Pakistan cricket is gradually returning to a semblance of normalcy. Late last month, the country hosted a top-flight touring party for the first time since March 2009 when an ambush on the Sri Lankan team by heavily armed terrorists in Lahore turned Pakistan into cricket world’s biggest pariah.
When that unfortunate incident, which left 12 people dead and several Sri Lankan players injured, happened not many would have believed that the Sri Lankan cricketers will ever visit Pakistan again. But kudos to the Islanders as despite all sorts of security fears they agreed to travel to this country to play the third and final game of their Twenty20 International series at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium.
It was a win-win development for all.
On a smoggy night that saw more than 20,000 vocal fans cheering for both Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the hosts had a cakewalk to a 36-run triumph which gave them a 3-0 clean sweep against the visitors. It turned out to be an important win as a few days later when India beat New Zealand in a T20 game at home, Pakistan rose to number one in the T20I rankings. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, were treated likes heroes and rightly so.
But Pakistan’s whitewash of Sri Lanka and their ascent to the top spot in the T20 rankings weren’t the most important cricketing developments for Pakistan. Their biggest reason to celebrate was the return of top-tier international cricket to the country for the first time in more than eight years. It’s true that Sri Lanka were unable to send their best squad to Pakistan because many of their leading players decided against the trip because of safety fears. Their coach Nic Pothas gave the tour the thumbs down and several key players including Upul Tharanga, Lasith Malinga, Niroshan Dickwella, Suranga Lakmal, Chamara Kapugedera, Milinda Siriwardene and Akila Dananjaya followed suit.
Their decision to stay away from the Lahore game underlines the fact that Pakistan are still far away from their target which is to make sure that international teams start touring the country on a regular basis. That’s when true normalcy will return to Pakistan cricket.
Speaking of the return of international sporting action to Pakistan, one major development that has taken place is the staging of an Asian Development Tour (ADT) tournament in the country. The inaugural Defence Raya Golf Championship which will conclude on Sunday (today) in Lahore is the first international golf event to take place in Pakistan in more than ten years. The US$120,000 championship might not be a major international event but it is certainly a big step in the right direction for Pakistan golf. International golfers like John Catlin of the United States, Wolmer Murillo of Venezuela and Liu Yan-wei of China were included in the line-up for the event at the picturesque Defence Raya Golf and Country Club.
Catlin, on his first visit to Pakistan, was pleasantly surprised. “I’ve felt safe and at home. The course looks great and I’m really excited to play here. It is one of the cool things about playing on the Asian Tour or ADT. You get to go to places you never thought you will see in your whole life. If I didn’t play golf, I would have gone to Pakistan or even Thailand. It is nice to experience new things and see different stuff,” he said.
This is the first time that Pakistan has found a place on the Asian Development Tour which was launched in 2010 with the aim of creating a career pathway for professional golfers in Asia. Sanctioned by the Asian Tour, the Asian Development Tour will ultimately create a new playing platform for emerging stars from across Asia and around the world.
Last week, Pakistan golf had another reason to cheer about when the legendary Taimur Hassan was elected as the Vice-Chairman of the prestigious Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC) in New Zealand.
At the APGC elections held last month in Wellington, Taimur became the first Pakistani to be elected to this coveted post. Earlier, he had served as secretary of the Confederation. The elections in Wellington were attended by representatives of 41 APGC nations.
Taimur, who is member of the prestigious Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Scotland, told ‘The News on Sunday’ that as APGC vice-chairman he will always be available to assist Pakistan’s golf authorities in their campaign to promote the game.
“It’s an honour to be elected as the Vice-Chairman of APGC,” said the former national champion who has also served as secretary of the Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF). “I will try to use my experience for the promotion of golf in the Asia Pacific including Pakistan,” added Taimur who is by far the most successful amateur golfer in the history of Pakistan.
Taimur, who was instrumental in lining up the Asian Development Tour (ADT) event which was held in Lahore recently, said that he will also play his role to bring more international golfing action to Pakistan.
While international cricket and golf recently returned to Pakistan hopes are high that world class hockey players will also be seen in action in various parts of the country early next year. The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) headed by Brig Khalid Sajjad Khokhar is giving final touches to its plans of staging a professional hockey league featuring international stars. One hopes that their efforts materialse because hockey really needs a big boost in Pakistan.
International sporting action is slowly but surely returning to Pakistan. However, more efforts are needed to capitalise on the momentum. And the efforts should come from all stakeholders. It was unfortunate to note that Pakistan Television refused to provide any live coverage to the Raya event despite the fact that 31 foreign golfers from 13 countries are featuring in it. That’s the sort of apathy which has dogged our sports and we will have to overcome it.
Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News