor does he have the same sort of monopoly over a spot that Kamran, a vastly regressed keeper whose talent with the bat disappeared throughout this tournament, has over the important keeper’s slot. He simply has a long pedigree in salvaging difficult causes with bat and ball.
This is by no means specific to the now veteran player, of course. Other steady but overlooked performers include Rao Iftikhar Anjum, Kamran Hussain, Sarfraz Ahmed, Fawad Alam – even Waqar Younis and Mohammad Yousuf were strangely sidelined in their final few years, despite magnificent records with ball and bat respectively. But it is also a tactical oversight; Pakistan’s abuse of the seam-bowling all-rounder’s spot has been more of a reactionary oversight in the past fifteen years than a necessarily intentional move. Azhar Mahmood, Yasir Arafat and young Hammad Azam often had to wait until others failed or struggled before they were given an opportunity, either with bat or ball; the much-maligned Arafat, indeed, was another victim of poor management in this tournament, where he took five wickets at 14.60, out-bowling the likes of Umar Gul and Tanvir, and yet lost his place.
But none of these players have the prowess or experience that Razzaq has in this role, despite having maintained it for the better part of the decade without any assurance or security over his role in the side. An outburst, in the piquant disappointment of what he obviously felt was a lost match where his skills could have come in handy, was understandable. Razzaq’s eventual swipe at Hafeez was wrong, an indefensible snap from a rank-and-filer to his captain – but it also showed that, rightly or wrongly, the veteran all-rounder did not feel he could raise this question to the management in the dressing-room during the tournament. This is only vindicated by the same management’s failure to critique more popular, but under-performing, players for their failures.
The problem here is not whether Hafeez was right or wrong in selecting Tanvir for the semifinal. Hindsight, indeed, shows that it was a brave call. It does not even matter whether it was a unilateral call from the captain or a collective decision by the management. In any case, a newish captain should not be blamed for taking a bold decision.
The question these turn of events raises is why some players, some roles, are so easily marginalized and overlooked, and why others retain their spots with impunity, regardless of performance in what is meant to be a professional setup.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.