Pakistan after decade-long sporting isolation has now decided to no longer look for neutral venues to stage home matches.
The Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani on Tuesday (December 10) told the Associated Press now the other teams will have to clarify as to why they can’t play in the country.
“Our default position will remain that Pakistan is safe. We play cricket in Pakistan (and if) you want to play against Pakistan you have to come to Pakistan,” he said.
The isolation from hosting home international cricket matches will end on Wednesday (December 11) when Sri Lanka will start their Test series at the Pindi Cricket Stadium followed by the second game in Karachi from Dec. 19-23.
The series will be a part of the World Test Championship.
The visitors were also the last team to play a an international Test match in Pakistan in 2009 when militants attacked the convoy of team’s buses in Lahore killing eight people and leaving many players and officials injured.
Since then the hosts were forced to play all their home matches in the neutral venue of the United Arab Emirates.
In the last four years, the PCB staged short limited-overs tours against the likes of Zimbabwe, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and a World XI to show the cricket world it could host tours safely.
Sri Lanka agreed to play two test matches in Pakistan only after it visited Karachi and Lahore three months ago and played an incident-free series of one-day internationals and Twenty20s.
“It’s only logical that cricket comes home. People have a perception of Pakistan which is very, very different to the reality of what is happening on the ground in Pakistan today,” Mani said.
“The concerns that people had about Pakistan, certainly for the last year or two, were not what the ground reality is,” he added.
Top cricketing officials from Australia, England, Ireland, and the international players’ association have visited Pakistan in the last six months.
“When they see the ground reality, it’s a different attitude. In fact, it was very nicely put by the chief executive of Cricket Ireland. He said, “I have to think of a reason why we shouldn’t be coming to Pakistan,” Mani said.
Mani said he’s had discussions with officials from Cricket Australia and England and Wales Cricket Board and he hoped that both countries will tour Pakistan in the next three years.
“I am absolutely confident that in 2021 we’ll have England and in 2022 we’ll have Australia,” he said.
“We’re not due to play New Zealand now till about 2023-24, but our default position is that Pakistan will play all its home matches in Pakistan.”
Despite the impending return of test cricket, Mani conceded there might not be a capacity crowd for the test, in stark contrast to the packed stadiums in Lahore in October when Sri Lanka whitewashed Pakistan 3-0 in the T20 series.
“Look, test cricket had been losing (crowd) support in the subcontinent, in fact around the world apart from England and Australia,” he said.
“People prefer to go and watch the white-ball cricket (T20s and ODIs) but it doesn’t mean that people don’t follow test cricket. You’ll probably find that people watch test cricket at home on television and through the telephone or whatever these days as much as they’ve ever done.”
“We haven’t had much time to do the marketing for this (Rawalpindi test) but going forward we’re going to be working very hard to ensure that we can get young people in with the schools and college students, support them to come at little or no cost, give them exposure to cricket,” he added.
According to PCB’s CEO Wasim Khan, the board is trying to convince Cricket Australia to send their team to play matches in the country.
“Cricket Australia has agreed in principle to play three Tests in Pakistans home series. Obviously, we are doing everything to ensure Australia agrees to play in Pakistan in 2022 and it is an ongoing process,” Khan told reporters.
He added that under the new Future Tours Program, whenever Pakistan and Australia play a bilateral series it will include three Tests.
Australia has not toured Pakistan since 1998, forcing the 1992 World Cup champions to conduct their home series at neutral venues, including Sri Lanka, England, and UAE.
The PCB official lamented that whoever from the board had agreed to the existing Future Tours Program schedule has not given enough importance to Test matches.
“It is unfortunate that we are among those countries who play the least number of Test matches in a season. Whereas other leading nations play 8 to 14 Tests in a year we don’t even get six to seven,” he said.
Khan also confirmed that the PCB has dispatched the proposed itinerary of the ICC Test Championship Tests to the Bangladesh Cricket Board to be played in January.
“We have sent the itinerary and are awaiting a response. After Sri Lanka’s arrival to play the two Tests we don’t foresee any problems in the Bangladesh board agreeing to send their team in January,” he said.
He stated that the top security arrangements would be provided to the Bangladesh team which has also not toured Pakistan since 2008.
Khan also said that the PCB would now send its A team and under-19 teams every year to either of the following countries, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and England so that the upcoming players get a chance to play in those conditions.
He added that the PCB was also in talks with the Afghanistan, Ireland and South African boards to convince them to send their teams to Pakistan next year or in 2021.
Khan also dismissed suggestions that he had gone on a vacation/joy trip to Australia and that he was the most powerful person in the PCB.
“They are issues which cant be discussed or finalized on phone or mails. I will let everyone know why I went to Australia soon. And I am not the most powerful person in the board it is a wrong impression. Misbah-ul-Haq also does not take decisions unilaterally as head coach and chief selector,” Khan said.
(With inputs from agencies)