When former England captain Michael Vaughan told the BBC’s Test Match Special programme that Pakistan Tests should be moved to Australia rather than the UAE, his comments were ill-informed.
While Vaughan is right that low attendances and searing heat are a major issue with Tests in the UAE, to say that “it’s either too hot or they aren’t interested” is misguided at best.
He went on to add: “Pakistan played Australia in England and it was quite well supported. Why not take this series to a part of the world where it would be the same? There would be expats. You could go to some of the lesser grounds in Australia.”
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In a country made up of over 80 percent expats, to suggest there aren’t any, or enough, in the UAE would be nonsense.
It wasn’t just Vaughan. TMS co-commentator Ed Smith also chimed in, saying: “It’s hard to commentate on this ground. You don’t feel connected to the pitch because we are in a sealed commentary box and there are hardly any people here watching.”
There is no question that crowd numbers are low but the UAE is by no means the only country struggling with attracting fans.
Look at the first day of the Galle Test between Sri Lanka and West Indies that started on Wednesday: the attendance there was as low, if not smaller.
Does that mean all Sri Lanka Tests should be played in Australia or England because no-one is going to them?
Of course not.
The West Indies have also struggled to draw big crowds for years. Should they move from Antigua to Kolkata?
Of course not.
“On your own…” @MichaelVaughan Pakistan 73-1 (23 overs) #bbccricket #PAKvENG http://t.co/hhkhAtw9GN pic.twitter.com/1ZAEvA2Qhm
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) October 13, 2015
Pakistan is, sadly, still deemed too unsafe for cricket to be played and in their search for a host venue, the Pakistan Cricket Board found the UAE. Just a short flight from Karachi and a dot on the global map that has quickly become the hub of long haul international travel, the UAE connects the world via DXB and AUH airports.
The Emirates were also ready-made to host international cricket and boast a huge population of Pakistani expats waiting to be engaged.
On day two of the first Test against England, a couple hundred Pakistan fans were sitting a short walk down the corridor from the Zayed Cricket Stadium’s media centre in the shaded top terrace of the stadium. As the smells of curry, pasta and Biryani filled the air inside, the supporters conspired to produce significantly more noise than their numbers suggested possible outside.
There are large numbers of Pakistani cricket fanatics in the UAE. Unfortunately, the UAE has not done enough to engage either these avid followers or new supporters.
A large majority of Pakistan expats work in the service industry and struggle to get time off, but young Emiratis inspired by improved UAE performances, sub-continent school children yet to fall in love with the new generation of cricketers, and people new to the sport are not being introduced to cricket in the UAE.
The Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) should be running shuttles to games from labour camps – as they did with great success during the IPL – or taking players into schools and urging them to run trips to the matches.
The opinions that emanated from the illustrious TMS commentary box, coming as they did without exploring the reasons behind low attendances, were short-sighted -particularly at a time when associate nations like the UAE are facing exile from the World Cup under the ICC’s plans for a revised, shorter tournament.
It is not perfect but the UAE is a sound second home for Pakistan. The ECB just needs to start making more of its partnership with the Pakistan Cricket Board, before an alternative is more thoughtfully considered.