Is this really international cricket’s homecoming?
“Amid the media’s uproar over the event, questions regarding the financial drain, the metropolis’ lockdown and the decline in local business activities over the weekend are the things that need to be answered notwithstanding the fact that all state machinery has been involved to make this one match successful.”
After much speculation, drama, zing and controversy, the finale of the second edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL) will be held today at Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium. The successful hosting of this event would no doubt be a highlight in the country’s cricketing history, as it’s been deprived of international cricket for about eight years courtesy the terror attack on Sri Lankan team bus in March, 2009. The cricket crazy nation has missed this sport on its soil.
Considering the recent spate of terrorism that hit the country, there was much speculation about holding the PSL final at home but Punjab government and Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) finally took the bold step of hosting it in the heart of Punjab with PSL Chairman Najam Sethi’s promise to hold the next final in Karachi. While this move was seen by many as a step towards the revival of international cricket in Pakistan and the proof of the nation’s resilience to terrorism, it also raised objections by many in the political circle with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan leading the criticism and calling it “madness”. The PTI leader and former cricketer not only opposed holding the PSL final in Lahore but has also refused to attend it. Former cricketer Javed Miandad also joined Khan – raising concern over a dark future of cricket in the country if something bad happens.
Like in every trial and tribulation, this time too, Pakistan Army has jumped for rescue and has extended complete support to Punjab government in providing security for the final match. According to the security plan issued by Punjab government, five-tier security will be accorded to both the teams playing the final while heavy contingents of police, army and Rangers will guard the city to avoid any untoward incident.
Amid the media’s uproar over the event, questions regarding the financial drain, the metropolis’ lockdown and the decline in local business activities over the weekend are the things that need to be answered notwithstanding the fact that all state machinery has been involved to make this one match successful. Also, there is still no guarantee of the international cricket coming back to the country since three mainstream international players of Quetta Gladiators, including Kevin Pietersen, Tymal Mills and Luke Wright, have already pulled out of the event besides commentators and other crew members. Although Najam Sethi has promised that both of the finalist teams will have four foreign players each, what good would it do if all the A-category players have already refused to land in Pakistan?
Commenting on this, former PCB Chairman Muhammad Zaka Ashraf said that international cricket could not be restored through PSL, and that, in fact, the value of PSL itself would be damaged when only retired and third class players would come. In this way, the PSL franchise holders will face a loss.
“Moreover,” he explained, “with the involvement of all the state machinery, the world is getting a message that Pakistan cannot even hold a single match.”
Criticising PCB and PSL management, Ashraf said that they took this immediate decision after the PSL spot-fixing case surfaced to make the upset cricket fans happy without any homework. “They don’t know how to work, they only know how to speak on electronic media. “They don’t have a plan for the restoration of international cricket. The teams of Bangladesh, West Indies, Sri Lanka and others should have been invited successively after Zimbabwe team’s tour for this purpose but they have no futuristic plan”, the ex PCB chairman added.
Former cricketer Javed Miandad said “This is a festival match and entertainment cricket, only meant to earn money. International cricket cannot come back with one match. For the restoration of international cricket, you have to go through a complete process.”
“The PTI leader and former cricketer not only opposed holding the PSL final in Lahore but has also refused to attend it. Former cricketer Javed Miandad also joined Khan – raising concern over a dark future of cricket in the country if something bad happens.”
“It is not an achievement to hold a match if no top international players are coming to Pakistan,” he added, pointing out that it was these cricketers who people actually wanted to see. “The international players believe in life, they want to enjoy their life. Only we Pakistanis take a chance against our lives. People have political interests in this match but if God forbid any mishap takes place, we will go 20 years back,” Miandad said.
“The decision to hold the final in Lahore was taken in the middle of the tournament without considering its implications. This shows where you stand, and your commitment towards international players since they were in a contract for playing in Dubai only. You have to plan at initial stages on who can come and who cannot. Attract them by giving additional incentives and ensuring their security and then ask for their help to turn down the threats. This needs strong lobbying which we lack,” the former cricketer lamented, comparing the ex-cricketers to a “retired army”.
Miandad went on to say that the tour of Zimbabwe team was better than this as this league is not even recognized by the International Cricket Council (ICC). “This is only family cricket. If there is good cricket, people would come to watch it. People would come here only because of the hype that has been created. Who plays cricket like this? Cricket demands peace and a free mind while we can only see a chaos here,” he said.
Similarly, sports journalist Mirza Iqbal Baig said that international cricket is not coming back to the country the way they are expecting because it is only a three-hour match and it is foolish to host one match in this tight security. This will be limited to a local final.
He used the example of Quetta Gladiators to illustrate his point. “It has suffered a lot while the other qualifying team will also not have its top players which will be a set-back for the tournament. This will affect the match as it will no more remain an international one and there’s no benefit of it if only second or third tier players would come,” the journalist said.
“PSL’s beauty and excitement that began from 9 February has ended. The momentum that was built in Dubai has been disturbed. People would come to the final but the security measures, parking issues and tickets frenzy don’t have any good implications. I believe this was a wrong decision. The PCB should have waited, they have only done it in their obstinacy and stubbornness,” Baig added.
Despite all the opposition and criticism it is facing, the successful hosting of this match will definitely help project a soft image of Pakistan abroad as it has become much more than a cricket match. It now involves politics and has become a matter of writ of state. But the fact still remains that mere one match is not enough to claim the homecoming of international cricket, it needs much more planning and consideration. Let’s hope this is the first step of the ladder leading towards more cricket in Pakistan.