'Sadly, touring is nowhere near as much fun as it used to be' - Dean Jones
Dean Jones is a popular voice in the world of cricket. He has been an ardent supporter of Pakistan cricket and has vivid memories of touring the country back in his heyday. He reflects on the security issues faced by players around the world and the challenges faced by a modern-day cricketer.
"Being an international cricketer is not as easy as you think. Sometimes players have difficult decisions to make, being asked to weigh their loyalty to their country against concerns over their personal safety," Dean told Sydney Morning Herald.
The attack on Bangladesh cricketers at a mosque in Christchurch sent shockwaves through the world as nobody envisaged that New Zealand could be a victim of a deadly terror attack but that's the world that we currently live in where we have to contend with this global challenge.
"For example, would you tour Pakistan? In the aftermath of the Christchurch tragedy, would any Muslim player be comfortable touring New Zealand? Every cricketing country in the world has had recent terrorist attacks of some sort," Dean said.
Dean has relished the hospitality and warmth he receives in Pakistan and is moved by the love of the game in the cricket starved country.
Cricket has always been welcome enthusiastically by vociferous crowds and gradually, the confidence of the international community has risen signified by the Sri Lanka tour and Cricket Australia mulling over sending their team.
"The Pakistanis just love their cricket and cricketers. They make you feel so welcome and their love for the game is intoxicating."
Dean recounts pleasant memories of his visit to the country in the 1980s when he roamed around the sprawling cities without any security and rejoiced shopping around.
"In the 1980s, we just flew into Lahore, played, trained and did some sightseeing, with hardly any security. Visiting local markets and enjoying the culture of Pakistan was a lot of fun."
However, now the situation has changed upside-down when it comes to playing in Pakistan. Beefed up security, several walkthrough gates, multiple checks for the spectators and hotel-bound players miss out on the freedom that players from the previous era enjoyed.
"Today, players are whisked off their international flight and placed in bullet and bomb-proof buses with army security that’s mind-boggling. Having to go through constant security and x-ray checks in airports and hotels just kills the fun of touring."
"Players are cooped up in their rooms like prison cells and there is nowhere to go. The security just won’t let you out. There are only so many trivia and card nights that you can do before boredom sets in. The gym and pool becomes a burden and all you do is sit in your rooms. And that’s when the problems start."
Dean Jones is an integral part of Pakistan Super League (PSL). He has coached Islamabad United to two title wins and has been recently appointed by Karachi Kings after his ouster from Islamabad franchise. He was in Karachi this year for the final where he felt the security measures were overwhelming at times.
"When I was in Karachi earlier this year, the Pakistan government had more than 10,000 troops protecting us. Looking at heavily armed soldiers and being surrounded by heavily armoured vehicles, with two or three helicopters hovering above you, is not something you can ignore. With this level of security, you can't help but think that we must seriously be a target to someone."
A lot of resources have to be used in arranging top-level cricket in Pakistan as the scars of 2009 Sri Lanka attack continue to take a toll on government and Pakistan Cricket Board - but these steps are now inevitable.
"With this level of protection, the Pakistan government spends between $400,000 and $500,000 a day on security. If Australia toured Pakistan in 2020, they would probably schedule just two Tests and three T20s over three weeks - that’s a cost of nearly $10 million."
The 58-year-old also expressed his astonishment over some players who would accept extra money to tour Pakistan but would reject the offer 'citing security issues' if they were paid less.
"Some players said they would not go to Pakistan due to the security and potential terrorist threats and yet accepted extra money to tour when it was offered."
"I am confused with their intentions or priorities. Is money now more important than their safety?"
The harrowing experience faced by Sri Lanka is a distant memory and PCB alongside governments have taken rigorous measures to bring cricket back to one of its epicentres.
Dean thinks time heals all wounds and players around the world will have to just embrace heightened security even if that makes touring 'less fun'.
"Time does heal all wounds. Everywhere in the world, players just have to accept there will be a heavy security team with them wherever they travel. Sadly, touring is nowhere near as much fun as it used to be."