“I do hope that Australia will not cry off from the nation’s first cricketing tour of Pakistan in over two decades. Pakistan, in particular, deserve to host a full-strength Australian team, having had to play almost all of their cricket in the UAE for the past decade”
If Mark Twain was alive he might say that the reports of the imminent death of Test cricket, following England’s disappointing performances in Brisbane and Adelaide, “were grossly exaggerated”.
Test cricket has been written off over the years and the doomsayers are at it again, with England 2-0 down in the series and on the ropes.
What has gone wrong? Pretty much everything and most of it self-inflicted: bewildering selections, quixotic tactics and robotic captaincy.
The question marks around the England batting line-up have been highlighted in the first two Tests. It is seriously lacking in talent, creativity and intent. Root will be weighed down to the point of debilitation.
If England doesn’t bounce back emphatically in Melbourne, the pallbearers will gather on the banks of the Yarra and another set of bails will be incinerated for the flight back to London.
Consequently, the looming decision by CA about the team’s tour of Pakistan next February becomes much bigger than the tour itself.
South Asia is crucial to the survival and health of Test cricket. Very few countries have cricket as their main sport. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are four such nations and they need to be supported at every turn.
West Indies are another proud Test-playing region that must be backed to the hilt in their quest to return to their halcyon days.
The “big three” of India, England and Australia have an inexorable responsibility to ensure the survival and prosperity of cricket in all other Test-playing nations.
It is noteworthy that in the midst of a pandemic and despite a new strain of COVID-19, the Indian men’s team is currently touring South Africa to fulfil its commitments. Minimal fuss, no reconnaissance visits and without the fear, doubt and negativity that has characterised Australia’s recent cricket sojourns.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India gets a caning (sometimes, though not always, deservedly) for some of its acts of omission and commission, but this one is commendable. Good on the Indian cricketers too, well-remunerated as they may be, for risking their health in a country which has the African continent’s highest rate of Omicron infections.
Perhaps a timely lesson for us?
Detractors accuse Australia of being a reluctant touring side. Sub-par teams have toured West Indies, Dubai and Bangladesh this year, and not for the first time.
I do hope that Australia will not cry off from the nation’s first cricketing tour of Pakistan in over two decades.
Pakistan, in particular, deserve to host a full-strength Australian team, having had to play almost all of their cricket in the UAE for the past decade.
I know that a three-man delegation, including a representative of the Australian Cricketers Association, has just returned from an extensive 12-day visit to the proposed venues for the March series. Informal reports are that they were impressed at the plans and preparations of the Pakistan Cricket Board. A more solicitous and hospitable organisation would be hard to find.
Imran Khan was one of the world’s greatest all-rounders. A charismatic and natural leader immensely proud of his nation, it should give the cricketing world confidence that he is helping his country now as Pakistan’s Prime Minister and determined to oversee the return of international cricket. I am confident that no stone will be left unturned in that quest.
Former Pakistan fast bowler Zakir Khan is a veteran of the PCB and has the ear and trust of Imran. He has entrusted the reins of the PCB to former opener, the articulate Rameez Raja.
Terrorism has been a scourge in Pakistan for various historical and political reasons, too numerous and complex to elaborate in this column, but from all reports (and my personal experience of a visit in 2019), Pakistan offers touring sides security at the level normally extended only to international heads of state. The president of the Australian Cricketers Association, Shane Watson, has been an eager participant in the Pakistan Premier League for a few years and is thus intimately conversant about the situation on the ground there.
The stadiums are excellent, as are the five-star hotels and other facilities for tourists. Language is not an issue. The people are extremely friendly and respectful. They are very passionate and knowledgeable about their cricket and of course, their national side always has some amazing talent, which has not always been harnessed. Babar Azam, Mohammed Rizwan and Shaheen Afridi are world-class cricketers who would easily walk into other top international teams.
World cricket and Test cricket, in particular, needs a strong Pakistan team to compete with the big three. Their brand of cricket is always a drawcard – skilful fast bowlers, exciting spinners and dashing batsmen.
There used to be an old maxim in the IT industry, “No one got fired for buying IBM.”
It was a no-brainer as, for a long time; IBM was spoken as the predominant brand name in computers. The cricketing analogy this seems to best correspond to is, “No one got fired for cancelling or reneging on a tour of Pakistan.”
The final call on the tour’s feasibility lies with the Australian government which will advise Cricket Australia on security considerations, but I fervently hope that if that call is positive, we send a full-strength team and Watson articulates his positive experiences.
It is critical that CA and the ACA make it clear to the players how important this tour is to the long-term future of the game. Each generation has a responsibility to ensure that the game that they pass on to future generations is in robust health.
It would, of course, help their cricket and the coffers of the PCB if their traditional foes India had some sort of relationship. Alas, it is mired in deep distrust and hostility and is unlikely to be repaired until after the next general elections in both countries. Having toured Pakistan as coach of the last Indian team to have visited Pakistan, 16 years ago, I can assert that it is a tour which has the eyeballs of about a billion people, and often both countries grind to a halt when a game is on.
I am certain that there would be nobody keener to tour Pakistan than that champion of Test cricket, Virat Kohli before he retires, as it is the one major country he has not played Test cricket against.
Meanwhile, cricket administrators are best off ignoring Mark Twain’s facetious advice “never put off till tomorrow, what may be done day after tomorrow just as well”.
The time to tour Pakistan is tomorrow.
Note: This article is written by former Australian skipper and batting legend Greg Chappell at Sydney Morning Herald