August 10, 2016

Wasim Akram, Pakistan’s legendary left-arm fast bowler, has echoed the concerns voiced by Misbah-ul-Haq on the eve of the Edgbaston Test, that the continuing exile of Pakistan’s cricketers from their homeland is having a devastating effect on the next generation of players coming through the ranks.

Wasim, who claimed 414 wickets in 104 Tests, cemented his legendary status by bowling Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup. However, his big break came after being discovered by Javed Miandad as a raw and rapid net bowler in November 1984, and was propelled into the national team at the age of 19, within weeks of claiming 7 for 50 on his first-class debut against the touring New Zealanders.

Such a scenario would be virtually unthinkable now, he says, because of the disconnect that has been created between Pakistan’s domestic set-up and the national team, who have been forced, due to security concerns, to play their home matches in the United Arab Emirates for the best part of a decade.

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“It’s impossible now,” Wasim told ESPNcricinfo. “My fourth first-class game was a Test match [against New Zealand at Auckland], and that won’t happen now. Javed Miandad saw me, then Imran [Khan] met me when I went to play for Pakistan and took me under his wing, then Waqar [Younis] came along and we ruled the world for ten years. But that opportunity isn’t there for youngsters anymore.”

Under Misbah’s leadership, Pakistan have risen above their off-field issues to become one of the leading Test teams in the world and they are virtually unbeatable in their home-from-home in the UAE. But, as Misbah pointed out last week, such achievements are hollow if they do not resonate with the fans.

“If you are not watching the heroes and the top stars in the world in the grounds and you are not meeting them… without that, it’s really difficult for the Pakistan Cricket Board and it can really hurt them financially also,” he said.

Wasim agreed wholeheartedly. “There’s been no cricket in Pakistan for seven or eight years, and cricket is struggling in Pakistan in general,” he said. “Imagine when I was young, I used to go to Lahore’s Gadaffi stadium. I watched England playing there … Bob Willis, Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting … I watched India there in 1978 and 1982, when I was in class ten, with [Sunil] Gavaskar and Kapil Dev … Australia with Allan Border.

“They motivated me, but for Pakistan’s budding cricketers, there’s no cricket there. Everything is played in the UAE on bland, placid wickets and nobody is watching cricket there. One-day cricket gets a bit of support, and T20s over three hours, but for Test cricket it is mostly empty stadiums, so it has affected Pakistan cricket big-time.”

One potential solution to Pakistan’s disconnect with its fans could lie in the nascent Pakistan Super League, which made a successful debut in the UAE in February 2016, with Wasim’s team, Islamabad United, beating Quetta Gladiators in a sold-out final in Dubai.

There have been tentative discussions about introducing some elements of next year’s competition to Pakistan, with potentially the knock-out stages to be held in Karachi or Lahore. However, much would rest with the willingness of the team’s star players to travel to the country. One big name, Andre Russell, recently admitted he would be willing, but “scared” if asked to go.

“The PSL was a great success,” said Wasim. “It was the second most watched event in Pakistan television history – 68% of the country watched it, and that is a lot of ratings. “The idea is to gradually take the PSL to Pakistan – maybe the final, or the semi-final – and see what happens. But if the PSL happens in Pakistan, every game you will get 50,000, 80,000 watching from the ground.

“Things are better in Pakistan security-wise,” he added. “I live there, and things are better. If teams decide to tour there, then cricket in Pakistan will evolve to a different level. “But the sooner this happens, the better. Not just for Pakistan cricket, but for world cricket, because if Pakistan cricket evolves, it will improve world cricket. The PCB and the Pakistan government are trying, things are getting better, and hopefully soon someone will put their hands up and say ‘let’s tour Pakistan’ and see what happens.”

Courtesy: ESPN CRICINFO
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