Dr Najeeb Soomro, a medical doctor, and dual-trained as an injury epidemiologist and sports scientist, has recently taken on the enviable, yet challenging role of the Pakistan Cricket Board’s Chief Medical Officer.
His career in between, has spanned national and international sports’ organisations, including Cricket Australia, FIFA, Rugby League, Netball, and AFL. It’s a trajectory that has seen his passion for sport and medicine intertwined every step of the way.
But Dr Soomro sees his role as having a broader responsibility to the community and he’s passionate about public health initiatives. “We’re doing prostate and breast cancer awareness, and we’re promoting transgender people and their participation in the community and the sport. I want to make sure that everybody plays cricket. Cricket should be for everyone. If you're 60 years old, or you are six years old, everybody should be physically active, as this reduces your risk of chronic disease.”
For Soomro, it’s about more than just a game. “I think you've got to be passionate about doing something and only then will you be successful, you need to have your heart and soul in it.”
After studying medicine in Pakistan, followed by an internship at a large tertiary hospital in Pakistan, Soomro quickly realised that he was looking for ‘something more exciting, a bit out of the box’. He looked overseas and was accepted into the University of Sydney’s Master of International Public Health, studying Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
His love of cricket helped him to settle into university life from the start. “You're new to the country, trying to figure out things, but one of the things that was common between me, and the local guys was cricket,” Dr Soomro says. “I had my bat with me and one day, I wanted to play at the University cricket club. I was walking in, and I stumbled on the head of department and had a very long chat about cricket and his memories about the Pakistani team and we sort of got very close and the reason for that was basically cricket. That's how I made a lot of friends - it was a discovery for me, that sport goes a long way in getting people together.”
That's [cricket] how I made a lot of friends - it was a discovery for me, that sport goes a long way in getting people together.
He decided to continue to a PhD and approached Cricket Australia to discuss ideas around injury prevention. “I went to Cricket Australia, and they said that they were well-covered at the international level, however at the junior grassroots, club cricket level, not much work had been done. There wasn’t a lot of baseline data available on why injuries happen, on the physical characteristics or risk factors, or on how we can develop programs to mitigate those risks,” Soomro says.
“So, I thought of a solution, to develop an app where players can instantaneously report injuries and I could prioritise going to see that person, rather than going from ground to ground.” He also examined what other sports were doing to prevent injuries and collected data on 12,000 cricketers around the world - studying over one million hours of cricket and more than a million injury-based articles.
His thesis, Cricket Injury Prevention, a collaboration with Cricket Australia, resulted in the creation of the free mobile app, TeamDoc, and the development of the world’s first Cricket Injury Prevention Program (CIPP).
Soomro went on to work as a resident medical officer at regional hospitals in Victoria and Western Australia - at the same time as working with numerous sports teams, including the Dalyellup Beach Cricket Club, the Mallee Murray Bulls, and South Broken Hill Cricket Clubs, Cricket NSW, IronMan WA, West Coast Fever Netball, St George Dragons Rugby League Club and FIFA, before scoring the role of team doctor for South Fremantle Football Club.
He also worked at the University as an Adjunct Lecturer and Research Fellow - a highlight being a stint at Broken Hill Rural Health Campus. “It’s just the remoteness, it teaches you how you can solve things using fewer resources, and that's something that, coming from Pakistan, I had a bit of experience in and was able to translate to my clinical practice in Australia,” he says. “I learnt a lot about what real Australia is like, met country people who were very friendly, made a lot of Indigenous friends, played cricket. They accepted me as part of their community, and I made long-lasting friendships. That bonding is something that drives you to another level, I think that was something that completely pivoted my career.”
He took on the role at the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in October 2021, packing up his life in Perth to head to Lahore. As Chief Medical Officer, he oversees the care, injury prevention and rehabilitation of Pakistan’s national cricket team, including over 10,000 registered players, as well as driving policy and innovation.
It can also be high pressure, due to cricket’s significance in Pakistan. The Australian cricket team has recently wrapped its first tour there in 24 years, amidst high security and COVID-19 risks. Australia pulled out of its last tour in 1998, after a suicide blast at a Lahore church, while Pakistan has struggled to attract international teams since a 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lanka team’s bus. Australia’s return now, is being hailed as a morale boost for Pakistan.
One of the biggest challenges at the moment is how to protect players, but at the same time, keep the ball rolling and get players to play
“Absolutely, it's a challenging job,” Soomro says. “It's also a dynamic, highly rewarding job, and that gives you that adrenaline rush. You get to work with the greatest athletes of all time and probably one of the most gratifying things is when you treat a young athlete and they're able to get back on the ground and play, and the gratification they show is completely incredible.”
Written by Cassandra Hill for the Sydney Alumni Magazine. Hero image: Aksh Yadav on Unsplash, all other photography supplied.