'We are thrilled to be back in Pakistan' - Kumar Sangakkara
Marylebone Cricket Club's (MCC) president, touring party captain and former Sri Lankan accomplished batsman, Kumar Sangakkara, addressed a press conference at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore along with Pakistan Cricket Board's (PCB) chief executive Wasim Khan on the eve of first T20 between the MCC side and Lahore Qalandars.
Kumar is ecstatic to return to Pakistan shores after a 10-year-break and on behalf of MCC, he emphatically stated MCC's commitment towards promotion of the game and vowed club's dedication on being a perfect embodiment of upholding the spirit of cricket.
"It's been 47 years for the MCC and 10 years for me personally coming back to Pakistan. On behalf of the MCC and for me personally, we are thrilled to be here. Thank you to the PCB and especially Wasim (Khan) because when he did come and present to us at the world cricket committee meeting, a tour to Pakistan by the MCC was in discussion and has been debated upon but until we saw the passion that Wasim had, we saw the arrangements and the improvements that have been made, it was an eye-opener. And following that presentation, I think the decision was very swiftly made that rather than just talking about it, it is time to actually come and tour this wonderful cricketing nation," Kumar said.
The outstanding southpaw from Sri Lanka who has scored heaps of runs across all formats of the game understands the perils of being unable to hold matches at home and he wants to play his part in the resumption of international cricket in Pakistan. Moreover, he shared vivid memories of his first tour to Pakistan in 2002 in the Asian Test Championship.
“Cricket belongs to everyone. Players play and for them to have that support you need to have the fans. You need to have an underpinning of young children being inspired to take up the game. If there is no home cricket for a very long period of time, there is a danger that the hunger [for game] might go away.
"The more cricket that you play at home, the more times the young children can see their side, their players within almost touching distance and that is wonderful for the country and great for the global game.
"For me personally, I have immensely wonderful memories of playing here in Pakistan and in Lahore especially. My first time in 2002 in the finals of Asian Test Championship, playing against the greats like Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar at that time, Mohammad Sami, Abdur Razzak, Shoaib Malik - they all played that game alongside Inzamam-ul-Haq and I was just taken to see the name boards [at PCB] that [display] the hundreds that both domestic and international players have scored here and it underlines the importance of cricket being played at home, in your own country.
Kumar acknowledged the efforts of PCB and other stakeholders in improving the security situation in Pakistan and said that the confidence of the entire cricket fraternity has been increasing over the years.
'Security is always a major concern everywhere in the world' - Kumar
"Security is always a major concern everywhere in the world, and in Pakistan, I think the steps that have been taken over the past few years have instilled a great amount of confidence in the cricketing nations beyond the shores of Pakistan and slowly but surely that confidence is building up. I think MCC is here because of one of the core philosophies of the MCC is that we are independent and the spirit of cricket is strong and the spirit of cricket transcends most barriers that sometimes keep nations and people apart.
He shared the pain of Pakistani fans who didn't get enough opportunities to witness their stars before their eyes in home grounds and he recalled how Sri Lanka, in times of need in 1996, got overwhelming support from neighbouring countries in restoring international cricket.
"For a lot of the Pakistan players who are becoming great in their own right, the Babar Azams, Asad Shafiqs of today, for them to be unable to play cricket in front of their home fans, on their home ground, and to have their aims go up and be recognised, I think it was a great shame.
"But slowly cricket is coming back, Sri Lanka was one of the first teams to come back and played Test cricket here and as a fellow Sri Lankan and also as the president of the MCC, I am so happy that we are able to do our part to try and encourage countries to look at Pakistan as one of the best cricket destinations. It has been that in the past and I am sure it will be that again very soon.
Kumar doesn't want fans to be under the illusion that the tour is only about giving a resounding message to the world that Pakistan is safe to play, but it is also about producing gripping contests on the field and he is confident to give the teams a tough time instead of lopsided affairs.
"Cricket goes a long way in engaging people from different countries and I remember very very clearly in 1996 when Sri Lanka was in need of assistance, the unified front that the cricketing nations showed to come and play in Sri Lanka and to ensure that the message was sent [that the] country was safe and for us here on this tour, it is about spreading that message. We are here to support Pakistan on its great journey back and we look forward to some wonderful cricket over the next few days. The MCC are very very competitive so we are here to play some good cricket and hopefully try to win some games as well and it's great that we have some tough oppositions to play against."
'MCC is the most prestigious cricket club in the world' - Wasim Khan
Wasim Khan extended his gratitude to Kumar and thanked MCC for making the trip after the initial talks and proposal that was presented to the prestigious club last year. He termed the tour 'monumental'.
"Firstly, on behalf of Pakistan Cricket Board, I would like to extend a huge welcome to the Marylebone Cricket Club, particularly to Kumar Sangakkara. Back in September, I was invited to present to the ICC World Cricket Committee on the security situation in Pakistan [and] what became very important to me from a very early time was that Kumar was a huge advocate for Pakistan and ambassador for bringing cricket back into Pakistan," Wasim said.
"And he understood what it meant for the nation, for us, to have cricket back on our home soil. It's a monumental moment for us to have MCC come back to Pakistan after 48 years.
The PCB chief executive considers Test cricket as the yardstick for gauging the situation for hosting international cricket in a country and he reiterated his emphasis on bringing the longer format cricket to Pakistan.
"Marylebone Cricket Club is the biggest and the most prestigious cricket club in the world, based in Lord's, the home of cricket, and [they] have been custodians of the game for a very very long time so this is a very symbolic moment for us. Obviously, huge progress [has been made] over the last few months in bringing both white-ball cricket, but more importantly, Test cricket which we believe is the health check of any nation and it's certainly something that we place huge emphasis and value on.
"Bringing cricket back and bringing the MCC, as the first non-Asian touring team to come to Pakistan is a huge achievement. It's a great moment for us and we are delighted that MCC accepted our invitation and it's brilliant to have them here.
Wasim hopes for an overwhelming response from the fans in all matches and particularly anticipating a sizeable crowd for the tomorrow's game between Lahore Qalandars and MCC at the iconic Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore.
"We are playing a number of games over the next few days. It's three matches at Aitchison College but we kick off tomorrow here at Gaddafi Stadium against the Lahore Qalandars and we are expecting a good crowd to turn up and some quality cricket. We are delighted that we got a number of county representatives in the MCC squad."