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Need for a reality check

Reading into Irfan’s comment that he could win the World Cup on his own, I saw an arrogance that I never thought this genial giant had

Need for a reality check

The history of cricket is full of instances where the ‘I’ word has come back to haunt the individual who claimed that “I will do it alone”. Reading into Irfan’s comment last week that he could win the World Cup on his own, I saw an arrogance that I never thought this genial giant had. It was a laughable statement besides. He is recovering from an injury for the past six months or so, and the hard Australian grounds and their run up can well smash the insides of the front leg. Ask Shoaib Akhtar.

Even the greatest of cricketers at their peak have not been able to do it on their own, whatever the level of competition and whatever the format.

Perhaps Irfan has been influenced by what he saw the previous winter when the left-handed Mitchell Johnson destroyed England with his pace and bounce after being left out of the Test team for some time.

But Johnson would be the first to acknowledge that his 40 or so wickets in the series would have counted for nothing if the other 60 had not been taken. Moreover, he was supported by some of the most brilliant catches and the contributions of the batsmen.

By saying what he has, Irfan has put more pressure on himself to perform — as he has to now live up to his words — but if he doesn’t make the desired impact in the first two games, he’s going to cut a sorry figure in front of his teammates.

I remember well the demolition of Bangalore by KKR’s Brendon McCullum in the beginning of the first IPL season when he scored something like 150.

Immediately after that innings, our Shahid Afridi vowed to break McCullum’s record. Can’t remember which team he was playing for but what I do remember is his teammates’ astonishment and anguish every time he batted.  There he was swinging wildly from the first ball he would face and would get out within a few deliveries. It was obvious he was a man obsessed to break a record and to prove that he was the biggest hitter of them all.  Eventually he was dropped lower down the order. I think his bowling kept him in the side for he managed hardly a few runs and was perhaps even dropped near the end of the tournament.

Keeping those things in mind, one must say it was quite an unnecessary boast from Irfan. He should take a leaf out of Hashim Amla’s book who on the same day was appointed captain of the South African Test team. His words were of cautious optimism and he was more concerned about taking the team forward than his own ambitions. He today ranks not just among the top batsmen of the world but also among the leading lights within the team in terms of physical fitness and mental strength. Yet there was nothing on him that showed the status he enjoys.

It was nevertheless refreshing to hear Saeed Ajmal revealing that he had turned down the offer of captaincy after Pakistan’s disastrous World Twenty20.

I think he is in the same position as Inzamamul Haq was when he was first asked to lead, a few years before he eventually accepted it in 2004.

He had then said that there were too many senior players and past captains in the team and he didn’t want to lead a team of egos and harm his friendships.

Saeed is in a slightly better position though, with only Shahid Afridi and Hafeez (if he were to retain his place) as seniors in the T20 squad.

But he knows that PCB can anytime bring back Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal in the team once again. Even if they don’t return, it is difficult to control the likes of the petulant Umar Akmal and the temperamental Ahmed Shahzad.

Having not been in his best form lately at the international level, Ajmal knows he has to sort himself out first.

In his mid-thirties, there is still time for him to have a rethink a year or so from now.

Since he is a spinner, age shouldn’t plow him down as much as it does fast bowlers.

Talking of age, it is hilarious that the two fittest men in the camp have turned out to be the 40s club, Misbah and Younis.

It says a lot about the detractors of Misbah who feel just because he is old by cricketing standards he should call it a day, in fact should have done it last year. It’s quite an idiotic claim, considering he is our best batsman in all formats. Yes, even in T20 cricket.

Mohammad Akram’s certificate that he and Younis are the fittest should douse out those who have age as a factor for asking him to retire or to be dropped.

For those who feel he has been a disappointment as a captain with his defensive approach, something which his win percentage denies, let’s see how he performs under Waqar Younis, who was an aggressive captain and has one of the best win ratios among Pakistani captains.

Nevertheless, I still believe and will say at every opportunity that Shahid Afridi should never have been removed from the ODI captaincy.

If Misbah faces a competitor for the leadership of the Pakistan side in the 2015 World Cup, it has to be Shahid Afridi.

On another note, it’s a good move by the PCB management that a place in the top tier in central contracts will depend on fitness levels. It makes sense as no matter how good you are, if you can’t give your 100 percent in the middle the potential is meaningless.

It remains to be seen how strictly this criteria will be implemented. It was tried once under Naseem Ashraf’s management when everyone was given points on recent performances and fitness.

Even if 40 percent is the weightage for fitness, I very much doubt that it will hamper the less fit of the senior players in getting to the top tier, as they are likely to score a high in seniority alone, even if they fail the fitness test.

Sohaib Alvi

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