Revival of Cricket in Pakistan after six years of drought

Zimbabwe cricket team became the first full member nation of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to tour Pakistan after six years of drought

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Zimbabwe cricket team became the first full member nation of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to tour Pakistan after six years of drought. There’s been no such tour since March 2009, when terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team at the Liberty Chowk, Lahore, en route to Qaddafi stadium, leaving several Sri Lankan players injured, and a number of security personnel and civilians killed.

During the upcoming series, Zimbabwe will play three one-day internationals (ODI), and two T/20 matches at the Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore, named after the former Libyan dictator.

This visit will help in the return of international cricket to Pakistan. The country’s test cricket team captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, has described it as a ‘big joy.’ Talking to ESPNcricinfo, he said, “I am really happy about that. At least something is happening for which people and players had been waiting for. It’s a big joy for all of Pakistan cricket fans, players and for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) officials.”

Haq was part of the Pakistani team when the Sri Lanka team were attacked by terrorists. “The attack on Sri Lankan team was the one thing he wanted to ‘forget’ from his cricketing life,” Misbah told ESPNcricinfo.

Since then, March 03, 2009, foreign teams refused to tour Pakistan over security fears. Pakistan was barred from hosting the 2011 World Cup and ICC Champions Trophy. While no foreign cricket teams were visiting the country, Pakistan played its ‘home’ series in United Arab Emirates, (UAE).

Last week, a delegation of the Zimbabwe cricket team visited Lahore to review security arrangements put in place by the PCB. Headed by Zimbabwe Cricket Director General, Alistair Campbell, a former test cricketer, the delegation, visited Qaddafi stadium and the security control room. Later Campbell expressed his satisfaction over the security arrangements. “Most advanced security system was installed in the security control room,” he told media persons in Lahore.

“We will provide fool-proof security to the [host] team,” said Inspector General Punjab Police, Mushtaq Sukhera. “General public will come and watch the cricket matches between Pakistan and Zimbabwe and security will be provided to everybody,” added Sukhera.

The Chairman, Executive Committee of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Member of the PCB Governing Board, Najam Sethi, said Pakistan cricket had gone through its worst phase over the last six years, after they were deprived of hosting the international competition on home turf.

“We have not played enough international cricket at home over the last six years. We have had very little international exposure while playing our home series’ away from home in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. This impacted our players very badly and we were not able to build a team truly capable of competing in the international competitions, including the World Cup,” said Sethi.

“This visit by the Zimbabwean team will surely help us wipe off the stigma of terrorism that we have been stuck with for the last six years, after that unfortunate terror strike against the visiting Sri Lankan team in Lahore. So, this visit by the Zimbabwean team will not only herald the international cricket to Pakistan after a long gap but at the same time it will give a loud and clear political message to the rest of the world that Pakistan is a safe country to visit and play cricket here,” added Sethi .

The Zimbabwe team will play all of their matches in Lahore, which is bit of disappointment for Pakistani fans. “I was a bit disappointed that all the matches will be played in Lahore at the single venue of our beautiful Qaddafi Stadium and none in Pindi,” said Mobarik Ahmed Virk, adding that, “I have already made plans with my friends to travel to Lahore to watch these matches.

“We will go even if we have to crawl all the way to Lahore to watch this cricket live, not on the TV screens but in the ground,” he said. “I will be free to clap, shout, jump and dance like I have gone mad. I have craved to do all this for the long six years and nobody can deny me this pleasure now,” said the jubilant Virk.

Total absence of international cricket has also harmed domestic cricket in Pakistan. First Pakistan showed a bad performance in the Cricket World Cup 2015, where it was defeated by Australia in the quarter-final and later Pakistan faced its cricket history’s worst defeat at the hands of Bangladesh. Bangladesh humiliated Pakistan by defeating 3-0 in ODI whereas 1-0 T/20 cricket.

Pakistan’s cricket team coach, Waqar Younis - great fast bowler of his time - warned that cricket could die out in the country if international teams continued to stay away from the country. Talking to AFP he said: “The biggest hurt is that we are not able to stage international matches,” adding that he feared the game might die out as they “lack talent at junior level and it’s tough to indulge kids in cricket. It’s a very important aspect.”

“We have to bring international cricket back and the government has to help in this regard,” he said.

The upcoming series is a test case for the Pakistani cricket. If it [Pakistan] succeeded in organizing the series well, it may also help in attracting other teams. Winning or losing will not matter for Pakistan, but the security arrangements will.

Pakistanis have missed watching cricket on their grounds for a long time, and Zimbabwe has shown great courage to agree to be the first to return to the country - a kind of first step for the revival of cricket in Pakistan.

Intikhab Alam, director Domestic cricket said: “It is a big breakthrough, as no foreign cricket team has visited since last six years. The credit goes to the hierarchy (high officials) of PCB who after successful negotiation invited foreign team. After this visit with God willing other teams will start visiting Pakistan. It was much needed and it is done now. If the series is successfully organized it will be great achievement for PCB.”

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