Monday, November 14, 2016

Dream of Pakistan's Cap (Part 10)

Ahmedis in Pakistan

In 2013, Faisal bin Mubashir's brother Rafay was waiting for his turn to play in a practice match in Lahore. He had been selected for the Pakistan U-19 side for a tri-series to be played in England that August. Rafay was excited about the future, about the possibility of playing in a game that would be broadcast and watched back in Pakistan by his parents and family. As Rafay waited - the burden of expectations, his own, his family's, weighing on his shoulders - the team physician turned to him. "Become a Muslim," he said.

Rafay had a ready retort, honed from years of being teased and mocked about his faith in school: "I'm going to play now. I'll become a Muslim after that."

Before this "invitation", Rafay had gone to apply for a visa for the tournament in England. The physician had spotted Rafay's religion on his passport. "So he started asking around [the others], 'Are you Ahl al-Hadith?' [people of the traditions of the Prophet]," Rafay recalls. "When he asked me, I said, 'Thank God, I am a Muslim.' He said, 'What kind of Muslim?' I said 'I'm an Ahmadi Muslim.'"

He still can't describe the feeling of representing Pakistan. He sat out the first four games before playing two and missing the final, which Pakistan won. He scored 35 and 1. He then played another couple of games against England U-19 in December that year, in the UAE, but made only 1 and 1. It's easy to see why he wasn't selected later, especially as there were others in those sides who impressed and progressed (Sami Aslam and Zafar Gohar, to name just two). Rafay admits to a lack of performances. Now he hasn't played professional cricket in a while. He missed a season because of a badly twisted foot, and now can't find a place in either a local or first-class team.

In Rabwah, one name is now the living epitome of the town's disappointment, the crystallisation of its disillusionment: Faisalbhai. "No one is as unlucky as Faisal," Haye says. "If you can't make it to the Pakistani side after performing this well, then what is the criteria??"

After each match in that domestic T20 Cup, Faisal's old coach Khalid Farooq convinced him that the PCB was watching, that they just wanted to see how he would do in the next one, or the one after that, or the high-stakes match against Lahore. "We were staying at the Hill View Hotel [in Islamabad]. All the players [of all teams] were there, except for [Shahid] Afridi. Everyone was saying that Faisal is going to be named in the national squad, that it had to happen now. I told the coach that I have to put my name forward, and he kept saying, 'When you get the good news, call me.'" Faisal kept hearing that his name was all but final for one squad or another, in Pakistan's A side, if nothing else.

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