The management of the game has for a long time been based on trade-offs, not talent and national interest I came, I saw and I conked out” is what the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must have said several times during the first hundred days as a new bouncer of problems was hurled at him one after the other, and he seemed unable to maneuver his way out.
We know that he is not adept at ducking. Imran Khan’s bouncers were always deadly, and he still seems to retain some vigour. But medium pacers like Khurshid Shah are giving Sharif the run around; he keeps playing and missing, unable to handle even a very slight movement, and at this rate Shah will nab his wicket! Sharif was never a great batsmen nor did he have a great cricketing mind but this time around all the cracks are visible; probably the serious crises the team is facing are overwhelming for him. Sharif knew the state of affairs when he took on the captaincy, but as usual, he thought that he could make a few more stadia (read motorways) and coaching centres (read hi-speed trains), this time a few outside of his beloved Punjab also, and that would solve all problems.
Once one starts talking of cricket it can be never ending, but then the problems of the nation and the national game are so entwined that you can’t visualise one from the other. The whole country has always been a series of one-day matches for the rulers, purely a game with betting in billions. Each time a home side wicket falls (read Supreme Court issue a suo motu for the big fish), there is money to be made. Each time a sixer is hit by the home side (read billions embezzled from major public corporation), there is yet more money to make. Everything is fixed in this great country of ours, the ruling classes just cannot lose at whatever they play at. “All play and no responsibility makes Jack a fun boy” is the ideal. Asif Zardari and his lot just completed their innings making the lowest ever total in the country’s history, but still managing to grab all the prizes rather proudly; our national team has no shame anymore. No shame, no game, nothing is the same in our cricketing world. To build a team takes a lot of time and hard work at the grassroots, but how do we inculcate shame and moral fibre?
The Imran Khan’s team is too weak and as he is getting on in years, he cannot operate as an all rounder anymore. Khan must now play as a batsman, he should only bowl when Sharif comes to bat. One always wonders when Sharif can play with a straight bat why he cannot maintain his stance; invariably, the ball ends up in the hands of a close in fielder. Batting is not just about technique it has lot to do with character and temperament. The prime minister has captained the side twice before but his batting average is poor — under 20 — and we hardly won any matches during his captaincy. So then why has he been made captain a third time? Silly question, as the chairman of PCB, Mr Zardari decided that keeping in view Sharif’s strength in the general body of PCB, it would be a good reciprocal gesture to not stand in his way. After all, Sharif allowed Zardari to make two captains and himself chairman. All part of a fixed and friendly sport where “you win one match and I win the other.” Such a cosy arrangement keeps the powerful security department at bay, at least in name, otherwise, “while the two of us were fighting they made hay too often and we have been left licking our injuries.”
The management of the game has for a long time been based on trade-offs, not talent and national interests. Therefore, indiscipline, cheating, breaking the law and flouting rules have become common practice, as there is no accountability, no disciplinary action at all. The new but old captain has not been able to come to grips with the prevailing crises, which threaten the very survival of the national game. Can Sharif change? Can he stop dithering on the crease and play the cover drives, and the leg glances that his team needs him to play? People say it is too late for him to change now. We also know that we cannot remove him as he has a firm grip on the PCB’s general body and the pesky ICC is on our backs for democracy in cricket; there goes our ruler’s power, but we will maneuver them now that we have the astute Najam Sethi there.
Let’s get back to Khan of the so many fames; he is having a bit of a hard time in getting a team-in-waiting together. His present lot is not even good enough for KP XI. They do not even have a decent bloke to captain the provincial XI; rumour has it there could be some monkey business. And then he wanted to be both the captain and the coach! Now that’s called setting records also; if you cannot do it on the field, the dressing rooms will do! Fielding lapses, failing batsmen and ineffective bowlers make up this motley lot; there are just a few exceptions from the older team who are committed. Some new players were added who are just waiting for the right time to join the prime minister’s national team. At least he is easier to get along with, not a stickler for discipline like Khan, and does not mind the boys looking after their own interests as long as it’s done quietly.
Prime minister’s aging opening pair of Dar and Ch Nisar has not made any runs, being bogged down by the new ball attacks of creditors/budget and the TTP/mafia teams respectively. Sharif, coming one down, has problems dealing with Fazl’s leg spin. Fazl, in his younger days exhibited some guile, not now; the most reasonable batsmen read him easily. But he does manage to bowl Sharif round his legs time and again. In order to solve the problem in the desi way, Sharif asked Fazl to join his team. Fazl being as wily as his craft has kept Nawaz dangling.
With disarray here and the Khan now under attack by the whole cricketing establishment for saying we should talk to the terrorists who attacked the Sri Lankans, we cannot expect any rebuilding of his side at present. Their attacks have become so virulent all over the country that forget cricket, everything else is coming to a standstill, and people are dying all over. The economy is shattered, the State is borrowing like crazy and the Rupee touched 110 to a dollar. Can you imagine what a batsman would have to pay for a gray nicolls? At the best of times this economy has struggled, the poor have little to eat so one can forget their owning even a third rate cricket kit. Inspite of that the Miandad’s have come from the streets.
An All Pakistan Captains (APC) meeting decided unanimously that Nawaz Sharif should hold talks. It has been weeks and there is no sign of talks; Sharif as usual is dithering and unable to maintain his stance, keeps shuffling. All the other captains have backed out on a mere signal from the security and Sharif indecision is also based on the fact that they can remove him again. After investing large sums and spending so much time in the wilderness of foreign palaces, he probably feels he deserves the limelight and the time to recoup. He must be now regretting the induction of so many turncoats into his team whose loyalties are suspect, but who now form a substantial part of his majority. It is these newcomers who could be a part of the coup against his captaincy. Cricket has not been a gentlemen’s game for a while but dirty politics has been part of ours for long and getting worse as the mafia and crime syndicates have gained control, with that comes violence. There was a time when batsmen would walk if they nicked the ball, nowadays, that is an exception.
The way out would be for Sharif to give a date of, say, two weeks from now to these terrorists for unconditional talks to begin, in case, they do not come then we should be free to take all actions that are appropriate to save the game. That would stop the unnecessary howling and provide some satisfaction, at least momentarily, to the great Khan and at the same time put the security hopefully at rest. Not to forget the terrorists would receive a firm message and Sharif can get some bouncer practice; after all, cricket can only revive once peace is restored. Dailytimes