Corridor of uncertainty


We need more home cricket series


March 3, 2009 will always be remembered as the ‘darkest day’ in the history of international cricket! And the day cricket became almost comatose in Pakistan. Who can possibly forget that it was the same godforsaken day when unidentified persons opened fire on a bus carrying the Sri Lankan team, injuring six of their players, and ending the lives of around six members of our law enforcing agencies, apart from severely injuring a few others.

It goes without saying that the diabolical incident not only affected our national cricket team, but also quaked the already crumbling domestic cricket structure in Pakistan. In 2011, the chance of hosting the biggest event in the world of cricket – the World Cup — went begging. It is, perhaps, almost impossible to ascertain the damage Pakistan cricket has suffered in these turbulent six years.

But did we see it dampening the spirits of the cricket team, irreparably, and disregarding the grief-stricken nation of cricket lovers, indefinitely?

The answer to that is a big fat no and as proof of the same, we have seen our cricket team – within three months of the nefarious attack — lifting the 2009 T-20 Cricket World Cup, and winning a few significant series over the years (needless to say that the recent series against Sri Lanka was very crucial), in spite of there being no home ground advantage.

We have seen our cricket team – within three months of the nefarious attack — lifting the 2009 T-20 Cricket World Cup

However, we have also seen our beloved (debatable!) Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)’s desperate efforts, under the shadow of controversies (including a few that were self-inflicted), to revive international cricket in Pakistan, coming to naught.

And when everything seemed dark and gloomy (a phase PCB is too familiar with) an international cricket team had the commendable grit to tour Pakistan. Needless to say, this team was recommended to postpone its tour to Pakistan, in light of the recent horrific attack in Karachi, a week before its arrival in Lahore.

It is the same team against which the invariably flamboyant Imran Khan, during our glory days, had refused to play, allegedly referring to it as a ‘B Grade’ team.

So, which ‘B Grade’ team was it, after all? It is the same team whose confirmation to tour Pakistan gave a chance – to every cricket buff in the country — to become a part of history as it was being rewritten. This team was Zimbabwe.

Two T-20s and three ODIs between Pakistan and Zimbabwe meant much more than a regular cricket series between the two cricketing nations, and probably a grand victory for the PCB. The series, apart from ‘reigniting the unremembered passion’ for international cricket in Pakistan, provided an opportunity to many of our players to experience the pressure (read pleasure) of an international match before the home crowd for the first time ever. And cricket fanatics from every province flocked around the Gaddafi Stadium to get hold of the tickets, without bothering about the specifics of the enclosures or number of tickets available.

Since March 2009, PCB had been forced to use the UAE stadiums as a substitute ‘home’ for its international commitments, which in turn forced the entire nation to watch the games on TV. I was not in the UAE stadium to watch Abdul Razzaq’s blistering innings of 109 against South Africa. I watched England’s whitewash on a laptop. And I did not witness Misbah scoring the fastest test century against the Australians. However, I did watch our cricket team play on the home turf against Zimbabwe after waiting for six long years.

In the scorching heat of May I, along with a wave of spectators hoisting flags, in a relentless pursuit to own the best seats, ended up outside the iconic Gaddafi stadium, to watch the second T-20 match, a good two hours before the real ‘entertainment’ started. The feeling, while walking through Gate No 2 with hundreds of enthusiastic cricket-loving Pakistanis to witness a match of the historic series, is not easy to pen down. It just cannot be described! It was a place like no other!

However, while I am immensely proud of the fact that PCB, under the chairmanship of Shehreyar Khan, did what it possibly could do to bring Zimbabwe to tour Pakistan, and ensured that the team stayed ‘safe’ and ‘sound’ (and why would not it – it was given the status of ’state guests’, after all!), but I am, for lack of better words, disgusted and disappointed by PCB’s decision of withdrawing from a prospective triangular series against Zimbabwe and West Indies, simply to avoid the play-off against West Indies.

As a passionate and patriotic cricket follower, I tried to understand and defend the rationale behind this decision, albeit half-heartedly. It is well known that PCB had not officially committed to the ODI tri-series with either Zimbabwe or West Indies and that the board needed to and must protect its own interests first. Yet, is it not against the spirit of the game? Is it not cowardly to refuse to play against the West Indies, leaving them hopeless only because we have barely qualified for ICC Champions Trophy 2017?

Fortune most certainly favours the brave. And in light of these future possibilities – PCB’s cowardice may cost us heavily

Despite my everlasting love for cricket and Pakistan, I still think and feel (wholeheartedly) that PCB should have played against West Indies and that too in Pakistan! To give them a chance to qualify for the ICC Champions Trophy 2017. Such a decision would not have made us look like quitters, instead a second successful series in a single year would have tremendously helped PCB in reviving international cricket in Pakistan, which, in my ignorant opinion, is far more important than competing for the Champions Trophy.

A dispassionate analysis of the situation paints the picture as it can actually be: If the WCB and BCCI negotiations are successful and West Indies wins the series against India 2-1, Pakistan will have to win all the matches against Zimbabwe to qualify for the Champions Trophy in 2017. Keeping in mind our team’s unpredictability, irrespective of any other team’s talent or urge to win, we could easily lose a game and/or the entire series without remorse, too!

Fortune most certainly favours the brave. And in light of these future possibilities – PCB’s cowardice may cost us heavily!

It is clear, without a shadow of a doubt, that PCB’s efforts to revive international cricket in Pakistan have finally yielded some results and will continue to do so. However, PCB’s pessimistic and sceptical approach could become a self-induced stumbling block in reclaiming our numero uno slot.

The historic series against Zimbabwe serves as an example for the entire cricketing world to follow, but at the same time PCB needs to show unflinching determination till #cricketcomeshome in the true sense of the word. Till then we bleed green!