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Pakistan turn to 'crazy' captain

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Ben Dirs | 08:45 UK time, Thursday, 29 April 2010

What do you do with a man whose stated aim is to be remembered as the
"craziest cricketer" ever to play for his country?

If you're most countries, you ask your press chief to have a quiet word in his ear. If you're Pakistan, you make him skipper.

In January, Shahid Afridi moved closer to realising his ambition as a result of his ball-biting incident in Australia, but still has a way to go yet.

First he would have to usurp Javed Miandad, who once brandished his bat at Dennis Lillee in the middle of a Test match; and Inzamam-ul-Haq, who reacted to being called a "potato" by an Indian fan with a megaphone by wading into the crowd and attempting to turn him into mash.

But Afridi's ultimate yardstick must be paceman Shoaib Akhtar, who has been banned for drugs (a ban subsequently lifted on appeal), banned for brawling with a team-mate, banned for ball-tampering, banned for bottle-throwing and banned for criticising his bosses during what you might euphemistically call a "turbulent" career.

afridi595.jpgAfridi (left) and new coach Waqar have the difficult task of uniting a splintered team in the Caribbean

The capricious Afridi is perhaps the only man who could skipper Pakistan side at the ICC World Twenty20, the driver of what on the surface resembles a clown car of a side, all square wheels and clanking gears, with bits hanging off and a horn that squirts water.

Last month, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) reacted to the disastrous tour of Australia, during which the tourists lost all nine matches, by meting out a rash of unprecedented penalties, including indefinite bans for veteran batsmen and former skippers Mohammad Yousuf and Younus Khan and one-year bans for all-rounder Shoaib Malik and pace bowler Rana Naved.

"This will go a long way to arrest the continuing decline of Pakistan cricket and improve the state of cricket in Pakistan," the PCB said in a statement, while recognising that banning influential all-rounder Afridi with the defence of their World Twenty20 title looming would have been throwing the baby, however great his potential for mischief, out with the bathwater.

In addition, legendary fast bowler Waqar Younis was appointed as coach, a man his former strike partner Wasim Akram calls a "hard taskmaster" who will "wield the stick to erring players".

Former captain Asif Iqbal agrees with Wasim's assessment, and believes that beneath the bonnet of Waqar's seemingly rag-tag outfit lurks an engine with some powerful components.

"If Pakistan are going to defend their crown the two outstanding players will likely be Afridi and Abdul Razzaq," Iqbal told BBC Sport. "Either as bowlers or batsmen they can change the course of the game, although they do have a problem with the loss of [fast bowler] Umar Gul."

Iqbal isn't talking in hypothetical terms, he seriously thinks Pakistan can make a mockery of the odds, something they have repeatedly managed to do down the years.

In 2009, they won the tournament in England not long after the terror attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore, and in 2007 they finished runners-up months after their ill-fated 50-over World Cup campaign, during which they were embarrassed by Ireland before the death of coach Bob Woolmer put what had gone before into perspective.

"I couldn't pinpoint any particular reason why they perform under stress or in chaos," added Iqbal. "But if you look at the winning teams we've had in the past, including when Imran Khan led us to the [50 over] World Cup in 1992, we weren't in the equation before the tournaments and weren't given a chance.

"It doesn't seem to affect the players or the team whatever may be happening around them. They go out and perform. The way they started last year's tournament no-one ever dreamt they'd get to the semi-finals, let alone win it.

"We are ideally suited to Twenty20 cricket because the levels of concentration of our most talented players don't go much higher than that. We've got two exceptional cricketers [in Afridi and Razzaq] and it wouldn't surprise me if we won it, not at all."

Shahid Afridi celebrates victory in the 2009 final Afridi's unbeaten half century saw Pakistan to victory over Sri Lanka in last year's final

Iqbal, in common with most former players, including Imran, believes the Pakistan Cricket Board was right in its draconian penalties following the tour of Australia, but also believes the board was to blame for the infighting and endemic lack of discipline in the first place.

"If the players were a bad influence then the board took the right decision, but more than the players, the management should take the responsibility," commented Iqbal.

"It is really sad and unfortunate to see that these highly talented cricketers are not being properly managed. There's not proper grooming of the talent they have. So on days when everything goes well they're amazing cricketers who can win a World Cup, but there are other days when they can lose in a fashion that looks so ugly.

"Nobody is above the game, if there's a player misbehaving and not adhering to the rules, he should be punished. But the board and management allow the cricketers to become bigger than the game and when these things happen they don't take action on the spot."

Iqbal is not the first former captain to suggest the PCB was too slow to take action - Wasim Akram said miscreants should be "sacked at once" - and most ex-players and close observers of Pakistan cricket believe the rot should have been treated half a decade ago, a couple of years after the imposing Inzamam took over as skipper.

Then again, perhaps the PCB has made a terrible mistake - look where a team riddled with rot can take you, to two major finals and one major crown.

As Iqbal noted with a knowing chuckle, "Pakistani cricket is far from ideal, but England haven't won a World Cup yet".

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  • Comment number 1.

    Oh dear, but it begs the question why is not anyone following this team around with a video camera its certain to become a hit TV show.

    however I do remember the days of Waqar and Wasim being quite calm and probably be the best bowling partnership I've ever seen.

  • Comment number 2.

    Banning Yousuf and Younis was a needlessly harsh, stupid and downright naive reaction to a team being out-played and out-classed in Australia. We look upon Afridi's ball biting incident, or his pirouette mid pitch v England, Shoib's numerace faux pas' and think that was childish. Banning players for being out-classed is equally childish.

    It begs the question "Why didn't England ban Flintoff for 3 years after they were white washed in 2006/07"

    In the one chance Pakistan had to win a game, I believe all involved, Players and Staff forgot how to win a test match. Had they hammered it home, all would be rosier in Pakistan cricket

  • Comment number 3.

    Im a true Pakistani Supporter n i still believe in my team performing at the WORLD CUP!
    And those who say, that imposing heavy BANS n Fines can help cricket, im totally against it. Those who say this, should answer some questions:
    "Banning Yousuf,Younus,Shoaib Malik will help Pak cricket??"
    HOW!!! we dont have much replacement for them! And then they impose Heavy fines on almost half of the Team! More disaster after they have had a tough serires! Were English Players banned after they lost 5-0 in ashes n 6-1 in ODIs a year later...??

    And i think Afridi is the right man to lead Pak n somebody please Sack IJAZ BUTT!!!!

    And I MISS The Rawalpindi Express!!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    What do you do with a man whose stated aim is to be remembered as the
    "craziest cricketer" ever to play for his country?

    If you're most countries, you ask your press chief to have a quiet word in his ear. If you're Pakistan, you make him skipper...................

    Ben, u couldnt have described Pakistan Team much better! :-)

  • Comment number 5.

    I have said many time that the Pakistan team are rarely beaten by the opposition but beaten by themselves. The cricketers are seriously talented but legitimate accusations of infighting, match fixing, indiscipline, factionalism, and many more factors have plagued the team for decades. The team has rarely been united, rarely played as a unit, rarely had the desire and discipline to play for the country.

    These are players who come from a background of poverty and obscurity, are thrown into the international arena based on their raw talent, achieve overnight stardom in Pakistan, and develop the most horrible egos. Every play regards himself as a superstar and its this arrogance that leads to the problems we see.

    I watched nearly every match during the recent Australia/New Zealand series and I remember commenting at the time that the body language of players like Malik was absolutely awful. It was clear that some players had no interest in actually playing cricket. Thats why I am delighted they kicked out some of the senior players. The board, management and captain need to take control of this team and instill discipline but with Pakistan cricket nothing is easy.

    Maybe the beauty and thrill of it all is the unpredictable maverick nature of the team. How boring would Pakistan cricket be if it was modelled on Australia or South Africa?

    Expect anything in this World Cup - controversy will be close.

  • Comment number 6.

    5. GreatWhitePathan, you are absolutely spot on. But they have also suffered from the internal politics in PCB. Everytime they lose, the members point fingers at one another rather than going to the root of the problem and trying to remove it.

  • Comment number 7.

    I wouldn't be surprised if I saw Afridi down on his hands and knees, biting the wicket.

    I wish him well in his quest to be the craziest, but he's up against some stiff compettion.
    Ijazz Butt, for one, will steal his thunder. In fact, Afridi hasn't a prayer of out-weirding Butt, who probably get's stranger things than Afridi free with his breakfast cereal.

    When Mr Butt has run out of people to ban, he will finally achieve immortality in the Cricket world by banning himself

  • Comment number 8.

    Crazy ! No. Just a plain and simple old Pakistani lad trying to make a living.:)
    PS. My Prediction: They will lose. Why ? This team is not balanced.

  • Comment number 9.

    The team is not balanced???? What are you talking about?

    Its one of the most balanced teams. They bat down to number 9 with Mohammad Aamer able to strike the ball well. They have destructive batsmen in the Akmals, Afridi, Razzaq and Misbah. They have players who can play the anchor in Butt, Hafeez and Alam. They have 3 seamers (Asif, Aamer, Razzaq) and 4 possible spin options (Ajmal, Afridi, Hafeez and Alam).

    What other balance do you require? Even without Gul the team is formidable if they are in the right mood!

  • Comment number 10.

    Watching Waqar bowl at the Oval was a dream: facing him was probably a nightmare. - As for Afridi - matchwinner or clown, depending on what day it is!

  • Comment number 11.

    To: GWP from, I hope NWFP :)

    I think you inadvertently "hit the nail on the head" with the reference to "mood."

    Balance has nothing to do with mood,it is all about complimentary skills sets, and stepping above feelings into a zone where one can perform. Imran, Wasim, Waqar "et al" all stepped up regardless of mood. They stepped up becuase they were peerless as professionals, trained hard and earned respect from their on field returns. Their skills were complimentary to each others bowling/ batting styles and so on. This is a team with some talent, mostly unproven at the highest levels over more than one game in a series.

    I will accept with happiness being proven wrong if they win, but this team is not balanced enough to produce a string of performances to take the cup. If the IPL has proven anything it is that a run of performances matters more than than anything else.

    I feel the batting and bowling styles of these players do not compliment each other. Gul and Asif/Aamer would have been a complimentary pairing.

    Good luck to the Champions, I hope Afridi and Co have a crazy tournament and prove me wrong. Perhaps we may see a new theory come out of this series, one which says "statistically it's better to select players that all play the same, since one may probably come off and help you win." But, does one man make you a win or a team?

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    Interesting article. A bit unfair there are plenty of crazy cricketers from all teams.

    Pakistans record speaks for itself in this format and they have a great chance of defending their title.

    The batting up to no.8 can all hit sixes. A couple of sixes in an over changes the momentum of the game, it's a vital art of T20 cricket. Pakistan have 5 batters who can win a game on their own, Afridi,Misbah,Umar,Kamran and Razzaq. The good thing for Pakistan is this tournament is likely to be a low scoring one. This increases the chance of one or two batters being enough to put a decent score on the board or to chase a score.

    The bowling is the most versatile in the tournament. Asif is a new ball specialist with Aamer and Sami being the reverse swing experts and death bowlers. The spin department is the ace card for Pakistan. Afridi and Ajmals records in this format are second to none and with very good support spinners as Abdul Rehman and Hafeez.

    The wild card is a young lad named Hammad Azam, he was very impressive in the U19 World Cup and if given the opportunity he could do well.

    This is going to be a very close tournament with many matches coming down to the last over but Pakistan have the desire, ability and confidence to emulate Windies and Australia in defending a world title.

    Here's a great video for Pakistan fans to enjoy.

  • Comment number 14.

    Call him crazy or unpredictable, there's something about this guy. Since his first innings; the demolition of the Sri Lankan bowling attack, till present day, hes been the ultimate entertainer.

  • Comment number 15.

    Ben Dirs who has been working for the BBC for almost a decade now shows in his article that the British still cannot get over the fact that Pakistan is not their colony anymore. The degrading choice of words for various Pakistani cricket greats like Afridi, Shoaib, Javed and Inzamam is disgusting. Calling Pakistani team, which is T20 champion as clown car is disgraceful.
    Pakistan team is full of talented and match winner players. They play entertaining game and the cricket loving people should thank them for their presence and gamesmanship.
    Journalists should describe the events and not pass judgments, especially if their opinions reek of prejudices.

    Bashy Quraishy

  • Comment number 16.

    Since yesterday I have had an eye on this blog of Dirs and sadly it did not move me into a comment, so far. Now I have lots of respect for Ben. Dirs may be indeed a distinguished journalist on the rolls of Beeb(I like his crisp, witty style and his blogs are generally a pleasure to peruse) but it never adds up to any justice to churn out a stereotypical piece that is gladly lapped up by the targeted audience that already expect the known spicy references to Afridi, general indiscipline, cracking of a wide whip with resultant bans and fines.

    Its one thing to allude to the well publicised spice bringing out the comicality of it all as well as touch upon the well known mercurial characteristic of Pakistan cricket over the years but quite another to assess the inexorably inevitable appointment of Afridi as captain in spite of his glaring misdemeanors that preceded, his leadership, the advantages it lends to the team or the drawbacks it could possibly entail as well as the chances of the team at the WC.

    I was looking forward to read what it takes to be a successful cricket captain in the sub-continent and how many years it can take to replicate an Imran, and the factors that limited the scope of PCB to settle on Afridi alone.

    Smart of Dirs to have taken Asif Iqbal on board to temper any extremity of opinion. Its just sad that BBC turn to staff on their pay roll to churn out something to fill up routine space than go for some maverick opinion like say Imran Khan or Wassim Akram who are quite active in contemporary cricket journalism. It would have been nice to read how Pak cricket is trying to cope with the aftermath of the rout down under and consequent cracking of the whip, how stoically it is struggling to live down the premature discard of some of its legends, the selection dilemmas it faced and how it settled on the best available; and what and how much exactly can now be expected of the combination arrived at.

    If I were to speak like a Pakistani, the effort is not to alien to me as I still feel like one, I'll say it is a fairly good team that has been put out and great things can be expected of the makeshift. The batting department will need more than just a dab of inspiration; bowling notwithstanding the rendering of Gul hors de combat early on, is excellent. Afridi can be an inspiration provided he does not indulge his fanatic obsession to be the 'best cricketer Pakistan ever had'. I think he has to hark back summat and make a major contribution with the bat as well.

    Its alright to expect people like Razzaq, Aamer and Akmals to shine, but for Pak to defend the cup the top order has to fire and batsmen like Butt have to come to the party and underline they are no more nonentities.

  • Comment number 17.

    Yousaf and Younis had it coming. Yousaf got the PCB to get rid of Younis and took over the captaincy. Then cost Pakistan two test matches against Australia due to incompetent captaincy. I mean who gets the chance to dominate Australia the first 4 days in two consecutive tests?? The backstage politics were tearing the team apart and the youngsters were on the road to follow their lead.(The Kamran Akmal and Umar Akmal saga where Umar Akmal was alleged to have faked an injury). An example had to be made and I'm glad the PCB did. The penalties were justified in my opinion. The Pakistani team is a very strong team when united. And as long as they are on the same page, there are good chances that they will be World Champions again.

  • Comment number 18.

    Well, if on fire, the Pakistan cricket team are one of the sights to enjoy.

    Am I the only one to miss the likes of Wasim, Waqar, Aaqib, the two spinners Saqlain and Mushtaq demolishing some of the best batting line ups?

    It seems, like the country at large, the mismanagement of the cricket apparatus is making it impossible for the genuine talent to fulfil its potential.

    Good luck for the World Cup.

  • Comment number 19.

    Am I the only person who has absolutely no time for Afridi? On the 606 boards, many England fans despise Kevin Pietersen despite the fact he's arguably one of the best cricketers England has ever had. He's the ultimate professional, works harder than anyone else in the nets and plays the game in the right spirit. People have called for his head because he's not a "team player" and he's "our for himself".
    Afridi is a good limited overs player, but the "bitegate" incident has almost been forgotten now, laughed off if you will as "crazy Afridi, eh". It boils down to the fact he's a cheat, he's clearly not a nice bloke when you look at the other things he's done yet he's got away with it all for some reason, because he can clear the ropes?
    I am a passionate England fan but if any England player had been involved in ball tampering as Afridi was (and let's not forget how he claimed he was "smelling" it afterwards) I would be truly ashamed. Just because he's a good player, you can't excuse his actions, I'd be happy if he was banned for a long long time.

  • Comment number 20.

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  • Comment number 21.

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  • Comment number 22.

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  • Comment number 23.

    Whatever anyone out there says Shahid AFridi is definitely the guy to lead pakistan at the moment..he ; s been there for over a decade now and looks set to continue for at least 2 or 3 years more..and thats at a he s got the hitting power and the bowling ability making him one of the best allrounders in the world.

    Only thing that lacks in his armour is the fact that he has a ever changing mindset..which makes him highly unreliable but he has shown patches of steadiness recently hwich makes it a fact that time must be given to rebuild the team and this truly is the man to do it...the return of shoaib malik will also surely be a strong factor for the team...

  • Comment number 24.

    He might be crazy or whatever , but he can terrorise any bowling attack in the world . He forces the opponents captain to change fields once hes on the pitch . He can really trouble any team in the world . Every team has a crazy player but at the moment Afridi is the best choice for the captaincy of Pak. In Pakistan, the PCB changes captains after every series . I think Afridi should be given 2,3 years as captain . We need to give time to our captain and should not expect quick rewards ..


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