Batting for PakistanPurchase 'Batting for Pakistan'
8 - Bowled Over in LahoreIt was Sunday morning in Lahore. The traffic on the Mall, a main boulevard built by the British in the 1850"s, was most orderly and the streets were wonderfully calmer. Except for the noise of children doggedly playing improvised cricket matches amidst one or two weaving rickshaws. Plastic crates and bricks made up the wickets. Sometimes I wondered if these games ever came to a conclusion.
There was a bikers meeting, but it was mostly young boys on BMX's. I had time to kill waiting for the proper cricket to start. The Lahore museum detained me for an enjoyable couple of hours, while the throngs of people were seemingly confined elsewhere. As a structure it was an extravagant imperial mixture of several styles, mainly Gothic and Victorian. Inside the most impressive artefact was a huge, fasting Buddha. The undoubted highlight of the day, however, had to be browsing the outdoor books displays on the street.
Some splendid titles caught my eye:
"India Who's Who 1991"
"Changing Attitudes in Soviet Russia"
"Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in Gulf"
"Teach Yourself Ballroom Dancing"
"How to Avoid Electronic Eavesdropping & Privacy Invasion"
"The Life of Leonard Cohen"
"Air Traffic Control Manual"
"Karate in Action"
There was a National Geographic from 1998.
"Autobiography of Mary Peters"
"Best of Helpful Kitchen Hints for Spouse"
"The South Beach Diet"
"Europe 1993 for Business Travellers"
"Up To Date Immediate and Popular English."
It had been published in 1997, but it was just the item I required for reading more English.
And finally a book by Kim Il Sung, "Promoting World Revolution"
It all made a welcome change from one shop which proclaimed itself as "Publishers of Government Collaborated Textbooks."
I had managed to get lost on the way back to my hotel. It was easily done.
"Excuse me," I said in a very slow, clear voice, "The Mall? Is it this way?"
"You from England mate?" the young man answered back. "You here for da cricket?"
"Nah, the Mall is the other way."
"Ah you're from England?" I could stop putting on my slow, stupid tourist voice now.
"Yes mate, I'm from Slough. Every fing's different here innit? I'll get one of mi brothers to give ya a lift."
There are some corners of foreign cities that are forever England. And there will be some corners of English cities which will be forever foreign.
On the Mall, there was the unusual sight of a church. Even more unusual was a huge draped sign outside, which announced in big letters the visit of one Jane Williams. Underneath, for some reason in much smaller letters, it mentioned that her husband was also coming. His name was the Right Revd. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Not to be confused with Robbie Williams, the pop singer, as one young Pakistani man I later mentioned this to seemed to think. Although it would be quite entertaining if they did swap roles for a day. And in a conservatively Islamic country, it was debatable as to which would go down worst.
In typical Pakistani fashion, the process for obtaining tickets for the cricket was an unnecessarily elaborate and complicated affair. Selling them at the ground would have been far too simple. There were only two places in Lahore where they could be bought. Both of them were banks in obscure, faraway parts of the city. What a mission it was to obtain them. But at the equivalent cost of about fifty pence each (as opposed to fifty pounds for going to Lords), it was worth it.
Some good old ethnic cleansing started at the turnstiles of the Gaddaffi Stadium. The turnstiles were no more than an excuse to create longer queues. No bags were searched. The policeman just took one look at me and said,
"You don't look like terrorist. Go through."
There was no time to protest. Before long, inside the ground myself and another chap named Dave, were surrounded by noisy natives. As an Englishman living in Wales, I suggested to Dave that this was perhaps something that he might have been used to. But then, to my knowledge, Welsh people would never come up and physically touch you to see what you felt like while gazing intensely.
A crowd of at least forty boys converged to watch us eat lunch in the same way children watch animals in the zoo. Autograph books were passed along, one after another. And some unexpected deliveries were served up. There was the inevitable eruption of enquiry.
"Hello Dear. What is your good name? What is your qualification?"
"What is your nickname? And what is your father's nickname?"
"How are you Sir? I am fine Sir. How are you Sir? I am fine Sir." So it went on.
He showed me one phrase in his Urdu to English phrasebook that he enthused over:
"Stop that chatter and pipe down."
"What is your nation, your Mother Land, Sir?"
"And your good name?"
"Would you like my bad name as well?"
"This is no time for hanky panky."
Every now and again, there would be a strange mixture of scattered English thrown into a babbled Urdu phrase.
"Aap kya kam kartey hein so pretty..aap se milke khushi huwi very nice achcha. Kevin Pieterson"
I was usually treated with respect and deference when people discovered my "mother country".
Hospitality in Pakistan can, in many ways, be likened to the nature of the hot water in a diverse range of hotel showers I had encountered across the country. Usually the shower proves to be temperamental. You cannot get what you want (or even hope for) out of them.
Then just as you are about to despair and give up, they deliver. Then after that, before too long the hot water becomes too hot, just like you can receive too much hospitality. It comes good eventually, but with excessive impact.
Mostly, it was good natured, inquisitive enthusiasm from vociferous schoolboys.
"David Lloyd we like. He is sexy commentator."
"Quite. That's one way to describe him."
"What is good name?"
"Ali, religion Muslim no?"
"But Ali Muslim name?"
"Not Muslim no."
Some of the voices did not have faces.
"Ali. Yes very handsome name. You are film star, no? You make sexy movies?"
I could barely get a word in.
"Your Son, My Son, Pieterson!" the chant went out.
There were a few ladies amongst the expanded ranks of the Barmy Army. Some of them were presumably ignorant about the convention of covering up in a Muslim country as they happily exposed hair and shoulders. Needless to say they attracted plenty of lustful attention from the local men.
"England people. Sexy. Sexy." another chant rang out.
There were more questions being bowled at me than I could give defensive straight bat answers to. I was on a sticky wicket struggling to sweep away with conviction some unexpectedly lively deliveries.
"If I want to buy a wife in England, how much does one cost?"
"Very expensive now." I replied, not altogether untruthfully.
"It is true that women in England do not wear many clothes and have sex for money?"
"Not all of them, no."
I was fighting to maintain about six separate conversations at once and none of them were very promising. It was no good. The intrusive curiosity overwhelmed us. There were too many unplayable deliveries. We were forced to retire and move on during the lunch interval. But where were all those policemen with sticks when I needed them? They were stood outside chatting in front of the takeaway food stall.
Additional reserves appeared to have been called up into the Barmy Army's ranks in a different part of the ground. There was even a bugler to add some musical gloss to some of the occasional chanting and singing. He even did the theme tune for the Flintstones especially for Freddie Flintoff, who turned around to acknowledge the tune. Jimmy Saville had arrived and was waving his flag and cigar.
I went on a walk to the front of the stand to buy an ice cream. As I looked back at the giant scoreboard, something was not quite right. On closer inspection, a couple of England fans had infiltrated and their faces were poking out of where the numbers were supposed to be. They had blagged their way into the score box for some of the best seats in the whole stadium, away from the noisy mobs. Sadly, despite their best efforts, they were not able to change the score to England's favour while the police in charge nonchalantly looked on.
As blags go, it was a good one. On a par with what another chap, who shall remain nameless, achieved in Faisalabad. At the conclusion of the test match there, he convinced a couple of the policemen that he was a journalist and they waved him through to the press conference, where he actually put a question to the England players with all the serious sincerity of a seasoned cricket reporter.
Although, even more of an achievement than that, was another couple of guys who somehow obtained meaningless laminated press passes around their neck, which allowed them to roam where they liked and have their own box for four whole days. The hospitality box was replete with boys running up and down serving them drinks. Unsurprisingly, they got rumbled on the last day.
In a teetotal country, several Englishmen took great pleasure after lunch in heartily singing,
"We've all had a beer", while waving their special alcohol permits in the air.
During the day, other diverse musical sonnets rung out, ably led by the bugler. From "Lets Twist Again" to the Rocky theme tune to a defiant rendition of the Great Escape.
In truth though, it was usually the locals who were becoming increasingly rowdy as the game wore on. Many of the large "6" and "4" cards were thrown provocatively onto the outfield. There was plenty of exciting seat banging and stamping. In some pockets, a full blown riot never seemed more than a flicker away.
As ever, in order to break things up, some good old ethnic cleansing took place. The police just plunged in and ruthlessly ripped out a couple of unfortunate soles who were in reality no worse than everyone else around them.
Pakistan had scored over six hundred. They just batted on and on with no wickets for England, and more and more runs. I was also making plenty of runs of my own, as I struggled to block up an end and prevent the follow through in the hellishly disgusting toilets under the stand.
Perhaps the best discovery came after the cricket had finished. There was rumour of a good old fashioned English watering hole believed to be hidden away somewhere in the sprawl of dirt tracks surrounding the Gaddaffi Stadium. It was a case of following someone who was following someone who was following another person, who thought he knew roughly where the pub might be.
Normally in England, problems arise from finding a way home after going to the pub. In Pakistan the problem is actually trying to find the pub in the first place.
Yet being tucked away in such a discreet location was part of the pub's charm and exclusivity. Before anyone could buy a beer they had to pay to become a member of the club. Inside I was confronted with forgotten nostalgic sights like a pool table, table football and a sign which advertised roast dinners. It was a long night.
The cricket continued in much the same vein as previously for another couple of days. The Pink Panther, one of the travelling support's most recognisable mascots, travelling with his partner in crime, Sylvester, had been in a rickshaw accident. The rickshaw had overturned and a couple of ribs had been broken. No joking matter you would have thought, but on his giant furry costume mock black and white plasters had been stuck on.
Even by England's low standards, on the final afternoon we had to endure a batting collapse of epic proportions. It was an embarrassing capitulation and led to plenty of friendly rowdiness in and on top of the seats all around where the rapidly dwindling band of England supporters were cowering. We all thanked Allah for the high white fencing separating us from the main bulk of the boisterous Pakistani fans. I would have to spend the next few days pretending to be German.
"Nein. I do not understand cricket at all. It is a funny game for Englishmen."
Back at the old fort, one or two Pakistani people could see through the weak demeanour of my disguise and homed straight in on me.
"We are very sorry for beating you at cricket." they said sincerely. Can you imagine victorious Australians ever expressing the same sentiments.
"England make many large mistakes I think, but still good team. We like." a colleague added.
Hard to believe it was people from the same country who had shouted out the day before things like, "Loser!" and "Shame your country!"
But that was what sport was all about. Sometimes you just had to grin and bear it. And anybody who has supported England at cricket over any period of extended time knows plenty about grinning and bearing it. They are well practised at enduring the bad times to enjoy the good ones.
You will not come across many more devoted wishers of national sporting success than me. As much as I wanted England to do well and win at cricket, I could also appreciate the pleasure being given to so many tens of millions of people by their still young and fairly fragile country succeeding at something.
Cricket mattered to them. It probably mattered more than it did to many people in England. Pride can often mean more to you when the number of opportunities to express it has been, and is, quite limited. Cricket was one opportunity.
If they put so much into following something so passionately, reward is deserved. When something matters to you a great deal, often its success can only be seen in black and white, success or failure terms. After all, without cricket to celebrate, enjoy and share, what else meaningful do most Pakistanis have left outside their families? Allah?
I could not go quite as far as attributing another horrendous batting collapse to the will of Allah, much as I wanted to. It would have made for a refreshingly different post match captain"s interview if nothing else. And imagine the newspaper headlines:
"Allah Blamed For Latest England Batting Collapse!"
"Yes, I am also very sorry too that England play so poorly." was all I could say.
I was also feeling a little poorly, continuing to make toilet runs of the unexpected and undesirable kind, but it did not seem to put off some people. A young man approached me.
"Hello my dear. You have beautiful blue eyes. Can my friend kiss you?"
What was I supposed to say to that? This was sometimes the way men in Pakistan greeted each other. But this greeting was definitely going no further than a firm handshake.
Across the main road from the old fort was a large park. It was overflowing with hundreds of improvised cricket games. Think of Hyde Park's open spaces consumed by duels between whirling bats swinging for sixes and flying cricket balls, but with the backdrop of the world"s second largest mosque behind.
There were also a few fairground rides.
In the middle of all this, was an extraordinary sight for such a religiously conservative country. Two women were dancing to music on a raised stage. They had unleashed their hair and were even bearing their forearms. The women were being avidly watched, or gawped at, by a very large audience of men, who crowded like slip fielders expecting immediate catches. This was the Pakistani equivalent of an open air lap-dancing club.
But the feverish looks on the faces of many of the men did not surprise me greatly. I had seen the way they looked at English women sitting watching the cricket, mentally undressing them with their eyes.
I was glad I was not a woman in this country, for all the unwanted attention from Pakistani men that was unavoidable with it. Outlets for their sexual fantasies were rather limited and probably confined to seedy internet sites and illicit glimpses of a woman behind her veil or a foreign woman without one.
Pakistan was not a country where you were likely to see a lot of human flesh, especially of the female variety. Plenty of times I had seen women's faces suddenly disappear behind their veils as I approached where they were, even from a considerable distance away on the other side of a street. This was a country where many women went as far as hiding away their drying underwear. There was also shame for many in being seen to buy underwear and bras in public.
I still couldn't get away from cricket. One boy knew my name, or somehow guessed it correctly.
"What is name? Name is Ali no?"
"Ali, religion Muslim no?""
"But Ali Muslim name."
"Not Muslim no."
He said that he seen me at the Gaddaffi stadium looking unhappy after England had lost. So I was hooked into a brief game of cricket. Another small boy, who must have been no older than eight years old, waited eagerly with a taped up white tennis ball in his hand, before tearing in to bowl at me.
His first delivery was unexpectedly sharp and slid into my thigh. It woke me up and my body contorted.
His second ball was even quicker and left me wishing I had worn a box. Straight into my private parts it arrowed to produce the sort of sickly slumbering pain, which only members of the male population will properly empathize with. Ouch. It was a case of right arm under from him, two remaining for me but with an early declaration rapidly approaching.
However, I was doing everything I could to show the small boy I was not feeling any pain. How pathetic it would have looked if a grown man had to walk off because he had been hit by an eight year old. So I grimaced and smiled a painful smile as I looked around pretending to survey the fielders, but in reality buying some important recovery time before he could tear in again.
Fortunately, after the next delivery some of the white tape was falling off the ball and it had to be repaired. So I volunteered my services for the much safer position of keeping wicket behind the stumps. Let no one tell you that cricket is not a contact sport. I can assure you it definitely is. Purchase 'Batting for Pakistan'