Umair Jalali describes a welcome sporting event
Australians end the drought tour of Pakistan ended the drought Pakistan has faced for virtually decades dampening the spirit of cricket-loving Pakistani people. The Australian cricket team came calling after 1998 when they were victorious in a match in which their skipper Mark Taylor equaled legendary Sir Donald Bradman’s mark of 334. This was obviously a historic tour and a major moment for international cricket’s return to Pakistan as for decades international cricket teams shunned visiting due to security concerns.
Pakistan was compelled to becoming cricketing nomads and played mostly away mainly in the sterile surrounds of the UAE that attracted little crowds and became a huge financial burden for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). A generation of cricket-crazy Pakistani fans was deprived of watching their heroes play in person apart from occasional limited-overs series. It was cruel for players in this era who could not play at home even though a resilient Pakistan carved a formidable record in the UAE. It also meant great players from other countries were not tested in the challenging conditions of Pakistan such as England’s prolific player Alastair Cook who played 161 Tests never playing in Pakistan.
However, in late 2019 Test cricket momentously returned to Pakistan when Sri Lanka played matches to end the decade-long drought. After a drip of international matches – along with the formation of the Pakistan Super League – since 2015, Pakistan had now returned permanently home. A straight shooting Ehsan Mani, then PCB boss, at the time said Pakistan would no longer host matches in the UAE in a not so subtle salvo at powers Australia and England, who had still been wavering. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic halted the momentum and Pakistan only played two Tests at home against South Africa 12 months ago.
Australians end the drought have been hiccups in the interim with New Zealand quitting their tour at the last minute late last year due to a security threat and England followed suit shortly after in a widely derided decision that contributed to ECB chair Ian Watmore’s shock departure. By coming to Pakistan, Australia resumed playing in traditionally difficult terrain and much like their previous tour in 1998, Australia’s players and staff were surrounded by heavy security but that did not faze them.
Interestingly, Rawalpindi pitch was rated as below average as match referee Ranjan Madugalle handed out a below-average rating for the Pindi Cricket Stadium pitch that was used for the first Test but the series is on and the final clincher is about to take place. In the second test, however, Australia was frustrated at the National Stadium in Karachi as a resilient Pakistan snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat. After two matches, the series still remains even but the result of the second Test must have felt a moral win for Pakistan who at one point on the penultimate day were reeling at 21 for 2 in pursuit of a gargantuan 506-run target with a sea of overs left to survive. TW