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The Bloody Purge Of Pakistan Cricket

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“After Kardar’s retirement, Pakistan cricket was thrown to the wolves, the cricket bureaucrats whose progeny still rule the game,” Imran Khan once said of Abdul Hafeez Kardar, the father figure of Pakistani cricket.

Pakistan has come down hard on their players after the team’s utterly-dismal showing Down Under. Some action was expected after the team’s winless campaign in Australia, however, it came as a shock that the knife was used in such a fatal and deep manner to render Pakistan cricket bleeding and on life support. You can almost feel that the players have been hard done.

These are players at the heart of the hullabaloo that was created in Pakistan when the IPL did not pick anyone from the victorious T20 team of Pakistan. The treatment of the players by their own Board is far more sinister, evil and ugly than the one that was meted out by the private enterprise of Indian Premier League.

The PCB banned Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, from playing for Pakistan in any format for an indefinite period, while handing out one-year bans to Shoaib Malik and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. Shahid Afridi and the Akmal brothers were fined Rs 2-3 million for various transgressions and put on six-month probations.

Team discipline has been an eternal issue with Pakistan cricket and the mutterings of serious rifts are constant companions. The irony in what Ian Botham said years ago could not have been keener: “They’ve always had a lot of talent, a lot of good players, but they’re like eleven women. You know, they’re all scratching each other’s eyes out.”

Cricket writer Kamran Abbasi has been scathing and, in my view, brutally-honest in his criticism: “The reasons are several, some known others only to be guessed. Unfortunately the whole episode is an exercise in passing the buck. The architects of the disastrous failure of Pakistan cricket have investigated their own performance and decided to blame some other people, the players.

When it comes to sympathy I have none for failed administrators and bureaucrats, who cling on to Pakistan cricket like leeches sucking every drop of lifeblood from a once vibrant national enterprise. These inquirers have a misplaced sense of justice: he who has sinned has cast the first stone. Isn’t the PCB’s latest diversionary investigation a brazen attempt to save the skins of senior board members?”

Botham’s cheeky comment apart there has been a long period in Pakistan cricket where they had a man who led with distinction and moulded the raw talent of the country into a serious cricketing force. As a captain there would be few, if any, who could match Imran Khan’s leadership qualities and have so much to show in terms of team performance.

I have heard Imran Khan say more than once on TV shows that the greatest team that ever took the field was the West Indian team of the 1980s but there have been few who have spoken much about the team that the West Indies could never really conquer during their years in the ascendancy.

When cricket was a war zone in the 1980s with the West Indies possessing a lethal battery of fast bowlers there was only one opponent that stood its ground amid the debris that the great West Indian team left in its wake. Rob Smyth did a commendable piece on the Pakistan team led by the great Imran Khan that stood up to the West Indian juggernaut that crushed much of the cricket world and wondered why that fabulous team of Pakistan finds no mention in cricket’s pantheon?

“This was a team that had almost everything, based around their two contrasting champions: Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, lover and streetfighter, stallion and rapscallion, regal leader and rascally lieutenant. Not that they were alone; quality and ruggedness oozed from every pore. There was an ultra-patient top order, including Mudassar Nazar, the resourceful Ramiz Raja and Shoaib Mohammad, whose methodology made Chris Tavare seem skittish; the majestic middle-order pair of Miandad and the bad-wicket genius Salim Malik, buffeted by Imran at No 7 and the wicketkeeper-hitter Saleem Yousuf at No 8.

Then there was the most beautifully-varied bowling attack imaginable: Imran and Wasim Akram, swinging and reverse-swinging the ball at paint-stripping pace from different angles, and the magical legspinner Abdul Qadir. So lean was the rest of the body that they could even carry traces of flab: the roles of sixth batsman and fourth bowler were never really filled.”

As threatening and demolishing as West Indies were they could never get the better of Pakistan even once during the period when Imran led them and both teams can lay claims to how precariously close they came to winning a series against the other. The clashes between the two teams during the late eighties are unbelievable scraps and if that was what Pakistan produced in every single series against the might of West Indies then this decline of Pakistan can again be compared ironically to that of the West Indies.

An indifferent performance from Pakistan amid some sparkling cricket is what keeps the fans going but a meek surrender like the one in Australia was certain to cause unrest among those who have seen the battle-hardened side of Pakistan cricket. That the unrest would lead to an act comparable to a surgical incision of “malignant tissues” just serves to show the furious side of cricket administration in Pakistan.

This is what Cricinfo’s Pakistan editor Osman Samiuddin said: “Nothing is permanent in Pakistan. It is worthwhile to bear in mind the summer of 1976, when a similar battle erupted between board and senior players. It was a petty pay dispute, but it soon flowered into an almighty ménage a trois of ego clashes between the country’s prime minister, Zulfiqar Bhutto, a close aide and minister Abdul Hafiz Pirzada and the board chairman AH Kardar.

Kardar sacked six big names, including Imran Khan, before a major tour to Australia. Within days, however, Pirzada—with Bhutto’s tacit consent—had taken temporary control of the board, reinstated the players and Kardar fell in a matter of months. Old folks say that marked the beginning of unchecked player power in Pakistan cricket, the rise of the superstar. Some might see 2010 as the end of it.

There are only whiffs in today of what happened 34 years ago—for one, the players then had tremendous public support—but with an administration as bereft of goodwill, public trust and support as this one, nobody will bet against a similar endgame.”

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In The Best Traditions Of Pakistan Cricket

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“Pakistan now moves ahead with the momentum that makes them so lethal by their side. It would be tempting to put your money on them but it would not be wise: Some things are best left uncertain.”

This last line of my previous post after Australia and Pakistan played a memorable match at the SuperSport Park, Centurion is just the right beginning that I needed for this post after New Zealand won the semi-final at the New Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg.

Pakistan, as many cricket writers say, is a dangerous team when it starts gaining momentum. Momentum largely is a constant that helps every team more or less. The traditional process-driven approach of gaining momentum by getting the balance of the team right and keeping the winning habit going works for everyone, including Pakistan.

That apart, the Pakistan team is the most ‘receptive and volatile’ to a different kind of momentum, the mechanism of which cannot be described perfectly. That they have gained this momentum can be seen and felt plainly, but what has triggered it is at best a good guess. The big moments of Pakistan cricket have come through this backdoor that is not of their making; their credit is only being open and vulnerable to ‘an unspecific trigger’ that gives them a non-traditional momentum.

Osman Samiuddin, Pakistan editor Cricinfo, wrote a piece like a raconteur that lends credence to my drift in this piece. The piece was done on Pakistani cricket two days before the T20 final on Sunday.
“A triumph it already is, come what may Sunday. Astrophysics may be easier to comprehend than this situation, even if it is unlikely astrophysics has ever brought as much joy as this.

It has been an uneven, uplifting ride, in the best traditions of Pakistan. Just to know that they are still capable of it is relief in itself; indeed the worst fear over the last two years was that Pakistan had succumbed to the curse of bland mediocrity. But to know that they are still capable of doing what they did to South Africa in the same fortnight as what they allowed England to do to them; is to know that the soul of all Pakistan sides is alive and well.”

Waqar Younis, in an informal chat with Harsha Bhogle for a show broadcast a few years ago, smilingly said that he’ll never forgive Jadeja for what he did; talking about the 1996 World Cup. Waqar then added that Pakistan had their best team in the 1996 World Cup; in my view as well that was a very strong team. Not the all-time best but the best of the last 18 years or so.

When Osman talked about the amazing run of Pakistan after it had reached the T20 final in 2009 he was hesitant in bracketing it with the inaugural T20 World Cup or with the 1999 World Cup where also Pakistan had made it to the finals; instead he saw this in the same vein as the 1992 World Cup.

“The T20 run has been of a piece with, as nobody in Pakistan has forgotten, the 1992 World Cup, where, for no obvious reason, Pakistan suddenly transformed from a mohalla second XI into the world’s best. Everything came together to some great, central magnetic pull, as if it inevitably had to, in a wonderfully calculated way even though almost none of it was calculated,” Osman wrote.

Two days later the comparison had one more thing in common, as they would become the two World Cup victories for Pakistan; a World Cup in 1992 and a T20 World Cup in 2009.

This is a part of the complex soul of Pakistan cricket. Pakistan’s best teams or even the relatively-better ones did not manage to win a big tournament on the World stage. All the other sides were better prepared and well on course compared to the two teams that looked like a mohalla second XI.

The 1992 team and the T20 one in 2009 sensed a ‘tiger coming from the backdoor’ and rode it, though not fully in control but riding it nonetheless—and things started to fall in place. Imran got the right batting order in time and the T20 team started looking confident and dangerous. There were some individual heroes on both the occasions but the essential element was that the force was with all of them.

Younis and his team in the Champions Trophy were openly courting certainty. He declared that the Champions Trophy is Pakistan’s after the first match, leave aside predictions for his own team he even said he would want an India and Pakistan final. They played well but on their own steam. The backdoor probably gets locked in certainty—or who can be sure of even that. One thing though is quite likely as Werner Heisenberg explained in 1927; that the more certain you are about one parameter the greater is the inaccuracy in knowing the other. That’s why in the best traditions of Pakistan to be uncertain is not such a bad thing.

The Glorious Uncertainties of Pakistan Cricket

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It would be near impossible to find a genuine cricket lover across the eight major cricketing nations who would not be shattered to see the game moving ahead without a substantial role of Pakistan. On the contrary there would be millions lamenting that tours to Pakistan have suffered for a few years for reasons that are beyond the control of either the administrators or the fans of the game.

In this season even indifferent observers would have turned serious followers had they been witnessing how Pakistan cricket navigated through a dark, treacherous period and emerged joyous and unscathed on the other side; in the process they also sparked unadulterated joy among millions of supporters back home. Forget home; they must be even lifting the spirits of the rival camps.

Younis Khan and his team have given the other Test playing nations enough reason to see the fact that it would be a collective loss for all cricketing nations if tours to Pakistan remain stalled. Tours though are not decided by cricket captains and emotional fans; more so as the aftershocks of Mumbai and Lahore would be felt acutely by the governing bodies of countries scheduled to tour Pakistan.

On their part though, Pakistani cricketers have done enough for the world to take notice. On Wednesday they gave another proof—if it was at all needed in the first place—on why the game of cricket is so much poorer without the incendiary brilliance that their team brings to this rather small mix.

It was not an ideal surface to bat on but it produced a match that single-handedly justified the Champions Trophy. The Aussies put Pakistan in after winning the toss and bowled 50 overs with intensity to restrict Pakistan to 205. The chase began like a typical Aussie hot pursuit, with boundaries raining. At 62 for 2 after 12 overs, the seasoned Ponting and Hussey took charge; Ponting extra cautious while Hussey free-flowing. The Aussie captain perished in the 32nd over—to a slog-sweep off Malik caught wide of square leg, courtesy a great effort by Umar Gul.

It was just a precursor to the period that I call the ‘Pakistan Factor’. This elusive and dangerous quality that makes a Pakistani team lethal is scientifically defined as the product of mass and velocity: commonly called momentum. And in its own peculiar way, this momentum does not run contrary to the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle*—one of the fundamental pillars of Quantum Mechanics named after the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, who presented it in 1927. In simple cricketing terms it can be used to say that momentum can be observed but what triggers it remains elusive.*

When Pakistan began their World T20 campaign this year, they played England in the first game and lost by 48 runs. A match report said: ‘Pakistan was well short of their best, especially in the field where they dropped at least four catches and produced countless more sloppy pieces of groundwork. … maybe suffered from knowing they have a second chance against the Netherlands …but this defeat was so heavy that even a win in that game might not be enough.’

Pakistan won against Netherlands and then lost to Sri Lanka. They then defeated New Zealand emphatically, and something that can’t be measured accurately triggered what could be seen plainly: Pakistan had gained momentum. Pakistan qualified to the semis as the 4th team to take on the unbeaten South Africans.

Osman Samiuddin, Pakistan editor of Cricinfo, in a preview to the T20 semi-final called it first a clash of ethos, of philosophies and even of time, more than a semi-final. It was the art of cricket against the science of it, cricket’s future against its past.

South Africa had all bases covered. “The whole machinery is intimidating …the mission pre-programmed; with seven consecutive wins… they have also taken the inherent unpredictability of this format out of the equation. They are well-oiled, and their psychologist talks about 120 contests and of processes over outcomes. They win even warm-up matches and the dead games because every game counts. They are cricket’s future.

Pakistan are the past. They are wholly dysfunctional, but just about getting along, though unsure where they are going. They don’t control extras…. They are least bothered about erasing the flaws because any win will be in spite of them. They did hire a psychologist though, and you can only imagine what those sessions were like… There are permanent mutterings of serious rifts. They may not bat, bowl or field well all the time, but sometimes, they do what can only be described as a ‘Pakistan’: that is, they bowl, bat or field spectacularly, briefly, to change the outcome of matches. You cannot plan or account for this as an opponent because Pakistan themselves don’t plan or account for it.”

Osman hits the nail on the head when he says that it is not something that Pakistan plan for; meaning that it happens and also meaning that it is in harmony with my ‘not-so-scientific’ comparison with the revolutionary theory of the Quantum Physics genius Heisenberg.

Pakistan took on South Africa and despite scoring a gettable 149, Afridi turned the game on its head by taking Gibbs and De Villiers cheaply and almost back to back. Sri Lanka had been the more consistent team in the tournament; but in the final it was Pakistan that was more hungry.

Australian captain Ricky Ponting sensed the danger in the Champions Trophy group match today as his strike rate of 50 suggests; rarely does he score 32 runs in 64 balls. Asif was back in the 40th over after a dull first spell; Ajmal had sent Ferguson back a while ago. Then followed the madness, the brilliance, the call it what you like, the-what I-like-to-call as the Pakistan Factor.

Rana Naved bowled the 41st over and his fifth ball, an in-swinging dipping yorker, shattered Hussey’s off stump; it was as if lightning had struck. Hussey left after a fluent 64; 31 needed from 9 overs with 5 wickets left.

It was already crazy when the back-from-hell Asif made it absolutely maddening in the 42nd over; Hopes drove straight to mid-off and Younis pouched a low catch. Johnson survived a run-out scare but White had no such luck. The fifth ball was an Asif special: It landed on a good length outside the off and cut back sharply to pierce the bat pad gap and shatter the timber behind; an unbelieving pale White made his walk back. Twenty-three in 36 balls with 3 wickets in hand and Rana Naved bowled two maidens on the trot.

In between the maidens Johnson hit a four and was deceived the very next ball by an Ajmal beauty; a short and quick doosra that Johnson misread and it came back to crash his stumps. Australia had needed just 36 runs in the last 10 overs with six wickets in hand. Seven of those 10 overs yielded half of the runs at the cost of 4 Aussie wickets. It was sheer madness, it was pure magic, and it was quintessential Pakistan. It was something that would have made Werner Heisenberg—the 1932 Nobel Prize winner in Physics—smile.

Only Pakistan could have brought Australia to such a desperate situation in an otherwise one-sided contest. And only Australia could have survived a tsunami like that and yet manage to cross the line. If unpredictable is the word for Pakistan then the Aussies can best be summed up as unyielding. Lee and Hauritz saw Australia home in the last ball of the match.

Pakistan now moves ahead with the momentum that makes them so lethal by their side. It would be tempting to put your money on them but it would not be wise: Some things are best left uncertain.

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*Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle states that it is not possible to simultaneously measure both the position and momentum of a particle with precision. Conversly, it also means that more the precision in measuring one of them the greater would be the inaccuracy in measuring the other. There are many ways to define and derive the principle. It is one of the fundamental building blocks of Quantum Theory.

The principle was at the core of dialogues between British physicist David Bohm and the 20th century ‘spiritual thinker’ J. Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti was spotted and raised by The Theosophical Society: which he left saying what remains as his most famous one-liner, ‘Truth is a pathless land’. The dialogues are available in a 1985 published book titled The Ending Of Time. It is the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that prompted Albert Einstein’s famous comment, “God does not play dice.”

Dhoni Can Blame It On The Rain

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The good news after the washed out match against Australia is that the mathematical probability for the Indian team to make it to the next stage is not over as of yet; there is a slim chance riding on a lot of factors going India’s way. The bad news is that some of the crucial factors are not in control of what Dhoni and his men do.

India has to hope that Pakistan beats Australia in the second last match of Group A. And if it wins, then India has to ensure that it beats West Indies by a margin that takes its net run rate above that of Australia.
This reliance on mathematical possibilities is quite a depressing situation for a team that has been flirting with the number 1 position in the ICC ODI rankings. Despite all the consistent play that has taken India to the top of the charts, this is not an unfamiliar situation for the team.

Remember the World Cup in West Indies; a loss against Bangladesh in the first match and it was two must win games for India. Bermuda was easy but the loss to Sri Lanka was the end of our campaign. It was also the end of a period defined as ‘commitment to excellence’ by former Australian legend and India’s pre-World Cup coach Greg Chappell.

Persisting with the same attack that won India the Compaq Cup final in Colombo may have cost heavily.
In that final, 18 overs were shared between Yuvraj, Pathan and Raina. Pathan was hammered at 9 an over in his four over spell and Yuvraj was decent at 4 an over. Raina was superb with 8 overs for 26 runs and a wicket. RP Singh went for above seven an over, Ishant and Nehra were not too different. None of the fast bowlers finished their quota. Harbhajan won the match with his five-wicket spell.

Also India had piled 319 runs with a top-class 138 from Tendulkar and a finishing kick of 56 not out by Yuvraj. There was no Yuvraj here who gave India a buffer of 20 extra runs and six frugal overs in Colombo.

What if India had to defend a modest total? And what about restricting a good batting line-up on a decent surface? In Colombo Sri Lanka was all out for 273 with 3.2 overs left; it was a 46 run win but that does not tell the story that the chase was on till the 42nd over. Sri Lanka was 60 for no loss after 7 overs. RP, Ishant and Nehra flogged out of the attack.

Harbhajan was brought in the 8th over with the field still up and he rattled Dilshan’s middle stump with his 5th ball. Jayasuriya hit two consecutive boundaries in Harbhajan’s next over and then took a single. Then a scrambled seam doosra with some over spin on the off stump line drew Mahela forward but he could only manage a leading edge that looped straight back to the bowler’s hands. Two big wickets in two overs for Harbhajan inside the first power play changed the tempo of the chase.

Still the chase was on and the scales turned in India’s favour when Raina had Kapugedera. Then Harbhajan took two in two in the 45th over to reduce Lanka to nine down and completed the formalities by removing Mendis in his 10th over.

The match before the final was even more instructional. Sri Lanka made 307 batting first. India used seven bowlers. Here also Raina bowled 3 overs for just 14 runs and took a wicket; Harbhajan was superb giving 37 runs in 10 overs for a wicket. All the others leaked runs in the range of 6.42 and 7.25. The chase was disastrous; we were effectively out of the contest by the 25th over. India lost by 139 runs.

Did it occur to the captain and the team management that there were some serious concerns? In the last four innings in which he came out to bat before the Centurion game, Yusuf Pathan had spent 5, 8, 4, and 12 minutes in the middle for a combined total of 2 runs. He was hammered for 9 an over and had two ducks and two singles in four outings with the bat. What was the role he was picked for?

Was their any concern for Dhoni and the team management when they went ahead with this composition in a crunch game? An abysmal RP, a low on confidence Ishant, no fifth bowler and to top it all a complete misuse of the only world class bowler in the team. So it wasn’t that you felt three bowlers short you were actually 4 bowlers short with only Nehra at your disposal.

To get the best out of Harbhajan you have to use him like a field marshal uses his most potent weapon; the way he was used when the Sri Lankan openers had hit 60 in 7 overs and it was still the first power play. It was Dhoni who let Harbhajan down at Centurion and not the other way round.

I don’t know if Rohit Sharma was available for selection but he’s played 41 matches and has four fifties to his name. The simple reason that he had in the company of Tendulkar guided India home in a tense one-day final against Australia in Sydney should have been reason enough to consider his case seriously.

The quality that Rohit would have brought to the team apart from his obvious batting talent was his experience and unruffled temperament. India was in a solid position when Kohli came up the order but his inexperience and not his form let him and the team down. Another six or seven overs later he could have pulled that risk easily.

Inexperience sees the five dot balls while experience knows that there is a long way to go and numerous opportunities to cash in will come. Inexperience is a lack of awareness of the state of the game while experience is exactly the opposite.

Raina would have been a much better promotion; the left right combination would have made it difficult for the spinners to choke runs. His natural ability to strike the balls in his zone would have been an added advantage.

The Centurion game was decided in the passive period between the 15th and the 25th overs. Pakistan was under the pump at 65 for 3 after the 15th over and they crept to 108 for 3 by the half way mark; 43 runs without losing a wicket. India was 97 for 2 at the end of the 15th over and by the end of the 25th they were 138 for 4; 41 runs and two big wickets.

Dhoni used the most ineffective bowlers at his disposal when Pakistan was reeling under pressure and Younis used his most effective bowlers when India would have been content to develop a sedate partnership. Ajmal and Afridi would not have been as effective if Younis had allowed a few overs to pass with just containing the batsmen as his motive. A set Kohli with Dravid would have played them much more effectively.

The most consistently-successful part-time bowler coming into the series was Suresh Raina; yet Dhoni didn’t give him the ball and preferred to experiment with Kohli and Pathan at a critical juncture.

The ice-cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni had a bad tournament; an awful one in fact. He knew exactly that his attack had no bite except Harbhajan; he needed Amit Mishra in the playing XI and also a replacement for RP. He could afford to be a batsman less and play Kohli at number 6 with Harbhajan to follow. Now he can just hope and pray for the Gods of fortune to oblige.

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