x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pakistan cricket in major upheaval

The board has banned Mohammad Yousuf and Younus Khan from the national team for life and imposed sanctions on others including Afridi.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) backed down in the face of supporter protest last night, saying the international exile of Younus Khan and Mohammed Yousuf, the two most recent Test captains of the Pakistan cricket team, did not amount to a lifetime ban. The PCB said early yesterday they had imposed a string of severe penalties on the nat-ion's highest-profile players - the ban on Younus and Yousuf grabbing the headlines. But just three hours later they had backtracked. Initially they said the pair "should not be part of the team in any format". However, following demonstrations in Hyderabad where cricket supporters burned bats in protest, the PCB released a statement insisting that "the recommendation is not a life ban. As and when the PCB deems appropriate, these players will be selected". Shahid Afridi, the darling of the nation's supporters, was fined three million Pakistan rupees (Dh130,300) for a ball-tampering offence, for which he had already served a two-match suspension. Rana Naved and Shoaib Malik were both banned for a year amid a dramatic cull sparked by the fall-out from the recent woeful tour of Australia, while and the Akmal brothers, Kamran and Umar, were also given substantial fines. Pakistan seemed to have halted an apparently terminal slump when Abdul Razzaq guided them to a remarkable Twenty20 victory over England in Dubai last month. Malik had been involved in a bitter and public feud with Yousuf, the captain on tour of Australia, which was marred by player disputes.

Inzamam ul Haq, the erstwhile captain whose retirement in 2007 could be seen as the origin of the current unrest in the Pakistan dressing room, predicted Younus and Yousuf will challenge the PCB ruling in court. Shoaib, who stepped in as captain for the second time the team was in crisis, has also been handed out a one-year ban. However, other distinguished ex-players celebrated the decision, claiming it will bring to an end the overwhelming power of the senior players. Zaheer Abbas, the former batting great, was quoted as saying: "The decision is beneficial even if we lose in the Twenty20 World Cup [starting in the West Indies on April 30]. "The move has been a lesson for budding players. They will always have in mind that if senior players can be punished, then they too are no exceptions." Abdul Qadir, the former chief selector who stepped down in protest at the power wielded by the senior players midway through last summer's World Twenty20 campaign, added: "It is a brave step.

"It's a good decision and will go a long way to arrest the continuing decline of Pakistan cricket and improve the state of cricket in Pakistan besides improving the discipline." Pakistan seemed to have halted an apparently terminal slump when Abdul Razzaq guided them to a remarkable Twenty20 victory over England in Dubai last month. However, that solitary and unexpected triumph arrived against an unseemly backdrop. Malik, the captain at the time, had been feuding bitterly and publicly with Yousuf, the man in charge of the preceding tour of Australia, and could not wait to renounce the armband. His side hardly represented a united front, either. Tellingly, Razzaq did not attend his triumphant post-match press-conference alongside his captain, as is the convention, prefering to wait until Malik had departed.

Neither Younus nor Yousuf had made the trip. Younus retired immediately after guiding the Pakistanis to the World Twenty20 title in England last June, while Yousuf does not feature in their T20 plans. All the while, an inquest continued back at home. Yousuf had said Malik had been constantly undermining his leadership, a claim which was also levelled by his predecessor, Younus. Both presented their side of the argument in front of an inquiry commissioned after the Australia series. However, the PCB evidently dismissed Yousuf's opinion, as they sacked him from all formats of the game yesterday, effectively ending his career. Malik's year-long suspension is lenient by comparison. The board have tried to quell the tinderbox atmosphere in the dressing room by extreme measures. However, these curbs are more likely to fan the flames of anarchy, for which the national team already has a well-earned reputation. pradley@thenational.ae