Clarke's helping hand to Pakistan
When ECB chairman Giles Clarke offered to help Pakistan stage their home matches in England next summer, he was motivated by the worldwide interest in protecting the Test future of a great cricket-playing nation.
International tours to Pakistan have been put on hold since March, when terrorists attacked the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore.
The resulting vacuum of cricket in the country has prompted the Pakistan Cricket Board to seek alternative venues to house their ‘home’ series.
Pakistan’s Test series with Australia, which England will host at Lord’s and Headingley Carnegie in July, has itself been postponed since since 2008.
As Clarke told ecb.co.uk at Headingley at the launch of next summer’s series between Pakistan and Australia, he viewed the playing of the rescheduled series as imperative.
“Pakistan is one of the great cricket-playing nations, and has had some of the finest players the world has seen,” said Clarke.
“We recognise that 160 million Pakistani people care passionately about their cricket, and we’re determined to give them the opportunity to see Pakistan playing Test cricket at a high standard.
“It’s absolutely vital that we are able to keep them playing Test cricket until international teams can return to Pakistan. Successful Test cricket is really important.”
Clarke was speaking before meeting members of the Asian community in Leeds, and he acknowledged that the allocation of two Tests to Lord’s and Headingley, preceded by two Twenty20 internationals at Edgbaston, was motivated by the presence of the British Pakistani community in London, Yorkshire and the West Midlands.
He said: “The ECB carried out our customary bidding process that we do for all international matches. But above all, we were concerned that this tour must be very successful both on and off the pitch.
“The support of the Anglo-Pakistani community is absolutely essential.
"The reason that we’re launching here at Headingley Carnegie, is that we’re very keen for the Pakistani ethnic community in Yorkshire and the north of England to understand the opportunities here.
“We want to see full grounds. They are Pakistan's home games, Pakistan will have the sponsorship and television rights and will reap the benefits that the series will accrue.
"So we want to see the magnificent support Pakistan enjoyed in the World Twenty20, though I am sure all sections of the Yorkshire public, and people in London and Birmingham, will also come and watch these teams play."
Anglo-Pakistani cricketing relations have certainly not always been this rosy.
Mutual misunderstanding between England and Pakistan teams has often been to blame, never more obvious than in a tempestuous period in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The unedifying 1987-88 series in Pakistan immediately springs to mind. In Wisden, Martin Johnson wrote that the series contained "some of the most shameful scenes witnessed in any sport, never mind one traditionally associated with fair play, courtesy and high moral values."
Aside from questionable umpiring decisions, he was referring to Chris Broad’s refusal to leave the crease when given out in Lahore, and the heated row between England captain Mike Gatting and umpire Shakoor Rana in Faisalabad.
But things have improved immeasurably, with England stepping in to help Pakistan in this time of strife, and Clarke himself chairing the ICC’s Pakistan task force, there has been a convergence.
He said: “Relations are excellent. Ijaz Butt (PCB chairman) and I have a very good personal relationship. In addition to that, the relationship between the two boards has probably never been more friendly.
“Ijaz’s people have worked extremely hard with us to get this tour organised, and taking the trouble to make sure it’s launched properly. To us it’s really important that this tour succeeds for Pakistan.”
The reappearance of neutral Tests in England, for the first time since 1912, also sees Australia return to this country a year after the Ashes summer.
England and Australia will contest a five-match NatWest series in the run-up to Australia’s games with Pakistan, less than 12 months after Ricky Ponting's men handed out a 6-1 thrashing upon their hosts.
Clarke maintains a regular diet of 50-over cricket between the game’s oldest rivals can only aid the fortunes of England’s one-day team.
“Those matches are important to me,” said Clarke. “Playing Australia in one-day internationals gives us the best chance to seriously improve our one-day side. If we’re going to be any good at one-day cricket, we’ve got to be beating Australia regularly.
“We weren’t good enough last year in the one-day series, and didn’t play very well against them in the Champions Trophy semi-final. We’ve got a lot of work to do on that front, no question.”