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Pakistan's history of pre-World Cup chaos and captaincy debate

Since 1999 Pakistan Cricket has prepared itself for the ODI World Cup with chaos, turmoil and self-destruct maneuvers and every time it has done one bit worst than the previous attempt. Whether its a coincidence or natural outcome of incompetent system, can be a good case for some top investigators but it can't overshadow the fact that Pakistan Cricket has been hit with major turmoil within 12 to 15 months before every ODI World Cup since 1999 which makes Pakistan's final standing in the last four World Cups pretty much expected and justified.

It started with unanticipated resignation of Javed Miandad as the coach of Pakistan team before '99 WC barely months before the event. Some say the untapped spot fixing and match fixing also played part but whatever the reason it may be, the timing of that development couldn't have been worst for Pakistan's World Cup campaign.

Although, Pakistan managed to reach the Finals of '99 edition of ODI World Cup but the unexpected losses against Bangladesh in a dead rubber and against Australia in the Finals are a talking point for all match fixing conspiracy theorists till this day. Its not surprising that a few still manages to find a few links between Miandad's resignation, Pakistan's loss against England in Sharjah during a tournament right before the World Cup and those losses during the World Cup.

2002/03 - a year before the next World Cup - Pakistan Cricket was sailing through the ocean of uncertainty yet again. The year marked the poorest performance of Pakistan against Australia (in Sri Lanka and UAE) and against South Africa in South Africa.

That performance is probably the worst in Pakistan's history if considered with the amount of talent, experience and expertise that was available to Pakistan team till 2003 World Cup that served as final curtain for the careers of Pakistan's all-time greats like Wasim, Waqar and Saeed Anwar. The not so confidential differences between then captain, Waqar Younus, and the board and selection committee were further validated when Waqar disclosed all the issues openly after the World Cup which saw Pakistan team failing to reach the knock out stages of the competition for the first time in the history.

Again, comparing the talent, experience and expertise in that squad with the result highlight nothing but rifts and infighting resulting in down fall of a competent side.

Then came 2006, another year before the ODI World Cup, which is remembered mostly for several infamous events like Inzimam - Hair altercation over ball tempering, the dope testing episode involving Shoaib Akhtar and Muhammad Asif, and Afridi getting banned for, supposedly, threatening a spectator with the bat in South Africa.

Pakistan's loss to Ireland in World Cup doesn't seem so much surprising when one considers the fact that Pakistan was without the services of Asif, Shoaib and Afridi - the three match winners on their day - for that particular match. What conspired after that loss to Ireland is a well-remembered event of history.

Moving on to 2011 World Cup, 2010/11 seasons marked similar chaotic trend with a touch of innovation this time. 2010, England, Pakistan, Cricket, No-balls - I believe it does not need any more hints to point at a particular event.

Apart from those bizarre events during the summer, 2010 was filled with trademark musical chairs for captaincy in Pakistan Cricket. 2009 had ended with Younus stepping down from captaincy and Yousuf taking over for Australia tour.

The start of 2010 calendar probably gave the clear indication of the chaos and madness that was about to follow. The year started with that infamous Sydney test that pushed Akmal brothers to the new level of popularity. The Sydney debacle was followed by the ball-biting stunt by one and only Shahid Afridi.

The irony didn't end their, the same man was also made the captain of Pakistan team for all types of Cricket. It didn't end there either. Afridi came back to Test Cricket from retirement for a test and went back after just a single test. Salman Butt was made the captain of rocking ship in the middle of the tour and his captaincy ended in another chaotic mess of spot fixing.

Then came Misbah ul Haq as the captain of Test side but by the time Pakistan played the last series before the World Cup against New Zealand, the air was again filled with the possibility of Misbah replacing Afridi as captain of Pakistan team during the World Cup. Although, it did not happen but it was not until the end of the New Zealand tour and just a few days before the World Cup that Afridi was finally announced as captain of Pakistan team for 2011 World Cup.

Whether it played a part or not but what happened in Mohali is a mystery to date where Pakistan defeated itself by not only giving four lives to Tendulkar but also with a run chase full of mind boggling displays - from M Hafeez's incomplete paddle sweep to Younus' slow down to Umar Akmal's and Abdul Razzaq's inability to play regulation deliveries to the unexplained delay in taking the power play when Misbah and Afridi were on the crease to Afridi's mindless hit on a full toss from Harbhajan in his last over before the power play...... and to Misbah's exhibition of devoted defense in a run chase with perfection of taking singles on last ball of every over.

The next series after World Cup in West Indies resulted in public altercation between the captain, Shahid Afridi, and the coach, Waqar Younus. It only needs common sense to understand that it takes a while for such differences to burst out and it looks ominous that not everyone in the Pakistan camp were on the same page before yet another World Cup.

The past is irrelevant until the future conspires to repeat the history. With around 15 months to go for another ODI Word Cup, the scene of Pakistan Cricket is again filled with noises, better say shouts, for Misbah and M Hafeez to be kicked out of their role as ODI and T20 captains of Pakistan, respectively. Let's keep the discussion about T20, M Hafeez and T20 for another day but for ODIs, the scene is amazingly similar with Pakistan Cricket's pre-World Cup history since '99.

Misbah has been the captain of the side since 2011 - right after 2011 World Cup when the West Indies tour - the first after the 2011 WC - resulted in Afridi vacating yet another captaincy slot. Good or bad, aggressive or defensive, inspiring or dull, Misbah has handled this team of volatile ingredients pretty well and to his credit, the world hasn't heard of any new scandal from Pakistan camp for almost three years - rarity, isn't it?

However, the calls for removal of Misbah don't look that unjustified if all the touching-distance losses, dramatic collapses and helpless bowling performances are kept in mind. Misbah has provided much stability at the cost of distinctive flair of Pakistan Cricket, isn't an incorrect statement. It can be said that just like in the middle of fragile batting line up, Misbah has done remarkably well in fulfilling his duties of stabilizing the team in the middle of captaincy musical chairs and all other controversies.

But just like his batting, he is too good to lay the foundation but not good enough to finish the games all by himself. Just like his batting, he is an honest trier and hardworking individual but probably an unlucky one who has missed enough chances to cease the moment and turn a close defeat into a winning finish; probably that is what differentiates him from the classification of typical Pakistani fighters like Miandad, Wasim Waqar, Inzimam and others and probably that is why most of common Pakistanis criticize him for missing the opportunity without appreciating his efforts in taking the game that close from where he could be blamed for not winning it.

So, its not the removal of Misbah as a captain which should be of great concern at this point but it should be the impact of this removal and his replacement. Pakistan Cricket still has time to prepare for 2015 World Cup so it can look for a new leader. It can thank Misbah for his efforts for laying the foundations of a stable base from where Pakistan can launch its band of world beaters.

But if it is going to be just a change of old guard with another old face then it is going to be a disaster yet again. Replacement of Misbah with someone who was removed or stepped down for one reason or the other, may undo Misbah's stabilizing efforts and push Pakistan Cricket back into the familiar hole of captaincy musical chairs, infighting and rifts.

It's time Pakistan Cricket eradicate the disease of every player eyeing the captaincy spot and the board fueling their egoistic wishes by providing all the means for the captaincy musical chair. The policy of no-repeated captain may solve a lot of issues of Pakistan Cricket including dressing room grouping etc.

As for M Hafeez taking over from Misbah, it would definitely be a case of replacing a 4-wheeler with a 2-wheeler just for the sake of  it. It would be change just for the sake of change and primarily because of how much the 4-wheeler is disliked rather than what is exactly needed.

In summary, Pakistan Cricket is standing at the crossroads yet another time right before a World Cup and it should resist the temptation of repeating the history. If it is inevitable, its time Pakistan go for a young captain and work on long term plans like Australia did with Allan Border in 80s and South Africa did with Greame Smith in 2003.

It looks like the careers of veterans like Misbah, Afridi, Younus, Abdul Razzaq, M Hafeez, Shoaib Malik etc. are not going to last beyond 2015 World Cup, so replacement of Misbah with any of these would be nothing but another cut for very short term gains. It looks like the appointment of a young captain is inevitable. Whether it should be done now or left till the end of another unsuccessful World Cup campaign in 2015, is a point to ponder. 

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