HomeAustraliaTour of duty: Australia owe Pakistan and the game a long overdue...

Tour of duty: Australia owe Pakistan and the game a long overdue trip

Australia toured in 1980, a few months after Russia invaded Afghanistan. Vaccinations for typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and yellow fever were compulsory, malaria tablets were issued and all were received willingly.

The Australian Cricket Board (now Cricket Australia) did not undertake any pre-tour security trips or ask the players did they want to go: it was a take-it-or-leave-it situation, and if you chose to leave it, then don’t think about wearing the baggy green again.

The Pakistani people have a penchant for cricket, maybe even more so than their eastern neighbours, which is quite a statement that in no way diminishes the Indian passion for the game.Credit:AP

The tour went ahead and there were no “security” issues, apart from having a trip to the Khyber Pass limited to getting within 10 kilometres of the border, then controlled by Russian troops.

Pakistan’s then general president Muhammad Zia ul-Haq had invoked martial law and had Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the previous prime minister, hung in public shortly before the Australian team arrived. Interesting times. But not interesting enough to have a tour called off.

Australia toured again in 1982: identical itinerary, sans the Khyber Pass. Greg Ritchie made a fine hundred at Faisalabad and Imran Khan assailed us with reverse swing, but at no stage was there a thought of bailing out early; cricket held primacy.

The Pakistani people have a penchant for cricket, maybe even more so than their eastern neighbours, which is quite a statement that in no way diminishes the Indian passion for the game. The two countries were once one, and have much in common, but Indian fans have had a buffet of cricket forever, while Pakistan has been starved for almost 14 years.

Sri Lankan officials and players prepare to board a helicopter at Gaddafi Stadium after the shooting incident in Lahore in 2009.

Sri Lankan officials and players prepare to board a helicopter at Gaddafi Stadium after the shooting incident in Lahore in 2009.Credit:AP

No team has deemed it too dangerous to tour India; it has taken COVID-19 to divert the IPL to Dubai, whereas Pakistan have made the Emirates their home.

I had the wonderful chance to live in Lahore for almost two years when I was Pakistan coach and found the people unfailingly hospitable, even when we lost a game or two. This Australian team will be feted.

The cancellations of Australian tours planned for 2008 and ’09 were at a time of relative stability in Afghanistan, but the Pakistan Taliban were destroying girls schools and holding hostages in the Swat Valley in the country’s north, while keeping clear of the big cities of Lahore and Karachi.

Unbeknown to the world, Osama Bin Laden was holed up in the garrison town of Abbottabad, where the national cricket team trained at the military base, literally across the road.

In April 2009, the Sri Lankan team was attacked a few hundred metres from Gaddafi Stadium. In Sri Lanka at the time, the Tamil Tigers were on a do-or-die final campaign. No Taliban or associated terrorist group ever claimed responsibility for the attack on the Sri Lanka team, or were ever shown to be responsible for the shootout, but that was the final straw for cricket to be played in a cricket-crazy country.

Top-flight cricket has gradually returned, with the Pakistan Super League holding some finals and then most of the competition (COVID-ravaged) at home last year. The new PSL season, which has just begun, is in full swing, with international players taking their spots on the rosters.

Recently, as international teams dipped their toes back in the water, New Zealand cancelled their tour on the morning of the first one-day international in September, their first trip since 2003. England also cancelled in September. Michael Holding labelled that decision “Western arrogance” and there is a deal of relevance to his point. Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja went further, accusing England of “failing a member of the cricket fraternity”.

Loading

I can picture 30,000 fans filling the terraces at Gaddafi Stadium every day of the Test match, munching on their pakoras and supping on sugarcane juice. It is one of the great stadiums in the cricket world. They will be raucous and respectful, supporting the home-town heroes and admiring the Australian stars.

Any hesitant Australian player does not understand that cricket is not just about Boxing Day at the MCG or the Adelaide Oval under lights, it’s about the broad and glorious differences that broach cultures, religions and languages.

Whether Australia win or lose is irrelevant; the important bit is turning up and playing, putting your body where your mouth is and demonstrating that you are truly a “member of the cricket fraternity” – and proving Michael Holding wrong.

Sports news, results and expert commentary. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.

Source by [author_name]