Winning and losing is part of the game, but the way Pakistan team played in the Asia Cup against Bangladesh and UAE has raised numerous questions which will be difficult as well as embarrassing to answer.
The roots of humiliating defeats at the hands of Bangladesh and India at Sher-e-Bangla stadium are deep and a lot has been said and written on the subject without much consequence.
After religion, cricket is the most talked about subject in Pakistan and the people in the country, despite lack of sport literacy, are extremely passionate about this hit-and-run game, where players approaching 40 years of age are still participating in competitive professional sports without any accountability.
Every management guru in the world agrees that a nation, an organisation or a team is the direct reflection of its leadership. In cricket the leadership role is not limited to team captain. It starts from board chairman and trickles down to the team captain in the ground. Leaving all conspiracy theories like match-fixing aside the present Pakistan T20 team, with a few exceptions, seems like a bunch of non-serious, over-aged, unfit cricketers.
Before pointing fingers towards fitness of Sharjeel Khan, Khurram Manzoor, Mohammad Irfan or Imad Waseem one has to look at the management style of PCB which is run by two highly experienced, yet aged chairmen and where players are selected and dropped on the basis of one match only. The PCB bosses despite having tremendous media management experience crumble to the pressure generated by electronic media.
There is no doubt that the PSL was a resounding marketing and media success and every one returned home with a heavy purse, but how much benefit our players had technically by playing on rugged UAE pitches can be easily assessed through our poor performance in Bangladesh.
The recently-concluded T20 and one-day series in New Zealand proved that physical fitness in modern cricket is as important as skill. Players like Martin Guptill, Corey Anderson and Kane Williamson are not only talented but also extremely fit, capable of hitting and fielding the lather ball to perfection.
In the past, Pakistan also had some fantastic batsmen who were daring and capable of hitting the world’s best bowlers to the maximum due to their supreme fitness such as Waseem Raja, Ijaz Ahmed, Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi.
Afridi officially turned 36 on March 1, 2016. He is regarded as one of the greatest big-hitting batters of all times. He scored 8,064 runs and 395 wickets in 398 ODIs and represented Pakistan in 93 T20Is and 27 Tests. He hit the highest number of sixes (351) in ODIs.
According to an estimate, Afrid enjoys the highest fan following in cricket world, surpassing the popularity graph of great Imran Khan by appearing in maximum TV commercials, endorsements and print advertisements.
Young and fit Afridi was a treat to watch and his explosive hitting was no less than a nightmare for the world’s best bowlers. His attacking and aggressive batting style helped Pakistan win a number of matches. But on a number of occasions his failure to perform with the bat cost Pakistan crucial matches.
Age indeed is the biggest enemy of all superstars. Players and actors of silver screen are the most affected by this monster of age and so is Afridi. All intelligent players and people associated with performing arts bow out with respect before they are forced to do so. Afridi has passed his peak and his performance is now on a continuous decline. He is now only a shadow of his great past and with every passing match he will only add to the liability of the team.
Let’s give Afridi a resounding sendoff. His contributions must be acknowledged but his continuation in any form of cricket will only have a negative impact on Pakistan cricket.
Pakistan needs technically solid and physically fit young cricketers who can serve Pakistan for next five to six years. With the exception of Aamir, Shoaib Malik, Hafeez, Anwar Ali, Babar Azam, Sarfraz, Nawaz and Wahab, the players need to look at their waistline and fitness standards.
Bangladesh, West Indies and Sri Lanka have already become insurmountable and with the present leadership, fitness and cricketing technique the day is not far when teams like Afghanistan and UAE will be a big challenge for us.
The PCB has to assert its power over players. The gray-head, wise men in PCB must focus more on restructuring the domestic cricket and developing green tops instead of PSLs. Money is vital for the survival of cricket in Pakistan but so is the development of cricket at the grassroots level.
With the present resources, form and leadership style it would not be less than a miracle if Pakistan team wins even a single match against any major cricketing nation in the World T20.
PCB needs to find a leader for Pakistan cricket before the end of World T20 and Afridi must exit with respect.