A series finale against the third-ranked ODI side in the world at ‘home’. Not just any series but a series that the ‘home’ side lost the first match of but come back to win the second, which should have made this third one all the more ineteresting. The day, too, is Sunday – easily the most perfect of days for a game of cricket to deliver on.
The stage is set, the ingredients are all there, except it just doesn’t feel right. The buzz is missing.
Had this been the 90s or even the early 2000s, the third ODI between Pakistan versus New Zealand would have been the event of the day. Plans would have been made around it, dads would’ve hogged TV remotes, and traffic on streets would’ve been sparse.
This wasn’t the case yesterday. Look back a little and this wasn’t even the case during the Australia series. The Aussies came, saw and got conquered, but it still felt hollow. The hardcore game loyalists of course took notice but cricket in this country was never just about the hardcores. It’s the softies, the casual fans, that seem to be losing interest.
So the fact that the historically mighty Australia did not get to win even once on their recent tour, and the bogey team New Zealand did taste victory but just once and is likely to get hammered in the upcoming Test series too — these are not being celebrated back home (notice the no air quotes) as they, in theory, should be.
It was befitting then that the ODI series — yet another one played in front of thousands of empty seats – ended the way it did. Some Kiwi bowlers bowled, some Pakistani batsmen batted, some sixes were hit which landed in the stands, where there were no fans to try and catch them. Thankfully, the rain, which was for once was not untimely, put the match out of its misery; a result was not to be had.
It makes one wonder what has changed for cricket to inspire such a insipid response? Why cricket is not as fun as it used to be back in the day?
The most obvious answer to this growing distance between fans and the Pakistani cricket team is “the distance between fans and the Pakistan cricket team”. A massive 1,717 kilometres to be precise.
For the past decade, cricket fans in Pakistan have had to see their beloved team play their matches in another country thousands of miles away. The select few times they do get to see Pakistani players with naked eyes in our own stadia, it’s usually against ragtag sides like the Zimbabwes or the West Indies.
The real home series or the ones that matter are still held in the UAE. With such a gap between the product and its consumers, no wonder then that the consumer is losing interest.
On top of everything, this team has no real superstars a la Shahid Afridi or Shoaib Akhtar whom the millions back home would tune in for no matter where the game is.
In the absence of that kind of star power, it is imperative that the PCB find ways to bring real international cricket home or else the product it has built could start shedding its value.