Cricket: Wasim the loser in board game

Stephen Brenkley finds Pakistan's great all-rounder has fallen prey to politics
WASIM AKRAM will fly to England some time later this week to launch both his benefit year and his captaincy of Lancashire. Whether the great fast bowler will fly on to South Africa soon afterwards to launch a Test series and resume the captaincy of Pakistan is much more doubtful.

He has become the latest victim in the strife, both internal and external, which has lately afflicted his country's cricket. Most onlookers would have no hesitation in saying that he was Pakistan's obvious leader and natural captain, but in the unlikely event that he were to change his mind about the heartfelt resignation from the post which he announced a few days ago the national board would not welcome him back.

There have been hints that he is so out of favour that he may not make the squad to tour South Africa as a player, despite his 327 Test wickets.

"It's difficult to understand what's going on at all," said Mushtaq Mohammad, veteran Pakistani player and perhaps the last significant participant to fall victim to the country's cricket politics when he lost the job as coach to the national team in May. "Wasim has been put in an unbearable situation. Being captain of Pakistan isn't an easy job, not ever but what's happening now is frightening.

"Every time that Wasim has lost a match he gets accused of match rigging. With the amount of one-day cricket that's being played some games are bound to be lost but the board doesn't seem capable of understanding that. If they've got match-rigging evidence then they ought to prove it. The threats he has received only make things worse but when the board is behaving as it is, what can be expected of the fans? Many of them are uneducated. The sad thing is we could have the best team in the world and we're spoiling it. The players are being wrecked."

Wasim, 32, resigned because, he said, he could no longer take the pressure. He and his family had been subject to routine threats after defeats and allegations of match-rigging and illegal betting were rife. "I am a human being too and there is a limit to everything," he said.

The Lancashire job, itself a poisoned chalice in Championship terms, at least these past 48 years since the county last had a share of the title, should be like drinking nectar of the gods by comparison. Mushtaq, who is now coaching Sharjah, ironically a place frequently swamped under the weight of stories about cricket betting, was especially harsh on the Pakistan board chairman, Majid Khan, also a former player and captain. "He's my old friend and colleague but he's letting the thing down at the moment. He won't let the team settle. It's a great sadness to me."

Wasim made his Test debut when he was only 18, precisely 13 years ago next Sunday, and has appeared in 77 Tests and more than 200 limited overs internationals since. In November and December he led Pakistan to a stunning 3-0 victory over the West Indies, but no sooner had they lost to England in Sharjah in the Champions' Trophy than he was subject to the most vicious opprobrium back home.

"Look, Wasim's not perfect, he has made mistakes and maybe he could have handled his batting order better against England in a match we should have won," Mushtaq said. "But they're playing one-day matches every other day, too many, and some are bound to be lost. He is a man who leads by example. His record as captain stands comparison with anybody's."

By appointing as his successor the wicketkeeper Rashid Latif, a player not in the team for some 18 months before, the board and the selectors have left themselves open to further criticism. "Wasim's taken more than anyone can stand," Mushtaq said. "If something isn't done quickly, you can forget not only the South African series but the World Cup next year."