PCB chairman pins hope on Royal visit

KARACHI: Pakistan’s cricket chief is hopeful that this month’s visit to the country by Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton will provide a boost to PCB’s campaign to revive international cricket at home.Pakistan are currently hosting Sri Lanka for a six-match limited-overs series — the longest by any international cricket team to the country in more than a decade. It’s a rare occasion as international cricket teams have mostly stayed away from the country since a 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009.The series has been hailed as a big step towards the return of international cricket in Pakistan but the top ten Sri Lankan players stayed away from the trip citing security concerns, something that underlines the fact that it might still take several years before normalcy returns to the world of Pakistan cricket in the true sense of the world.It took more than ten years for Sri Lanka to return to Karachi. There are fears that it might take ten more before top-tier teams like England and Australia return to Pakistan. But ask Ehsan Mani, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), and he will tell you that he was a lot more positive.Asked whether he agrees with pessimists, who believe teams like England and Australia won’t be visiting Pakistan anytime soon, Mani said, “I’m much more hopeful.” Mani’s optimism springs from a series of recent developments including the ongoing series against Sri Lanka and a visit to Pakistan of top Cricket Australia officials including its CEO.But the biggest reason why Mani is confident that England could play in Pakistan as early as in 2021 and Australia in 2022 is this month’s Royal visit to Pakistan by Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton.“Price William and Kate Middleton are coming to Pakistan. You will be amazed how much of a difference it makes to countries like Australia, England and New Zealand. If the Royal family has the confidence to visit then they feel better,” Mani told ‘The News’ in an interview.The Royal couple will be visiting Pakistan from October 14-18. It will be the first visit to Pakistan by members of the British Royal Family in 13 years. It comes 13 years after Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwell, visited the country in 2006.Mani is of the view that developments like United Nations declaring Pakistan a ‘family posting’ also augur well for PCB’s campaign to revive international cricket in Pakistan. However, he made it clear that “nothing will happen overnight” and that progress will be “step by step”.Mani believes that lack of professionalism is the reason why the progress was slow in the past. “After what happened in 2009 there was a shock in the country and in the world. We were in denial. We were blaming everyone else but ourselves because of a lack of professionalism,” he said.“What we needed was to have Pakistan genuinely safe. You can’t promote a perception of safety and security by just talking about it. You have to achieve progress on the ground. They (the foreign teams and officials) have to be convinced that our country was now safe to visit.“Unfortunately in the past there was no forward thinking. Our strategy was to invite teams to Pakistan by paying them. I didn’t agree with it. It would have left the Board bankrupt.“What you needed was to have other people assess the security. That’s why in the PSL (this year) my strategy was to get as many security consultants as possible. We called experts from ICC, from FICA.“There has been positive change. The political situation and political leadership has changed. A lot has been happening which I believe will pave the path for the return of international cricket to Pakistan.“Cricket Australia’s Chief Executive was here last month. Their Chairman is coming soon. In a few weeks time, top ECB officials will be visiting Pakistan. Top officials of Cricket Ireland will also be joining them on the tour.“The reason why we are inviting these officials is because we want them to experience the security situation in Pakistan themselves. We take them to Islamabad not just to meet our government officials. We also take them to meet top officials of their High Commissions,” he said.

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