Cricket with the diplomats

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Feb 24, 2014.

Islamabad – Pakistan and the “Big Three” appeared to have patched up unofficially on the cricket pitch as the Commonwealth Diplomats’ XI and the Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman’s XI played a goodwill cricket match in the capital on Monday.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan also took time out from tackling the country’s internal security threats to score 35 not out and, recovering his near-extinct sense of humour, to invite the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan for a round of the “gentleman’s game.”

The friendly match was organised at the Saidpur cricket ground by the Roots Millennium Schools and saw active participation from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Union and other foreign missions in the capital.

Speaking to the media briefly after the match, minister Khan quipped that the TTP members appear to be interested in cricket and if a match does take place, the “outcome will be positive.”

He said he suspects certain elements do not want international cricket to return to Pakistan. However, the government is trying to establish peace in the country, Khan said, and cricket can help promote the spirit of peace and friendship.

Earlier, in a closely contested match, the PCB Chairman’s XI edged out the Commonwealth XI by two runs, after it had batted first and set a target of 250 for the diplomats.

The Chairman’s XI was led by PCB Chairman Najam Sethi and featured present and past Pakistani cricketers including Intikhab Alam, Abdul Qadir, Sarfaraz Nawaz, Kamran Akmal and Nasir Jamshed.

The diplomats were captained by Australian High Commissioner to Pakistan Peter Heyward with Canadian ambassador Greg Giokas, British and Indian diplomats also featuring in the team.

Heyward told The Express Tribune he personally wished the Australian national team could tour Pakistan.

“But the decision is up to Cricket Australia and as far as I am aware they are still wary about the security situation in Pakistan,” the High Commissioner said. “I hope once things settle down, Australia will tour Pakistan.”

Test playing nations have avoided playing in Pakistan after a 2009 attack on the touring Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus in Lahore. Pakistan has been playing its home series in the United Arab Emirates ever since.

But bringing international cricket back to Pakistan is one of the top three priorities of PCB Chairman Sethi.

“My top three priorities are to introduce a democratic constitution for the PCB that ends political interference in the board’s affairs, to reorganize domestic cricket on regional lines and to bring international cricket back to Pakistan,” Sethi told The Express Tribune.

He said the friendly match was important because diplomats often offer advice to their countries’ cricket boards about international travel.

“Their perception of a country’s conditions is very important,” Sethi said.

Sethi said events such as the cricket match on Monday give the message that despite the law and order situation “life is still going on” and things are not as bad as they are shown in news broadcasts.

Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Argentine Ambassador Rodolfo J Martin Saravia, said it was great to watch Pakistani and foreigners playing in a bid to encourage other teams to come to Pakistan.

“I hope that in sports, such as cricket and hockey, other countries can come to Pakistan and play tournaments here given the proper security is ensured,” Saravia said. “Pakistan deserves international sports competitions at home.”

Faisal Mushtaq, the Chief Executive Officer of the Roots Millennium schools and the match’s chief organizer, said the match was an attempt to bring together elected representatives, diplomats, civil society members and the media to send across a message of peace.

“It shows the world that we Pakistanis stand for peace, for collaboration, for growth and prosperity,” Mushtaq said.

The match, which was played under a police security cordon, was watched by a large contingent of Islamabad’s residents and members of the foreign missions.

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