Last week Giles Clarke, the International Cricket Council (ICC) Director, wrote a letter to ICC Members praising Pakistan’s efforts for the revival of international cricket in the country. He had just returned from Karachi after witnessing the final of the Pakistan Super League and was highly impressed with its successful staging in a city that last hosted big-time cricket almost ten years ago. His letter was his show of confidence in Pakistan’s ability to host international cricket despite all the security threats.
Now coming from a man of Clarke’s clout it was a big development. The former chairman of England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) remains a major player in world cricket. He is tipped to replace India’s Shashank Manohar as ICC’s independent chairman in June this year and if that happens then it will be good news for Pakistan because they see Clarke as one of their biggest supporters in international cricket. Clarke has been actively participating in Pakistan Cricket Board’s campaign to revive cricket in Pakistan post 2009 when a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore turned this country in a no-go zone for international teams.
Clarke’s letter to the ICC members has received positive response from most of the Test-playing nations. According to my sources, they’ve hailed Pakistan and its campaign to revive international cricket at home.
Pakistan can build on it. They already are trying to do that.
The three-match Twenty20 International series against the West Indies which gets underway at the National Stadium in Karachi from Sunday (today) is a step in the right direction.
It’s true that the series isn’t a proper series considering that the West Indians will be spending just three days in Pakistan and play back-to-back-to-back matches before flying away just hours after the final game. It’s also true that the West Indian team which was scheduled to arrive on Saturday night isn’t the full West Indian team as there is no Chris Gayle, Carlos Braithwaite, Jason Holder or Divendra Bishoo in the 13-man visiting party. It’s also true that the spectators looking forward to witnessing the three games would have to brave the current heat spell and stringent security measures just to get to the National Stadium.
But that’s the way it is. Even as Pakistan intensify their bid to bring cricketing normalcy at home they know that the odds are heavily stacked against them. The security situation has improved in recent times but threats remain. The cricketing world, meanwhile, is still skeptical something that was underlined yet again when many West Indian cricketers opted to miss the short trip. They said no despite the fact that they were being offered thousands of dollars over and above their match fees to make the trip. That money was provided by the PCB, which is desperate to keep the ball rolling.
But one has to look at the bright side. The visiting West Indian team might not be at full-strength but it is still an international team that has players like Marlon Samuels, Jason Mohammad and Samuel Badree in it. It is coming to Karachi which last hosted an international game back in 2009 when Sri Lanka played a Test here. And the icing on the cake is that the Windies will be here less than a week after the PSL final, which was a rip-roaring success.
Apprehensions, though, are still there. Security wise, we might not be walking on thin ice anymore but we aren’t out of the woods either. The security agencies will have to continue playing a vigilant role because a single untoward incident during the three-day series can send Pakistan back to square one.
Another aspect is the business side of the story. According to an estimate that was reached after talking to well-placed sources, the PCB has spent around 700,000 dollars just to make this series happen. It paid a big chunk of that amount to Cricket West Indies (CWI) to line up players. The problem here is that PCB is not a rich cricket board. It doesn’t have deep pockets like the Indian cricket board (BCCI).
After making such extra expenses, even breaking even must be a challenge for the Board. So will PCB be losing money on the series?
To get an answer for that question, I sent a query to Najam Sethi, the PCB chairman. He was, as usual, prompt in his response.
“The thing is that this series isn’t like a business enterprise for us,” he said. “The big motive for us is to bring back international cricket to Pakistan and for that we are even willing to bear a few losses,” he added.
But Sethi was quick to add that despite all the extra expenses, the worst case scenario for PCB, financially speaking, will be to break even.
“Look, this isn’t a bilateral series. We had to pay (the West Indian board) to send their players here. We had to bear all the expenses plus other costs. But that’s the price we are willing to pay.
“Despite all those expenses the worst we will do is break even. Thankfully we have received a good response from the fans and sponsors. We have received sponsorship for the series from companies like New Jubilee Insurance and Golootlo which is very encouraging.
“From the facts that I have just received I can tell you that the National Stadium is 80 percent sold out for all three days,” he said.
Sethi recalled that back in 2013, Pakistan did a similar favour to South Africa. “I remember Haroon Lorgat asking us to send team to South Africa at a time when the Indians pulled out from a series. We said yes and sent our team to help them. Obviously they paid us from the profits.”
Sethi stressed that he will continue keeping the campaign to revive international cricket in Pakistan at the top of his agenda. “It’s our most important goal and we will continue making all out efforts to achieve it.”
Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News