LAHORE: Former Sri Lankan captain and MCC President Kumar Sangakkara has praised the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the Pakistan Government, its security officials and the cricket fans for lending their full support and cooperation during the highly successful MCC tour to Pakistan last February and said the world of cricket needs to see Pakistan cricket getting back to its fiercely competitive ways.
“When I landed in Lahore, I didn’t feel any fear or anxiety. The security arrangement were so well managed, we felt very safe and very secure,” the legendary Sri Lankan batsman said while talking to former Pakistan captain Ramiz Raja in a recent interview.
“Yes we travelled on bomb proof buses and witnessed many areas in city closed down to ensure our safe passage to hotel or to the stadium, but that was the requirement for security and I must say everything was very well managed and organized,” added Sangakkara who led the MCC side on the short visit.
“It was like home coming for me when I reached Gaddafi Stadium for the first match, especially for me,” he said. “I feel very happy and proud, I would like to thank the Pakistan cricket fans, PCB and everyone for their hospitality and our wonderful tour.
Legendary Sri Lankan batsman has exclusive chat with Ramiz Raja
“Having said that, the MCC tour to Pakistan is the first step among many that should be taken to restore top level cricket in the country,” said Sangakkara. “I feel that all reservations will vanish when Australia or England tour Pakistan. That will be a litmus test. Maybe 3 or 5 Tests matches will not be possible right away, but why not two or three ODIs or why not start with 4 T20Is to kick start this process because we really need a strong Pakistan team which will re-emerge when top teams will start playing in this country once again.”
Sangakkara said it's very tough to predict when cricket can make an international return. “It’s a strange time, it’s very hard to say and imagine cricket coming back in next few months in the same way and form. It's not viable and realistic. It will take a long time to see cricket happening in full stadiums, for people to feel confident enough to congregate together to support wonderful game of cricket or any other game or even social gatherings,” observed Sangakkara.
Talking about Test cricket’s survival, he said: “To protect Test cricket we not only need to attract players but also fans to appreciate they want to see in Test Cricket. Day-night Tests are touted as a solution and we saw crowds were increased. Also, the World Test Championship is a good step but the entire championship is not promoted centrally by the ICC. The only aspect of the World Test Championship being promoted by the ICC is the final.
“We also not build up profile of Test Championship and the players involved. Also, great Test cricketers are not projected as ‘heroes’ and are not marketed to the masses and to youngsters as role models which could promote Test cricket.”
Commenting on match-fixing menace, Sangakkara said he is not sure if the game will ever get rid of it. “I am not sure if we will ever get rid of fixing from cricket, because to get rid of it you really need so many different things to fall into place and one of the most important things is the ability of the players to says ‘no’,” he said.
“Also awareness is the key for players from different age group in cricket and within the dressing room. Education about this from a young age is very essential. Also freedom of opinion and open honest communication between seniors and younger players to talk about on this matter and mutual respect and trust level in dressing rooms will help protect the players from this menace,” he said.
Sangakkara, however, praised the head of ICC’s Anti Corruption Unit for making drastic changes to check corruption in cricket. “Many years ago the system was there to catch players out rather than empowering them to make a right decision. But now under Alex Marshal, the head of ICC’s ACU, things are drastically changing. He is very open with players and encourage his team to go out to players and ensure the players understand that trust is a two-way street and if they trust the ACU and feel safe and secure about talking to them.
“Besides, the players’ financial matters are key here. Research in England shows that players mostly approached for fixing are either in early phase of their career or when they are nearing retirement,” he added. “It is vital to have long-term contract and parity of pay in international cricket, so that the players feel financially secure and they don’t have to say ‘yes’ when approached by corrupt elements.
“Players will still do it and will be punished and sanctioned. But hopefully together we can root out this problem from cricket because it is something that can devastate this game and continue to affect public confidence.”
Sangakkara during the interview also named his favorite batsmen and bowlers.
“Well, the first name as left-hander that comes to my mind is definitely Brian Lara. I still remember the way he dominated Muralitharan in the Test series in Sri Lanka. Of course Sir Viv Richards and Aravinda De Silva were such great players.
“Among the bowlers with whom I played with, I would rate my team-mates Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath as they were absolute greats of the game, so is Lasith Malinga in different formats of the game,” said the scorer of 11 double hundreds.
“Internationally, I will name Wasim Akram first. I did not face him much but it was terrifying whenever I did. Not because of his speed but also top skills that he had.
“But I rate Mohammad Asif as one of the best fast bowlers with the new ball I ever played. For him, it did not matter if there was grass on the pitch or it was a dead flat wicket, he could make the ball talk on every surface. Shane Warne too was also a very smart bowler,” concluded the former SL skipper.
Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2020