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February 25, 2018


Shoaib Akhtar
Shoaib Akhtar

As the maxim goes, even the darkest cloud has some silver lining. The appointment of Shoaib Akhtar as brand ambassador of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and adviser to its chief proves why maxims and what they are — time-tested truths — are correct more often than not. So, the question is: if the appointment is a dark cloud, what is the silver lining about it? The exit of the one and only Rameez Raja. And, lest it be misunderstood, the ‘one and only’ phrase here has a negative connotation.

Before moving on to the dark cloud, let’s get the silver lining out of the way. If the sitting PCB management has done one thing right, it is getting Rameez off its back. He was a freeloader in his playing days, having managed across his 57 Tests with an average score of 31.83 runs, which is an utter shame for an opener, and just two centuries, which is a matter of sheer embarrassment for any top-order batsman. His career lasted the length it did for reasons that could only have been non-cricketing in nature.

Once that phase was over, he chose to become an ‘expert’ and started telling everyone to do what he had never been able to do himself. What English-language skills have done for him over the years, the best of professors would die for. He was once made the national captain because — as officially explained — he could speak English. Post-retirement, he even became a PCB administrator and subsequently the brand ambassador; all because he could speak English for he has never excelled at anything else.

Even though he never believed in taking advice, Shoaib Akhtar is now tasked with advising the PCB chief

Anything that could ensure his exit from the scene had to be good. And that is the net worth of the appointment of Shoaib Akhtar. Everything else about it is at best seriously debatable. What exactly he would be advising the PCB

chief on? For someone who never believed in taking advice from anyone as a player — he has been on record saying that much — he surely believes in giving advice. That is some hypocrisy.

But, to be fair to the man, he did not appoint himself, though he could have turned down the offer if that were the case. Najam Sethi did the honours and he is too shrewd a man to take advice from a maverick, larger-than-life showman like Akhtar who had actually been critical of Sethi’s manner of handling cricketing affairs. Is this Sethi’s way of ensuring one less critic? Nobody knows, but such things do happen around here, don’t they?

A little back in time, General Tauqeer Zia used to be where Sethi is today. Even though he was a man in uniform in an era of dictatorial dispensation in the country, Zia had his critics in the media. During a live interview on television, he was asked about his thoughts on the reason behind the negative press he used to get. His answer was quite graphic and put everything in its proper context and perspective.

Here is a paraphrased version of what the general said: “What is the worth of the critics? The man who was the most vocal critic of just about everything we did is today heading our Public Affairs department and finds nothing wrong with anything we do! And this is precisely why we brought him in the fold.” Interesting, right? He was talking of a sports journalist in this case who has since gone places. Is Sethi following in the footsteps of his predecessor? No one knows for sure, but the strategy did work in the past.

Going a step further, Akhtar is on record having expressed his lack of belief in the entire system. In an interview towards the end of his playing days, Akhtar was asked how he saw the future of Pakistan cricket. Here is Akhtar in his own words. “It is not too rosy, I am afraid. Contrary to the popular belief that we are rich in talent, it is actually drying up … the abundance of talent that I witnessed 15 years ago no longer exists. I blame it on the system and the lack of financial security at the first-class level. I do not see any genuine fast bowlers or prolific batsmen emerging from within our ranks 10 years from now. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if cricket meets with the same fate in Pakistan that squash did. I hope I am wrong but there are too many visible signs to ignore.”

Today, a dozen years later, he has become part of the system and will be advising the man who sits at the helm of affairs. People change. Things change. Ground realities change. That is all fine. But here, in this case, things he had pointed out earlier have not changed. The ground realities have changed but only for the worse. And, indeed, people have not changed for Akhtar had been critical of the system and its managers even in retirement. So what has caused this change of heart?

Can you call it a marriage of convenience? Well, you can, but just make sure you don’t sound too derogatory when saying that. After all, we are talking of some big names here. An advisor-cum-ambassador-cum-celebrity is on one side of the equation, while on the other side is the master of all that he surveys. How much bigger than that can it get? Maybe we will all be better off celebrating the silver lining rather than worrying about the dark cloud.

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 25th, 2018