Pakistan Super League: A league of one’s own

In December 2014, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) constituted a committee to chart out a five-year strategic plan for the organisation.

The first session started with a simple thought: cricket transcends various boundaries in Pakistan. How can the PCB take it further?

Thirteen months later, as a jam-packed Dubai stadium witnessed a cliff-hanger between Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators, I realised how the Pakistan Super League (PSL) embodied this sentiment.

Pakistan has very few products that we can proudly own and take pride in.

Cricket tends to be the exception to the rule — there is a glorious history of winning, a tradition of wildness and raw talent, and a legacy of icons who ruled the world.

But when it came to a global cricketing product, we were sorely lacking. This, in part, also explains Pakistan’s steady decline in limited over formats.

We were far behind the world, and with no international cricket being played at home, we were expected to lag further behind.

The inauguration ceremony of the PSL brought tears to many an eye. Pakistan was finally entering the era of modern cricket.
The inauguration ceremony of the PSL brought tears to many an eye. Pakistan was finally entering the era of modern cricket.

The answer, it turned out, was in constructing a global T20 cricket league. It took eight long years for the PCB to finally launch it, and when it happened, it began capturing everyone’s imagination: schools, offices, restaurants and shops – everyone was talking about it everywhere.

Prime-time on television and social media conversations switched to cricket and a great degree of national pride was restored through cricket.

As more and more power players entered cricket, it was clear that the PSL was being seen as a cash cow that would reap handsome profits and more.

The PSL’s success in Season One was so noticeable partly because no one really expected it to succeed.

This makes the task for the PSL management even tougher since this case of minimal expectations will not hold true for the second season.

Fans now expect better cricket, higher stadium attendances and more international stars.

This is also critical because a fair reassessment of PSL’s commercial rights will only come through after the third edition, when the league renegotiates various rights.

That is also when a sixth team is scheduled to be added. All should be well if the league manages to showcase an upward trend on aspects such as attendances, TV ratings and media exposure.

But ahead of the second season, one thing is clear: the cash cow has already grown fatter.

The making of brand ‘PSL’

Think of a brand — any brand — and recall how it was launched. In almost all cases, you’d be thinking of the hype created, the buzz generated, the on-ground activation exercises, the feel-good factor. In the case of the PSL, we had none of these — the first instalment of the PSL was organised amidst great doubt, immense criticism, little activation and most certainly, an atmosphere of dread.

Perhaps the scepticism had to do with the fact that the idea of launching a franchise-based cricket league was first floated in 2008. Twice the process was halted on the pretext of insufficient progress made. This is negative brand equity (the commercial value derived from consumer perception of the brand name) and was akin to the PCB shooting themselves in the only foot that they could walk on.

Among the first tasks of the PCB was therefore to shed off the negative brand equity that had been created for a product that had yet to launch.

In March 2015, the PCB brought on board Repucom, a global sports management consultancy firm, for an initial round of talks about the PSL. Repucom was tasked with conducting a feasibility study to answer a key question: can the PCB pull off the tournament on its own?

This came on the back of growing calls within the PCB to sell management rights of the league.

That would have implied a third party buying these rights, running the tournament and ensuring a minimum guarantee for PCB. The numbers crunched by Repucom favoured a do-it-yourself model.

The next important step was to find a venue. Any sports league derives a major portion of its revenues from the sale of broadcast and sponsorship rights.

A league without foreign stars was only going to be a glorified version of the existing domestic T20 tournament and, hence, in a bid to attract star power, it was decided to host the tournament abroad.

While Qatar was the initial choice, logistical constraints in Doha — there was only one stadium and limited practice facilities — and successful negotiations with UAE officials forced a change of heart.

Now came the difficult part of bringing in sponsors, franchise owners and broadcasters. The franchises were sold for a collective 93 million US dollars for a period of 10 years. This became the single largest private-sector investment in Pakistan cricket.

For all intents and purposes, the PCB had less than six months to organise the first season.

Setting up the league required the recruitment of top players, the sale of sponsorships, broadcasting and franchise rights.

One of the main team sponsors came in only a few days before the tournament was to begin.

The final frontier was a giant logistical exercise including visa arrangements and airline, hotel and transport management for all five teams.

The task seemed too big and the scepticism around the league never really ended. At least not until the star-studded opening ceremony was underway.

Ahead of Season Two, things are far more settled and streamlined. The brand exists, it is recognisable and, above all, there is considerable commercial interest.

Valuing a franchise

In short, there is currently no way to put a value or a price on franchises. But if you were to believe the word of PSL supremo Najam Sethi, the franchises are exponentially rising in value.

“Unofficially, I have received offers for the proposed sixth team that will be auctioned later this year or next year,” says Sethi. “The money being proposed is double the average price of a team that was received when the PSL was launched.”

Back in late 2015, when the teams were sold, the average cost of a team was $18.6 million for 10 years.

But what exists in terms of gauging team popularity today is the number of eyeballs gathered by a franchise. These numbers rank in the millions.

Lahore Qalanders boasted stellar talent but failed to make a mark on the tournament.
Lahore Qalanders boasted stellar talent but failed to make a mark on the tournament.

Consider the case of Karachi Kings. They were bought by Salman Iqbal of the ARY media group which, in turn, utilised seven of their media channels to get as much media traction for the Kings as was possible.

Even anchors who had little to do with cricket found themselves as cheerleaders of the Kings and discussing the fortunes of their team.

Lahore Qalandars paired up with Geo and this served the same purpose, as the channel utilised its outreach and human resource to create brand equity for the Qalandars.

And yet, a key question that many media personalities often raise is the issue of losses incurred by franchises.

All franchise owners came in to the league knowing full well that they were going to bear losses for the first few years — that is the reality of every new business venture.

Even then, the PCB offset part of the franchises’ losses by paying them extra in revenue than had been initially decided.

To imply that the PSL was a failure because franchises did not make enough money in the first year is a misrepresentation of facts.

How exactly does a franchise make money?

There are five key revenue streams for franchises.

Three of them — broadcast money, sponsorships and ticket sales — are interconnected since the PSL shares a certain percentage from its central pool with each franchise.

This amount, or reimbursement, totalled $2.2 million after season one of the PSL. The other two revenue sources are dependent entirely on a franchise — these are team sponsorships and merchandising.

Each franchise can sell sponsorship rights including apparel branding and a small percentage of in-stadia branding.

This year, the central pool numbers should nudge slightly upwards with a new set of secondary sponsors joining the central pool.

“Commercial interest is already doubling up from last year,” suggests Sethi. “Sponsors are lining up to get a slice of the PSL action.”

Even with the operational losses incurred by the franchises, the overall value of each team has gone up based on PSL’s overall commercial success.

This rise in the value of the asset can be explained by the keen interest shown by different sponsors in partnering with all five teams this year.

How well the PSL sustains this interest depends on the commercial success of season two more than anything else right now.

Former Pakistan captain and TV commentator Ramiz Raja says the PSL management’s job has only become more difficult.“We have shown, as a country, that we have the capability to put up such a huge product,” says Raja. “The key challenge for PSL now is to really continue to better itself.”

Karachi Kings’ performances were bad enough but a captaincy controversy marred their debut campaign.
Karachi Kings’ performances were bad enough but a captaincy controversy marred their debut campaign.

When it came to ticket sales last year, season one was marred by low attendances in general, barring a few matches in Dubai and some in Sharjah.

This was no surprise.

First, the league was in its inaugural season and needed to build brand equity. Comparisons with a few sold-out IPL matches in the United Arab Emirates were never on the table given the IPL’s success over a number of years.

Second, the PSL was somewhat affected by the rival Master’s Champions League (MCL) in terms of market dilution. Despite a very stiff MCL challenge, PSL managed to rope in a much higher number of fans.

Third, a franchise league lives on city-based rivalry.

The day PSL comes back to Pakistan on a home-and-away basis will be the day one can truly measure the success of the league in terms of engaging fans at home.

We are all likely to get a taste of this when the PSL final takes place in Pakistan this year.

But ticket sales are likely to increase this year with a better presence, fan-following for the teams and slightly more breathing space in terms of scheduling.

Broadcasting and sponsorships

The state of sports broadcasting in Pakistan is in shambles.

And this became all too apparent when the PSL began talks with local broadcasters.

Local broadcasters had essentially lowballed the entire thing to an extent where the product would have collapsed before its launch.

That made no business sense.

How could the PSL sell its broadcast rights for peanuts in its primary local market and for much more in a secondary, global market?

Something needed to be done to avoid a hat-trick of PSL false starts.

The broadcast arrangement eventually engineered is an unprecedented one.

Usually, broadcasters pay good money to acquire broadcasting rights, a part of which, in turn, is handed to franchises for their development.

But in our context, the PSL was forced to buy airtime on three local channels and sell commercial airtime to a media-buying house.

This explains why the tournament was aired on all three sports channels in Pakistan — PTV Sports, Geo Super and Ten Sports.

While this arrangement was the best possible solution at the time, it places the PSL in a dangerous situation.

Understanding this broadcast ecosystem is essential when one compares the PSL with the IPL and the BBL.

The IPL brand was built primarily by Sony, the tournament’s broadcaster, along with other key sponsors. BBL’s development as a brand is also down largely to efforts of the tournament’s broadcaster, Channel TEN, and their sponsors.

Given the fact that the PSL’s broadcast arrangement was not similar to standard global industry practices, the burden to build the PSL brand fell largely on a cash-starved, bureaucratic PCB.

For a number of years, the PCB has sold its sponsorship rights to a sports advertising company which, in turn, sells it off to various brands. This explains why certain brands have been associated with Pakistan’s bilateral cricket for a long time and were also visible in the inaugural season of the PSL. But a bigger platform piqued interest from more sponsors and new faces joined the old one.

Karachi Kings’ performances were bad enough but a captaincy controversy marred their debut campaign.
Karachi Kings’ performances were bad enough but a captaincy controversy marred their debut campaign.

In came brands such as Habib Bank Limited (HBL) and Oye Hoye.

Although HBL has its domestic cricket team, and that too of some repute, it had so far not invested in tournament title sponsorships.

In December 2015, HBL committed to the PSL’s title sponsorship for a period of three years.

The HBL-PSL deal enticed other players to enter the game too; real estate powerhouse Bahria Town later became main sponsors for two franchises, Karachi Kings and Peshawar Zalmi and a new brand — Dostea — launched itself by becoming title partners of Islamabad United.

In the cases of Oye Hoye and Dostea, both brands were fairly new to the market.

They employed PSL’s platform as a key marketing tool for their brand activation, awareness and interest.

Keeping in line with the global nature of the event, the sponsorship mix is also fairly global with brands such as Nestle and Qatar Airways associating themselves with the league.

One other crucial factor that saw brands initially operating on the conservative side was timing.

Back in 2016, the PSL was competing with three other tournaments for advertisement revenue and eyeballs: the MCL, IPL and the T20 World Cup.

This time round, all eyes will be on the PSL and we can safely expect more advertisers paying for a slice of airtime.

It is also important to examine the role of sports media in Pakistan. More than building a brand, their focus is on what they call “constructive criticism.”

A leading sports channel once spent a major chunk of its primetime show discussing PSL’s franchise names.

The names did not depict creativity, said the verdict. It was suggested that MCL’s team names were more creative. MCL was a rival T20 league played by retired cricketers.

There was no city-based rivalry, no feeling of sub-nationalism, and little to write home about. But these gurus believed in MCL more than they believed in PSL.

Perhaps, this was because the channel had only been given rights to broadcast MCL matches and the PSL deal was still in the works.

This is not where the broadcasting problem ends. Except for the Middle East, the Caribbean, Bangladesh and the UK, the PSL was only shown on the internet in Season One.

How will international broadcasters express interest in acquiring these rights if the TV market is not developed in most cricket-playing countries?

This needs to be sorted out if the PSL is looking to accrue great financial value out of the sale of global broadcasting rights after Season Three.

A key strategic decision that the PSL took in year one was to keep control of broadcast production. Global leaders Sunset+Vine were roped in to work on a “PCB production.”

The small, well thought-out production initiatives received a good response from the fans. Ramiz Raja says this was one of the better decisions taken by PSL.

“The decision to keep control of production was a great one,” says Raja. “This allowed PSL to create a standard of broadcast that has never really been seen in Pakistan cricket before.”

Merchandise

A key, unexploited revenue stream from Season One was merchandising.

This is partly due to the fact that teams did not have enough time back then, but it is also largely due to the fact that the merchandising landscape is underdeveloped in Pakistan.

This year, Islamabad United has entered into a retail partnership with Leisure Club while Karachi Kings has partnered with Cotton & Cotton.

“We are not looking at this as a major revenue stream in the short-run,” says Shoaib Naveed, PSL’s project manager in Season One who is now serving as Islamabad United’s chief operating officer.

“We want to make sure that our merchandise is available to all fans in a very convenient manner. Our deal is really aimed at creating a landscape for merchandising in Pakistan.”

Take the example of India (Nike), Australia (Asics) and England (Adidas) where one can walk into stores of apparel sponsors and buy replica jerseys and other fan apparel.

There is no major sports apparel manufacturer in Pakistan that can offer this kind of a retail network. Therefore, franchises must look at other clothing retailers.

As Shoaib points out, in the long-run, this might also help attract reputable sports apparel brands.

The fact that Pakistan does not factor into their strategic plans explains why you don’t see a Nike or an Adidas or a New Balance sponsoring the Pakistan team or any PSL franchise for that matter.

Even if this works, a key battle for PSL and the franchises is to fight against counterfeit products.

Many of these fake manufacturers operate through digital platforms with a cash-on-delivery model.

Others work through small-scale shops. Tracking and closing them down becomes all the more difficult because of this.

Cricketing profits

Every time Pakistan’s national team has performed poorly after PSL Season One, detractors have been quick to question the benefits — or lack thereof — of the PSL.

The results, however, are already out there. Players such as Sharjeel Khan and Mohammad Nawaz have shown exactly how PSL builds a young player’s confidence.

“I have seen first-hand how IPL helped Indian cricket and PSL should do something similar for Pakistan,” says Raja.

“The confidence that it gives to some of our younger players — remember some of them have never been exposed to such competitive dressing room environments before — is absolutely invaluable.”

Just before the start of the tournament, I was in an elevator with three upcoming Pakistani cricketers: Mir Hamza, Saifullah Bangash and Usama Mir.

The three could barely contain their excitement. They were playing a franchise league. It was happening. Their dream was coming true.

The TV appearances, the razzmatazz, and the festivity — they were going to experience it all.

Usama Mir, the young leg-spinner who caught everyone’s attention after a successful domestic T20 performance for Sialkot Stallions, says the first season of PSL “meant the world” to him.

“The best thing about the tournament for me was interacting with the foreign stars,” says Mir.

“Ravi Bopara told me he thinks I’m a fantastic bowler and this gave me a lot of confidence. I’ve since kept in regular contact with Ravi.”

Quetta and Peshawar were the least expensive sides but played the most exhilarating cricket.
Quetta and Peshawar were the least expensive sides but played the most exhilarating cricket.

Confidence aside, PSL immediately transformed the financial landscape for fringe players.

Whereas the national team is limited to around 30 players and domestic cricketers don’t get paid too well, PSL provided financial security to a bigger pool of players.

Even the most inexperienced of these players were now earning 10,000 US dollars for a 20-day tournament.

But perhaps an aspect of PSL’s success that is often ignored is how the development of each franchise eases out the PCB’s burden of spending money on grassroots cricket.

Except for Islamabad United, each franchise has now organised at least one talent hunt program. The most visible of the four was Lahore’s campaign with Mobilink.

The selected youngsters ended up touring Australia to play against development squads from BBL sides Sydney Thunder and Sydney Sixers.

One criticism levelled at Lahore’s campaign was that these players were already part of the system and that Lahore did not unearth any new talent.

Assuming that this was true, the fact that these cricketers toured Australia is still a major contribution in developing local talent.

All five teams had extensive time to work on engaging with their fans for Season Two. Franchises literally had a little less than two months to set up shop in Season One.

Everything back then was done on an emergency-basis.

Despite this, each franchise managed to develop a local fan base with engagement events such as concerts and meet-and-greets.

To the credit of all franchises, they developed much-needed hype leveraging various media in a very limited period of time.

This year, not only has each franchise developed professional teams to run its affairs, they have also engaged in well thought-out campaigns to attract fans.

Going forward, it might not be a bad idea for PSL to organise a development squad tournament to be played by all five franchises.

Taking these matches to smaller towns might actually also help to serve as a marketing exercise for the league and the teams.

On the player front, the PSL has managed to do fairly well considering the many scheduling constraints that leagues other than IPL usually face.

In terms of money available to foreign players, PSL is at par —even better at times — with most T20 leagues except for the IPL.

The second key attraction for foreign players is payment terms: players get their money before the end of the tournament and they do not have to wait for months to get their dues cleared.

Ravi Bopara, the England all-rounder who plays for Karachi Kings, spoke about this critical factor at the second PSL draft held in Dubai.

Fans often wonder why many top cricketers don’t take part in PSL. International cricket scheduling, domestic contracts and injuries combine to affect the player roster.

In the final analysis, while the long-run benefits of the PSL will become apparent over a longer time frame, there are positives that can probably never be quantified.

Think of young pacers Rumman Raees and Amaad Butt from Islamabad United, who now have the opportunity of training with the great Wasim Akram.

For cricketers, that is the equivalent of going to an Ivy League school for your undergraduate studies.

Or consider when Sarfraz Ahmed walked to a post-match presentation ceremony and shook hands with Sir Vivian Richards, and the legend replied: “Well done skipper!” What effect did this have on Sarfraz’s confidence as a player and captain?

The answer is perhaps rooted in Pakistan’s upturn in T20 fortunes.

Photos by Nasir Abdullah and courtesy PSL.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine February 5th, 2017

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From Lahore’s streets to world cup finals — Wasim Akram’s journey

I have often battled with myself to figure out exactly how I want to remember Wasim Akram.

He is the best left-arm pacer to have played the game but there were the dark days of match fixing too.

Last week marked the anniversary of when he reached 400 ODI wickets. And for the occasion, I am going to set the heartbreak aside and think of the joy that Wasim Akram brought into our lives.

1992

It pitched short of length, on or around the off stump. What was Allan Lamb supposed to do? Come forward? It wasn’t that full. Stay back? It wasn’t that short either. He was done.

The next delivery pitched way outside the off stump. Chris Lewis brought his front leg forward but he was too late; the ball never really stopped coming back in. Two in two. Game, set and match.

If there was ever any doubt in anyone’s mind about Wasim Akram’s class, these two deliveries dispelled them forever.

He is one of the finest cricketers ever and perhaps fate had wanted for him to make this announcement at the biggest stage of all.

He scored 33 from 18 balls and Pakistan closed their innings at 249. With England looking comfortable at 141 for 4, Imran Khan threw the ball to Wasim Akram. In front of a record crowd of 87,000 fans, first with the bat and then this trickery with the ball. Superhuman stuff?

1997

I was too young to experience the high of 1992, but my love affair with Pakistan cricket began during the 1996/97 Carlton & United series in Australia. I was five years old and remember waking up early in the morning during an unusually cold winter to watch the matches.

Wasim was the new Imran. I had only seen footage of Imran lifting the Waterford crystal trophy at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Wasim was lifting a trophy at the same ground and I was watching it live on TV. His victory speech also had a reference to the month of Ramazan. I was completely sold .

2002

We are back in Australia. Wasim is now a 36-year-old wise fellow who has weathered many storms. He had multiple captaincy stints and is now aspiring to be captain one last time. He survived a match-fixing investigation, and battled diabetes for close to seven years.

The ball pitches on off stump, slightly short of length. Adam Gilchrist doesn’t quite know whether to push forward or stay back. The ball moves away from him after pitching.

You might need a magnifying glass to notice the movement, but it is very much there. This was classic Wasim: tease the batsman until the very last second. Gilchrist tries to play with a straight bat and edges it to the keeper.

Ricky Ponting is the next man in. Every left-armer dreams to bring the ball back into the right-hander; Wasim can bowl it blindfolded.

He doesn’t have the pace of 1992 but this one comes back, kisses Ponting’s pad, strikes the bat and balloons in the air. Then Wasim dives to take the catch like a 20-year-old Shahid Afridi. Game, set and match.

You might watch an old clip of Wasim Akram bowling and use it as an example to define flawlessness and perfection. How could something so casual – he ran from what looked like 10 steps – in its formation and so uncomplicated in its execution lead to such magic?

It wasn’t just carefully planned smart tricks to entice batsmen though. There was pace and intimidation, enough of it to crush Brian Lara’s toe and to send Lance Cairns to the hospital.

By the time his age set in and the pace went, Wasim had mastered his swing enough to continue the magic.

Basically, everything about the way he bowled was the definition of what you had imagined bowling to be about.

2011

Fast-forward another nine years. He is 45 years old, working as a bowling consultant for Kolkata Knight Riders. England’s Eoin Morgan is asked about the toughest bowler he has ever faced. His response:

Wasim’s career, like that of most other young cricketers in Pakistan, started with tape-ball cricket.

Mastered in the streets of old Lahore, his skills caught the attention of a local cricketer who took Wasim to the Ludhiana Gymkhana.

Here, a certain Lahore cricket legend named Saud Khan took Wasim under his wings. But Saud, who has spent his career coaching the city’s Under-19 and college teams, can claim little credit.


After all, Wasim developed as a person, bowler, and leader largely due to the great Imran Khan. Wasim has often said in interviews that Imran used to guide him on every ball of every over.

To a certain extent, bowling did come naturally to him but this notion ignores another important aspect of Wasim’s career: he was a hard worker through and through.

He spent hours in the nets, often trying to perfect just one delivery. How else could he bowl these three unplayable balls in one over against South Africa with such perfection?

Ask the old administration stalwarts at the Qadhafi Stadium and they will tell you that he literally never stopped bowling.

His mantra – as simple as his action – was to get overs under his belt. This explains why he is not a fan of modern-day bowlers spending time in the gym as opposed to practicing in the nets.

But that was not all. Apart from being the greatest left-arm fast bowler, he was a fine captain too. Though captaincy did not come naturally to him, at least at first.

His first tenure, brought about by a rebellion against his predecessor Javed Miandad, lasted five Tests and 23 ODIs only. Perhaps that is why Wasim wants Azhar Ali to get a longer run with the current ODI team.


By the time he was in his last stint as captain, there was little doubt over his ability to marshal his troops. Over time, he developed the statesmanship and self-assuredness that came so naturally to Imran Khan. Just like his mentor did with him, Wasim always backed key match-winners and they delivered.

A spinner as a death bowler? Wasim obviously saw something in Saqlain and made him do it, almost with perfection. Abdul Razzaq flourished as an all-rounder under Wasim’s tutelage. Shahid Afridi, Azhar Mahmood, Shoaib Akhtar are others on the list.

Pakistan were touring India for a Test series after 12 years in 1999. India needed 231 runs to win the first Test with 8 wickets in hand and two days remaining. As the team gathered in a huddle before the play began, Wasim Akram chose very few words to tell his team what he wanted them to do:

Boys, aik baat important yaad rakhni hai ke girna nahiN hai.

Boys, it is important to remember that we are not going to back down!

Could there really be a more apt pep talk? These words, in many ways, encapsulated his own career as well. Player revolts, match fixing, diabetes – he had seen it all and, yet, he continued to weave his magic.

His words galvanised the team as Pakistan survived some tense moments to win the nail-biting match and go 1-nil up in the series.

Comparisons with Imran Khan were inevitable but he doesn’t enjoy the same status as Imran – he fell agonisingly short of winning the world cup in 1999. Nonetheless, Wasim did manage to give his team a sense of invincibility.

At Lancashire, Wasim’s county club for close to 10 seasons, he was known as King.

David Lloyd, former England player and coach, and a popular TV commentator for Sky TV, narrated that in his first game as captain, Wasim asked the team to gather in the dressing room. His words: “Come on. I have dream.” Make of it what you will.

Published on Dawn.com on January 24, 2017. 

Junaid Jamshed

He captured the attention for Pakistanis as a young, charming musician, as a fashion entrepreneur and as a religious preacher but my association with Junaid Jamshed was through his music and that is how I will remember him. His voice represented an entire generation and served as a reminder of happier times for many in the next generation. With his loss, a certain part of that childhood and youth has gone away.

Aao, toh mat jao
Meray pass aao
Toh ruk jao

I was five. Aba got us our first personal audiocassettes. I got Junaid Jamshed’s album. My brother got Ali Haider’s. I don’t have to tell you which one was played in our car. On repeat.

Dil Dil Pakistan
Jaan Jaan Pakistan
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I was born in 1991 so I was sort of late to the Dil Dil Pakistan party. But can anyone really be late to the Dil Dil Pakistan party? I doubt. It is an anthem of a generation, the one before it, and the one after too. Every generation. All Pakistanis. Just like for so many other Pakistanis, the song became a part of my identity as I grew up. It was our unofficial national anthem. Imagine that kind of impact. Junaid Jamshed’s voice was there. Every 23rd March. Every 14th August. Every time Pakistan was playing a cricket match. Every single time you wanted to feel patriotic, to express your love for your homeland, to say that Pakistan was your dil and your jaan.

Milo toh sahi
Raasta koi
Mil he jaaye ga
Chalo toh sahi
Aitebaar bhe
Aa he jaaye ga

The song that provided – and will inevitably continue to provide – invaluable support to millions of people through their heartbreaks. The lyrics seem pretty bland when you read them but Junaid Jamshed made them evocative. His magical voice gave meaning to this almost-perfect expression of love, of a longing that every lover has for his or her beloved, of a human experience that is most natural and yet the most difficult to talk about.

Amn-o-muhabbat ke din de de
Hum ne hai lambi raat guzaari

This came out in the 90s and I always associated it with an image from the song’s video of Junaid Jamshed drenched in fake rain. But the song really hit home 2007 onwards as Pakistan spiraled into chaos and bloodshed. It, quite literally, became my dua. That’s Junaid Jamshed for you once again: adding a million layers of depth to words so simple you might think someone picked them straight from a 7th grader’s notebook.

Yeh shaam phir nahi aye gi
Iss shaam ko
Iss sath ko
Aao amr kar lain

This song actually preceded Aitebaar by about four years and even though these two songs were in the same vein, they still managed to hold their distinct places in the memory of every fan. You have liked someone in your life. You have wanted to say this to them. Life would be less complicated if only guys had the voice of Junaid Jamshed to woo girls.


Tum dur thay
Toh kya hua
Tum mil gaye
Toh kya hua

He did not just sing love songs. There was an equal amount of pain. But he was equally at home with a more negative, indifferent, and darker expression. This is the anthem of indifference. The perfect expression for whenever you feel the need to be with someone and not be with someone at the same time. So, what happened?

There were happier songs too: Mera Dil Nahi Available, Sanwali Saloni, Goray Rung Ka Zamana. These songs remind me of youthful exuberance, of times when you can be careless without any form of guilt, of recklessness so cool that you just want to cling on to it forever.

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How much of this impact was a result of circumstances? Vital Signs came out in Zia’s era; a time many Pakistanis want forget. But the band stands out in their memories even today. Junaid from that era stands on top of it all. Here is this young, good-looking, charming singer you want to sit in front of you and sing all day, every day.

Someone summarised this on Twitter: Vital Signs were our Beatles and he was our Lennon.

Mein apni awaz
Aur apnay saaray geet
Tumhein de jaun ga
Meri sub cheezon ko
Yun he rehnay dena
Jaisay shaam hotay he
Mein laut ke aaun ga

This came up on my playlist today. I froze for a moment when he sang this part. You have left us with your songs and the magic of your voice. But you aren’t returning this evening. Rest in peace, Junaid Jamshed.

Picture credits:
1) Junaid Jamshed’s solo pictures are screen grabs from music videos.
2) The group picture was published in Dawn.

Pakistan Super League Draft

Teams are now more balanced and provide an even mix of star power going into season 2 of the Pakistan Super League.

At the player draft, each team had to pick 20 players. These included three picks each in the platinum, diamond, and gold categories, five in silver, two in emerging, and four supplementary picks.

For the four supplementary picks, there were two possible combinations: 2 foreign + 2 local or 1 foreign + 3 local.

Teams had the option to retain up to 16 players from last year. They also had the option to trade players with other teams. The retention and transfer windows closed in September.

Foreign players in the supplementary category are a part of the active squad and can be picked for any match whereas the local players in the supplementary category may only replace an injured player in the original squad.

If a player goes unpicked in his assigned category, based on his consent, he may be demoted to the next category.

A playing XI can have a maximum of four foreign players and must have at least one emerging player.

Here is a recap of how the five teams shape up now:

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Karachi Kings will probably walk away as the most satisfied team from this draft.

The biggest move for the Kings was the Chris Gayle trade with Lahore Qalandars. Gayle will add a lot of firepower to the Kings at the top of the order, a gamble that did not work for the Qalandars last season!

Kumar Sangakkara will be leading the Kings this season and it helps that Gayle, Sangakkara, and Imad Wasim played together in the CPL for Jamaica Tallawahs. Add Shoaib Malik, Mahela Jayawardene, Kieron Pollard, and Ravi Bopara to this and Karachi have some pretty strong leaders.

Babar Azam will now want to a prove a point after Islamabad United gave him away in a trade with the Kings. He has been in excellent form this year and he would want to tick off a strong PSL early in his career.

The Kings might look back at their silver picks and regret picking both Khurram Manzoor and Shahzaib Hasan. With Gayle, Sangakkara, and Malik in the squad, they could have gone with one local opener and one local pacer. Rahat Ali, who went unpicked in the gold category, might have been a better silver pick. He was instead picked in the supplementary category.

It was also surprising to see young leg-spinner Usama Mir demoted to the supplementary category. Kashif Bhatti, a left-arm spinner from Sindh, was picked in the main round.

My Karachi Kings XI: Gayle, Sangakkara, Babar, Malik, Bopara, Pollard, Imad, Amir, Kashif Bhatti, Sohail Khan, emerging player

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Lahore Qalandars have almost completely revamped their side with a new captain and new signings.

Their biggest pick this season is former Kiwi skipper Brendon McCullum who doubles up as captain and team mentor.

Sohail Tanvir comes in as a result of a trade with Karachi Kings and he will add depth to the bowling department. Spinners Yasir Shah and Sunil Narine are likely to make their PSL debuts this season. Yasir missed last year’s event as a result of a doping ban.

Grant Elliot, Shaun Tait, and Anton Devcich make the rest of the foreign signings.

The Qalandars might end up regretting their move to give up Sohaib Maqsood from the silver category. They traded him with Peshawar Zalmi and got medium-pace all rounder Amir Yamin. But now, they seem to be more bowling-heavy and this might disturb their combination.

Another issue that the Qalandars now face is adjusting Azhar Ali in the playing XI. If Azhar plays, it means that Umar Akmal will have to be demoted. Having a player like Sohaib at 5 or 6 would have worked out well.

Anton Devcich will be very handy in UAE conditions and the Qalandars are likely to swap between him and Tait. McCullum, Delport, and Bravo are likely to form the core of the foreign signings playing most of the games.

Fakhar Zaman, a left-handed opener/top order batsman, is an exciting pick. Last month, Fakhar scored 180 off 146 balls for Pakistan A against Zimbabwe A. He is viewed as one of the very few modern-day limited overs batsmen in Pakistan.

Ghulam Mudassir from the emerging category is one to watch out for. Mudassir is a left-arm pacer who recently played for Pakistan A. The Qalandars also have Usman Qadir, the son of legendary leg-spinner Abdul Qadir, in their emerging picks.

My Qalandars XI: McCullum, Fakhar, Delport, Akmal, Rizwan, Bravo, Tanvir, Zafar, Yasir, Tait, Mudassir

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Peshawar Zalmi made headlines at the draft when Shahid Afridi announced Younis Khan as team mentor and batting coach. As Afridi waited for Younis to join him on the stage, he reminded Younis why he wasn’t picked by any team: “Yeh T20 hai, Younis Khan, jaldi karo” (This is T20, Younis Khan, hurry up!)

Afridi also announced Darren Sammy as the team’s new captain. The two-time World T20 winner

The Zalmis picked England ODI and T20 captain Eoin Morgan in the platinum category. Morgan’s England team mates Chris Jordan and Alex Hales are the other two new signings. The trio is not likely to be available during the latter half of the tournament because of national duty.

Jordan, who is rated highly by the Zalmi coach Mohammad Akram, was also drafted in the squad last year but had to withdraw because of national duty.Shaun Tait, who is now with Lahore Qalandars, replaced him last year.

Star all-rounder Shakib-al-Hasan joins his Bangladeshi teammate Tamim Iqbal in the Zalmi squad. Shakib played for the Karachi Kings last year and, perhaps encouraged by the rise of Imad Wasim, the Kings decided to release Shakib.

The Zalmis have got a real good deal with local batting talents of Haris Sohail and Sohaib Maqsood in their ranks. It makes on wonder why Iftikhar Ahmed was also picked.

Afghanistan fans will be proud to see wicket-keeper batsman Mohammad Shehzad getting a run with the Zalmi squad. Shehzad, who calls himself MSD, is a crowd favourite and is likely to get more Zalmi fans to the stadium.

My Zalmi XI: Tamim, Akmal, Haris, Morgan, Sohaib, Shakib, Afridi, Sammy, Wahab, Hassan, Junaid

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Quetta Gladiators have made only a few adjustments to an otherwise successful set-up.

Their biggest signing for the Gladiators is West Indian T20 skipper Carlos Brathwaite. Left-arm pacer Tymal Mills, a T20 specialist who can bowl at over 90 mph, is going to attract considerable interest.  They also picked up hard-hitting all-rounder David Willey who has made a successful start to his England career.

The surprise pick of the day was Rovman Powell, a middle order batsman who has played for Jamiaca Tallawahs in CPL. Powell can also bowl medium pace.

It will be interesting to see if Asad Shafiq gets a run in the playing XI. Shafiq batted at number three in the recent National T20 cup and played a pivotal role in taking his team to the final, scoring 310
runs in 8 matches with an average of 51.7

My Gladiators XI: Wright, Shehzad, Pietersen, Shafiq, Sarfaraz, Nawaz, Brathwaite/Nabi, Noor Wali, Anwar/Gul, Mills, Babar

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Islamabad United retained the full cap of 16 players from last year.

Sitting through the first 16 rounds of the draft must have been a pretty boring stretch for the United management but the supplementary picks were extremely well thought out.

Benn Duckett, who made his England Test debut today, is an explosive middle order batsman.

Shadab Khan, a leg-spin all-rounder who has played for Pakistan at the Under-19 and A levels continues his fast tracked journey in cricket. Fresh from a match-winning 100 for Pakistan A, Shadab will be hoping to get a chance in PSL season 2. Remember, he can only come in as a replacement and will not be an active member of the squad to begin with.

Saeed Ajmal, who was picked as a supplementary player last year, was bumped up into the main squad of 16.

Zohaib Khan, one of the brains behind Peshawar’s success in domestic cricket, is also a great pick who could potentially serve as a replacement for Imran Khalid if the need arises.

United will have one eye on what happens with Andre Russell’s doping case. The West Indian all-rounder was the tournament’s leading wicket-taker last year.

My United XI: Sharjeel, Watson, Haddin, Billings/Duckett, Misbah, Russell, Hussain, Imran, Rumman, Sami, Ajmal

Karachi Kings v Lahore Qalandars for the final, anyone?

 

 

Cyril Almeida, Imran Khan, and the ECL

Earlier this year, I happened to attend an interesting debate at my alma mater, LUMS. A power-packed panel debated whether the prime minister of Pakistan should resign in the wake of the Panama leaks. The debate is now part of considerable social media chatter about Cyril Almeida’s appearance on the proposition bench. As an audience member who did not agree with Cyril’s stance and voted against the motion, I think it is extremely important for me to debunk the lies that are floating around.

At the LUMS debate, Cyril proposed that the prime minister should not resign. The other two members of the bench were Danyal Aziz and Musaddiq Malik, both members of the prime minister’s ruling party, the PML-N. The fact that Cyril was sandwiched between two politically affiliated speakers is being used to claim that Cyril is basically a PML-N supporter.

First, at no point in the debate did Cyril say that he was a member of the PML-N team. This allegation, made by Imran Khan on national TV, is completely false. In fact, Cyril started off by saying that he was not going to defend the prime minister! As chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf or the movement for justice, Imran Khan owes Cyril an apology for this baseless accusation. 
If Imran Khan’s claim is based on who Cyril shared the bench with, then he should also know that Walid Iqbal, the president of his party in Lahore, shared the opposition bench with Qamar Zaman Kaira of the PPP. Does this mean that the PTI supports the PPP?

Second, while I disagreed with Cyril and voted against the motion at the debate, I feel he made dispassionate and coherent arguments. So, what exactly did Cyril say to defend the motion? His arguments largely focused on maintaining the status quo in civil-military relations through Nawaz Sharif. Cyril said that the prime minister was perhaps best suited to initiating policy changes that could help consolidate Pakistan’s democratic set-up.

One can’t blame Cyril if he is now wondering what went so terribly wrong first with the addition of his name on the Exit Control List for writing his story and then allegations of being a PML-N supporter.

So, what was the government thinking when it placed Cyril’s name on the ECL? To be fair, it has done more harm to Pakistan’s image—the government and the military in specific—than it has to Cyril.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s press conference just added another twist to the government’s nonsensical handling of the issue. Nisar described Cyril’s story as a strike on Pakistan’s “national security paradigm”.

Was the story out of context? Not really. Our history tells us that Pakistan’s military has acted in a duplicitous manner on a number of occasions. The military establishment has fanned violent extremism in its bid to obtain strategic depth and exercise influence. Many people today say that the military has mended its ways.

However, even today, strategic assets such as Hafiz Saeed and Abdul Aziz enjoy freedom. Not only do these gentlemen represent a rotten mindset that promotes violence, but their presence is also extremely detrimental to Pakistan’s national security interests. Add to this the case of Malik Ishaq – it took the state more than 20 years to take care of a known sectarian criminal. The Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat is another extremist organization that continues to operate in Pakistan despite being banned in 2012. In fact the group managed to stage a sit-in in front of the Supreme Court in 2015. How? Why?

If the individuals and the groups mentioned above are not a national security threat to Pakistan- and Cyril Almeida is – then we have got our bearings so wrong that it is frightening to think how we will ever get back on track.

This argument that Cyril and Dawn acted against the national interest by publishing a story at such a critical time when tensions with India are high, begs a simple question about the role of a free press. Is it meant to serve as a tool that advances the interests of the rulers or is it meant to inform the average Jamal about what exactly is going on in our country?

Another allegation against Cyril is that his story had no attributions and the sources are in the background, a journalistic practice when people providing information do not reveal their identities due to potential risks to their lives. Are we that naive that we ignore why the people who sat in the meeting did not go on the record? The story has been corroborated through multiple sources, says Dawn. Even then, if the government wants to say that the story is fabricated, which it can if it wants, then so be it. Issue a rejoinder and close the chapter. The end. Move on.

If basic Facebook metrics are anything to go by, Cyril’s last five stories for Dawn fetched a collective total of 2,691 likes. The story that landed him on the ECL has received 18,000 likes till the filing of this report (this is not an indication of the actual circulation).

All of this aside, the debate boils down to whether the action the government took represents any of the democratic values that it repeatedly champions. Unfortunately, it does not. One of the first things that I read as I walked through the halls of journalism school were these words of Joseph Pulitzer: “An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery.”

One does not have to believe in Cyril’s story to say that the attack on free press is wrong.

The writer is an M.S. student at the Columbia Journalism School, NY and can be reached at @imranahmadkh

An edited version of this blog post was published on The Friday Times Blog on Oct. 16, 2016.

70 lives in Quetta

How will I react when something tragic happens back home in Pakistan? Will I feel the pain or will I be able to brush it aside and move on? I had this in the back of my mind when I moved to the U.S. It was almost like I was preparing myself for the inevitable. Every other day, I found myself saying a little prayer for peace. But it had to happen.

I woke up in the middle of the night and checked my family phone chat. There was a killing in Quetta. They took the body to the hospital and carnage struck. 15 dead, I was told initially. The number kept increasing.

70 lives. The end.

The civilian and military leadership is repeating the usual VMS exercise: visits, meetings, and statements. We will not spare the terrorists. We say this every single time.  The same things that were said for Lahore and Peshawar. I have lost count.

The Indians are behind this we are told. Okay. Then? What are we supposed to do with this information? “The Indians did this” has become an escape route. It’s almost as if our state apparatus expends every ounce of its energy on proving this causality. In all of this, why are we failing to stop these acts?

There’s a clear shift in our war against violent extremism. Public spaces are the new battle ground. Peshawar, Lahore, and Quetta – these are three glaring examples of this shift. The state and its functionaries are not the only ones in danger. It’s the society that is getting targeted with greater impunity. It is more open, everyone is more vulnerable, and people are being forced to sacrifice when they don’t really want to. Those who died are martyrs in the national narrative but they never asked for it. They were forced to become martyrs because of our inaction and stupidity.

I feel numb and I am ashamed of this. This is not how I should be reacting to the loss of 70 lives. Will it take a personal loss for my reaction to be more vocal, more action-oriented? I will continue saying that silent prayer for peace.

Featured image: https://specialnewsonline.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/pakistan-flag.jpg

Qadri’s Pakistan or Taseer’s Pakistan?

1060006-ImranAhmadKhanNew-1457199369-596-640x480A radicalised Pakistan’s long-drawn struggle to de-radicalise itself took a key turn when the law of the land took its due course, resulting in Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging. However, it is what happens next that will define the narrative around Qadri and whether his hanging will help Pakistan on its way to de-radicalisation.

The country has been at the cross-roads of an impending ideological shift for a long time now. In a slow move towards realising the trouble that we have engulfed ourselves in, there have been multiple tipping points in our war against violent extremism. Bone-chilling stories of the Hazara genocide, the Mehran airbase attack, the APS attack — on multiple occasions, we have somehow managed to find a small voice to highlight what is evidently very wrong.

But for every protest against the APS attack, there is an Abdul Aziz. For every potential ideological shift against radicalisation, there are calls by the Jamaat-e-Islami to protest against Qadri’s hanging.

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Pakistan Cricket Team: don’t panic, not yet!

Pakistan and England face off for the third Test at Edgbaston and Pakistan will be looking at their last match on this venue for some inspiration.

72. That is what Pakistan’s batting managed at Edgbaston six years ago in their last match on the ground. The batsmen refused to score runs. They wanted to see off the new ball. Except the new ball remained bloody new for 39 overs. The wickets, they never stopped falling.

Does it help then that the weather forecast for most of the match is showing scattered thunderstorms? It will be overcast, most probably. The ball will swing, definitely. Pakistani batsmen just need to find a way to score runs. That is the bottom line. The batting should have done better at Old Trafford. Sure, when the other team racks up 589 runs in the first innings, things can get tricky. But a team on the quest to become number 1 – it is a very real possibility – must fight back.

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New York diaries, part 1: Goodbyes are the hardest

I have done this twice before. The first time, it lasted for two weeks. I left home right after High School and went to Singapore for my undergraduate degree. It didn’t work out – I was back home in two weeks. Next, I went to Karachi – about 800 miles away from home – for my first proper job after graduation. This time, it worked for a little over five months.

So, here I am on a 14-hour flight to New York City. 14 hours in this uncomfortably crouched position. Am I anxious? Yes. But I can break this down into one hour at a time.

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Pakistan cricket’s DIL is beating

Consider this: Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif, and Junaid Khan could have been leading Pakistan’s bowling attack in this World Cup. Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz would have been there to support these three. It didn’t happen of course.

Amir and Asif took a different route roughly four years ago. Back then, it felt like Pakistan had lost out on the last potential leaders of the bowling pack. They were replaced by the likes of Aizaz Cheema and Tanvir Ahmed. To be honest, there was the odd show of brilliance and aggression from Wahab Riaz but that was, more or less, a rarity. Irfan and Junaid rekindled the partnership on the tour of India in 2012-2013, albeit briefly. And then Junaid Khan got injured in the lead up to this World Cup.

Bottom line: Pakistan’s fast bowling stocks were now made up of the likes of Sohail Tanvir, Bilawal Bhatti, Anwer Ali, and Ehsan Adil. That is an indictment of sorts; a proverbial slap on a country’s fast bowling legacy.

You see, fast bowling is the ethos of Pakistan cricket. It is the very structure upon which Pakistan’s rich cricketing history rests. Simply put, fast bowling is the dil of Pakistan cricket.

In some ways, the team’s unpredictability perfectly mirrors the moods of a Pakistani fast bowler – hot one day, cold the very next. Big player egos are epitomized by fast bowling playboys. Think of Sarfraz, Imran, Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib, and Asif. The sense of liberation and carelessness around Pakistan cricket is not epitomized by a reckless Umar Akmal heave on the on side. But you can sense it – even feel it perhaps – in Shoaib Akhtar’s run up.

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Mohammad Amir & Naazuk Surat-e-Haal

1-Desktop20-001The ICC’s anti-corruption head, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, has used his discretionary powers to allow Mohammad Amir – Pakistan’s estranged fast-bowling sensation from 2010 – to return to domestic cricket. This happened after the ACSU and ICC, both, were satisfied with Amir’s cooperation in the spot-fixing case.

Apparently Amir will be playing grade-II cricket for Karachi Electric. It seems like this is the right time for the Pakistan Cricket Board to come up with a reintegration plan in case they have decided, in principle, that Amir deserves a second chance with the national team.

There are, of course, two sides to it. There is a camp, led by the likes of Ramiz Raja and General Tauqir Zia, which is against Amir’s inclusion in the national set-up. As blasphemous as my inner-self might think this is, Tauqir was at the helm of affairs when the match-fixing inquiries were hushed up in favour of a certain left-arm cricketing god. In fact, Tauqir wanted him to be captain for the 2003 World Cup. But let’s leave it at that.

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Phillip Hughes: 63 not out, forever

Rest in peace little champ! - Cricket Australia
Rest in peace little champ!
– Cricket Australia

You have always imagined heartbreaks in cricket to revolve around one team not making a run of the last ball and ending up losing, or a player getting injured and missing out on a crucial match, say, a World Cup final. You have never bordered your imagination along the lines of death. But cricket is a cruel game. The game we all love and live for, is one that continues to throw stark reminders about how small we all are, how utterly meaningless our everyday squabbles are, and how life literally changes in split seconds.

When Mark Boucher’s Test career ended when a bail damaged his eye in the lead up to what would have been a fitting swansong in England, we were reminded of the game’s cruelty and the risk involved. Gary Kirsten bled on the Gaddafi pitch as a Shoaib Akhtar bouncer hit him just below his eye. Smith also fractured his finger facing a barrage of short balls from Mitchell Johnson. Justin Langer got hit by Makhaya Ntini but lived to come back and win the Ashes. Death was not a talking point. It was not in our realm of possibilities.

Phillip Joel Hughes is no more and the entire cricketing fraternity — administrators, players, coaches and fans — is in a state of disbelief. World Cup wins, nail-biting encounters, hundreds, five-fors — all these pale in front of this tragedy. I cannot imagine a cricketer who would want to go out and play the game today. Hughes is gone, forever not out for 63.

Just like this incomplete knock, Hughes has gone leaving behind an incomplete career. He was a special talent, one who did not get many consistent chances at the top. Twin hundreds against South Africa, playing only his second Test match, and that, too, facing the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Ntini — it was special stuff indeed. Yet, he was always the one who had to make way for others; always the one discarded after a failure or two, left to wonder what more needed to be done. Well he went away doing just that — the little extra that he needed to do to get back into the squad.

In August this year, the Australian skipper spoke highly of Hughes, even going on to predict that he was a “100-Test” player. It must have been a relief, having been used to hearing bad news from the selectors almost every other day.

He was all but certain to step in for the injured Michael Clarke against India. Imagine his thoughts on having reached a half-century in his last innings. ‘I have done enough and I am surely getting the nod this time.’ But, who would have thought?

Who knows and, more importantly, who cares about just another cricket match now. It has taken away a life that promised so much.

The next time Steyn or Johnson fire one in, batsmen will be fearful both ways — taking evasive action or hitting out — and commentators will not enjoy describing such a contest like they used to, for somewhere deep down, their realm of possibilities will have the death of Phillip Hughes written all over it.

This one is from all cricket fans in Pakistan: rest in peace Phillip.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2014.

Phillip Joel Hughes, Australia’s 408th test match player, passed away yesterday after having been knocked down by a bouncer in a first-class match being played at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He played 26 test matches and averaged 32.65 with the bat. At the time of his injury, Phillip was batting at 63.

Unequal before the law

“Oh but do you know what the Israelis are doing to the poor Muslims of Palestine? Will you ever see a Muslim be in a position of power in the US? Do you know about the plight of our poor Muslim brothers in India?”

We are all prone to making such arguments full of fallacies and we often let our egos stand in the way of what is right and what is wrong. The statements quoted above are just some of the reactions that I have faced when I have tried to reason for a non-Muslim Pakistani to be given the same rights as a Muslim Pakistani. So, who exactly do we fool when we claim that minorities are protected, in letter and spirit, by the laws of Pakistan? In this momentary glorification of our society, we tend to forget that we are meting out the very same treatment to our minorities that necessitated the formation of Pakistan in the first place. A ‘separate’ homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent was never going to be an issue had there been basic freedom and equal economic opportunities for the minority in the Indian subcontinent. But the economic imperative aside, are we even giving our minorities their basic rights in Pakistan? Basically, are we following our own Constitution?

No, I don’t care about what India and Israel do, and I don’t care about how the West stereotypes Muslims. I am concerned about my own country — a country where we are not protecting our own countrymen. I never asked you about Israel or India or the US.
You want to know who the real heroes of Pakistan are? It’s the Christians living in Joseph Colony, who continue to live in Pakistan, knowing fully well that the 100 odd houses in the colony can be burnt down at the behest of an angry mob. I covered the area for a documentary so I don’t mind repeating it here. Two friends, a Muslim and a Christian, party in many vices, had a fight. The Muslim accused the Christian of having committed blasphemy. Lo and behold, the entire colony was burned down. Everything. There was only one judge, jury, and executioner in this case.

The real heroes of Pakistan are the Hazaras living in Quetta. They live in this land of the pure, knowing fully well that the state is doing absolutely nothing to ensure their safety. Those who kill them continue to get state patronage and we sit here in our comfort zones, almost resigned to our fate. All of my passionate ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ chants become meaningless in front of these brave souls for I have never even ventured into the territory of patriotism that is theirs and theirs alone, just because you and I are too scared to protect them. Only a true Pakistani can stay here knowing what is in store for him or her as a Hazara.

The real heroes of Pakistan are the Ahmadis who stay here, knowing fully well how much their lives are valued in this land of the pure. They never seem to give up and yet here we are, you and I, lying to each other and to the entire world, living a life of hypocrisy. No we will not share their grief, nor will we ever come out to protect them. We are too scared to say a very simple truth: killing someone is wrong!

The Joseph Colony example is the equivalent of the Americans droning innocents in their pursuit of killing terrorists. Or, for the elite, the ‘random’ security checks that you face at American airports just because your name is Khan. People will come out in huge numbers to condemn America. There will be people who will make sure that they remind you of Israel’s atrocities in Gaza. There will be those who will tell you that Ahmadis are non-Muslims — as if somehow this justifies killing them, and ignores the fact that false allegations of blasphemy are also a crime under the laws of the land. All this will happen and we will have the same ‘this too shall pass’ attitude towards it. You can’t miss the trend though. It should worry us; even cause us to lose sleep. If these were one or two cases of injustice, we could still claim to be a tolerant society. But the path we have taken now is going to lead us to extreme intolerance. When we lost Salmaan Taseer, people defended his murder and felicitated the murderer. Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder was also defended openly. Now we have lost a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan, burned like pieces of coal fuelling a fire. But why do we act surprised now? What did we do to reverse the dangerous trend when Salmaan Taseer was killed? What did we do to protect the Ahmadis when they were killed? What did we ever do to protect the Hazaras of Pakistan? We did nothing. Why do we expect any kind of reward then?

The next time you see the right speaking of Israel’s atrocities in Palestine, remember their silence on this. Replace the Palestinians with Pakistan’s minority and Israel with Pakistan, and you will see similar trends of injustice and persecution. We remain adamant on pointing out India’s transgressions in Kashmir, yet we remain silent on the brutal treatment meted out to fellow Pakistanis. No, I am not a RAW agent. I am an average Pakistani, concerned about Pakistan.

Remember that you and I, our families and our friends, we are all living in a state of oblivion, tacitly colluding to set in motion a systemic demise of our society.

Let us not fool the world anymore. Pakistan has a problem: we are narrowing down the space for our minorities.

Our Constitution guarantees: “[t]o enjoy the protection of law and to be treated in accordance with law is the inalienable right of every citizen, wherever he may be, and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan.”

Either we stop the trend or we say that this constitutional guarantee does not apply to Pakistan’s minorities.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2014.

(http://tribune.com.pk/story/794410/unequal-before-the-law/)

Defeating our demons!

A picture is worth a googolplexian words! - Cricket Australia
A picture is worth a googolplexian words!
– Cricket Australia

On the 6th of January 2010, I sat with my head in my hands as I tried to make sense of what had just happened. Some brilliant (read not) captaincy and some strange fielding – attributed largely to Mazher Majeed’s influence on the team – meant that Pakistan squandered a 206-run lead and, with it, the chance to beat Australia in Australia. For Pakistani fans this was a hard pill to digest and that can largely be put down to Australia’s complete dominance of Pakistan over a number of years – basically our entire cricket-following age.

This one is for Mohammad Sami and Danish Kaneria. Remember the long spells boys?  -Getty Images
This one is for Mohammad Sami and Danish Kaneria. Remember the long spells boys?
-Getty Images

At Hobart in 1999, Australia chased down 369 against a Wasim Akram-led Pakistani side. That match is remembered with a fair degree of invective for the umpires but still, Pakistan did not win and that is the bottom line. At Sharjah in 2002 – on a highway of a pitch – a young batting line-up wilted in front of the might of McGrath and Warne, getting bowled out for 59 and 53 respectively in the second test. Then came Perth in 2004 where McGrath took 8 for 24 as the team got bundled out for an embarrassing total of 72. The 2010 tour was even worse; not only did we give away the Sydney test on a platter, the team was also unable to register even a single win on that tour. Bans and fines followed, as usual, but the Australians were still tormenting the team and, might I add, the fans.

The win at Headingley in 2010, delivered largely by the sheer brilliance of Asif and Amir, was a big thing. It was a nervous victory still, as we struggled to chase down a small target. Again, as a fan, I could sense that the team was not subjugating the Aussies the way we had seen the Aussies pummel us around on the field.

Yeh Waugh, talk nah! - Getty Images
Yeh Waugh, talk nah!
– Getty Images

So really, my euphoria at the moment is not unfounded. It stems from all those moments of agony that the Aussies have inflicted upon us. From the 1999 World Cup final to the 2010 World T20 semi-final, from the 1999 test series to the annihilation down under in 2009/10 series – we were always the underdogs and it never felt good. And this is precisely why a 221-run victory over the Aussies feels nothing short of a dream come true. There was a bigger cause here than just showing a win on the score sheet. For those who have seen Fire in Babylon – well that is how this win feels because roughly 11 years ago, Steve Waugh praised the Bangladeshi batting and termed it better than that of Pakistan. It wasn’t quite the “I intend to make them grovel” statement that Tony Creig used for the West Indian team back in 1976 but you get the drift of it: the bottom line being that I don’t like the fact that we have been given a smacking by the Aussies every now and then.

Things look promising but we have had many false starts so Misbah and Waqar need to keep the team’s focus on the next test.

There is hope beyond Ajmal and this is perhaps the biggest revelation that this win has brought about. Between them, the four frontline bowlers had played 8 test matches before this match, with Yasir Shah and Imran Khan making their debuts. Five days later, Shane Warne is calling Yasir Shah the “best young leg spinner”, and his favourite Pakistani cricketer after Wasim Akram. Zulfiqar Babar, on the other hand, has managed to use his experience of five decades to skilfully win a test for Pakistan with the ball. This has happened at a time when Saeed Ajmal is suspended, and the relatively more experienced pace battery of Junaid Khan, Wahab Riaz, and Umar Gul is sitting out with injuries.

Little Sarf roars! -Getty Images
Little Sarf roars!
-Getty Images

This is also a satisfying moment because of the sheer dominance of Pakistan’s batsmen. The way we nullified the spin threat on this track was a site to watch especially because of our generosity with spinners over the years – Ashley Giles, Monty Panesar, Paul Harris, Nathan Haurtitz, Rangana Herath, and Imran Tahir have had some good moments bowling to our batsmen. It was heartening to see Ahmad Shehzad and Asad Shafiq using their feet against the spinners, coming out every now and then to unsettle Lyon and O’Keefe. The seemingly unstoppable Younus Khan has become the first man in 40 years to score twin hundreds against the Australians. Only about two weeks ago, Younus was fuming over his exclusion from the ODI squad and he has come back to answer his critics in the best possible way. If anything, this is a true reflection of his signature fighting qualities. More important for me, though, is the way he has guided the young guns in the team. Ahmad Shehzad, Azhar Ali, and Asad Shafiq get a triple PhD in batting every single time they play with Younus on the crease. Younus is underrated and perhaps this is a discussion for another time, but his feats need recognition and appreciation. Sarfaraz Ahmed’s comeback has been phenomenal too and his innings in this match proved to be a decisive momentum-shifting knock. He reminds you of the gutsy Moin Khan as he nudges the ball around for those important ones and twos.

Pakistan controlled the test match throughout and this win ranks right at the top only because of our history with Australia. Our last win against the Australians came at Headingley in 2010, with Waqar in charge. It did not quite turn out to be a turning point for our team with the spot-fixing saga that followed soon.

The team’s last test series win came against England in January 2012. Time to get another win on the board by holding off Fortress U.A.E in Abu Dhabi!

P.S. Troll-level 1000: Ramiz Raja saying “Australia must not get mentally scarred”. When did you ever fancy listening to these words during a Pakistan v Australia match?

"Han bhai, hunn thand pe gayi hai?"
“Han bhai, hunn thand pe gayi hai?”
Warne's take on Yasir Shah
Warne’s take on Yasir Shah
Man on a mission! -Getty Images
Man on a mission!
-Getty Images

The curious case of Umar Akmal

Lipstick Boy.
“Ya, all my ladies, let’s do it.”

One of Pakistan Cricket’s greatest tragedies is this constant attempt to shape players in to something they are not meant to be.

Almost five years ago, the Akmal clan churned out another product for Pakistan Cricket. He burst on to the scene as Pakistan’s new batting prodigy; the proverbial breath of fresh air in an otherwise stinking environment. May be that’s a stretch but there seemed to be a method to his madness and he easily passed as the only batsman who had both – the flare and the shots – to challenge the best bowling attacks in the world.

At a time when the seniors were busy under performing, Umar seized the opportunity against a more-than-potent Sri Lankan attack in his maiden ODI series. A century in his third ODI was followed up by a scintillating test debut in New Zealand, out of all the places on the cricketing map. He did all the right things and made all the right statements. The comparisons came pouring in with some emotional supporters even likening him to the legendary Sachin Tendulkar.

Three performances, across three formats, stand out, as true indicators of Akmal’s “don’t give a bleep” mindset as he entered the scene.

Meeting Murali and Malinga

Murali ho ga to apne baap k ghar ho ga.
Murali ho ga to apne baap k ghar ho ga. (Associated Press)

In what was his second ODI, on a tour where Pakistan’s batting was impotent to say the least, Akmal danced down the track to Murali and launched him for a six. The shot had “Murali ho ga to apne baap k ghar ho ga” written all over it!

Akmal v Bond

In his first test match, the team was reeling at 85/5 inside the first 35 overs. In walked the elder brother and, together, the pair batted with such ease and determination. Umar batted with a strike rate of 80 and registered his ton on debut.

100 on debut!
100 on debut! (GETTY IMAGES)

The next innings was a slow and patient 70 odd, and although Pakistan lost the match, the camp knew that they had a future star in their ranks. The debut ton was a statement in its own right. He didn’t really care if it was an in-form Shane Bond, or the wily Daniel Vettori. The only defense that he had to offer with his team going down at 85/5, was offense.

 Akmal’s Mitch

A massive hoik over midwicket for six against a man named Mitchell Johnson is a decent achievement. It was not just that; he followed it up with a shot that doesn’t really have a name. It was a tennis ball slap – playing a short pitch ball on front foot and adjusting a wee bit late only to smash it for six. This, too, was a statement – a statement that he was never going to shy away from believing in himself and his ability. This was the 2010 T20 World Cup semi-final, remembered generally for Michael Hussey’s late onslaught.

vs Australia, St Lucia 2010. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
vs Australia, St Lucia 2010.
(EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

But, of course, just like Indian bowlers lose out on half of their steam after a year of playing international cricket, Pakistani batsmen tend to lose their touch as well.
Umar’s case is no different. He played his last test match in 2010. A wild slog in a test match versus South Africa was enough to throw away his wicket and piss Misbah off almost eternally.

Now, almost four years since he last played a test match, Umar has ticked two important boxes. He has found another entry into the test match arena and looks set to be Pakistan’s backup test batsman. More importantly, Umar has made it to number four in the ODI batting order; a number he has literally begged for in a number of press statements. But, as they say, with great power comes great responsibility, and if there is one movie that Umar Akmal should be watching day in and day out in order to understand the true meaning of Uncle Ben’s life-changing lesson, it is Spiderman.

While Umar Akmal has not lived up to his potential, his case is a timely reminder of how the management needs to have a different prism for every player. May be, in today’s era, having someone as recklessly confident as Umar Akmal batting at number four is not that bad an idea – after all, Misbah offers a completely different taste at number five. It is this element of surprise and the confidence of taking on anyone and everyone that are priceless traits; traits that the team management must hold on to and cherish.

Over the next few months, while he bats at four, Umar Akmal is going to make you want to bang your head against the wall. He is going to make you pull your hair out of your head, perhaps literally for some passionate fans. But then there will be those priceless moments where he wins you matches and takes on the opposition psychologically. All he needs in order to do that is get the license to kill from Waqar and company. The question boils down to whether Waqar is willing to let Akmal explore his aggressive nature. One would think, recalling Waqar’s own playing days, that he is more likely to encourage this never-say-die attitude.

The little Akmal plays best when he is himself. Don’t make him Batman when he is meant to be Hulk.

STATALERT: In 49 innings at number 6, Akmal averages 41.23 at a strike rate of 89.58. He is no Michael Bevan but these numbers demand some respect.

Rising Islamophobia in the United States of America

“I have never felt more at risk for myself and for others who identify themselves as Muslims,” says Sheikh Ali K Mashhour, Imam at the Islamic Cultural Center of New York.

Hate crimes against Muslims in America went up by 67 per cent in 2015, according to FBI’s latest report released in 2016. In 2014, this number went up by 14pc.

So, what are the reasons for this increase in Islamophobia? Mashhour blames American politicians and the news coverage of Muslims.

“Journalists are telling us what Islam is, what to think of Muslims,” he complains, referring to the coverage of violent extremism in the US.

President-elect Trump called “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings in December last year. Since then, Trump has altered his statement and softened his stance on banning the entry of all Muslims. Instead, he now supports banning the entry of Muslims from “terrorist states”.

Nonetheless, Trump’s statements have only fuelled fears in the American-Muslim community.

Imam Mashhour says Trump was a “lead reason” for this otherisation of Muslims in America. “It has become, ‘If you are truly an American, then you would support these ideas,’” he believes. “One of those ideas is that these people [Muslims] are our enemy.”

Albert Cahn, director of strategic litigation at non-profit CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), sees this as a “disturbing normalisation of Islamophobia by people at the highest levels of American politics”.

Clinton also talked about this polarisation during her unsuccessful run for presidency. “He [Trump] is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter,” she said in a primary debate last December. “They are going to people, showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit,” added Clinton. She repeated these sentiments this year in the second presidential debate in St Louis, Missouri, on Oct 9.

“Extremists on both sides feed from each other,” says Mohamed Khater, president of the Islamic Society of Central New York. “This rhetoric, when it goes to people like ISIS, they say, ‘See, we told you that the west is against Islam.’”

Khater adds that an “industry of Islamophobia” has begun to rise in the US and that some people are being funded to spread disinformation about Islam.

74 groups were identified as actively promoting Islamophobia according to a report released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and University of California Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender. Of these 74 groups, the report alleged that 33 had access to funds close to $206 million between 2008-2013.

To deal with these rising tensions, community leaders and organisations in Islamic centres are making a cautious effort to educate both the Muslim community and the American people to counter negative sentiments attached with Islam and Muslims.

In Syracuse, New York state, for example, representatives of the Islamic Society have gone to multiple churches and three synagogues to answer questions about Islam, jihad and violence.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, New York City, offers a variety of workshops to educate members of the Muslim communities about their constitutional rights, interactions with law enforcement and responding to discrimination.

The Islamic Cultural Center of New York uses the weekly Friday congregation prayers, where roughly 3,000 Muslims show up on average, to encourage Muslims not to feed into the hatred and instead create a positive impact on a personal level, says Mashhour.

As Trump prepares to take over as America’s 45th president, Muslims in America will have to wait and see if he can counter this wave of Islamophobia—and, indeed, if he has any interest in doing so.

Published on Dawn.com on January 21, 2017.