Monday 19 May 2014 

An Insight Into Pakistan Cricket, From Grass Roots To The Top

Mohammad Hafeez, Misbah-ul-Haq
Your author played alongside both Mohammad Hafeez (left) and Misbah-ul-Haq on first-class debut
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

Former first-class cricketer Jibran Khan Niazi provides an insight into how cricket is structured in Pakistan, from the grass roots to the very highest level.

Pakistan cricket at grass root level.

When I started my cricket at school level, this was my first time playing with a proper cricket ball and I performed well. You might think it is bit strange - how is it possible to perform so well when given a red ball to play with for the first time?

Let me explain.

Playing with a hard ball was not a problem as we experienced playing cricket with a tennis ball for years in the streets and grounds since our childhood. We wrap tape - mostly white in colour on it - and mark the lines with the bat and start playing.

It is pertinent to mention here that a lot of talented boys with experience of playing cricket with tennis balls were picked up and went on to big things.

If we compare our street cricket, particularly with tennis balls, with other countries we feel that despite a lack of facilities and proper suitable atmosphere of cricket at grass roots level Pakistan has produced many world class players.

Some improvements have been made with regard to facilities and coaching in Pakistan. Proper wickets and supporting environments are available in big cities like Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Karachi.

Famous national players have set up academies in their respective home cities but by limiting these opportunities to those big cities, boys in other areas with potential and talent may not get any exposure at national and international level and thus miss their chance.

Grass roots/school level cricket .

After playing the game at school I developed a passion for the game and started thinking about cricket as a career.

We have just one academy at national level which meets the facilities of world class cricket and this academy is just for international level players and the top domestic cricketers.

No player at grass roots level can get even a glimpse of this academy.

How can we meet the challenges of world cricket and produce players who may challenge the world's best?

"How can I play for the Pakistan national team," I thought to myself.

Then, taking advice of my elders I joined my first cricket club. In Pakistan, the cricket club is the basic nursery where boys are taught how to start their career as a professional.

From the club’s management I heard about Under-16 trials which is in fact the first step to professional cricket in Pakistan held under the auspices of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

The PCB announces a proper schedule of matches and trials and these are held in all regions of Pakistan. It gives youngsters some idea of playing cricket with discipline under the supervision of senior players and coaches.

At the end of this tournament, those who performed well in batting and bowling are asked to attend the Pakistan Under-16 camp arranged by the PCB. The selectors watch the boys playing in the camp to view their overall performance. 

From there, the Pakistan Under-16 team is selected and thereafter the next - crucial - step is the Under-19 setup in Pakistan.

Under-19 Cricket

Players have three years to play Under-19 tournaments. It is up to player to decide when he will start his Under-19 career but he must be below the age of 19 - as I was. 

I played for three  years, from the age of 16 to 18. Any player who consistenntly performed well may be selected for a PCB camp. 

As I have pointed out Under-19 performances carries weight as some of the Under-19 boys were also selected for the national team.

Domestic Cricket

Now coming to the structure of Pakistan’s domestic first-class cricket it is necessary to explain its importance.

In Pakistan there are two 'Grade One' tournaments: one is played by all regional teams and the other played by departmental teams. Those who perform well in those competitions are picked for Pakistan camps and then if they are good enough, on to the international team or the 'A' team.

Let me share my experience of first-class cricket with you.

Having completed my three years of Under-19 cricket, I was selected for my first-class team, Sargodha.

In my time there was not much money in first-class cricket played in the region, but if you watch the cricket of that era you would have seen extraordinarily good cricket - the players playing that time in my team included Mohammad Hafeez. Misbah-ul-Haq, and many more players who also played for Pakistan including Shoaib Akhtar, Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik.

There is a considerable number of superstars who emerged at international level after getting support from various departments and doing their bit for the promotion of cricket in Pakistan.

This has to be admired as every department’s provided 10 to 14 Test players. In short in those days the quality of cricket was supreme because the players, without taking handsome money in regional cricket, were compensated by the departments.

Those playing in one of the departmental teams as well as a regional team were earning considerable money and gaining guidance from  well-organised cricket coaches.

It is worth mentioning here that  domestic cricket is broadcast on local telvision channels, particularly the domestic Twenty20 tournament which creates enthusiasm and a warm reception from the public as well - at the end of the season every player gets handsome amount.

The future

Now, I want to compare the time when I started playing first-class cricket and the present.

Let me quote an example: the players of that era produced by domestic cricket included the likes of Mohammad Yousuf, Younus Khan, Akhtar, Misbah, Hafeez, Malik, Mohammad Asif.

One can say that in those days of domestic cricket we didn't produce big international stars. The simple reason in my opinion is that the PCB gave quality cricket but failed to give plenty of international cricket. That's why most players are not able to play first-class cricket and the other drawback is we are not able to see international cricket on home soil.

Concluding my point of view, I  do appreciate the cricketers of Pakistan who are playing world class cricket despite a lack of facilities and the opportunities other countries have. 

We have just one academy at national level which meets the facilities of world class cricket and this academy is just for international level players and the top domestic cricketers.

No player at grass roots level can get even a glimpse of this academy.

How can we meet the challenges of world cricket and produce players who may challenge the world's best?

This is just an overview of cricket in Pakistan but if honest and dedicated efforts are made to arrange training and coaching of street boys, I think we can make Pakistan the best team in the world.

Off-spinner Jibran Khan Niazi played first-class and one-day cricket for Sargodha, also playing for Pakistan University Grants Commission and Faisalabad.

© Cricket World 2014

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