The geographic spread of cricket obviously has its roots in the old British Empire, although this doesn’t really explain why the game, chess on grass as some call it, took root in Australia, India and South Africa, but not in Canada or the United States.
It never really made it to the Middle East, either, but with so many South Asian workers in countries like United Arab Emirates and Qatar, there’s a strong interest in the game there. Indeed, on the drive from the airport to Doha’s downtown, you are much more likely to see kids playing cricket than football. And now in the UAE, two old foes are doing battle in unfamiliar surroundings as England and Pakistan square off.
It’s not exactly by choice, though. The UAE is Pakistan’s temporary home as other nations have refused to play in the country following a 2010 attack on the touring Sri Lankan cricket team.
The two nations start on Tuesday in Dubai in the first of three tests.
Meetings between England and Pakistan are often fiery affairs, but little compared to the explosion that occurred in England in 2010. Pakistan arrives in the Middle East still without three of its players – Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir – who were jailed after being found guilty of spot-fixing, which was discovered in 2010 as the team toured England.
It’s inevitable, therefore, that much of the pre-match attention from the English media has focused on the issue, but captain Misbah-ul-Haq is more concerned about trying to beat the team currently ranked number one in the world.
“I think everybody knows in both teams that we just have to forget the past and concentrate on the present and future,” said Misbah, who said he feels that conditions in the UAE will help his side.“I don’t think we need to build bridges to win good relations just to play cricket in the true spirit. Our target is to produce really good and hard cricket.”
When the original case went to trial, the prosecution expressed suspicion over some of the other Pakistani players, but team manager Col Naveed Akram Cheema says that the team is completely clean.
“As far as I am concerned, nothing special has been pointed out against these guys,” Cheema told reporters.“No allegations which we have received against them. The PCB has introduced a code of conduct and anti-corruption code. All these guys have been told and are following that code of conduct in letter and spirit.”
All this is a shame, not least because Pakistan has some serious talent – indeed it always does. The country is consistently a tough opponent, and few teams have ever relished going there, with even fewer managing to win.
But this is the UAE. Pakistan has never lost any of its five tests in the country, but has also only managed a draw in four of them.And this year couldn’t start any tougher with the best team in the world visiting. It will give both teams a good sense of where they are at and help, all hope, to draw a line under the spot-fixing events of 2010.