An extra player

Attempts at restoring order are thwarted.

Since April 2022, the 12th play­er has been batting at the crease. In his epic poem ‘Barwan Khalari’ (12th player), the legendary poet If­tikhar Arif discusses the ap­proach and thinking of a player who spends most of his play­ing time sitting on the bench watching the game hoping and praying for a disaster to take place, enabling him to en­ter the arena.

It is indeed interesting while the current Prime Minister (PM) complains about the alleged rigging in the 2018 elections, the former PM of his own par­ty has admitted that all elections in the past have been manipulated. In oth­er words, the country has been denied genuine political leadership since July 1977. Zia termed it ‘positive results’.

Part of this strategy was to enter a team of twelfth players in the arena. Such players lack the talent to play long innings. They enter the field, hit­ting wildly and keep running till they run themself out. Only regular elev­en players are capable of staying long-term on the pitch, the 12th man is not. He’s destined to sit on the benches to watch and learn.

I remember the cricket days of the lit­tle master Hanif Muhammad who used to open the innings in a test match and many times remained not out till the end. It was always perfect un-blemished but boring batting. During one of these contests at the Qaddafi Stadium, he bat­ted for almost three days.

Those were dull boring days for the public—no fours or sixes only singles. After the match was over we man­aged to reach the master batsman. He was in pain with body cramps. In his words, “I am required to hold the in­nings otherwise the team crumbles.”

His holding spirit is revered today.

As a new cricketing nation Paki­stan lacked the depth of talent to win against much superior and experienced teams of the UK, Australia and West In­dies but by the sheer grit of a few, could only force draws. Then one day, team Pakistan lifted the World Cup. In the year 1994, the Islamic Republic of Pak­istan had five world championships (cricket, hockey, squash, billiards, and yachting): today we have none. Then the 12th players managed to come to the crease who can neither hold the match nor the team together.

Disaster or tragedy launches the twelfth player. Once the match ends the 12th man returns to the bench where he belongs. The playing eleven is expected to deliver from the very first ball while the 12th man watches from the bench.

Lt Gen Attiq-ur-Rehman (R) narrates an interesting encounter with General Douglas Gracey the last colonial army chief who lamented; “We are leaving, now you will destroy all institutions built by us including the Army.” Attiq Sb was quick to reply; “Pakistan Army has some of the finest officers in the world, I am also a decorated soldier.” Gracey re­plied; “Nepotism and favouritism will destroy institutions.”

His fears have come true. Today most civilian institutions have become non-functional due to blatant violations of merit in selection and promotions. Only the Armed Forces remain intact as they have resisted the repeated on­slaughts, the rest have fallen apart. Un­less this encroachment is stopped even the armed forces will not be spared.

The founding fathers of Pakistan built institutions with their sweat and blood. As a country, we started from ground zero. Pundits had given the new coun­try six months to collapse and return to the Indian Union but they were proven wrong. While the focus was on running the new set-up not much effort was undertaken at introducing reforms. By the mid-eighties, a new generation took control of the colonial levers of power and started to enjoy unlimited, unaccountable authority.

The enemy within the system was grossly overlooked and managed to build a team of players of their choice mostly available on the sidelines, the 12th players.

Today they have turned into mafias to be dealt with, who thrive under the prevailing disorder. Attempts at re­storing order are thwarted by them. The team of the twelfth players re­fuse to leave the pitch to go back to the bench where they rightfully belong. The match has now turned into a me­lee with no clear winners.

Order has to be restored for the game to resume under the rules. The role of the 12th player has been clearly de­fined which needs to be enforced. We need a playing eleven selected through strict merit, not a nod to the waiting 12th man to enter the arena and take over the game.

Three run-outs and then runaways should be enough to throw in the bat. The game must go on but without the control of the twelfth player. Paki­stan needs able and fit players to en­ter the arena pushing the players off the bench. The fertile mind of Ifthikar Arif saw the threat decades ago. Per­haps he saw the emerging storm that we are facing today which refuses to die down. The big question being asked is; ‘Who will chase out the 12th man from the pitch?’

Dr Farid A Malik
The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, email:

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, email:

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