International cricket in Pakistan was deeply affected by global events and regional unrest. In fact, cricket in Pakistan has been isolated for more than a decade now. Pakistan's "home ground" has been places like UAE for a long time. There have been cricketers who never played international cricket at home. The harm caused by this isolation goes deeper than most of us realize.
Test cricket has been the biggest victim of this isolation. Gone are the days when Wasim Akram was running in on the first day in a Test in Gaddafi Stadium. Or Inzamam-ul-Haq tearing apart oppositions in Faisalabad. Or even Sachin Tendulkar scoring 59 in his second Test innings in Pakistan. These are performances cricket lore is made of. No such stories have been penned in a long time in Pakistan. Even with the advent of modern cricket, including T20, Test cricket holds a special status in keeping cricket relevant and interesting.
Speaking of T20, the massive success of IPL and its transformative effects have been denied to cricketers from Pakistan. This has been deliberate because of the constant tensions between Pakistan and India, led by the massive human rights violation by India's military in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IOK) and the Indian government's refusal to abide by United Nations resolutions on the independence of IOK. The effect has been a complete absence of the chance to build personal relationships. Watch AB de Villiers or Jonty Rhodes talk about the massive influence their association with cricket in India has had on their lives to understand what Pakistan's cricketers have missed out on.
Imagine a universe where Virat Kohli and Sarfraz Ahmed were as good friends off the field as Kohli and de Villiers are in this universe. Imagine the kind of goodwill generated between the people of Pakistan and India if there was freedom of movement between the two countries that made it possible for Pakistani fans to travel and watch IPL in stadiums in India. Imagine Mohammad Amir running in to bowl the last over of an IPL game faced by Rohit Sharma, encouraged by Glenn Maxwell at Mid Off. Imagine all three going out together for a late night snack after the game was over. Alas, we can only imagine. The culprit is the isolation Pakistan's cricket has faced and which seemingly has no end in sight.
Cricket needs local heroes to be successful. It's one thing to watch Misbah ul Haq lead his team to victory against Sri Lanka in UAE. It's another thing to watch him do the same in Karachi. Kids are inspired by cricketers they see playing in their neighborhoods. Unless there's international cricket in neighborhoods all across Pakistan, how do we expect Pakistani kids to yearn for a chance to don Test cricket whites for their country? I watched Waqar Younis run in to bowl in the 1996 World Cup in Lahore against Netherlands. Even though it was an easy victory, what mattered more was the sensation of being so close to my cricketing heroes.
The same thing has happened to other sports in Pakistan. Another massive victim, besides cricket, is hockey. I watched Pakistan play in Lahore in a Champions Tropy game (?) (my memory fails me because I was too young at the time). Even though Pakistan lost, there was massive home crowd support. Before the game, I had the chance to meet the team as they were getting out of their bus to go in the stadium. I shook hands with many of them. How many can claim to have done that today, be it in cricket or hockey?
PSL is a great event but reminds me of the famous quote "Let them eat cake." The massive population of Pakistan hungers for cricket in Multan and Quetta and Peshawar. They can't afford to take a day off from work let alone watch a game in UAE. Even those who live and work in UAE are not always able to spare even a small portion of their income. The same segment of society that always makes money continues to make money from PSL. The rising tide is helping some cricketers but it's all superficial. I would much rather see local events and tournaments get massive investment.
It doesn't help that match fixing scandals keep emerging from the Pakistani camp every so often. There's no justification for it but it can be explained. When the Prime Minister of Pakistan is disqualified by the Supreme Court for not being truthful and honest, why do we expect kids of 18 or 20 years of age to resist the temptation of a quick buck? When the entire nation is striving to just survive the rampant corruption and poverty, it's no surprise that cricket is also influenced by these ills. Nevertheless, it does not help make the case for returning international cricket to Pakistan.
Pakistan's issues with economy, corruption, governance, and terrorism are not over. They will take many more years, if ever, to be under control. Pakistan is politically isolated because of 10 years of incomptenet, even malicious, governance. This plays a huge part in keeping international cricket away from Pakistan's borders. Unless these problems are resolved to the satisfaction of all Pakistanis and the international community, we can't reasonably expect cricket to return in any meaningful way. Bringing in teams like Zimbabwe and locking down cities for their security is not what it means for cricket to be back. The days of meeting an international team touring the country in a restaurant in your city are long gone but they also defined cricket's golden age. Those days can, and must, come back. Pakistanis need to step up at the polling booths to elect competent, truthful, and honest law makers. Only by fixing the root cause will do the trick. Superficial bandages will do nothing to get rid of the rot.
I am hopeful that one day this political and sports isolation will end. Just like South Africa emerged from the darkest period of its history, one day Pakistan, too, will emerge again. In sha Allah.