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P is for Pariah

Sunday, 21 September 2008 - 4:05am IST

There was a time when Pakistan cricket was all about the suavity of Imran Khan and the street-smartness of Javed Miandad.

From being a force to reckon with in world cricket to joining the league
of mediocrity, it has been a hell of a decline for Pakistan. Ankita Pandey talks to the stalwarts of the game in the troubled nation and tries to figure out just when and how it went all wrong…

There was a time when Pakistan cricket was all about the suavity of Imran Khan and the street-smartness of Javed Miandad. Then came Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, the most feared hunters of the game. Inzamam-ul-Haq brought not just his bulk but such tremendous weight of talent that many gave in under it.

Somewhere since, the game in the troubled nation seems to have lost its way. Gone are the days of raw aggression and maverick genius that terrorised even the bravest of hearts and made admirers of fiercest foes.

“Humein haarna namanzoor tha (Defeat was unacceptable to us). Hum sabhi mein josh tha (all of us played with a lot of passion)… I don’t see that anymore,” says Javed
Miandad, former captain and one of Pakistan’s all-time greats and the only cricketer to have played in the six World Cups.

Asif Iqbal, former captain, agrees that change in Pakistan cricketers’ attitude has affected the game.

“The 80s and the 90s were certainly the best years of Pakistan cricket… Even early 2000. Somewhere between early 2002 and 2003 we saw a tremendous change in the players’ attitude towards the game,” he says.

“By this I mean that cricket took backstage and senior players in particular led the decline in team ethics and discipline. The juniors lacked proper encouragement and opportunities as the old brigade clung to each other and kept a tight hold on the reigns.
Not necessarily for cricketing reasons. Sporting culture was no longer a part of the dressing room.”

In 2008, Pakistan have not played a single Test at home. The last non-subcontinent side to tour Pakistan were Zimbabwe, who played five ODIs in January-February 2008. Australia have not toured Pakistan for 10 years. New Zealand have kept their distance since 2002 and England came on a bilateral tour in 2005.

Miandad says the International Cricket Council (ICC) shouldn’t have let this happen.

“I am angry that teams such as Australia, New Zealand have opted to not tour Pakistan. It should not be their prerogative to decide… The ICC should look into this issue.

“It should determine whether the security conditions in a country are fit for cricket or not. Once ICC deems the conditions favourable, no country should be allowed to pull out. After all, it is the ruling body.”

Iqbal, much like the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) top officials, feels it is the double-standards of these nations and the ICC’s shoddy handling of various issues which have hit Pakistan hard.

“It is unfortunate that foreign teams are unwilling to visit us. This, in spite of the fact that we hosted a peaceful and trouble-free Asia Cup. India recently experienced terrorism in Delhi and so did Sri Lanka. None of the tours were cancelled. To blame it on Pakistan politics is not right. The lack of cricket in Pakistan is mainly due to events beyond PCB’s control and to some extent ICC’s bad handling of the Champions Trophy scheduling,” he says.

However, internal problems have only served to expedite Pakistan’s isolation. The PCB chairman, Nasim Ashraf, one of former President Pervez Musharraf’s handpicked men, quit his post on August 18 — the same day Musharraf gave up his office.

The PCB is still to find a replacement and the unrest is evident. But, Miandad isn’t too optimistic that the replacement will bring about major changes.

“Our cricket is run by inefficient, disorganised people, who have little or no knowledge about the game. There is no accountability, the administration is incompetent and technical expertise is minimal,” he says.

Like Miandad, many in Pakistan believe there are lessons to be learnt from the BCCI, at least in the way the game has been marketed.

“India almost have a monopoly in cricket now. They’ve been smart and have marketed the game so well. They are now indispensable in world cricket. No country will ever refuse to tour India. That’s where the money and fame is.”

Miandad says Pakistan’s system needs to be shaken up a bit.

“We need former players to be more involved in the cricketing matters, former cricketers with powerful voices, who are not afraid to do things differently and in the interest of the game.

“Take for example, the current situation in India. Dilip Vengsarkar is the chairman of selectors. He was a great cricketer during his time and people respect his judgment. He told the “untouchables” — the big names like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid — to either perform or perish. Ganguly was dropped as was Dravid.

“In Pakistan, such a thing never happens. Tell me, how many matches have Shoaib Akhtar won for us in recent years. Yet, despite the controversies, he keeps coming back. Same is the case with someone like Shahid Afridi. He is not making any runs.
Game after game he keeps getting out due to his foolishness, yet shows no sign of having learnt from his mistakes. Yet he is tolerated,” says Miandad.

Pakistan cricket is suffering from a paucity of good, quality players. Domestic cricket has also taking a beating, with players opting to play in more lucrative tournaments abroad - like county cricket and even domestic cricket in Australia.

The advent of Twenty20 cricket has also completely changed the balance of power.
Players would rather travel to India for the Indian Premier League (IPL) or the Indian Cricket League (ICL) and fill their pockets than turn out for their domestic tournaments.
But this is not Pakistan’s problem alone.

“ICL and IPL are going to play havoc in the years to come as far as domestic cricket is concerned. This will not affect Pakistan alone as I foresee the rest of the world getting hit by the bug called Twenty/20. You will see a new breed of players taking centrestage. Drastic changes will come in the domestic set up,” says Iqbal. “One only hopes that it is for the better.”

Pakistan is a very important cog in world cricket’s wheel. ICC needs to ensure that the game is alive and kicking in that country. For Indians, Pakistan’s revival is even more important. After all, some of our best memories are of the games against our neighbours.

Remember the times when blue versus green wasn’t just another game it has become now. How our lives would come to a standstill. Remember when bravehearts took to the field and played not just for prize but pride and honour. Remember the fire in Wasim Akram’s eyes, remember when we feared Miandad could do anything, like hit a last ball six. Remember…

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