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Kaptaan vs Kaptaan, Part 3

Kaptaan vs Kaptaan, Part 3

The discussion on Pakistan’s captains that lasted a good two pieces led to some interesting arguments. Not all of them were interested in a Socratic debate, but that is understandable. To the second part of the discussion, the response was about 12 per cent of what it was to the first one; an indication that some of the points raised by the first tsunami were addressed in the second part. Or maybe they just lost hope. Who knows?

From roses to brickbats, the whole spectrum of public response is a part of professional life. If one starts getting carried away by the former and feeling down in the pits when the latter comes one’s way, it will be downright impossible to write anything. So thanks are due to all of them who emailed, commented, liked, recommended or shared the pieces at various forums. This naturally includes those who slapped sobriquets like ‘stupid’, ‘idiot’ and even the less parliamentary adjectives (invectives?).

It was quite clear that the focus shifted from the game and the discussion to national politics. Indeed, there were a few who sent links to some clips on the website of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) that claimed Imran Khan was the best thing that ever happened to the country. Then there were comments to the effect that Imran was the best and any discussion can only be “laughable.” Fine. One can live with it. But how about this: “Imran was the best and will always remain the best.” Come on, man, you are willing to mortgage the country’s future in your zeal. Even Imran would not endorse such an approach. Ask him, if you will.

Some called the discussion “futile”, insisting that both Imran and Misbahul Haq were greats in their own right. Ghalib, the genius, has spoken often of the futility of life itself. That being so, anything and everything is futile, but the good thing is that Ghalib continued to live — and enjoy — his life to the full.

Such comparisons are nothing but part of a longstanding tradition to acknowledge someone’s passing of a landmark achievement. In this case, it was about Misbah taking over the baton from Imran as the longest-serving national captain that occasioned the discussion.

As for those who condemned the “national trait” of praising one by demeaning the other, all one would like to remind them is the simple and obvious fact that the discussion was about picking the greatest from among the four greats. There was absolutely no chance — not even a remote one — to demean any of the four who made the grade. When people talk — and they do — about their choice of Sachin Tendulkar’s 51 centuries over Donald Bradman’s 29, or of Javed Miandad’s career tally of 8832 runs over Younis Khan’s 9668 (and counting), nobody is demeaning any of the greats.

Quite a few people raised one technical point that has a lot of meaning to it: that the quality of Imran’s victories was much superior than anything Misbah has achieved because they had come against teams that were much tougher than the opposition Misbah has faced. That’s a fair point for an objective discussion.

There are two things that deserve consideration, however. One, if the West Indies side of today is not as formidable as of yore — and it is not — the fact cannot be held against Misbah. Likewise, if India is not playing against Pakistan, it does not take anything away from the latter. Moving on, if the Pakistan Cricket Board fails to line up engagements against the better sides, players are not to be faulted. They can play only against those who are willing and available to play. Secondly, while taking a statistical view, perceptions have to be set aside for a while.

Victories under Misbah have generally come in the UAE and that should have been discounted, many have argued. That it was not done was indicative of a “personal bias against Imran”, it was alleged. Let’s just pick one example of people trying to play the jury and the judge all by themselves.

Much has been made of the “man who brought us the World Cup” and the usual ‘cornered tigers’ narrative. It is the statistical victory that we are talking about here, not perception. If we merge the two, here is a glimpse of what you might get: Pakistan, despite being the ‘cornered tigers’, would have been out of the tournament much before the semi-final stage. Having scored a mighty 74 runs in 40.2 overs, there was no way forward — especially after England had knocked down 24 of them in eight overs. Pakistan’s pack-up time was about an hour away when the skies opened up over Adelaide. It was this one point that allowed Pakistan to stay in the competition and the rest, as they say, is history.

Had it not rained for another hour, who would have cared about the hallowed narrative of ‘cornered tigers’? Does anyone remember anything of the 1987 World Cup in which Pakistan was among the hot favourites but failed to feature in the final? The memory of 1992 would not have been much different.

And the rain in Adelaide, mind you, was an act of Nature, not of the ‘cornered tigers.’ What we remember, however, is the single piece of statistical data — that Pakistan won — not the manner of victory. Pakistan’s recent elevation to the Number One Test side was also a statistical quirk because it came not because of what we did, but because someone else — Australia in Sri Lanka, and India in West Indies — failed to do something somewhere else. But anyone who pointed that out was flogged by cyber-mafia because they were busy celebrating the statistics.

As for the argument that Imran’s win percentage was lower than Misbah’s only because there were more drawn games in that era than is the case today, one would simply have to take a look at Mushtaq Mohammad’s captaincy to have a fuller view. Mushtaq had a better percentage both in terms of winning and playing attacking cricket in the pre-Imran era, while Misbah did it in the post-Imran phase.

And, finally, the argument that Imran taught us how to “hold our heads high in international cricket” was something that we touched upon in a bit of detail in the second part of the discussion. It was, again, Mushtaq. His approach was followed initially by Javed Miandad and subsequently by Imran.

At the end of this three-part series, it seems appropriate to quote the inimitable Shafiqur Rahman who said (in Urdu of course!): ‘To any issue, there are always three opinions — my opinion, your opinion and ... the correct opinion.’ Get the drift, my friends (and foes)!

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Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 11th, 2016

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