Flared emotions - Imran Husain - 19th November 2013

A correction of cricketing course absolute necessity

I have gone full circle in the last ten days. From a scorching, in more ways than one, Karachi to racy yet peaceful Dubai on to a snowy, wet Southern Germany, back to a cricket engulfed Dubai and then home with headlines screaming even more bloodshed all over. Mixed emotions, a glaring understatement!

Watching and following Pakistan’s cricket has become extremely stressful. Seems I am full of understatements today. A level of helplessness pervades the soul especially when it’s possible to sit and predict the follies to come. And one by one you are proven correct. From a virtually impregnable position to abject surrender! How many times have we been there in the last weeks?

You’d imagine a correction of course is an absolute necessity. It’s certainly not what the bosses appear to see. A quickly arranged tour to South Africa, as if the current thrashing in ‘friendly’ surroundings was not enough, sees the same motley men jumping on board the plane. If there were raised eyebrows on the selection of some resurrected from the discards pile for Dubai then those eyebrows are literally being lifted off the face.

“Well left!” one can shout at Razzaq. But why blame him? It’s not his fault. Like everyone else he is keen to play and pack some dollars in his pockets. The blame lies on the buffoons who selected him. And shamelessly keep doing so. And Razzaq as we know isn’t the only one. The real blame lies, without any doubt, on those who ‘manage’ cricket. Take one look at them. They wouldn’t pass muster anywhere.

And so much for ‘protecting’ Irfan! It’s funny how extremes overlap in our minds. Either you handle a guy with kid’s gloves or you send him in to bat in a completely lost situation and expose his injury to further aggravation. I mean with Dale Steyn bowling was either Razzaq or Ajmal seriously expected to get the 15 odd runs due at the time? The match was over, why risk the damage?

We are all taking about Pakistan’s bowling being great. No doubt it is and it has delivered each time, against the world’s best. But there is no denying that it’s not a young bowling side. Its twilight is nearing. And instead of bringing youngsters into the fold the long in the tooth variety is patronized. There was even talk among commentators about what a great finisher Umar Gul is. Yes that’s true a great finisher indeed – 26 runs off the last over last time out I recall! It’s a peculiar mindset.

Let me give you a small example. Razzaq got a zero in batting, did very average bowling and is an old man in the field. If a youngster had been picked he could not have done any worse. He certainly could not have scored minus zero. So what is it that drives selectors back to the ‘old’ list? Shoaib, Razzak, Afridi and the like do not merit inclusion. That is the long and the short of it. That cricket pundits in Pakistan have failed miserably is no secret. The entire brain pool, I suspect ‘brain’ plays little part, has been tried repeatedly and not risen to the occasion even a single time. The last real success is a distant memory.

One hoped Sethi would bring some order and rationale into the thinking process, but he has been a disappointment. Perhaps the judicial process, to some extent, has hamstrung him, but that is in the operations aspect. In the cricketing aspect he has sought a populist way forward. I keep writing cricket in Pakistan needs a revolution not tinkering. Keeping the background in mind I would have thought Sethi might be the right man to do this. Alas, it appears he has fallen foul of the age factor as well.

Across the border cricket appears to be a different species altogether. Young players, seemingly already accomplished, appear to be crawling out of the woodwork. Innumerable top class batsmen, superb bowlers and most of all top class complete cricketers dominate the radar. Indian cricket is on a roll to say the least. There must be some lessons we can learn.

A legend bowed out last week but left behind probable legends for the future. Tendulkar’s domination of Indian cricket has been extreme. Not just Indian cricket but recognition as possibly the greatest cricketer in the game’s history. The man built his reputation not only as a great cricketerbut as one who carried the essentials of life, character, humility, accessibility and social responsibilities, as prime focus. His determination and focus a superb example for all to follow. Nearly a quarter century on, and he still played superb, beautiful cricket. I will always remember the off-drive giving him his last 50. Hats off!

Tendulkar saw other greats in the Indian team come and go. Gavaskar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, Sehwag. Each one a giant individually, and lethal collectively. But that is the past, look at the team he is leaving behind. It is a run-machine. The batting is endless. literally. They have set targets successfully; they have chased successfully and defended successfully – in the process making a huge name for themselves. Their popularity among spectators is phenomenal. Of course, they have a huge indigenous following, enhanced even more by the success of the IPL making cricket a genuine spectator sport. But the last series against a brilliant Australian team will be remembered as a milestone in the promotion of positive cricket.

So India is a huge country, population extending to beyond 1.2 billion, but in relative terms Pakistan is no small country, population 180 million plus. Why is it then that the Indians are turning out top cricketers and we are recycling ours? Why is it that Kohli can create fear in the hearts of opponents each time and ours make us cross our fingers and hope for the best. We seek survival and they are gladiators. That is the difference.

The cricketers of yore that Pakistan’s establishment wishes to rely on were themselves survivors and therefore cannot think as gladiators. The gladiators we had are sitting on the sidelines, perhaps otherwise occupied or unwilling to enter the fray. Imran is immersed in politics. Wasim and Waqar seem satisfied to be out of it. Miandad is out by being in and playing a pathetic role. There is neither cohesive thought nor effort to bring this revolution. It is not an impossible task. The talent exists. It must exist.

Let me continue to ram my head in the wall hoping someone might make some sense out of it. Sethi should order the setting up of three equally talented teams in the country. This means only 33 top players, its not asking for much. And set these teams to play serious matches against one and another. Pitting Pakistan’s best against Pakistan’s best. The ‘Best’ here means best, not your cousins or mine, or some joker’s favorite. Play a series of matches repeatedly and let the crowds come and watch for free.

Get the commercial organisations supporting teams to buy regional and city teams and restore the glory of the Quaid’s and President’s trophies. When ‘one’s own’ team plays, the fans support with fervour. When ‘X’ bank plays ‘Y’ bank it promotes no interest at all. Look at the IPL. Teams maybe owned by individuals but they represent cities; hence the fervour, the sense of ownership.

Ownership and participation is completely lacking in Pakistan cricket. Like in everything else be it politics or otherwise, with only a handful reaping the glory while others are just bystanders. Open this door, please. We, Pakistanis love this game. Do not deny us because of your lack of capacity and vision.