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The Pak Tour Diaries from Cricinfo
« on: January 15, 2006, 01:26:55 AM »

This is actually a nice diary by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan and worth reading in entirety. The post will be broken into more threads simply because the system has limitations about how much can be accommodated per post. I shall keep posting as the tour progresses.

Arrival in Lahore



It’s been over 24 hours since IC 845 landed in Lahore. Five days in Delhi, prior to take off, had groomed one for the Lahore experience – a shivering chill, broad roads, Punjabi attires, grassy footpaths, the Pakistan High commission ...

Usually, while visiting any country, the contrast immediately splashes on your face the moment one exits the airport. In Lahore, one looks first for the similarities and spots them pretty easily. Then occasionally, often unexpectedly, sometimes overwhelmingly, the difference strikes.

When do you actually realise that you're in a foreign land? The moment currency notes don’t fit in your wallet; the moment you don’t fit in the auto rickshaws; the moment you act really polite, as you instinctively do while in another country, and get gaping stares from the locals, who have not a clue that you are a foreigner; the moment the locals learn you are an Indian and numb you with their hospitality ...

Layer by layer, mostly when you least expect it, the difference begins to unfold. Therein lies a great thrill. The charm is in two-way discovery – when the locals find out that you are Indian before you find out their reaction. Whether it is a security guard outside the Bagh-e-Jinnah, or a shopkeeper at Liberty Market, there is a certain joy in introduction.

Some bits are overwhelming. Like Munna's gesture. An auto-driver who likes to call himself after Sanjay Dutt's character in a Bollywood hit, Munna understood my SIM card problem - being a foreigner, I couldn't get one in the market-place and needed to visit the main office of the cellular provider. But Eid was approaching and all offices were closed; my SIM card would need to wait.

Munna would have none of it. "We will get it easily," he said. "All we need is my ID card from home." Driving at a furious speed through the narrowest of lanes, he reached his place in Gawalmandi, collected his ID, went to the nearest store and got a card. Embarrassingly, he refused money, adding, "This is my duty towards a guest sir, please accept it."

At that point, the freezing weather didn't make a jot of a difference. Munna had managed what three layers of woollens couldn't.

General musings on the Bagh-e-Jinnah


Deep freeze

In 1955 India played their second-ever game in West Pakistan, at the Bagh-e-Jinnah ground in Lahore. They arrived amid much fanfare, especially since it was their first visit after partition. It's been fifty years, but greybeards insist that nothing much has changed. Under the British Raj, when it was called Lawrence Gardens, the annual Lahore Pentangular, a tournament held on communal lines, used to be staged here.

The ground still retains a pastoral look - different shades of green adorning the periphery; pickets giving it a park-like setting; the pavilion house picked straight from a hamlet. Unlike in first-class games, where spectators are allowed to sit behind the boundary line, the crowds had to endure standing all day, with close to 500 watching from behind the fences.

It's a tranquil sight. The crowd was usually quiet; the occasional boundary cheered before more calm descended. Two local batsmen are going at more than five an over but the peace was retained. No rhythmic clapping, no hooting. It was like two big football clubs battling it out in a school ground. But despite the security being beefed up, despite TV cameras stationed on the boundary line, there was very little that took away the charm of the contest.

Most of the crowd were swathed in woolens. We've had a couple of chilly days and the sight of Sachin Tendulkar walking out to bat, dressed like a puffed up doll, told a tale. Cricketers will tell you about the challenge of adapting to all conditions. But the hacks usually don't need to worry. Enclosed press boxes provide shield them against the elements, they rarely experience extremes, be it heat, dust or chill.

No chance of that here and around 5pm, someone switches on the deep frost. It's the time when the players have left the field and the start of a hectic period for journalists and photographers. Suddenly, the sun disappears, the temperature dips, the chilly breeze begins to bite and fingers start to tremble. It's in such times that the internet connection slows drastically, when saved files don't open, when one trips over wires. All you want to do is get your face in an oven but what you get is – "Action canceled. The page might be temporarily unavailable."

The only consolation came while reading the papers this morning: yesterday was one of the coldest days in Lahore's history.
Mansoor Amjad -the next Pak leggie

A different sort of leggie

A legspinner brings with him a certain allure; more so if he's Pakistani. Abdul Qadir blazed a trail, Mushtaq Ahmed followed suit and Danish Kaneria carries on the tradition.

Nineteen-year old Mansoor Amjad wishes to be spoken of in the same breath. He never saw Qadir bowl and missed watching Mushtaq in his prime but the power of television, where he had Shane Warne for inspiration, kept the flame burning.

As a gully cricketer in Sialkot, he was mainly a batsman. Six years ago, he tried his hand at legbreaks and the first one ripped past a plodding bat. That was enough for him to shift jobs; he decided he would try and be the next Warne.

Amjad is more than happy to invite you to his hotel room and immediately makes sure that refreshments are served. He will not begin chatting with you unless he feels you are comfortable. He reads out all the choices, not once but twice. He doesn’t like to analyse too much - “I follow my instincts” – isn’t flustered by bad days – “we legspinners have lots of bad days” – and tries not to think too far ahead – “I usually don’t make goals”.

The Under-19 World Cup in Dhaka, where he displayed tremendous variety, was the lever that catapulted him into the national consciousness. His high point so far – effecting the run-out that clinched the final for Pakistan and being part of that glittering celebration that followed. His tough moments – bowling in Pakistan in extreme winter on surfaces tailor-made for batting.

He admits that bowling to the Indian batsmen, while playing for Pakistan A in the warm-up game, was his biggest challenge to date and is simply happy for having been there. "Somehow I got a feeling that Sachin knew exactly what I was going to bowl even before I delivered the ball,” he says frankly. "Whatever I tried didn’t seem to matter."

He talks about the days in the academy when he bowled close to 40 overs a day and firmly believes that natural talent counts for nothing if one is not prepared to do the hard yards. The conversation veers towards other issues. He wonders if Indians feel like outsiders here; raves about a couple of Bollywood films; and talks about having done so much at such a young age. Asked about achieving this much this early, he speaks about the disadvantages.

A packed cricketing schedule has meant that education has had to take a back seat. “I wish I could spend more time with my studies but it’s close to impossible,” he says regretfully. "To be well educated is important. Cricket is something you can’t do forever. Education is what helps one in the long run."

He's determined to finish his O levels and hopes to do something more. "I will make time. It’s important to me, I’ll somehow manage." Talented and grounded, Pakistan's new kid on the block seems to know what he's doing.

 ***************************************************************************************************** A view of the Pak fast bpwling assembly line
End of the mad, bad world?

A stone-throw away from the Gadaffi Stadium is the National Cricket Academy. Security personnel abound guarding a setting more resembling a mini castle than a cricket institution. Considering the deluge of raw talented cricketers in these parts, the NCA can only be a good idea. Growing up on tales of Tauseef Ahmed and Javed Miandad being hand-picked from gully cricket, one was drawn towards Pakistan’s premier grooming centre.

As the Indian side went through their net session, it was interesting to watch the local net bowlers helping out in practice. One doesn’t get to bowl at the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid every day, and there were some fiery young men going flat out against the world’s best. More pace led to more waywardness. So they tried harder, made their run-ups longer, got faster, and, inevitably, got waywarder. In short, all was well with the future of Pakistan fast bowling.

The furious session finally came to an end, but the lesson was just about to begin. Aquib Javed, that age-old nemesis who always managed to get our dear Sachin out, sat down a big young lad and tried to explain the exact problem with his action with line sketches, physics jargon - like kinetic energy - technical terms like hyper-extension and what not.
He described the nature of the problem, why it was occurring, what side effects it could lead to, what injuries it can trigger, how one could overcome it and what sort of gym work one needs to do to solve the issue. The boy listened with rapt attention. Hopefully he will hit the big time.

But one question refused to leave me. Weren’t young Pakistan fast bowlers supposed to just arrive on the scene and unleash madness on the cricketing world? Weren't they the masters of unpredictability, the apostles of the hit-or-miss style?

How dare one indulge in jargon-busting in the land of Sarfraz! Imagine a situation when the next great express understands the exact bio-mechanics behind his action. Their cricket may thrive, but surely, all won’t be well with the mad, bad world of Pakistan fast bowling.

Indian team's visit to Imran's hospital


Sad to happy, happy to sad

The Indians take a look at Imran Khan’s “biggest achievement” – the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital. Imran reiterated that building the hospital had been the only reason why he had continued playing till the 1992 World Cup. He remembered India’s 1989 tour, Tendulkar’s first, and spoke about the benefit game that the Indians and Pakistanis had played to raise funds. He talked about the number of patients escalating and said they were planning to start another branch at Karachi. He hoped the Indians would like it.

They went in with smiles on their faces and came out pretty sombre. A witness to the scene described the scene aptly – "those who were fit and hearty became sad; those who were really suffering became happy."
  Lahore - on Eid

Deserted outside, bustling inside

It's Eid and Lahore has shut shop - empty roads, hardly anyone to ask for directions, and no foreign exchange. The Pakistan team hadn’t practised for the last two days; the Indians did so in a largely funereal atmosphere. Coming from a land where most occassions are heralded by loudness and bombast, it was a stark contrast. Having rarely stayed at home on holidays – either bursting crackers or joining the Ganpathy processions - it was a different feeling.

Indoors, though, is the place to be. The aroma of the biryani impinges on you the moment you enter and there is an unmistakable sense of something different – the spotless attires, the exaggerated 'Eid Mubarak', the overt embraces, the joyous chit-chatting ... The gulab jamoons tasted that much richer; the portions appeared that much bigger. And as if one hadn't been overwhelmed already, the hospitality was that much warmer.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2006, 01:53:55 AM by kban1 »


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Re: The Pak Tour Diaries from Cricinfo
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2006, 01:51:47 AM »

Continued from the first post ....

Pakistani hospitality - Akmal style

Eid with the Akmals

I had, with great difficulty, managed to get a SIM card during Eid in Lahore. It had been a freezing evening, as we later found out, the coldest in 37 years. There was a piece to be filed, hunger to be satisfied, plans to be made for the next day. Barging into the Best Western Hotel, I headed straight to the lift and pressed the button for the third floor (when I actually had to go to the fourth), walked up the stairs, headed to the room and realised I had forgotten to collect the key at the reception. It was that kind of evening.

Down I went, collected the keys and re-entered the lift, followed by a bubbly lad, who appeared to be in as tearing a hurry as me. "Oh new SIM card? Where are you from? Oh India? For the cricket? Oh journalist? To cover the series? Hi, I'm Adnan Akmal, brother of Kamran Akmal, Pakistan national wicketkeeper." It was all too fast for me to digest.

Slowly the facial familiarity began to unfurl – similar face, sharp nose, pocket-sized body. He was here to meet Mansoor Amjad, a promising legspinner, and disappeared in a flash since a friend was waiting for him downstairs. In one minute, though, walking from the lift to Amjad's room, he showed his mettle: "Of course, I play first-class cricket. For ZTBL. Ya, I am also a wicketkeeper. We both love keeping. Oh, you want to meet Kami? He's at a team meeting at the moment, but he maybe coming home in a few hours. Actually no, he may not. You see, our mother has had a heart operation and he is very close to her. So he will be in the hospital. Some valves in her heart were blocked. Inshallah all will be fine. You want to come home? Sure why not. Take down my number. Call me anytime. Mansooooor …."

Three days passed. I had tried calling Adnan several times. All I got was 'call diverted' and gave up. Two days before the Lahore Test, he calls back. "Ahsallummallekkum ji, Eid mubarak. You have to come home today. It is Eid and we will talk lots. Whenever. Six? Ok. Come to Model Colony and ask anyone for Kamran Akmal's house."

Getting to 54B, Model Colony requires one to go from a 100 feet main road to several rickety lanes, around 20 feet in width. Pakistan's latest star he may be, but he had continued staying in the same place where he was born and where he had played gully cricket. What had been a small house had been renovated, more levels added. Two posh cars stood outside. It was like finding a diamond amid the pebbles.

Adnan was dressed for the occasion – a spotless white salwar below a sparkling vest. The bedroom walls were decked with trophies, medals and photographs. Eid had caused a bustle and a couple of tots flitted in and out. Piping tea and delicious sweets were served. Mohammad Akmal, born in Hoshiapur and migrated to Lahore during partition, spoke about his seven sons – Afzal, Azhar, Irfan, Kamran, Adnan, Rahman and Umar. "Until Kamran, nobody had played cricket in our family. Now there are days when one of my sons is keeping wicket at the Gadaffi and the other at the adjacent NCA ground. It feels good to walk on the road in between."

Is he surprised about Kamran's outstanding success? "He always believed in Allah, keeps muttering Allah o Akbar while playing, it was bound to happen." Does he think it's a disadvantage? "I don't think this boy will fall into the trap of stardom. He knows what he's doing. Always been a mother's boy, listens to whatever she says. Whichever part of the world he's in, he will call twice a day." What does he make of Kamran's outstanding success? "He began playing in this 20 feet gully, with me constantly telling him not to hit against the walls and not to hit above a certain height. He was bound to succeed. No major coaching is needed for this game. It is very simple." How does it feel to know that his two sons are competing for the same spot? "Great. Hopefully they will give each other a tough fight. They play for opposing teams in first-class cricket and often have a go at each other." What does he think of the series? "We should be one country, it will benefit both."

Adnan once dismissed 11 batsmen in a first-class game, a Pakistan record. He also had five scalps in a game in last year's Twenty20 tournament, despite playing with a broken nose. A year back, he came perilously close to national selection and has treaded the periphery since. Do they discuss a lot about wicketkeeping? "We rarely meet. Both are constantly playing games. I couldn't even be there for his engagement. But we speak on the phone. He often calls to ask if I watched the match, whether he was keeping ok."

Just as I was about to leave, Kamran entered. He looked a bit pre-occupied but it was understandable considering his mother's situation and also considering that it was two days before a big series was about to start. He checked if we had been given refreshments, consented for photographs, some with his brothers, some with his dear ammi, and volunteered to drop me to a rickshaw, an offer which was politely turned down. As I walked away, I heard an agitated voice behind me: "Wait. Wait. I am going towards your hotel. I will drop you. I have to meet Zahid. You know, it is Eid …" It had to be Adnan. And the merry chatterring continued.

Younis's reaction post ton


Oh hundred, my hundred

The moment that a batsman reaches an important landmark always assumes an importance at a cricket match. Some spectators anticipate it with a rhythmic clapping; others watch attentively, sometimes nervously. Those outside the press box usually make sure they’re in place, jotting down the details. The fielders know it’s a time to cash in on the tension; the batsmen knows the world of a difference that a hundred makes compared to a score in the nineties.

When Younis Khan was on 96 on the first evening, those at the half-filled Gadaffi Stadium watched expectantly. Those in the Sarfraz Nawaz Enclosure had already begun waving their Pakistan flags; those at the Javed Miandad Enclosure were already on their feet. Younis faced up to Irfan Pathan, bowling over the wicket, with Rahul Dravid stationed at a short straightish mid-off, not too far from the non-striker. Younis took a bit of time and surveyed the field. Pathan ran in – somehow he appeared a bit more charged up – and delivered a full-length ball on middle stump.

Younis brought his bat down, with a little care, a little style and made sure the ball made contact somewhere close to the sweet spot of the bat. What happened next was awesome to watch. The ball sped back at a greater velocity, Dravid lunged to his right, Pathan lunged to his left, Younis lunged forward, and Darrell Hair began to take evasive action. The ball beat them all, raced past the stumps and hurtled towards the sight-screen. Younis was half-way down the pitch when he knew there was nothing that could stop his hundred. As he jogged, his bat began its upward ascent. He slowed down, removed his helmet and smiled, an ebullient smile, which got wider and wider.

Some batsmen, like VVS Laxman, celebrate hundreds with serene calm; some, like Yuvraj Singh, with fist-thumping joy, some, like Michael Slater, with animal-like leaps, some, like most batsmen trying to prove a point, with rage, some, like Ricky Ponting, with kisses. There are those who think it’s a chance to answer their critics at the press box, others who, like Michael Hussey, enjoy the moment that they have waited for ages and ages. It’s a fine moment to witness, when the crowd interacts with the player, and when the players responds. It’s one of those ontological joys of watching cricket. Today, Younis gave it to us in ample measure

Here is one on the SG catch


More than magic

There isn’t much that Sourav Ganguly hasn’t done on a cricket field, but what he did around 2:20pm today was quite novel. Here was a game that, barring a miracle of biblical proportions, could not be won. Here was India, in the opening Test of a crucial series, being butchered silly. Here was 668 runs conceded, shoulders drooping in every direction, morale trampled upon, and only a declaration to look forward to. And what does he do?

Misjudge a catch as Rana Naved-ul-Hasan lofted one over his head at mid-off. Fair enough. But wait, what does he do now? Keeps his eyes on the ball, back-peddle, extend his right hand upwards, realise it may be too late, propel himself backward and let the instincts take over. Sometime over the course of the next second, he must have felt the ball in his hand, and sometime during the next few milli-seconds he must have realised it hadn’t popped out.

And sometime soon, just for a few moments, he might have forgotten all that had gone before and all that is likely to happen later. He leaped, he pumped his fist, and he stood in his spot and celebrated as his team-mates mobbed him. It was a little more than magical. He had pulled the rabbit out of the hat, but importantly had done it without he himself knowing he would.

This about Salman Butt's life in the dressing room in the lahore test

Watching ... painfully

As one tries to make sense of what exactly happened in the cricket today, when Pakistan gorged themselves in batting heaven, one needs to spare a thought. For a talented young batsman who had to spend 141.2 overs in the dressing-room, watching his team-mates plunder runs to their heart’s content. Poor ol’ Salman Butt.

He spent ten minutes in the middle, faced six balls and hit just one measly boundary while his gluttonous friends spoilt themselves with 86 between them. Obviously he was happy for them, but surely, at some point, he wondered what he could have achieved on this pancake-flat surface, masquerading as a Gaddafi Stadium cricket pitch.

He could look forward to cashing in when the second innings came around, but, wait, Pakistan reached a situation where they might not even bat again. He probably thought of Faisalabad and Karachi, remembered his big knocks there and promised himself not to give it away early.

He probably saw the tripe being served up and kicked himself often. More than anything, he probably rued his method of dismissal - needlessly run-out in the third over of the first morning of the opening day of a Test series and to add to it all, against India. One can only conjecture, but maybe, sometime in between all these thoughts he ventured a bit further and applied a convoluted logic.

If Ganguly hadn’t played then Gambhir might have played instead; if Gambhir was in the XI he would almost surely have been fielding at short leg; considering he is a right-hander, unlike Yuvraj, there is no way he would have swooped down so fast and thrown down the stumps. It's dynamics such as these that make sport so alluring; and in fact it's probably one of the reasons why a few of us watch


A little dig at Sarfraj's expense ?
Going round in circles

Sarfraz Nawaz. One sight is enough to convince you that he was indeed one heck of a fast bowler. Big man, aquiline features, mop of hair, don’t-care-a-damn attitude ... Just the man who could invent a dark art. Just the sort who would wreck havoc or sit in one corner and sulk all day.

He welcomes you warmly, answers questions bluntly. It’s not just honesty, it's ruthlessness. Such radical answers that you’re convinced he’s way over the top. There a lot of thoughtful things that get missed because all you’re thinking of are the extreme statements.
What did you think of the Indian attack in this Test? "They were disinterested." Surely, the pitch wasn’t great for them? "You need to be able to bowl on all pitches." What could they have done? "Tried and conceded less runs and taken more wickets." How? "Bowled better." Where did they go wrong? "They were simply disinterested." Superb. A conversation with such a logical conclusion.

But Sarfraz, is cricket getting too batsman-oriented? "Of course, it's unfair." What can be done? "Many things can be. Allow more bouncers, prepare better pitches, reduce heaviness of bats. Many things."

But don't the spectators come to see runs? "Nothing like that. They will come and see wickets also. How many people were there in the stadium yesterday? So many runs were being scored." Has the quality of batting improved? "Nothing like that. Average batsmen get hundreds these days. It's ridiculous. In fact, unfair." Another circular dialogue. What a man!
« Last Edit: January 16, 2006, 01:24:54 AM by kban1 »


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Re: The Pak Tour Diaries from Cricinfo
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2006, 01:30:19 AM »

Do not forget to read the 1st two versions. i shall keep updating this thread every day till it is time to open up part 4. So check back on this one too


press conferences

Leave or smack?

Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan 11 hours, 10 minutes ago in India in Pakistan 2005-06

Watching a cricketer at a press conference has its own charm. It's interesting watching how one man sitting in the public gaze, with television cameras hovering around, and with press corps likely to throw up anything ranging from the intelligent to the bizarre, responds.

One remembers Adam Gilchrist’s press conferences on his last trip to India – chirpy and full of cheer. One was tempted to liken it to his batting, considering the carefree and straightforward approach. Inzamam often indulges in matter-of-fact humour and those who saw him on India’s last visit to Pakistan, when he was on the losing side, recall it as one of the memorable highlights.

Anything may get misinterpreted, even passing mentions could turn into a headline. If he is honest and indulges in criticism, he may be doomed. If he doesn't, and decides to play it absolutely safe, he still may be. It's often a lose-lose situation to be in, especially if things aren’t going too well.

Rahul Dravid is often at his diplomatic best, mostly preferring to err on the side of caution. When he wins, he will stress on the importance of not getting carried away; when he loses, on the positives gained; when in doubt, he will leave the question outside off stump; when put in a spot, he will prefer to offer a dead bat.

Shahid Afridi and Virender Sehwag are different. When you walk out to the centre thinking 'see ball, hit ball', it's tough not to do the same while entering a press conference. Answers usually emerge immediately, sometimes brutal, sometimes funny. They bring a certain party-like mood, revelling in the attention and not scared of crossing the limit. They will rarely fumble for replies and one can safely assume that they aren't too concerned about the headlines that appear the next day. When there's a simple route to approach a situation, why even consider anything else?

Life's a pitch

Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

So here we were at Lahore, witnessing a Test played on, if we were to believe the cricketers, the flattest of surfaces. As the game wore on, the pitch got more and more attention, with everyone talking about the importance of producing a 'sporting wicket'.

Dravid, justifiably so, refused to criticise the pitch, speaking in detail about the various horticultural aspects involved in pitch preparation. "It’s got to do with nature, with soil, with binding, with clay, with rolling ..." How, one must ask, can we expect an ideal pitch when there are so many factors to take care of? And as Younis reasoned, had Pakistan’s batsmen played shoddy strokes and rolled over, not many would have even talked about the pitch.

So it’s all clear. Unless we have an absolute cracker of a contest, someone needs to be blamed at the end of the game. If a team loses, great; if there’s rain, best; if light poses a problem, super; if it turns a lot, blame the pitch (remember Australia in Mumbai 2004?); if it moves around alarmingly, blame the pitch (remember India in New Zealand in 2003?); if batsmen feast to their heart’s content, blame the pitch. Unlike most other sports, it’s such an easy target.

And what makes all this even better is, as Dravid said, it’s almost impossible to prepare a pitch to one’s exact requirements. So what kind of pitches can one easily prepare? Simple, silly. An under-prepared one.


So passionate ... so Pakistani

Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

There are several ways one can get to the Gaddafi Stadium from where I am staying – either walk for about ten minutes, reach the main road and take a rickshaw; or hope for a rickshaw to be around in the housing locality; or - and this is what is likely to work best - try and wangle a lift from one of the passing cars.

Three days out of five, the last option worked and the response soon became so pleasantly predictable. Once inside, the conversation went something on these lines:

Host: Where to?
Me: I need to go to the Gaddafi Stadium but I will take a rickshaw from the main road.
(That response, in pathetic broken Hindi, usually leaves me exposed and the fact that I’m not a local pretty obvious)

H:You’ve come from Karachi to watch the game?
M: No, from India. From Mumbai.

H: Oh. Now I can’t just drop you at the main road. I will drop you to the stadium, don’t worry.
M: It’s OK. Please don’t take the trouble.

H: No no. I can’t do that. What will you say when you go back home?

The last part has been the common refrain in many situations. What one says when he goes back home seems to be the clinching factor.
Once the ice was broken the conversation usually veered to cricket and on all three days the first question posed was exactly the same: "Why has Ganguly been treated this way?" When I was asked the question the third successive time, I couldn’t contain my curiosity and wondered why Ganguly, of all places in Pakistan, drew so much admiration. "Because, he’s so aggressive, so passionate, so ... so ... so Pakistani."

Obvious, innit?


Echoing and informal

Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

From Lahore to Faisalabad in a Daewoo bus with a hostess making anouncements that are undecipherable, unless one has an echo filter. Snacks and soft drinks on a two-hour bus ride, along with a television, make it a semi flight-like experience. Parts of the journey are spent surveying the pastoral countryside, most of it sleeping, a suitable index of the comfort levels in the bus.

Cricket in smaller cities always has an informal air to it. Security guards appear less tense, the public exude more anticipation. Both teams go through a relaxed net session, with Danish Kaneria attempting mighty slogs against the net bowlers, only for the ball to land just 20 yards away. It's a brand of slogging like none other, an agricultural exercise in a scientific age.


A poet and three heroes

Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

He wrote ‘Sare Jahan Se Achcha’, is credited with coming up with the idea of a separate state for Indian Muslims, and has a Test venue named in his honour. The Encyclopedia Britannica called him "the greatest Urdu poet of the century." Allama Muhammad Iqbal was a versatile man.

The Iqbal Stadium in Faisalabad is probably one of the few cricketing venues named after a poet. It’s smaller than the Gaddafi and a more open sort. The press box is open as well – a good thing for one keen on soaking in the atmosphere, a bad thing during inclement weather. Like the Gaddafi, the stands are split into various enclosures, all named after famous cricketers. Wait. Not all, but most.

At one square of the pitch are three enclosures that make you wrack your brains, named after Shahid Nazir, Taslim Arif and Ijaz Ahmed jnr. In one way or another, all three were associated with Faisalabad. The first, a local lad, played eight Tests between 1996 and 1999, has managed more than 100 first-class games and often found himself on the fringes of national selection.

The second, Arif, played two fewer Tests, between January and December 1980, and cracked 210 not out at Faisalabad, the highest score by a wicketkeeper at the time.

The third, Ijaz, another local boy, played just two Tests, both in September 1995 and went on to become a bully of domestic attacks. Ijaz’s second and last Test was at Faisalabad, where he fell for 16 and 8, but he still finds his name among some of the giants of Pakistani cricket. Poetic justice it seems.


Coming alive with Afridi

Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

There's a certain aura that accompanies Shahid Afridi. Until he walked in, there was a certain predictability at the Iqbal Stadium - some tension at the start of the game, nervy silence following loose shots, generous applause for good strokes, and raucous cheers in response to boundaries.

Once Afridi entered, all restraint was forgotten. The cheering accompanying his arrival could have been mistaken for a response to a famous win. When on strike, he commanded attention; when not, he created some frenetic anticipation. Every run that Inzamam took was followed by a certain mayhem; all in wait of Afridi's next ball.
When he smashed fours, they asked for sixes; when he blitzed sixes, they asked for more. His sixes have a certain animal-like quality, one that makes the blood gush, one that gets the veins to tingle.

The thing about Afridi is that he usually gives what crowds want, that too with such astonishing regularity. It's a sort of feeling that many have dreamt about on sleepless nights - a massive crowd anticipating sixes and one being capable of pleasing them.

Watching a player like Dravid, displaying complete mastery of his art, has its own joys but witnessing an Afridi innings will always bring with it a certain manic ring, one of the main goals that many gully cricketers aspire to.

« Last Edit: January 21, 2006, 09:47:04 PM by kban1 »


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Re: The Pak Tour Diaries from Cricinfo
« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2006, 12:17:27 AM »

Continuing with SV's pak tour Diary from Cricinfo -dont forget to read the previous installments


The sight-screen puzzle

Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

Sometime after tea today, both Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid got distracted. As Shoaib Akhtar prepared himself to hurtle in and deliver one of his thunderbolts, Sehwag backed away and started gesticulating. Somewhere close to the sight-screen at the Golf Course end, someone was moving and it took a while for the source of the problem to be informed.
Simon Taufel tried, Shoaib tried, the fielders tried but finally it required Shoaib to walk all the way to the boundary line – which one realised wasn’t too far from where he starts running in – and rectify the situation. Movement behind the screen has, is and will continue to be a big hassle for the batsmen.
It’s obviously never easy to concentrate on an object moving towards you when the background is not still. And it’s even more frustrating when you have security personnel wandering around in the vicinity of the sight screen.

All this though is not a problem when the bowler is running in from the other end and one was immediately reminded of an incident in a Bangladesh-Zimbabwe Test when one of the bowlers missed a caught and bowled chance. The reason given: he couldn’t spot the ball as there was some movement behind the screen.

So bowlers of the world unite and ensure that there is absolutely no distractions when you begin your run-up. You never know when a chance may arrive and, unlike a batsman, it’s not possible to back away and replay the ball. It's been a batsman's game for too long; just take matters into you own hands, even if it means creating one royal fuss.


An outdoor view

Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

As one approaches the Iqbal Stadium, large pockets of fans, mainly youth, stand around chit-chatting. Most of them don't have tickets but continue to lurk around, almost throughout the day, just observing the events around, listening to the crowd inside and trying to guess what may be going on inside.

As spectators, media-men and security personnel come out of the ground, they ask them about the state of the game, trying to pry out details, imagining what might have happened.

Instead of watching it on television, they prefer to hover around, hoping that a ticket or pass will materialise from somewhere and soaking in as much atmosphere as they can. It's a strange sort of way to spend a day, knowing that Shahid Afridi is going ballistic, getting news that Shoaib Akhtar is running red-hot, yet not able to watch the action.

Maybe a giant screen outside might help, but again, maybe that will remove a part of the charm as well.


Preserve of the reserve

Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

It's always interesting to know how a reserve spends his time when a cricket match is going on. On every day of the game, during the lunch and tea breaks, some, or all, of the reserve Indian batsmen walk up to the practice nets and have a brief knock.
Ian Frazer, the biomechanics expert, usually bowls/throws balls down at them and watches them thump it back with supreme confidence, with the ball usually crashing into the advertising hoardings with a resounding clang.
Parthiv and Jaffer are there almost everyday, while Gambhir and Ganguly join them on occasions. It provides an entertaining diversion for the crowd at midwicket, in the Golf Course End, who cheer/jeer/hoot/sledge and often offer advise on batting technique.

One of them wondered why the batsmen padded up to face such pappu bowling; the other felt that Frazer was feeding the batsman too many half-volleys; one loudly asked what use such a session would be; and a couple of them kept asking Jaffer what his name was, feeling irritated when they got absolutely no response.

The clincher came when the umpires walked on to the field as one of them yelled out, "Kal milenge, naam leke aana" (We’ll meet tomorrow, get your name along).


Thank God it's over

Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

How we sat through five days of that drudgery called the Faisalabad Test we will always wonder. And it was slightly baffling to see a packed house sit through the last day's events. But probably it wasn't so surprising.

India and Pakistan played one drawn series after another in the '50s and '60s but large crowds flocked to most matches. Even today, domestic games played in small cities in India have quite an audience, despite many ending in drab draws.

Maybe one can point to the social life of people in smaller cities, the fact that a cricket match provides considerable entertainment. Bigger cities have large malls, frequent conerts and people usually find ways to entertain themselves.

Sevreral theories can be floated but it just took a Shahid Afridi dismissal for most of the crowd to instantly walk out, confirming that it was the only event they had come to watch all day.

There's nothing more that a marketing man can ask of a cricketer than the ability to fill stadiums on a most meaningless of days.


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Re: The Pak Tour Diaries from Cricinfo
« Reply #4 on: January 29, 2006, 11:36:14 AM »

Nice, entertaining staff!
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