Who's Really to Blame?
By Qamar Ahmed

Pakistan's much 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 other regions.

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 overs game.

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.
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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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