Why Pakistan Should Have Lost the Champions Trophy Final

Source: Dawn, Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic

This happens every single rare occasion that we so triumphantly score a victory in the world of sports. The Pakistan cricket team’s comprehensive victory against India in the Champions Trophy was not any exception.

Of course, I was delighted at the performance of our underdog cricket team slaying the Indian giants as well. But a couple of days later, I wondered if I should have been. While I enjoyed this opportunity for this rare contact between India and Pakistan, perhaps I should have anticipated the mass hysteria that defines both these nations.

The Prime Minister announces PKR 10 million to each player. Of course, such brutality with the taxpayer money is not something new. Who does the Prime Minister think he is? A Mogul king?

Furthermore, Malik Riaz offered a residential plot of around 600 square yards to the centurion Fakhar Zaman in his supposedly private property project Bahria Town. Well, you don’t want to get anyone started on the monstrosity of the state-capitalist Bahria Town thing, which is a nightmare for even the staunchest anarcho-capitalist.

And well, it does not necessarily have to be the world cup or anything. A win in an event smaller than the Champions Trophy final has resulted in such behavior in the past. If they are receiving such prizes for winning the Champions Trophy, I wonder what would happen if they win the world cup again.

Alright, alright. I get it. Our victorious sportsmen are our national heroes. They should be rewarded. At least the Bahria Town corner plot sounds good especially since our “public servant” generals, politicians, judges, and bureaucrats are going to occupy them before long anyway.

However, is there any sense at all in offering such rewards to players already earning handsomely? I mean, isn’t there a better use of taxpayer money amounting to something like PKR 100-160 million. Or is there a clarification that the sum is going to be paid for from the hard earned money of the Sharif family?

In a country which has very irresponsibly vowed in its constitution to offer free education and not even remotely coming close to deliver it, this does not sound good. Especially in a country which is badly in need of a comprehensive national health insurance program. It goes to show our priorities.

At least our government needs to act a little responsibly in this regard. There is no doubt that the hardworking high risk-high reward cricket players deserve all the compensation in the world. But why burden the taxpayer further? The PCB prize money makes sense. Let their prizes

In other words, an Indian win in the finals would have been far more in the interest of the people of Pakistan.

For a moment in the thrill of the game, especially during the wonderful lethal spell of Muhammad Amir, I had forgotten about this brutal reaction to a Pakistan win. What exactly are we celebrating? Paying for a reward we never approved of.

Perhaps I should keep these consequences in mind when I am rooting for a team in a Pakistan game in the future. ‘

Perhaps I would be rooting for a Pakistan loss in the next world cup final against India

The post was originally published in Dunya News blogs.

Just Like in the Old Days…

Source: Dawn

What is a win but a number?
What is a loss but a figure?
Adding yet another digit to the evergrowing tally.
What does it mean after all?
That the people from here and the people from there spoke for the first time in years.
That our players hugged and shook the hands in the field.

That they helped out the injured from the other side.
That they applauded every time they played well.
Just like in the old days…

New friends were made in the stadium stands.
New names were learned which we never thought were real.
We saluted each other’s flag for the first time in years.
Across the fence, we could see each other’s faces after such a long time.
At least the taunts and jests felt human enough.
Not some distant babbling regurgitated by some noisy talk show host.
Sweetmeats were exchanged whether we won or lost.
Smiles were exchanged to heal broken hearts.
Just like in the old days…

Try to come and see us every now and then.
If only to beat us every time you are here.
Even if you never want to meet us when you are there.
It feels like home again.

Building a PSL Economy

Source: cricketall.com

Source: cricketall.com

Considering how Pakistanis are supposed to be fanatics for cricket, we certainly lack a well developed sports league in this country. And when I say a league, I mean something on the lines of IPL and at least BPL, if not the English Premier League or NFL.

It is not that Pakistani people do not have a sense of sports or the necessary enthusiasm.  Hell, they have fought many a tear gas attack just to get into the stadium for a pathetic but rare one dayer. Particularly the younger generation, who are well versed with all sorts of sports activity around the world, and who passionately and even religiously follow foreign sports franchises.

All of this makes sense. Even if sports bore the hell out of you, you can partake in the PSL Economy by placing a wager or two. After all, what good are sports unless you have something personal at stake? The reason I am raising this point is that the PSL economy must, and absolutely must, go beyond the die hard sports fan for its potential impact. Just like it’s hard to avoid the Super Bowl if you are living in America. It must affect far more people who are not able to avoid it. People like me, who are bored out of hell watching an entire cricket game, but yet would not mind poking their noses in a good competition. It’s all about pretending not to be bored.

Now the official website of the Pakistan Super League has introduced its own fantasy league. But if you take a deeper look at it, it is just filling a contract clause. The league has very low functionality and you cannot even create your private leagues. This means that you cannot invite your friends and coworkers to be a part of the experience, which means a poor experience. Let’s hope this can change. As opposed to that, a more poorly designed and cheaper but more functional private fantasy PSL website could offer greater value.

Hate the neo-liberal in me for saying this, but I commend all the sponsors who are putting in their money for this great cause. And I feel bad for using the word cause here because it is not supposed to be fucking charity. But I say so because the domestic fans deserve a structure like this. In any case, perhaps the investors were always happy to put their money in a venture that people could respond positively to. This is probably the first one put into place by the PCB that has put up the structure for a serious league, albeit very small in size. But the size may change in the future if all goes well and the consumer trends so far are not disastrous.

I have written earlier about the need of addressing the growing market of skilled gaming. This, in all fairness, should be extended to a channel for legalized gambling, though that is a step too far at this stage. There is clearly an appetite for skilled gaming in the market, which would enhance the enthusiasm and engagement for the PSL to a much greater extent by involving stakes for the public.

Meanwhile, the advertising would also become far more aggressive and tribal in the coming days. At least from one of the franchises. Tribalism would and should become a necessary tool for honing the public engagement and to build manufactured rivalries around the franchises, which only came into being a couple of years ago. A better idea would be to capitalize on the sense of mutual urban resentment already present among the natives of Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad.

All of this would initiate giving these franchises a cult following and a vicious fan base, which they don’t enjoy currently. You know, this is how religions work too. When it comes to building the PSL economy, more commercialism is always less. Even though the moralists among our ranks would then later be writing about it mourning the degeneration that is waiting to manifest itself in this fashion. Ah, the little moral sacrifices you have to make in order to build a viable sport economy.

A solidified fan base would then cement the presence of franchises as institutions, creating thousands of jobs which are not going anywhere in an uncertain next year. These organizations would, in turn, become clients of hundreds of businesses, and that is how the PSL economy would roll out its effect. None of this would be possible, however, without increased spending from the fans. And this is eventually not going to be sustainable enough unless cricket is brought to home. Unless the Qaddafi Stadium becomes a real home to the franchise. So unless Lahore Qalanders have to become something more than “Jazz” Lahore Qalanders, before their eventual death.

The eventual goal of the PSL must be the creation of a self-sustaining domestic league within the geographical boundaries of Pakistan. Ideally speaking, it should suffice to nourish the appetite of the Pakistani cricket fan, which has to rely on the mundane international cricket in Dubai or the emotionally distant foreign leagues. Without this, the PSL model would not last very long. Deep down inside, Najam Sethi knows this, but of course, there is not much he can do about the security situation. But still, you need to draw a line somewhere and soon. Pakistani fans are sick of Dubai.

So if the international cricket boards are not sending out teams to Pakistan for security concerns, you could always buy players to come in. Even if that means a very few A-listers. At least it would be a start. I think Pakistan Cricket Board and the franchises should also make it a point to import players from India, even if that means B or C category players.

Another rarely talked about factor in Pakistan and an important part of the PSL economy is the quality of the television. And I am not going to mince my words here. The quality of television in Pakistan, especially when compared to India or anywhere, is shit. In other words, there is no real use of putting up the best show in the country if the eventual optics are going to be pathetic.

An overwhelming majority in Pakistan do not have access to digital television broadcasts, a technology not even used for the coverage of the PSL. So people are stuck with a quarter of a century old technology to watch what is supposed to be the most important sporting event in Pakistan. While the federal government made an attempt to make progress in this regard, albeit in a very wrong way, the local DTH service could have filled the much needed gap in this regard. But let’s hope the consumers become more aware of their own interests in Pakistan one day and stop listening to the political narrative on the “mainstream media” too much.

PSL Chairman Najam Sethi, a noticeable difference, has done a great job in introducing this first serious franchise based model for a sustainable domestic league. Now the key is to constantly up the game when it comes to bringing more money to the PSL economy.

Leave building the PSL economy to the thriving private sector, just bring cricket back home.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

I Almost Hoisted the Indian Flag Too

Source: AFP/Indranil Mukherjee

Source: AFP/Indranil Mukherjee

A few weeks ago, a curious headline caught my eye. There is a good reason why I really related to the unfortunate individual caught in the whirlpool of insane politics of rivalry between neighbors India and Pakistan. Just like Umar Draz, the arrested fan in Okara is taken by the brilliant drives of Virat Kohli, the brilliant batting of Sachin Tendulkar mesmerized me throughout my teenage years.

However, when you are surrounded by bigots and compulsive nationalist haters, you would never be able to freely express yourself. But sports fans are a different breed. They are out of control. What’s the point in supporting a sports team or an athlete, if you are not showing off and challenging and trash-talking your opponents?

This is precisely what poor Umar Draz had done, and this is precisely what I almost did on a few occasions when Sachin Tendulkar played. Of course, I failed to share the jubilation with my fellow countrymen when Sachin missed his century in the 2003 World Cup game against Pakistan, or failed to steer his team to victory in the Chennai test, or even when Shoaib Akhtar knocked his middle stump out in the Eden Gardens. Alright, I must confess, I did take some pleasure in that memorable dismissal. But great players are even dismissed in a stylish manner.

Let us agree for the sake of argument that hoisting the Indian flag is a deeply immoral wrong. Just like waving the Pakistani flag is considered a crime in Indian occupied Kashmir. Even then, Umar Draz was merely waving the flag of the cricket team he was supporting, which happened to be India. The Kohli posters in his room prove that he is a genuine fan. I blame the format of international cricket for his innocuous act to be taken as one of rebellion and defiance of the state. If you are rooting for your favorite cricket team, you would look like rooting for another country, possibly an enemy.

However, Umar Draz is living in far more comfortable times than my days of following Sachin’s career. If he had given a thought to it, he could also have expressed himself by displaying the flags and colors of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, though the difficulty of accessing the franchise merchandise in Pakistan should also be taken into account.

During the 90s and 2000s, Sachin Tendulkar was not a part of any such team, and therefore I had no choice but to take pleasure in his many tons helping India cruise to victory. In Umar’s defense, he is free to choose to support India over the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Who knows? Maybe he hates the colors and the ridiculous commercialized franchise name.

Since then I have learned that playing cricket with India is a far more political affair than our sport-loving minds could comprehend. Of late, I have even discovered that probably it is not even worth the trouble. But does that prevent you from following the sport you love and express your love for your favorite players across the border? I still enjoy watching the IPL games every now and then.

And in my overzealousness, I almost hoisted the Indian flag for Sachin too. But thank God I didn’t. Though I should be able to whenever I want.

Considering the shocking case of the arrest of Umar Draz, I wonder what would have happened to me. Would I have seen the inside of a filthy cell like Umar Draz for such a harmless act and had my public record ruined for life? Where is our most basic sense of human decency?

Shame on us. Time to make a little change in the penal code.

Originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Right to Gambling and Online Paid Skilled Gaming

Source; profootballspot.com

Source; profootballspot.com

It is always a bad idea to invite the government into the areas of the internet where it is absent to prevent the abuse of regulation. However, avenues that are already eliminated by the government with decades-old theocratic legislation require a corrective intervention. Online gambling and skilled gaming are one such area.

If you are a fan of fantasy sports or are even fond of gambling your hard earned income every now and then, you would have a hard time pursuing such recreational activities in Pakistan. At least at a legal concern or on the internet, unless it happens to be a government sanctioned prize bond scheme or a race course.

Currently, The Prevention of Gambling Act 1977 governs and prohibits such activities in Pakistan with various penalties. The provincial versions of the law were enacted in 1978, while The Public Gambling Act of 1867 under the British law, which it was largely based on, was repealed in Islamabad and Punjab later.

Now there is a good reason why online gambling is banned in many countries. Gambling can be highly addictive and could expose citizens’ capital to great risk of loss.

Nevertheless, despite the risks and dangers involved, it is better to leave it to the citizens to decide about their morals and the disposal of their savings. The best trade-off between freedom and order remains in softening of the Gambling Act to decriminalize and legalize such activity.

There is no doubt that the government should protect citizens from fraudulent practices, eliminate money laundering and prevent organized crime to dominate such activities. This is why legalization of such activities not only offers safe and legal channels for citizens for such recreation due to regulation, but could also help generate considerable public revenue.

Just like every other “moral” issue in Pakistan, you cannot help but notice that the ban on gambling is not without its due share of contradictions, or even hypocrisy. Without going into the embarrassing reasons why, most of us are aware that horse racing is legally protected in Pakistan. Let’s just say that our bureaucracy and feudal class would always make an exception for their lifestyles.

However, thanks to the outdated laws governing anything remotely close to gambling within the boundaries of Pakistan, citizens indulging in the vice are not safe from harassment from the state. This also impacts the online space as betting websites would not open their operations to Pakistan, or even if they do, making transparent financial transactions to such entities would only land you in legal trouble.

Normally, I would hardly advocate the action of legislators as a much needed solution, but repealing is as much their job as enacting new laws. Especially in this case, when the laws in place are such terrible sweeping bans that take away the breathing space from the citizens. If law enforcement authorities were to target civilians, they would even charge citizens under the suspicion of gambling on the possession of dice and cards under the current draconian laws. Countries such as the United Kingdom have modernized their local gambling laws to provide for online gambling. It is about time the rest of the world followed suit.

Prohibiting gambling is one thing, since it is so evil. The taboo against it even sweeps skilled gaming involving financial transactions under the label. Even state attorneys in the United States are insisting on it in the wake of the latest controversies pertaining to insider trading among leading fantasy sports companies. However, bans in states such as New York sound more like prohibiting trading of a commodity due to an instance of financial fraud.

Any sports fan remotely familiar with the activity would know that fantasy sports, while dependent on actual results, rewards calculated risks and the knowledge of the sport. Fans not being able to participate in such paid skilled gaming due to local gambling bans is simply unfortunate.

Pakistani fans, like those in the rest of the civilized world, should be no exceptions when it comes to online skilled gaming. While local fans may not be enthusiastic about NFL or MBL odds, they sure take a keen interest in EPL and cricket related leagues. With the advent of Pakistan Super League, Pakistani cricket fans would be missing a legal means to put their money on their favorite franchises.

The bottom line is that there is no reason why an adult Pakistani should not have access to gambling and skilled gaming, online or offline, whenever they want to entertain themselves. The access to gambling and paid skilled gaming could possibly be considered as a right to the citizens, and when done responsibly can really prove to be a joyful activity.

We have a choice of being blindly morally uptight as usual, or actually make it safer and legal for the citizens to enjoy paid skilled gaming, if not gambling.

A version of the post was published in The Nation blogs.

What Cricket Really Needs Today

Source: Chris Hyde/Getty Images/stuff.co.nz

Source: Chris Hyde/Getty Images/stuff.co.nz

The cricket world cup is underway and the sport is back in news, trending worldwide on twitter every now and then.

The first 20 games of the tournament have been pretty dull to say the least, thanks to the terrible flat drop-in pitches, with the clear exception of the game between Australia and New Zealand that went down to the wire. Apart from that match, the only games that were the closest and the most exciting were between the supposed minnows.

There has been far too many brilliant performances by teams of associate countries, God knows what this term means, to be a fluke. And it is not fair at all that only after four years do their fans get a chance to cheer for them on a considerable international platform. Not because the world cup is held after every four years, but because that is when these teams get a chance to play the test playing nations.

ICC, the governing body of cricket, has always let politics and money get into the way they have been making various decisions pertaining to the sport. Not only is it hard to understand what standards the body follows in granting test status to associate members, but even how it tackles regulation aspects of the sport, such as the legality of bowling actions, in a consistently obnoxious manner.

Nobody knows why the ICC had granted Bangladesh test status after it won a single game against Pakistan in 1999, while Kenya is still waiting for it despite qualifying for the Semi Finals in the 2003 World Cup. Furthermore, Ireland has been performing consistently well since the 2007 world cup, winning several games, and beating giants such as West Indies, Pakistan and England, but still has not been able to impress the ICC.

ICC probably was so eager to grant test playing status to Bangladesh because of the commercial market that the country offered for the sport, and which could be lacking in Ireland, Holland and Kenya. While this is an important factor, it should not be dictating the sporting opportunity.

Irish captain William Porterfield was absolutely right when he said that their victory against the West Indies was no upset. The team has been performing easily at par with, if not better than, any world class test playing cricket team. He also expressed his disgust at the term “associate member” and the way ICC has been treating these teams, including his.

Teams such as Ireland, UAE, Holland, Kenya, Nepal, and especially Afghanistan deserve the test playing status, or at least proper, respectable international cricket slot, which goes for Zimbabwe and Bangladesh too. Not only will it work wonders for the development of cricket in these nations, which is something the ICC is supposed to do, but will also help the sport itself.

However, the ICC is hellbent to keep the sport of cricket in a closed circuit of countries that are already dominating it, and is even marginalizing the “lesser” cricket nations with its hideous transfer of power to the “Big Three” boards, namely, India, Australia and England. Big, in terms of commercialism.

What is even worse, the number of countries participating in the world cups will be reduced to 10 from 14 in the 2019 edition to be held in England and Wales. So will be the case in the next world cup to be held in India in 2023.

Cricket boards with an unnecessarily disproportionate focus on commercialism such as the Indian BCCI, are effectively destroying the sport with their influence on the international governing body.

The other way around, which surely no board will follow, is to completely ignore the ICC and carry out bilateral tours. such as a Pakistan and Ireland test series, or a Kenya, Zimbabwe and Namibia triangular tournament. Let the burden of marketing and broadcasting rest on the boards involved, and stop caring whether the matches are considered to be “counted” or legitimate. A much better option than succumbing to the status quo or voting to “boycott” the sport.

Will it affect the quality of cricket? Yes, but it would be affected anyway.

What cricket really needs is to get rid of the insulting “associate member” term and offer equal opportunity of playing, not financially growing, to every cricket playing nation. Only then will the sport truly reach its potential of popularity around the world.

Otherwise, it would not be surprising to see cricket played in three countries only.

Not that they would mind.

Two Decades Since the Happiest News

Source: The Telegraph

I must admit I do not attach importance to sports anymore as I used to do ten years ago, neither do I associate it with patriotism in any way. I never did, even before my teenage, but it feels good to see everyone around you so jubilant and it feels very good to see something you associate with do well. Especially when it is a part of very personal nostalgia.

Pakistan is a country surrounded with troubles of all sorts, especially in the recent years, but it has had its share of fond memories and some very creative and important people in its history. I say this with an overtone of sadness that there have been very few instances of “good news” in its history, since its creation, at least in my living memory, since the late 1980s to date. However, one that I consider the most important one, and to some probably the only one, was the 1992 Cricket World Cup victory.

Now that was a huge moment for someone who had not even reached his teenage at the time and it was ecstatic. Imran Khan is my childhood hero and I recall that when I was in school there was no one in the world that I wanted to be like than Imran Khan. He is one of those very few charismatic and inspirational people you cannot help but notice. I was not alone. All the boys wanted to become Imran Khan and all the girls wanted to marry him. And it was really inspirational to see him lift the trophy for Pakistan. He is a politician now and a controversial figure, but I guess he always was. And that’s sexy.

Now that was one of those patriotic moments you cannot help but not hide under pragmatism, making it one of my very personal posts.

It happened on this day, March 25, exactly 20 years ago in Melbourne, Australia.

I know it is only a cricket tournament and many cricket world cups have come and gone since then, but to my generation, that moment means something really special. Besides, Pakistan was not as half as desensitized a nation to everything as it is now. I still remember watching the Pakistani cricket team victory parade on Murree Road in Rawalpindi from the roof of my old family house. It was a surreal moment that got attached to my memory forever and will never leave it until my brain cells are dissolved with my corpse.

Even the most useless cricketers in the squad are treated as heroes to this day.

I find the Pakistan of the 1990s a very magical piece of history anyway and it was really made special by this very special event. The earlier generations would attach far greater importance to the event not just because archrival India dramatically won the 1983 World Cup but because Pakistan was eliminated from the 1987 World Cup over a controversial umpiring decision that led to the dismissal of Captain Imran Khan in the Semi Final against Australia in Lahore. It was probably the lowest point in his career and he retired after the loss in the tournament. He was persuaded to come out of retirement and went on to lead an apparently dysfunctional team to victory, in a miraculous manner. Those who followed the tournament would know what I am talking about.

Whether you agree with it or admit it or not, I think that the 1992 World Cup victory had a great part to play in changing the destiny of Pakistan. It also led to the building of Pakistan’s first dedicated cancer hospital in Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Center, which could have happened without the victory too perhaps, but maybe not in such a glorious manner. Donations poured in for it. We lost that spirit somewhere over the years. Hope not.

Imran’s acceptance speech was pretty much about him than Pakistan, but I guess Pakistanis don’t mind that. I don’t.

But it really was the Happiest News the Pakistani nation ever received.

Two decades since the Happiest News and probably waiting for the next one, which will never come because this was it I guess. Hope not.

I think the 1992 Cricket World Cup was a moment that I do associate with patriotism without any shame.

Yes, it is a moment for which I am very proud to be a Pakistani.