Years ago, I heard an urban legend about alleged smuggler Seth Abid offering to clear Pakistan’s debt in one week if he was allowed complete control of its trade. Since then, this myth has persisted across Pakistan, with the identity of the notorious offer-maker and the details of the offer varying from one retelling to another. Its popularity and prevalence reveals a central belief held in Pakistani society — that one man can fix everything, if he’s given free rein.
This impulse has manifested itself in our politics repeatedly, from military rulers to populist civilians, and it has always ended disastrously — the great man having overreached and planted the seeds for his own destruction. But, earlier this week, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) enacted a rather extreme version of this recurrent theme.
Former captain Misbah-ul-Haq, it was announced, would assume the unprecedented dual role of national men’s cricket team coach and chief selector. On its own, this decision was already quite radical. It has few precedents within cricket, and even within sports at large. Giving both roles to one person does reduce the risk for tension between the two, which often develops in Pakistani cricket, and gives the coach complete ownership of the process. On the other hand, it is arguably impossible to do both jobs well. The chief selector takes a wide and long view of the nation’s best talents, while a coach focuses on the short- and medium-term development of a core group. It could be argued that Misbah was uniquely equipped to deliver on this dual role. But the inherently flawed process that led to this has the potential to damage the PCB’s credibility.
To recap, Misbah was initially part of the cricket committee chosen to decide the future of the previous coach. Mickey Arthur was eventually dismissed, and it was decided to start the recruitment process afresh. Crucially, the board didn’t seem to make any effort to headhunt potential talent for this highly specialised and important position. But then, right on the deadline, Misbah applied for the post after stepping down from the committee, citing a conflict of interest. As PCB CEO Wasim Khan later explained, the board approached Misbah and convinced him to apply.