New talent hunt in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Younis Khan plays a cover drive, South Africa v Pakistan, 1st ODI, Bloemfontein, March 10, 2013

The troubled region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) is to receive a boost with a talent-hunt programme launched by the local ruling party. The region has produced some of Pakistan's best-known players, including Younis Khan and Umar Gul, but the supply has dried up of late.
The region is ruled by the PTI, the party of Imran Khan, who, during his time as Pakistan captain, had an eye for spotting talent. The initiative holds importance for the region that has suffered for decades due to the problems in Afghanistan, with which it shares a border.
"Terrorism has been very destructive for sports," Iftikhar Elahi, PTI's coordinator of sports and culture, said. "In fact, there are fears that terrorism can end sports activities and that is why we are aiming at sports activities to end terrorism in the province.
"The programme is aimed at spotting talent in cricket from the KPK province and Imran Khan has taken the initiative as part of his development programmes in the KPK. We have also hired a few coaches [former players] and we will put advertisement in newspapers to invite the budding talent."
The PCB has classified KPK into two regions - Abbottabad and Peshawar, which are clustered with seven and five other districts respectively. Apart from the two major cities of Peshawar and Abbottabad, the region lacks basic cricketing infrastructure; there are only two first-class stadiums in the region, one of which is Peshawar's Arbab Niaz Stadium that has hosted seven Tests and 15 ODIs between 1995 and 2006. With deterioration in the law and order situation in the area, Peshawar didn't host a domestic game in the 2010-11 season.
"We have dearth of grounds in Peshawar so we have talked to the chief minister and sports minister to help us build and renovate grounds," Elahi said. "We will not take any funds from the provincial government and as the idea is to raise our funds through sponsorships and for that, we are already in talks with some international companies."
The region, dominated by the Pashtun people, has produced a number of top-level cricketers - Younis, Gul, Junaid Khan, Wajahattullah Wasti, Yasir Hameed to name a few - and the teams have, in the past, won the national first-class titles in 1998-99 and 2004-05 and the Quaid-e-Azam trophy division two in 2012. But the focus on cricket in the recent years has diminished because of uncertainty and the lack of opportunities. In 2011, first-class cricketer, Nauman Habib, was found dead near his house after he had gone missing. Most of the players since then either lost their way or were forced to move out to look for opportunities elsewhere.
Wasel Durrani, the president of the Peshawar Cricket Association, welcomed the new talent search initiative, but remained skeptical about the future. "This will be a good initiative but I am afraid it will go in vain," he said. "The problem lies in the set-up. How can I believe that the people involved in the programme are serious and really want to do something? Imran is alone and can't oversee everything alone. The people in the system should be honest to make a difference."
Jamil Khan, the former president of Mardan cricket association, said the region has 26 registered clubs but they suffer due to the absence of proper guidelines. He rued how Younis Khan left his native area and despite repeated promises never turned up to motivate local players. Small cities needed attention and facilities to motivate players, Jamil said. "The problem in our city is the poor sports infrastructure," he added. "Players are playing in the outskirts of the city in the open grubby fields."
"Passion in such small cities is immense but most of the boys who wish to take up cricket as a profession pull back due to various reasons. Similarly, players in various other cities, like Malakand and Nowshera, remained deprived and left cricket to earn their livelihood. Hence, mostly players from bigger cities are able to go ahead."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets here