The tale of two cities
The stadium at Karachi: will there ever be another Test match in this great venue?
In politics, if you can please some people some of the time but you can't please all the people all the time, then you have done well. In Pakistan cricket, if you please some people on even a few occasions, you consider yourself very lucky.
The Pakistan Cricket Board, by ensuring that both Karachi and Peshawar will host the Indians for a day, has opted for the only path it could have chosen in what had become a no-win situation. There may well be discontent that Karachi, in particular, has missed out yet again on staging a Test match. There may be further criticism - there have already been mentions in the press that the PCB has again distinguished itself only as an organisation devoid of backbone in dealing with matters of "national pride".
But such criticisms overlook the context within which the negotiations were conducted. As Rameez Raja reiterated after the announcement of the itinerary, when speaking to Wisden Cricinfo: "We had two objectives before all the negotiations started. One was to make sure the Indians came over for the tour, and the other was to ensure that both Karachi and Peshawar stage an international." Both aims safely achieved and the PCB has come out of a potentially dicey situation deserving if not praise, then some light patting of the back - for several reasons.
For one, as Rameez revealed, the BCCI was very keen to split the tour in two, playing either the Tests or the ODIs before the general election in India, and then coming back to resume the tour, providing everyone with a thoroughly fractured and ridiculously fragmented series. This, Rameez rightly argues, "was not logistically feasible" - and if, as he says, the BCCI was insistent on this demand, then the PCB has achieved something in avoiding such a scenario. They also wanted Karachi and Peshawar scrapped from the tour altogether, and the fact that neither was represents another victory for the PCB. In his press conference, Rameez stated that he felt the tour might have been called off altogether had they pushed too hard for Karachi and Peshawar to stage a Test - a scenario which would have been even more likely to have provoked trenchant criticism.
Critics can argue that a precedent has been set - if one hadn't been set already - in that both cities will forever continue to suffer from the presumption that they are unsafe, no matter what the reality might be. In truth, however, given that both cities were entirely bypassed by South Africa and New Zealand, hosting a match at all sets a positive precedent for future visitors.
There are reasons, however, why the praise isn't freely forthcoming. The choice of Rawalpindi as a Test venue will raise eyebrows, given that press reports indicated that the groundsman was so unhappy with the pitch that he deemed it unsuitable for play. Rameez played down the charge, claiming the pitch during the South African series wasn't to the liking of the Pakistan team, but that it had now been changed. Faisalabad, which staged matches against all three of last season's visitors, misses out entirely this time, for no obvious reason (other than the fact that Rawalpindi provided a logistically sound option), and will have reason to feel aggrieved too.
The scheduling of the ODIs before the Tests, just because the public might lose interest in India during April when general elections are expected to be held there, seems particularly bizarre. But, given that it is the politics of the subcontinent, perhaps there is a perverse logic hidden there somewhere.
The nature of any negotiation - business, political or otherwise - and especially given what this tour has come to symbolise, is such that compromise and flexibility replace unbending will and rigidity as key attributes. Of utmost priority, as both boards recognised, was that the tour must go ahead - and this rightly dictated the eventual agreement. Both parties have come out with gains, and pronounced themselves happy with the itinerary.
In such matters, it often pays to keep a sense of perspective. Last week, debate revolved around whether the tour would go ahead at all. This week, it was whether or not matches would be played at particular venues. To some that would represent progress, while some may argue otherwise; the fact remains that India and Pakistan are playing in these parts after 14 years, and if that won't please a lot of people then there's not much hope that anything else will.