An overview of cricket in Pakistan since 2000 and what Pakistan needs to do to host ICC tournaments in the future.
Terrorism kept a generation of Pakistanis from experiencing live international cricket on the grounds of Pakistan. When the Kiwis were in Pakistan in 2002 to play 3 ODIs and 2 Test matches, a hotel near where they were staying was targeted in a car bombing. Earlier, in September 2001, New Zealand were on their way to Pakistan for a 3-Test series with Peshawar, Faisalabad, and Karachi being hosts. While the team was in transit in Singapore, the 9/11 attacks happened. This made NZ take a u-turn, and the series was postponed. It was not completed. Australia have not visited Pakistan since 1998. England’s last visit was in 2005. India, too, due to political tensions, have not played in Pakistan for several years.
Lack of Cricket Since 2000
After 9/11 and US actions in Afghanistan, Peshawar was deemed a dangerous place to play cricket by international teams due to its proximity to Afghanistan. Post the 2002 NZ tour, Pakistan hosted only 23 Test matches until 2009. Stats-wise, Pakistan won 11 of those matches, drew 8, and lost only 4 of them. In those 23 Tests, Lahore, Karachi, Faisalabad, and Multan shared 21 matches, and two being shared between Rawalpindi and Peshawar.
Multan was among the newly built grounds and one of the most modern ones in Pakistan. Pakistan hosted Bangladesh here for the first time. Although Multan Cricket Stadium was modern, it lacked lodging facilities of ICC standard. Moreover, the lone hotel was far away from the stadium itself.
Iqbal Stadium Faisalabad by then was a regular host city for Pakistan’s international matches. Lodging remained an issue there. However, PCB still favored it instead of Peshawar or Rawalpindi at that time. The Indian cricket team toured Pakistan in 2003/04, playing 5 ODIs and 3 Test Matches. This India tour paved the way for more regular international cricket in Pakistan. England toured in 2005 for 5 ODIs and 3 Test matches. Next year in 2006, Indian again returned for a full series.
Champions Trophy 2008
After these successful tours, ICC announced on 30th April 2006 that Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) would host the 2011 World Cup, with Pakistan to host the 2008 ICC Champions Trophy. At the time of these announcements, Lahore, Karachi, Multan, Faisalabad, and Rawalpindi stadiums were floodlit stadiums. These five stadiums had at least one hurdle solved with having floodlights for hosting World Cup or Champions Trophy matches. PCB started plans to renovate stadiums for these ICC tournaments by 2007. However, no one at the time knew what the future had in store for Pakistan.
The rise in terrorism incidents was unprecedented from early 2007. Despite that, the Asian Cricket Council awarded Pakistan the 2008 Asia Cup rights before the scheduled ICC Champions Trophy. Many at that time would have considered that as a “beta test or soft run” leading to the CT08 and WC11, giving PCB an understanding of hosting multiple national teams in the country. Before these coveted tournaments, PCB also planned to host Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in early 2008.
While everything was going to the plan, the sudden rise in terrorism was further fueled by the violence that occurred after the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. This event derailed a lot of plans that were in place. First, the Australians called off a planned tour of the country. The hotel that Zimbabwe and Pakistan team were to stay at in Hyderabad was burnt down during the violence (the match eventually went ahead next month).
Teams were already having doubts about the tournaments that Pakistan was going to host. At that time, it was believed that BCCI played a positive role in convincing those teams to tour Pakistan for the CT08. That speaks volumes about the good relations that PCB and BCCI had from 2003 till late 2008. Many of these unwilling countries looked forward to the 2008 Asia Cup being played in Lahore and Karachi before making their final decision on their CT08 participation.
In August 2008, ICC dropped Rawalpindi as a CT08 venue just a month before the announced start of the tournament while releasing the schedule with Karachi and Lahore hosting the ICC Champions Trophy just like they hosted Asia Cup. The tournament’s trophy was already unveiled during an event in June. But ICC dealt a crucial blow by announcing the postponement of the tournament just two weeks before the opener at Lahore between Pakistan and West Indies.
Losing this tournament was a huge blow for Pakistan Cricket. All the planned renovation activities, even those for the 2011 WC, were put on hold. The PCB Chairman at that time, Nasim Ashraf, resigned. His resignation was mostly because President Musharraf resigned, but it put Pakistan Cricket in a crisis.
What did Pakistan cricket have for the next three years before the World Cup? Well, Pakistan’s eyes were now on hosting India in late 2008 and early 2009, but after an attack on Marriott, that seemed doubtful. In a surprise, Pakistan announced the tour itinerary just three days later, with the usual cricketing centers hosting India for a full series. PCB also announced a 3-day warm-up match at Hyderabad Cricket Stadium. Hyderabad was being prepared as a second ground in Sindh province to host cricket as it was given an ODI match earlier in 2008, and a renovation was also on the cards.
However, the November 2008 Mumbai attacks changed everything, and India refused to tour Pakistan. The fateful series against Sri Lanka in 2009 was a last-minute arrangement to cover the Indian cancellation. The attack on Sri Lanka effectively ended international cricket in Pakistan, and with that, its right to host matches of ICC WC 2011.
Test Cricket Returns in 2019
Fast forward to 2019, a full ten years after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, and Pakistan was hosting the Sri Lankan cricket team for a full tour with Test matches to be played in Pakistan for the first time.
Ten years was a long time for Pakistan to have developed and renovated all its international stadiums in anticipation of the revival of cricket one day. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Except for some bits of renovation at Rawalpindi, Lahore, and the change of roof at Karachi, nothing else was done. The single-tier seating arrangements looked more like stadiums from the 1980s, while many stands did not even have seats for spectators. Multan still lacked a decent hotel within the stadium’s vicinity; the security SOPs meant the hotel had to be close to the stadium.
On the return of cricket, the first ODI against Sri Lanka got washed out, making it the first-ever ODI to be washed off due to rain in Karachi, telling the tale of the ancient system in place to clear the ground from the waterlogging. The 2nd ODI had an interruption after the failure of floodlights during the game. Despite having a decade to solve these issues, PCB could not deliver on the return of international cricket in Pakistan.
The administration of the time is not being blamed, but PCB as an organization failed. Were they not anticipating the return of top-tier cricket back to the country? Pakistan was not slotted to host any ICC tournament until 2023. Still, the discussion on the next ICC cricketing cycle was already well in place during 2019/20, and media reported CEO PCB Wasim Khan expressing PCB’s interests in hosting some ICC events in the next cycle, which would be finalized before 2023. Pakistan would bid for some events to be hosted only in Pakistan, with some being hosted together with the Emirates Cricket Board in UAE.
Is Pakistan Ready To Host ICC Events?
This would be a frequently asked question until Pakistan hosts England, Australia, and New Zealand for full series. These series are scheduled for late 2021 and early 2022. That would be a confidence-booster for ICC to award Pakistan some ICC events.
What events can Pakistan get? T20 World Cup hosting rights are with India for 2021, and ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 hosting rights are also with India. It’s highly unlikely that Pakistan will gain hosting rights for the 50-over World Cup in the coming cycle. If the T20 World Cup is awarded, it would be slated during the end of the coming cycle in around 2030/31. That’s almost a decade from now, and even that might night be shared with UAE. As the political situation stands, India would insist on not touring Pakistan.
What else can Pakistan get? Pakistan can get an Under-19 World Cup and a Women’s World Cup, stepping stones for when men’s events return to Asia from 2030 onward. When unofficially asked if Pakistan would get to host any ICC world events during the next cycle, Chris Tetley, Head of Events at the International Cricket Council, replied in a positive manner that “it’s possible.”
What can PCB do for infrastructure? ICC events are supposed to be played at modern stadiums with all the facilities, which Pakistan either lacks or is making slow progress with. Cricketing centers like Lahore and Karachi are at the top to host any event right now. However, the burden on them has been huge in recent times, which might make PCB look at the alternatives. PCB utilized Rawalpindi from last year and plans to use Multan, too, with some hotels under construction.
The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa started the total renovation of Arbab Niaz Stadium in Peshawar in 2017/18, which is scheduled to be handed over to PCB in late 2021 for the finishing touches. During that time, the KP government has also initiated work on an alternate stadium in Peshawar at Hayatabad, which is also being made to host international cricket.
Arbab Niaz Stadium is set to become the first fully double-tier cricket stadium with seating arrangements for about 25-30,000 people if all goes to plan. It will also be the first LED-lit stadium in Pakistan, being inspired by DSC Dubai Cricket Stadium.
Niaz Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad was making news in 2020 when local authorities in Hyderabad requested PCB to schedule a match of PSL or an international game at the stadium. However, many believe the stadium is in a depleted condition right now. The local authorities and the Sindh government were planning to rehabilitate and renovate the stadium. But there have been no updates heard or seen so far in this regard.
Bahria Town, a private entity, is making Pakistan’s largest and the most modern cricket stadium in Bahria Town Karachi, with work about 30% completed. The stadium owned by Bahria Town was slated to complete in 2021 simultaneously with Arbab Niaz’s renovation, but it is still under construction. It is believed Rafi Stadium would replace the historic National Stadium Karachi if taken over by PCB as it would surpass NSK in its facilities and looks while being in a safe location.
While PCB still has about a decade before it hosts any major ICC event on its own, it needs to utilize this time and make some progress, unlike what it did from 2009-2019. It can start from expediting work on Arbab Niaz Stadium and hosting England or New Zealand for at least a Test match in Peshawar when these teams visit in 2022. PCB can also get chairs for spectators in Rawalpindi and Faisalabad as they have to sit on concrete, be it winters, summers, or rain.
Next, PCB can initiate plans for an international stadium in the Northern Areas. This will serve as an alternative option for matches from May to July. Cricket stadiums in Azad Kashmir and Abbottabad could have been a great place to host summer season of Pakistan as these places in the North are relatively cooler compared to the cities of Lahore and Karachi. The latter experience heatwaves almost every year.
We cannot say that PCB does not have all this in their plans, but as cricket followers and fans, our words and views can accelerate whatever PCB has in its plans as ours is what public opinion is!