The histories of Pakistan and West Indies cricket have been oddly similar. From the heady heights of the 1980s and early 90s to the gradual declines that for a variety of circumstances became inevitable. I often wondered if it was more than a coincidence, and one board was actually following the others follies. Some support for this theory was provided in 2010 when Darren Sammy was appointed West Indies captain. Sammy couldn’t justify his position in the team – particularly the Test side – as either a batsman or a bowler; an average bits-and-pieces cricketer being appointed the leader, where had I heard that before?
On a completely unrelated note, Shoaib Malik continues to be part of the team, we are told, on Misbah-ul-Haq’s wishes following “highly successful” series against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. That is the first scenario that we have to consider. According to the PCB, it was following the “request” of the captain that the “National Selection Committee had agreed to” send Malik for the England ODIs. You can understand the logic of that decision. He is, after all, an experienced all rounder, who can bolster the regularly-troublesome lower order, and provide another spin option, something that the English have so far struggled against.
Except it isn’t as simple as that: Malik’s numbers seem half-decent from a distance (both his ODI batting and bowling averages are in the mid-30s), but once you scratch the surface you end up with a failure at hand. Since the start of 2008, he averages 30 with the bat in ODIs, and above 60 with the ball at an economy rate of almost five (all numbers considered with minnows removed). It is pertinent to remember that it isn’t spin that England is struggling against, but quality spin. His career record outside Asia is even poorer: a batting average of 25 and a bowling average of 40. With a view, as always, to the next World Cup, those are worrying numbers. Malik’s batting figures – and his legacy – have been enhanced by scores on flat pitches against mediocre bowling.
He is remembered fondly for his work against India, even though matches against them have often ticked both of the aforementioned boxes. We are told that he is essentially a batsman who can provide a spinning option; somehow I am reluctant to believe that.
And all this is before we consider the off-field effect he has had.
A supposed yes-man under Inzamam, he became an autocrat as captain. During his tenure, Pakistan saw the derailment of several careers, including those of Mohammad Yousuf and Abdul Razzaq. The removal of Yousuf best encapsulated his leadership: dropping the man, who had a claim to be the best batsman in the world at the time, on the basis of his age, and then replacing him with someone who was three months older. They say that a team is in the image of its captain. Quite rightly then, Pakistan under him were listless and mediocre. I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to Misbah, such has been his faith restoring work over the past 18 months, yet I am struggling to reconcile with the notion that a man as calculated and rational as him would willingly wish to have passengers in the starting XI.
That is all redundant if the second scenario is true. According to the Urdu press, Malik has been included on the orders of the upper echelons of the political system of this country. That would explain his continued non-performances for the green-shirts, and the continued backing from both the captain and the board. Political interference in Pakistan sports is nothing new, and from what we have learnt of it, merit is the last thing it considers. If that is the case, one can understand the statements by Misbah and others; after all, it’s just for the sake of saving their backsides. And if Misbah is willing to include one passenger thrust upon him, a second shouldn’t be that much of a problem.
But both Misbah and the board have to consider the effect that this will have. This is a team full of youngsters, and journeymen players. The message being conveyed to them is that it matters not how poorly you perform when donning the colours of the country. What matters is whom you know in that country.