The elevator stopped and in came Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif. It was the afternoon after Pakistan lost their must-win World Twenty20 game against New Zealand in Mohali from a seemingly winning position. We exchanged pleasantries but it was obvious that the duo were stressed. They didn’t speak much and quickly stepped out of the lift as if trying to avoid any questions.
Meanwhile, I was told that Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad, two of the players singled out by many as the chief villains behind Pakistan’s loss against the Black Caps, locked themselves in their rooms.
Shahid Afridi, the captain, was busy taking care of some family emergency.
Waqar Younis, Pakistan’s head coach, was in a sulk especially after his team’s loss against India in Kolkata. What happened against New Zealand in Mohali where the likes of Umar Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad and Shoaib Malik failed to find much-needed boundaries in a big run-chase only made the former Test pacer even more angry at his charges. In the lead up to the last group game against the Aussies, he wasn’t event talking to most of the players.
Intikhab Alam, the 74-year-old team manager, opted to retire to his room at Taj Chandigarh, whenever he could.
There was too much of a negative vibe surrounding the Pakistan camp even though mathematically they were still alive. They were still to play against Australia in their last Group 2 game and a victory in it could have sealed Pakistan’s spot in the World T20 semi-finals.
But Pakistan, it seemed, had already given up.
There was this talk from some of the players, first from Shoaib Malik at the pre-match press conference and later by Ahmed Shehzad (while talking to me), about winning the game against Aussies for Lala. But you could feel the hollowness of those promises. The tournament wasn’t over for Pakistan but the players and officials were already occupied with the idea of “how to survive this one”.
More than a week has passed since Pakistan crashed out of the World Twenty20 but the battle for survival is only intensifying for both the players and officials.
Players like Umar, Ahmed and even Malik – under fire after Pakistan’s embarrassing exit from the World T20 – have been lying low, seemingly biding their time. They have braved many a storm in the past and perhaps believe that soon their latest failure will also be forgotten. They know that their international future is on the line but they also know that public memory is short.
Using the social media platform, Afridi has apologised “to the nation” for failing to live up to expectations. But he avoided facing a probe committee that was installed by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and instead gave his defense in a telephonic conversation with the committee’s members.
Waqar, snubbed by the PCB chiefs, has gone on the offensive. He has rejected the Board as a bunch of unprofessional officials and is predicting that nothing will change in Pakistan cricket unless sweeping measures are put in place.
The fact that he has fallen short of resigning means that Waqar still fancies his chances of carrying on as Pakistan’s coach. The writing, however, is on the wall for Waqar who has failed to help Pakistan develop proper teams in ODI and T20I formats.
PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan and Najam Sethi – the other power centre in the Board – also want to carry on even as critics continue to call for heads to roll.
In a nutshell, it seems that there is complete turmoil in the world of Pakistan cricket.
But if you dig deep you would sense that there is some method to the madness.
While the team’s officials and coaches take aim at the misfiring players, there is going to be retaliation. Soon you will find the players identifying faults in the team management.
Somewhere in this blame game, Pakistan cricket will once again lose sight of the ball. Once again cosmetic measures will be taken. The captain will be replaced while the coach will be shown the door. The team manager, too, will be replaced. There is all likelihood that on the basis of what has been termed as a detailed report by the special committee appointed by the PCB to probe into reasons behind Pakistan’s poor showing in the Asia Cup and World T20, the selection committee will also be fired. Pakistan do not have any international assignment in the coming weeks which means that the new selectors will get ample time to pick national teams for the various formats.
The problem is that neither of these measures will have much impact on Pakistan cricket.
One might say that once Pakistan bring in Sarfraz Ahmed as their T20 captain, the team’s fortunes will improve. Maybe. One could argue that a new coach might succeed where Waqar failed. It could happen. There is also hope that the new selection committee, most likely to be headed by former Test opener Mohsin Khan, will pick better line-ups.
But there are too many ifs and buts involved.
Pakistan have to see the bigger picture. The basic problem with our cricket is that nobody cares for the game or the prestige of the country anymore. We have never really managed to install a proper cricket system in place but many of our past cricketers and sometimes even administrators put national interest ahead of other stuff. Now it is the other way around.
Our players are more interested in how much money they make at the end of the day. They talk about playing for Pakistan but it doesn’t come from the heart. Our officials whether associated with the team or running the PCB are occupied with the task of retaining their jobs. For them everything else comes later.
In such a scenario, one shouldn’t be surprised if our team fails to win at the international level.
To bring a change in the team’s performance, Pakistan cricket will have to change itself. There cannot be any shortcuts. No coach, no captain, no manager can deliver lasting results unless we carry out a deeper surgery and root out the real causes behind our downfall.
The Board which is now flexing its muscles to take a series of key decisions also needs to find and rectify faults within its own organisation. Our cricket chiefs should take a long, hard look at their own performance as well. And then they should cast the first stone.