LAHORE: Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Zaka Ashraf’s untiring efforts to revive international cricket in Pakistan have not met with much success since the campaigns to convince India and Bangladesh boards to send their national teams to Pakistan have failed to materialise.
However, the optimist that he is, Zaka remains hopeful about his efforts bearing fruit in near future. “First of all we have been trying to convince both the countries by adopting diplomacy to an extent where our national pride and honour are not compromised,” said Zaka in an exclusive interview with Dawn.
“I do not feel hurt or disappointed by the setbacks in these campaigns and let me assure you that our efforts today will yield positive results for Pakistan in near future, in say about next two years.”
“We are taking all steps to revive international cricket here and everyone should feel proud about the efforts we have made in this regard,” he said.
While Bangladesh has failed twice to fulfil its commitment to tour Pakistan during last one year, the Indian cricket board (BCCI) is still sticking to its policy of neither touring Pakistan nor accepting the option to play at neutral venues despite the fact the Pakistan team agreed to tour India to play three ODIs and two T20s recently without making an issue about the fact that it was India’s turn to tour Pakistan as per the Future Tours Programme devised by the ICC.
“I would like to disclose here that India’s tour to Pakistan had almost been finalised after both PCB and BCCI held a series of useful meetings during the Pakistan tour,” said Zaka.
“We not only met the BCCI but also Indian government officials and were at a stage of giving practical shape to the tour. But the recent situation at the Line of Control (LoC) spoiled everything,” he claimed.
“But I believe that peace-loving people of both the countries should make joint efforts to defeat those elements who are trying to sabotage the peace process,” Zaka emphasised.
He said his act of sending a bouquet to Shiv Sena’s late party head Bal Thackeray, who was alive at the time, for his health while urging him to play a positive role in bringing the two countries closer was also appreciated in India and Pakistan.
Zaka admitted that people’s perception about Pakistan had changed drastically after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 and they were afraid that they would be subjected to a shoot-out as soon as they come out of the airport.
“There is lot of effort required to change this perception because things are definitely not so bad here,” said Zaka.
“We react the same way in Pakistan when we hear a news about a fire in Australian’s forests, thinking that a large part of that country is burning which is not the truth,” he said.
He admitted that though it was not easy for the parents and families in foreign countries to send their loved ones to Pakistan, the PCB was ready to offer the families of all players every kind of security besides a US$2million insurance for each player.
He urged the media to join hands with the PCB to promote the message of peace in order to attract foreign teams and players to come and play in Pakistan.
Asked if under-19 or ‘A’ teams of the cricket playing nations could be asked to tour to Pakistan, Zaka disclosed that all cricket boards were willing to send such teams to any neutral venue but not to Pakistan.
“But we can’t meet their demands to organise U-19 and ‘A’ teams series at neutral venues because the competitions at these level have no emotional or marketing value for our people, so it will be a total financial loss for us,” he said.
He said despite all those odds, the PCB was making its efforts and hosted a British Army team, a British University team besides hosting a World-XI in Karachi in the recent past.
He said the PCB had recently hosted ICC Chief Executive Dave Richardson and was trying to invite the heads of different cricket boards to personally come and assess the security situation in Pakistan.
“We are not disappointed by the scenario confronting our cricket and have decided to hold the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in March-April,” he said.
“We are in contact with all boards regarding the PSL. We are offering the players more attractive packages than the Indian Premier League (IPL) and have great hope that many top players of the world will respond positively to it,” he insisted.
He said the PCB had an agreement with the Sri Lankan board for issuing NOCs to their players for the league. “The PCB is also making efforts to get the PSL income absolutely tax-free because it will be a boost for the players,” he said.
To a question, Zaka admitted that announcement of venues for the league was delayed for no particular reason. It may be mentioned here that till today, the PSL management has not named the city or cities where the league matches will be held.
To a question about the security threats to Pakistan women’s cricket team hurled by Indian extremist party Shiv Sena ahead of the the World Cup in India next month, he said the PCB was in contact with the ICC over the issue and was observing the situation very closely.
“Since it is an event of the ICC, the world governing body has the prime responsibility to ensure security for the Pakistan team too,” he said.
He felt that the ICC might shift the entire event from India if the BCCI and the Indian government refused to give it security assurances.
Asked why the PCB had not invited non-Test playing nations like Scotland and Ireland to Pakistan ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy in England in June, Zaka said the PCB is making such efforts. “In this regard, we have recently invited the Afghanistan team to tour Pakistan and to benefit from the facilities of the NCA in Lahore,” he said.