The talk around nepotism in Pakistan cricket begins as soon as someone connected to the PCB setup makes way into the national side. Recently, such discussion has revolved around Imam-ul-Haq, and his selection for South Africa tour despite a dip in form has raised eyebrows again. Although it might lead to some unjustified selections, the question is, does nepotism do more damage than benefit to the cricketer in question?
If you belong to a cricketing family, you are bound to have access to certain facilities and cricketers that would not be available to other aspiring cricketers. During India’s tour of England this year, Arjun Tendulkar, son of Sachin Tendulkar, was seen practising with the Indian team and bowling to Virat Kohli. Although this access is indeed beneficial towards his development as a cricketer, it also brings certain expectations for him to be as good as his father which can be a massive burden on a young cricketer.
Imam recently broke his silence on nepotism accusations to ESPNcricinfo: "To be honest, it is very hurtful, as a youngster you come into international cricket with a lot of expectations from your family, and I had a great first-class season, but this kind of criticism is very hurtful." Imam is bound to be under immense pressure as he not only has to deal with the comparisons with his uncle Inzamam-ul-Haq but also has to justify his selection as his uncle is also the chief selector of the national side.
Junaid Zia had to go through the similar ordeal on his debut as many considered his selection was influenced by his father and then PCB Chairman Lt. Gen(retd) Tauqir Zia. His selection for New Zealand series despite poor returns against Bangladesh led to a media storm which forced the selection committee to withdraw Zia’s name citing his unavailability due to his academic exams. Tauqir Zia termed this controversy as one of the reasons of resigning as Chairman: “My son is a very sensitive boy, and he was under pressure as a cricketer because of my position."
Such cases of nepotism aren’t limited to the Pakistan national team. During the 2016 Pakistan Cup draft, the Islamabad team was forced to select Arsal Sheikh as he was the only under-19 cricketer available from that region. This led to Misbah-ul-Haq walking out amid nepotism accusations surrounding the draft as Arsal was the son of Islamabad Region Cricket Association president Shakil Sheikh. Following the incident, PCB used different variations of Arsal’s name, i.e. ‘Arsal Sh.’, in an attempt to hide his relation to Shakil Sheikh. Following is a list of spinners released by the PCB selected to attend a camp in April 2016.
However, in some cases, family relations have also become a roadblock in selection. At least this is what Faisal Iqbal believes was the reason behind him getting ignored for national selection despite performances in domestic cricket. Faisal believes people tried to settle the score with his uncle Javed Miandad by not selecting him in the national team.
Some people have created problem for me since day 1 till now and they are all anti Miandad hates so use me as their scapegoat for revenge!!— Faisal Iqbal?????? (@FaisalIqbalCric) September 26, 2014
Pakistan Super League is indeed the survival of the fittest when it comes to domestic performers as a massive amount of money is invested by franchises to acquire the best talent. However, nepotism seems to have risen its ugly head there as well after the selection of Azam Khan, son of Quetta Gladiators coach Moin Khan, raised questions. Azam was selected again by Quetta this year for PSL after not playing a single game last season. However, his poor performances in domestic and the apparent conflict of interest have already created negativity among Quetta fans.
Nepotism accusations aren’t restricted to people with a family member in powerful positions but have also revolved around cricketers with connections to people in political positions. Former Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan hails from the same city as Shoaib Malik and even attended his wedding in India. She was accused by former cricketer Sikandar Bakht of using her position to influence the selection of Malik in the Pakistan team during 2012.
Once the tag of nepotism is attached to a cricketer, it is very difficult to get rid of it. However, Malik made a comeback on merit in 2015 and proved his detractors wrong. But Imran Farhat could not get rid of this tag after it got attached to him during 2012 when his father-in-law Mohammad Ilyas served as a member of the selection committee. In an interview to PakPassion, Imran’s brother Humayun Farhat said, "His father-in-law has not benefited him in any way. In fact, he has dented my brother’s career."
While these connections might affect a player’s credibility, it can also help in getting them out of trouble. Ahmad Shehzad recently failed a dope test and was banned from playing cricket for four months. However, sports journalists who followed this case from close quarters believe Shahzad’s lawyer Babar Awan and his business agent Anila Khawaja’s association with PTI played a role in him receiving a lighter punishment.
Similarly, Zakir Khan’s close association with Imran Khan is no hidden secret as he was seen facilitating meetings between cricketers and Imran Khan after the prime minister took the oath. Hence, as soon as there was a change in the PCB leadership, Zakir Khan was back in PCB as director International Cricket operations.
After Pakistan crashed out of the 2015 World cup, Imran Khan said, "Pakistan cricket will not improve as long as there are people in the cricket board who have come through nepotism." Perhaps Zakir Khan’s return to PCB can be better explained in Prime Minister’s following tweet:
Doing a U-turn to reach one's objective is the hallmark of great leadership just as lying to save ill-gotten wealth is the hallmark of crooks.— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) November 18, 2018
There is nothing wrong in a young cricketer following his dream despite being related to a person in a position of power. An ideal situation in such a scenario would be to follow the example of Dr Jahangir Khan. Dr Jahangir Khan resigned as the chief selector of Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan, as his son Majid Khan was being considered for the Test match against Australia in 1964 to avoid any conflict of interest.