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By Suresh Menon
When poachers turn game keepers, it is a little difficult to know whether to shake one’s head in disbelief or smile ironically. Sport usually provides instances of such quick changes, as witness the rantings of ex-players on television who now take current players to task for doing the same things they did when they were playing.
“So-and-so must be dropped, he can’t field,” says one who was best known for escorting the ball to the boundary rather than chasing it. “This youngster has no footwork,” screams another whose footwork in his playing days took him closer to the square leg umpire. It would be churlish to name the individuals, but you get the idea.
When Clive Lloyd became Match Referee, he came down heavily on captains who didn’t maintain over-rates, forgetting (or not) that he himself had been notorious in this regard, ensuring that his fast bowlers got plenty of rest by bowling at something like 11or 12 overs an hour during a full day’s play. The commentary box and the match referees’ club are full of former players hypercritical of the current crop who do the things they would rather not be remembered for.
Distance always lends romance and colours weaknesses in approach or character as strengths. Most players are fond of recalling how they played merely for the love of the game, the money didn’t matter – and these include the players of the recent past who have made a relative fortune from the game.
Sometimes the change takes place in a player’s lifetime, when he turns gamekeeper from having been a poacher only the day before. Perhaps it is the experience on the other side of the fence that makes them useful. In the case of Shahid Afridi, the new Pakistani captain, we will just have to wait and see.
Just the other day he was being seen as a disruptive influence on the team, someone renowned for conspiring against the captain and potential captains. The Pakistan Cricket Board had plenty to say about this, and even fined him, but now that he is captain, he says that indiscipline will not be tolerated in the team. The Asia Cup squad contains two players whose reputation for mischief is even worse than
Afridi’s – the two Shoaibs, Akhtar and Malik – and it is to them that he has turned his attention.
“In the training camp I spoke to Shoaib and also Malik and explained the new set of rules that we expect them to follow in the team,” Afridi has said. “I explained that being senior players I require their support to introduce a new culture in the team.”
Afridi, whose infamous ball-biting episode in Australia earned him a three million rupee fine (later revoked) was once hauled up in his early days for scuffing the wicket in a match against England. If the leopard has changed his spots, that can only be good for Pakistani cricket which had a traumatic tour of Australia leading to the end of two important careers, those of Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf.
Afridi is captain in all three formats of the game, including Test cricket from which he had announced his retirement to focus on the shorter games. At 30 he retains the destructive batting ability that has given him the two fastest centuries in one-day cricket. The PCB hope that with responsibility will come maturity.
Pakistan’s one iconic captain Imran Khan has pointed out that since his retirement in 1992, Australia have had just three captains while Pakistan have had two dozen. If Afridi too gets caught in the revolving door that is the Pakistani captaincy, that would be a pity.
The advantage poachers have is that they know all the tricks, having tried them out themselves at some time.