Pakistan just beat Sri Lanka in a record chase but cricket in the country is still struggling


Ashish Maggo

An emphatic 2-1 Test series victory against Sri Lanka has had Pakistan cricket once again breathing a sigh of relief after their recent limited-overs series whitewash loss against Bangladesh. Pakistan chased down a personal-record 377 in the last match of the three-Test series on Tuesday, achieved with the help of sparkling centuries from Younis Khan and newcomer Shan Masood.

The highest-recorded Test chase in cricket history was done by West Indies in 2003 when they chased 418 against Australia at St. John’s, Antigua.

However, no home series in the country in the last six years except a small series with Zimbabwe this year makes us wonder where Pakistan cricket is truly headed. The series with Sri Lanka is more of an arranged marriage now with the two nations meeting for a small series almost every year.

To be fair, what is the first thing that now comes to an Indian’s mind when he thinks of Pakistan cricket? An image of a structure that is falling apart, a team that is losing its charm and local fans losing hope.

When that infamous terrorist attack happened on a Sri Lankan cricket team bus in 2009, it was as if a week had turned into an entire episode of history for Pakistan.

Even way back in 2003, Pakistan was already making other cricketing nations think ten times before finalizing a tour, the concerns being only amplified by the 9/11 attacks.

A Pakistan home series in 2004 with India had cricket fans gaining hope. A little over a decade later, now, it’s almost impossible to think of the BCCI or England cricket organizing a tour to Pakistan.

The ICC has molded itself to give more power to the big three countries of India, Australia and England but in the process, it is stealing the joy of cricket from its fans.

Objectively, Pakistan is no longer unsafe for cricket, at least not in Lahore. The Zimbabwean cricket chief himself acknowledged recently that the ICC should relook its policy of holding matches in the country.

Whilst the Indian Premier League 2015 final was taking place in Eden Gardens, Kolkata, history was being made rather beautifully westwards somewhere else in Lahore.

Yes, international cricket had finally come back to Pakistan. After six long years and innumerable security concerns, Zimbabwe had decided on going ahead with its tour to the terrorism-hit nation.

Pakistan fans responded by chanting ‘Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe’ loudly when the second T20 was taking place. It was surreal. Groups of fans carried placards of how they missed each country playing cricket in Pakistan, “Australia, we miss you. When will you be back?” “England, we miss you. When will you be back?” “Waiting for India vs Pakistan.”

Fans queued up for five hours before the match in 42-degree celsius heat and never broke the queue. The response was unprecedented. People came from as far as Karachi and Islamabad to watch cricket. They were clearly starved of the experience.

Back in India at the same time, the IPL final between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings was boring. And frankly, it was nothing compared to the atmosphere in Lahore. This, despite the fact that Pakistan had just lost an ODI series 3-0 to Bangladesh, was a result never before imagined.

To be fair, Pakistani cricketers promise such flair and variety to the game that it only adds to the joy of watching. And I say this as an Indian just like so many others.

It will be harsh if we don’t let cricket progress in the country where our neighbors live. The hegemony of cricket has to end somewhere. We definitely want to see more such names like Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Imran Khan and Waqar Younis dazzle us with their charm.

Ask yourself. Isn’t the sport under threat if we take Pakistan cricket away? Will you still love watching cricket?