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Writer based in Karachi

Peace must return to Pakistan before cricket does

It's admirable that Bangladesh have agreed to visit, but is it premature?

Saad Shafqat

March 17, 2012

Comments: 35 | Text size: A | A

Abdur Rehman picked up another five-for, Pakistan v England, 3rd Test, Dubai, 2nd day, February 4, 2012
Pakistan have made the UAE a home away from home, so why rush back into hosting teams when it is clearly still dangerous to do so? © Associated Press

If you've suffered as a spectator at cricket grounds in Pakistan, you might be tempted to make a case that international cricket should not return to the country. For even without the terror factor, Pakistan's cricket authorities lack the ability to stage matches at a standard that could be described as "international".

The stands are dusty, ramshackle, and uncomfortable. Crowd management is inefficient and insensitive. Food arrangements are just about adequate, while toilet facilities are abominable. There isn't a culture of observing queues and the authorities are too indifferent to enforce it. The sale and distribution of tickets, typically outsourced to branches of local banks, is needlessly disordered. And car parking and traffic coordination are customarily chaotic. It is no small mercy that the national team is an exciting one, and once inside the arena you invariably pick up great memories. But getting in and out in one piece is an ordeal.

On top of all this, there is the terror threat. Three years have passed since the horrific attack in Lahore - years that Pakistani fans have spent willing the incident into becoming an insignificant spot in the national rear-view mirror. But when you start thinking about it, you realise the wound is still raw.

Most disturbing is the possibility of what might have happened that day. As the bus carrying the Sri Lankan team sped away, the militants launched a rocket aiming for its fuel tank. What if that rocket hadn't missed? The answer chills the bone and scrambles the mind.

The terrorists behind the Lahore attack were eventually caught and killed, but that had nothing to with the ineffectual investigation that had ensued. In fact, more than two years after the Lahore attack, the same group staged a brazen assault on a major naval base in Karachi, that embarrassed and humiliated Pakistan's military brass. It was only last December that the police force finally reached them, tracing them to a hideout where they were holding a wealthy industrialist to ransom. Computer materials in their possession revealed that they had also been behind the Gaddafi Stadium episode.

There is no question that the lack of international cricket in Pakistan is a tragedy, but it hasn't been the unmitigated disaster that it threatened to be at one point. Many observers were initially concerned that without teams visiting from abroad, cricket in Pakistan would die. But there are no signs of that happening; nor has it ever happened elsewhere, in fact. Sri Lanka and South Africa both endured a prolonged drought of international cricket at home, with each resuming seamlessly when those chapters came to a close.

If anything, interest in cricket these days in Pakistan is at fever pitch. People have been stimulated by the astonishing Test whitewash over England, as well as agitated by the patchy show in the limited-overs games. Team selection is hotly debated, batting merits and demerits are dissected, spinners and seamers provoke endless arguments, and a passionate love-hate relationship has evolved with captain Misbah-ul-Haq. Now the Asia Cup has everybody engrossed, with the upcoming match against India becoming the primary focus of national attention.

More than anything else, Pakistan's cricket mood follows the team's fortunes, and the team and its supporters have all been basking in the warmth of a heartening revival, going back more or less to the start of the 2010-11 Asian season.

There is no question that the lack of international cricket in Pakistan is a tragedy, but it hasn't been the unmitigated disaster that it threatened to be at one point. Many observers were initially concerned that without teams visiting from abroad, cricket in Pakistan would die. But there are no signs of that happening

As for neutral turf, it has hardly been a liability. Since 1999, Pakistan have played 16 Tests at neutral venues (one each in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, two in England, and 12 in the UAE), winning eight and losing four, for a win-loss ratio of 2.00. Over the same period, Pakistan's win-loss ratio has been 1.75 on home soil (from 33 Tests), and 0.73 at the home of the opposition (from 65 Tests). This is not to argue that Pakistan should keep playing in neutral venues, but to make the point that by no means have neutral venues been a detriment for them.

When Zaka Ashraf, the PCB chairman, took office last October, he said the resumption of international cricket in Pakistan was his foremost priority. It struck many as an unrealistic and even misplaced claim, but Ashraf was determined to deliver, and he reached out to Mustafa Kamal, his counterpart at the Bangladesh Cricket Board, for a strategic partnership. The arrangement may have been founded on a set of bartered favours - including an implicit agreement to nominate Kamal to the vice-presidency of the ICC - but that can only be considered par for the course in such matters. The ICC approved tacitly, coming up with a special dispensation to let the tour proceed with "non-neutral" umpires and officials, should neutral folks feel queasy about visiting Pakistan. But Kamal, rationally, has declined to go ahead with the tour if the ICC isn't fully on board.

Bangladesh's reluctance makes sense, because terrorism as a problem in Pakistan remains alive and well. Scores of militants are scattered across the country, hell-bent on harming Pakistani people and national interests. Cricket's enormous popularity and outsized profile in Pakistan would make this home series another natural target.

Pakistan's interior ministry keeps making glib statements about foolproof security arrangements, but so far they have nothing to show that would inspire much confidence. All corners of the land continue to be victimised by terrorism, usually in the form of suicide bombings by crazed fanatics, but also increasingly through group executions by masked gunmen. This reality flies in the face of the government's spin on security. Nothing would be better than the peaceful return of international cricket to Pakistani shores. But a pre-requisite for that is that peace itself should come back. We are still waiting for that to happen.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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Posted by   on (March 20, 2012, 14:36 GMT)

hmmm....all i can say is that cricket in pakistan should resume sooner rather than later...but even if bangladesh tour pakistan ..even then other teams still wont wiling to tour pakistan and that i think is the crux of this article its better to wait and hope for the overall security situation in pakistan to improve rather doing it all hastily

Posted by   on (March 20, 2012, 6:15 GMT)

What an absolutely ill-informed article! have you ever stepped out of pakistan? I have attended matches in India, Bangladesh and Carrabien and Pakistani Facilities are better than all three of them (Not to take anything away from great efforts put by those countries). Pakistan's domestic matches are very well organized and managed even today. If it bothers you so much, i would suggest you stay at home and watch cricket on TV and write your useless columns from there. Why are you trying to take away from rest of 180 million what they deserve and crave for.

Posted by voyager on (March 19, 2012, 13:07 GMT)

Great and honest article. What is more tragic then international teams not visiting is that we did not turned this situation we are in especially for last 11-12 years into an opportunity? an opportunity to build and develope local competition that is attractive to crowd's participation, developing a league (even at a modest level) to build the base. Why are we so hung up on international teams? if we truly feels that it is safe then we should devleop activities and international teams would follow. If 'we aren't building it Why should they come?' Pakistan should have been the first one to have T20 leagues b/c it was being played there at grass roots level for last 3 decades but it lacked the leadership to turn that into opportunity.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2012, 4:27 GMT)

Mr Saad your article took me with surprise. Rightly said you have highlighted all the negatives and totally ignored the positives. You are a Cricket genelist and you are representing Pakistan at international level and your views should sound like a neutral. One can easily see the difference in law n order situation in pakistan compared to 1 0r 2 years back. And if the government is taking the full responsibility withthat much seriuosness then why not we can expact Bangladesh here.

Posted by nauman421 on (March 19, 2012, 1:14 GMT)

I dont know whether the people who are talking about this tour's security even know anythng about Pakistan. The matches are not going to be played in Waziristan, Bajaur or Khyber Agency. Why do everyone generalize north Pakistan to all the other cities. Yes, 8-9 months back, i was also against matches in Pakistan but now its definitely safe. And if BCB chairman himself is satisfied with the security then all the questions must be answered automatically. Why we are always thinking that players and administration are on two different boats.

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (March 18, 2012, 22:26 GMT)

Fantastic writeup by Saad, kudos to you. The lack of basic facilities are common in India too, where reaching the stadium to view a match is an ordeal in itself. I pray for the day for peace to return and teams start touring Pakistan and give the cricket loving public of pakistan the entertainment they deserve. Am indian, but love the cricket and rivalry between our two sides, and like Pakistan cricket in general... Here's hoping for an indian tour to Pakistan in the very near future!!!

Posted by   on (March 18, 2012, 19:05 GMT)

Though I really feel very sad for the thousands of passionate cricket supporters who are deprived from any international cricket, but as a Bangladeshi fanatic i really dont want Bangladesh to tour Pakistan. Things still dont look very good in Pakistan and i am pretty sure Bangladesh wont be getting the same level of security if Australians, South Africans or even India would have received. I dont see any reason why the Bangladesh team has to be the brave big hearted team !

Posted by   on (March 18, 2012, 7:09 GMT)

Even though I don't think there will be another such attack, I do agree with you with the first part. Pakistan is a long way from hosting international cricket simply because we don't have international standard facilities. The so-called international stadiums are worse than what we see in the Australian grounds used for domestic games. I think the PCB first needs to focus on building our roots right. Sometimes things seem to take place naturally, this can be a great opportunity for Pakistan to once and for all get the basics right when there is no international cricket going on.

Posted by KP_84 on (March 18, 2012, 6:27 GMT)

The most balanced piece of commentary I've seen from a Pakistani writer in a long time; maybe ever! Well done Mr Shafqat!

Posted by Mob_King on (March 18, 2012, 3:56 GMT)

Fantastic article Saad. I have to confess that I was dismayed to learn of Osman Samiuddin leaving cricinfo - but your concise and articulate articles are equal if not superior in some regards.

As a Kiwi I have loved and loathed the Pakistani team; but noone can deny the fact that Pakistan play a beautiful, flamboyant version of the game. To watch them play is truly a joy and it's sad that the cricket-mad populace of Pakistan are denied the joy of live Test match cricket due to the selfish evil perpetrated by a few. The sheer talent Pakistan churn out so effortlessly leaves us Kiwis green with envy, given our stark stocks!

All the best for Pakistan and for the region. I'm not religious, but I pray for peace and for the day when honest, theatrical Test match cricket at its finest can return in harmony to Karachi, Lahore, etc.

Posted by Nadeem1976 on (March 18, 2012, 1:14 GMT)

It's unfortunate that we don't have international matches. I hope Bangladesh visits Pakistan and we start the new era of international cricket in Pakistan. Let's hope for the best for our nation.

Posted by Reverse_Bat on (March 17, 2012, 21:31 GMT)

Great article!!.....Truth can never will come out anyway...and from a Pakistani...accept it....Hats off Saad!!!....the entire cricket fans around the world must read this article.....and shld come to know why India do not want to deal cricket with Pakistan anymore.

Posted by AlbertEinstein on (March 17, 2012, 21:08 GMT)

By hurrying to bring cricket back to Pakistan there is always a risk of another worse incident and cricket never coming back to Pakistan again.

Posted by porshatom on (March 17, 2012, 20:19 GMT)

A well written, informative and logical article. Trust and the feeling of security takes a long time to build but only a fraction of a second to lose. Security comes not from how many men with guns are nearby to protect you but from the comfort of realizing you are accepted as an equal human being worthy of respect.

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 19:55 GMT)

mr saad... when u r representing ur country at an international forum, u ought 2 highlight positive things instead of negatives... u probably haven't noticed the recent improvement in the law and order situation in Pakistan... i'm not being emotional, but a realistic review of the situation would reveal that there has been much improvement in the last 6 months or so.... plz write some useful stuff for pakistan cricket.

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 19:20 GMT)

A peaceful Pakistan is good for Asia and of course good for cricket. But cricketers should not be sacrificed for political reason when the people perpetrating hate crimes dont even understand the meaning of all these efforts to bring peace.

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 18:42 GMT)

i think it is very necessary to resume International cricket in Pakistan because cricket is a key factor to united the nation. its play from karachi to fata between every age of people so ICC should help pakistan by sending International teams. This will give a positive message to the world.

Posted by on (March 17, 2012, 18:41 GMT)

We may get as sentimental as we want but I completely agree with Saad views. It is true that no country is safe in these days of chaos and disturbance but none more than our own country. We must admit that we made a mockery of security arrangements during SL visit, we let our most trusted friend in cricket down when no other team was willing to tour. I still believe that we need around 3-5 years to bring back international cricket and that too depend on the resolution of complex conflicts and improvement of law and order situation.

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 16:52 GMT)

Firmly believe that Pakistan should be holding international matches but only after they have brought their house in order. Just imagine what if it happens again. I dont even want to think any further than that. The day the poor Sri Lankans and the match officials were attacked was "the black day" in the history of international cricket. My heart went out to each and every person who was caught up in that terrible situation. None of them deserved that. Plz, a very humble request to each and everyone (more so the over zealous pak officials) that think about bringing the cricket back in the country only when u r 100% sure that it is gonna be safe for each and every individual involved. Right now no one can guarantee the safety of their own people let alone the foreigners.

Posted by IshaqMalik on (March 17, 2012, 16:49 GMT)

I used to rate Saad high, I was wrong!

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 15:47 GMT)

ICC should play its role to take cricket matches back to pakistan but its looks like that they will try to force Bangladash cricket borad to not visit pakistan in next month series of one-day or T2O matches in pakistan thats a big herdal for pakistan to give its people matches to see on grounds live without the help of ICC and i think P.P.L. maybe help pakistan if this will be held by PCB in pakistan in near future.Chairmen ofPCB playing a vital role to make this effort successive that good sing for pakistanis,

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 15:40 GMT)

However, u must take into account that the Pakistani team looked bery very tired and homesick during the limited-overs leg of the England series.... They definitely looked like they couldnt continue playing neutral matches.....

Posted by getsetgopk on (March 17, 2012, 15:27 GMT)

thats like chasing a ghost, how can peace come when our leaders are no more than thugs and thieves, our society of multiple ethnicities and backgrounds and frankly non of them are sincere, baloch, sindhi, pahstoon and punjabis to name a few... You want to know the truth well here it is. Maybe we all should wait for Imran Khan.

Posted by clouds1231230 on (March 17, 2012, 14:02 GMT)

Saad ,i am agree with you that there is terrorism in Pakistan from outside as well as inside but iam not agree with you that there is miss management or lack of facilities, how you forgot 1996 worldcup held in Pakistan where there was no any complain and now this is 2012 and there is alot of improvements of road and other infrastructures and you will wonder that alot of new international standerd of stadium been built in recent years..

Posted by rmcd on (March 17, 2012, 12:46 GMT)

Good sensible article Saad. I am an India fan and would love for our team to play in Pakistan. It's a shame for us to be neighbours and show this kind of disdain towards each other. However our Pakistani friends should understand that this animosity will NOT end until the authorities there stop encouraging the extremists to prosper. Logical, intelligent people that think like the maturity displayed in this article can help save Pakistan. good luck.

Posted by Sports4Youth on (March 17, 2012, 11:28 GMT)

I think i agree with the writer here. Apart from security concerns Pak also have selection issues. Somehow the selection process appears to be a bit scewed. young deserving players are kept out while the ones already in the team are given a long rope. Also they don't seem to understand the defferance between a test player and a limited overs player. All the younsters execpt Azhar Ali have been forced to prove themselves first in the T20 & ODI games before they get an opportunity in the test matches. This is wrong. Even Azhar Ali who is a typically test player is now being thurst in the odi setup. Another classic example is Sarfraz Ahmed (wk). His first class batting average is 43.22 and List A average is 30.17 which proves that he is a better test batsman. But somehow he is being asked to prove himself in the ODI's and Adnan Akmal is prefered in the test who has a batting avg of 23 in first class. Somehow the akmals are prefered for the keeping job. adnan is no-where near sarfraz.

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 10:55 GMT)

Saad Shafqat just for your information this condition was demanded when SriLanka was under civil war for more than 20 years. So please keep a light hand on Pakistan. No body can guarantee a safe landing of any airplane. No one stops traveling in automobiles, trains or planes just for the fear that so many people die in accidents of these modes of transports. So why impose conditions on Pakistan?

Posted by AndyZaltzmannsHair on (March 17, 2012, 10:01 GMT)

Until the War in Aghanistan is over there will be no real return of international matches to Pakistan. The team will survive anyway. It's the Pakistani way.

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 10:01 GMT)

Well it depends ..maybe with A determined person like Zaka Ashraf things might be better cricket is going down slowly in Pakistan and we all know that

Posted by Waqasahmed92 on (March 17, 2012, 9:56 GMT)

Being a Pakistan and a fellow Karachi resident I too clearly support Dr Saad for his logical reasoning on the matter. I presonally feel that it is still not peacful enough for international teams to tour Pakistan, its not that I am condemming cricket from Pakistan at all but its just not the right move at the momenet. Come on guys lets be honest, when have we even have had two months in a row without any incident that compromises the security threat on the streets while there are still many securty threats that need to be addressed before even thinking about any international tours. Its better to wait a little longer than to demolish cricket forever from Pakistan if GOD forbid something again happens during a tour.

Posted by Herath-UK on (March 17, 2012, 9:17 GMT)

All credit to Sri Lankan team who showed bravery to undertake the tour and who has not made much fuss about the disaster.However they were not considered even 'worthy' enough to receive the Spirit of the Cricket award for that year.Look at the Sri Lankan's wonderful gesture to the driver inviting him to Sri Lanka and offering him praise and gifts;Was there anything from the Pakistan Board to the Sri Lankan team for an official recognition ? Seems to be dealing with people with different type of etiquette. I do not think any team outside asia will put their lives at risk in the forseable future.Sad though true. Ranil Herath - Kent

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 9:00 GMT)

I really do hope peace returns to Pakistan. The country has produced some exciting cricketers - Akram, Waqar, Razzaq, Afridi, Miandad, Yousuf, Anwar, Imran, Saqlian, etc. Some great new talent are around - Aamir, Ajmal, etc It would be a loss to humanity to not have Pakistan playing at home. Hockey and Cricket are some of Pakistan's well known gifts to sport. Cricket needs Pakistan. The world needs a peaceful Pakistan.

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 7:27 GMT)

We are waiting for that moment anxiously. Security situations are much better now in Pakistan and with the President level security ensured by Govt. there should be no concern.

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 7:03 GMT)

i really don't want to agree with Mr. Saad, but giving it a second thought if by any chance something happen this time. Then there could be ban on even thinking(demand) to resume cricket in Pakistan. So please Pakistan officials please consider these points, as for most of Pakistani team fans there is no better sight then watching Saeed Ajmal spinning in Arbab Niaz Stadium (Peshawar) and Afridi hitting sixes in Lahore or Karachi

Posted by   on (March 17, 2012, 5:25 GMT)

Truth is always a bitter pill to swallow. Well said Saad.

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