Of selfies and (pulling up) socks

January 24, 2016

The Waqar Younis-Umar Akmal tweeting spectacle is symptomatic of the poor communication skills giving Pakistan cricket a bad name

Of selfies and (pulling up) socks

On January 18, the day after the Hamilton mauling that etched itself in the record books thanks to a never-seen-before opening stand from Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill, Coach Waqar Younis Maitla tweeted his T20 wards to give their selfie indulgence a break thus:

"Time to pull-up your socks boys, Break to selfies and Twitter #teampakistan"(sic).

Not that Umar Akmal heeded it in a jiffy. True to form, he posted a selfie three hours later entitled ‘Training time’ -- embellished with a showy muscle emoticon -- (although strictly speaking, it could be argued that the selfie ‘accused’ in this case may have been Mohammad Hafeez, given the shot angle).

When the apparent ‘defiance’ made breaking news flash on a private TV channel -- who or what can escape public scrutiny these days? -- my mind tickled back to Mind Your Language, the much celebrated British comedy TV serial of the 70s, where an English teacher (Mr Brown, real name Barry Evans) found himself at his wit’s end trying to teach immigrants the language now Prime Minister David Cameron wants Muslim women in the UK to pursue in earnest.

In one episode, following the students’ poor form, Mr Brown urges the class to "pull up your socks". Juan Cervantes (real name Ricardo Montez, a Gibraltarian essaying the role of a Spanish bartender, who is always confident of his answers even when completely off the mark) responds by literally, pulling up his socks.

Far from complying, Akmal only followed the trail of pop idol Britney Spears -- remember Oops!…I Did It Again? Still, he could claim innocence on one account: that technically, the selfie may have been taken by Hafeez, and that he saw/read/learnt of the coach’s directive only after posting it. But he had still not taken it down at the time of writing this.

Hopefully, it is not down to some confidence surge at hitting the straps in Hamilton and therefore, drawing a sense of entitlement not too uncommon to our flashy willow-wielders. Let’s hope he does not take his Twitter score (294K followers against Waqar’s 18K) as seriously as retired General Musharraf conveniently took his Facebook one to return home and take a misplaced second dig at power!

On a serious note, the irony in Waqar’s directive was hard to miss because he was himself tweeting to put the flock on message! Perhaps, Twitter is where he thought he would find them, or maybe, he simply wanted to use the microblogging site to publicly record his advice.

Whatever the motive, it betrays -- almost symbolically -- what is wrong with Pakistan cricket: lack of effective communication. If Twitter -- not the dressing room, the park, back at the team hotel or some other private space -- is where the coach thinks he can nail it, then, may be more than just the players need to pull up their socks.

But while Waqar’s mode of communication in this case is debatable and does not really do him much credit, Akmal’s proclivity to find himself at the centre of one controversy or the other does raise questions of temperament and propriety.

Where personal freedom is concerned, ideally speaking, what Akmal does in his (cyber) space should be his business, but it cannot be taken lightly given the public profile accruing from representing Pakistan on the world stage. A sense of responsibility and how he exercises it, therefore, is instructive. And it will be scrutinised.

Sadly, that’s where Akmal has failed to do justice. Assuming that his career is only half done, his temperament at the crease -- for all the talent he possesses -- is as suspect as his histrionics off the field. PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan is himself on record having blamed a lack of education and grooming for how Pakistani players often find themselves under the microscope.

"(The) problem is most of the players are uneducated and school drop-outs. Misbah is the only graduate in the team. We are trying to bring educated players in the team who understand this world and how it works. Players coming through street cricket are sometimes naive and do not understand the importance of discipline," Khan said last November during a presser in response to a question regarding PCB’s inquiry into Akmal’s alleged presence at a late night dance party in an ‘inappropriate’ setting.

Even as recently as less than a fortnight ago, Akmal barely managed to walk into the team after the PCB suspended his one-match ban for breaching the kit code during a domestic game -- something for which he had already been reprimanded twice before!

It is hard to contend with PCB chief’s conclusion about lack of education and grooming being the Achilles’ heel for questionable conduct as in the case of Akmal, although the board itself could have done more -- indeed should -- to raise more rounded cricketers. Communication is pivotal to achieve this end.

In a country where cricketers of some merit climb the social ladder relatively easily, it is disappointing how no-one in position of authority has done anything to rectify their inability to communicate in the lingua franca. The majority of players struggle at pre-and-post match conferences/interviews; even just a skim of their twitter accounts is enough to reveal the embarrassingly poor form.

Any argument that cricketers are not required to be proficient in language as long as they perform is flimsy. The issue is not only about being educated enough to present a decent image of oneself, team and the country but also personal confidence.

A player lacking in these basic skills in an age, where an unforgiving media pounces on the minutest of shortcomings, is liable to find him/herself in a tight spot in more ways than one.

The PCB should take up the challenge to shore up the communication skills of the players since they have shown no inclination to pick up the essentials themselves. It is a basic requirement in the profession they have willingly chosen.

Education, after all, is what essentially makes a man.