Why the U-19 disaster is bound to occur again
For too long have we taken our inabilities comfortably without considering the causes and determinants of it.
Pakistan under-19 cricket team’s dismal performance in the ongoing Under-19 World Cup shouldn’t come to us as a surprise.
The state of affairs of sports in Pakistan has been such lately that this was bound to happen eventually. Having said as much, we still feel disappointed because of the recent excellent performances by our U-19 team in the event. While Pakistan’s senior team had their worst World Cup campaigns in 2003 and 2007 (they came back home after the first round on both occasions), the U-19 team brought home the World Cup in 2004 and 2006. They were semi-finalists in 2008 and runners-up in 2010.
The same was not to be true this time around. They finished at number eight. They won the pool matches against Afghanistan, Scotland and New Zealand while they lost to India in the quarter-final, to West Indies in the 5th place play off, and to Bangladesh yesterday by five wickets. While there were some impressive individual performances, these clearly weren’t good enough to have influenced the results.
Yes, we lost, but should we really take this seriously?
I believe that we must!
Too long have we taken our inabilities comfortably without considering the causes and determinants of it. This 'talent' that we keep banking on is bound to run out sooner or later and here is why:
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB):
The first name that comes to mind for the dismal performance of the U-19 team is is the PCB. This is after all the governing body for cricket in Pakistan and the team selection, preparation, coaching and so on is their responsibility. The conditions in which these talented youngsters train and practice are pretty ordinary everywhere except in the National Cricket Academy, Lahore. The game in this mode has gone beyond mere talent. Scientific methods are used to train, plan, practice and analyse the game, whereas our cricket at grass root level doesn’t even have grass.
We used to win at the U-19 level on the basis of sheer talent that we have in our country. I fear that this solacing statement that we have talent might one day become an unsubstantiated claim. The raw talent needs to be polished well enough to be able to compete at the highest level. These boys are meant to be the future of Pakistan cricket (and make no mistake; the likes of Umar Akmal and Muhammad Amir, inter alia, came through to the big stage via U-19 cricket). Investment at under-19 level means long term investment. It has the potential to reap winners. It is high time that the PCB realise this.
Schools and colleges:
I believe that sports should be made compulsory in all high schools. Our medal-less performance in the London Olympics 2012 can also be attributed to the declining interest in sports at education centres. We should focus on creating all-rounders and not just A-graders. Ensuring every student’s participation in one sport or the other, engaging qualified coaching staff (for example ex-players), and valuing sports in general is a must. Many schools in urban areas do not even have proper playgrounds. Having appropriate sporting facilities should also be made mandatory for all schools and colleges. And I don't just say this because it will produce great players for Pakistan in the future, but also because playing sports is great for one's health, especially in the developmental phase.
The tuition culture:
Strenuous academic routines that have monopolised the evenings of most students have been seriously detrimental to sports in Pakistan. They have school-work in the morning and tuition in the evening, with no time to spend on activities that exercise their physical abilities.
"Parho gay likho gay bano gay nawaab, khelo gay koodo gay bano gay kharaab."
(If you read and write, you will become a king. But if you play and jump, you will be spoilt)
This mentality needs to be altered.
Education is important but sports should not be ignored in the process. Sadly, fun and play have been put on the back burner for far too long.
Gone are the times when children would play in their gardens and the streets. Healthy outdoor activities are a thing of the past. Children need to be allowed to have a life outside just academic achievements. Their milestones need to be redefined. They need to be allowed to exercise the abundance of other skills God has gifted them with. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Negligence of parents:
Most parents today do not encourage their children to play sports. Indoor activities such as watching TV, playing video games and computer games are the favourite activities of teenagers these days. Parents feel comfortable having their children within the secure environment of their homes, such is the condition of Pakistan today.
Engaging in sports is essential to the physical as well as mental growth of a child. Parents must realise this! A bit of suntan and bruises here and there won’t hurt them.
All this can’t be done in one day. We all must take responsibility for the miserable performance of our U-19 cricket team. PCB has to plan and execute short term as well as long term measures to ensure that such a disaster never happens again. We must all work to change this culture and make sports a habit. Our society could use such healthy activities that enhance tolerance, sportsmanship, merit and equality.
We must widen our horizons.
Read more by Aleem here or follow him on Twitter @aleemzubair