Sports as a political and image building tool
Congratulations Pakistan, for the confidence in hosting an international match in Lahore, after a long gap. The last match was held in 2009 in Lahore, against the same opponent. A terrorist attack on the bus carrying Sri Lankan players had stopped other teams from visiting Pakistan ever since. Until yesterday.
And congratulations Sri Lanka, for the courage in accepting to play again in Pakistan. Though none of the players who played the T-20 yesterday was a part of the 2009 team, there should have been enough discussions amongst the Sri Lankan players of the Lahore attack. To be fair to the Sri Lankan team management, it did give the option to players to play or not in Pakistan.
So, has Cricket returned to Pakistan? Ever since 2009, Pakistan has been playing international matches in UAE, including test matches. It is unfortunate, that some of the contemporary legends of Pakistan’s Cricket – Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq could not play their final matches in Pakistan, in front of home crowd, before bidding goodbye to the game.
Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah have become the venues for Pakistan’s international matches. Pakistan played against England, West Indies and now Sri Lanka in the Gulf. Even yesterday’s match – was a part of a bilateral series with Sri Lanka scheduled in UAE. Players flew in and flew out in 24 hrs to play the match in Lahore. Teams would be hesitant to play in a ground without enough time for warming up.
The reason for the long gap is security and the fear of terrorist attack. Not only Pakistan, other countries in South Asia have also faced the same issue; teams, after accepting to play in the region, have cancelled the tours. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have improved the security situation, resulting in Cricket returning.
For Pakistan, to attract teams from outside South Asia, for example, Australia and New Zealand, the situation has to improve further. Even the Pakistan Super League early this year had to be played in UAE, sometimes even with an empty stand. Only the final match of PSL 2017 could be played in Lahore. Also, the visitors should have the confidence to play across the country, and not only in Lahore. All three matches of between Pakistan and “World Eleven” in September 2017 were played in Lahore. And the visitors should also have the confidence to play a full series in Pakistan; international matches cannot be scheduled with a fly in and fly out in 24 hours just to play T-20 contest.
A beginning has been made now in Lahore. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) under Najam Sethi has been desperate to get Cricket back to the country. For the players, matches in front of a home crowd provide tremendous confidence, especially for the young ones. For the PCB, it helps financially to build its bank balance. One of the reasons that the PCB has been threatening the ICC to pressurize India to resume bilateral matches revolves around the financial gains – from local advertisements to TV rights. A financially sound PCB could improve Pakistan’s local cricket infrastructure and also pay better for its players. Apparently, Sarfaraz Ahmed, the captain of Pakistan’s Cricket team has a basic salary lesser than an Irish player!
For the country, playing within Pakistan helps to improve its international image. PCB cannot do much, unless the situation improves across the board. Given the passion and support for Cricket within Pakistan, it is imperative that the State works further on the issue. After all, isn’t Cricket the only secular activity, that draws widespread support cutting across generations in Pakistan?
Back to the main question – has Cricket returned to Pakistan? A long way to go, but Lahore is a beginning.