Thursday, November 24, 2016

Dream of Pakistan's Cap (Part 12)

Ahmedis in Pakistan

Initially, studies did get in the way. Though Faisal's first breakthrough came in 2004, when he played for Bahawalpur's U-19 team in an inter-district tournament, he soon went back to studying for a master's degree at Rabwah's School of Theology. It was there that Haye spotted him playing in a tournament. When Faisal returned to cricket again, in 2011, he played for Jhang in an inter-district tournament and propelled them to victory in the final against Faisalabad.

"That final [for Jhang]... I had confidence and talent, but I didn't have the practice, because I'd been out of cricket for five years." He made 113 in the first innings, and 67 in the chase in the second. A few months later he was making his first-class debut for Faisalabad, scoring 72 in his first innings against PIA in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy. Four years later came the performances in the T20 Cup that did not bring him much attention.

"It's the kind of performance you only have in your dreams," he says. "God was so kind." He prefaces almost every other sentence with an earnest Alhamdulillah and mash'Allah.

Pakistan did not come calling and neither did any side in the PSL. A franchise official responsible for player picks said Faisal's performances in the T20 Cup had been monitored but gave the impression that he was not an especially fashionable choice: a one-down anchor for a weak regional side, nearly 30. Five, six years ago, maybe, not now. On the day that Faisal realised he wasn't being drafted, Rafay declared he wouldn't let anyone watch a single match of the league in his room, where usually every match is watched on a flat screen TV, in full mahol(atmosphere).

Rafay is Faisal's biggest champion. He helps him train and stick to a low-carb, protein-heavy diet, and once challenged him to race until one of them dropped (it took over two hours for Faisal to beat Rafay). The brothers encourage each other, even as they face the unending spate of disappointing news. "He became emotional when I wasn't named for a [PSL] team," Faisal says. "Our father said that we shouldn't worry. Whatever God has done is for the best.

"I was ready with my bag and was supposed to go the ground when the live announcement [for the PSL] was airing on ARY. I was sitting there thinking, 'My name will appear just now… when I leave, I'll go to the dessert shop, buy boxes of sweets and distribute it to everyone in the ground.'"

When his name wasn't announced, Faisal was disappointed. "I felt like putting my bag down and not going. But that would be giving up, and this is a sin. Whatever it is, I have to go. I didn't practise the way I should have. I was trying to get rid of my frustration; I hit every ball in the nets. There was a frustration that anyone would have. But it's not that I've lost the will and become disenchanted. I think that God will do what's best for me.

"And if it isn't meant to be, it won't happen."

Meanwhile, a community waits for someone to break the glass ceiling. Faisal's uncle, Kashif Imran, lives in Rabwah and occasionally plays for Fazl-e-Umar. He wants to see any Ahmadi cricketer break through, not just Faisal. "It'll be a break. It'll erase this indelible stamp that's there right now - that they won't get an Ahmadi to play. If that kind of thinking exists, it'll change that. If just one guy represents, the path can open up."

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