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August 5, 2013

Who is to blame for Pakistan's lack of Test fixtures?

Hassan Cheema
Pakistan's next away series against a major opposition is scheduled for December 2015, by when many of their current stars may have retired  © Getty Images
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Across the ocean from the all-consuming Ashes, Pakistan and West Indies played in a rather unique venture - a bilateral ODI series that proved entertaining. Of course, like all recent Pakistani encounters it had its dollops of mediocrity and mind-numbing nothingness; but it did provide evidence of why entertaining sport is usually provided either by sustained excellence or performing equivalence.

But Pakistani eyes are also focused on England, where a big enough series win for the home side would propel Pakistan above Australia to fourth in the ICC Test rankings. The rankings take into account performances in the previous four years, with the latter two counting for more - and while Pakistan only have the fifth-best win-loss ratio over the last four years, they are second only to South Africa in the last two. Of course, fourth place is nothing to be celebrated, despite all evidence to contrary provided in English football every May, but it does provide something for Pakistan to hold on to. The reason for that is the 2017 World Test Championship - where, however, the presence of Pakistan may not be economically beneficial to the cabal of three.

Thus Pakistan have something to defend, except they have nowhere to defend it. Pakistan's prize for clean-sweeping the No. 1 team in the world was a grand total of three Tests over the following 12 months (and three more in next six). It is a state of affairs that several members of the Pakistani team object to. In their words, the last thing a team in form, especially one with most of its players in the latter halves of their career, needs is a sustained period, or two, of inactivity.

A reading of the Future Tours Programme doesn't bode well for Pakistan; their next away series against anyone other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh is in New Zealand, scheduled for December 2015! So Pakistan will go 34 months without a single Test that will test their adaptability. And this in an era when we are told there is non-stop international cricket. By the time that series against New Zealand starts, the stars of the current team (Misbah, Younis, Ajmal, and maybe Irfan) would almost certainly have retired - which means Pakistan will replace them and blood a new generation without ever knowing how good they really are.

The FTP was announced as far back as 2011, and under it each of India, Australia and England will play 90 or more Tests over its eight-year span, and Pakistan 66. This is something that should have set off alarm bells, but it got hardly any traction.

Perhaps Pakistan could have an off-season Test series away to Australia 12 months from now, but that would demand communication skills and planning from the PCB of the sort that they have never had the inclination to attempt.

This is a new sensation for Pakistan, who for most of the past three and a half decades were considered "attractive" option by other boards. Maybe Pakistan need to learn from Sri Lanka, who didn't get any respect despite winning a world championship (cricket might be the only sport where such a thing occurs). A glance at the career of Kumar Sangakkara, for example, is proof of the esteem that Sri Lanka are held in. Despite having played in 14 Tests outside Asia that were second matches of series, Sangakkara has only ever played five third Tests, and never a fourth. Sri Lanka epitomised the rise of the two-match Test series, because hosting them is apparently not economically beneficial.

This is not a tirade against the BCCI or the other two - there are enough of those as it is. The debates over BCCI matters has become like any religious debate: believers on one side, non-believers on the other, neither willing to give an inch regardless of how sagacious the other party's points are. The truth is that while the bigger boards are condescendingly cruel to the other nations (especially the teams outside the top eight), the smaller boards have an inclination towards death too, as Munir Niazi so nearly said.

Nothing better encapsulates this than the goings-on of the past few months. This summer was supposed to provide two riveting Test series. South Africa were to start their Asian odyssey in Sri Lanka, where they haven't won a series since 1993; to prove that they could succeed in Asian conditions, and pass the test of greatness. On the other side of the world, Pakistan were to travel to West Indies, hoping to win their first Test series there. Both home nations would have used these series to continue being competitive in Test cricket - which they weren't as recently as two years ago. Instead what we had was the postponement/cancellation of the two series to accommodate an economically beneficial tri-series involving West Indies, Sri Lanka and India that no one outside of Dhoni diehards will remember six months from now.

You can't really blame the boards for this; the finances of many of the smaller boards just aren't in shape to afford them the chance to turn down a possible series against India, never mind the romantic ideals of Test cricket. The questions that need to be asked are of the ICC and the watching public. There was no hue and cry, no effigies burnt, no op-eds about the death of Test cricket, nothing from the defenders of the English game; just a shrug of the shoulder from those few who actually heard - or cared - about the story. Welcome to the world outside of the cabal.

And it's a lesson to the players and fans involved in all these countries. The next time Sangakkara complains about not having home Tests, the next time Misbah complains about not playing enough Test cricket, the next time fans from these countries put the blame at the feet of the BCCI, one should remind them all that their boards are to be blamed - these men in air-conditioned offices who put on the garb of impecuniousness that allows them to not care for the game in their countries while remaining irreproachable. It is also the ICC that has allowed this imbalance in cricket to flourish.

These men who treat the players in their unique ways (SL, WI and Pak have all had board-player disputes in the last five years), who create systems that produce players who are unfit for international competition, who market cricket in such a way that they get sparse crowds for international matches in countries where cricket is the foremost sport (not that they are the only ones plagued by this lack); it is these men who must be blamed. After all, it is because of the Sri Lankan board that Sri Lanka will only play two Tests in England next summer; and Mahela and Sangakkara will continue to be under-appreciated because of their "away records", which are prisoners to the whims of their board.

Blaming the cabal of three ignores that if the one-eyed rules the kingdom of the blind, questions must be asked of those who pretend to be blind.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (August 7, 2013, 11:19 GMT)

I dont see any sort of international cricket in pakistan in next 10 years..coz no body is trying to bring cricket in pakistan.it would be certainly a miracle if a team visits here

Posted by   on (August 7, 2013, 10:50 GMT)

@Gaurav_NonStopCric: Mr. Gaurav, r u kidding, v really should ve to raise our cricket standards to play IPL?? R u sure! I can only say wow to ur comments Sir.

Cricketers like, Afridi, Ajmal, Irfan, Junaid, Hafeez, Umer Akmal & even Misbah (look at his batting in CPL) really need to raise their standards to play IPL??

I knw u hate but u need to respect the talent of cricket in Pakistan, at least in T20.

Posted by adeelicap on (August 7, 2013, 9:47 GMT)

guys stop, ausies and england and even india is not willing to play, due to the fact of strong bowling line of pakistan, specialy ausies with ever weakest team

Posted by muzika_tchaikovskogo on (August 7, 2013, 9:46 GMT)

@Kirstenfan: South Africa could easily get more tests if CSA asks for it. The fact is, there's nothing stopping individual boards from adding more tests to the existing fixtures. Its just that boards apart from Australia, England & India don't want any more tests because they don't think its profitable.

Posted by   on (August 6, 2013, 21:22 GMT)

Pakistan have no one to blame other than themselves. I do not believe that the cricket boards of Australia, India and England have nothing to do with it. Pakistan needs to create a safe environment where sports and games can flourish without some extremist blowing everything apart. Unless and until this country takes the responsibility (not the government but the people of Pakistan) they will continue to lose support from the international community. Its only a matter of time before the best and the brightest from Pakistan will leave and find refuge elsewhere.

Posted by ARFB on (August 6, 2013, 19:19 GMT)

Although I think that this cabal of three is gonna break temporarily as Australia would try to break away from it.Their team is no longer strong enough to consistently beat the other two.Australia's biggest weakness 'Spin' has become the biggest strength of India & ENG.Their only chance to beat these two would be at home but it wont be easy as the other two are getting stronger day by day.If they would continue to avoid other nations & persist with the two then they will bag more defeats.Their only chance to earn some wins is by playing the weaker nations outside the cabal more.So i think that soon Aus would be exploiting more options outside the cabal in coming times & i think its a nice chance for PCB to get that away off season series against them next year.They should sincerely effort for it.

Posted by Lara213 on (August 6, 2013, 19:16 GMT)

According to ECB's programme England go to Pakistan (which I presume means UAE) in Oct-Nov 2015 for a 3T series. I think that qualifies as a fixture with a major test team.

However, looking at Eng's future tours, amazing that Australia will be back again in 2015 for another 5T series barely a year and half after the current 10T Ashes marathon while we don't see South Africa again on these shores until 2017 for only 4Ts, 5 years after their last tour in 2012! Meanwhile India are back next after only a 3 years absence. Pakistan are due here in 2016 for 4Ts

Could well be the big 3 test teams: Eng, Aus, Ind are trying to dominate and monopolise the test fixture programme so they can play big money spinning series' to the neglect of the other test nations.

Posted by ARFB on (August 6, 2013, 18:55 GMT)

Because Eng,Aus,Ind & now SA are the only countries left where people still show up in stadiums to watch test cricket & follow all days of it .Even though in these countries people live busiest of lives compared to other countries.In rest of the countries no one shows up to watch them & only empty stands witness the test cricket.Pakistan's case is although different because they are not hosting any matches & they rely on Pakistani expats in UAE to support the team.When their team was thrashing the world No1 last year the stadiums were empty of Pak supporters & only meagre amount of English fans were present.But even when Pakistan was hosting test matches 5 years ago the stadiums there were empty whether because of hot weather or Lack of Interest but they were empty.And this has been the case in WI & SL.In last few years,Stadiums are getting more empty during test matches & as soon as the limited over cricket starts they get house full.Other boards just cant afford test cricket anymore

Posted by Kirstenfan on (August 6, 2013, 18:34 GMT)

South Africa plays almost as little test cricket as Pakistan, it's not right that England India and Aus get all the fixtures

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hassan Cheema
Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator. He writes on cricket and football for various publications and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He doesn't believe opinions other than his own are valid. @mediagag

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