KARACHI: When Pakistan Super League (PSL) team Lahore Qalandars launched its player development programme (PDP) in 2016, not too many rated it highly and some even questioned it as the Qalandars were unable to produce desired results in all three editions of the league.
But the Lahore Qalandars management did not lose focus and persisted with the programme. CEO Atif Rana and DCO Aaqib Javed – Pakistan’s former pacer – invested all their energy into the development programme.
Finally, after three years of tireless hard work, the PDP has started producing fruit.
It has, quite literally, turned around lives of many cricketers who were in oblivion before Aaqib Javed and his team of over 20 coaches arrived at their doorsteps to give them a chance to showcase their talent.
In three years, the programme has identified many talented individuals, and has also allowed players like Sohail Akhtar to make a comeback and get the limelight they deserve.
Salman Irshad and Haris Rauf, who were spotted in previous editions of Lahore Qalandars’ PDP, have developed into performers with time.
“Our programme is not just a talent hunt scheme,” says Atif Rana, CEO of Lahore Qalandars.
“The development work of a player can’t be done overnight. We identified players, gave them contracts, sent them abroad, worked on enhancing their skills to transform their talent.”
According to Rana, their aim is to provide a tunnel to Pakistan Cricket from which raw talent can travel to become pro cricketers.
“It is not just for Lahore Qalandars, it is for Pakistan Cricket. The ultimate beneficiary of this programme will be Pakistan Cricket,” he says.
The Qalandars have witnessed around 500,000 players at over two dozen spots during three years of the player development programme. Each year the franchise shortlists over 150 players, makes them play a tournament – which was broadcasted on Geo Super – and sends the top performers to play cricket abroad.
“I had never thought I would be playing at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium, let alone play outside Pakistan,” spinner Ali Majid Shah shares.
Majid says that he used to work in a factory where his monthly wage was around Rs9,000. His cricket passion was limited to playing on the streets as there was no facility available for him.
“All credit to Lahore Qalandars. In just a few weeks’ time, I feel much better than before. I went to Abu Dhabi with Qalandars where I played against some of the top cricketers of the world. It helped me learn a lot,” Majid adds.
Maaz Khan, a spinner from violence-hit Bajaur Agency, has a similar story to share.
“My cricket passion brought me from Bajaur to Peshawar, where I used to live with my grandparents. Things were not good in Bajaur and I didn’t have any opportunity to pursue my dreams of playing top level cricket,” says Maaz, who was selected from PDP trials in Jamrud.
“The player development programme has given me hope that I can do something in cricket too. I am thankful to Aaqib Javed and Rana Fawad for giving me an opportunity to change my life.”
Another aspect of Qalandars’ PDP is financial incentives which, indeed, are changing the lifestyle of these players who otherwise may not have been able to earn bread and butter by playing cricket.
Qalandars’ star performer at Abu Dhabi Cup, Haris Rauf, was a part-time salesman just two years ago. Now he has become the talk of the town.
“I was a salesman, I started for 250 rupees per-day wage and later it was increased to 1,000 per day. But it was not a daily job. Now I have a contract which offers me to look after my financial needs and allow me to fully concentrate on Cricket,” Rauf told geo.tv after his superb spell in Abu Dhabi that helped Lahore Qalandars to win the title.
The best part of the PDP is that it is not limited to any one city or region. Last year it went to Kashmir, this year to Gilgit and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“It is a programme which is open for everyone, it can allow anyone playing on the streets to become a superstar in two months’ time. This programme is a pathway for youngsters to adopt cricket as a profession,” says COO of Lahore Qalandars, Sameen Rana.
With Lahore Qalandars already reaping its fruits from the PDP, Aaqib Javed feels that soon Pakistan will start witnessing benefits as well.
“We have been working hard during last three years. We go to one city from another city to find talent,” Javed says.
“A player like Haris Rauf can be very useful for Pakistan Cricket. He was spotted two years ago and now he has developed into a performer, he can break Shoaib Akhtar’s record,” Aaqib Javed shares.
“This year we have found better players like Mohammad Faizan, Raja Farzan Majid Ali, Maaz Khan, soon they all will be there.”
For the players, the real incentive is an opportunity to opt for cricket as a profession.
“From North to South, players identified and developed through this programme are now playing for different domestic teams. Some are also serving other franchises,” adds Atif Rana.