Pakistan players have not participated in the IPL following the inaugural edition in 2008 owing to tensions between the governments of the two neighbouring countries.
Pakistan tightened their grip on the No1 ICC ranking in T20I cricket with a 3-0 clean sweep of the recent three-match series against the West Indies in Karachi. Waqar, a legend of Pakistan cricket and a former coach, is of the opinion that concentrating on international cricket has benefited Sarfraz Ahmed and his side tremendously.
“The reason why our team is number one in T20Is is because our guys don’t participate in IPL,” Waqar was quoted as saying by the Pakistan media.
“Because of not playing IPL, our boys are down to earth and they want to play international cricket. When a kid starts to play cricket, he doesn’t do it thinking he will earn millions. Instead, he does that because of his love for cricket,” he added.
“The priority now is IPL where a cricketer can earn $2 million whereas here he will get $25k here (coming to Pakistan). There is a lot of money now in cricket and a few leagues have sprung up but it’s the responsibility of cricket boards to make sure that international cricket does not die out.”
Whether the former Pakistan skipper is correct is a matter of debate but for now Pakistan are flying in limited-overs cricket, especially the T20 format. Meanwhile, the IPL is all set to get underway on Saturday with Mumbai Indians taking on Chennai Super Kings. There are once again, no Pakistan players in the fray for this year’s edition.
Pakistan’s interior minister invited the England cricket team to tour the country for the first time since 2005, after a successful visit by the West Indies amid improved security boosted hopes of an international revival.
A visit by a major Test-playing nation such as England would be hugely significant, in terms of both cricket as well as Pakistan’s wider security and the message it hopes to send about its crackdown on extremism and militancy.
Interior minister Ahsan Iqbal extended the invitation to UK High Commissioner Thomas Drew, urging the international community to recognise the strides Pakistan has made.
“The successful staging of international matches in Pakistan is a clear proof that we have defeated terrorism and extremism,” he said, according to an official statement.
Drew said he was already looking forward to “this summer’s big cricketing event”, Pakistan’s upcoming England tour.
“But I also hope that it will not be long before I can welcome an England team to Pakistan,” he said on Wednesday. “That really is something to look forward to.”
For years foreign teams refused to tour Pakistan which suffered numerous extremist attacks. In 2009 an attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore drove international cricket from the country entirely, and their fixtures have been played in the United Arab Emirates.
But security has improved dramatically in recent years, and since 2015 Pakistan has hosted Zimbabwe, a World XI, Sri Lanka, the finals of the Pakistan Super League for two years running and, most recently, the West Indies, for a short T20 series which finished on Tuesday.
The matches have been staged in both Lahore and Karachi, the country’s two largest cities both of which have been hit repeatedly by militant violence over the last decade.
Head-of-state level security has been provided for visiting players, most of whom have come away praising the arrangements.
Step-by-step, Pakistan Cricket is making admirable progress in bringing its national game back to home soil. The country is gradually regaining the trust and confidence of the cricketing community, with it being fundamental these ongoing strides continue. Following the Men in Green’s 3-0 T20I whitewash over West Indies in Karachi, captain Sarfraz Ahmed claimed that international teams now have no excuses left to use over not wanting to travel to, play and tour Pakistan.
The wicket-keeper batsman is a role model figure for millions of people and you cannot fault his desire to restore cricketing order to his country once and for all — but he is looking beyond the bigger picture. Pakistan is not there yet, there is still plenty of work to do and this process shouldn’t be rushed.
It has taken nine years since the 2009 terror attack on the touring Sri Lankan team bus for Pakistan to reach the point where they are today. For some, that may seem like a long time but the Pakistan Cricket Board had to start from scratch and their long-term vision and plan needed support. Indeed, their actions have been justified to date.
In 2017, the coveted Pakistan Super League final was held in Lahore (the rest of the tournament took place in Pakistan’s adopted home of the UAE), a World XI side played out three twenty-over clashes against Pakistan in the same city and Sri Lanka returned to complete their series on Pakistan shores with a solitary T20. This year, both the PSL semi-finals were hosted in Lahore and the showpiece final in Karachi, all without incident. A resounding triumph.
Evaluating Pakistan’s success so far
If you had to measure the progress using a graph, the linear curve would be straight, climbing steadily with no sudden peaks or troughs. This constitutes both the continuity and consistency that is required moving forward, irrespective of how long it takes for international cricket and teams to become regular visitors again.
Presidential-style security has underpinned this, with international stars like Darren Sammy, Evin Lewis, Steven Finn, Chris Jordan, Luke Ronchi and JP Duminy all travelling to the country under the highest form of surveillance for the PSL. The same arrangements were deployed for West Indies, with visiting teams and players given Guest of State treatment — the highest level of protection possible.
With the Pakistan international side travelling to Ireland, England and Scotland next month to contest Tests and T20s fixtures, the PCB have a break in play to re-evaluate the success of those matches hosted in Pakistan and form the next blueprint. Ultimately, the first goal has to be to play at least half of the 2019 edition of the PSL in Pakistan.
The UAE has been a reliable base but costs have spiralled and attendance figures have been low, aside from clashes in Sharjah. For Pakistani cricket to truly thrive, their marquee event needs to mimic that of the Indian Premier League.
Work is underway to make this possible and there is a big responsibility on overseas players — who have collected large sums of money from the tournament — to commit to matches in Pakistan and not have opt-out contractual clauses like we have seen with Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan and Shane Watson. This links back to the recent series, which saw a second-string West Indies side turn up and not perform — which is far from the benchmark. If the game’s elite international talent aren’t travelling to Pakistan, the operation becomes more and more complex.
Spread the word
An element of advocacy is needed from those foreign players that have played in the country. West Indies all-rounder Sammy has obviously led the way, particularly on social media, promoting his experience and eulogising about the packed houses. Windies coach Stuart Law also reserved high praise for how his team was treated in the three limited-overs clashes. Positive testimonials strike a chord. International cricketers obviously talk to one another and make choices on where and what they will play based on how well looked after they are, numerical incentives and competition value. Here, the PSL needs to be a regular part of the conversation and that can lead to greater communication channels with boards from Australia and England in trying to secure visits of the so-called bigger international sides, too.
Cricket tours are a different animal
The matches that have taken place on Pakistan ground have been one-offs or back-to-back affairs, with teams flying in just before the match and then flying straight out. The country has shown they can take care of this but a long cricket tour inclusive of warm-up matches, travel in-between cities and regular net sessions is far more challenging. Naturally, cricket teams are a target given they are a vast travelling party, carry a bucket load of equipment and it is fairly easy to get to know their itinerary and even the hotel they are staying in.
As a direct result, Pakistan management and planning forces will need to show that they can apply the same security and practical arrangements across multiple cities, on different days, to replicate that of an international tour. It’s doable but it takes a lot of time to put these greater assurances in place.