PESHAWAR - Pakistan cricketer turned politician Imran Khan and cricket star Shahid Khan Afridi jointly inaugurated the Under-17 Cricket Talent Hunt Programme to scout talent at gross root level in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Saturday.

In this connection, a simple but impressive ceremony was held at Arbab Niaz Cricket Stadium. In his welcoming address, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sports Minister Mehmood Khan highlighted the aim and objective of the programme being organised by Directorate of Sports Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in collaboration with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Sports and Culture Forum. Besides others, Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khattak, President PTI Sports and Culture Forum Engr. Said Mehmood, Ministers, MNAs, MPAs, Chief Secretary and IGP were also present. Under the talent hunt programme, trials would be conducted at all seven divisional headquarters of the province.

While inaugurating the programme, Imran, who led Pakistan to their only World Cup win in Australia in 1992, said he hoped finding new talent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could help Pakistan win the title once more. He went on to say that this is the start to a campaign to unearth talent in the province, who will in turn bring another World Cup to Pakistan. He hoped and prayed for peace in FATA, where he said that a lot of cricket talent needs to be unearthed.

The PTI Chairman said that he was himself unearthed by a talent hunt programme, adding almost 40-year ago "I went to Lahore University ground and was selected as a 16-year-old boy". He said that when he launched the first similar hunt programme in Karachi 20 years ago, he unearthed Shahid Afridi.

"I am very happy that the governor has given permission to open a cricket academy in FATA to aid in the search for talent," Imran said, adding that the best way to search for talent was through competitions. Imran said that he hopes that by the end of six months his earlier promise of a cricket ground in every district will be realised, adding that by the end of the year, there will be a sports ground in every union council. Imran said the aim and objective of the talent hunt programme is to provide due opportunities to the youth to come up. He said that the talent hunt would be used to select eight teams and those teams would compete against each other and the final team would be selected after the competition. Imran said that transparency would be ensured at all level only to select deserving players.

Afridi said that youngsters should follow Imran both in cricket and politics. "It's a healthy activity and will help divert the youth to constructive activities. So I request the youth to support Imran, both in cricket and politics," Afridi said. Afridi said that there is more talent in FATA than the rest of the country. “It is a new beginning and a history in making as talented youth have been given open invitations for the trials under qualified coaches. He lauded the steps being taken in the right direction by Imran Khan.”

Short-listed players would be provide free coaching and training in a week long camp to be setup from February 1-6, followed by 22 matches. A total of 2021 boys have registered their names for four-day trials from Peshawar Districts, Nowshera, Charsadda, Khyber Agency and FR Peshawar. After Peshawar the trials at DI Khan, Bannu, Kohat, Malakand, (Swat), Hazara (Abbottabad) and Mardan will be organised on Jan 27-30, 2014. In DI Khan Division players of all the Districts comprising DI Khan, Tank, South Waziristan Agency, FR Tank and FR DIKhan will appear in the trials.

The players of Districts Bannu, Lakki Marwat, North Waziristan Agency, FR Lakki and FR Bannu will be part of Bannu Division. In Kohat Division, Districts Kohat, Hangu, Karak, Kurram Agency, Orakzai Agency and FR Kohat, in Peshawar Division, Districts Peshawar, Nowshera, Charsadda, Khyber Agency and FR Peshawar, in Mardan Division, Districts Mardan, Swabi and Mohmand Agency, in Hazara Division, Districts Abbottabad, Mansehra, Haripur, Kohistan, Battagram and Torghar, in Malakand Division, Districts Swat, Chitral, Upper Dir, Lower Dir, Shangla, Malakand, Buner and Bajaur Agency would participate in the trials.