Really to Blame?
By Qamar Ahmed
maligned domestic cricket setup has again become
the target of critics as a result of the national
team's predictably poor performance in Australia.
As is always the case, the system that produces
the bulk of the players who don the national colors,
is usually held responsible.
Justifiably or unjustifiably, some of the criticism
comes from people with vested interests and some
by people who over the years have failed to run
this game on proper footing and in crisis situations
have always tried to hide behind the smokescreen
to find a scapegoat.
I find this quite distasteful for the fact that
when Pakistan is on the high, as they were in the
80's and the early part of the 90's, no one ever
pointed his fingers at the inadequacies of the domestic
cricket. But it is only when we start to lose that
we begin to moan and groan about it. The question
is that do we, who criticize the system, understand
what this setup has given us and what it has not?
And are we, in our own wisdom, once again gearing
ourselves to pick up the axe and chop the hands
that have been feeding us? Have we not produced
great men of the game from the same system? I, for
one, am lucky to have played first-class cricket,
representing Sindh and Hyderabad in the process.
Also, I have had the opportunity of watching the
domestic cricket of almost all Test playing countries,
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe being an exception. When
comparing, I feel that most of our criticism of
our cricket system is unfair as the working of officials
of various cricket associations has always been
undermined by the controlling body of this game
in Pakistan and by the bureaucratic red-tapism.
Instead of strengthening or improving the existing
system they have somehow whimsically chopped and
changed at all levels of the game over the years.
Years ago, it was because of the mediocrity and
the declining standards of Pakistan's premier first-class
tournament, the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy, that the former
Test captain Abdul Hafeez Kardar encouraged the
participation of commercial organizations at the
national level from the mid-60's. It was a wise
move as it not only made the game much richer and
respectable but it also helped it spread in every
nook and corner of the country. As a result we now
see players emerging from places like Rawalpindi,
Peshawar, Faisalabad and Sialkot and from various
Prior to this, only Karachi and Lahore used to produce
the bulk of the national players. Players also were
able to earn a living besides playing the game for
various organizations, like a bank or the national
airline. Of course, one big disadvantage of this
all was that the regional teams started getting
weaker as the banks and the airline started to act
as poachers. Advantages, however, weighed heavier
than the disadvantages of commercial teams participating
at first-class level. Have we not produced men like
Javed Miandad, Salim Malik, Abdul Qadir, Mohsin
Khan, Waqar Younis, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mudassar Nazar,
Mushtaq Ahmed, Saeed Anwar, Amir Sohail because
of it? When I played first-class, there weren't
any banks or airline teams; there were only regional
and provincial ones and there wasn't much cricket.
In seven seasons that I played at first-class level,
I played only seventeen games. Now if you play only
one full season, you end up playing nearly 20 matches.
This is the difference I am referring to. The game
has spread and more players are being produced.
I do not understand what the critics really mean
when they plead to promote regional cricket. Don't
we know that since 1953, when the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy
was introduced, till today, regional teams have
been competing with each other all these years,
but mostly in the presence of a handful of people.
The crowd support was never there not even when
men like Hanif Mohammed, Fazal Mahmood, Imtiaz Ahmed
and Waqar Hasan, and in later years, men like Javed
Miandad, Salim Malik, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram
and Inzamam-ul-Haq played in home tournaments. College
and inter-university matches attracted bigger crowds
than first-class games. Economic conditions of course
never allowed that to happen because people have
to earn their living as well. Also because we never
had or have a culture of raffles, tambolas and clubs
to attract the kind of support you would see in
countries like England, Australia and South Africa.
Even in those countries, a handful of people come
to watch first-class cricket, unless it is a limited
While witnessing star-studded games, like those
between Victoria and Queensland or between Western
Australia and New South Wales, I can count the crowd
on my fingers. Same is the case in county cricket
- an old lady and a dog in the crowd. Since the
70's we've had the advantage of having many talented
cricketers like Zaheer Abbas, Majid Khan, Sadiq
Mohammad, Mushtaq Mohammad, Sarfraz Nawaz, Javed
Miandad, Imran Khan and Asif Iqbal - players who
honed their skills in county cricket, but not before
they were all groomed here on Pakistan's domestic
diet. Sadly though, despite their experience at
county level, Pakistan failed to win overseas, except
against New Zealand in New Zealand in 1970, only
one series. But that changed when we jelled together
with players without county experience, and we started
to win overseas. Men like Sarfraz and Wasim Akram
were produced by Pakistan's domestic cricket and
were led by a man of charismatic all-round ability
Imran Khan who took no nonsense from anyone.
There was discipline, team spirit and hunger to
succeed, which is something that is somehow lacking
due to indiscipline and infighting for money and
power. Schools, clubs and university matches helped
in the initial years and they were the breeding
grounds for budding players. This practice should
be revived and commercial organizations should be
given even wider assistance to nurture talent. Still,
all is not lost and there is hope for the future.