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Is Pakistan ‘ready’ for internationals?

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Hassan Cheema
Dawn News.

In 2006 Angola was awarded the right to host the 2010 African Cup of Nations (AfCON). Wary of the global importance of this – and how it would set the ‘image’ of the country – the Angolan government decided that one of the four venues for the tournament would be Cabinda. Cabinda – an exclave of the country – had been the ground for a separatist movement since independence. The decision to have Cabinda as one of the host cities was to show the world of how peaceful – and therefore under the government’s control – Cabinda truly was.
A year prior to the 2010 AfCON, Sri Lanka had decided to tour Pakistan. Their motivation had been the same as the teams visiting Cabinda: they were trying to show that normalcy existed in these lands.
On 3rd March 2009 the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked in Lahore, leading to the deaths of seven Pakistanis. On 8th January 2010, the bus carrying the Togo national football team was attacked in Cabinda which led to the death of three people – including the assistant coach of the team. For decades, regimes throughout the world had used sport to provide an illusion of something which wasn’t there. Now, it seemed, it was time for the terrorists to make sure that didn’t happen. The push from all sides in the importance of sport had meant that sportspeople had become an automatic target for publicity for the latest of monstrous deeds.
Over the past five years Pakistan has seen the deaths of thousands of its citizens and army men. Despite a reduction in the violence (of the terrorism kind) in the past few months, there have still been a number of attacks in the 2012 alone. It is with this as context that one questions the ideas that Zaka Ashraf is proposing.
I was watching the Serie A highlights a week or so back, and noticed that all the matches had a minute’s silence for the death of a soldier in Afghanistan. It felt a little odd. Then I realised that perhaps, to the Italians, the deaths of their countrymen were not mere statistics and numbers from which they had to ‘move on’ at any given opportunity. Maybe they weren’t as blasé for the sake of showing ‘resilience.’
But I digress; this is supposed to be about sports.
Surely, the proposals for international teams and players to tour Pakistan should come when we have reached a semblance of normalcy and peace. Instead we have decided to assume our existing state as normalcy. What do we have to gain from a tour? An improvement in the image of the country? For the sake of what? A probable attack and the loss of lives for guests of this country? We are told that they’ll be provided maximum security: this, a country which couldn’t protect its most popular leader and the governor of the largest province (in addition to many other parliamentarians and mere plebs whose lives apparently count for less) in the past five years alone. The reluctance of many to visit Pakistan may have something to do with how much they value their lives – rather than a vast conspiracy by the BCCI.
Or I could be completely wrong.
If you had a headache, and you were given several pills – one of which contained cyanide – how willing would you be to take that? The PCB looks quite keen.
What else could we do then?
Well, these last three years should have been taken up as an opportunity by the PCB to reform the local game. Domestic cricket had nothing to rival it during this time. We could have used this time to finally have a consistent and reasonable calendar, and teams. What we have now are tournaments which have city and department teams (QeA Trophy and the National OD Cup), those which have provincial teams (Pentangular) and those which have city-based franchises (the T20 tournaments), spread seemingly randomly over the cricket season. How hard is it to combine it all, really? Why not have a merger of HBL and Karachi Dolphins, for example, to compete in all formats of the game. The Dolphins have an ever-increasing fan-base, the Karachi City Cricket Association can provide the structure, and HBL can be the commercial backer. And with no international cricket on these shores, this is something which could take off. Instead what we have done in the past three years is increase the number of T20s. Oh, how original.
Now, the Pakistan Premier League is being proposed. The blind copying by many cricket boards of the IPL is quite staggering. How long before we have ten domestic T20 Premier Leagues, mercenaries dotting the globe for their latest hits and giggles, and another round of forgettable and meaningless cricket – to them, at least.
How about being innovative for once? Or even if we are copying, why not cast the net a little further? Rather than several domestic leagues, why don’t Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan join forces for one big ‘Asian Premier League’ (and I know that the politics of it mean it would face much resistance). After all, it works in rugby union – where SupeRugby has five regional franchises from each of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand who contest a supremely popular tournament, and have done so for 16 years now. Sure, you have the same problem with international players reluctant to host Pakistan, but this can be solved by having the tournament, alternatively, in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, for now. And when the situation in AfPak (coining a new term here) is more stable, we can have a tournament which has the ability to last the long haul. And it would have a bigger market (the word most favourite of an administrator) than any of the domestic leagues, which would mean more money. And that is all that matters to cricket boards, isn’t it?
Instead we are going to continue being conservative, let the domestic game rot, and continue to plead for international teams to visit us, so that we can go back to the old days. After all, that will solve everything.

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