Monday, December 7, 2009

PCB, Younis need to show maturity

Pakistan finally won a Test after a yawning gap of nearly three years and 12 Test matches. On the face of it, the Wellington win appeared a convincing one because the Kiwis were crushed by 141 runs.

However, with our shoddy performance at Dunedin earlier, where Mohammad Yousuf and his brigade lost a battle they could have won with little more application and skill, predicting the outcome of the Test series would be foolhardy.

And while the grim battle goes on between bat and ball in the Test series, the off-field saga of Aussie tour captaincy is getting more complexed by the day.

As if Younis Khan’s ‘request for rest’ from international cricket was startling enough, we are now experiencing an agonising wait on who would be leading the Pakistan squad to a country where we have never won a Test series.

One wonders whether Younis’ astonishing absence and the subsequent reaction to it by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) can be rated as acts of professionalism by any standard.

A recent media report suggested that makeshift skipper Yousuf, assuming himself to be the captain-designate for Australia, has already proposed changes in the team for the challenging assignment following the mysterious silence of Younis who also missed the recent Quaid-i-Azam Trophy games despite chief selector Iqbal Qasim’s insistence on featuring in the same.

Needless to say, if the hastily-made leadership arrangement for the New Zealand Tests is persevered with, the move will certainly have its ramifications given the complexity of the present national cricket set-up.

Due to this captaincy crisis, Pakistan cricket seems to be in a shambles. Sometimes one major change at the top alters many things.

The change at the helm has two major dimensions — Younis’ approach towards captaincy and the PCB’s handling of the issue.

The PCB, being the decision-making body, has always been expected to give top priority to safeguarding Pakistan cricket in any crisis.

Unfortunately, on many occasions the authorities shattered all hopes of tens of millions of Pakistani fans. The present management is no exception.

The glaring proof is the casual manner with which the board coped with Younis’ break from the game, accepting his plea without any queries or concern. Rather than backing the captain fully at this crucial juncture of his career, the Ijaz Butt-led PCB gave the senior batsman the impression that they were too eager to see him go off the scene.

Amid reports of differences with some of the players, a tough competitor like Younis was left out in the cold by the authorities who perhaps didn’t realise the gravity of the situation that had been developing quietly for several months.

The readiness with which Yousuf was appointed skipper also signifies a very frail understanding between Younis and the board’s high-ups over his role as captain.

The most bizarre thing is the PCB’s no-questions-asked acceptance of Younis’ request for a break citing rest.

How can Younis, who amassed a match-saving triple century in his first Test as captain earlier this year, feel ‘tiredness’ after leading his side in just four and a half Tests (including the abandoned Lahore Test against Sri Lanka), 17 ODIs and seven Twenty20s this year?

Younis’ declining batting form, his other excuse for the break, has also come under media spotlight.

Indeed, since taking charge in February this year at home against Sri Lanka, Younis’ individual performance has taken a dip but it is quite illogical to put his own slump as a reason for the team’s pathetic results or for his abrupt break.

Captains around the world face bad patch of different degrees. However, they do not look for untimely breaks like Younis did, in spite of enduring crammed playing schedules.

That said, Younis’s case should be seen in totality and not in fractions. The World Twenty20 triumph in June this year is huge on his credit.

Furthermore, a near-impeccable record as an amiable human being and his undeniable worth as an experienced rock-solid middle-order batsman make Younis the best possible candidate to pilot Pakistan in the prevailing times.

Sports authorities around the world generally take decisions based on a positive, forward-looking mindset. Whereas the PCB has gone in the reverse, installing 35-year-old Yousuf as captain for the New Zealand Tests in place of Younis, 32.

Without taking anything away from the 82-Test Yousuf, the stunning decision also shows the very limited choice the authorities have at the moment.

The option also augments the notion that if a younger player had replaced Younis as skipper, some members of the team would not have exactly felt comfortable.

Therefore, one strongly feels that above poor form or tiredness, something more serious and sinister led to Younis’ mysterious ‘break’.

The ever-present and growing player-power, undoubtedly, is a factor about which one can safely comment beyond mere scepticism. This long-standing, ugly feature has to be rooted out once and for all for the betterment of Pakistan cricket.

The awful way in which Pakistan capitulated in several games in Sri Lanka and their loss in the one-day series decider against New Zealand in the UAE last month is more than enough to substantiate reports of rifts in the team.

Through their experience, several former Test cricketers have also underlined it as the main cause for team’s poor show. It is only the current PCB administration which seems quite clueless, tentative in taking Pakistan cricket out of the present crisis.

The least it can do as damage control measure is clear up the issues that might be haunting captain-player relationship and work seriously to bring Younis back as captain while giving him appropriate authority.

As for Younis, it’s a now or never thing. Whatever grievances he may have against anyone, he should come out with a swift, direct response to all the rumours taking round.

If there are ‘troublemakers’ within the team, the onus is on Younis to discuss them with Ijaz Butt with a crystal-clear target, to lead Pakistan till the 2011 World Cup. It will certainly be a big service from him to Pakistan cricket.

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