June 30, 2011

Abdul Qadir Qureshi hosts reception to honour Arif Afzal Usmani


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It was yet another memorable evening in which eminent personalities from different walks of life renewed decades long fellowship and recalled quite a few of those interesting incidents of yesteryears.

The occasion was the dinner reception hosted by the doyen of journalists in Pakistan, Abdul Qadir Qureshi, in the honour of Arif Afzal Usmani, Chief Editor and Publisher, Asia Tribune, which is a weekly newsmagazine published from New York, USA, in as many as three languages, English, Urdu and Pushto.

The venue was the Shaheen Shinwari Bar B Q Restaurant, located on Rashid Minhas Road, in the vicinity of the famous Millennium Mall at the junction of Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Gulistan-e-Jauhar. It’s also very close to the Askari IV Residential Complex which has spacious houses and apartments besides host of other facilities.

More than the lovely settings it was the quality of food that distinctly made an instant impression at the Shaheen Shinwari Restaurant, whose owner, Haji Shah Mahmood, was there personally to greet the guests.

The tastiest and spiciest of dishes had very little oil and there was hardly any feeling of heaviness although almost everybody took more than just a few bites. The mutton karahi ghosht was too delicious to resist as were the fried chicken pieces.

The cool sea breeze made the atmosphere even more pleasant and the decision to dine in the terrace instead of moving to the comfortable air-conditioned hall side enabled everyone to enjoy the moments even more.

Abdul Qadir Qureshi, a great host that he always is, took care of each and every guest all of whom have been his personal friends for a very long time. He’s one of the very few people in the profession who treasure values and humanity. He has earned respect and recognition for his honesty and integrity. Ehsan Qureshi is not the only one who considers him as his mentor although the others don’t have the courage or courtesy to declare it openly.

The presence of Azeem Sarwar, undoubtedly the greatest-ever Radio personality of the country, enlivened the session as he shared a lot of incidents that were not only interesting but enlightening as well.

The soft-spoken Iqbal Qasim, probably the last gentleman cricketer to have taken the field, recalled the memories of the 1987 tours of India and England as Pakistan had triumphed in both the Test series to rewrite history. It was indeed for the first time that Pakistan had defeated India in a Test series in India before beating England in England.

He didn’t mind answering to typically probing questions from sports journalists Ehsan Qureshi, Abdul Majid Bhatti and Syed Khalid Mahmood as the quintet of Ibrahim Khan, Chaudhary Abdul Sattar, Aamir Qureshi, Ghulam Mohammad and Bashir Ahmed listened most of the time rather quietly.

Arif Afzal Usmani, having started his career in Radio Pakistan way back in 1977 before relocating in the United States of America (USA) in 1989, had plenty to share as the gathering lasted more than an hour after dinner.

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June 22, 2011

Reunion of Azeem Sarwar’s prodigies revive golden memories


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

What a memorable evening it turned out to be on June 17 even though it was extremely hot and humid in Karachi and the excessive unscheduled load-shedding didn’t allow the air-conditioned rooms to get any where close to be chilled.

The famous Al Haaj Bundu Khan BBQ Restaurant located in Sindhi Muslim Cooperative Housing Society, was the venue of the latest get-together arranged by Azeem Sarwar, a legendary broadcaster, writer and producer, to honour and enlighten some of the members of his team having made it big after the early training at his hands in the mid 1980s.

To the majority of the sports journalists of Karachi occupying key slots in the various media organizations for the last many years Azeem Sarwar holds the position of a father figure. Be it Ehsan Qureshi, Abdul Majid Bhatti, Arif Afzal Usmani or Syed Khalid Mahmood he remains a mentor all along.

The presence of the respected figure of Abdul Qadir Qureshi, the doyen of working journalists in Pakistan, brightened the proceedings further. He has had an illustrious career with the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) for the last many decades.

The ever-smiling Ibrahim Khan, who didn’t mind our retakes in the studio during recording, and has kept in touch all along for two and a half decades now was also there to remind us of our early days at Radio Pakistan.

Azeem Sarwar is credited to have rewritten the Radio history of Pakistan. It was his conceived and produced Radio Programme, Aalami Sports Round-up, first aired in 1985, that attracted the young and upcoming writers who were groomed and trained so professionally as well as passionately to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Besides being an outstanding broadcaster, commentator and producer, Azeem Sarwar possessed the terrific quality of leading by example. He was a hard task master and never tolerated nonsense of any sort neither from his associates nor from his superiors. He was totally focused to the job in hand always and he didn’t believe in half measures.

I say it with conviction that the kind of training we had during our stints at Aalami Sports Round-up and we learnt so much from him that all us, fortunate enough to be a part of his team, were bound to be successful in future lives.

I have yet to come across an individual having been blessed with so many qualities. His commitment, devotion and single-mindedness are source of inspiration for us even today. To me his standout quality has been the courage to call a spade a spade.

The lessons we learnt by working directly under him when doing Aalami Sports Round-up and then Subh-e-Pakistan have benefited us considerably in letting us accomplish our cherished goals.

I consider myself as the luckiest of all my batch-mates to have remained associated with him until his last day at Radio Pakistan. He had brought me under his folds once again when he became the Chief Editor of Ahang and Pakistan Calling in 2001 and I was with him when he retired from the organization after a staggering 44-year association.

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June 17, 2011

IPL virus hurts India in Caribbean


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Had there been no concept yet of the Indian Premier League (IPL), India could have easily whitewashed the West Indies in the just concluded series of five One-Day Internationals which they managed to win 3-2 eventually.

Even the youthful Indian squad had the hosts, struggling with off the field problems of their own, on the mat and there was no force on earth that could have prevented a whitewash.

But as we have seen so many times in the past, the unseen factors came into play in the last two ODIs and there was a complete reversal of results which were not totally unexpected.

I had talked about the manipulation of the dead rubber games, having suggested to the International Cricket Council (ICC) to move in terms of canceling the remaining matches if the series has already been decided.

There are indeed some bonus points for every single victory on the basis of which the ICC rankings are determined but nobody seems to be caring for that. The powers that be, who have the muscles to influence games, obviously don’t take into consideration such ‘petty’ issues as the ICC rankings.

There was no customary sign of complacency or anything like it in the last two ODIs but the manner in which the Indians went about their business passed the impression to many that the external factors had taken its toll.

You don’t have to an expert or an analyst. Just watch the last two games again you will be asking yourself many questions. A few people thought of it as an extension of the IPL in which every match was suspected to be fixed.

If the owners of the respective franchises were being blamed for the fiasco in the IPL, whom would one hold responsible for the drama in the last two ODIs against the West Indies.

Were it the officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the virtual owners of Team India, into it or the cricketers themselves conspired to throw away both the matches on a trot is a question that readily comes into the mind of every Amar, Akbar and Anthony because cricket is one subject that’s being understood too besides being watched.

The cricket enthusiasts of India in particular, who constitute the biggest market for the game hence allowing the BCCI functionaries to call the shots, have a right to know why their sentiments are being and who are the culprits.

They should seek explanation from the BCCI as to why did they field a second string squad for a tour of the West Indies. Isn’t it a pity that there were only six of the 15 members who won the World Cup for India just a couple of months ago?

Only Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandra Ashwin, Virat Kohli, Munaf Patel and Yousuf Pathan were there in the Caribbean, which was India’s first assignment after regaining the crown.

Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ashish Nehra, Shantikumaran Sreesanth, Piyush Chawla and Zaheer Khan, who were a part of the World Cup winning team, didn’t go there. Wasn’t it a serious matter? Doesn’t the BCCI has an obligation to field their best available team at all times?

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June 15, 2011

Another duel between Shahid Afridi and Ijaz Butt culminates tamely


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It wasn’t a dispute between the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and a former captain of the national team. It was rather yet another duel between two key personalities who showed muscles before succumbing to the different pressures and opting for a peaceful settlement in the end.

Both these characters have done Pakistan cricket more harm than doing good. The problem is that they engage the whole nation with their adventures. The temperament of both these gentlemen, Ijaz Butt and Shahid Afridi, overshadows their respective talents. We have just seen a new episode.

There’s something in common as well between these two. They take pride being in the news for the wrong reasons. Their modus operandi might be a little different but the same could not be said about their motives. They desire continue doing things as they please.

Ijaz Butt is a man of many moods. It’s simply the misfortune of the country that he has been assigned to look after the cricket affairs of the country. The powers that be are just not interested to take note of his wrongdoings. In fact he appears to have been granted the license to operate in the manner he desires, ignoring all norms or practices.

Nobody in the government has the time or interest to confront him. He is considered above the law, enjoying the absolute authority. He is not accountable for any act of his, irrespective of the damage caused to the national interest.

When the Chairman of the PCB could take everyone for ride, why not the captain of the team who has certain powers within his own right? Shahid Afridi has certainly lost favour as well as captaincy of late but he has his own men in the corridors of power.

Shahid Afridi could never be taken for granted. Aware of the fact that merit was not the criterion for extending his tenure as captain he probably went overboard on a few occasions to offend Ijaz Butt who used his powers to remove him as ODI captain.

Shahid Afridi didn’t accept the verdict gracefully and announced his retirement from international cricket. He skipped the tour of Ireland where Pakistan won both the games in his absence.

The gulf between the two kept widening and it became a political battle whereby both sides left no stone unturned in mobilizing their resources to continue making headline news. Shahid Afridi returned home to a kind of reception as if an exiled leader was making a comeback.

Ijaz Butt did not take the criticism lightly either. He initiated disciplinary action against the former captain who was not prepared to defend either. The matter went to the court.

Then the anti-climax followed. A meeting was held between the two in Islamabad the other day and Shahid Afridi reportedly agreed to withdraw the petition. He is now likely to be issued the No-Objection Certificate (NOC) by Ijaz Butt very soon thus clearing the way for him to play for Hampshire.

"The petition has been withdrawn as a part of the reconciliation between both sides. If the petition has borne fruit then there is no objection or obstacle in withdrawing a petition,” Syed Ali Zafar, Shahid Afridi's lawyer, was quoted as saying.

"We hope that the NOC will now be granted. The disciplinary committee hearing will be a kind of formality now,” he reckoned.

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June 3, 2011

Victorious Pakistan bridge squad gets mixed response upon arrival


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It has become a kind of tradition in Pakistan where the sporting accomplishments, rather few in the recent times, have not been used for the promotion and further development of sports.

Everyone likes to be associated with the winners. Considerable hype is created whenever a sporting title is clinched. That’s the time when media runs after the athletes and their officials, who otherwise have to chase them to get their attention.

A couple of veteran bridge administrators of the country were taken by surprise when they caught the glimpse of so many television cameras and reporters at the Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, on June 2, who had assembled there to cover the arrival of the triumphant Pakistan squad having won the 16th Bridge Federation of Asia and Middle East (BFAME) Championship in Chennai, India, the other day.

While there was a heavy turnout of the media contingent to greet the national heroes and record their expressions, none of the officials of the Pakistan Bridge Federation (PBF) or the Karachi Bridge Association (KBA) were seen there to accord welcome to a team that brought home the title after 12 years.

Only a few associates of the Mind Sports Association of Pakistan (MSAP) were there to garland the victorious bridge outfit comprising of Rashid-ul-Ghazi, Tehsin Gheewala, Tahir Masood, Javed Ahmed, Syed Hassan Jawwad and Hasan Askari with Tariq Rasheed Khan. They also celebrated the occasion by distributing sweets at the airport.

It’s probably an indication of things to come. The PBF is quite unlikely to make any effort to cash in on the opportunity provided to them to popularize the sport.

Speaking to the media corps, Tariq Rasheed Khan, attributed the resounding success in Chennai to teamwork and consistency.

“Our team displayed tremendous self-belief and was not overawed by the occasion. We didn’t show any sign of nerves entering the final even though India had the better of us in the league matches on a couple of occasions,” Tariq Rasheed, whose team touched down at Karachi after nearly 12 hours of journey that included change of aircraft and five-hour stay at Mumbai, remarked.

“We were not much concerned even with the carryover of 12 points which the Indians had in the final. All we had to do was to keep playing well and avoid mistakes which we did and it made all the difference between winning and losing. The Indians of course were disappointed but that’s the beauty of the game,” he reminded.

He was particularly delighted at having brought to an end Indian’s winning streak in the BFAME Championship.

“Yes we have had close encounters with them in the finals over the years but somehow we were not winning the title. It’s very satisfying to have brought back the title after 12 long years. Hopefully we will be able to retain it for sometime,” he added.

When questioned about the most significant contributions to the success of his team, he singled out the pair of Rashid-ul-Ghazi and Tahseen Gheewala for having played superbly throughout the event.

Rashid-ul-Ghazi, during his brief chat with the media, disclosed that the team had received ‘timely’ tips from the legendary Zia Mahmood during the course of the championship.

“Zia was kind enough to advise us and pass on a few tricks during our discussions. It boosted our morale and we came up with the performance to win the title. Now we have to that momentum into the Bermuda Bowl World Championship in the Netherlands later this year,” Rashid-ul-Ghazi, acclaimed as Pakistan’s most accomplished bridge player for the past many years, hoped.

Tahseen Gheewala, nicknamed the baby of side, targeted Pakistan’s presence among the top eight nations in this year’s Bermuda Bowl.

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