Cricket reflects politics and society

In general, Pakistan players do not read books—and with precious few books being published or translated in Urdu what options do they have? The traditions and folklore of cricket are not absorbed by reading about them but by picking up oral scraps provided by senior players. Is it any wonder that in a country where corruption, nepotism and fraudulent dealing is rife from top to bottom, where there is no accountability and even if you are caught someone is likely to get you off the hook through graft, Pakistan cricketers feel encouraged to take bribes, fix matches and generally behave in an undisciplined manner? The fact that they come from poor families is beside the point, irrelevant. They know as national players that even if they are not superstars they will make enough for themselves and their families. It is the poor man that realizes that one large town house is not enough and he wants to have even larger town houses. This is the greed syndrome that is currently in vogue with politicians, bureaucrats, some crooked bankers and the private sector. They are all out to make a fast buck while the sun shines. Hardly anyone pays taxes, a fair number of parliamentarians have lied under oath about being graduates and when discovered showed no
remorse—simply a stratagem that did not work! Too bad, try again by another route! Cheating is acceptable, so long as you do not get caught. And even if you are caught, some godfather will come and save you.

Eminent sports psychoanalysts like Mike Brearley, Rudi Webster, Maqbool Babri and Dr Sandy Gordon have expressed their views on the impulses that have led sportsmen on the threshold of fame to risk their careers through corruption and betting. For these psychoanalysts greed is too simplistic an explanation for errant behaviour. Brearley refers to the ‘doomed fatality’ of the first step for a sportsman when he gives even casual assistance on the wrong side. Once in, it is very hard to get out. Dr Sandy Gordon, a well-known Australian sports psychologist, has referred to ‘derailers’ that have induced great athletes like Mike Tyson, George Best, Diego Maradona or Tiger Woods to stray into gambling, drugs and violence against women. Gordon states it is about ‘character meeting opportunity’. Temptations come in many disguises. What stays constant is the powerful lure. Gordon states that individuals overestimate themselves and their ability to get away with ill-advised risks.

Cricket Cauldron—The Turbulent Politics of Sport in Pakistan: Shaharyar M. Khan and Ali Khan, Harper Sport, 330 pages, Rs699
Cricket Cauldron—The Turbulent Politics of Sport in Pakistan: Shaharyar M. Khan and Ali Khan, Harper Sport, 330 pages, Rs699

It is apparent that Pakistan—in its cricket and more widely, in the national arena—has thrown up few mentors and its more recent heroes have been deeply flawed. Pakistan’s demographic structure—a large and young population—will throw up talented young people, and without responsible leadership or mentoring, this group of young people almost always end up behaving badly—rock stars, film stars and the like are prime examples. Keep in mind also that according to psychologists the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) of the brain, an area that deals with planning, forethought, motivation, impulse control and the modulation of emotions, is also not fully developed until the youth reach their mid-20s. Professional sport has strong visible and invisible institutions for mentoring, but despite that sportsmen have often been those who have been hauled up for misconduct—Mike Tyson, George Best, Diego Maradona and Tiger Woods are only a few examples.

Maqbool Babri has been quoted in an article by Sharda Ugra as saying ‘that teams need role models within their own structures. It could be a senior figure—the coach, say, whose role is not merely that of a technical instructor but also a counsellor and psychotherapist who players can go and talk to without fear’. The coach’s role is that of the adult figure among a group of young, ambitious, highly strung men on a high wire of ambition and expectation.

In Pakistan the mentoring function has almost evaporated and this omission is made more acute by the minimal impact of education. The exception was Imran Khan, who moulded a team of young players and infused them with discipline and a competitive self-belief. Woe betide the player who stepped out of line with Imran. Such was the force of his personality that team colleagues and often the opposition remained in awe of him. Since Imran retired Pakistan has had 16 captains—Australia have had four, England eight and India six—and none has played the role of mentor to a young team. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Imran’s heirs, were said to discourage young fast bowlers in the team. No effort was made to groom them. To some extent the combination of Inzamam and Bob Woolmer filled the mentoring gap, but even here Inzamam used his religious morality to hold sway over the team, mistaking piety for morality. It means the tough job of maturing morality is taken lightly, as though almost mechanically done. Moreover, despite his seniority and position in the team, even Inzamam felt insecure—often blocking entry into the team of promising middle-order batsmen. In contrast to Pakistan, Anil Kumble recently stated what important roles senior players have played in the Indian team. He mentioned his own role along with that of Srinath, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly and Tendulkar—all highly respected, educated senior members of the team who ensured that the younger members of the team matured and followed their example. Pakistan, in contrast, have recently included in their team management Waqar Younis and Ijaz Ahmed, both players who were prominently mentioned in the Qayyum report.

Maybe the most destructive recent impact of the lack of positive mentoring appears to be the example of Mohammad Amir, the young fast bowler at the centre of the spot-fixing scandal. Did his captain order him to overstep the line? Was his senior partner Mohammad Asif a contributing influence? Amir comes from a desperately poor background, but his meteoric rise has seen him move from a small town in Punjab to owning a town house in an expensive area of Lahore. Asif, of course, has been on the scene much longer but has been no stranger to controversy. In Amir’s case the combined influences of poor mentorship, lack of education, a rags-to-riches rise and a corrupt and criminal environment have jeopardized the career of one of cricket’s most exciting prospects.