In one of the many functions held for the Pakistan cricket team after their Champions Trophy win, I saw a moment that marked a situation coming full circle.
The moment was when Shoaib Malik was asked a question by PTV Sports MD and anchor Dr. Nauman Niaz, and Malik replied with a very salty response.
Two years ago, I had watched the same two men appear on a TV show when Malik was still out of the side. In a polished performance, Malik charmed the Doctor as his host made the case for why the Sialkot stallion should return to the national side. It was part of a remarkable media blitz by Malik that included a new Twitter bio, a spot in HSY’s show and a major ad campaign. Two years later, Malik was now entrenched enough to be able to pretty much bully the media instead.
Now those of you who know me would know that I have an issue with Shoaib Malik’s presence in the side. His career displays a notorious penchant for scoring well against weak teams and failing against stronger ones - with the exception of India. His return was another example of the PCB’s constant returning to old faces, and his manipulation of the media - while not unprecedented (see Afridi, Shahid; Miandad, Javed et al) - was quite cynical.
In the time since he has been back, Malik has been better than the past, putting in some runs in Australia and several important not-outs. That still doesn’t make him world class, but its better than others.
Malik’s only real rival when it comes to media manipulation in the current side is Ahmed Shehzad. In the two years since Malik’s return, Shehzad’s usage of the media has exploded. Already a popular fixture on social media, he really flexed his PR muscles last year when he got Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersin to post awkward get-well-soon messages to the then ailing, now former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif.
When i make it, It's not Selfie it's Shelfie... ;) pic.twitter.com/3l2rfvLMUd— Ahmad Shahzad (@iamAhmadshahzad) May 23, 2015
And we saw peak-Selfie (to use Shehzad’s most popular nickname) a few weeks ago when a news anchor made a frankly hilarious analogy.
Referring to the impending victory for Imran Khan’s PTI in the Panama-related case, the anchor compared other parties joining in the anti-government campaign at this late stage to Ahmed Shehzad hogging the CT-celebrations after having played only one match in which he failed.
The next day, just about every member of the current Pakistani squad with a Twitter account tweeted criticism of the analogy. Ironically, Shehzad who had been orchestrating messages for the Premier tweeted out that sports should be kept separate from politics. I was personally surprised to see such support, so I asked around.
Allegedly, the players were at an event the next day and a PCB official went around either making the players tweet out those messages or did so for them from their phones. You may choose not to believe this, but if this was true it wouldn’t surprise me.
Ever since I’ve seen him play almost a decade ago, Shehzad has been obsessed with the spotlight. I remember joking with a friend that he had perfected the art of being the first to congratulate a bowler who had taken a wicket, hence ensuring he was in the important shots.
Pakistan bowler Mohammad Irfan waits for a high five from Ahmed Shehzad
Even before he joined the side, Osman Samiuddin wrote about encountering him in the nets and being told about him that “Paidaishee collar utthe hain, magar player bara hain.” (He was born with his collars turned up, but he’s a great player.)
Now I’ve always enjoyed flashy characters and so I never quite minded it. I didn’t mind as Shehzad spent several years showing that he had every shot in the book and a staggering ability to always hit it to a fielder. I didn’t mind as Shehzad had a middling strike-rate and seemed to want to mimic only Virat Kohl’s looks, not his batting. I didn’t mind because slowly those numbers kept going up. They never went up as fast as his rapidly exploding social persona - BFFs with Afridi, hobnobbing with Army chiefs, acting in major adverts - but they kept up.
Shehzad mimics only Virat Kohl’s looks, not his batting
But over the last two years, they have bottomed out. After averaging 16 with a strike-rate of 62 in five matches last year, he has played four this year to average 22 at 65. Those are test-match numbers by a decent tail-ender, not ODI numbers for an opener. Some of this might have to do with the horrible head injury he suffered in 2014, but its hard to say how much it has changed his game. He continues to be a big-shot player, and has literally no other plans to score.
It can be reasonably argued that Shehzad’s numbers are similar to the just-as-atrocious numbers put up by other Pakistani openers. But this is where his attitude comes in. Azhar Ali, a far less talented player, worked extremely hard to adjust to the white-ball. Mohammad Hafeez, equally talented and wasteful, became a handy bowler - twice. Shehzad though, remained Shehzad.
Rather than working on his game, he’s doubled down on his political and media connections. Rather than working on his defence, he has been defending himself against imagined media slights. Rather than changing his approach, he has changed his hairstyle. In of themselves, I don’t have an issue with any of these things. But when it becomes clear that his ambition is towards his image than his record, then there’s little point in continuing any further.
“Rather than changing his approach, he has changed his hairstyle”
Of course, since this is Pakistan, he will remain part of the team for several decades more. But as for me, I’m done with Selfie. For good.