The Urdu print media in Karachi began to echo the Mohajirs’ concerns and this then spilled over into cricket as well.
Though the team had a number of players from Karachi, the media began to highlight the case of one, Aftab Baloch.
Aftab came from a mixed Baloch and Gujrati-speaking family in Karachi and was a prodigious batting all-rounder.
He made his Test debut in 1969 at the age of 16 but was not played again until the Karachi press picked up his case.
He continued to perform well in domestic cricket and the press claimed that the ‘Lahore lobby’ was keeping him out of the side.
The cricket board responded by selecting him for Pakistan’s 1974 tour of England but he wasn’t played in any of the three Tests.
However, Baloch was finally given another Test against the visiting West Indian side in 1975. He scored a 50 in Lahore but was inexplicably dropped for the next Test in Karachi.
The press again cried foul, but its campaign for Baloch gradually faded away along with the man.
Like Mushtaq, Iqbal was a regular fixture in the team, but had lost form during the West Indies series. Mushtaq also pushed for the inclusion of another Karachi player, the then 18-year-old Javed Miandad.
The Lahore press accused Mushtaq of favoring Karachi players. But the accusation did not stick because both Iqbal and Miandad scored centuries and Pakistan won the Test.
Nevertheless, the ethnic issue hardly ever rose again in Pakistan cricket during Mushtaq’s captaincy (1976-79), and the team struck a fine balance between talented Lahore players and the equally talented ones from Karachi.
For example, when the team went for a 5-month tour of Australia and the West Indies in 1976-77, the following was the regional make-up of the squad:
But what were these Karachi and Lahore lobbies that the press often talked about?
Mostly what the press meant were the cricket associations in Karachi and Lahore who were empowered by the cricket board to run and develop cricket clubs and cricketers of the two main centres of cricket in the country and generate new talent for first-class sides and for Pakistan.
The associations also competed for funds and helped the national selection committee to spot emerging new talent.
However, as politics based on ethnicity proliferated the country from 1973 onwards, tussles, allegations and counter-allegations between Lahore and Karachi associations increased.
Members of both the associations regularly used the Urdu print media to propagate their point of view and accused each other of promoting Punjabi and/or non-Punjabi players.
But it wasn’t only about the Mohajirs of Karachi and the Punjabis of Lahore.
During the 1976 series against New Zealand, the second Test was to be played in Hyderabad (in Sindh). The Sindhi press lamented that though Pakistan’s Prime Minister was a Sindhi (Bhutto), there wasn’t a single Sindhi player in the cricket side. As a response, during a reception, the government gifted Sindhi dress, caps and ajrak to members of the Pakistan and New Zealand sides.
Some players (from both sides) even wore the clothes and posed for the cameras.
Miandad, a Gujrati-speaking Mohajir from Karachi, walked around in a Sindhi cap and told the press that since Karachi was in Sindh, he considered himself a Sindhi.
In July 1977 a reactionary military coup toppled the Bhutto regime and imposed a harsh military dictatorship.
But General Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship could not stem the politics of ethnicity. In fact, a sense of depravation (especially among Sindhis) grew two-fold because Zia was a Punjabi and had toppled a Sindhi Prime Minister.
Karachi’s Mohajirs, who had opposed Bhutto initially, welcomed Zia’s arrival but they were equally suspicious of the Punjabis as well.
In 1978 when the Indian cricket team visited Pakistan, a young cricketer from Karachi, Amin Lakhani, was given a side game against the Indians.
Incredibly, Lakhani, a left-arm leg-spin bowler, took a double hat-trick and was praised by veteran Indian spinner, Bishen Singh Bedi.
The Karachi press and the Karachi Cricket Association demanded that Lakhani be given a chance in the third Test of the series.