Small battles proved the un-doing of Waqar as Pakistan coach
Waqar Younis is not generally the kind of man to walk away from a fight. He never did through a long playing career; not through the match-fixing years, not through years of some of the most rabid in-team factionalism, not through failed revolts against captains, not through crippling back injuries, and never through any number of lost causes on the field.
So whatever his decision to step down as the coach Pakistan says about him, it says something more urgent about the environment he has been working in since he took over in March 2010. How unhealthy, how corrosive is Pakistan cricket at the moment that it compelled this man to step down?
The board is keen to spin the most out of the medical reasons Waqar referred to but there is a little truth to them.
Waqar did seek medical advice in Australia after the West Indies series. Concerns were raised about the levels of stress he faced. But they cannot sidestep their own contribution to the conditions Waqar worked in, conditions - particularly off the field - Waqar may one day publicly expand upon.
In 18 months, he has had to deal with more than some coaches do in their entire careers. Forget the really bad days, such as the spot-fixing scandal, because just the regular debris of Pakistan's cricket is enough.
Each day brings the gift of a little battle; acquainting with yet another captain, handling the ego of a rising star, new managers and assistants whose faces soon blur into one another, selectors with little powers but great delusions, overbearing, interfering and erratic chairmen, officials who can make bureaucrats look transparent and efficient and trustworthy.
And so there was no one moment when it snapped for Waqar. There was the England tour last year that took so much out of him, the beginning of the end in New Zealand where the Shahid Afridi spat first became serious and even at the World Cup, by which time he said in an interview he felt one of his achievements had been to get out of bed every day and go to work. "Some days I didn't feel like getting out of my room, thinking another controversy," he said.
Despite having a contract until March 2012, he had little confidence during that interview that he would last until then or even until much after the tournament.
Not everyone will be unhappy at the decision. Some will say Waqar brought it upon himself by fighting for greater control and influence in selection, by pushing so eagerly for senior players to be replaced by younger ones, or just by getting into a spat with Afridi.
But his tenure brought something, not least tangible improvement to the outdated shambles his predecessor, Intikhab Alam, looked over. Maybe the method was not always there and the batting was neglected but Waqar's zeal for the job was not in doubt.
On results his was a committed navigation through turbulence. Only one Test series in five was lost (five of the previous seven ended in defeat). They made the semi-finals of both the World Twenty20 and, more impressively, the 2011 World Cup. Four ODI series ending 3-2 - two won, two lost - probably captures the time as well as any: not there fully, but much better than generally expected.
The search for a replacement is expected to begin this week.
Waqar laughed off the possibility of recommending anyone as a successor. He knows what Pakistan cricket takes from most men; much of their peace, a little bit of their sanity, their dignity and their will.
From some, such as the ever-acquiescent Intikhab or the thick-skinned Ijaz Butt, a lifetime's association takes nothing away and that is no compliment. From others it can take much more.
Published: August 22, 2011 04:00 AM