Misbah Magic Turns it on for Faisalabad

On 10th February, 2019, Faisalabad region emerged as the winners of the Quaid-i-Azam Grade II, thus earning its return to first-class cricket for the 2019-20 season.

The Grade II tournament was played between 8 teams and Faisalabad, led by that man Misbah-ul-Haq beat Karachi Blues at Iqbal Stadium, Faisalabad, to the great delight of Chaudhry Mohammad Anwar and Tariq Fareed, the two leading administrators of the region. The runs scored by Abu Bakar – 459 in 6 matches – and the bowling of Waqas Maqsood, taking individual laurels with the bat and the ball, respectively, in Faisalabad’s resurgence.

Faisalabad, an industrial town of Punjab, also known as Manchester of Pakistan, is located 75 miles, west of Lahore. It is hard not to have a soft spot for the city that introduced ‘live’ international cricket to the subscriber with visits of New Zealand (1976-77), MCC (1977-78) and India (1978-79). The year 1978 was significant for the old name of Lyallpur was replaced with Faisalabad, after the ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Faisal and it hosted the very first Test match at Iqbal Stadium, against India.

In terms of administration the city came under Sargodha Division and it was not until 1983-84 winter that Faisalabad had its first taste of first-class cricket under its very own name with a three-day game in the BCCP Patron’s Trophy against Sargodha at Divisional Public School, Faisalabad. The region played its first game in Quaid-i-Azam Trophy in 1990-91 with a fixture against Karachi Whites at National Stadium, Karachi. By winning the 2003-04 Quaid-i-Azam Trophy, Faisalabad confirmed its status as one of the most improved regions in the country.

Despite the services of a number of Pakistan internationals - Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal – Faisalabad is no longer the force it was in the past. In the last 3-4 years cricket in Faisalabad has suffered big time at the hands of ‘ugly’ politics and ‘cricket mafia’. Some will say it being a typical story of every town and city in Pakistan. After its demotion in January 2014, Faisalabad has only played one season (2017-18) in Grade I first-class cricket. A great pool of talent in the city, having been forced to look elsewhere, in pursuing their dreams, of playing first-class cricket and eventually for Pakistan.

One man who played a key role in Faisalabad’s revival and return to first-class cricket was none other than Misbah-ul-Haq, the bearded maestro of Pakistan cricket. One of the more remarkable cricketers to emerge from the country and now in his 45th year, led the city besides scoring runs with the bat in both semi-final and final matches of the Grade II tournament, before dashing off to UAE to represent Peshawar Zalmi in the 4th edition of PSL. Man and a half he is.

Tariq Fareed, the present Faisalabad region co-ordinator, having previously served as secretary of Faisalabad District Cricket Association (FDCA)in 2007-11, delighted with the success of the region, gives credit to Misbah, ‘ I consider him to be a ‘gift’ from Allah to Pakistan. I know him personally quite well and have always admired his commitment and professionalism. Following his fun-raising campaign in Saudi Arabia for hospital for hole-in-heart children in our country, he arrived at 6am at the Faisalabad airport on the morning of the final match and was at the ground at 8am, before the management arrived.’

He added, ‘ We are delighted to be back amongst the first-class teams in the Grade I Quaid-i-Azam Trophy and having given the national team, a number of cricketers – Wasim Haider, Ijaz Ahmed Jr., Mohammad Ramzan, Shahid Nazir, Misbah-ul-Haq, Naved Latif, Mohammad Hafeez, Samiullah Niazi, Mohammad Talha, Asad Ali, Ehsan Adil, Saeed Ajmal, Faheem Ashraf, Asif Ali and Waqas Maqsood – since the 1990s, we ought to be among the top eight cricket regions in Pakistan domestic cricket.’

‘I am working under Chaudhry Mohammad Anwar, the President of Faisalabad region, who having headed it previously in 2007-11, is enjoying the success in his second tenure. His close relation with the industrialists in the city, has helped us to raise the financial status of the cricket association. He has also given full power to Misbah-ul-Haq, over the selection of players.’

‘There is a feeling of ‘new dawn’ after the appointments of both Ehsan Mani as Chairman and Wasim Khan as Managing Director of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). The 2018-19 has been of the best season in the recent history of Faisalabad region for besides returning to the first-class cricket, we also won Pepsi PCB Cricket Stars u-16 one-day tournament beating Lahore at Lahore and the Inter-Region u-19 (three day) Tournament beating Karachi in the final at Mirpur Cricket Stadium.’

‘I would like to inform Wasim Khan that cricket in the industrial city of Faisalabad is the only entertainment and we have a fanatic following in the t20 matches held at Iqbal Stadium. In my view PCB should take over the Stadium from the district government to ensure further development of the venue that hosted the last of its 24th Test match, against India in January 2006. The people of Faisalabad have been denied international cricket for far too long. With the upgrading of facilities and Serena Hotel, a few minutes from the stadium Faisalabad should be considered to host some of the matches of the 5th edition of the PSL in 2020.’

‘With so much talent in the Faisalabad region made up of six districts – Faisalabad, Sargodha, Mianwali, Bhakar, Jhang and Kasur – and population of nearly 30 million (3 crore), we ought to have more than three decent stadiums that we presently have, one in Sargodha and two in Faisalabad. PCB also must work on registration of clubs in Faisalabad region thus eliminating all bogus clubs, used in the dynamics of the cricket politics to gain unfair advantage in the election years. The local association should have a bigger say in the selection process rather than the national selectors being approached with ‘sifarish’ and ‘perchee’. We hope with PM of Pakistan, Imran Khan, leading the country in the right direction, he would certainly be keen to bring back international cricket to all major cities of the country.’

© Cricket World 2019