Don’t arrange a party on the shore,
For there the song of life is gentle and soft.
Roll with the ocean and contend with its waves:
Struggle and combat give eternal life.
Muhammad Iqbal, Payam-i-Mashriq (Farsi) – Translated by Prof. Mustansir Mir.
Pakistan cricket has come a long way in its 56 year history. That first Test match team to represent Pakistan contained seven players born in Lahore and four that were born in Indian territory. This was an indication that 'cricket consciousness' in the territories that comprised Pakistan in the 1950s was not greatly developed. Containing many of the economic backwaters of the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan had begun its existence with a low industrial base and very small middle-class. This was significant as at that stage the game on the Indian subcontinent was a mainly middle class game.
The two most advanced cricket centres in Pakistan areas, when the partitioner's axe was wielded with devastating effect in 1947, were Lahore and Karachi.
Karachi in the 1930s was a small fishing town a world way from what it has become: a cosmopolitan metropolis, the financial capital of the country.
In Karachi, pre-partition, the Hindus and Parsees dominated and in Lahore, Hindus and Sikhs were responsible for much of the organisational structure. Muslims relative to other communities were less economically advanced, which was one reason many Muslims in the 1940s came to support the Pakistan demand. Hindus, Parsees and Sikhs dominated in industry, commerce and the professions. Just before partition, of the top 57 Indian companies, only one was owned by a Muslim. Hindus, Parsees and Sikhs - being in an economically superior position - funded much of the cricket in Lahore and Karachi.
Partition led of course to the migration of these communities to India and left Pakistan cricket to commence its life without patrons, funds and organisational strength.
Pakistan was also cast – against Jinnah’s wishes - as a seceding state rather than as a part inheritor of the British Raj. As such it had to apply for membership to international organisations such as the United Nations and the ICC, whereas there was no such compulsion for India. The ICC rejected Pakistan’s application for membership in 1948 and 1950.
But the more important effect was that the BCCP (as it was known then) and the domestic structure had to be created from 'scratch' in economically difficult circumstances.
Faced by financial constraints, poor facilities, the lack of a strong grass-roots structure, and seeking legitimacy, the BCCP looked to important figures - private and public - which not only led to a politicised structure emerging but encouraged intrigue. In the 1950s, a Prime Minister (Muhammad Ali Bogra) and two Heads of State (Iskandar Mirza and Ayub Khan) served as presidents of the BCCP. The first BCCP constitution in 1963 stated that the head of state will be its patron, an oddity still alive today.
56 years on and the PCB (as it is known now) remains weakly institutionalised and the domestic structure remains feeble, unable to shake off the legacy of the past and the troubled beginning. But cricket has become very much the national game (even if the official title is held by Hockey) and its geographic appeal and social base are now much wider. It is no longer merely an urban, middle class game, with its player strength restricted to Lahore and Karachi, as it was in the 1950s – although these two cities remain influential cricketing centres.
The success of Pakistan cricket, in spite of the numerous problems, controversies and moments of despair, can be ascribed in large part to its ability to turn apparent disadvantages into positives and in the process develop a distinctive cricket culture of its own.
The decline of schools and college cricket, limited funds as well as the widening of the social base meant that increasingly from the mid 1960s and beyond, youngsters who went onto represent Pakistan had learnt their trade in the streets, in their mohallas, where space was limited. The spatial restrictions promoted unorthodox styles and continues to do so to this day. As Mike Marqusee once noted:
“Indian cricket fans travelling in Pakistan will find the same mad scramble for tickets, the same often inadequate spectator facilities they’re used to at home. But it’s in the galis and maidans that they’ll find Pakistani cricket in the raw, densely packed and frenetic. Opportunities to play organised cricket here are comparatively limited, so disorganised cricket comes to the fore. It’s ubiquitous and endlessly inventive.”
Related to this, ‘localised’ cricket as opposed to ‘national’ schools cricket facilitated differentiation and made it more malleable to local and regional contexts. The fact that the first time many Pakistanis obtained formal coaching, full equipment, attire and proper cricket pitches was only when they entered the domestic first-class arena, encouraged individuality and an improvisatory style.
The weak Pakistan domestic system, informal cricket structures and relations and emphasis on patronage also promoted the fielding of young players based not on domestic performances but potential. There was a tendency for influential senior players to recruit young players. They did so without regard to domestic performances. Indeed many of them held first class cricket in low regard. The picked on talent. As such not only was the weak cricket domestic system, 'circumvented' but players were picked before their individual distinctiveness was eroded in the first-class game. The national team thus remained ‘acquainted’ to the streets cricket, where the tape ball pervades and continues to reign supreme.
The weakness and informal nature of the cricket structure also led to empowered captains. Not circumscribed by bureaucracy and red tape they often wielded immense power. Whilst at times this power has been abused, leading to claims of nepotism and favouritism, under a strong ‘visionary’ captain like Imran Khan, it also ensured that sound cricket decisions were being made in spite of the nature of the PCB.
The growth in the social base also had a significant impact in the emergence of a more defiant spirit in the 1970s. In the initial years many of the cricketers who represented Pakistan were educated and affluent, who had learnt their cricket in the collegial system based on British educational institutions. These players were more subservient and deferential in spirit. So in 1971 when Pakistan arrived in England, Imran Khan noted in his autobiography, the pervasion of an “inferiority complex” amongst Pakistani players.
The emergence of players from poorer backgrounds, not steeped in British traditions, allowed for a more assertive stance to emerge. This was concurrent with the emergence of a stronger national identity and thus cricket became part of the nationalist project, part of the nationalist image and self-assertion.
Shaped by the vicissitudes of time, by history and environment, faced by a plethora of constraints, Pakistan cricket has developed a particularly distinctive cricket culture. Pakistan cricket has very much rolled with the ocean and contended with the waves and survived.