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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Misbah-ul-Haq unlikely to last long as Pakistan ODI captain

The reign of Shahid Afridi as Pakistan's one-day international (ODI) captain was always expected to be a bumpy ride. The mercurial all-rounder had always been admired for his cricket, but it was his lack of application that was most disconcerting.
Apart from being indicted for pitch and ball tampering, he also had the penchant for routinely throwing his wicket away in a suicidal manner. If most followers and pundits of the game were wondering about the effect of his demeanour on his team, they were in for a pleasant surprise.
In the aftermath of the spot-fixing charges, Afridi led his charges admirably against England and South Africa. While both series resulted in 3-2 losses, the team had shown some fight. A series against New Zealand followed in which Afridi became the first captain to lead Pakistan to an ODI series win since November 2008.
What followed next was the 2011 World Cup in which not much was expected of the inexperienced cricketers from Pakistan. Confounding critics with inspirational captaincy, Pakistan exceeded expectations by topping their group and reaching the semi-final before succumbing to the eventual world cup champions, India. This was an exceptional achievement, for which Afridi deserves his fair share of credit.
A successful West Indies tour followed and in his short tenure Afridi had racked up 18 wins from 34 games in charge. Unfortunately for Pakistani cricket, the good news did not last long. Afridi duly shot himself in the foot by publicly criticising Waqar Younis, the team coach, thereby earning a rebuke and firm action from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
It came to light that while there had been strife within the Pakistani camp, the differences between Afridi, his teammates and coaching staff had always been placed on the back-burner in the interests of the team. With the quarrel between Waqar and Afridi coming out into the open, Ijaz Butt felt he had no option but to assert his authority and punish Afridi.
Afridi's public criticism of his coach is indefensible, but the severity of the punishment by the PCB also deserves scrutiny.
For starters, given the meagre resources at hand, the team had performed above expectations. It would make sense that such achievements should be encouraged and appreciated and players not punished for the slightest transgressions.
While Afridi may not come across as the most tactically astute player, his calming influence on the pitch has allowed the younger players to flourish.
Newcomers such as Asad Shafiq, Ahmed Shehzad and Wahab Riaz have excelled as they been embraced into the team and been given responsibilities. Change in leadership will certainly create doubts in these young talents as they will begin to watch over their back in case the new captain has other favourites.
As for the matter of differences between Afridi and Waqar, it is not unheard of in any organisation to have disagreements and it is usually the responsibility of the employer to facilitate affable compromise. While the details of the spat are not well-known, it is unlikely that the situation was without reprieve.
Instead of opening dialogue and listening to both sides of the story, the PCB decided to flex its muscles and send the message that as a captain Afridi had little say in team selection and should do as he was told.
Given that Misbah-ul-Haq, the new caretaker captain for the Ireland series, is not expected to last for long, one can only wonder when the PCB will do another about-face and bring "Boom Boom" back as captain. Or will we see some other ex-captain return?
Stability is certainly an unknown phenomenon in the PCB hierarchy and hence anything and everything is possible.
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