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Humayun Gauhar | 16 NOVEMBER, 2014

Obvious solutions for simple problems made complex

Pakistan cricket captain Misbah ul Haq


In all the gloom that Pakistanis have had to unnecessarily face for years (nobody’s fault except our own) at last some good news: the resurgence of Pakistan Test cricket and rise to number three from five in world ranking. But let’s not gets carried away.

What Pakistan badly needs is a ray of hope in everything, starting with governance while time is running out given galloping global change towards a new world order. Pakistan took the wrong turn in the beginning and has got lost and separated from the global herd. Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them. Someone better do before the Big Bad Wolf arrives and gobbles them up. He doesn’t come front on because the sheep have morphed into fire-breathing dragons what with untrammelled terrorism and the rise of the growing militant, primitive national mindset. The Big Bad Wolf will lays traps and the fire breathing sheep will stupidly fall into them. Why? Because the shepherds are all agents of the Big Bad Wolf while those wanting to eject these shepherds are attacked by terrorism charges that would lock them in the pen. Unless the sheep themselves stampede back towards the herd they will be slaughtered. Lamb roast, anyone, with mint sauce and jelly?

There are few things that un-tie Pakistanis like cricket does, one of the better legacies of the British Empire. Many think that American baseball is based on cricket, but actually it is based on an Irish game called ‘Rounders’. Cricket is cricket, in many parts of the world a veritable religion. Competition is great. So is corruption and illegal betting.

Corruption has defaced cricket over the last three decades. The corrupt betting capital of the world is Bombay with powerful branches in the UAE and South Africa, Pakistan and England run mostly by Pakistanis and Indians – remember the odious Mazhar Majeed who inveigled three Pakistani cricketers, including our then captain (another Butt) to do ‘spot’ or ‘fancy’ fixing to deliberately bowl illegal no balls. One of the fast bowlers was young Mohammad Aamir, then 17, who was pressured to do the wrong thing by his captain with Mazhar Majeed seducing them with visions of pots of gold all for giving a scoop to a gutter Murdoch-owned Sunday newspaper, ‘News of the World’, since defunct for corruption itself. Not surprisingly Aamir fell for it given his poor background and lack of education. Our three cricketers were banned from all forms of cricket for five years. Worse, it caused great embarrassment to the country and rocked Pakistani cricket to the core, losing two potentially great fast bowlers. Morale went subterranean.

Enter Misbah ul Haq as captain, one of the few good decisions our cricket establishment suffering huge government interference has taken lately. First and foremost, he brought stability to the team in the face of great-unlettered interference from the cricket board and the selectors, many of whom comprise failed cricketers looking for a living and thus are willing ‘yes men’ to the cricket establishment.

To be sure cricketers of other countries have been caught too for falling to the wiles of pundits, betting syndicates, match and spot fixers, the most famous of them being Hansie Cronje, the late South African captain who died in a private plane crash that many suspect was murder by South African betters to shut his mouth for ever. So too one Hanif Cadbury, a Pakistani match fixer who was mugged and murdered on a South African street.

What were the reasons for Pakistan cricket’s unexpected resurgence in the UAE after the drubbing it received from Australia in the only T-20 (in which each team bowls 20 legal overs each) and two One Day Internationals or ODIs in which each side bowls 50 legal overs, both comprising six balls per over? Then suddenly Pakistan turned turned the tables by thrashing second-ranked Australia in the two five-day Test matches that followed and totally outplayed New Zealand in the first Test. The wins were comprehensive. Records were broken, the most memorable of which was Pakistan winning 15 Test matches under the captaincy of Misbah, the most after Imran Khan and Javed Miandad who won 14 Tests each as captain in more Test matches. This statistic has made Misbah ul Haq the most successful captain in the history of Pakistan cricket. The number could go up because there are two more Tests to be played against New Zealand in the UAE.

The other was the return of the 36-year old batsman Yunas Khan with his long experience and infectious never-say-die attitude. The team selectors of the Pakistan Cricket Board or PCB were perhaps on their way to trashing Yunas, particularly because he is very emotional and shoots from the hip, speaks first and thinks later, though most of what he says is correct. So when they dropped him from the T-20 and One Day squads for the UAE, Yunas’s passion spilled over, particularly as the ODI World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is nigh. Doesn’t make sense so near the mega event to drop your best batsman, especially when you don’t have experienced talent that understands playing conditions ‘Down Under’ to replace him. Yunas was selected for the Test squad and he rubbed the selectors’ noses in the mud by scoring three centuries on the trot, one of them a double hundred against Australia. So did Misbah, three consecutive centuries in three Tests. He spoke with his bat and soundly silenced his critics not only with his three back-to-back centuries but also breaking the world record for the fastest Test 50 and equaling Sir Vivian Richards’s record for the fastest Test hundred. No longer is he lampooned as a slow batsmen and his pejorative nickname ‘Tuk Tuk’ and been replaced by ‘Dhoom Dhoom’ meaning fame and he has also taken the title of ‘Boom Boom’ from the erratic but exciting Shahid Afridi who can turn a match in a few overs once in a while. Misbah is now in top company with the great Viv Richards.

The younger lot also came into its own, with opener Ahmed Shehzad scoring two centuries before being felled by a bouncer, batsman Azhar Ali scoring two centuries in both innings of a match and Asad Shafiq chipping in with a good score the only time he got a chance. All rounder Hafeez also rescued his career by scoring a century and a near century, chipping in with a few wickets and bottling up the scoring rate of the opposition. The problem was that the top order batted so well that likes of Asad Shafiq and wicketkeeper Sarfaraz didn’t get a chance to show off their batting mettle. Nice problem to have.

Before this the knives were out for Misbah with many wanting him removed as captain at the very least, saying that he has too defensive a mindset and that at 40 he was past it anyway. He and Yunas, the two oldest players also happen to be the fittest. Most of Misbah’s detractors were conniving and conspiring space in a sick politics-ridden cricket establishment. Remember, the Pakistan Cricket Board or PCB is a very rich body and the chances of its officials lining their pockets and getting freebees are huge. A besieged captain Misbah, unsure of his place, caught betwixt ifs and buts, letting should I wait upon shouldn’t I, suddenly found the confidence to take risks when the PCB announced that he would remain captain till the World Cup. That was the simple thing that turned the mouse into a lion. Obvious, but not to those without understanding or intellectual integrity and a lack of understanding of the game. Ambassador Shaharyar Ahmed’s election as PCB president turned things around because not only does he understand the tame but has cut his teeth in diplomacy. He is not pedigree-less, very educated and his intentions and integrity are above doubt. He was PCB President once before but after the ridiculous Oval Test controversy he was replaced by the American-Pakistani Naseem Ashraf better known as ‘Dr. Who’ who knew more about baseball than cricket. His successors were also political appointees and Pakistan cricket started going to the dogs facing repeated embarrassments, the worst being the understandable refusal of foreign teams to play in Pakistan after the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore. It was not only embarrassing but the height of incompetence by the PCB and the Punjab government. We are still paying a huge price for it. Without international cricket on our soil our cricketers have done an amazing job by becoming the third-ranked Test team in the world. But then you always find a diamond in the mud. Our diamonds are cut and chiseled by our local cricket and the fixated desire of our boys to become the best and represent their countries. We have so much raw talent that we could easily set up three teams to play against one another for top-level practice and choose our final squads from them in all three formats of the game.

Test cricket is real cricket. The two shorter versions, T-2- and ODI, are slam bam quickies for instant interest and quick bucks for gamblers. Betting syndicates and match fixers have a heyday and India is at the fore. Sadly, cricket’s international body, the ICC is suspected of no longer being independent but under inordinate influence (read blackmail). India has virtually taken over decision-making in the ICC. They came up with the idea of the so-called ‘Big Three’ (to which we sadly bent) who would have a greater say in cricket. ‘Big Three’ because they are not necessarily the best but because they attract more dollars. When you start worshiping the Golden Calf and start worshiping wealth you fall into the hands of Dr. Faustus, the gamblers who are really calling the shots. Why, many a cricket boss – and ‘boss is the right word – is also part of the gambling syndicates or at least in their clutches. Sadly, the ICC compromised and legitimized the T-20 Indian Professional League or IPL comprising clubs owned by Indian magnates with film stars fronting for them to add cheap glitz and glamour – all for making more and more money at the cost of the game. No wonder Indians call the IPL ‘Indian Paisa Laundering’. Result: a happy legalized hunting ground for gambling syndicates, the ruination of the morals and techniques of cricketers and interest distracted from real cricket. Mercifully, Indian prejudice doesn’t select Pakistani cricketers for the IPL so our players are less affected by betting syndicates. Like the world, cricket is also going through change but not, it seems, for the better at least in the short term. Cricket is no longer a game but a business and when the Golden Calf rules deceit, deception and corruption follow. Maybe I’m an old-fashioned purist, but that’s the way it is. I make no apologies for it.

Now all focus is on the World Cup. But with Pakistan Test cricket on the rise, we should abjure from fooling around with the balance of the team while making teams for shorter shambolic cricket versions. We have to remember that Test cricket is diametrically opposite to the shorter versions. In Test cricket bowlers win matches because they have to take 20 wickets in two innings. In the shambolic versions, batsmen win matches because what matters is scoring more runs than the opposition no matter how many wickets fall. The former is more a bowler’s game in which batsmen have to give them a good total to bowl with. In shambolic cricket the batsmen have to score the maximum runs at a high rate while bowlers only have to ensure that the opposition doesn’t score more runs. Sure taking wickets reduces the run rate, but the more important thing is to bottle up the other side’s scoring rate. So batsmen facing or creating targets are forced to play unorthodox shots that become bad habits when it comes to real cricket. That is why the tendency now is to have two separate teams for pure and impure cricket. Thus all the cricketers of the Pakistan team cannot be included in the One Day squad. Faster scorers will have to be included. Selectors would be inclined to include more tried and tested injured bowlers if they get fit. Most understandable because the purpose is to win. But do not, whatever you do, upset the balance of the present Test team without good reason.

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