How the girls got to Mohali

12 04 2011

I don’t know if it was the ease with which Pakistan put away the West Indies or the prospect of watching them end another unbeaten World Cup run – India’s then 4-0 record against Pakistan, ugh – but that Pakistan Day, I began to dream.

I had read earlier that day that the ICC had promised to expedite the visa process for Pakistan fans. After we won, I called my best friend and partner-in-cricket-obsession and told her we had to go. If India lost their quarter-final to Australia a billion tickets would suddenly become available, and if they won, well, then we would be going to TGME (the greatest match ever). I’m not sure whether her response was more WTF-are-you-crazy bewilderment or whoa-could-this-work excitement: “Should we do it!” Why not?

We had no idea where to start, but that was probably a good thing because we didn’t realize how hopeless our cause was until it was too late to give up.

Inspired by Ashley Kerekes making it to the Ashes thanks to a viral twitter campaign, we started a #getthegirlstomohali hashtag on twitter asking for ticket/visa information, and secretly hoping for ridiculous favours. We had 5 days to get visas, find match tickets and get on a plane or a train or a taxi to Mohali. How hard could it be?

Pretty much all the information I got on how to make this cricket pilgrimage happen – from the link to the right visa form to where in Islamabad I could find a printer at 5AM – came from twitter:

-The PCB has a visa-hotel-match-ticket package for $500 but you have to know one of their hotshots.
– The Indian embassy is issuing visas along with tickets if you have a contact in the High Commission (they didn’t pick up their phone from 10:30 AM to 3PM).
– If you have a visa, getting a couple of match tickets is going to be a breeze.
– Actually, you need a ticket to apply for a visa. There MUST be some tickets reserved for Pakistan fans.
– Even some of the journalists covering the event don’t have visas yet, applying at this point is hopeless.
– Just apply ASAP, I think you’ll get it.

You get the picture.

Our first breakthrough came on Friday when the kind Ambassador Haqqani messaged on twitter saying he would try and help us get a couple of tickets. Now that I had more tangible hope of getting a ticket, I got another friend on board. We thought briefly about sending in a rushed application immediately, but were advised that the better option would be to submit in person Monday morning, two days before the match. We made plans to get to Islamabad from Karachi and Lahore to kick off operation #getthegirlstomohali for TGME. (Dammit Australia).

The next step was filling out the online Indian visa application form. Saying that the experience was frustrating would be as much of an understatement as saying Test cricket will miss Mohammad Amir: there was no “Go Back” option and the form kept dying on us thanks to some aggressive timeouts that a guy at the Pakistan Foreign Office insisted were intentionally programmed in by the Indians to discourage visa applications (ha!).

There were non-technical challenges too. We nailed the first hurdle thanks to the generous Dileep Premachandran from Cricinfo etc. who agreed to be our sponsor. We still needed a place to stay and all the hotels in or near Chandigarh were sold out.  Our visa application deadline was 0830 on Monday the 28th, so no hotel success by Sunday evening meant we were now also looking for friends, acquaintances or angels in India who were willing to write us letters inviting us to stay with them AND send us two proofs of residence and identity. We also needed to submit a photocopy of our yet-to-be-sourced match tickets.

It was a long shot, but if any of us didn’t believe in the kindness of strangers, we were about to change our minds by the end of this match. A sweetheart of a journalist in Delhi agreed to be our pretend-host and quickly scanned and sent us her ID minutes before another very resourceful and exceptionally kind stranger tweeted to say he could get us a booking in a (nice) hotel about two hours from the stadium. Another friend in Mohali emailed us a picture of his 3 VIP passes to the match, taken by what I’m sure was a camera-phone from the early noughties. We were officially all set with the visa application requirements – thanks to three Indians we had never met!

In retrospect, it’s kind of appalling that there was absolutely no information from any of the PCB, the BCCI, the ICC or the Indian High Commission to guide Pakistan fans who might have become interested in going to the match – no helpline, not one page on a website with instructions, not even a press release saying whether getting a visa was even possible at this stage.

The officer at the Pakistan Foreign Office responsible for forwarding our applications to the Indian High Commission was on his fifth paan and impatient for breakfast, but he went out of his way to help us. It turned out that the visa application I had spent the last three nights filling out had been the wrong form all along. Thankfully this one was offline (no saazishi timeouts) so we finished it quickly,  paid the visa fees and said bismillah and shukriya and got out of there.

We were told we would hear about the decision by that night so we went home and crashed. For about an hour. Then it was back to looking for match tickets. We pushed that #getthegirlstomohali hashtag hard on twitter. We messaged every cousin, high school-nemesis and ex-colleague who worked at or knew someone who worked at Pepsi/LG/Servis/the PCB. We emailed every poster on every sketchy online forum selling tickets in black. Some guy on twitter said he had a classmate he hadn’t spoken to in 20 years but who might be selling 3 extra tickets – we even called him. By that evening, we had been promised two tickets – one from the kind ambassador and another from a friend’s friend at Times of India.  Just one more to go.

8 PM that night, -42 hours before the match – we got a call from the Foreign Office saying our visas had been approved: 10 days, for Chandigarh, Mohali AND Mumbai (we hadn’t even asked for Mumbai)! But that they hadn’t been stamped, so we needed to wait till 11 PM. This was great news but we still had to get those visas that night to be able to leave for Lahore the next morning to be able to cross the border before 4 PM to be able to get to Mohali the night before the match. It was a race against time.

No updates from the foreign office till midnight, then a call saying my friends’ visas were there but mine wasn’t and wouldn’t be there till at least 11AM the next morning. It pretty much meant game over for me. I couldn’t believe it. The girls said they didn’t want to leave without me. I told them they were being stupid and they had to go.  We were too tired to debate, so we decided to talk in the morning and went to sleep after what felt like years.

We had slept in till noon. It was the day before the match. There was still no word from the Indian High Commission about my passport. We decided to leave for Lahore either way, India or not, so we had a lazy breakfast, packed and headed out to pick up our passports, stamped or otherwise. On the way to the foreign office I got a call saying my passport was back. It was 1PM – too late to aim to cross the border that day. If we crossed the border at 9 the next morning, we’d be at the stadium in Mohali by 2PM, which was when the match was to start. Picking up our tickets from their various sources in India beforehand would be a challenge, but we decided to go for it.

Our luck had turned again. In trying to get that third ticket through our hotel reservation lifesaver from earlier – let’s call him Superman – we landed a pass.  We got on the bus to Lahore and started planning the fun stuff we hadn’t got time to think of yet, like whether we should wear green kurtas or personalized Boom Boom jerseys to the match. We also needed flags and green paraandas and green chooriyaan and face-paint and stickers and green glitter and neon wigs. The bookshop on the rest-stop on the motorway to Lahore didn’t have flags or any of the other green gear we were looking for, but there were a couple of giant-sized Afridi posters (actually Jazz ads) on the window. Of course we convinced them to give us one. Got to Lahore and packed for four days in ONE handbag that we would carry in to the stadium. No sleep again.

Superman had told us the border was opening early, at 6:30AM, and that not many people knew this. If we crossed over by 7, we would make it, even if the drive was 5 hours. (There were reports that the gates were going to close at 12:30, even though the game wasn’t going to start until 2:30 local time). Got to the border around 6:45 and saw a few boys in Boom Boom shirts waiting for things to open. A guard told us the immigration guys wouldn’t be there before 9! Thankfully, a friend had been kind enough to give our names and our car’s license number to some hotshots at the border, so we we pleaded with them to check those records, and they let us through. Immigration and customs on our side was pretty quick. We exchanged cash too – from a guy in a brown shalwar kamiz who had all the money in his shalwar-pocket, forget about receipts. (The rate was good). Shaikh Rashid was in line ahead of us, beaming.

"Borrowing" an Afridi poster

All our green gear

Walk to India

We ran to the Indian side. It was kind of surreal, but we were too rushed to think about how big a moment that was. The Indian guard at the border didn’t smile, but he was quick, which meant he was nice. The chatty officers at registration told us we had enough time to get to Mohali (not) and reassured (sic) us that it wasn’t going to rain. Ran from there to customs, where, thanks to Superman, some guy already had our names on some be-nice-to-them list. Filled out another form, then borrowed face-paint chalk from the other Pakistan fans in line to colour our faces while waiting for our passports to be scanned and copied. A very long fifteen minutes and we were through to customs, who were so helpful they TOLD us we didn’t have more than the maximum amount of Indian Rupees you were allowed to carry. They also liked our scary Afridi poster.

That was it, we were in India. There were about three dozen taxi-wallahs, all with “Special Permission for Pakistan WC” signs posted on their cars, each of whom insisted we go with him. We borrowed a taxi-wallah’s phone to call our taxi-wallah – he was clearly far away but insisted he would be there in two minutes and that we shouldn’t let the taxi drivers there mislead us. We waited about twenty minutes, which we spent haggling unsuccessfully with the taxi-wallahs to bring their rate down to our pre-arranged cab rate (8000 INR to 3200 INR). A couple of uncles in Boom Boom jerseys and sunglasses inspired by Waqar Younis circa 1992 had just crossed the border with a man who looked like a driver for a fancy tour package. We acted fast and asked them if we could share a ride with them to the match. They agreed. Fifteen minutes into the ride, we discovered that our friendly uncles had three extra tickets that they were trying to foist upon a reluctant golf buddy who lived in Mohali. With every passing minute and every call to our ticket sources in Ludhiana, Chandigarh and Mohali we knew we wanted those three tickets more and more: they were all for the same stand and they were all IN THAT CAR. We would feel terrible about not using the passes that our friends had worked so hard to secure for us, but unfortunately there was just no time for us to pick them up. So we spent the next four hours trying to convince our new Lahori friends that we deserved those tickets more than some guy who was playing golf on the day of an India-Pakistan cricket match and was going to cheer for the wrong team anyway. They couldn’t believe we had crossed the border without tickets. (“Who ARE you guys? Hide your wallet, KP!”) They also didn’t understand that anyone could want to go watch a match that badly: one of them (the golfer) had considered going straight to Mumbai when he got his visa and the other left – get this – SEVEN tickets at home. I don’t remember how we did it in the end, but we managed to prise those tickets out of them. (“But we came all the way from Karachi and we haven’t slept in 4 days and… okay ask me anything – ANYTHING – about cricket!”).

We got to the stadium a few overs late and had to look around for seats for a while before finally settling on a place on the steps next to the families of Wahab Riaz and the Akmals. Sehwag was smashing our best fast bowler around for fun, but nothing could put a damper on our excitement. We made it to Mohali!

We made it!

Special thanks to: Adnan Alam, Yusra Askari, Hafeez Chachar, Piyali Dasgupta, Vandna Dhand, Husain Haqqani, Faizan Lakhani, Dileep Premachandran, Mehmal Sarfraz, Tooba Awan, Barkha Dutt, my partners-in-crime Sukaina Ali and Saba Gul and everyone who tweeted for us including sufisal, FiveRupees, bbcsport_oliver, tazeen, thecricketcouch, AltCricket, gkhamba, iamhassan9, khurram_mir, sehwagology, alizeb, fizzarahmanThird_Umpire, syrabanu, richaaagarwal, sid_famir, skabi2010, parasdesai22, Nairvana, mount_57, ibudhani, Alifaruq, Banarisoh, Mehmal, ahmadbabar, haiderazhar, Korrupt_, sahyder1 , seennoonkaaf and oneonejubb. You got the girls to Mohali!

An edited version of this post was first published in Dawn





30 hours in India

10 04 2011

Ravi Shastri in the commentary box just before the India-Pakistan semi-final said that all the roads in Chandigarh led to Mohali. Maybe that’s why there were no signs when we got into Chandigarh. Our taxi-driver from the Wagah-Attari border was lost and the three people we asked for help all pointed in different directions! It was quite a contrast from the match towns I had been to in Sri Lanka (Kandy and Colombo) where you couldn’t drive 15 minutes without seeing a larger-than-life poster of Sangakkara or Afridi, but the atmosphere at the stadium when we finally got in more than made up for it.

The stadium gates were a half-mile trek from the where we got dropped off: me and my two girlfriends kept losing our flip-flops in the sand and the wild bush of the makeshift parking lot, but we didn’t slow down. We knew every cheer from the stadium – and there were many in that third over – meant an Indian boundary (we’d heard on the radio in the cab that India had won the toss). The boys needed us to be in the stadium ASAP.

We suffered a mini-heart-attack when the security at the first gate told us we couldn’t take our cameras inside but they let us through when we told them there wasn’t time to go back to Pakistan to drop off our banned belongings. There was still a bunch of Indian fans queued up to get in to the gate for the stand before ours – the three of us felt the need to make our Pakistani presence felt, so we held up our big Pakistan flag, let out something between a woohoo and war-cry and ran past them. Most of them responded by flashing their own flags and posters and laughing, all fun and good-natured. The policewoman at the final gate check didn’t give us too much trouble but refused to let us “bulbuls” (tapori for girls from Pakistan?) through unless we gave her some Pakistani change as a souvenir. We gave her a shiny purple 50-rupee note and we were in.

We couldn’t believe we had made it to Mohali.

Chacha Cricket and Chacha Lite. Photo credit: Saba Gul

We made it!

There were more Indian flags than people. Our stand – the PCA Members and Associates stand – had a section full of Pakistan fans, but there wasn’t a single empty seat in sight. It was also seriously hot and there was no shade, so I was glad I brought my floppy Pakistan team hat, the kind they never wear on the one-day field anymore. We finally found a place to sit on the stairs, next to a group of girls in Boom Boom jerseys who were reciting a prayer non-stop. Pakistan needed it too: Sehwag was demolishing our best fast bowler of the tournament.

Chacha Cricket and his Indian counterpart (in a tri-colour turban) were a few rows ahead of us. They posed for many, many dosti pictures and were constantly engaged in a side-match of their own with a group of young men in the neighbouring stand who seemed more interested in interacting with our stand than in following the match. It kind of reminded me of watching a match from the ladies’ stand at the NSK, where the neighbouring stands are impressively focused on things other than the cricket. The dosti chachas got kind of annoying after a while because they jumped up and blocked our view after almost every scoring shot, but the dancing turbans entertained everyone by singing (in Punjabi) and dancing pretty much non-stop for all the eight hours we were there.

A sea of tri-colour. Photo credit: Saba Gul

the non-stop dance party

Venturing out to get food in the innings break was a bit of a nightmare. There was no cold water or drinks (you couldn’t take water bottles inside the stadium anyway) and there was nothing left to eat except ice cream and aalu tikkis. I found out later that the VIP boxes hosting Prime Minister Gilani also ran out of tea, so I guess they just weren’t prepared for the number of people that showed up. Almost got stampeded on the way back but managed to bring in some warm mountain dew and cold samosas. The “Pakistani stand” had a warm, hospitable, awami feel to it – every few overs, someone would go get a box full of choc-bars or half a dozen coffees and just distribute them, so we didn’t stay hungry/thirsty for long.

My favourite moment of the match came in Wahab Riaz’s second spell. His two wickets in two balls shut up the 28000 Indian supporters and the few hundred Pakistani voices took over for a bit. Apart from the usual “Jeetay ga bhai jeetay ga…” slogans, a special naara for the star of the day made its debut: “Nahi karta kissi ka lehaaz, Wahab Riaz, Wahab Riaz.” It felt like there hadn’t been an Indian boundary for ages, we were high-fiving random Pakistani uncles (one of whom turned out to be Shahid Afridi’s chacha!) and even the dancing hecklers from the stand next door took a break, shoulders slumped – Pakistan were on top.

Wahab! © AFP

"Munnis & Sheelas Back in the Pavillion!" Photo credit: Saba Gul

Unfortunately, the self-assured feeling that the Pakistan fans had watching Wahab dominate towards the end of India’s innings didn’t carry through to the Pakistan innings. I guess I’m not the only one who’s ALWAYS nervous when we bat, even before the first wicket falls. Most fans around me felt we were batting too slow or losing too many wickets or, worse, already out of the game, even while Asad Shafiq was still at the crease. The Pakistanis in our stand started leaving when Umar Akmal got out, and were almost all gone by the time Wahab fell. Still, there were a few of us laughing and chanting “You can do it Misbah – do it for your average!” when he was hitting boundaries for fun near the end.

The Indian fans were gracious hosts after their win. As we stood near the exit, waiting for the crowd to clear out before we left the stadium, tens of locals walked up to us for a friendly handshake or a chat or a picture. A few even apologized for winning, and one decidedly confused guy actually told us we had been the better team, ha! Almost everyone thanked us for making the trip to India, which doesn’t sound like much but felt really good to hear. As we left Mohali to drive back to the border after some 2AM chicken tikka sandwiches at Subway (food at last!), we heard a random car stereo in a parking lot by the team hotel play the Meesha Shafi and Arif Lohar song from last season’s Coke Studio. I think it made me feel a little less broken about losing to India than watching Amir Sohail’s bitter post-match analysis on TV would have.

(A very edited version of this blog was published in the News on Sunday on April 10, 2011. Seriously, what on earth does “Riaz was bucked up” even mean?)





why karachi needs to stand up for cricket

15 01 2011

Nothing makes me sadder than the hopelessness of the prospects of international cricket returning to Pakistan. But I love cricket and I refuse to give up on my team and it breaks my heart to see the ICC’s touring party watch the final of our premier domestic championship play out in front of near-empty crowds, so I’m listing 10 reasons why you need to go to the National Stadium this weekend:

1. It’s the final of Pakistan’s first-class competition, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. I know it’s hard to care about PIA vs HBL, but it’s still the best two FC teams in the country, battling it out in what seems so far to be a very competitive championship game, with some exciting fast bowling with the late orange ball under lights bringing some quick wickets near the close of play on both days. PIA 228 (1st inn) HBL 313 (1st inn) PIA 13/0 (2nd inn)

2. It’s your chance to be a part of history: this is the first time anywhere in the world that a 5-day match is being played under lights, with an ORANGE ball. There’s been talk of day-night Tests with pink balls for a while now: pink balls retain their visiblity, but lose their shape; they don’t retain their colour for 80 overs so they need to be switched from each end; it gets too cold at night in England and there are issues with the dew in the sub-continent. Pakistan – much like it throws in raw teenage fast bowlers straight into the Test side – has taken the lead in giving the orange ball a shot in the final of its major FC competition.

Danish Kaneria bowls with the orange ball

3. Dave Richardson (can you believe that the dude who kept wickets for South Africa before Boucher already has white hair?) from the ICC is in town to watch the proceedings. The ground looks beautiful, but lonely – show up, if only to be a good host and/or show off your city!

The National Stadium Karachi

4. Two of the most promising new fast bowlers, Aizaz Cheema, and Anwar Ali (yes, him of the banana swing fame from the 2007 U-19 WC final against India) are working their magic. The conditions for swing bowling make the proceedings even more watchable around sunset, just after the lights come on and a sea-breeze descends over the NSK.

5. Ex-captain, ex-husband of Ayesha Siddiqui, and the reason for much amusing Indian outrage, Shoaib Malik is playing. Maybe Sania Bhabi will even join you in the stands if you root for him.

6. You can boo Imran Farhat live! (Or cheer him, he did defy all odds and make a 100)

7. Local boy Danish Kaneria’s uniquely comic fielding will be on display.

8. Free entry. The cricket runs from 2PM to ~9:30PM, best time to go is when the lights come on, around 6PM. This weekend is Days 3 & 4.

9. It’s the perfect solution to waking up at 3am for the Wellington Test and, 8 hours later, finding there’s no more cricket to watch.

10. There were hardly any matches played in Karachi this season (one of the first of the season that I was planning on going to was cancelled because of poor security in the city), so think of this as doing your bit to support the return of cricket to your city too!

Anyway, get your butt to the National Stadium, make some noise, maybe someone will see you waving a “We miss international cricket” poster and send a club team or something to tour. It’ll be fun, I promise, and you’ll be doing a lot to help Pakistan cricket – just GO.

This plea was first published on Dawn blogs at http://blog.dawn.com/2011/01/15/chalo-chalo-nsk-chalo/





Fast bowlers don’t eat ice-cream

17 12 2010

(or why Amir did it)


Amir was training hard before the must-win Test at The Oval. He put in extra time in the nets with Waqar, to get closer to the stumps for his inswinger (and with Aaqib, to get closer to the optimum frequency of hair bounce per delivery). He couldn’t wait to call the girl as soon as he got on the team bus. But he got distracted: Pakistan’s new keeper wanted to take pictures, and nobody else was in the mood to humour him, so Amir felt bad and obliged him with enough poses to keep him busy for the bus ride back to the hotel.

 

When he finally got to his room and pulled out his phone, there were 25 missed calls from her, and this final text message:

 "You have no balls. Don't call me again. P.S. My brother says you’re 24."

92 ignored phone calls, 24 spurned texts and 18 unread emails later, he gave in and used the team’s getaway identity of choice: Asif’s cook, Sheeda.  She didn’t recognize Sheeda’s Pakistan number, but still hung up when she heard Amir say hey. He was crushed – but he hadn’t been with the team long enough to surrender without a fight. He went to his big brother in the team, Salman, for advice.

“You’ve come to the right guy. After all, I’m the first smooth-talking Pakistan captain in ages. Even all the English journalists are saying it. The most urbane cricketer since Imran Khan…”

Cue commotion in the bathroom, where Asif was taking a leak. He stumbled out, stifled smirk on face, but when he saw Salman in his sleeveless Pakistan jersey, poking at the flab under which he always complained his biceps were hiding, Asif’s muffled guffaws broke into hysterical laughter.

"At least they're bigger than Fawad Alam's"

Salman raised a single luscious, aristocratic eyebrow.

“Sorry, man. Every time someone compares a player to Imran Bhai, this happens. It’s just one of the nasty side-effects of my vitamin supplements.”

“You mean those goat-milk extra-strength pills your village doc gave you? The ones that make you pee every 21 minutes, and especially at the end of your spells?”

Luckily, Salman was a gentleman (read: not Shoaib), so no bats were raised and Asif emerged from the bathroom with his own words of advice on relationships. Citing his tremendous experience in the matter, Asif told Amir that it was ridiculous to waste his tears on a girl who didn’t read her email.

“Dude, my ex would even check my email!”

The thorough Ms Malik displays details of Asif's communications

He urged Amir to get his fix of intricate beauty from bowling instead and launched into a tireless lecture on setting batsmen up. All Amir could make of it was “mindfuck” and “KP”, so he went back to sulking with his unresponsive phone. Salman saw the need for leadership and seized the opportunity:

“Why don’t you tell me what really happened in the nets today?”

“She’s crazy. She was watching us practice with her friends and wanted to show off every delivery I’ve got.”

“Well, that’s kind of cute.”

“Anyway, I told her there wasn’t time because Wiqi Bhai was only supervising one over per bowler, and I only had 2 balls left. She got on my case to bowl no-balls! To prolong my spell!”

(Asif snorted a laugh but was immediately shut up by another raised-eyebrow glare from Salman).

“No, he’s right. She thought a no-ball would mean an extra ball. In the nets! And she won’t let me explain – what am I supposed to do!”

“Look, it’s just a couple of no-balls. Let’s just have you bowl them in the match. As a gift for her. Pick a meaningful number, like, your anniversary and bowl your promised delivery of love in that over. It’s genius!”

“Anniversary? I met her 2 weeks ago, with you, at that ice-cream parlour opening you dragged us to.”

“Oh, right, this is the girl who’s a steward at Lord’s…”

“Hasn’t discovered email, doesn’t give a fuck about cricket yet works for one of its most esteemed institutions. Reminds me of Uncle,” Asif chimed in, putting an arm around Salman.

Ijaz Butt discovers the news. © AFP

“Asif, you’re testing my patience again. He is not related to me. Anyway, ignore him, kiddo. So, how many times?”

“Well, this would’ve been our third date, but our first *special* one.”

“Let’s make it the first ball of the third over, then? I’ll write it down in my strategy notebook too, so we won’t forget. By the way, you guys should really read these notes sometime. Did you know the English media calls me an Anglophile?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Anyway, this plan is golden. You will literally bowl her over – ha! See what I did?”

“I guess it’s worth a shot.”

And so it was. Amir crossed his fingers and thumbed a text to the girl to deliver this promise of enduring love. Unfortunately for him and Pakistan, Mazhar Majeed joined the boys in Butt’s room soon after the plan was finalised. He sneaked a look at Butt’s open notebook, which gave him all the information he needed for a perfect spot-fix, as long as he got to make the call on which ball in which over would demonstrate his ‘influence’ (a task made easier by the compliant News of the World staff who showed no interest in picking the timing themselves).

However, holding up his promise would prove to be a handful for Majeed.

He had not anticipated that Asif would proceed to share stories of his ups and downs with the ladies. Somewhere between the village vamp who spiked his lassi with HGH and the B-grade Lollywood actress who framed him in the theft of her red-hot Ferrari (a tale that never failed to elicit a curious yelp from Yasir Hameed), Amir started to question whether a girlfriend was even a good idea. Besides, every night after dinner, Shoaib Malik emailed the team a new YouTube clip from the extensive media trial Asif’s ex put him through.

Asif-Veena press conference. Photo: Express Tribune

“It was brutal, like bowling to Sehwag on a Faisalabad road,” Asif admitted.

This was starting to make Amir want to flee, all the way back to the border-town near the Taliban-infested Swat Valley where Geoff Lawson thought he grew up. He was so scarred by the tales of Asif’s trials, you would think he had developed antibodies against women: he didn’t bowl a single no-ball in what ended up being a match-winning spell at the Oval.

Majeed had failed to deliver on his promise to NOTW and it was time for him to be proactive. He had to ensure Amir delivered the no-goods come Lord’s. It took some key strategy documents from the top-ranked side and a Bank Holiday weekend special of high school rom-coms like Clueless, but he finally managed to convince this 18-year-old that girlfriends were good.

Or so he thought.The night before the day of the planned no-ball, Amir texted him:

“Shall I do it or not..?”

Majeed almost had a nervous breakdown, but there was little he could do except warn NOTW it might not happen.

Amir didn’t hear from Majeed but it didn’t matter. He told himself this was it: this was going to be his day. He could feel it. And so could anybody watching. He bowled with fire and heart, and had four wickets before anybody knew it was time for his third full over.

Except he knew it. He wasn’t nervous, but he wanted to make sure he got it right. He turned to Salman one last time. The long discussion that followed had many keen observers of the game guessing (and one Pakistani in South London throwing his white BlackBerry at his TV).

“This is it, Salman Bhai. This is the right decision, right?”

"Are you sure I should do this?" Photo: News of the World

A delivery of promised love © Sky Sports

After one final review of the positive externalities of loving on fast bowling, Amir walked back to his mark. He bowled that no-ball. The girl was at the ground. She smiled, he sensed it, and everyone else saw it all in his bowling – relief, freedom, love. That sajda after the 5-fer was not just for God and cricket. Rob Smyth was right: It was not a kiss of betrayal, it was the kiss of a boy who loved his cricket. And his girl.

Ah, to be young and and free and in love © PA Photos

The kiss of betrayal?                    © News of the World

(Originally published in the Alternative Cricket Almanack 2010, which is full of honest, fun writing on all things cricket. Proceeds go towards a scholarship for Afghan youth cricket that aims to find the first Afghan cricket superstar. Buy here, read excerpts, etc. here).





curious interview of the day

10 12 2010

I read PakPassion’s interview of the Pakistan cricket team’s kit suppliers, Boom Boom and it reminded me of something I first realized when I read this excellent interview of David Dwyer, then Pakistan trainer who did a wonderful job but wasn’t paid for months: the PCB screws up so many, so big and so often that it’s easy to ignore not only their smaller, lower-profile injustices, but also the unique challenges of working with them in any role.

Anyway, if you were wondering which fashion-savvy octogenarian from the PCB management is calling the shots on the national team’s kit design, this should narrow it down:

“The designs which we showed them before T20 World Cup were totally different but it was decided by, at that time it was Mr Yawar Saeed and Shafqat Rana who changed the design and they said we have the responsibility and we have the rights to choose the design, and as kit suppliers you can only provide and choose the fabric.”


Yawar Saeed: “So, olive or pistachio green?” | Shafqat Rana: “Hmm, I liked the forest.” |  Kamran Akmal: “‘WTF are you guys talking about, I told you I’m not wearing Umar’s lipstick.” Photo credit: Getty Images

 

I don’t know about you, but this reminds me of bitchy authoritarianism at lunchtime in primary school.

Some more WTF quotes from the interview:

“The colours for 2011 will be changing pretty soon, so it will be back to that dark green, hopefully if the board decides, because that was our original option for the 2010 World Cup as well but they said we won 1 World Cup in the lime green so lets go and try that again, so let’s see.”

Yeah, let’s see. *Praying really hard the lime-green kit wasn’t the beginning and the end of our team strategy*

On Amir:

“I did manage to get through (to him) and ask him what was going on, he sounded very positive and I told him your contract is still there.”

People will really never stop talking about him, right? (Imran Khan revealed in a World Cup unveiling ceremony yesterday that Pakistan absolutely needed Amir for the World Cup, that he was the best young talent he’s seen, and that he was streets ahead of Wasim Akram. Just kill me now).

On the impact of the spot-fixing fiasco:

“We were reviewing our contract with our lawyers. I was under a lot of pressure to terminate our contract with the Pakistan Cricket Board.”

On professionalism:

“At times it gets tough for us because there is suddenly (something) like if you look at Zulqairnan’s case, he suddenly left the team and there is a new guy coming in, he might not be wearing Zulqairnan’s size. He could be taller, smaller, wider, whatever. So if you need to prepare (a) kit for him we need to know his name at least.”





fast bowling porn

8 12 2010

There is so much Shoaib Akhtar hotness packed in these 5.5 clips, I can guarantee it will make your brain explode. Almost feels unfair on YouTube’s part to enable you to consume all those brilliant spells together, kind of like binging on nihari and biryani and halwa puri and chapli kabab and and kashmiri chai and pasanday and haleem and ginger chicken with qandahari naan and ras malai and dhaka cham cham and (well, you get the picture) all at the same dinner party.

Part 1 (Skip to 2:11, unless you also want to watch him talk about how he’s an average bowler)

Part 2 (Has his breakthrough spell at Durban at 1:28)

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5
Part 6





A week for the cricket-starved

3 12 2010

Packed crowd at the Gaddafi stadium

Boom Boom fan

The rest of the cricket world might not know (or care), but Pakistan’s premier T20 competition ended this weekend, and it was a fine testament to the resilience of Pakistan cricket fans. Not only were the crowds packed for almost every evening game (including the ones before the semis), there was significant interest in those watching and following from home. Popular fan site, PakPassion.net, which runs a live match discussion forum, had as much activity on their Rawalpindi-Karachi semi-final thread as they did for the series-changing 3rd England-Pakistan ODI.

Format: Fewer teams, more matches?
There’s something to admire about a tournament that doesn’t take itself too seriously and produces a champion in exactly a week (I’m looking at you, the ICC World Cup ’07 and the IPL). However, you can’t help but feel that a little more thought could’ve been put into the format: with 4 groups and a total of 13 teams, playing just 2 group matches each before the semis, it was essentially a knock-out from the get-go. It kept things fun and competitive and meant the big teams couldn’t afford to relax, but you’ve got to feel sorry for teams like the Quetta Bears, who came perilously close to beating Shoaib Akhtar-led Islamabad, or the Hyderabad Hawks, who beat a Lahore side with 4 players from the current Pakistan team. (Neither of these teams, among others who improved and impressed, progressed to the second round which meant we only saw them play 2 matches).

For the future, it would be nice if improved performances were factored in to the draw for the next competition, though I guess asking the PCB for a domestic ranking system is being too ambitious.

Also, do we really need to have two teams from each of Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi/Islamabad? Wouldn’t a Karachi fan rather see a team with the combined bowling riches of Anwar Ali, Kaneria, Sami and Afridi instead of being forced to choose between two lukewarm attacks with half the potency? The argument in favour of multiple teams from one region is that it prevents any one team from being too strong, while making sure all the deserving players still get to play. In practice, though, this only ends up diluting the competition, not enriching it. A better approach to make the league competitive would be to loan some of the top players to a weaker side, like Quetta.

Tournament favourites Sialkot Stallions went out early

Younis Khan watches a weak Peshawar side struggle against Abbottabad

Best Contest: Shoaib vs. Yousuf
As far as battles within the battle go, the contest of the tournament for me came in the 11th over of the Islamabad-Lahore semi-final, when Shoaib Akhtar brought himself back into the attack to attempt to get rid of a well-set Yousuf. Mr Lazy Elegance himself up against Pakistan’s most ferocious fast bowler, both leading their sides – and possibly for the last time – in a fight to the final of a tournament neither had ever won. A fiery bouncer first up had Yousuf caught at point, but it came off the helmet. Next, Yousuf somehow kept out a couple of fast, inswinging yorkers. Those wrists (no, Cricinfo ball-by-ball, that phrase is not reserved for VVS Laxman) came back strongly with a perfectly-placed drive over mid-off for 4. Shoaib’s came back with a fuller one which swung in late and made Yousuf look like schoolboy-silly going for the drive. Cue 5 wides because, hey, it’s Pakistan. Shoaib ended the over with another late inswinger that forced Yousuf back and rapped him plumb in front, but for an inside edge. Yousuf survived, but this round of the battle of the 35-year-old rockstars of Pakistan cricket went to Shoaib.

International player watch
All the surprise picks for the South Africa series failed to dazzle: Misbah led a strong Faisalabad team to an early exit; Tanvir Ahmed got a few breakthroughs but also got hammered; Sami was Sami; Taufeeq Umar had one good innings against a weak lineup; Hafeez did nothing of note; Sohail Tanvir was erratic though you could see his utility with both bat and ball, and finally, Imran Farhat.. well I guess his selection can’t really be a surprise anymore, so let’s skip him.

The one exception was Wahab Riaz. Regardless of what you might think he was doing with that jacket outside that restaurant, he bottled the opposition with some smart, spirited bowling, picking up 10 wickets with an economy rate of 4.12 in a tournament where teams were chasing down scores of 200+ in 18 overs for fun. He wasn’t afraid to mix things up and surprised both an in-form Shahid Afridi and tournament top-scorer Shahzaib Hasan with some well-targeted short-pitched deliveries in the final. Definitely a good prospect for the similarly flat roads expected for the 2011 World Cup.

Speaking of Shahzaib, he completely dominated with the bat, as he often does on the flat tracks at home. It was good to see him demonstrate some maturity and bat through the innings to see his side home. Shahid Afridi’s strong support for him, both as his captain and senior batting partner on the field, as well as his most vocal supporter off the field finally came good as he became a belated addition to the T20 and ODI squad for the UAE, along with the other star performer of the tournament, Wahab Riaz.

Wahab Riaz picks up the Best Bowler award

Players to watch
The exciting 22-year-old legspinner from Dadu, Zahid Mahmood (Hyderabad Hawks) not only has all his variations spot-on and an encouraging thumbs-up from Abdul Qadir, he also has the fire, the attitude, and the hair that made Boom Boom the hearthrob that he is. Too bad Hyderabad played only 2 matches and he was only picked for one. Raza Hasan (Rawalpindi Rams), Kaneria’s unlucky passenger-replacement on the England tour, also impressed.

Other performers include Abbottabad’s Junaid Khan who bowled his heart out and, along with his captain and middle-order bat, Yasir Shah, played a vital role in making a lacklustre team competitive.

Hammad Azam emerged as the best all-rounder apart from Afridi and Razzaq,  and should be nurtured for the future.

Openers Ahmed Shehzad (Lahore) and Nasir Jamshed (Lahore) looked in good touch and can both hit a lusty blow. They must surely be considered for another chance soon, though, to be honest, almost every other team had an opener who looked better than Imran Farhat.

Zahid Mahmood helped Hyderabad upset Lahore Eagles

Razzaq & Afridi: still the best all-rounders on show

Coverage
Geo Super should be commended for organizing what looks like the only cricket we’re going to see in Pakistan for a while, and making it fun for all involved. The free entry, floodlit night-matches, and short tournament helped fill the stadium night after night, which was heartwarming to see. However, given that it IS the only spectator-friendly cricket we’re going to see for a while, I feel the PCB has a bigger responsibility in terms of ensuring the tournament reaches every Pakistani.

There was no visible marketing of the event outside of the (private) news channel that broadcast it and its associated newspapers. Also, the PCB must try to get at least the semi-finals and the final aired on PTV for those parts of the country which still don’t get cable. Teenage cricket-fan Ahmed Hassan and his cricket-obsessed friends from one such village (Saiden Hattian, near Attock) travelled 20km to the city to watch every match of the T20 Cup; as fun as he says these trips are, it’s only fair he gets to watch the games at home.

Also, I understand this is not a disease peculiar to any one desi sports channel, but the length and timing of the ads was beyond ridiculous. Forget cutting to ads as soon as the last delivery of an over was bowled, or even before they could show the replay of a wicket, they didn’t even show the winning team (Lahore Lions) lift the trophy! And did they really have to interview tournament sponsor Faysal Bank’s CEO in the middle of an over?

Lahore Lions celebrate their win

Finally, Geo’s Urdu commentary was immensely enjoyable. Almost everyone on the team was either hilarious (Mirza Iqbal Baig), insightful (Aamir Sohail) or both (Abdul Qadir). Tariq Saeed was all that, and eloquent – it almost made up for Mushtaq Ahmed exclaiming “OUTSTANDING SHOT!” at Shastri-volume every single time a boundary was hit. My favourite out of all the commentary gems (somebody compiled them on PakPassion) would have to be Abdul Qadir’s proclaimation that super-talented players like “qaum ka khoobsurat heera,” Shahid Afridi, naturally tended to think less than the average player.

“Match delayed – Mosquitoes”
That was the official match status for a bit, during the Karachi vs. Rawalpindi semi-final, when Karachi captain, Shahid Afridi, refused to take the field after his bowlers were constantly stung in the eyes by a mutant army of “helicopters” – some sort of rare Lahori crossbreed between mosquitoes and fireflies. The bug-busters, who had forgotten to spray the field before the start of the night game, strolled on to the field with (typically Pakistani) carefree abandon. Karachi returned to the field with a variety of smart accessories, not least of which were sported by Fawad Alam who fielded with his usual atheleticism for the remaining 18 overs, except with a towel tied around his mouth to prevent swallowing any more bugs (Yeah, he looked pretty badass, everyone on PakPassion was calling him Daku). A special mention too for Mohammad Sami, who became the fastest man to bowl with sunglassess: quite a sight under lights (still bowled a consistent short-and-wide line, dotted with the full-toss or two per over, in case you were wondering).

Shahid Afridi helps Sohail Khan remove a bug from his eyes

Umpires out, bug-busters in

The forgotten Akmal
Guess what – the Akmals have another brother who could yet make the national team: Adnan. Winner of the tournament’s best keeper award, he looked a better keeper than Kamran from the little that was seen of him. Apparently the day Kamran was first picked for Pakistan, both him and his brother Adnan were called to the national team’s nets, and it was Adnan, not Kamran, who was being tipped to get the nod. If you thought it was frustrating being Zulqarnain Haider or Sarfaraz Ahmed, spare a thought for this kid: he not only gets to live with the resentment of being kept out of the team by an undeserving player, he has to go home to him and pretend to love him at the end of the day.

The biggest letdown
Fielding standards were non-existent. The most disappointing thing on this front was that the best fielders on display were not the young guns trying to break through to the regional or national team, but veterans like Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Yousuf. Runners-up Karachi Dolphins dropped 6 sitters in the final, and this was a side packed with international players. Yousuf, much to his surprise, was awarded the Best Fielder prize in one of the most comical awards-ceremonies ever where everyone from the presenter to Ijaz Butt enjoyed a hearty laugh at the expense of Maulana Jonty.

And, finally, an Amir sighting
Mohammad Amir made an apperance in the stands. The crowd erupted into a roar when he was shown on the big screen, though it was unclear whether it was an expression of support, surprise, anger, or all of the above. Earlier, he was reportedly booed by fans outside the stadium as he honked his way through throngs of people who were forced to park their cars at a distance because of security concerns. National hero to undeserving holder of parking privileges in a few no-balls’ time: why, Amir, why?

(Previously published on Dawn.com, 19th October 2010. Photo credit: Faysal Bank T20 Cup).