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Hospital, Gilchrist & cricketing DNA!

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When one visits someone in the hospital, the conversation usually is about the hows and how are yous, doctors, medicines, and what have you… besides of course  expression of good wishes for the patient and prayers for a speedy recovery, and offer of assistance to the caregivers.  Hardly, if ever, it veers too far away from the topic.

Well I was in for a different lesson in my hospital visit to see a very dear person who has been very ill. I also realized that while in Urdu, if something becomes a distinct character trait, we usually say ‘yeh uski ghutti mein hai;’ the closest phrase to it in English is the contemporary term of something being a part of the DNA! I know it is usually said as a form of exaggeration, but how true it actually is hit home today.

The legendary cricketer Hanif Mohammad, our Little Master has been very ill, and hospitalised for days. Yes he has been battling cancer, very bravely, but what got him into the hospital was a severe chest infection, because of which he was barely able to speak. Aggressive treatment and admission to the special care unit stablized but exhausted him out, so that he was in a deep sleep for hours.

The visitors too were careful, talking in barely audible whispers so as not to disturb him. However, as he opened his eyes, he spotted former Pakistan captain Mohammad Yousuf standing by his bedside and after the greetings and inquiries about the health were over, launched into a purely cricketing discussion, reminiscing about when he almost got a century in each innings against Australia, thwarted by a bad umpiring decision, which of course he didn’t contest and walked off, but which was admitted to by the opposition players as well.

While his son Shoaib attempted to take charge of the conversation by recounting the incident, Hanif Mohammad, who had woken up when our conversation had probably risen above the level of whispers, was absolutely lucid in his interjections. The drawl in his voice was there due to the weakness but there was not a hint of uncertainty about the games of long ago. I immediately understood that this clarity was because  it was cricket he was talking about which was in his ghutti… in his DNA… which no illness could alter!

Call from another Pakistan captain, Zaheer Abbas meant that the conversation stayed the course, with Hanif Mohammd complimenting  the caller by reminding him of his title of Asian Bradman and of his several double centuries. Such clarity after serious illness? Deep drug and exhaustion induced sleep? Nah! put it down to DNA!

IMG_20160802_215456And then came Gilchrist in the room… that fearsome West Indian pacer, the nemesis of all batsmen in the line of his lethal projectiles.

Aided by Shoaib, Hanif Mohammad took us on a trip down his memory lane to that glorious match at Barbados in the West Indies where he not only faced the fearsome Gilchrist, but walked right into the record books with his knock spread over 999 minutes… erroneously written in the Wisden as 16 hrs. 10 minutes.

(The actual duration of the longest innings to date in Test cricket has been mentioned as 16 hrs 39 mins … with its entire commentary etched onto a LonIMG_20160802_215148g Play record presented to him after the match.)

Innings that started with Pakistan in dire straits, following-on with a deficit of 473 as the score card would show, a familiar situation for the young Hanif Mohammad.

IMG_20160802_215251He faced the pacers any which way he could, in the days of folded towels inside pockets serving as cushioned guards, and flimsy (by today’s standards) pads, NO HELMETS, and certainly no No Ball calls from the umpires to the beamers aimed at the head by Gilchrist each time his ball was hit for a four!

Gilchrist was the stuff of every batsman’s nightmare, with arms dangling down to below knees, and a fiery temper spurring his catapulting of the ball out of his hands at speeds hitherto unknown. Hanif recalled with a chuckle how even a slight touch of the bat would make the ball race to the boundary, simply because it came at him with such great speed.IMG_20160802_215154

The father and son recounted Gilchrist’s vile temper which ultimately led him to being jailed for assault and battery as he had hit his wife with an iron! And to think that our diminutive  Little Master faced him and his ilk of equally ferocious fast bowlers simply on the dint of his determination and technique.

IMG_20160802_215420This firmly established him as the mainstay of Pakistan’s batting line up and earned him accolades across the cricketing world and recognition at home from the highest quarters. 337 with 26 fours, 16 threes, 40 twos and 105 singles were no mean feat!

Between his daughter in law Shazia and my exhortations to him not to speak too much, I couldn’t suppress a smile on his very matter of fact answer ‘well he didn’t really get to hit me on my pads’ (of course… perfect technique after all) when Shoaib asked if Gilchrist’s deliveries hit the body!

DNA again eh? The frailties of the physical body have done nothing to the sharp mind and wonderful memory. Get well soon Hanif Bhai. May we accompany you on many more of these trips down memory lane.

IMG_20160802_215356

All pictures from Hanif Mohammad’s autobiography “Playing For Pakistan”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by afiasalam

August 2, 2016 at 9:36 pm

Slight, Not Invite

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The resumption of a much awaited bilateral series would ideally call for celebration. But in this instance, the feeling of having been shortchanged is inescapable…

So what is it about an India-Pakistan cricket series that brings on the ultimate adrenaline rush for billions in the sub-continent — this teeming mass of humanity who own up to having an alternate religion — cricket! This is the force that binds us, while at the same time, dividing us into two very partisan, polarized nations. Nations that carry heavy baggage of history that makes the keenly contested Ashes between England and Australia seem like a tea party in comparison.

In this part of the world, cricket is more than a mere sport. It is a passion that lifts people to the highest levels of euphoria when their team is winning over the ‘arch rival’ and drives them to the depths of despair when it is on the losing end. The players are demi-gods when hot, and worse than criminals when not! Cricket has also been used as a tool for diplomacy when nothing else would work to thaw relations that resembled the polar ice cap.

It has also had the ability to melt hearts and open minds to welcome people from across the border in a display of genuine warmth, all the Shiv Senaiks on ‘that’ side of the BRB Canal and protagonists of perpetual enmity on ‘this’ side notwithstanding. For countries that emerged through a river of blood, which continued to flow through two full scale wars and many and frequent skirmishes due to festering, unresolved issues between them, it was always a difficult task to forge relations at another level.

However, after the Seventies the new thought emerged that normality could not be restored while sitting across a military or diplomatic table. People had to become friends. Thus Bishen Singh Bedi brought his team to Pakistan for a series in 1978, ending a 13-year drought, and opened the floodgates of warmth and affection between the people of the two countries. Mind you, the underlying motive for the series may have been political, as those were the days of dictator Zia ul Haq, who managed to be present during most matches. But politics took a back seat and cricket, and cricket lovers emerged as winners in a pulsating series which Pakistan won comprehensively.

Visa regime was relaxed and special arrangements were made for Indian fans in the stadiums, and in Lahore, many came directly from the train station to the stadium, all with bag and baggage, and saw the match before heading into the city to find boarding and lodging. While most of those who came were cricket fans, many came to go see their ancestral homes from where their families had migrated during Partition. Many a tear of joy and sorrow were shed when they went into the old city and met their or their parents’ neighbours who welcomed them with open arms. They were plied with gifts not just by those whom their elders had known but by the ordinary shopkeepers who wanted to contribute to this spirit of hospitality and friendship.

On the field, the relations between some of the younger players may have seemed strained, but the fact that Bedi, and Pakistan’s skipper, Mushtaq Mohammad were best of friends and county mates at Northamptonshire kept things under control, even jovial despite the victories Mushy’s crafty captaincy made possible. Many other players also had played English county together so the entire series achieved the objective of thawing, and improving relations, especially on a people- topeople level.

But this was a nostalgic trip down memory lane. A lot more water has flown down the BRB since then. We have had Kargil, and then Ajmal Kasab in Mumbai who did no-one any favours, and then the most ignominious of all, the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009, which turned Pakistan into a pariah as far as playing host was concerned. No-one was willing to visit, certainly not a high profile team like India, despite many contractual agreements at the ICC and bilateral level. Pakistan also found itself out in the cold as far as the jointly staged World Cup was concerned and its coffers started to run dry, creating more bad blood. Now, that a series has been announced for December this year, and everyone’s hopes have been raised for a resumption of cricket ties that may result in better relations between the two countries, why are so many nay sayers emerging?

In the din of excitement over seeing two of the world’s most exciting teams play against each other, not at aseptic, neutral venues that Pakistan had had to settle for, let us not drown out the voices of caution. We must really see whether this series will be all that great a thing. Granted we have had Bal Thackery of Shiv Sena threaten to disrupt matches in Mumbai before. Some fanatics did dig up the wicket. But he has been around, and matches have taken place willy-nilly. But do not forget, that the other son of Mumbai, Sunil Gavaskar, who carried a reputation as an ardent supporter of Pakistan and its players on many international forums, has also opposed the series on the grounds that Pakistan is not cooperating with the Mumbai attack investigation. On Pakistan’s part, former captain Rashid Latif has also sounded a note of caution. He says instead of getting all excited about this almost-series, Pakistan should get India to resolve the unsettled issue of revenue sharing.

This is something India has been procrastinating on. After the Mumbai attack, India had cancelled its tour to Pakistan, which was a great financial setback for the Pakistan Cricket Board. Despite repeated calls for revival, and security assurances, India had refused to visit, and did not even agree to play at any neutral venue. Now, even though the invitation for this stop gap series, which is to be played while the visiting English players go home for a quick Christmas break, has come from BCCI, no revenue sharing formula has been worked out. This is despite forecasts of revenue generation to the tune of billions of rupees which is a given whenever these two teams face each other.

One has also not heard of any concrete or special measures to facilitate visas so the ‘people-to-people’ element is not taken care of either. Yes, the Pakistani players are starved for cricket, but that does not mean that the PCB should jump at such half chances as are being offered by the Indian board unless and until there is a clear advantage to our board and the players. We also have to keep in mind the statements emanating from the Indian government officials that this invitation has been on a board-to-board level. The government had nothing to do with it. However, it does not mean that the government will have nothing to do with it, as the final go-ahead for the tour will come from the government.

Make no mistake about it! So while the cricket nut in me is excited at the prospect of seeing the boys pitting their skills against the traditional rivals, in front of a capacity crowd in a charged atmosphere, a nagging voice inside the head tells me that I should go easy on the plans to stock junk food and shield myself from any pressing assignments during the match days.There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip; while there can be no better spectacle than an India-Pakistan cricket match, in view of the above reservations, we really have to ask for this particular series, ‘what’s so great about it anyway?’

This article was originally published on PIQUE.

Written by afiasalam

September 11, 2012 at 6:21 am

Posted in Cricket

Tagged with , , , ,

I Don’t Like Cricket… I LOVE It!

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It was just yesterday when I was listening to author Anatol Lievin explaining to the audience why he had titled his latest book on Pakistan as “Pakistan: A Hard Country.” He spoke about the reserves of resilience displayed by Pakistanis who have defied all predictions of the country becoming a ‘failed State.’

Well if he had followed the fortunes of Pakistan’s cricket team, he would probably be writing a sequel by now, for Pakistan’s cricket team reflects the character of this nation. Down, but never out! Beaten, battered, but when pushed against the wall, ready to fight right back.

How else does one explain the fact that a band of players, never a cohesive whole due to the constant chops and changes in its composition, denied the opportunity to play against international teams in their own country through no fault of their own, and treated as a pariah due to the doings of some of their own keeps on coming back in the face of adversity.

The resurgence and stability that has resulted in the current series win against the England in the UAE, which people have dubbed as a home away from home for the Pakistan team does not take anything away from the way they approached the contest. Sane heads were clearly ruling the roost. Even if Whatmore is breathing down Mohsin Khan’s neck, to his credit, he played the role of a mentor,  that a coach is supposed to be to the tee.

Misbah emerged as a true leader of men, and led his young, barring Younis who can no longer be branded as young, band of exuberant boys with a great deal of maturity. The wickets suited the spinners, and it was good to see them once again being the reasons for victory, reviving memories of the Indian spin quartet, and our own Abdul Qadir, Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef. We see too much of the slam bang kind of stuff that goes by the name of cricket nowadays, and a big thank you from an oldie like me for providing joy through the ‘real thing,’ Test cricket!

So, today, the nation celebrates a whitewash. Celebrate a drubbing given to the team that comes from the land where cricket originated from. Forget about the cases being processed by the Supreme Court or the fate of the politicians to be impacted by the decisions. They have never brought this nation any joy. Forget, for the moment, also the fact that one of the tainted bowlers, Mohammad Aamir has come out of prison, having completed his sentence! Today we celebrate, despite the poverty, the hunger, and lack of basic amenities like shelter, water, electricity or gas, and unmindful of the sky rocketing prices, for the times when we can celebrate with gay abandon are few and far between.

People say religion and cricket are the only binding force for the people of Pakistan. I maintain that cricket is the only one, for here, all Pakistanis, literally under one flag, are able to share in the joy the men in green provide us. If this is the new opium of the masses, so be it. For a while at least, reality can take a back seat. Let me listen to the famous calypso: I don’t like cricket… I LOVE it!

Written by afiasalam

August 9, 2012 at 11:27 am

Posted in Cricket

Asia Cup: Bangladesh Cry Babies?

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Topic: Asia Cup: Bangladesh Cry Babies?

Description: Sports these days is an aggressive business. A lot hinges on the result of a tournament; money, prestige and professional growth. This is why sportsmen play hard. The laws that govern the sports get tougher for this very reason. But what happened after the Asia Cup that just finished in Bangladesh? Pakistan won, Bangladesh players cried because they missed by a whisker, but then they decided to cry foul! In the final analysis, not only did they lose the Asia Cup, they lost a lot of sympathy and goodwill that the people and players of Pakistan had for them. See cricket analyst Sohaib Alvi discuss this aspect.

Do you think the Bangladesh players didn’t know the law? Or were they ill advised to file a complaint?

Language: Urdu

Written by afiasalam

March 28, 2012 at 6:50 am

In a Fix Again: How Did Pakistan Cricket Arrive in this Tight Spot

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http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2010/09/in-a-fix-again-how-did-pakistan-cricket-arrive-in-this-tight-spot/

By Afia Salam 7 September 2010mazhar-majeed09-10
Guess it was too good to last.

Even before the celebrations over young Amir’s six-wicket haul in an innings died down, the sordid saga of ‘fancy-fixing’ (what a term!) or ‘spot-fixing’ was unfolded by the British newspaper News of the World. In a bold sting operation as part of its investigative reporting, the tabloid revealed how the ongoing Lords Test match was tainted through the shenanigans of a bookie’s agent, Mazhar Majeed, who had links with fast bowlers Mohammed Amir and Mohammed Asif, skipper Salman Butt and wicketkeeper, Kamran Akmal, who did his bidding for money.

The photographic as well as corroborating video ‘evidence’ shocked, stunned and disgusted not just Pakistanis, but generated a tidal wave of condemnation across the cricket world, resulting in calls for Pakistan’s expulsion from the ICC (International Cricket Council).

Four players were immediately in the doghouse, and more names, such as those of Wahab Riaz, Umer Akmal and Shoaib Malik, were added to the list. Scotland Yard swung into action, cell phones of the four players were seized for investigation, along with their laptops, etc. The only person to be taken into custody was Mazhar Majeed, on a charge of “trying to defraud the bookies,” a bailable offence, which is why he was out after 24 hours.

Majeed’s offence may be restricted to just defrauding the bookies, but the crime of the players is far greater. First off, it is not a case of match fixing – though the corrupt in the fraternity have done that as well. It is called fancy-fixing. In this particular instance, they bowled no-balls, on demand. True, these no-balls would not have altered the outcome of the match, but if they can come under such influences for such fancy stuff, match fixing is just the next rung of the ladder.

For the moment, the players are the accused and not the guilty (see the poll below). Be that as it may, whatever has been playing out in the media is pretty damning. News of the World had gone to Scotland Yard after doing its homework pretty well.

So what now? How did we arrive here? One answer, and I am sure past skipper Rashid Latif must be trying very hard not to say “I told you so,” is because we never blocked the road leading to this route. Rashid was one of the first whistle-blowers in the team who insisted that match-fixing was going on and named his colleagues at great risk to his career. Right from the early ’90s when the allegations, and later when proven instances of corruption at the international level started, the authorities were very slow to move – slow and inconsistent. Despite the rumble and roar of having “zero tolerance” for such shady activities in the gentlemen’s game, we saw players being pardoned, fines reduced and sentences overturned at the behest of powers that be.

And lest we Pakistanis kill ourselves through self-flagellation, this is a disease that plagues the entire cricketing world, though the subcontinent has been the hardest hit, thanks to the Mumbai underworld that has a thriving betting mafia. Internationally, we have seen captains like Azharuddin, Salim Malik and the late Hansie Cronje banned for life for match fixing, along with international cricketers like Ata-ur-Rehman of Pakistan, and Ajay Jadeja of India.

Many others were slapped with fiDV817036nes and other mild wraps on the knuckles. These included Shane Warne and Mark Waugh of Australia, who were found guilty of providing pitch information to bookies.

Oh Captain, My Captain: As of now, Salman Butt is not looking like the inspirational leader many thought he would be. Photo: AFP

We have seen the entire Sharjah edifice crumble and one of the main reasons was the huge influence of the bookies on the games being played there. So much so that one would see each and every player – and spectator – holding cell phones to their ears. It made one wonder if they were really there to watch/play the match.

Without dwelling too much on the past, we must see the present scandal in that very context. The repetition has been because of a lack of will on part of the authorities to deal with this menace with a firm hand. And while we are quick to blame the players and demand exemplary punishment for them, we need similar measures taken for the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) officials. If these things keep happening under their watch, then they are just as responsible and guilty. They may not have accepted money, but they are getting fat salaries and are not doing their jobs right. The top-heavy touring party even has a security manager whose job was to keep an eye on the players and to keep them away from shady characters like Majeed. However, reports indicate that Majeed was in and out of the dressing room – that hallowed ground where no one but the players should be. We still remember Imran Khan telling the then Board secretary, Colonel Rafi Naseem, to get out of the dressing room.

Now we hear that not only Majeed but his brother had also been socialising with the players along the boundary, in the dressing room and in restaurants, presumably because he was a players’ agent who used to get them endorsement contracts. What endorsements? These are centrally contracted players of the national team. How can they have individual sponsorships and endorsements? Then again, it appears that the players were asked to stay away from the duo. When the (mis)management saw that this wasn’t happening, what steps did it take? It is this inaction and lack of will to enforce such orders that has been the undoing of cricket in Pakistan.

But this is not all. The ICC itself has the much touted Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), that was formed to clean up the game and keep it that way. On the ICC websites, the Terms of Reference for the ACU, and its modus operandi state:

“Allegations of corrupt activity are probed thoroughly by the Unit’s Investigators, sometimes with the assistance of Police Officers. In support of their efforts, the ACSU’s Information Manager continues to build an international network of contacts in both the legal and illegal markets so that where concerns are raised, the Unit is able to activate these relationships and effectively investigate allegations.

All players and officials that take part in the top level of international cricket pass through the ACSU’s education programme.

As part of the education process, players are given details of the ways in which corruptors may seek to ‘groom’ them from an early age as well as the penalties that exist – not just for fixing all or part of a match but also for accepting money, benefit or other reward for the provision of information or failing to disclose the inappropriate conduct of others.

The five Regional Security Managers coordinate the ACSU’s prevention measures. These experienced law enforcement professionals are present at every international series to ensure that strict anti-corruption protocols are enforced at all venues, particularly around the dressing room areas.”

Well, as can be seen from whatever went on at Lords cricket ground, the mecca of cricket, this unit too has been found wanting.

As far as the argument of poverty and illiteracy inducing the boys into temptation goes, we should not really read too much into that. How poor or uneducated were Cronje, Gibbs or Boje of South Africa; Warne and Waugh of Australia, or Azharuddin and Jadeja of India.

While education and grooming as well as financial stability do matter, we in Pakistan at least cannot really claim that a lack of these are the reasons for moral turpitude or avarice. Were it so, over 90% of our population would be made up of crooks, for they would have ample reason to be so. Instead, we see many of them toiling hard to earn an honest living, whether in the fields or factories, whereas the millions and billions that are siphoned off the tax payers money and corrupt kickbacks are done by the educated and affluent members of society.

DV817087So let us not be too quick to judge the motive. The bottom line is, the corruption in cricket exists due to the inefficiency of the people manning the echelons of power. And this inefficiency exists because there is neither any representation nor any accountability of these powerful people.

Disappointed: Perhaps instead of having his hands on his head, this cricketer should be hanging his head in shame. Photo: AFP

They are appointed at whim, by a person who should be spending his time looking after the affairs of the state instead of patronising the game, which should be run by management experts who are answerable to their shareholders or board members. And this goes for the various standing committees of legislators. They should pay attention to legislation. If they claim to be the flag-bearers (or pallbearers?) of democracy in Pakistan, then let them demand an end to ad-hocism in the PCB and restore its governing council, to which the Board management would be answerable.

No one needs to reinvent the wheel here. Look around. None of the other cricket boards are run by cricketers. They are running as smoothly oiled machines whose accounts are transparent and whose future vision is clearly spelt out.

Let us, for once, rise like a phoenix from the ashes of our own making. Let the report come out. Punish the guilty evenhandedly. Make an example out of them so it becomes a deterrent. And mind you, we need to stem the rot from its roots. Spot, as well as full-fledged fixing, is rampant through the club cricket structure, and we all know that it exists at the first-class level, as Shoaib Malik confessed to throwing a match. And he was awarded the captaincy after this confession, so that is where the trouble lies.

Just to swim upstream against the tide of anger and condemnation and demands for exemplary punishment, we need a uniform set of laws to correspond to the level of the crime. Right now, the anger within Pakistan, as well as abroad, is almost palpNic401291able, and rightly so. But do remember, life-bans, unless written into the law, violate the fundamental right to livelihood, enshrined in the constitution, as it takes away the chance of a person to express remorse, repent and correct themselves, so one should tread carefully there.

Bowled over: Allegations of spot-fixing have devastated and shamed the cricket-crazy nation of Pakistan.

Also, there are always different degrees of punishments for first timers and habitual offenders. In this entire episode, the only tinge of regret that everyone has expressed has been for Mohammad Amir, who had the world at his feet. He was a raw youngster, and the PCB should have taken him in hand and explained the perils of a similar situation. Should he be punished or should the people who failed to mentor him?

As far as getting rid of the tainted players at the risk of facing a losing streak for a long time is concerned, it may be painful, but is a small price to pay for regaining some of our lost dignity and not becoming total outcasts in the world of cricket. Remember nothing binds us together as completely as cricket.

Also, what would the world of cricket do without the sparks of brilliance Pakistani players display from time to time? Surely it would also be the poorer for the loss. So, for now, let us cut our losses and move on and build the game – not just the team – on a sustainable footing. Anything else is just not cricket.

This article appears in the September issue of Newsline under the title: “In a Fix Again.”

Written by afiasalam

September 9, 2010 at 3:37 am

Posted in Cricket

Remember Me When I’m Gone

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By Afia Salam 23 March 2010
Gul_Hameed_Bhutti03-10

We knew Gul Hameed Bhatti was dangerously ill after suffering repeated strokes; we also knew that another stroke would prove fatal. Gul had become reclusive and had withdrawn into a shell.

However, it was a proof of his great spirit that he attended Newsline’s 20th anniversary bash because of his special association with the magazine his late wife Razia founded, and edited till her last breath. He hadn’t left the house on many occasions before that, so seeing him there raised everyone’s hopes that he would be able to make it back to health.

But it was not to be. The downslide in health was gradual but definite, and then on February 4 we heard that he had passed away. Even though the shock may not have been there for the multitude of his friends and well wishers, there was a deep, deep sadness at having lost such a wonderful person. Sadness also because of the very little time Sara and Kamil had been able to have with their parents, both of whom were such special people.

In the journalist’s fraternity, this sadness and grief found instant expression. While we cannot reproduce here all that was written about him, or was said at the memorial meeting that was held at The Second Floor, we shall try to focus on the different facets of his personality as highlighted by those who had the privilege and pleasure of having known him and worked with him.

Of course, colleagues do not know how he turned out to be the warm, funny, laid back yet totally dedicated person we all knew, but his brother Jalal shed light on that, saying:

“My heart continued to cry as his funeral procession reached the Defence graveyard and when he was finally laid to rest. He then disappeared as mother earth embraced this great man forever.

“So this was the life journey of the man, born in 1948 (September 8, 1948, to be exact, not, as some writers have said, 1947). He wanted to be a cricketer, but his father wanted him to be a doctor. So he played cricket on sheets of paper. He would make two teams, make them play and then record the entire innings with detailed analyses and hand-drawn photos of the action. He would write so artfully that it would look as it were typed.

“He couldn’t become a doctor, so our mother wanted him to be a pilot. He reluctantly obeyed her and flew for 45 hours but before his solo, he got out and finally got admission in the journalism department at Punjab University.

“He was a good human, a loving brother, a fatherly father and a friend of the friends. A jolly good man who was the centre of attraction wherever he was.”

Younger brother Kamal, who came down from Lahore for the memorial at T2F, evoked much mirth with his accounts of their childhood and young Gul’s love for the chickens assorted creatures in their Sargodha home. He would pick up a cricket bat to strike any predatory kite that might swoop down on his beloved chicks and give his own share of milk to the pet goat. “GHB was my buddy. He could detect what I was thinking without even asking me anything. It was his colourful personality that made everyone his friend, even those who he met just once.”

I counted Gul as my boss, colleague, mentor and friend, and shared some very personal recollections of him:

A workaholic whose only other passion besides cricket was his family, he would consider time with his children as his true downtime. As I write these words, images of little Sara with her arms wrapped around him, of him sneakily completing Kamil’s art homework and feigning remorse when confronted by Razia, of supervising a car full of frisky children at the drive-in cinema during a screening of Jurassic Park sponsored by their school, or of him volunteering Kamil to act as the magician’s ‘bacha jamhoora’ at my daughter’s first birthday just flit through my minds eye.

He had the wonderful quality of being able to transcend all age groups … he was equally comfortable with elders, peers, juniors and children. My father and kid brother both struck up a friendship with him and equally enjoyed his company when he would ‘allow’ us to drop him home from office on some days.

When we were working together as editors of The Cricketer magazine, which was hard work in the pre-computer/UPS/generator days, he made the work enjoyable not just because of his love for the game, but because of his easygoing demeanour. The only time he would issue a stern warning was when he had swiped off a plate full of greasy samosas and would warn us not mention this indiscretion to Razia or else.

Umber Khairi, one of Newsline’s original team members, reminisces about him in these words, so poignantly written in The News:

“I knew his name long before I met him. I knew him as the editor of The Cricketer which I started reading in 1977, after developing an ‘aesthetic interest’ in the game after seeing on television images of a youthful Imran Khan bowling in the Sydney Test. I admired the publication and its strong statistical base and was aware of the editor’s name and his passion for the game. But I only met him about a decade later when I was recruited by his wife Razia Bhatti (perhaps Pakistan’s most outstanding editor) to work at Herald.

“Two celebrity journalists, they were a remarkably down-to-earth and sane couple. And two of the kindest, most decent and most hardworking people I have ever met. At their home one always felt a great sense of calm and order, despite all the professional and personal pressures of working in such a stressful field. Gul always tolerated the Herald/Newsline team’s tendency to slip into ‘shop talk’ even at social gatherings, and even though he sometimes got fed up of being kept waiting at the office, and of the late hours we worked, he was always there for Razia, a pillar of strength.”

Bhutti_collage03-10

Writing in The News, Beena Sarwar recounted the tributes paid by friends and family at the informal memorial meeting held at T2F:

“There was laughter and some tears as friends, relatives and admirers gathered at an informal reference for the late veteran sports journalist and former sports editor The News, and former editor.

“Former Newsline reporter Mohammad Hanif, now a well known fiction writer, recalled Bhatti’s pride in Razia and his touching confidence that having met her and begun working with her, Hanif’s career would take off – which of course it did. Hanif also recalled with gratitude Bhatti’s sheer humanity in taking notice of and caring for youngsters like himself who were outsiders in Karachi and hardly knew anyone in the metropolis.

“Arsalan, cricket statistician and Gul’s ‘eating partner’ recounted picking up the phone to call Bhatti, whom he didn’t know, for information he needed about cricket. He was late getting to Spencer Building and everyone had left. The editor, Bhatti, waited for a man he didn’t know with a photocopy of the information he needed. ‘That was Bhatti Sahib – totally selfless.

“Writer and fellow statistician, Abid Ali Kazi spoke of the formation of the Pakistan Association of Cricket Statisticians, of which Bhatti was president. In fact, he was more than a sports journalist – he was a ‘historian’ who ‘single-handedly collected data,’ as Kazi put it, dedicatedly compiling and publishing it in The Cricketer. Statistics about Pakistan’s first class cricket exist because of him.

“One of Bhatti’s oldest friends, Zainab Ansari, recalled a hilarious incident: annoyed at his boss Riaz Mansuri of The Cricketer, Bhatti paid for a matrimonial newspaper ad describing Mansuri, but without naming him, complete with phone number. ‘Of course Mansuri sahab found out it was Gul, and was furious, but Gul laughed and said he should be grateful for the favour.’ ”

Another young journalist Omair Alavi, who worked closely with him at The Cricketer, mentions many shared interests, aside from cricket, and eating of course, which was a huge part of who GHB was. Their shared interest was the silver screen, and this is a side Alavi was more familiar with than many other colleagues.

Aray is ko kia pata, yeh to bacha hai …” I still remember his words when he used to tell Mansoor Ali Baig of The Cricketer Urdu after the two had asked me some really stupid question about some old Pakistani film. Most of the time I had the answer, sometimes I didn’t. But being there with Gul Hameed Bhatti was a prize in itself. He was a friend who stood by you, a father figure who loved you more than anyone, an editor who always had an answer to the stupid queries I had in the early days of my career, a mentor who gave you advice and laughed afterwards, and a role model who had more followers than any other person.

“We all remember him for portraying Mateen sahab in Nadaan Nadia, and whenever I asked him about it, he said that he was a seasoned campaigner. Not many knew that he made his film debut in 1949, when he was six months old. His father was in the police and that’s why he was well connected in the newly created Pakistan. He went on to work in a handful of films till he realised what he was doing (those were his words!) and left the field altogether before he turned 10. He did act in theatre in the ’90s but said that the last thing he wanted to be known for was his acting.

“‘Zyada se zyada kia hoga … mar jaoonga’ is what he used to say after giving money to the peons for samosas. When reminded that it was not good for his health, he used to say that he had only been ill because of what he hadn’t done. He had cancer, though he never smoked. He had high blood pressure though he never inflicted that on himself. And now that he is no more, my belief that those who are good, go first has become firm.”

Many more have written about Gul, many have voiced their grief on the Facebook page his children had made, some who never really knew him personally, and only through his writings have blogged about him … all unanimous in their opinion that this his death is a huge loss, not just for his family and journalism, but also for his legion of admirers and well-wishers. May he rest in peace.

Written by afiasalam

March 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Cricket

Coming Dutch……… Going Dutch!

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That is in effect what the Pakistan Women’s Cricket Control Association cricketers ended up doing during the recently concluded One Day International series against the Dutch team, which they won comprehensively. They had invited the Netherlands cricket team, and now that the Dutch women were coming, they had to go Dutch to play host to them.

As far as cricketing prowess was concerned, , they were not playing and winning against the strongest team in the world, but a team that is about at par with them…… though why the chauvinists/skeptics want to judge them on that basis is beyond comprehension…… look what happened to the Pak. team at the Lord’s!. However, these lines are not just about the cricketing exploits of the women in flannels during the series against the Dutch…………..as those can be briefly described as under:

7 One day Internationals played. Pakistan won the first 4, Netherlands the last three. Captain of the Pakistan side, Shaiza Khan emerged as the best player of the series, having captured 22 wickets at 12.90 apiece. The Small Wonder” of the team, 13 year old Sajjida Shah topped the batting average by scoring 134 runs. Rival skipper, Pauline Te Beest was by far the best player from the opposition camp.

It was the manner in which this series finally materialized that makes for more interesting reading. From the time the Pakistani women cricketers have donned the flannels, they have had to face a variety of opposition……….. from the mullahs (as expected), from chauvinistic males who simply cannot figure out how and why a woman can do what a man does, and from rival factions trying to wrest control of the running of the game in the country…………. leading to court battles etc.

Not to be deterred, the group that had taken upon itself to fly the country’s standard high kept working on its efforts to gain national and international recognition, and was rewarded for its dedication by gaining life affiliation with the governing body of the game, IWCC. Credentials in place, these ladies proceeded to build an infrastructure, and accumulate experience by calling teams to Pakistan and undertaking tours abroad.

Now, for better or for worse, it has to be admitted that money is the name of the game….. and somehow, this element they were not able to inject into their game plan. They were stuck in a chicken and egg situation wherein they had to ensure success in order to get the sponsors nodding, but success without the support of sponsorship was a difficult thing to come by.
This meant that for each venture, they had to dig into their own, personal pool of resources, which meant that they could not organize tour on a scale that would generate enough interest and success so as to attract potential players, audience and sponsors. Hats off to the girls who still kept on trying to raise the profile of the game though the holding of camps, establishment of ground and publication of a dedicated magazine, along side their cricketing activity, which was acknowledged at he highest level, bringing for three of their senior-most members, Shaiza, Sharmeen and Kiran, the membership of the prestigious MCC, and a chance to play in the first ever match.

For all the opposition and difficulties they have had to face, they could simply have latched on to this international affiliation…. but they were not about to abandon the cause of Pakistan women’s cricket, and redoubled their efforts to promote the game in Pakistan, and planned to generate interest by holding a series of One Day Internationals and invited the Dutch team to visit.

Here, it must be acknowledged, that the PCB decided to remove the hurdles that it had put in their in the past, and agreed to offer them the National Stadium for the series….. which included two day/night matches. In Karachi, the media has always been supportive, guidance of former players like Hanif Mohammad, Waqar Hasan. This time, they were further helped through the assistance of Sikander Bakht, who urged, egged, coached the girls to victory in the series.

At the official level too, support and acknowledged was forthcoming, courtesy the enlightened Sindh Minister for Education, Professor Anita Ghulam Ali, and both the teams were even invited by the Governor, Mohammad Mian Soomro as a token of recognition of their efforts to promote the game. By and large, however, the series passed away placidly, especially as the promise from the official quarters about television coverage did not materialize.

Seemed that is what the entire sponsorship package hinged on, as the corporate bodies would have consented to dishing out money even if there was not a single soul inside the stadium, as long as they could get the TV camera to home in on their logo………. advertising hoardings etc….. after all that is what has been happening as far as ‘men’s’ cricket is concerned… advertising revenues keep pouring in despite pathetic play and empty stadia.

However, even after having all this support in place, they were faced with the million dollar question…. how to cope with the expenses of the series. Hence began a round of frenetic activity wherein they not only had to put all the cricketing arrangements in place, they also had to run after sponsors convincing them not only of their credentials, their intent, but also the fact that it made good business sense to support them, and take them to the stage of critical mass after which they would be able to generate positive response. On the merit of their own performance.

Many promises later, just on the eve of the tour, they literally had to go Dutch to see that the series takes place, as it was a matter of the country’s prestige. Except for the fact that the Sheraton Hotel made it possible for them to take care of the guest team in a proper manner, and their clothing and kit was taken care of, the rest of the expenses were, like so many times in the past, borne by the United Carpets Group of Companies, to which two of the team members, Shaiza and Sharmeen belong……. the reason why I call it going Dutch!

Written by afiasalam

August 7, 2001 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Cricket