Monday, August 17, 2009
By Abid Hussain


Two major topics of “national interest” in Pakistan — cricket and politics — were brought together on Friday, during an exhibition cricket match to commemorate the 62nd Independence Day at the National Stadium, Karachi.

The one-off match, titled Azadi Cup 2009, featured an eclectic mix of professional politicians and professional cricketers. Political rivals were made to work together, while some allies were pitted against each other during the course of the evening.

Off-field rivals, such as Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad Khan and Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, played for the Governor-Chief Minister Combined-XI (G.CM-XI). The two men were even involved in a small partnership while batting together.

Local Government Minister Agha Siraj Durrani made his presence felt with a prolonged stay on the crease, but in the end, he was probably the only one laughing, since he managed to get only four runs, thus slowing the run-rate to a crawl.

When the match finally began at 9:30 p.m. — two and a half hours after its scheduled time — Pakistan-XI Captain Younus Khan won the toss and invited the politicians to have the first go. G.CM-XI Captain Dr M.A Shah opened the innings along with Salman Butt, and went on to score 15 runs — aided in no small part by some generosity from the national team — after being recalled when he got out in the first over.

The most entertaining partnership of the evening was the one between Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan and Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza. The duo had to face some sledging from the keeper-slip combination of Rauf Siddiqui and Faisal Subzwari, but managed to score 10 and 12 runs respectively. Dr Mirza was the most technically-adept politician player on the pitch.

At the end of 20 overs, the G.CM-XI managed a modest total of 133. Salman Butt was the top scorer with 44 runs, and the butter-fingered wicket-keeping of Rauf Siddiqui provided entertainment and extra runs in equal measure.

When the Pakistan-XI came out to bat, their openers, Saeed Ajmal and Rao Iftikhar, blazed the trail to 85 runs for no loss within seven overs. Even Governor Ebad’s bowling was not spared. This onslaught ceased, however, when the openers retired, giving Faisal Subzwari and Rauf Siddiqui the opportunity to shine in front of the massive crowd.

Dignitaries such as City Nazim Mustafa Kamal, National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, abd legendary cricketer Javed Miandad were among the more than 10,000 cricket lovers who had thronged the stadium to watch cricket getting politicised — in a good way of course.

The Siddiqui-Subzwari combination was pitted against Agha Siraj Durrani and Zulfiqar Mirza, who employed economical, yet innocuous spells of spin bowling. Despite stout defending, Subzwari lost his middle stump to a low full-toss after scoring seven runs. Eventually, Durrani snared a wicket as well.

Fittingly, Younus Khan scored the winning runs when he hit a boundary to finish the match as Pakistan-XI achieved the required target in 17 overs, at the loss of only two wickets.

Pakistan team:            Governor-CM combined XI

Younus Khan               Dr Shah [capt]

Kamran Akmal             Ishrat ul Ebad

Sohail Tanvir                Agha Siraj

Misbah                             Zulfiqar Mirza

Abdul Razzzak              Muhammad Ali

Shahzeb Hasan              Zubair Khan

Rao Iftikhar                    Manzar Imam

Muhammad Aamir      Salman Butt

Saeed Ajmal                    Khalid Ahmed

Rauf Siddiqi
Faisal Subzwari

Munawwar Abbasi

Ahmed Shehzad

* Some players in the G.CM XI were inducted on the spot because Umar Gul, Shoaib Malik, Fawad Alam and Nishar Khuhro did not play.