Self-destruction Masood Hasan Sunday, April 03, 2011

Vows are made to be broken. I swore to myself not to utter a word about cricket and here I am on the cursed subject again but when an entire team self-impales on the business end of six stumps and sinks without a sigh, what can you do but vent? The mad hype fanned by a government far too willing to distract its swelling and disappointed people had already crossed limits. Taking 85 loafers on a junket was in bad taste and further confirmation that happiness is freeloading.

The media channels with screaming self-appointed critics and connoisseurs ranted, raved, foamed and let fly thousands of ill-founded opinions, adding more chillies to the curry and chaos and disarray to a nation in search of any identity.

And then it was all over.

Like a deflated balloon we made a feeble hissing sound and shrank to the size of a nut. We handed the surprised Indians an undeserved victory. ‘Bhagwan,’ they must have said. ‘What did we do to deserve this glorious gift?’

Now the soul searching has begun. The pundits are everywhere holding forth. Thousands of theories and opinions pock mark the landscape but the public, the cheering, shouting folks whose drab lives were lightened up briefly, have gone silent. Thursday morning saw a very quiet Pakistan. Another hold up at the cross roads. Another improbable dream gone up in smoke.

As in most mega disasters there are culprits and arch villains - some obvious and upfront like the zombie Umar Gul (duh?) and others camouflaged in the woodwork. What in the world happened to Gul? In critical games he has come apart before. And he did it again. He was clueless. So was his captain, who never thought of replacing Gul with another bowler. The deputy, Mr Cricket, the strange Misbah-ul-Haq was nowhere to be seen counselling Gul who was raped and plundered at the same time. Afridi a man, who has a lot of enthusiasm but not an iota of a cricketing brain, simply couldn’t counter Gul’s failure and the Indians’ savage attack.

Afridi had no game plan. He never did. His field placing was guided by only one principle. ‘Plug the Gap.’ Wherever there was a scoring shot, a man was immediately placed to prevent it. Since a cricket ground is large and there are only nine fielders, this posed problems. Our aggression disappeared, replaced by a ball to ball policy. And then the seven dropped catches and stumping!

Tendulkar, who is too much to handle in just one inning, got four incredible lives. He finally went, out of embarrassment rather than a good ball. Any team including the Mozang Lafangas I watch occasionally cannot drop any batsman four times and live to tell the tale. But Tendulkar? Bhagwan have mercy.

And when we batted, the miserable Younis Khan who has scored less runs than my parrot came and went grinning. Call it quits Khan Sahib and start a quack shop in Swabi. The manner in which ‘set’ batsmen simply threw away their wickets was suicidal. Shot selection was beyond belief. And My Captain, My Captain Afridi? What kind of shot did he hit? Even his little daughter begged him not to! Is there a small mind occasionally spluttering into life up there in the Afridi head? I guess not. Yes he is all fired up and enthusiastic, but that does not win you crunch games.

Of the Akmal brothers hara kiri comes to mind. Constable Razzak (he looks like one) had another miserable day. His promise to deliver at the right time comes is the same as the Rehman Malik-Asif Zardari ploy to reveal the names of BB’s killers. And pray why did we not take the power play? Please, one good plausible reason. I think they just forgot.

The Think Tank may look like a tank, but think it cannot. The Manager looked derelict and cross, sitting passively at one end. The bowling coach, his face cast in stone like the Sphinx, had no interaction with the rest of the Tank. They looked like strangers on a train. No computers, no writing pads and no notes. They were tuned out from the commentary where the experts were still able to indicate where things were going wrong.

The Pakistanis just could not handle the pressure of the big game and fell apart. Even then - after Gul’s great bowling spell and the dropped catches, the target remained reachable. But we flopped miserably and inexplicably.

You might remember the great PCB with days to go still couldn’t decide who would captain Pakistan. The team composition was a right royal mess with speculation running high as PCB snored. A visit to New Zealand solved nothing. Back home it was guessing time till the captain was chosen after a full drama staged by that great Shakespearean actor, Butt the Elder.

With our team shuttling in and around playing matches wherever possible, three of our super jocks in criminal court and us dubbed as the cheats of the world, it is still commendable that the Yobs were able to reach the semi-final in some style.

But as so often happens - the Pakistan team does this repeatedly - it takes you to dizzying heights, then drops you like a stone. After each disastrous World Cup outing, we have returned with officials resolutely promising that planning for the next encounter four years later would begin now in earnest and then, days before the big game, we would still be guessing who would be in the squad and who would lead it. How can anyone perform under such circumstances? That way Afridi and the ‘buoys’ did well.

If Pakistan is serious about cricket, the PCB must be disbanded and cleansed till the last of the idiots who mismanage it are sent packing. Nothing else will do. All those ‘professional’ experts that are nesting in the PCB’s rafters must be thrown out. The Yobs are just jocks. They need an intense amount of coaching.

Cricket is a mental game not just running about on the ground. The boys who are fresh off the trees need to be guided and taught, from conducting themselves on and off the field to their awfully embarrassing interviews to international media. Above everything, they need to be coached to understand the game in all its dimensions. Educated, truly experienced and men of caliber are needed to set Pakistani cricket on the right track. Talent is great but without training and hard work, it is nothing. And the great change must start now.

As for cricket diplomacy, the expensive junket did little to set things right. While Mr Singh and Ms Gandhi were elegant in their national dresses, our Made in Multan PM showed up in a blazer but by early evening had seen it fit to change into a classy suit, no doubt of European pedigree. Wow, sir, wow.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email:

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