Hafeez and Malik’s recall clear sign of Misbah’s confused mind

Updated January 20, 2020

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Pakistan's cricket chief selector and head coach Misbah-ul-Haq speaks to reporters at Pakistan Cricket Board in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. — AP/File
Pakistan's cricket chief selector and head coach Misbah-ul-Haq speaks to reporters at Pakistan Cricket Board in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. — AP/File

I HEARD some news this week and I think I must be dreaming. As dreams go it isn’t a happy one. I heard, now get this, that Pakistan just recalled Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik. For the national T20 team. In a World Cup year. I agree, this sounds utterly implausible. It can’t be true. Finished, they were, in England last year. We heaved a hugely pleasant sigh of relief. We sniggered too, when our current commander in chief and past cricket captain, complained about railu kattas. That’s it, we thought, railu kattas are done. Bye bye Mr Hafeez and Mr Malik.

But they aren’t done, are they, these Houdinis of the selection process, these fat cats with ninety-nine lives, these non-first rank cricketers with first rank connections. Back to the bosom of their old captain, Misbah ul Haq, a man with the unprecedented double role of chairman of selectors and head coach, a double role that even Dilip Kumar would have turned down.

And that’s the heart of the problem. You can’t blame two blokes for being selected, even though they are never the type of cricketer Imran Khan would have chosen in his days as de facto chairman of selectors, even though their moribund international careers belong in a deep freeze, and even though they are thoroughly likeable. No, the blame lies with the chairman of selectors and the one man who might be able to dissuade him from this folly, in other words the head coach.

In the best dynamic, these two pivotal roles of chairman of selectors and head coach are filled by people with a common vision but who may see the world differently. Call it a creative tension. Call it two heads being better than one. Call it common sense, something both Ehsan Mani and Wasim Khan are both known for.

But Pakistan cricket can do the strangest things to the most resolute of personalities. And it seems to have done just that with Mani and Khan. To blame Misbah for taking on two roles misses the point that the responsibility for that appointment sits squarely with the people who allowed it to happen.

Misbah may have overreached himself, misjudged the double role as badly as he misjudged his paddle sweep in the 2007 World T20 Final, but it was Khan’s job to stop him. And if Khan got carried away, Mani had to step in. Neither man did. Instead of any creative tension, instead of Ram Aur Shyam, Misbah plays both parts the same way. Ram Aur Ram, as it were. Instead of two heads being better than one, Misbah is now the man with two brains, the Steve Martin of bonkers cricket innovation.

By the most obvious of logic, there is no place for over-the-hill cricketers in international T20 cricket. Introducing young players is good but recalling old ones is muddled thinking. Just as the selection for Australia was baffling, the Bangladesh T20 series offers more evidence that Misbah must be saved from himself. The skills to captain a team, for example, are different to those required to coach a team. That’s why so few past players, however great, go on to become top coaches. That’s why international cricket relies on Bob Woolmers, Duncan Fletchers, and Micky Arthurs.

It was predictable that the experiment of Misbah’s double role would fail. It is clear now that it has. It is equally clear that recalling Hafeez and Malik is as regressive a step as you can imagine, a sign of confused selection. Now, Hafeez and Malik may well fill their boots at home against Bangladesh, and Misbah will snigger at us all, but that says nothing for their prospects in a World T20 in Australia. The evidence of their international careers, their unnecessarily long international careers, argues that they will fail again. This is a dead end selection on a dead end road.

The simple truth is that a hundred million Pakistan fans around the world can see the folly in this. But for the moment, Misbah has an excuse. He is double Ram, a man with two brains. He doesn’t see the world clearly, as much as he will tell us all that he does.

That means the buck stops with Ehsan Mani and Wasim Khan. This is why they earn their money. Yes, we want them to make brave and innovative decisions, but a good leader also recognises that an experiment has failed and perhaps should never have been tried.

All of which doesn’t mean that Misbah can’t become a great coach or a good chairman of selectors. But he is neither at the moment, and he carries too much responsibility. He is too exposed if the plan fails, too vulnerable. The double role isn’t good for Misbah. It isn’t good for Pakistan cricket, and acting in the best interests of Pakistan cricket is what Ehsan Mani and Wasim Khan were hired to do.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2020