2010: Summer of Pakistan November 19, 2009

English cricket embraces Pakistan

It’s usually easy, and often fair, to criticise administrators, but this is one initiative that should earn plaudits for those responsible, as well as those showing solidarity at a time when it is fashionable to knock Pakistan and its people

The history of cricket relations between England and Pakistan is a tale of unpleasant controversy. From the early days when an MCC touring party debagged a Pakistani umpire, doused him with water, and left him to run home naked, our cup runneth over with disagreement and general nastiness.

Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana, Chris Broad and Lahore cricket stumps, Ian Botham and mothers-in-law, Imran Khan and David Constant, Imran Khan and Ian Botham, Norman Tebbit and his cricket test. Javed Miandad and Aaqib’s jumper, Mike Atherton and buffoon journalists, the Two Ws and ball tampering, Inzamam and The Oval, a glorious catalogue of conflict and disrespect.

Now these might have just been the growing pains of a young country coming of age or the frustration of an imperial power seething at the uppity behaviour of a former colony. The socio-political analysis could take 50 years to write. The outcome, however, of each spat has been to strain the relationships between cricketers, cricket boards, and populations—both native and expatriate.

Enter Giles Clarke, Urdu speaking chairman of the ECB, and the man who has extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan cricket in its time of crisis. Clearly, hosting next year’s series between Pakistan and Australia will be beneficial to the ECB, but the main purpose is to offer Pakistan cricket a safe haven in the midst of its firestorm. This will be achieved through the PCB effectively running the series with help from the ECB, and taking the lion’s share of ticket and television revenue.

These issues matter less to Pakistan fans, especially the many hundreds of thousands in England, than the prospect of seeing their team in regular action. It’s the cricket that matters. Pakistan fans will want to see a strong, confident side tackle Australia and England next summer, and the current captaincy shambles is especially unwelcome at this moment of optimism. Another concern is that the PCB will find some extraordinary way to look this gift horse in the mouth and smash its teeth.

At the launch event for Pakistan’s “home” series against Australia, a landmark home series that will have Lord’s at its epicentre, Giles Clarke declared that relations between the ECB and PCB have never been better, and reiterated his desire to support Pakistan cricket at this time of crisis. He has backed his words with actions. The series will take place. Former England captains Mike Atherton and Mike Brearley, John Barclay of the MCC, and David Morgan of the ICC, all supported the event and the desire to ensure the survival of Pakistan cricket.

It’s usually easy, and often fair, to criticise administrators, but this is one initiative that should earn plaudits for those responsible, as well as those showing solidarity at a time when it is fashionable to knock Pakistan and its people. The Pakistani community in the United Kingdom now needs to respond by making next year’s tours a thunderous success. Pass that test and we may see Pakistan back in 2011 to take on India.

Love spreads.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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