Lahore Qalandars deserve appreciation for showing the bravery to conduct a talent search of that magnitude. © Lahore Qalandars

Lahore Qalandars deserve appreciation for showing the bravery to conduct a talent search of that magnitude. © Lahore Qalandars

The unearthing of Yasir Jan, the ambidextrous bowler, highlights the success story of Lahore Qalandars’s talent-hunt program.

Plucked out of a vegetable vendor’s shop, Yasir was recently sent to United Kingdom for a six-week training program by the Pakistan Super League franchise. He hit the headlines immediately, bowling to the Windies batsmen in the Lord’s nets.

“I owe my progress to Lahore Qalandars’s talent-hunt program,” said Yasir. “Had it not been there, I would still have been selling vegetables in the day and dreaming of becoming a cricketer in the night.”

Yasir could be one of many who will progress from this program, a near-requisite for Pakistan to match the efficient talent-hunt factory in neighbouring India, who through the Indian Premier League have reaped a great harvest of talented cricketers.

Cricket is a unifying factor in Pakistan, just like it is in other sub-continent countries. It is, perhaps, the only sport in Pakistan that has been providing superstars, and children here grow up watching cricket stars performing and bringing laurels for the country.

And, while watching superstars perform and earn rewards for their performances, many dream to be one of them. Many, undoubtedly, have potential to be one of them, but they remain in oblivion only because they didn’t get any forum to show what they’ve got.

For all such aspiring players, the opportunity of a lifetime came when Qalandars announced their player development program – ‘Rising Stars’. Fair to say that the program has set a new trend.

"Had the talent-hunt not been there, I would still have been selling vegetables in the day and dreaming of becoming a cricketer in the night,” said Yasir Jan. © AFP

“Had the talent-hunt not been there, I would still have been selling vegetables in the day and dreaming of becoming a cricketer in the night,” said Yasir Jan. © AFP

Last year, for the first edition of Rising Stars, around 113,000 players turned up in an attempt to achieve their dreams, and after several phases, a few got the opportunity to do what they’ve been aiming for since childhood.

The Rising Stars continued for a second year in 2017 and attracted around 160,000 aspiring cricketers from all over in the first phase, that included open trials at nine different cities of Pakistan: Lahore, Bahawalpur, Sargodha, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Layyah, Gujranwala, Mirpur and Muzaffarabad.

The massive response by aspiring cricketers in these trials was evidence that young cricketers in Pakistan are eagerly waiting for opportunities to prove themselves.

As the trials were an open-for-all opportunity, they saw players from various cities traveling to the host city to try their luck. They also saw international cricketers like Nauman Anwar making an attempt to stage a comeback.

Even the organisers were not expecting such massive response to the call, resulting in incidents of gate-crashing in at least three venues.

“We are overwhelmed by the response. Our aim was to provide aspiring cricketers a forum where they can showcase their skills,” said Atif Rana, the CEO of Lahore Qalandars.

According to Rana, the selected players will not only play a tournament in the second stage of the trials, but will also get opportunity to become a part of the Lahore franchise for the third edition of PSL.

“The best talent, naturally, was in fast bowling. There was a bowler who bowled at the speed of 92mph," said Aaqib Javed. © Lahore Qalandars

“The best talent, naturally, was in fast bowling. There was a bowler who bowled at the speed of 92mph,” said Aaqib Javed. © Lahore Qalandars

Last year, Qalandars picked Usman Qadir, Ghulam Mudassar, Mohammad Irfan jnr and Saif Badar at the conclusion of the first edition of Rising Stars.

“Imagine the confidence these players would have got after sharing dressing room with likes of Brendon McCullum, Sunil Narine and Grant Elliot,” said Rana.

The franchise has the same plan this year as well. The selection panel, led by former Pakistan pacer Aaqib Javed, has shortlisted 128 players – 16 from each venue – to represent their respective regions in the Rising Stars tournament.

After the tournament, which will be played in Muzaffarabad and Lahore from September 26, a team of 16 will be picked to represent the Lahore Qalandars Rising Stars team. The team will undertake a tour of Australia to participate in a triangular tournament in Sydney later this year.

Javed, who is also Qalandars’s Director of Cricket, said these open trials have delivered some significant talent and promised the franchise will ensure the players are not lost in oblivion.

“We are not here just to pick these boys and make them play one or two tournaments, we are aiming and trying to transform the raw talent into proper performers that can serve Pakistan cricket in future,” he said.

“The best talent, naturally, was in fast bowling. There was a bowler who bowled at the speed of 92mph. Then there’s a fast bowling allrounder who was solid with bat and notable with bowling, so talent is there,” he added.

When asked, Javed mentioned Haris Rauf, Mohammad Zahid and Salman Arshad as few of the potential talent he spotted during the month-long open trials at various stations.

“If you ask me for a number, I would say I have 20 such players who, after little bit of fine-tuning, can be handed over to PCB for further training at National Cricket Academy,” he said.

The program is, indeed, a great step towards development of Pakistan cricket, and the franchise deserves all appreciation for showing the bravery to even conduct a talent search of that magnitude.

One hopes that other PSL franchises also take a leaf out of Qalandars’s book to promote talent in their respective regions.