Tuesday’s incredulous selection of Arsal Shaikh in the Federal Capital squad for next week’s Pakistan Cup in Faisalabad not only questions the credibility of those running Pakistan cricket currently but also opens a debate as to whether the selection was based on merit.
Tragically, the chequered history of Pakistan cricket is laden with avoidable words like ‘controversial’, ‘nepotism’ and ‘corruption’. There is no benchmark, really, to fathom why it hasn’t been rectified yet. This situation is not confined to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). In some of the other top cricket-playing nations the story is more or less the same but not to the extreme level we find in our own country.
There were, however, some notable exceptions in the past when it came to team selections at the highest level.
Dr Jahangir Khan — who earned fame when he killed a bird in flight while bowling during an MCC vs Cambridge University match at Lord’s in 1936 — chose to resign as the chief selector in 1964 when the cricketing setup was known as the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP). The reason was simply a noble one: he wanted to maintain the impartiality of the selection committee since his son Majid Khan was being considered for the one-off Test against Australia at Karachi in 1964.
Majid, who began as a pace-bowling all-rounder, not only made his international debut in that game but went onto become of the most graceful batsmen of his time in world cricket before retiring in 1983. His son Bazid Khan also played for Pakistan in a brief career in 2005 and making the famous Khan trio as only the second family to have three successive generations of Test cricketers after the Headleys — George Headley and his son Ron played for the West Indies and Ron’s son Dean represented England.
Dr Jahangir’s tremendous gesture was exemplary and proof enough that the family he headed before his death in 1988 never wanted to indulge in the dirty politics of the cricket board. But sadly it can’t be said of others.
Illogical selections — both at international and national levels — are one thing but if the stigma of favouritism is attached to it then the whole exercise becomes pointless.
In the past, some of us have helplessly witnessed the selection shenanigans. Remember Majid Usman? He was absurdly picked for the twin tours of Australia and New Zealand in 1972-73 ahead of fellow paceman Ehteshamuddin, who had been putting in consistent performances season after season since both debuted in the 1969-70 domestic season.
While Ehteshamuddin didn’t make his Pakistan debut until he was selected for the India tour in 1979-80, Majid faded away into oblivion after playing the last of only 13 first-class matches, in Auckland on that New Zealand trip.
Aamir Hameed — a medium-pace bowler who played two One-day Internationals in 1977-78 against Mike Brearley’s English squad was a shock selection for the 1978 England tour — because he was related to the board chairman of that era.
The curious case of Junaid Zia is next on the list. The presence of his father, Lt Gen Tauqir Zia, as the powerful PCB chairman enabled the former Pakistan U-19 paceman, whose bowling action was deemed suspect by the ICC, to play four One-day Internationals — all on the trot — against Bangladesh in 2003.
Aamir Sohail, the former captain who was the chief of a five-man selection committee at the time, has had all along been claiming he’s a man of integrity and always believes in merit and transparency. It would be appropriate to ask him where these virtues were when Junaid was handed the Pakistan cap.
The manner in which Arsal is being fast-tracked into big cricket smacks of sheer nepotism and his case is not dissimilar to that of Junaid. The off-spinner’s selection in the Bangladesh-bound Pakistan squad for the ICC U-19 World Cup earlier in the year was already contentious enough.
But the teenaged spinner would be the first to admit that if his father was not a part of the PCB, he would have probably never got a look in, not even at the domestic level. Performance does matter a lot and Arsal’s lack of it certainly paints a bleak picture.
There is another way of looking at it. If Arsal is really worth an inclusion on merit then why a number of deserving young players were initially not selected?
In the first official PCB media release on Monday, a criterion that attracted attention was that each of the five teams was required to pick one regional under-19 player in order to provide top quality exposure to younger cricketers.
But on Wednesday, it was decided to add another under-19 player to each of the squads, each of whom will have altogether 16 players to choose from.
There were at least four glaring omissions in the originally-announced squads the other day. While leg-spinner Shadab Khan and all-rounder Hasan Mohsin, the two standout performers during Pakistan’s campaign at the ICC U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh earlier this year, along with 17-year-old fast bowler Sameen Gul were picked, there was no place for Umair Masood, the talented 18-year-old wicket-keeper/batsman from Rawalpindi.
Umair was just one of two Pakistan batsman at the recent U-19 World Cup to score a century. Similarly, Zeeshan Malik who also performed creditably in Bangladesh and made 93 in a man-of-the-match performance in the fifth-place victory over England is glaringly missing.
Having 16-man squads for a one-day competition where each side will play just four matches before the top two teams progress to the May 1 final doesn’t make sense.