That the bunch of talented and spoiled boys we have raised as the national cricket team is in for a shake-up after the Champions Trophy debacle will be the understatement of the season. They may all be fired summarily, without benefits, for all we care.
It is not about this tournament though, which was only a catalyst, or about Team Pakistan which has been seriously ill for a long time. It’s the cricket officialdom in Pakistan. We have created a shady organisation headed by a political appointee and filled with cronies and lackeys of all shades. This rag tag administration has given us more scandals than cricket matches and more crooks, druggies, slackers and gamblers than professional cricketers and inspiring sportsmen. Sending them all back home will be neither unfair nor shocking for anyone.
The big question is who do we replace them with? That this country of nearly 200 million is teeming with talent is a given. The occasional display of excellence and triumph on the field is proof that regardless of the system’s hindrances some of the talent does filter through. Only, people charged with spotting talent and grooming it cannot decide on the definition of talent and the location of the talent pool. And so, we have a cricket board that has been looking for a batsman wicket keeper for many years but it casts its net only in the Akmal household. It selects Imran Farhat for every tournament in the hope that the opener’s talent will finally unlock, that he’ll find his groove eventually. It pits one player and group of players against the other and watches them fight their locker room fights on the ground.
So who decides what’s good for Pakistan cricket? It’s the president of Pakistan who is patron-in-chief of Pakistan Cricket Board. He has the authority to appoint a senile and withering old man who played a couple of Test matches in the days of black-and-white television, or a banker, a bureaucrat, a retired or serving army general, a medicine doctor … as head of the board. He receives Shoaib Malik and his Indian tennis star wife, Sania Mirza, at the presidency and that makes Malik – thrown out of the team for consistently bad performance, breach of discipline, and financial misconduct – fit to be in the team again. Every criminal activity by the players – abusing and smuggling drugs, match and spot fixing etc – is not only tolerated and never investigated (unless arm-twisted by ICC) but defended in foreign courts with your money and mine (we paid a million dirhams to get Mohammed Asif out of a UAE jail where he ended up for drugs possession, according to newspaper reports).
But cricket is our game. We pay the board its ridiculously generous salaries, allowances and privileges, shamefully disproportionate to their responsibilities. We pay the players for representing us at the international level and when they do well we make them our heroes and fill the stadium to cheer them up. The entire structure of cricket exists in this country because of us, because of our passion for cricket and because of our money. It is, therefore our right to guide the PCB in finding and retaining cricketing talent. Here is a set of suggested guidelines that you are welcome to add to:
1- Talent means cricketing talent, not the talent to whack every ball with closed eyes or hit the deck hard with a mindless regularity or to produce and sell cricket gear. For the example of a well-rounded and committed cricketer as role model for today’s young we have to go back to Javed Miandad who, in addition to being a class batsman, was a live wire in the field in the days when fielding wasn’t as glamorous and as crucial as it is today. Since him we have only been getting bowlers and batsmen, not cricketers.
2- The game of cricket is all about making runs. It starts and ends with making a certain number of runs in a certain number of overs. If you aren’t making runs, at the required pace, you have no place in the team. At present, half our team cannot bat because they see themselves only as bowlers or wicket keepers. No more. The Dream Team will bat, and make runs, all the way to the last pair. Exceptions will be very few. You can be allowed to bat like Mohammed Irfan only if you can bowl better than Wasim Akram.
3- Our batsmen follow either the Afridi or the Misbah school, sometimes both in the same innings, like making six runs in 30 balls and then getting out trying to hit a big one, and as a result wasting five overs and a wicket. Afridi and Misbah are merely states of mind, one is flashy and hurried, the other is painfully slow and both are self-defeating, and for that reason redundant in modern limited overs cricket. We need batsmen who can defend well all the time and attack fearlessly when required. The followers of the two above-mentioned styles will automatically be disqualified.
4- Regardless of how seriously we take our cricket, it remains a sport. It’s a game to be enjoyed. And so, it follows that, players are partly entertainers. They entertain us with their mastery of the sport. They use international fixtures to showcase their skill and innovation. Even during the hardest and slowest of toils a batsman will find a ball now and then to flash his bat at, to wow the spectators. The fielder will pull off an impossible catch; the wicket keeper will perform a stunt of a stumping under the influence of spectators-induced adrenalin. If the player enjoys what he is doing, and does it well consistently, he is entertaining.
5- Physical fitness is all well and good but cricket is essentially a mind game. It’s a clash of wills between a batsman and 11 opponents. As the weaker side starts accepting the opponent’s domination, the match is over, mentally. For this reason we need young men with brains, those who are strong of will and have power of passion and conviction. We need 18-year-old men, not 30-something-year-old boys.
6- And before any of the above, the PCB must be made accessible to players and accountable to people. It should be run by cricketers, cricket lovers, and professional administrators, not Zardaris, Musharrafs and their chamchas, They need to play their own game and leave ours to us.