WHETHER it was because of the anger of being perceived as enemy at the gates; or annoyance at being asked to play the waiting game; or a reporter’s statement of good intentions inadvertently touching a nerve, Salim Malik — remembered still for his calm, calculating captaincy, for his nimble footwork and for being an artisan with the bat — was yesterday neither calm nor calculating, nor an artisan with words. He was, in effect, the village blacksmith batting at a local cricket match, bludgeoning away on one leg, eyes half closed, aiming for nowhere.
This was Rambo in First Blood, bent on destroying the town that wanted to expunge the veteran. But the difference between Rambo in those 90 minutes and Malik in that short, hurriedly arranged presser was that Rambo had a genuine gripe. Malik here, was being the rebel without a cause. And unlike the fuel pump and police station that Rambo blows up, Rashid Latif was the collateral damage.
His disputation that Rashid was in fact the villain in his life came out of the blue, a crude and feeble attempt at distraction from what he is facing from the PCB. It was saddening to see. For I had seen this thin, shy 18-year old lad named Salim Malik make a century on Test debut and for 17 years mastered most bowlers on their own soil. And I had seen the equally shy, soft spoken Rashid Latif make his Test debut with a half century and some adroit wicketkeeping that caught the eye of former English players, not least Geoff Boycott. And I had seen several times their partnership together, and in debate together on how to set the field and off the ground sitting down for a meal.
Yet yesterday Malik made accusations which border anywhere from nonsensical to maddening.
He claimed Rashid was first selected (for the tour of England 1992) through influence of MQM. Rashid in fact had made his first class debut in late 1986, some two years before the party had a role to play in politics. He was good enough then to be selected from Karachi and for UBL. And how did he come to be selected for the ‘92 tour is best explained by what Shahid Hashmi of AFP told me at the time. I had asked him what he thought of the team and when he mentioned Rashid Latif I asked who he was (I wasn’t a journalist just an occasional cricket writer). His reply was that he would be playing a Test before the series was over.
And I still remember what he said to make his point. That was that Imran Khan had dropped in at the Gaddafi Stadium when the final trial match was being played between the probables. And after watching Rashid keep wickets was reported to have said that if he had seen him before, he would have taken him to the World Cup in Australia. That was just how brilliant a wicketkeeper Rashid was and how he was selected based on pure merit.
His average of 1.9 dismissals per innings in Tests places him among the top three wicketkeepers in the world in roughly the period he played, as per Cricinfo data.
Malik then says he stabbed Javed Miandad (captain on the 1992 tour), in the back. That can hardly be true. After the 1992 tour of England, Rashid was the first choice wicket-keeper on the tour of Australia where Pakistan played only ODIs. Miandad was removed from captaincy after that tour mainly because Imran Khan kept telling the world that Wasim Akram should be given the captaincy. The cricket board was therefore influenced by Imran in their decision. What role could a 22-year old on his second tour play in removal of someone as established as Miandad?
And if Rashid was hungry for captaincy why did he announce his retirement on the 1994-95 Zimbabwe tour, just two and half years after his Test debut? What had in fact happened was that Rashid had realised that some players were not putting in their best, and the losses had been suspicious. He had reported this to the manager Intikhab Alam who had paid no heed, possibly because he had no proof. In disgust Rashid had announced quitting cricket and flew back to Pakistan. It was only on the promise of Arif Abbasi that they will launch a detailed investigation that he returned to international cricket. And after Saleem Malik was removed from captaincy.
Rashid was in fact a reluctant captain on the tour of South Africa in 1997-98. And was carrying a neck injury when Majid Khan, then CEO, weighed on him to become captain despite the fact that he had not played international cricket since the first Test in England more than two years ago. Majid, a high integrity man all his life, was on a mission to restore integrity in Pakistan cricket and felt there was only one man he could rely on, and that was Rashid Latif.
But once the PCB Chairman Khalid Mehmood forced Majid to quit, Rashid left the captaincy after that tour and went on another three-year sabbatical. He was later brought back for the 2001 England tour on the insistence of Waqar Younis.
By the end of 2002 as Pakistan toured Zimbabwe and South Africa, Rashid had expressed privately to some journalists that he wanted to retire possibly before the World Cup in early 2003. And he even skipped some international matches. But Waqar asked him to at least continue till the World Cup. That tournament turned out to be such an unmitigated disaster that Gen. Tauqir Zia, then PCB chairman, sacked six senior cricketers and once again requested Rashid to captain and prepare a new team.
That Rashid was removed as captain after the Bangladesh series later that year and refused to return even as Inzamam, the new captain, tried everything to get him back, shows that there was no influence or thuggery to make him captain or keep him in the team; in fact Rashid chose himself to leave.
If Rashid had been selected on influence and threats, he wouldn’t have played only 37 of the 95 Tests and 166 of the 345 ODIs Pakistan played from 1992-2003. From Chairmen to most selectors to some captains made all attempts to keep Rashid out of the team.
If he had threatened reporters they would be coming out by now to name and shame him as the alleged influence is gone. He made a few tapes to warn his colleagues if they didn’t stop. And if he was in it for himself, he wouldn’t have told skipper Wasim Akram on the ’96 tour to select Moin Khan for the second Test against England in his place because Moin had struck a hundred in the previous side game, and Rashid felt they should play the ‘keeper in batting form.
He wouldn’t have become the first cricketer in the world to openly challenge match-fixing at the expense of his own career and put friendships at risk. Today we owe Rashid all the actions that the concerned institutions and officials have carried out against match-fixers and foul practices and that has driven ICC to clean the game worldwide.
If Salim Malik wants to salvage his image, he’s on the wrong pitch by accusing the man who the world acknowledges as the catalyst for cleaning up world cricket at a huge cost to himself.