Aaj Ka Din — Pearl Anniversary


(For the full ghazal go to https://sohaibalvi.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/aaj-ka-din/ on this very blog page)

Were we not destined to love 24/7 my dear wife?
You see Allah destined us to be wedded on 24/7.

On this day you trusted your hand in mine though I was not worthy of your beauty and soul. You trusted to share your future with me when I had no future promised. You trusted me when I had nothing, and you had everything.

I pray to Allah to give me only that which I need for myself but to give me a fortune to spend on you; to give you the one thing you have never, ever asked from me. And that is something for yourself.


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I had written last week that the truest test of Haroon and fellow selectors will come with the announcement of the squad to Bangladesh, their first task as the new selection committee. They have taken the first step but have they given an ear to the adage: “Watch out for the first step”?

You see, important was not who they select but how they select. Also, will it reveal a policy statement that they might not convey overtly? After all selection is a long term game. It’s like chess. You play to a strategy and plan several moves ahead. You also have to prioritise who you will send ahead for the first charge and whether you have picked the knight or the rook or the bishop to deliver your check mate.

While the selection committee has done well to give a chance to some deserving players, one or two of whom should have been a regular by now, the observation is that they have played to the coach’s tune.

Waqar has clearly influenced the selection by his report following the World Cup. It was ostensible after the failure of the team to progress beyond the quarterfinals that scapegoats will be picked to hide the inadequacies or garbled mindset of the coach and fellow tour selectors and both Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shahzad were standing like rabbits trapped in the headlights on the highway.

Both have themselves to blame nevertheless for falling under the axe considering their injudicious choice of strokes and ill timed ones at that. Not that Sohaib Maqsood did any better but why he survived the purge was that his mode of dismissals appeared more genuine. Now he is out with a thinly fractured arm so it doesn’t matter except that Pakistan will suddenly have a refurbished top and middle order without him, Misbah, Younus Khan and Umar Akmal while they also go in with a new opener and a bowling all rounder as Shahid Afridi has also gone. Reminds me of the post 2003 scenario where out went Saeed Anwar, Inzamam, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq, though Inzi and Saqlain returned with contrasting fortunes. At least the fast bowling is intact somewhat; Irfan has gone out for medical reasons.

But coming to the soft targets. I can’t understand that if it is for disciplinary reasons how have the selectors arrived at the sentence without first getting a report from a Disciplinary Committee that should have been formed or at least demanded by the selectors. Can a manager’s report and that of the coach who were themselves guilty of not reading the games be taken as the final say? Should not the PCB Chairman have appointed someone to get Ahmed Shahzad’s and Umar Akmal’s side of the story?

In many ways Shahid Afridi clearly defined that he was playing for his own self. Not necessarily selfishly but refusing to adapt to the requirements of the game in play. Should he not have been penalised for indiscipline in batting? For not giving team need priority? Should he also not have been stripped of the Twenty20 captaincy for showing a careless attitude?  After all can a player show responsibility in leadership when not showing it while playing as an ordinary member of the side?

In fact, Afridi has been totally untouched. To the extent that he has managed to secure a place in the side for Ahmed Shahzad in the Twenty20 team which he leads. So do disciplinary measures apply to two formats and not the third one? There is the news that with the World Twenty20 a year away some element of consistency is required and there is little time for rebuilding. In that case shouldn’t Umar Akmal feature too as he is an important cog in the side for that tournament with his fielding and blistering batting in a format where his style of play and lack of application for longer than 5 overs is not an issue?

Through this move can be seen how helpless the selectors seem to be at the hands of two opposing forces, Waqar Younis and Shahid Afridi and with the directive of the chairman on discipline. Afridi has clearly come down heavy on the selectors with his demand for at least Shahzad. If it had been the issue of form it would have been appropriate for the selectors to give the captain the benefit of doubt. But in the case of indiscipline it shows that Haroon and his fellow selectors stand for little when it comes to demands laid down by the captain. The reasoning that they must give the captain a consultation does not apply here.

Also have they shown the seeds of future discontent between Shahzad and the new ODI captain, Azhar Ali, by revealing inadvertently that the captain did not fight for Shahzad’s place in the side as did Afridi?

There are also gaps in their logic for overall strategy as I say again that they have done well to give some younger aspirants a chance this time. The gap is in the logic of playing Junaid in the longest format but not the ODI one. Is it that Waqar Younis and Azhar Ali have prevailed on them that they want to retain Ehsan Adil? And give him some rope against a batting side that has shown potential but still can be more vulnerable than the top sides against whom Ehsan would have struggled? Is this an opportunity to get him to play a few games?

Haroon had talked of Hammad Azam in some of his appearances on TV. So where is the youngster who did so well last time he played in Bangladesh a few years ago. At least when Sohaib Maqsood with drew he could have been inserted considering he is from the same batch as Babar Azam? They have gone in for Saad Nasim when he didn’t do much last time he was given an opportunity. Have they totally written off Hammad? It would be a travesty of justice.

But to end on a positive note the selectors have done well overall in giving some fringe players the opportunity to show if they are made of a tougher mettle. There is talk of whether Saeed Ajmal should have gone without first showing his worth with the new action in the first class format. I would say the selectors have done the right thing. The season has ended and there is more international cricket in the summer before the next one starts. Holding him back would have meant six to seven months and to test him now against Bangladesh makes sense.

I can’t say the same for Hafeez’s inclusion in the ODI and T20 teams. He may justify to some extent his place in the Test side but since he has yet to clear his bowling action he can’t merit a place in the limited over formats playing purely as a batsman.

With all this in mind I just feel the selectors have been swayed by outside influence in some cases. Nevertheless, it’s a young side and we must back them for now.


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(As published in The News today written on Wednesday April 1)


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.


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Misbah ul Haq would have wanted to go with a last hurrah but all he got was more of the same; that initial optimism that lasted very little past the national anthems and then the dismantling of the plan, if there was one that made sense. And so it was more of: “Oops, here we go down again”, than any significant hurrah.

And so, as the cricket world gets set today for its showpiece event of the year– in fact the last four years – and there is the romantic vision of seeing New Zealand lift the trophy for the first time in what is their first ever appearance in a World Cup, Pakistan cricket continues on its nightmare of finding how to play the modern game.

Indeed this World Cup has thrown up the huge, in fact mammoth, difference between how we play our cricket and how the top 5 ranked teams play theirs; much like we’re catching the rickshaw to work when the others are catching the bullet train.

Yes there will be that odd, breathtaking spell from a fast bowler that we keep throwing up and maybe when Saeed Ajmal returns we can see the magical guile over the course of a session that turns the game but honestly, hope is all we’ve got.

With the departure of Misbah from the One Day scene I feel we will live even more with hope alone. I say that considering that despite all the slack he got for his conservative approach, Pakistan collapsed within a handful of overs every time he went early.

It has been an annoyed Misbah who has departed as captain and team member of the ODI unit.  In his departing press conference he was perhaps justified to a great extent to ask the question if he was responsible for everything under the sun; from selection to the state of domestic cricket to his fielders dropping catches.

And he was honest too by going to a great length to explain that the helmet was too small for Sohaib Maqsood and he only substituted in his place at forward short leg as it fit him until the new helmet had been received. There were no charges of lack of support; in fact he went out of his way to claim that everyone tried their best and worked their hearts out in practice and in the actual game itself.

But he did speak of immaturity in batting and the lack of adaptability to what is happening around the batsmen. His defense of not playing Sarfraz in the first four matches was a bit patchy. Claiming that he didn’t work out in batting in the lead up games was full of holes in the sense that neither could a couple of others and Pakistan’s batting disappointed overall.  He also eschewed the fact that Sarfraz was the specialist wicketkeeper and never touched upon the point as to why he wasn’t played as wicketkeeper when Umar Akmal was not of similar standard nor had had any such role given him recently.

What he didn’t hold back of course was his annoyance, to put it lightly, of some past cricketers who had become too personal in their criticism of him. “Pull me up for strategy and tactics but not for who I am” was his gripe. On cue the retorts came back from those he had directed his ire at and we all saw some stuff being thrown back.

Sad that it has come to this. A captain bullied and half cursed simply by those who have ganged up on him. That he has indicated he has set no timeline for his departure altogether from Pakistan cricket means we will be seeing some more targeted censure of his self for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile the chairman now has two pressing decisions to make. One is concerning who will replace Misbah as ODI captain and the other is the formation of a new selection committee and more importantly that of its new head.

About the selection committee first, it is imperative that we have somebody at its head who is not of subservient nature. Otherwise we will simply see the powers behind the throne running or shall we say ruining our cricket again. I mean it in the way that the old guard should return. Unfortunate that Rashid Latif gave it up so soon otherwise he or his kind is what we need today.  The names being mentioned, Mohsin khan or Wasim Bari, are too soft and are more inclined to please judging from their previous stints.

But the more important will be who captains Pakistan. It wouldn’t hurt to look to the future than handing it to someone like Mohammad Hafeez, not after he failed in the role as Twenty20 skipper. He is also in the midst of having his bowling action cleared without which he is a lame duck in the team with his slow scoring and hoarding of the powerplay overs to no avail.

Wahab Riaz has certainly put his hand up and not just because of the aggression he showed. Throughout the World Cup he was the standout player along with Sarfraz when the wicketkeeper got his belated chance.  You could see how committed both were to the Pakistan cause, how hard they batted, bowled and fielded in every game they played.

I had sensed before the World Cup that Ahmed Shahzad would have been a good candidate to lead but his body language and commitment, nor performance, was not that of a leader. Certainly Wahab Riaz has impressed enough to be given the responsibility, but his injury niggles have to be explored. We can’t have a leader who is absent off and on. Sarfraz is too raw and has to improve further behind the stumps when standing up to spinners. We must also bring Fawad Alam back into the side and then groom him.

Whatever decision we take should be arrived at after considering the long term. In that way perhaps Wahab’s case looks strongest, if that episode in an England restaurant with Salman Butt can be overlooked.


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The Irish Threaten Again

Note: This article was published in The News on Sunday March 15 before the match began and can be read there on http://tns.thenews.com.pk/cricket-worldcup-2015-the-irish-threaten-again/#.VQaNKtKUdzs 


The Irish Threaten Again by Sohaib Alvi

Pakistan’s World Cup campaign comes full circle today as they play out for a place in the quarterfinals on the very ground where they began it against India on February 15. It has since then been a time of introspection and experimentation and much controversy, not least by the coach’s adamant ignorance of there being no third opener travelling with the team.

Pakistan are likely to go in against Ireland today with a batting line up that really should have played against India, give or take Younis Khan. The experienced batter has vowed to play better following an element of rejuvenation in the game against South Africa; and being very close to the late Bob Woolmer wants to dedicate his innings and a possible Pakistan win to the memory of the former coach who passed away on the night that Ireland knocked out Pakistan from the 2007 World Cup.

But will or should he play if Haris Sohail is fit? I wouldn’t slot him in only for his 37 against the Proteas. After all Sohaib Maqsood, the other batsman who is being said should make way, has a fifty in the tournament. And both are good fielders, especially in the slips. Also, when it comes to scoring faster against the top teams that come up to Pakistan in the knockouts Sohaib has a better probability of doing that than Younis.

I also feel that Pakistan should make a call on persevering with youngsters in pressure situations. This is the time to blood them. Whether he fails or succeeds he will be better off for it. Pakistan I believe are still paying for their intransigence of the 2011 World Cup where they persevered with conservative batsmen like Hafeez and Asad Shafiq, the latter a brilliant find for the five day game but unsuited for a format requiring faster scoring; the former simply an off spinner who can bat but lower down, maybe at 5 and not slow down the opening. But both were continued with over the last four years in limited over cricket and we have them out today.

If the selectors continue to make the same mistake here then by start of the 2019 World Cup we would still be looking for our best combination for our opening game, continuing to try experience rather than talent.

So what happens today? I believe they should open with Sarfraz and Ahmed Shahzad and then at least I would send in Sohaib Maqsood or Misbah followed by Haris Sohail and Umar Akmal. This is if the news of Umar Akmal’s reported niggle is unfounded. Then comes the hope with Afridi for a few runs followed by the four pacers. Yes I wouldn’t play Yasir Shah today if only because of the rhythm that the four pacers are in. Haris Sohail if he is fit also brings to the table his left arm spin. Otherwise we make do with Afridi.

Rahat Ali has especially surprised with his penetration and accuracy and proven me wrong when I doubted if he was good enough for the limited over format. There has been talk of Irfan being rested, even of a strain he is carrying. But Pakistan desperately needs him out there, as the Irish batsmen are in form and have been notching up totals regularly that Pakistan can only aspire for, or have reached only when playing against UAE. There is the chance of dropping Sohail Khan for Yasir Shah and it is not too outlandish an idea. The Irish will struggle against quality spin despite shorter square boundaries at the Adelaide Oval.

The match today is also a test for the coaching and support staff. I feel there has been some innate panic in the backroom. The team is in danger of being knocked out of they lose today and all of Grant Luden, Grant Flower and even Waqar Younis have been preparing their run for the lifeboats. Luden has already made his point early in the tournament by handing in his resignation citing lack of effort in fielding being put in by the players. Now poor fielding cannot be penciled in against his name. Waqar Younis has indicated it is not the best team given to him under the circumstances though Sarfraz proved that actually there is a third opener in the team.

Now batting coach Grant Flower has given out signals that he has done his best with the batters and it is up to them to make a match of it. Partly he is right to throw the gauntlet at his wards but to tell them publicly to swim or go down should have been avoided, especially with a crunch game coming on today. You can have firm words with them one-on-one and leave it at that but to announce what you have said is designed more for the ears of Gaddafi Stadium than Ahmed Shahzad, Sohaib Maqsood or Umar Akmal.

Nevertheless the fact remains that Pakistan are a par 250 team. They remain the only side, perhaps other than Afghanistan, to not have one of their batsmen past three figures in a game. And when you see that the list includes batsmen from Scotland, UAE and Ireland it is embarrassing. But then if I recall Pakistan had no hundred in the 2011 World Cup and other than one by Imran Nazir against a half baked Zimbabwe attack in the 2007 edition there has been a severe drought of three figures by any Pakistani batsman in World Cups.

Coming to the 2015 edition that is a cause of concern considering we have supposedly better batsmen than what the minnows are supposed to have. Perhaps that is what has riled Grant Flower. Pakistan needs a good hundred if only to lift its sagging spirits which so far have been given elevation by their bowling attack, again much like in 2011.

And just how much one attacking innings can inspire a team can be seen by what it did to Pakistan when Sarfraz blitzed his way through Steyn and Co. at Eden Park. Will Sarfraz do it again at Adelaide today or will his stirring entrance at Auckland give wings to someone like Ahmed Shahzad or Umar Akmal or Sohaib Maqsood (if he plays) to do something similar? Or will the bowling attack see is through the Irish challenge? Whatever, the real Pakistan potential needs to come to the field today.

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The Waqar Doublespeak

The Waqar Doublespeak by Sohaib Alvi

Waqar Younis was quietly assertive on Sarfraz Ahmed as he sat in the commentary box at The National Stadium on the eve of the team’s announcement for the T20 & ODI series against Australia. “I don’t want to say this but I believe I have played a role in his transformation as a batsman in Sri Lanka,” he told a group of us after looking over his shoulder to see where Moin Khan was. (Moin was the one who, when he was manager-chief selector and Whatmore the coach, had walked up to the press box a few months earlier when Pakistan was preparing to chase that 300-plus target set by Sri Lanka on the last day at the Sharjah Test and said: “We’ll get this total and we will promote Sarfraz in the batting order to use his attacking strokeplay to build the momentum early on.” Sarfraz had come in at No.5 and got 48 off 46 balls.)

Waqar then went on to elaborate on how he had taken aside Sarfraz Ahmed in Sri Lanka and told him that if he can score runs in the domestic circuit he can score runs at the international level by simply batting the same way. He should just believe in himself and play with a free spirit. He must not worry about failure.

Now we have a Waqar Younis who is vary of Sarfraz’s batting skills hiding behind his pretentiousness of securing Pakistan’s asset for the future. Where is his self proclaimed call of not fearing failure? Where is the mentor and motivator he claims to be? Are we to now take his credit seriously for reinventing Sarfraz in Sri Lanka?

He is now daft enough to offer naivety of Sarfraz’s skills as an opening batsman. In the media briefing after the UAE game he says Sarfraz bats at No.6 or 7 forgetting that under him Sarfraz opened in the three ODIs against Australia back in October and fetched scores of 34 off 41 balls, 65 off 72 balls and in the third 32 off 39. The drop down pitches in this World Cup are all batting friendly so take away that as causing too much of a variable factor. Sarfraz was not played as opener in the pre-World Cup warm up games either, just given two casual games and an ODI as opener in New Zealand conditions where Pakistan lost all their games due to complete failure of batting.

Why is Waqar doing this, defying all logic and this own claims on how he got Sarfraz going as a batsman? This is not normal. Something is grossly wrong. Is he not seeing that the other option is an overweight and underfit left hander who couldn’t catch a train if it was stalled at a platform.

As such his press briefing after the UAE game contained an extraordinary declaration of why he is persisting with Nasir Jamshed when he said: “After the departure of Hafeez we don’t have a third opener”.  That shows a totally befuddled mind. Since Hafeez was swapped for another opener, does that mean that if he hadn’t been sent back, Waqar entered the World Cup with no reserve opener??!! And he accepted that team without commenting on this humongous oversight by the selectors, other than the fact that he has to answer why he kept quiet about this considering he was consulted all through. Is it that Moin Khan is being readied for being a scapegoat for the team’s failure at the top, with Waqar eventually citing his helplessness to replace Nasir Jamshed when he submits his report saying he had no other choice? Not even Shahid Afridi?

But then what is to be made of Moin’s assertion at the National Stadium that Sarfraz Ahmed would be the third opener when the team was announced?

There is now the need for an assessment of what is really going on. If Moin was the chairman of the tour selection committee till the time he was in Australia-New Zealand he had to take responsibility as well  for being quiet on the opening front but now that he is not there the manager Naved Akram Cheema is purely a figurehead in the tour selection committee and will not dare to overrule Waqar. The responsibility now rests with Waqar and Misbah. If we take away the fact that Misbah is retiring from ODIs after this tournament and we have only Waqar going through in the ODI set up, is he now worried for his job? And beginning to cast away the blame for what has been a completely warped selection so far in the World Cup games with Yasir Shah not being played against West Indies and Zimbabwe against which sides South Africa leggie Imran Tahir did so well?

Going by his briefing after the UAE game it has to be asked: Have the defeats and narrow escape against Zimbabwe befuddled Waqar enough to have a memory loss? Or is he just taking the media to be duds? He is already accountable after previously losing all sense of balance in the team as to play four specialist bowlers in the game against West Indies but now he has revealed an inert panic state. Or is there another game being played out as there has been in Pakistani cricket since the last two decades. Is the unprovoked panic simply a happenstance or is it part of a more thought out plan? Wonder what the odds are on that?

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A WEEK OF WORD WARS by Sohaib Alvi

It was during the last World Cup that Shoaib Akhtar acrimoniously exited his contentious cricket career, choosing to speak to the media in Colombo without the knowledge of his management and without much mincing his words. Now he has chosen to do so again this time on a stage that is known for throwing insults: Comedy Nights with Kapil. Which one has been more inappropriate is up for contention but while the first one was specific to cricketing issues this time he has chosen to mock at a personal level.

One of his targets has been Ijaz Butt who was the chairman of PCB when Shoaib was, according to himself, unfairly sidelined from the Pakistan team in the middle of the 2011 World Cup and missed his much desired farewell in the semi final at Mohali. Others included Inzamam with whom he had a contentious relationship throughout the time he played under him and Kamran Akmal, who dropped sitters off him in that tournament and who he reportedly had a physical altercation with during the drinks break in the game against New Zealand.

Though it was light hearted banter the second time around with lots of laughter but clearly there was a heavy undertone of a look-down on the individuals who Shoaib has often mistrusted, misunderstood and mishandled respectively.

The point is should he have done his stand up comedy stint in India? A country whose government is accused and perceived by Pakistanis of waging a proxy war in our country, which has gone to a great extent to slander and denigrate Pakistan at every level locally and internationally and which refuses to play cricket bilaterally with us even on neutral soil. Should he have made fun of his countrymen there?

From what was seen you could see the gleam in the eyes of Kapil and Sidhu who could hardly hold back the joy of what they were getting on their show. Same went for the audience at the venue and thereafter the millions who must be seeing the humorous tirade in homes across India. It was the Indians laughing at us courtesy a Pakistani making fun of his compatriots. That is what hit hardest.

But the fact remains that a lot of what he said was true. And also, they and some others before them had done Shoaib something of a gross injustice, on and off the field. It was this hurt coming out of him I felt. That and some ego being massaged at getting such a huge audience to laugh at the cracks he was making.

Shoaib is making his way into the Indian show business industry and good luck to him for that. But he must realize that mocking his countrymen will not build for him a respect among those he believes he is entertaining. No matter how much we laugh when others make fun of their countrymen, and how much we believe that laughing at oneself and one’s heritage/national characteristics-habits shows a big heart we can sense when people are indirectly running down their own. Shoaib, who has given his heart and soul to Pakistan whenever he played his cricket in Pakistani colours and badge, may just have bowled a no ball that will cost him more than he thinks.

On to another stage, this time in the heart of Pakistan. Shaharyar Khan appeared in front of the mikes at the Gaddafi Stadium and announced that for all it took, Moin Khan had been cleared of any misdemeanor in Australia and that he was not guilty of indulging in any gambling; at least one that the PCB Chairman did not know of. And that the matter was now closed.

He had a point. After all no videos have emerged of any such activity and Moin could simply have been invited in for some photographs. Like I said last week an inopportune thing to do for someone in his position, and poor sense of timing, but the fact remains there is nothing to say he was doing anything untoward.

Appropriate words therefore from the chairman and a quite right stance, something I had said last week should be happening. Close the issue and get on with the more serious business of the World Cup. What was big of the chairman was that he chose to address the media himself, and clearly informed that he had taken on this responsibility after Moin refused to do so and instead asked him to do the last rites.

In doing so he has shielded the former Pakistan captain from the possibility of a new controversy should he have said anything untoward while answering the questions from the media. He has also shown who is boss and who is the man in control. Najam Sethi will not be amused though for all we know he could have played an advocating role for Moin being let off without a fine or further disciplinary action.

Shaharyar Khan also took the opportunity to let everyone know that were there to be an India-Pakistan series it will have been made possible by him, perhaps a veiled attempt to take away the credit from his predecessor with whom he seems to be having something of a cold war. Najam Sethi it must be remembered had said in one of his last press conferences as PCB Chairman that he had signed and sealed MOUs with BCCI for four bilateral series that Pakistan would ‘host’.

Shaharyar Khan has nevertheless booked his ticket to India to call on the new BCCI chief Jagmohan Dalmiya and press for the bilateral series. He perhaps has tried to indicate that were this to go through, it would have been possible due to his intervention and bonhomie with Indian government officials which he has said he will be meeting.

It is another attempt by the aging PCB boss to claim his own ground and break away from the Najam Sethi shadow. After all, he said, whatever was promised previously was dependent on the blessings of the Singh government; now we have the Modi government and the process must start all over again.

In other words, were India to come and play even on a neutral venue it will have been through his efforts. It doesn’t matter who initiated the possibility; it matters who made it possible.

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