In these times, when professional sportspersons and teams avoid touring Pakistan, it was more than a pleasant surprise to see a group of amateur cricketers from the UK visit Pakistan.
Led by Peter Oborne, the touring side included journalists, a couple of businessmen and a few young students; all cricket buffs. The Wounded Tiger XI, named after Peter Oborne’s epic book on Pakistan cricket, ‘Wounded Tiger: a history of cricket in Pakistan’ which appeared a few months back, played three matches each in Lahore and Karachi.
The visitors were delighted to have Abdul Qadir, the legendary Pakistani legbreak bowler, play for them in Lahore.
The tour started with a match against Mitchell’s Farms Club in Renalakhurd, outside Lahore. The visitors were fascinated by the attractive setting — they were in the midst of orchards and tomato plants.
The next game was at the eastern corner of Lahore close to the Wagah border against Sammay Cricket Club in Lakhodero village. Everyone was captivated by the exquisite ground set among green hills flanked by a graceful mosque and two fine dressing rooms, each with a golden dome.
In fact, it was an unscheduled fixture only arranged after the tie against the Aitchison College had been cancelled as the college ground wasn’t fit due to the overnight rain.
The historic Bagh-e-Jinnah ground, which staged Tests in 1950s, was the venue for the third match. The widely attended fixture against Lahore Gymkhana was witnessed among others by the British High Commissioner, his mother and former Pakistan captain Majid Khan.
The visitors were shown the Lahore Gymkhana cricket museum by its founder curator Najum Latif. After the match the official launch of ‘Wounded Tiger’ in Pakistan was held; and a number of copies were immediately bought by the enthusiasts.
Abdul Qadir playing after a number of years sent down a good number of overs in all the three games. Some of his deliveries were reminiscent of the maestro’s old magic putting the onlookers into a trance.
The British also did a lot of sightseeing in the city and were especially enamored by the old walled quarter.
Moving to Karachi, the Wounded Tiger XI were guests of Arif Abbasi, the former CEO of PCB.
The initial stay was at his Arabian Sea Country Club just outside Karachi. It was a day-night fixture at the excellent ground.
Later the team shifted to the historic Sind Club and had games at the National Bank’s stadium and the Karachi Gymkhana. They were delighted to play on the ground where Kardar’s Pakistan team defeated the MCC in 1951.
The tour climaxed with a reception by Jamshed Marker at his home. Now 91, the legendary radio commentator amused the visitors with interesting anecdotes.
Wounded Tiger XI didn’t win any match but they were only here for fun cricket. Half of them were above fifty.
Peter Oborne, the author of ‘Wounded Tiger’ and the captain of the team, gave his impressions in these words: “Richard Heller, Charles Alexander and I have visited Pakistan many times during our research for ‘Wounded Tiger’. I have been to the country at least a dozen times on research trips, each time for a few weeks. We love coming to Pakistan and I already have a plan to return with Richard for the Lahore Literary Festival next February.
“But I had long wanted to lead a cricket tour to Pakistan because I hugely admire the way cricket is played here. I also wanted to show that it is safe and that it is a fabulous experience for international touring teams to visit the country. Pakistan’s cricketing isolation is a tragedy that has ripped the heart out of international cricket.
“Yes, some who had never been to Pakistan before, and had only read about it in the British media, did express concerns. Those who had been to Pakistan before were not worried because we knew that it is possible to travel across the country safely, and that we would be wonderfully received. I reassured my team that their worries were groundless and there were absolutely no problems when we arrived.
“I only put the tour together in the last two or three months. I would like to praise particularly Najum Latif, the curator of the Lahore Gymkhana. He just threw himself into the task of organising our tour, and made sure that we had some brilliant matches in Lahore. Javed Zaman and Mueen Afzal were also a huge help. In Karachi, Arif Abbasi was wonderfully hospitable and we stayed at his Arabian Sea Country Club. Fawad Ijaz Khan at the Karachi Gymkhana was enormously kind in arranging our match, as was the famed cricket journalist Qamar Ahmed, although he was away reporting on the Test series in UAE.
“The team included quite a few distinguished media men, so the tour would get good coverage in Britain.
“Roger Alton is one of Britain’s most distinguished journalists. He is now a senior executive at The Times newspaper. He also writes a weekly sports column in the Spectator magazine.
“Paul Yule is a well-known maker of documentary films. Paul and I have worked together for many years. Indeed he filmed the matches and I hope he will make a film in due course about this tour.
“As you know, Richard Heller is a seasoned journalist who has now forged a parallel career as a cricket novelist. Richard and I are now collaborating on our forthcoming Companion Volume to Cricket in Pakistan.”
Tailpiece: Pakistan cricket couldn’t have asked for better ambassadors — all volunteers.