When Othello kills his wife Desdemona, it’s not because the latter had cheated on him. It’s because Othello had become suspicious that she had an affair with Cassio.
Shakespeare had a way to appeal to the sentiments of public using tragedy. It was bizarre, but it was also a classic Shakespearian thing to do. Perhaps, he had a liking for Schadenfreude. Which is why, the major theme of his dramas revolved around tragedy. Just that. Tragedy.
Tragedy. A word that Pakistan cricket fans are not unfamiliar with. If Shakespeare were alive today, he would have written countless plays on the lives of Pakistani cricketers, administrators, and fans for they have had to bear the brunt on the field for the actions of a few, off the field. It’s an absurd thought, but it’s an absurd world we live in.
On Friday, 17 September, came an announcement – just minutes away from the start of what would have been a historic series for Pakistan – that sent the entire country into a frenzy. The aftereffects of which will be felt for a long time. New Zealand, who had not toured the country, which had been ravaged by terrorist attacks and the War on Terror, for 18 years, decided to abandon the tour before it even began.
‘Normalcy’ was only a few minutes away from returning to the cricketing folds of Pakistan. Only a few minutes.
Not that the country hadn’t hosted any international series or high-profile matches since 2009 terrorist attacks on the Sri Lankan team. It had, but the big boys were yet to tour. And so, with the New Zealand landing here on 11 September, it looked like things were finally getting better for the country. That was until tragedy, a major theme that revolves around Pakistan cricket found its way and struck, just few minutes before the game.
Because, in all honesty, where would Pakistan cricket be if it weren’t for tragedy that has taught its players, administrators, and fans the real meaning of ‘success’?
For Pakistan cricket, tragedy is that toxic teacher who will ridicule you in front of the entire world, scorn you at every given opportunity, but will also teach you some of the most important lessons of your life. It is hard to get rid of. Because where will you get your wisdom if one day your toxic yet the best teacher decides to just walk away?
With New Zealand withdrawing from the tour at the eleventh hour and Pakistan being left with no other option, it only made sense to find meaning in things that are intangible. Othello. A play by Shakespeare is what came to my mind when I heard the announcement.
Pakistan cricket got punished for something that was beyond its control. Just like Desdemona did. And while you can question the actions of Othello, just like those of New Zealand, you have to look at the bigger picture to see what’s being played behind the scenes.
That New Zealand chose to end the tour abruptly on grounds of security threats is something that one can come to terms with. However, their reluctance to share the intelligence report with the Pakistan government and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is something that makes one question the legitimacy of their security claims.
For a moment, leave aside the financial aspect of the withdrawal and think of how the efforts of the PCB have gone to waste because of a unilateral decision. It will be incredibly difficult now for the board to convince teams that haven’t toured the country for more two decades now to send their teams to the Pakistani shores.
In his press conference on Sunday, Wasim Khan, PCB CEO, expressed disappointment and said that NZ have set a bad precedent for others.
One day later on Monday, 20 September, the England Cricket Board announced that they were withdrawing from the men's and women's team tours of Pakistan next month.
The fear now is the Cricket Australia too may follow suit and the PCB is all set to incur heavy losses. Not only will it be denied an opportunity to host a full SENA season at home, it will be robbed of the opportunity to host the ICC events in the upcoming events’ cycle. The PCB has made bids on several ICC events that are set to take place between the 2024-2031 cycle. But for that to happen, the PCB must host one, or ideally, all the big boys at home to earn the trust of all cricketing nations.
From cricketers to administrators to an average Pakistani fan, all feel betrayed. And they have good reasons to feel so. They know and realise how difficult the journey of bringing cricket back to Pakistan has been. While some see this as a political conspiracy, the former Kiwi fast bowler Danny Morrison expressed shock and disappointment.
The financial losses can still be dealt with, but how do you earn the trust of someone especially when it’s broken? The ECB has called in an emergency meeting on 20 September and is likely to make a decision regarding the tour. Should it go ahead as scheduled, damage will be controlled to some extent. But, if it gets called off, then it’s fair to say that Pakistan won’t be hosting major cricketing nations anytime soon, which will have serious financial consequences for the Board.
Many fans and political commentators are even arguing that Pakistan is being punished for supporting the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Whatever the case be, it is Pakistan cricket that has suffered. It has been left battered and bruised, but it still remains unbroken. Pakistan cricket’s resolve to get back on its feet after falling down on its face can be gauged by the fact that it has survived and, in fact, thrived financially even after not hosting its arch rival in over 14 years, or any major cricket in over 12 years.
Pakistan cricket may not host the big boys in near future, but it is here to stay. It is only when a tragedy struck that Pakistan cricket made a roaring comeback. For what it’s worth, this could ignite the fire in the boys to win the World T20 in UAE next month.
(The writer is a sports journalist based in Pakistan. He tweets @HumayounAK)