KARACHI: Pakistani hopes of reviving international cricket rose after successfully hosting a one-day series against Afghanistan, but experts on Monday warned against any imminent breakthrough.
Pakistan's second string whitewashed Afghanistan - the first international team to tour since the Sri Lankan team was attacked in Lahore in 2009 - in the three-match series which finished on Sunday.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said the untroubled series, albeit against lowly-ranked Afghanistan, sent positive signals after international matches were suspended following the March 2009 attacks that killed eight people, and wounded seven Sri Lankan players and their assistant coach.
But former players and officials remained guarded. “Apparently hosting the series gives a glimmer of hope, but it wouldn't mean anything to top cricketing nations like England, Australia and India,” said former player Iqbal Qasim.
“Revival of international cricket in Pakistan is linked to the security situation in our country, so it is advisable for the PCB to invite smaller nations, second strings and Under-19 outfits in the next few years,” he added.
Even before the Lahore attacks, Pakistan was a virtual “no go” zone for international teams, who frequently refused to visit over security fears following the September 11, 2001 attacks and the ensuing war on Al-Qaeda.
“While trying to convince the teams to tour Pakistan, our stance used to be that cricket was never attacked in our country, but the Lahore incidents changed the scenario and it will now take time to resume tours,” said Qasim.
Former PCB chief Tauqir Zia agreed that hosting the Afghans was a small step, particularly after Sri Lanka recently refused to visit later this year.
“It's a fact that the security situation is not conducive for cricket tours in our country,” said Zia. “Sri Lanka has recently refused a tour due to take place in October this year, so we must take small steps like this one.”
The PCB, however, has trumpeted loud public optimism. “Under the circumstances we have managed to host an international series and I am sure this successful hosting of Afghanistan will send positive signals to the cricket world,” said PCB general manager for domestic affairs Shafiq Ahmed.
“It was wonderful to see a packed Iqbal stadium (in the city of Faisalabad) on Sunday and the atmosphere was electrifying which gives us big hope that people want to watch international cricket,” said Ahmed, a former Test opener.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik vowed to do everything possible to ensure Test-playing nations return. “I want to convey a message to the International Cricket Council (ICC) that 'please convince teams to play cricket in Pakistan',” Malik said on Friday. “We are capable of protecting teams and would do everything to revive cricket.”
The ICC stripped Pakistan of its share of hosting World Cup 2011 matches and formed a task force to find ways to revive international cricket in Pakistan, where bomb attacks have killed more than 4,410 people in the last four years.
The task force suggested World XI (teams comprising players from all countries) and junior teams' tours as initial small steps in the process.