Pakistan v India, 5th ODI, Lahore March 24, 2004

India feted, a Pakistani great snubbed

Whoever thought Pakistan might feel like Sharjah, with thousands of Indians cheering, shouting and blaring horns in support of their team



India win, and fireworks light up the sky. But in Lahore? © AFP

Whoever thought Pakistan might feel like Sharjah, with thousands of Indians cheering, shouting and blaring horns in support of their team? The Indian team has received incredible support throughout the tour, not just from Indians but from the locals as well. When Lakshmipathy Balaji bowled Moin Khan to notch up India's first ever one-day series victory on Pakistani soil in six attempts, there was an eruption of firecrackers at the College Road end. You can be sure fireworks would have been set off in Mumbai and New Delhi at that very moment, but to see this happen in Lahore, despite the home team losing, was incredible. It was characteristic of the spirit in which the fans watched this series.

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People are at the Gaddafi stadium for a variety of reasons. Some have come to cheer Pakistan, some India, and some others just to soak in the atmosphere. Yet, there is one man with an even more compelling reason. Ata-ur-Rehman, banned for his alleged involvement in match-fixing, has taken the chance to speak to anyone who cares to listen to his defence. He played the last of his 13 Tests and 30 one-dayers in 1996, when he was banned. Last year the PCB withdrew the ban without any fanfare, and he is now back to playing first-class cricket, and has made a triumphant return for Allied Bank with 15 wickets from three matches so far.

"What happened was God's will," he says, "that's probably the way He wanted things to go. I had the full support of my family during those testing days, but the days of my youth are totally gone, they will never come back. I was wrongly implicated, but I tried to put it all behind me.

"I just feel I was a victim of circumstances, I had no connection whatsoever with any such activity. All those allegations were not true. If they were true, I wouldn't be playing now, would I? I really don't want to talk about that period. Everything happened so quickly, and I just didn't know what was going on. I couldn't understand the whole saga, but suddenly, my name came out and people started pointing fingers at me. All I can say is that I am innocent, and the lifting of the life ban on me vindicates my stance."

The ugly whispers of match-fixing are still doing the rounds, but Rehman categorically refutes such rumours. "It's all just rubbish. Cricket has been totally purified. I don't think there is any possibility of match-fixing happening any more. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has become very active in this regard, it just won't allow such things to take place." Rehman takes heart from the wayward ways of Pakistan's current seamers, and dreams of a return to top-flight cricket. "I still firmly believe I have it in me to play at this level again, especially after watching this Pakistani attack in action against the Indians." He may be in a minority on this subject.

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People thronging the final one-dayer have made their presence felt by the loud, in-your-face manner in which they have supported their teams. However, certain people have made news for not being in the stadium. The Pakistan Cricket Board has a lot to answer for when it comes to the manner in which it has treated its former cricket heroes. Stalwarts such as Imtiaz Ahmed and Fazal Mahmood have been snubbed by the board.

Shaharyar Khan, the chairman of the PCB, announced that tickets had been dispatched to most of the legendary Pakistan cricketers, but it has now come to light that several of these invitations and tickets never reached their destination, and even those that did have caused dissatisfaction. Fazal Mahmood and Shafqat Rana, for example, were given 500-rupee tickets in the one of the more uncomfortable and boisterous enclosures in the stadium. Ironically, one of plusher stands, and the main entrance to the stadium, is named after Mahmood. A former Pakistani player remarked: "Fazal was not considered important enough to merit a ticket in the stand named after him."

Mahmood, 76, was understandably upset at the treatment, and decided to stay at home and watch the match on television. "This kind of treatment hurts. It has never happened before in the past, and I can't understand why it's happening now," he says. "At the same time, there is very little one can do about it. It is up to the PCB to decide how they treat people. After all, they are extending a courtesy, I can't take them to court for this, can I?"

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo. He will be following the Indian team throughout their tour of Pakistan.