Pakistan will be hosting its first international match in six years. The isolation has hurt more than just the players.
London, UK – In May this year, Zimbabwe toured Pakistan for a T20 and ODI series, becoming the first Test nation to visit the country since the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan team bus.
Pakistan won both series in front of capacity crowds at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium which hosted all five games.
Due to the security concerns, no other Test nation has publically expressed its willingness to tour Pakistan in the near future. But plans are in place, as the Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Shahryar Khan tells Al Jazeera, to continue the gradual revival of international cricket in the country.
Al Jazeera: Is Pakistan safe for international cricket?
Shahryar Khan: No, not yet. Not completely. It’s only safe because we’re able to take precautions. There was a time about 8-9 years ago when Imran Khan was starting his campaign and he said was that nobody will attack cricket in Pakistan because the public will turn against them.
I disagreed with him right away and felt it was a wrong statement because the terrorists will attack cricket because it’s so important to the public.
The terrorists might want to do something and that’s a fact that has to be accepted. The army is doing a brilliant job but we have to make every foreign cricketer safe in Pakistan. It’s a given.
And if you don’t understand and realise that, you are turning a blind eye to the real issue that exists on the ground.
Al Jazeera: How are things looking for cricket in Pakistan following the tour of Zimbabwe?
Khan: Ever since I became chairman, I’ve been very anxious to gradually open doors so that teams can start playing in Pakistan. It’s not been easy because of the security situation which, I should add, has improved. I feel reasonably confident that within the next few years things will be nearer to normal than they have been over the last decade.
Following the successful series against Zimbabwe, we’re trying to induce other teams to play in Pakistan and there are some good teams ready to come. The only problem is that we don’t have the time in the calendar to accommodate them.
Al Jazeera: Which teams are interested in touring Pakistan?
Khan: With regards to Test nations, we’re trying to get Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh’s women’s team and an emerging team are coming to Pakistan.
Other than that, Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands are interested in touring Pakistan. Nepal and Oman are ready to come. So we’re hopeful of hosting them in the next 12 months. We can host them in the next three months but our calendar is packed until February.
The ICC and the Task Force have also proposed a Commonwealth side that might tour in February or March. Our condition was that the team should have current players, not retired ones.
Al Jazeera: The Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA) has repeatedly warned teams against touring Pakistan. Have they been in contact with you?
Khan: Nobody from FICA has spoken to me. They’re telling other countries not to tour but it’s not affecting us at all. Mr Tim May (former CEO) used to come and see me when I was chairman last time. He asked us to do certain things which we didn’t and then he really turned against us after that.
We haven’t signed on their dotted line and that’s why we’re always the odd guy out as far as FICA is concerned. They take measures that are not favourable to Pakistan.
Al Jazeera: There was a reported financial incentive for Zimbabwe players. Is that a plan going forward?
Khan: We gave financial incentives to the Zimbabwe team and we’re prepared to do that for the other international sides. Naturally, you’ll have to pay them to visit.
But it’s a matter for the governments as well, since teams need clearance to visit Pakistan. Zimbabwe’s government was hesitant but the team toured anyway. I can’t see Australia, New Zealand or England coming soon.
The PCB’s finances are satisfactory. Not brilliant but satisfactory. Of course if the India series happens, it will be a substantial boost for our finances.
Al Jazeera: What is the update with that India series? Has the PCB got a green light from the BCCI?
Khan: The BCCI signed an MOU about a year ago to play five series in eight years. The first is scheduled for the UAE later this year. But there are two problems. The MOU was signed and cleared by the Manmohan Singh government. So now we should ask the new government for another clearance.
I don’t think that’s a major factor so we’re still hopeful.
Secondly, we signed a broadcast agreement with Ten Sports knowing full well that BCCI has a dispute with them. The BCCI kept telling us that if we sign with Ten, it will bring problems and difficulties and we knew that.
We bent over backwards to try and get Indian broadcasters to bid.
Out of three large Indian broadcasters, only one bid and that was substantially lower than what Ten Sports bid. You are talking around $99m compared to $149m. So there was no question of even negotiating. We had no alternative but to sign with Ten.
Al Jazeera: But Ten Sports has a contract with other boards as well. Why has Pakistan been singled out?
Khan: Ten Sports have been allowed to bid for ICC contracts. They haven’t been blacklisted when India’s playing Sri Lanka, West India, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Only Pakistan is under pressure. This is the BCCI’s way of putting us under pressure. They want us to break with them. But it’s unfair. I told them that they couldn’t get their boys to bid up to the mark so what do they expected us to do? Hang ourselves? And not get the extra money that Ten offered? That’s ridiculous. They are trying to bully us.
We won’t cancel our contract with them. We’ll be rightly sued even if we do.
Al Jazeera: The ICC was concerned by reports of the Essel Group launching a league to rival the IPL. Has that issue come up at the PCB?
Khan: Yes it was brought up at the ICC because ICC supports and approves IPL. Their accusation against Essel was that they are launching the league to undermine the IPL and bring Lalit Modi back. We, at the PCB, got in touch with Ten Sports and told them this is cooking against you. If the ICC bans you, we won’t be able to honour the contract.
But we were told that the group was in touch with the ICC to clear up the ‘misunderstandings’ and were ready to close the companies they had launched.
But by the time the ICC met in Barbados, that hadn’t happened. But we’re hopeful this issue will be dealt with soon.
Al Jazeera: Staying with India, has the IPL corruption been discussed at the ICC and what is the general mood?
Khan: It’s too early to assess. It is a matter that’s of some concern to board members. Things like what’s going to happen to the IPL and N Srinivasan. But the general feeling in Barbados (at the ICC general conference) was that it won’t seriously affect Srinivasan’s position.
The more concerning part that is the fixing bit. It doesn’t throw the IPL in a good light. It’s become a hive of where this spot-fixing etc goes on. Of course there are other countries involved but basically the fulcrum is there.
Al Jazeera: Pakistan players are still not allowed to play in the IPL. How concerning is that to you?
Khan: The explanation they give is that it’s not a BCCI matter but rather a franchise one. If they feel that having a Pakistani player is going to raise security issues that they can do without, they won’t pick one.
For example, if there are 4-5 people guarding Shahid Afridi it’s better to avoid that hassle. It’s not totally convincing but it’s a valid reason. So it’s not too concerning for me but it might be for the players who could earn extra money.
Follow Faras Ghani on Twitter: @farasG