Rethinking the sporting structure – Saad Rasool


Saad Rasool |

A colleague of mine, who is still too young to have been jaded about his faith in Pakistan Cricket Team, was distraught after Pakistan exit from the Asia Cup.  He (much like countless others) had prayed for our success, and had promised to make am offering (‘mannat’) if Pakistan won.  His predicament reminded me of a story I heard some time back: a Priest and a Rabbi become friends, and decide to learn about each other.  Together, they go to watch a boxing match where, just as the match was about to start, one of the boxer knelt in the corner, and makes a cross on his chest to seek divine protection.  The Rabbi turns to the Priest and asks, “What does that mean?”  The Priest replies, “It doesn’t mean a thing, if the young man doesn’t know how to box!”

Pakistan’s embarrassing performance at the Asia Cup has once again reminded us of the deplorable state of sports in our country.  While other (first-rate) cricketing nations have moved on to modern methods of training, fitness and strategy, Pakistan is still trying to find a pair of batsmen who will stick around at the crease for the duration of the game.

It is easy to dismiss Pakistan’s loss with oft-repeated notions of “we have always had terrible batsmen”, or “bowling should have performed better”, or “just bad shot selection on the day”.  Instead, let us all muster the courage to say (out loud) the truth that is apparent in our hearts: Pakistan Cricket suffers from a crisis of confidence, discipline and fitness. And none of these issues, i.e. “confidence”, “discipline”, and “fitness”, has anything to do with the amount of talent that any player has.  Instead, it has to do everything with training, management, and the domestic cricketing culture that produces the players for our national team.

Read more: Playing on bouncy pitches

There was, back in the day, a time when ‘raw talent’ was enough to compete at the international level.  And Pakistan – for all its follies – has produced dazzling cricketing talent in our past.  But the days when talent alone was enough, are not the story of bygone era.  In the modern cricketing world, talent must be polished and disciplined, purposefully, through the domestic cricketing structure, before it can perform at the international level.  And our domestic cricketing structure is in shambles.

To begin with, it is hard to explain why cricketing is still a ‘governmental’ endeavour in our country.  In other words, the PCB is structured in a manner that the Prime Minister is the “Patron-in-Chief” of the organization, entrusted with the powers to appoint Chairman PCB and (therefore) dictate the direction that PCB should take.  In exercise of this power, in the past, various Prime Minister have made shockingly political and nepotistic appointments.  And for this reason, in a country that boasts some of the best cricketers in the history of the game, we have had PCB Chairman such as Ijaz Butt, Zaka Ashraf, and Najam Sethi.  All of them – without exception – were appointed for their affinity with the Prime Minister of the time, and not by virtue of their revolutionary ideas about how to reinvigorate the domestic cricketing structure of Pakistan.

As is natural with all organisations led by political appointees, soon merit game way to “sifarshi” inductions in our PCB management, and team members.  No focus (at all) was placed to redesign the domestic structure.  In fact, in a cricket-crazy nation, no one follows or keeps track of what is happening in our domestic cricket.  Most cricket fanatics do not even know when the domestic seasons takes place, or who the best formers were. 

Just as the world shifted its focus away from State control to market forces, in Pakistan, the trend was reversed.  Over the past several decades, an incompetent and nepotistic State, helped by a sclerotic bureaucracy, strengthened its grip to stifle the evolution of sports.  Calls for transparency and privatization of sports boards in Pakistan were viewed with contempt by successive leaderships that saw these institutions as instruments of bestowing favours upon their loyalists.

Naturally, all sports in Pakistan suffered, as a result.  Where Pakistan once enjoyed almost complete domination in Squash, less than a quarter century ago, today there is no Pakistani (not even one!) among the top-50 rankings of the world.  We slumped to the lowest performance (ever) during the last Olympics, and Asian Games.  We have dropped to No. 10 in Hockey, our national sport.  And the performance of cricket, during Asia Cup, needs to comment.

Till such time that State continues to control and manipulate open market competition in sports, meritocracy will continue to suffer at the altar of vested political interests.  Till such time that the Pakistan Cricket Board, or the Pakistan Hockey Federation, or the Pakistan Sports Board, continues to work under the control of the State, bowing to political interest, we will forever be stuck in this rut of incompetence.  Till such time that political appointees run the management of PCB, there can be no hope of Pakistan team performing any better than what is presently at display.

Appeal: Mr. Prime Minister, the Patron-in-Chief of PCB, we request your immediate and purposeful attention to reform the cricketing structure in Pakistan, starting from debilitating existence in the clutches of the State. Your cricketing prowess, understanding and leadership are oft-quoted in and outside of Pakistan.  In several interviews (in the past) you have spoken about your vision for reform of the PCB and our domestic cricketing model.  A heart-broken nation is looking towards you for the promised reform.  If Imran Khan, the great cricketing legend and Patron-in-Chief of PCB, cannot reform our cricket, the sport is surely doomed in our country. In a country that has been ravaged by terrorism and corruption over the past many decades, sport (especially cricket) is the one feel-good factor that the nation has.  It is time to take an aggressive approach towards reforming PCB and the domestic cricketing structure, by amending the law, taking it out of the State clutches and handing it over to market forces. Let the market harvest the talent from our streets.  And let this be your enduring service to a sport that once crowned you its King!

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He  has a Masters in Constitutional Law from   Harvard Law School. The article was first published in The Nation.

Courtesy: The Nation