Right from the moment of its sudden inception in August 1947, Pakistan began to experience a number of socio-political fissures.
The country constituted various distinct ethnicities, religions, Islamic sects and sub-sects.
Instead of harmonising the cultural, ethnic and sectarian differences through a democratic mechanism, the state tried to bulldoze them aside with the help of an ideology that was singularly constructed by the state (as opposed to being designed through a democratically achieved consensus).
Today, Pakistan’s wobbly status as a country with extensive religious, ethnic and sectarian/sub-sectarian tensions and violence is a continuation of a negative evolution triggered by the blunders in this respect that were committed by the state, the governments, religious leaders and ideologues.
These elements treated Pakistan as a lab where political and religious experiments could be conducted without concern. They were almost entirely unable (or unwilling) to predict the kind of long-term impact that their myopic tinkering and careless excursions into the territory of social engineering would eventually have on the fate of the country.
The negative evolution in this context has (so far) unfolded in three different phases. The initial tensions in the society were based on class differences till ethnicity eschewed the class factor and replaced ‘class war’ with ideological and political conflicts fought on the basis of ethnic identities.
Ethnic tensions (when they began to exhaust themselves from the late 1980s) were replaced with fissures in the polity on sectarian and sub-sectarian lines.
All three fissures – class, ethnicity and sectarian/sub-sectarian – are not entirely exclusive. Buried within each are echoes of the other.
One interesting way of understanding the trajectory of Pakistan’s negative evolution in this context is by studying the country’s cricket culture.
Cricket in South Asia is much more than just a game. In India and Pakistan (and to a certain extent in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), cricket is like what football is in most Latin American countries.
Cricket in this region reflects the socio-political mindset of a country’s polity. This also includes the game (or the team) reflecting (or being directly affected by) social, political and economic fissures present in a country.
Every Test playing side in South Asia has exhibited this.
For example, the vicious civil war between the Sinhalese-dominated state of Sri Lanka and the country’s Tamil minority (1980-2011) impacted the Sri Lankan cricket for decades.
In his autobiography, former Pakistan cricket captain, Imran Khan, writes how during Pakistan’s 1987 tour of Sri Lanka, the Pakistan team had to continuously face hostile crowds and biased umpiring.
Khan suggests that the Lankan state’s war against the Tamil Tigers was going badly and society was faced with violence. There was tension around the playing venues and the state was desperate for a Test victory to soften the blow of the raging civil war.
In India, when a concentrated protest movement was developing against Indira Gandhi’s increasingly autocratic government in the 1970s, Indian politics went into a tailspin.
There was widespread rioting, growing incidents of corruption and crime and the Indian society stood precariously polarised.
The tension crept into the Indian cricket team as well that was touring England in 1974.
Reports began to come in about how the members of the team were bickering among themselves and were not entirely focused on cricket.
India lost the series 3-0 and then to cap it all, one of the team’s batsmen, Sudhir Naik, was arrested for stealing some shirts from a London store.
As Indira was busy contemplating to enforce tougher measures to curb the movement against her, the Indian cricket team saw itself being asked to leave a reception held by the Indian Ambassador to England.
The Ambassador was angry that the team turned up 40 minutes late and had asked it to go back. The team returned to its hotel, disgusted.
Then captain, Ajit Wadekar, began to accuse some senior players of the squad of being government stooges and ‘Patuadi’s men.’
In 1975, the year Indira imposed an emergency and assumed almost dictatorial powers, Wadekar was dropped and replaced by M A. Khan Pataudi as captain.
Examples of how a South Asian cricket team can so vividly reflect a country’s ups and downs, dynamics and divides are a plenty.
But we will be going into more detail in this context regarding Pakistan only. We will try to follow how Pakistan cricket shadowed the negative evolution of Pakistan’s class, ethnic and sectarian/sub-sectarian fissures.
A class apart
Pakistan inherited very little by way of industry and infrastructure when it separated from the rest India to become an independent country.
One of the first tasks of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was to encourage Muslim industrialists, professionals and bureaucrats to move (from India) to Pakistan and help the government to construct the new country’s economic infrastructure.
The state was willing to give extraordinary help and leeway to these men. But a majority of Pakistanis were poor and many did not appreciate the state’s overt reliance on rich men.
That’s why leftist organisations like the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) and its student-wing, the Democratic Students Federation (DSF), managed to make early in-roads on the side of the peasants and the working classes in (what the communists believed) was an emerging class war in Pakistan.
When Pakistan gained international Test cricket status in 1952, the country’s cricket board chose an Oxford-educated and well-to-do man to lead the country’s first Test side.
Abdul Hafeez Kardar was a haughty and authoritarian man. He was to lead a team, most of whose members were not only extremely inexperienced, but they also came from economic backgrounds that were way below that of Kardar’s.
Most of the players could not even afford to buy their own playing kit and had to borrow things like bats, gloves, pads and even shoes from friends and others.
Nevertheless, Kardar led the team well and under him Pakistan was able to win a string of Test matches.
In his autobiography, Pakistan’s classic opening batsman, Hanif Muhammad, laments the fact that in spite of Kardar being an inspirational captain, he could not shed his aristocratic baggage and demeanor.
Hanif explains how Kardar destroyed the career of one of his (Hanif’s) brothers, Raees Muhammad.
Hanif writes that Raees was as talented as he was. However, (according to Hanif) since his family did not come from a very educated and well-to-do background, Kardar continued to play Maqsood Ahmed in place of Raees.
Maqsood came from an established middle-class family and was Kardar’s ‘drinking buddy.’ Though Hanif and his brother too liked their drink, Kardar could not get himself to play Raees because that would have meant dropping Maqsood.
Thus Raees became the only one from the five Muhammad brothers who failed to play Test cricket for Pakistan.
The Pakistani state’s patronage of industrialists reached a peak during the Ayub Khan dictatorship (1958-69).
When he took over power (in a military coup) in 1958, he at once set Pakistan on the course of state-backed capitalism in an attempt to quicken the country’s economic progress.
A select group of families were given an open filed to set up factories and other businesses. Though Ayub did achieve the economic advancement that he was hoping for, the fruits of this procedure failed to trickle down and benefit the majority of the Pakistanis. Economic/class gaps between Pakistanis grew even more rapidly under Ayub.
In 1962, the Pakistan cricket board decided to create ‘another Kardar.’
Kardar had retired in 1958 and was first replaced by Fazal Mehmood and then by Imtiaz Ahmed.
In spite of the fact that Hanif had risen to become the team’s leading and most experienced batsman, he was ignored and the young, 24-year-old Javed Burki was made the captain for Pakistan’s 1962 tour of England.
Burki was an Oxford graduate, was the son of a military man and came from an upper-middle-class family in Lahore. What’s more, since Ayub was a military man himself, the board chose a senior army officer as the team’s manager who could hardly tell the difference between cricket and football!
In their respective autobiographies, Hanif Muhammad and Fazal Mehmood, both praise Burki for his batting talents but lambast him for being arrogant, snooty and insulting towards the players.
Hanif writes that Burki looked down upon the lesser educated and poorer players, whereas Mehmood claims that Burki would only talk to him through the manager.
Nevertheless, Burki’s team lost the series 4-0 and he was finally replaced by Hanif.
When the Ayub dictatorship began being cornered by a violent leftist students and labour movement, socialist parties like the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), National Awami Party (NAP), and the Awami League, rose to become the country’s three main civilian forces.
The echoes of the commotion also began to be heard in the country’s cricket team.
For example, when young opener Aftab Gul made his Test debut in 1969, he was already known as a radical student leader at the Punjab University.
Students used Pakistan’s matches against England in 1968 to protest. Crowds often invaded the grounds in Karachi and Lahore, rioted and chanted slogans against Ayub.
Debate and politics based on concepts like class war and class conflict reached a peak in Pakistan during the anti-Ayub movement in the late 1960s.
The debate then turned politics in the country on its head when (during the 1970 election), leftist parties wiped out old establishmentarian parties and right-wing religious groups at the polls.
However, from within this debate of class conflict and the need to turn Pakistan into a revolutionary socialist state, also emerged groups asking for the democratic recognition of the country’s various ethnic communities and the autonomy of regions dominated by the Sindhis, Baloch, Pushtun and Bengalis.
Though the Bengali Muslims of India had enthusiastically accepted the creation of Pakistan, and East Bengal became the eastern wing of Pakistan (East Pakistan), the Bengalis were the first to accuse the country’s Punjabis of monopolising the military, the bureaucracy, sports and economics.
They also feared that the state of Pakistan was not introducing democracy because that would make the Bengalis the majority ruling group.
The Bengalis also complained that in spite of the fact that East Pakistan was contributing the most to the economy, it was the country’s poorest region.
They accused the Punjabi ruling elite of being racist towards them and hell-bent on keeping talented Bengali sportsmen from the country’s hockey and cricket teams.
In 1971, a vicious civil war erupted in East Pakistan between Bengali nationalists and the military.
As the civil war was raging, the Pakistan cricket team was touring England in June-July of 1971.
After the second Test match, a charity organisation in London planned to auction a cricket bat signed by English and Pakistani players to raise money for those affected by the civil war in East Pakistan.
It came as a shock to the charity organisation when a group of Pakistani players led by Aftab Gul refused to sign the bat.
Gul was a Maoist and unlike the pro-Soviet Marxists in Pakistan, the pro-China leftists in the country had been squarely against Bengali nationalists.
Fearing that the event would be turned into an embarrassing episode by the British media, the Pakistan captain, Intikhab Alam and the team management requested Gul and his posse to sign the bat.
But the men refused, saying that they were not willing to do anything that would benefit the ‘traitors’ (Bengalis). They only came around when the government of Pakistan ordered them to sign the bat. But Gul still refused and was almost sent back home.
Though Lahore had a Punjabi majority, Sindh’s capital Karachi had a majority of Mohajirs (or Muslim Urdu-speakers who had migrated from North Indian regions after the creation of Pakistan).
The majority of the players in the country’s cricket team had almost always been Punjabi and Mohajir. The quality of cricket in Karachi and Lahore was such that it became very tough for Bengali or Sindhi players to enter the squad.
The Pushtun and Baloch did not say much in this respect because in those days cricket was not very popular in the areas dominated by the two ethnic groups.
Already in 1969 when Saeed Ahmed (a Punjabi) was dropped as captain, Mushtaq Muhammad (from Karachi) was booed by the crowd at a Test match in Lahore.
The Lahore press had alluded that Saeed’s dismissal had been ‘engineered by the Karachi lobby.’
It wasn’t true. Ahmed, though a terrific batsman, was a mediocre captain.
The populist Sindhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, became Pakistan’s first elected head of state and then government in 1972. His party had won a sweeping majority in Punjab and Sindh (but not in Karachi).
The Mohajirs, who had been part of the ruling elite in the 1950s, had begun to see themselves gradually being ousted from the corridors of power by the Punjabis and then the Pushtuns (during the Ayub Khan regime).
Their paranoia of being sidelined was further aggravated when Bhutto decided to make Sindhi Sindh’s official language.
The Mohajirs protested and claimed that they were becoming the new Bengalis and that Pakistan’s politics was being stung by ‘provincialism.’
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.
He was named in the 14-man squad but on the eve of the Test, injured his hand and could not make the final 11.
The press, however, suggested that Lakhani was fine and that the selectors had lied about the injury. The Karachi press then went ballistic when Lakhani wasn’t picked in the squad that was to tour New Zealand and Australia in 1979.
The selectors dismissed the accusation of the ‘Punjabi bias’ by the Karachi press suggesting that the team’s captain (Mushtaq) and vice-captain (Asif Iqbal) were both from Karachi.
Lakhani never played for Pakistan.
But this was nothing compared to perhaps the ugliest ethnic spat that took place in Pakistan cricket.
In 1980 when Asif Iqbal (who had replaced Mushtaq as captain) resigned from the game (after losing to India in 1979), the cricket board’s new chairman, Nur Khan, recalled Mushtaq and asked him to become captain again.
Mushtaq declined but suggested the name of the then 24-year-old Javed Miandad for the post.
This must have bothered senior players like Zaheer Abbas and Majid Khan, but since both had performed poorly against India, they were concentrating more on retaining their place in the side.
Miandad won his first series as captain (against Australia), but lost the next two. The board and the selectors retained him as captain for the 1982 series against the visiting Sri Lankan team.
Shortly before the series, Miandad was quoted by the press as saying that the senior players in the team were not co-operating with him.
Majid Khan took offense and invited nine players to his home in Lahore and told them that he was going to refuse playing under Miandad. He said that Zaheer had agreed to do the same.
Soon, all the players at the meeting gave Majid the green signal to add their names and signatures to the letter of protest that Majid was planning to hand over to the board.
Apart from Majid and Zaheer, the rebel brigade included Mudassar Nazar, Imran Khan, Sikandar Bakht, Mohsin Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Wasim Bari, Iqbal Qasim and Wasim Raja.
The board decided to side with Miandad and he led a brand new team against the Lankans in the first Test of the series at Karachi’s National Stadium.
The ethnic angle to the whole episode first emerged when groups of youth in the stadium’s general stands began to raise slogans against the rebels (calling them ‘anti-Karachi’ and ‘Punjabi thugs’) and burned posters of Majid, Zaheer and Imran.
The Karachi press then went into overdrive accusing Majid of playing into the hands of the ‘Lahore lobby’ who wanted to topple Miandad’s captaincy just because he was from Karachi and a non-Punjabi.
Even the fact that the rebel lot had included four players from Karachi (Mohsin, Qasim, Sikandar, Bari) and even Zaheer, though a Punjabi, was settled in the city, could not deter the press from seeing the episode as a case of ‘Punjabi chauvinism.’
Pressured by the Karachi press, two of the Karachi players, Mohsin Khan and Iqbal Qasim broke away from the rebels and rejoined the team. Wasim Raja, though a Lahorite, also decided to break away.
By the third Test of the series, Zaheer, Imran, Mudassar, Sarfraz and Bari also decided to rejoin the team, leaving only Majid and Karachi’s young pace bowler, Sikandar Bakht, standing (and stranded).
Now, it was the turn of the Lahore press to react. It accused the board and Miandad of coercing the rebelling players’ domestic teams to ban them. The players were employed on healthy salaries by the banks and airlines (PIA) that they played for in domestic tournaments.
The Lahore press also accused Imran Khan of betraying his cousin Majid by accepting a lucrative new playing fee from the board.
As the issue got uglier, Miandad resigned as captain after the third Test but on the condition that he was willing to play under any player, except Majid Khan.
The board decided to appoint Imran Khan as the new skipper.
Since the politics of ethnicity (as a protest tool) became stronger during the Zia dictatorship in the 1980s, it kept affecting the country’s cricket as well.
But each episode in this respect came with the kind of contradictions that one saw in the Miandad controversy.
For example, throughout Khan’s captaincy, the Karachi press accused Khan of undermining Karachi players like Iqbal Qasim and Qasim Omar, and forcing his Lahore contemporary, Abdul Qadir’s entry into the team.
Meanwhile, the Lahore press lambasted Khan for persisting with Karachi’s Mansoor Akhtar, despite the fact that the batsman was continuously failing to live up to his batting potential.
The Karachi press claimed that Khan was also undermining Miandad’s seniority, and yet, when Miandad became Khan’s Vice Captain in 1986, he became one of the most influential decision-makers on the side after Khan.
Former Australian captain, Ian Chappell, described the Khan-Miandad combination as one of the most powerful think-tanks in cricket.
But as the politics of ethnicity began to recede after the demise of the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in 1988, its last major jerk in cricket came during another rebellion against Miandad’s captaincy in 1993.
Miandad had replaced Khan in 1992 after the latter retired. But he faced a players’ rebellion in 1993 that was led by Lahore’s Wasim Akram and South Punjab’s Waqar Yunus.
Miandad accused Imran of pulling the strings of the rebels and the Karachi press lambasted Khan of the same.
In his autobiography, Miandad suggests that Khan was doing this to get back at him because he (Khan) believed that Miandad had tried to stir a mini-rebellion against Khan after Pakistan had won the 1992 Cricket World Cup.
Victories under Mushtaq’s and Khan’s captaincies added to the popularity of cricket in Pakistan beyond Karachi and Lahore.
For example, in the 1980s for the first time players from the Pushtun areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (former NWFP) and from small towns and villages of the Punjab began to make a mark.
This, along with the changing nature of politics in post-Cold War Pakistan, would also witness some unprecedented changes in the country’s cricketing culture.
The faith bait
Till the arrival of Zia in July 1977, the nature and culture of Pakistan’s cricket teams were quite like that of the society. Faith hardly played a major role outside one’s home or mosque/shrine, and never in matters of business, arts and sports.
However, it is also true that even during the height of the Zia dictatorship in the 1980s – when draconian laws were being introduced in the name of Islam, and extremist and sectarian organisations were emerging with the help of the state – the impact of these laws and emergences would not be fully felt by the polity and society of Pakistan till after Zia’s demise in August 1988.
What the Zia regime initiated through certain constitutional amendments, laws and a project of social engineering that (for the first time) saw the state providing space and patronage to a number of evangelical and Islamist organisations, worked as the seed that bloomed into the proliferation of the radicalisation and conservatism witnessed in the Pakistani society from the mid-1990s.
This trend is also apparent in the culture of the country’s cricket team across the 1980s and early 1990s.
Though things like celebrating victories with champagne and beer in the dressing rooms of stadiums in Pakistan stopped after 1977, the practice largely continued whenever Pakistan won a game abroad.
The practice of attending parties and clubs (when on tour) also continued and the faith of a player remained to be a strictly personal matter.
Also, there remained great tolerance within the team on matters of religion and morality.
For example, in Mushtaq’s team of the 1970s, a majority of players liked to drink. But then there were those who didn’t, like Majid Khan, Imran Khan and Iqbal Qasim.
Similarly, whereas Imran Khan, Wasim Raja and Sarfraz Nawaz were notorious for being ‘womanisers’ and ‘party animals,’ there were also those who were very private about their lives, such as players like Majid and Asif Iqbal.
Differing moralistic dispositions hardly ever became a bone of contention between players.
This tradition continued under Imran’s captaincy in the 1980s. A majority of the players loved to party (like their skipper), but then there were also those who partied as well as mixed their faith with sport.
For example, Miandad often performed the wazu (Muslim ambulation) before going in to bat and Abdul Qadir regularly prayed five times a day. Yet, both also had a keen sense of having fun (of all kinds).
Never were their spiritual practices exhibited by them in public as something that was morally superior compared to the other players.
But by the late 1980s Zia’s ‘Islamisation’ project – which, in a way, was using faith to actually institutionalise the act of exhibiting moral self-righteousness – had begun to kick in.
Its first echo in the cricket team rang in the shape of Qasim Umar.
Qasim Umar was a dashing young batsman from Karachi. He had cemented his place in the side in the early 1980s with a string of good scores.
Though not particularly religious at the time, Umar struggled to fit into a squad whose members were outgoing, had raging hormones and (as Umar would later claim), ‘drank too much.’
Umar was unable to bond with the players. But the straw that finally broke the camel’s back in this regard was when during Pakistan’s tour of Australia in 1986, captain Imran Khan admonished Umar for playing rashly in a crucial ODI game.
According to Umar, Khan insulted him in front of other players in the dressing room even though he (Umar) had scored a 50.
After returning to Pakistan from the tour, Umar at once contacted a few journalists to tell them that he would not be playing under Khan’s captaincy.
He told the press how Khan had insulted him, but then went on to suggest that his main issue with Khan’s team was a moralistic one.
He said that the captain and his team were a bunch of womanisers who often brought women into their hotel rooms. But what shocked the press was not this, but what Umar went on the claim.
He accused the team of being habitual users of hashish/marijuana and that the players often took the drug along with them hidden in batting gloves.
It was Khan and his team’s good luck that they had been performing well and the press and the board dismissed Umar’s accusations as hogwash.
In fact, it was the same team that Zia would use to smoothen Pakistan’s ties with India (‘cricket diplomacy’). Ironically, though Zia’s regime was imposing one myopic law after the other in the country, he gave his approval to the board to hush Umar up in spite of the fact that he was behaving exactly the way Zia was.
Even if what Umar claimed was entirely true, why did he have to critique Khan’s captaincy on moralistic grounds? The team was playing good cricket and its extracurricular activities did not include any more serious mishaps, such as match-fixing.
But it seems Umar was fooled into believing that if he used the Islamic card against Khan in Zia’s Pakistan, the press and the regime would be more sympathetic towards his grudge against Khan. It wasn’t and Umar was banned for life.
He joined the conservative Islamic evangelical outfit the Tableeghi Jammat in the 1990s.
A number of Islamist outfits had already made in-roads in the politics and sociology of Pakistan by riding on the 1980’s Islamisation process.
But as most of them were highly militant, it was the evangelical movements that managed to reap the most success within the country’s mutating social and cultural milieu.
The evangelical groups also benefited from another unprecedented trend that began emerging within the urban middle-class youth of Pakistan: Never before did young Pakistanis exhibit so much interest in religion and religiosity as did the generations that grew up in much of the 1990s and almost all of the 2000s.
The evangelists that had started to attract the middle and lower middle classes began constructing feel-good narratives and apologias for the educated urbanites so that these urbanites could feel at home with religious ritualism, myth, attire and rhetoric, while at the same time continue enjoying the fruits of amoral modern economic materialism and frequent interactions with (Western and Indian) cultures that were otherwise described as being ‘anti-Islam.’
The largest evangelical group in this respect was also the oldest. The ranks of the Tableeghi Jamat (TJ), a highly ritualistic Sunni-Deobandi Islamic evangelical movement, swelled.
But since the TJ was more a collection of working-class and petty-bourgeoisie cohorts and fellow travelers, in the 1990s it also began to attract the growing ‘born again’ trend being witnessed in the county’s middle and upper-middle classes.
The Pakistan cricket team first began to mirror the above trend in the late 1990s. The TJ approached the team in 1998 through former cricketer Saeed Ahmed who had joined the outfit in the mid-1990s.
He managed to ‘gift’ the players with audio recordings of lectures given by the outfit’s leading members.
Stylish left-handed opening batsman, Saeed Anwar, became TJ’s first recruit. He had lost his baby daughter (at birth) and had understandably fallen into deep depression. Like TJ members, he also grew a lengthy beard.
According to a former Pakistani player who was in the managerial crew of the Pakistan squad that travelled to South Africa for the 2003 World Cup, Anwar became a completely changed man.
He told me: ‘Saeed Anwar was a mild-mannered, gentle and quiet man. But on that tour (South Africa, 2003) he developed a habit of popping strange questions based on faith and morality. Once he barged into the dressing room and loudly asked the players, ‘is a woman who has committed adultery liable to be put to death?’ As usual, most players just kept quiet or inaudibly slipped out. But I finally confronted him and asked him what this question had to do with cricket? He was livid! That was the first time I had seen such rage in him. He accused me of being a bad Muslim and was literally foaming at the mouth. However, our manager, Shahryar Khan, had a quiet word with him, and the next day he came to my hotel room and apologised.’
In his most recent book, The Cricket Caldron, Shahryar Khan explains how on the same tour, Anwar told the players that angels would descend and help Pakistan win the Cup.
After Pakistan was knocked out in the very first round of the tournament, Khan jokingly asked Anwar whatever happened to the angels that he claimed would help the team to win. Anwar replied: ‘They didn’t come because we (the team) are bad Muslims.’
By 2003, Mushtaq Ahmed and Salqlain Mushtaq too had become TJ members, and so did Waqar Yunus but he soon bolted out.
But it was the dashing batsman, Inzimamul Haq, who became TJ’s biggest catch – especially when he was appointed as captain in 2003.
Much has been written about how under Inzimam, more than half of the Pakistan team became ardent followers of the TJ and how he allegedly began favoring players who adhered to his beliefs and rituals.
Much has also been said about how tensions developed between Inzimam and tear-away fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, whose demeanor and disposition as a player and personality echoed the flamboyant antics of the Pakistani players of yore.
What is only coming out now, however, is how the environment in the team was also experiencing the effects of the sectarian and sub-sectarian tensions that had become a disturbing norm in Pakistani society and polity in the 2000s.
Violence against Shia Muslim community and non-Muslim population had been (and still is) on the rise ever since the late 1990s. And so is violence between Pakistan’s Sunni Barelvi and the more puritanical Sunni Deobandi sub-sects.
It is the latter aspect of the sectarian conflict in Pakistan that seemed to have made its way into the team.
The TJ members adhere to a particularly strict and highly ritualistic strain of the Deobandi school of thought.
But more interestingly, one of the first conflicts in the team in this context seemed to have taken place between Inzimam and Younis Khan, both of whom followed the Deobandi strain.
In his book, Shahryar Khan, mentions how Inzimam was never comfortable with Younis. Though according to Shahryar, Inzimam was always weary of Younis replacing him as captain, there was something else as well between them that didn’t bode well with Inzi.
The irony is that Younis was perhaps the most religious member of the team, ever since he made his debut in 2000. He prayed regularly and fasted even during matches in the month of Ramazan.
But unlike the players who eventually followed Inzimam into the TJ, Younis was extroverted, very social but preferred to keep his faith to himself.
In a 2007 interview, he complained that he could not understand why this batch of players were so anti-social and refused to interact with people and players from other countries.
He was never comfortable with Inzimam’s insistence on holding public prayers on foreign grounds or rhetorically uttering certain religious tit-bits during post-match presentation ceremonies.
Apart from Shoaib Akhtar, Younis didn’t do that and neither does another player who (unlike Younis) completely fell-out with Inzimam: Misbahul Haq.
Till the mid-1980s, a majority of players in the team came from urban backgrounds (Karachi and Lahore).
But as mentioned earlier, after Pakistan began to win more Tests and ODIs than ever under Mushtaq Muhammad and Imran Khan, cricket’s popularity grew beyond the major cities and reached small towns and villages of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KP) and the Punjab.
Most players emerging from these areas were not as urbane or educated as the ones from Lahore or Karachi.
Shahryar Khan writes that from the late 1990s, the bulk of the Pakistan cricket team began being dominated by men from small towns.
They formed a clique and were highly suspicious of players who came from bigger cities and (especially) were more educated.
Khan suggests that Inzimam was an extremely insecure captain. Apart from always suspecting Younis Khan of trying to dethrone him as captain, he was also unwilling to make those players who were more educated, a part of his team. He thought that their ‘modern outlook’ and educated backgrounds would be detrimental to the team’s environment.
Salman Butt was the most educated player in Inzimam’s side and the most urbane. But Inzimam never felt threatened by him because (at the time) Butt was too young and, more so, had fallen completely in line with Inzimam’s Tableeghi dictates.
Misbahul Haq made his Test debut in 2001 at the age of 26. But he lost form and was dropped in 2002. But in spite of performing consistently in domestic tournaments and being on the radar of the selectors, he was never selected.
Khan writes that it was Inzimam who made sure Misbah remained out. Why?
Misbah comes from an urbane middle-class family in Mianwali (Punjab). He is an MBA and like Younis keeps his religious beliefs to himself.
But that’s not all why Inzi and his Tableeghi mentors preferred to keep Misbah out.
A news report in a national Urdu daily last year suggested that Misbah, who belongs to the Barelvi Sunni sub-sect, refused to have anything to do with the TJ and that’s why Inzimam and company made sure he never got back on to the side. It is also believed that Saeed Ajmal (also a Barelvi) was also kept out.
For over 200 years, the Barelvi and Deobandi Sunni Muslims have been at loggerheads in the region. But the Barelivis (who are in majority in Pakistan) are a lot less strict than the Deobandis.
But in addition of being a Barelvi, Misbah prefers to keep his faith a private matter and is not demonstrative at all about his beliefs, unlike the TJ members who consciously make it a point to flaunt and exhibit their beliefs.
However, in 2007, when Inzimam retired, Misbah was at once recalled to the side and ever since has not only graduated to become Pakistan’s captain, but perhaps also it’s most successful batsman in the last five years.