July Issue 2013
On Unsteady Ground
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s the story of Pakistan’s cricket. Over the years, the country’s cricket chiefs have tried out everything in the book in their bid to make sure that the national team is placed on the right track and that it stays there. They have imported high-profile coaches and trainers from abroad, changed captains, reshaped strategies, established academies and more.
But not much seems to have worked. Pakistan’s dismal showing at last month’s ICC Champions Trophy in England and Wales underlines the fact that the national cricket team lags far behind top-flight sides like India and England and it still remains one of the most inconsistent teams in the world.
With World Cup 2015 less than two years away, these inadequacies don’t augur well for Pakistan. While most of the other title aspirants are on their way to rebuild or, in some cases, strengthen their teams for the World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand, Pakistan hasn’t even started the process yet.
They have axed several experienced players like Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq in recent times, but national cricket chiefs have failed to introduce match-winning rookies to replace the seniors.
Take a look at cricket across the border and you would see India bolstering their team with highly talented young Turks like Shikhar Dhawan. But it seems that Pakistan’s cup of talent is running dry.
Over the years, much has been said and written about how much talent there is in every nook and corner of the country, but the ground reality paints a different picture. The cricket chiefs are desperate to axe senior players whose performances have not been up to par, but in the absence of good and reliable youngsters, there is always the temptation to bring back aging stars.
They have axed several experienced players like Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq in recent times but national cricket chiefs have failed when it comes to introducing match-winning rookies to replace the seniors. And in the absence of good and reliable youngsters there is always the temptation to bring back aging stars.
What Pakistan cricket needs is a sweeping change in how the sport is run in this country as the rot starts from the top. Over the years, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) — the body that governs the sport in this country — has become a place where professionalism, competence and vision is either nonexistent or only available in small doses.
The Board’s chairman is almost always a political appointee, which means that it is not necessary for him to have the credentials necessary to head an important sports organisation like the PCB. And what compounds the problem is that the PCB’s chairman is an all-powerful person as he has the authority to hire or fire other board officials and has the final say in almost all important matters related to Pakistan cricket.
In a recent article on the state of Australian cricket, former Hampshire captain Mark Nicholas quoted Mike Brearley who once wrote: “If the fish is rotten, look at its head.” The decision-makers in Pakistan will have to do the same if our cricket team is to prosper.
What Pakistan cricket needs is a proper system in which one person does not have the authority to run the sport on his whims and fancies. PCB’s constitution needs to be modified so that changes can be made to improve the flawed system. All stakeholders need to be involved and only then do we have the chance of ushering in a better system.
In the meantime, Pakistan will have to take a series of decisions pertaining to the national team. Captain Misbah-ul-Haq is approaching 40 and we will need to decide now whether he can continue playing till World Cup 2015. In the absence of other options, it would be better if Misbah carries on but he will need to show greater leadership qualities by backing the right players to form the squad, and then making sure that he gets the best out of them.
Pakistan’s cricket think-tank also needs to make a decision on the future of coach Dav Whatmore. During his 15-month tenure, the national team hasn’t made much progress, which is an alarming situation for Pakistan.
Soon after Pakistan’s eight-wicket defeat at the hands of bitter rivals India at Edgbaston last month, I asked Whatmore whether Pakistan’s poor showing at the Champions Trophy was a true reflection of his team’s strength. Whatmore said he didn’t think so.
“In this series, it hasn’t been good. But you don’t always have a good series. We thought we had a pretty decent build-up, our preparation was okay, but it wasn’t to be. These things happen. There are some reasons for that, and I’m sure that every effort will be made to put it right the next time,” he stressed.
Whether the 59-year-old Whatmore should be given the chance to “put it right” next time is debatable. Although he boasts a solid reputation and impressive credentials, Whatmore simply hasn’t delivered yet as Pakistan’s coach.
Last year, Whatmore was roped in by the PCB with expectations that he would use his rich experience to instill consistency in the national team that had whitewashed England — then the world’s number one team — 3-0 in a test series in the UAE.
But consistency still remains a distant dream for Pakistan.
“There is no particular formula that can help you get consistency,” Whatmore told me in Birmingham on the sidelines of the Champions Trophy. “It is an ongoing thing. You will always have a series where you are disappointed and then there are days when you do well. That’s the way it is.”
But it shouldn’t be that way for Pakistan if they are to finally become the world’s number one team. Without achieving consistency, Pakistan cricket would remain on the same path where it has been for many years now. There have been successes but they were few and far between. That story needs to change.