Apr 20, 2010

Why Pakistan need to focus on domestic cricket

By Khalid Hussain

When Haroon Lorgat, the International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive, was asked during his recent Karachi visit as to how long a country's cricket can survive without any international matches taking place on its soil, the South African was quick to respond and issued a sincere advise to the people at the helm of Pakistan cricket, asking them to learn from South Africa.

The soft-spoken Lorgat was of the view that Pakistan should show the kind of patience and perseverance that helped the South Africans to while away the apartheid period and return to world cricket with a bang.

The query fired at Lorgat was related to Pakistan and the fact that the country hasn't hosted any international cricket since their second Test against Sri Lanka was abandoned after the visiting team was attacked by terrorists in Lahore in March 2009. Foreign teams have since refused to tour Pakistan and it's quite likely that the country will be hosting any international cricket in the future.

In a way, Pakistan cricket is wrestling with the same problems once faced by South Africa. In fact, cricket in South Africa was dogged by even bigger issues as the country was thrown into isolation because of its racist regime and wasn't even recognized by the world cricket community.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has become a pariah of the cricket because of security-related reasons and not without reason.

What Lorgat thought would be best for Pakistan in the current scenario is to learn from the South African example by solidifying its domestic cricket. The South Africans, once they knew that international cricket wasn't their cup of tea anymore diverted their funds, time and energy into boosting their domestic structure. In 1991, after spending more than two decades in international wilderness, when their team then known as the Springboks returned to the international stage they were almost as good as the other top sides.

Are Pakistan's cricket chiefs doing the same? Not really. It's pretty unfortunate because they can actually use the current situation as a blessing in disguise and take steps to revamp or perhaps just rejuvenate domestic cricket in Pakistan.

The overflowing National Stadium for the RBS Twenty20 Cup matches here recently is a clear proof that cricket-starved fans can be attracted to domestic matches provided the conditions are right and the games are competitive.

People at the helm of national cricket affairs might argue that there is nothing wrong with the existing system or may claim that appropriate steps are being taken to make it better, but it's apparent from the outcome of even our premier first-class events like the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy that our domestic system lacks a lot of much-needed ingredients.

The problems Pakistan cricket faces at the international level like top players getting involved in disciplinary problems and exhibiting lack of grooming are clear proofs that there no proper pathways for our cricketers.

Our selection criteria is far from satisfactory, our training models are mostly obsolete and our Game Development department is almost redundant.

One had great expectations from Aamir Sohail, the former Pakistan captain, when he took over as the Director Game Development after quitting a lucrative career as a TV expert. But the former Pakistan captain, who had made ambitious plans to help revamp domestic cricket, fell out with the PCB top brass and resigned. Before quitting, Aamir had prepared a comprehensive document of more than 150 pages after interviewing hundreds of 'stakeholders' including players, coaches umpires and curators.

"My plan focused on club cricket," he told 'The News on Sunday'. Australia has 4800 clubs with a small population and look where their cricket is at the moment.

"In contrast, we don't have enough clubs. To add to our misery, most of our existing clubs are ghost clubs," he adds.

But still Aamir is averse to the idea of too much scrutiny of the existing clubs and wants the PCB to give all of them an opportunity to prove they exist.

"Whoever claims to have a club should get an opportunity to participate. Then there could be a relegation process with Division A and B. Then each year there can be promotions and demotions, according to performance. That would be the best scrutiny our Board can carry out," said Aamir whose blueprint for game development was never taken seriously by the PCB top management headed by the Board chairman Ijaz Butt.

But Aamir is not discouraged and hopes someday, somebody will have the will to implement his plans for the betterment of Pakistan cricket.

"The leading clubs can have senior and junior leagues. Only A division clubs should have a right to vote," he says.

"I had this formula for the academies as well. I wanted to create a pathway. I believe that one-third of the top uder-16 performers should go to under-19. Similarly the best 30 per cent of the top under-19s should go to under-23. From then on the best ones should get a chance to play first-class cricket. It will make our first-class events competitive.

"For game development, my emphasis was that because coaching concept is relatively young in Pakistan we needed a few extra measures. Our coaches lack development and later wrongly guide the players. We wanted to create awareness among the players by making them attend coaches' courses.

"To help our curators produce better tracks, I had proposed for the services of geologists. Then I had proposed for regular umpires' courses. I believe that we need capacity building of our coaches and referees and needed to take steps to achieve it."

Aamir is of the view that the PCB will have to change its game plan.

"The most important thing is that the PCB has given affiliation to districts but there is no criterion for it. You've given affiliation to several districts which don't even have any ground of their own."

Aamir said that he had also sent his plan to the current Game Development chief Intikhab Alam, who was at that time working as Pakistan's coach.

"I hope Intikhab will find it useful," he said.

Aamir is not the only one hoping for steps to fix domestic cricket in the country.

There are also other former stalwarts like Javed Miandad and Rashid Latif, who have been trying their level best to get their message across.

Miandad is in fact a part of the PCB and is serving as its director-general. He made his own plan for the revamping of domestic cricket but rues the fact that the Board has so far not shown any willingness to implement it. "They say that my plan is not on the lines of the PCB constitution," he told 'The News on Sunday'.

"I've told them that I can align my plans with the constitution but nobody seems interested. There is so much that can be done but unfortunately nothing is happening," added the former Pakistan captain.

Latif is one man who has actively attached himself to the game at the local level after retiring from international cricket. He believes that if there is hope for Pakistan cricket it lies in the clubs.

"We will have to reactivate our club structure," Latif told this writer. "It's the clubs that churn out quality players and that's where we've been lacking for quite sometime."

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