"It’s probably the most beautiful stadium in the world."
Ehsan Mani, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), may look at developing cricket stadiums in the country as part of his strategy to attract more teams and players from abroad.
Former cricket icon and Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan is banking on Mani’s international experience to see the sport flourishing once again.
Mani previously was the President of the International Cricket Council (ICC) from 2003 to 2006.
With the successful hosting of the 2018 Pakistan Super League (PSL) final and West Indies Tour to Pakistan, there is room for scope. The PCB should work on a master plan to continually convince more players and teams to visit the country.
Hence, this can be done by upgrading existing grounds and building new stadiums to secure a promising future for Pakistan cricket.
Taking into account security, logistics and tourism, DESIblitz takes a look at 6 potential cricket stadiums which could bring more international cricket to Pakistan.
Abbottabad Cricket Stadium ~ KPK
Abbottabad Cricket Stadium is a wonderful ground, which has massive potential in bringing international teams to Pakistan.
Away from the busy lifestyles of other major cities, peace and tranquillity takes over here. Abbottabad presents a serene contrast to other parts of Pakistan.
The location of this ground reaches an altitude of over 4,000 feet, representing the natural beauty of Pakistan. The stadium is a picturesque delight for an artist who loves the backdrop of mountains.
The stadium is visually similar to the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Ground in Dharamsala, India. The cool temperatures of Abbottabad are perfect for a day of cricket.
However, the ground needs an upgrade and floodlights to meet international standards.
With tourism high on the agenda of Imran Khan, PCB should seize the opportunity and convert this ground into a major tourist hub.
Players and officials are familiar with the ground. Several training camps have been set up here on a regular basis.
Describing it as a stunning ground, former Pakistan legend, Wasim Akram says:
“It’s probably the most beautiful stadium in the world. I really feel proud that we have such stadiums in Pakistan. I have travelled all around the world and I’m pleased to see such a venue in our country.”
An official from the Abbottabad Cricket Association spoke about the ground pleading its case:
“This ground can catch the eye of the outside world but investment is needed.”
From a players safety perspective, investors will also need to think about building a 5-star hotel nearby. This can be part of a regeneration programme for this green city.
Having adequate facilities will ensure more talents like Junaid Khan going onto play for the national team.
Taking a leaf of runner, Ziyad Rahim, this ground can definitely act as a tourism card.
Lahore New Stadium ~ Punjab
Lahore is a major tourist destination of Pakistan. Cricket remains popular as ever in the historical city.
Former Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif did ponder over building a new state of the art stadium in this vibrant city.
Shahbaz began planning the ground nearby to Allama Iqbal International Airport.
To facilitate security concerns, constructing a five-star hotel near the airport also came under discussion. If any government gives the green light, it is ideal for international players as they will only need to travel a short distance to the stadium.
An alternative venue gives the PCB more choice when it comes to scheduling. Plus as seen during the PSL matches, the iconic Gadaffi Stadium feels old and is a traffic hindrance due to its location.
Routes leading to close by shopping bazaars such as Liberty Market are not accessible for security reasons.
Therefore it is an inconvenience for shoppers and traders travelling to this area, whenever there is a match.
Looking ahead to the future, a new ground in Lahore will go a long way in bidding to host major international tournaments. These events include World T20, Asia Cup, Cricket World Cup and the Champions Trophy.
A ground in Lahore makes sense, as it is a relatively safe city. Thus the PCB should finalise a location and hunt for a good architect.
Islamabad or Rawalpindi ~ Twin Cities
Their have been many talks about building a stadium in Islamabad. However, they have not come to fruition.
Probably now is the time to revisit this again. It is important for the PCB to find investment and have a sustainability plan in place.
The capital already plays host to local and global dignitaries and officials. Consequently, the city will welcome the sport with the true gentleman’s spirit.
With this federal territory being a green belt area, a suitable location will need to be found. As a result, the PCB will have to work closely with environmentalists to make this happen.
Ehsan Mani, also an environmentalist himself has been sceptical on the viability of a stadium in Islamabad. He mentions:
“Islamabad does not have a big population and doesn’t need a big stadium which will become a white elephant.”
Being also an accountant by profession, Mani will only go ahead with such a project if it is profitable.
If Islamabad is not an option then a plan to upgrade facilities at Rawalpindi will be the need of the hour.
At the moment, the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium is also the home ground for Islamabad United. If the franchise outfit and the PCB want to stage future PSL matches in Rawalpindi, upgrading is vital.
The PCB should either scrap the idea of Islamabad for good or concentrate on Rawalpindi.
Gwadar Cricket Stadium ~ Balochistan
Gwadar is a rapidly growing place in Balochistan, which is ideal for an international cricket stadium.
The deep port city acts as a trade and tourism corridor, particularly for China. Both countries have come together to create the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
CPEC aims to quickly improve Pakistan’s infrastructure and boost its economy by the building of modern transportation links.
CPEC will bring economic revival for the country, by proposing Gwadar as the new Dubai of Asia.
This focus on trade has seen a stadium built in the city. The stadium has not officially been open. If possible, the second phase is to upgrade it as an international venue.
The PCB also has the option to construct a new stadium in Gwadar. Investors will not shy away from such a profitable project.
The PCB can invest in the new stadium too, with financial gains on offer. Alternatively they can go into a joint venture. If feasible, the PCB should make provisions to purchase some land if not done already.
Either choice, the PCB should look at this city, bearing in mind the future.
Revenue from trading with China will develop Gwadar further, which can bring more tourists to this potentially new cricketing city.
Sialkot ~New or Jinnah Stadium
With the help of the business community, the PCB could contemplate unveiling a new purpose built cricket stadium in Sialkot.
Local businesses can join forces to follow their international airport model by virtually self-funding a new cricket ground in the city.
Similarly, like with other potential grounds, the PCB can also look into renovating the existing and old Jinnah Stadium.
Once again the business fraternity can possibly help with investment.
The City is known for producing sports goods, including cricket equipment. Companies in this space will be ideal for sponsorship and marketing deals.
With a cantonment area, housing the Pakistan Army, it is a safe city for visiting international players.
It helps that there are international flights, with prime carriers, flying in and out from the city. Sialkot is also within close proximity of Lahore – 66 miles to be precise.
A new ground or a modern revamp of Jinnah stadium will entice more international teams coming to Sialkot.
An international stadium in Sialkot will not only aid Pakistan cricket, but also the economy of the country.
Karachi Rafi Stadium ~ Sindh
Karachi has already begun building a new cricket stadium to attract more cricket towards Pakistan.
The Rafi Stadium will hold 50,000 spectators and will be the largest stadium in Pakistan.
Gerkan, Marg and Partners are the official designers. The ground design is in line with ICC standards.
The stadium will comprise of an international standard cricket academy. The ground will provide an opportunity for the return of international cricket in Pakistan.
The construction site is within the Bahria Town development scheme in Karachi.
Bahria Town has similar successful development schemes also in Islamabad and Lahore. The owners of this scheme continue to promote sports infrastructure by developing grounds for modern day cricket.
Malik Riaz is the founder of Bahria Town and is one of Pakistan’s most influential philanthropists.
Commenting about the Stadium, Riaz tells:
“The Rafi Cricket Stadium will be built in one and a half years to revive international cricket in Pakistan within the next two years.
“We are also building a highly secured five-star hotel which will be completed with the stadium.”
The ground will be ready for completion in 2020.
Watch concept design of Rafi Stadium:
Certainly, modern grounds and a safer environment can play a pivotal role in the revival of cricket in Pakistan. It will be interesting to see what the PCB has in store.
Above all, there are plenty of opportunities for Pakistan cricket to grow in a positive fashion.