Sports

It isn’t Lahore vs. Karachi – its PCB’s Power Clan vs. Everyone Else

Sarfaraz untimely sacking reminds us where the real power resides

It isn’t Lahore vs. Karachi – its PCB's Power Clan vs. Everyone Else
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In his superb book “Wounded Tiger – the history of Pakistan Cricket”, Peter Oborne writes,

“In other ways, the early composition of the BCCP was a less exact reflection. Punjab, Sindh, and NWFP were well represented on the board. Baluchistan and East Pakistan – the other two provinces which came together at the creation of Pakistan – had no representatives at all. The omission of the thinly populated Western province of Baluchistan was merely insensitive. The omission of East Pakistan was an insult. Right from the beginning, it was excluded from National Pakistan Cricket, an estrangement that would have long-term consequences.”

Unsurprisingly, this is never mentioned in Pakistani Cricket circles. From day one, like much else in the newly formed country, the then BCCP’s setup was a power grab. Setting in stone a divisive culture. Blatantly telling citizens of the newly formed country who is welcomed and who isn’t. From 1948 to 2019 those power centres have solidified. Due to mass media presence (of which a large part is based in Karachi; thanks to Jang/GEO), there is a pretence of merit, while in fact, things are simply more veiled. It was never about equity, and asking for it means you…are a traitor.

The astounding sacking of Sarfaraz at the very least in T20Is touches a raw nerve. Wasim Khan, imported amidst much fanfare is becoming a pawn of that culture, which has defined Pakistan Cricket for generations now. There is certainly a feeling of anger and resentment in Karachi. The usual racist suspects like Shoaib Akhtar are taking advantage of the situation. But is it unexpected? No. This is the pattern we have seen in Pakistan Cricket for a very long time. And it isn’t Karachi vs. Lahore, rather its PCB clan vs. everyone else. You just have to rub them off the wrong way and your privileged background is invalidated.

It’s the manifestation of the ideology which circumvents a whole hiring process, goes through a sham procedure to make Misbah ul Haq the Kim Jong-un of Pakistan Cricket. Bear in mind that this the same administration that refused to pay Younus Khan 15 lakh rupees per month as a coach. The latter has experience of mentoring Peshawar Zalmi, while Misbah has none. Yet, the PCB is happy to pay him over 3 million a month but for Younus Khan, there are financial constraints. Rather they have hired, Ijaz Ahmed. Someone who had been arrested and charged for forgery. Is the under-19 team with forming minds the best place for such an individual? Is it because Ijaz and Misbah will tiptoe around the line given to them by the powers that be in PCB?

Why is Waqar Younus, the Ahmed Shehzad and Umer Akmal of coaches? Whether its captaincy, bowling coaching or head coaching, whenever he gets any leadership role, the end is always acrimonies. As captain, he had a fall out with half the team, as bowling coach in 2006, he fought with Saleem Altaf, in 2012, he had a public spat with Afridi, and then again in 2016 he left cursing the players.

Pakistan Cricket team is a mekkah for him. He comes, does as much damage he can, fights with everyone and goes back to his home in Australia. Add to that horrendous T20 and ODI results under his watch, and so many complaints about his behaviour by one and all who played under him, the PCB cannot find another candidate?  There are two World T20s coming up, can we bring back Afridi as captain and complete the dream team that gave us World T20 2016?

It’s the same process that makes a returning Mohammad Rizwan the vice-captain of the T20 side.  It ignores Rizwan’s franchise captain Imad Wasim, a permanent fixture in the side while giving authority to someone whose strike rate is 100 and an average of 16 in T20Is. Will Imad Wasim upset the apple cart? Will he call out PCB for their closed-door policy? Rizwan, if you are unaware was part of the team Misbah played for in domestic Cricket, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited for many years. And for the record, in five matches in Australia Rizwan has scored 21 runs at the strike rate of 69. Does he merit this sudden promotion at the very least as vice-captain? Is Misbah simply covering his basis?

Why do Ahmed Shehzad and Umer Akmal keep getting chances based on ‘domestic’ numbers while Khurram Manzoor and Abid Ali, with as good if the not better numbers isn’t picked? Why is Shan Masood talked up as captain as soon as he gets in the side? How many openers have been given as many chances as Shan to succeed? With Pakistan or Pakistan A? How many Pakistani cricketers have been given five straight ODIs to prove their worth? Certainly not Sami Aslam. Why? Umer Amin for some odd reason was earmarked for some unknown reason as a leadership role in 2013, today six years down the line, he is the captain of most domestic sides he plays for.

Why can’t Fawad Alam be given a chance but Harris Sohail can walk into the test side, without having played a first-class match in three years? Saad Ali is selected and dropped ahead of Fawad Alam. Why? Because the media won’t question the cycle when it’s Saad Ali rather than Fawad Alam? Why does Najam Sethi label Fawad Alam a ‘Karachi’ issue?

Sadaf Hussain toils at the lower level, as does Tabish Khan. But a 25-year-old Asad Ali is given a debut in a non-televised match and subsequently dropped after being anonymous as expected. Was it to ensure he plays a few international games and gets a league contract in England? Incidentally, Asad Ali also played for the same domestic side as Misbah ul Haq, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited.

Junaid Khan has had his problems with injuries but before that, he had a spat with Waqar Younus. His career has pretty much gone downhill from there. Again a 50-50 call that seems to be going in favour of Mohammad Imran Senior. Was his dropping unjustified by Mickey Arthur? In his last test in Australia, he went for 4.6 RPO, giving away almost 150 runs for two wickets. Now simply because Waqar Younus favours him, he is back in the frame for the Australia tour.  Has he performed in domestic Cricket? No. Currently, there are 19 bowlers in the on-going QEA Trophy with more wickets than him. There are ten pacers who are ahead of him in the table, including all-rounders like Amir Yamin and Amad Butt. Unless Imran Khan has suddenly starting bowling at 90 miles per hour or become a promising teenager, it looks a peculiar move to bring him back. There would be only one reason, he is part of the Waqar Younus clan.

Why recalling Ahmed Shehzad makes very little sense

Our history is littered with such sad tales. Younus Khan the man to lead the side to a global ICC tournament (senior side) after 17 years, was forced out by a mix of parliamentary overreach owing to Jamshed Dasti and a bunch of players high on power. Rashid Latif was given the reins of a depleted side after the 2003 World Cup, but months later he was shown the door to welcome back Inzamam ul Haq. No explanation was offered.

There are no barriers, but the bar is higher for some players than others. When the call is 50-50 or heck 80-20, it goes in favour of this PCB clique. You have to do extra to break into it as Sarfaraz did. He won the U19 World Cup as a leader, became the best performer of the side for a couple of years, reached the PSL final to become a contender.

As opposed to Azhar Ali, who wasn’t in the World Cup squad but just walked in as captain because Misbah n Waqar liked him. Subsequently, he left the team in tatters, struggling to qualify for the World Cup. Now he has come in as test captain at a time when he has struggled with the bat for a good part of two years. Assurances have been given that this will be a long term role, as opposed to Sarfaraz who was appointed on a ‘series to series’ basis. A proven failure at international and PSL level as captain, in comparison to Sarfaraz’s career record and the difference in treatment, cannot be more different. It cannot be more obvious who the PCB regime is more comfortable with.

In February 2017, Azhar Ali resigned as a test vice-captain to focus on his “game”. Instead, the vice-captaincy fell in the lap of Asad Shafiq. Since, that time Asad Shafiq has scored his test runs at an average of 33, while Azhar Ali’s average has been 31. What is the point of having a test vice-captain when you are not going to consider a promotion when the time comes? What happened to the ‘focus on my batting’ idea of Azhar Ali? In the last three-match series in South Africa, Azhar Ali’s average was 9. In the past two years, his average is 25. What has Asad Shafiq done wrong and Azhar Ali so right to deserve this reward?

Babar Azam, who is Pakistan’s only world-class white-ball batsman, bats at three and fields at slip, why has he been given even more responsibility? What happens if Babar Azam loses form? Do we have a replacement? The Australians will target him relentlessly. Why change something if it’s working? At Karachi Kings, Mickey Arthur didn’t see him as a captain.  He will be playing under his franchise captain. Will the PCB now force Karachi Kings to dethrone Imad and make Babar the captain?

People ask this rather passive-aggressive question, “wasn’t Sarfaraz from Karachi, when he was appointed”. He was given the captaincy after the PCB’s favourite had driven the team to the ground. Whereas, Azhar Ali only had to be favoured by Misbah ul Haq and Waqar Younus to not only come back in the team but also be named a captain after the 2015 World Cup.

When it came to Azhar Ali, he had to drive the team to 9th in ODI rankings to get the sack. For Sarfaraz, a situation was created where a perfectly working team was torn apart to accommodate two of PCB’s favourites. The results were largely down to Misbah’s team selection but the cost is to be paid by Sarfaraz?

The bar for becoming captain is higher for Imad Wasim, Sarfaraz Ahmed, and Asad Shafiq but lower for Azhar Ali? The trigger for sacking is much lower for Sarfaraz and higher for Azhar Ali? This is what people are unable to comprehend. A case albeit a week one can be made for sacking Sarfaraz based on selective numbers. But how Azhar Ali ends up as test captain and Rizwan as T20I vice-captain is incomprehensible.

People with racial studies background ask this question often. Obama had to be the best damn speaker, an adored senator and pander to republicans to win, Trump turned up, made racist comments and he won. Demands are different for some people.

And that is why people are enraged by this decision. In isolation, this decision can be debated. But as a collective when you see it, the names which come out are almost always in favour of a PCB’s in-house candidate, almost always. Familiarity seems to be the requirement to get a job at the PCB. The anger is understandable and given the history of the racial divide in the country, it will not die down soon. Especially, if Misbah and Waqar can’t change the results soon.

To make the change at the cusp of the traditionally most difficult tour in the calendar makes it all that more stupid. Given the backlash PCB has already got, would they be able to withstand a 5-0 scoreline? Can Misbah hold on to unprecedented power, much longer in such an event? With a Word T20 coming in under a year, there would be calls to bring back bandana-wearing Shoaib Malik back as captain. The original pre-world cup plan all over again. What if Babar loses form with the Aussies putting him under relentless pressure? The sheer stupidity of this move is simply astounding.

Sarfaraz is a serial winner, with two 2 ICC trophies and a PSL trophy in the cabinet. Had Pakistan been a safer country, one would have expected the Gladiators to win at least one more trophy. The team was one loss away from not qualifying directly to the World Cup and that team finished 5th eventually, drew a series in England with an entirely new team, has led to the domination of the T20 for two years like no Pakistani team in history in any format. The audacity to tell us that this has been Sarfaraz’s own fault, it’s astonishing, preposterous and insane. This decision adds to the long list atrocious decisions against legends like Mian Saeed, Hanif Mohammad, Mushtaq Mohammad, Javed Miandad, and Younus Khan.

The sooner Wasim Khan realizes this the better. Let’s hope it’s before SimonGoBack becomes a hashtag.  As for greater structural reform in Pakistan and Pakistan Cricket, that is a dream too far fetched. Let Cricket be the drug!

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