Focus back on cricket for well-balanced Pakistan



The anxious period from mid-December to mid-January ended when the ACC CEO Syed Ashraful Huq confirmed Pakistan’s participation in the Asia Cup. But when the team arrived in Dhaka on February 22, there was hardly anyone talking about those three weeks as the focus quickly shifted to Pakistan’s tournament opener against Sri Lanka in Fatullah.

The PCB had never officially said they wouldn’t travel to Bangladesh but given the political tension, particularly the diplomatic row between the two countries, there was always a sense that something might go wrong. But so far since their arrival, Pakistan are happy with the security arrangements given to them by the BCB, and by extension the government.

The team manager Zakir Khan has said that the extra security has been assuring and they have felt comfortable so far. “It has been sorted out and we’ve been promised VIP security,” he said. “We’ve been here for a couple of days, and they have provided whatever we have asked for. We are quite happy.”

Their commute between the team hotel and Shere Bangla National Stadium has been given the topmost security cordon and even when they walked into the hotel after their first practice session, police lined up to clear the way inside the Hotel Sonargaon lobby.

Despite how the sentiments in Bangladesh were after the Pakistan parliament and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan condemned the death of a war criminal, there have so far been very few questions regarding politics or the diplomatic row during the team’s two interactions with the media.

When asked whether he expects support in Bangladesh like the kind the previous Pakistan teams have enjoyed here, Misbah-ul-Haq was optimistic to the point that he said it was like playing in Lahore.

“We always enjoy playing in Bangladesh,” Misbah said. “When we are supporting Bangladesh, people are supporting Bangladesh. But when we are playing against any other team, it looks like we are playing at home. It is very nice to be here, and play in the Shere Bangla National Stadium. We played the World Cup quarterfinal here in 2011. It was also a game where we felt we are in Lahore. It is good to be here.”

Misbah’s optimism doesn’t quite match the current mood in the country, but cricket is too popular in Bangladesh for this to be made a stand-alone issue. There has been a lot of support for Pakistan’s cricket team in Bangladesh over the years and when they did crush West Indies in Mirpur, that local fan-following was evident.

The other, more pertinent, task for Misbah will be to keep his relatively young side away from any further questions about these issues. The likes of Sharjeel Khan, Sohaib Maqsood, Bilawal Bhatti and Mohammad Talha are on their first tour to Bangladesh, having never even played club cricket here.

However, they played against Sri Lanka recently, and have all made an impression. Maqsood was the most impressive, batting at a 40-plus average in the five-match ODI series back in December. Sharjeel made just one half-century, but Misbah reckons that the batsman can go places.

Anwar Ali and Talha were impressive with the ball, and the latter is all set to make his ODI debut in this tournament. These two bowlers would be vital in the absence of Mohammad Irfan who sustained an injury during a domestic game.

Fawad Alam makes a comeback at the expense of Asad Shafiq while Ahmed Shehzad will look to continue his purple patch. Accompanying these youngsters are experienced heads such as Misbah, Mohammad Hafeez, Shahid Afridi, Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul and Junaid Khan. This is possibly the most balanced side in the tournament, but with a less -experienced seam attack that will be led by the in-form Junaid.

However, none of the other teams have to deal with the sort of additional responsibility thrust upon Pakistan’s players, who will have to avoid all controversies regarding political and diplomatic tensions, and keep things as normal as possible.