, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Day-night matches are a lot better to work in. They start late, which means one can get enough sleep; and they end late in the evening, which means you can enjoy the floodlit atmosphere. But here, the difference is of just an hour and a half between day and day-night matches. It must be because of the excessive dew that falls on the grass that the timings have been so scheduled.
India won the toss and elected to bowl, a trend which is pleasing in the sense that the team feels confident chasing; but which is disappointing for the reason that it doesn’t believe it can defend totals on flat wickets. Malik again played beautifully, and unlike the last two games, got out of the 90s to make a hundred. Razzaq too showed signs of going back to his hitting style with a 64. But a better innings was to come in the Indian chase.

Sachin Tendulkar was playing like his younger self. A drive off Razzaq was so good that even Tendulkar acknowledged it by staying in his follow through till the ball reached the boundary. He would also be the first guy to tell you that Dhoni’s and Yuvraj’s 70s late in the chase was a stamp of class from the two young players. Dhoni came in when Kaif was out for a duck and played more with disdain than with caution. If Tendulkar’s innings was mesmeric and Yuvraj’s mature, Dhoni’s was a devastating counter-attack. 2-1 in the series is though an ominous lead. Last time, in 2004, Pakistan led 2-1 after three games as India won the next two.
Sometime during the first innings, two army helicopters whirred into sight, very close to the ground. After ten minutes of this Pervez Musharraf was in the ground waving at the Indian crowd after prompting from his right-hand men. He stayed back through the game and in the end advised Dhoni to keep his whacky hair intact. There were other rumours that Pakistan lost because he was present. Why? “Just feel so.”
After the match, Rameez Raja and Arun Lal were at their program again at the NCA. Yet again there was the offer to join them. Yet again I wished Dravid and Tendulkar were in the discussion.
The fervour of Valentine’s Day has been overwhelmed by the controversial Danish cartoons. Lahore is to go on strike today and we have to go to Multan. Luckily, Multan is on the way to Karachi, which means we would have traveled about five hours on road to the last match. This time, the trip is not so interesting as we have already traversed this road before and the mini-bus of ours has been packed to the brink with men and metal.
Multan is the home town of Inzamam Ul-Haq. Like him, the city, if one could call it, is languid. Hardly a house has gone higher than two floors. In fact, there is nothing here to suggest it is a city. No shopping malls, no road transport to speak of and no big buildings. We are told this is because the stadium is outside Multan and the area surrounding it is just village-ish in appearance. This is indeed true as we get to the stadium. All around the Multan Cricket Ground, there are farms and farmers. The ground itself is beautiful, to say the least. Each Pakistani cricket stadium surprises you with its appearance. But this is even beyond the expected mark.
You enter on the pavilion side, below the Inzamam Ul-Haq stand. From then on, you find inch-by-inch of perfect grass. Smaller than Lahore, but prettier, this ground has taken care of the basic comfort a spectator demands: a roof for every stand. The pitch is being cleaned as we get close to it. It looks like another 300+ score.
We have been accommodated at the academy dormitory just above the media box. Multan is not the best place to find good hotels close by and this residence in the stadium is again a gift from the heavens.
The rumour doing the rounds is that India will lose this match to keep the Karachi ODI alive. Sehwag isn’t to be seen and Afridi is a doubt for the rest of the series.
We have been introduced to a cook in Multan, Mohammad Imran. The only problem I had after seeing was whether he knew anything at all of vegetarian food. He is built like an ox and his big beard gives him a scary look. But the moment you speak to him you realize how soft a man he is. He has promised to cook us vegetarian food. To understand that difficult culinary concept, he made a major effort. “Bhaiyya, humko vegetarian khaana chahiye.”
“Vegetables? Bana denge.”
“Isme gosht nahi daalna.”
“Nahi, nahi daalenge. Sirf vegetables daalenge, chicken vagera…”
“Nahi, nahi, chicken nahi chahiye.”
“Achcha. Thoda sa daalunga bas.”
“Nahi bhaiyya chicken daalna hi nahi. Maas nahi, machchi nahi, chicken nahi.”
“Achcha…” and he went into his world of confused contemplation.
Today, I thought was the only good chance to get a few things done as a matter of remembering Pakistan. I took out my SLR and went into the ground. We had to meet Suresh to get a few photographs he had taken at Taxila. When we asked him for them, he said, “Don’t go out of the stadium’s premises for now. Two people have been killed in Lahore following demonstrations yesterday.”
The cartoon controversy has only polarized Islam and Europe even more. There has been widespread condemnation of what is being viewed as an abuse of the freedom given to western press. Not just the fanatics, but even liberals have joined in the protests. Much of the news here is related to either this or Indian cricket team’s presence in the country: clearly two of the most important issues in Pakistan – religion and cricket.
It is only when it’s cloudy that a silver lining becomes important. Today, not thinking of stepping outside the stadium (we weren’t sure if there was much to see in Multan), I played photographer for some time. The nets were going on and the Indian team was in its final practice moments. Sachin Tendulkar was being bowled to by a local player and Sreesanth was a lonely figure outside Sachin’s nets. I sensed the latter was about to end his stint and waited there, trying to capture his drives. As if on cue, he walked out and went straight to the young fast bowler. He began explaining forward defence to him and I felt it was inappropriate to make a move then. Their conversation continued and I waited. Just then, the local players were asked to leave by an official. One of them had a mobile and he too was waiting politely to get a moment of time with Tendulkar. When he saw that the boy wasn’t going to leave without taking a picture with the Indian legend, the official walked up to him and broke his conversation. Tendulkar obliged and within minutes there were a dozen photograph hunters swarming around him. I was one of them. And I shall remember for a long time what Sachin Tendulkar said to me, “Careful, careful… kit pe mat pair rakhna.” When I asked him for a photograph, he nodded and stood erect, with his eyes looking straight into the camera lens.
His meeting with us seemed to have done Sachin Tendulkar a lot of good. In the fourth ODI he bowled beautifully. But that was all the luck he could carry as Sami’s fantastic spell got him out for a duck. Still, the 160+ scored by Pakistan was not going to stop the Indians from winning in front of a disappointed crowd. To their credit, Multan’s citizens were very fair during the match.
This must have been a huge disappointment for Shaharyar Khan too, who, after the match, went on a long walk around the ground, thinking perhaps of the match and the future of few players in that side. As is the case with Pakistani cricket, an embarrassing result is swiftly followed by knee-jerk overhauls in their system. Perhaps it doesn’t happen a lot with the composition of its team these days thanks to Bob Woolmer’s presence, but the others in their cricketing system might not have it so easy. Today in Multan, when the president of the PCB took long strolls around the boundary ropes, occasionally stopped by fans to shake his hands and talk a little, many in Pakistani cricket would have felt a trifle apprehensive about the future.
Not so cold morning, early wake-up call, deserted stadium ruined by the carnage of yesterday’s multitude and a few early birds going about their chores; thus started what was to be the last of our road trips in Pakistan. This was also going to be a tightly scheduled ride as Karachi was prepared to host only a day match given the security concerns. It gave us only a day to complete the almost 1000km journey.
As we left the stadium and its surrounding farms for the highway towards Sindh, we realized for the first time why Multan was unashamedly referred to as a city. It indeed had its two-storied buildings and shopping centers, only that it was too far away from the stadium – or was it the other way round as the stadium was situated in the outskirts of this sleepy little town (that’s what I can settle for in describing Inzy’s hometown).
Day broke over the green farms of Punjab as the Coaster cruised on the same nice, smooth roads that had taken us to Karachi earlier from Lahore. Everything looked just as we had seen them then, except that there was a significant difference this time. Lahore had faced serious problems during the strike called after the cartoons row. Multan was on strike yesterday and Karachi was in trouble today. Karachi was living up to its reputation, we were told that vehicles that had belied the strike weren’t being spared from the mob fury. To give us a bit of confidence, Nasir had joined us on the trip, even though he had some serious business to take care of. “Kuch nahi hoga, yaar. Main tumhare saath aaonga,” he had boasted, and couldn’t get out of the spot in the end and just had to keep us company.
Nothing happened through much of the journey. Nasir even stopped one of the many sugarcane-laden trucks and requested them to give us a few. We had lunch at a dhaba and I had settled for a roti with chutney after my earlier experience in dhabas of Sindh. All was well till we left Hyderabad, 150 kms away from Karachi, at night. A policeman stopped us to warn us of a possible violent rally in the vicinity of the city. He advised us to take a deviation and opt for a safer route. “Kuch nahi hoga, yaar,” Nasir said. But the driver, Ehsaan, and even we, didn’t want to invite trouble at the fag end of the tour. We chose the other route. Soon, we were in deserted territory; in what seemed like neglected areas of a barren jungle. It soon occurred to me that this place could be as dangerous, if not more, as the one we had just tried to steer away from. There, we could have been attacked, but that would be in the open, and they might not have hurt us. Here, anybody could spring up from the dead of the night with an automatic rifle and stun us with his art of burglary. Anyway, that didn’t happen and we reached safely to the RCA. We had to prepare food as Dildar had not been able to get it because of the strike (which had affected Karachi for three days). It was back to normal business again as we hoped that the cartoons wouldn’t mess up our plans for the next few days in the port city.
Karachi had seen quite a bit of trouble in the last three days and even today is a day of strike. But the players have come and done their bit of practice with the Indians taking it a little easier. Everyone involved with the series seems happy that it is getting over soon. This hasn’t been the best of contests as was expected after the Ashes success. India and Pakistan had very good teams but somehow the quality has been lacking. The bowling and fielding has been a disappointment and like all good sub-continental stories, the batsmen have had a field day. The security has never been an issue and any off-the-pitch discussion has only centered on the omission of one or two top players.
I met a young guy who was managing a restaurant in Pakistan, called the Chicken King. He was a client of ours and after a bit of work, he offered to treat me at his restaurant. Immediately, I saw the same old story repeating. “I am a vegetarian,” I said. “No problem. We also have chicken and fish,” he said.
However, to spice the atmosphere up, there comes the news of a Muslim cleric’s murder. It isn’t clear who he was and who killed him, but there is a sudden chill in the air. There might be a huge riot; there might be revenge… violence, clashes, arson…
It turned out that there had been no murdered cleric in Karachi yesterday. Rumours have also taken a huge toll in the city previously and this was one of them. Nobody seemed to remember the issue when India won the toss and asked Pakistan to bat, again. In the last few months, Indian cricket has showed a fresh new approach. Earlier, any One-Day series would go to the last match when India was involved. In the series where Sri Lanka visited India, this changed. India won 6-1, and now, were leading 3-1, going into the last match.
Sachin Tendulkar and Irfan Pathan had been rested and their absence didn’t hamper India’s progress. Pakistan’s players didn’t have it easy with the crowd as Younis complained of unsupportive behaviour and Inzamam was repeatedly called, “Aloo” – a reference to those Toronto days. Dhoni was greeted vociferously and when Dravid got to his 9000th ODI run, he was given a great ovation. No wonder India won the match. Yuvraj had had a fantastic series and so had Dhoni. They shared honours and accolades as the strong Indian crowd over-shouted the dejected Pakistani fans.
If Chappell and Dravid look back at this tour, they would reflect at the second hour of the Karachi Test as a point where if they had had a better display, this could have been the perfect tour. The lack of bowling power cannot be hidden by the One-day win, but if the focus has shifted convincingly towards the World Cup, everyone will remain satisfied. But the Test series loss cannot be forgotten, just as the One-day win cannot be underestimated.
Nasir came to our room and literally dragged us to do a bit of shopping. He took us to a footwear shop of his friend who was selling Khussa, a kind of sandals. Made of leather and tyres, it is both good looking and sturdy. Then we went to a place where exotic watches were being sold. I bought none of it. We then went to a Shiva temple. It turned out to have idols of all the major Hindu gods – Rama, Krishna, Ganesha and Hanuman.
On a busy day, Saddar, the main market in Karachi, resembles Mumbai’s Dadar market. The same crowd, the same congestion and very much the same items to sell. There are not many things unique to Pakistan as one looks on at the materials on display. Cars won’t move an inch on its driver’s accord; innumerable motorists have to allow for it to get done.
Four of us buy a bag worth Rs.850 and return to our rooms. It then so happens that another set of our people who had been with Colonel Sayeed to shop, had got the same bags for Rs. 650. This becomes an issue of prestige for Nasir and he drags us again to those busy markets. When he tells the tale of the other bags, the shopkeeper immediately agrees to return the money as he feels he can’t give them to us at that low a price. We then go to the shop where the others bought the bag and get it for the same price.
We then went to a DVD heaven called the Rainbow Center. This place has all the DVDs one could want – except good international movies. I asked for Iran’s films and the guy showed me some cheap commercial stuff. I asked for European cinema and was shown the door.
By the time we thanked Nasir, Dildar and the others, it’s already midnight and there is just a few hours for our flight to take-off from Karachi, to Mumbai.
The Jinnah airport in Karachi is designed much the same way the Lahore airport is. But to reach that we had to take a truly exotic local transport – a mini-bus that looked like a geared modern-art. The lighting inside was crazily photogenic and the comfort for seating was not a criteria for its design it seemed. Still, it was one of the best vehicles to end the tour of Pakistan – unpredictable and endearing.
This tour had been a great one for us first-time visitors. It must be the demolition of myths which should interest the two countries. One hears a doctored, biased and unflattering view of Pakistan. But it has to be through travel that one clears the airs up. People to people, Indians and Pakistanis have the understanding and aptitude to be friendly. It is thus a strong recommendation that Indians visit Pakistan and get to see, first hand, the people they are told to hate.