x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Bungling PCB get it wrong again

The Pakistan Cricket Board managed to name a 15-man World Cup squad that contained few surprises, but they still managed to bungle by not naming a captain.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) managed to confound expectations last week - the World Cup squad contained few, if any, surprises.

No last-minute shocks; no 17-year-old rookie fast bowlers thrust on to the world stage; no controversial recalls for "retired" players; and no room for players "tainted" in the match-fixing imbroglio either.

The squad virtually selected itself once it was clear that the PCB was unwilling to recall Mohammad Yousuf, inarguably Pakistan's greatest current one-day batsman, but also notoriously prone to tantrums.

Yousuf might consider himself unlucky, as the tantrums merely confirm he is a bona fide Pakistan "star". Teammates Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan, among others, are all susceptible to the odd outburst; some of them, far more regularly than Yousuf.

Similarly, the apparent reason for Yousuf's non-selection, his lack of fitness and advancing years, does not hold water.

Akhtar, Abdul Razzaq and Saeed Ajmal are all arguably worse fielders than Yousuf, and have poorer fitness levels, too.

Considering all three would be required to bowl their quota of 10 overs on most days, it is surprising the PCB overlooked their poor fitness and yet made an exception for Yousuf.

However, Yousuf's exclusion, while a travesty, was not a surprise. He had been bizarrely and indefensibly excluded from the previously announced short-list of 30 probables.

There are no other glaring omissions. Some observers may have preferred Rana Naved-ul-Hasan or Yasir Arafat, the pace bowling all-rounders, to the selected Sohail Tanvir, but the net differences in class, ability and experience between the three are relatively minor.

The selectors thus appear to have achieved something unprecedented - a mostly sensible squad selection.

Unfortunately for Pakistan fans, it does not end there; the PCB undid all this good work by bungling the simplest task of all: confirming a captain.

Shahid Afridi has not only been Pakistan's captain in one-day internationals (ODI) for the past year, he is also leading the team in the ongoing six match ODI series in New Zealand. That series ends on February 5, just two weeks before the start of the World Cup on the 19th.

The PCB has invested significant time and resources in grooming Afridi to lead the national side, first in Twenty20s and subsequently, in ODIs and briefly, in Tests, too.

If he was now considered unsuitable, or if his performances were adjudged to be well below par, he should have been replaced forthwith.

In Misbah-ul-Haq, the impressive new Test captain, the PCB had a ready-made replacement to hand. Misbah's batting has improved significantly since his appointment as Test captain, and he appears to be one of those rare individuals who not only relishes additional responsibility, but thrives on it.

With his maturity on and off the field, and his calm demeanour, Misbah appears to be the cricketing opposite of Afridi. He also exudes authority and respect as captain.

The brave move would have been to appoint Misbah as ODI captain for the New Zealand tour, thus providing him with a crucial few weeks to get used to the role and for the team to get comfortable playing under his leadership.

The PCB, however, did not do the brave thing; it also did not take the safe route of confirming the continued leadership of Afridi. Instead, it continued a sadly recurring pattern of haphazard decision-making by appointing no captain at all for the World Cup squad.

Misbah was appointed vice-captain for the New Zealand tour, Afridi remains captain for now but with no future captain and no direction, Pakistan's World Cup preparations look to be disarray and most have already written off their chances.