‘It’s business as usual’: Making sense of Pakistan cricket’s latest crisis

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They have just punted their captain and coach. Their last chairman of selectors quit in the middle of the World Cup over a perceived conflict of interest. They haven’t had a CEO for 12 months, and have been run by two interim boards since last December. Welcome to the chaos that is Pakistan cricket.

“It’s business as usual,” former coach Geoff Lawson quipped.

The crisis that has engulfed the Pakistan side does not bode well for what already shapes as a one-sided Test series in Australia. And this is the supposed A-side on this summer’s soundtrack.

Babar Azam leaves Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore after meeting with the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board last month.Credit: AP

If stability is one of the keys to success, the visitors have been set up for failure by the various administrations that have run the Pakistan Cricket Board over the past 12 months.

Not for the first time, the political uncertainty in Pakistan has filtered into their cricket, leaving the national men’s team in disarray before one of the most difficult assignments in the international game.

Their best player, Babar Azam, is gone as captain. The PCB sacked him as their white-ball leader but wanted him to remain as their Test skipper. Babar’s preference was to lead in all formats and chose none instead of some.

His successor is veteran batter Shan Masood, who averages just 28.5 from 30 Tests and has only one score above 50 in his past 17 innings. Australian teams have dismantled better-credentialed skippers, as South Africa’s Dean Elgar will attest.

Mickey Arthur, Australia’s coach from 2011 to 2013, is no longer the director of cricket, while coach Grant Bradburn was also axed. Former opener Mohammad Hafeez assumes both roles in Australia despite no previous coaching experience. He has spent the past fortnight scrambling to assemble a coaching staff for the tour.

Also out is Inzamam-ul-Haq, who resigned as chairman of selectors during the World Cup over media reports of a conflict of interest.

According to UK company records, Inzamam has a 25 to 50 per cent share in a players’ agents firm Yazoo International Limited, co-owned by agent Talha Rehmani. Rehmani manages several topline Pakistan players, including Mohammad Rizwan, Shaheen Afridi, and Babar.

“I am stepping down from the post to offer the PCB the opportunity to conduct a transparent inquiry about the conflict of interest allegations raised in the media,” Inzamam said, as reported by ESPN Cricinfo.

Inzamam’s successor Wahab Riaz, best remembered in Australia for his thrilling duel with Shane Watson in the 2015 World Cup, has already been involved in a public spat with a player, speedster Haris Rauf, who made himself unavailable for Test duties to instead play with the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash.

Rauf still has not been granted a clearance by the PCB to play in the BBL, though the Stars expect him to be available.

At first glance, Pakistan’s failure at the World Cup can be seen as the catalyst for the bloodletting, but the writing was on the wall five games into the tournament when the board refused to back in Babar and team management. The side had lost three games on the trot but remained very much in finals contention.

Sensing danger, Arthur had urged the PCB not to start a “witch-hunt”. A source familiar with the cricket landscape in Pakistan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak publicly, said those in charge had wanted to make changes regardless of results.

“It was not because Pakistan played badly,” the figure told this masthead this week. “My reading of the situation is it was always on the cards. [The] PCB made it very, very clear in a media statement before the South Africa match.”

Adding to the chaos, the management committee appointed to run the game in Pakistan on an interim basis does not have full executive powers to make long-term decisions.

Geoff Lawson with security detail during his time as Pakistan coach.

The turbulence has been building since former captain and cricket great Imran Khan’s ousting as prime minister in April last year. In Pakistan, the PM is a patron of the board, and changes in national leadership often bring about change in cricket as well. Imran, their captain when they won the World Cup in 1992, was left out of a recent PCB video outlining Pakistan’s cricket success, a move widely criticised.

Last December, eight months after Imran’s exit, former teammate Ramiz Raja was removed as PCB chairman. The organisation – if one could call it that – has since been run on an interim basis by two separate management committees. A fourth PCB chair in 15 months is likely to be installed in February when the national elections are held.

As Pakistan coach from 2007 to 2008, Lawson understands the complex relationship between cricket and government better than most.

England captain Jos Butler with then Pakistan counterpart Azam during the 50-over World Cup in India.Credit: AP

“In Australia people don’t understand that concept because Cricket Australia are an independent body – they make their own decisions,” Lawson said.

“That’s not what it is in Pakistan. The government changes, the minister of sport changes, [and] then the chairman will change and the deckchairs fall over down the way.

“Sometimes you get better chairs, a better board, better selectors – sometimes you don’t.”

Aside from the captaincy, the upheaval higher up has not led to mass changes to the squad. Eight players remain from the team that lost 1-0 at home early last year, including their top-order stars Babar, Imam-ul-Haq and Abdullah Shafique, and star paceman Afridi.

Their pace stocks have been weakened by the absence of young star Naseem Shah, who debuted here four years ago as a 16-year-old, which may explain the consternation from selectors towards Rauf for his unavailability.

Surprisingly, Pakistan – the country that produced spin greats Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq – do not have a proven world-class slow bowler, though leggie Abrar Ahmed raises intrigue.

Brought up playing with a tape ball, Abrar has been touted as a mystery spinner, whose wiles have yielded him 38 wickets in six Tests so far, including 11 on debut against England.

But with only four wins from 37 Tests here, and none since 1995, expectations are low this summer for Pakistan, particularly if they start poorly and hope is lost early among a group that has been plunged into instability by recent events. Even a whitewash where Pakistan are competitive in each Test would be a reasonable result.

“They’ve come here with good teams and failed,” Lawson said. “I have a glimmer of hope their fast bowlers will do well, and their batting will be up to it.

“I want to see some good Test cricket, some combative and close, quality cricket. Pakistan are capable of playing that. Whether they deliver it – their track record suggests not.”

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