x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Hospitality bowls over Pakistani cricketers

The Pakistan cricket captain Shoaib Malik has praised the hospitality his team has received as they prepare for the West Indies.

Shoaib Akhtar, right, is greeted by a fan as Shahid Afridi looks on.
Shoaib Akhtar, right, is greeted by a fan as Shahid Afridi looks on.

ABU DHABI // As Pakistani cricketers prepared for today's first international match since turmoil at home drove them to relocate to the UAE, the team captain paid tribute yesterday to the warmth of his team's welcome. Pakistan have been unable to play competitive cricket on home soil since October last year because security concerns have led other national sides to refuse to travel there. In September, the country's cricket board decided to switch its match programme to the UAE. Their captain Shoaib Malik said that while it was difficult to come to terms with the loss of playing opportunities in Pakistan, the Emirates offered the perfect home away from home. "It is hard to acknowledge that there hasn't been a series in Pakistan for a while now," said Malik, 26. "But, thanks to Allah we are here playing the West Indies team here, and we need your prayers. "I'm very happy to be here. We, the team and I, feel the love of all of you here and so we don't feel like we are playing outside of Pakistan." He spoke to about 500 guests at an event in the Sheraton Corniche hotel, hosted by the Pakistani Embassy ahead of today's first of three One Day Internationals against the West Indies. Rao Iftikhar Anjum, 27, said it was important for Pakistan to continue playing its national sport during times of uncertainty. However he was saddened that his countrymen could not see the team play in person. "People love cricket in Pakistan, as we do. It's not good to prevent them from watching cricket, because we are a good team and for ages we have been playing good cricket at the highest level. "Being a national of any country, when a country faces problems it hurts you. But for me as a Pakistani, it's hard to say we are proud of Pakistan because of these things, and like other Pakistani nationalists I am struggling as well. "We can hope for the best. I don't know much about politics but like everyone I can hope things change for the best." Asif Ali Zardari's government is facing an insurgency in the border areas near Afghanistan that has spread to cities including the capital Islamabad. Most recently Islamabad's Marriott Hotel bomb blast, which killed 52 people, deepened security fears and further diminished the prospect of any home games in the near future. Most visiting teams stayed at the luxury five-star hotel when playing in the nearby city of Rawalpindi. The worldwide financial crisis has also hit Pakistan, and it has struggled to free itself from the threat of national bankruptcy. The batsman Misbah ul-Haq said Pakistan was not the only country to experience such difficulties and was hopeful that cricket games may return to the country next year. "After January I think that maybe normal cricket will start in Pakistan. We hope that we will have a series there and the cricket will be normal there." In September the Pakistan Cricket Board signed a three-year contract worth US$9 million (Dh33m) with Dubai Sports City, which will be the home venue for Pakistan's future commitments. Shafqat Nagmi, the board's chief operating officer, said the contract was to run for three years after the completion of Dubai Cricket Stadium, due early next year. Pakistan's ambassador to the UAE, Khurshed Ahmed Junejo, also attended the Sheraton event. He appealed for donations for victims of an earthquake that killed at least 300 people in the province of Baluchistan last month. "Like most cricketing fans I look forward to this series," he said. "I also to appeal to all cricketers and members of the Pakistani community to contribute generously to support the victims of Baluchistan." Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Higher Education, also attended the event as guest of honour and donated Dh1m (US$272,000) to the appeal. Tickets for the matches against the West Indies at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium range from Dh25 to Dh300. The second and third matches are on Friday and Sunday. Last night a Pakistan team source said the star bowler Shoiab Akhtar was unlikely to play today due to a calf muscle injury. asafdar@thenational.ae