Are we really ready for Zimbabwe?
We are coming out of the wilderness and marching towards the green pastures of resuscitation in international cricket.
Pakistan announced its T20 squad today with former captain Shoaib Malik and star all-rounder Umar Akmal making a comeback. Muhammad Sami, another lost tale of the Pakistan cricket biopic, was given a chance to showcase his pace program against Zimbabwe – the first team to visit Pakistan since 2009 for a T20 two-match series and an ODI three-match series.
The whole series, from its very start till now, has faced a lot of controversies, contradictions and confusions. It is a new beginning for Pakistan cricket but it has come after a lot of struggles.
The Zimbabwe Cricket Union’s advance team visited Lahore to check the security arrangements for the series and gave a green signal to the players but the Federation of International Cricketer’s Associations (FICA) said that the visit was no less than suicide as the security conditions in Pakistan were still not suitable to hold a series.
While everyone ignored the supposedly useless FICA’s speculations, an attack on the Ismaili community in Karachi, which rendered 45 deaths, jolted the Foreign Office of Zimbabwe and they published a notification of regret of not being able to visit Pakistan after the incident.
Pakistani fans, who were dying to see their stars perform for them at home, were furious. Some said RAW had a hand in it, others claimed the ICC did not want the revival of cricket in Pakistan. Others prayed and wished that Zimbabwe would take back its decision and thus their wishes were granted.
The Zimbabwean players emerged from sheer light like the angels ready to save Pakistan from yet another stranglehold of cricketing isolation. They said yes to the tour against their government’s will by signing a bond which holds them responsible for their own lives if anything happens to them. As Ramiz Raja said,
“It was a noble and courageous act by Zimbabwe players.”
Everyone suspected the possibility of another hurdle in the tale, and so it came. The ICC refused to send its officials to Pakistan and allowed the country to place its own umpires for the matches. Many local veterans expressed their anger on ICC’s decision but some also said that the body needs to keep in mind the interests and safety of everyone.
Nothing dramatic followed later on and thankfully the Zimbabwean team, with all its coaching staff and former Pakistan Coach Dav Whatmore, arrived in Lahore early morning today.
But now, it was time for Pakistan to announce its team. Zimbabwe had already announced theirs on May 12th – a 16-men squad for the series.
The Twenty20 side, led by Shahid Afridi, was beefed up with not only young blood but old experienced campaigners as well.
Shoaib, who has been performing well in the domestic structure, was given a positive nod. Meanwhile, Umar, who has been tried and tested too many a time by Pakistan, was brought back for his enchanting performances in the domestic Super8 Twenty20 tournament.
Sami, another player who has been out of the team for more than two years, was given a go ahead because of Muhammad Irfan, Rahat Ali and Sohail Khan’s lack of match fitness. Umar Gul was another contender for the spot but his comeback performance against Bangladesh was not satisfactory.
As you read this, both teams would be practicing right now in the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore, and will be playing against each other in the first T20 match two days from now, on May 22nd.
While everyone is talking about the state-guest security level for the visitors where aerial surveillance and snipers are being highlighted as cherry on the cake, this series derives its importance from the fact that Pakistan is ending its solitude.
The nation is coming out of the wilderness and marching on towards the green pastures of resuscitation in the international cricket arena. There is no denying the fact that once small teams start walking in and out of the country without any security issue, bigger teams will also have substantial proof that this nation of 180 million cricket-lovers is a safe and welcoming place to travel to.