Cricket in Pak­istan Still Not Out of Dan­ger

Hold­ing the PSL fi­nal in La­hore is un­likely to get the rest of the world to fol­low suit, so why take the risk right now?

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Shamya Das­gupta

Na­jam Sethi, chair man of the Pak­istan Cricket Board’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee – and by ex­ten­sion the Pak­istan Cricket Board and, by fur­ther ex­ten­sion, Pak­istan as a na­tion – has been cam­paign­ing for the fi­nal of the Pak­istan Su­per League to be held in La­hore. That match is now less than a week away: This Sun­day. At some stage be­tween now and then, a fi­nal word will be out – La­hore or, fail­ing that, Dubai. Sethi and Co. could still swing things. The ques­tion is: Why? It’s easy to see and un­der­stand where Sethi & Co is com­ing from. Ter­ror­ism and se­cu­rity con­cerns. No tour­ing teams (barely). PCB’s fi­nances hit. The coun­try’s very pas­sion­ate cricket fans de­prived. And, cru­cially, the coun­try’s im­age – that could do with some un­tar­nish­ing. Prov­ing that a big cricket event can be hosted within its bor­ders of the coun­try, in one of the big cities, would be a big step in that di­rec­tion.

When Sethi an­nounced it, and through his cam­paign since, one won­dered what the point was. How many over­seas crick­eters would ac­tu­ally make the trip? Ex­pect­edly, the Fed­er­a­tion of In­ter­na­tional Crick­eters’ As­so­ci­a­tions sug­gested that they stay away. When we caught up with Tony Ir­ish, the FICA ex­ec­u­tive chair man, in early Jan­uary, he had said, “In the past, the con­sis­tent ad­vice from the se­cu­rity ex­perts has been that risks to for­eign play­ers and teams of play­ing in Pak­istan are ex­ces­sive and un­man­age­able.”

Sethi is a much-re­spected man with an ad­mirable body of work in jour­nal­ism, pol­i­tics and pub­lish­ing. But in his lat­est avatar, as the chair­man of the PCB and the PSL, he might have bit­ten off more than he can chew. How­ever, the man is stick­ing it out and giv­ing it his all. But … to what end? If things had been quiet in Pak­istanof late­andtheo­ver­sea­splay­er­sof the twoteam­sthatqual­i­fy­forthe­fi­nal­hada­greed to make the quick trip, that would have been a dif­fer­ent­mat­ter.Howd­if­fer­ent,though?

Ques­tion 1: If the orig­i­nal plan of fly­ing in and fly­ing out the play­ers had been pulled off – and say they still pull it off some­how – what will it prove? Only that the en­tire might of the es­tab­lish­ment in Pak­istan can en­sure a few hours of trou­ble-free cricket. Not enough to con­vince an­other coun­try to send their cricket team across for a week or two, which is ob­vi­ously the end aim.

Ques­tion 2: As­sum­ing that doesn’t hap­pen, and a fi­nal is hosted with only lo­cals and a hand­ful of non-Pak­ista­nis (maybe), which is what Sethi has been boom­ing on about, what – again – will it prove? it will be more of the same. There is enough cricket played in the coun­try any­way. Once the over­seas re­cruits go out, the PSL fi­nal could well look like Karachi Blues v Karachi Whites play­ing the fi­nal of the 2016 edi­tion of the Na­tional T20 Cup at Mul­tan Cricket Sta­dium. What, re­ally, will change?

Noth­ing, and that’s the prob­lem. And the shame. Pak­istan needs cricket. Pak­istan de­serves cricket. But things are what they are. In this month alone, on Fe­bru­ary 13, a sui­cide bomb­ing in La­hore killed and in­jured around 100 peo­ple. On Fe­bru­ary 16, in Se­hwan, a his­toric city close to Hy­der­abad (the Pak­istan one), there was an­other sui­cide bomb­ing in­side a shrine when a post­prayer rit­ual was be­ing car­ried out – re­ports said close to 100 peo­ple were killed and around 300 in­jured. The South Asia Ter­ror­ism Por­tal lists nine other blasts in Pak­istan this month, with 19 listed as dead and 55 in­jured, many se­ri­ously.

To put it mildly, the coun­try isn’t cricket friendly right now. Much as sup­port­ers of the game there and out­siders – like this writer – with an abid­ing in­ter­est in, and even love for, cricket and crick­eters from Pak­istan would want it to be dif­fer­ent. In­dia is hardly trou­ble free. Yet I say that the threat per­cep­tion in trav­el­ling to Pak­istan is not mis­placed.

The Fed­er­a­tion of In­ter­na­tional Crick­eters’ As­so­ci­a­tions has sug­gested that play­ers stay away

—AFP

A tech­ni­cian in­stalls a se­cu­rity cam­era at the Gaddafi Cricket Sta­dium in La­hore on Fe­bru­ary 21, 2017

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