Ramiz Raja
Ramiz Raja

Almost 30 years ago, Pakistan’s greatest moment in cricket, and perhaps greatest moment overall, involved an Englishman and two Pakistanis. The Englishman was Richard Illingworth, who fans today will recognize as a genial umpire. His role in that specific moment was to top-edge a hoik that, in truth, would not have accomplished much even had it connected.

The two Pakistanis who combined to dismiss Illingworth ensured their place in history and highlight reels forever. Fittingly — not all great players get the theatrical ending, but when it happens, it is lovely, isn’t it? — Imran Khan’s last act as a player and captain was to take the wicket that won Pakistan their first, and thus far only, World Cup. The other Pakistani, swirling under that Melbourne night, steadying himself to pouch Illingworth’s skier, was one Ramiz Raja.

This column is about one of those two Pakistanis. You know, the one who has gorgeous hair, especially for his age. The one who got to his position by being in with the right people, not earning it. The one whose background for his role was soundbite-filled tirades, not homework. The one who thinks that a dash of good intentions and a dollop of “bold” thinking is the recipe to solve structural problems.

Obviously, I am referring to Ramiz (why, what did you think?).

Though brief, Ramiz Raja’s first time in charge of Pakistan cricket still had severe long-term reverberations. Now, within two months of his second charge, it seems there is no great cause for optimism for the future

For the last month, I have been thinking a lot about Rambo’s catch that evening in March 1992. Is it fair to say that we would all be better off had he dropped it? Pakistan would still have won, of course, but maybe, in this alternate history, the skipper would have glared at him, learned to hate him forever, like he did with so many others in the ’80s and ’90s, and never considered appointing him as chairman of the cricket board three decades later. I think we can all agree such a grudge would have spared us a good deal of trouble.

After all, our domestic scene has only just begun to recover from Rambo’s ‘hair’-brained scheme during his first tenure in the early 2000s: the genius idea to make domestic cricket pitches greener than the typical golf course. Though thankfully brief, Ramiz’s time in charge still had severe long-term reverberations.

Now he is back, primed and ready to do more damage.

Rambo kicked off by kicking out Messrs Misbah and Waqar. Now, it is important to underline that the Outside Edge column shed no tears for MisQar (WaqBah?), whose defensive mindset and draconian man-management were ill-suited to the needs of an international 21st century cricket team.

But this should not be taken as a defence of Ramiz’s decision-making; even a broken clock, as they say, is right twice a day. Moreover, was getting rid of MisQar just before a major international tournament, one the pair had been building towards for over a year, really the right thing to do?

Surely the more prudent course would have been to provide an ultimatum along the lines of “Win the World T20 or you’re out”? At least that way, Pakistan’s preparations would not be thrown into chaos, and Ramiz could justifiably claim that he gave MisQar a chance to keep their jobs.

As things stand, Ramiz chose to entrust the squad with two gentlemen with precisely zero coaching credentials between them. Make no mistake: I would have place for Matty Hayden or Vernon Philander in my eleven all day. But — repeat after me — great players do not necessarily become great coaches. There is literally no evidence, none whatsoever, to suggest that either has the coaching chops necessary for the task.

Then again, to be fair to Ramiz, the global trajectory of “coaching” in T20 cricket, at least the franchise version, is towards hiring big names and hoping for the best. The world over, dugouts are filled by ex-players who are more likely to inspire players by their presence than worry too much about technical mumbo-jumbo. And Philander and Hayden will have Saqlain Mushtaq — someone who actually has coaching experience, and was belatedly added to the staff — to cover for them.

Still, even accounting for the non-traditional nature of T20 coaching, Ramiz’s decision-making process continues to vex. It is difficult to ascertain the mechanism by which Rambo made these selections, beyond his becoming friends with Philander in the commentary booth earlier this year or witnessing Hayden beast new ball bowlers 15 years ago.

Regardless of the coaching carousel, the far bigger loss is the unfortunate Wasim Khan, arguably Pakistan’s greatest administrator in more than a generation. In his zeal to clean house — Rambo evidently a keen believer in Mao’s dictum that a revolution is not a dinner party — the incoming chairman nudged Wasim aside.

This was a disastrous move, one whose true toll will only reveal itself in the years to come. Wasim professionalised a ramshackle organisation and brought a more commercial mindset into Pakistan cricket. He got international teams to tour Pakistan again. He prioritised women’s, youth, and A-team cricket. Until the cruelty of the last-minute New Zealand pullout, and the pathetic follow-on by England, he almost pulled off the ultimate coup: Western teams touring for the first time in almost two decades.

His resignation was an utterly avoidable error, one born of egoism and nothing else. Not only should Wasim have been kept on, but Ramiz should have used him as a consigliere of sorts, relying on Wasim’s aptitude, expertise and experience as an administrator to counterbalance the lack of his own. But this would require the wisdom and humility to know what he doesn’t know, a trait sadly beyond most Pakistani leaders and public officials.

After a period of incompetent, corrupt jokers such as Naseem Ashraf or Ijaz Butt at the helm, Pakistan cricket was fortunate in recent times to have steady, diplomatic and careful stewardship. Ramiz has big shoes to fill and the early returns, frankly, are not promising.

Disputing with the captain, our most gifted and important cricketer in over two decades, and the chief selector, one known for his dour, understated demeanour and Powerpoint presentations — all before even formally ascending to the chairman role — was not the most auspicious of beginnings.

The coaching change was a good idea badly executed. The departure of Wasim Khan was plain old stupid and will prove to be self-defeating. And while our board could not have controlled the frustrating acts of New Zealand Cricket or the infuriating ones of the ECB, we could certainly control our response. Was anyone convinced that ranting on YouTube and piling pressure on the players to beat India, England and New Zealand to avenge our izzat [honour] was the correct one?

The jury is out on Rambo. He has a lot to prove.

The writer is an assistant professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

He tweets @ahsanib

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 17th, 2021

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