late than never
Stop wasting seniors!
Football needs a boost
The death of stars
Itís a simple equation. If you want
numbers to go through the roof, you have to bring in the stars. Unfortunately, our sports bosses donít think so
By Khalid Hussain
Once upon a time the world of Pakistan sports was a galaxy full of dazzling stars.
Hockey, our national sport, had the services of icons like Islahuddin Siddiqui, Samiullah, Shehnaz Sheikh, Hasan Sardar, Hanif Khan and Shehbaz Ahmed.
Cricket didnít lag much behind. Take the 1992 World Cup-winning team for example. Led by the charismatic Imran Khan, it included batting maestro Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Aamir Sohail and several others.
In squash, Pakistan produced a long list of world champions starting from the legendary Hashim Khan to Jahangir and finally Jansher Khan.
But it seems that the land of the pure has finally run out of stars. How many of us know as to who is the countryís best squash player at the moment? Can you name a couple of players in the current Pakistan hockey team? How many crowd-pulling stars are there in the Pakistan cricket team right now? Iím sure many of us will be clueless.
Why is that Pakistan sports is running out of stars at a time when it really needs some? More often than not, the problem lies in our sports administrators.
The tussle between Shahif Afridi and Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) that concluded with the former captain announcing his retirement from international cricket is a perfect example of how our sports officialdom deals with the countryís stars.
Just weeks after he shepherded Pakistan to the 2011 World Cup semifinals, Afridi was replaced as the countryís limited-overs captain by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). The flamboyant allrounder had dared to speak his mind on growing disharmony within the national team management after returning from a tour of the Caribbean.
Without going into any more details of that issue, I would underline the importance of Shahid Afridi in the world of Pakistan cricket today. Many would argue about his cricketing credentials but one thing is for sure: He is the only real star in Pakistan cricket today.
Afridi proved it by attracting almost 30,000 fans at the National Stadium for a match of the ongoing Faysal bank Twenty20 tournament in Karachi on Thursday night. Spectators grew wild with excitement as Afridi hammered one boundary after the other to lead Karachi Dolphins to a straight forward win. It was Afridiís first appearance in the event and for the first time the stadium wasnít wearing a deserted look.
Itís a simple equation. If you want numbers to go through the roof, you have to bring in the stars. Unfortunately, our sports bosses donít think so.
Why is that our sports authorities dislike stars?
Perhaps, stars undermine their authority. It has happened. Shoaib Akhtar, controversyís first child, never took PCB chiefs seriously. But because of his star power, he was able to make comebacks every now and then in spite of all the disciplinary breaches.
The authorities are probably also scared of stars because they can give rise to the so-called Ďplayer powerí. Pakistanís sports history is full of player rebellions. It has happened in hockey on various occasions. It has happened in squash when the countryís top stars including Jansher Khan, then the world champion, refused to play in a world championship in Karachi unless the authorities promised them a pay-raise. It has happened in cricket.
But can you afford to get rid of your stars just to curb player power? I donít think so. Without stars, you cannot expect a sport to make real progress. Our cricket officials should learn from the slump of hockey and squash. Those two games have lost most of their sheen in Pakistan mainly because they havenít produced any real stars in the last two decades.
What our sports authorities need to learn is the way they should deal with stars. They should know that stars are no ordinary athletes. Itís not that you have to flout rules for them. But they do deserve proper respect.
Our sports administrators should learn from people like Air Marshal (retd) Nur Khan, who helped put cricket, hockey and squash on the right path. He knew how to get the best out of the star players. He gave them best possible facilities and in return it was Pakistan sports that reaped all the rewards.
The glory days of Pakistan sports now seem to be a thing of the past. Gone are the days when our hockey team used to ride roughshod over their rivals. Gone are the days when our squash champions used to win major titles almost at will. Gone are the days when we used to produce cricket legends like Imran Khan and Javed Miandad.
But that glory can be revived. We have the potential of producing more stars, who can lead us to sports glory. Unfortunately, our sports is handicapped by unprofessional officials who believing in ruining the game rather than running it. Its time that we get rid of them.
So Mohammad Amir, it appears, has confessed to his sins. In a statement filed with the UK courts, where he is facing charges for accepting corrupt payments, Amir is believed to have admitted that he deliberately bowled no-balls in exchange for money. This news was obliquely leaked to the media, presumably by Amirís legal team comprising Pakistani lawyer Khalid Ranjha and his British legal advisor Gareth Peirce.
This development comes as no real surprise. Looking back at those cataclysmic spot-fixing allegations, which exploded in the international media towards the end of Pakistanís Test series against England last year, no sensible person was in doubt about the guilt of Mohammad Amir and his co-accused players, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt.
There was highly incriminating video footage, the discovery of tainted money, the bowling of egregious no-balls, and a coherent timeline linking it all together. The three Pakistani players made public statements of denial, but few took them seriously. It is a shame that it took Amir this long to confess, and an even bigger shame that Asif and Butt are still trying to hoodwink us by proclaiming their innocence.
Any lingering thoughts that the players have been framed can now be finally and convincingly laid to rest. It is understood that in addition to Amirís confession, the confession of Mazhar Majeed, the player agent who ran the spot-fixing operation, has also been submitted to court. This is making Asif and Butt look very foolish indeed.
When the scandal initially broke, Amir, Asif and Butt had found themselves trapped in a prisonersí dilemma, forced to weight loyalty to their mates against the possibility of ratting on them for lighter punishment.
Amir was well-placed to benefit from this situation, as his youth, talent and prior spotless record set him apart from the other two. No doubt all three players, bonded by guilt, made a conscious decision to simply deny everything, but in the face of such cut-and-dried evidence they could not have come up with a worse strategy.
Amir especially had a great deal to lose. The Times of India recently reported that the ICC tribunal, which investigated the spot-fixing claims through in-camera hearings held in Doha earlier this year, was prepared to treat Amir with leniency had he come clean. That Amir instead came away with a five-year ban ó essentially the same punishment as Asif and Butt ó proves how badly he miscalculated. If only Amir he had seen sense and distanced himself from his co-accused, he might well have been back in international cricket by next year.
Still, the timing of Amirís confession is better late than never. As the spot-fixing case moves forward, the three Pakistanis are due to be heard in the UK court system, facing charges brought by the UKís Crown Prosecution Service. While the disciplinary aspect of their case was dealt with by the ICC as a violation of the world cricket bodyís code of conduct for players and officials, the criminal side of the case has been handled by the UK governmentís prosecution agency. No doubt Amirís confession places him favorably in this ordeal.
With the ICCís verdict already delivered, the twin confessions of Amir and Mazhar Majeed are like nails in the coffin for Asif and Butt, who are still denying wrong-doing. Their stubbornness is flabbergasting. A guilty verdict from the UK courts is by now a foregone conclusion for all the accused. The only issue remaining is sentencing. By speaking the truth, Amir could well escape prison time. Indeed, his expensive English solicitor has almost certainly already worked this out in a plea bargain.
We should now also put an end to speculation that these players were somehow forced to commit crimes under threat of violence or danger to life. Had this been the case, Amir would not have confessed, and the accompanying confession of the mastermind Mazhar Majeed would certainly never have materialised at all.
There has also been a distracting side-show in this story concerning the News of the World, the British tabloid that originally broke the scandal. Charged with unethical journalistic practices, this periodical has now ceased publication. This, however, has no bearing on the spot-fixing case against the Pakistani cricketers. Our players were trapped in a sting operation, the ICC reviewed the evidence, and they were found guilty. Nothing can exonerate them. The News of the World may have folded, but our cricketersí guilt remains.
It is now easy to reconstruct the damaging sequence of events. Mazhar Majeed is a greedy low-life, who smelled easy money in cricket spot-fixing. He found a willing accomplice in Butt, who used his stature and authority as team captain to coerce Asif and Amir into corrupt acts. Mohammad Asif has a history of flirting with the law, and probably did not need much persuasion. Amir, who was relatively new on the international circuit and had been free of past misdemeanors, fell victim to the folly of youth and the charisma of his captain.
Butt is arguably the one who threw the most away. He had more or less solidified himself in the openerís slot for Pakistan, and as captain he cut a polished and sensible figure. Little did we know beneath that impressive exterior beat the heart of a criminal. If Asif and Butt have any sense, they too will soon confess their guilt and bow before the law. By continuing to maintain their lie, they are only making matters worse.
In the second half of 1996, Pakistan saw the rise of three young guns, all of whom were to make them the most all-rounder-rich one-day team for many years to come. They served the country well, avoiding match-fixing and other controversies through most of their careers. But today, fifteen years down the road, all three are out of the team, although they are still young and fit and performing.
The recent series against Zimbabwe made it clear that Pakistan are missing them. Yes, we won the series, but not as spectacularly as we could have if Azhar Mahmood, Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi had been in the team. There was hardly any depth in the batting line. Had these three been in the team, our batting line would have extended to at least till the ninth position. And there was no hard-hitting towards the finish. With these three in the team, we would have scored 300 almost every time we batted first against the lowly Zimbabweans.
One wonders why players like these have been ousted. Their age cannot have been the reason. Razzaq and Afridi are both only 31. Azhar is 36. Pakistanís current captain Misbah-ul-Haq is well over 37.
Their performance cannot have been the reason either because those who have replaced them are much inferior in skill. There is no one in the current team to match their skills.
Which of the medium pacers, who have been given frequent chances in the last four years, has performed like Azhar? Rao Iftikhar did not. Sohail Tanvir did not. Azharís ability to bat makes him better than any of the pace bowlers selected in the last four years. Why then has he been kept out?
Do we have a better player to deal with power-play overs than Razzaq? It is amazing that people so soon forgot his innings in the UAE against South Africa and earlier against England. His performance in the World Cup, after which he was ousted, was far from being bad. He was underused as a bowler. In eight matches, he was asked to bowl less than 40 overs ó less than five overs per match. Even then he took wickets. He was sent to bat at number eight. Even then he scored against New Zealand and Australia. Why then he was fired?
Shahid Afridi has improved his bowling superbly. He was the most successful spinner in the World Cup. And his batting has not worsened. He was thrown out because he differed with a coach who himself chose to leave two series later. Isnít it ridiculous?
We canít beat any major team with the current players. Junaid Khan, Sohail Khan, Aizaz Cheema and Sohail Tanvir cannot win us matches against top opponents. It is time the authorities stopped playing with the future of these players. We have to have Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood and Shahid Afridi in the team for as long as we do not get better replacements. They have still got plenty of cricket left in them.
On September 29, Pakistanís squash chiefs took a series of decisions that can make or break the game in our country. Following a marathon meeting of its Executive Committee at the Mushaf Complex in Islamabad, the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) banned Aamir Atlas Khan, by far the best squash player in the country at the moment, for two years. They also banned Yasir Butt for one year and Waqar Mehboob for six months besides issuing a warning to Nasir Iqbal.
The quartet represented Pakistan at the 2011 World Menís Team squash Championship at Paderborn (Germany). Pakistan, six-time former champions, crashed to a catastrophic 22nd place finish in the 32-nation event held last month. In the process they even lost to minnows like Denmark.
The dismal performance in Germany was in itself big enough a reason for heads to roll. But, apparently there is an even darker side to the embarrassment. After a lot of hue and cry in the media, the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) decided to carry out a probe into the Paderborn debacle. After hearing out the players and Wing Cmdr Irfan Asghar ó the PSF secretary who travelled to Germany with the national team as its manager ó the PSF Executive Committee reached the conclusion that the players under-performed during the championship. The federation issued a media release a day after the meeting and announced that it has decided to ban three of the four players apart from issuing warnings to the fourth member of the team as well as its manager.
First of all, itís good that the PSF has finally woken up from a slumber to actually take some kind of steps to arrest the slump of Pakistan squash. The one thing that is worse than bad decision is indecision. Over the years, the PSF has been showing a criminal indifference as things continue to get worse for Pakistan squash. From the worldís number one squash team in 1993, Pakistan have crashed to a humiliating number 22 this year. In the eighties, Pakistan used to have around six of their players in the top ten world rankings. Now they donít even have a single one in the top-20.
The first step towards betterment is to acknowledge that there is a problem. By carrying out a probe into the Paderborn debacle, the PSF has finally admitted that there is something rotten in the state of Pakistan squash. But the decisions they have taken following the probe are questionable. Firstly, they have put almost the entire blame for the humiliating results in the world championship on the players. But it didnít bother to dig any deeper. Why is that it failed to identify the reasons why the players deliberately under-performed in Germany?
It is pretty evident that poor planning, lack of a qualified coach, an incompetent secretary who was serving as the teamís manager, were among the major reasons behind the disaster.
For the sake of Pakistan squash, it is of utmost importance that the PSF addresses these issues.
Firstly, Irfan Asghar has to go. He should have been sacked as PSF secretary after what happened in Germany. Due to structural deficiencies in the PSF, the job of secretary is a really important one. He almost runs the entire federation on a day-to-day basis. The PSF should consider the idea of making changes in the federationís structure. It should hire a qualified professional who can run it as a chief operating officer. If that is not possible then the least it can do is to find a competent professional who can replace Asghar as secretary. The sooner itís done, the better it will be for Pakistan squash.
Another step which the federation should take immediately is to hire a suitable national coach. The PSFís experiment of having Jansher Khan as coach has failed to yield any positive results. Jansherís failure only adds weight to the argument that a great player is not necessarily a great coach.
Itís not an easy task. Pakistan have tried various coaches in the past 15 to 20 years without much success. They have tried the famous Rehmat Khan, they have tried the seasoned Fahim Gul and his brother Jamshed and several others.
Perhaps, what Pakistan need is a foreign coach. Such a suggestion is unlikely to gain much support from within the squash community. Many would argue that Pakistan, a country which has produced more squash champions than any other nation in history, doesnít need a foreigner to coach our players.
But we will have to realise the fact that things have changed. We arenít living in the 70s or 80s any more. The world has moved ahead and so has squash. Players in countries like Egypt, England, France and Australia are getting trained in a scientific manner. Their coaches are qualified professionals who are equipped with the latest knowledge of the game and the newest training methods. We will have to admit that squash is no more what it was when Hashim Khan or even Jahangir Khan excelled in it. It has changed and now we have to alter our game plan too. By just holding training camps a few weeks before an international event will lead us to nowhere.
We have in fact slumped so badly that our players are even losing to teams like India and Italy. Pakistan squash has certainly hit rock bottom. Unfortunately, the methods we are using to revive it arenít working.
I have learnt through my sources that the PSF doesnít have the financial muscle to execute any concrete plans for the revival of the game. It canít even afford a foreign coach, my sources tell me. Thatís certainly bad news and if itís true raises a question mark on the competence and efficiency of the PSF, which is almost entirely controlled by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
In the past, PSF gained a lot because of its close association with the PAF, which helped it in getting funds and sponsorship to run Pakistan squash.
Without ample funds, it will be almost impossible to revive Pakistan squash. The PSF will have to find ways and means to raise funds. If it canít do then Iím afraid the PSF officials should allow somebody else to run the game.
Things certainly look gloomy for Pakistan squash. But believe me all is not lost. The country is brimming with talent and thatís what should give us hope. There are more squash courts in Pakistan now than in the past when we were the world champions. That means infra-structure is there. We have more former world champions than any other country in the world so we have the sort of experts that one needs to mentor young players.
What we needs is a solid plan that can help us transform all this talent into world class players. And itís the PSFís job to chalk out that plan. Whether it can perform that job is a different question.
In order to raise the standard of football in the country, Pakistanís football chiefs will have to work extra hard as other countries are making progress in the field with great pace.
After Pakistani colts won the SAFF Cup in Nepal in August, the authorities have started claiming that they have done a better job at youth level as compared to India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh who have mostly focused on their senior teams in order to improve their rankings. No doubt, Pakistan did a fine job by lifting the Under-16 crown in Kathmandu but the same boys failed to click in a relatively tough event ó the 2012 AFC Under-16 Championship qualifiers in Kuwait ó as they finished fifth behind leaders Yemen, Kuwait, Afghanistan and United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the six-team Group B that also included Maldives.
Again Pakistan did not win against any team outside South Asia as their two victories in Kuwait came against Maldives (4-0) and Afghanistan (3-1). They lost to Kuwait and UAE with an identical score of 0-2 before being crushed by Yemen 4-0 in a do-or-die battle which also dashed their hopes of qualifying for the next yearís tournament proper.
But here, too, the colts deserve appreciation as they fought valiantly till the end. After featuring in the back-to-back events, the PFF should now explore ways and means to further groom these youngsters. Some of the lads like Mansoor Khan, Mohammad Bilal, Muneer Aftab, Shehbaz Masih, Rashid Noor and goalkeeper Usman Khan have a bright future ahead and should be trained at home and on foreign soil on a regular basis and in few years some of them will be able to become part of the national senior team.
After the SAFF Cup glory, a host of colts have also been recruited by the National Bank and Karachi Port Trust (KPT) which will encourage them and they now will start taking football seriously.
There is an abundance of talent at grassroots level especially in the rural areas which needs to be sniffed out. This talent is beyond the reach of the PFF AID-27 programme and could be picked by holding trials and coaching clinics at regional level throughout the country.
Even in Karachi, there are hundreds of talented kids in Lyari and several other localities who are out of the sight of the AID-27 coaches. Apart from Karachi, Faisalabad, Quetta, Chaman, Chitral and Mardan are the centres brimming with talented nursery. The PFF should also opt for launching the Inter-School Championships at the national level which will give the country better stuff for future. The authorities should also think about the establishment of a national academy where emerging talent could be trained by qualified coaches during off-season. But before going for this option the authorities will have to manage their own training facility which they presently donít have and mostly our national teams depends on the Punjab Stadium for training which is under the control of the provincial government.
Now, letís discuss the senior team as well. Pakistan not only failed to click in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers but also flopped against Bangladesh in the World Cup qualifiers besides their team failed to impress against Malaysia in the Olympic qualifiers. These were not minor casualties but we have taken it lightly and now we will have to wait for four long years for these prestigious events.
The growth of senior team should not be halted as it is more important because the youth batches only serve as stuff for the senior lot whose failure and success in international circuit counts a lot.
Like South Korea and Japan, Pakistan have also started taking immense interest in attracting its foreign-based footballers in order to raise the standard of its senior team. England-based footballers Zeeshan Rehman, Atif Bashir, Adnan Ahmad, Shabbir Khan, Reis Ashraf and Denmark-based Nabil Aslam, Yousuf Butt, Hassan Bashir and Mohammad Ali are the players who are in line for Pakistanís duty.
The availability of foreign-based players for continental assignments is always a problem because European clubs are only forced to release their players for official FIFA match days and these players will sometimes not be available for the national duty.
Majority of them are players of high calibre and if they are all available for any assignment then it will increase Pakistanís chances in international events.
Zesh Rehman, Atif Bashir and Adnan Ahmad have been regularly playing for Pakistan for the last few years and their input has made little difference but if Danish Superliga players Mohammad Ali, Nabil Aslam and Danish third-tier striker Hassan Bashir are added to the squad along with the England-based left fullback Shabbir Khan and Reis Ashraf then I think the country could start producing better results in international circuit.
In order to make easier their availability for the Pakistan team, these players should think about signing clubs in Asia or in the Middle East. Star defender Zesh is currently playing in Thailand while Denmark-based Hasan Bashir is trying to seek for a seat in any club in Asia or Middle East which will help him playing comfortably for Pakistan.
On the other hand, Pakistan should not disturb a host of youngsters currently in the national team like Mehmood Khan, Kaleemullah, Hasnain Abbas, Alamgir Khan etc who have bright future ahead. Moreover, four or five boys from Under-16 and Under-19 batches could also be inducted into the national team for grooming.
Pakistan have a tough task ahead in the shape of SAFF Championship being hosted by India in Orissa in December this year and the PFF should plan for it from now as the country needs a title at this level. In the eight editions which have been held so far, India have won the event five times while Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have lifted the crown once each.
After Pakistanís series against India in England was cancelled, the team needs tough training ahead of the SAFF Championship and a couple of training tours.
Pakistan also desperately need a foreign coach at this stage who could work not only on the senior team but also on the colts, who need more attention. After an informal conversation with a PFF top official the other day, I came to know that the authorities want a foreign coach for two to three years. But they will not be able to do so without the government help.