By Sohail Ali (APP)
After the conclusion of the Marylebone Cricket Club’s week-long tour of Lahore, Kumar Sangakkara, the President of the prestigious MCC and captain of the club’s touring squad to Pakistan, has said that he would love if more international teams consider touring Pakistan so international cricket in the country can be resumed in full force.
The MCC arrived in Lahore on February 13 to play a 50-over and three T20-over matches. Over the course of their stay, the visitors explored the city by playing golf, visiting the historic Lahore Fort and enjoying dinners across Lahore.
He said on Thursday : “It’s been great to be back in Pakistan.
“It’s been a long time since I came here and it has been even longer for the MCC. For us, it has been about coming here and playing cricket in support of Pakistan’s journey of getting international cricket back.
“It’s important that, when you are in a country on a tour, you’re not confined to a hotel, but you can go around and enjoy the city and the country you’re in.
“It is excellent for us to get to the [Lahore] Gymkhana golf course quite a few times. The players absolutely loved it. We were hosted with some amazing hospitality and warmth.
“The message we will be taking back is about the warmth of the people, the welcome of the fabulous spectators who came to watch cricket, the passion the players and people have for it and our own experiences of playing here and traveling about in Lahore.
“We would love for teams to consider coming here so that international cricket can finally come back to Pakistan in full force.”
In the last three months, Sri Lanka have played two Tests – in Rawalpindi and Karachi – and Bangladesh have been here twice for a three-match T20I series and a Test in Rawalpindi. With the fifth edition of the HBL Pakistan Super League, commencing today, being hosted in Pakistan for the first time since the advent of the league, the MCC’s visit rubberstamps the country’s ability to host international cricket.
“It is important things are put into context, moves are made, minds meet and things are reconsidered because the message that we take back is that Pakistan is a great place to tour,” Sangakkara said.
“I remember all those matches that I’ve played here but it’s always special to come back and revisit it. We never expected such a big crowd for a first game against the Qalandars. When we got to the ground, we had almost 19,000 people, hungry to watch some cricket.
“We were really, really impressed and we’re very, very moved and we understand very, very easily how much passion there is and how the lack of international cricket is not a great thing for Pakistan, for the people, for the players and for the financial status of the PCB.”
Over the course of their matches – a one-dayer against Pakistan Shaheens and three 20-over-a-side contests against HBL PSL franchises Lahore Qalandars and Multan Sultans and domestic T20 champions Northern – the MCC have played against some of the most exciting prospects in Pakistan’s domestic circuit.
Sangakkara – who has 12,400 Test runs, the most for any Sri Lankan batsman – praised the young talent in country. “I think Pakistan cricket is in a very healthy state,” he said. “Pakistan has always produced exceptional cricketers, especially young cricketers with a lot of variety; really fast bowlers, really good batsmen, mystery spinners, wrist spinners, you name it. On this trip it was no different.
“There were so many players from the Qalandars’ side who were exciting and orthodox. In the Northern, the domestic T20 champions, you had exciting players. In the [Pakistan] Shaheens, you had some really good batsmen.”
There is a divide in the global cricket fraternity regarding the future of Test cricket and whether four-day Tests should replace five-day contests. When the question was put to Sangakkara, he said: “It doesn’t matter where you emotionally stand. Whether I love Test cricket? Yes, of course, without a doubt. It is my favorite format. Should it be five days? Yes, of course, it should be five days.
“But, the reality is slightly different here. And we need to ask how many Test matches really go into five days? How many people are now actually coming to the ground to watch five days of cricket? Or whether there is a realistic possibility into the future of them coming with the time constraints of a modern society?
“In certain countries we have the average age of a cricket fan of 45-plus which is not a healthy sign. It is a complicated thing on how we attract a cash-rich time-poor younger demographic of people and younger players to the game and also keep the established fans interested. It is a complicated thing.
“Day-night Tests have been mooted and various other innovations have been brought to keep the crowds in the stadiums for Test cricket.
“And, it is not just about the big sides that play, it has also been about the slightly lesser sides that have had the Test status. What does cricket mean for them? Five days of cricket for certain sides and four days for others, that’s not a healthy way to go forward either.
“It is debate that will go on for some time but the solutions have to be practical and equitable. It has to be fair to the spectators, to the sponsors, to the TV networks that bring in so much money into this sport and also to the players. So it is not an easy answer and a lot more thought has to go into it.”