A gentleman’s game

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Let’s play cricket, said a pal of mine
Being a gentleman’s game, I said “fine”
So let me explain how this whole mess started
How events took place when my pal departed.

I was approached by a stranger, totally unknown
He had in his hand a bag and cell phone
By way of intoduction he said to me
For some information I give, he’d give me a fee.

What sort of info do you need, I queried,
He looked around, and he got me worried,
I was just here to play my game
Not looking for glory or for fame.

Just tell me how many runs you’ll score
To which I replied “I’ll try a hundred, maybe more”
No, no, he cried I’ve got a present for you,
A hundred thousand, to get out in “two”

I thought he was joking, this stranger was mad,
I better get moving and put on my pad,
Just then he made a call on his phone,
Thank God he and I were alone

For I dread to think what anyone would say
If they heard his phone conversation that day.
He said all was done, and I was party to crime
And a whole lot of rubbish and garbage and slime.

And as he left, he dropped the last shocker
By placing his bag inside my locker
Now that I finished with you, he cried,
I’m off to fix the other side.

The next day’s headlines read in the press,
Our country’s cricket’s is in a royal mess,
For none of our players scored more than two
But you know how it happened, between me and you.

Now eagerly awaiting the next big match
Where I’ll be paid to drop a catch,
In the end it’s the public that would be the fool
They don’t know cricketers graduate from “acting” school.

Sorab Bhathena from Pune, India

The Betrayal

Would I have done anything different?

No.

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The Wisecrackers

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The latest in the line of the various wisecracking mavericks in Pakistan cricket were out in full force against the ‘might’ of Zimbabwe. Sledging is a customary tradition in cricket now, and is expected at the top-most level. Many Pakistani cricketers (inevitably) take it to the next level of awesomeness by their witty retorts in Punjabi. ‘Jugatbaazi’ it seems, comes as natural to a cricketer from the Land of Indus, as reverse-swing.

So when I logged in today to catch the afternoons session on the 4th Day of the one-off test between Pakistan and Zimbabwe, I expected the resurgent Zimbabweans to give the rookie bowling attack a tough time. Little did I expect that, Pakistani close-in fielders will be chatting away and creating insurmountable pressure on the inexperienced Zimbabwe side.

Adnan Akmal a relative newbie to International cricket, with his legendary – yo’self – and Azhar Ali at silly-mid off were chattering away in a mix of English-Urdu-Punjabi, as 8 wickets fell in quick succession.

Here are some of the best quips I was able to decipher amongst all the shitty commentary by Ten Sports commentators.

Adnan ‘Manjhla‘ Akmal is such a colorful character. He is in your face constantly and never shies away from a word or two with the opposition. His chirping behind the wickets is already legendary and he was at his absolute best today. He clearly believes in sledging away and giving the opposition an earful. Here are some of his best one-liners today.

Beauty that’s the one boy – when Aizaz Cheema bowled a bouncer, the batsmen ducked under.

It’s a huge pressure– when a wicket fell, and the new Zim batsman walked into the middle.

Very tight lads– when Aizaz bowled a maiden over and batsmen were changing ends.

Waj jayegi paiyaan, kuj nai paya hua – when Ajmal called in Umer Akmal at sill-mid off. Clearly he wasn’t wearing his ‘guard’.

Thora jeya LOOP dena aino off-stump tay to Hafeez when Brian Vitori was starting to slog and the advise resulted in a wicket, the very next ball.

‘Umer nu vi kar lo thora pichay’Adnan directing traffic from behind the stumps.

Then there was the conversation in Punjabi between Hafeez & Misbah where they were trying to set a field, Hafeez was clearly adamant on setting his own field and sho down a suggestion by Misbah saying – “Zaroorat hi nai haigi eh, jadon ho reya aey.”

What really surprised me today was the non-stop chirping of Azhar Ali at silly-mid-off. He is not someone who is known as aggressive in any facet of his cricket. Yet, there he was constantly encouraging and advising the bowlers, in his own brand of Punjabi humor. And as TwentyTwoYards – very aptly quipped later on, ‘what a chupa rustam’.

Vich kar kay de deyo aeno – To Hafeez, after Taibu & Jarvis started to frustrate the bowlers.

‘Shaba Hafeez bhai, football khaid reya aey tuaday naal, goal kareyo zara’ – This time, a gem from Azhar Ali, was egging on Hafeez to take his 4th wicket.

‘Paiyan balla band kar k khaid’da aey’ – Advising Ajmal, that Jarvis was closing the face of the bat very early.

‘Come on hit your lengths boy, patience patience boys – Pretty sure it’s Azhar this time as well, when Cheema bowled a very high bouncer, which was called a wide.

‘Lagey raho Munna bhai, shabaash – Azhar to Aizaz, after he bowled a beauty to Jarvis.

An act of chivalry

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The incumbent is a buffoon and cricket in Pakistan is a basket case.Malcolm Speed

It is no secret that the current PCB administration, led by the elderly Ijaz Butt – has broken all records of incompetence. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to claim that the ineptitude shown by the PCB – during Ijaz Butt’s tenure as chairman is the worst in the history of this beleaguered institution. There are no justifications for the inept leadership of a lackey like Ijaz Butt, which has resulted in numerous gaffes. Pakistan cricket has yet to come out of the crisis that fell in after the disastrous 2003 World Cup campaign of an ageing team. It seems that successive ham-fisted PCB regimes after that, have only hastened dis-connect between the cricket loving masses and players.

For all his failures as a cricket administrator, nobody can deny that there have been a few positive developments during his tenure as PCB chairman. However, the negatives have so far, out-weighed the positive aspects of his decision making and management skills. This is just an attempt to highlight the good occurrences – far and few they might have been, under the embattled PCB supreme.

Let us first analyze the record in all 3 formats of the game since Ijaz Butt took over as PCB Chairman.

Tests – 5 Wins | 11 Lost | 7 Draws ——— ODIs – 30 Wins | 31 Lost | 1 No-Result ——— T20s – 18 Wins | 16 Lost

A rocket scientist you need not be, to figure out that when a team in winning consistently, the pressure on the players, coaches and administration is almost non-existent. The perfect example of this was seen at the WC earlier this year, when the ultimate cardinal sin of a devil heading the PCB was forgotten for almost 2 and a half months just because Pakistan made it to the semi-finals.

Now we turn to the positives that have taken place under Ijaz Butt’s tutelage.

2009 T20 World Cup

By a long shot, the greatest moment in the history of Pakistani cricket (and in Ijaz Butt’s life), since the 1992 WC win. The rag-tag group of players, who were almost knocked out of the group stages in the tournament, then went on to win the World Cup in style. Notorious slow starters we are in world events. The team was also helped by the news that Chief Selector, Abdul Qadir had quit due to a row with The Chairman.

Drawing a Test Series against Australia in England

For me the second greatest achievement under The Chairman was the fact that we drew against the, still mighty Australians – with a squad full of youngsters, despite the retirement of another young person just a Test ago. The suave & debonair Salman Butt, led us to a test win against Australia only after a gazillion years. Oh, and a certain pace duo also played a small part in this victory.

Butt celebrates with his boys

Emergence & re-emergence of talent

Umer Akmal, Azhar Ali, Junaid Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umer Amin, Adnan Akmal.

Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umer, Wahab Riaz.

I left out The Great Left-Arm Hope deliberately.

Drawn series against SA and Away series win against NZ

Re-calling Misbah and making him the test captain out of wilderness was perhaps as shrewd a move as any. Not only did, the Tokay Waali Sarkar from Mianwali led us to a satisfying drawn test series, against the mighty South Africans, but we also came close to winning a test against them, led by the return of the prodigal Younis Khan. An away test series win later on against New Zealand was the first one after a long hiatus of almost 4 years for Team Green.

Close, but no cigar

Near misses include, reaching the 2009 Champions Trophy semi-final, reaching the 2010 T20 WC semi-final and playing in the Mother of All Matches against India in the 2011 WC semi-final. Add, two 3-2 ODI series losses against the England & South Africa. Mid-level triumphs include 3 consecutive ODI series wins against NZ, Windies & Ireland. Butt saab will be desperate to whitewash Zimbabwe as well.

A proper plan for Domestic Cricket

The partnership with Faysal Bank & Geo Super seems to have inducted a new life into the moribund tournament that was the National T20 Championship. Not only has the current PCB regime changed the T20 format by conducting two T20 tournaments per year, but they have also successfully managed to revive public interest in the game. Small wonder then, that the last 3 T20 Championships have attracted large crowds and strong TV audiences.

Another feather in the cap of the current regime was the decision to play the final of the First-Class tournament under lights with the orange ball. It was big surprise that such innovative idea was passed by the governing board headed by Mr. Butt. Introducing & implementing a strict code of conduct Notorious for their off the field activities, Pakistani cricketers find themselves unable to express their feelings to media of all sorts. Bit too late perhaps.

Crowds have swarmed T20 Cups

Last but not the least

…and certainly the greatest, is Butt saabs ability to hang in there. Weathering storms and brushing away ridicule comes easy to Butt it seems. Whether it is the terrorist attack on the Srilankan team, the Australian tour fiasco, the oath-gate against Younis Khan, the spot-fixing saga or the screaming accusations against the England cricketers, former and current PCB officials or the country’s senators or MNA’s – Ijaz Butt has shown an uncanny ability to be an immovable object. Little help comes in the form of El Presidente and the Defense Minister, Ahmed Mukhtar.

A friend summed it up perfectly, ‘I think it’s the little things that were allowed to fester that ultimately led to all the bigger issues. Had there been a stronger Chairman who took it on himself to take care of these things by putting the right people in the right places then I’m sure many of these things would not have been allowed to happen. His ineptitude was also apparent at ICC meetings where we were continuously taken the piss out of. He just does not have the skills for the role.’

Perhaps the bolded part above, explains why he is still on the job in our country.

Cricket – can end myopia

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A recent newspaper report suggests that the Pakistan Cricket Board has hit the jackpot and is set to receive a $16 million cheque in compensation for its inability to stage World Cup matches due to grave security concerns. What is the PCB going to do with this money?

The epicenter of terrorist activities in Pakistan lies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Much has been written about the social & economic backwardness of the area, despite it being home to 2.4% of Pakistanis. The menace of terrorism has uprooted many families from their homes, forcing them to live with the tag of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in shelter camps across the country. Can cricket be part of the solution to tackle their problems?

The former Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara’s recent speech about cricket’s potential “to be more than just a game’ in his country immediately struck a chord. Sri Lanka suffered from a bitter and bloody civil war for almost three decades and Sangakkara contended that their surprise World Cup win in 1996 helped bring the country closer and made it “a shared passion and a force for unity.”

Therein lies the beauty of this great game or of sports in general. The ability of sport to rise above the various ills that plague a society, to bring joy to the people who have suffered immensely, to transcend the barriers a war has placed on an already fractured society. As Michael Messner wrote, “Sport is not an expression of some biological human need, it is a social institution.”

The popularity of the game – and hence its potential to influence the youth – can be gauged by the fact that cricketers are the sole remaining superstars in entertainment-starved modern-day Pakistan. The sport of cricket brings together the aspirations of millions of Pakistanis and the awaam immediately identifies with their heroes.

The terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore resulting in the pariah status of Pakistan on the international cricket calendar should have prompted the PCB to invest heavily in the domestic game. A befitting response to the extremist threat would be to expand it further in areas that have been hit hard by the insurgents. Not only will it help spread the game at the grassroots level and in turn find new talent for the PCB to groom, it will also prompt the youngsters in those areas to channel their energies into something productive and find a positive way of taking ownership of Pakistan as their country.

Who will be the next Umer Gul?

For starters, the PCB can team up with the army-run de-radicalization facilities in Swat where young men poisoned by the dogmatist hatred of the Taliban are being rehabilitated successfully. The PCB can use a part of the $16 million it received from the ICC to provide full-time coaches and equipment to the de-radicalization centers. Surely, if PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt can buy an expensive ticket to fly to New Zealand for a week, just to keep an eye on Shahid Afridi’s body language, then the small matter of lending a proper cricket coach and equipment for a good cause should be no trouble at all.

The PCB can also do a lot to broaden the game at the grass-roots level in the insurgency-hit areas. Funds for bats, balls, nets and pitches can be provided to government schools, or whatever is left of them, which have lots of space but no credible sports programs. Not only will it positively impact the children, who will be provided extra-curricular activities and have a reasonable chance to represent their nation, but also unlock the door to untapped talent to bolster the existing pool of players available at the PCB’s disposal.

New grounds can be built in Swat, Waziristan and other parts of FATA. Talent hunts and coaching camps can be conducted there. A cricketing superstar like Shahid Afridi can be made a cricket ambassador for the tribal agencies (where his ancestral home is) to inspire the vulnerable youth there to choose sport over militancy.

The answer to every problem.

Summer cricket tournaments can be organized in Gilgit-Baltistan and in other parts of the north where the PCB can team up with the tourism authorities to help attract domestic tourists to the area, thereby helping the struggling local economy, in addition to promoting cricket and providing an outlet to the youth to discover their talent.

Cricket has helped Sri Lanka grow closer as a nation and has shown its capacity to be more than just a game. The ground where the leader of the LTTE rebel army, Prabhakaran, used to deliver his annual war speech has been turned into  a cricketing academy where young talent from the troubled Northern areas comes to hone their skills with the help of ex-national cricketers, hired by the Sri Lankan Cricket Board. The coaching program – first initiated in 2009 – has not only helped hundreds of aspiring boys move one step closer to realizing their dream of playing for their country, but has also provided the SLC with an abundance of polished talent in its youth reserves.

There is no reason why the sport of cricket cannot overpower terrorism and economic grievances in Pakistan – no reason why it cannot provide the people in those areas something that they can cherish. The rise of extremism in our country began with one man’s myopic thinking – to counter it the PCB as an institution must end its own myopia.

Drop the guns, raise the bats.

Shaheenon Ka Shehar

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Was Sir Muhammad Iqbal inspired by Sargodha, or was Sargodha inspired by Iqbal?

The Company Bagh

Sargodha district is renowned for its oranges and henna, whereas the city of Sargodha is famous for the PAF Base Mushaf, which is also host to the elite combat commander school of the Pakistan Air force. It is a widely held belief that, the first bomb to be dropped on Pakistani soil during the 1965 war can now be found – unexploded at the aptly named, ‘Bum Chowk’ in the city of Sargodha. Being home to the sterling air heroes of the 1965 war, earned this city, the nickname of, “Shaheenon Ka Shehar”.

I was fortunate to be born in this small – and back then, clean city. Roads were well-maintained and clean compared to other cities and there were only a handful of cars. In fact, the most common mode of public transport was the Tonga. IIRC, there were only a couple of ‘petrol pumps’ in the city and one had to travel to the outskirts to fill up the tank. Water Supply Road – later re-named (Farooq e Azam Road) was where I grew up. Now that I think back, the people I grew up amongst were mainly from two different ethnic backgrounds. The main road was the great divider – on one side, all houses were owned by local Punjabis and on the other side was the Muhajir mohalla. Despite the stark differences between the languages of the two communities, there was never any bloodshed. The sectarian divide on the other hand was a whole different story.

I attended Army Public School Sargodha, which was located in Sargodha Cantt. The Lower Jhelum Canal divides the city from the Cantt, and my school was located amongst prime agricultural land opposite of the famous Remount Depot Sargodha. For me, the city was divided in 4 areas – the androon shehar (covering the old city area), the Army Cantt on the outskirts of the city, the PAF Base and its surrounding areas and the then gunjaan abaad Satelliate Town. The old city area is full of life, and one can walk from one end to another on foot without breaking much of a sweat. Ideally, I always start from the Water Supply Road and end up at Company Bagh at the other end, while always making sure to have sugarcane juice at one of shops located just outside the entrance of the Bagh.

Much has changed since I moved to Rawalpindi in 1998, but a small abode awaits me anxiously whenever I land in Pakistan, and I make sure to spend a week or two every year in Sargodha. Here are a few pictures I took while roaming around aimlessly the last time I visited, hope you enjoy them.

Khalid Lohar was angry but the donkey don’t mind.
Mehar Chachu Lassi House – Truly the greatest Lassi in the world
Teefay Kay Cholay & Amritsari Naan – They even served in Ramzan
MC Model Girls High School – Ammi’s alma-mater
The famous ‘Bum’ Chowk & Pakistan Ka Matlab Kya

Government Ambala High School - Before partition a Sikh Gurdwara/Hindu Temple

 

The famous Gol Chowk Masjid

 

Moti Choor Kay Laddo - Childhood Love

 

 More pictures to come in the next blog post soon, watch this space.