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Pakistan find cricketers from war zones, remote areas

Few months back, Maaz Khan was playing on the streets of Bajaur district in war-torn province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. And on Saturday, he starred in Lahore Qalandars\' victory as the Pakistan side lifted the inaugural Abu Dhabi T20 Trophy.

13-Oct-2018

Few months back, Maaz Khan was playing on the streets of Bajaur district in war-torn province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. And on Saturday, he starred in Lahore Qalandars' victory as the Pakistan side lifted the inaugural Abu Dhabi T20 Trophy.

There are more similar success stories like teenage sensation from Khyber district Shaheen Shah Afridi who has made it to the national side and Haris Rauf, a former salesman, who bowled yorkers at 148kmph to win the trophy for his side in Abu Dhabi.

Lahore Qalandars chief operating officer Sameen Rana said all these players and more are products of franchise's Player Development Programme, which is reaching the remotest and war-ravaged places of Pakistan scouting for talent.

"Maaz comes from the most troubled area of Pakistan. Bajaur is few kilometres from Afghan border and the place is only known for wrong reasons. He would have never dreamt of playing against established names in Abu Dhabi," Sameen said.

Sameen said the Player Development Programme is in its third season and gaining popularity.

"First season we were in Punjab and had participation from 113,000 kids and last season we had 200,000. It is an open trial and in two months' time a person playing on the street can become a superstar. This is providing a pathway for youngster to adopt cricket as a profession."

The selected ones are split into eight teams and play a live televised tournament at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. The best of the lot get to play tournaments like the Abu Dhabi T20 and further groomed.

"Next we will go to Australia on November 1. We have a contract with Sydney Sixers and Hobart Hurricanes, and now Auckland Aces have joined the programme," Sameen said and added once the players prove their mettle, they stand a chance to earn a call to the Pakistan Super League.

Last season, the caravan also landed in Azad Kashmir. Mirpur (10,258 aspirants) and Muzaffarabad (23,828) turned out to be revelation.

"We got our first Kashmiri cricketer in Salman Irshad."

The franchise also cater to those outside Pakistan with concept of 'Pardesi Qalandar' where aspirants are asked to send a 90-second video. They received 25,000 entries from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, Spain among few others.

Inzamam Ul Haq (chief adviser) and Shoaib Akhtar (mentor) are providing full support to the programme and were present in Abu Dhabi too.

"Inzamam travelled with us to 11 places in hot months of June and July. We had a nine-year-old at trials. Inzamam and Shoaib were blown away by his talent. We gave that kid a 10-year contract. There is also a girl, a batter, who was given a contract. Inzamam was very impressed."

Meanwhile, head coach Aaqib Javed said there is a greater message in Qalandars' victory.

"Most boys are here from terror-hit areas. So this victory sends a big message to people back home, and that is the true win."

Such a programme bodes well for Pakistan cricket - a team in transition.

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