On the 3rd of March, 2009, a deplorable act of terrorism caused the ongoing Sri Lanka tour of Pakistan to get cancelled. It was the final straw, the second terrorist at a touring cricket team (after a bombing attack which was carried out close to the New Zealand team hotel in Karachi in 2002) in 10 years, and since then, no team has come to Pakistan for safety reasons aside from a one-off limited overs tour by Zimbabwe.
The effect has been noticeable on Pakistan. Young kids in the country don’t get to watch their heroes live unless they head off to the UAE for the weekend, which the majority of people can’t do for various reasons. An entire generation has seen the cricket stadiums in the country used for pretty much anything else. The Pakistani team hasn’t been world class either, and while they have shown glimpses of brilliance, like having never lost a series in the UAE, briefly becoming the number one side in the world, and winning the Champions Trophy, you just can’t help but feel that the lack of a true home really affects the team. While players from the past could always strive towards playing in front of a home crowd as their first goal as a cricketer, that isn’t possible anymore. It is also a problem Afghanistan will find themselves having for a very long time.
The PCB has tried, for a very long time, to get cricket to return to Pakistan. For the PCB and Pakistan, it rightfully is and will always be, priority number one. Playing in Pakistan, as opposed to neutral venues, will be responsible for a huge influx of cash for the PCB, as they won’t have to rent out the grounds in the UAE anymore, the grounds in Pakistan are, on the whole, bigger, and more people will come to watch Pakistan in Pakistan rather than Pakistan in the UAE. Cricket fully returning to Pakistan would also be a huge symbolic victory for the people of Pakistan and anti-terrorism all over the globe, a tangible sign that terror was beaten back.
However, if we take a step back and look at this from a global cricket perspective, how important is bringing cricket back to Pakistan? In truth, there are, rightly, far more important things for the ICC to concern themselves with right now. As attendances in all formats of the game are decreasing in some places and a significant worry that cricket will become irrelevant everywhere continues to grow as sports like rugby and baseball continue to grow and challenge cricket for it’s third place spot on the team sport hierarchy, while football and basketball are only getting further ahead of cricket at first and second. Bringing cricket back to Pakistan would be a feel-good moment for cricket, and would likely bring what has historically been one of the strongest teams in the world back to full strength, but there are more pressing matters for global cricket to concern itself with, like actually making cricket global. Until those problems can be alleviated, or even solved, bringing cricket back to Pakistan will remain a Pakistani problem. But seeing as it is already the top priority, and progress has been made, there’s no reason the people in charge can’t do it without outside help.