Players and gentlemen!

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, is publicly known as an avid lover of cricket, a game historically known as the game of “players and gentlemen.”

I too am an enthusiast of cricket. I may not know a lot about the history of the game, but I am as well-versed in the game itself as anyone can be. After all, I come from a cricketing family. My older brother Mahmood Hussain, along with Fazal Mahmood, made Pakistan Cricket history by defeating India in Lucknow in 1952and, in at Oval Test in 1954 defeated England by 23 runs. My brother came in as the last man scoring those 23 runs. But that is all history now. The purpose of this narrative about the game is to highlight the impact it invariably has on the character development of the players who play the game seriously. The fact of the matter is that without developing that cricketing character, one cannot play the game nor admire its versatility.

Allow me to narrate a couple of personal experiences to illustrate the point that I wish to make in this writing. I played for Universal Cricket Club, Lahore (at the time, one of the top clubs in the country). In our club’s yearly tour of Karachi, I was batting against Intikhab Alam (Pakistan’s renowned spin baller). He appealed for a caught behind; but I knew the ball had not touched my bat. The umpire gave me out. I stayed at the crease for few moments as a protest against a wrong decision. When I came back to the pavilion, our Club Manager Q.D. Butt (God bless his soul – a great cricket lover) asked me if I had sneaked the ball. I said definitely “No.” He said though the umpire’s decision as wrong, even then my staying at the crease for a few moments was improper and contrary to the rules of the game. He said an umpire could make a mistake but he could not make a judgement for a player’s pleasure. That is cricket – a gentleman’s game.

Universal Club used to play a yearly feature at Gymkhana Grounds, Lahore, against Justice Cornelius Eleven team (at that time Chief Justice of Pakistan). Justice Cornelius, in his opening over on the second ball, appealed for an LBW against A.A. Quraishi. Shakoor Rana (at the time, a Pakistani team batsman) was the umpire. He hesitated for a moment and then nearly raised his finger to give Quraishi out. Quraishi was furious and looked at Shakoor Rana in disbelief and anger. Justice Cornelius was watching all of this with amusing interest. Then, he walked over to Shakoor Rana and pulled his finger down and said: “You cannot give Quraishi out because the Chief Justice of Pakistan has made an LBW appeal. At this moment, I’m playing cricket, and that is what counts only.” Then Justice Cornelius went back to his next delivery. That is Cricket – a game of gentlemen and players, who play for the entire team and subject their personal egos and self-centeredness for the sake of the game.

As we all know, Nawaz Sharif is a cricket lover. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to play with him or against him, but I know his interest in the game. What I fail to understand is why this handsome chap (Nawaz Sharif) has been accused of playing the game with his own selective umpires.

Did not he (Nawaz Sharif) ever hear about Justice Cornelius playing cricket at Gymkhana Grounds with his subdued ego, totally devoid of self-centeredness? Did not he ever sit with Q.D. Butt and A.A. Quraishi, the icons of cricket builders in Lahore? Did not the good-looking Kashmiri ever sit with common crowds in a public enclosure and watch a test match and listen to public comments, their outpouring of joy and love for all players alike, for the Pakistani team and their opponents?

Perhaps he has not, and that is why the brilliant player of Pakistan’s complex and intricate politics and the main actor in the development of the contemporary political culture of Pakistan is absolutely naïve about the essence of the game of cricket. Cricket is all about the actors, the character of the players, the joy of the game – it’s not about winning at all costs. It is about the skills of the players, good honest judgements, decent and accurate decisions and, when having lost the game, do so with admirable acceptance that the other side performed better as a team. Cricket is not about sabotaging the turf; it’s about rules and honor, and upholding its fundamental principles of players as gentlemen. Cricket is about continuing the game in pursuit of excellence in human behavior, tolerance and accepting defeat when it occurs in fairness.

I vividly recall, with absolute and immense pleasure, Fazal Mahmood’s delivery of an in cutter with tremendous speed to left-handed Neil Harvey that flew the middle stamp out of ground in Karachi in the first tour of Australia in Pakistan. Harvey stood at the crease just for a moment and raised his bat in admiration of Fazal Mahmood’s devastating delivery. Minded, Neil Harvey did not worry about being clean bowled; he acknowledged the greatness of the great bowler even though Fazal was his opponent. That is cricket – its internalisation into one’s character development.

Let us be straightforward about it: Nawaz Sharif, the former Pakistani Prime Minster, has been clean bowled in a fair, justifiable, verifiable, properly-conducted process of law. It is time for him to internalize the rules of the game that he has cherished all his life. It is time for Nawaz Sharif to raise his bat, like Neil Harvey, and applaud the in-swinger that put an end to his inning.

It is time for Nawaz Sharif to admit flaws in his technique of the political-economic-financial game that he has been playing relentlessly to his advantage as the main actor of political power in this country. It is time for Nawaz Sharif to do an in-depth self-reflection and stand tall by admitting that he has wronged the nation, and that it is time to step back and begin the process of restoring himself into a genuine political actor, playing the game for all — devoid of self-serving, self-interest agendas.

Anything else (as being pursued now) will push the nation to the brink of an ultimate political-economic abyss. Today, Pakistan is facing an existentialist threat at the hands of the dynastically driven political ruling elite and it’s “darbaris.”

Nawaz Sharif’s response to the Supreme Court’s decision should have opened his heart to a world of meaning, to some immensely powerful self-reflection leading to a conclusion honoring righteousness, ethical responsibilities and political wisdom. That is what a great leader is made of. Instead, the former Prime Minster and the leader of one of the biggest political parties in the country has gone into denial, pretending he has been dealt with unfairly, unjustifiably and viciously by the conniving immoral PTI leadership and a biased judicial process with the help of the Pakistani military establishment.

However, none of the above is true. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan and the majority of its citizens have repeatedly been miserably violated in the seventy years of its history, including the three-time tenure of the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The fundamental question now is: How long will this onslaught of political and economic dishonesty, financial thefts and the monolithic political destruction of this nation at the hands of its political elite continue?

PML-N, Do not lead the country towards chaos. Stop this ugly charade of character assassination of your opponents. Learn from our nation’s favorite game, cricket: play politics like gentlemen and players.


n             The writer is an academic and widely acknowledged political analyst on Pakistan affairs, American foreign policy, international relations and economic matters.

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