Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Case of Exploding Cricket

Spot-fixing wasn't yet a distant memory when Pakistan faced South Africa in UAE for all three formats of the game. Loss of Aamir, Asif and Salman had unsettled the Pakistani team and their performance was already shaken due to spot fixing controversy that practically shook the world. Every new update batch on CricInfo had at least one new Spot-fixing related news and the whole affair became a nightmare for Pakistan and England in particular and Cricketing world in general.

It got so out of control that PCB chairman decided to play George Galloway and accused English team of match fixing when ICC began investigating Oval ODI (which Pakistan won) on a tip off from English media. Later he had to retract from his statements in the most humiliating fashion and had actually read out the statements from an email earlier sent to him by ECB.

To add to further humiliation, ICC (who had earlier suspended the Pakistani trio) gave PCB ultimatum to clean the whole Cricket setup from misconducts and match fixing elements or face consequences, possibly in the form of sanctions. This has been the lowest point of Pakistani cricket and Ijaz Butt, so far, has shown no remorse. His dictatorial attitude was evident when he finally let Younis Khan join the team, earlier suspending him along with other senior players of the team for undisclosed reasons and Younis was the last who remained suspend until the mid of England tour, others who applied for reconsideration were allowed to play.

Before the start of UAE tour the announcement of team and captains for all formats of the game took time and surprise came in form of Misbah-Ul-Haq who was made captain for Test squad. Misbah had been out of Cricket team for quite some time now and his form itself was questionable. Amongst many blunders Ijaz Butt made, I believe this one is least worrisome but a blunder in any case.

The start of UAE tour was quite as much as was expected. Pakistan faced the Proteas in two Twenty20 games and lost both of them. The team looked unsettled and despite clear attempts at better performance they failed to face off South Africans on equal terms. It was now time for One Day matches.

The first ODI saw South Africa easily chase an ordinary target set by Pakistan by 8 wickets. Pakistani lineup still hadn't clicked and struggled to pull off worthwhile performance in batting, bowling and fielding. It was no different in the second ODI with Pakistan losing more than half the wickets, including Afridi's, chasing a strong total set by South Africa. All hope had lost until Abdul Razzak let loose batting blitzkrieg that stunned South African bowling attack. Runs flew in all directions as Razzak hit 10 sixes in his innings and pulled off a century at lower batting order that led Pakistan to victory with one wicket and one ball to spare. The whole nation came alive at that news and several disgruntled fans cheered men-in-green for the valiant effort. The individual brilliance saved Pakistan cricket once again.

The third ODI saw more spectators tuning in from Pakistan where they saw their team chasing South African total, gradually losing wickets until they succumbed to defeat by 2 runs. The Proteas were practically dancing out of their skins with this close victorious encounter. Despite being the better team, the South Africans were aware that Pakistani team is always unpredictable due to sudden breathtakingly extraordinary performances by individuals that take the game away in even the most impossible situations.

And Pakistani team proved itself once again in the fourth ODI when it chased South African total with two wickets and one ball to spare. This time the tailenders took the fight with Wahab Riaz and Zulqarnain Haider adding valuable runs that led Pakistani team to victory. The series was equal 2-2 and one match remaining to determine the winner of ODI series. The final was set to take place on 8 November, 2010 and all were anxious for the match.

And that is when hell, once again, broke loose. Zulqarnain Haider, who had been keeping well and played crucially at the end of the innings to lead Pakistan to victory, disappeared from his hotel and no one could find him. Internet was abuzz and Geo news channel in Pakistan was sensational with his "missing" news until one Geo correspondent received text message from Haider that said he was being threatened by some guy to loose the match and because of that he can't play for Pakistan anymore and leaving for England. He requested the media to help in providing security to his family back in Lahore.

Speculations arose regarding Haider's correspondence and his UK departure without passport until Team management confirmed that Haider had acquired his passport from management a day earlier for undisclosed reasons. Geo news contacted several known people who were associated with Pakistan Cricket Board at one time or the other and asked about several possibilities which only led to more controversy. A former chairperson of PCB even said that Haider wasn't an important player and he might be doing that to acquire political asylum in UK to gain British passport, marry a British girl and settle there permanently. It isn't difficult to believe how much worse our cricket has become when we listen to such insensitive and humiliating comments from those who are responsible of running Cricket in the country.

Haider's brother didn't comment much except that his brother was tense since 4th ODI due to threatening phone calls and continuous pressure to "Lose the match". He also said that player politics kept Haider out of team despite his good performance when he was earlier given the chance. The controversy, which we had all but forgotten, came around and bit Pakistan at the rear end, and pretty nastily at that. Pakistani team was without a specialist wicket keeper with final match only hours away.

Umar Akmal, brother to specialist wicket keeper Kamran Akmal, was included in playing 11 with wicket keeping responsibilities. The Pakistani team was once again unsettled with recent twists and strain was visible on players faces. When Hashim Amla struck 3 boundaries from Shoaib Akhter's first over, the mental strength of men-in-green failed greatly. South Africa went on to set a total of 317 with five wickets to spare, a monumental challenge for a team who had started the day with a bad omen.

Pakistani openers provided a surprisingly good start until they blundered after first 10 overs and middle order batting failed to click. In short order the several wickets were down and some individual efforts from Afridi, Razzak and Umar Akmal kept the hope alive until the team lost all of its wickets and suffered 57 runs defeat at the hands of Proteas. Even Pakistan's twitter community had remained mournful throughout the match, their tweets occasional and often subdued.

The recent events did shed light to one important aspect which wasn't considered before, and that is players safety. I remember Salman Khan's role as Radhay Mohan where he goes to threaten a cricket player and comes close to beating him up. This seems nothing else except another Radhay Mohan incident where cricketer is being forced to cooperate or face the consequences, including threat to life. The incident of Hansie Cronje isn't too far back in history when he had accepted illegal dealings, suffered the consequences in form of ban and later lost his life in a plane crash. I now see Hansie's demise in a whole new light after Haider's incident and do not know what to believe.

PCB representative said on TV that Zulqarnain Haider left the team without informing anyone and departed for another country which is clear breach of contract he signed with PCB. In my opinion what PCB should have done was keep their statement limited to investigation of matter and not blaming the breach of contract with PCB. We have already seen the performance of Pakistan Cricket Board and the deterioration it was heading to. Bringing in factor of contract breach simply does not suit them since it's about threat of life of the leading players of Pakistan. If it would have happened with any other team, their respective board would have taken immediate steps for player's security. Here, we have chairman who just can't stop enjoying his foreign visits. Even after the whole incident, Ijaz Butt was in UAE to attend the ceremony and not setting out after Haider right away to reach to the crux of the matter.

At the time of writing of this blog it was confirmed that Haider had landed in UK and was seen at Heathrow airport. He came out of the airport after 5 hours inside.

No comments:

Post a Comment