x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sailor man who steadies the ship

Some five years back, Abdul Razzaq picked up the unwanted moniker of "Popeye" after his addiction for spinach became public. The tag sits well as you must have arms of steel to belt sixes like he does.

Some five years back, Abdul Razzaq picked up the unwanted moniker of "Popeye" after his addiction for spinach became public. The disclosure came during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, Australia, following a bout of vomiting and dizziness. After his latest adventure, at the Dubai Sports City against England in their second Twenty20 match last Saturday, when he swam almost single-handedly against the insurmountable tide to take Pakistan to victory, the Popeye tag seems to sit well. You must have arms of steel to belt sixes like he did.

Razzaq's career has been a lot like the tales of the one-eyed sailor. Razzaq's courtship of "Olive Oyl" - the patrons and powers of Pakistan cricket in this case - has met with repeated rejection. In any other cricket-playing nation, Razzaq would have been one of the first names on the teamsheet for the shortest form of the game. With his canny medium-pace, explosive hitting and the ability to dig out yorkers for sixes, he should be an obvious choice. But not so in the puerile world of Pakistan cricket.

In their infinite wisdom, Pakistan's selection committee decided to drop Razzaq from their squad for the first World Twenty20 in 2007. They cited his poor form, forgetting his undoubted match-winning qualities, which once led Stephen Fleming, the New Zealand captain, to gush: "Day in and day out this guy is by far the best hitter I've seen. He can turn matches just like that." Paul Collingwood, the England captain, echoed similar praise last week in Dubai after being razed by Razzaq. The Pakistan hero gratefully accepted the applause and then reflected on a witchhunt that almost ended his career prematurely.

"Mentally shattered" by the decision to drop him for the 2007 World Twenty20, the all-rounder - considered one of the best in the business - announced his retirement and switched allegiance to the rebel Indian Cricket League. On Saturday night, he blamed that decision on Nasim Ashraf, the former Pakistan Cricket Board chief, holding him responsible for sabotaging his career. From one World Twenty20 to the next, Razzaq was back in the Pakistan team for last year's tournament in England after spending two years in exile. And he made an immediate impact on his return, taking the new ball and picking up three wickets in the final as Pakistan won the title.

It was a pleasure to see him back. He does not tap dance on the pitch, but he can still pick up crucial wickets with his gentle pace. His success against some of the world's best is testimony to that. Razzaq has dismissed Sachin Tendulkar once in every four one-day internationals he has bowled against the Indian batsman, and top of his list of most dismissals are Rahul Dravid and Mahela Jayawardene. So the spinach does seem to be working.

Staying on the cartoon network, Pakistan cricket at the moment seems a bit like the Mad Hatter's party. The dressing room on the tour of Australia resembled the Addams Family, with Mohammed Yousuf and Shoaib Malik behaving like Pugsley and Wednesday. And what do you say of the country's board? They are the Flintstones in the age of iPads. That should suffice to sum up Pakistan cricket's woes. Thankfully, though, Popeye is back and looking good. Shahid Afridi is expected to be given the captaincy and should take care of the troublemakers.

To add to the positive picture, their junior team reached the final of the Under-19 World Cup last month. So the future is bright. arizvi@thenational.ae