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Queue jumping and the great ‘I’

‘This is Rome.’ Our city is a cesspool of humanity, a place of deceit, plots and vice of every imaginable kind. Anywhere you turn you will see arrogance, stubbornness, malevolence, pride and hatred. Amid such a swirl of evil, it takes a remarkable man with sound judgement and great skill to avoid stumbling, gossip and betrayal. (Quintus Cicero – A Short Guide To Electioneering. c. 65-64 BC)

Cast your mind back to 1992. Imran Khan had led the Pakistan cricket team to its greatest triumph and, as he hoisted the cricketing world’s most prestigious trophy, he proudly declared, “In the twilight of my career, I have finally won the World Cup”. Imran and his team (not just Imran himself) had pulled off a near miracle in their World Cup campaign, coming back from the pits of despair to pull off some impossible wins and capping it all with a thoroughly professional victory over England in the final.

This was the culmination of Imran’s decade-long stint (he was first appointed captain in 1982) at the helm of the Pakistan cricket team. Javed Miandad and Zaheer Abbas would fill in for him for short stints during this period when Imran wasn’t available due to injury, etc but this was essentially Imran’s team. His greatest achievement was in taking a talented bunch of individual cricketers and turning them into a united squad and instilling in them a self-belief to take on the best of the world. Indeed, to be the best in the world.

No other team was able to match the mighty West Indies during this period but Imran’s team did not lose even one of the three memorable test series it played against Viv Richards’ men in the late ‘80s to early ‘90s. In fact, if not for some questionable umpiring in the 1988 series in the West Indies, Pakistan may very well have come out triumphant there.

But Pakistan did not become world champions overnight. It took time to inculcate cohesion in the team. It took time to harness the talent. It took time to develop the prerequisite skills. It took time to forge an indomitable will. And given that period of stability (under a strong leader) the Pakistan cricket team performed wonders.

The Pakistan team that Imran left in his wake included a magnificent array of champions, some already legends (Javed Miandad) , some future legends (Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzimamul Haq), some world beaters on their day (Saleem Malik, Mushtaq Ahmed, Aamer Sohail, Aaqib Javed, Ijaz Ahmed, Moeen Khan), and some future superstars waiting in the wings (Saeed Anwar, Rashid Latif). This team should have gone on to dominate the rest of the world for at least the next decade or so. But this was not to be.

After the Cup win Imran resigned for the final time and Javed Miandad took over. This was only right as Miandad had long been Imran’s vice-captain and had, in fact, been captain at various times already and there was nobody else in the team who could match his on-field achievements at that point in time. Miandad and Imran may have been polar opposites personality wise (one street-wise, the other regal) but together they were a formidable leadership unit, the former serving as the latter’s on-field tactician.

So Pakistan’s success continued under Miandad’s leadership and with a solid team in place. Pakistan won a series in England and followed it up with a one-off Test win in New Zealand. Wasim and Waqar were unstoppable and Miandad himself was in excellent batting form.

Then suddenly it was all over and Pakistan cricket’s golden age came to a shuddering halt. Miandad was inexplicably removed as captain by the Pakistan Cricket Board and, Wasim Akram, still a relatively junior player in the team, was installed in his stead (with, it is said, the support and backroom manoeuvrings of Imran himself). This proved to be a disastrous appointment as it set into motion a chain of events from which, arguably, Pakistan cricket is yet to recover. There have been the occasional moments of triumph but, really, there has been no sustained period of success since then.

And all because the queue was jumped. Even if Wasim Akram was someone that Imran saw in his own image (as opposed to Miandad) and thought that he was the right leader for the team going forward his being made captain in 1993 was premature and it ended badly. Wasim himself was out as captain within a year and a game of musical chairs for the captaincy began. Practically every member in the team felt that he could or should be captain (‘if Wasim, then why not me?’).

In short order, we had Waqar, Saleem Malik, Ramiz Raja, and Wasim again taking turns at leading the national team. Perpetual change was the new status quo. Back-room politics, cronyism, group-baazi, match fixing and drug scandals all followed. Team success was no longer the priority. Personal empowerment and enrichment took precedence. So if the allegations regarding Imran’s role in the appointment of Wasim as captain are true then while he may have been responsible for making the team he was also responsible for breaking it.

What should have happened is that Wasim should have been made Miandad’s deputy first. That would have ensured a period of grooming for him and, in time, when Miandad retired (and this would have happened sooner rather than later) Wasim would have naturally taken over, being the incumbent vice captain and having a definitive track record upon which to stand.

A process would have been followed and the perfect example set for the rest of the team: there are no short cuts (powerful godfathers notwithstanding) and only on-field performance will be rewarded. That’s the only recipe for sustained success.There are some powerful lessons to be learnt here.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: Kmumtaz1@hotmail.com

Khusro Mumtaz, "Queue jumping and the great ‘I’," The News. 2014-08-08.
Keywords: Social sciences , World Cup , Cricket-Pakistan , Humanity , Cricket , Games , Saleem Malik , Ramiz Raja , Imran Khan , Javed Miandad , Zaheer Abbas , Wasim Akram , Waqar Younis , Inzimamul Haq , New Zealand , England