The price for non-performance

THE Shoaib Akhtar-episode reflects once again the ugly side of cricket administration in Pakistan.

THE Shoaib Akhtar-episode reflects once again the ugly side of cricket administration in Pakistan. Every debacle is followed by the formation of an enquiry commission and in the recent case, a medical commission. To pay such a heavy price for non-performance must have sent alarming signals to cricketers in Pakistan.

Henceforth, they will be under greater pressure to perform, more so at home, given the attitude of the Pakistan Cricket Board in dealing with its cricketers.

The pre-competition hype had provided a sensational twist to the India-Pakistan series even before a ball was bowled.

The cricket world was given to understand that Pakistan's fortunes depended on just one bowler — Shoaib Akhtar. He was expected to run through the opposition and give the home team a great advantage against a formidable Indian batting line up.

Akhtar was game, for he loves such situations. Known to motivate himself and often lead the attack by example, the fast bowler from Rawalpindi soon found himself in a tricky state.

The captain's expectations had understandably grown manifold but the pressure came from the administrators, who read too much into the fall in the standards set by Akhtar.

After the defeat at Multan, the Pakistan team recovered at Lahore to level the series. The PCB obviously backed its team on the strength of Akhtar, who was expected to unleash his fury in the decider at Rawalpindi.

But things went haywire and Akhtar was portrayed as the villain of the defeat. The PCB went to the extent of ordering a medical enquiry to probe the authenticity of the claims of the fast bowler that he was injured.

Akhtar was stunned, and reacted as one would have expected him to. He pointed out that it was back injury that prevented him from bowling at a critical stage of India's second innings and not the wrist injury on the left hand as had been widely perceived.

The PCB, it was clear, was intent on making Akhtar the scapegoat for the loss at Rawalpindi. To widen the canvas of its investigations, the PCB ordered a few others — Moin Khan, Shabbir Ahmed, Abdul Razzaq, Umar Gul — to appear before a Medical Commission.

The focus, however, remained on Akhtar, for he had been identified as a shirker by none other than the PCB head, Shahriyar Khan.

What fuelled the debate was the Akhtar-Inzamam war through the media with each accusing the other.

Akhtar claimed he had been denied the field of his choice while Inzamam charged the bowler with non-cooperation. Past seemed to have been visiting Pakistan cricket when such internecine squabbles had only highlighted the differences that existed among the players and the administrators.

One can vividly recall the harrowing experience Imran Khan had on returning home after the 0-2 loss to India in the 1979-80 series. He was made the scapegoat.

Imran saw shades of the past and was quick to defend Akhtar, and rightly so.

He slammed the PCB for portraying Akhtar as the villain and called for a mature approach to deal with the problem. Elsewhere, Imran had blamed the poor cricket infrastructure for the team's defeat in the home series.

To single out one individual for a team's loss was in poor taste and it was injustice to a bowler who had in the preceding three series bowled his heart out.

It is a fact cricket needs characters like Akhtar. They carry the game to great heights and give fast bowling a new dimension. To hound such a player for just one failure does not reflect well on the people who run the game.

They showed lack of vision and wisdom in lashing out at him without even giving him the stage to defend. Imran was right in questioning the authority of some of the officials and citing examples of how other nations had refrained from conducting such post-mortems.

Such witch-hunting does not help anyone, and the PCB the least in such tough times when it faces the challenge of rebuilding the team.

From the entire series if there was something for Shoaib to cherish it was his triumph against Sachin Tendulkar in their much-hyped up personal battle, if there was one.

Barring one innings at Multan, Shoaib emerged the winner. The joy, sadly, was deeply submerged in the pain of losing the series in front of the home crowd, not to forget the unwarranted controversy that followed.

Even here, the winner has been Shoaib, leaving the PCB officials red-faced. It is time the administrators in Pakistan learnt to accept disappointments gracefully.