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A Dated Letter to the PCB

Kamran Wasti

In November 2014, Kamran Wasti wrote a letter to the PCB. Predictably, it was an effort in futility. The letter is reproduced here with minor editing as Pakistan struggle in a manner worse than Bangladesh in the 2003 World Cup against a poor West Indian side.

Pakistan, having done exceptionally well against Australia, would do well, should focus on their next important series:

Opponent Venue Time Scope
England UAE October 2015 3-tests
New Zealand New Zealand December 2015 3-tests
Sri Lanka Sri Lanka February 2016 3-tests
England England July 2016 4-tests
Australia Australia December 2016 3-tests

 

Around these rubbers are a host of low-value test series against the West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

England shall be visiting UAE a year from now, still smarting from the 3-0 defeat in 2012. It is expected that Pakistanis would again bank on spin without realizing that England had gone to Sri Lanka immediately after that defeat and lost the first test but stormed back to level the series. Later that year, they were deliberately and openly fed a conveyor belt of underprepared turners and came back memorably from a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1 in India. In both these rubbers, Kevin Pieterson had an important role to play. He shall not be playing again but having seen both sides, it would be foolhardy to expect England to fall into the trap again. A saner approach would see Pakistanis build upon the Bob Woolmer template of 2005 which means getting hold of having at least one really good fast-bowler and one very good spinner.

The tour to New Zealand is important because of the way the Kiwis have been shaping up at home and would, in all likelihood, preparing for a payback to a team which would likely be without Misbah ul Haq and Younis Khan and would be faced with a talented seam attack of Trent Boult and Tim Southee. Yet again, the template would revolve around having at least one great fast-bowler backed by two decent ones and one very good spinner.

Pakistanis lost to Sri Lanka on their last three test tours to the island and this gives them an added incentive to take it seriously. They have not been winless on three successive tours to any other country barring Australia.

The return series to England is of similar significance and would involve a plan similar to the one for New Zealand, but with greater intensity and quality.

It is these tours along with the associated credibility that Pakistanis must work on which would ultimately determine the future of Pakistan cricket.

We need to recall some outstanding overseas displays by Pakistani teams – for example, in England in 1982, 1987, 1992 and 1996 and in the West Indies in 1988. Modern teams tend to fail miserably compared to those teams. The reason is simple: They arrive too late, play little first-class cricket (with an increasing stress on 15-a-side, 11-bat, 11-bowl arrangements) before the first test and play no games between tests. At the end of the day, we find them using the same techniques that have helped them at home but can only help plunge them to massive, endless defeats abroad. One such example is the South African tour of 2012-13: Azhar Ali, Nasir Jamshed and Sarfraz Ahmad were completely clueless on South African wickets and apart from Saeed Ajmal, all bowlers, including Junaid Khan did not know what length to bowl. Asad Shafique only achieved relatively good stats because he would come to bat at 4 down for 40 after 20-odd overs with Steyn and Philander through with their new ball attack. Pakistan need to play matches before England land in UAE. However, for the return tour in 2016, the need to be in England a month before the first test and play a minimum of four proper first-class games  and also insist upon having at least 2-3 first-class matches in the middle of the four test series. These matches should all be first-class 11-a-side matches with team going through match drills rather than just allowing everyone some time in the middle.

It is bad enough that we cannot host international cricket. Yet, that does not mean that we cease to perform overseas and keep winning on tailor-made tracks in UAE. In fact, it makes it even more important that we are a compelling commodity away from home and be competitive in alien conditions, in a manner that India never is.

While it may seem tough, it is far from impossible. With Misbah and Younis retiring, Umar Akmal and Sohaib Maqsood have the potential to develop into proper test cricketers. Muhammad Hafeez will be redundant in all these important series and Taufeeq Umar, sadly kept away from test cricket in his peak years, is soon going to be past his sell-by date as well but Ahmad Shehzad is young and delivering and Nasir Jamshed has the potential to partner him should he stay away from match-fixers.  Junaid Khan’s return would beef Pakistan’s attack and Yasir Shah’s exciting emergence means that they should look towards having a spinner capable of bowling them to wins in England and Australia. While Imran Khan has little in common with his namesake and should be replaced, the limited but hardworking Rahat Ali will not struggle if asked to play the third seamer’s role. Furthermore, players like Ehsan Adil and Usman Qadir should be developed as lower-order bowling all-rounders, intended to shorten the tail and bowling some overs so as to allow the main strike bowlers to be used shock, rather than stock bowlers and hence bowl short, sharp spells. This team can easily sustain itself till 2020 which is six years of international cricket.

Now we come to the thorniest issue of them all: The fate of the three banned players and as PCB goes about its campaign to get Mohammad Amir back earlier than as originally recommended, we find two diametrically opposite stances on the issue:

  • One group wants no return for any of the three
  • The second favours only Amir’s return on grounds that he was the innocent one

Both these views are defended by reverse engineering a series of arguments which, as we shall see, have their flaws.

However, my main focus will remain on what I would want to see and that is that all three spot-fixers should be allowed to resume their careers should they meet ICC’s requirements.

As stated earlier, Pakistan plays a number of series over the next three years and these cricketers will be crucial, first in the smooth transition of the team from a good-at-UAE XI to a strong respectable outfit steely enough to perform in alien conditions. Let us not forget that this team was blanked in South Africa and Sri Lanka and lost a test in Zimbabwe. Its last overseas series win was five rubbers ago and it has aging veterans on the brink of retirement.

In both England and Australia, cricket followers are bored of playing India over and over because of the poor cricket that Indians always play abroad. A friend admitted that the Australian Channel with IPL rights does not even transmit those matches because of poor viewership!

To succeed in these important series, PCB must make some pragmatic moves and this requires courage – recall the banned players remembering that Butt and Amir will be critical to team’s fortunes in England and Australia and even Asif can be useful if he can produce a bit of zip.

Once recalled, these players should be deployed on a charm offensive, going round schools and other places in England and Australia wherever the Pakistani team is touring, educating youngsters against the menace of corruption/match-fixing/spot-fixing/bribery. By doing so, the PCB can help turn a potential catastrophe – contempt and disdain from their hosts – into respect and honesty for their honesty and contrition.

England, Australia and New Zealand are Anglo-Saxon cultures. Their values very much permit redemption for people who have committed wrong provided they serve their sentence and pay their debt to the society. Once they continue paying the debt even after it has officially been paid, we shall see them welcomed massively by cricket fans in England and Australia. And this would quell the emotionalism fueled by the likes of Rashid Latif, Sarfraz Nawaz, Aamer Sohail and Basit Ali as well.

At the same time, we must also consider the Islamic aspect too. The term ‘criminal’ is a vague concept to start with. The little bit of law that I have read speaks of people convicted of criminal offence and not of criminals. The Islamic Law is even more damning – there is no term in Islamic Law (Shariah) and its understanding (Fiqh) that can be called the Shari’i equivalent of the term criminal. If one were to ask whether a person culpable after he has served his sentence? He is not so in Islamic Law. In specific cases, he loses some rights forever, like according to the understanding of some major scholars, his right to testify is lost for good should he slander a chaste man or woman for adultery but otherwise, it is a clean slate once the sentence has been served. Hence, the reactions from the likes of Sarfraz Nawaz are contrary to the Islamic Law as well and are, in fact, driven solely by emotions.

If these views still seem immoral, despite the situation with Anglo-Saxon communities and our religion, I would add this: Most of us would agree that players of all major nations fix and that pretty much every T20 game anywhere is fixed because the players themselves just think of it as a money-earning joke. The recent indictment of Narayanaswami Srinivasan is a case in point. Pakistani players got caught, but plenty of others have done the same thing and participate in every international match. Pakistani players resuming their careers, after getting caught and after serving their sentence and paying their debt to the society, is far less grave.

So what are the logical reasons for allowing these three, other than the moral ones that I have already discussed earlier?

  1. The ICC hearing in Doha that had all three of them banned, itself proposed the return of all three. If PCB can assist in this proposed return and cap it up with those educational/apology sessions at the start of each overseas tour, the suspicion and contempt for Pakistan would turn into admiration and respect.
  2. Amir only pleaded guilty at his criminal case. At the ICC hearing, he swore his innocence like Asif and Salman Butt. So should he really get special treatment for remorse or cooperation?
  3. These players ‘only’ got involved in a fix because of a tabloid sting operation. The season before, their teammates deliberately lost two tests in Sri Lanka (one year before the spot-fix) and another in Sydney (six months earlier) and were never brought to justice. Rana Naved ul Hassan infamously claiming that he deliberately bowled badly to fail Younis Khan is a memorable moment in this dirty timeline. Even a reasonably careful study of the Cricinfo Commentary can provide clues and we can find out pretty easily as to who was fixing. So it is very logical to assume that Asif and Butt would know better. In fact, they would know precisely, who was part of the match-fixing (as opposed to spot-fixing) ring. Here is the real threat: Should Pakistan land in England in 2016, we can bet our bottom dollar upon Butt and Asif selling their stories to the English media and create perhaps the biggest diplomatic disaster ever. Asif, in particular, has a fairly small window in which to play international cricket. Careful handling should be the order of the day.
  4. BBC’s Panorama completely discredited the ‘Fake Sheikh’ aka Mazhar Mahmood, the man behind this spot-fixing sting. Mazhar Mahmood is already suspended by his newspaper. All of his convictions, apart from the spot-fixing one, will probably be overturned. In fact, the biggest reason why Asif and Butt cannot have their way is probably because of lack of funds for legal fees. This is again a very sensitive juncture. For Pakistan Cricket’s sake, it is actually better if they remain officially guilty, express remorse and return to cricket than land in England in 2016 when the Pakistanis are touring and sell stories. By that time, their 5-year-bans on landing in England would have expired.

I am all for the PCB only proposing Amir for an early domestic relaxation of his ban, and not the older two who should have known better. But on balance, much as I detest Asif and Butt, I think that from September when their fixed bans end they should be treated equally for the following reasons:

  1. To respect the ICC punishments
  2. To dissuade them from selling their stories to the media
  3. To strengthen the team in 2016 when it has Test series in NZ, England and Australia

The ICC set sentences for this trio, and while Amir is the only one I sympathise with, I think the ICC sentences of the other two should be respected, not extended.

The PCB Chairman has so far made all the right moves. His shut up call to Shahid Afridi was commendable. A few more moves may not bury player power but can curb it effectively while the team keeps winning. His recent statement on Salman Butt is also very sensible – up in a very good way and now his statement on Butt is very clear – that the ban was five years plus paying of debt which Butt has not paid (which accounted for the suspended part of the ban). It is hoped that he shall, as mentioned earlier, honour the ICC ban and not extend it. One of his predecessors (or successors depending on how you look at things), Ijaz Butt, made the horribly misplaced and ill-timed innuendo by claiming that England players were also involved in match-fixing, right after the tainted trio were caught. That, in my opinion, did more irreversible damage that the three spot-fixing sting.

Summarily, Pakistan’s future lies not in the World Cup or in the return of Saeed Ajmal but in putting up flawless performances, both on and off the field, in the test series identified. Strong shows there would put Pakistan on the map again and make the big three conspiracies redundant for, as I have written earlier, none of them, for now, can offer quality cricket.

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