'Outsider' Arafat on familiar turf
"I'm alone here," Yasir Arafat said with a smile, sitting comfortably on his bed in a Delhi hotel. Part of the Sussex Sharks squad for the Champions League Twenty20, Arafat has the distinction of being the first Pakistan cricketer to play in India after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last year escalated tensions between the countries. Cricket became an immediate, and inadvertent, victim with the Pakistan players not allowed by their government to take part in the second edition of IPL.
Yet Arafat had a smooth entry into India; he said he got his visa at the Indian High Commission in London - where he was playing county cricket - without any fuss. "The Champions League organisers helped with a letter and I got it immediately," Arafat told Cricinfo. "The PCB gave me the permission immediately."
Arafat, 27, may be inundated with non-cricketing questions as he moves around but, having made a memorable Test debut in India a few years ago, the Pakistan bowler is relaxed. "It is a good feeling," he said. "There is no pressure, I am here to enjoy Twenty20 cricket."
He admitted that, in a way, he was an ambassador for Pakistan and believed cricket could once again form a bridge to de-escalate tensions between the countries. And his confidence is based on his conversations with the Indians he meets - in the media, administration and even the common man - who all fondly reminisce about the hospitality showered on them by the people of Pakistan on their trip across the border during India's historic series in 2004.
Arafat picked a five-for in his very first-innings, in the Bangalore Test of the 2007 series, and followed it with a strokeful 44 in the same drawn game. Yet it is not the cricketing memories he talks about on his return: Not many know that his ties with Delhi are pretty old, and that he's coming back to the capital after 22 years. "I studied at St Giri School in Chanakyapuri till the second standard. I went there today to relive the memories," he said.
The family stayed in Delhi during his father's stint at the Pakistan High Commission. "Abbu (father) was in the visa section and the family still talk fondly about Delhi," said Arafat. "The first thing my family wanted me to do was to visit the school." Interestingly, a senior teacher, who has been working at the school for three decades remembered Arafat's elder brother Imran. Arafat also managed to sneak out to Nehru Place, and plans to visit the Taj Mahal, Qutb Minar and the pilgrimage centre of Ajmer Sharief. The senior Arafats, who stay in Rawalpindi, continue to reminisce till this day about their day trips to all these places.
"Based on the scheduling and the team's progress I would like to visit the sites that were our favourite," Arafat said.
Asked about the match-fixing allegations surfacing after Pakistan's exit in the recently-concluded ICC Champions Trophy, Arafat said the reports and the people perpetuating such stuff were only there to "demoralise" Pakistan cricket.
"The attitude of countries in the subcontinent towards a loss is negative," Arafat said. "Definitely, reports such match-fixing is always demoralising. The boys were playing and working hard and even spent Eid in South Africa and despite all the sacrifices they make fingers are still pointed at them."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo