Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Shoaib Malik: The Boy Set To Become the King

So, it’s not overtly religious Joseph John...err…Yousuf Youhana…err…Mohammad Yousuf; nor it is the abysmally untalented but incredibly effective Shahid Afridi. Post-World Cup disaster, Pakistan is about to anoint Shoaib Malik as its new ODI captain.

This is far from the best of times for Pakistan cricket. They have returned pauper from the World Cup in Caribbean, losing their reputations, both personal and collective, and their coach too. Described by Peter Roebuck as “an uneasy combination of rogues and zealots”, the Pakistan side looks like a forlorn ship, sans radar, sailors and logistics and bobbing in troubled water.

It’s no easy to maintain sanity amid the madness that Pakistan cricket finds itself in. But Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), despite all its ills, deserves a pat in the back for picking Shoaib.

I remember meeting the rather reticent Shoaib in Dharamshala in 2005 when Pakistan played its tour opener against an Indian Board President XI. Dharamshala is the most beautiful cricket stadium never likely to see a full match, thanks to the veil of cloud always hovering over the ground and I buttonholed him during one of the rain-interruptions.

Shoaib was going through a bad phase. His elbow had gone under the knife for the second time to correct his action and future looked bleak after twice called for a suspect action.

“So what next? How you plan to keep yourself afloat?” I asked. He said in chaste Hindi, “Koshish Karunga, zarurat ho to wicket-keeping bhi kar lunga. (Will try my best, would don the keeper’s gloves, if needed).” And he had the backing of his coach, a certain Bob Woolmer, who also felt that given his commitment, the youngster had it in him to excel wherever he wanted.

Since then, Shoaib only grew in stature. But same was not the case with the side. Under Inzamam-ul Haq, they prayed more and playing less. Inzy’s men looked more like Tablighi Jamaat than Men in Green, leaving Woolmer exasperated.

In contrast to his captain, Shoaib clearly doesn't believe in overdoing things. he is no atheist but he has got his priority right. Remember, he married an Indian girl, Ayesha Siddiqui, in a ceremony conducted by an Islamic cleric over the telephone from Pakistan.

Clearly one of the most under-rated players of his age, Shoaib has batted in every position and has proved himself as one of the most cerebral batsmen of his era. He does not have Afridi’s brute force or Yousuf’s defence but Pakistan owes many a win to the youngster whose maturity goes far beyond his age. Maybe it's in Shoaib that Pakistan has found the leader it was searching for.

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