Pakistan has been producing world-class cricketers since Independence. The first team had superstars like Hanif Mohammad and Fazal Mahmood. Then the 1960s saw the advent of Mushtaq Mohammad, Majid Khan and Asif Iqbal whereas Imran Khan, Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad took the 1970s by storm. Be it Abdul Qadir or Wasim Akram in the 1980s, Saeed Anwar, Waqar Younis or Inzamam ul Haq in the 1990s or Shoaib Akhtar and Younis Khan in the new millennium, Pakistani cricketers have always stood out for their brilliance.
But what about those Pakistani cricketers who didn’t get to wear green or whose family migrated before they were born? They are as much Pakistani for fans of the game as they are citizens of their adopted countries.
Why go abroad?
In a country where just about everyone loves cricket, where representing Pakistan is every cricketer’s ultimate dream but where opportunity can be provided to just 11 at any given time, so many others might get disheartened for the lack of opportunities coming their way. Many a cricketer (as you will get to know) left the country for lack of opportunities despite the talent and for that, the authorities, the selectors and the administrators are to be blamed.
They may not be donning green but they are raising the Pakistan flag wherever they go and whichever country they represent
Fast bowler Sadaf Hussain has been consistently performing in the domestic circuit yet less impressive pacers like Rao Iftikhar Anjum and Ehsan Adil have represented Pakistan, not Sadaf. Similarly, Abdul Qadir’s son — Salman Qadir — is thinking of settling down abroad so that he can play cricket at the international level. Even Danish Kaneria’s departure to India to visit holy places was seen as an exit from Pakistan although the leg-spinner hasn’t confirmed or denied the possibility of approaching the Board of Control for Cricket in India to use their influence and have his life ban revoked.
The Pakistan Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah fought for was supposed to be a land of opportunity, for all. Sadly, unlike England, Australia and the United States of America, in Pakistan connections have played an important part in helping people get ahead. Not only in sports but in all forms of life the perception is that unless you are well-connected at the top, you can’t succeed just for your hard work and will power.
These are a few reasons why people try their luck abroad and sometimes even strike gold — as in the case of Sikandar Raza, the Zimbabwean cricketer, who in his own words ‘was not even interested in cricket’ when he lived in Pakistan. Blame the complications of local cricket for they let an all-rounder who can bat and bowl off-spin slip from their grasp.
Then there have been quite a few players who weren’t born in Pakistan because their parents left for greener pastures a long time ago. Some of them managed to play for a few years, internationally, while the rest have now grown into respected cricketers, playing for the very countries that have adopted them as their own. They continue to represent them not as players of Pakistani descent but as local cricketers being given equal opportunity. As Test cricket is the ultimate form of the game, this list includes only those who have represented Test-playing nations, hence Afghanistan, Oman, United Arab Emirates and other associates might not find themselves here.
England — a second home for Pakistanis
The first player of Pakistani descent to represent any other Test playing nation was Aftab Habib, born in Reading, Berkshire in 1972. He represented England in two Tests against New Zealand in 1999. Later, he was involved with coaching associate members and was part of cricket development at the county level. Two years later, Rawalpindi-born Usman Afzaal became the first Pakistani-born to play Test cricket for another international team. The left-handed batsman managed to score a half century in one of his three Test appearances, all of which were against Australia in the 2001 Ashes series. But increasing weight along with the emergence of better, fitter players saw him go out of contention soon after. He faded away despite having the potential.
The once-promising Owais Shah was born in Karachi in 1978 and became fully involved in cricket after his family settled in England. Initially, he was known as a ‘Young Mark Ramprakash.’ He finally earned his England cap in 2001 when they faced Australia at Bristol. After remaining out of favour for a couple of years, he managed to play his first Test in India five years later and scored an impressive 88 not out against the hosts. He represented England in six Tests, 71 ODIs and 17 T20Is but with the style of game evolving, he had limited opportunities resulting in his last appearance in 2009.
The 6 ft 4 inch tall Sajid Mahmood was one of the more consistent wicket-takers on the county cricket circuit, which was why he was rewarded with an ODI cap in 2004, a Test cap in 2006 and a T20 cap in 2006. With 50 international wickets (20 in Tests, 30 in ODIs), he would have been considered as promising had he been in Pakistan but in England the competition is tough and one has to be at their best continuously. Sajid’s eight Tests came between 2006 and 2007, his 26 appearances in ODI were scattered over five years and he last played a T20 match for England in 2009.
During England’s tour of the West Indies in 2009, the Denmark-born pacer of Pakistani descent Amjad Khan made his Test and T20 debut. Before being granted British citizenship in 2006, he was known as a promising pacer, having become the youngest Danish cricketer at the age of 17. In 2009, he was selected to represent England but due to being prone to injuries his stint was short. He last played for Denmark, the country of his birth, in 2015.
The Yorkshire-born Ajmal Shahzad became part of the England side. But despite showing initial promise, the tall pacer could only muster four wickets in Tests, 17 in 11 ODIs and three in as many T20Is for his country. He played against Pakistan in 2010 but was dumped later in favour of better bowlers.
Moeen Ali is by far the most popular of English cricketers of Pakistani descent. Earlier, this year he scored a match-winning century against Sri Lanka in the second Test of the series. With more than 60 wickets coming off his off-spin and more than a 1,000 runs (including two centuries) from his willow, Moeen has proved himself to be an integral part of the English side. He not only has one of the longest beards in the game (at par with Sir W.G. Grace) but is also used in different capacities in different formats. The Birmingham-born Moeen is also a cousin of Kabir Ali, who played one Test for England in 2003 (against South Africa) and 14 ODIs during 2003 and 2006.
And then there is the other Yorkshire-born cricketer Adil Rashid, said to be England’s new leggie sensation. He made his Test debut in 2015 against Pakistan and after getting hammered for 163 runs in the first innings, came back strongly by taking five wickets for 64 runs. He ended the series with just eight wickets though and has been in the limited overs setup, where in his seven-year career, he has taken 27 ODI wickets in 25 matches and 14 T20I wickets in 18 appearances. He is a handy batsman as well with one half century each in Tests and ODIs which are nothing compared to his 10 first class centuries.
There was a mention of a 24-year-old Berkshire-born Zafar Ansari in the English team but after playing one ODI against Ireland and getting a call up for the Test squad against Pakistan in 2015, the talented all-rounder was injured during fielding in a county match and is currently on his way to full fitness.
Emerging from Down Under
So far two Pakistan-born cricketers have managed to represent Australia at the international level — Usman Khawaja and Fawad Ahmed. The Islamabad-born Usman made his Test debut in 2011 but was dropped after failing to make a big score. His return in 2015 was an impressive one in which he scored four centuries in six innings, becoming a permanent member of the Aussie side. He averages nearly 50 in Tests and one hopes to see his form continue considering that when he is on song, he is unstoppable. He hasn’t been able to play much limited overs matches — just nine ODIs and seven T20s — but it seems that if he gets the chance, he would score prolifically there as well. Fawad from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa managed to play three ODIs and two T20Is for Australia after being granted citizenship in 2013. He was selected for the tour of West Indies and England in 2015 but didn’t get to play a Test match and hopes to become a Test cricketer soon like his cousin Yasir Shah (Pakistani cricketer).
The rise of Imran Tahir as a South African leg spinner is nothing short of a fairy tale. Born in Lahore in 1979, the talented cricketer played at the domestic level in Pakistan but never went international, considering first Mushtaq Ahmed and later Danish Kaneria were part of the national team. He married a South African girl of Indian descent and qualified to represent South Africa in 2011. He was part of the World Cup in India that year and impressed all with his leggies, googlies and variations. Later that year he played the first of his 20 Tests so far and in 2013, played T20Is for his adopted country. Although he has taken over 50 Test wickets, Imran is considered a limited overs specialist and only recently become the fourth fastest bowler of all time to reach 100 ODI wickets (in just 58 matches). He also has 43 T20I scalps (in 27 appearances) to his name. He holds the South African record of most wickets in an innings, taking seven wickets for 45 runs, that too against reigning world champions Australia.
Finally, something about Zimbabwe’s Sikandar Raza, who became the first Pakistan-born to captain any other cricketing side in the world. Sikandar was born in Sialkot in 1986, studied in England and settled in Zimbabwe where his family migrated to in 2001. He has so far scored three ODI centuries against international teams, stood in as captain and represented Zimbabwe as an all-rounder in all three formats. He was once asked about playing against Pakistan and India and he flatly said that he is a Zimbabwean and nothing is more sacred to him than representing his adopted country internationally.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 24th, 2016