Mohammad Yousuf’s love affair with retirement, at least from the Pakistan cricket international outfit, puzzles me. And with his most recent statement the puzzle has turned into downright confusion and one does not really know what to say when a player as accomplished as Yousuf says he is “retiring for now!”And yet viewed against the larger backdrop of Pakistan cricket where chaos is the single constant inmate, the ‘now-ness’ of Yousuf’s retirement or for that matter a lot of things relating to Pakistan cricket does not come as a surprise.
Let’s go back a bit in time. Yousuf’s hide-and-seek with the Pakistan Cricket Board, or viewed from the other angle the PCB’s hot-and-cold stand against Yousuf, and his now-I-will-play-now-I-will not participation in the breakaway Indian Cricket League has been more than adequately documented for cricket fans to see. Yet the simple fact is that Mohammad Yousuf, who it seems from recent tidings does not come across as a decisive individual, is only a plaintive representative – scapegoat may be a better word to use – of the pathetic times and the imbroglio Pakistan cricket finds itself inextricably entwined in. Even if senior players are responsible for a lot of on-field shockers in the recent times, the board's inconsistency and capriciousness in making decisions has not served Pakistan cricket well as observed through the rout our neighbours suffered at the hands of Australia.
Peter Roebuck, writing for his column on cricinfo a few weeks back, makes an apt point about how the degeneration of Pakistan cricket in general and the tentativeness of everything attached thereto has to be regarded in the light of what Pakistan is as a country. For a long time, the people of Pakistan and its cricketers found solace and solidarity from the fact that cricket helped them live despite the volatility besetting their everyday life and even bridge gaps formerly inhabited probably by barriers. Yet part of it is only a hopeful optimistic mind’s rhetoric if not innocuous wishful thinking. For these are days when the organisational fabric inside Pakistan is tapering off unprecedentedly at several levels and it is hard to imagine how a country in eternal turmoil with itself can foster a solid sporting system albeit the talent has not run dry. As if all this were not enough, the terrorist assault against Sri Lankan cricketers in Pakistan in 2008 has made the country a ‘war zone’ as far as cricketers are concerned. Dispassionately observed, Life is more important than sport and while it is unfortunate for Pakistan cricket that teams do not visit the country for cricket the forceful unanimity of the position taken is only commonsensical. Zimbabwe exemplifies the case of another country whose inner political jingoism has reduced the national cricket team – and probably other sporting teams as well –to a level that former greats like the Flower brothers, Heath Streak and others would bleed to look at.
Returning to matters more directly relevant to cricket, Waqar Younis’ vow to prepare a good Pakistani cricket outfit before the next world cup in the sub-continent in a year’s time is a statement of quiet confidence but little else (nor should it be taken as anything else). While Waqar who has played the game hard and at the highest level for the Pakistan team may be the most ideally suited person for the coach’s job all things considered, it remains to be seen what kind of respect, leeway and leverage the former Yorker specialist gets from the team and more importantly the board. I for one believe that a captain and coach are only as good as the team; and while an Imran Khan – the quintessential Pakistan captain – may be hard to come by every day, Shahid Afridi’s appointment as skipper somewhat puzzles me especially given the maverick mauler’s behavioral track record. But come to think of it, the PCB has very few options and one only hopes the board becomes a little more patient in dealing with Younis, Afridi and their men. After all, building a good team is not a progeny of a one-night stand. The Australian cricket team’s dominance that spanned close to a decade is a product of a movement started during Allan Border’s times in the late eighties. Also, being a good team requires more than just talent in the ranks and file but courtesy guys like Mohammad Asif, Umar Akmal, Saeed Ajmal, Salman Butt and others Pakistan do not start on Ground Zero as far as ability goes.
To me the T20 World Cup defence and a semi-finals berth in the World Cup berth may be a dream too far for Pakistan given current circumstances, players looking over their shoulder to see if their positions in the team are intact – a scenario comparable to the New Zealand’s test team –, a new captain and coach and the forced exodus of quality players for reasons vindicated or not. But then you never know with Pakistan cricket which has always been a bunch of captivating conjurers and enthralling performers than ruthless and consistent practitioners of their skill. So while one wishes Pakistan cricket well, it needs to be remembered that the timeline given for the goodwill and efforts to reach fruition should be generous. If captains, players and coaches go out or are ousted every time a tournament or an important match is lost, one might as well replace players with hats or coins used at the toss.