On the Front Foot: Pakistan left in the wilderness despite Jayasuriya's efforts


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The Independent Online

Not that anybody noticed save for the thousands who thronged into the stadium, but international cricket has returned to Pakistan.

Two Twenty20 matches were played last weekend between a Pakistan All Star XI and an International XI. The matches in Karachi were a well-attended and well-intended attempt to show that it is safe for cricketers to play there again. No games involving foreign teams have taken place since the Sri Lanka team coach was attacked by gunmen on the way to a Test match in Lahore early in 2009. Unfortunately, the way has not been paved for the restoration of normal sport in the country. The Pakistan Cricket Board gave permission for their players to play and for their ground to be used but then refused to sanction the matches as official.

They passed off without incident both off and, as far as the visitors were concerned, on the field. Led by the 43-year-old Sanath Jayasuriya, coming out of retirement for the occasion, and including many other players whose best days were a decade ago, the International XI slumped to defeats by 83 runs and six wickets with the runs knocked off in 16 overs. But any notion that genuine opposition is about to make its way to Pakistan any time soon was pretty much kyboshed again by the PCB a few days later.

The board have decided to invest in a stable of bullet-proof buses to try to persuade touring teams that they are safe. The point is that if players need to be transported in bullet-proof buses, the probability is that it is not safe.

It is why the suggestion to build grounds miles from anywhere, cordoned off by armed guards, is also not to be condoned. The word from Pakistan is that the game is in big trouble. No wonder when there are no heroes to cheer. There is no easy solution but there will be no swift return to playing in the country. The International XI made a brave but futile gesture.

Game changer

The great Tony Greig is fighting lung cancer. He was diagnosed on his return to Australia from the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka after suffering from what he thought was a troublesome cough for five months.

It was welcome to see and hear the goodwill messages flood in. Immensely popular around the world for his idiosyncratic commentating, Greig now seems fully rehabilitated by the establishment, even in England. It is too often forgotten what a considerable all-rounder and natural captain that Greig was. And when he walked out on England to play a key role in the establishment of World Series Cricket, plenty around MCC would have airbrushed him from history.

What he did was breathtaking, but his only regret remains having conducted negotiations in total secrecy. His actions led directly to a revolution in professional cricket, both in the way it was played and the way players were paid.

Greig's love of the game shines through his conversation and it was refreshing to sit with him in Colombo recently to talk of the Kevin Pietersen imbroglio. Like Greig, Pietersen was born in South Africa but he opined that a much closer parallel was Pietersen with Geoff Boycott. OTFF wishes him well.

Chaos reigns across globe

Bangladesh's coach, Richard Pybus, has walked out citing too much ill-informed interference from the board. South Africa, having sacked their chief executive, Gerald Majola, because of allegedly fraudulent payments, are now in a dilemma on restructuring their business, desperately trying to resist government intervention. In Sri Lanka, controversy continues about non-payment of overseas players who took part in the Sri Lankan Premier League. It is not only England who have little local difficulties.

Naming wrongs

So, the all-conquering behemoth that is the Indian Premier League has been temporarily silenced. Despite having four of the 10 teams in this year's competition, not one has reached today's final. Maybe it's not as good as Kevin Pietersen says it is. But then that can be said about a lot of competitions feeling the need to call themselves the premier.