Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stupidity, of the highest order

Within the last few hours, we've had news coming in that Younis Khan has asked for a break from cricket and, therefore, Mohammed Yousuf has been appointed captain for the test series against New Zealand. The decision not only signals yet another period of turmoil in Pakistan cricket, but is also marked by stupid and senseless decisions all-round.

Firstly, the media has been told that Younis Khan has sought a break from cricket. If that is really the case, why? What made Younis take a break from test cricket - the only form of cricket he has consistently been good at? Had a one-day tour been coming up, it would have been understandable. Not only understandable, but also beneficial to the team (given Younis' poor form in Abu Dhabi). But after such a power struggle with Younis dictating his terms and conditions to resume captaincy after the Champions Trophy fiasco, all it required was a little sensibility from his side. Yet here he comes up with his new desire - wanting to go on a break. And what about Younis' statements of putting country first? Is he really putting the country first by withdrawing from the series? Pakistan have been the weakest in test cricket. With Shahid Afridi already skipping test matches, and Misbah axed, Younis was the much-needed backbone of Pakistan's middle-order. And now he goes away leaving behind a fragile middle-order. Other than Yousuf, there aren't many options to bank on. Shoaib Malik has always been a start-stop performer in test matches. And the last test assignment in Sri Lanka was no different. Umar Akmal is yet to debut, while Fawad Alam debuted in Sri Lanka with one real innings of note. With the sort of batting collapses witnessed in Sri Lanka, things look much worse for New Zealand.

Now to the PCB. Another ultimate show of not having any direction - Ijaz Butt. The aged chairman strongly rejected Younis' resignation after the Champions Trophy and promised to talk him out of the decision. And so it happened. Amid huge public pressure, Younis' terms were accepted and Younis was reinstated as captain. What happened now? Within a matter of two weeks the loyalties changed? Why did Ijaz Butt easily accept Younis' request for a break? He should have rather (once again) convinced Younis Khan to continue, even more forcefully than before as this was a test series and not a one-day assignment. But Ijaz Butt's silent acceptance says more about his lack of assertiveness than anything else.

And then the replacement - Mohammad Yousuf. Out of nowhere, Yousuf has been appointed captain. Does the PCB not have an idea about the risks of the decision they have taken? Yousuf has shown several times in his career that he is surely not the captaincy material. The man whose world record number of run outs is not because of slow running, but rather out of indecisiveness - how can such a person be good enough to lead a team and make good and quick tactical decisions? Such laid-back is his attitude that when he stood in for Inzamam ul Haq in an ODI during the home series against South Africa in 2003, he didn't know the allotted time to bowl 50 overs! As a result, the match ended in farcical circumstances with Duckworth/Lewis rule being applied as bad light deemed play impossible. With five overs remaining and South Africa needing 23 runs with four wickets in hand, it was anybody's game. Although Pakistan won under the D/L rule, the incident brought disrepute to the country for having such ignorant and oblivious captains. Graeme Smith, himself no lenient a skipper, took this ignorance to task and was visibly furious at the press conference. More importantly, Yousuf's unfriendly and undiplomatic behavior in front of the media has complicated matters in the past - the much-publicized spat between Malik and him is an example - and it is likely to haunt Pakistan cricket once again.

The only argument in favor of Yousuf's appointment can be: if not Yousuf, then who? Afridi doesn't play test matches. Malik fell from grace as skipper. That's the whole point - the team has no capable captain other than Younis! If one had thought about THIS dilemma before taking other decisions, things would have been much better. Younis should have realized, the PCB should have realized. That it is logically illogical for Younis to be absent from the series. Had Younis thought about it, he wouldn't have gone on a break. Had the PCB realized, Ijaz Butt wouldn't have silently accepted the request. Nor would he have appointed Yousuf as skipper.

Being an ardent Pakistani fan and supporter, I hope I am proven wrong. That all my negativity is negated. That Yousuf turns out to be a good captain, and the team does well in New Zealand. The only shortcoming though is that wishes rarely translate or influence results. I'd still like to indulge in wishful thinking. Who knows, Pakistan won the Twenty20 World Cup against all odds. So anything's possible!

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