During the recent Asia Cup, ACC officials received an invitation to observe activities at the Customs Cricket Academy. Located in a Karachi suburb, the Academy was formed in 1999 and was the first in the country to be approved by the Pakistan Cricket Board.

The Academy is a hive of activity, with children from 8 to 18 coming four days a week to play and practise after school under the guidance of twelve coaches. Chief Coach Jalaluddin, a genial bear of a man, is most famous for being the first cricketer to take a hat-trick in ODIs.

Customs have a decent record in domestic cricket and have turned out a team’s worth of international cricketers since the mid 1990s, from Rashid Latif to Mohammad Sami to most recently, Fawad Alam. There are ten turf nets, room for two practice wickets, a running-track, gymnasium and all the essential accoutrements of contemporary cricket coaching.

Like all sporting institutions the Customs Cricket Academy (CCA) needs to make money in order to survive. But money is not the reason for its existence. “Countless talented cricketers have failed to make it big because of the severe lack of opportunities to harness their skills in order to successfully face the challenges of international cricket, “ says Jalaluddin, “and our job here is to prepare a person and a team for performance on the ground.”

Jalaluddin, Iqbal Sikander and Shabbir Hussain

‘Catch Them Young’ is the CCA motto and once caught in the net “physical, technical, tactical, mental, lifestyle” training follows, declares Jalaluddin. He and his fellow coaches, including Shabbir Hussain at 76 and a half years of age (though he doesn’t look a day over 50 and has the handshake of a man in his prime) are doing it for a love of the game. “We offer free coaching to all children of Customs officials and we also give as much financial assistance as we can to those children and parents who need it. 25% come free,” he says.

While at the Academy, two fathers were about to enrol their teenage sons in the CCA. The fees: 4000 Rupees (US$60) for a season. One of them was asked why he wants  his son to play cricket; “It is a healthy game and one that builds team-spirit….outside of studies it is the best way to spend his time,” he said. “The important thing is that we are making cricket accessible and possible in an organised way for them,” says Jalaluddin. “The goal of course is that these boys get every chance to play as much cricket as they want.”

And play for Customs and Pakistan? “It’s a long process. You have to follow them all the time. We select the talented boys and groom them from raw,” says Jalaluddin. The Customs age-group teams have done well in Sri Lanka, (winning the prestigious U-14 Nelson Mendis Trophy) and Malaysia recently, so something must be going right.

'Hands up all those who will play for Pakistan'

"We have a good team and good coaches but looking at it outside (the CCA) there is no system in Pakistan to bring the boys up. There are too many different factors that block them," Jalaluddin says. “I am full-time with Customs but I also have the interests of Pakistan at heart. My services are to the game and if I can help to better the standard and system of cricket with the support of my fellow coaches, the higher ups and all those who give support here, my job is done”.

Filed July 15, 2008