Saturday, June 18, 2005

Cricket, and transcending cricketing matters!


This is a piece that was first published in DAWN right after the Indian cricket tour to Pakistan last year. While we have come some way since then as a team, I have little hope of any structural improvement of the game in the country if we were to continue being ad hoc in our approach.

Therefore, I see the piece still holds true for it substance, and actually goes much beyond just the game of cricket!

Does anybody else feel that a similar thought-process and appropriate implementation in other affairs of the general running of the country would yield positive results?

Takes, anyone??

More than just cricket

By: Mohsin Hafeez

Sitting in a state of utter disbelief way into the night of March 30, 2004, in a quiet, suburban town of the San Francisco Bay area, the potential early morning staring me in admonishment, I saw the Pakistanis falling in that fight against the Indians like a ton of bricks. And, like a ton of bricks they did fall- on the Pakistan Cricket Board. Ramiz Raja and his boss, Sheheryar Khan, certainly have work cut out for themselves.

In a related piece ‘Triumph and Defeat” on, an Indian writer referred to our team as Inzimam’s ‘pussycats’ as opposed to Imran’s ‘cornered tigers’ of the 1992 World Cup fame. I have been a great advocate of trying to see beyond the immediate as therein lies the reality. It couldn’t be truer in this case. We are all extremely proud of the talent we produce in the low middle-class streets of our country, and proud we ought to be. There is no doubt about the merit of such players, as we have witnessed in the last few decades. However, there has been something tantalizingly missing in the Pakistani cricket team, barring the time-period when we had Imran Khan and then, to some extent, Wasim Akram, as our captains. I see it as the ability to persevere, to fight against all odds with a sense of discipline, and to stay focused and committed. It’s unfortunate to see the deterioration of our social fabric transcend so aggressively to cricket, as evident in the overall, personal traits of the players.

Without being philosophical, what works in everyday life works equally well in a sport. One goes to work, interacts with people as in a team, achieves (or tries hard to) whatever goals and objectives one has professionally, and brings food on the table for the family. Now this is work, and there is no reason that playing a sport should be any different. Yes, there is all this exuberance and exhibitionism about being a celebrity but it does not -and should not- take away from the fact that this engagement is a celebrity’s livelihood, the success of which depends, and should, entirely on the performance of today as opposed to some one-off stunt or a predestined notion.

Sports is an important element of any civilized country’s nomenclature. There is significant money involved-if there is not enough, there really ought to be- and it acts as a catalyst in the overall economy of any nation. It is an industry, and like any industry it needs proper management. Sadly, we see this as a totally alien concept in our country, or, just like most other disciplines, it merely gets lip service, what with all the hoopla attached to a separate Ministry of Sports and the rest. It surely is a great way to please and to woo some of the sycophants and turncoats, of whom there is no dearth, to partake of the running of the government.

It is not, therefore, surprising to see where we are. Unfortunately, our cricketers think the world is their oyster, and that they are a gift to the game of cricket just because they have the capacity to throw deliveries at close to a 100 miles per hour or to bash any bowler in the world based on their past records and reputation. This is the crux of the issue. Imran Khan, in a related program ‘Straight Drive’ clearly said, and I couldn’t agree more, that the subcontinent is notorious for being obsessed with collecting individual records and then basing one’s confidence level on them rather than self-discipline. It’s all very well to achieve milestones but team-spirit is the emotion, along with discipline, that wins matches. It’s a mind-game and we need to inculcate the right, positive attitude in our team before we can go back to the times of the great Imran Khan.

The entire domestic structure of cricket needs an overhaul. The way we produce talent can be natural but we can surely do a better job of nurturing it. Cricket is not only ‘cricketing skills’ which one may acquire or inherently possess. There is more to playing cricket than meets the eye. A whole lot of it has to with what happens in the backdrop, the off-ground coaching being a critical piece to it. We need disciplined team players with no attitudinal roadblocks more than we need individual heroes. We have had more than our fair share of them. No more self-professed heroes, please!

For starters, we can begin by promoting the game at local school levels by arranging inter-school tournaments. This will do two things: one, give the control to authorities to pick and nurture talent at the outset, and two, ensure there is at least basic education among all players. The significance of basic, good education cannot be overemphasized. It makes all the difference in how one approaches one’s game and what one does in each and every changing scenario; in short, be ‘situational.’ Our players don’t need the coaching of being able to produce a beautiful flick off the bat going down the leg side as much as an indoctrination of what wins matches and how to play sensible cricket. This will also help produce good leaders, a rare commodity among the current crop of players. There ought to be a series of classroom sessions for a team of youngsters going on a regular basis to instill in them a sense of seriousness about playing the big games. They need to be taught the value of fighting back, irrespective of the end-result of the game, and playing positive, sustained cricket in any situation. In addition, the value of being able to at least communicate in the international arena cannot be ignored.

This can be achieved by opening a Cricket Academy which works in a regimented fashion as opposed to the chaotic ways of life we are all so used to and take pride in. After all, there are institutions in Pakistan that develop first-class officers. Why should we differentiate between one profession and the vocation of cricket is beyond understanding to the reasonable mind. Should cricket be an avocation rather than a vocation? If the answer is in the affirmative, then we cannot expect to improve on the domestic cricket structure.

Concurrently with the above proceedings at the Academy, some of the players will graduate to playing first-class cricket and others will become subject to the Peter’s Principle (‘failing upwards’ or ‘rising to one’s level of incompetence’). The successful ones should then be put to even tougher tests, including not only how well they play their strokes but also how they fare under pressure.

In today’s competitive world, which is getting increasingly brutal, we have to move with time and be progressive. We cannot put the clock back and stay within the comfort zone of the yesteryear. If the coaching needs to be specific to skill, so be it. And if we need to hire a specialist to impart this knowledge, then let’s go and get someone qualified. Does it really matter that that person has spread the wealth in cricket terms by coaching an international, budding player? After all, the resource is universally available and whosoever takes the initiative gets it first. Kudos are due to the one who learnt it so well that it left the so-called seasoned Pakistani batsmen totally baffled.

Not all is lost, however; so, there is no reason for remorse. Taking a cue from my uncle, the late Yunus Said, the perennial optimist to the core on Pakistan and all that had to do with her as a nation, including, of course, cricket, there is still tomorrow to come in everyone’s life, and so it will in Pakistani cricket. We can either look forward to it in hope of learning a thing or two and taking corrective action or dread it in despair and continue being defensive. The choice is ours.

(The author is a banker in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition, he is an adjunct professor of marketing at his alma mater Golden Gate University and serves on its Alumni Board of Directors.)


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