Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pakistan cricket takes yet another u-turn

KARACHI: It was immediately after Pakistan suffered a stunning defeat to New Zealand in the one-day series decider in Abu Dhabi earlier this week that Younis Khan sought a meeting with Ijaz Butt.

The Pakistan captain wanted to have a heart-to-heart with the country’s cricket chief, who had promised to retain Younis as skipper till the 2011 World Cup just a few weeks ago.

Well-placed sources told ‘The News’ that Younis clearly explained it to Butt, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman, that he was facing a revolt as most of his teammates were deliberately under-performing under his leadership.

“You saw what happened today, didn’t you,” Younis was quoted as saying in that meeting with Butt, by a source close to the middle-order batsman. Younis was referring to the fact that Pakistan collapsed from 47-0 to 101-9 while chasing a modest New Zealand total of 211 in the series decider. Most of the batsmen fell while playing rash shots before tail-enders Mohammad Aamer and Saeed Ajmal put on a sensational last-wicket stand of 103 to almost win the match for Pakistan.

“The chairman agreed that something was definitely wrong but stopped short of saying that he would do something about it,” said the source.

It suddenly dawned on Younis that his time as Pakistan captain was up. “He (Younis) immediately decided to ask for a break when he realised that the PCB chairman was unwilling to support him any more. He knew that the players revolting against him will not be asked to explain their below-par performance,” said the source.

Information gathered by this correspondent revealed that such fate was in store for Younis soon after he led Pakistan to a shocking defeat against the Kiwis in the Champions Trophy semifinal in South Africa last month.

According to sources, former team manager Yawar Saeed and associate manager Shafqat Rana had convinced Butt to sack Younis soon after the Champions Trophy loss and the trio had agreed to install all-rounder Shahid Afridi as the one-day captain and to give the Test leadership to Mohammad Yousuf.

However, things took a dramatic twist when Younis resigned after his team was accused of match-fixing by Jamshed Dasti, who heads the National Assembly’s standing committee on sports.

Younis, the man who led Pakistan to a memorable World Twenty20 triumph in England last June, received enormous support from all quarters. It forced to Butt to change his mind and extend Younis’s tenure till the 2011 World Cup subject to form and fitness.

Sources claimed that though Butt took that decision, he was not very happy about it and was relieved to let Younis go after the series defeat against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi. The fact that Younis miserably flopped with the bat in the series also went against him.

But is this latest change in captaincy good for Pakistan cricket? It doesn’t seem so.

More than two years back, when Pakistan were looking for a new captain after Inzamam-ul-Haq had to quit following a disastrous World Cup campaign in the West Indies, a fact-finding committee was formed by the PCB. It was headed by none other than Butt, then a member of the PCB Governing Board. At that time, the Board’s decision-makers ruled Yousuf out concluding that he can’t be a good captain. Eventually they settled on Shoaib Malik, a young all-rounder without any impressive credentials when it came to Test cricket. Less than two years later last January, it was Butt who dumped Malik and replaced him with Younis after a couple of embarrassing one-day defeats home against Sri Lanka.

If Yousuf was not a good choice to be captain in 2007, how come he is the best available player for the tough job now that he is older and nearing the twilight stages of his international career?

Secondly, it is an open secret that around nine of the Pakistani players were unhappy playing under Younis and wanted him out. By initially backing Younis and then leaving him on his own under the pressure of the revolting players will send all the wrong signals. It’s like telling the players that ‘if you don’t like your captain, just stop performing and we are going to find a new one’.

By bowing to the so-called ‘player power’, Butt has only proved once again that he is a weak boss who is not even capable of backing his own man.

Apart from Butt, another man who has emerged as the central figure in this fiasco is Yawar Saeed. It is common knowledge that the former Pakistan manager is Butt’s close friend and got the job because of that connection.

It was Yawar, who created havoc for Pakistan cricket by talking to reporters about suspicious characters approaching his players during this summer’s tour of Sri Lanka. Those comments enabled the menace of match-fixing rear its ugly head once again and caused a big headache for the country’s cricket authorities.

It was Yawar, who took Afridi for a meeting with Butt behind Younis’s back soon after the team returned home from South Africa last month and tried to get the vice-captain installed as the new captain. That move only added to fuel to the fire and encouraged the anti-Younis camp to continue conspiring against him.

Sources said that Yawar was unhappy with Younis because the captain wanted a free hand in cricketing matters. “Yawar wanted all the powers for himself and was looking for a more submissive captain,” said a source.

With Younis out of the picture, there is even a possibility that Yawar might make a comeback as manager for the tour of Australia next month.

All in all, just four months after conquering the cricket world at Lord’s Pakistan cricket is once again in complete disarray. With two very challenging assignments coming up in New Zealand and Australia and the next World Twenty20 championship less than six months away, that’s the last thing one wanted.

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