A few days ago, former Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar's criticism of Pakistan cricket team and captain Misbah ul-Haq went viral on social media. In this exclusive interview, Akhtar discusses his thoughts about his national side in greater detail.
Ayaz Memon: Thank you very much for speaking to Huffington Post. First things first, you’ve been very critical of the Pakistan team so far in the World Cup.
a) What do you see going wrong with Pakistan? They’ve lost both the matches that they’ve played.
b) Do you think that the criticism is justified considering that some of the key players have been missing?
Shoaib Akhtar: Since you know that I am working in India, and every now and then I see Pakistan losing quite badly against India, I get a lot of criticism living in this country, it really boils up my blood.
What I really wanted was Misbah to take a lead. I really think that Misbah can manage if he comes in a one-down position and takes charge of the batting, because I know this is an immature Pakistan batting line-up, which only Misbah can lead. If he takes charge, comes in after the openers and bats till the 30-35th over, when Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi can come in and play the only game they know.
Pakistan has three batsmen who don’t know how to defend. I have always maintained that Umar Akmal and Sohaib Maqsood are modern day Shahid Afridis. They don’t know how to build the game, but they know how to hit the ball. That was what my criticism was all about.
If Misbah doesn’t do that, I can assure you that the Pakistan team will not go through to the quarter finals.
It’s a failure of living legends who failed to inspire, including myself. I also blame myself. We failed to inspire youngsters.
AM: Do you think there has been an issue with the selection, or have the selectors done the best with the talent available?
SA: I think losing Saeed Ajmal and Hafeez as an opener and a leading off-spin bowler, I really think Misbah doesn’t have the bowling attack, neither does have have a mature batting line-up which can take him through to quarter finals.
Having said that, I wanted Misbah to take charge as a captain. You don’t need much technique, you need a bit of bravery and sensible batting. The captain has to take the pressure. Imran (Khan) took charge and came to bat before Inzamam, Saleem Malik, Miandad — it’s only Misbah who can change this scenario.
All of this has nothing to do with Misbah. When I say Misbah can do it, it’s because I have faith in him. I know he’s a brave guy, who can pull it off.
AM: There has been a lot of talk about the structure in Pakistan for cricket, or the lack of a structure. Do you think that’s the cause for a lot of stagnation that has come in Pakistan cricket?
SA: It’s not stagnation, its the collapse of the society, of cricketing culture. It’s a failure of Pakistan’s first-class cricket, of its grassroots. It’s a failure of living legends who failed to inspire, including myself. I also blame myself. We failed to inspire youngsters. On top of that, what did not help us was the match fixing phase. After 1995, the Pakistan team was troubled a lot because of match-fixing allegations.
Pakistan continued to lose in the wrong manner in the 99 World Cup finals, despite having a great team, but lacking in leaders. The Pakistan team has been leaderless for over a decade, it’s a failure of the structure of Pakistan cricket, the first-class cricket structure.
All of this has nothing to do with Misbah. When I say Misbah can do it, it’s because I have faith in him. I know he’s a brave guy, who can pull it off. Having said that, this is the weakest Pakistan team we have ever seen and it reflects a failure of the administration and the first-class structure.
I’ve been saying what I have been saying to you for the last four years - that Pakistan cricket is dying. If saying that makes me a loner, it’s up to you, but you know what stands alone? The sun.
AM: You were always a loner, even when you were playing you seemed like a man apart from the rest of the players, how did you survive and why were you seen as such a loner?
SA: No, I have never been a loner, if you go across the amount of privilege I had, in terms of fame and money that I got, I have been recognised by the crowd, I was the people’s champion. I’ve always been helpful to my teammates, but I always had a problem and I’ve been saying what I have been saying to you for the last four years - that Pakistan cricket is dying. If saying that makes me a loner, it’s up to you, but you know what stands alone? The sun.
AM: Coming back to this World Cup, Pakistan is obviously short of talent, you’ve mentioned what Misbah Ul Haq needs to do. Which other teams are you picking now, to go ahead in this World Cup?
SA: I really think that Pakistan and Sri-Lanka should make it to the quarter finals. No disrespect to Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, or Ireland, but I still believe that Pakistan is a good enough team to make it through. They really have to win with a lot of big margins from here.
I think South Africa has a chance; they had an off day, but they are contenders. New Zealand and Australia are favourites for sure. The team with all the belief and faith is India.
AM: Would you take an assignment in Pakistan as a coach or selector?
SA: I have always voluntarily tried to help Pakistan. The reason why I said these harsh statements is because I want people to know that Pakistan is dying. Someone has to speak the truth. In order to become better you have to admit that you are wrong. It’s a failure of the Pakistan Cricket Board, but at least it is trying. Najam Sethi is a brave man, but he need to get rid of the clutter within the governing board and first-class cricket, and we need to open up cricket at the grassroots level. Pakistan cricket needs to improve to generate revenue. They need to think out of the box in order to make money, since they have been isolated for a number of years now, and will continue to be like this.
Since players are not getting enough pay in first-class cricket, and don’t have inspiring heroes, and losing like this, you’re eventually losing the interest of your fan base.
AM: Why is so much controversy always swirling around Pakistan cricket? You had the recent incident of Moin Khan, for example.
SA: I think controversy always happens around cricket in recent years. It’s how you handle it. We don’t handle it properly. People make mistakes because they are not angels or prophets. They are simple human beings who will make mistakes, but how you handle it and make the laws to follow. People cannot be that careless when they are playing for Pakistan, or when they are in the management. Let’s see what the cricket board decides, my suggestion to Moin Khan would be that he should resign.
AM: How did you survive this whole match fixing thing? Your name was never mentioned even once when the entire Pakistan establishment was embroiled in controversy.
SA: There was a lack of trust that I had with the team that I used to play with. My mother had said: “You make a thousand mistakes, but the one mistake you will not make is match fixing. You’re gonna make sure that you stay miles apart from this controversy.” I made myself a promise that I am going to stay away, and make sure that no one even speaks a word about me. I wanted to be the people’s champion, to have faith in me, that when I am running in, I’m running for the country, and for the people. Thank god that I came out clean.