EX-SKIPPER Misbah-ul-Haq has started facing high tides much earlier than expected in his newly acquired job of head coach-cum-chief selector. The Twenty20 series whitewash at home to an inexperienced Sri Lankan side has not just come as a shock, it has turned into a never-ending nightmare for Misbah as well as the PCB with both media and the fans reacting harshly to the defeats!
Perhaps Pakistan’s most successful Test captain is getting the most arduous lesson of his post-retirement life. Playing the sport and managing it are two entirely different things. Add to it the complexity and pressures of the dual job; Misbah, no doubt, is in a spot of bother.
Read: The age of Misbah
Indeed, prophesying the ebb and flow of Pakistan cricket is one of the most difficult and complex jobs. Impossible situations are a norm here. It depends how one deals with them. The rapid and unusual developments in national cricket prove a blessing for some and torment for the others and right now, Misbah is at the receiving end.
His sarcastic comment in response to a query at the post-match press conference alongside captain Sarfraz Ahmed after the humiliating loss suffered by top-ranked Pakistan in the third Twenty20 at Lahore indicated the mounting frustration. “I think the [only] change is that I have come [in Pakistan cricket set-up], and it seems that I have done something wrong. I made the right-handed batsmen play as left-handers and asked left-armers to bowl as right-armers,” he said.
It sounds like deep exasperation, coming from a man known for his cool head. However, the worrying news for Misbah — as well as the national team — is that the toughest challenge for Pakistan is yet to come. If Misbah is letting the frustration of the embarrassing series sweep against Sri Lanka creep into his approach and working method, the tour of Australia starting next month could totally smother his spirits as a trainer.
The puzzle for the head coach runs deep. If he acknowledges that the team flopped miserably in the T20 series (which was very much evident), who could he complain to? The selection committee which he himself heads? Or the system of which he is now a major component?
The ground reality is that the dual job of chief selector and head coach — the very first unique experiment in Pakistan cricket — has put Misbah in a very awkward position after his very first assignment. Needless to say, this kind of dual role is an unnatural phenomenon and goes very much against the basic norms of management.
The dilemma for Misbah is that if he, as chief selector, accepts that some of the selections for the Sri Lanka T20s were wrong, it will be seen as his own misjudgement. And if he does not accept that his choice of players was wrong, it will be very difficult for him to defend some of his selections.
Agreed that no Pakistan player fared well in the Sri Lanka T20s. But having said that, how in the world could Misbah justify the selection of Umar Akmal? Umar’s comebacks -- despite his utter flop shows in key international games -- have been so many that his role in Pakistan cricket is an undiminished one.
Controversies, in the meantime, have slowly started emerging though the allegations have been largely unfounded.
Commenting on Umar’s recall and that of tried-and-tested Ahmed Shehzad, former Test pacer Aaqib Javed recently said: “Someone is pulling Misbah’s strings.” Moreover, PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan’s claimed during Wednesday’s Senate Standing Committee meeting in Islamabad that Misbah was “pressurised by upper circles” to pick Umar and Shehzad only strengthens the feeling that something is very wrong somewhere.
If the reports saying Misbah is not happy with Sarfraz because he “shies away from taking responsibility when the chips are down” carry any substance then the authorities concerned in the PCB must sit down and sort things out before our cricket is headed for yet another crisis.
Reports are also emerging that former captain Salman Butt, the main convict of the 2010 spot-fixing scandal, maybe recalled for the Australia tour. Misbah, as one of the cleanest and most professional players in the history of Pakistan cricket, must remember one thing: recalling Salman whose corrupt acts inflicted huge damage upon Pakistan cricket would be the biggest mistake of his life.
Technically, if Salman is recalled it would be an indirect acceptance by all stakeholders in the PCB that the country has no talent left for international contests. Which is not the case, of course.
Prior to the challenging Australia tour, Pakistan cricket faces a highly uncertain situation. Misbah, who gladly accepted the dual post himself, has no experience at the top level of being a coach or a selector. Therefore, he needs to be absolutely clear and firm in his words and actions on subjects concerning his dual job. If at all he was pressurised — directly or indirectly — to include Umar and Shehzad in the national playing XI, he for the sake of Pakistan cricket must speak out, clarify and take a definite position sooner than later.
But if Misbah remains aloof to the fast developing scenario in the aftermath of the T20 series loss to Sri Lanka, it would not only hurt Pakistan cricket even more, it would also blot the ex-skipper’s hitherto unblemished cricket career. And that would not be a pretty sight for anyone.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2019