Can focus on individual responsibility cure a collective problem?
It's been an overused phrase in Pakistani cricket ever since Misbah was appointed captain almost three years ago. The same rhetoric has been recycled after every loss - personal responsibility, individual performances, self-management - all phrases which meet the needs of headline-writers as well as absolving team management of any part in the tragedy being played out on the field.
Senior administrators at the PCB, those appointed to provide stewardship of the sport in the country, are also fully paid-up members of the self-absolution party.
“I have nothing to do with the team’s performance,” PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf said after Pakistan crashed our of the ICC Champions Trophy “It depends on the individual players’ performance." The chairman of Pakistan Cricket board has nothing to do with the teams performance? That's probably true, but not in the way he means.
Those charged with selecting the players who will eventually represent Pakistan also seek to wash their hands of the on-field performances “The selectors have no obsession in occupying their seats but they are not responsible for the failure. Even chief selector [Iqbal Qasim] wanted to quit after completing his year in March but he was stopped by the PCB chairman” a member of the selection committee recently commented.
There have always been clowns to the right and jokers to the left but even in Pakistani cricket the voice of reason stuck in the middle has, historically, been easily identifiable- the Hafeez Kardars, Imran Khans and Shehryar Khans. The “Chairman” has made great strides in re-establishing Pakistan as a cricketing power after troubled times, but with his wings clipped by the Pakistani courts, he has reverted to PCB-type.
What of the failing players? The Maliks, Farhats and Kamrans who have been the poster-boys for this disastrous campaign? They're not good enough to represent Pakistan, and haven't been for at least five years now. However, they are selected by the PCB's selection committee and the final squad is approved by the Chairman and Captain. The lengthy final-hour meeting between Misbah and Zaka regarding the exclusion of Afridi is testament to the involvement of all parties in the team sent to England.
Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore's blase performance at the press conference after the loss to India clearly shows he isn't overly pleased with the situation he finds himself in, but it's difficult to assess his impact on the team when so little is heard from the elusive coach. He was touted as a man with significant one-day cricket credentials. I attended a number of training sessions and warm-up games and whilst the training drills were professional and thorough, the squad very much looked like a collection of individuals. It can't be argued the coaches were not given enough time - this squad had been together long before the commencement of the Champions Trophy.
The order of the batting line-up sent on to the field, remit for which lies with the captain and coach, showed an alarming lack of understanding of not only the technical strengths and weaknesses of the players, but a distinct absence of a coherent gameplan. Instead, players' natural instincts and skills are mangled. Management had obviously previously told Asad Shafiq to bat defensively, a-la Azhar Ali. Yesterday they removed the shackles and Shafiq looked like the confident young batsmen he has proven himself to be in Test cricket. There are a few others in the Pakistani batting line-up who could be transformed too, given some thoughtful management.
The constipated batting we see is an inevitable consequence of the defensive thinking. Vice-captain Mohammad Hafeez is an opener hiding away at number three, refusing to accept at best he's a number six; Shoaib Malik has never been an ODI number four; Umar Amin however is an ODI number four but asked to bat six under immense pressure trying to establish himself in the side; Kamran Akmal can only be useful as an opener. Then there's Misbah. Pakistani captains used to bat four after shying away from the three spot, now we have Misbah batting five. Confused? The players certainly are.
To summarise, out of the top seven, only Jamshed is batting in the correct position. The squad send to England by the PCB was not the best 15 players available. However, the impact of the poor selection was exacerbated by the final eleven taking the field. It's easy to blame the Malik-Farhat-Kamran combination, but even such situations can be managed - Pakistan played much of the 2009 World T20 with Fawad Alam and Shahzaib Hasan in their final XI.
Emphasising the importance of individual responsibility is only a wise strategy when you have skilled players placed in the most suitable positions, with an adequate off-field support structure which would build their mental strength to succeed. Otherwise it comes down to players being completely alone, and that is not the recipe for success in top-level sport.
Given the competitive nature of international cricket and condensed format of the Champions Trophy, it's wasn't beyond the realms of possibility for a team to lose three games. However, when the losses result from weak leadership following self-interests, there are fundamental questions to be considered. What's the answer? Collective responsibility.