April issue 2010
Interview: Siraj-ul-Islam Bukhari, Karachi Cricket Association
“The structure of the game has been destroyed because stakeholders at the grassroots level have no say in the development of the game”
– Professor Siraj-ul-Islam Bukhari
Secretary, Karachi Cricket Association
Q: First, can you pinpoint the basic cause of the current malaise afflicting cricket in Pakistan?
A: Well, basically, it is because the nurseries of cricket have been ignored, and the associations that ran these nurseries have been rendered powerless and almost redundant in the current set up.
Q: How has that impacted the development of the game.
A: Look at the way the structure of the game has been destroyed because stakeholders at the grassroots level have no say in the development of the game. Over a longer period of time, this has totally disheartened the dedicated campaigners who had made it their life’s mission to promote the game through finding and encouraging budding talent, mentoring and coaching them, and running around getting facilities for them.
Q: Can you specifically point out some of the factors that have led to this decline?
A: The general relegation of sports to a position of unimportance is the main cause. Earlier, there used to be a quota for sports in school and college admissions. Those who were good in sports were generally not able to compete with those equipped with better academic abilities, so they used to benefit from this quota. This was abolished because of the corruption that crept in when influentials pressurised the authorities to admit undeserving candidates. However, instead of fixing the system, the system was done away with. Then, due to the pressure of some senior players, the financial umbrella provided to the cricketers was taken away when the departments were disbanded and the boys lost their career opportunities. In these trying financial times, they cannot be expected to take up the game with the same dedication as when it provided their bread and butter.
Then, cricket at the grassroots level disappeared. We had such keenly contested school and college/university tournaments. Where are they now? With the associations rendered powerless, club cricket suffered. They were also unable to attract any sponsors so their viability has been threatened in the present unrepresentative system. All this has been coupled with the new technologies that have captured the interests of youngsters who have taken to them and given up physical activity.
Q: This is the general trend now. But what about the players who are still taking up cricket? How are they being dealt with?
A: Because there are no powers with the associations, the loosening of controls has seen a visible and general decline in discipline among the players.
Q: How do you mean? As in on field misbehaviour?
A: No, I mean cricketing discipline, like coming to practice sessions on time and putting in the required effort.
Q: If all of the above is true, then to what would you attribute the recent success of the Karachi Blues team in the national tournament?
A: This is because the boys had been receiving a lot of ragging about their lack of ability and commitment, and were motivated enough to prove everyone wrong. There were many boys who had been knocking at the doors of first class cricket for years, and even now, due to the availability of talent, team selection was a difficult task.
Q: But how were you able to get the boys to this stage where they were able to show their true colours?
A: This is simply because despite all the problems, we had been holding under-15 and under-19 competitions so they could rise up the ranks. Karachi, however, suffers from a lack of good grounds and good bowling wickets, which is why traditionally it has always produced good batsmen. So that is something that needs looking into.
Q: So do you think that despite all the difficulties, this is the model for rejuvenation of the game?
A: Of course. This is something that can be replicated in all parts of the country. Attention must be paid to grassroots and club level cricket, and like Karachi, they will also be able to at least keep the nurseries going.
Q: Any other complaints with the system and the powers that be?
A: Basically, the complaint is of being sidelined, not consulted and not represented. All decisions are being taken by a small closed group and this is breeding a lot of resentment.
This article is part of a larger report of the health of sports in Pakistan: Game Over
A freelance journalist, with an experience of print, electronic and web media. She writes, and trains media on climate change, gender and labour issues, as well as media ethics.