Significant progress has been made in Pakistan but there is plenty of work still to do
Step-by-step, Pakistan Cricket is making admirable progress in bringing its national game back to home soil. The country is gradually regaining the trust and confidence of the cricketing community, with it being fundamental these ongoing strides continue. Following the Men in Green’s 3-0 T20I whitewash over West Indies in Karachi, captain Sarfraz Ahmed claimed that international teams now have no excuses left to use over not wanting to travel to, play and tour Pakistan.
The wicket-keeper batsman is a role model figure for millions of people and you cannot fault his desire to restore cricketing order to his country once and for all — but he is looking beyond the bigger picture. Pakistan is not there yet, there is still plenty of work to do and this process shouldn’t be rushed.
It has taken nine years since the 2009 terror attack on the touring Sri Lankan team bus for Pakistan to reach the point where they are today. For some, that may seem like a long time but the Pakistan Cricket Board had to start from scratch and their long-term vision and plan needed support. Indeed, their actions have been justified to date.
In 2017, the coveted Pakistan Super League final was held in Lahore (the rest of the tournament took place in Pakistan’s adopted home of the UAE), a World XI side played out three twenty-over clashes against Pakistan in the same city and Sri Lanka returned to complete their series on Pakistan shores with a solitary T20. This year, both the PSL semi-finals were hosted in Lahore and the showpiece final in Karachi, all without incident. A resounding triumph.
Evaluating Pakistan’s success so far
If you had to measure the progress using a graph, the linear curve would be straight, climbing steadily with no sudden peaks or troughs. This constitutes both the continuity and consistency that is required moving forward, irrespective of how long it takes for international cricket and teams to become regular visitors again.
Presidential-style security has underpinned this, with international stars like Darren Sammy, Evin Lewis, Steven Finn, Chris Jordan, Luke Ronchi and JP Duminy all travelling to the country under the highest form of surveillance for the PSL. The same arrangements were deployed for West Indies, with visiting teams and players given Guest of State treatment — the highest level of protection possible.
With the Pakistan international side travelling to Ireland, England and Scotland next month to contest Tests and T20s fixtures, the PCB have a break in play to re-evaluate the success of those matches hosted in Pakistan and form the next blueprint. Ultimately, the first goal has to be to play at least half of the 2019 edition of the PSL in Pakistan.
The UAE has been a reliable base but costs have spiralled and attendance figures have been low, aside from clashes in Sharjah. For Pakistani cricket to truly thrive, their marquee event needs to mimic that of the Indian Premier League.
Work is underway to make this possible and there is a big responsibility on overseas players — who have collected large sums of money from the tournament — to commit to matches in Pakistan and not have opt-out contractual clauses like we have seen with Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan and Shane Watson. This links back to the recent series, which saw a second-string West Indies side turn up and not perform — which is far from the benchmark. If the game’s elite international talent aren’t travelling to Pakistan, the operation becomes more and more complex.
Spread the word
An element of advocacy is needed from those foreign players that have played in the country. West Indies all-rounder Sammy has obviously led the way, particularly on social media, promoting his experience and eulogising about the packed houses. Windies coach Stuart Law also reserved high praise for how his team was treated in the three limited-overs clashes. Positive testimonials strike a chord. International cricketers obviously talk to one another and make choices on where and what they will play based on how well looked after they are, numerical incentives and competition value. Here, the PSL needs to be a regular part of the conversation and that can lead to greater communication channels with boards from Australia and England in trying to secure visits of the so-called bigger international sides, too.
Cricket tours are a different animal
The matches that have taken place on Pakistan ground have been one-offs or back-to-back affairs, with teams flying in just before the match and then flying straight out. The country has shown they can take care of this but a long cricket tour inclusive of warm-up matches, travel in-between cities and regular net sessions is far more challenging. Naturally, cricket teams are a target given they are a vast travelling party, carry a bucket load of equipment and it is fairly easy to get to know their itinerary and even the hotel they are staying in.
As a direct result, Pakistan management and planning forces will need to show that they can apply the same security and practical arrangements across multiple cities, on different days, to replicate that of an international tour. It’s doable but it takes a lot of time to put these greater assurances in place.