Pakistan cricket is probably filled with the most inspired, interesting, frustrating, amusing, baffling incidents of selection than any other country.
Though it champions itself on merit, it lags behind other countries when it comes to a level-playing field for all citizens.Though consideration of religion should be far removed from the arts and sport, if not from every profession and walk of life, it is a fact that there is a clash of civilisations and religion, race, caste and colour — undeniable catalysts.
South Africa for a long time had apartheid affecting its selection but not any more. New Zealand has managed an Indian or two, especially from the Patel family, while England of late and Indians most of the time have had Muslims even in leadership positions, such as Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Azharuddin and Nasser Hussain. Sri Lanka has played Tamils like Muralitharan even during the long civil war in the north with them but if I remember clearly, David Heyn was the last white men to play for them in the mid-seventies; since then the only ‘white men’ in their ranks have been the foreign coaches like Dav Whatmore and Tom Moody, though all from Bhuddists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians have featured in their sides.
Zimbabwe went from white to black within weeks and came up probably with the first reverse racism in cricket, if not sporting, history. They now have arrived at some semblance of racial balance. The West Indies for a long time had a white captain despite a team full of phenomenally talented natives from the Caribbean islands, until the late Sir Frank Worrel took over in 1960 from Alexander. Since then you don’t see any white men in the side, perhaps because the settlements were wound up by the 1950s and went back to England. But they have had some players belonging to religions other than Christian. A Muslim, Inshan Ali, played for them in the 1970s and Indian descent has been well represented, especially from Trinidad & Tobago.
Admittedly Australian choices still carry an accent of subliminal racism, as it is the only country in the world to have played no Asian or black player, other than Usman Khawaja who has become the first Muslim and full South Asian to represent Australia, after about 130 years of playing Test cricket. Dav Whatmore has also been counted as one, being born in Sri Lanka. But with Usman’s induction there is a role model for other pessimistic immigrant youths from the subcontinent to have hope. It won’t happen quickly I feel but the Asians now have a dream.
Jason Gillespie is the only acknowledged Aboriginal person (though his mother was Greek) to become a Test cricketer. Otherwise no indigenous Australian has played cricket for the country.
So what then has held back minorities from Pakistan from gaining a permanent foothold in the team? After the likes of the late Wallis Matthias in the 1950s, the ones to have played the longest for Pakistan have been Danish Kaneria and Mohammad Yousuf, with the latter converting to Islam midway through his career. Today Pakistan and Bangladesh are probably the only countries to have all singular religion teams.
I would think that the reason is the flight of the minorities rather than their plight, though the accent on Islamic demonstration was perhaps at its peak from 2004 to 2007 when Inzamam led the team. I remember someone once asking him around late 2006 how Rana Naveed was doing. Inzi replied: “Good. Woh bhi abb darhi nikal raha hai.” You’d think it was one of his famed witty replies but believe me the man was serious in his answer.
I said flight because Pakistan, already having a lower percentage of minorities than other major cricket playing countries, has seen a heightened wave of emigration since the 1990s of Hindus, Parsis and Christians. Their involvement in cricket is a far cry from the Bombay Quadrangular (later Pentangular with addition of ‘Rests’) where they came in as full-fledged teams in themselves. It’s taken a while, and there was a time when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Alvin Robert Cornelius, was for a few years the Chairman of Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP) as the PCB was known then.
The declining population of minorities and the increase in the Muslim population has naturally resulted in the law of probability favouring Muslims coming into the Pakistan cricket team. I feel it is by default rather than by design. This is a shame because any sport is more than the act on the field or arena; it is an amalgamation of all aspects of society of one country on display to the world and highlights which of them are more welcoming than others. That is where the west takes the lead over the east, where you are unlikely to find a Caucasian in a Chinese, Japanese or Korean team.
But within our own there has been this fault line between the sons of soil and the diaspora, again I feel by accident than for any ulterior motives. This has often resulted in selection controversies and complaints of favouritism, even nepotism. The Akmal brothers immediately come to mind for this generation, even though none of them have been in a leadership position to call the shots. But the clear influence and collusion has been there.
There are several ways in which this can be arranged and one is to ‘rig’ the trial game. This sort of match happens now but rarely. But Wazir Mohammad once told me an interesting story about such an arrangement. Once in the 1950s when a tour squad was to be chosen, there was a standoff in the selection of a batsman and also a spinner. So it was decided that the final selection would be made based on the trial match.
Wazir recalls that he and his Karachi colleagues saw that Fazal and Mahmood Hussain were bowling half volleys to the batsman they wanted to go on tour and he ended up making a hundred while the contender from Karachi was put to sword with vicious bouncers and yorkers at high speed.