MOHAMMED AZHAR ALI KHAN
The Pakistani cricket team’s tour of Sri Lanka highlights how time keeps marching on, transforming our lifestyles, our thinking and our world.
Not so long ago violence gripped Sri Lanka as the Tamil Tigers fought for a separate homeland. Foreigners shunned that country. Now it’s Pakistan that foreigners, including sports teams, consider dangerous while Sri Lanka is safe.
Then, there’s the game, and how it’s played and watched compared to the old times. It was after the Second World War that cricket was revived and its popularity reached all continents. In Asia, it was the Indian team’s tour of England in 1946 that excited cricket lovers.
That team was captained by the Nawab of Pataudi and its stars were Vijay Merchant, Lala Amarnath, Vinoo Mankad and Vijay Hazare. It included Hafeez Kardar, who later led the Pakistanis.
Pakistan then formed its own cricket team. But Marylebone Cricket Club refused its request for membership in 1951-52 and sent an MCC A team - rather than its top players - to check out the aspirants. There was no turf wicket in Pakistan and Test matches were played on matting. Here, medium pacer Fazal Mahmood was deadly and the shocked Englishmen were beaten by four wickets. Pakistanis went wild with joy, distributed sweets and hugged each other while Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin’s beaming smile adorned the newspapers.
Cricket had arrived in Pakistan. Test matches lasted four days. There were no 50-over games or 20-over ones. There was no TV. Excitement centered around the radio commentary for about a half an hour each day and, much later, for the entire match.
The mighty Australian team dropped in to play one match; unfortunately for the Australians, on Karachi’s matting wicket. Fazal Mahmood mesmerized the Aussies and they were clobbered.
Admitted to MCC, the Pakistani cricket team toured England in 1954. Its performance remained average till the final test at the Oval. Overcast skies and overnight rain proved a boon to Fazal. He took 12 wickets for 99 runs as the Pakistanis beat England to tie the series - the first time a touring team had beaten England on its maiden visit.
I was studying in the Philippines. With Internet and TV unheard of, it was only my father’s weekly letters that filled me in on the results.
The Pakistanis went to the West Indies when I was studying at the University of Michigan. They lost three tests and won one. Gary Sobers and Haneef Mohammed produced huge scores, my father’s letters told me.
Enthralled, the Pakistani students in Ann Arbor challenged our Indian counterparts to a cricket match. The problem was, there were only nine Pakistani students, two of whom were women who refused to play. We requested the Indians to loan us four students who’d become honorary Pakistanis for the match.
The Indians obliged us unhesitatingly and gave us four students who thought cricket was an insect. We weren’t much better. Only four among the seven of us had played cricket or had some idea how it was played. Indian students numbered 125 and included some who played for their universities. Needless to say, we were routed.
Back in Karachi I went to the occasional cricket match. Pakistan was doing well in squash and field hockey. It was also producing excellent cricketers, such as Haneef, Fazal, Zaheer Abbas, Qadir, Imran Khan, Inzamam, Sarfaraz, Waseem, Wiqar, Mushtaq Mohammed, Mushtaq Ahmed, Intikhab and others.
India was producing excellent cricketers too - Dattu Phadkar, Polly Umrigar, Ghulam Ahmed, Gupte, Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Dravid, Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and above all, Sachin Tendulkar and many others.
Moving to Canada, I thought cricket would now be just a memory. But Toronto took to cricket and I saw matches there that included Tendulkar, Imran, Wasim, Qadir, Intikhab, Kapil and others. Fifty-over matches and 20-over matches also became common, and we could see them on television. What a bonanza!
Most Pakistanis and Indians love Canada. But when cricket matches are played, we return to our past, become Indians or Pakistanis, gather with friends from both countries to see the action on giant TVs, partake of parathas, samosas, puris, mithai and chaat. We clap and cheer - or groan and moan.
For some glorious moments, cricket takes us back to our past and we Pakistanis and Indians marvel at how much we have in common, how many values we share and how, in Canada, we can merge our past and the present, the East and the West, and have the best of the two worlds.
— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge. He has received the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.