A union of the spirits of cricket and commerce
|England, whose multicultural credentials are reinforced each day, is the country most able to support neutral internationals © Getty Images|
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the needs of commerce have invented a new form of cricket sponsorship. Gone are brewers, banks, and airlines. Enter the Marylebone Cricket Club, the most illustrious club in the world of cricket, the owners of the home of cricket, and new best friends of the Pakistan Cricket Board; egg and bacon ties sponsoring the egg and paratha loving cricket team.
First, a reservation: a sponsorship deal is never an act of pure charity. There has to be something in it for the sponsor. In the modern era of international sport, that something has to have a component of financial gain. The MCC has seen the commercial opportunity of hosting more international matches at Lord’s. A new honours board for neutral matches and soundbites from the media launch suggest neutral Tests will become a regular feature of an English Summer. This sponsorship is under the banner of the spirit of cricket but is also in the spirit of commerce.
Unless additional use turns the Lord’s turf into the ploughed field of Wembley, this is a commercial move that must be welcomed. One or two international matches each season are insufficient opportunity for spectators to view the highest standard of cricket at the most appealing venue. England, whose multicultural credentials are reinforced each day, is the country most able to support neutral internationals. Lord’s is a venue that puts the deserts of Arabia and the skating clubs of Canada to the sword.
The MCC’s intervention is also a helping hand. Who’d have imagined that the MCC would play a role in saving Pakistan cricket? Certainly not Idris Baig, the unfortunate Pakistani umpire debagged by MCC players on their first tour of Pakistan. The PCB requires revenue for survival. Pakistan’s cricketers require top international cricket to develop—and I’d prefer that development in the testing environment of an English summer than the comfort of an Eastern dustbowl.
The PCB, for all its notions that the world is set against it, should be grateful to all the nations who have prolonged its survival, and masked its incompetence, by offering a venue for international matches. The best method of repaying that favour is with competitive cricket supported by a full house.
With Australia as the opposition, we can be sure of half of that: English and Pakistani fans will unite to make Lord’s anything but a neutral venue. Imagine last year’s World T20 Final but several degrees worse for Pakistan’s opposition. I’m making a special request for a return of the Pakistani bus. But that requires a performance from the players which, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, is a known unknown.
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Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here