Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) really thought outside the box this time, and didn’t stop there. It packed the box full of stones, taped it up, and chucked it down the River Ravi. After Bangladesh choked the Green-Shirts’ run-chase in ODI number one, we cricket fans thought: its okay, they’re just finding their feet. Then Pakistan got shellacked again on March 19, and our collective haze lifted. The series loss, a historic one, is disappointing but all winning streaks must end. Far more worrisome is a dysfunctional cricketing culture that refuses to evolve, or die.
Azhar Ali, Misbah-Ul-Haq’s ODI successor, blamed the loss on a “rebuilding process.” A process started in 1947, and used by cricketers and politicians alike to play down their ineptitudes. Someone should ask Azhar what exactly is being rebuilt here. Considering the timeframe and titanic struggle, it can’t be a simple sporting team of eleven individuals. Is the PCB rebuilding the Mughal empire? Meanwhile, there are only crickets chirping in the general vicinity of Rameez Raja. A fierce critic of Misbah’s “tuk-tukking” ways, he has, for reasons unknown, quietly accepted a batting “tuk”-nician as captain.
There are too many bhais (brothers) in the Pakistan cricket team. There is Waqar bhai, Mushtaq bhai, and the Brothers Grant. This brotherly caste system is chipping away at whatever professionalism remains in Pakistan cricket. For starters, it puts the coaching staff in a morally superior position and elevates the value of kissing posteriors. Hence, if any individual wants to break into the team and stay put, some bhai must champion his cause. To rid Pakistan cricket of this micro-colonialism, no upcoming cricketer should settle for “we look up to bhai.” The motivation should be “bhai, watch my dust.”
As a fast bowler, Waqar Younis bhai was a force of nature. As head coach, however, his prescription glasses have more personality. Other than Wahab Riaz, Pakistan’s bowling in this series was toothless. The quicks couldn’t ball full and straight, and everything else cannoned off the Bengali bats into inner space. Through his often testy press conferences, Waqar has made it clear that he cannot play for the team on the field. That said, if the head coach cannot coax out superior player performances, then the PCB may as well put a super sopper in charge.
Then there’s Mushtaq Ahmad bhai. Diminutive spin magician by trade, clueless spin coach by day. He’s presided over the “discovery” of ancient Zulfiqar Babar, and the neutering of Saeed Ajmal from a remodeled action. Instead of whipping fellow leg-spinner Yasir Shah into world-class material, Mushtaq has let him slide out of contention. Grant Flower bhai, the batting coach, has fared no better. Under his watchful eye, Pakistan’s batting unit is always 50 runs short, 50% of the time. The other Grant, Luden bhai, has enjoyed a tenure where the public celebrates less than two catches spilled every game. With coaches like these, who needs enemies?
After the series loss, Waqar Younis commented “we need to change the way we play our cricket.” The PCB forethought this “change” by doing more of the same. The resurrected Azhar Ali has a lower limited-overs strike rate than his predecessor, and was out of Pakistan’s ODI plans for over two years. This is a man slowpoke Misbah himself considered too slow for ODI cricket. Be certain, however, that the general bonhomie surrounding his appointment exists only because of unified team rankings. The day the ICC introduces a relegation-based system, very sharpened knives will greet the Green-Shirts’ failures.
What makes this Pakistan team also unique is the number of player injuries. The fast bowlers, particularly, are dropping like flies. This is curious since their workloads do not compare with many international peers. After 2009, our cricket has been confined to neutral venues, and Pakistanis rarely feature in the IPL and affiliated leagues. Yet the lame-horse list keeps getting longer, and Rahat Ali is the latest inductee. The PCB needs to enforce its training and nutrition regimens, of course, but it cannot play mother hen. These men are professionals, and due diligence is compulsory for any sort of career.
The last few months have not been kind to Pakistan cricket, as its two bowling spearheads have lost their way. Mohammed Irfan’s body can’t keep up with his talent, and no amount of careful use will prevent future breakdowns. Saeed Ajmal should have spent more time with his alien bowling action than playing pundit on TV. At his advanced age, a return to venomous bowling ways is unlikely. Still, there is solace in knowing that New Zealand emerged a stronger side in 2014 after being blanked 3-0 by Bangladesh. If there is to be hope again, it must spring from Azhar Ali’s blade and brain.