International XI arrives for Twenty20

A team led by former Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya and managed by former West Indian batsman Alvin Kallicharan has arrived in Karachi on Thursday afternoon. The international XI team will play two exhibition Twenty20 matches against a Pakistan Stars XI at National Stadium in Karachi this weekend, ending a near four-year drought of international cricket in the country.

Several other players including batsman Ricardo Powell, fast bowlers Jermaine Lawson and Adam Sanford from West Indies, and Andre Nel and Nantie Hayward from South Africa landed earlier in the morning. South Africa allrounder Justin Kemp has withdrawn due to his domestic cricket commitments while two Afghanistan players – Shapoor Zadran and Mohammad Shahzad – will reach Karachi tomorrow from Kabul.

“I am happy to be part of these matches,” Jayasuriya said on his arrival. “It depends on country to country [whether teams tour Pakistan] but in my opinion Pakistan is a safe country. The incidents of Lahore [attacks on the Sri Lanka team in 2009] were not the best thing to have happened and the suspension of cricket in Pakistan is very unfortunate because the people love the game here.”

The games are unofficial and are arranged by the Sindh sports minister Dr Mohammad Ali Shah. The PCB has issued No Objection Certificates to the contracted players due to participate and has allowed the use of the National Stadium, but all the logistic arrangements, broadcasting deals and security arrangements were made by Shah with the support of the local government in Karachi.

Since the terror attack on the Sri Lanka team bus during a Test match in Lahore in March 2009, Pakistan have been forced to hold its international matches away from home and also lost hosting rights of the 2009 Champions Trophy and 2011 World Cup. A move to stage a tournament with international faces might prove a small stepping stone for the revival of international cricket in the country.

Kallicharan was enthusiastic about cricket returning to Pakistan. “I came here way back in 1972 to raise funds for flood victims and this time it’s another noble cause: promotion of cricket in Pakistan,” he said. “I think they [other countries] will have to have a look. With the success of these matches a good message will go out. Pakistan is a part of world cricket and we are here to show that Pakistan is a place to play cricket.”

The plan isn’t entirely sanctioned by the PCB and the ICC ,and the organiser was forced to change the name of the teams to remove any association with the two boards as the matches hold no official status.

Powell, who has played 109 ODIs, hoped the series would change perceptions about Pakistan. “Its feel good [to be here in Pakistan],” he said. “Its a great opportunity for the players to come here and really exhibit their skills, I think its about time that world cricket returns to Pakistan.

“Twenty20 is the most exciting form of the game that you have right now and the teams are here to really enjoy themselves. Lots of good players are here, lots of guys from South Africa as well and lots of other players from other parts of the world, and I’m sure it will be a great weekend and we will see some good cricket.”

The teams are staying at the Sheraton hotel, with extensive security of around 5000 policemen, claimed the provisional sports minister. The team will have a practice session on Friday at Karachi Gymkhana Ground.

‘PCB’s lack of support sends wrong message’ – Ehsan Mani

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With the arrival of a team led by former Sri Lanka captain Sanath Jayasuriya in Karachi, international cricket of sorts is set to return to Pakistan. Ehsan Mani, the former ICC chief, feels that though the two matches to be played this weekend will boost Pakistan’s reputation as a viable host for international cricket, they won’t be enough to convince Test teams to play in the country yet.

The International XI includes South African fast bowlers Andre Nel and Nantie Hayward, and West Indies players Jermaine Lawson and Ricardo Powell. They face a Pakistan All Stars XI team in Twenty20 matches at the National Stadium in Karachi on Saturday and Sunday. There has been no international cricket in Pakistan since March 2009, when the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked.

“I do not think that these matches will have an immediate impact in persuading ICC Full Member teams to tour Pakistan but it is a step in the right direction,” Mani told ESPNcricinfo. “The International XI is a small but significant step in the confidence building process to assure overseas players and teams that Pakistan is open for cricket and it is safe for overseas players to come to Pakistan.”

Without doubt Pakistan is desperate and in need of international cricket in their backyard; youth development is on hold as no team even at the youth level is ready to tour, the PCB has suffered a budget deficit for years, stadiums are getting rusty, fans are deprived. At a time when Pakistan is a no go-area for major international teams, though a side comprising international players have arrived in the country, the PCB has disassociated itself from the tour.

They have stressed that the games are unofficial and are unsanctioned, and have left Sindh sports minister Dr Mohammad Ali Shah to deal with most of the arrangements.

“I was disappointed to read that the PCB had disassociated itself from the matches; it appears that PCB is covering itself in case something goes wrong,” Mani said. “This gives totally the wrong message. The PCB should have been very much involved, including assuring itself that adequate security arrangements are in place. It is disgraceful that the initiative to convince players to come to Pakistan is not being led by the PCB but by the Sindh government.

“The PCB’s approach to bringing international cricket back to Pakistan is flawed,” Mani said. “It tried to first persuade and then bully Bangladesh to tour Pakistan. The PCB does not seem to understand that before a full international tour can take place, teams such as the International XI should tour Pakistan to provide a degree of comfort to the ICC Member countries.”

Pakistan cricket chief Zaka Ashraf, though, has said the revival of international cricket is his top priority but apparently accepted the goal is tough to achieve in the near future. While talking to ESPNcricinfo last month, he called the approach of the cricketing world towards touring Pakistan as ‘rigid’.

Mani said the PCB needed to be fully aware of the steps necessary for the return of international tours to the country. “The PCB clearly does not understand the politics of cricket and the pressures on certain countries not to tour Pakistan by others with a different agenda.

“The PCB also does not appear to have agreement with the ICC on what assurances the ICC will require before a team and ICC officials consider it safe to come to Pakistan,” he said. “It does not help that no PCB official or member of the security agency mandated to provide security to the Sri Lankan team in 2009 has been made accountable and punished for the disastrous lapse of security which put at risk the lives of players and officials and cost the lives of security personnel and destroyed international cricket in Pakistan.”

Zaka Ashraf aims to take Pakistan to No. 1

Zaka Ashraf, the PCB chairman, has hinted at an overhaul in 2013 as part of an attempt to make Pakistan the best team across all formats of the game. Pakistan have had a fairly good year, with the 3-0 Test sweep of England being the highlight, but Ashraf said discipline and a focus on youth would take the team to the next level.

He also pledged a reform of the PCB administration, saying the problem with Pakistan cricket was not in the system or in its constitution but in the people who are in charge. He said he would work to ensure the PCB would fall in line with the ICC’s decision that all member boards should have free elections and be free from political intervention.

Pakistan cricket has been riddled with infighting, indiscipline and clashes between players and the board over the last few years. Ashraf said he didn’t want to rake up the past but was confident about the present, insisting that player-power in Pakistan cricket was being curtailed.

“One thing must be ensured that the institution is bigger than the player,” Ashraf said in an interview with ESPNcricinfo. “The PCB won’t allow any player to offset the unity in the team, and each one will have to be responsible for their own performance. I hope there aren’t any groups within the team but if there is something it will be dealt with strictly.

“We have given considerable latitude to players and given them the space to perform,” he said. “We have been observing each and every player in the team, who is performing well and who is not. I also understand who talks a lot without producing results, so I think 2013 is the year for an overhaul and things will be better soon.

“I want to give Pakistan cricket a new direction and a future – a future beyond all the previous tragic incidents. What is required is to have a free and clean environment for cricket with no more room for yet another controversy. I don’t find any reason that Pakistan cannot be the top team in all formats. Pakistan is a very talented cricket playing country but we have to work hard to make it possible. We have short- and long-term plans but I just need time. We are focusing on youth as the current lot who is above 30 might not be as athletic in the field as the Australians are but we can make our upcoming youth a complete product, bringing them up with the best system and training.”

 

He wants to provide plenty of opportunities to young players at the junior level, giving them ample exposure before reaching the top level. He also acknowledged that the ‘A’ team, which hasn’t played too many matches in recent times, needs to be given more chances to help Pakistan test their back-up.

The years between 2008 and 2011 were a low in Pakistan cricket in terms of governance, with frequent disputes between senior players and the board, and a rent-a-quote chairman not showing the tact needed to smooth out the differences. Ashraf was wary about the challenges he faced after taking over as PCB chairman a year ago, and knows a lot still has to be done. “What happened in past is past. I don’t see myself criticising my predecessors. Instead I am seeing what can be done to give Pakistan cricket some stability.”

I don’t see any flaw in the system or in the constitution, the fault actually lies in the people who are at helm of the affairs. System is here to stay, it has to run with always a room for possible improvementZaka Ashraf

 

 

The PCB has come under flak for its constitution that allows its chairman almost dictatorial powers, nearly making it a one-man show. “I am big follower of democratic system but in any case there is always one man behind the gun,” Ashraf said with a smile. “I don’t see any flaw in the system or in the constitution, the fault actually lies in the people who are at helm of the affairs. System is here to stay, it has to run with always a room for possible improvement.

“But if my working team isn’t good then definitely I will not able to perform. I tried to bring a lot of former cricketers on board and made various committees accordingly and they take decision and I only oversee and approve in light of their recommendations. I’m not involved directly nor do I take any direct decisions but I seek explanations before giving an approval.”

Ashraf isn’t a full-fledged politician but is a member of the Pakistan People Party’s Central Executive Committee. With the ICC deadline for removing political interference from member boards looming, the PCB needs to amend its constitution. The prospect of the amendment is not a straightforward move as, according to Ashraf, every country has its unique circumstances according to which the system functions.

The chairman did confirm, however, that the PCB would follow the ICC guideline. “We have already conveyed the details to our patron-in-chief (the Pakistan president, Asif Ali Zardari),” Ashraf said. “We are willing to comply with the ICC provision and there is no point of ruling it out. We will make it before the deadlines approaches.”

 

One of the major items in Ashraf’s agenda is bringing back international cricket to Pakistan. “The incident of Sri Lanka team attack was mishandled and it could have been controlled with greater care if the PCB itself had monitored with the help of an advance team. We know proper security wasn’t there and routing arrangement wasn’t in best shape to allow the team bus. But now things have changed and we are here to own things and have learnt the lesson.

“I know it’s a tough task, but for how much time should we sit like this. Only waiting for the right time won’t change things but we have to plan for it. We recently have approved a mega project in Islamabad in which we have planned to build a huge stadium alongwith hotel within the premises that will allow surveillance with heavy security and teams will be carried from airport to stadium with the help of helicopters.”