It was the latter half of 2000s, a gentleman had firmly consolidated his control.
All his subordinates were handpicked, hardly anyone could have questioned his wisdom on matters regarding his purview.
Then, much like a tide turning, the year 2007 proved to be a year when all services were forgotten; a ruckus was raised; questioning the very authority he yielded. Soon, he was made to abdicate the office. He knew, too, that his time had come.
He announced his exit, though not without many saluting his stature as he bowed out.
No, we are not speaking of Musharraf’s exit from the presidency, but rather the retirement of cricket team captain Inzamam-ul-Haq from international cricket.
Much is made of how similar Pakistan cricket is to Pakistan politics. Not only are both rife with corruption and run like family businesses, our cricketers also sport the same culture, wear the same shortcomings and display the same knack for pulling off borderline-insane stunts.
The cricket here is not without its share of shady politics, and the politics here is not aloof from cricket terminologies. And with Imran Khan's rise to the fore in both, lines have blurred even more.
In this spirit, we have endeavoured to present a list of ways in which Pakistani politicians and cricketers are the same, and a list of ways in which they are different.
How they are same
Elections and selections both exploit the nation’s super short memory
Four words: ‘Sheikh Rasheed’ and ‘Kamran Akmal’.
If anyone champions the cause of survival-of-the-least-capable-through-forgiveness-and-forgetfulness, it has to be the above two. Both have been afforded more chances than there are cars in the PM’s cavalcade; both were tried at different positions; both have failed, strikingly.
These two aren’t the only ones though. Our political parties and by extension, each individual member, are elected or cheered up on the basis of a vague public impression which fails to factor in past performances – perceptions gain credence over performance.
Recently, Younis Khan tried to revive his dwindling image by pulling off a ‘Metro bus’ in the UAE. He succeeded in getting (s)elected too, only to affirm that he wasn’t up to the task. Sound familiar?
Supreme shamelessness characterises both
We used to wonder what could be more embarrassingly unbecoming than Salman Butt appearing on various channels to give his ‘expert opinion’; or more shameless than Kamran Akmal flashing smiles after dropping his 17th catch of the match.
But then, the good Rana Sanaullah of Model Town shooting defame returned to the screens, and we got our answer.
If not him, take Rehman Malik, or Moulvi Abdul Aziz, or those who hailed OBL as a hero. Take any other federal minister and compare how he defends his antics with how the cricket team management defends theirs.
The number of seconds it takes Shoaib Akhtar to go from praising the team to bashing them, is the same as the time it takes another fear-inducing gentleman always in the news to switch from praising military operations to bashing them.
Unfortunately, our country is one where people with zero moral standing brazenly question the acts of others, and we are expected to own those opinions, because our media channels have fallen short of worthy men to represent us in each case.
Be the ‘lesser evil’ and you’ll survive
This understanding pervades the Pakistani ethos: You will lead as long as you’re even slightly better than the competition. And it shows, as much in politics as in sports.
Like auctioneers in an auction that has run its course, Pakistani politicians stay focused on just edging out each other. The job is done so long as the name-calling can return.
It is the same with our cricketers: 50s don’t need to be converted to 100s as long as a ‘ministry’ is guaranteed in the next match. Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal, Mohammad Hafeez … the list goes on.
Controversies, one too many
If Pakistan cricket were a man, it would be Jeremy Clarkson – forever mired in controversy; if Pakistan politics were a woman, it’d be Meera – always in the news for the wrong reason.
Pakistani journalists, whether associated with the news or sports, sleep the soundest in the knowledge that they would never run out of headlines to plaster. Drugs, spot fixing, horse trading, infighting, law-breaking and demands for exclusive treatment, you name it.
The wrong use of DRS
“The umpire will raise his finger very soon!” he said.
But as is often the case with our cricket team, Imran Khan’s move to consult the third umpire was a bad one. And (for a certain other party), so was the move to ask the third umpire for help in cleansing Karachi of crime.
Perhaps our leaders (and opening batsmen) should consult their teammates before jumping to hasty conclusions. After all, it’s the team that suffers in the end, doesn’t it?
I’m not sure if Imran is left with anymore reviews now.
Ways they are different
All the same, it is hardly fair to equate our cricketers with our politicians. They are far more competent, far more loved, and here are some reasons why.
More regard for law than the lawmakers
In politics, any legal impediment to progress is merely an anomaly that needs to be addressed. Remember how the compulsion of a bachelor’s degree was trashed to pave way for the illiterate elites? Remember how the bar on becoming prime minister thrice was lifted for the return of the king?
Luckily, there is still a semblance of order left in cricket, where even if the perpetrator is a larger-than-life character, misdeeds are still punished. Afridi, when he had mistaken the red ball for an apple; Shoaib Akhtar, when he went all Punjab Police on Mohammad Asif; and other discipline-breaking acts were accordingly punished.
Had it been politicos, reports would’ve been summoned and committees formed for weeks, until the matter was ready to be brushed under the carpet.
It may come late, but retirement does eventually arrive
In politics, the decision to retire is never set in stone; nay it is usually expediency that dictates the announcement. And more often than not, the promise, like most others made, is reneged.
The Sharif brothers promised to do it; Musharraf promised to do it; Altaf Hussain has promised to do it so often that bets are now placed not on whether he would retire but on how many times a day he would.
On the contrary, our cricketers announce their retirements on their own terms, and (barring a few) mostly stick to them. More often than not, they selflessly give way to newcomers – like Saeed Anwar hanging his boots soon after scoring a century in 2003. And most of all, they can be kicked out.
You can’t say the same for the other lot.
Sticking together (at least publicly)
The politicians, even when they are united, are not. The cricketers, even when they are falling apart, stick together.
Remember, when the PPP and the PML-N came together to contain the PTI advances, and the very public brawl that ensued between Chaudhary Nisar and Aitzaz Ahsan?
The cricketers on the other hand, despite news of constant struggle for the captaincy, and the lobbying, are able to maintain a façade where none can question their unity.
Sharing credit — ‘The boys played well’
Self-aggrandisement defines our political culture. The system is essentially a monarchy where the king can do no wrong. All good actions are cashed by the top boss, and all shortfalls blamed upon the working staff, the opposition or the oh-so-tiresome procedures and red tape.
Willingly or reluctantly, our cricketers do own up to their shortcomings and share credit where it is due.
The wins, the records and the sheer joys
The lawmakers will say they did pass the 18th amendment, (though in the years later they defiled it again), and did push down the prices of petroleum (though by a fraction less than what was merited).
But none of that is any match to the joy our cricketers can bring home. Erratic they can be, but they also often tend to be the best in business. Ajmal holds the number one rank in ODI bowlers right now, and Hafeez ranks in the world’s top three all-rounders.
In the cups they bring home, in the fights they put up, and above all, in the magical ways they make comebacks out of nowhere, the nation sees a story they would love to write about themselves.
So even if both these fiefdoms have countless similarities, there are many things that set them apart too.
One thing can’t be denied, however: they continue to drive us to the brink of insanity with their highs and lows, and are a part of most of our drawing room discussions.