November 29, 2011

Revisiting living legend Jamsheed Marker


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

I did have the honour of interacting with the legendary cricket commentator-turned diplomat, Jamsheed Marker, on a few occasions in the past but my first-ever one-to-one meeting with him took place on November 29, 2011.

Although he has quietly celebrated his 89th birthday a week ago he’s still full of energy and he has a very sharp memory. He keeps himself busy all day in scholastic activities. He hasn’t lost the passion to walk daily, despite problems in his back, which restrict his movement otherwise.

It was more of a privilege than just pleasure having shared views with him for over an hour at his Bath Island residence in Karachi. The beautiful house itself holds a place in history for it was constructed way back in 1865. It’s the home built by his grandfather.

There is a hardly any mention of cricket in his autobiography ‘Quiet Diplomacy’ a copy of which he was kind enough to sign for me but Jamshed Marker continues to have a love affair with sport that had made him a household name in the 1950s and 1960s.

The great Omar Kureishi, with whom he had formed a formidable duo, used to describe cricket as his first love. It doesn’t seem much different to Jamsheed Marker, who has remained a keen follower of the game all along.

Jamsheed Marker and Omer Kureishi, both of whom were buddies, were credited to have made radio commentary an art. They ruled the hearts of the cricket enthusiasts with their voice and depth of knowledge.

While Omer Kureishi continued to do cricket commentary for a long time, Jamsheed Marker had to abandon doing it at the start of his diplomatic career in 1965 when he was posted as Pakistan's ambassador to Ghana. And what a career he has had. Truly fabulous to say the least!

He is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as having been ambassador to more countries than any other person. After Ghana he represented Pakistan in Romania, Bulgaria, USSR, Finland, Canada, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, East Germany, Iceland, Japan, West Germany, France, the United States and finally the United Nations in New York City. He served as Ambassador of Pakistan continually for 30 years, in 10 different capitals, and nine further concurrent accreditation.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz appointed Jamsheed Marker as ambassador-at-large for his years of service in September 2004 while he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Forman Christian College University, Lahore, in June 2011.

He has been acclaimed as one of the most respected diplomats on the international circuit. He had a long and colorful innings as a diplomat following a brilliant stint as a cricket commentator.

Interestingly, during the majority of years in his long diplomatic career, he was posted in countries where cricket wasn’t the number one sport.

He has fond memories of a reunion with the Pakistan cricket team, with Omer Kureishi being manager, when they toured England in the summer of 1974. He vividly remembers watching the Lord’s Test with his great friend.

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November 24, 2011

Was the 1996 World Cup semifinal really fixed?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Vinod Kambli, who was left stranded in that infamous semifinal encounter which referee Clive Lloyd had to award to Sri Lanka against India at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, in March 1996, has come up an interesting observation or if you call it an allegation more than 15 years later.

Left-handed Kambli, who watched from the non-striker’s end his illustrious colleagues fall in a heap in the most dramatic of fashions, has expressed suspicion over that particular game being fixed. It’s entirely up to you whether you disregard it as a publicity stunt or get some feeling in mind that indeed there was something terribly wrong.

The fierce reaction of the Indian captain, Mohammad Azharduddin, that has followed has probably alerted more people than it could have been if the charges were ignored. May be he thought of defending himself in the media because he holds a public office but that might also backfire.

But Kambli is talking about an era when every other match appeared to have been fixed. He has probably chosen to target the 1996 World Cup semifinal because he was there until the end, having broken into tears as well.

Azharduddin, who was known for his artistic stroke-play, has clarified his position by blasting Kambli and passing a few unkind remarks that were hardly needed.

It doesn’t matter if you believe in Kambli or Azhardduin but there had been instances in the past as well and not surprisingly they happened afterwards too when a few of the high-profile World Cup matches seemed to have been victimized or influenced by the outside forces.

Both the semifinals of the 1987 World Cup, in which co-hosts Pakistan and India got eliminated against the heaviest of odds, were alleged to have been fixed. The final of the 1999 World Cup at Lord’s also remained a subject of discussion for the wrong reasons for a long time.

Kambli’s specific allegations about the 1996 World Cup semifinal between Indian and Sri Lanka make some sense because of the presence of the some ‘suspicious’ elements in the ground and whose movement remained unchecked.

Not much could be done now. Neither the Scotland Yard nor the Police authorities of any other country can investigate in such matters having taking place some 15 years ago. It’s going to be next to impossible to discover any solid evidence to book a case against the culprits.

I am sure the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have more important things to do than to probe the matches of the past. They may loathe the idea of investigating a recent foul play, let alone an incident that occurred so many years ago.

It’s an open secret that match-fixing and spot-fixing have remained rampant in international cricket for ages and there are a number of matches that have appeared to have been manipulated in illegal manner.

There’s very little hope for the practice to be stopped but yes some strict measures can prevent the sport from becoming a farce.

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November 21, 2011

Mohammad Asif wins Del Monte snooker title, Imran Shahzad’s contract renewed


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Seventh seed Mohammad Asif clinched the Del Monte 4th Ranking Snooker Championship 2011 by hammering unseeded Sharjeel Mahmood in the final at the Southend Club in Karachi on November 20.

Asif, hailing from Faisalabad, faced no problems in overcoming Sharjeel, giant-killer from Hairpur, in the best of 13-frame final, winning it 7-2 with the scores of 99-24, 83-25, 65-50, 73-29, 97-22, 42-78, 63-39, 51-77, 107-1.

The prize distribution ceremony, in which cash awards of Rs 130,000 were disbursed, was held at the same venue later in the afternoon in which Anjum Nisar, Managing Director, Anjum Asif (Pvt) Ltd, was the chief guest.

During his speech, he announced the renewal of contract for another year for Imran Shahzad, who was been employed by Anjum Asif Ltd, for the last couple of years.

Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, President, Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), described the six-day Championship as a big success with some of the youngsters playing really smartly to clinch top positions.

Mohammad Asif collected a purse of Rs 60,000 for winning the title while runner-up Sharjeel Mahmood was presented Rs 35,000. Imran Shahzad and Mohammad Sajjad received Rs 15,000 each for the being the losing semifinalists while a further reward of Rs 5,000 for the former for recording the highest break of the competition (103).

After some grueling matches on the past five days, the final, being telecast live, didn’t produce turn to be a tough contest with the more experienced Asif proving simply too good for Sharjeel.

Asif, who had captured the national crown in 2009, picked up from where he had left when he had toppled top seed and defending champion, Imran Shahzad, in the semifinals, less than 24 hours ago.

Sharjeel, on the other hand, after having eliminated the dangerous Mohammad Sajjad in the semifinals, could not extend glorious run in his maiden appearance in the final of a national ranking event.

Asif was in total command of the situation in the final from the word go and he didn’t let his fancied opponent settle down. He ran into 2-0 lead rather comfortably. He faced some resistance in the third frame but won it in the end. He pocketed the next couple of frames as well to make it 5-0.

Sharjeel prevented a whitewash by taking the sixth frame but Asif recovered quickly to win the seventh frame. Sharjeel showed glimpses of his top form when he made a clearance to win the eighth frame but Asif closed the matter by grabbing the ninth frame.

It was the fourth and final national ranking tournament of the current year. In fact it was first time in fours that the cash-starved PBSA was able to revive this tradition.

With the willing sponsors like Jubilee Insurance and Del Monte prepared to extend greater support to the sport of snooker, the PBSA has indicated holding more competitions in the coming year.

The immediate cause of concern of the PBSA, however, was the first round exit of second seed Asif Toba, who has been selected to represent the country in the IBSF World Snooker Championship 2011, starting in the Indian city of Bangalore later this month.

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November 5, 2011

Ijaz Butt should also be tried for criminal negligence


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Ijaz Butt has caused the greatest damage to Pakistan cricket. Never before did anyone destroy the game as severely as he did it for three years. Thankfully his three-year tenure has gone by and a new Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Chaudhary Zaka Ashraf, has already taken over.

But his predecessor has done irreparable harm to Pakistan cricket and it will be very difficult to get out of the mess in the near future. Although Ijaz Butt is no more in office, the spot-fixing case, resulting in sentence of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir, has a direct relation to him and he has to be blamed for letting them interact with dubious people.

As Chairman of the PCB, Ijaz Butt had the absolute authority. He took all the key decisions himself, the majority of them without consulting the so many highly paid full-time staffers. Neither was he known for taking the members of the Governing Board in confidence on critical issues.

He made all the appointments of managers and assistant managers on tours with nepotism and favouritism being the order of the day. People handpicked to perform these duties were hardly well versed with ABC of modern-day management. Neither did they command the respect of the high-flying cricketers having certain star value.

It was a cruel joke with the nation to have sent people like Yawar Saeed and Shafqat Rana as manager and assistant manager respectively on that crucial and demanding tour England in 2010. Instead of keeping an eye on the players and their movements they were reportedly enjoying hospitality from those very elements ultimately causing the greatest humiliation to Pakistan cricket yet.

How can Ijaz Butt be spared? He was guilty of facilitating the joy-riders who enjoyed all-paid trips of nearly every continent of the world. He was there to oblige his cronies without caring the interest of the national team.

The spot-fixing incidents in England could have been avoided if there was a proper PCB setup in place and no one there to dictate terms like Ijaz Butt. It was a case of completely anarchy and the cricketers were free to do as they pleased.

The cricketers found guilty by the London court and the International Cricket Council (ICC) are serving their sentence. But what about Ijaz Butt? Shouldn’t he be tried also for having done so much damage to the cause of cricket which remains the binding force in the country?

Cricket is not just another sport in Pakistan. It’s the game of the masses in this part of the world and people are emotionally associated with it. Hasn’t Ijaz Butt betrayed the nation with his barbaric acts? Hasn’t he caused loss of billions of Rupees to the national exchequer?

There is a court of law in Pakistan as well. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary, has become legendary by taking so many suo motto actions for the larger interest of the people.

The present government is unlikely to try Ijaz Butt for obvious reasons but all eyes are on the Chief Justice who can summon him to the court to explain how he compromised on national interests for three years running.

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Pakistan’s tainted trio get away with token punishments


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan’s former cricketers, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir, have been jailed for two and a half years, one year and six months respectively by London’s Crown Court on November 3.

It has been described as a Black Day for Pakistan as it’s for the first time than any cricketer has been sent to prison after being proven guilty of spot-fixing/match-fixing. It was a high profile cricket corruption whose proceedings lasted for 18 days in the London court.

The judgment didn’t come as any surprise and it had seemed a matter of time for these cricketers to be dispatched behind the bars at the strength of high quality of evidence that was believed to be available with the court. In fact many people reckon that these players have been given a let-off with a token punishment.

It’s quite extraordinary to learn that at least two of these cricketers, Salman and Asif, have planned to appeal against the decision. This move looks like asking for a review when a batsman has been clean bowled.

The cricket community in Pakistan is not surprised but certainly disturbed. The people who were misled into believing that these ‘naughty’ cricketers were falsely implicated in a criminal case have also realized that they were oblivious of the facts.

It’s amazing that the family members of these cricketers are coming up with strange comments, offering excuses and explanations that are not being taken seriously because they lack conviction. Neither of these cricketers were babies or kids. All of them, on the contrary, have had very stormy career and their ambitious nature was known openly.

Salman’s sister came on the air. Then we saw his father. Aamir’s mother also gave an interview claiming that her son was implicated or influenced. Either these family members are indeed unaware of the realities or they are making an attempt to gain public sympathy with such emotional statements.

They should know that their ‘worthy’ sons and brothers have harmed the national interest, brought the game to disrepute and broken the hearts of millions of people who certainly can’t be fooled any more.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), who had already banned these cricketers, is likely to come into action to examine the case again in light of the evidences produced in the London court.

It remains to be seen what the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) or the Government of Pakistan would decide once these cricketers return to the country, after their sentence in England.

There will be pressure on the PCB to impose life ban on all of them in order to prevent them from getting another chance of compromising on national interests. It would indeed be a criminal negligence if any of them is allowed to don the Pakistan blazer again.

The government can also move in and these cricketers could be tried for the criminal offence that hurt the sentiments of the people of Pakistan.

Whatever the family members of these cricketers might have to say the cricket circles are furious and they won’t let these guys stage a comeback in international cricket, even if they are pardoned by the official bodies at any stage.

No matter how young or uneducated Aamir may be, he’s also unlikely to play for Pakistan again while the careers of Asif and Salman already seem over.

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