For the third time, I check my voice recorder to make sure the device is in operational order.
Yes, it is fine.
Of course it is fine.
I wipe away my sweaty palms on the fabric of my jeans and allow myself a few deep breaths.
This will be the biggest interview I’ve ever conducted.
I am sitting in a small conference room at the Pakistan cricket team hotel in Brisbane, Australia, waiting for captain Misbahul Haq, coach Waqar Younis, and chief selector Moin Khan.
Determined to put my admiration for these three individuals aside, I try to focus. After all, a cricket mad nation is hungry for answers.
Just when my eyes dart at my wrist watch again, the door opens.
As my eyes take in the three men entering the room, a smile forms on my face face in spite of myself.
Waqar enters first, wearing shorts, a cornered tigers t-shirt, and a polite smile. Behind him is a weary looking Misbah dressed in a similarly casual fashion. Moin completes the trio, but unlike the other two, is wearing a sharp looking grey coloured suit.
As the three take their seats across from me, I try not to stare at the dark circles under Moin’s concerned eyes. His hand nervously shifts in his pocket and I can hear a curious jingle of what sounds like several small pieces of plastic.
After we exchange pleasantries, I explain that I’d like to record the interview for my notes.
None of them seem to mind.
My first bouncer is directed at the captain,
“Mr Misbahul Haq, Pakistan was beaten by India, and then completely outplayed by the West Indies. Why is the team finding it so difficult to compete?”
“Well, you gotta understand that the boys are still adjusting to the conditions here. The ball is bouncing a lot and the extra swing is not easy. We aren’t used to it. We are trying our best and God willing we shall improve. In both games, we were batting second and even South Africa lost badly to India chasing. Not that it is an excuse.”
“But you won the toss and elected to field against the West Indies?”
“Yeah, just the plan didn’t click. We are working really hard. Hope to turn things around.”
I turn to the man in the suit who is blankly staring into thin air.
Startled, the chief selector straightens quickly.
“Sir, the question on every fan’s mind has to do with the selection of Younus Khan. Clearly, he is not performing, and he has a poor track record in ODI cricket. On what basis was he selected, and why is he still in the playing 11 ahead of Sarfaraz Ahmed?”
“Well, he is a really experienced player and you cannot ignore such experience. And he has scored many centuries recently. He was an automatic selection.”
“Yes, he scored heavily in the Test matches and scored a 100 in the UAE, but you must admit that overall, his recent limited overs record is poor. His batting average is barely over 30, and over the last few years he has scored on average just over 20 runs a match. If you take away that UAE century he scored, his record is even worse. Yet he’s an automatic selection?”
Before Moin can respond, Waqar interrupts,
“Listen, he’s a really nice guy and he is a very honest and experienced cricketer. Did I mention his mental strength?”
Misbah lets out a very audible snort before sheepishly raising his hand in apology.
Determined, I continue my line of attack until Moin opens up,
“OK fine. I am leaving anyway. Look, just off-the-record, let me tell you something. Younus Khan… he’s…he’s…well he’s a little unsta-”
“Hey guys! What’s happening?”
Moin jumps in his chair. Waqar starts rubbing his hands furiously. Misbah has a haunted look on his face as if he’s staring down a fiery spell from Malcolm Marshall.
The room suddenly feels very cold.
“I was going out to the petting zoo when I heard my name. Decided I would join (the) interview.”
Younus enters with a toothy smile plastered on his face. He takes a seat between the squirming coach and the frightened looking chief selector.
I welcome the legendary batsman,
“Glad you could join us, Younus!”
Younus laughs for a good 10 seconds.
“Younus Khan, can Pakistan still win the World Cup? Can you help us lift the trophy?”
“Yes of, course. I think I will perform really good and inshaa’allah shall win the World Cup for Pakistan. It will be tight game but we will win at Lords!”
“Uhh…Lords? But isn’t Lords in England? We are in Australia?”
“Yes I am talking about 2019 World Cup. You seriously asking if we have chance in this World Cup?”
“Uhh…Okay. But Younus, the World Cup in England is four years away. And you are 37, right?”
Younus’s smile evaporates. His eyes narrow and his tone cools,
“Yes. Who says this is my last World Cup?”
I am at a loss for words.
The batsman from Mardan continues,
“Sach batao. Did any of these guys say it was my last World Cup? Was it Moin? Waqar?”
From the corner of my eye, I can see that Waqar’s lips are twitching. Fear is written all over Moin’s face.
“You know something Mr Interviewer? I am the greatest batsman in this team and one of the best to play for Pakistan.”
Without warning, Misbah lets out another snort and whispers what sounds like an expletive under his breath.
“WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?” Younus stands screaming.
All three men try to calm him down.
“Nothing! Nothing!” Misbah protests, “I uh… I said Ban Choke. As in we should ban chokeholds. They are too dangerous, especially when Afridi and Shehzad do kabadi.”
This seems to settle Younus down and he slumps back in his chair.
The grin returns,
“OK sorry I thought you call me Akmal.”
In an effort to ease the atmosphere, I ask the room if they would like some Pakistani chewing gum.
“You don’t bring paan?” Younus inquires.
After I shake my head, he confirms that he would love some gum.
I toss a stick of gum at Misbah, who catches it easily, following which I pass some to Waqar and Moin, who also accept it gratefully.
Next, I lightly throw the treat at Younus, who reaches out for it with outstretched hands.
To my alarm, the stick goes straight through and hits him between the eyes.
“Oh my god! I am so sorry Younus! Are you alright?”
Thankfully, Younus Khan is still smiling,
“Yes, don’t worry. My reflexes are not good early in morning. This is why I convince team to bat second against West Indies.”
I pause for a few seconds. Having had enough of Younus, I turn to Waqar.
“Mr Younis, the team doesn’t seem to be bowling with a game plan. You are one of the greatest bowlers to play for Pakistan…”
“Yes, thank you. I don’t know why no one else realises that not only am I a great batsman, but also a great bowler. I should open the bowling.”
Not allowing me a chance to clarify, Waqar cuts in,
“I don’t know why media people don’t realise there is too much pressure on the boys. South Africa lost by a greater margin to India than we did but did any South African fans burn effigies of their players? Did ex-cricketers come on TV and say terrible things? Are their fans hurling abuse, personal insults, and threats on Twitter to official Twitter accounts of South African players? Did you read some of the nasty things our former wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal had to deal with on Twitter?”
Once again Younus erupts with laughter.
Against my better judgment, I inquire,
“What is so funny, Younus?”
Younus leans back in his chair holding his sides,
“I’ll tell you secret. It was really me cursing Kamran Akmal using a fake Twitter account.”
This is news to everyone in the room.
“But why Younus? Why would you do that to the poor guy?” wonders Waqar.
The change in Younus’s body language is eerie. He puts his hands together, leans closer, and whispers his secret,
“Because, he is a black magician. Like Voldermort. But you can say his name.”
I can feel a migraine coming,
“Let me explain and then you will learn. In Sydney Test, Kamran Akmal dropped more catches from Danish Kaneria’s bowling than I have fingers.”
“But who was removed from team? Yes, Danish Kaneria. While later Kaneria never play for Pakistan again but Kamran continue to play.”
“In last World Cup, Kamran dropped catch after catch from Akhtar’s bowling in game against New Zealand. Akhtar so angry he had big fight with Kamran. Which was not fair fight. It was like Tarzan versus Frodo. But who was dropped? Kamran or Akhtar? Akhtar did not play for Pakistan again, but Kamran keep playing. And playing. And playing.”
“Finally he dropped but he make sure at least one Akmal always in team wicket keeping. They are clones. And they using the dark magic. During selection, many selectors try to put Kamran back in team for World Cup.”
Not in the mood for more of Younus, I try to change the subject with a query directed at Waqar.
“Mr Younis… err… Waqar… why is Fawad Alam not in the side? He has an incredible record in the first class circuit and has been one of Pakistan’s leading batsmen over the last year or so.”
Here, both Waqar and Moin glance uncomfortably at Younus. Waqar clears his throat,
“Well, when we had a player of Younus Khan’s caliber in the side, then unfortunately there was no place for Fawad Alam who is no doubt a tremendous talent.”
Younus starts laughing again,
“It was actually bet. I bet them that they couldn’t drop Fawad Alam and then turn some average player into Fawad Alam. That’s why they select Haris Sohail.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yes it does Mr Interviewer. Think. Fawad Alam left-handed batsman with great record and also bowl a lot in domestic (cricket). Haris Sohail not as good left-handed batsman who hardly bowl in domestic (cricket). Yet they drop proven performer like Fawad Alam, not give him any chance in Abu Dhabi, and replace him with Haris Sohail (and) ask him to start bowling for first time in his life. Why did they do this when they already had Fawad Alam?”
“Well, either they took my bet seriously or they are incredibly Akmal.”
Seizing the opportunity, I decide to ask Younus about Haris Sohail’s infamous ghost sighting in a hotel room.
Yet again Younus laughs for a few minutes before responding,
“Oh that not ghost. It was only Afridi and Shehzad doing shirtless selfies with camera flash in Haris room. Haris easily scared.”
For Ahmed Shehzad fans ONLY. RT @omgnashlol: @MalhotraSaurabh Selfies toh hein hi hein, some other gems too pic.twitter.com/NwnzUislZG
— Saurabh Malhotra (@MalhotraSaurabh) March 8, 2014
Misbah finally chimes in,
“Yes, a lot of fun has been poked at Afridi and Shehzad for the shirtless selfies. I don’t know why our nation is so obsessed. We are obsessed with them not wearing shirts. We are obsessed with Roger Federer wearing Indian team’s shirts. What’s the problem?”
I turn to the captain,
“Misbah, do you feel victimised?”
“I am used to it, though I am trying my best. Shoaib Akhtar calls me selfish but tell me does a selfish man have zero centuries in ODI cricket? If I was selfish, I would come at the top of the order and score many slow centuries for myself. Akhtar talks a lot but the only good thing he did was when he hit Mohammad Asif with a bat on the bum.”
“Misbah, what’s the strategy in the next game?”
“Well, against India, we play six batsmen and not succeed. Against West Indies, we play seven batsmen not succeed. So…”
I cut in,
“So, against Zimbabwe, you’ll play an extra bowler and hopefully a specialist wicketkeeper?”
“No, are you Akmal’ing me? We play eight batsmen against Zimbabwe. And if we lose to Zimbabwe, then nine batsmen against UAE… if you count Younus as a batsman.”
Frustrated, I ask,
“Misbah, why do you keep playing more batsmen?”
The skipper looks at me as if he is talking to a child,
“Listen, we are a government organisation, yes? What happens in government organisations when they are not performing? They keep adding more and more people but not remove anyone. Just look at PIA.”
“Speaking of PIA, I just realised that I need to get ready for my flight back home and we must end this interview.”
“Before we conclude, I have one final question for Misbah. Captain, do you think you and the team can still pull together and win this tournament?”
“Yes, I think before we were having many concerns that were disrupting our cricket. But now that Moin Khan’s casino issue is out in the open, and now that people are aware that our coach’s relative who operates in a completely unrelated occupation, and was working in another geographical location with what might be dodgy educational documents, yes, we are about to finally play to our potential. In the next game, neither Moin Khan’s personal life, nor Waqar’s sibling… whatever his name is… will be on our minds.”
“To everyone wondering why my picture was used for my brother’s story on TV, print and online, well, we look identical. Don’t let the fact that he’s much younger than me confuse you.”
Disclaimer: This post being satire is for entertainment purposes only.
A freelance writer and regular contributor to The Express Tribune magazine and newspaper, Noman tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.
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