Pakistan Cricket Board: No more international cricket at neutral venues

“We play cricket in Pakistan [and if] you want to play against Pakistan you have to come to Pakistan,” declares PCB chairman Ehsan Mani.

The Pakistan team at a practice session at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium. Test cricket’s drought ends in the country this week with a three-match series against Sri Lanka.   -  AP

Pakistan will no longer look for neutral venues to stage home international cricket matches.

“The onus will be on the other teams to tell us why they can’t play in Pakistan,” Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “Our default position will remain that Pakistan is safe. We play cricket in Pakistan [and if] you want to play against Pakistan you have to come to Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s decade-long isolation from hosting Test cricket ends on Wednesday when Sri Lanka will play at Pindi Cricket Stadium. The second Test will be in Karachi from December 19-23. The series is part of the World Test Championship.

Sri Lanka was the last team to play a Test in Pakistan in 2009. Terrorists attacked the team’s bus in Lahore and eight people were killed. Several Sri Lanka players and team officials were injured. The ambush shut the door on international cricket in Pakistan. The PCB organised almost all of its home matches in the United Arab Emirates.

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In the last four years, the PCB staged short limited-overs tours against the likes of Zimbabwe, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and a World XI to show the cricket world it could host tours safely. Sri Lanka agreed to play two Test matches in Pakistan only after it visited Karachi and Lahore three months ago and played an incident-free series of one-day internationals and Twenty20s.

‘Only logical that cricket comes home’

“It’s only logical that cricket comes home,” Mani said. “People have a perception of Pakistan which is very, very different to the reality of what is happening on the ground in Pakistan today. The concerns that people had about Pakistan, certainly for the last year or two, were not what the ground reality is.”

Top cricketing officials from Australia, England, Ireland, and the international players’ association have visited Pakistan in the last six months. “When they see the ground reality, it’s a different attitude,” Mani said. “In fact, it was very nicely put by the chief executive of Cricket Ireland. He said, ‘I have to think of a reason why we shouldn’t be coming to Pakistan.’”

Ehsan Mani: "Our default position is that Pakistan will play all its home matches in Pakistan." Photo: AP


Mani said he has had discussions with officials from Cricket Australia and England and Wales Cricket Board and he hoped that both countries will tour Pakistan in the next three years. “I am absolutely confident that in 2021 we’ll have England and in 2022 we’ll have Australia,” he said.

“We’re not due to play New Zealand now till about 2023-24, but our default position is that Pakistan will play all its home matches in Pakistan.”

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Despite the impending return of Test cricket, Mani conceded there might not be a capacity crowd for the Test, in stark contrast to the packed stadiums in Lahore in October when Sri Lanka whitewashed Pakistan 3-0 in the T20 series. “Look, Test cricket had been losing [crowd] support in the subcontinent, in fact around the world apart from England and Australia,” he said.

“People prefer to go and watch the white-ball cricket (T20s and ODIs) but it doesn’t mean that people don’t follow Test cricket. You’ll probably find that people watch Test cricket at home on television and through the telephone or whatever these days as much as they’ve ever done. We haven’t had much time to do the marketing for this (Rawalpindi Test) but going forward we’re going to be working very hard to ensure that we can get young people in with the schools and college students, support them to come at little or no cost, give them exposure to cricket.”

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