Playing in New Zealand
PAKISTAN’s start to the two-match Test series against New Zealand today is clouded by uncertainty as the odds are heavily stacked against the team. A number of players are grappling with injuries — skipper and prolific batsman Babar Azam, opener Imam ul Haq and all-rounder Shadab Khan. This has considerably dented the side’s preparations for the challenging series. The defeat in the T20 series, too, has dampened hopes; the visitors’ top order batting did not click, barring Mohammad Hafeez and to some extent Mohammad Rizwan who scored a match-winning 89 in the last T20 game. Of course, the initial setback came in the form of around 10 Covid-19 cases when the team arrived and was tested. This also meant that the players could not train as well as they should have. New Zealand’s impressive home record is another big factor that Pakistan is wary of. Only Australia and South Africa have beaten New Zealand on their soil in recent years. The Pakistanis have a new captain in Rizwan who is leading the Green Shirts for the first time ever in Tests, and his strong and weak points as a leader are still not known. Having said that, Rizwan’s bold approach on the field so far has been a breath of fresh air. And despite the odds, he has expressed confidence in his team and has spoken about putting the hosts on the back foot by playing aggressive cricket.
While their batting has been inconsistent, especially on overseas tours, the bowlers haven’t done too badly on a number of occasions. Many Pakistani players are touring New Zealand for the first time and there is a chance that they may catch their hosts off guard in the Test format. And for the more optimistic fans, history shows that whenever the Green Shirts are written off before a series, they always surprise their critics. Perhaps, learning from their disastrous start, the tourists can rise above expectations to stun their formidable hosts. Let us hope that the optimists are right.
THE European Union and Britain have finally reached a deal that will govern the essentials of their post-Brexit relationship. The deal, signed just days short of a Dec 31 deadline, comes four and a half years after Britain made the dramatic decision to leave the union. After months of negotiations and a very real fear of a ‘no-deal Brexit’, this development is being billed by the Conservative-led government as something of a Christmas miracle that has come at a time when post-Brexit concerns and coronavirus deaths have cast a shadow over the festive period.
According to early details, some key changes will take effect from Jan 1. The free movement of people between the UK and EU will come to an end. There will be red tape at borders, with new rules for which lines to queue in and more planning for trips to EU states. Importers and exporters in England, Scotland and Wales will require customs declarations in the same way as they do with countries outside the EU. For EU citizens in the UK, rights will remain the same until June 30, 2021, after which they will have to check if they can stay. While UK citizens living in the EU will have some protections under the withdrawal agreement, they will need to be aware of a country’s specific rules. The good news is that the deal means there will be no charges on British or EU goods — a relief for both markets since the EU is the UK’s closest and largest trading partner. There is also no quota on the number of things which can be traded.
Although the coming days will see the deal — with its terms reportedly contained in a 2,000-page document — analysed to the last detail, the fact that an accord was actually reached will come as relief to both sides. Fears of not reaching a deal were high in Britain, where an economy already battered by Covid-19 was bracing for further shocks. Without this deal, which now governs a tariff-free trade relationship, prices for the goods Britain buys from/sells to the EU would have soared. There was also a sense that the EU wanted to ‘punish’ Britain, which is the first member state leaving the union; this much was said by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently. At times, despite negotiations, the gaps seemed too big and there was a sense that talks would collapse.
With the uncertainty behind them, Mr Johnson and his government have hailed it as a development that resolves a “question that has bedevilled politics for decades”; all eyes are now on how the new ties will fare. But the current euphoria should certainly not downplay the need for scrutiny. Mr Johnson’s government now has to prove that Brexit, an issue that bitterly divided the nation, was well worth it.