ICC World Cup: Inzamam resignation, leaked texts, unpaid dues, is Pak cricket about to implode?
Babar Azam & Co. look to keep distractions aside ahead of Bangladesh game at the Eden Gardens, but can they?
With former Pakistan cricketer and Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief selector Inzamam ul Haq stepping down from his post over allegations that he was also a shareholder in a prominent player management company, the sense of a house divided in Pakistan cricket deepens further.
The PCB said in a statement that it had set up a five-member fact-finding committee to “investigate allegations in respect of conflict of interest reported in the media pertaining to the team selection process. The committee will submit its report and any recommendations to the PCB Management in an expeditious manner.”
With the team's upcoming matches at the Eden Gardens, this can only muddy the waters further, though Eden holds some happy memories for Pakistan cricket down the years, such as the MRF World Series final (1989) or the famous Test win against India after being 26 for six in the first innings (1999). It was, hence, understandable that the PCB had the venue on their wish list for the World Cup.
Babar Azam's green shirts have two group matches scheduled here, first against neighbours Bangladesh on Tuesday and then defending champions England on 11 November. Any further footprint in the semi-finals looks like a mirage for Pakistan, now sixth on the points table with two wins out of six but more importantly, with the team looking a divided house.
What next, then? They need to win all three of their matches against Bangladesh, New Zealand and England and hope other results go their way to progress to the knockout stage, but the worrying part is that the beleaguered Babar Azam has reportedly been losing support inside the team, with the PCB top brass seemingly determined to make him and Inzamam-ul-Haq the fall guys.
There have been media reports that Azam has been trying to reach PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf to discuss 'classified details', but the latter has been refusing to take calls. Instead of playing troubleshooter, the PCB chairman addressed the nation live on TV on Monday, and leaked an exchange of WhatsApp messages between Babar and PCB chief operating officer Salman Naseer.
The exchange showed Naseer asking Babar if he was trying to reach the chairman and the captain denying making any such calls. Such a move in the middle of the campaign prompted the country's fast-bowling legend Waqar Younis to hit out on his X handle: ‘’Ya kya karne ki koshis kar rahe ho aap log (what are you trying to do?) This is pathetic!!! Khush ho gaye aap log (you all must be happy). Please leave @babarazam258 alone. He’s an asset of Pakistan Cricket @The Real PCB @ARYNEWSOFFICIAL @Salman_ARY.’’
As Pakistan cricket waits to implode, informed sources have revealed that the current PCB dispensation has been found wanting on a number of issues. ‘’The players have not been paid for five months. The PCB had announced new contracts with pay hikes ahead of the team’s departure for India, but the players are yet to be paid their past dues,’’ sources claimed.
Interestingly enough, the Pakistan team management decided to send chief coach Grant Bradburn to the pre-match press conference at Eden Gardens, instead of Babar or any other player. ‘’We are a tight unit and the team environment is good,’’ Bradburn maintained.
Reports of constant rifts and discord within the squad also emerged earlier this month during the tournament, which saw the PCB releasing a statement. ‘’The Pakistan Cricket Board strongly denies recent speculations about any internal discord in the national cricket team currently participating in the ICC World Cup 2023. Contrary to rumours circulated by a certain section of the media, the PCB unequivocally assures that the team is cohesive and there is no evidence to support these unsubstantiated claims,’’ the statement said.
A senior member of the current team, meanwhile, was quoted by Cricbuzz on conditions of anonymity as saying the PCB does not want the team to win the World Cup. While the ICC code of conduct forbids players from individually speaking to media during the tournament, the player said: ‘’The board wants the team to fail, they don't want us to win the World Cup just so that they can make changes and take control of who leads the team and who gets into the team.’’
‘’Whatever fights or arguments or disagreements we have within the team is quite common. We are all old and mature enough to deal with it by ourselves. We don’t need external interference,’’ he added.