“The future of this great game is in danger. Big Three may not realize it but it may come back to bite them one day”
Politics should not be mixed with sports. Unfortunately, it’s not a fact, it’s a cliché. Of late sports has been a perfect platform to be used for political manoeuvring. Although it is not just restricted to South Asia or more specifically Pakistan, but Pakistan sports, and cricket, in particular, have been a battleground for its arch-rival India to try to achieve what it could not on real fronts.
We have heard of proxies who fight for their masters but if you have never heard of sports proxies then you probably do not know about ICC and the Big Three of world cricket. The attack on the Sri Lankan team was an unfortunate incident that was the result of regional instability created by the war on terror. Due to its strategic location, Pakistan was always in the centre of the Afghan conflict.
The attack happened but what did not happen was solidarity on the part of the cricket fraternity. A country termed as favoured non-NATO ally was made a scapegoat for the failures of its allies. This was obviously cashed by its arch-enemy who made sure cricket never returns to the most passionate fans. And they did not try to hide that motive. The Indian Premier League (IPL) was made a no-go-area for Pakistani cricketers. There were talks of blacklisting Pakistan or boycotting Pakistan or not playing against them in the world cup – As usual, the International Cricket Council (ICC) was helpless or handcuffed!
Pakistan cricket as resilient as it can be refused to fade out. Despite playing on neutral grounds – UAE happened to be a perfect replacement as Pakistan rose to world number one in Test rankings against all odds – it continued to thrive and surprise the world on several occasions.
In this scenario, Pakistan Super League (PSL) was launched and soon it became the second most popular cricket league among fans and players after IPL. Slowly but gradually, PCB brought cricket back home. Last year full PSL season was played at home. After Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, West Indies and South Africa played in Pakistan and it seemed normalcy was returning after all.
Regional politics took another turn and with that Pakistan cricket was made to suffer again. Black Caps –now awkwardly labelled as Black Sheep in Pakistan – citing an unknown and undisclosed security threat called Pakistan tour off at the eleventh hour. This killed Pakistan cricket as Shoaib Akhtar rightly termed.
The thing that made it look like a conspiracy and a farce was the manner in which the tour was called off. They did not bother to share the details of the threats with the PCB or Pakistani government. It is futile to mention what PCB had done for NZC in their time of need.
There was no change in threat level or tour advisory by all the five countries comprising the Five Eyes which alerted the New Zealand government to a perceived threat alert. Advice from their own security experts (ESI Risk) was unchanged. On the other hand, a few days later, an ODI between New Zealand and England women teams went on despite a bomb alert in the team hotel in Birmingham.
To make matters worse and as feared, England too called off short tours of its cricket teams to Pakistan.
Their men’s team was to stay for only 4 days – only 4 days. But strangely, rather hilariously, the reason given was not security situation as travel advisories were unchanged.
Instead, the reasons given by the ECB were player anxiety and tiredness resulting from the prolonged controlled environment of COVID 19.
Were England women cricketers too exhausted?
Renowned English journalist Peter Oborne commented, “ECB kicked Pakistan in the teeth.”
Even English fans and former cricketers called it the hypocrisy of ECB who instead of reciprocating PCB (who had responded positively to England’s calls for help at the peak of the pandemic in 2020 saving their cricket summer) hit their most trusted friend in the back. If Duke and Duchess of Cambridge can visit Pakistan, then surely English players can do so too.
PCB were left angered, bruised and hurt. Ramiz Raja, incumbent PCB Chairman, clearly sounded raged but the response of CEO Wasim Khan was more measured and diplomatic although he too seemed heartbroken after all the efforts he and his team had put in to bring bigger cricket nations to play in Pakistan.
There was clearly a rat in ICC. Now the actions of NZC and ECB reveal there is a bigger conspiracy against Pakistan as a nation. Regional and world politics have found their favourite battlefield in Pakistan again.
Australia did not cancel their English tour when the 7/7 London massacre occurred in 2005. Cricket continued when the Mumbai attacks happened in 2008. The 2017 Champions Trophy in England went ahead despite the London Bridge tragedy. In fact, Pakistan and India played their match the very next day.
The Test match was not called off when Pakistan suffered its biggest tragedy i.e. APS school massacre in 2014. The list is non-exhaustive but it proves double standards practised by the Big Three.
There is a glaring divide among cricket nations. Those with full pockets call all the shots but the poorer boards often fall victim to this duplicity.
Players may be more interested in playing IPL but assembling a fifteen for the Pakistan tour was not a hard matter for both cricket boards. Several English and New Zealand players recently toured Pakistan for PSL-6.
It’s a matter of honouring international commitment which both boards miserably failed.
Pakistan team toured the most since the pandemic began but what do they get in return? Back-stabbing and empty words from the so-called friends!
In the words of Ramiz Raja, now they should not expect Pakistan to lend any more favours.
So what next for Pakistan?
Pakistan should not abandon its friends.
PCB should try to play as much cricket as possible by inviting those nations who are willing to come.
Pakistan has a busy season ahead. Australia, New Zealand and England are set to tour Pakistan in 2022.
There are murmurs of those tours not materializing. Pakistan should take a firm stand in ICC and demand compensation from all these boards.
As per ICC WTC playing conditions, if a team refuses to play or concedes defeat, the match will be awarded to the other team. So Pakistan should get points if these teams refuse to tour.
But would the Big Three swallow that?
ICC would surely step in. Remember deep pockets!
The preparations for world T20 are in disarray. Pakistan will go into the tournament unprepared with a very inexperienced team. On paper, their chances are next to bleak but if any team can lift itself it is Pakistan.
Back in 2009, Pakistan surprised the world by lifting the World T20 cup after the setback of the Lahore attacks. This time, a good showing by the team in the World T20 will send a strong message to the world.
Ramiz Raja has reiterated to make domestic cricket more powerful. He has already increased the pay structure of domestic players. The domestic first-class structure was restructured in line with Imran Khan’s vision. Now only 6 regional teams play Quaid-e-Azam Trophy to make it more competitive and relevant. Several former players and officials criticized the move citing players’ income and career safety concerns. But Imran Khan thinks of the future and with continuity in policy backed by constant surveillance to improve the current system we can expect good outcomes.
PSL will be expanded and there are thoughts of creating a window for PSL in the off-season. By producing good players, we can compete in world cricket and that is the way forward for Pakistan.
It’s not just a tour cancellation. This cancellation is another reminder of how toothless and ineffective ICC has become. The Big Three call all the shots in the name of ICC. They play against each other wherever and whenever they wish despite COVID waves, player fatigue, bubble environment or terror threats.
But the same constraints come in the way of their commitments when it comes to touring other cricket nations.
The future of this great game is in danger.
Big Three may not realize it but it may come back to bite them one day.