2010: Summer of Pakistan July 5, 2010

Pakistan's biggest summer


Shahid Afridi's men will look to gather momentum ahead of the Tests © AFP

Could this be the biggest summer in Pakistan's cricket history? Some of the hype from that other tournament in South Africa might have disturbed my logic but it's an argument that's beginning to convince. Following the humdrum of another Asia Cup and a further revival of the Pakistan-Australia T20 franchise it's easy to lose sight of the deeper meaning of a sport that for Pakistanis is often akin to life, the universe, and everything.

Indeed, BBC Radio 4's Today Programme spoke with Ramiz Raja this morning, a sure sign that something really important is taking place. Ramiz didn't disappoint. Cricket, he said, is often the only reason that a country divided by religion, politics, and ethnicity hangs together.

Now Pakistan must hang together in England, home of large numbers of expatriate Pakistanis but also a former Imperial master. In truth, Imperialism is becoming a distant memory replaced by more recent and equally divisive religious confrontations. Where cricket was once Pakistan's attempt to lance the Imperialist boil, the ECB's hand of friendship in hosting this tour has helped further recast the rationale for the Pakistan-England rivalry.

By choosing Australia as their first opponent on English home territory, Pakistan have also given a reason for English and Pakistani fans to unite over the next few weeks. And it is the fans who will be the main arbiters of the success of this neutral venue. Pakistan's enforced home exile means these neutral venues are a lifeline, and most cricket fans would surely prefer the green fields of England over the dustbowls of the Middle East.

Spectators and television viewers will determine revenues and the commercial success of Pakistan's new home. But the enthusiasm of fans is related to the quality of cricket on offer. In this regard, Pakistan cricket has had an unfortunate year since winning last year's World T20. The circumstances are well documented but the simple truth is that Pakistan have been hammered by Australia all around the globe.

For commercial success as much for the pride of fans, Pakistan must be competitive over this summer. Australia had a stuttering start to their own tour but have begun to rediscover their power play. A good start to this summer is essential because, as the winter Down Under proved, this Pakistan squad can fall apart over the course of a long tour.

Hence, while at face value we approach another routine T20 series, it is yet another significant contest for Pakistan. Shahid Afridi's team will want to build some momentum before next week's Test series opener at Lord's, which in turn will be expected to ready Pakistan for the subsequent away clash against England.

Pakistan fans have reasons for optimism, in T20 cricket at least. It has become Pakistan's strongest format, reflected by the squad selected. The two to watch are Shahzaib Hasan, a World Cup winner who was inexplicably discarded but has won his place back, and Shoaib Akhtar, making another comeback against all expectations.

Shahzaib is a fierce striker and compulsive shot-maker, whose run of form will be tested by Australia. Shoaib, as ever, has something to prove, not least that he can work with Afridi. Yet a four-over burst has always been Shoaib's optimal distance, and he adds a further dimension to a Pakistan attack that probably has the edge over Australia's in T20 cricket.

It is in T20 cricket that Pakistan have pushed Australia closest over the last year, although any true Pakistan fan will have blanked from memory the horror of the most recent encounter. Whenever Pakistan have sensed victory Australia's iron will has crushed their ambition. Pakistan cricketers and Pakistan cricket need to break free--and this is the tour that will liberate or incarcerate.

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