A 'REPLACEMENT' SQUAD

Pakistani team leaves for Caribbean amidst last minute changes

SYED M. ASLAM
Mar 05 - 11, 2007

Will Pakistani team still be there to fight out the final of Cricket World Cup (CWC) at Barbados on April 28? That is the question perturbing the minds of cricket-loving Pakistanis whose national side, the one time winner of coveted CWC, has left for Caribbean amidst a series of last minutes changes in the squad.

The Pakistani squad can aptly be called a "replacement squad". Pride pacers Shoaib Akhtar and Muhammad Asif were dropped at the last minute due to "injury on the advice of Captain Inzamam-ul-Haq", according to Chief Selector Wasim Bari. The team's most dependable player, the all-rounder Abdul Razzak had earlier been excluded from the team because of a knee injury he suffered during practice and had to be replaced by all-rounder Azhar Mahmood. Shoaib and Asif are replaced by pacer Muhammad Sami and all-rounder Yasir Arafat. And that's not all, the hard-hitting Shahid Afridi, who is the member of Pakistani squad will not be playing the first two group matches against the West Indies and Ireland due to four-match ban over violation of International Cricket Council's code of conduct during the series against South Africa.

The series of bewildering changes in the Pakistani squad at the last minute are profoundly confusing and also morale-sagging. The Pakistani team has left for the venue of CWC at West Indies with little enthusiasm and even more little support. Pakistanis still seem to be in daze and there seems to be little jubilation in a country which is known to go much more loco on much smaller events of Test matches and ODIs.

Just how low the morale is, is evident from many-tier cash incentives that Pakistan Cricket Board has announced to give to the members of the "replacement" squad. PCB has announced to award every player of the "replacement" squad Rs 1.2 million if the team reaches the semi-final, Rs 2.5 million if it reaches the final and Rs 5 million if it wins the World Cup. The PCB has never announced such 'morale-boosting' cash awards prior to the departure of any team participating in the Cricket World Cup before and you are at liberty to derive whatever conclusion you want from it.

Of course, skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq has expressed hope that the Pakistani team will win the championship at the CWC 2007 but every other skipper of the 15 other teams participating in the biggest event of the cricket in the world has come to Caribbean with the same objective, and many of them are entitled to entertain just such a thought.

Mega sports events be they the Olympics or Football are only technically sports- in reality they are wars that need meticulous planning, training, hard work, fitness, acumen, etc. Tremendous energies, time, training, practice, etc. are required over a great length of time aimed at sifting the gold from the impurities.

The coliseums and arenas are being set at many islands of the West Indies for staging the CWC 2007. A total of 16 top cricket teams of the world are taking part in the CWC 2007 during which a total of 51 matches will be played over a period of 47 days. The opening ceremony will be held on March 11 (Sunday), the group matches will begin from March 13 (Tuesday) and the final will be played on, as already mentioned, on April 28 at Barbados .

The 16 teams are divided into four groups- A, B, C, and D. By the time you read these lines the warm-up matches would have already been started. Pakistan will be playing its first warm-up match against Canada on March 6 and second against South Africa on March 9.

The second-stage of the match, Super-8, will begin from March 27 (Tuesday) and last till April 21. The semi finals, or last-four, will be held on April 24 and April 25.

ECONOMICS OF CWC 2007

CWC, the grandest event of cricket, will boost the economies of the host islands in the Caribbean that include Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, ST Kitts, ST Lucia and Trinidad. The event has already created substantial jobs across the region to make arrangements to accommodate some 100,000 visitors, excluding returning Caribbean residents from the United States, Britain, Canada and elsewhere during the duration of the tournament, who would be coming to watch the CWC 2007.

An amount of around $ 250 million ($ 300 million according to other estimates) is expected to be earned from ticket sales alone while another $ 200 million will be earned from sponsorship, souvenirs, merchandising etc. It is estimated that each cricket-loving visitor will be spending around $ 200-250 dollars a day to keep the banks on the tiny luscious islands handling cash brought in from all across the world. The CWC-tourists are expected to spend an additional $250 million on accommodation, transportation, entertainment, food and souvenirs. 'Media value', including global media exposure, brand legacy and business networking is expected to bring in another $ 200 million.

As far as the cost of making arrangement for the mega event is concerned the estimated cost of building and renovating 12 state-of-the-art stadiums for the World Cup opening ceremony, 51 World Cup games and a number of warm-up matches had already topped $240 million in December 2004 and the cost of infrastructure work on airports, roads, hotels, marinas etc. were additional.

Besides, US$70 million are expected to be spent on operating costs, including administrative management, cricket operations, event management, security, transportation, accommodation and hospitality.

Once the tournament is run free of contractual breaches, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) is guaranteed US$101 million for staging the World Cup, which will easily be its biggest bonanza ever.

The event offers a wide range of outstanding business opportunities for the enterprising people across many island nations in the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, which will host 12 CWC 2007 events in Kingston and Trelawny, the latter has been developed as a multi-purpose facility to accommodate 25,000 spectators for the opening ceremony on March 11 that include 10,000 permanent and 15,000 temporary seats.

CWC thus offers immense economic benefits that the paradise islands of West Indies are looking forward to, and have prepared themselves for.

However, in Pakistan the less than enthusiast farewell of the Pakistani 'replacement' squad amidst confusing last minute changes seem to have dampened the spirits of cricket lovers to a point where the people are forced to leave the outcome of the CWC in the hands of the Almighty Allah.

The beginning of Cricket World Cup has never witnessed such a profound lack of enthusiasm and spirit like the one prevalent this time around. There have been no songs to encourage the national team, neither the T-shirts that everyone used to be wearing nor there are any promotional advertisements to boost the sunken morale.

Let us see if the cash incentive of as much as Rs 5 million will help motivate the 'replacement' squad to bring back the fighting spirit the CWC 2007 really deserves.