By the time Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden retired, having averaged 51.88 as an opening partnership, they had accumulated 208 Test caps, more than 16000 runs and 53 centuries. Had they been born in Pakistan, they’d probably have found themselves on the same scrapheap where the administrators tossed Asim Kamal, who made one of his eight half-centuries (from 12 Tests) in his penultimate game.
Some will take offence at such a statement. But consider this. There was a point in the mid-1990s when Hayden and Langer had less than a dozen caps between them, when they found themselves out in the cold despite prodigious run-scoring feats in domestic cricket. Both sought out Malcolm Speed, then chief executive with the Australian Cricket Board.
In his book, Hayden writes: “Looking back on it, I’m reminded of the value of face- to-face contact. We now live in an age where people can hide behind emails and text messages, and I’ll always be grateful that meeting was in person.
Speed said later, ‘I was new in the job – Matthew didn’t know me and I didn’t know him, so I suppose he was taking a bit of a risk. But I respected him for doing it. The only other player who approached me for a similar conversation while I was in the job was Justin Langer.’”
Now, ask yourself. Can you imagine a player, say Kamal, having such a discussion with the political appointments who have run Pakistan cricket into the ground over the past few years? Shahid Afridi inspired a World Twenty20 win in 2009 and led Pakistan to their best World Cup performance since 1999. His reward was to be stripped of the captaincy and to have his central contract suspended.
There will be those that say Afridi spoke out of turn, that he has always lacked tact. But would a player really jeopardise his livelihood by going public with his grouses unless the situation behind the scenes was that dire? Remember that he’s not the only one.
Over the past half-decade, Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan and Shoaib Akhtar have all been disgruntled figures, seniors who felt they were never valued enough.
Ever since Shaharyar Khan left the chairman’s job in the wake of the fiasco at The Oval in 2006, Pakistan cricket has lacked an administrator who can command respect from the players or the world at large. If Ijaz Butt has achieved anything during his time in charge, it’s to make fans of other teams profoundly grateful that their boards – hardly models of governance in some cases – aren’t such a basket case.
The approach to captaincy has resembled a game of passing the parcel at a kids’ birthday party, while little has been done to address batting and fielding frailties that have repeatedly cost the team in recent series. Most of all, the culture of insecurity that Butt has presided over has made it impossible to create a leadership group with the vision to build for the future.
Good coaching and leadership are founded on basic principles. They’re not exotic dark arts. ‘In When Pride Still Mattered’, David Maraniss’ brilliant biography of Vince Lombardi, the legendary American Football coach, his methods are initially explained in a couple of lines. “Repetition was at the core of his coaching philosophy,” he writes.
“Doing the same thing over and over again, whether it was a play or a calisthenic, he believed, would make his boys fearless and instinctive.”
Whatever be the truth of his disagreements with Afridi, Waqar Younis has done a decent job as coach. But for a team that has glaring batting weaknesses, is he the right man for the job in the long term? Even if Waqar were to stay on, a batting coach is imperative.
The likes of Umar Akmal, Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali are the future but they need the right kind of guidance if they’re ever to fulfil their potential.
I can still recall Shaharyar sitting by himself in the press conference room after Rahul Dravid had spoken to the media following India’s series win at Rawalpindi in 2004.
“He’s not just a wonderful batsman, but such a cultured and polite young man,” he said, voice full of admiration.
“We need to have role models like that.”
Instead, those who could have been talismans for a younger group have spent the intervening years backstabbing each other and acting on whims and fancies. Their insecurities and self-preservation instincts have percolated down to the juniors and the entire culture is as rotten as India’s was before John Wright arrived to take charge as coach in 2000.