A Wounded Tiger At Bay In Pakistan

With the Wounded Tiger Cricket Tour of Pakistan 2014: a few personal notes

Weds Nov 5: satisfactory PIA overnight flight to Lahore, although unable to resort to normal longhaul relief by drinking myself insensible (cf Squire Haggard). To refurbished Faletti’s Hotel, Lahore, used by visiting Test sides and by Ava Gardner and Stewart Granger during filming of Bhowani Junction (directed by George Cukor) in 1956. (She went out to the cinema to see herself in The Barefoot Contessa, complained about the smells and drank a lot of gin). Bechstein baby grand in lounge but many notes wrecked long before I could get at them.

Visit celebrated Gander’s Sports Store, Lahore, founded 1935. Patronized by past cricket stars. Family business, operated by Mr Hussain Malik, grandson of founder. He tells me sports goods business struggling in Pakistan, largely because prices of good kit are out of reach of many families, although we buy two team bags full of good pads, bats, balls, other items, for just over a third of comparable English prices. (To be presented to deserving recipients when tour over).

Net practice at historic, lovely Bagh-e-Jinnah ground. With great civility, they reserve us the use of the turf net. Slow wicket but the zombie bounces and turns if and when I can land on it.

Team dinner given by Mueen Afzal, cricket aficiando and former head of Pakistan Treasury. Meet Shaharyar Khan, restored as Chairman of PCB. MA makes speech welcoming Wounded Tiger but dwells on three errors. Give him three of my books nonetheless. Attempt some light cocktail favorites on his piano, but it is badly out of tune.

Thurs Nov 6: “warm-up match” at Mitchell’s Farm ground, in countryside outside Lahore. Attractive setting in midst of orchards and tomato plants used for manufacture of celebrated jams and ketchup. Pitch has an echo of Pakistan’s cricket history – it is matting.  Joined by our guest player – the legendary spin genius Abdul Qadir. He is delighted to hear poem about him composed by English fan during 1982 tour: The bold English batsman appears at the crease And tries not to show any fear But the ball’s in the air It’ll spin who knows where? From Abdul the bowling Qadir. I write this out for him in one of my books. The great man (now 61) bowled over 60,000 deliveries in serious cricket but puts same energy into his spell for us – menacing sidestep, bounding run, whirl of the arm, legbreak, googly, flipper each in several different ways. He appeals as fiercely as ever, but to no avail. Heavy defeat in 20-over match. Do not bowl, face last ball. Copybook forward defence. Nought not out. Speeches, in which I present two books.

Friday Nov 7: laid low with mystery flu, probably incubated by aircraft air conditioning. Tropical storm eliminates planned match vs Australian High Commission. Miss team tour of old Lahore and subsequent dinner on rooftop of Cuckoo’s with legendary view over city. Especially annoyed to miss meeting Aftab Gul, former student leader, selected for Tests v England in 1969 for ability to control student demonstrators, although was also successful opening bat in domestic competition. Now radical lawyer, the Michael Mansfield of Pakistan. Vy good company, admirer of Luke Upward.

Saturday Nov 8: recovered sufficiently to act as scorer in emergency fixture against Super Sammy XI, which replaces washed-out fixture at Aitchison College (the Eton of Pakistan). Drive very unpromising, into distant suburb of Lahore, and then along rough farm road to apparent nowhere. Suddenly it reveals exquisite private ground in Lakhodero village, endowed by our host, Mr Mian Akhlaq Guddu, set among green hills, flanked by a graceful mosque. Two fine dressing rooms, each with own golden dome. Greeted by about thirty people – all taking time off work – who garland us with flowers and present us with (little merited) commemorative medallions, prepared at last minute. They are thrilled to meet Abdul Qadir – but just as thrilled to meet the rest of us – first English visitors in twenty-year existence of club. Like all hosts, remarkably civil and attentive. Local scorer politely corrects my errors in another heavy defeat in 20 overs, despite 3-25 from AQ. Refreshments are nearest equivalent on tour to English cricket tea, array of sandwiches, cakes, accompanied by pizza.

Sunday Nov 9: Big 35-over game at beautiful, historic Bagh-e-Jinnah ground, formerly the Lawrence Gardens, where cricket matches have been played since around 1880. It staged Test matches during the 1950s: the last in 1959 against the West Indies, when Mushtaq Mohammad made his debut at the official age of 15. We are further reinforced by Abdul Qadir’s son Suleiman (spinning all-rounder with first-class experience). Led by Javed Zaman, patriarch of Burki family and uncle of three Pakistan captains, Lahore Gymkhana bat first. We reduce them to 19-3 but unbroken partnership then takes them to 204. Arshad Khan (played in ODIs) scores century. I do a lot of diving in field, which pleases spectators, but no bowling. Instead captain Oborne converts me to opening bat – the sacrificial goat for the Wounded Tigers – with aim of seeing off the pace attack or at least forcing it to waste a good ball. Open with Suleiman Qadir, who asks me to avoid run-outs. Good opening bowlers – one sharp mover in air and off seam, one genuinely quick by our normal standards. Score a few with the Erratics/Bushmen get-away-from-me shot and glide a four with soft hands through slips. Then fast chap wastes the good ball – am bowled by inswinging yorker. Receive commiserations from watching Majid Khan (who had refused plea to play for us himself) and British High Commissioner, Mr Philip Barton, so I decide to give the latter Luke Upward. We lose. Match followed by formal launch of Wounded Tiger. Stack of copies rapidly disappears. Say goodbye to Abdul Qadir. As parting gift, teach him grip for the zombie, because art has no frontiers.

Monday Nov 10: flu reappears. Kindly doctor summoned by our Lahore friend Najum Latif (huge contributor to Wounded Tiger and curator of charming museum at Bagh-e-Jinnah ground). Doctor administers injection to each buttock and leaves various medicaments. They work, recover sufficiently to fly to Karachi.

Tuesday Nov 11: overnight at Arabian Seas Country Club, outside Karachi, enterprise of Arif Abbasi, towering figure on past Pakistan cricket administration and pungent critic of present set-up. Also major contributor to Wounded Tiger. Lavish facilities include discreet upstairs bar. Several of the party try out the “cunning” professional golf course (site of the Sind Open) and I loll in the swimming complex (several pools, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room) until discovery that match is to be played as day/night fixture starting at 2 pm. Another shock on arrival at excellent purpose-built ground with pleasing pastiche of Oxford University Parks pavilion: Arif Abbasi has arranged for entire match to be televised ball-by-ball on Pakistan TV sports channel. (Are they that desperate for content?) We field first. Inspired by cameras and personal fan club on North Bank I bring off some showy stops and perform trick of flicking up ball with heels.

New outside assistance. One cannot be named for legal reasons, but also 16-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Wasi ud-din and 19-year-old Saifullah, genuinely fast bowler and electric fieldsman. Both being developed at famous Rashid Latif academy in Karachi. Both (I think) could break into Pakistan international set-up, in which case look forward to boring listeners for years with account of match I played with them as unknowns.

They make big score (not recorded in our book, fortunately). Again sent in as sacrificial goat opener, in night leg of match under lights with white ball. Opposition captain asks me to wear helmet. Reluctantly agree, far prefer to rely on natural cowardice. In spite of several adjustments, the confounded thing rattles and clangs. Open with Wasi ud-din, who also asks me to avoid any run-outs. Agree to this, but then take ridiculous single. He says “Well run” (excessive good manners). Opening attack mixes pace with former Test slow left-armer (check name from photo of their scorebook). Cannot score off the latter at all. My public get impatient – 2 off 11 balls. Sally down pitch. Beaten in flight. Struck on pad, unfortunately back one. Our own umpire gives (justified) lbw. In spite of 60-plus from young Wasi ud-din, we finish second.

Wednesday Nov 12: Transfer to legendary Sind Club (see separate article Peccavimus, by Peter Oborne and self). Delayed by Karachi traffic jam, lorry shed bales of cotton. When back in motion, take count of numbers of people who can fit on single motor scooter (winner is family of six). Re-observe Karachi driving technique, vehicles dive for any space in road like batsman trying to beat fast throw. No time to sample delights of Sind Club before being hauled off to play their invitation XI in 20-over match in first-class National Bank Stadium. Huge (by our standards) playing area, regularly lose sight of ball despite see-red sunglasses sold to be at special Lord’s event by Marcus Trescothick. Substitutes Wasi ud-Din and Saifullah have no such difficulty and achieve sensational run-out. Relieved of opening duties, and not required to bowl or bat. Closest finish on tour, opposition almost implode in final over in which captain Oborne scores 22, but we are still second.

Agreeable post-mortem in Sind Club bar. (See Peccavimus). Fine piano in corner but it is a wreck. Sind Club asks us to add our signatures to those of famous visiting teams which adorn walls amidst remains of dead animals (including a tiger wounded beyond repair). Future imbibers will wonder: who were they?

Post-mortem interrupted by sudden summons to take part in live TV discussion on Wounded Tiger and tour. Drive off to distant studio with Arif Abbasi and Charles Alexander, fellow contributor to book. An hour of soft questions from eager young sports chat host, Emmad Hameed. AA answers pungently, Charles answers seriously and cogently and I attempt a few merry jests. I get a laugh from Emmad when I use my old line about “moving the ball both ways off the bat” but he cuts in too quickly and spoils several other punchlines. However, broadcast has many viewers and am stopped by fans next day. Although programme goes out live, no evidence on camera of embarrassing grimaces, teeth picking or other common errors.

Thursday Nov 13  Final match at historic Karachi Gymkhana ground, where Pakistan team took giant step to Test status by beating MCC in 1951. We bowl and field respectably (I almost bring off sensational catch, yes, diving again) but Gymkhana Veterans score monumental 290 off their 30 overs, despite excellent bowling from two spinners they lent to us. Try unsuccessfully to persuade opposition to turn match into declaration game so that we can go for the draw. Jim Bolton scores first 50 by a genuine Wounded Tiger, fine opening partnership with Euan Davidson. Another whirlwind 20+ from Peter Oborne but we are far behind asking rate. Banished to number 11, come in with five overs to score about 130. Opt for the non-existent draw. Some mild, humorous sledging. Survive with 5 and at least we are not all out. TV and newspapers present. Most popular subject for photographs is our soft toy wounded tiger mascot (little media tart). Several post-match speeches and formal awards.

Tour ends: played 6 lost 6. Climax is reception at home of Jamsheed Marker, now 91, legendary radio commentator (in English), the Brian Johnston of Pakistan cricket. (Also career diplomat, in Guiness Book of Records for number of ambassadorships held). He tells several amusing stories (retained for use in coming Companion volume). See large piano but hands are seized by Charles Alexander and am dragged away before able to play selections from Ricky Rubato.

A few general conclusions.

1) All Pakistan oppositions, including veterans, very powerful but extraordinarily polite. Terrific cordial atmosphere in every match. No umpiring controversies (we had our own genial and experienced umpire, Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle, in Karachi leg).

2) All hosts – and local media – over the moon to be visited by any English team after being shunned by international visitors since terrible 2009 attack on Sri Lanka team. Any good performance or even effort by us is extravagantly applauded.

3) Excellent pitches, although generally slow. Contrary to myth, it is entirely possible to dive on Pakistani outfields.

4) November temperatures perfect for me in Lahore (peaking around 86 in proper Fahrenheit) but a little warm in Karachi (reaching 90s and officially 105 on eventual departure).

5) No safety worries except in crossing street.

6) In spite of official prohibition, drink readily available in private houses or clubs.

7) It is not only possible but extremely pleasurable for English teams to play cricket in Pakistan.

17. November 2014 by rkh
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