Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why Pakistan Cricket Has Led Me (And, Doubtless, Many Others) To Depression And Apathy

Most everyone has a standard "take-stock" list. You know what I'm talking about. In moments of reflection, you have a quick run-down list of things that are important to you, and you assign to each of them little plusses or minuses in your head, and then you realize that (a) you should be happier than you are, or (b) you should be more bummed-out than you are, or (c) your mood is about right given the circumstances of your life at present. My "take-stock" list, in no particular order, looks like this: the three F's (family, fiancee, friends); Pakistani politics; how I'm doing at grad school; Allen Iverson; Barca's fortunes; and the Pakistan cricket team. It's not a particularly long list, but then I can't imagine most people's is. What was strange about the last reflection period I had a couple of days ago, however, was the fact that I didn't even bother assigning a minus (and yes, it would be a big, fat minus) to our cricket team. I thought about it for a second, and then I realized I just didn't care. Flat out, I didn't give a damn.


If you're a relatively new reader, let me tell you something about myself. I have an almost photographic memory of cricket matches. Not just the ones involving Pakistan either. I've been following the game since I was 7, and I can rattle off memories, scorecards, renditions of particular innings, scandals, quotes, and everything else related to the game effortlessly. I'm the guy who as a 12 year-old, would wake up at 5 a.m. to listen to radio commentary of test matches (Pakistan's tour of Australia in 95-96, right after the Salim Malik affair). My mother throws away everything I own every time I leave home, but one thing she doesn't touch are all the issues of The Cricketer I stockpiled as a kid. I read them every time I go back. Let me repeat: I read cricket magazines that are more than a decade old every time I return home. They're not particularly good cricket magazines either (this is the Pakistan edition, after all).

I still remember where I was when Adam Bacher took that catch at deep-square to end one of the greatest Tendulkar innings you could ever hope to see (a hotel room in Bhurban on a family vacation). I still remember where I was when Saqlain was plugging away at Chennai, chipping away one wicket at a time (a friend's car, on the way home from school). I still remember where I was when I saw Younis Khan bat for the first time (Copper Kettle, of all places). I still remember where I was when Donald gave Atherton that vicious working over (in my lounge, laughing merrily). My point is this: I care about cricket. Just trust me on this one. I really, really care about cricket.

So it was quite jarring for me to realize that, for now, I don't care. Pakistan cricket has devolved (and that's being kind) to the point where our fortunes don't really concern me in any meaningful way. Sure, I'll read the reports on Cricinfo. I might respond to a couple of friends' emails the next time Pakistan play, and they want to discuss or bounce an idea off me. But that's it. That's the extent of my involvement.

How did we get here? What the hell happened? It wasn't that long ago, after all, that I was filled with giddy optimism. Before the summer of 2006, we had just won three hard fought series in a row against three really good sides (England and India at home, Sri Lanka away). We had a middle order to dream about (Inzi, Yousuf and Younis, all in the form of their lives). We had a leg-spinner who was consistently putting in match-winning performances against teams that play spin really well (Dani, more on him in a minute). We had a young, up-and-coming seamer who almost literally made me drool (Asif). We had a keeper who didn't drop anything, took some blinders, and in the crunch, had balls the size of watermelons (Akmal). We had a coach-captain relationship that was almost unheard of in Pakistan in terms of mutual respect and cooperation (Inzi and the late, great Bob). We had, for the first time in our history, a legitimate succession plan, with the ballsy Younis set to take over from the sedate Inzi at the time of the latter's choosing. In short, we had a future.

I'm not going to get into the results of the last eighteen months. Most everyone who reads this blog (or the cricket posts on it, anyway) is probably intimately aware of them already. What I want to focus on is the utter lack of hope that is pervasive right now. I mean, really: what do we have to look forward to? What's going to change? Can any reasonable, rational person look at the status quo, and say with a straight face "it's not that bad yaar, chill out"? Consider:

(1) Our captain is a complete retard. I don't just mean he's a bad on-the-field captain. I mean he's actually a complete retard. He makes terrible decisions on the ground, mangles bowling changes, is too defensive, doesn't put the right fielders in the right places, and generally looks out of his element. Let me also say to those people who say that captains are made, not born, and that he hasn't had time to grow into his role: you're wrong. The only things captains learn over time is man-management and how to talk to the media. The instinct for the game, the finger-on-the-pulse-of-the-game type shit, is either there or it isn't. And with this fool, it definitely isn't.

In addition, he has managed to piss off everyone from the selection committee to Afridi in his short time at the helm. Moreover, he's the type of guy who agrees to marry someone - without ever having met them - on the basis of some MIRC chats and a few online pictures and then is shocked - shocked! - that the woman turned out to, uh, be a touch less attractive than she would have you believe. Let me ask you this: if it's a World Cup final, or a tense fifth day against India or Australia, do you really want a guy who agreed to a telephone nikah in charge? Think about this for a second. Actually, scratch that. If you need to think about it for a second, you're the complete retard. And you can have Shoaib Malik as a friend.

(2) Our bowlers are never fit. Forget about Shoaib for a second, because I've already wasted too much of my time talking about him. Think about Asif. And Gul. And before he started sucking, Rana. And it's never small little niggles with these guys either. They're out for months at a time. Wasim never got injured this frequently. Waqar had that one massive injury in the early 90s, and then never suffered a serious, debilitating injury the rest of his career. And they played a lot more than these jokers too: meaningless one-dayers in Toronto and Sharjah, county cricket for more than a decade, domestic cricket, you name it, they played it. These guys today complain about how they're treated by the board - they're treated like Louis the fucking Fourteenth compared to what the Ws went through.

What our health, or lack thereof, has meant is that time after time, opposition top orders get nicely settled in and don't have to worry - ever - about being 80-5 on an opening morning. This in turn puts a whole lot of pressure on...

(3) I would like to stipulate for the record that I remain an ardent Danish Kaneria supporter. The guy gets no support from our quicks. The guy has had, at the minimum, 30-40 wickets go down the drain because of Akmal in the last year and a half. The guy never gets the respect of the umpires (though this is partly his fault...if you appeal for everything, you're not going to get the ones that are out. He really needs to go to the Shane Warne School of Smart and Calculated Appealing).

Still, though, you have to wonder about this guy. I'm not talking about the bottom-line averages/strike-rate/wickets-per-match type stuff, which as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, excludes all the crap he has to go through. I'm talking about Danish Kaneria, the bowler. Intrinsically. Has this guy improved in the last three years? Again, I'm not talking about numbers or stats. I'm saying if you faced him in the nets in 2004, and you faced him in the nets today, would you find him any more difficult to play? Isn't it disturbing that what should be the prime of his career (he's 27), at an age when spinners really come into their own, the guy's simply not a better bowler than he was? His control isn't better. He doesn't have any new variations. He isn't a smarter bowler by any stretch of the imagination (witness the aforementioned over-appealing and the overuse of his googly). In short, he's the same dude he was three years ago. Doesn't that bother you? Doesn't that bother him? Again, I understand why he's pissed off with the world - by all accounts, a crappy captain, terrible fielding, atrocious keeping, and no support in the attack have conspired to make him a much poorer man financially - but shouldn't he be a more accomplished bowler by now?

(4) This is going to be a really short bullet point. Our fielding sucks balls. Our openers suck balls. And our keeper sucks balls.

(5) It's not like other cricketing nations don't have, or have never had, serious problems, but at least with them you know there's a structure and a process in place that gives them the best chance of getting out of it. That's one of the things that struck me most when reading Steve Waugh's autobiography.

(We interrupt this blog post to narrate a random cricket story):

So on my way back to the U.S. in late December, I took Steve Waugh's book with me for the flight. If you haven't seen it, it's approximately 800 pages in length. Anyway, so I'm lugging the book through the security check, when this conversation happens:

ASF Security Dude: Itnee bhaari kitaab kya par rahe hain? [What is this really heavy book you're reading?]

Me: Yeh Steve Waugh kee kitab hai. [It's Steve Waugh's book]

ASF Security Dude: Steve Vaah? [Pause] Champion player. (Shakes his head from side to side).

Champion player, indeed. Anyway, so as I was saying, one of the things that really struck me about Steve Waugh's book was how on-the-same-page everyone in the Australian set-up was, even back when they sucked (mid 80s). Not in the sense that the coach always agreed with the captain who always agreed with the selectors who always agreed with the board. But in the sense of sharing goals, sharing a commitment to communication, and sharing a sense of long-term investment in both individual players and the total product. Maybe I'm crazy, but I just don't get that vibe from the looney tunes in charge of the PCB. First, this Nasim Ashraf treats his job like a paid vacation (he reportedly is always travelling and is already employed in at least two other capacities). Second, no one seems to be communicating with players who've been dropped, or demoted from their contract status, and explaining why these measures have been taken. Third, our selectors (and I say this as a Sallu fan) fielded an almost full-strength side against Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe! - at home, no less. And even when the young guns got a chance, they didn't actually get a chance, with the likes of Fawad Alam stuck behind the likes of Yousuf and Malik in the batting order.

So, dear reader, I ask you: is there any reason, any reason at all, why we shouldn't be filled with despair at this moment in time? What's going to change? Is our fielding going to miracously become better? [No]. Are we going to find our very own Langer and Hayden pair, or Greenidge and Haynes pair, or even Aamir and Saeed pair, at the top of the order? [Unlikely]. Are our quicks suddenly going to become, and remain fit? [Fat chance, no pun intended]. Are the guys in our team suddenly going to forget the apparent strife and decide to get along and sing Kumbaya? [No, and while we're on the subject, I hope Inzi-haters out there, especially on PakPassion, now realize how important the dude was in making sure most everyone got along].

By the way, I just realized that, for a guy who claims not to care about cricket, I do have an awful lot to say about it at 2:26 in the morning. Good night, people.

UPDATE: If you want to see Shoaib Malik's lovely non-bride, please click on the comments and follow the link provided by Nikhil.


nikhil said...

i understand you're trying out a new format with all these pictures etc, but come on dude, at least make them somewhat relevant. that louis the XIVth picture might have been the most inane thing i have ever seen on this blog.
you would have been much better served by this picture featuring at some point instead:

nikhil said...

previous link doesn't seem to work.

use this instead:

Ahsan said...

i would submit that there have been plenty of more innane things on this blog than louis XIV. a casual perusal of our archives will attest to that claim.

thanks for the link though. since it takes too much khwaari to re-format pictured posts, i'm going to tell readers to click on the link from the comments so they can see la belle ayesha.

Anonymous said...

Ahsan I completely agree with the post. While our team hasnt led me to depression yet, it certainly has made me more apathetic towards cricket. I never cared and probably never will care for cricket as much as you did, but many of us have that feeling of I dont give a damn.

Regarding Shoaib "Actor" the less said the better. If any fundos read this blog, I ask them to issue a fatwa that bans him from anything even remotely related to cricket (not that it would make a difference but considering they issue fatwas on every topic under the sun, another one wouldnt hurt). I for one would be more than happy if he wants to move to India and act (maybe a fatwa will come then). Anyways Shoaib is a douchebag.

zeyd said...

The sad thing is that I really didn't think the retard would turn out to be such a retard. I mean, how can anyone be such a retard?

Anwer: So I'm watching the first odi against zimbabwe at the national stadium (with our full strength team on display) and it's early on, Mugabe's boys are chasing 350 odd and they don't have a chance in hell. There's one slip in position, who's actually in a second slip position and it's in the first 15 overs. I forget who's bowling but he manages to induce an edge which goes between a motionless akmal (why's he playing again?) and the second slip...and runs away for 4.

Now, at this moment what would any captain--that's not a retard--do? Bring in another slip? Have 2 in there? Maybe 2 slips and a gully? I mean this is Zimbabwe chasing 350 right? Thery're not gonna win!!

Ok I promise this is what happened next: Retard actually REMOVES the slip and asks the bowler to finish off the over without a slip, and the only catchers being a short cover and a short mid-wicket. I swear I haven't felt like killing someone more in my life.

And this is one example from a single moment from a single game. Depression and apathy? I'm beyond that man. Now it's just unbridled rage.

AKS said...

The Zimbabwe tour was one of the most boring tours ever. It seemed as though the Pakistani team set off with one objective i.e. to better their ODI ranking.

The boredom co-efficient of our team explains why so many kids are now watching and playing football. There's not a single Pakistani player who truly excites me; druggie Asif no longer counts.

Anonymous said...

"comment deleted
This post has been removed by the author.

7:15 AM"

WHAT is this I see!?? From the very blog that claims to be the bastion of democracy and freedom of speech. The author that decried the honorable Musharraf to death for clamping down on a few roque journalists. That claims to be the champion of the masses and a beacon of the light of freedom.

Hypocrital Asshole

Ahsan said...

it was spam...inviting us to all play "naughty games". chill out for a second, will you?

NB said...

Wow, that was quite the gratuitous reaction. A little over eager for an opportunity to vent it seems.

Kindly leave a name next time anonymous.

bubs said...

Is Musharraf so bored these days that he surfs blogs, leaving anonymous comments? Very classy.

Ahsan said...

chill out, nb and bubs, it's only faraz or farooq.

Noddy Bhai said...

My real name is Nadeem Abbasi

Nadeem Abbasi said...

I am not Noddy Bhai

Farooq said...

I know its unhealthy to compare everything in Pakistan cricket with Indian cricket, but seeing the state of the latter is even more depressing for a Pakistan fan.

These guys absolutely outplayed the world champions in the third test and the series was more even than the final scoreline suggests. I consider this series a bigger accomplishment than the one they drew in Australia last time around. Meanwhile, we were pasted by England and our prospects against Australia dont look too good.

But forget tours. Look at the kind of players Indian fans have to be excited about. Aside of Afridi, can we say we have anyone as thrilling as Yuvraj, Dhoni, Tendu and even Pathan to watch.

What's more, even the Indian fringe players present a mouthwatering prospect. Lets look at our peripheral guys - no one will ever contend that Faisal Iqbal and Hassan Raza are exciting prospects. Ditto for Kamran Hussain and Sohail Khan. On the other hand, in India, you have guys like Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa who have shown a lot of promise. Poor Gautam just scored an awesome hundred against Sri Lanka and he is in and out of the team as much as Faisal.

The saddest part if that they have even overtaken us in the bowling department, usually a bastion of Pakistan's developmental culture. RP Singh, Sreesanth, Pathan (though im not convinced by him), Zaheer Khan and Kumble are at the top of their game right now. And I remember Ahsan making fun of the commentators referring to Ishant Sharma as the next Asif a few months back. If Asif doesnt add a little more pace, Ishant is well on his way to eclipsing him.

Anyway, it is sad that there is nothing to look forward to. Which is why I really like Imran Nazir. For the 10 minutes he is out there you can allow yourself to imagine how awesome it would be if he stays in for 30 over or half a test innings.

Noddy Bhai said...

I am I am Nadeem Abbasi..

Ahsan said...


after writing the post, i realized that i had forgotten to write the main point of it, or at least the point i wanted to most strongly emphasize, which was kind of what you said. i.e. we don't really have superstars or flashy guys the 90s we always had at least 2 guys who could in any given test get 10 wickets (Ws) and at least 2 guys who could blaze a hundred in a session and a half (saeed, inzi). we just dont have that spark anymore.

and you're right about ishant. he's a really good bowler. and india's a really good team....any team with 4-5 wicket-taking bowlers is dangerous, and that's what they have.

faraz said...

I would include YK and Akmal (batting) in the list of flashy guys that are fun to watch.. But I don't think all hope is lost, if we were to get an aggressive captain, YK or Afridi, I think this team might be fun to watch.. But with such defensive captaincy it really is a bore

Mohammad Sami said...

I still have potential.

Ahsan said...

well, good luck fulfilling your potential in the ICL.

Nikhil said...

I'm gay