Pakistan remain a long way from home
Despite glorious win over England, security worries mean a return from exile is fraught with problems
Pakistan are no closer to resuming international cricket in their own country. Their magnificent victory over England in the UAE seems to have fuelled speculation that this will be their last so-called home series on neutral territory and that they will no longer feel they are pariahs.
But Giles Clarke, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, and head of the ICC's Pakistan task force, said there are unlikely to be cricket tours to Pakistan in the near future. Although Bangladesh have agreed in principle to visit in April, security assessments are still to be made and the ICC would have to be persuaded to send its officials. "It is a complex area, you're talking about men's lives," said Clarke, who is in Dubai for an executive board meeting. "These are sportsmen, not soldiers. It's all very well to say you can create an onion ring of security and that your team will be 100 per cent safe and you will have presidential security from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, but that will have to apply not only to players but to media, spectators and the people responsible for putting the match on. I may not have a legal duty of care, but I have a moral duty."
In the general jubilation that has accompanied Pakistan's superb performances against the world's No 1 side a return to normal business has been promoted. Last week, Zaka Ashraf, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, said: "This England series could be our last series to be held at an offshore venue. We are keen to host international teams just like other member boards are doing. We are already engaged with the Bangladesh board and I am sure their tour to Pakistan in April will break the ice."
Clarke conceded that if the Bangladesh tour went ahead it could mean progress had been made. He did not, however, envisage any prospect of it. "It's very clear the players don't want to go," he said. "Unfortunately, it has never come over as the best tour and the elephant in the room is the deeply shocking incident at Lahore when the Sri Lankan team coach was attacked and men died. That changed things."
Clarke, who has constantly sought to befriend Pakistan, had outlined a plan to send an all-star, independent team there. But it would have to be of high quality and the problem of attracting players would be insurmountable. Advice from the Foreign Office remains unequivocal: "We advise against all travel to specific regions of Pakistan and against all but essential travel to other specific regions of Pakistan."
If the evidence of the last two days of the match in Abu Dhabi is a yardstick, Pakistan are gradually building a support base in the UAE, which has, perforce, become their second home. It clearly helped that authorities there made admission free ,since most of the Pakistani expatriates are in service industries with little disposable income.
With the team leading 2-0 and the third Test starting in Dubai on Friday, the traditional day off in the UAE, there are hopes of a large crowd. It is perhaps typical of Pakistan's turbulent cricket that there is still some uncertainty surrounding the team even now.
The PCB has been interviewing candidates for the coach's job, which has been filled since November by the chairman of selectors, Mohsin Khan. Dav Whatmore, the former Sri Lanka and Bangladesh coach, is favourite and, although a movement in favour of Mohsin has grown, that was criticised yesterday.
Geoff Lawson, who was Pakistan's coach in 2007 and 2008 said: "The performance of the team recently is down to Misbah-ul-Haq. Mohsin Khan will be doing nothing. I am quite aware of what his capabilities are, from the time I was coach of the Pakistan team.
"He was in charge of the National Academy in Karachi and not very 'cluey' in his job. This is down to Misbah and his senior players and his organisation. I still think if Pakistan wants to go ahead, they still need a quality coach."
Perhaps so, but they seem to be doing all right so far against a team whose coach and captain famously complement each other. Misbah seems perfectly relaxed about the idea, but the relationship is crucial in any team.
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