Whither Kaptaan?

On Monday, after Pakistan miraculously managed to lose the second T20I against South Africa, and in turn the 11 series winning streak in the shortest format of the game, President Arif Alvi tweeted an analysis as precise and accurate as any: “One of our batsmen was too slow for T20 and our bowlers could not bowl slower balls.”

One would be hard pressed to find a better analysis on Pakistan’s defeat. And one would simultaneously be reminded of where it all began for President Alvi, as far as his rise to his current position is concerned.

The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf popularised cricket terminologies in politics to a point where one can no longer pass a news bulletin with at least a couple of such reference. This of course owes to their party chief Imran Khan’s credentials as Pakistan’s only ODI World Cup winning captain, which for a long time was his biggest selling point as an electoral candidate as well. That was until it was easily bought by those who matter the most.

Since coming to power, the cricket references have only increased. Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar being referred to as Wasim Akram, or saying that Imran Khan and Javed Miandad are on crease – to underline how the government would address the many crises – are recent examples. Of course, this has long necessitated Imran Khan being referred to as the Captain or Kaptaan.

And yet, given the overdose and indeed overreliance on cricket, it is surprising that absolutely no one is talking about the fact that cricket – as an actual sport, and not political parlance – has actually been sinking since the PTI came to power.

Since Imran Khan became the Prime Minister, Pakistan have had a shocking Asia Cup, lost to New Zealand in a Test series outside of New Zealand for the first time since 1969, and lost in all three formats to South Africa – including the aforementioned and to the almost three year old unbeaten run in T20I series.

Of course, this is not to say that somehow the PTI government coming to power is directly responsible for the slump. But why aren’t more questions being asked from those who had cricket as among their most prominent expertise?

Indeed, the PTI’s politicisation of cricket isn’t limited to linguistics. The decision to remove Najam Sethi as the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman, despite the successes that Pakistan cricket witnessed both on and off the pitch, is an example of political vengeance that ironically PM Khan vowed not to engage in during his first speech to the nation he was going to lead.

We are told that PM Khan’s stature as a world figure is going to help Pakistan’s diplomatic stature. While that remains to be seen, what one does wonder is why PM Khan’s stature in world cricket isn’t helping the country in the field that he adopted as a profession?

In this space last week, PM Khan was urged to take notice of a set of events which could’ve helped Pakistan both on the diplomatic and cricket front. While a small comment from PM Khan would’ve sufficed, the PCB’s horrendous dealing of the aftermath of captain Sarfaraz’s racist slur continues to aggravate, with Sarfaraz himself downplaying his own transgression to make things even more embarrassing for the country.

Given the changes that the Prime Minister has undertaken at the PCB, given his own profile along with his choice to market himself and indeed given the constant cricket references that he continues to churn out, surely there would be some accountability on the cricket front for the government soon?

With the Pakistan Super League about to begin – phateechargate anyone? – and considering the fact that it’s a World Cup year, the forks and knives should be sharpened very soon.


The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.


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