Stay Safe and Enjoy the Cricket All Around the World

By Chishty Mujahid - September 11, 2020

The last six months from March 2020 to September 2020 have seen the worst pandemic named COVID 19 or Corona Virus for almost a century since the devastating Spanish flu of 1818-20. Unlike the other pandemics over the centuries which were from natural causes this Covid-19 is said to be “man made”.

These epidemics when they spread globally are termed pandemics. They cause utter misery and wipe out large chunks of the population of the affected areas. They also have a nasty habit of lingering on and coming back in waves. Vaccines are developed but they take time, tests and trials before being available for the common man.

The purpose of this piece is not to discuss pandemics but since the world is suffering from one currently it is pertinent to point out that the world has suffered untold sorry since the first “plague” reportedly 5000 years ago in China. Others have been the Plague of Athens in 430 BC; the Antonine Plague in 165-180 AD; the Plague of Cyprian in 250-271; the Plague of Justinian in 541-2; the Black Death in 1346-1353 which is said to have wiped out half the population of Europe.

In the 16th century there were various American Plagues. There may have been others but remember America was discovered in the 15th century. In 1665-6 there was the Great Plague of London followed by the London fire which burned for four days. In 1770-2 the Great Plague of Marseille in France was followed in 1770-2 by the Russian Plague. 1889-90 saw another Flu pandemic. The 20th century was no better.

In 1916 there was the American Polio epidemic. Then in 1918-20 in the aftermath of the First World War the notorious and devastating Spanish Flu which played 2 innings if not 3; 1957-58 saw the Asian flu. AIDS has caused untold sorrow since it was discovered in 1981 and is still continuing though vaccines have been developed to prevent it.

The 21st century have suffered from the Swine Flu, Ebola, Zika Virus and of course the current Corona virus pandemic. I have given only a cursory picture of what has happened over the centuries so far as these nuisances are concerned. I may have erred here and there but then I am not a student of medicine and apologize for any mistakes that may have occurred. But what the foregoing illustrates is that epidemics/pandemics are not confined or “localized” to one part of the world. They have started or spread from almost all continents – Asia, Europe, Africa, America and in the current pandemic Australia has also suffered. Since pandemics have a tendency to subside and then spike (as with the Spanish Flu) extreme caution should be exercised. Most countries are following this trend with caution but others have tended to let their guards down.

Every field has suffered. The worst are the industrial units, commercial concerns, daily wage workers. Travel, tourist, recreation businesses and of course sports. Need I go on? A few examples will suffice. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the most significant disruption to the worldwide sporting calendar since World War II. Across the world and to varying degrees, sports events have been cancelled or postponed from Alpine Skiing to Wrestling and all in between.

The Olympics, Wimbledon, Soccer fixtures and domestic and international cricket events had to be postponed or cancelled. We will focus on the cricket scenario. In cricket international events for men and women were all rescheduled. Besides the International fixtures the bilateral and tri-lateral events whether they be in Africa, Americas, Asia or Oceana also suffered badly. Some had to be rescheduled while others were cancelled. At home the first to suffer was the PSL which had to be “abandoned” with 4 matches to go.

However, the PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani and the CEO Wasim Khan vowed to have the PSL completed sooner or later. They have announced to honour their commitment. The four remaining matches have been scheduled for mid November 2020 – 8 months after their suspension.

In between the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) starved of any event with County fixtures and bilateral series postponed or cancelled, and the coffers dwindling negotiated with the West Indies and Pakistan to tour. They must have offered attractive terms and remuneration details of which have not been made public but both the West Indies and Pakistan agreed to tour.

The West Indies for three Test Matches and Pakistan for three Tests and three T20Is. We are not sure what the West Indies were offered but it must have been good money and other perks. The reports about the Pakistan conditions are sketchy. All I know (others may be privy to more details) is that the squads for both red ball and white ball events were given free chartered air travel to England and back.

Hotel accommodation (boarding and lodging) including for the 14 day mandatory quarantine. The matches were restricted to Old Trafford Manchester and the Rose Bowl (Aeges Bowl) in Southampton. Why only these two venues? Because these two grounds have hotels attached to them. The squads were lodged in these hotels during the games as well as on off days in what is now called “bio-secure bubble.”Prior to encounters against England the Pakistan squads who I think stayed in Derbyshire played matches among themselves. Why these games were not arranged against the county sides or local talent I have no idea.

Pakistan sent a 44 member squad for both the Test and T20I encounters. This resulted in some players not even getting “a look in”. I did not follow the proceedings very closely but if I recall 5 pace bowlers, 1 spinner and two batsmen just went for the ride, rest and recreation.

They included Imam-ul-Haq, Khushdil Shah, Kashif Bhatti, Sohail Khan, Imran Khan, Usman Khan Shinwari, Faheem Ashraf, and Mohammad Hasnain. I am not sure whether Musa Khan went with the party but if he did he not set foot on the cricket playing arena except maybe as a substitute fielder. I may be wrong and will be happy to be given the correct information. The logic of this is also mind boggling but I suppose it was a question of travel expenses.

Chartered luxury aircraft would cost less for just one trip up and down compared to multiple journeys, compared to the hotel expenses of Travelodge and the Ground Hotels. But full marks to the players for spending 10 weeks cooped up in isolation with no family members, friends or acquaintances allowed to contact them. I hope the compensation in monetary terms was adequate. In any case it would have been better than sitting at home doing nothing with nil earnings.

The spoilt child Shoaib Malik did make it in the end but did nothing of significance. Hafeez as usual stood out and delivered. He justified his selection. He should learn that discretion is the better part of valour. Go ahead play Golf with 90 years old or 19 years old ladies but do not go viral on the social media.

Sarfaraz was given a compensation part in the final match. He did nothing of significance except perhaps drop a catch or miss a possible stumping. He however did a good job carrying the drinks and doing 12th man duties. By the way too much was made of this in certain quarters. But as is said it is no big deal for a former captain to help out with such duties. Better players and personalities have done it in the past. It also speaks volumes for the graciousness of Sarfaraz Ahmed. Azhar Ali after initial failures atoned for his poor show by scoring a century.

Shan Masood after a “shandaar” beginning was all at sea after the first Test. The England think tank worked out how to keep him quiet and succeeded. Fawad Alam at last must have realized that it is better to be omitted and have all and sundry moaning the “injustice” done to him rather than make an inauspicious come-back. Cricket has moved on in the past eleven years.

Misbah-ul-Haq with several hats like Head coach, Chief Selector and also being involved with a PSL franchise is overworked and appeared thoughtfully worried. I am not sure whose idea it was to make Younis Khan as batting coach for this tour. He spent time in the player’s gallery making copious notes and ruffling and straightening Yasir Shah’s hair

Asad Shafiq looked out of sorts. He should open out and realize his talent and potential rather than being in a state of depression. Rizwan the successor of Sarfaraz was outstanding both behind and in front of the stumps. His appeals were painful and at times he interfered too much in the captaincy. Some grace and dignity will stand him in good stead. He is already being touted as the next captain. We do get carried away; don’t we? The bowling was competent.

Shaheen Shah was his usual efficient self, Naseem Shah sacrificed accuracy for speed trying to emulate Joffra Archer. The third Shah the ebullient Yasir caused problems, as he has always done, to the English batsmen who seem illiterate against wrist spin. Mohammad Abbas bowled intelligently and did not let his side down. With the injury to Amir, Wahab was drafted in and fully justified his selection. I am not sure whose favourite is Iftikhar Ahmed. A most likeable young man but did not justify selection. The captaincy in both formats left much to be desired. It was confused captaincy by Azhar Ali which was the cause of Pakistan losing by 3 wickets.

The remaining two Tests were truncated by weather and drawn. England deserved winners of the match and series. Azhar is a very decent gentleman but is not leadership material. But Pakistan have not groomed a skipper. Imad and Shan are candidates but Mickey Arthur is not the coach. Rizwan is a possibility but needs time to develop. Babar Azam was a clueless captain. He seems at the moment to lack the personality and command of a leader. He is one of the best batsman in the game today. But great players do not necessarily make a good captain, as brilliant students do not necessarily make good teachers.

Five players come to mind who were outstanding as players but failures as captain. They are Andrew Flintoff, Brian Lara, Chris Gayle, Heath Streak and Sachin Tendulkar. Perhaps the best leader, thinker and strategist was Mike Brearley. It was said that England had 10 players and Brearley. Currently the best captain is Kane Williamson followed closely by Joe Root. Both are cool, calm and collected. Another was M.S. Dhoni. Hafeez Kardar, Imran Khan, Worrell, Martin Crowe, Steve Waugh, quiet and unemotional Eoin Morgan, and also Arjuna Ranatunga can be considered good leaders. There are others but these stand out.

One plus point in the Pakistan team’s performance was their improved fielding. News has come in that Iqbal Qasim has quit the Chairmanship of the PCB Cricket Committee because his recommendation to restore departmental cricket was turned down. With utmost respect the PCB CEO is not fully aware of the domestic cricket scene of Pakistan having never lived here to be fully aware of the situation. He should be guided by his advisors.

Misbah-ul-Haq with several hats like Head coach, Chief Selector and also being involved with a PSL franchise is overworked and appeared thoughtfully worried. I am not sure whose idea it was to make Younis Khan as batting coach for this tour. He spent time in the player’s gallery making copious notes and ruffling and straightening Yasir Shah’s hair.

Pakistan sent a 44 member squad for both the Test and T20I encounters. This resulted in some players not even getting “a look in”. I did not follow the proceedings very closely but if I recall 5 pace bowlers, 1 spinner and two batsmen just went for the ride, rest and recreation

Waqar Younis and Mushtaq sat throughout the games chatting away. Someone must advise our dressing room personnel that the camera is on them more frequently since there is no crowd so they should be attentive and careful.

England were deserved winners of both Test series and sharing of the T20I series with Pakistan. In the old war horses James Anderson (600 wickets) and Stuart Broad (500 wickets) backed by Woakes and when available Stokes they are well served. Archer and Curran need to develop. They need a top class spinner because Dom Bess is not from the top drawer. England’s fielding on the ground and in the air was sloppy and butter fingered. Their batting appeared brittle and shaky but the lower middle order made up for their weak upper order batting.

Zak Crawley seems a good find and did not let the selectors down with a timely century. Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes came good when it mattered. Stokes absence was felt and Root was not his usual self. Why England did not employ third country umpires and match referees is a puzzle. Why did ICC let them compromise the regulations. Well Chris Broad the referee fined his son Stuart Broad. The son is said to have struck of daddy from his Christmas Card list!! The media coverage left much to be desired. The TV commentary was at times monotonous and the background sound was badly synchronized and irritating.

Why were Pakistani journalists not accredited? At least scribes like Majid Bhatti, Khalid H Khan, Shahid Hashmi, Rishad Mahmood, Khalid Hussain, Waheed Khan, Mirza Iqbal Baig, Salim Khaliq, and some leading sports journalists from Lahore Rawalpindi Quetta and Peshawar such as Sohail Imran, Mohi Shah, Amjad Aziz Malik should have covered the proceedings. I am sure there was enough room in the chartered aircraft and also bio-secure hotels.

The higher PCB Management particularly their Media Division should have made sure that we have proper representation as it was a historic occasion. We would have got a clearer picture of the arrangements and the proceedings instead of one sided story. PTV and Radio Pakistan should have covered it on their own but they will plead the lack of funds. Pakistan did have a representation in the Commentary Box with Wasim Akram but Ramiz Raja and Bazid Khan would have made a difference. Remember Wasim has three jobs as well. PCB must address this; and ensure that there should not be a plurality of assignments.

I have run out of keeping track of the coaches PCB has appointed. Why is there no Selection Committee anymore? I sincerely hope that the ECB will send a team to Pakistan sooner than later as promised by Ian Whatmore. ECB also owes the West Indies a visit but there is no word about it.

This is an era of Leagues and all Test playing countries except I think Ireland have Leagues. UAE also has a Ten overs League. Sri Lanka are re-launching their Premier League (LPL). IPL will be played in UAE. Caribbean League is in progress. There is also a surfeit of YouTube Channels. They seem to have sprung up overnight. Best of luck to all and sundry. Please watch out for COVID which is coming up for another round. Stay safe.

By Chishty Mujahid

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