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Can battered Pakistan rally around Afridi the DJ

Trevor Chesterfield

Updated: February 10, 2011, 12:34 AM IST
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Back in August, they drove donkeys through the streets of Lahore with names of the three players who cheated in the Lord's 'spot-fixing' scam. Sure, it was an insult to the donkeys to have such labels affixed to them. Why sully their image with names of such miscreants.

Among the nefarious players' names plastered on these poor creatures of burden has been Salman Butt. Had he kept his nose clean he would most likely be leading Pakistan to the 10th version of the World Cup with their games being played in Sri Lanka.

"Most likely" is the applicable term as in the troubled corridors of the Pakistan Cricket Board anything is likely to happen over the captaincy issue. As with the players selection becomes a revolving door conundrum. It is not so much who to select as finding the most reliable to lead a side with such a battered image. This is after the findings of the International Cricket Council's anti-corruption tribunal.

In the end, it went to Shahid Afridi, a name that has its own brand of often-fractured leadership style. He has given grandstanding, a new flamboyant form of cause-celebre when dismissing a batsman. It seemed to be more about fancy bouffant shapes and being the centre of attraction than plotted and planed guile.

Like the mock up of a disc jockey, he doesn't come across as an inspirational leader. One designed to get rid of the luddites image that surrounds the many flatulent utterances coming out of the PCB offices.

Whatever the reason to select him ahead of other candidates is uncertain. As a Test captain, he was hopelessly out of touch with the nuances of the five-day game in the series against Australia in England last year. Fortunately, he admitted as much and quit.

One thing in his favour is that he was not popular with Mazhar Majeed, that greasy manipulator whose dishonourable role in the "spot-fixing" machinations led to three players malevolently scraping their bootsprigs across the face of the game they were supposed to honour under all its playing laws and codes of conduct.

Recall those howls of indignation when the news broke around the Pakistan camp. Instead of issuing sensible comment Ijaz Butt, their portly chairman, was offering "nothing had been proved" and "lies, all lies" as the team fell to a shamefaced innings and series defeat. On being exposed, rattling verbal sabres at the media and accusing it of a "witch hunt" is such typical tilting at windmills; it gives the impression he was reading from a de rigueur list of excuses carried in a jacket pocket.

"(Deliberately) destroying my team," is one comment used by Butt as the PCB and the team led by Salman Butt faced the wrath of world cricket for causing the biggest scandal since Hansie Cronje, on April 7, 2000. Now Ijaz Butt is saying the PCB abides by the ant-corruption tribunal's findings and programmes will be in place to prevent a recurrence. How interesting. Until the PCB acts with transparency, his jingoistic rhetoric can be taken at face value.

It brings to mind the comment by a learned long retired assistant attorney general in New Zealand who explained, "Denial is the easiest form of how to deliberately cover lies under a carpet of obfuscation. It is essential to find the truth through questioning the accused, one is presenting the evidence of hard facts to establish what crime has been committed and why. It is why probing and dismantling of the denials by transparent means becomes so necessary. To catch a thief, catch them in the act."

Shaun Pollock told a pre ODI series media conference at a Colombo hotel in early July 2000, how the exposure of former South African captain Cronje, and the admission of match fixing charges the Edwin King Commission, had helped unite the team. There were some talented players, although selectors were fiddling with the squad with those drawn from inferior quota systems. Inferior in that they were no ready to step up a level.

So strict was Cronje's banning, he learnt through a newspaper report that the UCB president at the time, Percy Sonn, implied, "He cannot even play beach cricket".

Is the DJ with the fancy hairdo capable of pulling together a Pollock in rebuilding the side to win games and win them well? And at World Cup level? This has to be asked. There are numerous of fissures showing, and the side will be closely scrutinised by the media: net practice sessions and on-field performances will be closely watched.

None of this though solves Afridi's efforts to build a team, already struggling and in part, in self-denial into a cohesive unit. It needs strong leadership. He led the side in the ODIs in New Zealand, where a 3-3 draw would have been a more justified result had Daniel Vettori left the field when he should have done in Hamilton instead of leaking runs.

All the time, hanging over Afridi before the captaincy issue was settled, had the experiments and accommodating the switch in game strategy from New Zealand conditions to those of Sri Lanka where they face new venues. This is against the background of being dumped in the first rounds in the 2003 and 2007 tournaments. The defeat by Ireland left them shattered.

Along with the ICC anti-corruption tribunal findings, these are the concerns facing a Pakistan side with an uncertain future that the World Cup may yet give some guidance.

First Published: February 10, 2011, 12:34 AM IST

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