Dan Kiesel: Our Man in Pakistan

Questions were asked in the Senate, but living in Lahore was no problem

The Israel cricket team now playing in the ICC trophy in Toronto has one ace up its sleeve which is probably unmatched in the competition, or in Israeli sport.

Dan Kiesel, the team's trainer and physiotherapist (who is also an MD), brings a wealth of experience and ability that is second to none. While he has never played the game (how many native-born Israelis ever do?), he is without doubt the only Israeli to have come close to experiencing the game at the highest of levels.

The 63-year-old Tel Aviv born physio-doctor has some impressive credentials - but above them all are the time he spent as trainer with the national squads of Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Now living in Toronto, Kiesel paid a rare visit to Israel earlier this month and says he hopes to be able to return for longer periods and more often in the near future.

When he worked with Sri Lanka and Pakistan, he says he never hid his identity as an Israeli, even when he lived in Lahore for a lengthy spell. Kiesel's reputation has spread far and wide over the past few years and his exploits on the subcontinent are known even to those who have little knowledge of cricket.

The fact that an Israeli has ventured - not as a spy, or under false pretenses - to the highest echelons in countries where Israelis are not exactly popularity contest winners, says a great deal about Kiesel.

He studied physiotherapy at Asaf Harofeh hospital between 1956-60 before serving in the IDF for three years. After completing his service, he went to England and worked at Epsom Hospital and then at the Farnham Royal Rehabilitation Center near Windsor.

Kiesel comes from a Yekke background and also has a German passport, then went on to study medicine in Frankfurt in 1967 while continuing to ply his trade as a physiotherapist. He completed his studies in Germany in 1977 and worked as a family doctor while continuing his physiotherapy work.

In the early 1990s, after completing studies in osteopathic medicine in England, he decided to take an acupuncture course in Sri Lanka. While there, Kiesel treated thousands of people from all walks of life. He also came in contact with top cricketers - among them Indian seamer Chandra Shekhar and the legendary Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee, who at that time was helping the fledgling test playing nation find its feet at the highest level of the game.

"Lillee was very pleased with the treatment he received and suggested to the cricket board that they should hire me," Kiesel said. "I joined the team in 1993 and our next test series was in New Zealand where the Sri Lankans won a test for the first time ever on foreign soil."

Kiesel told how his relationship with the Sri Lankans continued, but as a doctor, he also felt obliged to treat players from the opposing team, a practice not looked upon favorably by his employers.

For this reason he eventually fell out with the Sri Lankans and in November 1995 the Pakistanis, who heard of his falling out and who knew of his healing abilities, offered him a job immediately. The morning after his breakup with Sri Lanka he flew to Australia and teamed up with the Pakistanis in Brisbane for their tour Down Under.

Kiesel moved house with his wife Malka from Colombo to Lahore - "a beautiful city." He said being an Israeli in Pakistan was never a problem and he never felt under threat. That's not to say that eyebrows were not raised. "When they found out that I was a Jew and an Israeli, questions were asked in the Senate, but any case the fundamentalists may have had was soon lost when the answer came that I was there as a doctor that held a German passport."

Kiesel recalls when he was in England with the Pakistan team and a local reporter asked about his background: "The guy said to me `Doctor, what's your connection with cricket - after all you're a German?' I replied `if you knew I am in fact Jewish and Israeli, you'd be even more surprised.' The story was all over the local media and the BBC had the story within half an hour," he recalled.

Kiesel worked with the Pakistanis until last year, but decided to quit after Malka, a childhood sweetheart whom he married after she was widowed a few years ago, decided she had enough of living in Pakistan.

Kiesel had warm words for the president of Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. "He's a warm-hearted, lovely man who really cares for the players and has done so much for them in such a short space of time," he said. "He has built new stadiums, put lighting in at several grounds and opened academies. He has done wonders for Pakistani cricket and the people love him."

Kiesel has some insights on the subcontinent's rivalries. "People think Indian and Pakistani players hate each other, maybe want to kill each other, but there is nothing further from the truth. They are the best of friends and are adversaries only on the playing field," he said.

He remembered one incident in Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, when he had to help out during a match between India and Pakistan. "One of our players asked for some water and the captain, Javed Miandad, asked me to go out and give him some. At first I wasn't at all happy, why a doctor to carry out water for a player? But Miandad said `If I go out the [Indian supporters] will throw rocks at me, if you go out you will get applause,' he said."

While living in Toronto, Kiesel now hopes to be able to work some of the time in Israel too. "I would love to do some teaching in manual medicine and sports medicine and to treat people, to be available for patients and those who could benefit from my experience," he says.

There seems little doubt that even in a country so often dismissive of sports like cricket, Israeli sport and athletes could benefit greatly from him as well.