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Looking back at the future

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Shaan Agha
Dawn Blog

Great sports teams are like fast rally drivers, they seldom look in their rear view mirror; the sole focus is on what lies ahead. Cricket Australia (CA) sets the benchmark of being ruthlessly progressive. They back their players well but once they decide they have to move forward and drop a player specially and ageing one, it almost certainly ends a career.

Perhaps Dean Jones was the first in the modern era of Australian dominance to have faced such an axe. At age 33 being the best batsmen in the country, he had a few good years left in him. His face off with the administration might have triggered his ill fate. The fact is that even with his domestic success he could never break back into the team and Australian cricket from mid-nineties onwards never looked back.

Apart from those who gave in their resignation to avoid embarrassment, big guns like Mark Waugh, Michael Slater, Michael Bevan, Darren Lehmann and Andrew Symonds amongst others had the plug pulled on their careers.

Pakistani cricketers in the same era who were dropped and selected multiple times included Saleem Malik, Ramiz Raja, Rashid Latif, Aamir Sohail, Moin Khan, Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Shoaib Akhtar amongst others. Players like Mohammad Yousuf, Abdul Razzaq, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi to date are lost in the same maze where they exit from one door only to re-enter from another.

The fluid consistency in the CA ideology compared to the start-stop-rewind-start strategy adopted by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) may be one of the reasons for the on and off field results produced by the teams they control.

In August 2011, Mohammad Yousuf, Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Danish Kaneria and Kamran Akmal were not given central contracts by the board. Few were in retirement, others waiting for clearance from the integrity committee and perhaps some just werenít on the Eid greetings list of the all-powerful PCB chairman. Most though agreed that it wasnít the last we had seen of them.

Currently, all three formats are captained under the defensive yet intelligent leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq and what his impressive numbers donít show is how he led an unusually united Pakistan. The absence of dressing-room drama may have translated into trophy-winning performances on the field of play while the absence of Ďseniorí cricketers could be the secret ingredient.

Looking to get back into business, however, is the 37-year-old Yousuf whoís genius is beyond doubt. He recently passed a fitness test but match-fitness is another mountain to climb. He played his last international in 2010 and has not played first class cricket for a year. Replacing Azhar Ali, Umar Akmal or Asad Shafiq at this stage would seem a little premature. Ideally, he should first score some runs in the domestic circuit before he can warrant a place in the fragile batting line-up.

There are others who have expressed an interest in making comebacks as well.

Malik will be looking to get his contract back and with local T-20 success he seems to have at least a good shot at one format
of the game.

Kamran Akmalís glove work looks best when it is not seen or discussed; his batting prolonged his career for a few years but he few innings in domestic cricket havenít yielded much. Adnan Akmal is a regular with the gloves in the test squad and Sarfraz Ahmed in ODIs. And Misbah has yet figure out the ideal T20 combination. Kamran landing a contract seems out of question at this stage but stranger things have happened.

Azhar Mahmood, another 37-year-old recently threw his name out there, just in case the selectors were still interested. Coming off a fairly successful run in the ongoing IPL, Mahmood announced he was still available for Pakistan, despite having represented the country over five years ago. After helping Surrey win the first T20 cup ever held in 2003, he has become a veteran and a specialist in the format racking up healthy numbers with both bat and ball. His recent form took Auckland to a T20 cup win in New Zealand and he signed a contract for around 18 million rupees for a 7-week IPL stint. Why he has never played T20 internationals is unknown. Should the PCB let him take his last gasp in Pakistan colours in an attempt to regain the T20 World Championship?

The all-rounder always preferred over him was Abdul Razzaq but now Ďfaujiísí contract is also not guaranteed.

Pakistanís fast bowling resources have never looked this lacklustre since its inaugural test match in 1952 where Khan Mohammad and Fazal Mahmood spearheaded the attack. Pakistan desperately searches for that extra zip in a three-day training camp at the NCA this week. Twelve potentials are being assessed under the supervision of Dav Whatmore. New talent Bilawal Bhatti, Tabish Khan, Sadaf Hussain, Rahat Ali and Imran Khan reported while previously seen Mohammad Talha, Junaid Khan, Sohail Khan, Anwar Ali and Mohammad Khalil are in the mix along with old timers Mohammad Sami and Rao Iftikhar Anjum. Who gets the final nod may be influenced by the practice game performances and the coachís report.
Shahid Afridi is almost certainly going to get an upper bracket contract while he is also touted to be the potential leader in one or both shorter formats of the game.

But it is a pity how careers of greats like Mohammad Yousuf are often incoherently cut short; perhaps the PCB needs to take a leaf out of BCCIís treatment towards Sachin or that of CAís towards Ponting. However, some blame has to be borne by the aggrieved; it does take two to tango.

The financially crippled PCB currently has 29 contracted players, only behind India at 36 while Australia has 25, South Africa has 22 and England has 17. Salaried cricketers like Sharjeel Khan have seen their contracts expire before they could make their international debut while those not in the contracted list like Nasir Jamshed regularly feature in the playing eleven. Ironically, both are 22-year-old left-hand opening batsmen.

The absurdity is equivalent to a factory paying full wages to an idle workforce while they outsource manufacturing. In Pakistan though nothing ceases to amuse and nothing seems to surprise.

The board needs to back its players and offer a one year contract instead of a ridiculous six months, last of which expired on 31st Dec 2011. Also, more importantly it needs to utilise the players on the payroll.

If a former discarded player comes off a domestic season with a 1000 runs or 50 wickets under his belt, he should surely be given a chance to make a comeback. Fitness tests and past services alone should not mean a free pass into the national team.

PCB is due to finally renew contracts this month which will indicate the line it will toe.

Any rally driver would say that when you see someone in your rear view mirror edging closer you know he is catching up and if he comes into touching distance the cardinal rule of racing says you have to move and make way for him. This does not mean that you stop your vehicle or slow down but it only means you go faster and let him earn his spot.

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