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Comment: Thanks to Zimbabwe series, Pakistan cricket is back on its feet

Comment: Thanks to Zimbabwe series, Pakistan cricket is back on its feet

Pakistan open their challenging series in Sri Lanka this week with the first Test to be played at the picturesque Galle International Stadium from tomorrow.

It will be a tough contest by all counts but with our players getting some valuable match practice against Zimbabwe in the historic home series recently, I am sure they are in the groove and will be giving the Islanders a run for their money in the three-Test series.

Both sides have gifted batsmen in their ranks and although Sri Lanka will miss stalwarts like Mahela Jayawardene and Tillekaratne Dilshan who have both bade goodbye to Test cricket, they still have the services of the inimitable Kumar Sangakkara who has decided to extend his career by agreeing to play a few more Tests which could be ominous for Pakistan as well as for India who follow.

The home series against Zimbabwe was akin to rebirth of Pakistan cricket. Marooned for nearly six and a half years since that ghastly terror attack on the Lankan team in 2009, Pakistan cricket found its feet once again as millions of cricket fans came alive in an unprecedented manner to accord a befitting welcome to the Zimbabweans who defied all odds to fulfil their commitment with Pakistan.

Though all matches were held in Lahore, the scenes of thousand thronging the Gaddafi Stadium and queuing up for hours to get their tickets reminded me of old days when matches in Pakistan used to be sell out affairs and people remained glued to their TV and radio sets to get the latest score in what could be termed as a truly electrifying environment.

No praise is high enough for Elton Chigumbura and his men as well Zimbabwe Cricket for their historic visit that has now rekindled hopes of international cricket’s revival in Pakistan. The incident free matches attracted great response from around the world and I sincerely pray and hope that more Test-playing nations take a cue from here and plan tours to Pakistan in the near future.

Having said that, there’s no denying that the major credit for the historic Zimbabwe tour goes to Shaharyar M. Khan and Najam Sethi — the top two officials of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) who clearly pulled off an astonishing feat by convincing the Test playing nation to tour.

It was their good offices, indeed, which salvaged the series despite the Safoora tragedy in Karachi that had thrown the tour into serious jeopardy.

For most of the Pakistan players, too, it was a novel experience to play an international side in front of the home crowds which must have given them loads of confidence. I can vouch for the fact that there is nothing more thrilling in a player’s career to play top level cricket at home ground and get applauded by a thunderous home crowd for either hitting a boundary or taking a wicket.

However, what disappointed me a bit was the fact that most of our newcomers and youngsters fell short of expectations. That our cricket lacks depth was evident from the fact that both the Twenty20s were decided in the last over which is not a very encouraging sign keeping in view the strength of the current Zimbabwean team. The coaching staff must take note of that.

The PCB chief, for one, fathoms the situation completely and is taking rapid strides towards revamping the domestic cricket structure and to reorganise the tournaments on more competitive lines.

Not taking away anything from the tourists, I must hand it to them that they played competitive cricket throughout and proved themselves to be worthy opponents. The magnificent ODI hundreds by Chigumbra and Sikander Raza will remain etched in our memories for a long time to come and if they bolster their bowling with some sharp pacers, they will soon be a force to reckon with.

On another front, the nomination of former captain Zaheer Abbas for the coveted post of ICC President has also come as a big boost for Pakistan cricket. Zaheer, who was a prolific batsman during his playing days and scored so many delightful centuries in both Tests and ODIs besides his record breaking spree for Gloucestershire, is the right choice for the prestigious job and will surely do justice to it.

Of course, he owes a big thanks to the PCB for naming him for the high-profile job. Here I must also give credit to Sethi Sahab for his magnanimous gesture of making way for Zaheer and setting a fine example, the likes of which are extremely rare in our cricket. By virtue of the ICC rotation policy for the coveted post, Pakistan’s next nomination for the same will be after ten years now.

Recently, I noticed the rumour mill going full blast about some sort of ‘wedge’ that has been created between Shaharyar and Sethi. That, I can say with full confidence, is a load of crap. Both the seasoned officials have denied it several times and we have no reason to question their statements.

If one is a respected ex-diplomat, the other is an experienced journalist and between them the two men have the ability to considerably enhance the image of Pakistan cricket, a task that they have already achieved to an admirable extent.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2015

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