WILL MR. IMRAN KHAN COME FORWARD TO REFORM CRICKET?

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Zahid Malik

Monday, May 17, 2010 – Sports have captivated masses and, surprisingly, in this age of Science and Technology, nations get passionately, rather hysterically, involved in sports. The West, and now Arab-African countries too have developed a do or die craze for soccer. The game has become a way of life for the enthusiasts. I can recall the euphoria when France was playing the final of 1998 FIFA World Cup and French President Jacques Chirac was among a crowd of 69,000 in the stadium. The whole of the country exploded with joy when Zidane, a devout Muslim born to Algerian immigrant scored the goals that helped the host nation to win the Cup for the first time.

While France celebrated the World Cup victory, many observers took note of the multi-ethnic nature of the team at a time of racial strife. “I had never seen French people so happy with each other,” Nick Fraser wrote in London’s Guardian. So sports also have a role as unifiers.

In this part of the world where British ruled till the end of the Second World War and left their deep impression on the way of life of the people of the sub-continent and, of course, that includes deep fascination for Cricket a gentleman’s game as theBritish people prefer to say. Indeed, Cricket requires a particular environment. It is extremely absorbing game which has an element of drama, Hitchcock-like suspense and surprisingly fluctuating fortunes of the teams in a few moments. It is particularly fiercely contested game and generates a lot of tension when arch rivals like India and Pakistan face each other in the ground. “It is a question of life and death”, as some enthusiasts describe an Indo-Pak Cricket clash.

What a phenomenon that failure of Pakistani team in a fixture particularly in the World Cup or in the T-20 tournament dismays not only the team members and the management but also the whole nation. People, on the whole, are left heart- broken. Their annoyance and reaction go to the extreme. On the other hand, when the team achieves an incidental success, the whole nation stands on feet and there is an atmosphere of jubilation with ordinary people distributing sweets and dancing in the streets. I have seen some pious ladies offering Nawafil of thanks to God when the Green Shirts win a Cricket clash. I hope no one has forgotten that all divisive tendencies went under carpet and the whole of Pakistan looked like one celebrating the victory of Green Shirts during the last Twenty-20 World Cup. Even suicide bombers too were, perhaps, enjoying the glorious victory of Pakistan as there was no incident of blasts on that day. Incidentally, the nation displayed a mature and balanced response to Pakistan’s unfortunate defeat in the semi-final on Saturday last.

It is in this perspective that in Pakistan everybody appears to be concerned with the state of affairs of Cricket. Reports emerge frequently regarding corruption, favouritism, nepotism and above all appointments of Presidents of BCCP on considerations other than merit. This has totally torn off the whole fabric of Cricket in Pakistan. There are various dimensions of the whole saga which if not addressed including match fixing, indiscipline and grouping, night activities of Cricketers as well as favouritism in selection, will totally mar Cricket, the most popular among the people of Pakistan.

I hate to mention certain players who have been named in the report of in-house Inquiry Committee of the PCB over defeat in the last Australian tour of the national team. These revelations about certain players have ashamed the entire nation.

Other national players who were not part of the team like speedster Shoaib Akhtar who emerged as a terror to batsmen fell to the charm of night clubs and TV commercials. He was king of lethal yorkers and awkward bouncers making it difficult for a batsman to negotiate the ball. He destroyed himself by the charm and is now playing local Cricket and making comments in TV channels only.

Now that the Cricket has assumed the heart-throbbing importance of more than a game having the potential of plunging the nation into deep sorrow or euphoria and availability of massive funding and perks to the high-ups of BCCP and the Cricketers, there is a need to think how to get rid of the dead wood involved in corruption and all sorts of conspiracies to protect their interests and windfalls.

Nowadays, there are also talks of starting Major Cricket League (MCL) on the lines of the Indian Premier League (IPL). That would be another disaster for the Cricket set-up in Pakistan and there would be people who intend to make massive fortunes out of it. The example of the scandal of IPL and the fate of Lalit Modi is before us, and, therefore, we should not emulate the Indian precedent. Huge payments to players in such tournaments and involvement of bookies would destroy the national team as the players would compete in matches to earn rather than to play for the country for its honour. We have seen the fate of Indian Cricket team in the last two T-20 tournaments as they could not reach the semi-finals as they have lost interest in international encounters or become so tired that they cannot deliver.

To get out of this mess and check the lust for money by a group of Cricket-related people, the country needs to make a major shake-up in the entire set-up. Kardars are not born again and again. A.H. Kardar, Captain of the young Pakistan Cricket team in good early days was a stalwart, a disciplinarian and legendary Cricket leader, respected in Pakistan and in every Cricket-loving country. He would ensure that every player of his team, when on tour abroad, goes to his hotel room not later than 9:30 p.m. However, there are a few who can help restore the prestige of the country and the game.

In my view, the country needs a charismatic personality whose professional competence and honesty are above board, to head the BCCP. He should be tasked to revisit the entire Cricket structure, throw out the weeds in management and the players and lay the foundation of the game on a firm footing where only deserving youngsters make up for the team on merit and only on merit.

I would have recommended Dr. Zafar Altaf, a respected name in Cricket and a doer and achiever to take the reins of Pakistan’s Cricket. But he is rendering more valuable services to the State of Pakistan as vibrant Chairman of PakistanAgriculture Research Council.

Therefore, after a lot of thinking and interaction with many experts of the game, I have come to the firm conclusion that only Mr. Imran Khan who superbly led his boys and won the World Cup in 1992 for the first time is the only choice left. He has many characteristics of late Kardar and he can ensure discipline in the team selected for test, one dayers and T-20 fixtures. He had been giving suggestions about forming Cricket teams on regional basis rather than the present set-up of teams of different institutions. He has incidentally entered the field of politics but one is sure that he can spare some of his time from politics for this national game of immense interest to all, and which made him a hero of the Cricket lovers and even people at large. After Cricket, he did another great national service by opening the much needed hospital for the treatment of cancer patients and named it after her late mother Shaukat Khanum. He is also busy in the establishment of a prestigious modeleducational institution in Mianwali, which is another great national service.

May I suggest to Mr. Imran Khan that instead of campaigning against the deeds and misdeeds of the incumbent Government and coming out with statements of all sorts, he may agree, at least for a couple of years, to take over the affairs of Cricket? I am sure if he gives it a serious thought, it will add another feather to his cap and make him more popular and respected personality of Pakistan.

I wish the President, who is Patron-in-Chief of the PCB would also give due consideration to my humble request as the Board and the entire Cricket set-up are at the crossroads and if not checked, it would bring a bad name to the country and destroy the Cricket which is played and loved in every nook and corner.

All Cricket loving people including myself will be thankful to Mr. Imran if he volunteers to take over the whole cricketing system, restructure it and produce master stroke players, dreaded bowlers and weavers of spin to restore Pakistan’s glory in the game of Cricket.

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