By Muhammad Asif Khan
With the departure of Ijaz Butt if the cricket enthusiasts were expecting the “change” then they must be disappointed to know that the story is somewhat the same under the new chairman, Zaka Ashraf as well. The dramatic inclusion of Shoaib Malik in the squad for the ODI & T20 series against England is a classic example of the existence of “hidden” hands in the set-up.
The selection committee announced the squad on Tuesday morning, and after around 5 hours all-rounder Malik’s name came to the fore as an addition to the Pakistan team which is scheduled to take on England in the first ODI of the series on February 13th. The logic presented by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) says it all. They claimed that Misbah-ul-Haq requested for Shoaib Malik and if this was true then two things are for certain. Firstly, the selection committee might have not consulted the captain before finalising the combination. Since, the chairman of the selection committee, Muhammad Ilyas was himself in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week therefore it is highly unlikely that the team combination for the ODI and T20 series was not discussed amongst the chief selector, captain and team management.
Secondly, if Misbah-ul-Haq had actually made a request to include Shoaib Malik in the team then the all-rounder should not act as a spectator in the UAE during the ODI and T20 rubbers. If he (Malik) is the choice of the skipper then he should be featuring in the playing XI as well – at least in the opening encounter.
This is not enough, there are a few more questions related to the dubious inclusion. But before moving further the recent record of Shoaib Malik is worth a review. In the last ten ODI innings former captain Malik accumulated 82 runs – he did not bat twice - with an average of 10 runs per innings. As a bowler he took 7 wickets in those 10 ODIs. Recently in the 6 outings against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe Shoaib Malik collectively scored 33 runs and bagged 5 wickets. In the ongoing Pentangular Cup he scored some runs but here again he was not outstanding amongst other star performers.
Even after receiving the request from Misbah, why the selection committee failed to convince the skipper that Malik’s recent performance was not good enough to earn him a place? If the committee was helpless in front of the skipper then isn’t it a clear indication of the fact that players are still more powerful than the management, and the famous slogan of the past i.e. “Players’ power” is very much in the existence?
Apart from Misbah and his reported insistence we should also realise that this had not happened for the first time in our recent history. In 2010, Shoaib Malik along with others was banned but the former Chairman Ijaz Butt mysteriously took a U-turn and provided the all-rounder with a clean chit. Later on the presence of the hefty amount in his bank accounts was said to be the hindrance to his inclusion in the team but again he strangely managed to satisfy the Integrity Committee and subsequently was selected to play for Pakistan.
The decision has been taken now its impact remains to be seen. In the presence of quality all-rounders like Shahid Afridi and Muhammad Hafeez in the squad already will Malik be able to sneak his way through to the playing XI? If he has been selected on his bowling form then will he be able to replace Saeed Ajmal or Abdul Rehman? Lastly, after looking at the present batting strength of the Pakistan team, it will be another hard puzzle to create a slot for the all-rounder.
Now the onus in on Shoaib Malik, upon getting a chance he will have no other option but to perform in order to shun criticism, otherwise not only he, but the management as well as the captain would be in hot waters.