Monday, January 23, 2012

Returning Pakistan Cricket to Pakistan

The rickshaw has been stalled for quite some time. Over 9 months to be exact. And with the other two writers, who by the way are much better writers, being far busier in life then myself, the onus has fallen on me to restart it. So I’d like to blame the gas shortage for the lack of our rickshaw making the rounds, but our rickshaw runs on a different sort of fuel – usually cricket.

Cheesy analogies aside, I couldn’t help but write something this past weekend, for something monumental has happened in the last week that simply cannot be ignored, not even by us lazy rickshaw writers. If you haven’t heard, England is paying a visit to the United Arab Emirates. After smashing the former No. 1 side in Tests, i.e. India, 4-0 at home, England took their place at the top of the perch, and were keen to show the world they can do it in Asia as well. Of course, Pakistan has been in good nick as well, though beating Bangladesh is never really anything to write home about; Sri Lanka are quickly getting worse as time goes on; and we didn’t even manage to beat the woeful West Indies outright. Still we had some form coming in, and were relishing the test.

The fact that we managed to beat England inside 3 days by 10 wickets is beyond amazing, for many reasons. The problems of Pakistan cricket with the spot-fixing scandal are well documented. Added to the mix was a crazy captain who retired from cricket only to return months later, a mad Chairman of the Board who finally got replaced, a coach who quit because of the mad captain, and jail sentences for the Pakistani cricketer involved in the spot-fixing crisis. What you end up with then is the normal stew of Pakistan cricket: power politics, inconsistency, and wacky decision-making. It has to be said, though, that this team has been different. Misbah-ul-Haq may just manage to pull of the most incredible feat in the history of Pakistan cricket: being forgiven for losing a match against India in the World Cup. Under his leadership there is a calm and stability amongst the team that I certainly have never seen, and I doubt few have. Even in the days of Imran Khan there was an element of drama. Yet at 37 years young, Misbah has managed to do what so few Pakistani captains have done before him: get his boys to play as a team.

Now comes the sad part. The test match was played in front of a few hundred supporters – a pity because this performance by the Pakistanis deserved a much better audience. Pakistan has been stripped of its rights to host cricket since the infamous shooting on the Sri Lanka cricket team. Cricket has always been an escape for us, and we have never needed a victory more than we do now. With corruption, inflation, gas shortage, electricity shortage and terrorism only a few of the things tearing the country apart, we really needed a lift like this. But imagine for a second, instead of the winning being runs in front of a few drunken Barmy Army supporters and the odd unemployed Pakistani in Dubai, that the match had instead been played in Lahore. Offices would be flooded with sick leave requests, school attendances would be at an all-time low, stores that open around noon normally wouldn’t even bother opening. Instead, the whole of Lahore would be making its way over to Gaddafi Stadium (which surprisingly has not been renamed after Bhutto like everything else this godforsaken government has gotten their hands on). The last time I saw a test match at Gaddafi, I had to sneak away in the trunk of my cousin’s car to get out of boarding school. This time around, I’m sure the my housemaster would have chartered buses to get the boys to the ground

At the moment, the buzzing of Gaddafi stadium upon the return of cricket is simply a romantic notion in my head. It shouldn’t remain that way, however. Pakistan has a list of issues longer than the Nile, Ganges and Indus put together. That does not mean we should overlook the lack of international cricket on home soil. For all the shit that we go through, we certainly deserve the opportunity to be able to take a break from it all and shout at the top of our lungs for a team that for the first time in my life at least is consistently good in the Test arena.

Wishing the return of cricket won’t make it come true. The PCB and the Government both have a role to play in ensuring that Pakistan once again hosts the greatest game there is at the international level. Bangladesh are set to tour Pakistan in April, in essence after being bribed to do so. The security for that visit needs to be far better than what it was for Sri Lanka. Speaking of which, the culprits of the Sri Lanka shootings need to be apprehended. Easier said than done, I’m sure, but it should have been of the highest priority to start off with to track down the reason behind the shootings. The domestic circuit of cricket also needs to be strengthened. Pakistan needs to be able to host domestic tournaments successfully before thinking about inviting teams other than Bangladesh or Zimbabwe. Perhaps the absence of international cricket can give the PCB an opportunity to figure out a way to get crowds to the Quaid-e-Azam trophy. These are only a few of many steps that can be taken to get us back on track to re-enter the fold of international cricket. Let’s hope that if Imran Khan is able to continue his ‘tsunami’ and gets to the top, he won’t forget about the game that got him there. In the meantime, we can all continue to enjoy the phenomenal rise of Misbah’s men!