By our correspondent
KARACHI: Pakistan’s foreign coach Bob Woolmer is believed to be the reason behind the cat and mouse game being played by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) with fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar.
Investigations carried out by this correspondent have confirmed that it was Woolmer who told the PCB Chairman Shaharyar Khan last week that the Pakistan team could manage without Shoaib on the Indian tour.
"When Woolmer met the chairman soon after his return from Australia, he conveyed his reluctance to have Shoaib in the India-bound squad for a number of reasons. The primary one being the fast bowler’s refusal to adhere to his advice as far as his bowling was concerned," a well-informed source disclosed. "It is because of the message given by Woolmer that the Board is now playing a mental pressure game with Shoaib who remains uncertain whether he would be selected for the Indian tour," he pointed out.
Woolmer since taking over as coach in June last year is reported to have acquired a lot of clout and influence with the chairman and in the Pakistan cricket circles more than normally other countries allow to their coaches.
"The chairman has blind faith in whatever advice or suggestion Woolmer gives and it’s now clear he (Woolmer) is still unhappy with the fast bowler for refusing to reduce his run-up —an issue that has raged on since last October during the home series against Sri Lanka," the source said.
The former England Test player has also publicly made no bones about the fact that he wanted Shoaib to adhere to his policies of running the team and to reduce his run-up in the larger interest of the team and to prevent them from slow over-rate penalties. Although the over-rate argument has fizzled out when even without Shoaib, the captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and team were fined their match fees during the VB
Series for slow over-rate.
The source pointed out that the amount of clout Woolmer carried could be judged by the fact that he even submitted his 16-member touring squad for India in his meeting with Shaharyar in Karachi. "And he did this knowing well that under the present system of the Board it is the national selection committee that gives the touring squad to the captain and coach," the source pointed out. Woolmer’s differences with chief selector Wasim Bari are also well documented and led to former captain Moin Khan not being sent to Australia for the VB
Series and a war of words over the tactical ploys adopted by the coach.
"Woolmer’s influence has increased to such level that all the three foreign trainer/physios were hired by the Board on his recommendations and they are all from South Africa where the former Test player now resides," the source noticed.
When PCB hired Murray Stevenson, Darryn Lifsun for the senior team and then Grant Compton for the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Lahore, critics expressed surprise that when the cricket world was looking to hire experts from Australia —the leaders in cricket technology and other fields —Pakistan was increasing its South African connections.
So much so, it is learnt that PCB even had feedback from Woolmer on the equipment that needed to be installed at NCA and which was also purchased from South Africa.
"The best part is that when Shabbir Ahmed and Umar Gul were sent to South Africa for diagnosis of their injuries and treatment, the Board told them to stay at the residence of Woolmer in Cape Town when normally they are put up at hotels," the source disclosed.
However it is not known on what basis this arrangement was worked out between PCB and Woolmer who also remained South African coach between 1994 and 1999.
Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of whispering going on in the PCB corridors of power in Lahore and generally in the cricket circles over the way Woolmer has had a say in even matters like hiring of foreign trainers/physios, purchase of equipment when he has been hired as a coach.
"Questions are being asked as to why Pakistan is going for everything South African when the rest of the cricket world is looking towards Australia," the source noted.