February issue 2010
Down and Out, Down Under
One word can sum up the state of Pakistan cricket. Humiliation. The PCB chairman humiliated the captain, the captain humiliated his players and the players repeatedly humiliated themselves on the field. To top it all off, the entire country felt humiliated when the IPL franchises refused to bid on a single Pakistani player.
Expectations were modest going into the Australian series. A series win was unthinkable, but so long as we didn’t embarrass ourselves no long-term damage would be done. That is exactly what happened in the first Test. Pakistan lost by a wide margin, most of our batsmen were far below Test level and our fielders seemed to have spread margarine on their hands rather than on their toast during the lunch break. Still, our bowlers — particularly Mohammed Aamir — showed heart and we took the game into a fifth day.
Then, for the first four days of the second Test in Sydney, Pakistan, in a surprise to end all surprises, completely dominated the Aussies thanks to inspired bowling from Mohammed Asif, Mohammed Sami and Umer Gul. Sure, the batting was still shaky and the fielding a shambles, but with Australia leading by only 70 runs with two wickets in hand going into the final day, victory was all but assured.
Pakistan’s first Test match win in Australia since 1996 was there for the taking but captain Mohammed Yousuf said, “No, thank you.” It is hard to think of a more diabolical decision than that made by Yousuf to put everyone on the boundary while the Australians helped themselves to singles. After the last two wickets added another 100 runs, Pakistan were left chasing 175. This was still an eminently gettable target on a fair pitch, but by then it was clear that the Pakistanis didn’t know how to win, didn’t even believe that they could win. The team suffered their most demoralising defeat in recent memory and it was time for the soap opera to begin.
Someone — anyone — had to be scapegoated and Kamran Akmal most deserved the axe. For the past two years, he had been wicketkeeping like a man who smears cartons of vaseline on his gloves, and his mistakes, including four dropped catches in the second innings at Sydney, finally caught up with him. Reserve wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed was flown in and Akmal seemed to be history. But the drama had only just started. Coach Intikhab Alam confirmed Akmal had been dropped while the keeper himself insisted he would play. The captain was non-committal. Then Kamran’s younger brother Umar, the one success story of the tour, dropped the bombshell. Umar declared himself unfit and unavailable for the final Test. Rumours started swirling that Umar was refusing to play to protest big brother’s exclusion from the team. Management hurried into action and forced Umar to take a fitness test. After he was found to be free of injury, Umar played the match while Kamran was left out. All’s well that ends well, perhaps, but Umar Akmal had shown Pakistan cricket to be in such a dire state that even a 19-year-old playing only his second Test series could throw a fit to try and get his way.
On the field, the comedy of errors continued. Salman Butt, who would probably find it easier to catch swine flu than a cricket ball, took it upon himself to run out the team’s two best batsmen: Mohammed Yousuf and Umar Akmal. It would have been interesting to spy on the dressing down and hear the tirade Yousuf would surely have given Butt. Thankfully, the captain decided to tell the world just what he thought of his opening batsmen’s running between the wickets. At a press conference after the day’s play, Yousuf said, “We are not playing for self, we are playing for the country. I am 35 years old, if I [can] get three runs, he is 25 years old, why can he not run? Me and him did the same 140 overs of fielding. We play for the country here, not self. He is a little lazy runner, everybody knows that.” Just how unprecedented this outburst was, and just how jarring, can be gauged by the fact that it was the notoriously slow and selfish runner Yousuf who was doing the chiding.
Pakistan ended up losing the match, predictably, and also the first ODI that followed. Now it was time for Yousuf, whose captaincy was singularly uninspirational and lacking any attacking instincts, to face the music. PCB Chairman Ejaz Butt announced that Yousuf would be replaced as captain after the Australian tour ended. It was the correct, if obvious, decision to make, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. It’s hard to recall another occasion when a captain has been told he will be sacked but asked to continue leading the team for a few more matches. Handling matters this way ensures that the team will lose all respect for their leader and a team as notoriously ill-disciplined as Pakistan hardly needs any excuse to defy authority.
Meanwhile, back at home, Pakistan threw a collective tantrum after the IPL franchises decided not to bid on a single Pakistani player. The country directed the blame towards the Indian government, which it suspected of orchestrating this snub. In an overreaction of stunning proportions, Pakistan withdrew its kabbaddi team from a tour of India, MPs who were supposed to visit India decided not to go there and the PCB was directed to file a complaint with the ICC. The franchises’ worry that the Pakistani players would not get visas to travel to India, despite being valid, were not considered. Neither was the fact that only 11 of the 60-odd players up for auction were bought, with the IPL franchises not being immune to the economic depression.
It is no exaggeration to point out that Pakistan cricket is in the midst of a crisis. It needs a new captain, new administrators and new players. But with no saviour on the horizon, humiliation is all its long-suffering fans can expect.
Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.