Back to square one. One cricket fan put it aptly to mirror the cricket scenario in Pakistan. One of the strongest member of the cricket fraternity, Pakistan suffered a blow to its efforts at hosting big international teams after the bombing incident in 2009 when the Sri Lankan team was targetted by terrorists.
For Ramiz Raja, the newly appointed chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, it has been baptism by fire. He was looking forward to hosting the New Zealand team when it suddenly decided to pull out citing security reasons. The New Zealand government took the step acting on advice from their security forces. It crippled Pakistan’s chances of hosting a top-ranked team in a long time.
“Feel so sorry for the fans and our players. Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it’s not shared. Which world is NZ living in? NZ will hear us at ICC,” an angry Raja tweeted. It hurt more since New Zealand pulled out of the tour hours before the start of the first match. Pakistan’s woes were not over because England also decided to pull out of its short tour.
“Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment and failing a member of their cricket fraternity when it needed it most. A wake up call for Pakistan team to become the best team in the world for other teams to line up to play them without making excuses,” Raja’s response spoke of his state of mind.
Former Pakistan opener Salman Butt was measured in his response. “Obviously, it hurts the game. Quality sides can bring top competition and that improves the players’ skill levels. Financial benefits also were dented for the PCB. Cricket tourists also bring business. In short, a lot is connected to teams touring any country,” he told Sportstar .
In Butt’s view, Pakistan ought to take a hard stand. “It has been a difficult time for over a decade and this adds a bit more. But Pakistan should take a solid stance on not playing their home series at neutral venues. Pakistan doesn’t have security issues like earlier. Our security agencies have done a great job.”
For veteran sports journalist, Abdul Majid Bhatti, it was not good development for the game. “It was a jolt to Pakistan cricket since New Zealand pulled out of the tour hours before the first match. The stance taken by the PCB was appreciated and garnered support from all over the world. There was no logic in New Zealand’s action. The security provided to them was on an unprecedented scale.”
Bhatti’s views were endorsed by senior cricket writer Shahid Hashmi. “I fear New Zealand has taken away tours from bigger teams to Pakistan for at least two to three years. Australia would not have toured even if the NZ thing had not happened because they will always raise the situation in Afghanistan as a problem. These are difficult times for Pakistan cricket as we feel we were used like a tissue paper and binned. But the world should know that Pakistan is the most colourful team. When they play, there is no dull moment and that’s why you can’t keep Pakistan out of the mainstream. With the passion and zeal, Pakistan will overcome this phase.”
Bhatti observed, “The ICC will have to intervene or else there could be a divide in world cricket between the big 3 (India, Australia and England) and the rest of the world. In fact, it was good to see support for Pakistan from various platforms in India. But ICC must review the issue. How will it help the game grow if teams do not travel to Pakistan? I think Pakistan has a strong case. Tough times but the PCB will find a way out.”
Even as Hashmi felt the need to keep the interest of the junior cricketers alive in Pakistan, Butt said, “Cricket comes as a natural passion to the youth. If we can manage them well and create opportunities and careers through the game, interest for cricket in Pakistan will always remain.”
Observers in Pakistan maintain that this attitude of New Zealand and England will go a long way in creating a spirit within the ranks of the Pakistan team. There was hardly any support for Pakistan in 1992 and only Sunil Gavaskar had the faith in Imran Khan’s team. Imran’s team shocked the world. It was a turning point in Pakistan cicket which grew into a formidable Test force, too.
Though the players are involved in the National T20 Cup, lack of international exposure could be an issue for the Pakistan team. The two series against New Zealand and England would have given the team management an indication of the personal forms of individuals.
Pakistan's last international engagement was a two-match Test series against the West Indies in August and the team last played a T20 International, also against the Caribbeans, on August 3.
The pressure would be on the players to quickly adapt to the challenges of the pitches. Pakistan will play two warm-up matches against the West Indies and South Africa ahead of the big clash against India in its tournament opener.
The team is keen to surprise the cricket world. As Bhatti says, “there is nothing to lose. I expect them to go flat out and play to enhance their reputation.”
Raja firmly believes that this again could be the turning point in Pakistan cricket. He wants the team to remember this humiliation and create a situation where teams would look to travel to Pakistan. And that makes Pakistan a team to watch at the forthcoming ICC World T20 Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
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