This week's "Beyond the Boundary" discusses Pakistan's preparation for the ICC Champions Trophy, which has been unlike theirs in the past.
Ok, so we’re about three weeks away from when the Pakistan national cricket team will set off for their tours of Scotland, Ireland, and eventually the United Kingdom where they will battle for the rights to the final ICC Champions Trophy. Newspaper editors and journalists must be licking their lips because historically, this of course means that the headlines should follow shortly. So what can we expect this time?
The captain being suspended, the replacement resigning, and then deciding to captain the team after all? This, of course, should be followed by their new ball bowlers testing positive for a banned substance. (2006 Champions Trophy) What if those bowlers had their bans over-turned shortly after and then were farcically ruled out on the eve of departing for the event due to “injury” when in reality it's because they would have been targeted for drug tests? We could throw in a player returning from suspension for waving his bat at a spectator if you wish. (2007 World Cup) If you’re more into the dressing room drama, Pakistan cricket can also offer you an incident in which a bowler attacks another with a bat, leading to the aggressor being sent home before the beginning of the tournament. (2007 World Twenty20) If we want to get the administrators involved more, we could have the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) release a medical statement revealing entirely way too much information about a player’s personal condition and then be the first board to include a player from an “exiled” league in their squad. (2009 World Twenty20) Speaking of returns, what better story than selecting a player who is returning from a yearlong ban that expires the day the tournament begins? This of course means that the player can’t take part in the team’s own conditioning camp in the lead up to the tournament. (2009 Champions Trophy) Then again, what beats a final 15-squad selection on the back of bans and suspensions being handed out like none that have ever been seen before? I’ll tell you what does. Naming a final 15-man squad without naming a captain, that’s what! Of course, when the board does name the captain, it should be the player returning from a suspension for the most embarrassing ball tampering you’ll see. (2010 World Twenty20) That must be have been a big hit because the board again decided to name a final-15 the following year without naming a captain, leading to a public ODI captaincy race which at times matched the upcoming elections in Pakistan. (2011 World Cup) Who doesn’t love a good comeback story though, so what about having three of the final-15 making returns to the squad, none of the whom has a central contract, and one of them having just cleared his name in integrity hearings? (2012 World Twenty20)
What if I told you the answer was none of the above? What if the team had moved past the type of incidents that have marred them in the past and that they were instead focused on their actions on the field? It certainly seems to be that way. If there is infighting in the dressing room, the players are doing a good job of hiding it. In the past week, we saw both Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Gul come out and support two players who’s place in the ODI team is being questioned, that of Younus Khan and Shahid Afridi. It was not even two weeks ago, that Mohammad Hafeez and Misbah-ul-Haq again came out and denied any rift between the two of them, laughing at such reports.
The board is doing their part having arranged a one-day tournament in their domestic season, followed by recruiting bowling legend Wasim Akram for a bowling camp, and then arranging for “English-style” pitches in their ten-day camp to be held in Abbottabad.
So what’s changed? It’s hard to say. Is it the result of the PCB chairman, Zaka Ashraf, who has received praises from different corners of Pakistan cricket on the decisions he has made? Is it due to the calmness and stability that has been brought forth by ODI captain Misbah-ul-Haq? One could easily make the argument that after the spot-fixing incident in 2010, the players have gotten sick of their perception around the world and the rotten apples have been seeded out.
Whatever the reason, it is a breath of fresh air for Pakistan cricket fans. They may not be selling as many newspapers or being talked about in the headlines, but the current team has debates and discussions that are about cricket for once. Not about which side of a discipline issue you are on or who is at fault in incidents of public mudslinging. It is indeed a very “un-Pakistani” approach to the upcoming ICC Champions Trophy.
Then again, since being “Pakistani” has led the team to become the only one to make it to the final four of every ICC event since the 2007 World Cup (6 out of 6), perhaps we don’t want to be too “un-Pakistani”. But about those off-the-field news in the lead-up to ICC tournaments? As Misbah-ul-Haq said in his reply to if he planned on taking reporters to court for false reports, “We do not have time for such things.”