September 22, 2008

Ode to a magazine

Thirty-six years after it first began publication, Pakistan's best loved cricket publication closed its doors this April

The cover of the final issue © The Cricketer, Pakistan

Quietly, in April this year, the Cricketer (Pakistan) breathed its last. To the month it was 36 years old, and the 432nd issue was its last. Through that time it was comfortably the leading cricket monthly in Pakistan. With it goes a piece of every young, English-reading, cricket-mad Pakistani.

The Cricketer (no relation to the Cricketer International) was first published in April 1972. It was an appropriate time for cricket was stirring again in the land. The 60s had been dark and empty. Hanif Mohammad had played his last Test two months before the start of the 70s and a new decade and era were upon the country.

Pakistan Tobacco was still five years from becoming the first national sponsor, but Pakistan Television was beginning to show an interest. The domestic scene had been given fresh impetus with the entry of some departments. Others would come in a few years later, bringing with them financial benefits. The club scene had yet to be totally eclipsed, and more importantly Pakistan's first superstars - the early holy trinity of AH Kardar, Hanif and Fazal Mahmood were stars - had just arrived. A few years later the "professionals" crisis would erupt, when increasingly emancipated players would, for the first time, ask for pay commensurate to their skill. It was a fertile period.

Other magazines had been around before, like Sportimes, but the Cricketer blew them away. Riaz Ahmed Mansuri brought it up, brought it together and brought it out. He has built a publishing mini-empire of sorts now, with seven magazines in his stable, but the Cricketer remained his baby. "Whatever I am today, I am because of the Cricketer," he says. He remains a ridiculously hardworking man, one in whom resides the true shrewd, sharp, entrepreneurial spirit of Karachi.

He started with nothing in 1971, just an idea that hit him at a crowded bus depot where the most popular magazine at a hawker's was an old edition of the Cricketer International. "I knew students and friends of mine were devoted to keeping scrapbooks with pictures and articles, so I thought why not?" remembers Mansuri.

There was no doubt ever that it would be in anything other than English, the language of "authority". The first issue came out after Mansuri sold home-made subscriptions to his colleagues on the social circuit, eventually raising Rs 2500. But the genius was to hire Hanif Mohammad as chief editor, for it brought credibility and promised financial reward.

Mansuri had seen that Sir Pelham Warner was editor at the Cricketer International, and so decided to rope in a big name as editor. As Omar Noman noted in Pride and Passion, "not many people were going to refuse an ad for a magazine brought out by Hanif Mohammad". Asif Iqbal was approached first but he was still playing and recommended Hanif instead. It took, Mansuri reckons, 30 meetings to convince Hanif, though the "Little Master" apparently later admitted to him that he was convinced from the off.

Even now, reading those early issues, a real spirit is apparent, a desire to, among other things, properly document the scene as fully as possible. In a region of the world where history is poorly kept, it is something to be cherished. Interviews, comments, match reports, diligent documentation of the club scene, no-holds barred comment, profiles and interviews of older, lesser-known players; if it wasn't in the Cricketer, it really wasn't worth worrying about.

It brooked little crap and was clever and populist in siding with players, and not the establishment's Kardar, in the professional and Packer crises. Soon it introduced its "Five Cricketers of the Year", thereby investing the domestic scene with more value and prestige than any board ever did.

The Cricketer was where cricket started for this writer. Old copies were borrowed from a neighbouring uncle and read from page to page, sometimes kept for months at an end, until a subscription was organised. Countless others have similar tales

Rare is the Pakistani hack who hasn't contributed to its pages - Omar Kureishi, Qamar Ahmed, Waheed Khan, Shahid Hashmi, Sohaib Alvi, Abdul Rasheed Shakoor, Abdul Majid Bhatti, Afia Salam, Fareshteh Gati. International writers were regularly roped in. But probably no journalist came to be as closely associated with the magazine as the indefatigable Gul Hameed Bhatti, guru of stats before Statsguru came out, and eminently better company.

He was, for many years, the man responsible for bringing the magazine out every month. Where Mansuri was the business head, Bhatti was its driving editorial force, whether with the innovative "Figures Are Fun With GHB" column, the devoted monthly round-up of the "Lahore (club) Cricket Scene", or any number of interviews, meticulously researched profiles, or match reports.

The Cricketer's circulation was never massive, for Pakistan has never really been a big market for English monthlies, but what loyalty it had was solid and true. At its peak, from the 1978-79 series against India until the early 90s, estimates suggest it touched 20,000 copies a month. Its impact was greater: Mansuri recalls a leading cricketer, featured on the cover during the 1982-83 series against India, demanding money from him "because you are selling the mag off my back".

As a youngster in Saudi Arabia, a country where cricket was less understood than it is in the USA, the magazine was where cricket started for this writer. Old copies were borrowed from a neighbouring uncle and read from page to page, sometimes kept for months at an end, until a subscription was organised. Countless others have similar tales.

From its start till even the early- to mid-90s, it was a significant cog in Pakistan cricket's wheel. Its success was evident in the number of cricket magazines it indirectly spawned: Cricket World Quarterly, Cricket Herald, Akhbar-e-Watan, Cricketstar, Sportsweek, Imran Khan's Cricket Life, and even an Asian edition of the Cricketer International. Mansuri's magazine outlasted them all, but eventually the times changed, the spirit wavered and finances tightened. Long before it ceased publication, the significance had gone. The Urdu version, started in 1978, is still going strong.

The morose temptation is to say that the magazine died at a fitting time, when cricket in Pakistan is truly in the doldrums. But Mansuri insists it is not a permanent state. He is looking for an editorial team to come and start up the magazine again. The Cricketer is dead, long live the Cricketer.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Richard Hamilton on September 23, 2008, 22:20 GMT

    Osman - I have never seen The Cricketer (Pakistan), as I live in the UK, but if it has helped to bring writers of the calibre of yourself and Omar Kureishi to wider attention, then it's done world cricket a great service. Thanks for this piece, and also for the one you did a while back about trying to write dispassionately while still remaining a fan.

  • jay on September 23, 2008, 15:02 GMT

    When i was about 6 years old my uncle returned from Dubai and gave me three copies of the magazine cos he thought i might like the pictures. Still remains one of the best gifts I've ever gotten. I have read and re-read them a hundred times, memorized scorecards and statistics and now many years after my uncle's death...every time i pick up those magazines they remind me of him... Jay- Sri Lanka

  • krishna on September 23, 2008, 10:49 GMT

    Fine article once again by Osman. Hope cricketer finds the legs again.

  • Cricinfouser on September 23, 2008, 10:37 GMT

    Although having been not in touch with "The cricketer" since last ten years (mainly because living abroad and partly because of cricinfo on the Internet), I was shocked to see the article about the death of my all time darling cricket magazine. I still remember how apprehensively I was trying to find out the final result of 1992 world cup final while wandering about a famous street of Heidelberg in Germany where I was studying. I finally got the news of Pakistan reaching to an emphatic win when called home. The first thing I immediately demanded my parents was to send me the first issue of cricketer published after the final (April 1992, to be more precise) so as to have all the details of the match. I loved the magazine since late seventies when cricket got permeated in my blood. This news took me back in to the innocent era of cricket of late seventies and early eighties when the game had not become so much commercial and full of glamour and players. Dr. Syed Erfan Asif

  • Nuruddin on September 23, 2008, 6:31 GMT

    My late father was a cricket fanatic and in mid seventies, he purchased the copy of The Cricketer (Pakistan) for the first time. I was about 8 years old at that time. With the passage of time, everyone in the house became addicted to the magazine. At that time, there was no Internet to keep you posted with cricket news all over the world or have all the stats just a click away from you. We had to wait for a whole month to be able to read about our beloved players, see their pictures and look through the scores and stats. By the time I turned 18, I managed to contribute the crossword puzzles and as well as records memorabilia between the sides on few occasions. They were probably very exciting times for me to see my efforts being published in the magazine that we all loved. My father managed to collect all the previous copies starting from 1972 and we saved them all this time. Well, we loved the magazine and we will miss it for sure. Thanks for writing this post.

  • Gopala Krishna on September 23, 2008, 3:29 GMT

    A good magazine which contained good articles. As there were no cricket websites then, I was eagerly looking for May and June editions every years as these issues contained career statstics of cricketers of all the teams. I thank Riaz Ahmed Manuri for publishing some of my statistical articles in this magazine. It is unfortunate to note that this magazine has stopped publishing, but I wish Mr.Mansuri's statement will come true, when he says that the stoppage is not permanent and he is looking for a fresh team to start it once again. Wish you all the best Mr.Mansuri Gopalakrishna HR-Cricket Statistician-Bangalore-India

  • Muqarrab on September 22, 2008, 17:40 GMT

    but around 2000-2001 they started publishing what cricinfo had already published, and keeping in mind that the average scribe of the cricketer was likely to have an access to the internet, no wonder the number of readers dwindled. But it peaked in late 80's and mid 90's. But bad days started somewhere in late 90's when price was increased 25% to another 15% to the double of what the price was 19 months ago ! Once the number of matches per month started to increase the incisive analysis started to proportionately decrease, not only did it become stale but the writers cherished most left it as well. But the closure of magazine is indicative for growing propensity of pakistani youth to drift away from books and find refuge in a deluge of internet and cable television or maybe its just the sign of times and the general festering of our cricket culture.

  • Yousuf on September 22, 2008, 17:07 GMT

    End of a wonderful magazine. I just cannot believe that its over. I grew up in Karachi reading the Cricketer in the 80's. Even my first ever letter was published in this magazine. Best wishes and good luck to those who served the cricketing community for such a long time. And thank you for bringing the joy of cricket to us every month. Yousuf Mamsa - Minneapolis, MN, USA

  • Raja on September 22, 2008, 9:47 GMT

    Great article by Osman, i remember getting every issue from 95/96 till about 2001. It will be much missed, but it is a reflection of the sport in a commercial mirror. The lack of quality and dearth of competitive meaningful fixtures in the pakistani game, have both seen to the slow death of this great game. I am still hopeful while there is time something would be done, but it doesnt look to great. Hopefully the cricketer will be out again soon, and be back better than ever.

  • Fazal on September 22, 2008, 5:59 GMT

    Very Well Said Osman. i have been a fan of 'the cricketer Pakistan' since 1996. Living in Dubai it was a bit difficult for me to get hold of the monthly mag, but i would manage. At times even spending more on travel expenses to get the mag than the cost of the mag itself. But such was my love for 'The Cricketer'. The mag unfortunately stopped coming to Dubai in 2004 - reasons unknown. Whenever i would go to Pakistan i would make sure to buy old editions (70s and 80s) from book shops. I have got a huge collection of this magazine and treasure it till now. Even though cricinfo is now my No.1 cricket site now, there is no comparision to having 'The cricketer' in hand and reading it anywhere i wanted. I am a big fan of stats guru, only due to Gul Hameed Bhatti. It is truely sad that this great magazine is no longer being published. I wish all the staff associated with it best wishes and all the best for their futures. God bless all of you. All good things do indeed come to an end.

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