Finally, the curtain has fallen on Captain Azhar Ali and not only him but along with him, ‘batsman Azhar’ has also vanished from Pakistan’s One Day International scene.
Just about a month ago, he was seen on the global stage as the captain commanding his troops in a foreign territory and within no time, he has been ostracized completely from the limited overs affairs of Pakistan Cricket.
First, being denied a single match in the PSL where he was a regular feature of the side in the last year’s edition and then, being omitted from Pakistan ODI side that he proudly led for almost two years.
Although Azhar Ali had resigned as the captain of Pakistan ODI team, the selected line up of the very next ODI series tells a different story. It looks like the selection committee had concluded that the captain does not have a place in the team, and the resignation came just as the last option for an honorable exit.
Through the announcement of its selected squad, the selection committee has declared it loud and clear that for almost two years, Pakistan ODI team was captained by someone who doesn’t even deserve a place in the side.
As if, it were in the hands of the selection committee, not the chairman, Azhar would have been excluded from the team long ago.
The expulsion has not come as a surprise to many but it’s the pace and manner that has shocked quite a few.
It can be argued that Azhar deserved his place purely as a batsman and selection committee has come out unnecessarily harsh on him but that is probably a minor debate in greater scheme of things.
Regardless of whether he should have been selected as a batsman for the upcoming tour or not, someone has to explain the rationale behind his surprise appointment and then sudden release from the national duty of captaining the national side.
More than his exclusion from the side, its his inclusion and appointment that require some explaining.
Cricket is one of the very few things left with which masses of Pakistan associate their sense of pride and honor. If not the only one, Cricket must be one of very rare things in Pakistan that can dictate the mood of the nation.
The whole country rejoices when Pakistan Cricket achieve something and an air of grief takes over the streets, if Pakistan Cricket team misses an opportunity to give people a reason to rejoice and feel proud to be a Pakistani.
Cricket, thus, is more than just another sports in Pakistan and everything related to it, including selection of teams, appointment of captains, coaches and others, is a matter of national interest.
The national team and its performance attract so much emotion that it simply cannot be treated as test bed for experimentation or trials.
Azhar was pulled in, out of nowhere, and was pushed into the responsibility of steering the rocking ship of Pakistan ODI team. He proudly put on the hat of Captain of the ship and somehow managed to steer Pakistan Cricket away from the eminent storm of being knocked out of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017.
However, the way he was pulled in and he was assigned the job, it cannot be considered anything but an experiment or a trial. If there were any doubts then, the latest reversal has just certified it and the haste in which ‘the testing equipment’ has been dumped, has stamped the experiment as failed one as well.
In all fairness, Azhar Ali can never be blamed for accepting the job nor for giving it his best shot till he could. Every Cricketer grows up with a desire to lead whichever team he becomes part of, especially the national side, and consider himself good to play all formats. Players do give up the desire of captaincy or of playing all formats once they get mature as a cricketer.
But it would be almost impossible to find a single Cricketer without these desires especially early on in his career. Although a lot of people conveniently infer like so, Azhar was not wrong to accept the responsibility.
It was not his fault that the responsibility was thrown at him. The responsibility of his appointment and release – a failed experiment at the national level – lies completely on those selected him for the job.
As stated countless times by multiple chairmen and selection committees, appointment of captain of the side is sole discretion of the chairman of the board and it lies beyond the jurisdiction of selection committee. It is the chairman who appoints a captain and selection committee is bound to provide him the best available team.
The exclusion of Azhar from the very next line-up after his resignation, also highlights a distinct difference in the direction of the board and the selection committee, or maybe not. Maybe it was all part of the plan.
That is, to put someone in front, who the fans can use as a punching bag and at the same time, can work as protective shield for ‘the responsibles’ in front of public resentment and unhappiness. Maybe Azhar’s appointment and inappropriate removal, both, were part of the plan.
Azhar, the captain, has been used as expendable resource in the greater game of guile and power going on in some safe and sound corners of Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore.
Like a loyal and devoted soldier, Captain Azhar, when called upon for the national duty, has taken the bullet on his chest to save the very generals who put him in the line of fire. He tried his best, he did his best but in the end, he has been removed from the screenplay as a regrettable and unwanted character that was not liked by the audience.
It was the poor character that faced the wrath of the people; people who conveniently ignored that the actor in front of them was only fulfilling a role that was handed to him by the writers, and if anyone has to be blamed for inserting a weak and lame show on the stage, it should not be the actor performing that character but the writers behind it.
In this screenplay of Pakistan Cricket, the writers operate from a place in Lahore called Gaddafi Stadium. That is the place where these Generals of the Game layout their plans and from where they play their games even with the careers and livelihoods of the players.
One after the other, they keep on finding, appointing and dumping off the expendable actors in different roles and characters required for the screenplay, generally known as Pakistan Cricket.
One after the other, a batsman bursts on to the scene out of nowhere and vanishes in the oblivion, a bowler gatecrashes into the premier show, only to grace some hospital or a rehab center within no time of his arrival, or a CAPTAIN is discovered from the pack – not developed – who is presented as the best available choice for the moment, only to be denounced as incompetent underperformer in a couple of years’ time.
These batsmen, bowlers, captains keep coming and going but the writers remain the same and unchallenged.
It looks like the concept of performance based accountability has been confined exclusively to the players and everyone other than players has been awarded perpetual indemnity from any kind of performance accountability.
For the sake of Cricket, Pakistan and Pakistan Cricket, it is high time the web of ‘accountability according to authority’ is extended to everyone involved with the game. Not only the players but also who ‘plays’ with the players should also share the responsibility of failures.
This saga of handpicked, hand-tied captains fighting improbable and underprepared battles in the field, along with their soldiers while the generals who call the shots remain free of any accountability, should end.
Its time, those who brought in the reign and resign of Azhar should also show some grace and self-respect, and consider stepping down from their seat of authority just like Azhar.
Another captain has vanished into oblivion while the generals remain safe in their bunkers. It has to change and now is the time.