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By Partab Ramchand
Turmoil in Pakistan cricket I’m afraid is nothing new but even by their unhappy record what is currently happening in the game in that country is quite unacceptable. It is these seamy happenings on and off the field that has prevented Pakistan players from performing up to their potential. On talent and skill Pakistan's cricketers are second to none and now and then they confirm this with some notable achievements.
However given the great players they have produced, the general view is that overall Pakistan have under-performed. All too frequently they have flattered only to deceive, they have gone down with a whimper, they have self-destructed. The recently concluded tour of Australia which has had serious repercussions and has led to a series of unhappy and controversial events is a case in point. Australian cricket is in the process of rebuilding.
They have lost their No 1 status in Tests and are only just clinging to the top spot in ODIs. A glance at the Pakistan players and their impressive record and one would have thought here was a chance for the visitors to make amends for their abysmal record on the last three tours of Australia when they have been whitewashed 3-0 in each of the encounters. And yet what happened? They again went down 3-0 in the Test series, lost all five ODIs and even the only Twenty20 game despite being world champions.
For those of us who observed the matches closely, it was clear that all was not well with the touring squad. They were just not playing up to their potential, there were squabbles galore and statements and counter statements from some of the players and coach Intikhab Alam. The tour brought out the disreputable aspects of Pakistan cricket – factions, indiscipline, an unwillingness to fight and crumbling under the slightest pressure. In fact, these were the points emphasized in the manager's report on the tour though it also did not spare the "defensive captaincy" of Yousuf. To be candid, Yousuf did not exactly cover himself with glory. He seldom looked in charge and some of his tactics were quite baffling. With all due credit to Mike Hussey there is no way Australia would have bounced back from a hopeless situation to win the Sydney Test but for Yousuf's inexplicable strategy of placing an ultra defensive field as soon as play resumed on the final day.
The debacle led to chief selector Iqbal Qasim resigning from his post while the PCB formed a six-man evaluation committee headed by PCB chief operating officer Wasim Bari to ascertain the reasons for the defeats. It was following this report that the PCB took steps that can only be called drastic. Former captains Yousuf and Younus Khan were banned for an indefinite period while another former captain, Shoaib Malik and fast bowler Rana Naved-ul Hasan were slapped with one-year bans. Heavy fines were handed out to Kamran Akmal, his brother Umar and Twenty20 captain Shahid Afridi. When the PCB announced an 18-man squad to defend the Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies next month they refrained from announcing a captain.
All this was quite unprecedented despite Pakistan's history being punctuated all too frequently by cricketing controversy. But PCB chief Ejaz Butt defended the punishments imposed saying strong action was needed to stamp out indiscipline in the national side. "I think the board has taken the right decision and such strong action was urgently required to put Pakistan cricket back on the right track," he said.
Also welcoming the bans and fines were Pakistan's parliamentarians who have voiced their concerns over the national team's indiscipline. According to them indiscipline constituted the biggest corruption in the cricket team and they saw the PCB's decisions as vindicating their stance that accountability should prevail. It was the first time in Pakistan cricket history that the PCB had taken such strong disciplinary action against so many players at one time. The Justice Qayyum report in 2000 had similar repercussions but that was about match fixing.
Just when one thought the worst was over more skeletons tumbled from the cupboard. Match fixing is not exactly news as far as Pakistan cricket is concerned and reports based on the evidence of the inquiry committee report had it that some players deliberately under performed during the tour of Australia though it was admitted that "concrete evidence" was lacking. A PCB official was quoted as saying that "one or more people we believe is directly involved in some form of match fixing and others indirectly".
According to this official there was more than just one problem in the team. "There is indiscipline, there are issues of grouping, there are instances of people deliberately under-performing to undermine captains and there are instances of people making lapses clearly where monetary interests are involved. If there is a lapse that nobody can explain or answer and there is no logical reason to it, then the assumption is that these are lapses where monetary interests are involved. There is no concrete evidence because you cannot track money changing hands."
Only a couple of days ago, the PCB again stamped their authority by barring members of its national squad from participating in matches abroad without prior permission. Several players in Pakistan's World Cup Twenty20 squad were scheduled to play in private leagues in Bangladesh later this month but a PCB statement made it clear that permission would be required to play abroad.
According to Bari the decisions were taken for the good of cricket. "Our job is now finished," he said. Their job may be finished but solutions to the many vexed problems will not be found easily. Indeed this could just be the start of the most uneasy phase in Pakistan cricket. Given the magnitude of the problem there will not be easy, quick fix answers. Already there are concerns that the affected players may take legal recourse as they have been given time to appeal against the disciplinary actions.