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Pakistan playing Scotland? That's no surprise

Throughout its history, Pakistan has regularly supported up and coming nations, often playing key roles in their journey to becoming strong cricketing countries

Hassan Cheema
Hassan Cheema
The two sides might not play each other all that often now, but Pakistan v Afghanistan has a long history  •  AFP

The two sides might not play each other all that often now, but Pakistan v Afghanistan has a long history  •  AFP

In October 2017, Cricket Australia announced a A$68 million surplus over the previous four years. In April 2018 they announced a new TV deal that will be worth nearly A$1 billion over the next six years. And in May 2018 they cancelled a tour by Bangladesh later in the year because it didn't make financial sense.
Bangladesh is not a new entrant to cricket but this timeline does capture the indifference of the cricketing establishment towards new or smaller teams. The PCB has its many faults but one aspect where the board has been almost faultless is in its support of smaller or new nations. That Pakistan were the first team to play Ireland in Test cricket is no anomaly. In the week in which Afghanistan make their Test debut, and Scotland knocked over the top-ranked ODI side, it's worth recognising and lauding this.
Pakistan can sympathise with many of these sides, because they too spent a couple of decades as a minnow in the international game. From May 1959 to September 1978, they played 22 Test series (including two single-Test series against Australia). During this era they beat New Zealand, the other minnow of that era, three times in five series; against every other team, Pakistan played 17 series and didn't win a single one. Even as Pakistan eventually established themselves as a cricketing powerhouse, the narratives that had until then defined them had been set. Forty years later a Pakistan batsman is still not considered worthy until he scores in traditionally bigger countries, like England or Australia; every controversy is seen as a conspiracy in which the world is out to "get" Pakistan. It has meant that Pakistan has often naturally sided with smaller nations trying to make it big.
To the west
In April of this year, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) fined Mohammad Shahzad 300,000 Afghanis for playing a tournament in Peshawar. Ostensibly it was part of Afghanistan's renewed focus on cricket within their borders, but one suspects the geopolitics of the region - and the complicated relationship between the two countries - played a bigger part in that decision. Still, it cannot erase what came before.
The rise of Afghan cricket has coincided with the rise of cricket in the borderlands between the two countries. Both sides of the Durand Line became a hinterland for the Peshawar club cricket scene, which can now challenge the historic centres of Lahore and Karachi. Shahzad was a common sight in club tournaments in Peshawar until this year. He wasn't alone. Mohammad Nabi, Asghar Stanikzai and Shapoor Zadran have all been fixtures on the Peshawar cricket scene. Or they used to be, before the two governments got involved.
It wasn't merely the informal networks either side of the border that facilitated this relationship. A decade before Rashid Khan made his name in foreign leagues, Nabi played the 2007-08 season for Pakistan Customs, featuring in five first-class games and four List A matches, sharing a dressing room with the likes of Yasir Shah. Much later in his life, Shahzad too would end up playing for HBL.
Then there were collective initiatives. In the summer of 2011, Afghanistan played a series of three 50-over games against a Pakistan A side - the tourists' coach was Rashid Latif of Pakistan. Just under two years later, Afghanistan returned for a longer tour and this time they played strong regional sides as well as two unofficial ODIs and a T20 against a Pakistan A side. When no team would visit either country, they at least had each other.
In the years leading up to this, Kabir Khan, a former Pakistan fast bowler, also coached the Afghan team as they rose through the ranks of Associate nations. Kabir would later become part of the PCB's selection committee, where his hard work would often go unnoticed.
The PCB has its many faults but one aspect where the board has been almost faultless is in its support of smaller or new nations
Perhaps the most visible example of the PCB's support for its western neighbours came in 2011. Following Afghanistan's tour of Pakistan that summer, a new team, Afghan Cheetas, took part in the Faysal Bank T20 - the premier T20 tournament in Pakistan at the time. Five of the players in that Cheetas side, which lost all its matches against Multan, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad that year, would be part of the XI that beat West Indies in the World T20 in 2016.
This wasn't new. Afghanistan's cricket team had played in the Cornelius Trophy in Pakistan's domestic calendar in 2002-03, with a coach supplied by the PCB, as well as in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy's Grade II (the division below first-class) the year before. In one of the Cornelius Trophy games against Rajanpur, a young allrounder hit a hundred. His name? Mohammad Nabi. Later in 2003, a youth team from Afghanistan reached out to Rashid Latif and ended up coming to train at his academy.
Eventually in 2013 the two boards signed an MoU that meant that the Afghan team would have high-performance camps at the NCA in Lahore, and that there would be a sharing of the administrative bureaucracy, which would end up aiding the setting up of the Afghan board. By that time, Pakistan had been Afghanistan's first Full-Member opponents in an ODI, and first Full Member T20I opponent (outside of an ICC event).
"[PCB's] been really important," the ICC's global development manager, Tim Anderson, told the National at the time. "The word is not 'adopt', but it is almost like they've adopted Afghanistan as their neighbour and really tried to help them out over the past couple of years."
But geopolitics in the ensuing five years, and an increasingly acrimonious diplomatic relationship between the two countries, has meant that Pakistan's role in Afghanistan's growth has been downplayed. Five years on from that, a lot has changed either side of the border, and at the border itself.
To the east
Pakistan's confusing, fluctuating relationship with Afghanistan cannot hold a candle to its relationship with Bangladesh. Enough to say that until 1971, only one player from what was then known as East Pakistan came close to selection for the Pakistan side - Raqibul Hassan, who was 12th man in a Test against New Zealand in 1969-70.
Ironically, Pakistan's support of cricket in Bangladesh has been greater in the years since 1971 than before. In 1979-80, Pakistan became the first Test-playing nation to tour Bangladesh - although that tour was disrupted by a riot, and Pakistan didn't tour the country for another 14 years.
Still, in 1986, Pakistan were the opponents when Bangladesh played their first ODI. And over the following 14 years, until their first Test, no team would play more often against Bangladesh than Pakistan.
That support did not stop with Test status. Much like with Afghanistan players, Bangladeshis would also become part of the Pakistani domestic scene. In the 2003-04 season, the Patron's Trophy - the premier four-day tournament for departments - was expanded from 12 to 13 sides; the 13th team that season was Bangladesh A. Fifteen players from that team would end up as Test cricketers, although with the exception of Mohammad Ashraful, none became household names.
To the south
The history of cricket in Sri Lanka is intertwined with cricket in South India, particularly Tamil Nadu, but here too, Pakistan have played their part.
Sri Lanka's (Ceylon then) first tour after independence in 1948 was to Pakistan. In 1950, two teams who didn't have Test status played each other in Lahore and Karachi. Two years later Pakistan would play their first Test match; Sri Lanka would have to wait another three decades for theirs.
In the mid-'60s, Ceylon beat a full Indian side and a Pakistan A team. They were scheduled to tour England in 1968, a tour that would have paved the way for their entry into the elite ranks. For a variety of reasons, including financial, that tour never took place.
As Sri Lanka, the team toured Pakistan in 1974, playing Sindh, Punjab, the NWFP Governors XI, Railways, and two games against the Pakistan national team; they would lose only one of those games - and by just 17 runs, bundled over thanks to Intikhab Alam's 6 for 67. Five from the XI that lost that game at the National Stadium in Karachi would end up playing Test cricket for Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka's performance on that tour prompted AH Kardar, the president of the Pakistan board at the time, to push for full membership for them at an ICC meeting in June 1975.
It would be another six years before Sri Lanka played a Test, and Pakistan continued to be their biggest supporters after their induction into the Test ranks. Nine of Sri Lanka's first 21 Tests were against Pakistan. By 1996, more than a quarter of their Tests and of their ODIs had been against Pakistan; no team had played them more often. Sri Lanka played their 50th ODI against Pakistan before they played their 12th ODI against England.
The history since then is well known: from a joint India-Pakistan team touring Sri Lanka in 1996 to the tragedy of 2009. Geopolitics in the region have overtaken the fraternité among the two boards, but with the visit of Sri Lanka for the final T20I in Lahore last year, it's obvious that the foundations of this relationship still hold strong.
The PCB gets flak - justifiably - for many things, but a lack of support for the smaller nations isn't one of them. Perhaps this is the reason Pakistan remain competitive despite lacking so much: karma, earned over the previous few decades. Or perhaps that's mere superstition. But just to be safe, it's welcome that Pakistan are playing T20Is in Scotland this week.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, commentator, co-manager of the Islamabad United PSL franchise, and co-host of the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. @mediagag