‘The only disability in life is a bad attitude.’ This lesson I learnt after spending a couple of hours with Pakistan’s physically-challenged cricket players, recently. Exhibiting the impossible, these players are living legends.
It was indeed a moving sight to witness a fast bowler, a military man who lost a part of his leg, bowling on crutches and a prolific batsman missing a hand. Day in and day out, these sportsmen demonstrate that nothing is impossible.
Let’s back track a little to know more about these players and what got them into cricket.
Seeing them play, not paying any heed to their limitations, one can only say that the cricketers are not disabled but differently-abled
It was in early 2007 when Saleem Karim, himself a polio victim, conceived the idea of a cricket team consisting of disabled players. He discussed his idea with Amiruddin Ansari, a former first class cricketer and a match referee with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), who was all for it. Then, Mohammad Nizam, an active figure in Pakistan’s domestic circuit, also joined hands to strive for this distant dream.
“Initially, the general response was discouraging with people pointing out that even constituting a team of normal people isn’t easy and here we were talking about disabled cricketers,” recalls Nizam.
In their search for disabled players for this team the trio then decided to start a door-to-door campaign. “During an extensive survey, in Karachi, we reached out to a number of disabled people and invited them for trials at the National Stadium Karachi,” says Nizam
During trials, Amiruddin, Nizam and another first-class cricketer, Akbar Alam, had to wait till afternoon for the first entrant to show up for the trials. Finally, only around 10 to 12 boys turned up and all were picked for the team. “The good thing was that even this small group was conducive as it had a wicketkeeper, fast bowlers, spinners, etc. We were lucky in that sense. The team toured various cities and had to play against normal people. Besides creating a lot of awareness, it provided us with the kick start we desired,” adds Nizam.
Meanwhile, the trio formed the Pakistan Disabled Cricket Association (PDCA), with Saleem Karim as president, Amiruddin Ansari as honorary secretary and Muhammad Nizam as the joint secretary.
The next step was the appointment of coordinators in various cities of Pakistan to scout for talent and after a series of trials in different cities. The first national disabled cricket championship was held in 2010 in Karachi in which 12 teams participated. “This national championship is a regular feature now and at the moment we have a pool of 600-700 players across the country, playing for respective clubs,” shares Nizam.
Moving forward, other cricketers like Rashid Latif also came forward to help the PDCA. He provided them with his club facilities (free of cost) and worked with the team in the area of coaching as well. From time to time national stars like Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Akhtar, Moin Khan, Sohail Tanvir, etc., too, visited their camps to impart tips.
The Pakistan disabled team has come a long way since its inception. After touring Malaysia and Singapore in 2010, the team featured in an official bilateral series against England in Dubai in 2012. Three One-day International and two Twenty20 matches were played and Pakistan clean-swept both the series. In 2014, they played their second series in Dubai against England. And again there was a white wash. In 2015, the Afghanistan disabled cricket team toured Karachi. Pakistan beat the visitors 3-0 and 2-0 in the T20 and ODI series, respectively. In September 2015, Pakistan participated in the five-nation ICRC International T20 Cricket tournament for people with physical disabilities, in Dhaka. Pakistan lost to England in the final of the mega event in which India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan also participated.
The man whose indefatigable efforts, right from the beginning, brought this form of the game to the limelight is PDCA’s honorary secretary Amiruddin. He has been associated with the cause since the first trials in 2010 to the first international series against England. “Despite all initial difficulties, we have now been recognised globally. It’s a wonderful feeling, however, we still have a long way to go,” he says.
Amiruddin continuously imparted information about the potential of these disabled players to other cricket boards and at last in 2012, managed to organise the first international cricket series. “England Cricket Board’s head of Disability Cricket, Ian Martin and the PDCA worked hard for the series and we feel proud to have introduced this form of cricket to the world,” Amiruddin recalls, while also thanking PCB for allowing the PDCA team to use its official logo-kit during the recently concluded five-nation event in Bangladesh.
Amiruddin feels that the series at the ICC Academy in Dubai was a giant leap towards the development of the game. Even the ICC officials praised the efforts of the players. “Disability cricket is now on the ICC radar, a very good sign,” he concludes.
New man in
The trio met a formidable companion in former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif, who manages a number of cricket academies in Karachi. Rashid Latif was approached by the honorary secretary of the PDCA, Amiruddin Ansari, during their early days, however, at the time Rashid said that he couldn’t do much due to his other commitments. But later he realised the potential of the players and was all for the idea. “I was busy with my academies and department hence couldn’t do much despite several invitations from Amiruddin. Then in 2010, I saw the players when they were practicing at one of my facilities. That’s when I decided to get involved with the PDCA,” says Rashid Latif.
Latif, who is also a qualified coach, then engaged a video analyst and started recording the players to closely monitor their body movements. He wanted to compile a coaching manual, too. “As coaches we emphasise a lot on the use of the forearm for a bowler or the top of the hand for a batsman but here we had a bowler on crutches and a batsman without a arm. Where could I fit the laws of bio-mechanics here? It was perplexing for me,” recalls Latif, who then reached the conclusion that the players play with their limited movements but with hundred per cent commitment. “Because of the general behavior of others towards them they have been facing a lot of hardships since their childhood. The pressure of playing is nothing as compared to the pressure they face from society,” Latif observes.
Rashid Latif, who is now an ambassador for PDCA, feels that it is high time that the PCB plays its due role and form a separate wing for disabled cricketers just like they did for women’s cricket. “The players now have the recognition. Now it’s time for the reward. Along with the PCB the departments, too, can accommodate the top 20-25 players, which will help encourage upcoming players,” he suggests.
Latif, who toured with the team to Bangladesh recently for the five-nation event, says that the Bangladesh board has created a separate wing while the English board has awarded central contracts to their disabled players. “It’s high time we should do something about it, too. Also these players need special equipment. Teams like Australia and South Africa have well-equipped outfits,” he says.
Latif is right in his looking for support for the players but on the other hand these boys are remarkable as despite the hardships they
face they have excelled. Not only have they beaten their opponents on the field they have become a source of great inspiration for normal people, too.
The writer is a sports journalist working for a private TV channel.
The Pakistan disabled team is studded with amazing players, who have excelled despite their physical shortcomings. Their determination and self confidence speaks volumes
Imagine a fast-bowler on crutches! Yes, that would be Farhan Saeed, who has been a member of the Pakistan team since 2007. Farhan used to play cricket with normal boys and then he heard about the trials. Though he was always upbeat, he, however, had to face a lot of negativity from his surroundings. “Everyone said I can’t play and discouraged me but I appeared in the trials anyway and bowled with the hard ball for the very first time,” recalls the Karachi-based Farhan, who impressed the selectors to get selected.
Farhan, who wasn’t given polio drops when young, says that he has never fallen or collapsed during his bowling, batting or fielding in all these years. “Many say that I’m chasing an impossible dream. But that is a motivation factor for me,” he says.
Farhan terms meeting his favourite bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, as the best moment of his career thus far. The PDCA had invited Shoaib Akthar to a camp where, Farhan says, the ‘Rawalpindi Express’ broke into tears after watching him bowl. “Shoaib Bhai said he cannot impart any bowling tips to me. In fact he said I have helped him learn a lesson, ” Farhan says.
Farhan has played against England, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh but describes England as the toughest opponent.
Like every fast bowler, Farhan also trains to keep himself fit and practices regularly. He amazingly balances himself during batting as well. “I bat with one hand and hold the crutch with the other. I have scored a brisk 33 runs in 32 deliveries,” he shares.
A living wonder, Matloob Qureshi is a tall young lad from Multan, who lost his right arm in a road accident. “I was only five-years-old then. But I didn’t give up and here I am today,” says the prolific opening batsman.
Matloob became the first batsman to score an ODI century in this form of cricket in 2012 when he scored 113 not-out against England in Dubai. Despite the childhood trauma he is confident and eager to do more. “Passion and courage can make anything possible. This is the mantra of our team,” says Matloob.
Another inspirational player in the team is Husnain Alam who has been leading the side since 2007. Alam, a soldier, lost the front part of his left foot in 1999. “In 1999, I was hit by multiple splinters during patrolling in Kashmir and part of my left foot had to be amputated. I have no regrets whatsoever as I was serving my country then and doing the same now, too,” says Husnain
Husnain is hopeful that this form of cricket will flourish with the passage of time. “Pakistan is full of natural talent, we only need a proper system under the PCB. The PDCA has been doing everything on its own and after achieving so much, now its high-time the PCB pays heed to us as well,” says Husnain.
Husnain, one of the only two batsmen from Pakistan to have scored an ODI century, feels that Pakistan, being the pioneer in disability cricket, should have taken the lead in organising an international event. He says that the way England and even Bangladesh treat their players is exemplary.
“England and Bangladesh cricket boards were very active during the five-nation tournament in Bangladesh. England awarded central contracts to its players while Bangladesh Cricket Board has established a separate wing for disabled cricketers,” says Husnain.
“Though the PCB, too, lend us some support by providing us with the national colour, a lot more is needed from them and a lot more to be done still,” Husnain adds.
A left-arm fast bowler, Muhammad Fayyaz was born without fingers in his right hand, but he didn’t let this be an excuse to not be able to do anything in his life. Fayyaz likes to imitate his hero, Wasim Akram, and feels proud to wear the Pakistan colour. “Coaches work hard with us and we give back 200 per cent to live up and go beyond their expectations,” says Fayyaz.
“I work in the nets and watch footage of my hero, Wasim Akram, in action. I can also bring the ball in like Wasim Bhai,” he boasts.
Another sensational player in this wonderful team is a left-arm leg spinner Fayyaz Ahmed, who has remained a consistent performer both in national and international competitions. Ahmed was born in Mardan with one leg smaller than the other. When asked why didn’t he choose batting despite hailing from the town of Pakistan’s top Test batsman Younis Khan, he comes up with an interesting reply, “I like Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq so I mixed up the styles of both.”
Ahmed is a thinking cricketer, who can read situations rather well. He says his aim is to frustrate the batsmen. “I try to deliver as many dot balls as I can to frustrate the batsmen. They commit mistakes and I get wickets in the process,” says Ahmed, who was declared best bowler of the five-nation event.
Ahmed also got his name in the history books by becoming the first physically-handicapped player to get a hat trick in an international T20 match. He bagged four wickets for only 14 runs in the semi-final against India in the five-nation T20 event in Bangladesh.
Ahmed’s bowling partner, Umaiz-ur-Rehman, is another key player. He is a right-arm leg spinner, inspired by Shahid Khan Afridi. He has been with the team since 2008. “I like Shahid Afridi and I try to copy him,” says Umaiz.
“I like Yasir Shah and Imran Tahir as well. I try to pick a trick or two with the help of their videos,” he shares.
Coaching the disabled
Listening to all these tales one wonders why the government or the board doesn’t cash in on this platform and take the form of cricket to a new level while opening a window for this neglected group of our society.
The team’s head coach, Zafar Iqbal, a former international cricketer, feels proud of his team, and says their commitment is unmatched. “The level of their commitment is even more than normal cricketers,” he says, adding that in modern cricket, there are several discussions held about the methods of coaching but working with these players is a whole new experience. “Obviously they are limited in their movements; therefore they practice a lot, too. And we as coaches can engage them in self-designed drills,” he says.
Zafar terms working with these players a challenge, however, he says that the satisfaction he gets from this work cannot be matched with any other coaching job. “These players are doing their best in limited resources. This form of the game is spreading fast and other teams such as England are even using artificial limbs, to enhance their performance,” the coach points out.
“It’s high time the government and others concerned take disability cricket and disabled cricketers seriously,” he concludes.—MAK
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 15th, 2015