Last week a former player giving his expertise as a Cricket pundit said on a TV Channel that Shahid Afridi should have been retained for Champions Trophy, for he looked in ‘good touch’ in the South Africa series. It’ll require a painstaking effort to suss out the good touch from 222 wicket-less deliveries Afridi bowled in that series. If by good touch he meant the 88 at Johannesburg (the innings which came when the result was a foregone conclusion – Pakistan were 132-5 chasing 344), he failed to pick the touch from the next two matches. At Durban, Afridi nearly cost Pakistan match when batting carefree he was out second ball in what until then was a controlled chase. At Benoni, in series-decider, he was out on duck, caught at deep square leg just one ball before batting Power Play, when the situation was 151-5.
Shahid Afridi after missing the Champions Trophy is back to play the West Indies series. He has made comeback because Pakistan fared poorly without him, right? Wrong. If that is the case then how did he comeback after Pakistan won in India without him? This question needs a meticulous assessment.
Many players of Pakistan are patronized by certain media lobbies, the journalists and the TV Anchors and former Cricketers. This is not to point finger at one player or lobby only. If there is a TV program from Karachi lending support to local players, the next day there will be a counter program from Lahore or Islamabad for its players. As a result of this media tug-of-war some undeserving players keep getting the unnecessary limelight. Call it sorry state of Pakistan media or its cricket, there is no hiding from the cruel reality that backing of media, like in the country’s politics, plays an important role in making players considered for selections.
The media people would go to great lengths to lend support to their favourite players. At the Oval last month, I came across a TV sports anchor from Pakistan who held view that Afridi would return as captain after Champions Trophy. That he said even before Pakistan lost to West Indies.
Prior to South Africa ODI series, when the Chief Selector Iqbal Qasim termed Afridi’s selection as ‘last chance’ to perform at international level, the media repeatedly criticized his statement so much so that Iqbal Qasim was compelled to explain that media twisted his statement wrongly and Afridi would be selected in future if he performed. He however just selected Afridi for West Indies tour without performance, again due to media pressure. Qasim may have resigned (that’s what PCB’s press release said) but he has set a dangerous precedent before leaving the office.
While Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal and Imran Farhat will be sad to know they have been dropped, at the same time they can draw comfort from the fact that all they need for comeback is to wait for the current corps of players to fail, that’ll pave way for their comebacks. The old faces will keep replacing the old faces and this status quo, which is hurting Pakistan cricket, will continue.
Reading between the lines, the blame should also fall on the captain, the coach and team management for persisting with old faces. Misbah-ul-Haq’s decisions while picking the XIs have been slanted, even if unintentionally, towards Shoaib Malik and Imran Farhat. Malik because it was him who gave him chance for comeback in 2007 (this is not say Misbah’s selection was undeserving). Farhat because the former Chief Selector and Farhat’s father-in-law Mohammad Ilyas used to prefer Misbah’s views in picking squads. There was, ostensibly, a quid pro quo deal between Misbah and Ilyas that the former would get every player he wanted if Farhat was in the squad.
It is baffling to know Farhat hasn’t missed any of Pakistan’s last seven One Day series stretching back to last year’s Sri Lanka tour, and during all that time Ilyas was not selector. Of the 13 ODI series (including one-off match against Afghanistan) since Misbah’s full-time appointment as captain, Farhat traveled with Pakistan squad 12 times. The only time he missed out was last year during Asia Cup, when Ilyas had just resigned from the post after Pakistan lost to England 4-0. It can’t be a coincidence that Farhat didn’t feature in the two major ODI series Pakistan won under Misbah – Asia Cup and the India series (he was in squad but didn’t get a game). This is not to say Farhat is curse on the team but this is to say his selection hurts Pakistan’s team combination.
If selectors were wrong to pick Malik and Farhat, the team management could have left one or both out of playing XI, but they did not. They rather reshuffled top order just to accommodate Farhat. In South Africa series, they dropped Man-of-the-series in India, Nasir Jamshed. In the UK tour, they moved Mohammad Hafeez to one drop. While the decision to move Hafeez down the order was wise, replacing him with Farhat was absurd.
Purpose of highlighting the Farhat selection is to highlight favouritism of Pakistan management and the captain in particular. It is due to their favouritism that the selectors feel free to make gratuitous selections, for they know the team management has no moral power to question their decisions. Misbah might have said that Afridi wouldn’t be an automatic pick in West Indies but will he have moral power to leave him out? Afridi is likely to be selected in XI at the expense of a young player, like Umar Amin, Haris Sohail or even Ahmed Shahzad if Hafeez comes back as an opener.
India in the Champions Trophy showed everyone that teams are built with young players and meritorious selections. They left out the non-performing big guns – Gautam Gambhir (India’s highest scorer in finals they won of World Twenty20 and World Cup), Yuvraj Singh (Player of the World Cup), Zaheer Khan (Leading wicket taker of World Cup) – who over couple of years ago were their match winners. Some would baulk it citing India’s dismal start to the West Indies tri-series, nevertheless India selectors proved promoting youngsters was the way to go.
Misbah is known as a shrewd and committed cricketer and Pakistan needs his calm influence in the team. He despite the increasing age remains Pakistan’s biggest hope to carry the team until next World Cup, which is just eighteen months away and Pakistan have not much One Day series in the FTP to prepare for it. If he really wants to build the team, it is now time to call the shots right, and it will happen with selections based on merit not nepotism.
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