There is little doubt that Shaharyar Khan sees himself as a leader with a historic mission. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman wants to be the man credited for the return of international cricket to this strife-torn country. And after successfully overseeing Pakistan’s first series on home soil against a Test-playing nation, it seems he believes that his historic mission is within a striking distance of completion.
Last Friday, he told reporters in Karachi about the possibility of Pakistan hosting home games against teams like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the near future. He also assured them that Pakistan will also be hosting Test matches and that unlike the recent series against Zimbabwe which was a one-venue affair PCB will also be hosting games at other major centres especially Karachi.
It all sounds good. But how much of that can really happen?
An ex-diplomat with loads of experience, the 81-year-old Shaharyar must be fully aware of the fact that Pakistan’s security issues remain unresolved. Our security forces might have achieved an upper hand against the various terror organisations operating in this country but they are far from eliminating them. The terrorist remain on the offensive and we are reminded about that fact on a daily basis.
That’s why I would ask the PCB chairman whether he is holding any aces up his sleeves. Because he would need plenty of them in order to materialise a home series against any Test-playing nation other than Zimbabwe and that include easy pickings like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Don’t get me wrong. I personally believe that last month’s home series against Zimbabwe was a big step in the right direction. It should serve as a shot of adrenaline towards the revival of international cricket in Pakistan.
But hosting Zimbabwe was easy if you compare it with the idea of a home series against any other Test-playing team. Let’s take for example, Sri Lanka. Can we tempt the Sri Lankan cricketers by paying them US$12,500 apiece to come and play in Pakistan? Or even the Bangladeshis?
Unlike the Zimbabweans, who are the most cricket-starved and under-paid players in the Test-playing world, the Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis are in a reasonably-good income bracket. That’s why I don’t think that a few thousand dollars will be able to attract them.
A lasting revival of international cricket in Pakistan remains a tough goal to achieve. Mere statements or minor breakthroughs like the visit of Sidath Wettimuny, Sri Lanka’s interim cricket chiefs, guarantee nothing. I believe that instead of raising this nation’s hopes by his countless interviews and statements, Shaharyar should keep his eyes on the ball. He and his team shouldn’t gloat about the home series against Zimbabwe. They should instead be working on a plan that spreads beyond the temptation of money because it would take much more than that to make sure that international teams keep coming to Pakistan to play cricket.
By plying Zimbabwe with money and favours, PCB managed to invite them for a brief, ten-day series and then send them off on a happy note. In fact the Zimbabweans were so pleased with the royal treatment that they agreed to stay on despite a suicide attack just a stone’s throw away from the Gaddafi Stadium where one of the games of the series was being played. Imagine how any other Test-playing team would have reacted to such an incident?
Apart from what is quite a Herculean task of making Pakistan an international cricketing destination, Shahar-yar is also looking to achieve another goal that still seems pretty elusive – hosting old rivals India for a ‘home’ series on a neutral venue.
Shaharyar has said a lot about it. And if he is to be believed then there is a big possibility that Pakistan will host India for a full series in the UAE starting December.
But you don’t have to be an expert in diplomacy to decipher the message which is coming from the other side of the border. The Indians haven’t really shown that they are as excited over the idea of reviving bilateral cricketing ties with Pakistan. Jagmohan Dalmiya, the BCCI president, seems interested but it’s not going to be his call. It is the Indian government that holds all the cards. And it is yet to give any concrete statement over the issue.
Both of Shaharyar’s goals are important for the growth of Pakistan cricket. Without regular international games taking place in the country, our cricket is bound to suffer. And without getting the chance to host money-spinning games against India, PCB’s bank accounts will dwindle and that will hamper cricket’s growth in our country.
But Shaharyar should know that he doesn’t have much control of either issue. He can keep trying and I’m sure that he will, but in the end the stars will have to align for him to achieve the two goals.
But there is another, equally important target that is well within his grasp – lifting the standard of our domestic cricket. On paper, you would see every top PCB official making statements about how the board will achieve that goal. But apart from trial and error and half-baked projects, the Board has little to show about the progress it has made in that direction. Our domestic cricket remains weak and there is little evidence that the Board is in a position to do much about it.
The officials who have been running the PCB for the last many years are eager to continue doing so. But do they deserve to be given that chance? I don’t think so. What the PCB needs is an infusion of professionalism and competence. It can do away with the vested-interest elements. That’s the only way forward for a Board that has to achieve bigger goals than last month’s home series against Zimbabwe.