Can Anyone Monopolize Cricket?

ICC might be the governing body, but do they really control everything that is cricket? Do Country Boards like PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board), BCCI (Board for Control of Cricket in India), ACB (Australian Cricket Board) and others have monopoly over cricket in their respective countries? Or do they “perceive” they have such powers? It is quite disheartening to note that ICL has been construed as a rebel league and that most of the players who play in that league have been banned by their respective boards (barring probably England) from all forms of cricket, first class inclusive.

Now, say Roger Federer, the great tennis star, plays in a match that is not sanctioned by ITF, would he be banned from playing in Wimbledon tournaments? Does ITF have monopoly over it? Or if Tiger Woods decides to play for a little known golf tournament or league in China not sanctioned by the official body, would he be banned from all Golf tournaments? Does anyone monopolize Golf?

ICL or Indian Cricket League is a revolutionary concept to take hold in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. For the first time, in the history of the South Asian cricket, there is a league that offers competitive salaries for playing matches of first class cricket quality. It also is probably the first time when large crowds are actually going to the stadiums to watch competitive cricket other than international matches. Yes, local leagues and first class matches have never really garnered any spectators in South Asia. However, since it is not sanctioned by BCCI in India or ICC (International Cricket Council) internationally, most of the cricket boards decided to ban their players (first class inclusive) from participating. Despite such punitive measures, giants of Cricket including Inzimam ul Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Brian Lara opted to quit International cricket and play in the league. Now even some lesser known players from around the world have joined the league including Taufiq Umar, Imran Farhat from Pakistan and Andrew Hall (South Africa) and Franklin Rose (West Indies) and many others.

The Pakistan first class cricket structure is so badly designed that there are just a few quality matches in a year and the salaries for professional cricketers is nothing short of pittance. Hence, when ICL came along, many potentially good cricketers decided to sign up to make those extra dollars and thus forgoing a chance to represent Pakistan at national level. Take the example of fine cricketers like Taufiq Umar, Imran Farhat who have played test cricket for Pakistan in the past, but don’t seem to find a regular place within the Test team these days. The salary of a professional cricket who does not play for Pakistan is probably not much higher than a clerk’s monthly income. Therefore, these talented youth opted to make some extra money by joining the ICL in India this year and played the whole season. However, our board reacted sharply against it and have already moved to ban all players who play in ICL from not only from the national team, but also from the first class matches within the country.

It just does not add up. The Board does not pay well and makes them live on a frugal salary. Yet if they find a league to make some extra money on their own time, they are banned from representing the national team and playing competitive cricket in their country. The punishment is so severe that it is worse than the punishment one gets for taking illegal substance to enhance their performance. It is totally bizarre!

The concept of control and punishment is as old as the colonial mindset. In today’s world, it has no place. The boards should be enablers and supporters of promoting sports in this era and age. Cricket is a spectator sport with fans now in billions. We do not like to see the boards tell us what we can see and what we cannot. So step back and let us all enjoy the game and if someone wants us to see better cricket, be it ICL, embrace it, not ban it like some maniac dictator.

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>Startup Insider Sessions: A must attend event

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The current economic boom that has gripped Pakistan for the most part of this decade has also had its impact on the IT industry. Many pioneering companies with innovative products and solutions have sprouted all over the country. Among them, BrightSpyre for innovation in introducing online recruitment to Pakistan (a company that I co-founded in 2002). Amaana sort of Pakistan’s version of Paypal, Green & White, our own techcrunch to report all the local happenings,
PixSense, Scrybe, Orgoo, among many many others.

PASHA, the official trade body, finally has a full time staff (almost 20 years after its creation) and with them comes another innovation, Startup Insider Sessions. Connecting local IT talent with brilliant minds who may want to forego their jobs for an entrepreneurial life. As Green & White puts it on their blog,

“A lot of bright, energetic and passionate entrepreneurs have great ideas but want to figure out how to take their brilliant idea and convert it into a business”

I think this sums up what the sessions are all about. So if you are one of them, make sure you are there.

These sessions also points to another level of maturity that the industry has achieved. We now have our own local stars and entrepreneurs in enough numbers who have ably demonstrated through successful startups that have made it big not only nationally and but also internationally. And interacting with these people will definitely provide the inspiration among many potential young minds to start it on their own rather than seek a job. Maybe, through these sessions, we may find some wonderful new ideas that further fuel innovation within the country.

Startup Insider sessions are organized by Green & White in collaboration with PASHA. All hats off to them for their wonderful effort.

For more information, please visit Green & White blogsite.

Cricket and PCB

Here are some things that Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Dr. Naseem Ashraf should seriously consider if they want us to fill the stadiums and be more active in watching their games within the country.

Marketing of the Event
It is not surprising for many folks to inquire “Aaj match hay?” if they see someone glued to a radio or a TV set. Since the series is never announced in advance, people find out about it during the matches!

South Africa, Zimbabwe and later Australia are playing cricket in Pakistan this season. However, not once has PCB done anything to promote these matches in the local press or advertising hoardings within the city. Rather, if you ask anyone where the games are being played or what is the schedule, no one really knows for sure. There is virtually no effort or campaign created to promote a series locally by the board. If the board announces in advance where the matches are being played at what time and date, then many people like me can reorganize our lives and spare a few hours to be at the stadium.

Ticket Sales
Barring one series a few years ago against India, no one really knows where to buy the tickets from. It is the best kept secret in town! Amazing isn’t it! There should be some relationship with banks, or other commercial entities where tickets are available with easy reach. If they expect us to come to the stadium to buy the tickets or to their head office in Lahore then the board must be crazy. Here is a suggestion. There are so many call centers sprouting all over Pakistan. Sign up with one of them and get yourself a toll free 0-800 number. Announce it to fans like me in the newspapers and websites and ask us to call and buy tickets by paying through credit card, check or even money order. This would be easy, quick and no hassle of long lines or driving for hours. And do it at least a month before the beginning of the series.

Weekend Matches
Today, on a Monday, Karachi stadium was completely empty as hardly anyone came out to see Pakistan vs Zimbabwe one day match. Which is not surprising. This was also true during the test matches and a few one dayers against South Africa earlier in the season. Empty seats all the way. The reason is simple. If you are planning on holding matches only on week days, then don’t expect us, the fans, to come. Hold them on weekends also! During the South Africa series, the two test messages were played from Monday through Friday. They both missed the weekends with the result no one really showed up to watch. One has to be crazy today to expect fans to miss work for 5 days in a row. But weekends, even I could have made it on a Saturday or Sunday or maybe both.

Do the above and the stadiums will begin to fill up. Don’t bother about it, and we will continue to ignore the matches even on Television eventually generating little revenue for the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Hiking up Margalla Hills

So you are visiting Islamabad (capital city of Pakistan) and not sure what to do? One activity that I recommend all to partake in is hiking up Margalla Hills. Hiking! Yes, surprisingly Islamabadis are a bit more prone to such adventures than their counterparts in Karachi and Lahore. And Margalla Hills provides a great uniqueness about a big city where one can just forget the worries of the day while climbing up the beautiful mountain.

You ask what is this hoopla about hiking? Well, you see those hills dotting the north-west of Islamabad city. They also host many hiking tracks that take you all the way up the mountain and beyond. Initially, these tracks were nothing but trails for the local village folks to travel up and down the hill. However, with the passage of time, they also become frequented by hikers who just wanted to enjoy a few hours. And one such track, called, Trail #3, (adjacent to Sector F-6/3) is one of the most popular among the hikers. It goes all the way to the top of the hill and meets up with the famous mountain top village, of Pir Sohawa.

A bit of stats about the track. It begins at 600meters above sea level and goes all the way to 1100meters. It is about 5 Kilometers long and it is all gradual moving up. So the round trip down is a good 10 Kilometers. And during the strenuously hot summer months, it seems like 100 Kilometers.

Well, Islamabad, like the rest of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent cities suffers from a very hot summer, where temperatures soar over 100 degrees Fahrenheit regularly. Hence, a typical climb becomes far difficult to achieve. But there is one great aspect of this summer heat. As you climb higher, you literally feel the temperature fall and become cooler around you and usually a light breeze constantly cools you down. It is one of the most wonderful feeling to have. However, I do recommend carrying a small bottle of water (or bigger if you like) all the time to hydrate yourself regularly.

There are numerous resting spots available where one can sit, rejuvenate and take in the atmosphere. The higher you go up, the more serene, beautiful, and calmer it becomes. On a clear day, you can see for miles literally. I, like many other fellow climbers, love to sit at the top and gaze the beautiful scenery in silence before heading back down.

The great thing is that it is not just guys, but lots of female Islamabadis also make it part of their regular routine to hike. Occasionally, one can spot a famous local personality including politicians and television stars. I have taken many foreigners and out of towners up the climb to let them enjoy Islamabad for what it really is. I recommend everyone to go up the track at least once during their visit to the capital city.

Green & White – Techcrunch of Pakistan

Green & WhiteThere are over 800 registered Information Technology companies with Pakistan Software Export Board. Quite a number of them have over 100 employees and revenues that exceed multi-million dollars. A conservative estimate by the government indicates that over 100,000 people are employed by the information technology related industry. From vendors, to call center staff, to software engineers. Despite these large numbers, it is quite unfortunate that the traditional media does not have any focused coverage plans for this vibrant and emerging industry within the country. Barring occasional press releases and a few PSEB or PASHA newsletters, one never gets to hear what is going on within the industry. In this vacuum, Greenwhite.org is like an oasis in the desert; filling the void with their wonderful, to the point, entertaining, and candid coverage of the whole industry.

I stumbled upon them when I was still at Stanford and they had independently tested/covered one of the companies that I had co-founded in Pakistan, called BrightSpyre in 2002. It was quite intriguing to read how they perceived the company and what the people were talking about. Ever since that time, I have been checking the blogsite quite regularly. They are always at the forefront covering events, reviewing companies or potentially good projects and even debating the future of IT industry in Pakistan. It makes for a great read and shows that the industry is alive with ideas and growing rapidly.

To me they are the techcrunch of Pakistan. Keep up the good work guys. It is really heartening to see that what the media does not consider important, they take it seriously and cover it thoroughly.

For more information visit: http://www.greenwhite.org

>Lessons for Budding Project Managers

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Over the past many years, I have worked with numerous project managers and team leads. Some of them were really great and I learned a lot from them. However, others suffer from what I call, “Jaldi kya hay” syndrome and usually are below par at their performance. They tend to make the most common mistakes one can think of and yet do not see anything wrong in doing so.

So for all those budding project managers, I have put together a list of things to be mindful of. Use it as a guide and as your rule in your organizations.

Martial your solders: Have the whole team involved during any major project, especially during the critical days before the release of any software product. And if you find someone sitting idle and not doing any task, assign them something to do. For example, let them do research on a particular topic. It is better than doing nothing.

Delegate Responsibility: The bulk of the work should be done by the team members hired to do the job. Many managers think they are better software engineers than their team members, therefore end up doing last minute work themselves by pulling all nighters. If the manager is doing it, then what is the purpose of the rest of the team? It cannot be emphasized enough that this is not your job description to code, rather you are expected to manage and coordinate with the team and get them to deliver the tasks at hand. If you believe that the current team members cannot deliver, then you must also consider the fact that you have hired the wrong people. Therefore, learn to delegate or let them go.

Plan ahead: There could be a time, when certain team members take short leave or call in sick at the critical juncture of the project. Unfortunately for you, the client does not care about that. Therefore, plan ahead and let the team know that they must be present to meet the deadline. Send them a car (or a taxi) to pick them up if they cannot come to the office for some odd reason, treat them to a lunch/dinner if they sit late or come over the weekend or whatever in your power to keep them motivated enough to get the work done on schedule. Otherwise, it is your neck on the line, not some junior programmer’s. Also make sure that the team knows the deadline schedule clearly. Post it on their notice/electronic board or send them an email reminder. Just make sure that they know it that they cannot miss the deadline and it should definitely not be something they find out at the last minute. Learn to plan ahead and monitor the progress.

Learn the art of transitioning: There will be times when certain team members are moving out (quiting the team) or moving into the team (joining the team). Make sure you have a plan to manage this transition, especially during a major launch phase. All assignments have to be done before such a transition can take place. And if that is not possible, then make sure that there is ample time spent by the outgoing person with the new team member (replacing him/her) in passing on the knowledge. Creating an excuse for not doing work because you did not have the right resources will not win any sympathy from anyone. Not even your boss let alone the client. Therefore, learn to transition between players especially during tight deadlines.

Manage time: Do not schedule any unwarranted meetings when you have a major launch pending. If you cannot allocate time for the most critical project that you are managing, certainly, your team will never make time for it either. Use project management softwares and other similar tools more diligently. If you are not going to use them to assign and manage tasks, the team will never use them either to manage their tasks.

Be Stern and Strict: There is no free lunch, especially in a deadline oriented software company. The whole team should be there taking it as seriously as you are. It is not really worth the effort if two people out of twenty work while the rest take it easy. Learn to be stern and strict but gentle at the same time.

Grade with a Teacher’s eye: The work performed by the team needs to be graded, bullet by bullet and point by point as defined and agreed when assigning tasks. As a manager, you should focus on making sure that the team does what it is assigned and does not do what it wants and when it wants.

Do one thing, but do it right: In a typical software house, one will find the team doing a lot of work. However, if the manager is not careful, then the team will do work in a disjointed fashion, using different servers/platforms, messed up coding techniques and half hearted attempt at meeting client requirements which they poorly understand or visualize. There is no point in showing the client 500 hours of work that makes no sense and nothing seems to be totally complete or working properly. Five hours of focused work that meets all requirements for a particular sub task is much much better and appreciated by everyone. Make your team start one thing/task and make them finish it properly before they move to the next task. Learn to focus on the task at hand, and your results will improve dramatically.

Murphy’s Law: During a major release, what can go wrong will go wrong. There is no question about it. The server will crash, the software versions will be incompatible, the libraries will be missing on the deployment machines, the code will not run on deployment server and so on and so forth. Therefore, anticipate ahead and expect the unexpected to happen. Test everything in advance, try things out differently and have a fully functional version running on a mirror machine somewhere. The client will not care about new issues that popped up right there and then. They only care about work done on time and on schedule. So no amount of excuses will get their confidence back.

It is not done, till it is actually done: Never claim that it can be done in a few hours without first analyzing the problem at hand based on the available resources. Sometimes, working on a few simple pages could take dozens of hours to code. It could be the complexity of the problem, or the team could be stuck on some software bug. Therefore, never commit or claim it is complete or you can do it in so many hours/days till you have thoroughly discussed the problem with the team and your client.

Communications 101: This cannot be emphasized enough. Sometimes, managers are shy of speaking to their customers or even communicating with their team members. At other times, they simply never inform anyone, including their bosses, the issues they are facing or progress they are not making. It could be lack of resources, or even lack of time to solve a certain problem. In short, inability to share information and keeping everyone abreast of the latest development could mean disaster. When everything is honky dory, no one notices and all is well, but when things begin to go bad, then everyone starts pointing fingers. And when something does go wrong seriously, and the client and your boss find out the hard way (missed deadlines, angry client, etc) your neck will be on the line. So make sure that any news, especially bad, that comes out regarding the project, comes from your mouth.