Here we go again. The euphoria of beating Australia did not last very long. One expected and foreseen (though admittedly humiliating) defeat, and Pakistan cricket is almost back to square one. Since Pakistan crashed to a 354-run defeat to England at Trent Bridge on Sunday, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has been busy doing what it does best: undermining Salman Butt, the captain, and Waqar Younis, the coach, making policy U-turns by going back on statements and ensuring Pakistan cricket remains the perennial laughing stock of the world cricketing fraternity.
All that is left is for the captain to resign in an infantile huff or be sacked, and we will have a full set. Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, in her famous 1980 conference speech, asserted that "the lady's not for turning". The same cannot be said for Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman, who seems to be built not just for turning but for going around in perpetual and ever-decreasing circles. The portly and "almost senile" gentleman seems to have made policy U-turns into an art form.
The PCB was adamant that Younus Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, Pakistani batting's stalwarts for most of the last decade along with Inzamam-ul-Haq, would not be selected for this summer, and in fact, went so far as to award unofficial life bans to both the former captains this March. The bans were untimely, ill-planned and unwarranted, but the PCB justified them on the grounds of expediency, arguing that Yousuf and Younus were a negative influence in the dressing room, and were thus detrimental to team morale. Less than five months later, both bans stand revoked, both players are available for selection, and one of them, Yousuf, has been dramatically called up by the PCB in the middle of the ongoing England series.
The initial justifications for the bans were always somewhat nebulous. In particular, in the case of Younus, it was apparent that he was banned for his disagreements with Ijaz Butt which dated back to his successful stint as Pakistan captain in 2009. Team selection, the composition and role of team management and of other PCB officials, and the authority of the captain, were just a few of the issues over which Younus and Ijaz Butt were at loggerheads.
Further, it was rumoured, probably correctly, that a majority of his teammates were unsupportive of Younus's authoritarian approach to captaincy and were conspiring to remove him as captain, aided and abetted by PCB officials. He was subsequently banned for walking out on the team when things did not go his way. A committed player and a thorough professional on the field, Younus will probably remain in the wilderness until he swallows his pride and seeks a face-saving compromise with the PCB.
Yousuf was banned for much simpler reasons. He was the captain who lost to Australia. An emotional and apolitical character, Yousuf responded to the 2009/10 Australia tour defeats by publicly criticising many of his teammates, in particular lambasting the attitude and commitment of Shoaib Malik, another former captain, who he accused of deliberate under-performance to undermine his leadership. The PCB reacted ham-handedly, banning Yousuf for life for having the temerity to speak out against the conspirators within the team, in particular Malik, and for good measure, also banned Malik for a year. Yousuf responded to the life ban by ignoring it and proceeding to announce a "temporary retirement" from Test cricket. He has retired and returned on numerous occasions and issued various ultimatums, but no one seemed to care till now.
Malik, on the other hand, did what he is renowned for and employed his political connections to get the ban over-turned by the PCB. Some other players who were fined and warned by the PCB after the Australia tour debacle also had their fines inexplicably over-turned, in a never-ending series of U-turns by the board. The PCB has now decided that Yousuf's experience and class is worth its weight in gold, and despite the fact Yousuf never formally renounced his retirement or appealed his ban, it has welcomed him back with open arms.
The board's justification is clear: Pakistan's batting was woeful in the first Test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, and Yousuf is one of the best batsmen in the world, someone whose mere presence in the dressing room should help the inexperienced youngsters in the Pakistani batting line-up. Malik is mis-cast as the middle-order maestro and most experienced batsman, and was not surprisingly found to be clearly inadequate and out of his depth in that role. The team thus needs experience, or so the reasoning goes. On the face of it, the logic is seductive. Consider the facts: Yousuf averaged 90 runs per innings when Pakistan toured England in 2006, scoring a phenomenal 631 runs in just seven innings in four Tests.
Consider also these facts: Yousuf has not hit a ball since January this year and his successful 2006 tour was four years ago, almost a lifetime in cricketing terms. No batsman can hope to replicate that sort of form on a consistent basis and it is futile to select teams based on past glories. And lest we forget, when Pakistan last toured England in 2006, Yousuf was in the middle of the richest vein of form for any batsman in the history of Test cricket.
Is a far from fit 36 year old really the answer to Pakistan's batting problems? What happened to the PCB's oft-repeated and much-lauded youth policy? The team management and PCB loudly proclaim the virtues of a long-term youth policy one day, and bring in a veteran the next, one who has retired several times. On the other hand, promising youngsters play a couple of matches and are then dropped for good, never to be seen of or heard from again, plying their trade in minor league cricket in England and in Pakistan domestic cricket.
This summer was meant to mark the dawn of a new era in Pakistan cricket. The banishment of ex-captains and the focus on youth and potential were all loudly proclaimed as a "new beginning". However, it is said of combat that "no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy", and thus even the best-laid plans need to be amended as new facts emerge. It seems the PCB has followed this dictum and thrown the battle manual out of the window, managing without a coherent strategy or plan. How long can that last?
Yasser Alvi is a writer at PakPassion.net. @Email:email@example.com