Veteran cricketers have always had a second innings. Once you have played the game, it is hard to let go, and the cricketers’ community often finds its way back to the field, like a homing pigeon.

It has been that way since cricket became something of a regular sport over a century ago. In fact, a formal scorecard exists from 1897 of an over-50s match between Northumberland (204-6 declared) and Durham (144-9). It was a single innings game, which was marked down as a draw. Clearly, the concept of limited overs had not arrived back then.

So, veteran cricketers have always got up some day, got in touch with a few and met up on a cricket field, far after their more active career on the cricketing circuit. Except, lately, it’s all become more structured and a global reconnect at that. Where before the more organised would, after some effort, organise a bilateral series once every two or three years, veterans’ associations are becoming better connected on a scale that is equal to the International Cricket Council itself.

The World Seniors/Veterans Cricket Body was formed a few years ago. Since then, there has been the Over-50s World Cup in Australia in 2018 — where Pakistan won all its group matches, including against India; beat England by five wickets in the semi-finals; and almost won the final against Australia, losing by just three runs eventually.

Pakistan has been awarded the hosting rights of the inaugural Over-40s Cricket World Cup. It is going to be no ordinary event of has-beens

Charted as a 45-over game, Pakistan had bowled out Australia for 166 in 44 overs with Jaffer Qureshi taking three wickets. Pakistan, after a good start, and having the likes of Ghulam Ali, Sagheer Abbas and Sajid Ali (semi-final centurion) in the line-up, collapsed to 94-9, until Babar Butt and Imtiaz Tarar made a valiant last-wicket stand that brought them so close.

The 2020 edition was called off after some matches had been played — Pakistan had won all their games till then, including against India — due to the spread of Covid-19, and the tournament will now be held in March next year.

Now, in September this year, the Over-60s World Cup is taking place again in Australia. Once again, Pakistan will be participating. Fawad Ijaz Khan, who had been the founder and the spirit behind Pakistan Veterans’ Cricket Association (PVCA) 24 years ago and also put together the Pakistan team in that Over-50s World Cup in 2018, will once again be managing this participation.

But a bigger achievement by the PVCA has been winning the hosting rights to what is now the inaugural Over-40s World Cup, which is planned to be played in Karachi September-October 2023.

This is more exciting, as it will bring to Pakistan some recent cricketers, and big names at that. Just imagine that from Pakistan there is the possibility of Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Mohammad Hafeez and Misbah-ul-Haq. Shoaib Malik, too, if he’s not still playing for the national team!

From Australia there can be Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson. From Sri Lanka Mehela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralitharan. From England there can be Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss, Freddie Flintoff and Michael Vaughan. From New Zealand, Stephen Fleming, Shane Bond, Daniel Vettori and Nathan Astle. From West Indies, Brian Lara, Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. From South Africa, Shaun Pollock, Dale Steyn, Graeme Smith, Herschelle Gibbs, Jaques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Makhaya Ntini.

And from India? Yes, that is the crucial question and, as Fawad says, it will be the biggest challenge for Pakistan. He’s been able to bring Pakistanis and Indians together in the recent past, where they’ve played each other thrice (once in Pakistan). Mohammed Azharuddin led those sides that had former internationals as well. The invites will go out for sure he says, while remaining hopeful that, since the Indian foreign office has had no qualms about India playing Pakistan in global tournaments, there is light at the end of that tunnel.

If India comes then, yes, we’re looking at Mahendra Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Anil Kumble, Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan. Indeed, they will be the jewels in the crown.

Speaking of the crown, it’s symbolic of how Pakistan is being considered again for hosting big time cricket. “It didn’t come easy,” says Fawad, before revealing that it all had to do with bidding and presentations over several months, which the world body’s steering committee for the Over-40s took from some countries.

“Security was nevertheless brought up,” says Fawad, but they had done their homework with the agencies and police, and once again the highest level of protection will be offered for all the 12 competing teams.

What is also notable is that, so far, veteran players have been paying for their own travel and stay for all these global events. In Pakistan, at least, most of the players have been funded by benefactors due to the tremendously high costs in terms of the rupee-dollar disparity. Also the average income and savings of veteran Pakistani cricketers — who played when there weren’t the current levels of money being paid to cricketers — is not such to spend on what can be termed as luxury.

However, for this Over-40s World Cup, where some players are still involved in leagues either as players or coaches, and thus have a price tag, Fawad feels they will expect to be paid for appearing. So PVCA is hoping to raise sponsorships to cover the total expense that is foreseen.

That is a big ask in an economy where potential sponsors are battling the high cost of doing business. However, Pakistan cricket has always had its benefactors, such as Quetta Gladiators owner Nadeem Omar and the like, who have always stepped up with large contributions. Also, since the probable participants include big names who are still active, the television audience will be high. This should attract tournament, kit and ground sponsors.

Likewise the TV rights should go for plenty, as the tournament will have a global tune-in from the 12 participating countries and fans, especially middle-aged ones, would like to see their generation’s players playing again.

What makes the Over-40s World Cup more meaningful compared to the Over-50s and Over-60s categories is that the competition for slots in the teams will be tough, as some players are still active, and many other former cricketers — other than the big names mentioned — will vie for selection and will actually come in based on their current performances.

This is why the tournament is being labelled as being played by ‘seniors’ rather than ‘veterans’, though it’s just semantics; there is no upper age limit once above 40 years. In Pakistan, for example, the PVCA say that they regularly organise seniors’ cricket across the country, where anyone retired and normally above 40 takes part.

But then today’s 40 is the new 30, with cricketers being far fitter than what they used to be in the 1990s, for example. In fact, there have been an encouraging number of 40-plus cricketers playing in the leagues over the last few years, from the IPL to PSL to CPL.

So yes, exciting times ahead for the fans of seniors. What is now essential, and in fact imperative, is that the Pakistan and Sindh government, as well as the Pakistan Cricket Board and Rangers, throw their full support behind this event in terms of venue, logistics, finances and security.

Also, it is most important that the corporate sponsors come forward for this, especially those with a relatively older customer profile for their brand and services, as some matches might be telecast live and all live-streamed definitely.

It is all still a long way away but, for the moment, let’s celebrate the winning of the bid. It is the first time Pakistan is hosting a world cup all by itself.

The writer is a cricket writer, analyst and host.

He tweets @SohaibAlvi

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 12th, 2022

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