By Justin Lichterman
In the wake of the recent terrorist bombing in Karachi, most cricket nations and players are understandably uneasy about touring Pakistan. The Kiwis flew home immediately after the attack, horrified at the devastation on the city street and the highly anticipated Australian tour set for later this year is in jeopardy. Unfortunately, Pakistani cricket is going to pay a price. No cricket-lover considers that a good thing.
Pakistan field one of the most exciting teams in the world. It proudly boasts a fearsome pace attack, wily spinners, talented all-rounders, and batsmen of majestic flair and brutal power. Pakistani cricket is good for the game. International events may have marginalized Pakistan as safe to host international cricket, but thatís no reason to isolate Pakistani cricket completely. Unlike Zimbabwe, where player safety concerns arise directly from government policy, in Pakistan a lunatic fringe ruins cricket (and tourism and tolerance) for Pakistani and international fans. The natural, and understandable consequence, is that foreign players prefer not to visit Pakistan, but this should not stop foreign cricket teams from playing against Pakistan elsewhere.
In this regard, Pakistan has several options. Already, a number of neutral cricket venues are being discussed, including Sharjah, Dhaka and Morocco. Dhaka appears to be the best possibility. It is closest to Pakistan, and for years before Bangladesh achieved test status, Pakistan was a local favorite. Pakistani fans can most easily travel to Dhaka to watch their team and local crowds are more likely to attend an Australia-Pakistan test match in Bangladesh than they might in Sharjah, where the recent West Indies-Pakistan series was a financial disaster.
The PCB has also asked for ICC support to ensure Pakistan is not isolated as an international venue. While the PCB has the right idea,and indeed this is precisely the sort of situation where an international governing body must help its members, the approach is entirely wrong. The ICC cannot in good conscience, support Pakistanís plea that it not be isolated as an international venue at this time, when ICC members are unwilling to tour there because of legitimate player safety concerns. Already, Black Capís skipper Stephen Fleming, said that it would be a while before he would consider returning to Pakistan. Frankly, the best the ICC can do at this point is leaving the decision of whether to tour Pakistan to the discretion of individual cricket boards and players. Shifting Pakistanís international matches to neutral venues will likely result in significant financial losses for the PCB. Thus, international support for Pakistani cricket can best come from the financial end, rather than an impotent and artificial ICC statement of support that its members go on with tours to Pakistan.
The ICC alone is financially unable to bear the losses that tour cancellations to Pakistan, or any other member country, might create. One viable alternative is that the PCB seek help from the Asian Cricket Council and perhaps together the ICC and the ACC can defray the losses. This is not an ideal solution, however, as potential losses from cancellations and unforeseen events extend beyond just Pakistan and the Asian nations and the ACC is unlikely to help non-ACC members.
This bombing and the almost-cancellation of the Centurion test after the Denness affair raise bigger issues for the ICC. Todayís world is dangerous and unpredictable. The ICC and its individual member boards, face an increased risk of tour cancellations, postponements and revisions. Financially, any hiccups affecting international cricket could have disastrous financial implications. Huge sums of money are at stake,and itís high time international cricket better hedged against potential losses.
For all his faults, Jagmohan Dalmiya made considerable progress in meshing international cricket with the profit-centric nature of international commerce and the ICC must follow up. Major global companies carry insurance against all sorts of risks, from loss of goods, to forces of nature, to terrorism. International cricket is a global commercial industry and the ďproductĒ must be insured against losses from cancellations and other unforeseen money-losing possibilities. The ICC alone, cannot afford to insure against such losses, but a system of shared insurance, with risks allocated between nations and the ICC, might best achieve that outcome.
For instance, in a series between two teams, each local board could purchase insurance covering their own players lost match fee earnings, with the home side insuring against a percentage of lost profits. The ICC could insure against the balance of lost profits, with premiums on that policy paid by all ICC members and a certain percentage of annual ICC revenue. So, if Australia cancels a tour to Pakistan, an ACB insurance policy covers the Australian playersí match fees, a PCB insurance policy covers the Pakistani playersí match fees, a separate PCB policy covers 50% of the lost profits, and an ICC policy covers the other 50% of lost profits.
Pakistanís political and financial crisisí threaten the smooth running of international cricket. That makes Pakistanís problem an ICC problem. International cricketís governing body must establish protocols to adjust when crisisí of this nature arise, like establishing loss-minimising, test match ready neutral venues and a viable insurance system. After all, cricket isnít just a game anymore.
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