‘Rock and a hard place’ is how one could describe the position that the relatively new administration at the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) finds itself in at the moment. On one hand is an impatient public baying for changes that would convert country’s national side into world-beaters in all formats, where local versions of ‘Virat Kohli’ would be unearthed in every nook and cranny of the nation and a new Wasim Akram would be marking his run-up in no time.
Waiting for a catastrophe to befall the PCB is another set of supporters who would be ready to jump on the throats of Ehsan Mani and Wasim Khan should the changes they have recently made, ostensibly in good faith, not yield the utopian results promised to them.
Whichever way we look at it, expectations are high, and the fact is that given the fuss around the appointment of PCB’s Chief Executive Wasim Khan, any change without earth-shattering qualities would have done little to satisfy Pakistani supporters. Wasim Khan’s claims to create conditions that would take Pakistan to the final of the World Test Championship may have been made with a firm belief in place but will no doubt put further pressure on him to deliver.
The current week has therefore seen some potentially explosive changes to the organisation of Pakistan cricket. The elimination of departmental cricket, the reduction of regional domestic sides from 16 to six and changes to the remuneration structure for domestic players are some such steps. The Gaddafi Stadium has been a beehive of activity for the past few days as press releases of all descriptions have been coming out with a high frequency but it seems that the one change that has probably caught the imagination, has been the appointments of former Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq in the dual role of Head Coach and Chairman of Selectors, as well as that of Waqar Younis as bowling coach of the national side.
Of course, in Pakistan cricket, no changes of such magnitude remain secrets and word had been spilling out of such a role for Misbah and Waqar for the last week or so. It still caught a few by surprise, but in reality, given PCB’s sensitive position, it shouldn’t have.
From the PCB’s point of view, their decision to not renew Mickey Arthur’s contract as Pakistan Head Coach was one that divided opinion. Lack of good results in Tests and the inability to reach the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup were strong reasons for Arthur’s departure, but on the other hand, many felt that Arthur should have been given more time to mould his teams in all three formats. The real quandary that faced the PCB then, was the choice of the next Head Coach and the accompanying bowling coach.
It was no secret that the number of qualified candidates for this position with international experience vying for a Pakistan role were on the low side. It would thus have been to their immense relief when Misbah-ul-Haq and Waqar Younis threw their hats in the ring. With not too long to go to the start of Pakistan’s domestic season and the next international assignments, time was running out and a choice of an unknown and possibly volatile quantity amongst any number of low-profile candidates could not have gone in favour of Pakistan.
A former captain like Misbah who, until recently was still playing cricket at the domestic and league level, would be expected to know the capabilities of most of the domestic players. In addition, the Pakistan side with younger players in its ranks would have great respect for Misbah and the same would be the case for Waqar Younis. The decision, in that sense, was a no-brainer.
A safer option for PCB would be non-existent and so PCB took possibly the easy and safer way out.
Whether such considerations were reasons enough for the choice of Misbah and Waqar for these important roles are questions that Ehsan Mani and Wasim Khan will need to answer in detail in the coming days. Also, the bending of rules regarding relevant coaching experience to get their favoured candidates into the job would have raised some eyebrows as well.
The additional role of Misbah as Chairman of Selectors would possibly be the easiest one to justify for the Board, but his dual role lends itself to him being labelled judge, jury and executioner when it comes to the future of players. A lot will be spoken on this should results not go in Pakistan’s favour or if certain players feel hard done by the new style of team management.
Similarly, Waqar Younis’s third stint in a coaching role for Pakistan will be one that is watched with great interest. His previous forays into this role were not to everyone’s likings but it is hoped, as in Misbah’s case, that he too will be able to influence Pakistan’s younger bowlers to raise their game and help the side improve its position in all formats of the game.
PCB have embarked on a brave new mission to rescue Pakistan cricket from what they perceive to be a stagnant state, and the choices they have made are bold in nature to the casual observer. Whether Misbah and Waqar are the right men for their respective roles will only become clear by the results they deliver and if their past record is any indicator, good times lie ahead for Pakistan cricket.