It doesn’t take long to connect the dots; to decipher why Pakistan cricket is the way it is. Halfway through the second of six ten-hour days in the sun and your brain starts functioning at warp speed while slowing down at the same time. The parade of teenage hopefuls all begin to blur as you realize that this guy is a facsimile of the guy you saw several thousand applicants before. You question whether it’s that same guy or has your brain started malfunctioning, and then you connect the dots: when they all come through the same system there are bound to be similarities.
The system here is actually plural. Parallel systems, both working together; one trying to prepare its practitioners for the other, while trying to stay alive. The lucrative tape ball scene and the destitute local club scene – two distinct sports, being played by the same men – both trying to create platforms when there are none.
At some point it all becomes cliché, the dialogues and complaints are all the same, and yet in their sincerity it’s obvious that all of them are true. At one point or another every cricketer (or non cricketer) in this country can justify his failures by saying “mere saath ziadti hui hai”, and he will be correct in his assessment. There are hundreds, if not thousands, who have the talent to succeed at higher levels but will never have the chance to do so. The story of a cricketer in Pakistan, as I learnt through the narrative of tens of thousands for the Twin Cities Takraa, follows many similar paths, and remarkably similar obstacles.
They learn the game with tape ball cricket – the true national sport of Pakistan – and then have to unlearn when they come to the real game. So much of what they learn on cement or dirt wickets up and down the country has to be forgotten – the cross bat replaced with the straight bat, the ability to surprise replaced by the consistency, and so on – and you have to learn the game anew. And even as they do that they have to deal with all that Pakistan suffers from – the favoritism, the nepotism, the belief that respecting your elders is more important than being right, the realization that talent alone isn’t enough, and to the universal opprobrium of all Pakistanis: FITNESS MATTERS.
There are those, of course, who bypass all of this. One applicant, Haris Rauf, was a professional tape ball player, encouraged by us and those around him to give actual cricket . On the Finals day he picked six wickets across two matches – he was the outstanding bowler on a day where he shared the new ball with Rumman Raees. Beyond that, if everything goes right, you’ll hear a lot more about him in the months to come.
But one lesson, above all, that we wanted to impart with the TCT trials was regarding the importance of fitness. We hired Shiraz, who works with KRL and several Islamabad based national team players, to provide the kids with the basics of fitness. It’s kosher to invite thousands to open trials and then leave them be if they aren’t good enough, but we all thought it was our responsibility that all these kids must go home with at least something to gain from such an exercise. Hence every applicant was required to do a 15 minute training session and lecture with Shiraz. For the kid who waited six hours in the line to come up and bowl a chucked off spinner, at least there’s something he got for all his hassle. If nothing else he has shown the sort of patience and passion for the game that would shame so many who sit in their air conditioned rooms and run the game itself. The least he deserves is something that could help him in his life – cricketing or otherwise.
And through it all one thing was obvious – tape ball cricket is the reason Pakistan struggles to produce quality batsmen, but it’s also the reason why there always is an assembly line of fast bowlers. The story of that, and the tournament itself I’ll leave for next time. For now I’ll leave with the sentiment that I have disagreed with in the past but did come around to by the time the numbers went well beyond the five figures: iss mlk mei talent ki koi kami nahi.