ALSO PUBLISHED ON THE DAWN BLOG
Sub-continental cricket is of a different form than the game played internationally. The rules are the same, yes, but only in this part of the world is cricket treated as a way of life, rather than as a sport. Only here is a cricketer deemed so infallible that fans will believe anything as so long as their cricketing god is not offended or sullied.
Pakistani cricket fans have been victims of player power since the introduction of the game to these parts. Although the sport is a team game meant to be played by 11 men together, in Pakistan, those 11 men devolve into at least three coteries of players plotting against one another to gain the ultimate prize – captaincy – through which other more nefarious gains can then be achieved.
Certainly, Pakistan cricket has always had its problems, and with the revolving door the PCB entertains it is hard to find a period when stability has been achieved. In my opinion, the current rot started back at the Oval in August 2006 when Inzimam ul Haq took a needless stand against ball-tampering accusations and staged a walk-out. Many readers will fault me here and say that something had to be done at the time, but for a captain to give up on a winning position because his pride was injured speaks of selfishness rather than leadership.
After that we had the doping debacle, of which the less said the better. Then came the problem of musical chairs captaincy, as a result of which we have failed to make an impression in any form of the game, with the exception of Twenty20.
Today, many of us are wondering why, along with Muhammad Yousuf, Younis Khan has been indefinitely – but not permanently – banned, given that he did not even feature in the Australia tour. After all, was Younis Khan doing anything different when he was under Inzimam, or later under Shoaib Malik? Wasn’t he playing the same music that we are now blaming Malik and Yousuf for? Have we forgotten that he groomed to lead the Pakistan side after Inzi conveniently abandoned ship, refusing to be a “dummy captain”?
I agree that Younis is the better captain of the three, and that he has shown nobility of spirit since then. But again and again, we make excuses in defense of all of these gentlemen when they are at fault instead of accepting facts. This will no longer do. What happened in Australia is just the consequence of the rot that we as fans and followers of the game have allowed to set in over time.
Pakistani cricketers are always given the benefits that the game bestows, and are even worshiped like gods. Why, then, are they not expected to perform at the same standards of merit? Why shouldn’t they be rebuked when they bite at our hearts so callously in front of millions? Our team often complains that it does not receive as many financial perks as other international teams, but have they seen how those teams behave on and off the field?
I am not saying that Australian, English, or other players do not transgress. But when a player and match winner like Andrew Symonds was banned, Australian fans and the media did not tsk tsk and ask, what’s wrong with him downing a few drinks, anyway? Nor did Symonds blame his actions on Cricket Australia. And former Australian cricketers did not dare question the disciplinary action. They all realized that in order for Symonds to win back the baggy green Aussie cap, he had to earn it or stay at home.
The fact is, no one has the birthright to represent Pakistan, no matter how good or heroic they think they are. The position has to be earned – and then maintained.
Frankly, even though faulting the PCB’s management techniques has become a knee-jerk response, this time around I feel they are spot on. I just hope they will stand by these decisions and refrain from issuing a pardon or general amnesty. Such a decision could destroy our younger talent in the long run. After all, they already believe that doping is excusable, that swagger is better than honour, and that the ultimate prize is to be the captain of a Pakistan side that does not win.
We want players who will play cricket to win accolades for this country, not for themselves. If that means we have to lose our current crop of heroes and start anew, so be it.