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Return of cricket

September 14, 2017

PAKISTAN cricket’s agonising eight and a half years of isolation effectively ended this week with three T20 international series being played between a high-profile World XI and the Pakistan team at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. It was an exciting moment for millions of home fans as well as Pakistanis abroad when Sarfraz Ahmed’s men first entered the field on Tuesday to take on the star-studded World XI. For once, the result of the game didn’t matter for the players had assembled for a much larger cause — the rebirth of Pakistan cricket. Deservedly, the occasion made sporting headlines internationally while in Lahore, everything came to a standstill, including the campaign for the NA-120 polls, as people celebrated by either thronging to the stadium or watching the players on television. The negative impact of isolation for a cricket-crazy nation like Pakistan has been wide-ranging — no surprise when we consider that the cricketing bond shuns cultural, ethnic and sectarian differences. But after a long period in the wilderness, following the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore, there are high hopes now that the game is staging a comeback.

Pakistan was forced to play all its home series in the UAE since the incident as all foreign teams refused to play here. The Pakistan Cricket Board, the richest sports body in Pakistan, felt the financial crunch and had to shelve several plans besides downsizing staff. While domestic cricket continued on home turf, the PCB launched the Pakistan Super League in Dubai and Sharjah, which was a clear indication of how the cricket board and the government viewed the security situation in Pakistan.

All of that, however, is suddenly a thing of the past. A World XI comprising well-known current and ex-players from seven Test-playing countries is here and doing well at the Gaddafi Stadium. This series will be followed by a T20 game against Sri Lanka in October and another three-match T20 series against the West Indies in November. More importantly, the otherwise indifferent world cricket governing body, the ICC, has softened its stance towards Pakistan and that could mean the resumption of full-fledged international activity here. Sustained efforts must be made by the authorities to ensure that the stadiums are full and that Pakistan once again becomes the vibrant cricket-playing nation it used to be and regularly hosts foreign teams on its soil.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2017