Region’s team debuts in country’s premier first-class tournament.
When the country’s premier cricketing tournament starts today (Monday), it will feature for the first time a side representing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The team had sealed qualification for the main round of the tournament for the first time in its history earlier this month.
Its qualification for a Quaid-e-Azam Trophy berth was surprising — not least because the team represented a backward area but because its cricketers had survived war and a long siege by militants, and yet were now beating teams with facilities and resources to excel at cricket.
“It’s a great achievement for our region which has been hit by terrorism,” beams Noorul Haq, president of Fata cricket. “Since the military operation (which started June last year) interest in the sport has jumped.”
Despite the violence in the area, which had forced thousands from their homes, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) decided two years ago to separate Fata from the districts of Peshawar and Abbottabad. Its progress has earned plaudits from everyone, including PCB Chairman Shahryar Khan.
Catapulting to the top tier
Since Fata’s own regional team was formed two years ago, the side has raced to qualify for the top tier despite not having any functional grounds or cricketing academies.
“Originating from mountainous areas, the players’ fitness was near the level required for the sport, but work had to be done on their understanding of the game,” explained head coach Shahid Javed.
“Since they are from an area where professional cricket was absent for years, we had to prepare them mentally.”
Javed and his deputy Saqib Fakeer’s hard work finally paid off when the team progressed from inter-district competitions to a first-class tournament in just two years.
They won comfortably against all three of their opponents in the QAT qualifiers, defeating Abbottabad by nine wickets, Faisalabad by 10 wickets and a much fancied Karachi side by 81 runs. “This will open doors for the region’s players to participate in international leagues,” says Javed.
Players from the team also proved themselves in the shorter format of the game.
“Two months ago, the team also played well in the Inter-Region U19 One Day tournament by reaching semi-finals where they narrowly lost to Rawalpindi by two wickets,” Javed said.
Separating Fata as a cricketing region has afforded chances to players from the area to play in grade cricket. Fata’s captain Fawad Khan, who has represented Abbottabad and Pakistan A, recalls there were only a few other players from the region in the top circuit when he was with that team. “Previously, only players with extraordinary talent got spots in the Abbottabad or Peshawar teams.”
The opportunity afforded by separating Fata has been most apparent in the Pakistan U19 team which featured three players from the region on their recent tour of Sri Lanka.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2015.