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How to avoid embarrassment

June 11, 2010

We’re going to get slaughtered in England. I think you should know this. It doesn’t matter what pitches we play on, or who exactly plays for Australia (early part of the summer) or England (latter half of the summer), or who captains our side, or what inane thing Ijaz Butt says on a particular day – we’re going to get slaughtered in England. In my esteemed role as a blogger, I feel it is my responsibility to calibrate readers’ expectations to something approaching realistic, so once again: we’re going to get slaughtered in England.

That said, the team we pick can and will make the difference between being slaughtered organic-style, and being slaughtered in one of those mechanised slaughterhouses that I saw in Food Inc that made me a vegetarian for a couple of days. So here’s my handy five-step guide on how to avoid being embarrassed.

1. Pick the batsmen entirely on the basis of their fielding ability. And you think I’m joking. If memory serves, we dropped an average of four catches a day on our twin tour to New Zealand and Australia. Not four catches a match, or even innings. Four catches a day. It was a team effort – the Akmal brothers, Imran Farhat, Misbah, even the bowlers.

Here’s the problem: our bowling attack is now a very non-traditional one, in the Pakistani sense. Our three best bowlers in history – Imran, Wasim and Waqar – were all wicket-to-wicket bowlers, who’d get tons of batsmen LBW or bowled. In effect, they took our pathetic fielding out of the equation. But our newer bowlers, guys like Asif and Aamer, are most Western in orientation, relying on edges and miscues to get batsmen out. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. But this method does presuppose a halfway adequate fielding side, especially behind the wicket, which we are decidedly not. Which is why we need to pick our batting solely on whether they can field or not.

Think about it: would you rather have Imran Farhat, with a test batting average of 33, opening the batting, or Imran Nazir, with a test batting average of 32? Both would fail miserably in English conditions against good bowling, but at least the latter wouldn’t cost the team hundreds of runs in the field.

I don’t know if we have six or even five decent fielders in all of Pakistan, beyond the obvious candidates like Younis Khan and Fawad Alam. But it’s not my job to know; it’s the selectors’. Between now and when the team for the summer is announced, I want them to scour the country for people who can dive, take catches and stop boundaries. Pick them, and then send them to England.

2. Don’t let Shoaib Malik anywhere near the team This guy is the cricketing equivalent of the plague. Pakistani cricketers are rarely united on anything, but one thing they do all agree on is the fact that Malik is the embodiment of evil. Doesn’t that tell you something?

Pardon me if I don’t find his assurances of being a “changed man” entirely convincing. He’s still the guy who poisoned the team, who single-handedly led to the factionalisation of the dressing room, who turned against two captains, and who backed out of batting at number three when he saw a difficult pitch. He’s been this way for a long time, and he deep down harbors the hope of becoming captain again, which means only one thing: he will sabotage Shahid Afridi the same way he did Younis and Yousuf. Just wait and see.

Look, Pakistani cricketers find it hard enough to get along, without throwing a diabolical schemer like Malik into the mix. It would serve us all if instead of his wife giving up her career, he gives up his. But if he isn’t going to go away of his own volition, the selectors should send him away.

3. Drop Kamran Akmal. Akmal returns to the scene of the crime. You may recall that before the England tour of 2006, Akmal was one of the world’s two best keeper-batsmen. He was very assured behind the stumps, scored crucial runs, and was generally thought of as one of the pillars the team would be built around for the next decade. But it all fell apart for him on that tour, and he hasn’t been able to recover any semblance of form behind the stumps since then.

The decline and fall of Akmal is a truly shocking and as-yet unexplained story. Does anyone actually know what’s happened to him? How did he go from being one of the safest and most agile keepers in the world to absolute rubbish? Seriously, does anyone have an answer?

Either way, we can’t afford to have this guy author any more game-changing moments. For as long as I am alive I will not forget his performance at Sydney, when he was more supportive to Mike Hussey than the Aussie tail. In fact, I’m fairly certain Akmal has links to sectarian and militant outfits in Punjab; there is no other explanation for his consistent and unmitigated efforts at ending Danish Kaneria’s career.

Play him as a batsman if you must, but please, for the love of everything that is sane and holy, don’t let him keep.

4. Hope Shoaib Akhtar gets injured Actually this one should take care of itself. I give him, I don’t know, six overs before he pulls up at the Asia Cup. Chalo, eight overs.

I once wrote a 2000-word essay on why Pakistan needs to say goodbye to Shoaib Akhtar. You know the crazy thing? That was three years ago. That is, just after he got banned and unbanned for steroids but before he smacked Asif with a bat in the dressing room, before the liposuction and the sexually transmitted diseases, before his Bollywood career crashed and burned without actually getting started, before countless other injuries and ailments, and before the most drunken performance as a studio analyst during the recent World T20 in the Caribbean that one could ever hope to witness (come on, we all know he wasn’t sipping coffee).

I’ve got nothing personal against this guy; as characters go he is less unseemly than the Akmals and Yousuf and Misbah, never mind Malik. But he’s a distraction and can’t be counted upon. Luckily, we won’t have to worry about this too much. You watch, he’ll be home before the Asia Cup is finished.   5. Kidnap Mike Hussey I can’t possibly be the only Pakistani who’s had enough of this guy. It’s time to take more serious measures. Lord knows our cricketing establishment has connections to the seedy underworld of Karachi and Dubai. Let’s take advantage of it. Because, honestly, I can’t deal with another St.Lucia, let alone another Sydney. It’s time to put a stop to this menace.

Ahsan Butt is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Chicago, and he blogs at Five Rupees. The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.