LAHORE: Michael Atherton, former England captain, believes that perception regarding security in Pakistan will change and more teams will come as foreign players who featured in the Pakistan Super League will pass on the message of safety to their team mates back home.

In a podcast released by the Pakistan Cricket Board on Saturday, Atherton revealed that he was in a café at the Pearl Continental last month [March] where there were about eight to nine English players, all of whom, were full of praises for the tournament and security.

“You only have to look around – the crowds, enthusiasm and packed houses for every game. All these foreign players will now know that it is safe here and they will be able to take that message to the players from their own countries,” said Atherton.

He also said that it was unfortunate that international cricket had left the Pakistani shores for seven or eight years after the unfortunate terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009. “It could not have been easy from all kinds of perspectives to play in the UAE.

“Players played in front of empty grounds and were constantly away from home. Which other team has had to play virtually 12 months a year on the road? The financial cost for the PCB must have been significant over that period,” highlighted the former English captain.

He said that despite all the disadvantages, for Pakistan to remain competitive and for the game still to be widely followed in the country, it said a lot about the love the people of Pakistan have for cricket. “It was great to see cricket come back now,” he remarked.

Pakistan are scheduled to tour England for a three-match Test series later this year. When asked what he thought of Pakistan’s chances, he said: “Pakistan have a very good record against England in recent years in England. They’re always a valuable team to come and they get good support from the crowds. The cricket should be good and highly competitive. We’re looking forward to seeing Pakistan in England this summer.”

Babar Azam, owing to his batting prowess in recent years, has caught the eye of everyone. Former English captain is no different. He said that he was looking forward to watching Babar bat in England this summer. “He [Babar] looks a fabulous player to me. He looks so skillful and the game looks so easy to him at times.”

Speaking of the challenge that Pakistani batsmen might face, former Lancashire batsman said: “It is a challenge for players when they come from the subcontinent to England. In the last two, three years, conditions in England, have been extreme actually. The Duke’s ball and the floodlights and, you know, the way the ball has moved around, so it’s going to be a challenge for all Pakistan’s batsmen, but I think they will be up to it.”

While commenting on Pakistan’s strength and cricket’s infrastructure or the lack of thereof, he said: “Pakistan, of course, have produced great batsmen, but I think in recent times, the strength and depth of their bowling and particularly the kind of wicket-taking bowlers - pace bowlers and mystery spinners - have set them apart.”

He suspected that it had something to do with the lack of infrastructure that is needed to produce world class batsmen whereas bowlers could emerge from anywhere regardless of the infrastructure.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2020

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