Cricket’s welcome return

May 10, 2015

Zimbabwe’s upcoming tour of Pakistan is a huge breakthrough for our cricket

Cricket’s welcome return

So Zimbabwe is coming after all. It’s a great sign and full marks to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and chairman Shaharyar Khan for pulling it off. There is much that he has to answer for when it comes to Pakistan cricket going horribly wrong but you can’t take away the fact that he makes tours possible when they seem to be withering away. He has managed to convince Zimbabwe to come over and made a deal with their board that allowed them to persuade their players to come and play in Pakistan. PCB may be doling out extra cash but the fact that a Test team is coming to Pakistan is one for the record.

Credit I feel must also go to three foreigners, all of whom are or have been a part of Pakistan cricket. First there’s Dav Whatmore who is the coach of the Zimbabwean team. He was coach of the Pakistan team for two years which were spent playing outside Pakistan. But he would live here while the Pakistan team trained and he must have put in a word or two that security is alright.

The others are the two Grants, Flower and Luden, the batting and fielding coaches respectively of the Pakistan team. Both must have given a green signal to the Zimbabweans that this is in effect not really a hard country to live in. Flower is himself a Zimbabwean while Luden is South African. Indeed their views must have been taken by the Zimbabwean players. Even if they had said a little bit about being careful at least a full strength Zimbabwe team would not be coming.

Shaharyar must, however, walk the reality street. Zimbabwe need the money and the cricket which is why they have acquiesced where other countries have declined. No one from the top eight will be suitably impressed even if the tour goes without a hitch or a security incident. To the Australians and the English and the Indians, Zimbabweans are small fry for the terrorists and if nothing happens they will simply shrug and say that they will be the target if they come.

Secondly they (minus India who don’t even play us there) have gotten used to the luxury of playing in the UAE with a night life that they find at home. Here they are normally restricted to their hotel rooms. Their players will likely not give up that option and cite the smallest indication of threat as an excuse not to come if the series is not played in the UAE.

The only way these big teams come will be when the government puts pressure on their government and cricket boards that they must now come and play here. Leave it to the players and they are unlikely to board the plane to Pakistan. And that’s a shame. This is a beautiful country with lovely people and a culture that can be a magnificent host in itself. The Pakistani crowds have been magnanimous in their appreciation of good cricket. It’s another feeling to be playing in packed stadia. The UAE can never fill them up like National Stadium or the Gaddafi.

But for now let us prepare to play host to the Zimbabweans. This time I am sure presidential level security will be given. No one will dare repeat the carelessness which the Butt administration had displayed in 2009 when no one supervised the arrangements and a couple of police mobiles accompanied the Sri Lankans on that fateful morning.

Pakistan will be under a huge scanner by the ICC. They have been generous enough to bend the rules and allow for home umpires and match referee as the ones on their panel have refused to come. But they will be watching.

As will FICA. Indeed the greatest pressure is coming from the Federation of International Cricketers Association. They have always been against sending any team to Pakistan since that incident with the Sri Lankans in 2009 and are campaigning strongly against the Zimbabwe tour.

Full marks to the Zimbabwe cricket board that they have ignored FICA completely. As it is they represent a limited number of players belonging mostly to the white countries. There have been a few instances when even India has ignored them and told them not to interfere in their affairs. Nevertheless, the Indian, Australian and English media will be giving them a lot of projection as they have of their warnings before Alastair Campbell, the CEO of the Zimbabwe cricket board, came for a day to inspect the security arrangements. Good on him that he gave the go ahead despite their warnings to him.

The slightest slackening or the smallest rumour of something fishy will be making headlines in these countries and it will be a great test of the Pakistan media that they don’t highlight small errors in security. Any such reporting will be fodder for the cannons abroad.

The big question remains as to how many security personnel will PCB stuff into the stands. Yes, this will be the greatest stress test of the Police and the Rangers, even the Pakistani army; indeed of the entire interior ministry and the intelligence bureaus. Surely there will be a policeman for every row at the Gaddafi Stadium. I fear there might even be the decision to limit the crowd.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the matches are held in daytime only though that would seriously limit viewership and even those who want to come to the ground to see the games. It would also defeat the purpose that Pakistan government and PCB has been pursuing; that Pakistani crowds are being deprived of international cricket.

However, in the end the interests of the country must remain paramount. If an international team comes, plays and leaves without incident that will in itself be a step forward for PCB and for the whole of Pakistan.

Cricket’s welcome return