The enigma of Pakistani cricket

Opinion Saturday 11/June/2016 14:40 PM
By: Times News Service
The enigma of Pakistani cricket

A lanky youngster runs in, with little puffs of dust highlighting each distinct plod of his leather sandal-clad feet on the parched earth below. His plain cloth and solid beige coloured shalwar kameez tugs at his side, buoyed by the wind like a parachute. His run-up is lengthy and fluid, culminating in a slingshot-like pre-delivery stride, which allows him to hurtle the ball in the manner of a projectile. The off-stump is uprooted, resulting in a series of cheers and hollers from the youthful brigade of fielders, who adhere to no particular field setting. A wry smile adorns his face, but he knows there are more wickets for the taking.
The next batsman walks in as the bowler ambles back to his mark. A little kick to gather momentum marks the beginning of his run-up, as he glides in effortlessly. This is a Pathan boy; he is strong, agile and built for the kill. The setting: a remote village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North West Frontier Province), one of four provinces of Pakistan.
There is no proper infrastructure here, not for another 300 kilometres at least. The frontier city of Peshawar, the capital of the province, a place where the skill and ambition harboured by these youngsters may be honed, is beyond their reach. A proper system is not in place to filter talent of this nature to where it belongs. Just as the benevolence of the Indus River foregoes the inner areas of this region on its way to the port city of Karachi, before it empties itself into the Arabian Sea, many of these youngsters are surprisingly kept from the regional strongholds of Pakistani cricket.
In most other countries, the importance of such a resource rich area would have been discerned decades ago. Proper infrastructure and training would have been entrenched in its very foundation by now. But not in Pakistan; for, it is the land of poor planning and indecision. What is sad is that it is also the land of raw talent, unadulterated skill and primal aggression. These are traits that make for great viewing. To watch them when everything gels is a thing of wonder. It is a spectacle unlike any other in the world of sport. But, the problems that plague them are numerous.
The domestic first-class cricket championship, the Quaid-I-Azam Trophy, proudly named after the honorary title bestowed upon the founding father of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, has its format changed on an annual basis. Its administrator, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), is forever at odds over the number of teams and the regions represented in the tournament that would reflect the most accurate cross-section of Pakistani cricket. The school cricket system is poor and almost nonexistent, unlike that of its sub-continent counterpart, Sri Lanka, which continues to benefit from the reliable and solid base it provides.
Just as the people of a country are not all responsible for the actions of their government, I truly believe that the Pakistani cricketers cannot be wholly blamed for the poor and inconsistent showing they have put up over the past few years.
Aside from the administrative muddles involving cricket, they have to contend with the ascendancy of militancy, sectarian violence, political infighting and corruption, in their backyard. Add to that, the shame of not being able to host international teams in one’s own country. It is a feeling most other cricketing nations would know nothing about, except for maybe South Africa during the apartheid era. Most other teams would have folded years ago, but not the Pakistanis. Their main concern is cricket, and their passion and love for it is what sustains their team to this day. When they come out to play, there is often a sense of teenage exuberance that adorns their faces. It is genuine. They keep playing.
I played a lot of cricket alongside and against many cricketers of Pakistani origin, while schooling in Oman. A few characteristics that defined them are also plainly evident in those representing their national team. Firstly, they are not easily overawed or intimated, regardless of the strength and reputation of the opponent. A talented Pakistani cricketer, for the most part, would be equally at ease playing for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in the domestic circuit, or facing up to the likes of Dale Steyn and Co. at the Wanderers. They possess immense confidence in their ability, but in a non-arrogant way. The character of this confidence is simple and instinctive. You can see it in the way they play their cricket.
They are the kind that do first, and think later. It provides for superlative entertainment at times and at others it makes you cringe. They are the guys who chase down 300 plus scores with ‘consummate ease’ (a la Tony Greig), only to succumb to a score under 100 in the very next game. Consistency has never been their forte.
The transference of skills and the transition from the domestic setup to the realm of international cricket is a very abrupt one in Pakistan. And it shows. They learn about the ways of international cricket, on the job. But, that is what makes them a pleasure to watch.
Most of it is unrehearsed and there is not a lot of technical routine that goes into their performances. The amateurish long barrier, the shoddy pick up and throw, and the unstructured run-up, among other idiosyncrasies of the Pakistani team, are what sets them apart. On their day though, there is not a team I can think of, who could rival them for sheer spirit and quality of cricket.
To ensure more such days of course, a lot has to change at the grassroots level itself. The preferential treatment handed out to those hailing from the bastions of Sindh and Punjab, or more specifically Karachi and Lahore, is something that needs to be looked at closely. The remote regions where talent is in abundance need to be identified and the requisite infrastructure should be put in place. Programmes have to be initiated to ensure that raw skill is nurtured, and that those with the potential to play cricket at the highest level do not fall by the wayside.
Their cricket board owes it to the fans, to improve the state of cricket in the country. They have been subjected to immense heartache, in the recent past. Perhaps it is why I silently root for Pakistan, on occasion, when they play against my country, Sri Lanka. This may be blasphemous and I repeat; it is only on occasion. But, the true worth of a sport is in the impact it has on the people watching the game. After all the suffering endured by the Pakistani people, due to the political climate of the country, a little respite is to be had when their team performs well. In a utilitarian sense, the greater good can be realised if the Pakistani fans are given a reason to smile.
For their sake, cricket in Pakistan needs to be revitalised. A soundproof plan is required to revive its fortunes. Foreign teams will return to Pakistan. Khuda hafiz. - Excluive to Times of Oman