Muhammad Asif Khan
The past week stated with a masala news of a rift between Pakistan Test and ODI captain Misbah-ul-Haq and his deputy Mohammad Hafeez and ended with an even bigger episode when the Australian Coach rocked the very foundation of his own team, beaten and bruised at the hands of the home side in India.
The four dismissed Australian players - Shane Watson, James Pattison, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja – failed to submit a report on the team’s and their personal performances with suggestions but there was another signal attached to the development which the coach – Mickey Arthur – wanted to transmit. He sent a stern warning across that nobody was above the system.
He further elaborated his decision on a blog to make his concerns and priorities absolutely clear.
Arthur said: "Being late for a meeting, high skinfolds, wearing the wrong attire, back-chat or giving attitude are just some examples of these behavioural issues that have been addressed discretely but continue to happen.
These are all the disciplinary issues. Do they have an effect on the performance of a player as well? But this is what Arthur believes and explains in the following way.
"If we're deadly serious about getting back to number one in the world, all players need to raise the bar and lift their game. If not, we must be content at being number three or four or five in world cricket because we won't get any better. The players won't learn and we'll continue a vicious cycle.
Here you go the mystery is solved, he has set some priorities for the team, he feels some players are not adhering to, and hence he pushed them aside and moved on. It sounds so simple but implementation of this unsympathetic philosophy and its likely impact in the longer run could be disastrous.
Fearless approach of Arthur and his muscles to swim against the tide are because of the confidence given to him by the system imposed by the Cricket Australia. Is it the first time they snubbed top-notch players? Absolutely not, as not so far back one of the best all-rounders of his time, Andrew Symonds was sent back from a tour only upon coming late for practice. All in all, penalising players is not a rare sight in the Australian Cricket setup.
Apart from the Board’s backing, another aspect should be highlighted to fully understand and digest the bold step taken by the incumbent Australia coach and that is their sound domestic structure which has been providing the team with quality backup of almost every player. This very tough and almost immaculate structure produces good players and that is the reason why even the star players keep their heads down in-front of the management, and that speaks volumes of their methodology to achieve excellence.
Excellence is indirectly proportional to compromises and here comes the difference between Australia and the Pakistan Cricket Board. I am comparing Pakistan and Australia because over the years the PCB has had a number of individuals from Australia to serve the national Cricket team. After Geoff Lawson, the current head coach, Dav Whatmore is also from Australia. It means that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) also acknowledges the competence of these men yet the excellence the PCB sought is still a far cry.
As far as the reported disturbance in the Pakistan team camp is concerned there is nothing in it to write about. If it has actually happened even then that was not unprecedented in the Pakistan Cricket culture.
What matters is the loose grip of the authorities over the matters related to discipline in the setup. Whenever the PCB tried to put its foot down, it failed one way or the other. Not so far ago, an inquiry into the miserable Australia tour resulted in bans and fines on a number of top players but gradually almost all had made their way back to the national team. We have also seen rift between a captains and cricket board chiefs in the past but the end result was always a patch-up between the two parties. What it indicates is that the players were treated as indispensable.
Why players are seen as indispensable because of a weak domestic cricket structure, which has not been producing quality backup of the star performers.
The onus is not only on the fragile domestic setup, the Cricket Board should take responsibility as well for not sticking to its stern decisions against the star players.
One great reason for the Board’s weakness is their political affiliation. Currently the Board chairman is directly appointed by the President of the country. We are hearing about the new democratic constitution which, the PCB says, will soon be implemented, however in the existing scenario the Board chairman is a fairly political personality. What change a ‘democratic’ constitution will bring about is a different topic altogether but what we have seen in the past is the lack of control over various matter and no accountability.
Lack of control over the players is, to some extent, linked with the weak domestic structure, but letting the ‘penalised’ players off the hook by being lenient with them indicates the lack of will within the Cricket Board. Individual brilliance is all-right but as a team, unless the mentioned issues are not overcome, sustainable excellence will remain a dream and team will be dubbed as ‘unpredictable’ for ever.
The writer is a Pakistani sports journalist, and tweets @mak_asif