Pakistan greats celebrate return of intn’l cricket

Former Pakistan greats Javed Miandad, Zaheer Abbas and Saqlain Mushtaq look back at the success of Independence Cup against World XI and discuss the importance of international cricket returning to Pakistan.

Pakistan beat World XI by a thumping 33 runs in the final Twenty20 Friday to clinch a three-match series which marked the return of international cricket to the country.   -  AFP

 

Most cricketing nations yearn for overseas tours to improve their acumen, but Pakistan’s dream was to restore the gentleman’s game at its own backyard. The Men in Green, despite flaunting a star on their chest, couldn’t reach out to the galaxies because of the absence of international cricket in the sub-continent nation.

The terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009 — which killed six policemen and two civilians and injured six of its players — had choked cricket in Pakistan. This week, the young Pakistan squad dreamt of a renaissance, the seeds of which were planted by the ICC who invited a World XI team to take on the host for a three-match T20 series, endorsed as the Independence Cup.

The result (2-1 in Pakistan’s favour) was a momentous occurrence to mark the return of cricket to Pakistan, but the ultimate goal would be to organise more tournaments, especially Test match cricket. Former Pakistan greats, in an exclusive chat with Sportstar, discussed the larger picture.

Importance of cricket at home

“Cricket is famous in my country, as well as yours and overall in Asia with Bangladesh doing well. But our cricketers haven’t played in front of their own people for so many years. It makes a lot of difference. People in Pakistan love to see matches and back their team. It was great to watch our youngsters enjoy the game on their home turf,” said Zaheer Abbas, the former Pakistan cricket captain.

The 70-year-old started (against New Zealand at Karachi) and ended (against Sri Lanka at Sialkot) his Test career at home. His attachment to his countrymen is unparallaled. “It is a great feeling to play in front of the home crowd. The ICC provided a good beginning by sending a team comprising players from different nations. I feel they had a good time too and the stadium was packed for all three matches. People were running after tickets and it became impossible to avail them. The ones who got lucky not only cheered for their heroes, they also welcomed the World XI team,” he added.

Read: Pakistan cricketers missed playing at home, says Shoaib Akhtar

Abbas stressed that having cricket regularly will also help maintain the stadiums. “Most of the cricket grounds in Pakistan aren’t in good shape since there hasn’t been much action. If teams start touring, it will also add to the ground’s maintenance.”

Sri Lanka is set to erase the 2009 nightmare through a lone T20 match scheduled in October, followed by the visit of world champion West Indies for a three-match series in November.

Abbas also felt that the tide turned after Pakistan clinched the ICC Champions Trophy in June this year. “They are a young team and they understand the game well. Winning against anybody in any tournament is a great feeling.”

Fighting terror

Javed Miandad, may have said that cricket meant war to him in his autobiography a decade ago, but the legendary batsman (now 60) is an ambassador of peace. On the pitch, he used sledging as a tactic to disturb the opponents but off the pitch, he said he thought of cricket as a peaceful sport. “Cricket is a game of peace, it gives peace to everyone. Time changes everything. Terrorism is everywhere in the world, but I believe everybody should stand united and fight for each other,” said Miandad, who played 124 Tests and 233 ODIs for Pakistan between 1976 to 1996.

An attacking batsman of his days, who also coached Pakistan, thanked all the international cricketers who rose to the challenge. “They stand out for they got permission from their countries and associations to participate in the Independence Cup. They had seen how Pakistan suffered by not having enough cricket in the recent years.”

He called for more tours and reiterated that stopping cricket would mean giving in to the terrorists. “There was an attack in the U.K recently, but they didn’t stop playing cricket for that. You can’t do that in any country. If you stop, you are giving a chance to the terrorists. If you don’t fight it now, it will spread more,” he added.

Miandad also requested all cricketing nations to look after each other in order to create a better cricketing structure around the world. “Cricket is not only a domestic sport, it is international. We all should protect each other as a terror attack can happen anywhere,” he reasoned.

From the spin wizard

“I have all my prayers and wishes for the team. I would like to thank all the international players who came forward and involved themselves in the series. I will pray that Pakistan gets a bright cricketing future.”

— Saqlain Mushtaq (1995-2004)

 

The dark clouds seem to have passed and the focus now will be on Pakistan Cricket Board’s future plans. At present, cricket in Pakistan is likely to regenerate lost glories and fight terror; as Kapil Dev once said, “if you play good cricket, a lot of bad things get hidden.”