December 15, 2000

An Englishman in Pakistan (part 8)

James Davis

It began to sink in as I waited for a connecting flight in Istanbul airport on the Tuesday morning. I can say that I was one of the 30 England supporters who were lucky enough to witness this historic moment. England had beaten Pakistan in the fading light of a Karachi evening to take the series 1-0 and record their first victory and series win since Ted Dexter's team in 1961-62.

Who would have thought that this result was possible after Pakistan closed the first day's play at 294-3? The final day of play took the England supporters on an emotional roller coaster ride.

We arrived on the Monday hoping that our bowlers would be able to restrict the Pakistani batsmen and ensure that we wouldn't have to survive a couple of uncomfortable hours batting out for a draw. The possibility of an incredible win began to be discussed in the lunch interval after the wickets of Elahi and Youhana had fallen.

As the wickets began to fall in quick succession, I wondered whether this would perhaps be our day. The manner of the dismissals also suggested that the important factor of luck was on our side - an unusual run-out and a wicket with a full toss.

The run chase passed in a bit of a blur as every run was cheered and every boundary urged to the ropes. We were lucky enough to have our own scorer who kept us up to date with progress and runs required. The "barmy-army" scorer, Danny, even kept the England team abreast of developments as we telephoned through the required target to Phil Neale's mobile before it was confirmed by the official scorer, Malcolm Ashton.

Time was, of course, the crucial factor in the run chase and watches were constantly being consulted. We watched nervously as the shadows lengthened and the light faded. It was unbelievably frustrating to watch Moin and Saqlain changing their field, knowing that every minute was crucial.

Suddenly we needed only 10 runs and we knew the game was won. There was no way now that the umpires would give in to Moin's remonstrations about the light. The final few runs scored were a case of "spot the ball". Thorpe's drive through the covers to bring us to within one of their total was not seen by any of the fielders or the spectators. Inzamam and Afridi just stood motionless as the ball silently bisected them in the evening light.

The England team had completed a full circle, returning to Karachi nearly two months after they had first arrived, back in mid-October. The National Stadium proved to be a happy hunting ground for the England players after achieving a pair of remarkable victories - chasing 304 to win in the one-day international and the first Test victory by a touring team in Karachi.

Karachi also marked the end of my visit to Pakistan, following England on their tour. After 31 days of cricket it is amazing that it came down to the last remaining moments of daylight to determine how this tour will be remembered.

My memories will be of much more than the cricket. Following a cricket tour to Pakistan gives the spectator the opportunity to experience fascinating places, such as the great historical city of Peshawar and the bustling bazaars of Rawalpindi. Where in the world do you come across a town devoted to the manufacture of guns or a shrine where worshippers have been singing non-stop since 1762?

I also won't forget the people of Pakistan who welcomed England supporters with their kindness and hospitality. I found myself being invited for numerous meals and cups of tea and was even lucky enough to attend a number of weddings.

Tours to Australia, South Africa and the West Indies have always traditionally attracted many England supporters, but they cannot rival a tour to Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka for interest and stories to tell your friends. Sri Lanka in February and India next October - 2001 will be a great year for following England abroad.

To paraphrase a popular barmy-army song: "Off to Colombo we will go and when we win the series this is what we'll sing... Nasser is our king".