What Was Different With Najam Sethi And Mickey Arthur Shaping Pakistani Cricket?
There is no doubt that Najam Sethi “knows nothing” about Cricket like the rest of us in the professional sense. But there is also little doubt that as a Chairman he handled it better than all his predecessors. His performance as the PCB Chairman abolished the assumption that the person chairing the board must “know” cricket or that he must have played it at some point in life.
The recent appointments by the PCB in the form of Misbah-ul-Haq as the Chief Selector as well as the Head Coach, and that of Waqar Younis as the balling coach, have brought the progression of cricket back to square one. It is not that they are incompetent for these posts but rather inappropriate. Pakistani coaches have historically tended to look for quick solutions; in effect in quest for some magic trick to suddenly change it all. When it doesn’t work, the first thing they do is to change the Captain. This is exactly what Misbah did – the only solution a Pakistani Head Coach and/or Selector looks for when he comes under pressure after his team has lost a series. Not to mention that by accepting these heavy crown posts Misbah has also jeopardized his legacy, which thus far remains unblemished.
The replacement of the captain sends a signal to all the permanent players in the team that if the captain can be uprooted, so can they. Eventually the fear gets to their brain and in that state of mind they play the next match. No player on Earth can perform to even his bare minimum level – let alone his level best – without sheer support and motivation from the pavilion that they are behind him. On the contrary, the player tries hard to score the bare minimum to somehow keep himself in the team. If he fails he is replaced; the new player obviously does not want to let go of this golden opportunity and gives his best, scores a 50 and wins the hearts of everyone in the ground. “50 in the first match! How come this guy was not given a chance before?”, the commentators ask. Soon enough this new player gets overwhelmed by the same pressure that if he does not continue to please his watchers, he shall be removed like his predecessor. This is a vicious cycle in our international cricket aside from the difficulties we have in the domestic cricket. Umar Akmal despite being a very talented player fails to make his place in the team due to this very pressure, “What would happen if I don’t score?”.(this analysis should not be seen as apologia on his behalf)
So what is it that Najam Sethi did differently? The first thing he did was to bring in a foreign coach and that, too, a good one. Here was a coach would not be prone to making thoughtless changes in his approach only to shut the mouths of some displeased cricket fans/analysts. He would have a plan of his own. As a result, after a long while, some stability was seen in the team. Under their joint efforts, they splendidly equalized the series against England in England with Younis Khan scoring a marvellous double-hundred-touching glory. Nothing much was new: it was the same team. The only difference was that the pavilion was strong. And that made all the difference in the attitude. Not to forget the Champions Trophy and the fact that we beat India in the final – our only victory over India in a big tournament in 72 years.
The second and fairly important achievement of Najam Sethi is the successful establishment of Pakistan Super League PSL. Notwithstanding the criticism from PTI and others despite the excellent performance that Mr. Sethi displayed, he continued to work on the project he so earnestly initiated. PSL revitalised the love for cricket in Pakistanis as we desperately needed a league of our own especially since we were exceptionally excluded by India in the IPL. It also gave opportunity to many talented players to show what they have got before millions of viewers. PSL is a double asset in that until the time we ameliorate our domestic cricket, it will continue to produce the best of players with every new year.
The dethronement of Najam Sethi has brought progress in cricketing back to where we started. With him gone, the stability that had just cemented itself over the years started to fissure. The coach Mickey Arthur was left alone and with no intelligible support behind him close to that of Mr. Sethi, the whole team started to crumble. The recent sudden deterioration in cricket is a testament to this. The first thing the new Chairman did was to attack his predecessor despite the latter’s surprising yet massively stupendous input in the form of a profitable as well as iconic outcome such as PSL.
Mickey Arthur also started to receive the very criticism that a man receives after doing 99 favours and falling short once. The pressure is never much on the coach or Chairman. In reality pressure spreads across in a cycle starting from the Chairman to the most unimportant team player.
Players’ growth has become insignificant due to this dark side of our cricket. We want magic and this is what we have been up to for quite a few decades. Shahid Afridi, Muhammad Amir and the more recent inclusion of a 16-year-old are the products of our desires. None of them achieved glory and none are likely to get there – because even magic requires years and years of practice to be perfectly executed. How could a player be expected to do magic without any rigorous hard work? How could he be expected to even think of achieving such glory when he is constantly reminded that only magic would do and no one can wait?
Compare these stars with their equally talented peers from other countries who have far impressive figures. Virat Kohli, A.B. De Villiers, Quinton de Kock etc. If we compare their first 50 matches to those of similar Pakistani players we will get to the bottom of the problem due to which Pakistan is unable to produce legends any more.
Take Quinton de Kock for a moment. His first century came against Pakistan in his 11th one-day international and before that in all 10 matches his score was less than 10. Today he is one of the best and most expensive players in the cricketing world. Would we even allow a prayer 5 matches? De Villiers constantly kept working hard until he became De Villiers – and he remained De Villiers.
The fact is that we are an unhappy nation as a whole. Just like an unhappy person tends to resort to little pleasures, cricket is just that drug for us. If the players end up giving us the necessary kick they are heroes. If they do not, they are mocked, agitated against by the jobless retired cricketers and condemned as if they were criminals. Najam Sethi and Mickey Arthur shielded their team from censure and stood behind them. The incumbents, however, are busy shielding themselves and will not halt until hell freezes over.
The author is a barrister practicing law in Peshawar and Islamabad. He graduated from Cardiff University. The author can be reached at [email protected]