Angry green men: The illusion of ill-treatment and conspiracy in Pakistan cricket

Published May 7, 2015
A Pakistani captain only has to mention the words ‘conspiracy’ or ‘intrigue,’ and the media will do the rest of the job. —Reuters
A Pakistani captain only has to mention the words ‘conspiracy’ or ‘intrigue,’ and the media will do the rest of the job. —Reuters

While reviewing Inside Out – the 2006 autobiography of former Pakistan cricket captain, Mushtaq Mohammad – EspnCricinfo’s Andrew Miller suggests that the chapter in which Mushtaq details how he was removed from captaincy in 1979, is ‘a typical tale of backstabbing and duplicity …’

Miller believes this is typically a Pakistani trait that often plagues the perceptions of former Pakistan cricket captains.

Though Mushtaq’s book is a fluent and highly enjoyable read, Miller does have a point in alluding that most Pakistani captains typically point towards diabolical conspiracies to dethrone them.

This is not to suggest that such scenarios only reside in the minds of sulking Pakistani captains, because tussles and tensions between players and captains also take place in other major teams across the cricket-playing world.

During India’s disastrous tour of England in 1974, Indian captain, Ajit Wadekar, often complained that a group of players in the touring squad were ‘Pataudi’s men’, who were purposely underperforming so that India would lose and thus set the stage for Pataudi’s return as captain.

His words became prophetic when, indeed, he was removed from captaincy after the series and replaced by Pataudi!

Of course, the reasons behind Wadekar’s removal were most probably entirely cricketing in nature, but he believed otherwise. To him, Pataudi was a power-hungry man who also had influence inside the Indian cricket board.

MA Khan Pataudi (left) with some Indian players in 1975. He was accused by former Indian captain, Ajit Wadekar, of usurping his (Wadekar’s) captaincy in 1975.
MA Khan Pataudi (left) with some Indian players in 1975. He was accused by former Indian captain, Ajit Wadekar, of usurping his (Wadekar’s) captaincy in 1975.

Then there is the Lara vs Richardson saga in which (according to former West Indies skipper, Ritchie Richardson), Brian Lara did everything in his power to undermine Richardson’s authority and eventually go on to become the captain of the side.

Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh are said to have engineered rebellions against Kim Hughes (because they thought he was too snooty and ‘un-Australian’); and in 2013 various Australian players exhibited their disgruntlement towards Australian captain, Michael Clarke, during Australia’s calamitous tour of India.

The point is, there are plenty of examples in which groups of players have successfully (or otherwise) rebelled against captains.

But whereas a clash of personalities and sometimes class backgrounds (apart from, of course, cricketing tactics) have been offered as reasons behind such outbreaks elsewhere in the cricketing world, in Pakistan, these same reasons become a tad more melodramatic because they are often expressed as being the outcome of the ethnic and sometimes even denominational fissures present in the Pakistan society.

When Asif Iqbal replaced Mushtaq Mohammad as captain in 1979, Mushtaq immediately explained the event as a conspiracy against him.

Since he was from a famous cricketing family of Karachi, the Karachi press saw his removal as a scheme engineered by the so-called ‘Lahore/Punjabi lobby’ within the team.

Ironically though, Mushtaq was being replaced by Asif Iqbal who too was from Karachi. But the Karachi press saw Asif as a mercenary who was working for the interests of the ‘Lahore/Punjabi lobby’ that was supposedly being led by another one of Mushtaq’s immediate contemporaries in the team, Majid Khan.

It is true that during his four-year-stint as captain (1976-79), Mushatq did become Pakistan’s most successful Test captain – a record later broken by Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, whose captaincy records in turn were then bettered by Misbahul Haq.

But it is also true that by 1979, not only was Mushtaq in his late thirties, he had almost completely lost his batting form and his fielding, too, began to suffer due to the slowing down of his reflexes. What’s more, he had himself pulled out from the country’s ODI squad due to exactly these reasons.

But once Mushtaq began speaking about a conspiracy, the press completely ignored the aforementioned facts.

According to Mushtaq’s own admission (in his book), Asif and Majid were his closest colleagues in the team. That’s why he sounds somewhat contradictory in suggesting that during that one weak moment, they tossed aside their friendship with him and conspired (with the cricket board) to oust him.

In the later stages of his career (as captain), Mushtaq Mohammad felt betrayed and besieged.
In the later stages of his career (as captain), Mushtaq Mohammad felt betrayed and besieged.

It is thus easy for an ousted captain in Pakistan to express his ouster as a conspiracy. This distracts the media’s attention from the ousted captain’s cricketing/captaincy-related shortcomings, and instead focus on reasons involving possible ethnic and class fissures that supposedly see honourable men make dishonourable exits.

However, contrary to popular belief, never has a dumped captain or player in Pakistan overtly suggested that he was ousted due to reasons to do with ethnic, religious or class tensions.

He just has to mention the words ‘conspiracy,’ or ‘intrigue,’ or allude that this is what is going on against him, for the media to take the cue and run away with the story.

It is then the media that begins to elaborate and express the player’s grievances using whatever brand of political fissure the country was facing at that point in time.

For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, when class tensions were being seen as the main reasons behind political and economic turmoil in Pakistan, former Pakistan opener, the great Hanif Mohammad, often grumbled that men like Pakistan’s first Test captain, the Oxford-educated, AH Kardar, would look down upon players coming from lower-middle-class backgrounds.

In 1964, when Hanif was overlooked to captain the Pakistan side that was to tour England for a 5-Test series, and a young Javed Burki was picked as skipper, there was widespread resentment among the touring party’s senior players.

Javed Burki: A snooty puppet of a snootier regime?
Javed Burki: A snooty puppet of a snootier regime?

After Pakistan went down 4-0 in the series, the press went ballistic, suggesting that Burki was made captain because he came from a well-to-do family and because his father was a military man close to Field Martial Ayub Khan’s dictatorship.

This is not to suggest that all this was taking place entirely in the minds of disgruntled players, but they mostly talked about it as an afterthought during their retirement years.

They had merely alluded to certain conspiracies (to the media), and it was the media that eventually turned Burki into a snooty puppet of a snootier regime.

Class apart

In the late 1960s, when the Marxian class conflict theory reached a pinnacle during the left-wing students and workers movement against Ayub’s ‘capitalist dictatorship,’ it merged with another idea that suggested that Pakistan’s monopolist capitalists and landed gentry, in an alliance with the country’s Punjabi-dominated military, were trying to retain their economic and political power by subjugating the democratic rights of East Pakistan’s Bengalis, and (in West Pakistan), those of the Sindhis, Baloch, Pashtuns and of Karachi’s Urdu-speakers (Mohajirs).

The Karachi press smelled such a ‘conspiracy’ when Hanif was replaced as captain by Saeed Ahmed in 1968. Hanif was coming off from an unsuccessful series against England (in England) where his team had lost 2-0.

Hanif was not happy and quietly suggested that the defeat alone was not the only reason he was removed. This was enough for the Karachi press to claim that a slight had been done to a famous batsman from Karachi just because he was a Karachiite (and/or a Mohajir).

Such claims flew thick and fast in the press, influencing public opinion.

So when England toured Pakistan in 1968, Saeed Ahmed was booed by the crowd at Karachi’s National Stadium, whereas in Lahore, Hanif received a similar reception when he came out to bat.

Of course, the fact that Hanif was now in his mid-30s and had been criticised for being an ‘over-defensive captain’ who (as a batsman) was no more as potent a force as he had been across the 1950s and early 1960s, had gone out the window.

The great Hanif Mohammad: Did his ouster as captain in 1968 trigger a persecution complex in future captains hailing from Karachi?
The great Hanif Mohammad: Did his ouster as captain in 1968 trigger a persecution complex in future captains hailing from Karachi?

Also out the window went the fact that in 1969 (during the home series against New Zealand) Hanif’s younger brothers (Mushtaq and Sadiq), were in the team and in one of the Tests, all three were representing Pakistan!

Why would the selectors conspire to oust a captain from Karachi when (at one point) they were willing to field three brothers from Karachi in the same Test match?

But the way Hanif’s ouster as captain had been reported in the Urdu press, a persecution complex of sorts began to develop in the country’s cricketing culture, especially in players emerging from Karachi.

This was also symptomatic of how the state, government and consequently the society reacted soon after the East Pakistan debacle when a Civil War between the state and Bengali nationalists and an all-out war against India in December 1971, triggered the separation of the country’s eastern wing (that became Bangladesh).

As a reaction, the state and media of the battered country began to aggressively weave a narrative that suggested that Pakistan was surrounded by enemies who were conspiring to dismember the country with all-out war and through their agents operating within the besieged country.

A serious reflection on what went wrong was replaced by the idea that Pakistan’s existence has always been challenged by a number of hostile neighbours and their backers, and that the country’s 1971 dismemberment too was the result of the conspiracies hatched by antagonistic forces.

To many things like ethnic discrimination, economic disparities, dictatorship and corruption that were rampant became secondary reasons for the country’s division.

These were replaced by the notion that all that had gone wrong in Pakistan was mainly due to a plethora of grand conspiracies being concocted elsewhere.

This narrative actually become part of what the post-1971 state and government(s) in Pakistan began to popularise through school textbooks and the media, and it soon rooted itself into the nation's psyche.

So how could such an idea escape the country’s cricket culture as well, then?

In spite of the fact that Mushtaq had replaced a Punjabi and a Lahorite – Intikhab Alam – as captain in 1976; and that throughout his tenure, almost 50 per cent of the Pakistan team was made up of players from Karachi; and that he was replaced in 1979 by another Karachiite, Asif Iqbal; Mushtaq saw a conspiracy behind his ouster and the press detected a ‘Punjabi hand’ in the whole episode.

With a curious strain of the persecution complex being weaved into the existential narrative of the nation by the state and the media, Mushtaq instinctively seemed to have understood that a cry of a conspiracy will bag immediate sympathy from the press. And it did.

War of cities

The persecution strand of the country’s mindset was further strengthened by the arrival of a reactionary military dictator, General Ziaul Haq, who went to war against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul (on the behest of the United States and Saudi Arabia).

Also, during his regime across the 1980s, ethnic fissures in the society became a lot more pronounced; paralleled by the emergence of sectarian and intra-sectarian crevices, triggered by Zia’s parochial policies that attempted to supposedly ‘Islamise’ Pakistan through a contrived and radical strain of the faith that he followed.

Javed Miandad had made his debut in 1976 under the captaincy and patronage of Mushtaq Mohammad. When Mushtaq was removed from captaincy in 1979, Miandad had remained quiet about the ouster, but many years later, he too suggested that Mushtaq’s ouster smacked of a conspiracy.

One is not quite sure what was the make-up of such conspiracies in the minds of Mushtaq and Miandad, though. Because both never (overtly) mentioned the ethnic bit in it. This was weaved in by the Karachi press. But most probably, had they not mentioned or alluded to a possible conspiracy, the media would have no reason to expand upon it.

Did they want the media to do just that? Were their grievances in this context genuine?

Asif Iqbal retired in 1980 (after a disastrous series against India). Miandad, who by then had become one of the best batsmen in the side, was elevated to become the new captain.

Once again, a Karachiite had replaced a Karachiite. But all hell broke loose when two years later in 1982, ten players refused to play under him, citing ‘immaturity’ on his part.

Of course, just as his mentor Mushtaq had done, Miandad saw it as a conspiracy against his captaincy. Indeed the rebellion was a conspiracy, but the reasons behind it were mostly cricketing and to do with Miandad’s volatile personality.

The rebellion was being led by Majid Khan and included Imran Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Mohsin Khan, Mudassar Nazar, Wasim Raja, Sarfraz Nawaz, Iqbal Qasim and Sikandar Bakht.

Though Miandad himself believed that the rebellion was staged to force the board to replace him (as captain) with either Majid or Zaheer, the Karachi press saw it as yet another example of the ‘Lahore/Punjab lobby’ ganging up against a Karachiite.

The board decided to stick with Minadad and fielded a completely brand new side against the visiting Sri Lankans. But effigies and posters of the rebels were burned by a section of the crowd in the general stands during the first Test of the series at Karachi’s National Stadium.

The press again missed out on the irony of it all. The rebels included three players from Karachi (Sikander, Qasim and Mohsin). Zaheer too was based in Karachi, even though he was Punjabi-speaking. What’s more, Qasim was extremely close to Miandad.

Also, equally ironic was when Raja decided to break away from the group, despite the fact that he was a Lahorite.

In the end, Miandad himself stepped down as skipper and was replaced by Imran.

A page from the February 1982 issue of Urdu sports monthly, 'Akhbar-e-Watan', with pictures of four (out of the ten) players who rebelled against Miandad’s captaincy. (From left): Mohsin, Sarfraz, Bari and Mudassar.
A page from the February 1982 issue of Urdu sports monthly, 'Akhbar-e-Watan', with pictures of four (out of the ten) players who rebelled against Miandad’s captaincy. (From left): Mohsin, Sarfraz, Bari and Mudassar.

The reason behind the episode was a clash of personalities between a young captain and some senior players.

It had nothing whatsoever to do with a conspiracy against Karachi-based players. But the press refused to let go and in 1983, during a Test match against Australia in Karachi (under Imran), Abdul Qadir was booed by the crowd because he was supposedly picked at the expense of Karachi’s off-spinner Tauseef Ahmed (whom Miandad had introduced in 1980).

In 1993, Miandad faced yet another player’s rebellion, this time instigated by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Miandad, who had replaced Imran as captain after the 1992 World Cup, now accused Khan of encouraging his ‘blue-eyed boys’ to rebel and try to create a divide in the team.

He wasn’t happy when the now-retired Khan invited only a select group of players for dinner in London during the team’s 1992 tour of England. Here is where Miandad believed the plan to topple him was first concocted.

Khan rubbished Miandad’s claims but the latter had yet again managed to bag sympathy from the Karachi press.

The truth was, Miandad, although being one of the finest batsmen produced by Pakistan and gifted with a brilliant cricketing brain, was terrible at man-management; often stepping on the toes of the players.

That’s why when he twice became the team’s coach after retiring as a player (in 1996), he was removed after the players refused to be coached by him. He kept wallowing about how the board was continuing to conspire against him, but he simply refused to look inwards a bit and realise that the fault may also lie in the way he was interacting with the players.

Pakistan’s mercurial fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, once claimed that during a tour of the West Indies, he saw coach Miandad actually chasing a young batsman with a bat!

Miandad faced two rebellions as skipper and two as coach.
Miandad faced two rebellions as skipper and two as coach.

Miandad reconciled his differences with Imran, but his tug-of-war with various heads of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) continues to this day. The board keeps hiring him at various posts and he keeps complaining. But he has all but lost the influence he once had to ravel up the press and weave political twists around his perceptions and claims.

And anyway, by the late 1990s, the ethnic and/or Lahore vs. Karachi aspect in the press (regarding cricket), had begun to wither away.

Not only did the team now have various players from small towns in the Punjab and the Pashto-speaking Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, in 1994, a popular Lahorite, Wasim Akram, too faced a players’ rebellion engineered not by Karachiites, but by two men from South Punjab: Mushtaq Ahmed and Waqar Younis.

Akram cited ‘a greed for power’ on the part of the rebels that made them rebel against him, but he did not use the word conspiracy. Later, when he became captain again, he confessed that during his first stint he was a bit too slapdash with the players.

Wasim Akram confessed that he might have been a tad too slapdash with his players.
Wasim Akram confessed that he might have been a tad too slapdash with his players.

Holy fissures

In the early 2000s (in the aftermath of 9/11), the Pakistan society (especially its urban middle-classes) began to be drawn towards the more exhibitionistic strands of Pakistan’s dominant faith.

Incidents of terrorism by clandestine sectarian and religious outfits in the country too became far more common than before.

The culture of Pakistan cricket too began to witness a shift when players such as Saeed Anwar, Saqlain Mushtaq, Mushtaq Ahmed and Inzimamul Haq joined the apolitical but highly ritualistic evangelical group, the Tableeghi Jamaat (TJ). The environment in the team was also experiencing the effects of the sectarian and sub-sectarian tensions that had become a disturbing norm in Pakistani society and polity in the 2000s.

Violence against minority Muslim communities and non-Muslim population has been on the rise ever since the late 1990s. And so is violence between some of Pakistan’s Muslim sub-sects.

It is the latter aspect of the sectarian conflict in Pakistan that seemed to have made its way into the team.

Again, the players who felt slighted by Inzimam (after he became captain in 2003), did not overtly suggest that he was exhibiting nepotism based on his religious beliefs.

But players such as Shoaib Akhtar were known to continuously fallout with him because he (Akhtar) thought Inzimam was going overboard in forcing the younger players to follow his lead.

Another player who did not seem to get the captain’s nod was Misbahul Haq, who was kept out of the side despite scoring big in Pakistan’s domestic circuit.

Till the mid-1980s, a majority of players in the team had come from urban backgrounds (Karachi and Lahore).

But after Pakistan began to win more Tests and ODIs under Mushtaq Muhammad and then Imran Khan, cricket’s popularity grew beyond the major cities and reached the small towns and villages of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Punjab.

Most players emerging from these areas were not as urbane or educated as the ones from Lahore or Karachi.

Author and the current Chairman of the PCB, Shahryar Khan, writes (in his 2013 book) that from the late 1990s onwards, the bulk of the Pakistan cricket team began being dominated by men from smaller towns. These players formed a clique and were highly suspicious of players who came from bigger cities and were more educated.

Shahryar Khan suggests that Inzimam was an extremely insecure captain. Apart from always suspecting Younis Khan of trying to dethrone him, he was also unwilling to make those players who were more educated, a part of his team.

Inzimam thought that their ‘modern outlook’ and educated backgrounds would be detrimental to the team’s environment – the one he had constructed.

Salman Butt was the most educated player in Inzimam’s side and the most urbane. But Inzimam never felt threatened by him because (at the time) Butt was too young and, more so, had fallen completely in line with Inzimam’s denominational dictates.

Inzimam: Highly insecure?
Inzimam: Highly insecure?

Khan writes that it was Inzimam who made sure Misbah remained out. But why?

Misbah comes from an urbane middle-class family in Mianwali (Punjab). He is an MBA and keeps his spiritual beliefs to himself.

But that’s not all why Inzi supposedly preferred to keep Misbah out.

Though Misbah himself has never commented much on why he could not find a place in Inzimam’s team, three years ago a cricketing contemporary of his told a sport’s reporter of an Urdu daily that ‘Inzimam knew that he would never be able to co-opt Misbah into his (Inzimam’s) clique of players ...’

The report that the journalist finally filed in his newspaper (in 2012), expanded upon the revelation by suggesting that Misbah most likely would have refused to have anything to do with the TJ and that’s why Inzimam and company made sure he never got back in to the side.

The same report also suggested that this is also why Saeed Ajmal, too, was kept out, and only fully brought in when Misbah became captain in 2011.

The same reporter recently told me that Misbah prefers to keep his faith a private matter and is not demonstrative at all, unlike the TJ members.

‘That’s why you will never hear a word of praise from men like Mohammad Yousuf, Inzimam and Shoaib Akhtar (who, ironically, is reported to have joined the TJ after retirement) for Misbah …’ the reporter explained.

I wonder how much truth there is in all this. Was the journalist trying to create a persuasive scenario for Misbah? If so, then Misbah did not seem interested.

Misbah doesn’t like to always have to look over his shoulder.
Misbah doesn’t like to always have to look over his shoulder.

During an interview he gave to me in 2013, Misbah rubbished the idea that he was on purpose kept out by Inzimam. Though he is no great friend of the former captain, Misbah believes that there were too many good batsmen in the side at the time and (thus) it was tough for any batsman to break into the side.

Another journalist colleague agreed, adding, ‘had it been any other player, he would have allowed the reporter’s narrative to run wild. He would have known how much sympathy a player can generate for himself in Pakistan due to a perceived case of persecution.’

Instead (and while commenting on the continuous criticism that he has faced from a group of former players for a couple of years), Misbah has cited ‘jealously’ as the reason that drives some player’s disparagement and personalities.

This way he has navigated the debate in this context back to the notion that much more than ethnicity, class or even religion, fissures in the team usually arise due to personality clashes and character flaws in some players.

Unlike many former captains, Misbah refuses to be drawn into the persecution game – though it is expected that he will be able to open up a bit more in this respect once he completely retires from cricket.




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