Aun Haider | 10:13pm BST 12 May 2023
Cricket is more than just a sport for Pakistan – it’s an inseparable part of the nation’s identity, a symbol of unity in diversity, and a conduit of national pride. However, the trajectory of Pakistan’s cricketing saga has been far from smooth. This article delves into the tumultuous journey of Pakistan cricket, recounting its trials and triumphs over the past decade. From the traumatic aftermath of the 2009 attacks on the Sri Lankan team to the subsequent isolation from international cricket and from the hopeful revival ushered in by the Pakistan Super League (PSL) to the team’s remarkable resurgence on the global stage – this narrative offers a comprehensive overview of Pakistan’s cricketing landscape. Embark on this exploration of resilience, transformation, and Pakistan’s indomitable spirit of cricket.
The Trauma of 2009: Shattered Dreams
In the annals of Pakistan cricket history, the year 2009 is marked by a tragic event that left an indelible scar on the nation’s sports culture. The assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore not only jeopardized the lives of players but also isolated Pakistan from the international cricket community. The aftermath was immediate and severe: international teams refused to play in Pakistan, citing security concerns. A once vibrant cricket culture was suddenly silenced, and Pakistan’s passionate fans were deprived of witnessing the thrilling spectacle of international cricket in their homeland.
The Pakistan Super League: A Catalyst for Change
The Pakistan Super League revolutionized Pakistan cricket in many ways. The T20 tournament not only brought back international cricket to the country but also provided a platform for young Pakistani talent to shine. It gave emerging players a chance to play alongside international stars, enhancing their skills and boosting their confidence.
The PSL has been instrumental in discovering new talents like Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Shadab Khan, and many others who have significantly contributed to the national team.
International Cricket’s Comeback: A New Dawn
The decade following the 2009 attack was marked by struggle and determination. The return of international cricket to Pakistan began tentatively, with Zimbabwe touring in 2015 for a short limited-overs series. The successful organization of these games ignited a spark of hope. The real turning point came with the initiation of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in 2016, a bold step that signaled Pakistan’s intent to regain its position in the global cricket fraternity.
The PSL played a monumental role in changing the perception of security in the country. With international players participating and matches being held without incidents, the PSL became a beacon for the return of international cricket. By 2020, all PSL matches were being held in Pakistan, and the sight of filled stadiums was a solid statement to the rest of the world that Pakistan was ready to host international cricket again.
Successful tours by major cricketing nations further bolstered this renewed confidence in Pakistan’s security. Over the last few years, Pakistan has hosted teams from Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. These tours, marked by thrilling cricket and commendable sportsmanship, were a testament to Pakistan’s ability to host international matches safely and effectively. The presence of these teams on Pakistani soil brought great joy to the local fans and strengthened Pakistan’s position in the global cricket fraternity.
The Resurgence of the Pakistan Cricket Team
In recent years, the Pakistan cricket team has shown remarkable improvement. The team has demonstrated a great mix of experience and youth, which is indicative of a well-thought-out development strategy. The team’s performance in international cricket has been increasingly consistent, which can be attributed to the confidence and exposure gained from the PSL.
Pakistan’s cricket has been on an upward trajectory, with notable achievements, including winning the Champions Trophy in 2017 and reaching the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup in 2021, finals of the T20 World Cup, and Asia Cup in 2023. The team’s progress is a testament to the resilience of the players and the effective strategies implemented by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
Grassroots Development: Nurturing the Future
The revival of cricket in Pakistan isn’t confined to the national team and high-profile PSL games. A significant amount of work has also been done at the grassroots level to ensure a steady stream of talent for the future. The PCB has launched numerous domestic tournaments to scout and nurture young talent. Schools and colleges have been encouraged to participate in cricket tournaments, and cricket academies are being established nationwide. These initiatives aim to instill the cricketing fundamentals in the younger generation and prepare them for the rigors of international cricket.
The Women’s Game: An Overlooked Frontier
While men’s cricket has made significant strides in the past decade, women’s cricket in Pakistan still faces numerous challenges. Lack of infrastructure, funding, and societal acceptance are some of the major hurdles. However, the PCB is committed to developing women’s cricket and has undertaken initiatives to promote the game among girls and women. The exhibition matches of the Women’s Team during the Pakistan Super League 2023 were a step in the right direction. Further efforts are required to ensure that women’s cricket receives the same level of attention and resources as the men’s game.
The Asia Cup 2023: An Emerging Challenge
Despite the positive strides made in the revival of international cricket, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is facing a significant challenge with hosting the Asia Cup 2023. The root of this issue lies in a brewing cold war between the PCB and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) over the venue of the tournament.
The Asia Cup was originally slated to be held in Pakistan in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hosting rights were transferred to Sri Lanka, and Pakistan was awarded the hosting rights for the Asia Cup 2023. Despite successful tours by all top cricketing nations, the BCCI has reservations about touring Pakistan, citing security concerns.
In an attempt to find a middle ground, the PCB proposed a hybrid model where India would play their matches at a neutral venue while the rest of the teams would compete in Pakistan. However, rumors suggest that the BCCI is not in favor of this hybrid model and is advocating for the entire tournament to be hosted at a neutral venue while maintaining that the hosting rights will technically remain with Pakistan.
In response, the PCB has taken a strong stand, stating that if the Asia Cup is moved away from Pakistan, they will boycott not only the Asia Cup but also the World Cup scheduled to be held in India. This deadlock has created uncertainty over the Asia Cup 2023, with both boards steadfast in their positions.
Adding to this complex scenario, the recent arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has been a prominent figure in Pakistan cricket, and the ensuing political unrest in the country have cast further doubts on Pakistan’s chances of hosting the Asia Cup. As the cricketing world watches these developments unfold, the future of the Asia Cup 2023 hangs in the balance.