Pakistan Cricket’s Enigma

By Nauman Niaz - May 18, 2017

We were travelling to New Zealand in 2001. Fakir Azizazuddin was the team Manager, Asad Mustafa had taken over from me as an Associate Manager, I had been assigned a new role, on tour as Cricket Analyst. Javed Miandad was the coach. There was an air of uncertainty. Moin Khan was team’s captain.

Something was missing, the spirit and that peculiar camaraderie. Shoaib Akhtar was endeavouring to regain full fitness. Lieutenant General Tauqir Zia’s pampered boy, his blue-eyed he was labelled, even if he wasn’t. Dr. Tauseef Razzaq was sent as his personal trainer and physiotherapist. Discriminatory it seemed.

Rest of the team had Dr. Riaz Ahmad to look after them, whilst Shoaib has his own trusted one with him. The team wasn’t anything less than a gauntlet of world stars- Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Moin Khan, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saqlain Mushtaq, Abdur Razzaq, Shahid Afridi, Mushtaq Ahmad and a plethora of others.

 Rest of the team had Dr. Riaz Ahmad to look after them, whilst Shoaib has his own trusted one with him. The team wasn’t anything less than a gauntlet of world stars- Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Moin Khan, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saqlain Mushtaq, Abdur Razzaq, Shahid Afridi, Mushtaq Ahmad and a plethora of others

I had been with the team since 1999-2000 and had befriended most on it. Mistrust wasn’t one of the factors alienating me within the team nonetheless I could sense a change, it was strange.

At Lincolns we were busy in a three day match I was sitting in the dressing room when a towel was thrown on me, I was blinded. I got the beating. It was revealed later Javed Miandad had initiated the ‘prank’ whilst Afridi and Inzamam had hauled me up.

Though ending up on players’ side, Waqar, Wasim and Moin hadn’t really approved of what had transpired. A weak manager, extremely polite and gentlemanly wasn’t expected to take a stern action. It was termed as a ‘practical joke’.

I had known Saqlain since we played university cricket and for the University Grants Commission, Inzamam while he was representing Multan U 19s and played against us at Rawalpindi.

Retrospectively, it was revealed senior players had gotten wary of the fact team news were constantly being leaked out. And some from the management at the PCB in Lahore had let it spill over to New Zealand hypothesizing that I was Lieutenant General Tauqir’s ‘informer’. I wasn’t at all since the General wasn’t really into petty politicking anyways.

As it could happen most of the top players including Saeed Anwar even Wasim Akram had decided to discontinue the tour having ‘aggravated’ injuries. There were a handful of substitutions made. Arshad Khan I remember was one of them, and there were others.

In the middle of the tour it was learnt Saqlain Mushtaq was being sent back. Moin had stood up to authority. He had refused to comply. Senior players were dissenting PCB having signed a deal with Pepsi while individually most of them were seeking endorsements from Coca Cola. Saqlain had also been caught in the middle and management wanted to teach him a lesson.

There were couple of new players in the team- Misbah Ul Haq, Faisal Iqbal, Mohammad Sami, Imran Farhat and his older brother Humayun Farhat.

All of them made their debut in Tests.

One last thing, Misbah would have even been a better captain then he was had he led a team having Saeed Anwar, Aamir Sohail, Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Rashid Latif, Moin Khan, Saqlain Mushtaq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar? He wouldn’t have taken a deep point, a deep square leg or a deep long off or a deep long on. He would have done what his predecessors did. 

With Ramiz Raja extremely close to General Tauqir and a Member on the Advisory Council, the late Yawar Saeed more diplomatic and hypocritical were at the back end. Javed Miandad was more frequently suspecting some of the top players of wrong doing and with Faisal in, he had shifted to investing in youth.

There was palpable discontent. Team spirit was completely eroded during this tour. Inzamam, Younis and Saqlain posted individual hundreds, Mohammad Yousuf then Yousuf Youhana hit a double century, Mohammad Sami arrived with a fiver on Test debut, Akhtar returning from injury picked a five wickets haul in one of the one day internationals.

Imagine how would have younger players like Misbah Ul Haq felt starting their international careers in such demanding conditions. We all were mostly taxed be it in the hotels or at the stadiums or in the dressing rooms.

Misbah debuted in the first Test and as he went into bat I remember he lunged into a cover drive one knee bent, Javed Bhai had remarked ‘who is this WG Grace?’. That he had to herald a place in the middle order with Inzamam, Younis and Yousaf in itself was a greater challenge.

Gentlemanly, quiet and someone keeping to himself, Misbah was apart. He was an unattractive batsman, had technical breaches but was out there having performed in first class cricket. And as it was, Javed Miandad wasn’t envious of newer players be it Mohammad Wasim, Misbah, Wajahatullah Wasti even Salim Elahi. To him, in the fray, was his nephew Faisal Iqbal. Even Bazid Khan wasn’t allowed close. Faisal was made prominent and quite fascinatingly he had made an impressive debut. He was in the runs.

Misbah was around, he wasn’t in and he wasn’t likely to settle in the line-up. Had someone predicted Misbah would become Pakistan history’s most successful captain, he would have been sent to the gallos. He was nowhere.

I remember Sami, Imran Nazir, Humayun Farhat even Imran Farhat being discreetly indiscreet breaking the curfew times but Misbah wasn’t to be seen. I don’t really remember other than a quiet educated boy tucked into one corner of the dressing room.

There were quite a few incidents. Our Media Manager Farooq Mazhar was diagnosed to have carcinoma of the lung and he died on his way back to Pakistan.

I was sacked and sent back before the third Test at Hamilton started, which was Inzamam-ul- Haq’s first as captain. Moin had made himself available citing recurrence of an old knee injury though his was a protest against the deadlock on sponsorships.

He was removed as captain and Waqar Younis took over. Inzamam I remember had refused taking over from Moin. I had returned from the tour early having been sent back. General Tauqir had summoned me to Mangla to start his own fact finding about reports of possible match fixing. Saqlain one last over in a one day match was being questioned. There wasn’t any evidence despite Javed Miandad being adamant about it being a reality.

General Tauqir had asked me to offer Inzamam Pakistan’s captaincy. I did talk to him and his terse reply was ‘I won’t captain Pakistan until Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis are on the team. I would when they won’t be there. I would need to lead as I want to without power politics.

Players had stopped respecting Javed Miandad and were wary of his misadventures.

There was a beach of trust between him and the rest. Pakistan team was falling apart.

To add more agony tour report of the manager leaked in the media much before the Pakistan team returned home. I was again a suspect since I was supposed to write the pre amble on Mr. Fakir Azizazuddin’s request.

Interestingly, what appeared in Daily Dawn was a ‘fake report’. I hadn’t shared the incomplete report even with the Manager and it was in my laptop when my tour had ended pre maturely. What appeared in the media was something completely bizarre. I wasn’t with the team until the end of the tour and secondly, Mr. Azizauddin had asked me to write a preamble for him, which I had done.

Keeping in mind such a tour I believe how Misbah had started trudging on mediocrity and how he maximized his talent. Two, the method which he developed and how he used his ‘not so talented’ resources in itself was a miracle.

Misbah took over when Pakistan team’s image had completely been shattered- three of their top players had been jailed and none was ready to believe match or spot fixing wasn’t a reality.

Over the years I have been lamented for anti Misbah comments. I have had ostracized the meekly or a defensive mindset but those weren’t about Misbah introducing it. He had his own peculiar style and he had been successful.

My problem wasn’t Misbah but what was happening around him. Having known him since 2001, I could never stand up and chastise him, I never expected overt aggression from him. To me he was and still is one of the most decent, high on integrity, straightforward, laid back and a passionate cricketer who excelled because of his work ethics and extreme hard work. He hardly lost the will to prove and perform.

I could recall we were sitting in Asad Mustafa’s room at the PCB. Misbah had walked in, the next couple of hours were spent discussing what he could do, even he was skeptical about the quality of players barring a few he had to lead in Tests? He was right.

In 1990s players were more equipped, flamboyant, aggressive, standing up to challenges but as it transpired half of them ended low on credibility, embroiled in controversies and team’s credence was mostly left challenged.

Misbah may well not have been an Ian Chappell or an Imran Khan or an Allan Border but he retires with the best numbers as captain in Pakistan simply because of was his faith and honesty.

Tactics, strategies, manoeuvring, aggression etc. all weren’t Misbah’s strengths however he overcame mediocrity around him and in his ranks, spurred by nature, touched by untainted faith, He has left a team high on credibility, integrity and morality.

With Younis Khan he has been able to change the trend, he may not have left a legacy or may not have developed ideal replacements, he may not have invested in the feeder stock or the bench strength he has left providing us joyous moments, trust between him and us, the connect and above all the spirit with which he played cricket.

Misbah you may well not have been a stunner but what you added to team’s morality and work ethics you retire as a true hero.

I regret having chastised your defensiveness; I was embittered when Pakistan lost in New Zealand and Australia.

I believe I wrongly tried making comparisons with the team’s of the 1990s. I concede with all the remorse. They may well have been greater and more talented  or more aggressive, you have left a team more conscientious, highest on credibility and humility, you and Younis have retired but not before creating a connect and trust between the players and us.

One last thing, Misbah would have even been a better captain then he was had he led a team having Saeed Anwar, Aamir Sohail, Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Rashid Latif, Moin Khan, Saqlain Mushtaq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar? He wouldn’t have taken a deep point, a deep square leg or a deep long off or a deep long on. He would have done what his predecessors did.

I concede to the argument that Misbah has been a modern day hero. He has been.

There had been a communication lapse between us after one of my write ups and couple of episodes of Game On Hai. There had been an outrage against me, a tirade on social media labelling me as anti Misbah which I never was.

And interestingly how Misbah thinks is ‘ Thanks Doc. I have no issues with anyone regarding criticism on me. My heart is always clear about everyone so don’t worry. Thanks for your well wishes’- that’s him.

I am one of the 1990s generation I believe Misbah you and Younis have outsmarted us with your resilience dedication, commitment, perseverance, integrity, honesty, credibility and how your maximized your talent.

Thank you so very much. It has been a learning curve, and unlike the newer casts, we do have the tenacity to admit our mistakes and to learn, learning continues.

By Nauman Niaz

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