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International cricket returns to Pakistan - a critical analysis

Zimbabwe take on Pakistan
International cricket is back in Pakistan - but will other countries follow Zimbabwe's lead?
©REUTERS / Action Images

International cricket returned to Pakistan for the first time in six years when Pakistan hosted Zimbabwe in a series of Twenty20 and One-Day Internationals amid tight security.

Former players and cricket lovers in Pakistan are of the view that international cricket in Pakistan will not only provide national cricketers with a healthy sporting environment but also promote the image of Pakistan in the international arena.

Background & history

The security of touring cricket teams in Pakistan has been an issue since as far back as May 2002 when the touring New Zealand side abandoned their Test series in Pakistan after an attack outside their hotel.

However, they returned in the 2003/2004 season to fulfil their commitments although Australia also refused to tour on safety grounds. 

In 2004 "Lashkar-e-Taiba" issued a fatwa against playing cricket, declaring this game against the norms of Islam.

A fatwa was also implemented in 2009 after gunmen targeted the Sri Lankan team in 2009. The attackers had fired a rocket at the bus, which missed and hit a nearby electric pole.

The driver of the bus carrying the Sri Lankan team, Mehar Mohammad Khalil, showed incredible bravery and performed his duty by rescuing the entire Sri Lankan team as he kept on driving a distance of about 500 metres (1,600 ft) until they reached the stadium.

Khalil was hailed as a hero for his bravery. The attackers had also thrown a grenade under the bus, which exploded after the bus had passed over it.

Off-spinner Jibran Khan Niazi has played first-class and one-day cricket for Sargodha, also playing for Pakistan University Grants Commission and Faisalabad.

When we recall the tragic incident, those behind the attack were condemned because not only did their actions deprive Pakistan of international cricket but they also killed six innocent Pakistani policemen and two civilians.

Some people blamed Indian agency RAW due to the previous history between India and Pakistan but I personally disagree, although they may have been involved in other incidents referred to by our political leaders.

The present

Pakistan has whitewashed Zimbabwe in the Twenty20 series by winning both matches and has now won the one-day series as well by winning the first two games in the three-match series.

Nevertheless, the Pakistan team is at perhaps its lowest ebb in all forms of game. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) management received plaudits by convincing Zimbabwe's cricket board to send its team to Pakistan but PCB have failed to build a strong cricket team.

The performance from this team was poor during its visit to Bangladesh, where they lost both T20 and ODI matches though winning the Test series.

The Pakistani pacers as well off-spinners failed to show their class and there was none of the improvement we were expecting given the presence of ex-cricketers as bowling coaches.

It will not out of place to mention here that the International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive Dave Richardson said some time back that "the governing body can’t do anything to help Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) restore international cricket in the country."

The PCB had therefore expected support from Asian countries to play at home, and despite Pakistan showing its willingness to play in India and other Asian countries, it seems they are not ready to play in Pakistan.

When Asian Cricket Council chief executive Ashraful Haq was asked whether his organisation would be able to help Pakistan in reviving international there, he said they can’t do anything to revive international cricket in Pakistan and this has to be done by the ICC.

It is pertinent to mention here that former ICC President Ehsan Mani had said that ICC did nothing to restore cricket in Pakistan. He said that whatever efforts have been made in this regard have been made by the PCB alone

The Pakistani spectators expressed their interest in the cricket, came in their droves and enjoyed the matches at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.

The Zimbabweans also appreciated the enthusiasm and behaviour of the spectators and security arrangements as well.

The future

I note with dismay and regret the event of a blast in Lahore and all have condemned this attack without reservation. Law enforcing agencies confirmed that a blast that claimed two lives near the stadium on Friday where the ODI was underway was a suicide attack but it was away from the venue.

Pakistan Information and Broadcasting Minister Pervaiz Rashid, confirmed that the attempt to attack was foiled by the gallantry of a police officer, who lost his life in trying to stop the attacker near Kalma Chowk.

In Pakistan, the media, particularly electronic media, realised the sensitive nature of the situation and did not break the news while the match was going on so as not to spread panic as the stadium was filled with 20,000 spectators at the time of incident.

However, the federal minister spread panic by terming it a suicidal attack but the senior police official claimed that the blast happened inside a rickshaw and forensic samples were collected from the site to determine the nature of the explosion.

Unfortunately, the attack raised questions about whether the tour by Zimbabwe, the first by an international side since the Sri Lankan team was attacked by terrorists in Lahore in 2009, would continue.

Police inspect the site of the blast - © REUTERS / Action Images

The blast occurred at 9pm when the match was already underway and it was played to its conclusion.

Zimbabwe subsequently played the third and final ODI as scheduled, having said they wereconfident that the security measures were adequate for them.

PCB Chairman Shaheryar Khan has appealed to the Asian cricket playing nations to extend their support to help further restore international cricket in Pakistan. He added that India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh should extend their co-operation.

The Zimbabwean tour will help the government and the security agencies to finalise and improve their arrangements, he said adding that after Zimbabwe tour the neighbouring Asian nations should also follow Zimbabwe.

Despite immense pressure Zimbabwe has helped restore international cricket in Pakistan by coming here and thus the cricket fans should also extend their fullest support to the visiting Zimbabwean side, he added.

I am confident the Zimbabwean visit will be considered as a milestone in the history of Pakistani cricket as they helped Pakistan to send a message to the entire world that the Pakistani nation loves cricket and knows how to protect their guests from terrorists.

What needs to happen now

The government will have to focus on finding the perpetrators of these attacks and the PCB needs to focus on developing the game in Pakistan.

The government may be advised to stop its ministers spreading panic in the wake of attacks described above.

It is my view that instead of visiting games and searching for talent at grass roots level, they are relying on viewing matches on television.

There is a need to launch a talent hunt scheme at this level and selectors should select the talented boys after watching them play - players simply have to be picked on merit.

Out with favouritism, in with a balanced and fair approach.

© Cricket World 2015