DUBAI // It is a marker of the peculiar logic of the Pakistan Cricket Board that, in the wake of some tit-for-tat barbs over his perceived bad attitude, they sent a letter to Shoaib Malik advising him not to speak to the media earlier this week. All of which could make the obligatory captain's press conference a rather tough gig.
Judging by his performance in the bowels of the Dubai International Cricket Stadium yesterday, there are few less willing captains out there than the 28-year-old all-rounder from Sialkot. He tried his best to sound convincing. "We are professional players," he said. "As long as we stick to our cricket, go to the ground and give it our best shot, then changing the coach and the players is not going to affect anything, in my opinion. All I want from the players is to go out there and give it their best shot."
Malik was handed the political hot potato that is the Pakistan captaincy after his side endured an appalling tour of Australia. He looks like his fingers are already burning, and when he gets to hand it on tomorrow night, anywhere will do. It seems remarkable to think Pakistan are, for at least a couple of months more, the World Twenty20 holders, with a record in this format far superior to anyone else. Yet their state of disarray is impressive even by their own standards. Since Pakistan arrived on these shores as a relatively united bunch for a series against New Zealand in November, they have been through four different captains.
Younus Khan handed in the armband after that series was lost, nominally so he could work on his batting in first-class cricket back at home, but realistically because he had fallen foul of some influential senior players. Mohammed Yousuf was then handed the dubious honour for the tours of New Zealand and Australia. If he appeared unenthusiastic about the added responsibility there, it was nothing compared to Malik. All the while, Shahid Afridi, now ensconced in the role of permanent Twenty20 leader, was working out the most novel way of getting himself banned.
Even Intikhab Alam, the side's kindly head coach, has been stood down for this series. And all central contracts are on hold until an inquiry into the debacle that was the series in Australia is reconvened after their trip to Dubai. "When you lose, and when you lose badly, you have to take this criticism," added Malik, who was one of a variety of players called before the panel chairing the inquiry. "We have two matches, and we just want to play cricket and do well for our country and for ourselves. That is all we want.
"You always learn from your mistakes. We are working hard on where we are lacking." To add to the malaise, the Pakistan squad have also been shorn of a number of the veterans of their World Twenty20 win. Mohammed Aamer, Sohail Tanvir and Kamran Akmal are all missing from their squad in the Emirates. However, such a fraught backdrop usually suits Pakistan. When they lost to England in the opening match of that tournament last summer, their chief selector immediately tendered his resignation. There was an issue-per-day thereafter, until they eventually landed the crown.
According to Malik, such madness is often the best method. "Every cricket board in every country just want to win," he said. "But in my opinion, you can't produce results, you just go out there and give your best shot. "I love playing for Pakistan, I just want to do well as a player for Pakistan. My country need me to do the captaincy for the coming two matches. It is a great honour to be asked to captain your country, but I prefer to play for my country just as a player."
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