See the review: Is Rawalpindi fast and furious like his Express?

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Strangely enough with sportsmen and sports venues, their characteristics are misinterpreted as similar, at least correlated. Athletes like cities and towns like athletes. It’s lazy subconscious typing, or worse, madness. But at the end of the 90s, in the pre-Internet, the pre-Wikipedia, the pre-smartphone, the sportsmen and the sports sites were a window on the world, and often an imaginary, semi-fictional world. A Malgudi or Macondo from the sports world.

Multan therefore existed in the image of its ‘Sultan’ Inzamam-ul-Haq. Laid back but languid; sleepy but splendid. Maybe yes, maybe no. But nobody cared, nobody cared. A random wiki-check sheds light on Multan’s siege, its ancient Sun Temple, Sufi shrines. In the waning years of the twentieth century, Pakistan’s cricket coverage was wobbly and crumbly; the broadcasters were laid back, like the sultan, to capture the city, neither in its glory nor in its ruins, unlike what they do now, or they did during the games in Australia. So the image and the flavor stuck like a tattoo on the brain. Years later, just as the internet began to shrink the world, Sehwag returned from Multan with the tag “Sultan” after his triple cent. But the Sultan of Multan, in our minds, remained Inzamam.

Not just Multan. Images of Pakistan’s towns and cities, for the adolescent spirit still marred by politics and geopolitics, have been chiseled from its cricketers. Or not just Pakistan. Kingston had a deadly, scary sound about it, because of Patrick Patterson and Courtney Walsh. Hobart was a harsh and hostile city because of David Boon. But Pakistani cities echoed in your head even more, maybe they were more musical (like Gujranwala), or elusive, or it could be the lure of forbidden otherness, or the sheer envy of their wealth of talent, or simple neighborhood curiosity.

All of those names stuck because there was satellite TV (Prime Sports then); and above all because there was international cricket active in Pakistan. Unlike today, when Pakistan is largely exiled, when teams fear visiting the country, when Pakistan’s only cricket coverage includes the Pakistani Super League and matches with yesteryear teams like the West Indies and Sri Lanka, as well as a struggling Zimbabwe. in the same old traditional places like Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi. How you sometimes yearn for games in indescribable places like Quetta and Sheikhupura, or Gujranwala and Sialkot. It is the result of commercialization, the cricket carnival rarely stops in small towns. If you give place names like Taupo (where Rahul Dravid scored a hundred ODIs), or Moratuwa (the hometown of Sanath Jayasuriya), or New Plymouth, it shows your age. Sport watching is becoming an urban phenomenon, especially after the intrusion of franchise cricket.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to these lands. Of course, many are active national places. Some rolled into archives and melted into memories. Some only exist in the Wisden Almanack. I don’t remember what the stadiums looked like – some billboards are sticking out, like PIA, or Four Square and Pepsi. But the fervor of the crowds is clearly visible. It was like their music: uninhibited, daring and spectacular. Like a frenzied qawwali. Their passion instantly struck a chord – for all the otherness of Pakistan that society tries to instill in you, the more they try to teach you that they are different, the less cricket watching made them look and feel. There was an vibe of sameness – the pitches looked the same, sun dried and lean in grass, faces looked no different, cricket mad and sunburnt. They weren’t as exotic as those in Sydney or London. This only made Pakistan all the more endearing.

Later, in the press boxes and on the pub tables, I heard more fascinating stories, bordering on magical realism, of Pakistani stadiums and crowds. Like a group of ticketless spectators climbing up the branch of a tree that was beginning to creak under their weight. Or the Peshawar stalls that empty after Shahid Afridi leaves. Or the routine riots in the counters, or the qawwali in the stands. I have read reports and diaries and Rahul Bhattacharya’s brilliant account of the innovative tour from India to Pakistan in 2003-2004, Pundits from Pakistan. All of this embellished the towns and villages that I only saw in fragments on television, or read, or heads or imagined.

All this, a nostalgia so to speak acquired, makes their exile from the organization of matches all the more painful. Their pain is beyond all relatable. A generation has passed, unable to glimpse the flesh and blood of some of the best cricketers of their time. It’s a shame that none of Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson or Joe Root has toured the country for an international match. Neither Jasprit Bumrah, Stuart Broad or Pat Cummins or Ravichandran Ashwin. It is more of a shame that they never play in Pakistan, not after the recent collapse of the bilateral playoffs against England and New Zealand. You worry that the paranoia of fear will squeeze the cricket world even more. Of course, nothing matters more than life. You don’t need to take risks. But then don’t make empty promises either.

Worse than the plight of the Pakistani public watching cricket is that of its cricketers. Some of them have barely played cricket at home. Only five of Babar Azam’s 35 tests and six of his 83 ODIS have made it home. He was at least lucky that he could at least play cricket at home. but in an insane security blanket. Umar Akmal has only played four T20I matches, out of a total of 221 international matches in all formats, at home. “Cricketers all over the world take it for granted to play at home in front of their own home crowd. But not for us, ”Umar Akmal once said.

So, for this generation of cricket-goers, Pakistani cities do not exist. Even if they do, one way or another, they don’t embody their most famous cricketers. Does Azam embody the magic of Lahore, as Akram was from another generation? Or Karachi wore a slice of Fawad Alam, just like Javed Miandad? Or how does Multan feel? Lazy and laid back like its sultan? Or how is Rawalpindi? Fast and furious like his Express? There may be more windows to the world than cricket matches these days, but a slice of romance is lost. The romance of building cities in your head, of living, swirling and wandering this imaginary space. The attraction of making Malgudis and Macondos in your head.



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