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PCB aims for Sixcess

The cricket board has opted for an extended team of selectors that includes a former Test cricketer, who is under severe financial crunch. It might not be a good call

PCB aims for Sixcess
Ijaz Ahmed (left) and Rashid Latif (right)

There’s a saying in cricket for batsmen, and that is that “when in doubt, hit out.” It of course was not much listened to by our batsmen in Bangladesh, but it seems that whoever formed the selection committee this week has taken his doubts and hit out for six. CM Punjab would be proud of this additional world record, at least in modern times. Guinness must have got the video evidence by now.

For a board that has been forced to accept The Big Three as their masters, this could be one way for Najam Sethi to show them we are bigger. After all the Indian board has five selectors (the BCCI Secretary sits in as convener and does not have a vote) and Australia and England have not gone beyond that number either.

The amazing thing is that of the six, three are from Karachi and none from Lahore, unless you count Ijaz Ahmed though he is basically from Sialkot; Mohammad Akram is from Pindi-Islamabad, is now a British national and has lived in England for the last 12 years or so. The sixth one is from KP and I do feel a certain sense of pride that I had pointed him out in these columns earlier last month as a candidate in place of Farrukh Zaman. Someone does read me after all!

Why this recent twist toward the south though? When Najam Sethi has opted to fill the influencers and decision makers from Karachi by giving Moin, Zaheer and Shoaib prominent positions in the two tournaments in Bangladesh I had pointed out this 180 degrees shift; from Lahore-based tour managements of past ten years or so, with complete dominance of Punjab and KP in the Pakistan side. This concentration of power in one coterie was wrong over last ten years then and is wrong now.

I feel the selection panel is too skewed and unbalanced. A majority of Pakistanis live in Punjab and therefore the highest number of potential cricketers but considering Akram will be in charge of the NCA and can also be sent on tours (this man has some influence to get back in), you have one man scouring the length and breadth of Punjab watching for talent. Or is it that, like always, whichever cricketer makes it to match in Lahore and takes or makes a few will be picked up for further development?

Talking about Ijaz Ahmed, there was a news item last month that the poor man is in so much financial trouble that he is contemplating selling his house to pay for outstanding bills. I feel his pain even though he was one of the players fined in the 2000 inquiry and some four years back was sentenced to jail for bounced cheques reportedly amounting to some 20 million rupees. He was let off on bail, perhaps still is. And when he was picked post his bail as a fielding coach on the 2010 tour of England without any background of consistent high level coaching, I had voiced my concern. It was that PCB was putting a man who is under severe financial crunch, has a prison record and is out on bail into a very sensitive position within the team. He would know who is injured, who is likely to play next day and interact freely with the team members and visitors.

We all know what happened on that 2010 tour even though his name didn’t come up during investigations by PCB. But it is a bit strange that every time he is under monetary strain he gets picked in a position of authority. Maybe someone in PCB or the outside influencer puts is a word for him as going on tour or being a selector ensures some stability in his life. Or maybe he is the genius nobody recalls until they read his name in the papers, albeit for the wrong reasons.

But selecting someone with his recent credentials seems to indicate that PCB believes that the country is really short of cricketers with a reputation better than Ijaz or his eye for talent. What an impression to give to the world considering the sort of fine former cricketers we have.

I wonder if The Big Three, especially the BCCI, had a say in considering they have made no bones that they want to influence decision making in all cricket playing countries. Perhaps Srinivasan has another thing to answer for.

Did Rashid Latif see it coming? Was it that his being named as head of Pakistan’s Anti Corruption Unit incurred the wrath of some regional influencers rather than ECB? I’m certain he wouldn’t have accepted into the panel someone with Ijaz’s record and especially when he would be PCB’s head of ACU as well. But really, either Najam Sethi has no idea of Ijaz’s previous and recent issues or he is powerless; it would be disastrous for PCB’s integrity level if he was in fact the sole promoter, or one of the advocates, for Ijaz’s inclusion.

Still, the other five selectors enjoy a lot of respect for their integrity. I wouldn’t say it is a balanced panel, since it consists of two opening batsmen, one middle order batsman, two wicketkeeper batsmen and one medium fast bowler, who has culpably been at the helm when the world’s finest bowling attack till two years back has now become the weak link of the team.

It’s like when Ijaz Ahmed was taken as fielding coach on the 2010 tour and our fielding standards dropped. But Ijaz can at least defend himself saying that three months is not enough, considering further that it was on tour and that he had no previous coaching background worth speaking of. Akram on the other hand is a qualified coach, done the job in England has had enough time with the bowlers. It is laughable that he has been fired as bowling coach but is the sole bowling selector among the six! Says a lot about the standards PCB is willing to operate on.

I would have picked someone like Abdul Qadir or Arshad Khan instead of Shoaib Mohammad and retained Shoaib as fielding coach to allow him a year to show his worth. But as I once wrote, people in PCB seem to be going around with a hammer and screwdriver looking for things that work, and then try to fix it (pun intended, you may ask?)

Good to know however, that the selection committee has taken a bold decision to keep Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik out. I dearly hope that they are not pushed in at the last minute close to the next Test series or the 2015 World Cup. What pleases me more is that Moin & Co have brought back Taufeeq Umar and Yasir Hameed. The former has been kept out despite the best performance as opener in recent times and just one tour where he apparently didn’t report his injury gave those against him the opportunity to leave him out for good, bringing back the likes of lesser performing Imran Farhat.

Yasir is a man who would have gone on to become one of the most consistent batsmen but personal dislikes and the power to implement them has kept him away. His return would usually last a game or two in which he would get to the 30s and 40s more often than not. He would then be dropped with reasons given as bizarre as that he is not a team player or that he doesn’t follow team strategy while batting. No regard to a batting average higher than almost all in the team. The fact is that he has had no backers nor has tried to nurture them. In the hands of these selectors, I hope he makes it, though it will then be up to the coach, captain and vice captain to show similar faith in him. That is normally where it all goes wrong.

Sohaib Alvi

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