July Issue 2008
Who will Tame Cricket’s Shrews?
“All people seem to be divided into ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary.’ The ordinary people must lead a life of strict obedience and have no right to transgress the law because they are ordinary. Whereas the extraordinary people have the right to commit any crime they like and transgress the law in any way just because they happen to be extraordinary.”
It seems that the people at the helm of Pakistan cricket have taken these words by Fyodor Dostoevsky a bit too seriously.
While ‘ordinary’ players like the experienced all-rounder Abdul Razzaq, pacer Mohammad Sami and openers Imran Farhat and Taufeeq Umar are serving life bans merely for playing in an unofficial cricket league in India, their more ‘extra-ordinary’ compatriots like Asif have been breaking rules at will. And all this has been happening under what the PCB describes as a strict code of conduct.
Former Pakistan captains like Imran Khan, Majid Khan, Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram have been constantly pointing out that PCB policies can prove damaging for Pakistan cricket.
Pakistani cricketers have never been known for their discipline but what has been happening in the past two years or so has really tarnished the image of Pakistan cricket. From The Oval fiasco to Mohammad Asif’s detention at Dubai Airport for possession of a recreational drug, Pakistan cricket has suffered numerous blows because of bad boys like Shoaib Akhtar and Asif. At The Oval in September 2006, Pakistan suffered the ignominy of becoming the first team to forfeit a match in Test history. The board’s critics blame it for the repeated breaches of discipline by the players, pointing out that the PCB has set wrong examples by assisting drug offenders.
In most cases, they certainly have a point. Take for example the story of Mohammad Asif, who burst onto the international cricket scene as an unassuming youngster from Sheikhupura but is now facing a drug-related ban for the second time in less than two years. By being lenient to Asif, the PCB has dealt a fatal blow to the international career of a player who was hailed as the world’s most promising fast bowler. Pakistan’s late coach Bob Woolmer had great words to say about him and Asif proved him right when he made an impressive One-day International (ODI) debut against England, a day after his 23rd birthday. He took 2-14 in seven overs.
It was at the start of 2006 that Asif began his brief journey towards stardom. The lanky pacer claimed seven wickets at Karachi, as Pakistan sealed a famous home series win against India. A few months later, Asif was the hero of Pakistan’s Test series triumph in Sri Lanka, taking 17 wickets in two Tests. But soon came the decline, first due to injury and later because of drugs.
An elbow injury forced Asif to miss the best part of Pakistan’s marathon tour of England in the summer of 2006. He missed the first three Tests and only made his return in the final Test at The Oval, when Pakistan were already 0-2 down in the four-Test series. Asif bowled brilliantly in that Test and almost took Pakistan close to their first win in the series but the match ended on a farcical note when the tourists refused to take the field to protest against Australian umpire Darrell Hair’s decision to penalise them over ball tampering.
The writer is ranked among the battle-hardened journalists covering sports. As sports editor for The News, he covers sporting action extensively in Pakistan and abroad.