“Pakistan cricket as a microcosm of the entire country.”
After Pakistan lost to India in a World Cup match yet again in 2019, I wrote the aforementioned line in a column and it hit home for a number of Dawn readers.
A year and a half later, a situation arose recently that further reinforced the point. The point being that the Pakistan cricket team is plagued by much of the same problems we find elsewhere around us.
The name of Mohammad Hafeez, who is in the form of his life, was absent in the Pakistan squad announced by selectors on Sunday for the Twenty20 international series against South Africa later this month.
Hafeez — who is currently participating in the Abu Dhabi T10 League for Maratha Arabians and is also not a centrally contracted player with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) — had sought permission to join the squad on February 5 but the PCB refused to accept the 40-year-old’s request and the ensuing deadlock forced chief selector Mohammad Wasim to exclude him for the entire South Africa series.
“There are no questions over Hafeez’s performance, but he has not given his availability on Feb 3 when the squad will go in a bio-secure environment,” said Wasim while naming the squad.
When the story unfolded over the weekend, those on Hafeez’s side chided the PCB for not making an exception for a player of his form and ilk.
The seasoned batsman’s supporters in public and friends in media argued that since he has become a massive contributor to the team over the last 12 months or so, he should have been facilitated and allowed to join the squad at the time of his choice.
In other words, they argued that the VIP culture that afflicts the society at large and allows people of influence to gain unfair privileges over the general public should also be replicated in cricket.
They also contended that because Hafeez scored more T20 runs for Pakistan in 2020 than anyone else, he be given the VIP treatment that is off-limits for everyone else in the national fold.
The history of Pakistan cricket is littered with examples of double standards. We don’t quite know how Wasim Akram came out unscathed from the Justice Qayyum Commission report but Ataur Rehman didn’t; Mohammad Amir rebuilt his career but Mohammad Asif didn’t; and Fawad Alam was sidelined for 10 years but Umar Akmal played more than 200 times for Pakistan.
The PCB has always had multiple yardsticks in its repertoire to read situations and issue responses. This is probably the first time ever that it has adopted a one-size-fits-all approach, and refused preferential treatment to a very important player — a different kind of VIP but a VIP nonetheless.
The argument does not even venture into the importance of the bio-secure bubble, which the Board will seal on Feb 3. For Hafeez to walk into the bubble two days later would not only have defeated the purpose of the bubble, but it could, in theory, have jeopardised the entire series, of which we have seen recent examples (read South Africa vs England).
One can find a thousand faults with the PCB but as the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. It’s about time that team players get prioritised over VIPs.