Pakistan misses out on World Cup party

Pakistan's "Uncle Cricket" is distraught to be missing out on watching World Cup matches on home soil with the strife-torn nation forced to look on as its neighbours host the showpiece event.

Updated: February 16, 2011 15:37 IST
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Karachi: Pakistan's "Uncle Cricket" is distraught to be missing out on watching World Cup matches on home soil with the strife-torn nation forced to look on as its neighbours host the showpiece event.

Sufi Abdul Jalil, known as "Chacha (Uncle) Cricket", is Pakistan's most famous spectator and has become a prominent fixture at his country's matches at home and abroad for nearly three decades.

It is not easy to miss the 61-year-old -- bedecked in the green and white colours of Pakistan's national flag -- an unofficial mascot for the side, shouting encouragement and dancing in the stands.

But as the party goes on in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Pakistan's stadiums will remain silent after it was stripped of its rights to co-host the tournament over security fears.

"We will all miss World Cup matches in Pakistan," Jalil told AFP. "It's very sad, but it's something which is beyond our control and under the circumstances it would not have been enjoyable with fears and tension all the time."

Pakistan cricket was plunged into crisis on March 3, 2009 when the visiting Sri Lankan team came under assault by militants in Lahore in an attack that left eight dead, also wounding seven Sri Lankan players and their assistant coach Paul Farbrace.

A month later, the International Cricket Council (ICC) opted to move World Cup matches out of Pakistan.

"I was on my way from my home to the ground to watch the match when I was suddenly stopped by police and when all the drama unfolded, I was shocked," said Jalil, referring to the tragedy in Lahore.

"Those attacks snatched all cricket from us and had those events not taken place we would have been hosting the World Cup," added Jalil, sponsored by a soft drinks company to watch all of Pakistan's World Cup matches in Sri Lanka.

For vendor Abdul Rasheed, a common sight at Pakistan cricket stadiums since the country co-hosted the 1987 World Cup with India, it is a golden opportunity lost.

"It's a tragedy that World Cup matches will not be played at our grounds. They (the militants) did a cruel thing to our cricket," said Rasheed, who sells maize and nuts at cricket and hockey matches.

Apart from fans being denied the opportunity to watch their team's matches at home, Pakistan have lost out on the chance to improve infrastructure.

"The decision to move World Cup matches has hurt Pakistan cricket badly," said Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ijaz Butt after the ICC decision, adding that grounds would have been built and existing ones refurbished.

Pakistan, where around 4,000 people have died in suicide and bomb attacks since 2007 blamed on networks linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, earlier lost out on hosting the ICC Champions Trophy due to concerns over security.

Pakistan look set for a multi-million dollar windfall as a result of losing their World Cup matches -- a crucial financial boost -- but that is scant consolation to the country's legions of cricket fans.

"I hope one day the game can return because Pakistan is one of the greatest cricket-playing nations on earth, and it is such a shame that the young people of the country will be unable to watch their heroes at close quarters," Farbrace, who left the Sri Lankan team soon after the attack, said last year.

"Sport is a means to bring strangers together, whether it’s a local football team or an international cricket team, but sadly it is increasingly becoming a target of terror."

Former ICC chief Ehsan Mani said Pakistan had a tough job on its hands to bring international cricket back.

"It will take some time, but Pakistan must try hard to bring international cricket back. If future generations do not watch international cricket before them, then the game will never ever flourish, nor will the talent," he said.

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