Pakistan’s freedom of expression or freedom to abuse?

2015! Thus far it’s been a year where the world has found its freedom of expression challenged, and gunned down in the case of Charlie Hebdo. The FOE faced fierce opposition in India, too, with the AIB Roast saga making headlines. Well, frankly speaking, it’s not the perceived threat to FOE in these nations that crossed my mind. Contrary to perception, it’s the nonchalant FOE exhibited across the border that has left me stunned.

Now, most westerners and Indians, believe that Pakistan is ruled by the military dictators, who nip in the bud any voice that speaks against them. Well, just have a look at the numerous Pak news channels and their cricketing experts, and boy, you’d be forced to admit that it is this Islamic nation that enjoys its FOE to the fullest. Ever since the Cricket World Cup has started in Australia, New Zealand, I’ve been keeping a close watch on how Pakistani media reports, debates on game’s most prestigious tournament. I must admit that this curiosity was borne out of Pakistan’s humiliating losses in their inaugural games against arch rival India and West Indies respectively.

Now, for non-Pakistani enthusiasts, cricket administration in Pakistan is the butt (not Ejaz’s) of all jokes, and their players, talented but a disjointed lot. History is replete with tales of discord between Pakistani teams, but never before have I seen this animosity spill onto their national television. What’s worse is how the media has given a free hand to the former cricketers to vent their frustration at the current lot. ‘Rawalpindi Express’ Shoaib Akhtar has become a hit with the desi Indian audience for bringing his Urdu, his humility, his sense of humor to an otherwise English dominated Star Sports team. His conduct has come as a breath of fresh air vis-à-vis his feisty playing days, but it now emerges that Mr.Akhtar is merely putting on a gimmick to woo his Indian bosses, who are paying him much more than he ever received by playing for Pakistan. Fathom this, how can a man who has been so constructive in criticising his team on Indian network, whip the hunter on Pakistani channels? Sure, one has to pander to local audience, but this brattish behaviour on his home network leaves us to ponder, is this man a fake? Now to his credit, Akhtar has stated on GEO news (Pakistan) that he never humbles his team or players on Indian network, Star Sports. However, isn’t it a bigger sin to humble your own in front of your family?

So, I come across a video which begins with Shahid Afridi taunting at GEO experts calling them Heckle and Mr.Bean, urging their media to not hire such hypocrites as experts. (For the record, GEO has Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Yousuf, Sikander Bakht, and Wasim Akram in their expert panel) So, a peeved Akhtar tears into Afridi stating how his comments reflect his immaturity, his calibre, or rather the lack of it. Mohammad Yousuf, too, joins in the fun, cautioning Afridi to refrain from making personal jibes. Now this was shot in the aftermath of Pakistan’s defeat to South Africa in UAE. Fast forward to 21, February, 2015, and we see Shoaib Akhtar losing it all on the Pakistani team, in particularly on senior players Younus Khan and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq.

Now Mr.Akhtar, if you are a man of calibre, then can you explain how a man of your stature, call  Younus Khan a 40-year-old son of coach Waqar Younis who’s been pampered like a baby. You chose to label Misbah-Ul-Haq as a buzdil (coward) and a selfish player who refuses to promote himself up the batting order. Mr.Akhtar would a man of any calibre, use such derogatory remarks against your former teammates? Now all those who’ve watched Pakistan cricket closely over the years, it’s crystal clear that Misbah-ul-Haq is the lone warrior for this struggling team. Just take him out and Pakistan team would fall like nine pins. So, to question your skipper’s commitment is indeed uncalled for. Besides, let’s be honest, for all your expert comments,

how many games (Tests n ODIs) did you win for Pakistan?

Didn’t you embarrass your country with dope shame?

How many World Cups did you win for Pakistan?

Didn’t you refuse to bowl after being carted for plenty in the first over against India in 2003 World Cup?

Didn’t you face disciplinary issues?

Sir, before you humiliate the current lot, you must not forget your chequered history. Now, this is Shoaib Akhtar, but I’ve been really surprised to see the coverage by rival Dunya News. They have flop Imran Nazir, Saeed Ajmal, the enfant terrible Sarfaraz Nawaz, and great leg spinner Abdul Qadir as their experts. If you watch any sane cricket show, the experts are there to dissect the match, the key players, performances and turning points in the match. But in Yeh Hai Cricket Dewangi, it’s the madness of few of these guests that overshadows everything.

So, after Pakistan loses to India, the show begins with the hosts reading out the score, but to my surprise, there is no Imran Nazir or Saeed Ajmal present in the show. Was the defeat too hard to digest? Or did they fear any backlash for commentating on the loss. Win or lose, aren’t sports experts paid to comment on every match? Why remain absent then?

Present in the studio was former PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) chairman Khalid Mahmood, who kept bombing Najam Sethi, head of PCB’s executive committee for ruining Pakistan cricket. For the record, the chairmanship of PCB has always been a game of musical chairs. One week it is Mr.X, the other week, it is Mr.Y. Mr.Mahmood but don’t we all know how PCB functions? Weren’t you suppose to talk about the loss to India, rather than remind us what ails your board?

Well, Mr.Mahmood, being a non-cricketer can be excused, but can anyone explain why Sarfaraz Nawaz is so fixated with match-fixing? From the time, I can remember, Mr.Nawaz thinks that each and every game of cricket is fixed ever since he left the game. So, be it a World Cup in 2011, 2015, T20, Mr.Nawaz has standard lines, “PAKISTAN THREW AWAY THE MATCH, I HAVE BEEN INORMED BY INDIAN SOURCES THAT BOOKIES HAVE OFFERED X MONEY TO THROW A MATCH, BOWL A NO-BALL OR PLAY OUT A MAIDEN” Sir, I wonder, if your sources are so good then why not drag the ICC to court, why not drag your players? Well, I’m sure he must have taken some Pakistani players to task, but sir, after years and years of allegations against X, Y, Z, have you or your courts found them guilty?

You say that a bookie has sworn by the Quran and named the guilty. But the question is, how did you get in touch with that bookie? Yes, Justice Qayyum found Salim Malik guilty and he was banned, but there was no evidence against others who you repeatedly dragged into needless controversies. Be it Wasim Akram, Musthaq Ahmed, Moin Khan or Waqar Younis. For you these men are evil who’ve been roaming free for decades. May be your audience will listen to you once, twice, may be even thrice. But eventually, they will be bored and lose faith in you. Besides, such allegation not only harms Pakistan cricket, but the game in general.

I was aghast to hear Sarfaraz say that the Indian team got the MCG pitch tailor made for them in their game against South Africa. He didn’t speak a word on India’s performance, but felt, like all other matches, this too was fixed. Sir, I’m sure you’re not well versed with the business of the game. But truth is, that if I’m heading ICC, then there’s no way that I can afford to lose India in the first round of a major tournament. So, pitches for such tournaments are generally flat. It’s not India’s problem that is the financial power of world cricket. And since you didn’t see the India-Australia Test matches, most of the pitches there were flat too. Australia won 2-0 but India gave them a good fight. You think those Tests were fixed too?

Time and again, former Pak greats keep lamenting their board, their system, their selectors, their coaches for their disastrous performances. And when it comes to match-fixing or their bowlers being banned for chucking, some of them, and their media, always points fingers towards India. For the record, India had banned 132 bowlers across its cricketing circuit for having suspect actions. Some like Pragyan Ojha were brave enough to be banned and then rectified their actions How many players did you miss? TWO – Hafeez and Ajmal! Anyways, I don’t want to start an India v Pak slang match here.

Coming back to the media coverage, time has come that the Pak media barons seriously ask their cricket experts to tone their language on national television. Yes, you have an imperfect board, but you aren’t the only one. For all its might, BCCI is always under the cosh, but seldom does the board politics spill onto the cricket field. You don’t find too many Indian greats humbling their team or their board in public like you do. We do express our reservation, but in a more dignified manner. We understand that your country and your board is often mired in controversies, but please stop moaning over it again and again. This constant moaning not only affects your players, but it also ridicules the game.

These are difficult times for your players, but please don’t treat them as if they’ve committed a murder. Please don’t look to settle old scores by making personal comments on current players and coaches. Is your society so divided that people misuse their freedom of expression. Shoaib Akhtar says that such pathetic is Pakistan’s state of cricket that India and the World are no longer amused by their plight. Mr.Akhtar truth be told, more than your team’s performance, we Indians aren’t amused wee bit with the kind of character assassinations you do on Pak news channels. Quite frankly, this is not funny, and least expected from men of your calibre.

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