(As published in The News today written on Wednesday April 1)
THE CHAIRMAN MAKES HIS CHOICES By Sohaib Alvi
It is a management truth that the culture of any company is set by the personality of the man at the top. So too is the style of management.
As such it is none too surprising that Haroon Rashid has been appointed as Chief Selector and Azhar Ali as the captain. Both are subservient men who won’t create any noise when they are overruled. Haroon especially is the great survivor; a decent man nonetheless. So too is Azhar in some ways.
Wahab Riaz might feel despondent in being passed over considering the verve and vigour he posed in the World Cup. But he would have been his own man and the PCB would unlikely stand for that. Also, his uncertainly in playing all games due to niggles in his knee must have counted against him.
Even Fawad Alam would have been in some ways a better choice than Azhar if only because he has been in the ODI team recently and even played a match wining innings in the Asia Cup last year. He is a middle order bat and may just play in place of Misbah anyway.
But as I said at the beginning, they are reflections of who Shaharyar Khan is: conservative and careful. That may not be a bad thing on occasions but cricket today requires aggressive risk takers. Men who pounce on the moment and make inspired choices.
Like Javed Miandad when he rallied against the selectors in taking a 19-year old Wasim Akram to New Zealand when he had no first class season behind him. Or Imran Khan picking out Inzamam from the nets when the selectors had said he would come to nothing at the international level. Also driving down to Gaddafi Stadium after watching a lad named Waqar Younis bowl in a televised final; or putting faith in a 17-year old Aaqib Javed.
I can also recall Abdul Qadir as chief selector sending a 17-year old Mohammad Amir into a World Twenty20 event in England in 2009.
Flashback to 1977 when Mushtaq opted to go into a green top at Sydney with only two fast bowlers saying they would be enough and thereby playing the extra batsman in Haroon Rashid who scored a half century on debut and built a partnership with Asif Iqbal that put Pakistan on way to a matchwinning lead. Or to early 1980s and Imran Khan insisted on playing Abdul Qadir on the England tour of ’82 and in 1983 World Cup against all opposition and the leg spinner bowling Pakistan into the semis.
Would the same Haroon Rashid or Azhar Ali go in with two fast bowlers on a green top? Would they put faith in teenagers against the best in the world? I would think not.
To top it off we have people like Azhar Khan in the selection panel who like Haroon Rashid has been something of a resident of Gaddafi Stadium. His past stints as officials and as selector has shown that he has little to offer in terms of standing up for talent.
Saleem Jaffer, like Azhar Khan, is a soft spoken man and needs a firm chief selector like Salahuddin, Aamer Sohail or Abdul Qadir to deliver his best. He is honest in his assessment but will he put up a fight that can end in his resignation if gross injustice is being done? I say this because when Mohsin Khan agreed on the team to England after flying over to Sri Lanka for ‘consultation’ with Yawar Saeed, Saleem Jaffer threatened to resign because Mohsin named the side in Sri Lanka without his final consent as he was part of the selection panel. But in the end all was patched up in the interests of continuity and not to create a controversy. Kabir Khan is someone who has to be tested but with Azhar Khan and Haroon Rashid on the ‘establishment’s’ side, and with the latter having the casting vote in case of a 2-2 situation, he and Saleem Jaffer won’t matter.
Now it seems we will have another Mohsin Khan in the shape of Haroon Rasheed who will be at the mercy of the real selectors, the power behind the throne. Being the great survivor, Haroon will know the men who matter when Shaharyar Khan is gone or gets a keep quiet call from his superiors. How much faith Haroon thereafter has in Shaharyar Khan shielding them (it has to be accepted he is trying to do the opposite of Najam Sethi) remains to be seen. Shaharyar Khan also doesn’t interfere in selection though he does have the power to approve the team and that may just allow Haroon and Co to pick on merit.
On to the business end itself and to Azhar Ali’s choice as captain of the ODI side. Look, it has been done before when George Bailey was made captain of Australia’s Twenty20 side without having played for the country before. And Azhar has played ODIs for Pakistan. If he was out of the side it was because Younis Khan and Misbah had the positions he could play at. His absence over the past year or so shouldn’t be an issue.
What is the issue is that despite his best intentions he seems in the same mold as Younis and Misbah. We saw in this World Cup what the intelligent had already visualized; that the world has moved on from the Pakistani brand of cricket. PCB it seems has yet to take its cue and has offered more of the same.
That is not to take anything away from Azhar Ali. He is a fine cricketer and has a probing mind. He has earned respect for the number of Test runs he has scored and did after all play a fiery innings when chasing down the 300-plus target at Sharjah in the last session of the third Test against Sri Lanka. He scored a-run-a-ball hundred in the process if memory serves me well.
When the Lahore Lions entire first XI was in India playing the Champions League he led his side well in the domestic Twenty20 tournament. He also led Balochistan Warriors to the final of the Pentangular Cup early in January this year, beating Punjab and Sindh in the process. This was a fine achievement considering the strengths of the other sides.
My only fear is that he doesn’t get into the same situation as Misbah, having to salvage the innings after false starts. However, if he bats at No.3 or even opens then he can lead the charge. But for that he will have to change his style of batting. Not everyone is a McCullum among the top sides and there are steady openers like Guptill and Finch and Rohit Sharma. Azhar will do well if he models himself on at least these three.
Nevertheless he has a long way to go. It shouldn’t be long before he takes on the Test captaincy from Misbah and then we will see whether he can adapt to both roles and responsibilities with the same fervor.
Shaharyar Khan has done well in naming Sarfraz Ahmed as vice captain of both the limited over formats. Sarfraz is decidedly the more aggressive compared to Azhar Ali and will learn well under Shahid Afridi in the shorter version over the next year. Shaharyar Khan needs to be recognized for this step as despite his overall conservative and careful approach his appointment of Sarfraz has broken the mold. How much a role Sarfraz actually plays as tour selector (manager, coach, captain and vice captain form the selection committee on tours) remains to be seen.
But let’s be positive. Even Haroon Rashid could prove to be a strong selector if he asserts his authority. He was a brave batsman until an eye injury disabled his strokeplay. It now depends how bravely he bats on this newly laid pitch given to him.