A colleague of mine, who is still too young to have been jaded about Pakistan Cricket, was distraught after Pakistan’s abysmal performance in the New Zealand series. In the throes of youthful idealism, he kept hoping for a cricketing miracle till the last ball had been bowled. All the prayers, the heartache, all of the energies spent screaming at the television screen, could not turn the fortunes around. His predicament reminded me of a story I heard some time back: A Priest and a Rabbi become friends, and decide to learn about each other. Together, they go to watch a boxing match where, just as the match was about to start, one of the boxers knelt in the corner, and made a cross on his chest to seek divine protection. The Rabbi turns to the Priest and asks, “What does that mean?” The Priest replies, “It doesn’t mean a thing, if the young man doesn’t know how to box!”
Pakistan’s embarrassing performance in foreign cricketing tours has once again reminded us of the deplorable state of sports in our country. While other (first-rate) cricketing nations have moved on to modern methods of training, fitness and strategy, Pakistan is still trying to find a pair of batsmen who will stick around at the crease for the duration of the game.
It is easy to dismiss Pakistan’s loss with oft-repeated notions of ‘we have always had terrible batsmen’, or ‘bowling should have performed better’, or ‘just bad shot selection on the day’. Instead, let us all muster the courage to say (out loud) the truth that is apparent in our hearts: Pakistan Cricket suffers from a crisis of confidence, discipline and fitness. And none of these issues, i.e. “confidence”, “discipline”, and “fitness”, have anything to do with the amount of talent that a player has. Instead, these qualities emanate from lack of training, bad team management and abysmal domestic cricketing culture in Pakistan.
There was, back in the day, a time when ‘raw talent’ was enough to compete at the international level. And Pakistan—for all its follies—has produced dazzling cricketing talent in our past. But we no longer live in a time when talent alone, without proper training and management, can compete at the international stage. In the modern cricketing world, talent must be polished and disciplined, purposefully, through a rigorous domestic cricketing structure, before it can perform at the international level. And our domestic cricketing structure is in shambles.
To begin with, it is hard to explain why cricketing is still a ‘governmental’ endeavour in our country. In other words, the PCB is structured in a manner that the Prime Minister is the “Patron-in-Chief” of the organisation, entrusted with the powers to appoint Chairman PCB and (therefore) dictate the direction that PCB should take. In exercise of this power, in the past, various Prime Ministers have made shockingly political and nepotistic appointments. And for this reason, in a country that boasts some of the best cricketers in the history of the game, we have had PCB Chairman such as Ijaz Butt, Zaka Ashraf, and Najam Sethi. All of them—without exception—were appointed for their affinity with the Prime Minister of the time, and not by virtue of their revolutionary ideas about how to reinvigorate the domestic cricketing structure of Pakistan.
As is customary with all organisations led by political appointees, soon merit gave way to ‘sifarshi’ inductions in our PCB management and team members. No meaningful effort was made to redesign the domestic structure. In fact, in a cricket-crazy nation, no one follows or keeps track of what is happening in our domestic cricket. Most cricket fanatics do not even know when the domestic seasons take place, or who the best formers were. PSL, which cannot be seen as a replacement of the domestic structure, is the only domestic cricketing event of note.
Just as the world shifted its focus away from State control to market forces, in Pakistan, the trend was reversed. Over the past several decades, an incompetent and nepotistic State, helped by a sclerotic bureaucracy, strengthened its grip to stifle the evolution of sports. Calls for transparency and privatisation of sports boards in Pakistan were viewed with contempt by successive political leaders, who saw these institutions as instruments of bestowing favours upon their loyalists.
Naturally, all sports in Pakistan suffered, as a result. Where Pakistan once enjoyed almost complete domination in Squash, less than a quarter century ago, today there is no Pakistani (not even one!) among the top-50 rankings of the world. We slumped to the lowest performance (ever) during the last Olympics and Asian Games. We have dropped to No. 10 in Hockey, our national sport. And the performance of cricket, during the recent New Zealand series, needs no comment.
Till such time that the State controls and manipulates open market competition in sports, meritocracy will continue to suffer at the altar of vested political interests. Till such time that the Pakistan Cricket Board, or the Pakistan Hockey Federation, or the Pakistan Sports Board, continues to work under the control of the State, nepotism and incompetence will remain its hallmark. Till such time that political appointees run the management of PCB, there can be no hope of the Pakistan team performing any better than what is presently on display.
Appeal: Mr. Prime Minister, the Patron-in-Chief of PCB, we request your immediate and purposeful attention to reform the cricketing structure in Pakistan, which is slowly suffocating in the bureaucratic clutches of the State. Your cricketing prowess, understanding and leadership is oft-quoted in and outside of Pakistan. In several interviews (in the past) you have spoken about your vision for reform of the PCB and our domestic cricketing model. A heart-broken nation is looking towards you for the promised reform. Because if Imran Khan, the great cricketing legend and Patron-in-Chief of PCB, cannot reform our cricket, the sport is surely doomed in our country. In a country that has been ravaged by terrorism and corruption over the past many decades, sport (especially cricket) is the one feel-good factor that the nation has. It is time to take an aggressive approach towards reforming PCB and the domestic cricketing structure, by amending the law, taking it out of the bureaucratic control, and handing it over to market forces or meritocracy. Let the market harvest the talent from our streets. And let this be your enduring service to a sport that once crowned you its King!