Selection and succession hinder Pakistan’s progress

Published September 7, 2020
Selectors must stop emerging talent from being stifled by the persistent bed blockers of Pakistan’s international cricket. — AFP/File
Selectors must stop emerging talent from being stifled by the persistent bed blockers of Pakistan’s international cricket. — AFP/File

WINNING the final T20 International was the least Pakistan’s cricketers deserved after enduring weeks in a biosecure bubble for the love of their sport and the honour to represent their country.

These Pakistan tourists were excellent and uncomplaining ambassadors, and we will now see whether the noble gesture of touring a country with a sub-optimal Covid-19 response, namely England, will be returned?

In the meantime, after basking in the glory of a lost Test series and drawn T20 contest, Pakistan have some issues to resolve. The first, and most important, is the level of ambition.

Only four years ago, Pakistan were the number one Test team. More recently, they were the leading T20 nation. These were incredible achievements by Pakistan’s cricketers given the circumstances of the previous decade.

Nobody has a divine right to be the best in the world and it is hard to stay there, but Pakistan’s descent in these formats is in contrast to the improving stability in the country and the much-heralded overhaul of the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Change often makes outcomes a little worse before they get better. You need patience, but goodwill runs out quickly especially in the goldfish bowl of international cricket.

What these struggles reveal is a lack of long term planning. Why are Australia, India, and now England, consistently near the top in cricket’s various formats?

Financial strength is obviously a factor, as well as how these countries dominate the governance of the game, but the key is that they are all more successful in succession planning. As major players depart, new ones slot seamlessly into place, ready for the international game. The success of the team continues.

Pakistan’s system is somewhat different. Once a player achieves star status, it is very hard to be shifted; performance becomes almost incidental. Clearly, the underlying system is inadequate.

The PCB, we know, has plans to revamp domestic competition, but this is no instant fix. The new regime must be given a chance for its strategies to take effect.

All of this places a sharp focus on selection. Despite the inherent flaws in the system, Pakistan has such natural talent that outstanding players do still emerge, and it is imperative that the careers of those players are not stifled.

Let’s take two examples. It is clear that Fawad Alam was unfairly sidelined for over a decade. Pakistan struggled for batting, and Fawad is a player with an outstanding record and obvious ability.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Haider Ali, a young batsman of undoubted talent at the start of his international career. Haider showed enough in this year’s high profile Pakistan Super League to go straight into the national T20 team. Yet, by some mystery, he was only selected for the final T20 against England.

England, meanwhile, rested many of their established players for the T20 series against Pakistan in order to learn more about their emerging crop of internationals. This was long term planning in action.

Instead, Pakistan is stricken by bed blockers, players who become immovable objects and stifle the emergence of new talent. The first of these is Shoaib Malik. There is no logic for his further selection, either on the basis of performance or ability. Malik’s day has passed and Pakistan must move on from him. Thank you and goodnight.

The second is Mohammad Amir. Amir was a wonderful bowler, a world class player as a teenager, an automatic selection for any Pakistan team. But his ban for spot fixing damaged more than his integrity.

Amir has rarely touched those heights since his return, except that memorable spell in the 2017 Champions Trophy final against India and some glimmers in last year’s World Cup. Importantly, Amir did not repay the loyalty that Pakistan cricket showed him by making himself unavailable for Tests despite missing half of his career.

This is not a vendetta on experience. Experience matters, as both Mohammad Hafeez and Wahab Riaz both demonstrated. But T20 cricket requires only a sprinkling of experience, not a ward of bed blockers.

Misbah-ul Haq is a smart man, dedicated to his country’s cause, confident in his capabilities, but sometimes we all need protection from ourselves. The dual role of chief selector and head coach creates an unnecessary burden and makes it harder for the views of one man to be challenged.

We all make mistakes; we follow our enthusiasms. That is human nature. In Australia, England, and India, the chief selector can challenge the head coach, the head coach can challenge the chief selector. The outcome of that dialogue is a better solution. What does Misbah do? Have a word with himself? It is hard to see how this dual role best serves Pakistan cricket or Misbah?

The central question that the PCB must address is how to ensure that when Pakistan next arrives at the top in any of cricket’s formats it stays there? A revamp of domestic cricket will help but will take time. While we wait for that golden age, the selectors must stop emerging talent from being stifled by the persistent bed blockers of Pakistan’s international cricket.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2020

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