The Case for Afridi’s Captaincy

Posted on January 30, 2011 by

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The grand pursuit of the economist should be to fine tune a system that in the long-run insulates its population from aggregate negative outcomes during troughs in the business cycle, while increasing aggregate benefits during peaks. Agree? Well tell that to this guy:

The problem with our dear Chacha here (Chacha is Urdu for Uncle, and is the term of endearment we’ve given to the guy pictured above) is that he’s not into human capital investments or structural reform. He’s not bothered about credit ratings or expected inflation. Development funding and fiscal responsibility don’t ignite his passions.  All the good Chacha is looking for is a lil bit o’ dis :

Or in other words, a little bit of this:

To the Chacha, the words ‘long-term management‘ have no resonance. He’s a man of the private sector–he wants results. But what Chacha needs to realize is that the only way to achieve results consistently is to invest in the future. And he needs to understand that along the way, his team might lose some games.

Long-term team thinking by a team management can create a foundation from which a team can consistently peform. This involves creating a certain culture within the team–regular workout schedules for instance; or famously, the Pakistan team’s prayer sessions under Inzamam. It also involves careful selection of talent, and continued backing of that talent. It allows time for team members to understand  and feel comfortable in their roles. It allows both players and management  to understand each others’ personalities and management styles. Most importantly, it allows the team management to set a future goal and approach matches not just as win-loss scenarios, but as opportunities to work towards that goal. And usually–and here’s where Chacha gets his due–that goal is to win consistently.

Here, the captain is essential–he not only motivates the players on the field, but gives them confidence during form slumps, works with them to develop their skills, and caters to their needs not only as players, but as men. In short, the captain leads the team.

Which is why this whole hangama (hoopla) over Afridi is ticking me off. The board hasn’t named him captain for the World Cup. And by board, I mean Ijaz Butt. Now why would Ijaz Butt not pick Afridi?

This Osman Samiuddin piece speculates that the reason is “players are mostly unhappy with Afridi’s regular and very public assessments of his side’s performances” and  “Afridi’s statements to the ICC with reference to the spot-fixing case.” Now although in the world of Pakistani cricket, players unhappy about something or the other is enough to, you know, depose the captain, I don’t buy it in this case. There is little evidence of any significant senior player being unhappy with him. And as far as the management goes, I don’t think either Waqar Younis or Intikhab Alam would be actively lobbying for his removal. So again, why would the incomparable Ijaz Butt be moved to change the captaincy…again?

Well, what has happened since the South African ODIs, Afridi’s last unquestioned activity as captain and the announcement of the World Cup squad, is a gritty drawn Test series against South Africa, followed by Pakistan’s first Test series win in half-a-decade. Unfortunately, in between these chubby cheeks of success, has been a harrowing T20 series loss to New Zealand. Put differently, Pakistan’s series record is broadly WLW  (win-loss-win).  And the ‘L’ is significant because it was under Afridi.

What does all this mean? Let’s think back to Chacha here. Chacha’s not going to be happy about the ‘L.’ To Chacha, that loss means that Pakistan is going to lose the World Cup. And when Pakistan loses to New Zealand by 9 wickets in the first match of the ODI series, Chacha is very, very upset.

In far off Lahore, Ijaz Butt seems to have finally gotten the drift that other than Ahmed Mukhtar, his brother-in-law whose political constituencies in Punjab make him an important ally of President Zardari, no one actually likes him. He needs some PR points, and he needs them bad.

Here’s where the Chacha and Butt unite: imagine there’s a little Chacha dancing around on the shoulder of Ijaz Butt. “Butt sahib,” the little chacha whispers into the Chairman’s ear, “o jirah World Cup naee anda? Us wich Misbah nu kaptaan bana, wo World Cup jitawainga” (You know that World Cup coming up Mr. Butt? Make Misbah captain, he’s gonna win it for us).

By not confirming Shahid Afridi as captain for the World Cup, Butt sahib is playing to the gallery. He knows the whims of the fans, of Chacha. He knows he needs to win back some cred. He’s uneasy about Afridi delivering results. And he thinks Misbah, with two W’s to his name, is a winning formula. In other words, he has tiny, impotent gonads.

But beyond Butt–as fans, it is up to us to reign in the Chacha. When we don’t, he influences people like Ijaz Butt, and we end up with World Cup squads without captains. That Afridi’s selection as captain for the World Cup is being based purely on winning the current series, is as much our fault as it is Mr. Butt’s. The T20s against New Zealand said nothing about the development of the team. The freak loss in the first ODI said even less. Even yesterday’s win didn’t offer us much insight.

What does tell us something about the health of the team under Afridi is that from the cesspool of the most toxic scandal the game has ever seen, something of a competitive ODI unit has begun to emerge. It ain’t perfect, but its growing innings-by-innings, game-by-game. Over the past few months, Afridi has developed relationships, built confidences, and created an positive atmosphere. Boring management talk you say? Tell that to Mr. Maiden-Centurion-Hafeez.  If Afridi is removed, all this will be lost. Hell if this unit keeps going for the next month or so, we might even find a little bit of the magic C word, consistency, when it really counts.

Samiuddin writes, “But the situation remains fluid and Misbah’s chances were far greater a few days ago; a comfortable win over New Zealand on Saturday, with a starring role from Afridi, will no doubt impact on the final decision.”

I’ve got my money on Afridi too at this point. But the fact that he won one game and is now the front-runner is precisely because the Chacha is dancing on Ijaz Butt’s shoulder.

DISCLAIMER: This post in no way is meant to denigrate Chaudhry Abdul Jalil. References to his alter ego are strictly metaphorical.

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Article by Raza Naqvi