Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dream of Pakistan's Cap (Part 1)

Ahmedis in Pakistan

Faisal bin Mubashir thought he could make it. On January 4, 2014, he thought he could pull through to a double-century. "The season was going very well, but I had [been getting out in] the nervous 90s," he recalls as we chat at the ground of the club he used to play for, two years on from that innings. He was playing for Bahawalpur against Quetta in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, his 13th first-class match since his debut in October 2011. In the previous four games, he had three times missed out narrowly on a maiden hundred, dismissed for 90, 94 and 81. His memory of the match is fresh. "The first hundred in first-class cricket is a big honour. Sometimes, if you're well connected, you get to play for Pakistan if you score a hundred."

Faisal thought he could get to 150, maybe 170 at most. But when he crossed 170, he knew a double was on, even though there was pressure from the coach to declare. On 197, he waited out a couple of overs, until he finally sneaked a boundary. He would go on to make 216.

Faisal is 29 years old and now lives in Bahawalpur, in the south of Punjab. Last September, in Pakistan's T20 Cup - which used to be the premier domestic T20 tournament before the Pakistan Super League (PSL) was created - Faisal played for Bahawalpur Stags and was the tournament's leading scorer, with five match awards in nine matches. The performances did not attract much attention. Faisal can only guess why - perhaps, he says, it is because he comes from a small, much overlooked cricket district. Playing for Pakistan, he feels, is a long shot. "If a hundred people are practising, then only one will come out of it playing for Pakistan… people dream of this."

Three of his fifties came in the first stage of the tournament, a qualifying round for weaker sides. He flagged a little on the bigger stage, though not dramatically. But it was this that Haroon Rasheed, Pakistan's chief selector, alluded to when I spoke to him about whether Faisal was on their radar: "He played well in the early qualifying rounds, but as he progressed he wasn't consistent enough."
Faisal is not a big name and doesn't often make headlines. He isn't the subject of feverish online debate, but there is a town where Faisal's story is repeatedly told, the town we are in now, where almost every cricketer knows his name and statistics. This is Rabwah, home to Faisal's former club, Fazl-e-Umar CC, a town where stories of broken dreams abound.

"It has been brought to our attention that the Anjuman Ahmadiyya is holding a sports tournament within Rabwah, which has antagonised people. There is a great danger to peace. In view of this great danger, the sports tournament should be closed."
A local magistrate's letter to Hakim Khurshid Ahmad, the head of affairs for the Ahmadiyya community in Rabwah, dated February 10, 1994

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