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An unquenched thirst: the plight of Pakistan cricket fans abroad

It is a truism that supporting the Pakistan cricket team brings both great pain and great pleasure. If your ...
Published 08 Mar, 2022 04:15pm
Overseas Pakistani fans' cricket needs remain unmet. Reuters
Overseas Pakistani fans' cricket needs remain unmet. Reuters

It is a truism that supporting the Pakistan cricket team brings both great pain and great pleasure.

If your friends think test cricket is boring, you can bet they’ve never watched a test match against Pakistan.

Pakistani cricket is pure drama in every format: raw talent, inspiration and passion. In this unequal society, cricket is the one sport that unites the sexes, the classes, and the religions. Millions of people across the country are on the edge of their seats every time, clinging to radio commentary, distracted by screens in their places of business, willing their team on to victory. Even our innate national traits of cynicism and sarcasm are suppressed for a time.

Now, imagine how it feels to be me, an overseas Pakistani who craves that drama and passion but finds myself restricted to numeric ‘live’ updates on my phone.

In 2022 being an overseas Pakistani means that I can use my Roshan Digital bank account and the Pak Identity NADRA platform to bypass bureaucracy and intermediaries to transact but I still can’t watch Pakistan play at home unless they play a country whose broadcasts I can access.

Not for me the shouts as a ball tears the stumps right out of the ground or the soaring of my heart with the ball that’s gone for six over the heads of ecstatic fans, and equally not for me the heartache of watching a dropped catch that is the difference between a win and a loss.

First there is a frantic attempt to google where I might be able to access live coverage. Then there is an attempt to try and access those sites with and without VPN technology. I’m inevitably disappointed. Finally, there is an attempt to access the match from the opposing team’s media. Occasionally that works.

Take the current historic test series. Australia have not played a test series in Pakistan for 24 years. Since New Zealand and England pulled out in 2020, this test series carries extra significance. It’s the international engagement Pakistanis have been thirsting for. Cricket fans everywhere want it to go well for both countries because the more international teams visit Pakistan, the better it is for the country, the game and the fans and, of course, it provides so much more opportunity to ride the emotional rollercoaster that each match brings.

Unfortunately, the only digital radio station broadcasting these AUS-PAK matches internationally is a commercial music station that interrupts commentary with constant adverts, jingles and songs. There’s no analysis or banter between commentators which is such a large part of the experience.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has apparently also licensed an online platform for retailers. But that retail platform overwhelms you with ads for cricket equipment because sales are its priority.

It's almost impossible to find the footage. I certainly haven’t been able to access it from abroad. A friend in Pakistan on hearing my desperation forwarded another link for me to try but that link attempts to force-download a ‘google cleaner’ and is best avoided if you don’t want viruses. So, I’m left with live scores but without the artistry, passion and drama I crave.

I think the PCB are missing a trick and leaving a lot of overseas fans and supporters unserved.

It would be simple to set up a digital platform to broadcast live cricket and archived matches to an overseas audience. Using a subscription model such as Netflix would allow fans to pay the PCB directly for access to the matches. Our payments could fund grassroots cricket for children and adults of both sexes. Within Pakistan, cash is still king, but for overseas Pakistanis digital and card payments are our primary payment method, and many of us subscribe to one or more entertainment platforms. Making it easier for us to enjoy Pakistan cricket today and support the players of the future can only be a win-win. Cricket can benefit from the push for greater digitisation and automation taking place in Pakistan.

There is no doubt that there is gulf to be crossed between the PCB’s move to a paperless office in the past two years and the launching of a fully digital platform to broadcast cricket internationally to overseas fans. But there are a lot of fans around the world to help bridge that gulf.

Are you listening PCB? If you are, please take my money and quench my thirst for Pakistani cricket.

The writer is a consultant who has been persuading people to use digital platforms since 2000.

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