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March 9, 2000


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Ask Imran

Armchair Expert

A captain is only as good as his side." How many times have we heard that being said? Too many. That's how many. So much so, people just don't consider the flip side anymore.

Impossible! They say. A captain cannot be held responsible for the team. Can't you see? It's perfectly logical. Cricket is a team sport. A team sport is about team performance. Therefore, a captain and his team have to perform...pause to acknowledge all the sagely nods in individual, however talented, cannot be held responsible for the non-performance of the team. See! A captain is only as good as his team. (Said with a condescending sneer that's got 'oh, it's so obvious' written all over it.)

Unfortunately, nothing is that obvious. Especially when life is not even close to being that logical.

Sometimes, individuals can be held 'totally responsible' for all that's wrong. For, sometimes, the buck has to start and stop at one man. Actually, quite often. Even more so, when it comes to...err, highly volatile teams. Teams, two, three...say it with me INDIA and PAKISTAN! Because teams like India and Pakistan are...are...well, different. (Said with a combination of the inevitability of a Pankaj Kapoor and the despair of a Javed in that 'soss is boss' commercial.)

Tendulkar has every right to pat himself on the back for realizing this. (Something he might well have been feeling when he first declined the job. Tells you something about gut feel, doesn't it?) And taking full responsibility for our...well, you know what Down Under. He's right. The problem was at the top. And nothing hurts more than to have to repeatedly say it. In the hope that someone will finally think a little more about what it takes to captain teams like India and Pakistan. (Even Ganguly's appointment, methinks, has more to do with him being the only candidate than any great cricketing judgement on the part of our selectors. No, why pull punches, pack of jokers.)

It takes a particularly acute mind to understand what went wrong Down Under. (A mind we're still looking for.) People say the team isn't supporting Tendulkar. How much can one man do? (So what if he happens to be God.) You know, the guy got a raw deal. Captaincy was thrust upon him. Team members were thrust upon him. The responsibilities of all ten men were thrust upon him. It was his team that let him down. All right. Absolutely right!

But none righter than Tendulkar. (The greatness of the man is only multiplied by the fact that he realized it soon enough.)

And as to why he stayed captain for the Test series? I guess, he was like any great sportsman keen to leave with a bang. With a series win, any win under his belt. (And a consequent boost in confidence to carry the team and the new captain through the one-dayers.) He wanted to leave with something to cherish. It wasn't to be.

Okay, snap out of it. And byte this!

Question: What is Pakistan cricket?

Talent, talent and more talent.

Next question: What is Pakistan cricket?

Mismanagement, mismanagement and more mismanagement.

Next question: What is Pakistan cricket?

Either a great team when led by a great captain or a riddle.

So what is Pakistan cricket? (Get the drift? Really? You mean you know what's coming next? Then you have no reason whatsoever to read on. Have a nice day.)

For those who don't...Pakistan cricket is Pakistan under Imran and Pakistan under the others. No one person has more influenced the course of cricket in his country than Imran. And the fact that he had proven success, no, more success, than any other captain from the sub-continent might waiting...say it with me...(Can't get yourself to say it, can you?)

Pakistan has always been one of the better-endowed teams in world cricket. But never as dominant as people would have expected them to be. Or should have had every business being. A team with much natural talent but not reckoned as consistently competitive. Most likely to crumble under pressure. (Most likely self-created.) A bunch of outstanding talents that don't play with as much pride in their colours as they should. Yes, yes, everyone knows just like India. (For chrissake! People have written whole articles about it.)

Until Imran.

Imran changed everything. First he picked the team he wanted. Why? That's right. You know it. So I won't bother repeating it. His players then took the field secure in the knowledge that they had their captain firmly behind them. Their captain had full faith in their abilities. And their passport to fame lay in ensuring their captain's faith in them wasn't let down. (Not very complicated. But very effective.) And no, I won't take the trouble to tell you what's wrong with the way we select our players. Or who doesn't have faith in whom. Or who plays for the team and who plays for himself. Everyone knows.

Next, Imran turned dictator.

Why? Because, you see, we are not self-motivated by nature. We are too emotional. We are blah, blah, blah...and more such reasons why 'we' are not like the clinical fellows from, say, Down Under. There, you have all been proven right. (Especially the ones mailing me trying to tell me why...never mind, you'll get it as you read on.) And since we are 'supposedly' like that, we shouldn't feel so bad about losing. After all, we are not like them. They are too aggressive. They are barbarians. They are killers. They are machines. They are blah, blah, blah and more such reasons to...let's just say excuses to feel somewhat better. Or, put differently, more reasons to wallow. Or, better still, take up a game that allows us to be like this only. Because cricket has moved on. And you need men who know that and aren't afraid to tell people who don't. In no uncertain terms. Men like Imran.

If Imran said something it had to happen. It had to be true. It had to be executed. It had to be possible. He worked to make it happen. So the others had to.

He started as a tear-away with no control. No temperament. Nothing. And made himself one of the best cricketers in the world. The hard way. His team had him to show that it could be done. Anything could be done. He had done it. They had to follow. Or know, or else. (We all know what happens when a Dictator says or else.) And he probably didn't bother couching it in homilies. (It doesn't really work for us emotional folk, does it?) Fact is, what Imran did, I don't know. What I do know is Imran was special.

When captain, his team was one of the best in the world. (Not just on paper.) He led Pakistan to series' wins in India and England. Competed on level ground with the, then mighty, Windies in their backyard. And also beat England in England.

Another example of his extraordinary skills as a leader and a visionary is him taking the lead in introducing neutral umpires for games in Pakistan. (He saw the damage concerted accusations of bias, justified or otherwise, could have on the future of cricket in Pakistan.)

And to top it all off, his team won him the World Cup. Bringing home the gold for a great leader. (It didn't matter that Imran was, by then, way past his best as a player.) It's defining moments like these that tell you the difference know who and who. A captain and a great captain!

Why what did you think?

Some of the greatest moments in Pakistani cricket have been under Imran. More significantly, none of the ridiculous moments so typical to Pakistani ever took place when Imran was in charge.

Perhaps it was because he didn't ask for much. All he did was demand. He demanded performance, passion, determination, pride and that uniquely subcontinental quality called 'Junoon.'

Name one other Pakistani captain who managed to consistently get all this out their players - many times the same set of players. Think, think, think...look for clues in Pakistan's inconsistent, even lacklustre, performances under Rameez Raja, Javed Miandad, Salim Malik, Wasim Akram, any other Pakistani captain and now Anwar. (At home!) You know the answer.

Lessons Ganguly would do well to pick a clue or two from? Am sure he will. Because besides hard beginnings, he also shares Imran's hunger for the job. Something, I won't start.

Armchair Expert

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