Pakistan is simmering with unprecedented heat with temperatures ranging between 45-50 degrees Celsius in different parts of the country. Despite the scorching heat there is no let up in cricket activity. The heat has perhaps risen to such levels that the organizers of the game are not getting time enough to wipe off the sweat.
Muslim Gymkhana, a renowned club of Lahore with Mian Aslam an International Umpire as its mentor, celebrated its 37th anniversary with a festival match the other day. While the spectators appeared bathed in sweat, the players faced and endured the burning sun with tremendous courage. It was a classical example of devotion to a cause, without which the game could not possibly flourish. While I had to make a speech to introduce the occasion and to highlight the achievements of the club, six of whose players had won Test caps, Brig Munawar Rana Director PCB awarded the prizes.
The National One-day Tournament for Associations came to an end with Karachi Whites beating Sheikhupura by 79 runs in the final played at the Gaddafi stadium, Lahore. The salient features of the match were a sparkling unbeaten century (106) by Qaisar Abbas of Sheikhupura and excellent batting performance by Naumanullah (74) and former captain Moin Khan (67) for Karachi. While Moin Khan received the Winners Trophy and a cash award of Rs 75,000, the Sheikhupura skipper and former Test cricketer Aaqib Javed received the Runners Up Trophy along with an award of Rs 40,000.
A cricket team from strife-torn Afghanistan is on a visit of Pakistan these days. Since the game of cricket is in its infancy in Afghanistan, the visitors are playing matches against local teams in Peshawar and Rawalpindi. The tour was arranged to help the development of cricket in Afghanistan, to give its boys exposure to competitive cricket and to provide the scores of Afghan refugees in Pakistan a chance to see their heroes in action.
The visitors achieved a morale boosting victory when they defeated a team from FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) by 5 wickets, after losing the 1st one-dayer at Shahi Bagh Stadium, Peshawar. The Afghan skipper Allah Dad Noori admitted that his players had no idea of playing in the hot weather and on a grassy surface. The victory showed that the boys had improved their game that was a matter of great encouragement for them. They were anxiously looking forward to playing in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
The Islamabad Cricket Association (ICA) has announced holding of ICA League Championship 2001, inviting 45 clubs to participate in the tournament. Apart from the 26 registered clubs, the tournament, which is fully sponsored by the PCB, shall be open for participation by the departmental teams. The championship will be held under the PCB playing conditions and a points system as practiced in the recently concluded National One-day Tournament for Associations.
Apart from the big cities, which are already acting as nurseries for Pakistan's cricket, the PCB is now diverting its attention to promotion of cricket in the under developed areas of the country. Turf wickets are planned to be prepared in towns like Quetta, Noshki, Chaman, Sibi, Nasirabad, Turbat and Pashin of Baluchistan and Mirpur Khas, Shikarpur and Sukhur of Sind. Niaz Stadium Hyderabad, which has already been a venue of international matches, is being renovated and modernized.
New grounds are being created for towns like Rahimyar Khan, Bhawalpur and Faisalabad in Punjab and Peshawar in the NWFP. In addition, the existing pitches in the seven test centers of the country are planned to be elevated to the level of tracks in England and Australia.
Pakistan `A' team is scheduled to tour Sri Lanka from June 10, to play a series of three Tests and 3 One-day matches. The squad will comprise of some of the youngsters who have been left out of the Pakistan team touring England plus other upcoming cricketers. Hectic activity for practice and preparation is thus in progress all over the country for final selection of the team.
The PCB's dream of setting up cricket academies for the grooming of talented youngsters in the major cities like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, which is turning into a reality now. The opening ceremony of the academy at Gaddafi Stadium Lahore is being performed on May 14 while the rest will follow.
How much talent Pakistan has in the field of cricket is beyond imagination. It may be a surprising revelation for many that 175 young boys from Pakistan are playing county/league cricket in England during the current season. So far the players rose to even international levels at their own. Now the talented youngsters will be picked up by the expert eyes of the selectors and admitted to various cricket academies for coaching from where they will obviously come out well polished, groomed and matured.
The 1st batch of 22 trainees include prominent youngsters like Imran Nazir, Hasan Raza, Misbah-ul-Haq, Qaisar Abbas, Humayun Farhat, Shoaib Malik, Yasir Arafat, Shabbir Ahmed, Kashif Raza, Danish Kanaria and others. They are the ones who have had a stint with the Pakistan team but were discarded in favor of others or one may say their `better co-leagues'. A session in the academy will help them in eradicating their faults and improve the game thus providing them the vital chance to stage a comeback.
This is just a glimpse of the cricket activity going on in the country in the sweltering summer heat. Summer in Pakistan lasts for more than six months and surprisingly the cricket activity does not halt except for a short period during heavy monsoon.