By Sohail Ali

LAHORE, Oct 24 (APP): As Pakistan braces to host Zimbabwe for three ODIs and T20Is later this month, India is uncertain about its cricket as the two bitter neighbours and cricket powerhouses head in opposite directions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Pakistan successfully delivered the First and Second XI National T20 Cups in Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi, and the National U19 One-Day Tournament and women’s high performance programme are presently ongoing in Punjab and Karachi respectively, India is playing their billion-dollar Indian Premier League in the United Arab Emirates, which was Pakistan cricket’s home from 2009-2019.

While Pakistan is on the verge of becoming the second nation after England to host international cricket during the pandemic when the first One-Day International takes place in Rawalpindi on 30 October, India is still unclear where to host England for three Tests and five ODIs. UAE has been identified as a potential venue.

And to rub further salt into the wound, the England and Wales Cricket Board has confirmed “receiving an invitation in respect of a short white-ball tour to Pakistan during the early part of 2021” and everything points to a three T20I series between 15 and 20 January 2021.

After the proposed short series against England, the South Africa side will arrive for two Tests and three T20Is. To finalise the tour, an advance South Africa recce team is arriving in Pakistan on 1 November to inspect facilities in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi.

India’s frustration on the current state of affairs was clearly visible when they stopped their Zimbabwe coach Lal Chand Rajpoot from traveling to Pakistan. Zimbabwe has appointed Douglas Hondo as an interim coach but the decision has angered PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani, who has vowed to take up the matter with the ICC.

“India has set a wrong and bad precedence by stopping its national (Lal Chand Rajpoot) as a foreign team official,” Ehsan Mani while talking to APP here on Saturday, adding: “The PCB will take up this matter at the ICC level as they are planning for the ICC T20 World Cup. We believe denying Rajpoot the permission to travel to Pakistan is India’s attempt to undermine Pakistan cricket.”

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Former captain Rashid Latif said Pakistan had utilized and benefitted from the Covid-19 situation better than most. “Pakistan has benefited from the current situation, probably more than any other country in the world as they adopted and implemented COVID-19 protocols sped up return of international cricket.

“In fact, this is exactly what has made the visits of English and South African teams to materialize sooner than expected. Pakistan managed to host best part of PSL in front of the crowds and now going to organize the concluding part on home soil. Full domestic season is already under way and the tours of England and South Africa are only going to re-engage the local audience and speed up the return of international cricket to Pakistan.

“No home series for India for almost a year and no visibility of any date for return of normalcy had its effect, though. The fact that IPL was moved to UAE points in the same direction. Although hosting of IPL off-shore and behind closed doors has stripped IPL of all its off the field glitter, it is still good enough to generate broadcast revenue. After IPL, they are still not in a position to schedule a home series. Instead, they are exploring the off-shore options to organize their home series.”

Rashid said the cash-heavy BCCI was in a position to bear the initial jitters but was unsure how long India could continue like this.

“Indian cricket may absorb these jolts for some time, but for how long?” he asked, adding: “If the situation continues to remain the same and goes on to impact the scheduling of the ICC T20 World Cup 2021 in India, then I don’t see any option for them to cover their financial losses than to play offshore series with Pakistan.

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“Why wait till then? Why not realize the extraordinary nature of the situation and work something out before it gets too dark?”

Naeem Sadiq, a local club-owner, said India was getting a doze of its own medicine. “It is well documented who was behind the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team, which suspended international cricket in Pakistan for 10 years. But, the nature has its own ways of taking the revenge and the Indians are now playing cricket at venues we have left last year.

“There is a lesson hidden for the extremist Indian government here, but they’ll only understand if they see this rationally, using their wisdom, intelligence and commonsense.”

Adnan Romani, a Lahore banker, said by staging cricket in Pakistan, the PCB has further exposed India’s poor infrastructure. “I feel proud and delighted to see our stadiums hosting cricket activities. Our social media channels are bubbling with cricket news and content, while there is only grim on the Indian channels.

“This is what you call a team work. The World Health Organisation congratulated Pakistan for effectively handling the Covid-19 situation and the PCB pounced on it by holding cricket at its venues.

“I am sure a lot of Indians will be scratching their heads and wondering what has hit them. After being repeatedly exposed on the diplomatic front, they are now facing embarrassed on the cricket side. A country which runs the most expensive cricket leagues is unable to provide guarantee to its own and foreign players. That speaks for their infrastructure, capabilities as well as the confidence of the foreigners.”

India has 7.76 million reported Covid-19 cases, including 117,000 deaths, while Pakistan has 336 reported cases, 310,000 recoveries and 6,715 casualties.