In August 1995, Ramiz Raja returned to the national team fold after 28 months on the sidelines. Pakistan had played 15 Tests and 44 ODIs during Raja’s absence. Now, this wouldn’t be out of the ordinary; a veteran coming back to a team for an Indian summer is commonplace the world over. But, this being Pakistan, his comeback had to have a tinge of the extraordinary: Raja was appointed captain on his return to the side. The captaincy would reside with Raja for the Test and ODI series against Sri Lanka (both lost), before Wasim Akram became the captain. Salim Malik, Moin Khan and Saeed Anwar, amongst others, had already captained Pakistan during that year. This was Pakistan’s preparation for the 1996 World Cup.
Sports teams – particularly in cricket – have used periods of success (almost always borne out of stability) as their foundations for further success. Pakistan followed the 1992 World Cup with an era of anarchy that Maurizio Zamparini would have been proud of. The number of captaincy changes from Imran’s lifting of the crystal dome to the commissioning of annoying nationalist songs by soda companies was in double figures. Every loss had a consequence; and more often than not it was the removal of the captain. Pakistan continued to lose because of instability, and remained unstable due to a lack of success on the field. It seemed like the Pakistan cricket fraternity was acting out a tragicomedy based on the works of Joseph Heller.
This was also a formula that the board applied to perfection in the aftermath of the 2009 World T20. A successful tournament or phase for Pakistan seems to become a millstone around the neck of the people responsible for that success. As if the public and board think that if a team shows the ability to provide joy once, then it is imperative upon them to never provide sorrow again.
Thank God, we don’t do that anymore.
In completely unrelated news, Mohammad Hafeez has been named as the new captain for the Pakistan T20 side. He has replaced Misbah-ul-Haq who was disappointed at himself apparently, or something along those lines.
Since his comeback in 2010, Hafeez averages 39 with the bat and 26 with the ball in Tests. His corresponding figures for ODIs are 37 and 34. While these numbers might not be earth-shattering, they are pretty decent for a Pakistani opener, and when allied with his success with the ball, they do present the picture of a key component of Pakistan’s recent success. In many ways he is the epitome of Team Misbah: a promising youth drafted into the team before his time; then he became the player Pakistan specialises in – someone who was not a regular but never completely discarded; he worked on his game outside the interest of the typical fan, and returned a better player. The current team are ambassadors of the NCA and the domestic game – both institutions that are given far less credit than they deserve. Moreover, it helps that he can be talked of as a “clean man” in non-ironic tones.
His numbers, though, are skewed by his performances against the minnows (averages 36 with both bat and ball in Tests and in ODIs, if Bangladesh and Zimbabwe aren’t taken into account). Even more frustratingly, he remains guilty of his oldest faux pas. Osman Samiuddin described him during the 2011 World Cup as the man most likely to win the award for “most authoritative and prettiest 20s and 30s”; and a year on he remains true to that description.
In the cold light of the day, the decision seems logical. Eventually, the board has to build for the AM (After Misbah) era. Misbah, after all, is old enough to have attended the Lahore Resolution, so to bank your future on him would be naïve. But shouldn’t this be done in a more agreeable manner than by dropping him from one form of the game, however ill-suited he may be to that – even though, his return to the team, and to prominence, was in that format (Yep, it is pretty confusing).
In a more prosaic country and institution, this would be nothing more than a passing of the torch. In Pakistan cricket, though, this is the PCB showing its hand – publically admitting to not being fully supportive of their captain. What will that do to the carefully manufactured team morale? What happens if Pakistan performs badly in the World T20 under Hafeez? What happens if the team’s performance in other formats dips – and one of the reasons for that is this decision? How will the players react to seeing the first crack in the castle’s wall?