The Trouble with Pakistan Cricket

Pakistan Cricket Board

Pakistan Cricket Board

2008 was a unique year in the history of Pakistan Cricket. It was a year, when no Test Cricket was played by Pakistani team anywhere in the world. Yes, it was not just the cancellation or postponement of domestic Test matches in Pakistan, but amazingly no international tours were planned throughout the year. The situation has further aggravated this year (2009) with no planned Test matches for the whole year anywhere in the world. And after the cancellation of India’s tour to Pakistan and abrupt but unfortunate end to Sri Lanka  tour of Pakistan (where only one full and one half test was possible), Pakistan Cricket Board has failed to schedule any international Test series. So in essence, 2009 will also be a barren year for cricket fans around the world.

Turmoil in Pakistan and the Taliban infestation has caused cancellation of numerous tours to Pakistan. However, it still does not explain effectively why Pakistan is not touring abroad. Currently, almost all Test playing nations of the world are busy playing matches somewhere. For example, India is touring New Zealand, Australia in South Africa while England in West Indies. Yet, Pakistan is sitting at home and no tours planned for the rest of the year.

These tours are decided and scheduled years in advance with consultation of ICC (International Cricket Council) with national cricket boards. Hence, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) led by Nasim Ashraf should have scheduled and confirmed some foreign tours for Pakistan Cricket since he took over in 2006. His failure to secure matches abroad is now creating a second year where Pakistan team will not see action in the field. When Nasim Ashraf took over as the head of PCB in Fall of 2006, Pakistan Cricket was ranked among the top three teams of the world in Test Cricket as well as One day internationals. Today, however, we are not among the best.

ICC statistics show that Pakistan has played the lowest number of test (22) in the preceeding years. While teams like India (43), South Africa (41), and England (47) have played twice as many tests than Pakistan. Even Bangladesh, the lowest ranked Test team has played more tests (23) than Pakistan during the same period. Source CricInfo.

This once again points us to turmoil within Pakistan Cricket. It is not just the players, or the Taliban causing mayham. It is the ineptness and sloppy management of the board who have not only failed to organize any form of cricket anywhere in the world but also failed to promote it to its full potential. Barring a few “begged” tours (with Sri Lanka recently) and with now postponed tour with lowly ranked Bangladesh, Pakistan really has nothing planned for the foreseeable future.

Today, Nasim Ashraf and his cronies are replaced by Ijaz Butt and his new board team. Let’s see if he can organize the game better. Otherwise, Pakistan’s cricket future continues to be bleak.

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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.

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.

Pakistan Cricket Woes

Pakistan has been going through a lean period in its cricket life. Other than a brief euphoria of reaching the 20/20 final, overall the team’s performance has been nothing but wanting. Our ranking on World cricket has begun to fall again and this time quite steeply. We are now ranked among the worst three cricket teams in the world. And our ability to lose matches at crunch time is also becoming a nasty habit.

This is all a far cry from a year ago, when Pakistan was among the top 3 teams in the world. But it seems, like Pakistan’s political turmoil, the cricket team is going through one of its own. Ever since the summer of 2006, and with the end of a disastrous English tour, Pakistan cricket is constantly on a slide downwards. The management at the helm of Pakistan cricket has changed, including the coach and the captain of the team. Yet, nothing that has been done is yet to produce the desired results.

Here are a few factors that we deem need more attention that is so far been given.

All Rounders
For as long as one day cricket has been around, Pakistan has played with some of the best all rounders the world has ever known. With hard hitters who bowled magnificently as well, including Intikhab Alam, Asif Iqbal, Mushtaq Mohammad, Imran Khan, Salim Yousuf, Wasim Akram, Asif Iqbal, Azhar Mahmood, Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi. At any given match, there would be atleast two or three such all rounders representing Pakistan. Today, sadly this custom and culture of our cricket is all but gone. Other than Shahid Afridi, who seems to have lost his batting ability, we have no great all rounder in our team. Even though Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood are available and so are some other wonderful youngsters willing to break into the team, but none so far have been selected to represent Pakistan. This has created one of the most acute problems for Pakistan.

No reserve bowlers
When the front line bowlers are hammered all over the park, there are no all rounders out there to take their place. Imran had so many all rounders in his team, that he would only play with four main bowlers and let the fifth be shared among part timers including all rounders. Today, if Shahid Afridi or Umar Gul are hammered into oblivion, the captain has no choice but to continue to give them the ball. He has no reserves.

Long Tail
Pakistan today plays with probably the longest tail in one day cricket. Apart from the front line five batsmen, and one occasional all rounder (afridi as far as batting is concerned), the rest have no idea what to do when they are batting. With Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Rao Iftikhar, Mohammad Asif, and Sohail Tanvir. Essentially, when Pakistan loses six wickets, chances are there will be no one that can score a big innings. In fact, this has been proven by numerous fantastical collapses that Pakistan has suffered against South Africa in the recent past. What is required is that atleast two of these bowlers be replaced by all rounders. Hence, Rao, Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir have be replaced by bowlers who can bat or batsmen who can bowl. Sort of the same class like Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzaq. This will once again guarantee that Pakistan can way down upto the last wicket. Hence, our chances of winning in crunch situations will improve dramatically.

Opening Blues
A lot has been written about this and a lot still needs to said. Almost every match has shown a new combination with disastrous results. At times, one opener has clicked and at others, someone else. However, there has hardly been a situation where both openers have clicked together. The best opening partnership has not reached 50 in any of the recent matches played this season. One cannot expect to win matches and tournaments, when the openers are weak and classless. Salman Butt, Imran Nazir are probably the only two openers in the current crop who have shown any promise. Other than that, none of the others have the ability to last longer than a few deliveries. Yet, the two have hardly played together. In fact, in the current one day series, due to the longish tail, Pakistan is forced to play with only one specialist opener (Salman Butt) and the other slot is taken over by a late middle order batsmen. They have tried, Kamran Akmal, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik. None of them being able to carve out a place for himself. What is required is a series where the openers like Imran Nazir and Salman Butt be allowed to bat through the whole series and let them find their own mojo. They are both capable of doing that and should be given an opportunity. Not just in one day cricket, but also in the long version of the game.

When Pakistan cricket has thrived in the past, it is always when our openers were in the groove and scoring heavily. In the 1970s, it were Sadiq Mohammad and Majid Khan causing havoc. In the 1980s it was Ramiz Raja with sleuth of openers scoring heavily. In fact, he was one of the leading scorers during our 1992 World Cup victory. Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail in the 1990s. Their fast paced opening stands were a legendary and they created more opportunities for Pakistan to win matches than any other players.

Hard Hitters
Pakistan also possessed some of the game’s hardest hitters in the late order. What with Imran Khan, Inzimam ul Haq, Manzoor Elahi (in the late 1980s), Wasim Akram, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, to name a few. These hard hitters are the cornerstone of any Pakistani victory in the late overs. However, today, we rely too much on Afridi and he somehow is misfiring in every innings. If he is gone, there is no one out there who could take the challenge back to the bowlers. In other words, our cause is lost in the tense moments of the game. This is not just essential, but has defined our cricket from early days of one day cricket.

If Pakistan is to get back among the top two teams in the one day cricket, then they need think deeply and choose a combination that has won them matches in the decades past. Good openers, hard hitters, all rounders has always defined Pakistan cricket and will always be our culture. Abandoning it will not win us any laurels the world over.