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Pakistan Cricket and Playing On

December 17th, 2014 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Cricket, The National

A Taliban attack in Pakistan yesterday left 132 schoolchildren dead. It was the worst terror attack in Pakistan’s history.

Today, Pakistan’s national cricket team played New Zealand in a one-day international in Abu Dhabi.

Some wondered at the propriety of it.

Among them was The National’s correspondent Osman Samiuddin, probably the planet’s leading authority on Pakistan cricket. His book on the history of the team — The Unquiet Ones — was published recently.

He covered the match and wrote: “It felt like a match that should not have happened.”

But they played on.

The Pakistan Cricket Board made the decision. In a midday statement, it cited commitments to broadcasters, which probably should not have been decisive, and seemed to suggest New Zealand pushed them to play, which is not a good reason at all.

Perhaps more telling was one sad statement deeper in the PCB release: “We are playing outside Pakistan only because of the threat of terrorism at home. If we allow terrorists to disrupt our matches abroad, then all will be lost.”

Pakistan has been playing “home” matches in the UAE since 2009, following a terror attack on the convoy of vehicles taking the Sri Lanka national team to a stadium in Lahore, Pakistan. Eight Pakistanis were killed, including six members of the police. Six members of the Sri Lanka delegation were wounded.

Thus, it was considered important that Kenya last month sent a team to Pakistan for five one-day internationals. Kenya was the first national side, aside from Afghanistan, to play in Pakistan since 2009.

The Kenyans are still there, though their match for tomorrow was called off, and pushed back another day.

Thus, the PCB sense that cancelling matches outside Pakistan for “terror” reasons would only reinforce the notion that it is dangerous to play the Pakistanis.

Osman Samiuddin covered the match for The National, and his story wasn’t much about what happened on the pitch. It was about whether the match should have played and how players and officials reacted, and what they said about it.

A minute of silence was observed before the match, and the Pakistan team wore black armbands.

After five years in the region, I do not consider myself an expert on the countries in this part of the world, and Pakistan least of all. It seems a desperately poor and unstable place, where the Taliban ofter has operated with impunity, most institutions are corrupt and politicians often are assassinated.

According to a recent BBC report, a “vast majority” of Pakistanis believe the country should operate under Sharia law — which reflects religious intensity but perhaps also a contempt for the current justice system.

It was in Pakistan where the Taliban attempted to kill a 15-year-old girl, Malala Yousafzai, an advocate of schooling for girls. The Taliban thinks girls do not need school, thus the attempt to kill Malala, who survived being shot in the head and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year.

Perhaps Pakistan’s cricket team went on with its match because it represents the best of Pakistan — the country’s most democratic institution, a unifying force in a land torn by tribal and regional disputes, as well as a point of pride for their high standing in global cricket.

Before the match, the Pakistan players stood shoulder to shoulder in the national cricket uniform. Real grief could be seen on many faces. Maybe they should not have played. And maybe, of all the countries in the region, Pakistan most needs to carry on.



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