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While discussing their significance, it is also equally important to find out who will fill their shoes and replace them?...we have to move beyond and ask the crucial question: is there bench strength – in terms of talent to replace our heroes? This analysis aims to explore a larger question: are our institutions strong enough to produce talents that would fill in and take the process forward – not only in Cricket, but across the board – from politics to education.

Photo Source: The Express Tribune

D. Suba Chandran
Professor
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore

Both Younis and Misbah are to retire shortly from Test Cricket. Icons in terms of their massive record besides their value and contribution to Pakistani cricket team. In particular, Younis Khan will be scoring 10,000 runs and be joining the elite club led by Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid, Kumara Sangakkara etc. He would be the first Pakistani batsman to enter into the 10,000 club dominated by South Asians (three from India and two from Sri Lanka). Misbah’s contribution should be seen outside the statistics - as a middle order batsman and more importantly as the captain of one of the toughest teams.

While discussing their significance, it is also equally important to find out who will fill their shoes and replace them? Undoubtedly, they are class players; greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Steve Waugh and Brian Lara can never be replaced. But we have to move beyond and ask the crucial question: is there bench strength – in terms of talent to replace our heroes? This analysis aims to explore a larger question: are our institutions strong enough to produce talents that would fill in and take the process forward – not only in Cricket, but across the board – from politics to education.

Let us start with Cricket in South Asia, in comparison with Australia. Undoubtedly, Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh, Mathew Hayden, Shane Warne and Glen McGrath were outstanding players, who built the great Australian team since the 1990s. Today, the team may not be as invincible as they were, but David Warner, Steve Smith and the new additions in batting and bowling – Peter Handscomb, O’Keefe have filled in and replaced the Australian icons of the previous decade. 

Let us compare the above with the South Asian situation and look at Sri Lanka and Pakistan. During the last few years, the Sri Lankan cricket team is suffering substantially – mainly because there could be no replacement for Kumara Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Pakistani team will face a similar situation in the batting, as it is already facing in the bowling segment to find game changers like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. In this context, India is relatively fortunate– with Cheteshwara Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. But they are more a case of individual brilliance than institutional outcome. 

The problem is clear. Our institutions are not strong enough to produce good players, as the Australian system has succeeded. Anyone who has an understanding of the Australian infrastructure and the role played by their Board (Cricket Australia) would understand where the problem is in South Asia. Our basic structure, institutions and Boards are a part of the problem. 

We have a serious problem with our institutions that could convert our mediocre into substance, and catapult the talent into legends. 

Where did we go wrong? A region that boasts of establishing the first University – the Nalanda with a huge emphasis on education, is a pale shadow of what it was centuries ago. It is unfortunate, that none of our educational institutions of higher learning figure in the top hundred at the global level. Compare it with what Singapore (with a population and size smaller than Karachi and Mumbai) has achieved in the last few decades on the educational sector. 

For all the hype about the revival of Nalanda University, it has hardly succeeded in attracting international students.  Imagine it with what it was centuries ago – when the transportation was negligible and communication was non-existent, Nalanda had students from Tibet, China, Japan, Mongolia, Korea and Sri Lanka. 

Today, our youths go to institutions of higher learning from Canada to Australia. Not because, there is a pull factor in terms of getting a degree from a firangi University, but more because of our failure to provide quality education across the board. The above is not only in terms of education – from social to natural sciences, but also on other fields – from sports to fine arts. How many Gold medals have the South Asian counties together won since 1947? Compare it with smaller countries like Spain, Kenya, Jamaica and Croatia. Kenya has more medals in the 2016 Olympics, than all the South Asian countries put together.

We know what the problems are. Fortunately, we know the solutions as well. We have to go back to the basics and build our institutions across the board. The harsh reality for us is - the Universities of Heidelberg in Germany and Wisconsin in US have bigger resources on South Asia! Let us learn from them and build bigger institutions – starting from educational sectors. Others will automatically follow.

Perhaps, we get carried away with another statistics – that we are a young region – when compared to ageing population in Europe. True, we have a youth bulge. But, is our demography really a dividend? Or, do we have a bulge, which lacks quality? 

Or, is the quality leaves us for better opportunities abroad, leaving us only with quantity? Even if above is the case, how to ensure that our pride stays with us? Answer is simple – absorb them and ensure that not only our preparatory standards are of global standard, but also absorption. This is a cycle; that one cannot be achieved without the other. 

Younis Khan may not easily be replaceable, given his commitment and class. But doing so, would be our way of honouring him. Let us get back to the basics and start building our institutions. Let us also learn from those countries that have achieved greatness in the recent decades such as China, South Korea and Singapore in creating world class institutions. 
 
The above was originally published in the Daily Times 

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