This week's comment discusses the series between Pakistan All Star XI and International World XI completed over the weekend, the first time overseas internationals have played on Pakistani soil for over three years.
By Nasser Khan (22 October 2012)
Overseas cricketers returned to Pakistan for the first time in over three years as a number of former and semi-current international players combined to face the Pakistan All Star XI at the National Stadium, Karachi.
The vociferous support from the capacity crowd at NSK showed how beloved the game remains in the psyche of the nation, and the lack of visiting teams has not served to dim any of the passion for cricket in the country. Those present in the crowd were celebrating not just the on-field action, but there was a palpable sense of contribution to the greater good the two T20 matches may have on the game in Pakistani.
In the current cricketing environment, where decisions are made in boardrooms between financiers, the fan presence bypassed such sterility and brought the game back to the people. Administrators should note any significant empty seats at the stadium would have rendered the matches a failure, regardless of the lack of incident or pronouncements from politicians or the unique breed of politico-administrators prevalent in the subcontinent. It should serve as a remainder to the cricketing powers in Pakistan - the purpose of cricket is not to serve the egos of the influential, but to repay the fans that loyally support the team through challenging times.
The on-field entertainment did not have much to offer to as a cricketing spectacle, the air of exhibition reinforced by the utilisation of the likes of Nazir, Shafiq and the Nasir Jamshed as death bowlers reducing the matches to near-farce at points. However, to belittle the quality of cricket in the series is to ignore the very essence of the series, as Afridi succinctly described “the result wasn’t important, the matches were.”
It is hoped the series will pave the way for the revival of international cricket in Pakistan after being plagued by a number of complex security issues. Only time will tell whether this is the case, but ringing endorsements from some of the higher profile players will certainly help. "I think that Pakistan should not be denied for long, they are vital to international cricket” said Andre Nel “I don’t see major security concerns here, the people have been warm and we are being looked after very well". He looked comfortable, as did the other players, echoing the words of many Pakistani domiciles to not judge Pakistan based on polarised media reports, but make informed decisions as individuals.
The players went shopping in Karachi and dined out at local restaurants and such points can have a significant impact on the external perception of Pakistan. They may not be top stars, but the fact that overseas players arrived and left with no incident is a step in the right direction and a feather in the cap for the organisers.
What cannot be lost to observers of the matches is internal political wrangling that inevitably associates itself with such privately-backed enterprises. The awards ceremony after the second T20 included representatives from the PCB - Chairman Zaka Ashraf and Director General Javed Mianded - but it all felt like the Lord Mayor’s show, a last-grasp attempt to show a united front. Politicians rarely miss a chance of a positive photo opportunity but the PCB Chairman certainly didn’t appear to be comfortable on stage as the self-congratulations continued long after the match had finished.
Afridi after the first match ensured Zaka Ashraf was thanked for the PCB’s support, although those appointed as guardians of the game have been accused of being passive bystanders, providing support only in the form of facilities at the National Stadium and the issuance of no-objection certificates to the Pakistani contingent of players.
The commentators and suits predictably used the opportunity as a public show of regional strength, confirming that although the fans may not carry such differences, those in charge of the game are still very much focused on one-upmanship with their rivals. A sense of achievement is justified, but those given the stage and microphone should have been mindful the eyes of the nation were focused on proceedings.
Moving beyond the politics, Dr Mohammad Ali Shah, the driving force behind the event, also spent time highlighting the practical importance of organising such matches, in particular ensuring the knowledge of managing touring teams is not lost altogether, leaving outsourcing as the only option. A valid point, and one that can be lost in the melee of publicity.
The series was a success. The players weren’t the youngest or the highest profile, the coverage could have been more professional, but regular domestic fans were given the opportunity to show their support for international cricket which they did magnificently, rekindling memories of great matches played by Pakistan and in particular Karachi. For that reason more than any other, we can only hope this acts as a step towards international teams returning to Pakistan.